Sunday, October 19, 2014

Trinity 18 sermon

Trinity 18 – Matthew 22:34-46 – October 19th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord +
          Arrogance is one of the most dangerous things in the world.  Think on what you yourself have done when you've been arrogant, when you've been over confident.  Think on the times when you've been sure you were right, only to find out you were wrong – when you knew that you were better than the other person, only to have to eat humble pie.  One of my favorite lines from a movie deals with this – Your mouth's writing checks your body can’t cash.  Arrogance can leave a person in a world of hurt.

          The Pharisees approach Jesus with a spirit of arrogance today.  But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked a question to test Him.  The Pharisees and Sadducees didn't get along well – they were almost like two opposing political parties, two rival factions.  And so the Pharisees in Jerusalem hear that Jesus has just smacked down the Sadducees – and with arrogance they think, “Ah, well, where they've failed, we'll do better!  And we'll put this Jesus in His place!”  And so, they decide to test Jesus.  They ask a question – Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?  Trap question.  Trap question.  When you are asked to pull out one item, you are simply opening yourself up to criticism.  For example – if I were to ask which is more important, Baptism or the Lord's Supper – if I were to be mean and cruel, I could criticize you no matter what you said – by defending what you didn't pick.  Or if you are asked which of your children you love most – you can't answer that safely.  No answer will be a good one.  So this is the question that Jesus is asked.  The only thing is – He was addressed as Teacher.  If He's the Teacher, if He is this wise Rabbi, He should know the answer to such a simple question – so Jesus isn't allowed to not answer either.  It is such a delicate trap.

          So Jesus doesn't let them spring it.  He doesn't answer the question.  Which commandment?  He doesn't give a commandment – rather He explains what all the commandments mean.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love Your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Brilliant.  Alright – first I'll explain the great commandment – Love God.  Completely.  And just in case you might complain about ignoring the neighbor – the second one is like, is tied into it.  Love your neighbor.  And that's everything in the Law – everything else written in God's Law is just an expansion, and explanation of these two ideas.

          Love God, Love your neighbor.  Jesus kind of boils it down rather simply there, doesn't He?  Yet, we make it hard, quite often, don't we?  Love God, Love your neighbor.  There's one thing not on there that we wish were – Jesus doesn't say “Love your neighbor, if you want to.”  He doesn’t say, “What does your heart tell you?”  Love God, Love your neighbor.  And that, dear friends, is where the rubber meets the road in our lives.  Love God – but what about then times when God doesn't let everything in your life go as you planned?  Love God – but what about when you don't like the way things turn out?  Sometimes we don't want to love God because things didn't go our way.  Same thing with the neighbor.  Love your neighbor.  Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if it is easy.  Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if they are nice and will love you back.  Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor after you've taken good care of everything you want.  Love your neighbor.

          Love God, Love your neighbor.  Simple.  Covers everything – every question of what you should or shouldn't do – all of those times you aren't sure what to do – ask yourself – how do I best show love to God and to my neighbor – and you'll see what you ought to do.  What you ought to do.  But the doing is hard.  The doing, doesn't get done.  The best laid plans of mice and men both wither away and crumble.  We are frail people – frail mentally and emotionally and spiritually and physically – and the simple fact is we don't always do what we know, what we know we ought.  Think on the times you've given advice – how often has it been the case where the person asking for your help knew what they needed to do – just didn't want to do it and were hoping you would give them an excuse not to?  That's the way we work.  We don't fulfill the Law – and while we are still in this life on earth – we're not going to.  Oh we are to strive to do so – we are to try to show love – in fact we are to support and encourage each other in showing love.  And there are times we do actually do this, but there's always more to do – and it's always more than I want to do.  And the Law always demands more and more – and we are left broken and beaten, tired and spent.

          Then, Jesus decides that He should ask the Pharisees a question.  It's not a trap – but rather, He's going to make them realize something.  Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?”  They said to him, “The Son of David.”  He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him LORD saying, 'The LORD said to my Lord, sit here at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.'  If then David calls Him Lord, how is he his son?”  This is the question that Jesus asks of the Pharisees.  And we know the answer – He is David's Son according to the flesh, for He was born of the line and house of David – but He is David's Lord because He is God – the Messiah would be Emmanuel, God with Us – God in Human Flesh – so He is both David's Son and David's Lord.  We know and see that Christ is claiming to be both True God and True Man right here.

          Here's the thing, dear friends.  The Pharisees knew it too!  And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.   The Pharisees knew their scripture.  The Pharisees knew the bible – and the idea that the Messiah would be God is no mystery.  Even Eve knew it!  When Cain is born – most translations drop the ball here – but when Cain is born Eve says - “I have gotten a man – the LORD”  Eve thinks she's given birth to God Himself – and well, we all know that Cain wasn't the messiah.  But Eve knew that God would be born from among her descendants, for that was the promise made in the garden of Eden.  That was the promise made to Abraham to bless all the world through His Seed – through the Messiah that would be a descendant of him.  All the prophets in pointing to the Messiah proclaim that He would be God visiting His people.

          And this is what Jesus points out to these Pharisees.  Who is the Messiah going to be?  He is going to be True God and True Man.  And the Pharisees knew it – and they knew that they were behaving horribly towards Jesus – they weren't loving their neighbor – and more than that – if this Jesus were truly the Messiah – then they were directly treating God Himself horribly!  And they are shocked into silence.  Some repent – Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea. Some conspire to put Him to death before He might do them any more embarrassment.  In fact, they even charge Jesus with blasphemy.

          So what do we learn from this all?  What is the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus?  Well, let's see.  Where is the Pharisees' focus?  The Law.  What I do.  What do I have to do, what about me, me, me?  Now, what is Christ's focus?  Let's look at the promises of God about the Messiah – let's focus on what God is going to do for you and how God is going to bless you.  That's the difference, that's what makes all the difference in the world.  You see, the Pharisees had a backwards approach.  Their focus was upon who they were, what they did, how they could impress God with all that they do.  You know, God is awfully hard to impress.  If I walk outside and throw a 70 mile an hour fastball I'm not going to impress a major league baseball player.  If I shoot 90 on a round of golf, that's not going to impress any professional golfer.  If I can't impress other people - how in the world is anything that I do going to impress God?  God says, “Let there be light” and there is!  Well, just You wait God until You see what I can do!  Yet that was the Pharisees' approach – they sought to impress God with their holiness.

          That's not the way that it works, dear friends.  Rather this – God comes to you, out of His great love and mercy He comes to you and gives you every blessing of both body and soul – indeed He gives you the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus upon the Cross in order to cover every lack that you have.  And then, in response – we show forth love.  Oh, we don't do so perfectly, we don't do so completely – we still sin – But God comes to us in love and fills us with His love, and that can't but help to spill out.  He is the vine and we are the branches – when He has drawn us to Himself we cannot help but bear good fruit.  Which is why Christ always seeks to draw your eyes to Him – why Jesus wants our focus to be upon His love for us and what He does for us.  When Peter sees Jesus – he walks on water.  When Peter looks elsewhere, he starts to sink.  Seeing Christ, seeing what He has done for us and freely given to us is to shape every aspect of our lives – from our earliest moments where we are but little children who have been brought to His house to the very moment of our death – where like St. Stephen we look up to heaven and behold the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God.  God's love predominates everything in our lives and shapes and molds our lives to where we are His instruments of love and service.  And when we err – when we become arrogant and proud in our sinful actions, when we become stubborn or cruel or lazy – what does God do?  He calls us to repentance and gives us forgiveness again and again – reshaping us – just like a chef sharpening a dull knife or the farmer fixing a busted piece of equipment – God makes us to be new people through His forgiveness.

          This is what Paul says to the Corinthians – I give thanks to my God always for you because of the Grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. . . as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The same I say to you – for God has given you Grace and Mercy through Christ Jesus, and by the power of His Word and His Sacraments He sustains you – and so you wait, you wait for Christ to return, and in the mean time you be whom He has made you to be – His servants who live not to impress God, but simply to reflect His love to any and all who need it, as best you can, and who receive and rejoice in God's forgiveness for those moments where you fail.  God preserve and keep us in the One True Faith all of our days.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Trinity 17 sermon

Trinity 17 – Luke 14:1-11 – October 12th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Think of the cruelest high school prank that you can think of.  I’m thinking of the stories you’ll hear about where the mean high school girls get the unpopular girl to run for Homecoming queen and mock her, or where the nerdy guy gets tricked into thinking the good looking girl is going to go on a date with him and it’s all a set up.  You know, one of those just crushing things that teens will do to each other, where hopes are raised and then dashed.  Our Gospel text shows us the 1st Century equivalent of that.  Both Jesus and this man with dropsy, which is a nasty, swelling disease, are invited to this party, this feast given by one of the top Pharisees, not so that they can rejoice in it, but to be the butt of the jokes and the chit chat and the accusations. 

          “One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him closely.  And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.”  Again, just a bit of culture to get the context here.  The Sabbath Diner was really the social event of the week – it was the time to network, to show that you were one of the good people.  Your status in society was defined by where you ate on the Sabbath.  And Jesus gets invited, but you know the fix is in, because they are “watching Him closely.”  What does it mean if the group of kids stop talking amongst themselves and start eyeballing you with wicked grins?  It means something is up.  And then – boom, there’s this fellow with dropsy there.  And this reads as being incredibly awkward.  That phrase “behold, there was” is the Greek way of saying that he shows up out of no where, that there’s no good reason for him to be there.  He sticks out like a sore thumb.  There they are – the two losers, Jesus and the guy with Dropsy, and the cool kid Pharisees are watching like vultures, ready to mock and deride.  This really is a nasty set up.

          So, what will Jesus do?  Will he come out guns blazing and just rip the Pharisees a new one?  Will He yell and shout?  Will He just shake His head and walk away?  No, He will show love and mercy, even to these despicable Pharisees.  “And Jesus responded to the Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’  But they remained silent.  Then He healed him and sent him away.”  Jesus calls them on their trap.  You guys were all ready to start tittering and wagging your tongues, weren’t you?  If I healed the guy, you’d complain that I was breaking the Sabbath, if I didn’t, you’d mock what a terrible healer I was.  So, what do you want to see, how do you want your complaining to go.  Sort of deflates the mocking mood a bit.  And then Jesus heals the fellow and sends him away.  Go on, head home, be with people who will actually rejoice with you instead of these holier-than-thou jerks.  But Jesus, He doesn’t walk out.  He doesn’t just write off the Pharisees – instead He stays and teaches.

          “And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having an son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out?’  And they could not reply to these things.”  Sorry guys, I know you thought you had this cool catch-22 set up where you could make me stumble, but it’s simple.  If there is an emergency, you do stuff on Sabbath.  If it’s life or death, you act on Sabbath.  If your wife goes into labor on the Sabbath, you deliver the child.  We all know this – so why did you even think this was going to be a set up, why would you even think that Me healing would be something to mock when you yourselves would work for something much less dire?  Jesus deflates them, undercuts them.  They can’t answer; Jesus has left them speechless.

          So what happens next?  Do they decide that maybe they should seek to learn from Jesus, to gain more wisdom from Him?  No – they do what all the cool kids do when their plans mess up – they start to ignore Jesus.  Just pretend that He isn’t there, go back to business as usual.  “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…”  Do you see what is going on – the main event of the day fizzled, the prank on Jesus fell flat.  So, back to normal – let’s work on asserting our authority, seeing where we stand in the pecking order.  And you did that, your status within the party, that was shown by where you sat.  And suddenly, they are ignoring Jesus and just go back to jockeying for position at the table.  And so Jesus decides it is time to teach.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”   Understand what Jesus is doing here.  He’s not making up anything new – this is basically what we heard in Proverbs 25.  This is a lesson that every single one of these Pharisees would have known already.  The parable isn’t really giving new information, but reminding the Pharisees to remember the Scriptures.  You Pharisees pride yourself on being the best little Jews, but you don’t even remember the Scriptures!  You puff yourself up – no, don’t do that.  Be humble.  Not only be humble, but be humble students of the Scriptures, be learners – stop pretending that you are masters of anything.  Why?  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Pride goeth before a fall, you should know that.  And you know what – I don’t want you to be humbled, I don’t want you broken down – I don’t want to be sitting watching you get mocked.  I want you saved, redeemed, and forgiven.

There is an amazing theological point to this.  Yes, what Jesus describes here is the nature of sin.  Sin makes us want to exalt ourselves.  That was the temptation that suckered in Adam and Eve – you will be like God.  If that isn’t self exultation I don’t know what is.  And this is a temptation we all fight against.  We love to make ourselves look good, we love to make excuses when we’ve done something wrong and stupid so we don’t look as bad, we love to put on airs.  In other words, we love to lie, we love to lie about ourselves.  We are constantly tempted to live in pious denial of our sin, our failings, our weakness.  And that is the path of destruction.  No, Christ Jesus calls us away from that – be honest, be truthful.  You and I – when it boils down to it, what are we?  Poor, miserable sinners.  Worthy of punishment, temporal and eternal.  When Christ says that you are to humble yourself, He’s not telling you to take on false modesty – He is calling you to be honest about your own sinfulness.  We have already been brought low, we are humble – we need to just be truthful about it.

Now, there actually is only One who rightly humbles Himself – and that is Christ Jesus.  The old Te Deum from Matins has us sing “When You took upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin.”  Christ humbles Himself.  Instead of sinners trying to elevate themselves to God, He comes down and sits with the sinners, joins in with us, even joins with us in death, and why?  So that He will be raised from the dead, so that He can raise us and say to us, “Friend, move up higher, be with Me for all eternity.”  This passage is driving at the wonders, the depths of Christ’s redemption, a truth that is proclaimed over and over throughout the Scriptures.  Christ Jesus comes to redeem sinners.

And the beauty of this text?  Jesus takes His time and proclaims this truth, this Gospel, even to those wretched, miserable Pharisees.  Even as they are plotting to mock Him, even as they want to toy with Him, even as they are going off on an ego trip, Jesus comes to them.  Of course He does; they’ve fallen into the well of sin, and He’s going to pull them out.  He sees them in their fallen state, and He wishes to call them up higher! The utter patience that Christ shows here is astonishing and marvelous.  And it is something you should take comfort in.

Let’s face it – if we are here in this Church, we are well and thoroughly tempted to act like the Pharisees.  We are tempted to pretend that our lives are going well, that everything is peaches and cream.  Put on our brave face, act like a “Good little Christian”.  That’s simply the reality.  American Christianity is awash in these Pharisacial attitudes – we Americans expect Christians to be the best people in society, the richest, the wealthiest, the best of the best with all our ducks in a row.  And we here get caught up in that, we play that game too.  We play it to our detriment, our pain, our suffering, our isolation.  We live with so much fear over what other people would think, what they would say.  As though sin should ever surprise any of us – we know better.  Yet, we keep falling into the same egotistical traps over and over, we keep trying to pretend that everything is hunky dory when it’s not.  But you know what – Christ Jesus is still patient with you, and He still deals with your gently and patiently.  And He forgives you all your sins.  He gently pulls you away from all this pride and arrogance and holier than thou BS, and He says to you, “Yes, you are sinner, we both know that, but I have died for you, I have washed you clean in the waters of Holy Baptism – you are mine, without blemish or spot or wrinkle, and I will have you with Me for eternity.” 

Dear friends in Christ – there is no one you need to impress, no one you need to be dominant over, no one you need to put in their place.  You don’t need to try to be one of the cool kids of the Christian world.  All these stresses the world puts upon you, that your sinful flesh puts upon you – they are all empty and shallow and aren’t worth anything.  You aren’t defined by how many people you can con into thinking you are awesome.  Rather, Christ Jesus defines you – Christ Jesus loves you and is patient with you, even when you get all high and mighty – and He will remind you with the Scriptures of who you are, He will show you your sin, but always so that He can then show you and remind you of His great love and salvation that He has won for you with His death and resurrection, because you are His, His own, His beloved.  God grant us strength to see and remember His great love for us!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Self-Improvement and Self-Acceptance vs. Forgiveness

In the popular psychology/spiritual world, it seems like there is a small battle or contest between two ideals, two approaches to handling and dealing with one's own self.  Self-improvement and self-acceptance.

I feel I really ought to back that statement up with cited evidence, but walk into your local bookstore (or browses the Kindle store) and look at the "self-help" section.  What do you see?  You'll see all sorts of books on ways to improve this or that aspect of your life, and then you'll see all sorts of books on ways just accept who you are.  This is the larger struggle we see culturally and politically - are we to be focus upon morals or tolerance?  Is the key to a better you, a better school, a better society making sure you behave better or making sure you simply accept who people are for what they are?

And this debate, this distinction has spilled on over into the Church at large.  Do I need to point to the folks who think that morality, self-improvement, progression in sanctification is the only way that the individual and the church will be saved?  Do I need to give examples of the Churches that play the "acceptance" card - where the only great sin is not being tolerant and welcoming, because tolerance and open arms is what will save the individual and the church?

Except both of these miss the point.

Neither Self-improvement nor self-acceptance is enough.  Even together in balance they don't fix things.  We need forgiveness.

Consider - if the "solution" is self-improvement... when is it done?  When is it over?  When have you improved enough?  And the answer is never - because it's a lie.  While we might be more outwardly disciplined, that doesn't mean there's been improvement.  Often it means we just hide our sin better - or even if we do objectively "improve" - sin is still there.  Go talk to an addict who has been sober for a while - sure, they are behaving better - but nothing is fixed.  No, this is a path of self-justification by works.. I'll just do better and more and everything will be alright.

Or consider acceptance.  It sounds like - but what good is it to accept something that is bad, that is harmful?  What good is it to pretend that everything is hunky-dory when everything is crashing around you.  This becomes another path of self-justification -- I am what God made me to be... it was the woman (um, I mean the body/mind/desires) You gave me God. 

There must be forgiveness.  There must be redemption won by Christ's death and resurrection, because neither improvement nor acceptance solves the problem of sin and death.  The wages of sin is death - you can't improve your way out of it, and if you merely accept it, you still die. 

And this shows us how the old Serpent works.  There is a grain of truth in the self-improvement game.  We ought to strive and struggle against our sin.  A Christian will.  There is a grain of truth in the acceptance game.  A Christian will accept the fact that he is a poor, miserable sinner, and not try to soft sell or deny that truth.  But we are tempted to stop there, to leave the focus there - to delight in our struggle, to delight in our tolerance and patience.  To keep the focus upon ourselves.

No, it is all about Christ - He is the One who struggled and suffered for us upon the Cross; He is the One who with His blood wins us forgiveness and makes us acceptable; He is the One who with His death destroys death and with His resurrection wins us life.  It always, ALWAYS has to drive to Christ.

Otherwise, what are you left with?  Just death, just the wages of sin, but a smugger, polished version.  Sinners in a sinful world that is messed up, but holier-than-thou and sanctimonious because we are "better" than you or because we are "more loving" than you.

I don't need to show that I am better or more loving... I need a Christ who is Perfect and who is Love for me; I need a Redeemer.

Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Trinity 16 Sermon

Trinity 16 – Luke 7:11-17 – October 5th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          So what is the point of the Christian Church?  What’s the reason we here at Trinity/Zion exist – what are we all about?  When it boils down to it, what makes this place different from the rest of the world, what makes us stand out from every club or group, every philosophy, every aid organization on the planet?  Our text today.  Our text today, Jesus raising the Widow’s Son, shows clearly and precisely what this Church is about, what we are focused on, why we exist.  If you want to understand what it is to be a Christian, you ought to look and learn and understand this text.  So let us look.

          “Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him.”  First off, this verse is the very description of what the Church is.  There you have Jesus – He is the center and focus.  And who is with Him?  The disciples, the ones He is training to be Apostles, training to be pastors.  Who else – the great crowds, the hearers, the laity.  That’s the Church.  The classic idea of what a Church was had nothing to do with property or constitutions – it was simply this.  Do you have someone preaching Christ, and do you have people hearing the preaching of Christ?  And what do we in the Church today do?  Whether you’ve been charged with teaching and preaching Christ as I have, or whether you’re one of the hearers, either way, we follow Christ – we go where He goes, we study His Word and listen to Him.

          But why do we listen to Christ?  What are we hoping to hear, what are we hoping to see our Lord do?  You’ll get a lot of different answers – especially if you watch the TV commercials for Churches, if you look at the billboards.  Some places offer acceptance and welcome – which is good, or at least can be good, I suppose.  There are some things we aren’t supposed to accept because they are bad for us, please don’t accept poison this week, physical or spiritual poison, but acceptance is something that other places offer.  Some places offer fun and excitement – again, not necessarily a bad thing.  But sometimes fun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sometimes we get more excitement than we want.  And of course, sometimes you hear that you ought to go to a specific Church because it is the big, important church, the rich church, the one where you can meet the best people, make the best connections.  Again, networking isn’t bad. . . it just isn’t the point.  Nor are the groups and programs a parish can offer – good things, but not the main point.  No, if you want to know why the Church follows Christ, listen.

          “As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.”  As Jesus and the Church approach Nain, what do they see?  A funeral procession.  Death.  A man lying cold and unbreathing upon a funeral bier.  A mother burying her only son.  A mother who is going to be condemned to a lifetime of begging because her son was the person who took care of her, the only one left in her life.  It’s a horrible scene, a tragedy, heartbreaking.  There are fewer things that they could have come across that would have been more sad, more pity-inspiring than this.  Not only is there death, but even then the normal order of things in this fallen world is reversed – the parent buries the child – it’s backwards.

          This funeral procession is the picture of sin.  Do you want to know what sin is – what sin means, what your sin means?  Look at this funeral procession.  Your sin turns everything upside down.  You were created to live loving your neighbor, yet you sin, and you hate, you harm, you hurt, you ignore your neighbor.  Instead of being a blessing to them, you curse and swear at and about them when they annoy you.  You curse them with your words, with your thoughts, with what you do and what you leave undone.  Utterly backwards from what God had created His world to be.  And sin unleashes havoc and chaos upon creation, and nothing holds together.  God had created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. . . now things are backwards because of sin.  Of course they are – sin turns everything on its head.  Now, the breath of life leaves our bodies, and then they fall apart into dust again.  Sin turns everything upside down.  And please understand – I’m not simply talking about “big” sins.  Get rid of any sort of comparison, any sort of “well, I’m not perfect, but so and so is really bad.”  Yeah – so what?  Even if it is true, and it probably isn’t, the wages of both of your sin is still death.  It makes no difference to you – sin is sin is sin.  It kills you, destroys you, turns your life inside out, and if someone else’s sin is more spectacular than yours, that doesn’t mean your sin is good.  Don’t let Satan trick you into minimizing the impact of sin – the wages of sin is death.
          “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”  Think how bold our Lord is here.  Walks up to a woman at a funeral who doesn’t know Him from Adam and says to her, “Do not weep.”  Of all the people there, she would have the reason to weep!  Her life is in shambles.  But Jesus can walk up to her and say, “Do not weep,” because He has compassion upon her.  Now then – this is what the Church is looking for.  This is why we follow Jesus.  Because He has compassion upon those whose lives are in shambles.  So, what about your life?  Everything going perfectly well?  And don’t think in terms of “Oh, how are you – oh, I’m fine, what about you”.  How about it?  See any shambles in your life lately?  If not it’s simply because you’ve got your head in the sand.  We in the Church are honest about the problems we face in life – and while programs and networking might alleviate some of the problems – they don’t fix them. While fun can help us forget our troubles, while acceptance can help us pretend they don’t exist – they don’t fix them.  But here we see Jesus, and He has compassion, and because He has compassion, He is bound to help – and He, He is the one who can fix things, fix things for this shattered family in Nain, fix things for us gathered around Him in the Church.

          “Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.  And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”  Jesus does the unthinkable.  He gets in the way of death.  He walks up and touches the bier – and again, for a moment, think like a 1st Century Jew.  To touch the bier, the open-air casket, was the height of uncleanliness.  You basically wouldn’t be able to hang out around anyone for a few days after this.  You didn’t do it – if you were a good Jew, you didn’t mess with dead bodies.  And yet Jesus just strides on up – touches this man’s bier – speaks a Word of life to him, and this young man rises.  And that’s what the Church wanted, needed to see.  Christ Jesus raises this man to life.

          You realize that this miracle, this raising of this one specific son, points forward to the greater miracle, do you not?  Our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t astonishing in that He merely touches caskets – but when He wants to stop death, stop the funeral procession of the entire world in its tracks, He does so fully and completely.  He goes to the Cross – and by dying there it is as though He tackles death, drives death to the ground as He is carried Himself on His own bier to His own tomb.  The crucifixion is where Christ Jesus takes death on and drives it down into the ground with His own death.  And then, on the third day, on Easter Morning – Christ stands up, and Death remains defeated and broken, lying in the dust, never more to arise.

          This, dear friends, is what the Church is.  This is why we exist, why we are gathered here this morning instead of sleeping in our beds or hanging out reading the paper.  Because we know our own sin, and we know that this sin turns everything upset down, and we know that our sin brings death.  But we are gathered here around Christ Jesus, who was crucified so that He might take on death for you, that He might slay and defeat death for you, and who rises to life victorious for you.  This is what the Church offers.  Life.  And not just a better life now, not just the trappings of wealth – that’s not life.  Your life isn’t your stuff, your job, your brief span here in this fallen world – you were created to live eternally.  Adam was made to live forever. . . and sin, his sin, our sin, would thwart that, would ruin that.  But Christ Jesus steps in, and He dies to defeat death, and He rises to life to give you life.  Because Jesus is raised from the dead, you will live forever.  Everyone, every man, woman, and child on this planet, that ever has been or ever will be will be raised on the last day – some to paradise, some to judgment.  And the wondrous thing is that Christ has called you to follow Him, to be gathered around His Word, to be joined to Him by Baptism, to be strengthened and kept a part of His Body by receiving His own Body and Blood in the Supper – and why?  So that your life everlasting will be with Him, in the joys of the new heavens and the new earth – so that you will be with Him forever more.  So that you will always have life, and have life in abundance – a glimpse, a taste of it now, but forever in fullness with Christ, at His side in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

          This, dear friends, is why we are here.  We are those who are gathered around Christ Jesus, and we are focused on the life that He gives to us with His death and resurrection.  He has forgiven your sins, shed His blood for you and risen from the dead for you, and He brings you with Him to the joys of eternal life.  Here in His Church, we look at Christ, we receive His gifts of His Word and His most precious and Holy Body and Blood, and because of this, we confess with the Church of all time – I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  This is yours in Christ.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Must vs. Can

All too often see seek to find out whether or not we *can* speak, whether or not we *can* admonish.  Can I rightly complain about what that person over there has done.  Is it "public" enough for me to complain about it publicly?  Can I unload on *him* because he is teaching false doctrine.  Can I speak, and still maintain a clean conscience?

That isn't the question we should be asking.  We should consider this: "Must I speak?"  That's the standard Paul sets in 1 Corinthians 9 - "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"  Am I compelled by God and my office to speak.

I am compelled to preach Christ and Him Crucified.
I am compelled to warn my flock and family of false doctrine.

I am also compelled by Christ to love my neighbor, to pray for my enemies, even the ones who persecute me.  I am compelled to strive to restore the erring in a spirit of gentleness.

These are all things I *must* do.  Can has nothing to do with it.

So, when you are going to speak, consider this.  Is it merely something you have found a "reason" that says that you can - or is it something you must, something that you have to speak upon.

The latter is the way of kindness and gentleness and love.  The former will let you cover-up and justify all sorts of sin. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Trinty 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 28th, 2014 – Matthew 6:24-34

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Two masters, two powers contend for you, for you attention, for your life.  On the one hand, you have the world, with all its stuff.  You have power and might and money and fame – all of which are wrapped up into that wondrous Greek Word – Mammon.  That is one potential master – and mammon is a hard master.  If you have power – there’s always someone else who is gathering power and undercutting yours – so Mammon would have you strive more and more.  Or if your master is your might – if you enjoy being the big dog. . . age comes, and some young pup comes into his might, and your might is shattered.  Money – ah, yes, strive after more and more, work harder and harder – that’s what you must do for this master, that’s what must happen to serve money.  And what happens?  You work, you slave, and it is never enough.  There’s always more to be made, and even then what you have made slips through your fingers.  And fame, fame is fleeting – the famous folks of today become the jokes of tomorrow and are forgotten by next year.  Mammon will make you work, sweat, and toil, and give you nothing in return. 

There is another master – Your Lord Christ Jesus.  He is the One speaking to you today, calling out to you, teaching you with His most precious Word.  And He warns you away from the dangers of Mammon – do not serve mammon – for No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.  If you follow after mammon – if you lust and crave after power and wealth and strength – those thoughts will dominate your life, they will overwhelm you, they will control you, and they will fill you with emptiness.  Christ Jesus warns you against this – Mammon is a cruel master. 

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  So what is our Lord doing today, what is He teaching us?   Is this some sort of Law guilt trip – is Jesus standing there, wagging the finger, “You had better not be anxious, I don’t like anxious people?”  You know – I’m anxious more than I like to admit.  There are times when I do worry about money, or fame, or power or might, or any of these worldly things.  I see what I don’t have, I see what others have, I see doubt and fear in the future, and I become anxious.  Is Christ our Lord telling me that because I think, I feel these things I’m not really a Christian?  Is He going to say to me on the last day, “You were too anxious – get out of here you bum!”?  No.  Listen again to what our Lord says.

 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  Therefore – Jesus says you can’t have the two masters, therefore - I tell you.  Jesus tells you – and if Jesus is speaking to you, who is your master?  Christ Jesus is.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God is your master – and He tells you not to worry – not as a harsh command, but as a warning against the wiles and tricks of Mammon and the world, and as a comforting promise.  You see, the world loves to trick you, to tempt you, to drag your eyes off of God and onto itself.  Hear what our Lord says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”  Aren’t you more than just stuff, more than just Mammon?  Isn’t your life, your existence, more than just your next meal?  Of course it is – that’s a blessing meant to serve you, not rule over you.  Your body is more than just clothing.  Yet Mammon, yet stuff will try to draw your attention – and how will it do this?  By making you anxious.  Think about it – when you are anxious, what are you focused on?  Stuff.  Things.  Cash.  Fame.  What so and so thinks of me, what so and so said to what’s-his-face.  Isn’t your life more than that?  Of course it is, for you are a child of God, purchased and won by Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection – God Himself has said that you are so valuable that He Himself will suffer for your sake simply so you can be and exist forever – long after all this Mammon around us is broken and decayed and burned away in the fires of the last day you will live on eternally with Christ.  That’s your importance, that’s what you are really worth – that is how Your master Christ Jesus loves you.  

Yet when you are anxious, your fears try to tell you that Stuff is more important.  That’s what worry is – it’s simply Mammon trying to weasel itself back into a position of importance – anxiety is just an attention grab by the junk of this world to try and enslave you to misery and fear and hard labor in Mammon’s service.  So when Christ Jesus tells you not to be anxious, He is warning you that anxiousness is a sign that the world is trying to twist you, trying to enslave you – and you aren’t the world’s slave – you belong to Christ Jesus, He is your Master.

And He is a good Master.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  This is a beautiful promise from your Master.  He is good and kind and loving, and He will provide you with what you need now and what you need for eternity.  And then we get this long passage explaining this – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither reap nor sow nor put into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”  Or the grass of the field, adorned most beautifully.  God cares for them – and you know that He cares for you much more, for you are of more value than them.  How do you know?  Did the Father say, “Jesus, we need to win salvation for the ducks – therefore, go, become a duck, born of a virgin duck.”  No – who for us men and for our salvation – God does this all for you – that is your value, your value to Him.  And He will care for you – This is a promise – God will provide for you now, and He will see you through your days of this life and see you safely unto Your heavenly home – and you can take it to the bank.  No fear, not worry, no lack, no illness, no sign of age, no struggle, no hardship you face in this life can change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, and that He gives you eternal life.

And this is why your Lord says to you, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  We know this verse – we probably could sing a little song right now where it uses the old fashioned ye – seek ye first.  Familiar verse.  But what is our Lord saying to us here?  Well first, let’s consider what our Lord means by the Kingdom of God.  We shouldn’t merely think of a kingdom as a place – that’s how we in English tend to think – the Kingdom of Denmark is a place, a country.  But the Greek Word here has a different focus – a Kingdom is Greek isn’t primarily lines on a map – a kingdom is wherever the King reigns.  Wherever the King is and rules, there His Kingdom is.  And so, our Lord says to you –seek the Kingdom of God - look for where I, Christ Jesus, am reigning.  Why?  Well, where Christ is reigning, where He is ruling – there He is your Master, and you are free from the fears and anxieties of Mammon.  So you are to seek the place where Christ reigns – you are to seek Christ’s righteousness.

Where does Christ Jesus demonstrate His power – where does Christ Jesus take His righteousness, His perfect and holy life and blood, and pour it upon you?  In His Word and in His Sacraments.  Wherever the Word of God, wherever His Gospel is proclaimed – there Christ Jesus is present to be your righteous and powerful king, declaring you forgiven.  Wherever there is one who has been baptized, wherever one has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb, there Christ Jesus dwells, filling with forgiveness and life.  Wherever Christians are gathered around the life giving Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, there our Lord shakes the powers and very gates of Hell itself with His forgiveness, with His life, and with His salvation.  Whenever you seek Christ’s righteousness, His forgiveness for you – the powers of sin, of death, of the Devil, of the world, of Mammon are broken, and you are freed from them.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Of course all things will be added unto you, for Christ Jesus, Your Lord and Master, has risen from the dead, and you shall follow your Master and be raised to everlasting life.  This is your promise, your inheritance, your possession – all the joys of heaven, all the joys of the new earth, the new creation that is to come, all these are yours right now.  They have been added unto you.  Again, this promise, this truth cannot be shaken, cannot be destroyed by the world.  It’s as Luther would have us sing in a Mighty Fortress – and take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife – though these all be gone, our victory has been won. . . the Kingdom ours remaineth.  Christ Jesus is your Lord and Master, and He loves you, and whatever you see in this sinful, messy and messed up world, He still reigns, reigns not only in heaven, not only in the world to come, but right now, reigns in your life by forgiving you, wiping away your sin, giving you strength and courage to endure in the face of all the junk in this world.  God His children ne’er forsaketh.

And so my dear friends in Christ Jesus, when you are oppressed by the world, this desert drear, and Mammon comes creeping around your door, trying to stir up covetousness and then anxiety – remember the promises our Lord Christ Jesus has made for you.  You need not worry about these things, you need not run after them.  Your care is in His hands now – and He will preserve you throughout your days in this fallen, broken world until the last day when you shall rise to new life and enjoy the fullness of the new heavens and the new earth, with joys added unto you that you cannot even conceive of or understand.  And why can you be sure of this – because Christ Jesus has risen from the dead, won your forgiveness, reigns and rules from the right hand of God the Father right now, grants you His mercy in His Word, in Baptism, in His Supper, and He shall come again to give you the gift of the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting – this is His Kingdom, and of His Kingdom there is no end.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Read the Law

How do you read the Law?  When you look at the Law, are you looking for good advice?  For the list of things that God wants you to do so that if you do these you know that they are okay?  Well - that's one way... the Pharasaical way of reading the Law.  It has a long history and is always popular with the Old Adam -- it makes the law doable and keeps it some what safe.

But that's not how we as Lutherans have been taught to read the Law.  This goes back to Confirmation Lesson number 1:

What is the first commandment?
You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?
We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Have you thought on the implications of the "what does this mean" actually entails?  That pattern of "we should fear and love God..." plays out through the rest of the commandments - and this is something that ought to consider.  It is Luther teaching us how to read the Law.  When we come across a simple command (or even statement of truth), our first thought should not be whether or not we *do* it, but rather... what things do we fear that would hinder us from this?  What things do we have a twisted "love" for that would lead us away from this?  What do we put our "trust" in rather than God and His love and mercy for us?

This is what Luther does the rest of the commandments.  They are all viewed not through a lens of "how do I accomplish this" or "why is this a good" or "what is the virtue here" - but rather fear and love.  What fears, what false loves pull me away from what God has created me to be.

The assumption for Luther is not that if we study the Law enough we will obtain virtue.  The assumption for Luther is not to see whether or not we will improve in our living.  The assumption for Luther is not that if we just exercise enough discipline we will overcome these base struggles.

No, the assumption for Luther is that Satan will always be attacking you - attacking you with twisted fear and with a twisted love that seek to distract you from God.  Always.  That's not something you no longer ponder once you have mastered virtue; that's not something you out grow; that's not something you beat out of yourself (because Luther tried).  That is the struggle you face until Christ Himself rescues you from this vale of tears, from this body of death.

How do you read the Law?  You read it remembering that it shows you what you'd rather fear, or love, or trust in rather than.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Matthew's Day Sermon (and 1500th Post)

The Feast of St. Matthew – September 21st, 2014 – Matthew 9:9-13

 In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          So, here in our Gospel text we get to see the call of Matthew.  It’s one verse – As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.”  And he rose and followed Him.  Seems quite simple – Jesus walks by and summons Matthew to follow Him.  But do we really pause and see what is going on?  Matthew is there – he’s working a tax booth.  He’s got a good, well paying job.  He’s probably got everything that a person could want in this life – a big house, wealth, good food.  Luke records for us that this dinner that takes up the rest of the text is actually hosted by Matthew.  And yet – when Christ calls him, Matthew simply and willingly leaves that behind.  There would be no more wealth coming from the cushy government job.  The house would be abandoned in order to follow Jesus around wherever he went, and Matthew is given over to a life of teaching and proclaiming Christ, whatever the cost to himself.

          When we look at Matthew, we should be impressed and humbled.  When Christ commanded Matthew to follow Him, it meant that Matthew had to give up all that he had, all that he was.  And Matthew goes.  No fuss, no bluster – simply, “he rose and followed Him.  Now, ponder this.  We too, have been called to follow Jesus – all Christians are to take up their cross and follow their Lord.  Our lives are not our own – rather we live as God’s servants until He calls us home.  We all indeed have things that we give up or forgo as Christians – but don’t they pale in comparison to what Matthew is called to, the burden the Lord places upon him?  How many of you here have had to leave everything to follow Christ – how many have had to give up family and friends, leave your job, your home to serve Christ?  Tradition even holds that Matthew died a martyr’s death – that following Christ for Matthew meant torture and death.  Do any of us reasonably expect to face that in our following of Christ? Yet how often do we grouse and grumble about the simple things that we as Christians who follow our Lord are to do?  Daily devotions and study of Scripture seem a burden.  Coming to Church is often less appealing than finding something more entertaining – to say nothing of coming to bible study.  Our Lord’s command to love the neighbor can fly out the window when that neighbor is difficult.  Whereas Christ demands of Matthew that he give up all, Christ lets you serve, lets you follow Him right where you are – and yet – how often do we ignore or push aside or complain about the simple things we are given to do?  The call of Matthew, the fact that he willingly gets up and goes, leaves his home and a life of luxury behind should humble us – and encourage us pay attention to how we are supposed to be serving Christ even in our own life.
          However, on that day when our Lord called Matthew – the Pharisees were not impressed – not impressed with Matthew, and not impressed with our Lord’s decision to have Matthew follow Him.  And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  So, not only does Jesus end up calling Matthew, but He sits down and eats with sinners and other tax collectors.  You have to remember that there was a rather large hatred towards tax collectors – I’m sure we’d give someone who worked for the IRS today a bit of grief over their job, especially every April.  But it was worse in Jesus’ day than just taxes.  Imagine the US was conquered by a foreign government, and then that government, Russia, China, whoever, sent tax collectors who would take your stuff, often demand bribes, and just all around bilk you.  That’s what the situation was in Jesus’ day – and that’s who this Matthew is that Jesus calls – even if Matthew were an honest tax collector, he was a sell out to the Romans, taking good, hard earned money away from Jews and giving it to Pagans.  And then, to eat with sinners?  To actually talk to “bad” people.  Jesus must be out of His mind!

          But note what the Pharisees do.  They don’t talk to Jesus – they bad mouth Him to His disciples.  Eh, your “teacher” seems pretty dumb to us – look at what He’s doing.  It’s sneaky, it’s rude, it’s tricksy.  They are definitely not putting the best construction on things or explaining things in the kindest way – rather, they complain behind Jesus’ back.  Nasty business, that.
But, at any rate, their snide comments get around to Jesus.  So. . . what will Jesus do?  How will He respond to these complaints about Himself?  Will He defend Himself?  “I’ve done nothing wrong here!”  Will He defend Matthew?  “Hey, this Matthew is a fine, up-standing citizen, don’t besmirch him.”  Will He chastise the Pharisees – “if you have a problem with Me, come to Me, don’t pick on my students!”  No, what Jesus says is something that is interesting and wonderful.  But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”  Why am I here – why would I eat with sinners?  Precisely because they are sinners and need Me, need My teaching, need My preaching, and most of all, need My forgiveness.  And note how blunt Jesus is – yeah, these folks are sinners, they need help, and they were humble enough to know it.  Even virtuous Matthew, who by rights could make us blush – just another sinner in need of Christ’s healing.  And Matthew even writes it down – how do we meet Matthew?  We meet him as a sinner – but Matthew isn’t ashamed of that – for Matthew is a sinner whom has been healed by the Great Physician, Christ Jesus.  Do you see what Jesus is teaching with this – that while your sin may be great – the God who cures you and heals you of that sin by His death upon the Cross is greater.

In fact, Jesus spells it out in more detail.  He says to the Pharisees, Go and learn what this means – ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  Jesus quotes Hosea at them.  You Pharisees should have known what I’d be doing here – because what does God desire – God desires to show mercy, to show love.  God is more pleased showing mercy to a sinner than listening to you bleat on about how wonderful you are and all the sacrifices you offer up, how hard you work for God.  And this is something we need to remember.  God desires to be a merciful God.  God loves mercy, God loves showing mercy – so the fact that you have sinned, God handles that – He gladly shows mercy.  If anything, what upsets God more than sinning is when you downplay forgiveness, when you brush off His mercy – when you would rather toot your own horn than focus on His mercy.  As Christians, you are to do bad things, and you should always strive to do better – but the Christian faith isn’t about what you do – it is about the Mercy God shows you because of and through Christ’s death upon the Cross.  And this is what we are to learn – it is what Matthew learned as one of Christ’s disciples, and it is the heart of what we learn today – so that we don’t become like these backbiting Pharisees complaining about everyone else and puffing ourselves up with vain works.  God is merciful – and He desires to show you mercy.  Confess your sin and receive that mercy.

And friends – this isn’t an optional part of being a Christian.  To be a Christian, to be in relationship with God is nothing less than to receive His mercy.  Our Lord says, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Who does Christ call?  He calls sinners.  Matthew is called – and his sins are forgiven, and Matthew learns and grows in the faith, and even writes Scripture.  Who else is called?  All those sinners there, called to repentance – called to receive God’s mercy.  And who is left out – the Pharisees, the ones who think that they are righteous – the ones who think that they aren’t sinners.  Christ calls them to the carpet – when you’ve realized your need for mercy and forgiveness, then you too will be welcome at the feast– but until then – there’s nothing here.  If you are smug, if you are self-righteous – there is nothing here in this place for you.  If you trust in your own works, that you are just such a wonderful Christian – what good would preaching of the Cross, preaching of forgiveness do you?  Until you know that you are sinner – God will have nothing to say to you other than a word of Law to show you your sin.

But you are a sinner, and you know that.  The temptation that we face, though, is to soft sell this, to water down this truth – well, sure, we’re all sinners – but so-and-so did this, and man are they bad!  No, let’s not beat around the bush  We are sinners.  Period.  But now see and understand what Matthew so desperately teaches throughout His Gospel.  See what Christ invites you to, what He calls you to.  He has called you to His house, to hear His healing Word of forgiveness preached to you.  He has called you into His family in the waters of Holy Baptism – this is not just a once in a while social visit – but you are called into His family now.  You, sinner, are called even to His Table, to His meal, His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  This is what we all have in common – we are all sinners called to receive together Christ’s life giving and forgiveness giving Supper – called to be healed of our sin by the Supper of the Great Physician – called to be given His strength.  And this is what our Lord shall continue to do for you – whatever your station in life, your job, where you live – even if you don’t get to be an Apostle – Christ calls you to join in His holy feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Dear friends in Christ – do not be afraid to strive against your sin – to strive every day to live as God has called you.  And when you fail – for when you set yourself to Christ’s standards, you will see your failures – remember that God desires mercy, and indeed He calls you, a sinner, to His house to shower that mercy upon you.  This is what God did for Matthew, it is what He does for each and every one of us.  God grant that we remember this all the days of our earthly life and remain faithful unto death.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Law isn't Pretty

I am a sinner.  Every moment.  Every day.  This is simple fact.

That means the Law isn't pretty.  It never is.  Because I am a sinner, and the Law will condemn me.  Every time.

This thought struck me this past Tuesday when listening to a Gerhard meditation upon the Holy Cross.  It was so visceral... and tied to me.  These wounds the Lord suffers - they are mine, they are what I deserve, what I by rights should have.

If you want to know what the Law looks like when it is unleashed upon a sinner, behold what the Law does to the One who took up upon Himself the sins of the world.  And died.

I need Christ the Crucified.  I need Christ Crucified for me.  And when I hear law, I need to hear real law.  Not some watered down "you-can-do-it" fake law.  I need the real law that drives me to Christ who suffered under that law in my place.  I need to be show my Savior, who fulfilled the Law in my place.

Don't try to make the Law pretty or palatable to me.  Let it be law... full, hard, strong law.  And then let the Gospel bring relief.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Paying Attention

So, I went to a meeting with other pastors today, and the day opened with Matins.  And there was a family with kids there.  And they sat right behind me.  And there were points, especially during the sermon, when they were loud.  Not just chatter and such - there were even bumps that made me wonder what super dense and tough material that kid's head must be made of.

So, what was this?  Turn around being fair play for my children who make their noise?  Cosmic Justice!  There, there you go Pastor Brown, don't you see what your kids are doing to everyone!

I noticed something.  I had to struggle a bit to pay attention.

Think on that.  I had to work in order to pay attention.  I was focused on paying attention.  My listening had to be active.

And you know what - what was a good thing.

See, so often when we go to Church, we don't have to really pay all that close attention.  It's easy.  The music is plenty loud, the microphone should make the voice loud and clear.  We can just kick back and relax... and not even really have to pay attention.

Is not really needing to pay attention in church a good thing?

I'll admit, my mind often wanders when I attend a service.  Or I'll fall into a critique of what is going on - hwo the sermon is crafted, how things are being done (I had even been doing that in the first 5 minutes of the service when the kids were quiet).  It's completely understandable - I am a professional, and when one professional sees another work, we look at the work.

And then the kids made noise.  And I couldn't sort of listen while going off into my own la-la land.  I had to work to pay attention.  I had to focus on the words my brother pastor was saying, or else I would miss them -- and know that I missed them.

I think I heard more of that sermon than I had heard in a long time.

So - what does this mean?

No, I'm not suggesting that we need more distractions or something like this.  But perhaps we should think about what it actually means to pay attention -- what effort we expect to (or ought to) put into paying attention. 

I was glad for the noisy kids today.  They were a blessing to me.