Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday 2016 – Matthew 6

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
What reward do you wish? What's your goal, O Christian? What do you want? I ask this question this Ash Wednesday night, because this is the question that is at the heart of our Gospel lesson for tonight. It's how Jesus starts this section of the Sermon on the Mount. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” There it is – reward talk. What reward are you seeking – an earthly one or one from your Father in heaven? When you strive to do all the things that a Christian is typically supposed to do, what folks think a Christian ought to be doing – what reward, what goal are you seeking?

And Jesus spells it out, and it cuts against our own pride and desire to be praised. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Well, Pastor – I guess I'm scot free since I haven't sounded any trumpets lately when I've done stuff. Really – has it been that long since you've tooted your own horn on your generosity? Because Jesus hits the nail on the head – when we do good, we want recognition. In fact, our society loves recognition! In fact, as a society we train folks that they ought to receive public recognition whenever they do anything. Wednesday is small town paper day – I get three of them in the mail box. Anyone want to bet me whether or not I'd find some pictures of some nice folks who have done nice things, and isn't that just the nicest write up in the paper. Here's your ribbon, here's your gold star. It's how we operate as a culture. Now, getting recognized isn't bad in and of itself, but Jesus here reminds us that our focus should not be getting the praise of men; if we are giving to the needy, if we are helping someone out – shouldn't they be our focus?

And Jesus continues – And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Not only your charity – what's the purpose of your prayer? Why do you pray, what's the goal? Indeed, why do you even come to church? Are you here to be seen by the other people here – so they can tell what a good Christian you are? Do you like it when folks say, “Ah, there they go – such nice people, off to Church again.” Is that the point? Do we come here so folks in the town will think we're nice, pious folks? Now, let's be honest – don't we really sort of kind of care what the folks out there think of us? And not just us as individuals – but as a congregation! We don't want them to think we're too weird or different, kind of want to fit in – yeah, those folks at Trinity are good folks. Not the point. We don't pray here to be seen, we don't yell when pryaing grace before a meal at the restaurant to be heard, and we don't do our personal prayers to be seen by everybody and their brother. If you are praying so that people think better of, you've sort of missed the point.

Now, our Gospel lesson tonight jumps – it skips the Lord's Prayer. Fear not, we'll touch on to that in a bit, but let's continue on in what we heard. Because the Gospel lesson jumps to the third thing that we can twist around towards our own glory. We've had charity, we've had prayer – and now, fasting. “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by everyone. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward.” Well, see Pastor – now I know I'm off scot free on that one because I'm a good little Lutheran and I wouldn't be caught dead fasting like those Roman Catholics. Except Jesus kind of assumes that we'll be fasting at some point because He goes to to say: “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” When. Guess Jesus sort of assumes that sometimes you'll be fasting. Now, before I give anyone heart attacks because they hadn't planned to give anything up for lent – remember what fasting was in the Jewish and Ancient world. Fasting was just the physical practice that went along with repenting. If you were repenting, you'd fast, you wouldn't party. This is what we see in Jonah – oh, we best repent, well, part of that repentance is fasting. In fact, if you've got a prophet coming and saying God's ready to smite you, you throw in some sack-cloth and ashes. And the point that Jesus is making is this – we are so perverse, we are such glory hounds, that we can turn even our repentance, our sorrow over our sin into something that seeks glory. Back in the day, a good pious Jew would fast twice a week – Tuesday and Thursday – just to cover their bases – ah, and look, there's Yakov fasting again, what a good boy. Well, Pastor – we don't do that today, so there's no need to get on our case about that! Okay – and I'm sorry. No, no, I'm really sorry. I want you to know just how sorry I am, see how sorry I am, I really really mean it, you've got to believe me and know that I am just so sorry – you know, I told them over and over again how sorry I was but they just wouldn't listen. Yeah, we can trumpet our repentance even today, just in different ways. And if the point of our repentance is that people see how repentant we are... well, we missed the point.

So it should be abundantly clear that the point is not to be seen by men, to receive praise and pats on the back from them. But there's still a very serious way to misunderstand this text – and that is to think that we should receive earthly rewards for our piety here and now. Well, Pastor – it does say over and over that your Father who sees in secret will see and will reward you. So, I've been nice and quiet about the nice stuff I've done for folks, and I don't draw attention to what a good little Christian I am (only God sees that), and I haven't be trying to look miserable to impress folks. So... where's my reward? Why wasn't the hymn of the day, “O Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” Pastor – I want my reward. Again, not the point.

The point is not the here and now. “Do not lay up for yourself treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves steal, but lay up for yourself treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Whenever we think that our actions, our worship should make life here better – whether we want our neighbors to give us rewards now or God to do it – we miss the point. It's putting your heart, your treasure in the wrong place. The point, the goal, the reward is eternal life, given to you by Christ Jesus. Jesus will use that same word for reward a few chapters later on in Matthew in the parable of workers in the vineyard that we heard a few Sundays ago – they all went at the end of the day and received their reward, their wage. That same reward that they all had in common, no matter how long they worked in the vineyard.

My dear friends, your true treasure, your true reward is Christ Jesus and the forgiveness and life that He brings. We don't need to butter up either neighbors or God for earthly stuff – have we not been taught that He will give us our daily bread? That His kingdom will come and His will shall be done? No, our works of love, our prayers, even our repentance are not meant to change our neighbor's opinion of us, or God's opinion, but rather they are to change our attitude, to change our focus – to remind us to focus upon Jesus and His mercy and forgiveness.

Think about it. When you give alms, when you show love – why is that? Is it not because Christ Jesus first loved you? It's not you trying to cause something, but rather it is Jesus working good in you and through you as a result of the love He has shown you. He is the Vine, you are the branches, and you will bear fruit. Even your works, your kindnesses, ought drive you back to Christ Jesus. Or our prayers – do not our prayers throw us and drive us back to Jesus – for we pray in Jesus' Name! We pray as He has taught us. We go before the Father not on the basis of our own merits, but as His Baptized and redeemed children, covered not in our own righteousness but in Christ's. Our prayer is to be about Christ. And indeed, our repentance – when we see our sin, our weakness – that's just the old song – they are weak, I am weak, I see my weakness... they are weak but He is strong, yes, Jesus loves me. Everything in our lives as Christians is designed, is meant to focus us upon Christ, to fix our eyes upon Christ Jesus, to make us know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – to fix us upon His calling and His election of us and His forgiveness for us.

Because that is your treasure – that is what the Father wills to give you. Life and salvation in Christ Jesus through His death and resurrection. That is why the Father sent His Son into this world; this is why we see Christ Jesus stride towards the Cross. And everything in our lives is a reflection of that, is us taking up our Cross and following Him, not to earn divine brownie points, but because we are focused upon Christ, because we are joined to him in Baptism – do you not know that those of you who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death? We are given Christ in His Supper, for whenever we eat this bread or drink this cup, we show forth His death until He comes. This Lent, God be with us as we see Jesus more and more, as we see the great I Am. +

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Quiquagesima

Quinquagesima – February 6th and 7th, 2016 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Faith. That's a pretty big word for something only 5 letters long. We can toss the word around quite frequently – it's a word we cherish. We Lutherans proudly proclaim “Sola Fide” - by faith alone. That actually was almost our battle cry in the Reformation. So, let's ask the Lutheran question. What does this mean? What is faith, what does it accomplish, what is it for? Our Lord Jesus Christ answers this in our text this morning.

Now, there's an important set up in our text. When the lesson has a miracle, we can want to rush right on in and look at the miracle, because, let's face it, the miracles are really cool – but Jesus sets up everything first. He says to the 12 disciples, “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.” See! Behold! When you hear “see” or “behold”, that was the Greek way of trying to get your attention. It was the way of saying “alright, what comes next is really, really important.” And Jesus tells us what's important. We're going to go to Jerusalem, and everything in the Old Testament will be accomplished, will be fulfilled. I'll be able to cry from the cross in just a few days, “It is Finished.” Because the promises of salvation will have been completed – I will have suffered and died for you, but I will also rise for you, so that you will be forgiven, so that life will be restored. The promise first given to Adam and Eve will come to completion – I will be bruised and battered, I will bear in My hands the mark of the nails, but Satan will be crushed under My heel, and you will have peace and salvation. Great stuff, right? This is the point, right? I mean, every Saturday/Sunday, every service here we gather together in this House of God and are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, right?

“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” And they just don't get it. It just didn't make sense. As we heard in last week's Gospel, seeing they did not see and hearing they didn't understand. And why? Their faith was really, really screwed up. Just completely off kilter. This is the third time in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus tells the disciples that He is going to suffer, die, be buried, and raised on the third day. You know – the heart of the Nicene Creed. And each of those three times, the disciples don't get it. In fact, in Matthew – we learn that first time Jesus says this, Peter pulls Jesus aside and tries to talk Him out of it – that's where we get that whole “Get thee behind Me, Satan” episode.
So why? I mean, these disciples followed Jesus, they heard Him all the time. Why was their faith so messed up? They understood none of it. It was hidden, they couldn't grasp it, couldn't get their minds around it. And why? Because that wasn't how they wanted the story to go. At that moment, their faith was not in a Jesus who would die and rise to give them forgiveness and everlasting life. They weren't interested in forgiveness or everlasting life yet. They wanted power and might. They wanted to help rule the Kingdom of Israel once Jesus, being the Messiah and Son of David and all, took it over. They wanted political power and the praise and adoration of men. A couple of the disciples were zealots even – people who had sworn their life to killing Romans – that's what they wanted. They wanted a Messiah who was going to kick some backside and take some names – and having Him be betrayed and flogged and killed, that wasn't how they wanted the story to go, that wasn't what they signed up for. That wasn't what they believed in – they believed in the false faith of their own power, the Jesus gravy train that they were going to ride.

And then they approach Jerusalem. Jericho is the last big town on the way. And what happens? “A blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And He cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Now, right away, what is different with this blind fellow? He may not see, but hearing, he understands. Two and two have been put together in his mind. Jesus is the Son of David – He is the Messiah. And what is the purpose, what is the goal of the Messiah? What's the Messiah supposed to do according to the Scriptures? The point of the Messiah isn't violence and war – He's the Prince of Peace. The point of the Messiah is not riches and wealth or earthly might – He is poor and lowly, has no form or comliness that we should desire Him. The point of the Messiah is this - He comes to save, to show mercy. Hosanna – save us now. Kyrie Elesion – Lord, have mercy. And so the blind man calls out, rightly, for mercy. Calls out words we are still calling out to this very day in this very service. And folks tell him to shut it. You are annoying – just be quiet. And instead he calls out all the more.

“And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He asked him, 'What do you want Me do to for you?' He said, 'Lord, let me recover my sight.'” So, what do you want? What are your expectations of Jesus? What are you thinking He should do? Do you want power and might? Are you going to ask to sit on His right and His left when He rules? No – the blind man makes a great request. Lord, let me recover my sight. Lord, I want that I should see again. Now, remember – this blind man gets who Jesus is. He is the Messiah, He is the LORD, He is the Son of David. And this blind man knows what the Scriptures say – when the Messiah comes, the deaf shall hear and the blind shall see. That's what Isaiah said – let what Isaiah said happen to me, Lord!

And Jesus said to him, 'Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.'” Your faith has saved you, literally – that's what Jesus says. Now know and hear what Jesus is saying. So often when we think of or hear the word “faith” - especially our faith – we think of it as describing how hard, how strongly, how firmly we believe. Oh yeah, this guy kept whopping and hollering, and so that's why Jesus fixed his eyes. Nope. Not the point. There's a contrast in our Gospel text, dear friends, between the disciples and this blind man. The disciples don't see, they don't understand who Jesus is. Even as Jesus tells them that He will fulfill the Scriptures, it goes over their heads. The blind man though, has faith. And it's not so much that his faith is stronger or bigger – that's not the point. The point isn't the kind or quality of his faith – Jesus doesn't say “Your awesome ginormous faith has made you well.” The disciples believed really strongly that Jesus was going to beat the tar out of the Romans and it got them nothing. No, the point is that the blind man put his faith in the right place. He wasn't wanting some Jesus of his own devising, he wasn't just making up stuff on the fly, he wasn't just imagining some daddy warbucks in the sky. He heard the Word of God, and his faith was that Jesus would do what He said He would do in His Word. The disciples are pointed to the Scriptures – they get nothing. Not what they wanted. The blind man clung to the promises which God had made in the scriptures, and He received them.

When we speak of faith, when we say “by faith alone” - we aren't drawing attention to how strongly or deeply we believe. We aren't talking about how great of Christians we are. That's hogwash – we show up here and confess what the Scriptures say we are – poor, miserable sinners. No – when we say “by faith alone” we are confessing the importance of the promises that God has made to us in His Word, the promises of forgiveness and life and salvation, and we are confessing that we receive these not because of how great we are or how amazing we are, but rather because He is great and good, and He is true to His Word. Jesus is active – and we are receptive, and by faith we receive the good things that He has promised to give us. That's the faith that saves – faith in Christ Jesus, who fulfills the Word of God, who suffers and dies and rises on the third day for you, for the forgiveness of your sin.

This Wednesday, Lent kicks off. And Lent is a time of repentance, of contemplation. If you want to set yourself a fast, give something up for Lent – go ahead. The old German term for Lent was “fastenzeit” - Fasting Time. But the point of this, the point of the fasting or the extra services we'll have isn't to show or prove how great we are, how big our faith is. No – it's a time where we will see intensely what our faith is, Who our faith is, where we will see who this Jesus is and what He does for us. On the weekends, the Lenten texts show Jesus taking the battle to Satan and His minions. We've spent Epiphany seeing that Jesus is God – Lent shows us the Son of God going forth to war – fighting Satan, temptations, hunger, false doctrine – even fighting death itself upon the Cross. That is the Jesus we believe in. After Ash Wednesday, our midweek services will look at the great “I Am” statements Jesus makes in John's Gospel, so we would see clearly who this Jesus is in whom we believe. And the point is not to demonstrate our own greatness – but rather, so like the blind man we would hear the Word of God and see clearly that Jesus is our Messiah, that He is the Son of David come to mercy us, and that we might ever cling to this Jesus and Him alone forever more. God grant that by His Word and Spirit, we live in faith and walk with our Savior Jesus ever more. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Monday, February 1, 2016

Preaching to the Dying

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day;
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Often preachers can be tempted to forget a simple truth.  We are preaching to the dying.  And no, I don't mean this in some sort of Kennedy Dialog Explosion Evangelism (or whatever it was called) sort of way where you ask someone, "What would happen if you died tonight?"  That treats death like a hypothetical - it treats death as a possibility which possibly might be closer than they like to think.
Death isn't a possibility.  Your people are dying.  You are dying.  And you live in a world of death.  Even in the midst of life, we are *in* death.

Seriously.  Every moment of your life in this world, you are stuck in the middle of death.  If you pause to look, you'll see it all over, in your body, in your friends, in your relationships, in stuff, in the world itself.

Don't believe me?  Perhaps you would do well to recall how St. Paul defines death.  He defines death as the wages of of sin.  You realize that is the point there is Romans?  Normally we say "the wages of sin is death" and tend to think of it only in the direction of "I do bad things, therefore I will die."  We think of getting this payment or wage someday down the line.  Nope.  We get it now.

Or do you not realize that the impact of every sin is death?  Is taking something good and wonderful given to you by God and seeing it... break.  Change.  Decay.  Fall apart.  Each time you feel that muscle pull - there's a little bit of death for you.  Each time that little doodad breaks - that's a little bit of death for you.  Each time you say that harsh, cruel word, your doing a bit of killing and a bit of the blessing that relationship was to be dies a bit.

Look around.  Look around and see the wages of sin in you and all around you.

Don't try to hide from it.  Don't try to deny it - to push it off to some hypothetical point in the future.  That's death.  Your death.  Even here and now, because you are dying.

And you know what, O preacher?  Your people are dying.  They are sick to death because of sin.  And it's terminal.

And they might be in denial.  Shoot, you might be in denial.  You might think if you can just gussy them up a bit more virtue or civility that you've fixed things.  No.  Still dying.  Maybe that eases some of the pain, make dying a bit easier.  But even the most virtuous man you know is dying - just like the person who eats the healthiest diet and exercises the most is still going to shuffle off the mortal coil sooner or later.  Now, there's a place for moderation, for virtue.  It can be a great thing if you understand what it is for.  If you eat moderately and exercise because it improves the quality of your short, short earthly stay - great.  If you think it's going to make you live, well, give it a century and the tombstone will show you wrong.  Likewise, the philosophers of old debated what was virtuous - that is what made life better, less painful.  But if you think it's a cure for death, a cure for sin - well, that's like the poor sap who gave up bacon but still died of genetic heart disease in his 50s.  Tragic.

Nope.  We're preaching to the dying folks - and even if we can dull the pain a bit, we're still dying.  And often times, there's hurt and confusion and denial.  Most of your people won't see the the wages of sin as death (let's admit it, we don't like to see this as death ourselves).  We don't like sin producing death - it bothers us.  Terrifies the tarnation out of the Old Adam.

So, when you preach - take some time.  Be blunt and honest.  No one likes a physician who beats around the bush or hides behind big and complicated words.  Give it to them straight, Doc.  They are dying.  The wages of sin is death.  You are preaching to the dying.

Which is why you lay it out, you preach the law with its utter bluntness... and then you get to your real job.  When they see death - that's when the fun begins.  Yeah, the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

See, if you remember that they are dying, you will remember what they need is life -- and not some dying "best life now" BS that is more befitting Joel Osteen or a politician trying to garner votes, but life.  Christ's life.  Life that will take this dying body, take me out of this body and death and raise me to new and real life.

I'm reminded of the words of Ignatius of Antioch in the letter to the Romans in which he says, "Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world" and "I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life."

You show folks the harsh reality, the harsh truth that they are dying... and then you give them the sweet and wondrous truth.  Christ Jesus knew they were dying, and so He died for them already, so He rose for them already, and He forgives them and gives them life -- life now, life eternal.

What are you to preach to the Dying?  The same things, the same Gospel you'd sing into their ears if they were laying there near motionless and barely breathing on their death bed - because in reality they are dying now too, just as much, and they need the same comfort.

And take they our life, goods, goods, fame, child or wife,
Though these all be gone, our victory has been won,
The Kingdom ours remaineth

Once in the blest baptismal waters
I put on Christ and made Him mine;
Now numbered with God's sons and daughters,
I share His peace and love divine.
O God, for Jesus' sake I pray Your peace may bless my dying day.

Though death may threaten with disaster,
It cannot rob me of my cheer;
For He who is of death the Master
With aid and comfort e'er is near.
Lord, may Thy Body and thy Blood
Be for my soul the highest good!

For Your consoling supper, Lord,
Be praised throughout all ages!
Preserve it, for in ev'ry place
The world against it rages.
Grant that this sacrament may be
A blessed comfort unto me
When living and when dying.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies.
Heav'n's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sexagesima Sermon

Sexagesima – January 30th and 31st, 2016 – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today, my dear friends in Christ, we are going to talk about the Word of God, the Word of God as it is preached and proclaimed throughout the whole world, the Word of God that declares that your sins are forgiven because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. The Word of God which is the Good News, which is the reason we gather here today, the reason we sing, the reason we rejoice in the face of a world filled with sin and death. The Good News that so many people seemingly couldn't care less about. So, what is going on with this Word of God – as we have been given ears, let us hear what our Lord says.

And again when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable: “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as He sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew it withered because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As He said these things, He called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” There's the parable, the parable that describes the preaching of the Word of God, the parable that is in fact describing what precisely is happening as those folks from town after town come out to hear Jesus.

Now, last Sunday in bible class, I had made a point that because we are familiar with them, we can forget just how strange and bizarre a lot of Jesus' parables are. We love the parable of the sower. In fact, my class ring from the University of Oklahoma has a sower on it – it's a great image. We know this parable – we know that Jesus is going to explain it – but for that crowd listening there – it would have been odd, or silly. Even the disciples don't get it – the reason we hear Jesus explain it is because the disciples pull Jesus aside and say, “Jesus, we don't have a clue what the point of that Sower story was.” You don't think it's silly? Or that Jesus would dare to tell a silly story. Listen.

Suppose this spring one of our farmers thinks, “I know, I'll go have Pastor Brown help me with the planting. And putting Pastor Brown on the tractor, he sends him out to do the planting, but 20 minutes later he looks up, and there's Pastor Brown driving down 115 trying to plant it. Then 20 minutes later Pastor Brown's driving down the ditch line, planting there – then 20 minutes after that he's planting on that big pile of gravel over off of Leigh road. Then finally, there's Pastor Brown driving through the fields planting there. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What would the point of that story be – other than “wow, don't let Pastor Brown the city boy anywhere near your farming operation”? What the sower in the parable is doing by any stretch of the imagination seems utterly idiotic and foolish. Is Jesus going to condemn the wasteful sower? You don't sow the pathways or the patch of weeds. Everyone knows that! What's going on here, Jesus?

And when His disciples asked Him what this parable meant, He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets [mysteries] of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.” I know the ESV puts “secrets” there the word in Greek is Mysterion, Mystery. Now – know what a mystery is. We think of them as a “whodunit” thing to solve – that's only because of Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. No, a mystery in the Ancient world was one of the profound truths of God that is beyond our ability to fully wrap our minds around. Baptism and the Lord's Supper were considered mysteries. In baptism, the world would see merely water, but behind and beyond that water is forgiveness, is being tied to the life and death of Christ Jesus Himself. The Supper – the world sees a bit of bread and wine, but the mystery is that in, with, and under that bit of bread and wine the Body and Blood of Christ is given to us for forgiveness and strengthening of our faith, and to unite us with Christians in all places and in all ages. Fantastic stuff. And the world just isn't going to get it. They'll see it, but they'll not really see what's going on. They'll hear it, but they won't understand what's really happening. Seeing they will not see, hearing they will not understand – that's the classic, Old Testament way of describing idols and idolaters. The stone statues have eyes, but they don't see. Likewise, the folks who worship idols have blinded themselves, so that they don't see or understand who the true God is or what He does.

That's the set up for this parable. Alright disciples – the parable is going to be strange; it's a reminder to you that when it comes to the things of the Christian faith – lots of people just aren't going to get it. Oh well – because you do get it, you have been given faith, you have been given ears to hears and eyes to see, you are not stuck in vain idolatry, so let's look at the parable and see. Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God. Here's the lynch pin for the whole parable. The seed is the Word of God. And what we learn first and foremost is that this is a parable about preaching, about speaking God's Word, about what each of you do during the week whenever you tell what Jesus has done. And you know what the point is. We speak the Word of God anywhere and everywhere, to anyone. It doesn't matter what they look like – it doesn't matter whether we think they deserve it or not. That's not the sower's concern – the Seed goes forth onto every type and kind of soil, the Word is preached in season and out of season. Jesus preached to the entire crowd there, even though many would not end up beliving. Doesn't matter – we proclaim the truth of Christ's forgiveness, that He has died and risen for the forgiveness of our sins and the sins of the world, and then we let the chips, the seed as it were, fall where it may.

Alright disciples, Jesus is going to send you out to sow the Word of God all over. And you know what's going to happen? A lot of it is going to fall utterly flat. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes the world away from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved. There are going to be folks who smile and nod, but then just don't care one bit. It's going to happen. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. And then there are going to be folks who seem eager and happy to be Christians, but then, something happens. Things get difficult, and they throw in the cards, decide this Christianity stuff is stupid. It's going to happen. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And then there are going to be folks who should know better, but then this comes up, or that, and don't you just know it, I am just so busy... and off they go. It's going to happen.

Now, I want to pause here, because there are a couple of bad ways we can take this. We can almost want to cut things off here and look at each of these cases and say, “Well, whose fault is it – who messed up so that so and so didn't get it, or who blew it so that the so-and-sos left? What can we do differently to keep that from ever happening again!” Not the point. The point is this – people will end up, for a variety of reasons, rejecting the Word. And Jesus isn't concerned with throwing blame. The sower never gets thrown under the bus in the parable, the seed isn't chastised. No, the Word of God goes forth as it should, and sometimes, sadly entirely too often, people just don't care. It's going to happen. And we can see what is going on. Satan attacks us, trials come, distractions come – that's not necessarily anyone's fault, it's life in the sinful world. In fact, we ourselves should be ready for all of these sorts of things to attack us. And when we look up, when we see so much failure – 75 percent failure rate in the parable, we are called to remember that our only hope is the Word of God.

As for that in good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. That's such a loaded statement. What's the description of the good soil? What's the sign of a good Christian? That you cling to the Word of God. That “hold it fast” is clinging to it, it's pulling it close to your chest and not letting it go – it's what the guy who falls on a fumble in football is doing. Clinging to it. And even that “bear fruit with patience” - that's not so much a “get on out there and get active” phrase – that word for patience is a word for endurance, for steadfastness, for hanging on, for staying put and not giving up even though the other team is jumping on you and scratching and clawing at the football. Thus we are taught that even while the world around you doesn't care – you Christian, cling to the Word!

And why? Because the Word is the only place there is life. It is only through the Word of God that any of us have any life, any hope, any forgiveness. And apart from the Word, we are useless. Do you think that you should brag, O Christian, that you are good soil, unlike that rocky or weedy person over there? It's not about you – it's about the Word of God. Or what sort of yield do you get off of good ground that is never planted? You get zilch, nothing, squaduche. Nope. Our attention is the Word. We cling to it, we keep on hearing it – and more than that, we keep on proclaiming it and confessing it – because frankly, I don't know what sort of “soil” anyone is. If you look at Paul when he is persecuting the church before his conversion, you'd assume he's the hardest path in the world – yet the Word goes to him and there is a harvest a plenty there. All the disciples end up running away from the Mount of Olives on Maundy Thursday when the soldiers come – does Jesus wash His hands and say, “Oops, they were rocky, better get new disciples.” No – He rises and shows up to them and preaches the Word again – Peace be with you! Ours is not to sit in judgment over our neighbor and pretend we are soil scientists – we are people of the Word. We hear the Word, we cling to the Word, we proclaim the Word – for we know this wondrous mystery of God – that His Word works faith – that the Holy Spirit will create faith where and when He wills through the Word of God – and that this same Word gives forgiveness and life and salvation and so we keep preaching and hearing the Word.

And you know what? The world will think that this is silly. The world will mock the Word. And you will be told that you are foolish and dumb for clinging to it. The days of American culture praising Christianity are fast passing. The world is very hard and rocky and thorny. So what of that – you have been called out of Darkness into Christ's marvelous light – you have been baptized and brought into the kingdom of God, you are called even to His table to receive life and salvation. And you are forgiven, and you receive this forgiveness through that wondrous gift of the Word. He who has ears to hear, hear.

Funeral Sermon for Janet Lochner

Janet Lochner – John 3:16 – January 30th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Jack, Larry and Chrissy, and Kathy, Karen, Irene, Mary, Lori, Helene, Jay, Pat, and the rest of the many family and friends of our sister in Christ Janet, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Love. In the weeks before she died, Janet and I talked often about what she wanted the theme of her funeral to be – and she was thinking and planning and flitting and fretting in her Janet way – wanting to make sure things were taken care of, to make sure that you folks here listening were taken care of, wanting to make sure I as the guy who had to preach the thing was taken care of. Because that's what Janet did. She loved. She took the love that she had received from her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and she in turn showed that love to the people that Jesus put into her life – whether that's the family she's known all her life, the husband God was good enough to provide her with, or even a Johnny-come lately into her life like me. People needed to be cared for and loved and blankety-blank, Janet was going to make sure that you got that love.

That's why we just heard John 3:16 – that's what she picked, that famous verse on Love. She wanted this time to be a bit of a focus, a talk on what love is – which is highly appropriate, because Janet got this, understood it – indeed, she understands it incredibly well right now. You see, today in America, we don't talk about love the way they did in the Bible, the word doesn't mean the same thing. We hear love, and we think first and foremost of feelings. That's not the main point in the Scriptures. Of course there's emotion, but the big thing with love in the Scriptures is that love is action. Love is a verb. Love means you aren't just going to sit around, you are going to get up and do something to show love, to help, to care for someone. And Janet knew that, and Janet demonstrated that. That's why we mourn today – because Janet was a tangible, real blessing to us. She showed us real love – she acted, she spoke, she did stuff for our good, for our benefit. And we knew it. That's why we mourn. Janet's love wasn't just a fond thought – it was tangible, it was real, and it often got down in the dirt and muck with us, met us where we were at, even when we were at our lowest.

The love Janet showed you was Christ's love. Listen again to that old familiar verse – For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. God saw us at our lowest. He saw us at our worst, our meanest, our sinful-iest. He saw us even when the impact of that sinfulness brought us frailty, saw us when death came crawling near. From all eternity, God saw His Janet, even in these last few weeks, and God Himself said, “blankety-blank, I'm not going to sit by and just let this happen.” And so He acted. He showed love. He sent Christ Jesus into this world, into this world full of pain and suffering and death, and Jesus stepped willingly, boldly into death – carried His own Cross to His own death – because there was no way in hell (and I mean that literally, we just confessed that He descended into hell) that He was going to let Death just have and keep His Janet. And so Jesus, in order to show His love to Janet, to you, to me, stepped on into death itself, and tore it open, tore it a new one, ripped down the gates of hell with His pierced hands, broke open His own tomb and strode forth alive and said, “There, now my Janet, whom I claimed as My own in Holy Baptism, whose sins I forgave over and over again in Holy Absolution, who received My own Body and Blood in My Supper – now she will not perish but instead will have eternal life because I died for her. Now she will rise because I rose for her – and now she'll get to just enjoy heaven with Me until we both come again together come the last day.” That's Christ's love for Janet – and that's His love for you. And His love for Janet was so strong that it filled her up – her cup of Christ's love overflowed and spilled out on to all of us.

And Christ will continue to love you, to pour His love into you. For a time, we don't get to receive this via Janet any more – but Jesus still loves you, still pours in His love and forgiveness into you through His Church, through His Supper – He still puts His brothers and sisters into your lives to care for you – indeed, He puts you into each other's lives so that you give His love to each other. Exactly what He did for Janet and through Janet – that's still for you and through you. And because He loved Janet, because He loved you so that He went to Cross and died and rose – we're going to see Janet again. No power, not sin, not death, not Satan himself is going to keep her from rising, because Jesus loves her, loves us – and we will see her risen, see her with Christ Jesus our Lord – and that will be a good day.

Until then, we wait and we live in love, Christ's love. That's the point. That's what Janet knew and understood – that she was a forgiven child of God who got to pour out forgiveness and love to all of us here. Now, she gets to rest, relax a bit with her Lord – and that's good for her. And you know what – since we'll see her again, it's even good for us, because we all here are still well and thoroughly taken care of by Christ Jesus our Lord, and since He's decided in His wisdom to let us hang around here a bit longer and stick around in the business of showing His love, we know that He will be with us and strengthen us not only in faith towards Him but in fervent love for one another. Just as He did for Janet. Because that's how God shows us love, so that along with Janet and all who believe we would not perish but have eternal life. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Consequences!

Consequences!

Sin has consequences!  And you're just going to have to bear them!

Perhaps you've seen that or read an argument like that lately.  Sort of the thrust that as the world is becoming less and less moral we in the Church need to do our best to make sure people not only are aware of the fact that their sin will have temporal consequences, but that when they are suffering the consequences that we say, "Well, there you go, you get what you deserve."  The consequences will make them learn!

Well, that's one way to look at it.  The thing is... it's a virtuous heathen, 9th ring of hell sort of way, not the Christian way.

For your consideration, consider the collect for Septuagesima: "O Lord, graciously hear the prayers of Your people that we who justly suffer the consequence of our sin may be mercifully delivered by Your goodness to the glory of Your Name; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen."

Now note: what's the whole point?  That while we justly suffer the consequence of our sin, that we would be mercifully delivered.

Seriously - that's the response of the Christ.  To deliver folks from consequences.

Really.  Seriously.  And that's the heart of every prayer we offer.  Consider the Lord's Prayer.  We pray that God's Name would be hallowed among us - over and against the consequence of sin that would dishallow it.  We pray that God's Kingdom would come to us in a good way, that His will would be good for us, when the consequences of our sin would be the exact opposite.  Sin demands that we work for our bread; we ask God to give it to us.  Indeed, we ask for forgiveness - we ask to be kept from temptation.  What could be a bigger escape from consequences than that?  Well - deliver us from evil.  All of it, mercifully deliver us.

In fact, do you not know that whenever you show love to your neighbor, you are delivering them from the consequences of their sin?  If I feed my neighbor who is hungry, I am seeking to abate a consequence of sin.  Same with clothing him.  Or visiting in prison - that's a consequence he deserved. 

Seriously - as we are in a fallen world, every act of love we show is lessening a temporal consequence of sin -- is lessening a temporal punishment which that person deserved.

So be it.  We are not agents of consequence.  We are makers of peace, givers of mercy.

And that's a good thing.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Septuagesima Sermon

Septuagesima (3 Sundays til Lent) – Matthew 20:1-16 – January 23rd and 24th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Thus far in Epiphany we have been focused on how this Jesus, this child who was born in Bethlehem, is indeed true God – Light of Light, Very God of Very God. So now the question these last three weeks before Lent becomes this – how does this Jesus fellow operate? How does He work? What is the way, how does one deal with this Jesus fellow, how does one benefit from Him? Historically in Lutheranism, we've talked about the three solas, the three “alones” - Grace Alone, Scripture Alone, Faith Alone. And in each of the next three weeks, our texts will deal with one of these themes – Grace, the Word, and Faith. So to understand that Christ Jesus works by Grace alone, we will consider our parable from Matthew 20 – the workers in the Vineyard.

For the Kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. And after agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them out into his vineyard. Now, I want you to understand the point, the impact of this parable. Jesus is not telling this parable in a union friendly state. There are no government benefits, nothing like that. The rule was simple – if a man shall not work, he shall not eat. And who are these people standing there in the market place? They are the unfortunate souls who have no job. They have no income, no back up plan, nothing. And more than that – they are just “workers”. They don't have a specific trade to where they can try to latch on at some place already established – these are the bottom rung workers. And unless someone hires them, tonight they starve. That's their situation. And into the market comes this master of the house, and he hires these folks for a denarius a day. A Denarius was a good wage for a day-laborer; it was appropriate. The master isn't playing hard ball, he doesn't negotiate them down. Just simply – let's do this fair and square. And they agree. Happily. In Greek, the word is “symphony” - that's how beautiful and harmonious this agreement is. And off they go.

And going about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and to them he said, “You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. Now, he hires three more groups of workers – but does this give you the sense of desperation these workers would have been having? Think about it – how desperate do you have to be to go and work for someone who says, “wages, we don't need to set up any wages – just trust me, I'll pay you something.” But there they go. The day is wasting, and as that sun creeps higher and higher without them being hired, that's just a reminder that they will probably starve tonight – so take what you can get.
Finally, at the 11th hour, 5 O'clock, an hour before quitting time, the master goes out again. And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They said to him, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You go into the vineyard too.” We can hear this wrong. We can hear these workers say “because no one has hired us” and think, “Bums, get on out there and look for a job.” No – they've been there, where the jobs would be, all day. And nothing. The “idle” doesn't mean that they were loafing, it means that they hadn't found work... or more accurately, work hadn't found them. And so the master send them into the vineyard. Then what happens next is wondrous.

And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. This is mindblowingly generous. This would be utterly unexpected. This is bad business sense. But that's what the master likes to do. He shows over-abundant compassion. However, it does end up ruffling some feathers. Now when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a deniarius. And on receiving it, they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” That harmonious agreement, not so harmonious anymore, is it? You've made us equal – how dare you say that we are equal to them when we've done more, we've suffered more! The master responds gently. But he replied to them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” That last line in the Greek is literally: “Or is your eye evil because I am good?” Look pal, I've dealt with you fairly, kindly – everything's been above the board. Why do you gripe? If I choose to show kindness to those poor schlubs who thought they were going to starve, that's no skin off of your back. Why does my kindness build up your resentment?

This, dear friends in Christ, is the picture of Christ's grace to us, and also a warning of how and why we can end up hating God's grace. The first workers are indignant – You have made them equal to us! We're so different than them! We deserve more! They view everything on the basis of what they themselves have done and they become angry. Yet, the master is right. All of them were equal – they were all the same thing. Workers. Day-laborers. Folks who would have starved that day with nothing if the master hadn't gone and found them and put them to work. These first could have easily been the last if the master had hit different parts of the market in a different order. These angry workers failed to see that they were in the same boat as all the other workers, regardless of when they entered the vineyard. And so they became angry.

What do you see when you look at your fellow Christians, your fellow sinners, oh members of Trinity? How do you judge them, how do you size them up? Do you see them as folks who are in the same boat as you are – sinners in a sinful world, struggling with a variety of sinful stuff just like you are... or do you size them up on the basis of what you do, how hard you work, how much you've done for God, how much more in order your life is than theirs? Do you see them as the same as you, equal to you – or do you find a way to see them as less than you, so that you really ought to deserve more than them?

It was a false, misleading dream that God His law had given, that sinners could themselves redeem, and by their works gain heaven. The opening of the third verse of my favorite hymn. Do you judge, do you evaluate people on the basis of what they have done? If so, my friends, you have forgotten grace, and we are indeed saved by grace alone. Grace refers to a gift of God, freely given, without any merit or worthiness in me. And the simple fact is none of us deserve anything from God. We are born sinful, born in opposition to God, born at war with Him. And yet, simply and solely out of His great love, He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light, gives us forgiveness, gives us life, gives us meaning and purpose to our lives. And this is not because of how great we are – no, it is how great, how good He is, in spite of our own jealous wickedness.

Here's the thing. We know this. This is a Lutheran Church full of Lutherans. If I said “grace alone, grace alone” you all would smile and nod your heads, yes pastor, grace alone. But here's the thing; here's where Satan will attack us. We still like to check our works, we still like to get out the ruler and measure ourselves and compare ourselves to each other and get all prideful. When we do that, we forget truly what great gifts from God we have received. Or do you not know that even your works aren't “yours” in the sense that you created them – they are gifts from God to you.

Consider again the workers from the parable. The very first group, the ones that so quickly become prideful in their own accomplishments. If the master of the house hadn't walked up to them and sent them into the vineyard, where would they have been at the third hour, or the sixth hour, or the ninth? Standing idle, waiting, fearing for the future, wondering if they were going to starve. This is why they rejoiced in the morning, this is why they gladly went into the fields. Even working itself was a gift – because they knew that they would be provided for, their day had certainty instead of doubt. And even though the work was hard – not something I'd want to do – it was still a great blessing to them. And if they never looked at anyone else, they would have taken their denarius with joy and satisfaction and gone home glad.

Think on the first article of the creed – God gives us our bodies, clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, all that I need to support this body and life. Do you see what this is teaching us? That our vocations, that our ability to work at all is a gift from God. Indeed, as we heard today, having been saved we now live under Christ in His kingdom and serve Him! What a gift! Now, if this is a gift from God, where do I get off thinking that I should look at what I do, my life, which is a gift from God gift from God, and then start jawjacking at God about how He's not giving me enough because I do more than that person over there? How dare You, God! You give me talents and opportunity that others don't have – but then You dare to not give me more on top of that! Kind of stupid, ain't it? All sin is when we step back and think about it.

But here's the thing. God doesn't look at you or judge you on merit. At least not your merit. If He did, we all would be in a heap of trouble. But rather, Christ Jesus has done it all, and we are viewed in terms of what He has done, we are viewed in terms of Christ's death and resurrection upon the cross – and in Him we are all equal, and in Him we all receive forgiveness and life, in Him we receive our daily bread with thanksgiving, whatever the tasks that come along with that daily bread look like. Because here is the good news – your life, your salvation; it doesn't hinge upon you. When we are feeling prideful, we wish it would – but then things go bad, and we mess up, and we fall and crash and expect to burn. But God says no. God says, “I am good, and I will give you good things, not because of you, but because of Christ.” So what if you fail – Christ does not, and thus the love of the Father for you will never fail. And it will continue to be free and full, just as He has promised. You will have work and labor during your days here on earth – some of it will be hard, some of it will be less hard. Either way, He will put you to work, and when the day is done He will call you home saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter now into your rest.” We know – it's what He's promised, what He agreed upon with us at Holy Baptism when we were called away from standing idly in this world and into His kingdom. His grace for you is free, and it never fails. Thus, I encourage you, when that jealousy or sniping comes up, remember once again God's grace, and see again how is flows generously to you and those around you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Workers in the Vineyard

This upcoming Sunday is the workers in the vineyard text.  The hymn of the day is Salvation Unto Us Has Come.  It's a great day - it's a sola gratia day - Grace Alone.

The beauty of the lectionary is that it serves to gently correct and curb us, guides us and acts like a trellis, and returns us again to the heart of what we preach and teach.  And the heart of this is that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ.  Not by works of the law, no matter how good or virtuous they are.

You think it wouldn't be that hard to keep that the center of things - but the beginning symphony of faith (check out the Greek in Mathew 20:2) soon becomes grumbling and dischord when instead of focusing on God's grace freely given, we instead become focused upon the works of others - how poor they are, how they aren't up to our standards.

And our eye becomes evil and no longer craves and celebrates the Goodness of God.  Instead, we put forth our own efforts and actions as the center of everything.  This is horrid.

Keep yourselves from idols, little children =o)

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Transfiguration Sermon - 2016

Transfiguration Sunday – Matthew 17 – January 16/17th, 2016

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

         They were afraid. When people got a glimpse of the unbridled Glory of God, when sinful men got a taste of this, they became terrified. We see this both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Old, Moses comes down the mountain from having talked with God while getting the 2nd copy of the 10 commandments, and what happens? When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shown because he had been talking with God. Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Even Aaron, the high priest, Moses’ own brother is terrified of merely the reflected Glory of God. They even finally talk Moses into keeping a veil over his face because Moses’ glowing face freaked them out.

And then in the New, we have the Gospel lesson today – the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up on a mountain – and Jesus is transfigured, He begins to glow, and Moses and Elijah show up – and Peter, Peter is bold, as bold as only Peter can be. Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. It was the time of the festival of booths, the festival of tents – where basically all the faithful Jews would camp out and remember the wanderings in the desert. Peter’s able to handle seeing the transfiguration – he just wants to keep busy, busy and focused somewhere else. Maybe Moses and Elijah are just here to celebrate the feast with us – I’ll keep busy. I’ll set up some tents. He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. And then the voice of God comes from the cloud, and it’s too much, and the disciples cower in fear. A transfigured Christ – we can keep busy, we can work through this amazement – but God’s voice – duck and cover, duck and cover.

We will in modern American Christianity talk about God’s glory a lot. We like to talk about God’s majesty and strength. Glory, Glory, Hallelujah. Awesome God who does cool stuff, yeah! On and on. But here is what happens. When our focus shifts to God’s power or glory, we forget one simple thing. God’s glory is too much for sinful man to handle. We see this in the Old Testament, we see this in the New Testament. When people see God let His Glory, His Godliness shine forth – it is terrifying. Now, think for moment, imagine a situation with me. Let’s say, in the middle of this sermon this evening/morning, my voice starts to get unnaturally loud - and the earth starts to quake – and thunders and lightnings come – and angels appear behind me – what would happen? Honestly, what would your reaction be? I’d be freaked out, but too scared to stop talking. Y’all would probably dive under the pews. If a touch of God’s unbridled Glory popped out here, even here in Church, we would be terrified. It happened to Isaiah in Church, and he was terrified. “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!” That’s what would happen. The unveiled glory of God is terrifying to us here on earth.

And why? Because we are sinful people. When we are walking around in normal life here on earth, we can get cocky. We can get a little proud in how good we are. We’re decent people – show up to church, put money in the plate – we can compare ourselves to other people, the godless hordes out there, and get to feeling pretty good about ourselves. That’s because all too often we examine our lives not in terms of God’s Word, not in terms of His absolutes, not in terms of have you done all that you ought – but rather we compare ourselves to others selectively, remembering only their faults and weaknesses, and comparing that to our successes and strengths. Thing is – when God shows up, when God shines forth His glory, we see how shallow and poor we are in comparison to Him, we see that we fall short, and we crash, we flee in terror, we run and hide – just like Adam in the garden when God calls out to him after the fall.

So, why do I bring this up? What is the point in talking about this? Because today, in seeing Peter, James, and John – Disciples, Apostles, heroes of the faith – on their knees cowering in fear, we see the fundamental problem of our lives. Sin isn’t just doing bad stuff. Sin isn’t just being naughty. It’s not just that we happen to sin – it’s that we are sinful – that we are full of sin. We are sinners – people who on account of their wicked and corrupt natures end up sinning. And there’s nothing we can do to change that – we are sinners, that’s who we are. Period. And because we are sinners – by our nature we are shut off from God. Like we say in the meaning to the third article, we can’t by our own reason or strength go to God, we can’t come to Him – why? Because on our own we are sinners. Sinners don’t saunter up to a holy God and ask Him how His day was. When a kid is in big trouble, does he want to go chat his your parents? No! How much more so the sinner with God? Our sinfulness, which we all have from the day we were conceived separates us from God – and we can’t fix it. We can’t do anything about it – when sinful people stumble upon God's unbridled glory, we have no choice but to cower.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. This is why Christ Jesus comes. Epiphany is the season where we see, where we remember that Jesus is indeed God – God come to us humbly as a servant, coming to us as a Human, coming to us in a away where He can be with us without terrifying us. Jesus hides His glory most of the time so that He can come to us sinners. The way in which we know God, the way we understand Him, isn’t in His almighty power – we can’t grasp that, and what little we can terrifies us. We don’t understand God’s majesty, and when we see it we become afraid. But God reveals Himself to us in Christ, in becoming man, in becoming One of us and coming to us in a way that we can handle. And so, because of this great wisdom and love of God, we see no one but Jesus only. He is how, He is the only way we understand God. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – we can't get to the Father apart from Him. Paul preaches Christ and Him Crucified. Hear how Hebrews describes this. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature, and He upholds the universe by the Word of His power. After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Jesus is true God, in Him we get everything there is to get, all the power, all the glory – but behold how God works. He comes to us while we are still sinners, while we are still sinful, but He comes in a way which we can tolerate, in a way which doesn’t completely destroy us. And what does He do? In our Gospel, Jesus doesn’t stay up on the mountain, He doesn’t just bask in His own glory. Rather, He goes to comfort the disciples – He tells them not to fear. Why can Jesus say this? Because He knows He is going to the Cross.

We can’t handle, we can’t deal with our sin. But Jesus can and Jesus does. He takes on our flesh, becomes one of us for the express purpose of going to the Cross. This is why He comes, to go to the Cross – to make purification for sins, to justify us – to cleanse us from all unrighteousness – this is the work of the Cross. This is why He comes, to rise again, to walk forth from the tomb bringing life in His train – so that He can say, “See, I have won for you the forgiveness of sins and now give to you life Eternal.” Jesus comes to work, Jesus comes to get down to business – Jesus comes to touch us while we are by our sinful nature His enemies and give us life. But God shows His love for us in this that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is what Jesus does.

And this is what Jesus does for us still today. Think on this – as I’ve already pointed out, if we were to see God’s unveiled glory while still on earth in this sinful flesh, we would freak out. Yet God still deigns to come to us and bring us forgiveness. How? Not through earth shaking power. Not through fire and brimstone and flashing lights. God comes to us in ways that don’t destroy us – God gives Himself to us in ways that we can handle. He comes in His Word – through hearing His Word. And not echoing, booming sounds – but Words spoken and read by normal people in normal ways. He comes in Baptism – think on that – a washing which cleanses all our sin, which unites us to God, which joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection. When Christ died the earth shook, the clouds blotted out the sun, when He rose nothing could contain Him – and yet we are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection by water and the Word – in a manner so gentle even infants can bear it. He comes to us in the Lord’s Supper. Think on that – God gives us His own Body and Blood – we take and eat, we take and drink for forgiveness – and how can we receive this? Because He gives us His Body and Blood in a way that we can handle, that we can receive – through bread and wine. He comes to us sinful men to forgive us our sins in ways in which we can handle.

Yes, Jesus reveals His glory upon the mountain of transfiguration. We see God’s glory revealed, we have confirmed for us that Jesus is indeed true God. But Jesus doesn’t just stay there – His ultimate purpose isn’t to show how wonderful He is. Rather, He leads His disciples down the mountain, and He walks undaunted and boldly to the Cross, where He wins for us forgiveness. And Jesus continues His work today as He comes to us in His Word, in Baptism, in His Supper. He comes to us gently, so that we receive Him without fear and simply rejoice in the forgiveness of sin. The world looks at this – looks at God at work in His Word and shrugs. The world sees Baptism and mocks it – How can water do such things? The world hears that Christ gives us His own Body and Blood in His Supper and calls Jesus a liar, says it’s just a chunk of bread, a bit of wine and nothing more. The world foolishly craves glory and power. But we have been called into God’s house, brought into His family; we have received His forgiveness, and so we see and know and thirst for the forgiveness which He gladly and continually provides for us in His Church. And because we have been forgiven, we look forward to the resurrection of the dead, when we and all believers in Christ will be raised to glorious and eternal life, and once again enjoy perfection, and delight forever more without fear, in God’s Glory in His Heavenly Kingdom. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Case Study: Boy Jesus in the Temple

I propose a case study, a little thought experiment for self-evaluation.  As good Lutherans we know that the Gospel is to predominate; that is we understand that the point, the goal, the end of the Scriptures is seeing Christ Jesus who is our Redeemer, who is the Author and Perfector of our faith.

Do we let the Gospel predominate?  And by that I don't just mean does it take up more time in our sermons, or do we finish with it... but does the Gospel predominate and shape the way we view the Scriptures?

I have a test case, a case study for self-examination.  Luke 2:41-52  The Boy Jesus in the Temple.  Read it, ponder it, and then ask yourself, what is the point of this text?  If you were to preach it to your congregation, what is the major point, what is the theme?

Go on.  Think about it for a bit.

Pondering is good.

Alright.  So what did you get?  What sort of themes took the foreground in your head?  And were they Law-centric or Gospel centric?

This text is a great study for this, because there are some fantastic law themes in the text.  You can use the text as a springboard for examining all sorts of 3rd commandment and 4th commandment issues.  They came to the temple as was their custom, Joseph and Mary faithfully brought Jesus, Jesus goes home and is submissive to them, He grows in stature and wisdom before God and Man.  These are all wonderful, positive Law themes.

But what about the Gospel themes?  That right there, you have the Word of God Incarnate expounding upon the Word of God?  That you have Christ declaring that He must be about the Father's business of salvation?  That the God who became man and tabernacled among us enters his temple to restore us.

So....

What was your focus?

Is this text primarily an occasion to get in some good law, some good positive example, or is a revelation of the mysteries of the incarnation and our salvation in Christ?

In your own thinking, does the Gospel predominate?