Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – June 18th and 19th, 2016 – Luke 6:36-42

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Well folks, who are you supposed to hate and be angry with and blame this week? It's been a terrible past few weeks for justice and order in society, and the outrage cycle's been working overtime. The Stanford rapist with his pathetic sentence, the vile shooting in Orlando, alligators, and all of this in an election year, where if you don't vote for the candidate I like, you will bring about the end of the free world. Where will you place your outrage? What sort of angry cries will you make publicly to show that you care? Don't you see, we have to do something! There is wickedness, there are bad people out there! Blame! Boycott! Ban! That’s the chatter of the world – that’s what the talking heads tell us. And it’s also what we end up thinking, it can be how we approach things closer to home. Did you hear about what he did…well, I never. Oh, you know what she is like. I can’t believe they would be so stupid. We have been trained with an “eagle” eye to scope out flaws and errors, to beat people down for them, to shun them, to belittle them – and maybe even to crush them.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven, give, and it will be given to you.” What is your life to be, oh Christian? What is your day to look like? What is to dominate your thoughts – mercy or condemnation? Forgiveness or judgment? You see, when our Lord says that we are to be in the world but not of the world, He is not speaking merely to abstaining from vile and gross and open sin – it’s not merely “Don’t kill, don’t have affairs, don’t rob banks”. He is calling you away from the world, away from the way the world thinks, away from the way the world operates. He is calling you away from a life where the solution is judgment and condemnation.

Let us be honest. We love judgment, we love condemnation. As long as its someone else getting judged and condemned. As long as it's the “bad” guy getting it. The bad guy. That's a loaded term. Think of it this way: if we watch a movie, don’t we want, don't we expect the bad guy to get it in the end? We don't want the bad guy to apologize; we want a spectacular death scene and the hero to ride off into the sunset. Now, I'm not going to knock movies, but the problem is we end up treating real life, our neighbors this way. We label them “bad guys” - and we love their comeuppance, we love folks getting what they deserve. We’ll even use that language – I hope they get what they deserve, I hope they get what’s coming to them – with nary a though about what we ourselves by rights deserve. The self-righteous indignation flares up – we view ourselves as better than them, less worthy of condemnation, and so we are willing to dish it out, to hope for the worst for them, to just let them have it with both barrels. Take that, you miserable sinner! “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Do you see how poorly the world and our flesh train us to live? The sinful worlds tells us that if we just get a bit more condemnation in, then suddenly we can fix the fall – then people won't be “bad” - they'll be “good”... just like me. How stupid is that?

Christ tells us a parable. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Do you not realize, o Christian, that you yourself are a sinner? That by the strict judgment of God's law, you are the bad guy? It’s not that you are wise and know everything and have everything figured out, and thus you can tell people how it ought to be and smack them down when they don’t listen. Do you not realize that you too are blind? That the flaws you see in them you yourself have? “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We listen to the ways of the world, we let the shrill and angry guide and shape us into being shrill and angry, we let the judgmental and condemnatory teach us to judge and condemn because we are not in fact above them, we are not better than them… even though we so often think we are. We fall in to the same traps as the rest of the world, the same sins. And in fact, not just the same sins – sins more vile than theirs. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’” The speck of your neighbor, or the log of yourself? The dust particle floating through the air, while ignoring the beam of wood as big as the the supports of our Church? This is the depiction, the description of who we are according to our sinful flesh, what the world tries to shape us and mold us into being. Harsh and full of condemnation and disdain – and yet worthy of condemnation and eternal disdain ourselves.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Yet what of God? What is His approach? Thankfully, God is not out to get you. His ways are above our ways – and while we in our earthly wisdom love punishment and destruction, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, and this is for your own good. Your Father in heaven is merciful to you. He has sent Christ Jesus to take up your sin, to bear the weight and shame and guilt of it all upon the cross, to suffer and die for you, in your place, in your stead. And now there is no more judgment left, no more condemnation left. Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – that’s how Paul puts it in Romans. Our Lord Jesus here is not merely going off on a finger wagging law kick here, telling you what you yourself need to do. If that were the case, we would all be without hope, for we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But Christ Jesus has come, and He has borne the weight, the punishment of your sin in your place. God is merciful to you, and so Christ was judged in your place, He was condemned on account of your condemnation – and all the judgment in the world, all the condemnation in the universe is used up on Him. What then is left here? Remove the judgment and condemnation from these verses and what do we hear? Nothing but mercy and forgiveness. While the world shouts at you, “Judge, condemn, dish out punishment,” Christ steps in, and He says, “I have taken all that on Myself, and for you only mercy and forgiveness remain.”

And this He pours into your lap, this He gives you in good measure, overflowing, full, pressed down without any little air pockets of sin not covered. You are forgiven, forgiven in full. You are baptized, and all your sin is washed away. You are forgiven, for Christ and Him Crucified is proclaimed to you here, now, today. You are forgiven, for Christ has shed His blood for you and gives it to you in His Supper – this is reality. He has called you out of the darkness of the world into His marvelous light. He has made you to be not the world’s disciple, but His disciple. “A disciple is not above His teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” Christ Jesus is your Lord and He has purchased and won you from Sin, death, from the power of the devil. Christ has rescued you from this loud braying world with His precious blood – and He is now your Master, your Teacher. And He will make you to be like Him. When the world yells around you with hatred and anger and vengeance and destruction, when the world would blind you with all this – He calls out to you again, and He fixes your eyes upon Himself. Even as He Himself was condemned, left to hang upon the cross to die, He called out Father forgive. And He trains you, trains you to be like Him.

How does Christ train us; what does Christ do to us? “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’” Christ knows sin – He was nailed to that log in your eye, the log of the Cross. He bore your sin, He knows it far better than you do – He took it up from you even before you were born. He has taken it away from you, He has forgiven you. And now, with the log out of your own eye, you see clearly. You see clearly not to condemn, not to decry how terrible it is that these people keep getting specks in their eyes. You see clearly so as to forgive. The Son of Man came into the world not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through Him. Likewise, you who have Christ as your brother by the gift of baptism, who participate in His Body and Blood, you dorealize that the only reason you even know of any of your neighbor’s sin is so that you will love them and in mercy be able to forgive them, be able to restore them, be able to proclaim the realities of Christ to them? You are forgiven, and so now you are forgiveness people. You have been mercied, and so now you are mercy people. This is the reality, this is what Christ's Church is. You’ve been in the world with its junk and hatred and anger all week – step away from that for a moment, forget all that, and remember who Christ says you are. You are forgiven – that is the great reality, greater than anything you saw on the news or in your neighbor last week, greater than anything you will see in yourself in this week to come.

And so dear friends, it is true, you and I are indeed poor miserable sinners, and by rights, we deserve nothing but condemnation. But God in His mercy has chosen not to condemn you – Christ Jesus your Lord deals with condemnation for you upon the Cross. You are out of that business now. Rather, you are forgiven, redeemed, sanctified by Him. And yes, the world, Satan, even your sinful flesh will try to make you forget that, try to sucker you back into their condemning games. And often enough they will succeed. But you are forgiven, that is the great truth, and one day Christ will come again, and that truth will be all that we see. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

To Complain or to Ask Why?

We like to complain.  Admit it, I'm sure there are plenty of things that you've complained about today, or in the last week.  Things that didn't suit your fancy, fit your standards, weren't your cup of tea.  Things that were just wrong.

And we complain about them.

At least that's our knee-jerk sinful reaction.  And lets be honest, complaining rarely is effective or helpful.  I know when I am complained at, I tend to become defensive rather than caring.  Nothing can help to stir up in me a nice-round of self-justification than a good frivolous complaint.

So rather than complaining, might I make a suggestion.  Ask why.

Why would you support that candidate?
Why would you do things like that?
Why don't you like this?

And I mean to ask with all sincerity.  I mean to ask with a sense of wonder, a sense of wanting to know what makes this other person tick.  Instead of assuming that they are utterly evil and wicked for preferring McDonalds to Steak and Shake (or whatever the dire issue is at hand about which you feel compelled to complain) - ask why.  And honestly.

Sometimes, the answers to that "why" will be in fact utterly foolish or just in bad taste.  Sometimes there are concerns that are valid and good... but just ones you don't have to deal with.  Sometimes they've never thought why -- and if they start to think why then you can actually have a good discussion.  And sometimes their why might make you re-evaluate your own set of whys.

Which is why it's much easier and sometimes safer to complain.  When I am the one complaining, it's clear (to myself) that I know what is best.  I know what I want.  I know what you should be doing and you should be accommodating me.

All that "I, I, I" makes our old sinful flesh very comfortable... even if we are making a fool of ourselves.  If you go read one of those "The Customer is Not Always Right" websites where angry, complaining customers make fools of themselves, at the root there is an ego trip driving them into making their folly apparent to everyone.

No, it is better to ask why.  And if their why is good - you've learned.  And if their why is bad - you can offer up a better idea which they are free to take or leave (but even if they leave it, it's still there - a bit of truth always right there).

Complaining is rarely constructive.  Ask someone why, and you both might grow.

Trinity 3 Sermon

Trinity 3 – June 11th and 12th, 2016 – Luke 15:11-32

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

This morning’s parable, dear friends in Christ, isn’t just about the foolish younger brother – it isn’t just the parable of the Prodigal Son. No, in the parable we see three people, two sons and their father – we see a family full of discord and strife. If anything this is a parable about the father who continually has to struggle to keep his family from imploding – who goes to any length to try and mollify his sons. And of course, we understand that this parable is really describing the ways in which God treats us, the lengths He goes to for our sake. So let us dive into this parable today and see what we learn.

The main problem that arises in this parable is that neither son understands their father. The younger son doesn’t get his father. The elder son doesn’t get his father either. Both really don’t seem to know him, and each ends up wandering away. We know about the younger son – the one who wants his inheritance early. You know what that is? “Dad, I want my inheritance,” is the same thing as saying, “Why don’t you just hurry up and kick the bucket, you old geezer, you are only good to me for money.” Kind of crass. And then we know what the younger brother does with that money. He blows it. Squanders it on reckless living. Parties and hookers and booze and then he's broke – suffice it to say the kid hits rock bottom. And this is the point we can shake our head at – oh, how horrible this kid is, look at all that he’s done. Yeah – bad stuff – he’s foolish, he’s hateful towards his father in demanding the inheritance. But, people are stupid and foolish all the time. It is when the guy is standing slopping pigs, though, that we see that he still doesn't know who his father really is.

Listen. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. We’ll what’s wrong with that, Pastor?! It’s about time that he comes to himself, comes to his senses – admits that he’s been horrible. Yeah, he’s dead on about himself, he has sinned, he isn’t worthy to be called the man’s son. But here is the problem. He thinks his dad will treat him like a lowly servant. This young kid is afraid, thinks that his father will be cold, and heartless, thinks that his father will say, “You dirty rat, I oughta.... bah! Go sleep in the barn and I’ll find some mean and nasty chore for you to do tomorrow – you make me sick.” That’s what the young man thinks his father will do. That’s why he’s so afraid and nervous about heading home. That’s why he’s ready to beg to be a servant. He doesn’t expect compassion from his father. And he was wrong.

The elder son, he doesn’t understand his father either. The elder, dutiful son, is out working in the field, and he hears music and dancing, and he calls to one of the servants and asks what is going on. He hears that his wayward brother has returned, that his father has killed the fattened calf, that the party is a celebration over the return of that money wasting, worthless, no good brother of his. The elder brother doesn’t understand his father either. He storms off into the night. He fumes, he sulks outside. And even when his father comes out to him, this elder brother doesn’t understand who his father is. This elder brother goes on a rant, saying words that are just as despicable as the younger brother’s wretched living.

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never once disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” What vile words. I’ve been good, and there’s been nothing in it for me! You, you blind old fool, you have never given me anything good! How horrible, how heart-wrenching. The elder son, always working, thinking he’s going to earn blessings from his father by what he himself does. He doesn’t understand his father’s generosity, his father’s love. I bet he never even asked the father for a goat – because this father would have freely given one. But no – the son is embittered – the son thinks more of his own hard work than the father’s love. The son thinks of himself, what he’s earned and what his brother might be sponging away, and he fails to rejoice over the redemption of his brother.

Do you see, dear friends, how neither son really understood who their father was? The younger son thought his father would be cruel and callous to him – the elder son thought his father a harsh tyrant who never showed love and generosity, who had to be impressed with hard work and labor – the elder son thought that he had to earn everything on his own from his father. Both of these sons just don’t understand who their father is, and what the father does.

Now, this is instructive for us today, because the sons illustrate the two terrible ways in which we Christians, we who are of God’s Household, we who are of God’s family, can begin to misunderstand God. How many of you have had thoughts similar to those of the younger brother? How many of you have seen some of the wretched things you’ve done in your life and then thought, “I’m horrible, I have sinned – God couldn’t possibly forgive me!” It’s the last part that’s the problem – there’s nothing wrong with seeing your sin or knowing that you are wretched. In fact, it’s something that we need to do. The problem comes in when guilt and fear makes us think that our sin is too big for God to handle, too big for God to forgive, when we think our sin is bigger than Christ Crucified. The problem is when we end up approaching God doubting that He will forgive or even become afraid to approach God. Just as the younger son forgot that his father is merciful, we are tempted to forget that God is merciful to us. That is one of the dangers, one of the traps we can fall into.

And then there is the trap that the elder brother falls into. The elder brother starts looking at everything in terms of the “good” things he does. Look at all I’ve done for my father, I deserve better in life. I’m such a good, dutiful son, why doesn’t he treat me better! Are there times when you can end up treating God this way as well? If you’ve ever thought, if you’ve ever said, “Well, I’m a “good” Christian” you have. The temptation here is to approach God on the basis of what you’ve done – look at me God, see how much I’ve done for you! You owe me. How wretched and sad – treating God as though he were a petty tyrant, a miserable god whom you need to bribe to get anywhere. And yet – is that not how we sometimes can end up dealing with God? Why did you let this happen to me – I’m a good person, I don’t deserve this! Can we even sometimes brag about ourselves to God? These are two errors we can fall into, two dangers Christ warns us of. We can in our guilt over sin forget God’s mercy – we can in our arrogance forget our need for God’s mercy. We can forget that this is who God is – the God who shows mercy.

Look at the father in the story – there is something remarkable that he does with each of his sons which we might overlook. First, with the younger – But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and embraced him. Now, with the elder – His father came out to him and entreated him. Did you notice what the father does – what type of person he is? In both cases the father goes out to his wayward child. The father seeks out the son. The father’s love to his younger son pre-empts that son’s plea to work as a servant – the younger son merely confesses his sin and is welcomed back into his father’s house. Welcome back son, and know that I love you. Likewise, the father’s love seeks out the stubborn elder brother and turns his eyes off of his own works – Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found. I don't have to give you a goat, all that I have is yours already. Now, come on, let's go eat and rejoice, because my joy and mercy is yours as well. In both cases, the father tenderly goes to his wayward sons, goes out to them, and strives to bring them back into the home.

But there's one more thing to consider about the Father here. In both cases, what the Father does is… well, the world would have viewed it shamefully, looked down upon the Father for doing it. Good, upstanding men didn’t run – back in the day, you wore robes, if you were running you had to hike up your skirt – and you just didn’t do that in public. Nor would you leave your own party to deal with a pouting son – that older son should be coming back to you! What would the guests say? You're the Father, how dare you lower yourself to placate that pouter. Let him starve, teach him a lesson! But in both cases, the Father, in His zeal suffers shame and scorn to comfort his children.

Dear friends, hear this and know who your Heavenly Father is. Your heavenly Father is the One who continually comes, who continually reaches out to you to show you mercy. Whenever you fall into error, be it great shame and vice, be it wretched pride and arrogance, your heavenly Father always desires that you be forgiven and restored, brought back into the family, brought back into the household, brought to the feast. God desires you here in His house, receiving His forgiveness, that forgiveness which He provides for you through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. God is not too proud to redeem you – God’s good and true Son Jesus Christ endures the shame of the cross and death to see that we are restored to the family. He rises to see that the feast of everlasting life will go on without end. And this is the call that goes out every week – return to God’s house, be forgiven. Return and rejoice in the Father’s mercy. Get a foretaste of the feast to come and know that the Father indeed loves you. This is who God is – the One who has mercy upon you, the One who desires to restore you continually, the One who wants you always to remain with Him, to be with Him in His house and in His worship, the One who says, “all that is mine is yours.” God’s Word will always seek to show you mercy – and for that, we who have wandered and gone astray many times are right to give Him all thanks and praise. To God alone be all glory. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Trinity 2 Sermon

Trinity 2 – Luke 14:15-24 – June 4th and 5th, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Our lesson today begins with the words, “When one of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things...” Heard what things? What is the context of our Gospel lesson? Well, you see, Jesus had been invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner – but they had invited Him with ulterior motives. Jesus is there, and what do you know – a sick man is there. And it was the Sabbath – so what are you going to do Jesus, are you going to heal on the Sabbath? Jesus was invited to dinner as a trap. He doesn't care though – Jesus shows up, eats the tasty food, and goes ahead and heals the guy who is sick. If you've got a ox that falls in the well on a Sabbath, you pull it out. And then Jesus teaches what Solomon had said – don't elevate yourself in the presence of the king. It's better to be humble and have him elevate you. And in response one of these smug pharisees there, who had been trying to trap Jesus, hears all this and he opines, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Oh, didn't that just sound nice and pious? Wasn't that special? Oh, someday, someday it will be good. But here's the problem. Um, fella, you realize that you are eating bread, right there and now with Christ the King, right? You just saw a miracle, a man healed. You just heard the Word of God incarnate preach upon His own Word while eating dinner. Will eat bread? You are right now. What more do you want? And here we get to the problem, to the lesson for today. The Pharisees don't like what God is doing, they don't trust Jesus to be a Messiah that is good for them. And so, they'll miss out.

Jesus brings this out by way of a story. “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'” So here's the set up. There's going to be a banquet – a great one. The best foods made by the finest chefs. A shindig to surpass all shindigs. And in the ancient world, when good food was being served, you showed up, and you ate. I mean, even Jesus gladly goes and enjoys a good meal at this Pharisee's house knowing that it's actually a trap for him. So imagine if you will, Oh Pharisees, not just a Sabbath meal, but a great feast, long awaited. And the day arrives. The feast is prepared. It's time – come, for everything is now ready. The “will be” is here, the dinner bell is rung.

And yet, what happens? “But they all alike began to make excuses.” I bought a field and have to look at it. I bought five yolk of oxen and have to check them out. I just got hitched and can't come. The oh so polite excuses are made. But here's the thing. They are all stupid. Really, they are. You mean, you didn't look at the field before you bought it? More over, if you bought it sight unseen, do you have to look at it now? It's already too late, you shelled out the cash already. Same with the oxen. And as for the wife; this is the social event of the year, she'll want to be there. None of these excuses are real and valid. They aren't “my wife fell into a well, I need to pull her out”. There's nothing that demands immediate attention. So, you see what is going on, right? They are just blowing the guy off. Apparently these excuse makers don't trust the master to throw a feast that is worth their time to come to – and so they decide to just blow it off.

Just like the Pharisees are intent upon blowing Jesus off. He heals a man right in front of them – and there is no loud praising of God. Just indifference. Back to their humdrum life and political jockeying. Oh, someday it will be good in the Kingdom of God – cause now with this lousy Messiah it sure isn't! So Jesus continues. The servant reports this to the master, and then, “The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.'” Blow off my feast, will they? Oh well – I've got my food cooked and by George there's going to be a feast. Go bring in the poor and the cripple, the folks these arrogant jerks look down upon. You know, like the fellow with Dropsy who was at the Sabbath dinner, the one Jesus just healed. And the servant says, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” Even before being told, the servant knew to get the poor. The servant knew his master. The master wasn't going to pout, he wasn't going to wring his hands, he wasn't going to act like a love sick teenager and sit in his room and write angsty poetry to the folks who skipped. No, the servant knew that the master was good and would want folks to enjoy his feast. So we brought in the poor already – but there's going to be plenty of food and drink still left over. “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” Go pull in strangers and travelers – and even the folks who hide behind the hedges; the thieves and the highway men, the bandits, the terrorists and rebels. Pack 'em all in, because we are going to have one fantastic feast, and there's plenty for everyone. Well, almost everyone. “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Blow off my feast? Act as though I don't know how to set a good table, how to throw a good party? Everyone in the world will be there, and we'll be enjoying ourselves – and you arrogant jerks can just go pout and sulk by yourself. The party can go on without you just fine.

In the story, the folks making excuses miss out on the fantastic party – and they do it to themselves. There's no one else to blame. Their own lack of trust, their own disdaining of the master and of his party ends up hurting only themselves. Likewise, this is what Jesus tells the Pharisees. You know, Pharisees, I can tell you don't like what I'm doing; you don't like that I'm talking to and healing the poor and the scuzzy; you don't like that I'll forgive and help even people you look down upon, like gentiles and women. I know you'd rather that I pat you on the back and tell you how great you are. But here's the thing; I'm the Messiah, and I'm here to win salvation for the entire world. Even for the folks you in your sin don't like. So you've got two options; you can either trust that I know what I am doing in winning salvation for the world; or you can pout, disdain My mercy, and burn in hell. It shouldn't be much of a choice, but if you are literally hell-bent on being upset that I do things like heal on the Sabbath and forgive sinners, and would rather pitch a really hot hissy fit for all eternity; you can... but I'm still the Messiah, and I'm still going to go to the Cross and die for the sins of the world and rise from the dead and bring forgiveness and life to the world. Your tantrums won't stop the plan of salvation. And the only person they'll hurt is you.

So then. What do we see and learn from this? Well, for one, this is a big, strong, get yourself to church sort of text. I mean, in the text, that language of being called, being invited – that's all churchy language. And the way the story goes is that the folks who are in fact gathered together to the feast (see the altar, the great feast) are safe, are blessed. And who gets into trouble? The folks who want to go and do their own, individual things, apart from the feast, away from everyone else. The ones who cut themselves off in their pride, their disdain of the master, their disdain of the feast, their disdain of the folks at the feast – it's because they refused to be gathered, they refuse to come. And this is a place where finger wagging would be quite justified. Get yourself to church, to bible studies, be in the Word together with us here and often.

But I don't want to just finger wag. That can lead to eye-rolling and in one ear and out the other responses. So let me ask this. Is God trustworthy? Seriously – is God worthy of your trust, ought you be able to trust that God does in fact know what He is doing? And we know the answer ought to be yes, we know that we are to fear, love, and TRUST in God above all things. But it is hard. Think about how the rubber meets the road in your life, and think of the times when you are tempted to not trust God. Think of the times when you look at this place, this service, mercy and love and forgiveness even for those who hurt you or aren't as “good” as you, and you want to think, “That's not how I'd do it, that's not what I want.” You realize that is all Satan and your sinful flesh trying to get you to not trust in God, right? And here's the thing, and this is especially true for us who are life long Lutherans. We can treat forgiveness like it's chopped liver. We can blow it off instead of seeing it as the gift it is. There was an old fellow in Oklahoma, actually died before I showed up out there, but even years after he died folks would say, “Old Layton, he became Lutheran after he married, and he'd say, 'You Lutherans don't know what you have.'” He's talking about forgiveness, the clear preaching of the Gospel, the Word of God spoken and sung in our liturgy and hymns, the beauty of the Supper. And whenever folks there would start winding away or pining for something else, Layton would pipe up: You Lutherans don't know what you've have! In the Gospel lesson, the Pharisees didn't realize what they had – pining for some future something else when Jesus is right in front of them doing miracles.

Remember what you have here, O Lutheran. When your flesh tries to turn you into the Pharisee, remember what you have here. Wisdom has built her house – and here you hear the wisdom of God. Here you receive forgiveness of sins. Here you are healed of death – even though you die yet you shall live. You have passed out of death unto life in Christ. So what if the world hates you? So what if we here aren't the high and mighty and rich and powerful; so what if we're just poor miserable sinners? We are forgiven by Christ. We are declared His brothers and sisters in Holy Baptism – declared to be princes and princesses of the universe. You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. That's what this feast is – it's the celebration of the royal, everlasting life that Christ gives you. Don't let some stupid bit of spite make you turn your nose up that. Lesson 3, dear friends: Trust Christ, for He really has good in store for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

But the Culture War!!!!

I'm not big on the Culture War.  Never have been.  I rolled my eyes at the Culture Warriors a decade ago (both the Liberation Gospel Leftists and the Grocery Store "Changing a Culture For Christ" Churches I saw in Oklahoma).  The point of the Church is not to somehow magically stop the sinful world from being sinful.  Rather, it is to preach the Gospel.

I found a couple of Luther quotes that had been on Bulletins back from 2007 and 2008 for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity.  Consider them for a moment, especially in light of the Culture War.

No Need to Repay the Poor World in Kind
(From a sermon on 1 John 3:13-18) Whom is the world harming with its hatred? It will not succeed in taking from you the [eternal] life you have and it does not have, nor will it subject you to the death which you have already escaped through Christ. If it does much, it may slander you with bad words, take your possessions or your rotten, stinking carcass, which is bound to decay anyway, so that you are actually promoted into life through the death of the body.
       And so you are avenged on the world much more than it is avenged on you. You have the joy of being translated from death into life, whereas the world must remain in death forever. Moreover, while the world imagines it is depriving you of both kingdoms, heaven and earth, it must lose body and soul. How could its hatred and envy be punished and avenged more terribly? In order not to please the devil and the world and, still more, not to injure yourself, you should so act as not to let your salvation and comfort be spoiled on account of the world and lose this treasure because of impatience and a desire for revenge. In fact, you should much rather take pity on the world’s wretchedness and damnation; for you lose nothing but only gain, for all that, while the world has nothing but loss. And for the small loss which you do suffer materially and temporally it must pay you an exorbitant price both here and there.

Ingratitude Has Made Many Lose the Word
(In Luther’s diary in 1538 he points out that when people become unthankful for the Word, they fall away) God willing, we shall put forth an effort to leave to our posterity a true church and school, so that they may be equipped to teach and to govern. Nevertheless, the ingratitude and the irreverence of the world terrify me. Therefore I fear that this light will not long endure, not over fifty years. It has always run its course. In the times of the patriarchs it flourished for a while – under Adam, Noah, Lot, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Josiah, Hezekiah. But Ba’al dominated the intervals between them and had to be uprooted periodically. Consider the course of the Word in the time of Christ. It did not stay fifty years. Indeed, the heresies of false brothers soon rose in the times of the Apostles. Thereupon Arius reared his head. Thereupon Ambrose, Hilary, Augustine again restored the Word, whereupon the Vandals and Lombards again put it out. Then Greece, too, and other regions had it. So it continued to migrate.

Now, consider both of these quotes.  Shall we get agitated and freaked out when (not if, but when) the world hates us and messes with us?  No.  Shall we abandon the Gospel and shift our focus to fighting the world?  By no means!  The Gospel is our victory both now and eternally.

Yet what so often happens.  We become unthankful for the Word.  The Gospel that gives life now seems less important, less vital than fighting the latest social issue or political campaign.  After the Vandals and Lombards came, they wanted the Pope to become a political leader... and he did... with the best of intentions.  Yet we see where that led.

Preacher!  Tend to the Gospel of Christ Jesus that gives life everlasting!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day Speech

I have been invited to give a speech this Memorial Day at the Herscher Legion.  What follows is the written text of my speech.

Memorial Day, 2016
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,
As a way of introduction for those of you who do not know me, I am Eric Brown, the Pastor over at Trinity Lutheran Church here in Herscher, and it is an honor to have these few minutes here with you today as we observe Memorial Day. A few brief things to note – I am a pastor and a historian, so you're going to get a history lecture with a bit of theology – I'll try not to be preachy though. Also, although I myself have not served my country in the military, I come from a long line of Marines. My great-grandfather was a Marine in the First World War, which brought about this day of remembrance. My grandfather lied about his age and as a 16 year old was an island hopper in the Pacific in WWII, with many friends who fell, who took bullets instead of him; that's how I'm here today, and why they are solemnly honored. My two uncles served in Vietnam, and I'm sure I needn't bring up how many in our nation have been slow to rightly honor those who fell there.

So while I myself have not served, I grew up in a family, I learned from men who knew that General Sherman was right when he observed that war is hell, that it is a gruesome, nasty business, that no one in their right might would want to see come in their day. This brutal reality of war is something that has weighed heavily on the minds of theologians throughout the history of the Christian Church – from St. Paul in the letter to the Romans, to St. Augustine in “City of God” even on up to theologians this day. How do we understand, how do we reconcile this harsh truth; that so often those who simply wish to quietly love and serve the Prince of Peace, end up being called upon to wage war, and even to make the ultimate sacrifice, that of their very lives.

I would draw your attention to a specific time in history when the thoughts of theologians went again to the question of warfare and the Christian. 1520's were a harsh and brutal time in Europe. Most decades back then were bad, but the 1520's were especially bad. At the time, Europe is being invaded from the southeast by Muslim armies. The Turk was advancing up into Europe. In 1526 Suleiman the Great defeated and killed Louis, the King of Hungary – the invasion was into central Europe. In fact, by 1529, Vienna would be besieged by the Turkish armies.

The defense of Europe ended up falling upon Charles the Fifth – King of Spain and also Holy Roman Emperor – the overarching ruler of what we think of today as Germany, Poland, and Austria – basically Central Europe. And to successfully defend Europe, Charles needed order. Charles had inherited basically three different thrones which made him incredibly powerful, and also gave him many enemies. So before he could go and deal with the Turk, he had to make sure he wouldn't get stabbed in the back. There was war with France, which Charles won in 1525. Which left the main at home problem for Charles, from a military point of view, being Germany.

The Reformation was going on, and Germany was sort of like the wild west. It wasn't a unified country at the time, but over 300 independent dukedoms and princedoms and independent cities – just a political mess. And into this political mess came the Reformation – where you had all the divisions playing out that would end up leading to the 30 Years War in the 17th Century. On top of that, you had radical Christian groups teaching all sorts of things. There was a giant peasants' revolt that was utterly horrific and violent until it was put down. 
So basically, in Germany in 1526, everything has been chaotic, and it looks like it will be chaotic even still – and in the midst of this there are some Christians who are calling for all Christians to be utter pacifists, who say that no Christian may ever wage war. In the face of this, one German knight, by the name of Assa von Kram, repeatedly asked Martin Luther to write an essay about this topic, to give an opinion. Luther dragged his feet for bit; he had touched on the topic before and he thought he had done so well enough earlier – but von Kram still pressed. Things have gotten so bad, so violent, so wild – should we just stop?

(Any questions yet)

So towards the end of 1526, and reaching full publication in 1527, Luther writes a fabulous little writing entitled “Whether Soldiers, Too, Can Be Saved.” For those of you who are impatient, the answer ends up being, “yes.” But in this little essay (You may find the text of this essay easily on the internet), Luther does two things. He discusses what we today would call Just War theory – when it is right to wage war and when it is wrong. But the other thing he does, and it's really this that I want to zero in on, is he writes, he gives advice to soldiers as to how they themselves ought to consider their vocation, their duty of going to war.

One of the things that Luther points out is that a soldier is in fact an agent, a servant of God, performing a vital task for the good of the nation. God Himself gave the government the power of the Sword so as to rightly order and rule the nation. Luther notes: “For the very fact that the sword has been instituted by God to punish the evil, protect the good, and preserve the peace [Rom. 13:1-4, 1 Peter 2:13-14] is powerful and sufficient proof that war and killing along with all the things that accompany wartime and martial law have been instituted by God. What else is war but the punishment of wrong and evil? Why does anyone go to war, except because he desires peace and obedience?”

Here Luther points out that to make a contrast between war and peace isn't quite right. Properly speaking, a soldier is a agent of peace. That is, when someone or a group has with their vileness and wickedness gone and brought forth violence and chaos, bringing danger and violence to bear upon people – it is the soldier who goes and re-establishes peace. Because Christ desires peace, and He has called and instituted soldiers to bear the brunt of fighting wickedness to protect and preserve their neighbor's peace. Of war itself Luther notes, “What men write about war, saying that it is a great plague, is all true. But they should also consider how great the plague is that war prevents! If people were good and wanted to keep peace, war would be the greatest plague on earth. But what are you going to do about the fact that people will not keep the peace, but rob, steal, kill, outrage women and children, and take away property and honor? The small lack of peace called war or the sword must set a limit to this universal, worldwide lack of peace which would destroy everyone. This is why God honors the sword so highly that He says that He Himself has instituted it and does not want men to say or think that they have invented it or instituted it. For the hand that wields this sword and kills with it is not man's hand, but God's.” To be a solider, to be one who fights for peace, for justice, for order, who risks life and limb and steps into the breech that others may live, is not merely doing something good – God Himself is actually the One who uses the solider to accomplish God's desired peace and justice.

(Questions on that)

Acknowledging that soldiers are meant to be servants of God, Luther notes how the Scriptures do place limits upon them. They have an honorable and mighty office; they need to see that they do not abuse it. “When soldiers came to [John the Baptist] and asked what they should do, he did not condemn their office or advise them to stop doing their work; rather, according to Luke 3[:14], he approved it by saying, 'Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.' Thus he praised the military profession, but at the same time he forbade its abuse.” The purpose of military power, for the individual or even for the nation, is not to abuse that power and profit, but always to serve the neighbor and the nation, even serve in defense of your fellow countries if and only when the situation demands for it.

Peace is to be the desire. “Do not be tempted to think of yourself as though you were the Turkish sultan. Wait until the situation compels you to fight when you have no desire to do so. You will still have more than enough wars to fight and will be able to say with heartfelt sincerity, 'How I would like to have peace. If only my neighbors wanted it too!'” I quote this here in part because it is my own observation that the greatest moments of American History, the times where we have served the world the most as a people, have been in the two world wars, when we desperately longed for peace, and only fought when compelled. This is an attitude that Luther praised. His own ruler at the start of the Reformation was Frederick the Wise. He had died a few years before this writing, and of him Luther notes: “I must mention here the example of Duke Frederick, elector of Saxony, for it would be a shame if that wise prince's sayings were to die with his body. He had to endure many wicked plots on the part of his neighbors and many others. He had so many reasons to start a war that if some mad prince who loved war had been in his position, he would have started ten wars. But Frederick did not draw his sword. He always responded with reasonable words and almost gave the impression that he was afraid and running away from a fight. He let the others boast and threaten, and yet he held his ground against them. When he was asked why he let them threaten him so, he replied, 'I shall not start anything; but if I have to fight, you will see that I shall be the one who decides when it is time to stop.'” Wise words that we would do well to consider in the management of our own personal affairs, and wisdom I hope that leaders now and in generations to come cling to.


Luther then proceeds to give actual advice to the one who is called upon to fight. One thing that he urges is humility – that if one is called upon to be a soldier, that he be prepared against the onset of pride. When it comes to victory, we should not approach it, “as though it were our deeds or power that did it. Rather, God wants to be feared and he wants to hear us sing from our hearts a song like this, 'Dear Lord, You see that I have to go to war, though I would rather not. I do not trust, however, in the justice of my cause, but in Your grace and mercy.'” Since the soldier is an agent of God, the victory belongs to God. This is not a cause for pride, but rather humility before God.

Indeed, here is how Luther describes the proper attitude for a soldier. Luther's ideal soldier says:“'Well, for my part, I would like to stay at home, but because my lord [or today, perhaps nation] calls me and needs me, I come in God's name and know that I am serving God by doing so, and that I will earn or accept the pay that is given me for it.' [Luther continues] A soldier ought to have the knowledge and confidence that he is doing and must do his duty to be certain that he is serving God and can say, 'It is not I that smite, stab, and slay, but God and my prince, for my hand and body are now their servants.' That is the meaning of the watchwords and battle cries, 'Emperor!' 'France!' 'Luuneburg!' 'Braunschwieg!' This is how the Jews cried against the Midianites, 'The sword of God and Gideon.'” The soldier serves God, he serves his nation. His pride is not in his own prowess, but in his love of nation, his patriotism, his desire to serve God by serving for the sake of his fellow countrymen.

This plays out in how Luther thinks soldiers should be rallied, how they should be encouraged. Not with honor, not with riches, not with glory. “On the contrary, they should be exhorted like this, 'Dear comrades, we are gathered here to serve, obey, and do our duty to our prince, for according to God's will and ordinance we are bound to support our prince with our body and possessions, even though in God's sight we are as poor sinners as our enemies are. Nevertheless, since we know that our prince is in the right in this case, or at least do not know otherwise, we are therefore sure and certain that in serving and obeying him we are serving God. Let everyone then, be brave and courageous and let no one think otherwise than that his fist is God's fist, his spear God's spear, and cry with heart and voice – For God and the emperor! If God gives us victory, the honor and praise shall be His, not ours, for He wins it through us poor sinners. But we will take the booty and wages as presents and gifts of God's goodness and grace to us, though we are unworthy, and sincerely thank Him for them. Now God grant the victory! Forward with joy!” I would note that Luther acknowledges that soldiers ought to be well taken care of in return for their service. The words of Scripture that the “worker is worthy of his wages” apply to the soldier, and Luther would be adamant that our veterans and the survivors of those who have fallen receive all the benefits and support that is their due.

I don't say survivors incidentally here. Luther goes on to say, “But I think the best comrades are those who encourage themselves and are encouraged before the battle by thinking about the woman they love, and have this said to them, 'Hey, now, let everyone think about the woman he loves best.'” To serve as a soldier is to serve one's country and nation – but the heart of your country is your family, your house and home. A soldier goes forth to war to protect his parents, his spouse, his children – those closest to him. Always the truth of the soldier is that of service.


To close, I would like to read here a prayer that Luther wrote for soldiers, a model of how the soldier should approach his Lord. “Heavenly Father, here I am, according to your divine will, in the external work and service of my lord [or nation], which I owe first to you and then to my lord [nation] for Your sake. I thank Your grace and mercy that You have put me into a work which I am sure is not sin, but right and pleasing and obedience to Your will. But because I know and have learned from Your gracious Word that none of our good works can help us and that no one is saved as a soldier but only as a Christian, therefore, I will not in any way rely on my obedience or work, but place myself freely at the service of Your will. I believe with all my heart that only the innocent blood of Your dear Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, redeems and saves me, which He shed for me in obedience to Your holy will. This is the basis on which I stand before you. In this faith I will live and die, fight, and do everything else. Dear Lord God the Father, preserve and strengthen this faith in me by Your Spirit. Amen.” If you then want to say the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, you may do so and let that be enough. In so doing commit body and soul into God's hands, draw Your sword, and fight in God's name.

So then, how would I as a Pastor encourage you to view our soldiers, and especially those who have served their country with their life and all. Can a Christian who serves the Prince of Peace be a soldier? Most certainly yes – for in this they follow Christ. No greater love hath a man than to lay down his life for his neighbor. As Christ obeyed the Father's will and braved death and laid down His own life to secure us an eternal home, our own fallen laid down their own lives to secure our earthly homes. While this country is not quite heaven on earth, it is still a wondrous and great blessing that God has given to us, a blessing which He has preserved through the service of the men and women in our armed forces. A blessing which many gave their lives to preserve. All thanks be to God for these faithful men and women who have done this nation, who have done us such great service.
Thank you for your time and attention, and God comfort you who remember the fallen, and may He bless your reflections this Memorial Day. Amen.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – May 28th and 28th, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Well, now we are full into the season of Trinity. Things are green, and they are going to stay Green for quite some time. Trinity is the teaching season, the season of growth, and last week we reviewed lesson 1 – God loves you. Simple as that. And this week, we will get lesson number two. Sin is ignoring the Word of God. All sin. That's where sin comes from. This is precisely what our Lord is teaching some Pharisees with our Gospel lesson today. “Wait, what do you mean teaching some Pharisees, I didn't hear anything about Pharisees in the Gospel text!” Luke 15 and 16 are all one big narrative all tied together – and Luke 15 has the parable of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son. Ones you know well. Luke 16 starts with the dishonest manager – take your bill and cross out 100 and write 80 – you cannot serve God and money. We'll look at those in detail later in the summer, but upon hearing these lessons, in verse 14 we hear this: “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him.” Think on that. The Pharisees hear Jesus speak these beautiful and cherished parables, and they laugh. They mock Him. They ridicule Him. And so, Jesus explains how it really is.

Alright, you lovers of money who mock the idea of relying simply upon the goodness of God. Here you go. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table.” This is a beautiful set up. You Pharisees love money – alright, I'll tell you a tale about a fellow with tons of money. The best clothes, the best food, gated community. Everything your selfish and greedy black hearts could want. And over and against this rich fellow is this poor, sickly, beggar whom I'll call Lazarus. Here is where Jesus is neat – the name “Lazarus” means “one whom God helps.” You Pharisees have been laughing and mocking all these parables about God helping, God showing mercy to folks, about God rejoicing in and delighting in forgiveness. Alright – here's two folks – the rich smug jerk like you guys, and then the poor fellow whom God helps, help that you've mocked while rich jerks won't lift a finger.

Seriously – the rich man is cold. Lets Lazarus starve to death on his doorstep. But at least when he dies Lazarus is “carried by the angels to Abraham's side.” In the Old Testament, the way of saying that a man died in the faith was that he went to sleep with his fathers – well, there you go, there's Lazarus and he's with not just any old father, but Father Abraham. And now, to the Pharisees, for their fellow. “The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off.” Do you get just how big a smack in the face, what a shot across the bow this is to those Pharisees who were mocking Jesus? Laugh it up now, because if you don't repent, you'll be burning in hell with all the pagans, far, far away from Abraham. And you know what all that power that you love and crave will get you there? You know what your money and fame will be good for when you're burning? And [the rich man] called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Father Abraham said, 'Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.” Oh, so NOW you want things to be about mercy – mercy you never showed to Lazarus, mercy you Pharisees don't show as you stand by and laugh and mock as the poor have good news preached to them. Well, tough. You see Pharisees, this life is the day of mercy, today is the day of salvation, and if you don't care about living in mercy now, about receiving mercy from God and showing mercy to others, well, when you are burning in hell it will be too late. Jesus is reading these Pharisees the riot act.

The rich man seems to come around a bit – send Lazarus back to my house, I've got five brothers and I don't want them to end up here. And Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” They've got the Scriptures, they've got the Word of God. Moses and the Prophets (and indeed, the whole New Testament today) teaches that we are sinful and need to repent and cling to God for mercy that He gives in the Messiah, in the Christ. What Abraham says is spot on. Abraham says, “your brothers have it better than I did, because Scripture wasn't written yet in my day – they should be thrilled that they can hear the Word of God come to them over and over and over again. God has given them such a great gift in His Written Word!” And then we get to the crux of the problem. And [the rich man] said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Pause there for a second. There the rich man is, burning in hell, and he has the chutzpah, the audacity to tell Abraham, father Abraham, “No”. Abraham, you don't know what you are talking about, I know what I'm talking about. Remember what the Pharisees were doing, mocking Jesus' preaching? Jesus, you don't know what you're talking about. There it is. Sin is ignoring the Word of God. Sin is thinking you know better than what God has promised in His Word.

Abraham knocks the rich man down – sets up the Pharisees too. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Your plan won't work – if they mock the Old Testament Scriptures, they'll mock the New Testament too, they'll mock the parables of Christ Jesus, who will in fact rise from the dead. All because in pride and ego, people ignore the Word of God. You think you're so pious, you Pharisees. You think you are so much better than others because of how you're such good Jews, (good Christians,) you see your wealth and power and prestige as proving how good you are. Do you use this to serve your neighbor as Moses instructed? Do you confess with the psalms that all flesh is grass, that the flower of the field withers? Do you put your trust in the Lord for mercy? Do you seek out and wait for the Messiah whom the prophets foretold? No, you don't. You ignore the Scriptures, you ignore the Word of God because you in your pride think you know better. You're in for a world of hurt.

Now, here's the moment of truth for me as a preacher. Because if I wanted to, this text sets up to just let me unload on you folks. I could preach up a whole heap of fire and brimstone here, guns ablazing. However, as the point of the text is that we ought not ignore the Word of God, I really ought not treat this text, this story as though there was only one character in it. It's not just the tale of the rich man – it's the rich man and Lazarus. And I know that Satan and your flesh are trying to turn you into full-fledged rich men, but when I see you, I see a bunch of Lazarus-es. And I have a good reason to see you as such. Lazarus has a name. Interesting point. In all the parables and stories Jesus tells, Lazarus is the only one ever named.

You too have a name. You have a Christian name. Your baptismal name. That's why part of the rite of Baptism includes “how are you named”? And there, at the font, you are brought into the family of God, washed clean and forgiven, and there you have God's own Name - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – placed upon you. Lazarus means “one whom God has helped” - and there's not more help than God can give than Holy Baptism. Washes away sin, gives eternal life. Brings you into the Church, makes you a member of Christ's own body. So yes, looking at this story, what I see when I see you, what we ought to see and think of each other is that we are Larazus-es. That we are poor, miserable sinners who are “Lazarused” - who are helped by God.

Let's be honest about that poor and miserable sinners part for a moment. That is what the Scriptures say of us, and that is the reality of our lives. In the story, when we see Lazarus, he's laying there sick and battered and as good as dead. That's the reality of life in this fallen world. We are covered with sin and temptation, we are battered and ignored, we starve from a lack of love and crave it. Some of you feel this reality strong now. For some of you, the physical description hits too close to home. And if some of you are having good times; don't get too haughty, eventually it gets rough for everyone here, as the Scriptures teach, as you well know. So there we are. Kicked in the teeth. The people next to you, in front of or behind you, there they are too. Don't be afraid to admit just how rough it is for you, for you neighbor. That's reality, or at least part of it.

The other part, the greater part, is that you are helped by God. These trials and temptations and sufferings that you face, they don't thwart, they don't trump God's love for you. You are forgiven. Christ Jesus, your brother, has won you salvation, He has come down into this world and suffered along side you, seen everything at it's worst, died and risen for you, and so you too will rise. Nothing you face here can stop that. And as for each other – well, “Even the dogs came and licked his sores.” We comfort each other. We care for each other, even if the best we can do is lick each others wounds. While the world around us might show all the disdain of the Pharisees, the callousness of the rich man, so be it. We are poor beggars, but we are helped by God. We are miserable dogs, who give what comfort we can – but we are dogs who are fed on the crumbs from our Master's table, receiving His life giving Body and Blood for the remission of our sins and for strength to show love and mercy to one another.

Lesson two – Sin is ignoring the Word of God. That's the basis of all sin, where we get tempted to go off on our own way and do our own selfish thing and let everyone else rot. But the Word of God has come to you, and you have hears to hear. And this is what God's Word says of us – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Though you are battered and beaten and broken in this life, you are helped by God, and you shall know eternal rest in Christ Jesus. God grant that by the power of His Word and Spirit, we ever remember who we are in Him! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Insecurity is the Enemy of Theology

Assertion:  Insecurity is the Enemy of Theology.

So, what do I mean by saying this.  Consider the parish pastor, going out to preach, to teach, to do theology.  And let us say that in the moment, he is driven by insecurity.  What happens?  That fear, that insecurity colors and shapes the way anything theological is done.  Let's ponder some hypothetical examples.

If he is insecure in his support, or finances, or worried that the congregation is going to cut his salary, kick him out if he doesn't toe their own lines - the temptation is going to be to give in and wuss out (which I'll assume here is bad theology), or he might just, in an effort to try to bolster his flagging security, dig in his heels even more, and by George I'll show them and preach a rip roaring sermon against their sacred cow... which can lead to a sermon on how Lazarus and the Rich Man shows us and demonstrates that the bad issue of the day (insert here: lay deacons, syncretism, not wanting their pastor's bad chanting to drive the service, etc) is utterly wrong.  In either case, the theology is bad.  It's not driven by what the Scriptures say, but by the baggage our fears leads us to bring to the Scriptures.

Or let's say that there is a pastor who is insecure in terms of whether or not a position is socially popular.  On the one hand, they could cave to social pressure.  On the other, they could overreact against that social pressure... and then everything gets shaded to stand against that social pressure.  That's how you get sermons on the Lost Sheep that either say, "This means we must welcome the (insert socially dis-privileged group de jour) and support them in their struggle" or "This means that (insert same socially dis-privileged group de jour) is ruining our country and leading the tender sheep of our youth astray."  Both sort of miss the point... you know, that there is joy over repentance and you yourself ought be repenting rather than bragging about your righteousness.

You see, when we are insecure, we feel the need to act.  Our old sinful flesh's solution is to try to do something to make ourselves comfortable.  We will fall into fight or flight.  We'll either fight the source of our insecurity tooth and nail (and often foolishly), or we'll fly away from any semblance of something that might cause the discomfort, and go through ridiculous hoops to make those causing discomfort never want to discomfort us again!

Neither of those makes for good theology.

Especially Lutheran Theology.  Lutheran theology is grounded in security.

Consider.  The Law shows me the sin.  The Law is good and wise.  I am a sinner.  If I say I have no sin, I deceive myself and the truth is not in me.  The Gospel is that Christ has died for me.  He has risen for me.  On account of Him, I have forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This is most certainly true.

See there.  Nothing insecure there.  Just straight up statement of truth.

Because that's what our theology is.  While it may speak to the controversy of the day, it isn't driven by it.  Nor does it become obsessed with it.  Rather, good theology desires to remain secure - that is centered on Christ Jesus and His Word.

Everything else comes and goes.  The great scandal of one day, which caused such insecurity and consternation, is a back burner issue a generation later and becomes a matter to explain in the footnotes in the history books a generation there after.  And yet, Christ and His Word remain.  A safe, secure point in the midst of the intellectual and social storms of the world.

Drop your axes, preachers!  They need not be sharpened.  You are the speakers of peace; Christ has returned the swords you draw in your insecurity unto their sheathes.  You are plowers now, attentive to the Word of God.

"Preach you the Word and plant it home/ to people who like it or like it not./ The Word that shall endure and stand/ when flow'rs and men shall be forgot." 

Dare I say that will endure when your insecurity of the day is forgot.

You are in Christ.  You are secure, no matter what the world tells you.

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I'm serious about this.  I am.  Here's a little observation from Saturday Night Bible Study this past week on 1 John 3.  Consider the following:

"16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?"

Now, here's the options, and there are two laid out here.  On the one hand, we love like Christ, and in so doing we die.  We lay down our lives for our neighbor.  On the other hand, we hate, we "close our heart."

Actually, the Greek is we close our "guts" - our splagchna.  It's the same word that gets used for compassion - when Jesus has compassion upon the crowd it's the verb for "guts" -- He gutted, His guts were wrenched.  You can, if you want, run things via hate - that is, on the basis of fear and insecurity and whom you need to fight against.  The only thing is... well, that closes your guts.  Think on that.

Closes your guts.  Obstructs your bowels.

You know what that does?  It kills you.  Really, really painfully.  And you are full of it, and you die.

See, here's the reality.  You're going to die.  Either way, loving your neighbor or not - you are going to die.  You can die in Christ, secure in His love and showing forth that love, proclaiming the Word with joy... or you can die without security, insecurely fighting and scrambling and trying your best to make the danger go away, thinking that if you just hate the right people you can give yourself a bit of a longer or better life.  And you still die.  Painfully.  Uncomfortably.  And full of it.

's the truth.  Embrace it.  You're going to die.

Oh well.  Christ died.  He rose.  For You.  And thus though you die, yet you will rise and live forever, and no one, no insecurity can take this joy from you.

This is most certainly true.

See.  Isn't that better?  Isn't that security freeing (for freedom you have been set free!)?  Insecurity is the enemy of theology.  That's okay - Christ is insecurity's enemy.  Look to Him; Christ and His mercy triumphs over insecurity.  Even yours.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Trinity Sunday – May 21st and 22nd, 2016 – John 3:1-17 and Isaiah 6:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“Now, there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night...” The beginning of our Gospel lesson, dear friends, ought to give us pause. And I say this especially because we are in John's Gospel today, and John brings in some unique details, has a unique approach in telling the Gospel of Christ Jesus. And today, we get the famous John 3 passage, and we can want to jump right to the end, to John 3:16 since we've all got that verse memorized, but let's just pause and think about this. Nicodemus comes by night. Doesn't that seem fishy to you? Off to you? I mean, as a Pastor I get that there are some questions you might want to ask that are personal and not in front of everyone else – but Nicodemus isn't asking a question. Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God.” There's nothing scandalous there, nothing you'd need to wait for nighttime to bring up. But John is making a very specific point about Jesus, a point about Nicodemus here. On Christmas day, the Gospel reading is John 1, in which reading we hear of Jesus, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

On Trinity Sunday we start the teaching time of the Church year, and here we get lesson 1. Just who is God, what is He like? Who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, that we worship? We can talk a lot about Him, we can confess (as we do in the Athanasian Creed... at length) that there is one God but three persons, and that each person is God and yet there are not three Gods but One God. Yes, it's confusing and complicated and we can't fully wrap our minds around the Trinity; of course not, do you think the inner workings and existence of God Almighty is going to fit in our tiny skulls? We aren't called to “understand” the Trinity, but we confess it. But this Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – what's He like? What's His attitude towards people? I mean, especially as we are sinful men, as we mess up in spades. Sinners don't expect to do well in the hands of an angry God. I mean, take Isaiah – he is just minding his own business in the temple one day, and he looks up and then, “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.” Suddenly He sees God filling the place – and there's angels, there's “Holy, Holy, Holy” - the place is shaking, it's filled with smoke. And Isaiah sees all this, and he has a quite logical reaction. I'm dead. I'm dead meat, I am toast. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah expects to die! Right there, Isaiah expects to die. The whole face melting thing from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark – that's what Isaiah is expecting. Yet that's not what happens. The angel brings a coal from the altar, burning with fire, burning bright and giving off light, and places it upon Isaiah's lips and says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God doesn't smite Isaiah – instead, He forgives him.

Okay, but that's Isaiah, and he's a prophet and all. If there's someone who'd get an exception to the mean angry God wanting to smite everyone, surely it would be Isaiah. So let's come back to our Gospel. There's Nicodemus. And who is Nicodemus? He's a Pharisee. Think on all the problems the Pharisees cause for Jesus. Strike 1. And he's a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus is a leader, a member of the Sanhedrin, and the angry mob that he was supposed to be leading is going to end up calling for Jesus to be crucified. Strike 2. And finally, he comes by night. This is a bold and mighty strike 3. In that giant battle between Light and Darkness, Good and Evil, God and Sin... Nicodemus is clearly stuck right there on the wrong side. Night time is the time when you do wickedness. And it's clear as the conversation goes on that Nicodemus isn't getting stuff, that his thoughts are off. So, of course, Jesus looks to his disciples and says, “Call Me down some fire and brimstone from heaven to smoke this joker”... wait. No, that's not actually what happens.

Jesus talks to Nicodemus. Patiently. I mean, it's not a great conversation for Jesus. Every time Jesus says something, Nicodemus messes up. Jesus speaks to being born again, getting to see the Kingdom of God (see – something that would require light, not darkness). That's a great thing – hey, there's new birth, being born again, born from on high (because “again” and “from on high” are the same word in Greek), and you'll get to see the Kingdom of God. And Nicodemus' response? Wicked. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” Wicked. That's an old testament pagan answer, that's one that would make a Babylonian blush. And, yet again, Jesus shows patience.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.” No, actually I'm pointing to Baptism here, Nicodemus. And yes, Jesus here talks about the Father and the Spirit – it's all happily Trinitarian. Just as baptism is – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But Jesus goes on to tell Nicodemus that Nicodemus is in a bad spot here. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'” Listen, you are thinking earthly, sinful thoughts, here. You're down in the muck – I'm trying to give you heaven. I am going to bring you out of this fallen life in the world where you live for a bit and chase after vain pleasures and then you die – and instead I'm going to give you eternal life, I'm going to give you the Spirit of God once again, the same Spirit who breathed in to Adam's nostrils the breath of the life. This is good for you, Nicodemus.

And then Nicodemus just brings more sass. “How can these things be?” Yeah right, Jesus! Just how in tarnation do You think You're going to pull that one off? Three times Nicodemus speaks, three times he speaks disdain and wickedness. That's three strikes again, surely You'll punch him out now, Jesus, right? Nope. More patience. Maybe a little bit of exasperation on Jesus' part - “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?” Come on, Nicodemus, everything in the Old Testament drives to this. This is Genesis 3 stuff – I'm here to bruise Satan's head and restore mankind. I've come down from heaven to do this. Or Moses – think on the bronze serpent – see Me and live! That's the point, that's the goal, that's the game plan.

Then we get, finally, to the famous verse – John 3:16 (and I'm going to include verse 17). “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” Think about this. This verse, about God's great love, love that takes Jesus to the Cross and kills Him so that you get to live, isn't said in the context of people doing stuff for Jesus. Jesus isn't looking at the disciples when He says this. It's not a matter of “well, you guys are trying so hard, so I guess I can die for you.” He says it to Nicodemus, he says it to a rude, crude, dirty old man who ignores the Scriptures when it's his job to teach the Scriptures. Nicodemus is pond scum... and yet, Jesus, with patience and kindness, tells Nicodemus that God's sacrificial love is for him. And just to make sure we don't get confused – the Son wasn't sent into the world to condemn it. The world is doing a perfect fine job condemning and destroying itself thank you very much – no, Jesus comes to save.

So, who is this Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit? He is the God that loves you and comes to save you. That's lesson number 1. Really, it is. To save you, not because of what you do, not because of what you can bring to the table, but because that's who He is. Who is our God – our God is the One who says, “Oh, good night, man has sinned and is going to die. Guess I better become man and die and rise for their sake to save them.” This is why John in his first epistle will spell it out again – God is love. Seriously. Really. Really really, no bones about it. This is lesson one. This is why the preschoolers sang “Jesus loves me” over and over this past year. Because that's the point, and everything that happens in this place revolves around God's love for you. Period.

You realize, it is precisely the fact that God thoroughly loves us that lets us examine ourselves and confront our sin. If you think that God is mean and evil, you hide stuff. You do it at night, thinking that way you're away from the light. And off and alone and isolated, you sin, you do stupid stuff that only ends up hurting you and causing pain to yourself and others, because all sin is stupid and bad. This Trinity season we'll have plenty of lessons that examine how and why all sorts of sins are stupid and bad. You know what – God doesn't want you stuck in those sins. He doesn't want you stuck in darkness, stuck in the desires and passions of the flesh. That's why Christ Jesus came – and not to smite you for those sins... He came as the Light of the World, to remove and banish that darkness. He came bringing baptism, to take you who were flesh and to give you His Holy Spirit, to create a new heart within you. You think Isaiah got something when he got a burning coal from the altar – from this altar today you get the Light of Light incarnate's own Body and Blood. All your sins, even the scary, nasty ones, even the ones that you still struggle against, have been forgiven by Christ the Crucified. Go now, depart not in fear and dread, but in peace. God loves you, an d He is with you, and He is with you always, even until the life of the world to come. Who is the Triune God? He is love, love come down to you to rescue you from sin and darkness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.