Saturday, May 6, 2017

Easter 4 Sermon w Confirmation

Easter 4 (and Confirmation) – May 6th and 7th, 2017 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen! (He is Risen indeed, alleluia!) Amen.
You will be sorrowful. There you go confirmands. You will be sorrowful – happy Confirmation Day! Boy, that took a turn, didn't it. Well, understand where and when our Gospel Lesson takes place. In a sense, it happens immediately after the Disciples have been confirmed. It's Maundy Thursday evening, and Jesus has just celebrated the Lord's Supper for the first time, they've all just had their first communion – and our Gospel text is Jesus talking to them after that first Lord's Supper. And what does Jesus know that the disciples don't? He knows that Good Friday's coming. The Crucifixion is coming. And even after Jesus is raised from the dead, His ascension is coming. “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” Your class time is done disciples, and soon, you won't be following Me around as my learners, but you'll be out there, you'll be doing things, you'll be teaching. Dare I say, you're going to be all grown up, expected to be adults.

And this sort of freaks out the disciples. “So they were saying, 'what does He mean by a little while? We do not know what He is talking about.” It's scary, and they want to ask, but again, they are proud, they are the disciples, they've spent so long learning, they shouldn't need to ask. Lesson 1 from our text – even though you've all studied, you never learn enough to where you can't ask questions, to where there won't be things you ask questions about. I've been a Pastor nearly 13 years, and I still try to meet with other pastors at least once a week, because I still get questions. And Jesus understands that. Don't be afraid to ask questions if you have them folks – do you see how welcoming of questions Jesus is? He'll actually ask them for the disciples. “Is this what you were asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, 'A little while and you will not see Me, and again a little while and you will see me?” Questions don't bother Jesus. And 'what does this mean” questions certainly don't bother Jesus – being done with confirmation doesn't mean you're done with “what does this mean?” Nope, questions continue – and sometimes the answers are hard.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” And you guys all thought me starting the sermon with “You will be sorrowful” was rough. But Jesus is just speaking the truth. What will the disciples see in the next 24 hours? They will see Jesus arrested, beaten, unjustly condemned, and crucified, all while the world mocks and jeers and rejoices that Jesus the troublemaker has been finally put down. And Peter, bold Peter's going to be weeping bitter tears after the cock crows three times; John's going to be at the foot of the Cross getting told to take care of Mary. It's going to stink on ice, and even while it's at it's worst for the disciples, the world will be laughing and celebrating.

Lesson number 2. In your lives, you will see things that will rip up you. The world will do things that are horrible – I hope you don't see much, but chances are you will. And Satan will still keep on stirring up all sorts of hatreds and anger – the world's never going to be a nice place. And even your own sinful flesh will get in on the act, and you will be tempted to do all sorts of stupid foolish things, you'll have discontent from wanting things you don't have, you'll get caught up in stupid fights and anger, and you will sin – and then Satan will slug you and attack you will guilt. That's the way life goes in this sinful world – and it keeps going this way. Bad times, rough times, can come sweeping up at you at any moment – and it doesn't matter what you've learned, it doesn't matter how old you are. Growing up doesn't mean everything suddenly makes sense and is easy – just means new problems. Every single one of us in here has something rough to deal with, and if things are fortunately sort of smooth now, just wait a bit, something will come up soon enough. You will be sorrowful. That's just a fact.

Now, if we stopped there this would be an utterly dour and depressing sermon, wouldn't it? And some folks might want to skip over all this – but we can't. Being a Christian isn't a golden ticket to sunshine and daisies all the time. There will be sorrows in this life. There will be hurts and pains and anger, and as a Pastor I'm probably going to be stuck doing funerals until someone does mine. Sorrow happens, we can't pretend otherwise, we can't live in denial – Jesus teaches us specifically this fact. When sorrow comes in your life, don't pretend it's not there. Being macho never impressed Jesus. When sorrow comes in the lives of people you know, your family, your friends, your neighbors – don't downplay it. We are Christians, we know sorrow – we know just how rotten sorrow is because we know just how Good God had created this place to be. We know sorrow, because we know sin for what it is, and how horrible it is. But Jesus doesn't just leave us in sin, Jesus doesn't just let sin and sorrow stand. No – You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. Now, quickly, let me point out something. Jesus said joy. He didn't say happy. Happy is an emotion, how happy or sad we are is internal, it can go up and down and all over the place. Happy is all over the place. That's not what Jesus said; He said joy. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Joy is something that is given to you. Joy isn't an internal emotion, but Joy is seeing something else, something greater, something outside yourself.

Jesus explains what I mean. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish for joy that a human being has been born into the world. See how that works. Several gals I know, that we know here, have given birth recently, and you know what's fun? Seeing all the baby photos on Facebook. And there's lots of them. Tons of them. That's joy. What's the mom focusing on – not “three weeks ago I was shouting and asking for stronger drugs” - it's “oh look, isn't he cute!” That's joy. Joy in that human being, in that other person. Joy pulls your focus off of that sorrow and then puts it onto something wondrous and wonderful. It doesn't mean that the sorrow was any less sorrowful, it doesn't mean that the labor was any less laborious – but now our focus isn't dominated by that sorrow, our focus is on this little bundle of joy. Not looking at, not overwhelmed by my sorrow anymore – even though there might still be some soreness that still lingers – but look at this fella, isn't he sweet?

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. This is beautiful, oh people this is beautiful. Jesus acknowledges to the disciples that they will have sorrow now – He doesn't downplay it, He doesn't soft-sell it. But He makes a promise. I will see you again. And did you note that – Jesus says I will see you again. He doesn't say, “You'll have to look to try to find Me.” He doesn't say that He'll disappear. Nope – I will see you, and because I see you you will have hearts that rejoice, joy that no one can take away from you. And what does Jesus do after He rises? This was two weekends ago – even when the disciples are locked away in fear and sorrow – there Jesus is. Peace be with you. I told you I would see you again, and lookie here, I see you, and I say peace. And even a week later, He shows up again. Jesus comes again to the disciples – and really, the next few weeks are going to be lessons on how Jesus comes to us in His Church through His Word and Sacraments. We'll get plenty on this the rest of this month, but let's tie it up now.

When you were baptized, Christ Jesus saw you. He saw you and said, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He saw you and declared that you are His brother, His sister. He saw you and declared that you are forgiven and would be an heir of eternal life. That He would be your God who would always be merciful. And you know what – no one can take that joy from you, no one can change the fact that you are a baptized child of God. And what is confirmation? Nothing but this: I will ask these 5 young adults the same question I got asked – Do you this day in the presence of God and of this congregation acknowledge the gifts that God gave you in your Baptism? Do you acknowledge the gifts, do you recognize this joy that Christ has given you that no one can take away from you, that no sorrow can take away from you? Are you starting to see things like an adult, see and understand what actually goes on in this service?

What happens in this service? Jesus sees you. He sees you here in His Church, He sees you coming into His House, facing whatever sorrows you're facing in life. Doesn't freak Him out, doesn't make Him ashamed of you. Instead, He sees you, and He sends a pastor, this day it happens to be me, and He instructs that pastor to say, “As a called and ordained servant of Christ, and by His authority, I therefore forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +” See, your Baptism still holds true. God still sees you as His, and no one can take that joy from you.

Jesus sees you. He sees you, and He calls you to His table, to give Himself to you in the wonderful mystery of the Lord's Supper. Take and eat, take and drink – given and shed for you, for you, yes, for you, so that you would have joy. It's all about the forgiveness and life and salvation that Christ has given you – freely, completely out of His love for you. And this is what He offers you, even until you reach the feast of eternal life with Him – when He appears and you are like Him, raised to a new and glorious and sinless life. This is what Christ has done for you.

You will be sorrowful. That's how we started this sermon – but hear again how Jesus ends it. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy, turn to and see Christ and His everlasting love for you. This the truth, the truth we see whenever Christ comes to us in His Word, in His Sacrament. God grant that we see this all our days in this world of sorrow, even until we see Christ Jesus face to face in the life of the world to come. And we shall see Him. And we confess together why we will see him saying – Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia +

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – April 29th and 30th, 2017 – John 10:11-16

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen +
The Gospel texts that we hear in these weeks after Easter really end up focusing us upon what the Risen Christ does for us and makes us into – what we in the Church are made into on account of Christ. On Easter, we get the foundation – Christ rises from the dead, and this is for us, it is to give us new life now and the assurance of our own resurrection on the Last Day. Last week, we heard that Christ uses His Word of forgiveness to counter our fears and doubts, to give us strength for this new life - that He makes us to be people whose lives are defined by the fact that we receive forgiveness from Christ. Do you see how both of those texts describe how Christ relates to us, and then describe who, describe what we are in the Church because of Christ and His love for us? Today we hear another description of what Christ establishes in His Church, what His love makes us to be. And it’s familiar – it’s the image of the Good Shepherd.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” We hear these words, and we make those joyous connections – of course Christ is our Good Shepherd, and on Good Friday, the Good Shepherd laid down His life for us. We know this, we give thanks for this. As Paul would have us be, we are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified in this place – we know that as often as we celebrate the Supper we show forth His death until He comes. Behold the love that Christ the Crucified has for us in dying for our sins so that we might have life in His Name! But let’s not run by this idea too quickly. Let us pause and consider it again – the Good Shepherd does what? What does a good shepherd do? He dies for the sheep. Do we realize just how odd an approach that is, how differently our Lord thinks and teaches from the rest of the world? A shepherd dying for sheep? For those sheep who exist so that you can sheer their wool, so that you can even slaughter them? For that a good shepherd would die? Who gives up their life for an animal, for a lowly beast? Yet, that is how Christ describes His Church. It is as though Christ were to say, “I am God Almighty – and although I am God and you are as below me as a sheep is below you, yet I choose out of My love for you to die for you.”

Do we believe this image? Does this shape how we think? Do we view ourselves as sheep, as foolish folk who easily wander astray into sin? Do we view ourselves as simple folk in need of constant and continued care, who are relatively powerless to defend ourselves against predators? Do we believe this? We ought, for it is true. Christ is the Good Shepherd, and we are sheep – we all like sheep had gone astray, and we need to be cared for. This is part and parcel of what being a Christian is – it means acknowledging that you are weak and lowly and that you need to be cared for – that you need God’s care for you, that if the Good Shepherd hadn’t died for you, then you yourself would have been lost, and that there is nothing that you could have done about it – that you are dependent upon Jesus, just as a sheep is dependent upon its shepherd.

This is who we in this place are, we are those who are dependent upon Christ. And why are we dependent upon Christ and not someone else? “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. This is because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” This is the other reality – to be in the Church is dangerous, for that old wolf Satan loves nothing more than to bound amongst God’s sheep and snatch them, seize them, scatter them. And if I could make an observation here. When are the sheep scattered? When the hireling who doesn’t care about them flees. This hireling is contrasted to the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd owns the sheep and lays down His life. The hireling – he doesn’t care about the sheep themselves – he thinks along the ways of the world. He cares for the cash in his pocket, and if this flock gets eaten up, well, there’s more places in the world to make money. Now, in many ways this part of the textis a warning to me – for I am a Pastor, and Pastor is just the Latin word for Shepherd. I serve under the Good Shepherd, and when I tend to you in His stead and by His command – the thoughts of worldly things are to be far from my mind. That’s part of the reason why we have a Church Council, why we have a voter’s assembly – so that I don’t personally have to deal with the worldly, business affairs of this congregation by myself and begin seeing dollars and cents instead of sheep in need of care. Whenever that happens, Satan delights. However, this passage also describes you. God has instructed, God has called you to love your neighbor – and how – love your neighbor as yourself. To see that you are involved in your neighbor’s life, that your neighbor is part of your own life. This is a warning to you as well. When you do not love your neighbor as yourself – when your own thoughts are distracted by what you can gain, what you can make, what you can take for yourself from your neighbor – that is when Satan comes in and snatches folks. When you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon your neighbor. And more than that, when you don’t show love, your indifference and coldness lets Satan wreck havoc upon you yourself. If you do not show love, you are saying, “I don’t want to be a sheep – I want to be a wolf, I want to prey upon others, seize and snatch what is theirs for my own selfish desires.” This is what we need to be aware of – that if we fail to be content with simply being sheep who are cared for by the Shepherd, and instead we become focused on the things of this world, money, power, fame, respect, glory, might – we are no better than a hireling who flees and leaves the sheep to be slaughtered, we indeed become the wolves preying upon our neighbor instead of praying to God for their good.

Our Lord teaches us how He makes us to avoid this horrible and wicked fate. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay My life down for the Sheep.” Do you note what is so wonderful about this? Here we have just heard about the dangers facing us, the problems we might get into. And what is the solution? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you better learn to get tougher so you can fight off a wolf on your own”? Does Jesus say, “Well then, sheep, you’re on your own, you better formulate some master strategy and plan”? No – Jesus puts the focus back upon Himself. Yes, I know that you sheep are in danger – but I am the Good Shepherd, and I know you, and because I know you, you know Me – and I lay down My life for you. Christ Jesus lays down His life for us – this isn’t just describing the one time, the once for all event of Good Friday – but rather this. Christ always lays down, Christ always gives you His life. Again, this shows us how we need to think, how we ought to view the things in this Church. Everything here in this place is us receiving from Christ His life, the life He laid down for us – and this life protects us, it makes us to know Him and know His love for us. Christ is the center of everything here. We don’t just pay Jesus a minute of lip service and then go talk about something else. Our liturgy – this is Christ’s Word of love for us so that we might know Him, know the forgiveness that He won for us by laying down His life. Our hymns – they aren’t about us and what we do – they are about Christ Jesus and what He brings us. We are content in Christ. Christ is our Shepherd. We rejoice because Christ’s death has set us free. Our Hymns proclaim Christ. The sermon – it’s not going to be 4 simple rules for having better stuff – it’s always going to be about what Christ does in winning and giving you salvation. The Supper – what is that – the Body of Christ, given for you. The Blood of Christ, shed for you. The Good Shepherd laid down for you. That’s what the Supper is.

So I am going to ask the question. Do we believe this – do we act as though what we confess here is actually true? Do we believe that God Himself is present here – do we believe that God gathers His flock here so that we can hear His voice, hear His Word and thus be safe and have life in His Name? Do we actually believe that it is Christ who gathers us here, that the Holy Spirit works through Christ’s Word, and that this is what makes us one, one flock? I ask, not because I think you don't believe, but because Satan will do everything in his power to destroy, to distort this place. He will tell you it is pointless – as though eternal life and salvation isn’t a big enough point. Satan will tell you it is boring – as though the very wonder of the ages – that God becomes Man and suffers and dies so that you might live is somehow humdrum and dull. He will tell you it isn’t exciting - as though our sole goal in life is to be entertained. Satan will tell you that God’s Word isn’t enough – as though God’s Word which created everything, the world and our faith, somehow is weak. Do you believe, do you understand that you are a sheep who has heard Christ’s voice, who knows the voice of your Master, the Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for you, the Good Shepherd who has been raised from the dead proving that you will have everlasting life in His name? This is reality, this is what your life is – and indeed, this is what everyone’s life should be – this is why we are to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified so that these walls echo with nothing but Christ, so that we in our lives speak and show forth Christ – so that through us others, our family, our friends, our neighbors – so that these people whom God has placed into our lives would hear the voice of Christ as well, that they would be gathered here. And this is all done by Christ Jesus – the Good Shepherd who lays down His life – the Good Shepherd who calls out and restores and forgives us through His Word. This is what our life is, this is what this place is. We are Christ’s own dear sheep whom He loves, whom He cares for by His Word, and whom He will never abandon, all thanks and praise be to God Almighty. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Easter 2 Sermon

Easter 2 – John 20:19-31 – April 22nd and 23rd, 2017
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) + Amen
The bunnies are gone and the chocolates are all eaten. The new dresses, the nice suits, for the most part they’ve gone back into the closet. The eggs, the family dinners are done, the pictures have been posted to the internet – and as far as the world is concerned, Easter is done – now, when’s Memorial Day and the start of summer? Not so in the Church. We’ve only just begun Easter – the altar will be wearing its Easter white 5 more weeks, and in this time we will be studying the Gospel of John, hearing from our Lord and pondering what His resurrection means for us, how it shapes our lives. And now that the hoopla is past, consider for a moment that forgotten theme of all the Easter stories – fear.

You see, the Gospels don’t deal with Easter the way Hallmark does. In the Scriptures, it’s not all sunshine and daisies and spring. Every Gospel has in its account of the resurrection fear. Matthew – you’ve got the guards fearing, you’ve got the women afraid. In Mark, everyone’s afraid. Same with Luke – except in Luke you hear about the bewildered disciples on the road to Emmaus, the two who figure it’s best to high tail it out of Jerusalem – that’s how fearful they are. And then, there’s John – and last week we heard of Mary Magdalene’s utter fear and confusion. And what do we hear this week? “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for FEAR of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them.” Fear. Disciples, have you heard? Jesus has risen! That’s nice, now, let’s lock the doors. Ain’t no sunshine and daisies there. And here’s the great kicker on this – Jesus shows up, talks with them – and then what do we hear? “Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.” All of them except Thomas have seen Jesus risen from the dead, and yet, what’s going on? Still locked doors. Still hiding. Still fear.

Too many people in the Church do a grave disservice to the Gospel, to the preaching of Christ, when they pretend that if you only are a Christian then life is so much easier and everything is laughter and bouncy-bouncy happiness and money and wealth and fabulous prizes. It’s not, not yet at least. Until Christ comes again, we are in the fallen world. And you know what life in the fallen world is? Quite often, lousy. Terrifying. Disappointing. Aching. Sad. This world is doing its best to turn us all into dry bones, to suck the life out of us. And sometimes it does a pretty good job of it, doesn’t it? And the temptation for us sinful folk, especially us in America, with all our wealth and luxuries and technology and cosmetics and the like is to try to pretend that we can make the world less… fallenish. Less harsh. We can think of the Church like some sort of spiritual gated community – if we come here, if we do the right stuff, then all those bad things will be kept far, far away and God will give us Money, wealth, and prosperity.

When you are tempted to think about the Church this way, consider that our Gospel text tells us of the first two Sunday worship services in the History of the New Testament Church. What is Church but where God’s disciples have been gathered together – have been made into a congregation – and Christ is present there and His Word proclaimed? It’s what we see. And yet, what’s the context? Not that if we make it to the upper Room Jesus will make all of our wildest dreams come true. Not that if we make it there we will get a raise at work and our families won’t fight and our kids will do better in school. The context for the disciples was fear. No blinders about life. There are evil people out there that want to do us harm. Our livelihoods are messed up – in the next chapter when Peter tries to start up the old fishing business it doesn’t start off so well. And let us be honest, who among us doesn’t have fears, plenty of fears? Every one of us has them – and there’s no magic bullet to make those fears go away – not money, not booze, not even showing up to Church with the biggest smile.
So, why even be here? What then is the point, pastor? If things are so dour and always will be, why not just sleep in? Listen to Christ Jesus. “Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.” Peace. Yes, disciples, I know there are people out there who want to do you harm – look at My hands, look at My side, boy howdy do I know. Yet I say, peace be with you. As scary, as terrifying, as real and as persistent as those problems in the world are, peace be with you. See, I have risen – the world did its worst, and in the end, I live. So shall you. Peace be with you. You see, dear friends, Jesus doesn’t show up and tell the disciples that their lives will now be caviar and champagne. Far from it – He had told them that they would end up taking up their crosses and following Him – that being a disciple would mean not hiding from the world, not pretending it isn’t lousy, but rather going out into the world – As My Father sent Me, so I am sending you – that the disciples would be in the world, working there, in the middle of that pain and sorrow. All that pain and fear and hurt and suffering is real – Jesus doesn’t pretend otherwise. Instead He proclaims another truth, a greater truth, a truth which supersedes the world. Peace be with you. You are forgiven, disciples – and forgiveness reigns supreme. You tell folks that they are forgiven, and guess what, they are. There is peace – the rebellion of man against God – it’s over, I, Christ Jesus have finished it, and now there is peace. Peace be with you. Even as the world rages around you – Peace. There is the forgiveness of sins, so look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. Peace be with you.

Likewise, dear friends, the Church isn’t going to suddenly make the world turn up roses. Oh, we do help each other out, maybe we can give each other good advice, a helping hand – and that’s all good. But the world is still going to be the world, and there will still be problems. When our Lord said, “sufficient for the day is its own troubles” He wasn’t whistling Dixie. But what you will get here is Peace – and not some hippie “peace out, man” sort of thing. God’s Peace – that is, the forgiveness of sins. In the Scriptures, peace is a forgiveness word – and whenever you come to this place, you will get the forgiveness of sins. That’s what a Church is – a forgiveness place, and I don’t care what the sign on the door says, if they aren’t proclaiming Peace be with you, it's not really a church, because that’s what Christ’s Church is about. You are forgiven. Yes, the world is scary – but you are forgiven. Yes, your sins are vile, the guilt of them is heavy – but Christ has borne that guilt and you are forgiven. Be at peace. Go in peace. Even Rest in Peace. You realize that term – rest in peace – it isn’t talking about how nicely the grass is mown in the cemetery – it means you are forgiven. It means even though you die, yet because of Christ, you shall live. Forgiveness has been won – this is the great truth – greater than all the junk in the world. This is what the Apostles are to go out and proclaim, this is what the Church has proclaimed ever since, this is what we proclaim even to this day. Because Christ Jesus has died and risen, you are forgiven.

But, what of life out there? It’s nice that I’m forgiven and all – but life out there has its fears, and I have to face them. Did you notice one other thing, and this really is wondrous. The disciples are hiding in fear – fear has basically paralyzed them. It doesn’t stop Jesus. He’s risen – He is God and Man, raised, glorified – like a locked door is going to do anything to stop Him. Fear is there, the doors are locked, but still Christ Jesus comes there. Yes, Disciples, you have fear. But I am with you – peace be with you. The world, it’s troubles, they don’t drive Christ from you – indeed, He is with you not just for this brief time on Sunday morning, but every moment. You are baptized – He has made you His temple. Matthew’s Gospel ends on this very truth – So often we will say Matthew’s Gospel ends with the Great Commission, now get to work people. Bah. First off, the great commission isn’t “work hard” – it’s about forgiveness – about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But over and above that, how does Matthew actually end? Jesus says, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Peace be with you. Why? Because Christ is with you – because nothing can separate you from Christ Jesus, neither heights no r depths or powers nor anything. Not even your suffering – He suffered too. There is nothing you can face in this world that will drive Christ away – He is risen, and He always says Peace. He is always eager and quick to forgive you your sin, for that is why He came in the first place! He is your Lord and your God – and you do have life in His name. He has washed you clean of your sin, poured His Holy Spirit upon you, gives Himself to you and is with you always. Yes, the world is a scary place, yes, my sin is great – but Christ Jesus is Risen, and He says Peace be with you, and that trumps all. We need never pretend otherwise. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed, Alleluia. Amen

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Teaching: Know the Lord

What does it mean for a Christian to teach?  Is it making people to know facts of theology that they can regurgitate upon demand to demonstrate their bona fides?  Is it telling them what they need to do in order to be living the sanctified life?  These tend to be the de fact positions that we fall to in the English speaking world as of late.

However, I'd argue that the Scriptures put forth a different goal, a different emphasis in what teaching *is* within the Church.  Consider the following verse - Jeremiah 31:34 (and also quoted in Hebrews 8:11): And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

This is the image we have of teaching, one emphasized in both old and new testaments - to make people "know" the Lord.  From Yada, from Gnosko - to know... but not just in the sense of being aware of, but of experiencing, of seeing and participating in.  To "know" in this sense is to participate in the reality of something.

For example - I've never be to the Taj Mahal.  I am aware that it exists, but I don't know it, I have experienced being there.  I have, however, been to the Pyramids of Giza.  I've touched them, leaned upon them.  I know them in a completely different way than simply being aware that there is such a thing called a pyramid.  With the Taj Mahal their is an eidos - and idea of the thing.  With the pyramids there is gnosis - there is experiential knowledge.

So what does that have to do with anything?  Teaching is not about getting ideas straight, nor is it a matter of making your listeners jump through the proper holy hoops.  Instead, it is giving them knowledge, it is giving them and bringing them into the reality of who God is and what God does for them.  This is the move Jeremiah and Hebrews make - to know the Lord is to receive forgiveness.  They will all have known God for they receive forgiveness.

Knowing is a receptive thing.  It's not an active endeavor of my own organization or my own activity - but rather I "take it all in".  Stop and smell the roses.  Or if you don't like modern euphemisms, be still and know that I am the Lord.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.  For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received; that Christ died for our sins...

Do you see the movement?  Teaching is not fostering mere repetition, nor is it fostering pious responses.  It is not a mere dead orthodoxy, nor is it pietism - nor is it the 21st century hideous love child of the two where you demonstrate your "orthodoxy" with pietistic virtue signaling letting people know you hate all the right things and the right people (or would that be the wrongs things and the wrong people).

Teaching is giving Christ for the remission of sins. 
Teaching is "Peace be with you" - because that is the highest truth and reality in the world.
Teaching is absolving.
Teaching is declaring the love of God, how He has loved you in giving Christ for your sake.

Know the Lord.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter Day

Easter Sunday – April 16th, 2017 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
As Mary trudged to the tomb that Easter morning, she was miserable. Her Lord, her friend was dead. Finished. Caput, that’s all she wrote. The best she could hope for was to mourn – the best. Maybe she could treat the remains with some care, but it had been quite some time since He died, and He was sorely abused as He was put to death. Do you see what this means? As she approached the tomb that Sunday morning, the most she was hoping for was a dreary and disgusting one-sided farewell. She was miserable. And then, she gets to the tomb, and confusion is added to her misery. The tomb has been unsealed. Has it been robbed, has it been vandalized, have those who hated Jesus in life hated him so vigorously that they would desecrate Him in death? What is going on? And so she runs to Peter, to John, tells them what has happened – maybe they will help. They run, John runs faster and looks, Peter runs slower and charges in – and they are left in wonder. The tomb is empty, but the burial cloths are simply laying there, the head cloth folded neatly. They don't have a clue either. So what do they do? Do they help and comfort poor Mary? Nope. In their confusion, they head back home… and simply leave Mary there. The friends she had run to for help have no answer, and off they go, and there stands Mary in misery and sorrow and confusion and despair.

This is the morning that Mary is having. “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’” Is it any wonder, with the morning that Mary has had that she would be so distraught, so upset, so hopeless that she wouldn’t even recognize or understand two angels talking to her? Not at all. And so in utter despair and despondency, she cries out her lament and then she turns to trudge out of the tomb. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’” So wounded, so hurt, so torn that the best she can hope for that morning is to drag a corpse around by herself – that’s all that she thinks is left to her, that is the best she thinks she can look for.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means teacher).” And this is where it all changes for Mary. What had been a morning of nothing but death and sorrow and sadness and doom and despair is swept away and in its place is nothing but joy and peace and love and gentleness and goodness. And why? Because Christ Jesus, risen from the tomb, risen victorious over sin and death and the power of the Devil, stands before her, and He calls her by Name. Mary had been right to weep that morning – when one sees the cruelty of life in this sinful, fallen world, one is right to weep. And if one assumes that Jesus is gone, dead, destroyed, what would left be but weeping? But behold, there stands Christ Jesus her Lord, and He knows Mary, and He loves Mary, and He calls out to her with His own voice. Do you see what this means? It doesn’t mean that the horrors of Good Friday never happened, it doesn’t mean that the sorrows Mary faced weren’t real – oh no, they were real, and they were strong and they were horrible, too strong and horrible for Mary to bear. But they were not too strong for Christ, for He strides victoriously from the tomb, He strides victorious over sin, over death, over hatred and chaos. They were strong foes, but Christ Jesus is the Stronger Man, and He is the Victor. But His victory was not just for Himself – it was for Mary. See, He is risen, and He calls her by name – and she knows at that moment, as He calls her by name, that even in the midst of a world full of sorrows and terrors and fears, His victory is her victory, and at the last when this world has done it’s worst, she too will stride forth from her tomb. Jesus is Risen and calls her by name.
Now, dear fiends, understand the ploy that Satan uses. He used it on Mary; he uses it upon us today. He tries to make the sin and ruin and vileness of this world that we see all around us overwhelm us, tries to use this to rob us of hope and joy. But over and against the assaults of Satan, one thing remains true. Christ Jesus is Risen, and this Risen Jesus has called you by Name out of the kingdom of Satan unto His own family. You are forgiven by your Risen Lord, and Satan can harm you none, he’s judged, the deed is done – for Christ’s Kingdom remains your forever.

Does Satan show you misery in this world? He probably does, but this does not change the fact that Christ is risen, and He has called you by name. Does Satan show you suffering in this world? He probably does, but Christ is still risen, and He has called you by name, and so you will rise past suffering. Does Satan try to terrify you? So be it, Christ is still risen, and He has called you by name, and there is no fear that is stronger than Him. Does Satan try to make you overwhelmed with guilt and despair? He probably does, but Christ is risen, and He has declared you to be forgiven, and He still calls you by your Name to His church precisely to forgive those sins that weigh heavy on your mind.. Does Satan try to rob you of hope? I’m sure he does, but Christ is risen, and He has called you by name, and there is nothing Satan can do to rob you of Christ and the hope of life everlasting that Jesus has said is yours. Does Satan throw anything and everything he can at you? Of course, for he was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, but Christ is Risen, and He has called you by name and He has said, see, although Satan has bruised my heel, I have crushed his head and freed you from him. Over and against any sorrow or pain or wretchedness we may encounter in our days in this fallen world, this truth stands out. Christ is risen, and He has called you by name.

What we are gathered here this morning to celebrate and rejoice in is the most important event in the history of the world, the point at which everything changes. Christ has risen from the dead, and the power of Satan is snapped, is destroyed. Death has lost its sting, it has no more victory. Death could not hold Christ – and because of Christ it cannot and will not hold you. Sin rears up its ugly head in your life – your risen Lord Christ Jesus says, Enough of that, I am your risen Head, and in Me you have forgiveness and life and salvation. I have called you by Name in the waters of Holy Baptism, and because of Me you are clean and forgiven and have true life, life that sin and this world cannot destroy. The world tries to beat and break you down, to whittle you away – your Risen Lord Christ Jesus says, “Enough of that – all that I have is yours for you are Mine, and I give you My strength, My life, My love – here, take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Although the world will try to cloud your vision, to encumber you with pain and sorrow so that you forget this, Christ Jesus calls out to you once again this morning, He says to you, “I have risen for you, and you shall live now in this life and you shall rise and you shall be with me for all eternity, and there is nothing that Satan can do about it.” This is His love for you, a love stronger than death and the grave, a love stronger than sin and Satan, a love that is steadfast and sure. He is risen, and He is risen for you.

My dear Christian friends, indeed, more than mere friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom I will in Christ’s presence share the joys of everlasting life both now in part and in full in the life of the world to come, what more needs to be said? Christ Jesus is Risen from the Grave, and He has called you by Name. His life is now your life, His resurrection is now your resurrection, His victory is now your victory, and so it shall ever be. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia, Amen. +

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday - 2017
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
But deliver us from evil. You may not have noticed, because generally we aren't watching each other while we pray the Lord's Prayer, but when we get to the 7th Petition, I generally make the sign of the cross. And I do this for a specific reason. When we pray “deliver us from evil” we aren't dealing with something abstract, we aren't dealing with merely a pious wish for better days. No, we are Christians, we know what evil is, what it looks like, what it does. Sin is evil. Sin breaks things. Sin causes suffering. Sin kills. And that is what we see around us so often, it's even what we see in us, in our own sinful flesh. We see evil, evil at work. And we call out to God for deliverance from this evil – and that is what Christ Jesus does by going to the cross. It is in our Lord's death and passion that you are delivered from evil. In undergoing His passion, our Lord acts like a giant sponge for evil, taking it all up, taking it onto Himself, taking it away from us and delivering us from evil. So let us spend a few moments pondering our Lord's passion through the lens of “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. There are five evils, or angles of evil that get listed there: Body, Soul, Possessions, Reputation, and Death. You do realize that these are what Christ Jesus faces down in His Passion? Take evils of the body. Consider the Passion of your Lord. So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound Him. Arrested without cause, bound, and confined. When He had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand. And that's just the start of the beatings – Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged Him. Then He bears His own cross upon His own weary Body, and on that Cross His body is tortured to death. Every imaginable evil of body – taken up by Christ.

Or evil of the soul. From the passion accounts we remember the 7 words of Christ from upon the Cross – John records three. Consider one of them – Jesus cries out, “Woman, behold your son – son, behold your mother.” How about that for an evil that wrenches the soul – John, you're going to have to take care of My mom because I am dying. Or what we heard Sunday in Matthew – My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Jesus your Lord takes up the evil of abandonment, of being snatched from life and of being taken from those you love, of being dumped into the midst of sin. Every imaginable evil of soul – taken up by Christ.

Or evil of possessions. Christ doesn't have much to begin with, yet even the little He has is taken away. “When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took His garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also His tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, 'Let us not tear it, but cast lots to see whose it shall be.'” Even His clothing is taken, and He is left to die naked on a cross. Everything, every possession gone and stolen unjustly. How about that – to be hanging on a cross and watching them gamble for the few things you had owned. What could be more humiliating or denigrating? And then, they take care not to tear the tunic when they have pounded nails into your Hands! Everything stolen and despoiled. Every imaginable evil of possessions – taken up by Christ.

Or evil of reputation. What people think of you, what they say of you. Consider when Pilate addresses the crowd: “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. To be thought of as lower, as worse than a highway man, a bandit, a terrorist – that's who Barabbas was. To be called a King, but only to be mocked – They came up to Him, saying, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' and struck Him with their hands. Indeed, to take one who is utterly innocent and treat Him in such a way, to crucify Him with criminals. Every imaginable evil of reputation – taken up by Christ.

One evil left. We pray that God would give us a blessed end. Now consider your Lord upon the Cross. Nailed there. Left to slowly suffocate, to be tortured and exhausted to death. This is not good death, this is not a good way to die. Horribly painful. But even then, it's not a private pain in a private room – no, it's in public. You realize why they crucified Jesus on Calvary – because it was a hill by the side of the road. The Cross was a billboard – an advertisement showing forth the power and might of Rome, and this is what we will do to you if you don't toe the line – this is what will happen to you if you cross the High Priests. You will be left to hang naked and cold and exposed, your shame open for all to see, until you die. Pain and embarrassment all wrapped up. Every imaginable evil aspect of death – taken up by Christ.

Do you see? Throughout His passion, more and more evil just flows on to Christ, it rolls on to Him, pours on to Him. All our evil, all our sin, the weight and wretchedness of it all, clinging to Him there upon the Cross – and having taken it all upon Himself, when He drank to the dregs the cup of the bitterness of evil, “He said, ' It is finished,' and He bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.”

It is finished. All of it. All evil is finished in Christ. He has taken it all – taken it all away from you and onto Himself. Indeed, the evil that we see in our lives, in our days – these are just the dying aftershocks of sin, death, and evil. They are destroyed, destroyed by Christ upon the Cross. And so that you would know this truth, Christ Jesus gives up His Spirit, He pours His Spirit upon you. Having taken up your sin, He gives you the Holy Spirit and His own life and righteousness, so that you are well and truly and thoroughly delivered from evil. No evil here that you see can touch you now, not in any lasting way, for You belong to Christ. He has purchased and won you from all evil with His precious blood and death – and even when you die, when evil tries to do it's worst to you – you are delivered from it, you will rise again to new life because Christ has said it is finished and so evil is. You will live – for Christ has died... and as we will see come the third day, He is risen. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday - 6th Petition – John 13

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

There are two senses, two ways in which the word “tempt” is used in the Scriptures. One refers to forging a weapon – where to set the metal you heat it, you tempt it – all so that it can be made into something stronger and better. It's a trial – not in the sense of wanting to throw someone into jail, but to strengthen them. The other way is what we normally think of today when we think of tempting – and that is an attempt to try to make someone sin. There's a trial, but it's an attempt to get folks to mess up. When we say that God tempts no one, we are confessing that God never leads us to sin, never tries to make us go astray as it were.

So then, where does Jesus lead? It might be good to ponder for a few moments what we see our Lord doing this night. There He is, the Rabbi, the Teacher, the Master, and yet He stoops down to wash the disciples' feet. Now, let me remind you, this would be a gross job. We get that feet can be icky and messy – but you know what's different about today than Jesus' day? Socks and shoes. That's what we wear, by in large, and you know what? They keep our feet a lot cleaner. Now, imagine wearing sandals all day on dusty roads and foot sweat and dirt all combined. That's what's on the feet. That would be what Jesus would be kneeling down to clean. Do you see why washing the feet was seen as the work befitting the lowest servant in the house? And yet, there Christ Jesus is, washing away. Peter doesn't understand, Peter wants Jesus to stop, but no, still our Lord washes away.

Then, when He finishes, Jesus says, “If I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.” Jesus leads you to service. When we think of our service as Christians, often we are tempted to think of high and wondrous and glorious things – real service to God would mean converting the heathen nations, or huge sums of money given to the Church, or something like that. Nope. Those are the temptations of pride springing forth from your evil flesh. What does God's service look like? It looks messy and dirty. It's never high and exulted and glorious – it means getting down in the dirt and the mess and serving your neighbor. And you have plenty of people that you are given by God to serve – in your family, in your job, in the normal, simple mundane every day tasks that are set before you. You know, the things that a common servant would face. And you know what – it's okay to be a common servant to your friends and family. It's who we ought to be in Christ.

And here, my friends, is where temptation kicks in. So often, when we think of temptation we think of it in terms of doing “BAD” things, where if we can make the, bigger and badder, grander and grosser and all the more salacious, well, all the better! And yes, when you are tempted, you are tempted to do bad things... but when we as Christians talk about bad things, we shouldn't just talk about the sort of things that would end up on the evening news or gossiped about over coffee. Listen again to our Catechism lesson. “We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice.” When we talk about temptation, the first we as Christians ought to start with isn't the grand and showy sins. No, Satan is much more subtle with his temptations. The two that are given are false belief and despair.

Think about your simple, everyday life. Satan and the world and your flesh will strive to make you hate it, to despise it. To Complain about it. You will be tempted to view your life as pointless, inconsequential, not everything you'd want it to be. You'll be tempted towards despair, towards the blahs – where you'll be tempted away from just simply going and washing your neighbor's feet or whatever task it is at hand. We all know that temptation. You'll be tempted to think that your life doesn't really matter, isn't important – and this is a false belief – because if Christ Himself serves, then it is truly a good and important and special and wondrous thing that you get to serve in the various ways He has given you to serve. Do you see how we are tempted away from the simple service that God leads us into?

Now when we see this, when we realize how often we mess up in even these little things, that's when Satan will shift gears. Oh, he'll still play around with false belief and despair – but instead of getting you to not do what you are suppose to for your neighbor, he'll attack you inside. Satan will pile the guilt on and tell you that you are just lousy and worthless and unlovable. Which, again, is false belief. God Himself has said that He loves you, that He forgives you all your sins, that you are His own precious child. Yet the temptation we face is to listen to what Satan says of us rather than what God says.

For this reason, Christ Jesus your Lord comes. He came, and as we see in our Gospel lesson, He was the perfect servant for us. And when I say for us, I don't mean merely that He was a good example – He is, but also, in His perfect and unfailing love, Christ Jesus takes your place. He fulfills all righteousness without giving into temptation, He is the spotless Lamb of God. And He follows His service to you all the way. He follows it all the way to the Cross – as we will focus on tomorrow in great detail. He goes to the cross in service to you, He even rises in service to you. He gives you His body and blood in service to you – and why? So that when these temptations of Satan come around, so that when false belief and despair come creeping around you – whether over what you ought to do or over what you have failed to do – you would not be focused upon Satan's temptations but rather focused upon Christ Jesus.

Do not look at the world's temptations, do not listen to Satan's braying, do not even listen to your own flesh. Rather, Jesus says, “Look to Me, o Christian! Take and eat, this is My Body, given for you. Take and Drink, this is My Blood shed for the remission of all of your sins. Taste and see that I am good to you, that you are redeemed and forgiven, and that in Me you will long outlast Satan and the world and even your sinful flesh.” Christ makes us to focus upon Him and see that because of His perfect service, His perfect death and resurrection, we are forgiven, we are given holy lives to lead now (even if the world doesn't think all the much of them), and we are promised a resurrection where we will have a new heavens and a new earth, a resurrected body – a life where temptation will be done away with for good. This is what Christ Jesus your Lord has done for you. This is where He leads you. This is why He comes to you in His Word, in His Supper. To lead you away from temptation and to give you Himself – for He loves you. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – April 1st and 2nd, 2017 – Genesis 22 and John 8

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 decade ago everything was “extreme”, now you see pastors running around with Hispter glasses and big beards 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 that 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 and its burden. 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 – my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault, as we confessed 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 people's sin. 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. God grant that we would speak God’s Word rightly, so that others 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 +

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lent 4 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lent 3 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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