Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trinity 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 23rd and 24th, 2017 – Matthew 6:24-34

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Well, that's a great way to start a lesson, isn't it? It just sort of drops a great big bomb on our laps. Two things are set against each other – God and Money. And we are made to think about this, to ask ourselves the question. How often would I rather serve money than God. Oh, these are dangerous waters, aren't they? Money sermons in church can hit too close to home, too close to the wallet, too close to my hobbies and all the other things that I really, really like to do.

The fact is we all love money. It makes us feel powerful. We'll do stupid things for money, and then we'll do even stupider things with our money. But here's the thing. Money, wealth, mammon, stuff – they're a cruel master. Right after bringing up this distinction, Jesus talks about worry and being anxious – worrying about what you will wear and what you will eat and all those everyday humdrum fears we have. You do realize what Jesus is pointing out. Money, loving money, serving money, will only make you anxious and worried. Even the world recognizes this. You get this in pop music, even in rap. Mo Money, Mo Problems. You spend your money to buy something really nice, then you have to buy even more insurance because what if something happens to it. You get a decent car instead of a beater, and then suddenly the ads tell you that you need an even nicer car, and you're no longer content. When money dominates our lives we just get thrown into a never-end cycle of fear and discontentment. Think about it – how many times this past week were your fears and anxiety based upon money, based upon stuff – whether there was enough for all the things you “need” or for all the things you want to do? I paid bills this week – I didn't sit down and cheer when I paid them, I cringed.

This is because we think that Money is power, that money gives us control. We think that if we had just a bit more cash then we'd be in control, that we would be able to make everything the way we want it to be. We think money is power, never recognizing that is takes control and rules over us and becomes our master – and money is a terrible master. Makes you work and sweat and fret, and it's never enough. Do you see, do you understand how many stupid and wretched things your sinful flesh will do to just try to be in charge? I know at the temptation of Jesus, when Satan says, “I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you just bow down and worship me” we can think, “That's a silly temptation.” Yet, how often do we jump through hoops for cash, thinking that cash will let us control our lives? Then the money doesn't bring us happiness, it doesn't bring us joy. And even the world will finally admit that in the end, you can't take it with you.

You cannot serve God and money. So what does this mean, Pastor? If I'm being honest about myself, it's clear that entirely too often I want to serve money, that I want to be all about the Benjamins and cold hard cash. Does that mean that I'm up the creek without a paddle? Listen. Jesus says: You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life....” This is one of the happiest “therefores” in all the Scriptures. So often people will present “You cannot serve God and money” as a chance for a choice, for a call for you to make a better decision. The only thing is that if we're talking about “money” and decisions, we tend to make terrible decisions. But Jesus doesn't tell you to choose between Him and money. He says “Therefore I tell you.” You can't have two masters – it doesn't work. Therefore I will be your Master, I will be your Lord, and I will be the one telling you how things will be, not money. Money tells you to fret and worry and be anxious – but I, Christ Jesus, your Lord and Master, say unto you, don't worry about stuff, because stuff, your food, your clothing, your life – that is all in My hands, not money's hands, and I will take care of you. Period. Because I am your master, and you will listen, not to your fears and anxieties driven by money, but you will listen to Me. You don't have two masters; you have One. His name is Jesus.

And here's where our sinful flesh wants to chime in with a giant and loud “BUT!!!” Okay, Jesus, we get that God is in control, we get that we pray for daily bread, and yeah, we talk about in the Small Catechism in the Creed how God has made me and all creatures and given me my body and soul... BUT what about this? And then our flesh throws out some fear in front of us. Sometimes, in hindsight, the things we worry about are flippant and silly. I remember when I was devastated because my mom bought me the wrong Transformer toy – how am I to get my daily bread when my mom can't tell one transformer from another! Sometimes the fears are big and nasty. Maybe this is the second notice on that power bill. Or “your position has been eliminated and your services will no longer be required.” Or Dad just had to buy a hospital bed for mom. Those are scary things. But let's ratchet it up. What about the day, our flesh cries out, what about the day when I'm the one who needs the hospital bed, what about when it's my eyes that can't see anymore, what about when I die, huh? What about then, huh?

Well, first of all, the day I'm dying money isn't going to do anything for me. Money's a vain and fleeting master – when I kick the bucket any money I have will just go to some other folks; hopefully they won't fight over it too much. But more important than the powerlessness of money is the greater truth – Jesus Christ, O Christian, is your master. Even in the face of death, Jesus is your master. And do you know how you know that He is your master no matter what comes in your life? We saw it today. A few minutes ago, we saw Christ Jesus publicly declare that He was Lord and Master of (Bennet and Gunnar / Jax). He joined them to Himself in the waters of Baptism, placed His name upon them. You see, Baptism isn't just some cutesy ceremony, it isn't just a photo op (although baptismal photos are cute). Baptism is where the Trinue God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit publicly says that you, the baptized, are His own child, now and forever. And why does Jesus stake this claim upon you?

Well, when Adam sinned in the garden, Satan had his nasty little fingers on us – Satan had a claim on us. We had sinned, and the wages of sin is death. We were consigned into Satan's kingdom of death. And Jesus does not want that – He doesn't want us just stuck in death, and so He would have to rescue us. And you know what that rescue means? He had to go where we were. If my son gets stuck in a slide and I have to rescue him, I have to climb into the slide and drag him out. Since we were stuck in the kingdom of Death, Jesus had to enter into death itself. That is why Jesus became man, that is why He went to the cross. He suffered and died because you and I were going to die. And if we were left to die on our own devices, that would have been it – the grave would have been our last stop. But no, Christ went to the Cross and He died and He entered a tomb of His own. Then He blew the kingdom of death apart by rising on the third day. And what Jesus does in His Church is takes what He has done with His death and resurrection and brings it to us in Holy Baptism, He brings you out of the kingdom of death and brings you into His kingdom of everlasting life.

Whatever comes in your life, whatever trials and doubts or fears or problems you face – even up to and including your death, because if the Lord tarries and doesn't return soon, death will come for all of us – whatever comes – you know for certain that Jesus Christ is your Lord because He has baptized you, He has joined you unto Himself. And in fact, He spends your life preparing you, training you to face down the fears Satan throws at you... even the fears of death. You've already died and live with Christ. Remember the lesson from your Catechism days – 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. Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” This is the greatest and highest reality of your life, who you are. You are one who has died to sin and is alive to God in Christ Jesus.

And we forget that sometimes, don't we. We get turned away from Jesus and get focused upon other things. Like money. That's the example in the text. We start thinking money will fix our lives. There are others. Our ego, lust, anger, pride. All these things try to make us think they bring us life, try to make us forget that Christ is our life. And so often we run after these things and slam headlong into the muck and the mire and get burdened by fear and shame and guilt and worry. Those fears, those worries, that guilt and shame are what we end up focusing on, no matter how hard we try to pretend they're not there. We start acting as though money were our master – or whatever other idol tells us that it is our Master. And that is when Jesus says to you again, “No - I am your master, not money, not Satan, not sin, not the flesh.” He pulls our eyes off of all that other junk and says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Seek first the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that you were made a member of when you were baptized. Seek Jesus' own righteousness, the righteousness that He gives you whenever He forgives your sins! 
Do you see? No one may serve two masters – and while we might forget that, Christ Jesus does not, and He always remembers that He is your kind and gracious master, your good and gracious King, and so He will always call you back unto Himself, back to His Kingdom. How could He not – for you are His own, baptized into Him. You have life in Him. This the reality of your life – not your cash. You can't take your money with you, but Christ Jesus will take you with Him for all eternity, for He has purchased and won you from those lousy masters Sin, death, and the devil, all so that you will be His own and live under Him in His kingdom forever. You belong to Jesus, and He will never abandon you. God grant us ever more to remember this! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Trinity 14 Sermon

Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-17 – September 16th and 17th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Ah yes, the “thankfulness” text. The healing of the ten lepers. The text we hear twice a year, both today and on Thanksgiving Day where we can get the lecture, the waging of the finger – you little boys and girls need to be thankful, so you better go turn around right now and tell God Thank You! And if the preacher is a bit unscrupulous… or maybe if the budget seems tight, you might even hear “and by thank you I mean put more money in the plate you ungrateful slobs.” Too often this text is treated as an occasion to just hammer people for ungratefulness – to say “God wants you to be thankful… or he’ll be mad at you” – as though God is petty and only gives blessings just to make us grovel for more. No that's not how it works. God blesses us purely out of His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worth in us, and He doesn’t need our thanks. So this becomes the question, the question our text will answer today why, if God doesn’t need our thanks, why does He want us to give thanks? Let’s dive into the text.

“On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” The very first thing to note is this – Luke tells us that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem. In Luke’s Gospel, that’s not just a note, a factual snippet. The second half of Luke’s Gospel over and over repeats that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem – and why? Because it is in Jerusalem where Jesus wins salvation for us by His death and resurrection. Luke 18:31-33 explains this focus – Jesus says: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” Over and over in Luke, we are reminded of Jesus being on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross to win salvation. So – that is the background of this text, what we need to have in our heads – this text will be teaching us about Christ’s struggle against sin and death, it will be teaching us about His death and resurrection – He is on His way to Jerusalem to defeat sin and death.

“And as he entered a village, He was met by 10 lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” The impact of sin, death and decay show up in His path. He comes across 10 lepers who cry out “Lord, have Mercy” - the same thing we have already cried out today here in Worship today several times. These men who are ravaged by this disease call out to Christ seeking mercy – and mercy He will show. “When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Under the law of Moses, if you had leprosy, had a skin disease, you were exiled. Had to be for the good of the community. But, if you were healed, then you could go and show yourself to the priest, who would examine you and let you be restored to the community. And Jesus says, “show yourselves to the priest” – but did you note? They weren’t clean yet – it was only as they went that they were healed. That, my friends, is faith. Jesus says, “Go” – and even as they look at themselves they see their sores and wounds – yet they go, because Christ has said so. And again, we too are often in this same position. Christ has said to you, “Go, you are forgiven, your sins are no more.” And yet, when we look at ourselves, so often we see more and more sin, more and more flaws. Christ has said that we are washed clean in Baptism, that we are a new creation, that we will have the life everlasting – yet often, it doesn’t look this way. I wrote the rough draft for this sermon on Monday morning, and even as I wrote it I knew that there would be countless way between Monday and the weekend where I would do stupid, foolish, hurtful, sinful things – wretch that I am. Yet, over and above what I see in my life, what we see in our lives, our regrets, our shame, our guilt – Christ Jesus has said that we are clean, that we are forgiven – that he has presented us as His own Bride without spot or blemish – and thus in faith we believe what Christ has said, we trust His forgiveness.

And now we get to the turning point of our Gospel lesson. “Then one of the 10, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” Literally, the turning point. One of the lepers, seeing that he is healed, turns around, praises God and gives thanks. And Jesus looks at this a bit wryly – “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?’” Now, here is the danger for us in reading this – we can read this and suddenly want to go and condemn the other 9, say “ah, those evil, wicked nine – bad bad bad!” But this isn’t our Lord angry – we don’t hear “And then Jesus cursed those other nine with leprosy nine times worse.” No – they are still healed, they are forgiven, they are showing themselves to the priest just as Jesus had commanded. But because they did not return to praise God and give Him thanks, they miss the most wonderful thing. “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.’” Jesus explains everything to this leper, and only he understands fully because he returned for praise and thanksgiving.

Now, there are two very, very important things we need to notice to understand this. Let’s work backwards – Your faith has made you well. We don’t hear this rightly as Americans. We hear the phrase “your faith” and we think it’s talking about how strongly we believe, or how dedicated we are. That’s not the point. Jesus isn’t saying to this man “You are well because you really really really believed.” This is the type of claptrap we hear today – oh, if only you really believed then X will happen, you’d get the new car you want, your kids would behave better, your life would be great… if only you believed more. That’s not what Jesus is saying – Jesus is talking about the “object” of this man’s faith, talking about who this man believed in. This man believed in Christ, and because of Christ he has been healed. Consider – what if this leper had really really really believed that the Greek god Apollo would heal him? He’d still be a leper. No, it was faith *in Christ* that brought about this healing.

And what does the one who has faith in Christ hear? “Rise and go”. Now, we miss it because we don’t speak Greek – “rise” is a resurrection word. Jesus isn’t just saying “stand up and get out of here” – He literally says “you are rising and going” – you are being raised, you are being given life. Jesus isn’t simply saying, “Go away kid, you’re bothering me” – He’s giving the man life and salvation, and He tells him this so that the man sees and understands what it is that He has. You, Samaritan, you are receiving now what I am going to Jerusalem to win for you – you are receiving now the fruits of My death and resurrection as you are being raised and given new life now even as you will be totally raised and totally given everlasting life on the Last Day. This is forgiveness of sins and life and salvation.

And that fact, dear friends, lets us know what this text is about. It’s not an admonition to be grateful – it’s not the wagging of the finger. It’s a call to worship. This text is telling us, teaching us that we benefit from worship together. Consider – what does the leper do, seeing God’s goodness to him? He praises and gives thanks? Now, where do we generally turn from our normal everyday lives, enjoying the blessings God has given us, and pause and praise and give thanks to God? Worship right here. We call upon the Name of the Lord, pray, praise, and give thanks. And again, if we knew Greek, it would stand out more so. Where do we generally gather for communion? Here in Church – and what is one of the common names for the Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist. And the word Eucharist means “He gave thanks” – it’s from the words of institution – and on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread, and when “He had given thanks”. Again – in the Scripture “thanks” isn’t just personal thing, a feeling of gratitude – it was always tied to worship. Thanks meant going to the temple, it meant prayer and praise, worshiping God and receiving His gifts.

And this is the point of this text – we are called here into Jesus' presence, to this place for worship – so as to receive from Christ His good gifts of salvation. And this isn’t because we have to prove anything to God by our diligence. It isn’t as though if we miss too many Sundays suddenly we are off the salvation gravy train. Rather this – Christ Jesus your Lord loves you, and He would have you constantly know and receive His love, His mercy – have it preached to you, have it fed to you in His Supper. He knows what life in the sinful world is like. He knows that you sin daily and often, so over and against that He would have you hear forgiveness proclaimed often, He would have you taste His forgiveness as often as you eat and drink the Supper. He knows that life in the world beats us down, that if we listen to the world we forget the wonders of His blessings for us and instead become shaped by greed and lust and earthly power – so He calls us out of life in the rat race so that we can see and know what is going on. Yes, you are still a sinner in a sinful world, but over and above that another more wondrous truth stands out. Christ Jesus has died for you, He has risen for you, and He is raising you. He raises you now so that you may face the trials of this life standing upon Him, resurrected by Him. He shall raise you forever more on the last day. Whatever you see this week, whatever happens, whatever the world looks like this week – Christ Jesus is still your Lord, He still has had mercy upon you, and He will still call you to this place so that you may hear, may receive His mercy and forgiveness and love over and over so that you may stand fast and enjoy all of His blessings to you, come what may in this world. Christ has so much to give us for He has gone to Jerusalem, He has defeated sin and Satan and death, He has overcome the world – and we are raised and have life in Him. Rise and go your way, your faith has saved you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Trinity 13 sermon

Trinity 13 – September 9th and 10th, 2017 – Luke 10:23-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Before we consider the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, it would be good for us to look at the introductory verses, because they really do set the stage for what this whole text is going to be about. Jesus says to the disciples, Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” And this really drives home the wonders of being in the New Testament Church, wonders that we can overlook. On occasion, we will think about the events of the Old Testament – prophets and the Red Sea and all those type of things, and we can think, “Man, how cool would it have been to be around back then.” Yet Christ shows us something that is true – the pinnacle, the highlight of all of Scripture, isn’t the Exodus. It isn’t the fall of Jericho, it isn’t the kingdom of David, or Elijah defeating the priests of Ba’al, or Daniel in the lion’s den. No, the thing that all those people, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Daniel, the thing which they all hungered to see was the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, was what we see and know from the 4 Gospels. Jesus is the highlight, the point, of Scripture.

And yet, so often, He is overlooked. Forget this talk about Jesus, forget this talk about what He does – let’s get on to the good stuff, you know, stuff about me, what I have to do. That happens now, and it happened then. And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Now think about this – Jesus has just pointed out that kings and prophets would have given their eye teeth to see Jesus, and what is the question – what shall I do to inherit eternal life. A question about me, about my actions – forget focusing upon You, Jesus, let’s get back to me. And we can’t even lambaste this lawyer too much, because this is what sinful human beings do: turn everything back onto themselves – it’s about me, me, me – and Christ is overlooked.

But Jesus will answer him – what does the Law say, what does the bible say? Well, it says Love God and love your neighbor. Yep, that’s what you are supposed to do – if you want things to be about you, go get to work. It was a silly, simple question – what am I supposed to do? Show love. Duh. That’s sort of basic Christian living 101 there – as a Christian you are to love God and love your neighbor. That should have been obvious.

But now the fellow is embarrassed. He had wanted to put Jesus to the test, to ask an impressive question, and he had failed. He had wanted a good answer about what wonders he himself could do – and got this. And then we are told – But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” So, the guy is embarrassed because he just asked an obvious question, and so as to make himself look good, he asks, “who is my neighbor?” Do you see what’s going on? Jesus has just commented on how the kings and prophets of the Old Testament would have loved to see Him face to face here on earth – and the guy right there in front of Jesus couldn't care less about Jesus. He’s trying to focus on himself, to make himself look good. Even his question “who is my neighbor” isn’t a matter of “I want to serve my neighbor, who is this one whom I should serve” – but it’s an attempt to make himself look good. This man is focused entirely upon himself. He’s not seeing Jesus. So Jesus will tell a story to change his focus.

Let me reread the story, so we all have it fresh in our minds. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among some robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now, the road from Jerusalem winds through passes in the mountain, so it was a dangerous road, and this fellow gets mugged and beaten. This is a very real scenario. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. So we have two people who go by – a priest, one of the leaders of the people – sees the guy and hurries on. Now, this is lousy, but understandable. Think about driving through a bad neighborhood; if you see evidence of bad stuff going on, isn’t your instinct to lock your doors and drive a bit more quickly? Same thing he does here. And then the Levite, he is another respected member of Jewish society – the good family. He does the same thing. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. Remember, the Samaritans were the descendants of the northern kingdom, the rebels, the semi-Jewish scum of the day. People Israelites looked down upon. Yet this Samaritan sees the beaten man and has compassion, feels for him, and is so moved to act. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” And the care that this Samaritan gives is fantastic. Oil was used to clean, wine was used to disinfect. Good care. He puts the guy on his animal, meaning he has to walk – meaning he puts himself in danger – if the bandits come, the animal and the hurt man might get away, but this Samaritan would be in a heap of trouble. And then, when they reach shelter, the Samaritan doesn’t just dump him off, but cares for him, and then, when he must go, pays for his continual care. And after this, Jesus asks, Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? Yeah, the Samaritan. And Jesus tells us to go and do likewise.

So, how then, is this parable about Jesus? I mean, there is instruction for us – this is how we are to show love, fully and completely, and even at danger and risk to ourselves. That’s the standard that we are to hold to. It’s the standard we don’t live up to – the fact that this is the standard is the reason why we all had to say, “I a poor, miserable sinner” just a few minutes ago and confess our sins to God. But here's the point. So often we will duck responsibility and try to justify ourselves, but if we focused honestly upon ourselves, upon what we do, we'd see nothing but how we come up short, nothing but how there is more and better love to show. Indeed, we know that we should always strive to show better love to our neighbor, but if we honestly looked at ourselves in this matter, we'd see it's not pretty. Sin has battered and bruised us; we do not show love like we ought.

So let me ask you the question, which shows how this parable is all about Jesus. Who is your neighbor? When you are broken by sin and guilt, when people whom you should have been able to count on fail you, when the world is dark and cold and dangerous – who is your Neighbor? Christ Jesus is.

Consider again who the Good Samaritan is. He is someone who is looked down upon. Does that not describe Jesus, for He is treated as an outcast. His own did not receive Him. He was looked so down upon that He was even crucified? And what does this Samaritan do? When he sees the man, he has compassion. Likewise, Christ Jesus has compassion upon you – we had a sermon a few weeks ago at the feeding of the 4000 that used that very word – compassion. Christ is moved to act when He sees us broken by sin. The Samaritan came and bound the man’s wounds with oil and wine. What does Christ do – He comes and He binds our wounds with the gifts of Baptism and the Supper. Back in the day, baptismal rites almost always included oil – the part where we mark the Cross was done with oil. And in the Supper, Christ gives Himself, His life and forgiveness to us by giving us His Body and Blood through bread and wine. And more than just binding our wounds, what does Christ do? The Samaritan carries the wounded man to an inn – Christ brings us into His Church where He continually cares for us. The Samaritan charges to the innkeeper to care for the man, giving him two denarii, two coins with which to do it. Christ Jesus has charged me, as your pastor, to care for you, giving me His Word and His Sacraments, with which to do it.
With this parable, Christ is not merely teaching us that we are to love our neighbor. Rather this – He is showing us and teaching us about His love for us, what He does for us, and indeed, why we should long for this care. His love for us is so complete, so thorough and full, for He provides for us all that we need, He gives us the forgiveness He won upon the Cross, and sees to it that this forgiveness is still proclaimed through His Word, still handed out through His Supper. He has brought us here today to hear His Word of life, which we have. What remains for us today, then, is to receive His other gift for us, His own Body and Blood in His Supper. His love for you abounds, abounds in ways that would have boggled Abraham’s mind. Jesus gives you a feast that Solomon, in all his splendor, would have given all his wealth for. Let us rejoice in His gifts to us together, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – September 2nd and 3rd, 2017 – Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So Jesus is just walking by, on His way to wherever He is going, and suddenly, the people bring to Him a man who is deaf and mute. Can’t hear, can’t talk. These people beg Jesus to lay His hands upon him, to heal this poor man. These are good people, these are good folks. They are utterly kind to this deaf man, bringing him to where he might be healed. They are good and faithful folks, trusting in the goodness of our Lord. And of course, they expect Jesus to heal the man, as do we. But let’s look at what Jesus does in how He heals this man.

First, we hear this, “And taking him aside from the crowd privately”. The very first thing Jesus does is He pulls the man apart from the crowd. Consider what life would be like for the deaf-mute. He has a hard time communicating – he can’t understand, he can’t speak and let his own wants be known – he is cut off. And then, his friends come, and they rushedly bring him out to Jesus – do you see how this might be confusing? So what does Jesus do – first thing, he takes the man aside. There’s not going to be a whole crowd for this man to see and try to take in – Jesus brings this man’s focus onto Himself. And then, what do we see? “… He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” I really do think that this is one of the most beautiful things in Scripture. Well Pastor Brown, why is jamming your fingers in someone’s ear and spitting and grabbing his tongue beautiful? Because Jesus lets this deaf man know exactly what He is going to do for him. You can’t hear, can you? Well, you can feel – do you feel My fingers going into your ears – well, in a moment My Word is going to come into your ears and open them. You can’t talk, can you? Well, you can see. Can’t spit out the words – well, after I speak My Word, this tongue that doesn’t work right will be able to spit those words on out. It is wonderful care and compassion – it is the Great Physician letting His patient know what He’s going to do. And Jesus didn’t need to, I suppose – He could have just healed the guy right away – but now the man will understand this healing, understand the love that God has for him.

“And looking up to heaven He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened.’” A little bit more visual demonstration – see, I am praying, see, my movements tell you what is going on. And then the Word is proclaimed – “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The Word of God once again takes effect. The Word of God, which brought all things into being in the beginning is spoken once again, and there is recreation. Sin, death, the falleness of the world, these all try to destroy creation – try to break it. This man couldn’t hear – broken. This man couldn’t speak right, had an impediment – broken. And then the Word of God comes in, and creation is restored, things are made once again to how they ought to be, those ears that were meant to hear hear again and lips that were meant to speak speak again.

So, what does this mean? What do we learn from this? We see that Christ Jesus, out of His great love, will speak His creative and restorative Word to people to heal them. And this is true for you. Consider your own body. I’d wager that quite a few of us here woke up with aches and pains today, bits and pieces where our own bodies no longer quite work right. I know that some of you, like the man in the lesson, don’t hear so well – and some of you don’t hear nearly as well as you think you do. I’m not immune – I’ve got myself a speech impediment, and I know aches are coming and my ears, my eyesight are all going to be going soon enough. We are sinners in a sinful world, and as such the impact of sin ravages our bodies. That’s what this world brings us – we talk about 40 being over the hill. No, really once you hit around 23, 25, the body’s not improving and growing anymore – it’s starting its slide down towards the wages of sin. And that’s simply where we’d be ending up – but for one thing. Christ Jesus our Lord delights in speaking a Word of creation and restoration. Sometimes we see this in healings here – people getting well again from things they had no right to get well from. Many of us probably could have been dead already, and if it weren’t for God’s care and compassion and healing, we would have been. I should have died at birth; my heart stopped. Yet here I am. It’s why we pray for folks every week – every day. But it's even more than that, dear friends – “and I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.” The full and complete restoration will come then at the last day when we hear our Lord with the cry of an archangel raise us from the grave, restore our Bodies, restore not just hearing and speech but every sense and every power and every faculty to these bodies here – whether we are alive when He returns or whether our bodies have been long decayed. Either way – spoken unto life again. This is God’s great love for you. You too shall be healed, and it will be for all eternity.

But this text, dear friends, while speaking directly to physical healing, also teaches us and reminds us of more than just our physical healing. This text, this lesson, is an image of the spiritual healing and creation that goes on in your life as well. Spiritually speaking, when you were born, you were born Spiritually deaf and dumb – sin had you cut off from God, cut you off from man. And that’s what sin does – it makes you deaf to hear. It makes you unable to speak rightly. And what happened? Someone brought you to Jesus, someone brought you to where the crowds were gathered around Christ Jesus. Again, this deaf mute wasn’t left to find Jesus on his own, he was brought to Him. Of course, this man had to be brought to Jesus – he wasn’t going to find Jesus on His own. Likewise, someone came to you – perhaps your parents before you can remember, perhaps a friend, and you were brought to Jesus.

Now, let’s keep thinking about this. Brought to a place where crowds were gathered around Jesus – do we know a place where people all gather around Jesus, even today. . . oh, yeah, Church. And what happens to you in God’s Church? God deals with you directly. The Word of God is proclaimed, and you are given faith – your own callous, sinful ears are pierced and opened by the Word of God, and you understand the forgiveness He has won for you upon the Cross with His death and resurrection. And Christ Jesus Himself, through one of His servants, didn’t spit, but took water and spoke Christ’s own Word, and baptized you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – and you were washed clean of your sin, made a child of God, restored to the community of the faithful.

And this isn’t just a thing of the past. Are you still a sinner in a sinful world? Yes, indeed. Satan still tries to clog your ears, tries to tie up your tongue. How about it? This past week, anytime you turned a deaf ear to anyone, anytime you failed to speak words of love and care to another? Of course, and if you think you hadn’t failed this past week, you need to think again. So what does Christ Jesus do? He brings you again to His House, to His Church, where He speaks His Word into your ears to open them, where He places His own Body and Blood upon your tongues so that you are forgiven and may show forth His love. This place is all about how we receive from God through the Word, through the Sacraments (which are nothing other than God’s Word tied and joined into something physical for physical people like us), how we receive from God the love and forgiveness which Christ Jesus won for us upon the Cross. The same sort of things that this deaf man received, the same pattern holds for us here today in what we receive here.

Now, I would like to just take a moment before we conclude to do a little teaching, a little explanation. I have mentioned that I think it is beautiful when Jesus sticks His fingers in the man’s ear, when He grabs the fellow’s tongue. These actions, these physical actions tell and teach what Jesus is going to do. Here in God’s House, we have physical actions that tell and teach us about the faith. Consider – what happens before the Gospel reading? Those who are able to rise do so. Why? What does that movement teach – that something wondrous and worthy of respect and honor is going to happen – the Words of Jesus will be proclaimed. That is worthy of respect. That teaches. In a few moments, I will ask you to rise – why? Because you will receive a blessing from God – and that too is worthy of respect. When I give that blessing – I will make the sign of the cross. Why? Because that tells and teaches you that because you are baptized you can be assured that you have this blessing, that you have God’s peace which surpasses all understanding. These movements, standing or sitting, the sign of the cross – when I kneel in confession, whether I face y’all to speak the Word to you or whether we all face the altar in prayer towards God – these things all teach and focus us upon the receiving of God’s Word – so that even if our minds wander, our bodies move and pull us back onto track. Even these little things, like bowing of our heads in prayer are designed to continually focus us back upon the love and mercy that Christ Jesus has for us.

And so, with this in mind, my dear friends in Christ Jesus – when you hear and consider this text today of the healing of the deaf mute – know that the same Christ Jesus who healed this man does the same for you. He cares not only for your body, which He shall raise again on the last day, but with the power of His Word He has spoken faith into you, brought you into His Church, where our lips are opened and we proclaim the glories of the God who has brought us redemption and forgiveness. For this we shall give Him praise with all the heavenly hosts, even forevermore. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Trinity 11 - Pharisee and Tax Collector Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 26th and 27th, 2017 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Alright, I know the last few weeks have been a bit heavy – this stretch of the Trinity season has a lot of texts that call for introspection, that call for us to examine ourselves. And they all drive us to the point where we will confess before God, “I am a sinner.” It's not an accident that in today's Gospel lesson the emotional high point of the text is the tax collector beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” The point is that when the Law of God hits us, shows us our sin, we learn that there is nothing that we can bring to the table in our relationship with God; that there's nothing in us that lets us have leverage or manipulate God into liking us, blessing us, giving us more. Several weeks ago the Epistle had this great line from Romans - Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? We aren't in control, and instead we are at His mercy. But friends, being at God's mercy is precisely the best and safest place in all the universe to be. Being at God's mercy means, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified”. It's great to be at God's mercy because God is merciful.

So today we get the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And the ultimate point of the parable is that we need mercy, we need forgiveness; and that God gives that mercy and forgiveness to us in Christ Jesus. And we know this parable, we know the point – I often will call this the Lutheran Parable. But we can know it so well that we do it a disservice. We hear it and go “Pharisee bad, tax collector humble and good – let's go.” Well, no – the tax collector viewed himself as bad, as a sinner. Before we can get to the happy ending, we likewise need to learn to see and know our own sin. This is another one of those introspection texts, that call us to examine ourselves. What is it that can hit you, O Christian, that can make you forget your need for Jesus and His mercy? Jesus tells us with the set up- “[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

Two things there. First there is self-trust. I'm righteous enough already. This is nothing but spiritual delusion, it's utterly ignoring reality. And if we think of stupid, vain self-trust in the regular world, it can be almost comical. Imagine watching someone who doesn't know how to bake but decides that they are going to make a fancy cake for their kids' birthday, or if I were to try to go and build a tree house because the neighbors built one. Seriously, I am mechanically inept, I can't assemble flat pack furniture. And if we sat around sharing stories I'm sure we could all tell tales of where we went and did something where we were completely in over our head. Most of the time they are funny – but that's because baking a cake or wood working projects aren't normally life or death. If I was woodworking, you could laugh at me. If I said, “Well, I think I've got appendicitis, so I'll just remove that myself with his kitchen knife” - that wouldn't be funny. That would be bad. Very bad. And yet, even more so it is worse to approach God this way, to deal with not just something that could kill you physically but deals with your eternal salvation. You don't saunter up to God when salvation is on the line and say, “Hold my beer, Jesus, I've got this.” And yet, whenever we start thinking along the lines of how we are good Christians, how we're better than those folks over there – that's exactly what we are doing.

You see, the sign of this pride, the warning, the canary in the coal mine if you will, is treating others with contempt. How do you know, how do you spot when your self-trust is rearing its ugly head? When you start treating others with contempt. When you look at them and say, “I could do that better.” Or even worse, when you look at them and say flat out, “I am better.” That's the sign that you are all out of whack spiritually, that you are no longer focused on receiving from God His good gifts by faith but are way off on a sinful ego trip. Where you are no longer seeing the world, seeing yourself rightly.

Consider the Pharisee. Hear again his egotistical, sinful “prayer” - “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” You can just hear the condescension rolling off of the guy. But here's the sad thing, the bitter irony. Not a single one of those things that the Pharisee mentioned was bad in and of itself. They actually were all good things. It is good not to be an extortioner. Really, it is. It's good not to be a mobster and get involved in all of that. It's a messy, dangerous, violent life that isn't good or enjoyable at all and is prone to paranoia. Frankly, I'm glad I'm not a mobster. Or consider adultery. It's a terrible thing to get stuck in an affair – they are messy and painful and they break things. Affairs devastate families – y'all know this. It's a wonderful thing not to get caught up in affairs – it makes life much better. Or tithing. It's a great thing to tithe – to be generous with your wealth and to take care of the church. I'm never going to preach against tithing. The Pharisee had a good life, he was in a good spot.

But here's the problem. Because the Pharisee was so concerned with proving his own worth, because he wanted to demonstrate his self-trust, he missed the point entirely. The Pharisee would be right to thank God because every thing on that list was a gift to him from God. Every single thing. And even though he knows he should thank God – the Pharisee doesn't get it. He doesn't understand. He thinks this is all about who he himself is, not what God has given him. God had richly blessed him with what we normally think of as blessings – health, wealth. But more than that – God had kept him safe and out of trouble – this is a major theme of the Scriptures, where God prevents people from getting into trouble; Balaam's donkey, Abigal stopping David's rage, Namaan's servant keeping him from leaving Elisha angrily. That's a great blessing. I've messed up enough in my life, my sin has brought me and others enough pain to where I'm glad when I see something that God has kept me away from. But that's about what God does, His blessing, His mercy – it doesn't say anything about me and my virtue. And that's the danger – when we think we have good things because we are good. When we think that way, we forget that it is God who is good.

Then there's the Tax Collector. We know nothing about his life. He could have been a lout – as tax collectors were often assumed to be. He could have been a pious and devoted family man. We don't know. The Pharisee assumes the tax collector is a jerk, but let's be honest; we've all made plenty of assumptions about people that were flat out wrong. But it doesn't matter either way – we don't need to know about the quality of his life, the quality of his moral status because the Tax Collector isn't there on the basis of his quality, of how good he is. The Tax Collector could have been vastly more generous and kind than the Pharisee, but that's not the point. Whether he's better or even if he's worse - meh. The tax collector knows that he is a sinner. No point in comparing. But more than that, he knows something else. He knows that God is a giver, and especially a giver of mercy.

When the Tax Collector walks into the temple, he isn't presenting anything of use to God. There's no bargain, no bribery, no deal making. Simply a request – be merciful, give me mercy, give me mercy God because I need it because my sin is great. I don't care whether it looks bigger or smaller than someone else's sin – it's my sin, and it's horrid, and I need it to be mercied. And I know that you are the God who is steadfast and faithful and abounding in mercy. And He received mercy from God. Went home justified. Because that is what God does. He gives mercy.

When you come here, when you come to this place, to this house – don't come here trying to impress anyone. Don't come with airs trying to show what a nice little person you are. This is God's house – He's not interested in you trying to impress Him. Not in the slightest. He's not expecting you to come here to make a deal, He doesn't need you to make vain promises or swear oaths about this or that. He simply wants to take everything that Jesus did, everything he won by going to that cross and pour it upon you – He wants to richly mercy you, cover you with mercy, dare I even say baptize you with it, feed you with it, make His mercy be the largest thing you see in your life. Why? Well, for one, because that is who your God is – not some angry, petty tyrant but the merciful Lord who sees to your salvation. And He gives you His mercy both for now and for eternity. He gives you mercy now so that you would be forgiven and see all the other blessings He has given you so that you can enjoy them now over and against your sinful, egotistical flesh that wants to and often does abuse them. God says, “Here, receive mercy from Me, and thus be ready to enjoy all the other blessings and good things I give you.” But also God gives you mercy for all eternity. Here, receive mercy from Me, and thus be ready to rise from the dead and enjoy rightly forever all the blessings I will give you in the life of the world to come.

This is Jesus' goal. This is what He's focused on in the text by preaching this parable, it's what He's doing by going to the cross. It's what He's doing by having His font right here to wash people in His Baptism, it's what He's doing by having some fellow stand in His stead and preach His Word of mercy and forgiveness, hand out His Body and Blood to forgive sinners. You are at His mercy, which is precisely where life and salvation are present for you, now and fo rever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Trinity 10 Sermon

Trinity 10 – August 19th and 20th, 2017 – Luke 19:41-48

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
It should have been the high point of Jesus' earthly ministry. What we see in our Gospel text today my friends is, once again, Palm Sunday. Every 4 months or so our readings throw us back to Palm Sunday – because it's a great day. We love Palm Sunday – so we don't just get it on Palm Sunday – we get it at the start of Advent where we talk about our King coming to us humbly. And we also get it today, in the dog days of summer – but we get Palm Sunday with a twist. There is Jesus, on the donkey, the crowds calling out Hosanna... and he rounds a bend and there is Jerusalem standing before Him. Jerusalem – the city of God's own chosen people. Jerusalem is so wondrous that at the end of Revelation we hear: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This should be the high point... and what is Jesus doing? He's weeping. Not tears of joy, not tears of just how absolutely beautiful all this is, but tears of sorrow.

Our Gospel lesson gives us wondrous insight into Christ Jesus – a look at how He thinks, how He approaches life. Even at the height of His earthly glory – He weeps. Why? “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Jesus looks upon Jerusalem, and He is heart broken. There He is, the Prince of Peace, coming to win salvation for His people – and they don't see, they don't understand. Things are hidden from them. That is Scriptural talk for idolatry – they are so caught up in idolatry, in fearing and loving and trusting in something other than God that they don't recognize what a wondrous thing is going on. Jesus is right there – the Scriptures pointing to the salvation of the world are being fulfilled – but that's not what they see. That's hidden from them. What do they see, what is their idolatry?

Well, Jesus points to it with what He says next. “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Jersualem's idolatry was this: they worshipped false dreams of their own political glory. They wanted power and might and independence from Rome – they wanted a son of David who wouldn't be a Prince of Peace but a mighty man of war who would drive the Romans out. And so, they end up ignoring Christ. Kill Him and wish to be done with Him before the week's out. And instead they keep looking for great political leaders who would lead the glorious revolution. And in 66AD, around 30 someodd years down the road – they rebel against Rome. And it is horrific. Rome besieges the city, starves her out for years, and the people become weaker and weaker... and then in 70 AD Rome finally attacks and utterly destroys Jerusalem. Obliterates it. They blow up the temple – it was made of limestone so they set fires all around it, superheated the water in the stone and blew it up. It is one of the more horrific sieges of the ancient world – all because Jerusalem wanted power, not peace.

As He rides around the bend and sees Jerusalem – that is what Jesus sees. And He weeps. Not for Himself, not because of His upcoming crucifixion – those tears will be on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – but Jesus weeps because these people whom He loves just are hell-bent on stupidity and folly, and it will wreck them. It will wreck them because they didn't see, didn't want to see a loving and merciful Savior who came to visit them, to be with them – they wanted their own glory and other people to get the shaft. If you live by the sword... you die by the sword. He even had to tell that to the disciples on Maundy Thursday.

It gets worse. Jesus enters Jerusalem, and He does what you would expect Him to. He goes to the temple. Earlier in Luke was the story of boy Jesus in the temple, where all the old guys are discussing Scripture with Jesus – and they love it. Of course Jesus is going to be found in His Father's house! But that was after the feast, after Passover. Jesus comes in before Passover this time, and what He sees – well: And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers.” Jesus weeps over Jersualem; the abuse in the temple makes Him angry. This isn't a calm kicking people out. Other Gospels note that He overturns tables, that he makes a whip out of cords of rope and whips people out – drives them like cattle. Why this righteous anger?

Remember who Jesus is. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is Passover week, the preparation for celebrating the greatest feast of them all, where God delivered Israel from Egypt – where blood of the Lamb upon the wooden lintel ensured that the angel of death would passover – where there was the holy meal done every year so that the children of God would remember not only that delieverance – but more importantly that one day God would send the Messiah to be the true Passover Lamb, whose blood would be shed to eternally deliver all mankind from death. And that day is here – behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Indeed, at Sundown Friday He would be sacrificed, His blood would be upon the wooden beams of the Cross and death would be destroyed forever! And yet – what's going on in the temple, the place that should be most focused on God. The lambs there aren't so that people would remember their coming salvation – they are there with giant mark ups so folks can profit off of people's piety. The Temple was no longer pointing folks to God, no longer a place of prayer and God's Word – it was all about money. Here is part of the reason why the day of Jerusalem's visitation is hidden! And Jesus is ticked off royally. And He drives them out.

Two incredibly strong emotions from Jesus in our text – the weeping sorrow, the righteous anger. But did you notice, these have nothing to do with with what's happening to Him. He's not sorrowful over what will happen to Him, He's not angry because of what will happen to Him come Good Friday. He's sorrowful, He's angry because of what is being done to the people He loves, the very people He is going to die for. He sees them trapped, sees them messed with – and He can't stand it. His focus, this thoughts are upon them, and that is what drives Jesus.

Now, the hard questions. If Jesus were to round the corner and see Trinity here, what would be the things that would make Him weep? What are the idols that we are so focused on that we don't pay the attention to the things that make for peace like we ought? I don't think any of you are wanting a glorious revolution to over throw the country – but what gets in the way of peace in your life? Are you focused on personal respect? Are you more worried about what your neighbor thinks of you than of how you can serve them and show them love? Does a lust for wealth drive you; or even just simple lust? Are there people that you'd rather just keep hating, keep grousing about and complaining about instead of forgiving? Or maybe even just being too busy to be bothered with love and peace when you go out those doors – I put my hour in of being a good little Christian for this week and that is enough. Those and so many more, too many to count – all things that undercut peace. All things that take the good gifts of life and body and neighbors and house and home and mess with them, make them places of dischord rather than peace. Those are the things Jesus would weep over.

And as for what would make Jesus angry if he were to walk in here – well, that would be whenever we would shift the focus of this place off of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and make the focus ourselves – money driving the discussion would be one way, or if the preaching going off on my personal hobby horses instead of being Christ and Him Crucified. Treating this place as though it's where the good people of town gather rather than a place where sinners come to receive Jesus. Because this place is to be a place where our eyes and all the eyes of this community are focused upon Jesus – not to be a place where we tell folks out there that they aren't good enough, aren't rich enough, aren't “us” enough. That's the sort of stuff that makes Jesus angry.

Like I said, hard questions. And ones that we should ponder for ourselves, routinely – throughout the week. What is it this week that is popping up in me that is trying to make me not see Jesus and His love – His love for me, His love for my neighbor. But even as we ponder these questions – we can't stop just there – because Jesus doesn't just stop there. When Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, He don't say, “that's it, there's no point in going on” and turn the donkey around. When Jesus drives folks out of the temple, He doesn't say, “Forget this, I'm going back to Nazareth and making tables and chairs.” No – He doesn't give into sin, He doesn't let His ego run wild, He doesn't pout or take His ball and go home. He spends the rest of Holy Week preaching in the temple, pointing to God's plan of salvation – and then He very simply goes to the Cross and wins salvation. For the people of Jerusalem. For the folks in the temple. For you. Jesus' response to your sin isn't perpetual disdain; His response is to deal with it. It is to go to the Cross and die for it and to rise from the dead so as to pull you through it by giving you His own life. This is why we ask ourselves these hard questions, why the Word of God shows us our sin – not so that we try to make it up to God – but so that we would see Jesus all the more clearly – so that we would know what sins He is forgiving, so that we wouldn't be lulled away from Him but rather see just how diligently and determinedly He loves us. Yeah, your heart often doesn't want to be about peace – so over and over Jesus comes to you and says Peace be with you – I am giving you My peace and forgiveness right now; because you are Mine I'll see to it that you know the things that make for peace, that you know that you are baptized into Me and are dead to sin and alive in Me – that you live not by bread alone but by My Word, indeed by My own Body and Blood given for you for the forgiveness of all, all of your sin – even those difficult hard ones that keep sticking around and are so hard to fight. Yes, those sins – those are precisely the ones Jesus died for. And He pours his Word and Spirit upon us, so that as His forgiven children we would live with Him forever. The Jesus who weeps over Jerusalem has promised to wipe every tear from your eye and to bring you unto Himself with joy and peace even forever. So, even after our text, after the week we've just had – He goes to the Cross for you, He rises for you, and He will come again for you. Because that is just who Jesus is, He is the God is will let nothing – not sin, not Satan, not death – Jesus will let nothing stop Him from loving you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trinity 9 Sermon

Trinity 9 – August 12th and 13th, 2017 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  With these words, Christ Jesus our Lord lays down the gauntlet, He really chides us.  We here, we who know Christ, we run around like fools, whereas the wicked, the evil at least act shrewdly, at least take stock of their situation and what is really going on.  This text today is a wake up call, a call for Christians to start thinking, pondering their life, their salvation – but Jesus does this in a backhanded way.  Instead of holding a positive example before our eyes, Jesus shows us a liar, a cheat, a thief – someone who plays the game of the world well, and we are supposed to draw the parallel to our own lives.  This we will do today God willing.  Let us begin first by examining the shrewdness of the dishonest manager.

          “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.”  Now, this is the first sign, the first inkling that the manager was shrewd.  This manager has a cushy job – he’s basically in charge of buying and selling possessions for a rich man, he’s in charge of the business.  And what’s he doing – he’s skimming a bit off the top.  He’s been sweetening his deals with other people and living the good life.  He’s like the businessman today who uses the company card for “business” – because of course he needed to take that potential customer out to the finest restaurant in town, take him out for a nice round of golf on the company expense account.  He needed to take that expensive business “trip” all on the company dime.  Maybe even just a little extra old fashion skimming as well.  Again, this seems like a pretty sweet deal – but here is the problem.  He’s dipped a little too deeply, enjoyed a bit too much of the high life with the company footing the bill – and he got called out.  “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”  And the shoe drops.  You’ve been wasting my possessions – you’re fired.  Go collect your books and bring them to me tomorrow. 

          So now the situation has changed.  Instead of being able to live this life of luxury, he’s losing his job.  The tables are turned.  So, what will this man do?  Weep?  Rant?  Complain?  No – he takes stock of his situation.  “And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”  Let’s see what we can do, shall we?  I’ve had a nice, cushy job – but that’s going away.  I can’t dig – I’m a soft, indoor worker, that type of job would kill me.  I’m too proud to beg.  Now, consider – this isn’t really admirable… we value strength, we know you shouldn’t let pride get in the way – but this manager is a wicked lout.  He’s a weakling, he’s sleezy – but he is at least honest about himself.  When troubles come, there are no vain boasts about what he’s going to do, no bluster.  He knows his limitations, great as they are.  And so, he hatches a plan.  “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’”  You know what – I haven’t turned the books in yet.  It’s time to cut a deal, it’s time to get in good with other folks, so that way I can sponge off of them and land on my feet.  “So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”  And the plan goes into effect.  He is going to give people a discount.  One man owes 100 measures of olive oil – now because of the manager he only owes 50.  A measure of olive oil was 875 gallons – so, what – fourty-some-thousand gallons of olive oil discount.  That’s a pretty penny.  Or the wheat – a measure was 1200 bushels or so – here fellow, take 24,000 bushels of wheat on me.  If someone gave you 24,000 bushels of wheat and then knocked on your door and said, “Well, I got fired, I don’t have a place to stay, do you mind if I crash here for a bit” of course you are going to let him in and stay.

          And with things all set up, things all prepared, the accounts get turned in.  And under Roman Law it’s all technically legal – the manager was s till an authorized agent, he had authority to deal.  “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”  And the master had to hand it to him – the guy was sharp – a liar, a cheat and needed to be fired, but he was sharp.  This is shrewdness according to the ways of the world, where it is expected that you are supposed to lie, cheat, and steal all in order to get ahead, all in order to live it up now.  And this manager is shrewd for a son of this world. 

          But now, what of you, what of the sons of light?  What is shrewdness, what is true wisdom for us?  Well, let’s go through the story again, but we are going to flip it and think of it in terms of a child of light.  So to begin, we had a manager who was wasting his master’s possessions.  How does that apply, how does that describe the Christian?  Well, consider what we as Christians are.  We are stewards, managers of God’s wisdom and God’s blessings.  We know God’s truth, we know the Law, we know the commandments, we know what is good and God pleasing.  We have blessing after blessing from God – all the first article gifts that we talk about in the explanation to the Creed – body and soul, house and home, family and friends.  And what do we do?  We waste them.  We ignore the commandments and sin.  We engage in wickedness and vice.  We abuse God's blessings – instead of seeing them as gifts we vainly boast that we have earned them.  Instead of being content and trusting in God, we covet and fret about making more and more.  We know the Good things of God, and yet we sin in thought, word, and deed.  And in this we see that we aren’t as shrewd as the manager.  He at least lived what he thought was the good life – and we, we know what it is that is good.  We know what is God pleasing.  We know how to live, we know how to have peace and contentment and security.  And what do we do?  We blow it.  We waste it.  We worry when told not to worry, we hate our enemies when told to pray for them.  We fill our lives with sin that wastes and destroys and taints the blessings we have received, and everything turns to dust and ashes in our hands.  We give over to sin.

          And then we get called on it.  Even as the manager was brought before the rich man, so the Law of God, when preached, lays us bare, shows us our sin.  Give an account of your actions – have you been perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?  Or have you wasted what He has given you?  And just as the manager had to turn in his account – well, the wages of sin is death.  So the Law comes crashing down – you have sinned, and you will die.  That’s what’s going to happen.  So what becomes the reaction?  Often the reactions are unwise.  How many people who know better still live as though they will never die?  How many Christians live in denial, pretending that they aren’t sinners, pretending that they haven’t offended God with their sin.  Or how many think that they will just be able to work out things with God by their own strength, by their own powers? I'll be good! Or worse, I AM good. There’s a lot of ego, there’s a lot of pride, there’s a lot of people who think God owes them.  That’s utter foolishness – the manager knew that he was up a creek… you would be wise to recognize this as well.  By your own powers, by your own strength, you cannot make things up to God, you cannot find a way out of your own sin, you cannot save yourself.  It’s only vain human pride and folly that would say otherwise, but yet so many Christians end up falling to folly, end up falling to pride.

          No, often we are not shrewd, often we are not wise.  We must see ourselves, our sin, our lack truly, and then we must realize that we are weak.  We are weak, but God is strong.  In the story, the manager lives not by his own strength, but he lives off of the master – he makes his living by living off of the master’s stuff.  Likewise – you will not have salvation or redemption by your own efforts or power – you only have salvation in Christ.  It is not your hard work that will redeem you – it is Christ’s work.  It is Christ’s death and resurrection which wins you life and salvation – anything else is a waste.  If we trust in ourselves, we will die – if we trust in Christ Jesus, if we delight in the salvation which He earned for us, even should we die we will be received into the life everlasting.  And this is the wondrous truth that we cling to – the truth that the Holy Spirit who has given us faith points us to over and over.   We are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, apart from the works of the Law.  And so over and over Christ comes to us, sends us His Word to drive us to repentance, repentance away from our sin and foolishness – and instead He holds before us His Cross, He says to us, “Behold, I have paid the full penalty for your sin – I have swallowed up your death, and because I live, you too shall live and have life in My Name. Cross out your sin, for I have written the sign of My Holy Cross upon your forehead and upon your heart.”

          Christ our Lord warns us, warns us that sin and Satan will try to shift our focus away from Christ Jesus, away from His Cross.  So He calls out to you today to be wise, to be shrewd.  He calls out to you today so that you would keep your focus upon Him and the salvation He has won for you.  He brings His forgiveness and mercy, His Spirit to you in His Word proclaimed, in His Holy Supper.  Be wise, be shrewd – cling to Christ and His salvation, for in Him you have life eternal. God grant that He continually fix our eyes upon Christ!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trinity 8 Sermon

Trinity 8 - August 5th and 6th, 2017 - Matthew 7:15-23

There are some sermons that are quite easy to write – where the words just flow, where it's fun to write it. And then there are some sermons that are hard to write, where it is a struggle, and if you happened upon me while I was working on it, you would find me quite grumpy. And then, then today, this sermon is one I wish I didn’t have to write. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” I wish I didn’t have to preach a sermon on this topic – I wish as your pastor that I didn’t have to worry about false prophets, that I never had to contend with false teachers – I wish I could send you out those doors into the world without a thought about what vile, faith destroying junk you will hear out there, because I know that you all have enough on your plate. But my wishes, my desires, do not create reality – and our old Satanic foe still, even now, means deadly woe. I'd guess even you yourselves have seen him at work – have seen people fall, seduced away by false preachers who leave them shattered and broken. So this text must be preached – beware of false prophets.

So, how do we know a false prophet? Would that it would be easy – that we could simply listen to see if the name of Jesus is mentioned – but our Lord says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Just because someone claims to be teaching or preaching Christ doesn’t mean he is. There are false prophets out there who blaspheme our Lord’s holy name and lead people astray. So, how are we to know? Hear what our Lord says. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? We will know them by their fruits – we will see, we will hear what they produce, and that is how we will know if they are false or not.

So what does this mean? Do we listen to the people who seem nice, do nice things? Do we listen to the preacher who has the biggest smile, who has the best handshake? No, for hear how our Lord describes what He will say to these accursed false prophets on the final day! On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” When our Lord talks about knowing a tree by its fruit, He isn’t just talking about things that look nice. Jesus isn’t talking about things that seem impressive to the eye. Look at the wonders we’ve done, we’ve even cast out demons in Your name – still a false prophet. How are we to know then, by what fruit will we tell a false teacher? How do we discern?

Did you hear the last phrase of our Lord? “you workers of lawlessness.Lawlessness. Working against the Law. Lawlessness – those who are not justified. And now, dear friends, we see what it is that we need to be wary of. Now we can see and understand what it is we are to watch for. Simply looking to works, that doesn't cut it. Being nice doesn’t cut it. What makes a Christian a Christian is that as Christians we never pretend that we are hunky dory– instead we are sinners who have been Justified by Christ Jesus, we have been declared righteous by God, and we delight in the fact that Jesus Christ is the one who fulfilled the Law in our place. And so now dear friends, listen, and hear how you mark out false prophets, how to know if their tongues are forked or not. Listen, dear friends, to how they preach the Law and how they preach the Gospel – and if either is erring or lacking, stop up your ears and flee from them.

False prophets misuse the Law of God. When we speak about the Law, dear friends, this refers to anything that has to do with what we do. If it’s about what you do, what you ought to do, what you should do – it’s Law. The Law deals with our behavior, what humans do. And the Law always, always condemns us. There is never a time when we can say, “Finally, I have done what God commands in His Law – finally I am a good Christian.” We cannot be like the young man in Scripture who looks at the commandments and boasts, “All these I have done from my youth.” No! We know that we are sinful, that we fall short, that even our best deeds are as filthy rags. The Christian life is one of constant and continual repentance, where we constantly and repeatedly confess our sins and also struggle against our sinful nature which desires more and more to sin.

Dear friends, if you hear preaching or teaching in the world, if you hear the radio or tv preacher, if you read the so-called Christian book that doesn’t treat God’s law in this way – avoid it. The point of the Law isn’t that you are better than your neighbor. The point of the Law isn’t that if you follow these 8 easy steps you can ensure God’s blessings. The point of the Law isn’t advice on how to have your best life now. Now, Is the Law of God good and wise? Yes – I even have been known to make you sing the old hymn with that title. If we live our life in accord with God’s law, will our lives be smoother? To a certain extent, yes – if I don’t lie, I don’t have to clean up the messes that come from lying. But Christianity is not simply a set of rules to follow, not a moral code to a good time on earth – because the point of the law isn't how to live right, but rather to reveal the truth that you don't and can't live right because you are sinful. Thus the Christian faith is about life and salvation – understanding that we of our own strength have no life and salvation. The Law, when it is preached, always hits you, hits you right here (on the chest, on the heart) – the Law convicts you of your own sin. Otherwise it is not being preached rightly. It's being watered down, relaxed. And if it’s not being preached rightly, it is being preached falsely in order to sell you something, to make God simply a giant goodie dispenser in the sky, to make you confident in yourself and what you do because you're not 'them' – not those wicked people. Listen to how people preach the Law – and if their preaching doesn't show you your own sin, doesn't pin the tail on the donkey right here, be wary of what they will be preaching.

Also, dear friends, false prophets misuse the Gospel. Actually, they fail to preach the Gospel, that’s a more accurate way to say it – and instead of preaching Christ and Him Crucified, they give something else, they say Lord, Lord, but give nothing of Christ. The Gospel is this – Christ died for you. Given and shed, for you. The Gospel is this – that Christ Jesus does what is necessary for your salvation, and then gives this salvation to you freely, freely forgiving your sins, freely gifting you with faith, freely giving you all that you need to be with Him for eternity in heaven. Anything, any teaching which undermines this Gospel, is of Satan. If that sounds harsh, let me read what Paul writes to the Galatians, who had been listening to false prophets: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Let him be accursed. Anathema in the Greek. Let him be consigned to hell, let him be damned. This is serious, a serious matter – for Satan seeks to lead you astray. Listen to what is preached, and if it is not Christ and Him Crucified for you, then have nothing to do with it – for false doctrine kills, and is not to be tolerated.

And this is why, dear friends, why the Lutheran Church has put such a focus on teaching. This is why we have confirmation class starting again this fall – it’s not just a hoop to jump through before communing but that we might learn what true doctrine is so that we can avoid the bad. That’s why I harp on the Small Catechism, so that when you are out in the world and hear false prophets, you will know and remember the truth instead. That’s why you are to teach your children. That's why we have a Sunday School – we need some more teachers to teach kids Christ and Him Crucified. That’s why we confess the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week – so we are reminded of what we are to be listening for – if the preaching doesn't mesh with the Creed, kick the preacher out! That's why thankfully Dan was so stubborn and picky about the music here and why we'll continue to be so. If it isn't proclaiming Christ and Him c rucified, what good is it? This is important – that you here learn to evaluate things in the Church not on how pretty something is or how dynamic someone is, but rather, are they proclaiming Christ and Him Crucified. Because workers do come and go. Volunteers volunteer for a time and then new ones stand up. And that's fine – all who serve are utterly replaceable – if I get hit buy a bus tomorrow go call another preacher to take my place – but a preacher who will preach Christ. Because it's never about the individual, never “see what I did” but rather Christ Crucified for you, Jesus who loves you and gives you forgiveness and life and is the same always, yesterday, today, and forever. It must always be Christ Jesus for us poor sinners because that's where life and salvation is.
Why can I say that? Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This is the will of Your Father who is heaven – that you repent of your sin and receive Christ’s forgiveness. Or as the Catechism puts it in the meaning of the third petition - God's Will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.And so God your Father will send you people to show you your sin, to break down your sinful nature - but also to show you Jesus, give you Christ. He will even use you to do this for others. Now, Satan will try to distract you, will throw up smoke screens, all that stuff. He'll even dangle out false preachers to try to lure you away. But you know the truth, you know what any one who preachers or teaches is to proclaim, you know what lyrics our hymns are to echo forth. Christ and Him crucified for y ou. You are forgiven and rescued from your sin by Him. Period. The End. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.