Saturday, August 20, 2016

Trinity 13 Sermon

Trinity 13 – August 20/21, 2016 – Luke 10:23-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
One more Saturday/Sunday where everything revolves around justification. Two weeks ago, the tax collector went home justified; last week Jesus fixed the deaf man's ears – made them right, made them just. And today, we get told the tale of the Good Samaritan. “Come on, Pastor Brown! Even the Good Samaritan? How is the Good Samaritan supposed to be a text about justification? This is the Sunday where the Pastor is supposed to stand up there and wag his finger at me and tell me how I don't love my neighbor enough and that I need to do more and be like the Good Samaritan.” Again, you're partially right. You don't love your neighbor like you ought to. In fact, I'm sure that if I had a video instant replay of everyone's week, I could pause several times for each of us and say, “Yep, right here – see this. Jerk move. That was rotten.” I know some of my own, some things I probably didn't notice – I'm sure you know some of your own, and there's probably some you didn't see either. Of course you don't love your neighbor like you ought to – now, what to do about it?

Jesus starts the text by reminding the disciples that Prophets and Kings longed to see Him, that He is the fulfillment of the ages, the promised Messiah – but some folks just don't see it, aren't focused upon Jesus. Exhibit A, a lawyer, a master of Jewish Law. And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lawyer doesn't see Jesus. He doesn't see the Messiah. Doesn't even see a prophet. Teacher. But not even that – this lawyer is going to put Jesus to the test. His question isn't respectful, it's more along the lines of, “Alright, smarty-pants, I've got a question for you.” The only problem is, it shows just how far off this fellow's thinking is. Let me demonstrate: What must I do to inherit my parents' money – well, I guess I'd have to find some way to bump them off, make it look like an accident so it pays off triple. Do you see? You don't do anything to inherit, because you inherit when someone dies – and if you are doing something to cause that, that's bad.
And so Jesus just tosses it right back at him – what's the Law say, how do you read it lawyer man? And this is a basic, simple answer. Love God, love your neighbor as yourself. The Lawyer knows it – it's basic, you all should know it as well. And then Jesus says, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Did you hear what Jesus did? He didn't say, “Do this and you will inherit” - do this and you will live. Alright fella, since you want your life to be a result of what you do – just life perfectly, and you'll not die. Good luck with that, knock yourself out. Now, remember, the Lawyer was going to test Jesus, put Jesus in His place. And He fails miserably, and He's embarrassed. And what do we sinful human beings do when we've done something stupid and embarrassing? But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” He desires to justify himself. There's that justify word. Sinful man wants to justify himself – it was part of his initial question – what must I do. It's part of his embarassed response. Uh, no, I didn't just ask a question a 6 year old should be able to answer, it was setting up this follow-up – um, who is my neighbor. Who can I reasonably be expected to love! And then we get the tale of the Good Samaritan.

Therefore, my friends, understand what Jesus is doing when He's telling the tale of the Good Samaritan. It's not the finger wagging law bomb we expect saying “This is what you better be doing if you expect God to love you and bless you.” It's not even directly answering the lawyer's question. He had asked “who is my neighbor.” Jesus, after telling the story asks, “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” So, lawyer, which one of those looked to be a neighbor – what's a neighbor look like? And the lawyer knows the answer is the one who shows mercy. And Jesus tells him to do mercy, to be focused there. Why? The lawyer hadn't been thinking of mercy – he'd been thinking of what he must do to prove himself, to demonstrate how good he himself is. He thinks neither of God nor his neighbor – but mercy deals directly with God and the neighbor. Listen.

A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.  So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. So, there's the set up. Mind you what is going on. The road between Jerusalem and Jericho switched back and forth between mountains. It was winding and you couldn't see far – it was the perfect place for an ambush. And an ambush happens. Robbers come and beat the fellow half to death. And a priest sees it and skirts right on by. Likewise the Levite, the fellow of good stock. Be fair to them. What they do is utterly reasonable. Don't believe me? Let's say you're driving through Kankakee and you hear gun shots. Are you stopping, are you searching for the wounded, or are you locking the doors and getting out of there ASAP? Don't belittle the priest and the Levite here. Show them some mercy; what they do is typical and reasonable. Now, what the Samaritan does - well, that's just nuts.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ So what's a Samaritan? They were people who were hated by the Jews. Ancient enemies. They were the conquerors in the OT lesson. 900 years of bad blood. So in the story this Samaritan is someone who is a stranger in a land where no one likes him. So, if there are robbers, they can rob him and even feel patriotic about it. If anyone should get out of there, it should be him. But no, he stops. Puts the guy on his own animal – so if the robbers come he can smack the donkey and off it will go, carrying the wounded to safety while he is left behind for the robbers to beat and kill. It's an incredibly brave act. And then, when they get to the inn – well, they didn't have hospitals in those days – the closest thing would be an inn, where they were notorious for cheating travelers, over charging them... perhaps a bit closer to today's hospitals than we like to admit. But the Samaritan says, “Alright, here's some cash – take care of him, and whatever else you need, I'll pay you later.” Generous – foolishly generous. So, which one acted like the neighbor – the one who showed foolishly generous mercy.

In reality, this is a story of Justification. While you should indeed strive to be like the Good Samaritan, while you should strive to show mercy – you aren't the Good Samaritan. You aren't. If you are anyone in this tale, you're guy beaten half to death. That's what life here in this fallen world does to us. We get kicked in the teeth by sin – by the sin of our neighbors and the stupid sins we ourselves do. And we get beaten and smacked down. So how does that get fixed, how does that get made right? Is it by the law? Is it by our own works? Is the solution in the tale someone sitting down next to the half-dead fellow and saying, “Well, see, you need to be nicer, and you need to be stronger, and probably smarter too, oh, and just stop bleeding because that's messy, and while you're at it stop moaning so much.” What good would that be? He's half dead, he's not doing anything to rescue himself. And likewise, you, you who were dead in your trespasses, you aren't capable of doing anything to rescue yourself. For that you need a rescuer, a Justifier who shows you foolishly generous mercy. And that is Christ Jesus.

Psalm 23:4 – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. Are you stuck dealing with sin and on your way to death? So be it, for into this fallen world comes Christ Jesus to be with you, and now you need fear nothing. For even though this Christ Jesus was despised and hated – He lifts you up, carries you to safety, binds your wounds, and all of this, free to you. Costly for Him. Remember the Catechism - He has purchased and won me, a lost and condemned creature, not with silver or gold, not with 2 denarii, but with His precious blood and innocent suffering and death. And it is free. What did the half-dead man do to “inherit” such kindness? Nothing. Well, other than to get robbed and be beaten near to death. Nope – everything flows from mercy – from God's mercy, His mercy which drives him to rescue and redeem you. It's all about justification.

Dangnabit Pastor Brown – more justification when the text even ends with a go and do likewise. Well, yeah. Because “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” You've heard and seen Christ and His mercy. Indeed, you've been given life in Christ. You've been redeemed and forgiven – and where there is forgiveness there is life and salvation. So mercy is going to flow. And if you don't waste too much time thinking about it, don't spend too much time playing the angles and wondering how you can butter up either God or your reputation – you'll simply show love, show mercy. Because you are justified. You are made right – and having been mercied by God, God will use you to give His mercy to others. But that has nothing to do with causing your salvation, or changing what God thinks of you, or even some claptrap about how “good” you are. You're good because God says you are. You are valuable because God says, “You're worth the life and death of Christ Jesus.” You've received love and mercy from God, and love and mercy will just pop out. Your actions, your love, your good works are not the cause of your salvation, not the cause of God's relationship with you. They are the fruit, the result. The love you show is simply the love that Christ has poured on you and through you, overflowing to others. The mercy you show – it's the mercy He's covered you with with; it's just going to get onto the people you come across. You have inherited eternal life – for Christ Jesus has died for you, and even before you were born He earmarked you in His will, in the Testament in His blood – you are forgiven, and you have life in Christ. You are, in a word, Justified. Your life is being drenched in Christ's mercy, even from the font unto this moment. So yes, see and hear Christ; be focused on mercy - go and do likewise, this do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me – so that you would be refreshed, that you would receive even more mercy from God so as to be strengthened in faith and love. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – August 13/14th, 2016 – Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I don't know Pastor Brown! You said last week that we'd be talking about “being justified” for a few weeks here, and then we had a healing in our Gospel lesson. That's not some fancy-schmacy justification text – in fact, I didn't hear the word “justified” one single cotton picking time in any of those readings. And you're partially right... you didn't. At least not directly. But if you will, be patient, and let me lay some justification ground work here. To be made just is the same idea, the same word in Greek, in fact, as to be made “righteous”. In our Epistle lesson, Paul speaks of a ministry of righteousness. Same idea. What Paul preaches, his ministry is given to make people righteous, to make them justified, to make them forgiven and clean and perfect. It is a ministry of life – one that gives life. The Spirit gives life – we confess in the Creed that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life. So all this language in the Scriptures of justified, righteous, forgiven, holy, life – it all boils down to this. God, in His love for you, fixes sin and its impacts. He justifies you, He makes things right again. Everything He does drives to this idea of fixing, restoring, making folks who have been ravaged by sin right again. And that is why, dear friends, our Gospel text is most certainly about justification, about righteousness – about the Just and righteous Christ bringing justification and righteousness with Him. Listen.

[Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay a hand on Him. Now, today, when we hear of this fellow, we want to think, “What's wrong with his ears? What causes the speech impediment – is it neurological, is it something structural?” We look at things in a very, blunt, earthly, materialistic way. It's just something physical. But one of the things that they understood in the ancient world is that these physical problems that we see aren't utterly detached from spiritual realities. They understood the idea of the Fall – that because of sin and wickedness, all sorts of problems and evils were unleashed upon the world. They understood that the wages of sin was death – that sin meant that in this world things were going to break down and fall apart and not work right – and that when you saw someone whose ears didn't work, whose mouth didn't work – this wasn't just a physical problem for some sort of medical craftsman to fix. It pointed to a greater spiritual problem, it reminded everyone of the condition of sinful man. Which is why, even these people in the Decaoplis, the pagan cities on the far side of the Sea of Galilee figure that maybe this Jesus, maybe this Holy, Spiritual Man, can do something for this deaf fellow.

So picture it in your mind – you have Jesus come into town, and they've heard the rumors about Jesus. It was just south of them where Jesus had cast out a bunch of demons – cast them into the pigs. They've heard other tales from across the sea of Galilee, but you know how those Galileans are, so excitable, not like us civilized folks. So they bring this deaf man to Jesus – both in hope for the deaf fellow and also as a challenge to Jesus. Alright Spiritual Man, we've see you tangle with the demons, with the spirits – but is your spiritual juju so strong that it will even fix the physical world? Lay hands on Him, let's see what you got! Do you get the sense of anticipation, of excitement, of spectacle. Bring the deaf man up onto the stage and let's see what this Jesus can do, and then we can all cheer and applaud!

But that's not what Jesus does. He doesn't say, “Oh, is that what you want – well (smack hands together), come on, be healed!” and smack the deaf man upside the head like some religious huckster. Listen to what Jesus does - “And taking him aside from the crowd privately....” It's not a show people. It's not a spectacle. It's not entertainment time. Rather, this fellow here is in bad shape. Consider. He's deaf. And Jesus has walked into town, and they say, “Let's get deaf bob, get him healed” - so they picked this guy up and dragged him through a crowd – and they didn't have sign language back then, so he may not even have a clue as to what is going on. And let's say that Jesus did heal him in front of the crowd – what would they have done? Cheered like mad – so suddenly you go from being deaf to where the first thing you hear is the roar of the crowd. It would have been really messed up and confusing. That ain't right – that's not how you do it. So Jesus pulls the guy aside – let me deal with you one on one.

“He put His fingers in his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” Now that Jesus has the fellow's attention – Jesus touches his ears, his tongue. I'm going to deal with these for you – you've been brought for a healing. You get that? You understand? And when the fellow knows what is going on – then Jesus acts. And note how He heals – because Jesus is teaching here. The crowd wanted Jesus to fix things by laying his hand on – letting his mojo flow, something like that. That's not what Jesus does. As the deaf man watches, Jesus acts. “Looking up to heaven, He signed and said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” Do you see what Jesus teaches? Alright fella – I'm looking to heaven because this is a spiritual thing going on here, and it needs a Divine, heavenly answer. I hope you all didn't think I was just making stuff up when I said physical aliments had a spiritual component – it's right here in the text, that's why Jesus, to explain what He's doing looks up and sighs, looks up and acts out a prayer. And then Jesus speaks – Christ Jesus, the Word of God incarnate speaks a word. He says “be opened”... and things are opened. That's actually a pretty basic lesson on the relationship between the spiritual and the physical – between God and His creation. When God speaks, what He says happens. Be light – there is light. Be opened – the ears are opened. The very first thing this guy hears is the very Word that gives Him hearing. Which is all sorts of wondrous.

And then we get the ending that folks often get confounded by. “And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” This idea consternates people. Well, why wouldn't Jesus want them telling everyone? There's been many theories, possible explanations. I tend to take it this way – they are already on the verge of a frenzy. Jesus doesn't want them any more whipped up – because generally when He heals, He also preaches – because, you know, Spiritual things. The Spirit gives life. Except if they are all busy running around and gabbing, they don't get to listen. Wait, come back, we haven't had the sermon yet... oh. Well, there they go. There's a time to listen, to get to the fullness of what is going on. “And they were astonished beyond all measure, saying, 'He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.'” They get that they have seen creation restored. “He has done all things well” - that's the same language you get in Genesis 1 at the end of each of the days of creation – and it was good. They understand that they've seen a fantastic miracle of creation, of things being put right.

But this was just the appetizer. It's not the main course. Jesus comes to fix things. He is the Righteous One who comes bringing righteousness. He comes to justify things. And this is certainly a fixing – it's a making things right... but because the fellow was still a sinner in a sinful world, you do know what happened? Well, this deaf man who was healed. He's long since died. His body isn't hearing things at the moment, his tongue isn't talking right now. Neither are any of the folks in that crowd. Fixing the guys ears for a time – that's just an appetizer, that's just a temporary fix. And Jesus moves on to the greater fix. Because again, all these physical problems flow from a greater spiritual problem – the problem of sin and death. So that is what Jesus really has to deal with. The very Word of God Himself becomes man, strides right smack dab into the middle of death – goes to the Cross and dies... to justify mankind, to place His righteousness over and against sin and death – to wipe out death. Jesus rises to bring this justification to light, to ensure that every single person who has suffered death on account of sin is raised to life, a life where their ears work and their tongues work because that's the way He had created us to be in the beginning and He wasn't going to let Satan mess that up.

You see, the big fix, the big healing wasn't the deaf guy hearing. However, because Jesus dies and rises – that deaf man who has since died – well, he's going to be raised. He's going to hear the trumpet, the cry of the archangel and be raised – and then his mouth will rightly sing Christ's praise for all eternity. Us as well. This actually plays in with the next section of Mark – chapter 8 begins with the feeding of the 4000 – and they are all excited then too... but no, that feeding was just an appetizer. The real feast comes on the Last Day, when we are brought in full to the feast of the Lamb that has no end.

And what of us? Well, we're in a better spot – we know that Christ has died and risen – we see a bit more clearly what is to come. Granted, we are still sinners in a sinful world with bodies that age and fall apart. Jesus healed the deaf man who had a speech impediment – and yet here I am, preaching even with my own speech all messed up to a congregation where there's a whole bunch of you who if not deaf don't quite hear right. We're still in this world – but Christ Jesus calls us to this place to see beyond just the hum-drum cold realities of this world. He makes us to see spiritual truths. You are baptized, you are forgiven, you go in peace, you join in His Supper. These are all things we see now, realities we have now – but they will blossom in full come the last day. You who were washed clean in your baptism and joined to Christ's resurrection there at the font – you have that now – but you'll see it more come the last day. You have forgiveness now, your sin is gone now – but come the last day when you are raised the former things won't even be remembered, all lingering guilt will be gone. You have peace now, but you get buffeted constantly by the world and your sinful flesh – again, come the Last Day – just peace. And with the Supper – well, we get the foretaste of the feast to come – a bit of bread and a small cup of wine is hardly a hearty appetizer – but your seat at the eternal feast is well prepared, and when all is ready, Christ will call you to that feast, and nothing, not sin, not death, not Satan will be able to get in you way, nothing will be able to separate you from that loving feast of God. Why?

Because you are justified. Because Christ Jesus loves to justify people – to make them just and right and proper and good and how they were meant to be. Even as He's on His way to the cross, He does a little touch up work on the way – guy, let's fix those ears and that tongue for a bit – but His focus is always on the true prize, having you redeemed from sin and death and with Him for all eternity. Jesus justifies you – He gives you life, life you see now in part, and then in full. And so now, we'll go on with service – I'll slur my way through the liturgy and we'll hit the ocassional off-key note in our singing, and we'll creak our way to the altar – justified now yet looking towards the completion come the Last Day. And it will come – for you are justified by Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Trinity 11 sermon

Trinity 11 – August 6/7th, 2016 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Justified. That's going to be the theme, the key idea for the next few weeks here. The last month or so had plenty of heavy, soul-searching lessons, where we pondered in depth and detail our own sin, pondered the ways Satan attacks us – but now we're going to focus in on being justified. It is a big, important word in theology. To be justified is to be made, to be declared, to be proven right, just, and good. And so the question before us this day, my dear friends, is how are you, how is a Christian to be justified, how are we shown and made to be righteous and just? Let us consider our parable, a familiar one – the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.” Now, there should be a big warning sign here going off in your head – a warning from Catechism lesson number 1. What is the first commandment? You shall have no other gods before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and... trust in God above all things. Did you catch it? Some who... trusted in themselves. Trusted in themselves that they were righteous, that they were good enough already. Where's God in that equation? Where's God in that thought process? He's not there. I'm a good human being, see how great I am, and I'm certainly better than that fellow over there. How am I to be justified – why would I need that – I'm already great as is! You see, dear friends, when we get texts in the Church that are heavy with the law, that show us our sin, the point is to remind us of our need for God, our need for a Savior. It is to teach us humility so that we don't run around like a jerk all full of contempt, so that we don't think we are all that and a bag of chips. Because that's a trap we all can fall into. It's easy to be arrogant and cocky and dismissive of others. And so Jesus tells this parable.

“Two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus – God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'” And here's where we have a hard time hearing this parable. We associate the Pharisees with villains. We think of the Pharisees as “bad guys” - when in reality, they aren't – not from an earthly point of view. Listen to what the Pharisee says he does – and there's no reason to think he's lying – He fasts, so he's devout in his personal devotion. He gives tithes of all that he gets – nothing really bad about that. I mean – basically, think of it this way. Would I be happy, in theory, if you read your bible every day, did daily devotions, and put in 10 percent of your income into the offering plate? Yeah. The Pharisee is a swell guy – he looks to be the type of guy you'd want your son to grow up into, the sort of guy you'd want your daughter to get married to. And as for the tax collector – well, we tend not to like the IRS that much, but we don't generally think of IRS agents as vile, corrupt, and evil. So we don't get the contrast being set up in the parable. So if you will, let me try to modernize it.

One Saturday/Sunday two folks walked into Trinity here. One was a life long member, born and raised a Lutheran, a fellow who made good on his God given talents – has a good job, shows up to Church, regularly helps out – all his ducks are in a row. Shakes everyone's hand before service because, well, we're all glad to see him. And then, surprise of surprise, in walks a junkie – and not one of our own who has fallen into trouble. I mean a miscreatant – dishevelved,dirty, maybe even still high. The sort you sort of lean away from. And the good old Lutheran boy thinks, “God, I thank you that I'm not messed up like him. I've heard the stories about him, and I'm so glad I've never done anything that dumb.” Meanwhile – the pond scum fellow just sits off by himself, head in his hands just thinking, “God forgive me, God help me.”

Do you get that distinction, that contrast? For the folks that were listening to Jesus, they would want to like the Pharisee, and they would instinctively not like, not trust the tax collector. The Pharisee is the good guy, the Tax collector is the bad guy, and yet, Jesus says of the tax collector, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other.” Now hear this rightly – I'm not saying that I want you to stop tithing and start shooting heroin. Not the point. The Pharisee, the good old Lutheran, had by all accounts what we would deem a better life. I'm sure it was more enjoyable, more virtuous. Easier, even. Being in the gutter stinks. I hope and pray that you all stay away from gross and vile sin, from heartache and pain this week in your life out there. But here's the thing – they are in the temple, and in the parable, it was the tax collector who actually understood what the point of the Temple was. The Temple was not the place you went to primp and preen before God and the church folks and show everyone how awesome you are, how much of a good boy you've been. Going to church isn't like visiting Santa at the mall and sitting on his lap and telling him what a good boy you've been so give me a new bicycle. Going to Church isn't the time you get to hold social court and get reaffirmed in how wonderful you are by people whose lives are just as prim and proper as yours. This is a forgiveness place for sinners, this is a mercy house for the messed up. And that, is what you need.

You see, God knows you too well. While we all tend to strive to put on the brave face in front of other people – while we all will say as a matter of course, “Oh, I'm fine” - God knows. He knows what's been going on – the troubles at home that you don't tell other folks, the struggles at work. He knows your frustrations. He knows the thoughts that have been flying through your head that you are far too ashamed to mention to anyone. And He knows them – even when you want to saunter around and act as though everything in your life is just perfect and wonderful... even when you've lied to yourself so much that you actually have conned yourself into thinking that everything is fine. He knows what's really going on, and so God has established this place to be a house of mercy and forgiveness for you. A place where you don't have to pretend, a place where you can be honest and simply say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

And He will be. That's the point. “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified.” You see, this is how it works. You don't have to prove anything to God. Being in the Church isn't like going to the fair where you have to be so tall before you can ride the rides. I'm not standing by the door before service saying, “You must be this holy before you can come in here.” Because before God, in terms of how you relate to God, it's not about your works, not about what you've done or have left undone. We confess that's all a mess. No, your relationship with God is this: He is the One who justifies you. God almighty sees you, battered and bruised and broken – sees even those things that you have hidden so well from everyone else – and there is no revulsion, no disdain, no contempt from Him. Rather simple and pure and unadulterated love. Love that drives God to care for you, to take your sin away from you. Seeing your sin, Christ Jesus says, “There's no way I'm going to let that be the story, let that be the tale of your life” - and so He takes your sin upon Himself, and suffers and dies upon the Cross, He rises from the dead – and all for you. And He takes water and attaches His Word to it and washes you with it and claims you as His own. He takes bread and wine and by His Word gives His Body and Blood to you with it – all so that you are forgiven, so that you know it, so that you realize that all this junk in your life – it isn't your junk anymore. It's Christ's junk, and He crucified it for you – and you, now, in the sight of God, are righteous and just and holy and perfect and lovely and wonderful. Because Jesus says so. He shows mercy. You are justified.

Our sinful nature fights against this, though. Since our youth we've become accustomed to telling tales, to putting our own spin on things, to try to explain things away. We want to tell our own story of justification. How many of you got in trouble recently, got caught doing something you shouldn't, and then tried to talk your way out of it? “Well, you see, I was going to do this, but then dut-da-dut-da-duh, and then blah-blah-blah, so I just had to yaddy-yaddy-ya.” You know what that is? That's telling a story to justify myself, telling a story to say that what I did is actually fine and understandable and it's not that bad. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it! Or maybe it's someone else's fault? Or maybe at least we aren't as bad at that other person? And we dig ourselves deeper and deeper. The simple fact is, when we drop the ball, we drop the ball. And the kicker is, we get tempted to try to fast talk God! But this is where God steps in, and He says, “You don't need to try to tell Me any tales – I know what happened. I'll fix it, I'll make things right, and I forgive you.” God in His mercy cuts all that self-justification talk off. He doesn't even want you to think about justifying yourself – He wants to be both the One who is Just and the One who justifies you. Because He wants to exalt you – He wants to raise you up from the dead and give you everlasting life as His own sons and daughters – and it doesn't get more exalted than that.

So let God be God. Let Him be the One who justifies you, who forgives you. And never be afraid to seek His mercy, never be afraid to confess your sin. You don't need to explain anything away – Jesus has already died for you. Rather, be on guard against your own pride, your own ego that you try to pull you away from God and His mercy. Because when it comes to your relationship with God – it's not about what you do for Him – it is all about what He has done for you – Christ Jesus has forgiven you and given you His own eternal life, and nothing tops that. Now, let's have the Supper and go home justified. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Trinity 10 sermon

Trinity 10 – July 30th and 31st, 2016 – Luke 19:41-48

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I want you, for a moment, to picture in your mind all the things you normally think of on Palm Sunday – Jesus on a donkey, surrounded by crowds calling out Hosanna. Children smiling and laughing, waving palms. And then, to that picture, add the opening words of our Gospel lesson. “And when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!’” This Gospel lesson takes place on Palm Sunday. There Christ Jesus is, and He is weeping. Weeping because Jerusalem doesn’t know the things that make for peace. And this is so horrid, so ironic, because the name “Jerusalem” means “Abode of Peace” – that “Salem” or “Shalom” is the Hebrew word for peace. You, Jerusalem, you are the place where peace should dwell, for you are where the Temple is, where Mt. Zion is, where God Himself is present to forgive the sins of His people, to undo and destroy sin and death and to give life and peace… and yet you do not know the things that make for peace. The Prince of Peace rides into the Abode of Peace, and He laments, for the people there do not desire peace – not real peace. “But now they are hidden from your eyes.” There you have God Himself, come to save His people from their sin – and even the crowds praising Him, who among them understands, who desires true peace? They want freedom from Rome, kick the bums out. They want more wealth, more stuff, more carnal security. They want things of this world – but the things of peace – not wanted. And they will follow a path of violence instead.

Our Lord says, “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Many in Christ’s day hoped that He would lead the glorious revolution against Rome. But He doesn’t – and thus He is rejected. Instead of simply clinging to Christ and His Kingdom, so many would try to make their own kingdom in this world, and so over and over the Jewish folks in Jerusalem would rebel. In 66 AD, they drive the Roman legions out… but Rome comes back and surrounds the city, blockades it for 4 years, and then lays waste to it. Destroys the Temple – blows up the Holy of Holies. While the temple isn’t rebuilt, Jerusalem was, yet it gets destroyed again. Around 130, there is another revolt, and this time the city is utterly destroyed, and all the Jewish folks living there are forced to move – are scattered to the winds. And Jerusalem has been fought over since then – a history of blood and violence and pain and suffering – all because people do not know the things that make for peace.

We see this truth further demonstrated when Jesus reaches the temple. “And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written My House shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’” Christ Jesus steps into the temple, steps upon Mt. Zion, and His sorrow turns to righteous anger as He sees these people who are profiteering off of the temple sacrifices, who are engaged in commerce with nary a thought to what is actually happening in that Temple. Casts them out. Same word used when Jesus casts out a demon. Again, a focus on money, on wealth, on “mammon”. Not upon the things that make for peace.

That's the contrast here in this text – Christ and His peace versus the power and wealth of the world. So then, I will ask - what it is that we crave? Do we desire the things of this world, or do we desire the things that make for peace? As Americans, what do we want? Turn on a TV, and what do you see? In the papers, on-line – what are they showing you? Or consider the campaign speeches of the politicians – what do they promise? All the talking heads, what are they selling us, what are we wanting? It's all pretty much promises of money and power, isn't it? They aren't selling, they aren't offering peace. See, here's the thing. Even though we are Christians, we are not immune to the pull of the world. We all have different things, different desires, different idols about which we think, “If only this, then life would be better.” We are not immune, we get caught up in the rat race, I have to do this, I have to buy that, if I just get X, Y, and Z, then things will be better. And on and on, we run around chasing after our passions, our lusts, our desires – whatever they are. And so rarely are we at peace. So often we are driven by fear, by worry, by angst. So often we trust in earthly power and might.

I know that what I’ve been talking about isn’t very specific. I know that I’m not lambasting specific things, specific items as “this is bad” – because I can’t do that thinking for you. I can think about what calls to me, what tempts me to become an idol in my life, what I desire. But I don’t know your thoughts, your hearts – so I ask you to ponder. What do you crave, what do you want, what makes you act like the tantrum throwing 5 year old, just determined that you won’t be happy or satisfied until you get “fill in the blank”. It might be respect or a raise or a new this or that, or lust or just a desire to not have any more responsibilities so you can just live for yourself – there’s too many options for me to address or guess. But you, pause and consider. What tempts you? What is it that isn’t healthy, isn’t good for you and you know it, yet it continually calls out to you? Or in other words, “how does Satan attack you?”

Because, that's really what this is. Satan wants you bound to the things of sin. Satan wants the things of this fallen world, money, power, busy-ness, lust, greed, prestige – whatever – Satan wants these things to more and more dominate and shape your life, so that you get caught up in them and forget what makes for true peace. So what does make for true peace? “And He was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on His Words.” Do you see the two camps, the distinction that is made? On the one hand, you have those who are craving after power and wealth and might – and they want to destroy Christ. To be done with Him. To put Him in the ground and never have to hear His Name again, to be utterly separated from Him. Is this not what Satan tries to accomplish in your life with sin and its distractions? But on the other hand – here are the things that make for peace – Christ Jesus and His Word. It is the Prince of Peace Himself who brings peace with Him.

The temptations of the world offer us so many things that seem appealing, things that they tell us they will bring us joy when they only bring strife and pain and suffering. But what does Christ Jesus bring with His Word? He brings to you forgiveness, so that you are free from guilt and are given peace. He brings with Him life everlasting, so that even as the world shouts, “you need this, you need that” – you know that you have life that lasts beyond just this chaotic life. He brings you joy – not mere pleasure but a peaceful contentful joy, where you know that no matter what you see in this wild world, you are loved by God, forgiven on account of Christ, that God is Your God who cares for you and that there is nothing the world can do to change that. In His Word, Christ Jesus gives you Himself – He Himself is with you, and because of Him you have peace. When you hear Christ, when you dwell in Him and He in You, when you meditate upon His Word of forgiveness, His love for you – you have peace. It’s not that this place and the Word of God here makes all the troubles of this world go away. That will have to wait for the life of the world to come. But Christ Jesus gives you peace – gives you strength to stand on His firm and sound foundation, and so the world can swirl around you – it may rage like a hurricane, but you are in the center with Christ, you are with Him. And Satan will try again and again to distract you, try to suck you up into the tumbling vortex of this world – and in response Christ will speak His Word to you – He will warn you of Satan’s ploys, and then He will say, “Peace be with you.” Be at peace – know that you are forgiven, know that with my death upon the Cross I have defeated Satan, that I have defeated the world – know that with My resurrection I have ensured that even should you die, yet you shall live. This cruel and mean and jealous world can in reality do nothing lasting to you – for the Prince of Peace has come to you, He has made You to be His own temple when He baptized you, washed you clean, drove out your sin and promised to forgive you continually. He has made you His own dwelling place – and He makes you to know peace. He makes you to be focused upon Him, to hear His Word of peace over and over again.

My dear Christian friends – you are in a world that will try to buffet you, that will try to twist you, that will try play on your fears and hurts. A world so harsh even Christ was driven to tears. And all this world will do is leave you empty and hurt and wanting more. But over and against this world, Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, speaks His Word of life and peace to you. You are filled with Christ and His spirit. Your sins are forgiven. You have true life in Christ. You do not need whatever the world is selling – for you are His, and all of the life of the world to come is your inheritance. You don't need to buy what the world is selling, for Christ Jesus has given you forgiveness and life and salvation already. This is His peace for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trinity 9 sermon

Trinity 9 – July 23rd and 24th, 2016 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The parable which we heard today is one that causes no end of consternation to folks. If you want the bible just to be a book with nice information on how to be a good, moral person, how you can impress God and make Him give you blessings – well, this one will put you into a tizzy. Because frankly, everyone in the parable is scum – is a liar or a cheat or a jerk. If you want the bible to be a how to book on earthly riches – well, this parable doesn't work either. Which makes sense; Jesus tells it right after the parable of the prodigal Son, and frankly, giving half your estate to a son so that he can blow it isn't exactly great financial wisdom. So then, why does Jesus tell us this story, what is His point? For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. There's the point – it's about being shrewd. 
So what is shrewdness? From a worldly perspective shrewdness abounds in this story. Consider: There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' Remember, with the parable of the prodigal son, the Elder son was indignant that the younger son wasted his share of the estate. So alright, let's get a story where that sort of thing isn't just tolerated. No fatted-calf for this manager – when someone spills the beans, when someone complains about how this manager had been “wasting” stuff – maybe skimming a bit, maybe using the expense account a bit too freely – that's it. You're fired. The rich man calls this manager into the office and says, “turn in the books, cause you ain't got a job here no more.” The big dog is going to eat the little dog. Think about it – you had the manager who was shrewdly taking advantage of his position, even if it was a bit wasteful. You've got the complainers who shrewdly see opportunity to get their competition fired. You know, if the guy above me gets canned, and I'm the one who blew the whistle, guess who is in line for that nice corner office! And the rich man, he just tries to stop the wasting ASAP. All very shrewd according to the world – everyone looking after his own interests, making sure his own bread is buttered.

Except now, this manager – he's up the creek without a paddle. And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” Again, this is shrwedness on this manager's part. You could listen to any business guru or a TED talk speaker talk about this – you have to be realistic, you have to set reachable goals. Denial isn't healthy. This fellow's life has taken a turn for the worse – but he doesn't lie to himself. He doesn't walk out, strutting saying, “meh, who cares, I'll just get a better job from some other rich man.” Nope. He recognizes his situation. His reputation as a manager is toast. And he isn't strong enough to dig, and he isn't going to go begging. He shrewdly takes stock of his situation and does not lie to himself. Instead, he improvises. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” So summoning his masters debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, '100 measures of oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'” You get the picture. 100 measures of wheat – now it's 80. And by the by, a “measure” was basically 1000 bushels. This is big time stuff. What he does is utterly shrewd – and under the law of the time, perfectly legal. Books aren't in yet. He's still the authorized agent – he can give discounts. And you know what – if you are going to get fired for wasting the master's stuff, you might as well WASTE it... and build up quite a bit of good-will. Because it's not begging if you walk up to someone and say, “remember how I saved you 20,000 bushels of wheat – say, I need a place to stay and a bit of spending cash – think you can hook me up?” That's “I washed your back, how about you wash mine.” And that's why even the master has to commend the dishonest manager – got to hand it to him, it was some slick dealing there, got himself out of a tight spot.

Everyone in the parable is playing the angles. They are all after the money, and they all work and scrap and fight for it. Money dominates their thoughts. And they are shrewd. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. So then, what about you, O Christian, you who have been called out of darkness into Christ's marvelous light? Jesus is making a blunt statement here – you Christians, you disciples, you don't act very shrewdly when it comes to your faith, to the things of God. I mean, the folks in the story do whatever they can for the Almighty Dollar. So, what about you Christian? How about it – are you shrewd, not in terms of your dealing with money, but shrewd in how you deal with mercy? Do you fight and scratch and claw – to forgive your neighbor? Do you do whatever it takes to show them love, do you care for them by hook or by crook? How zealous are you in showing love and mercy, how eager are you to make peace with your neighbor? Or to put in Catechism terms, when you put the best construction on things, are you really thinking about how to put the best construction – are you working at it – or just kind of shrugging along? And then, seeing your sin, knowing your lack, are you shrewd about receiving forgiveness? Do you crave it, do you prioritize hearing God's Word and receiving mercy? Or do you just putter on?

You see, when Jesus tells this parable – He had just finished the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son – because the Pharisees had been grumbling about forgiveness. Jesus had been eating with sinners – and they grumbled. “That's not how it should work. Why waste your time with scum – you should deal with us, we're the big wigs, we're the important people!” Big time important people, like the dishonest manager, or the rich man, or folks who rack up giant bills. And they should have known better – the Pharisees prided themselves on how they were good Believers... and yet, they disdained their neighbor. In reality they were really striving after wealth, after earthly success and fame. They didn't see their sin – they cared nothing for mercy, they gave no mercy to their neighbor and didn't think they needed any themselves. And so Jesus calls them on it – calls us on it. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” If you don't care about God's Word of forgiveness, if you want to be about money, if you want to be focused on earthly power – well, you better do it really well, because there's always a bigger dog coming in this dog eat dog world. Death comes. How will you deal with eternity? Maybe you can make so much money that when you die you'll, oh, I don't know, somehow bribe your way into heaven... do you hear the sarcasm here? You want to live chasing after money, well, good luck... you're gonna need it. Because when it boils down to it, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” You can't do both. You can either spend your life living to earn and make and take and gather everything into yourself, or you can show love to your neighbor, and give of all that you have. When you get worried about the money, you'll just step on your neighbor. And we know this. It's a story that plays out too often in our own lives.
Of course it plays out. That's what the fall was. Of course in our sinfulness we act cutthroat and shrewd – Satan is shrewd and tricksy, and in the fall he was all shrewd and trapped us into sin and death. Satan thought he was pulling the biggest fast one of all time in the fall. Trapped mankind in sin and death, using God's own law to separate us from God. What better way was there for Satan to show his hatred of God than orchestrating the fall? But here's the thing. Satan forgot something, misjudged something. He forgot just how shrewd Jesus is. You don't hustle a hustler, Satan. While the sons of the world are shrewd – they've got nothing on how shrewd Jesus is. Jesus knows what He wants, and He will get it. He wants you, wants you forgiven. And so Jesus will be utterly shrewd when it comes to showing you mercy, to winning you salvation. Here's how it goes. Jesus says - alright, Satan – you want to play it all cutthroat – tell you what. You can cut my throat. Tell you what, Satan, I'll even throw in humiliation and degradation for free – you can have Me whipped, and mocked – you can even crucify Me. And Satan, in his hatred of God, in His wicked desire to hurt God, took the bait. Crucified Jesus. Went to town on Him. The thing is – that death on that cross undid everything Satan has done to you. The wages of sin is death – well, the spotless Lamb of God just took care of that upon the cross, didn't He? Oh, and look at that – that spotless Lamb rises from the dead – we get to as well now. And Satan's left holding an empty bag of hot nothing, because Jesus is shrewder than Satan. Now Satan will still cause trouble – he doesn't give in. He's not wise enough to figure out that he'll never top Jesus, so Satan will still hound you, mess with you, tempt you. And Jesus just shrugs – knock yourself out Satan – I'll just keep on forgiving them. They are mine, purchased and won with my blood. I'll keep on forgiving them, showing them mercy – doesn't matter how foolish or incomprehensible you think it is.

And so while Satan does his worst to you, Jesus still calls you to His house, calls you way from that. He is wise and zealous and shrewd – and He keeps on giving you forgiveness – keeps on calling you His own baptized child, keeps on giving you His own Body and Blood. And you know why? “No servant can serve two masters.” Can't serve two masters – and Jesus is your Lord, and He calls you here to His House and He reminds you over and over that you are His and that you are forgiven. Doesn't matter what you've done – it doesn't trump what He did for you upon the Cross. It doesn't matter what guilt you feel – He took up that guilt long before you were born. Doesn't matter the temptations that you face – He faced temptation down for you already. You belong to Him. Jesus loves you – it's as simple as that. And while the world will never get that, never understand or accept it – you are loved by Christ, now and forever. If thou, O Lord, kept a record of sin – who could stand? No one, so Christ says to you, “take your bill, and write zero – you owe nothing, for I have paid it all.” Because Jesus is shrewd, He is zealous and strives for what He wants – and He wants you to be saved, redeemed, forgiven, and with Him for all eternity. Jesus is all about giving you mercy – and His mercy endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trinity 8 Sermon

Trinity 8 - July 16th and 17th, 2016 - Matthew 7:15-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

I guess that we are going to talk about false prophets today. That seems to be the theme given in our texts this evening/morning. Beware of false prophets. Sadly, we are in a fallen world. Sadly, we are surrounded by sin and death. Sadly, the devil is always around trying to shatter our faith. And how is this done, how does Satan try to bring us down? Often it is through our ears, through what we hear, through his lies that try to make us forget Christ Jesus. Let us this day, though, listen to the true Word, God’s Word, and see what we learn about false prophets.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” That’s the problem with false prophets. At first glance, they look nice. Them seem like great people, they look exactly like what we would want to be. Well off, well liked, charming and good-looking. They seek to have fame and power and success – and who wouldn’t want that. But they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, ready to devour, ready to destroy you. Satan is cunning, Satan is tricky. Yes, sometimes his servants are gross and evil and crazy looking, but quite often, they seem fair, they seem lovely – but bring with them death. This means you can’t evaluate on simple appearances. Just because someone looks nice; that doesn’t mean he’s from God. Just because he has a great life; that doesn’t mean He speaks the truth. Just because people flock to and listen to someone doesn’t mean he’s preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus. We can’t simply skim the surface. Rather, here is what we must do.

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” This is how we tell who a false prophet is, by their fruit. Fruit? Well, what fruit are we talking about here? There is a lot of fruit in our lives. How we show love. Or peace. Or faith. These are all fruits, all things that flow from our lives in Christ. And remember what our Lord teaches us about our fruit - I am the vine; you are the branches – whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” When we are in Christ, when our lives are centered in Him, fruits will flow. It simply will happen. So what then, do these fruits look like? What should we expect fruits to look like? The fruit should point to where it came from. If I take a piece of fruit, say a grape – I should be able to figure out that it came from a grape vine. If I get a fig, I should be able to tell that it came from a fig tree. With our fruit, our works, it should be obvious that they come not from ourselves, but from Christ. Good fruit, good works always point not to ourselves, but to Christ and to Him alone.

And that’s how you spot a false prophet – that’s how you can tell if someone is truly preaching Christ and His Word, or if they are false. Do their works and deeds point to Christ Crucified, or do they point somewhere else? When you see them, do they draw attention to themselves, or is their focus and the focus of what they do on Christ and what Christ has done? A lot of times when we do things, we do them to draw attention to ourselves. We like honor, we like recognition, we can want our work to bring us a bit of fame and respect. That’s not what our actions are meant to do. When people look at us, they shouldn’t see us – they should be pointed to Christ. That’s the classic reason why pastors wear an alb, why infants used to wear white at their baptism. It’s not about the person, the individual and what they do, but rather the Gospel of Christ. The white gown hides servant, shows that they are clothed in Christ by virtue of their baptism. What is important isn’t how wonderful or how lousy the person is, but rather the greatness of Christ and His salvation. Thus, when it comes to spotting a false prophet, the question is are the sermons of the Pastor focusing on Christ Jesus and His salvation, or something else? Is the fact that we are clothed in the robes of Christ's righteousness being proclaimed, or is it the “look at me” show? All too often Pastors will preach themselves – point to how great they are, how much you should want to be like them, or even give their own thoughts and opinions about the world. That’s never the point – the point of every sermon must always be Christ Jesus and Him Crucified.

This is a high, high standard. How do you separate a false prophet from a true one? Is their focus on Christ and Him Crucified? It’s not just if they talk about the bible, because even Satan can do that. It’s not just if they mention Christ in passing – not do they happen to say the name Jesus – but is Jesus Christ and what He does to win salvation their focus in their preaching? Is what they say ultimately about Christ? Sadly to say, this often isn’t the case. When we look at the bookstores, the TV shows, there often isn’t much about Jesus. There’s a lot about what I can do, how I can be successful and happy– but there isn’t a lot of talk about what Jesus does or what Jesus makes me to be. The focus is wrong – the focus isn’t on Christ – and therefore it isn't really Christian. Just because something claims to be Christian doesn’t mean it benefits your faith. To be Christian is to be about Christ. Paul says that he is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – that’s what it is to be Christian. However, lots of people who claim to be preachers will focus on anything and everything but Christ.

Jesus warns us of this. “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”” That’s pretty strong stuff there, isn’t it? Here you have Jesus addressing folks who looked to be the best – they did wonders and seemed powerful… but they are cast out. They are workers of lawlessness. They oppose and disdain the will of the Father. God’s Will is not that you be amazed at how good a preacher is, but rather this: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” That sums up the Father’s will – that people believe in Christ. That people trust in Christ. That people be baptized and taught the faith. That we show people Christ so that they trust in Him. And there are false prophets today – people who say “Lord, Lord” – but then would wrest your eyes off of Jesus and place it elsewhere. Our focus is to be on Christ – Come, Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Everything that is Christian should be able to be boiled down to this, every preaching, every teaching should revolve around this truth – I am the sinner, but Christ has died for me and gives me all that He is. And if it can’t be boiled down to that – then it’s not truly Christian, it doesn’t matter how much it claims to talk about Jesus or the Bible. It might be wise, it might be good, practical advice – but it isn’t what the Church is to be about. The Church teaches faith in Christ Jesus, and faith looks to Jesus Christ alone.

This is the standard for what goes on in this Church. This is the bar that Christ sets. The preaching, it’s to be about Christ and Him crucified, and clearly so – not just a dash of Jesus tossed in. The service – it’s all about what Christ has done for us. The songs – they aren’t primarily about what we do – but about what Jesus does for us. Our hymnal is full of examples, but consider what we just sang. “O Jesus Christ my Lord, so meek in deed and word, Thou once didst die to save us, Because Thy love would have us be heirs of heavenly gladness when ends this life of sadness.” It’s about what Jesus does for you – that’s the focus – that is why we sing His praises forever more. And note I said “we” - because one of the things that is a hallmark of how we as Lutherans approach worship is that you folks end up spending quite a bit of the service speaking God's Word and proclaiming Christ to each other and to me. Faith comes by hearing, and the part of the service where I as the pastor get nourished is when I hear you speak the Word of God to me in the liturgy, or when you sing and I hear what Christ has done for me. In many ways this service is a conversation, a time where we proclaim Christ Jesus back and forth to each other so that we all would be forgiven and grow in the faith together.

Because this is the case, if our preaching, our worship, our hymns don’t point to Christ – what good are they? They might be fun, or enjoyable, or even moral – and there is a time for fun and merry conversations - but when it comes time to talk about Jesus, which is what worship is, if it doesn't proclaim Christ Crucified, it misses the point. And the danger is this, we can like a lot of things that don’t really point to Christ. People love being “religious” – love feeling that they are being spiritual – but having a feeling or being able to pat yourself on the back for all the things you do for God isn’t the point. Christ Crucified is the point and always has to remain the point. Paul tells the Galatians, But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Our focus here in this house is always to be on the Gospel, that Christ Jesus died for our sins, and it is never to stray.

And this is what God is doing for you here in His House. He calls you here, out of the world where there are so many distractions and temptations and difficulties and says, “now, see what I have done for you. Look to me.” Why does Jesus tell us to beware of false prophets? Because we tend to wander. We tend to like to follow after the foolish desires of our hearts – and Satan knows that, and Satan tries to draw us away and distract us. Over and against this, God calls us to His House, gives us His Word, His Supper, forgives our sin, opens our lips so that our mouth declare His praise – so that we are not only focused on Christ, but that we are made by Him to be people who proclaim Christ and Him Crucified not just in this hour, but throughout the week. To counteract and fight Satan in this World, God continually places His Word and Spirit in us – the Spirit who bears witness in us and through us to the world concerning the love of Christ Jesus and His salvation. God grant that He ever defend us from all false prophets and ever open our lips to proclaim the glories of His salvation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Trinity 7 Sermon

Trinity 7 – Mark 8:1-9 – July 9th and 10th, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Again. This is a word we ought to associate with these miraculous feedings. Again. “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…” Didn’t we just have this situation? Wasn’t it back in Lent where the Gospel reading was the feeding of the 5000? Yep. And here today, we have a feeding… again. And you know what – it’s appropriate, because if you look at Mark 6 you will see the feeding of the 5000 – now this is Jesus feeding people in chapter 8… again.

When you look at the Scriptures, things are often repetitive. They happen over and over and over again. Once again this week in our Gospel we see a great crowd gathered with nothing to eat. People running off in their excitement about that miracle worker Jesus who had just healed a deaf man (again), but this time right on their door step. And I suppose we can understand the people doing this, I mean, they would have been excited, this would have been new and thrilling, we can get that. But think about Jesus’ disciples for a moment. Jesus sees the crowd, and He announces that He wants to feed them, and then what do we hear from the disciples? “And His disciples answered Him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?’” Really? Really disciples – just two chapters ago you saw Him turn the five loaves and 2 fish into enough food for well over 5000 people, and you ask that question? I mean, I could see if folks in the crowd would think it, but you’ve been with Jesus all this time? How come you haven’t gotten it yet?

Now to be fair, to the Jewish mindset, seeing wasn’t believing – it was seeing two or three times that was believing. Everything had to be proved by two or three witnesses, so maybe that has something to do with it – but still, wouldn’t we expect the disciples of all people to know what is going to happen? That Jesus will break bread and feed the people there? And yet, for some reason, it just hasn’t set in yet – and the same questioning, the same dumb doubting of Christ’s power kicks in. Again though, to be fair, the entire Scriptures are really a history of people falling into the same traps multiple times, over and over again. Abraham passes off Sarah as his sister and not his wife, twice. The Israelites grumble about water, twice – in fact the second time upsets Moses so much that he smacks the rock instead of just speaking to it like God had said. Guys end up having multiple wives again and again, and it always goes poorly. The book of Judges – over and over the people forget God and get themselves into trouble. The prophets – they all lament Israel and Judah falling into idol worship and worse. Over and over, people falling into the same sins, over and over again.

But, of course, let’s be honest. The Scriptures are a brutally honest book, and they don’t hide warts. What if there was a book of the Scriptures based upon your life, or what if you were reading “1st Eric” – how long would it take before you put your face in your hands and said, “I can’t believe he’s doing that… again!” Because that is the vile nature of sin. It is repetitive, it is pervasive. It is habitual, and bad habits are hard to break, and they don’t like to stay broken. It's what we see in the world, and sadly, it's what we see when we look back upon our lives. Whether it’s the end of the day, or thinking back upon the last week because the preacher is carrying on, or an anniversary, or even on the death bed with regrets flying in front of us, over and over, so often we see the same old stupid things, the same weaknesses, the same faults, the same sins. Over and over again.

“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’” So what is Jesus’ response when He sees the crowd starving again? Disdain? Mockery? I can’t believe these people came to listen to me unprepared again? Nope. None of that. He has compassion. There is no belittling, no complaining about the crowd. No, these people are with me, I have compassion upon them. The Greek there means that His guts were wrenched – I feel what they feel, I have compassion because I am with them and they are with Me. And if I do not act, they won't make it home, and I will not have that. I have compassion upon them. Again.

This is the reality of what it means when we confess that Jesus Christ is both true God and true Man. This is what Christmas means, this is what the incarnation means. Jesus has compassion – Jesus came down from heaven, took on a body like yours, like mine, and He experienced life in this world. All the sorts of things that impact us – whether it is hunger and being faint, as in this text – or being mocked, or hurting, or mourning, being forsaken by friends. All of those things, He experienced, He has compassion. And the beautiful difference – whereas as we will use the things that happen to us to justify our bad behavior – eh, I yelled, but I had had a bad day – not so Christ. With Him, always perfect love. Even to us. Even to the disciples who just utterly drop the ball and can’t even guess that He is going to feed the crowd. Instead, Jesus just does what He needs to do to show care and compassion – And He directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. There is no berating, no handwringing. Just another miraculous feeding – here you go, take this bread that I have blessed and be filled.

And here we are in this congregation. Gathered once again. A liturgy we've prayed before. Hymns we’ve sung before. Readings we’ve heard before. All of this, appropriate. Because we here are what we’ve been; poor miserable sinners who struggle with the same sort of junk we’ve been struggling with for the past month, for the past year, for decades, for our entire life. And yet, here is the wonder – week in, week out, again and again, Christ Jesus has compassion upon you. He doesn’t get sick of you, He doesn’t get tired of you. Once again, over and over, He speaks His Word of forgiveness to you. Once again, He takes a flawed disciple and bread is broken, and it is given to you – take and eat, this is My Body, given for you, take and drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Without fail, the forgiveness and mercy and life that Christ Jesus won for you upon the Cross is given to you here in this place.

Why? Because you are the Baptized. Because in your Baptism, you were joined to Christ Jesus – that was the Epistle last week – you have been baptized into Christ Jesus. And what precisely does that mean? In terms of our Gospel lesson – “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days.” That’s you – you’ve been with Jesus “three days”, baptized into His death, and of course joined with Him in a resurrection like His. He cannot but have compassion upon you, for He loves you as He loves Himself. And He knows your limitations, knows the war that sin wages upon you, He knows how sin plays upon you and messes with you – but over and over again He comes to you here in this place and says to you that you are no longer, in fact, a slave to sin, but you are bound to Him, that you are a slave to righteousness, that you are forgiven. Your baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, that you are bound to Christ, a slave to righteousness and now sanctified and given eternal life – these are the realities that Christ sees and remembers at all times – and so, when we are worn and weak and weary, He will present them to us again, He will make them present realities again – He will preach them again, He will place forgiveness upon our lips by giving us His own Body and Blood again and again and again. Because He has compassion upon you; because you are His and He will not let you go on your way faint from sin, but always, always forgiven.

“And He sent them away.” Off they went – back to their lives, but having been cared for by Christ, and indeed, still under His continual care. Likewise, you will be sent from here – depart in peace, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Sent back to your life out there, your homes, your jobs, your family. Sent back to face the same difficulties and struggles – but sent in peace, as God’s own baptized children, washed and forgiven. Sent, but ready to be welcomed here again next week, to be fed and forgiven again. Because Christ Jesus never becomes bored of forgiving you, of strengthening you – it is His delight and joy and purpose of His Church. God be with you all this week, and God see you safely here again next week as well, even until He sees you safely to the life everlasting. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +