Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Sermon



Thanksgiving Day – Luke 17:11-17 – November 27th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          There are moments, things in life, that just amuse me – that I find ironic and funny and yet also off.  And one of those strange quirks is just how many churches, how many congregations don’t have service today on Thanksgiving.  And then we get this Gospel lesson – “Where are the nine?”  It just sort of stands out to me as ironic.  And I’ll talk with guys, and the reasons are familiar – folks are traveling to see family, and there’s all the busy cooking to be done, and now there’s even shopping tonight to get ready for (although people tend to be embarrassed telling a pastor that).  And all of this I understand – I’ll do all of it today too.  But it does give background, insight into our text and also into the whole idea of thankfulness.  This text is not “good people give thanks, bad people don’t, aren’t you glad you are a good person” – rather, it shows how easily we can be so absorbed by the blessings God has given us that we forget God, more or less.

          “On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.  And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’”  As background again – remember, if you were a leper in the ancient world, you were banished from the cities.  You had a contagious skin disease, and for everyone’s good, you had to go.  You were consigned to a life of isolation and solitude – unless you banded together with a bunch of other lepers.  It was horrific – you are banished and also sick, and sick in a somewhat gross and disgusting fashion.  And so when Jesus comes, these folks call out to Him – have mercy.  Heal us!  Help us!  Precisely what they ought to do.

          And Jesus responds.  “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priest.’  And as they went they were cleansed.”  One of the things that always, always amazes on this text is that every leper starts walking to show themselves to the priest while they are still sick and full of leprosy.  There is no better picture of what our lives are like, of what faith is, of what is walking by faith and not by sight.  When they look down, they see nothing us sickness, but Jesus has said, “Go” – and so they go.  Go show yourself to the priest, show yourself to be healed – because that’s what you had to do to get back into the community.  If the priest found that you were clean, you could come home.  And even as they see the sores still upon them – they go at Jesus’ word.  Now, consider this.  You see and know your own sin.  You are a sinner – that’s just reality.  And let’s face, there are times when that reality, that truth, the horror of our own sin stands out and smacks us right between the eyes.  But what has Christ Jesus said to you?  You are baptized, and washed clean by Me.  Father, forgive them.  Take and eat, take and drink, shed for your for the forgiveness of sin.  This is what He has declared… and yet, day in and day out, we see our sin.  But at Christ’s word we believe, and we know that we are clean before the Father in heaven.

          It’s a powerful depiction, a powerful image of faith.  And it is true – “And as they went they were cleansed.  Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving thanks.  Now, he was a Samaritan.”  And they get healed.  The word of the Lord rings true.  And here we move to the crux of this text – only one returns and gives thanks.  And so often it becomes the finger wag – you better be thankful, unlike those lousy 9 lepers.   But that’s not quite what Jesus would have us ponder.  Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the nine?  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”  Did you hear it?  We don’t have Jesus condemning the nine – we don’t hear “And Jesus called down fire from heaven and smote those ungrateful jerks.”  No, Jesus asks a question.  Where’s the nine?  Why didn’t they return and give… praise.  It’s not really a question about thankfulness, but rather, praise.

          I’m sure the 9 lepers were quite happy that they were healed.  I’m sure they weren’t indifferent or shrugging things off.  In fact, I’m sure they were quite enjoying the blessing that Jesus had given them.  I know that if I were suddenly healed and able to see and hug and hold my wife and kids for the first time in months, in years, I’d be quite happy.  Just as the folks who are traveling to see family or busily cooking or plotting out their shopping runs are delighting in blessings that God has given them.  But here’s where the rubber meets the road.  When you are focused on the blessings you have received, it can be easy to in your joy forget to where those blessings came from.  We rejoice in family – but how often do we remember the words “What God has joined together… let not man put asunder.”  We rejoice in our food – but how often do we remember that this is the daily bread that God has provided?  How often do we say the common table prayer at record speed?  And of course, even with the shopping and sales, how often do we pause and think, “Ah, yes, this is how God wondrously and fantastically has provided for me, how He has clothed me and sheltered me and supported me in ways that Solomon in all his splendor couldn’t have imagined?”

          “Was no one found to return and give praise to God….”   That is the question.  To praise God is to declare what *He* has done, and so often we can view the things in our lives forgetting that they come from God.  We can say “my family, my wife, my kids” – forgetting that they belong to God and He has give me to them in order to serve them.  We can open up our wallet when paying for the turkey or that great sale and think about how hard we worked in the office, in the fields, and forget that it is God’s own bounty that has provided for us, that has given us time, talent, treasure, skills, opportunity.  And again, this isn’t finger wagging.  When I went shopping for Thanksgiving, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh, look at how blessed I am” – I was thinking, “Good night, turkeys are expensive this year.”  It is just the reality of being sinners in a sinful world that we are not always aware of what God has done, that these truths that we know are not always first and foremost in our mind. This is part of the reason why it is good to pause, to return to God in His Presence in His House and give praise.  Because here together we are pulled away from that rat race out there and made to think about God, made to praise Him together in our worship.

          But more than just that.  The key point of worship isn’t the praise we give.  That isn’t the highlight, isn’t the focus.  The text doesn’t end simply with Christ’s question about the 9.  It continues.  “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’”  In the end,what’s the difference between the 1 and the 9?  They all get to go on their way, they all get healed, they all get the blessings – indeed, they all had faith in what Christ Jesus had told them and received the benefits He promised!  But the Samaritan gets to be in the presence of Jesus, gets to be in Christ Jesus’ presence and hear Jesus speak directly, personally, closely to Him.  They had only heard Jesus at a distance – now this Samaratian hears, sees face to face as it were.  And that is what Church is.  The fellow who gruffly says, “Well, I can think about God while I’m fishing on Sunday morning – I can be thankful while I’m on the golf course” – they are right.  You can.  But it is here, in this service, where God is present for you, where God comes to you and blesses you directly.  It is here where you hear His Word proclaimed, here where He comes to you in His Holy Supper, here where God Himself is Present for you.  And that doesn’t happen golfing or fishing or shopping or cooking or in any of those other first article blessings.  It is where two or three are gathered in His Name that He has promised to be – bring love and mercy and forgiveness.  Where He has promised to say to you, “see, you are made well, your sins are forgiven.”  It is here were we are refreshed and prepared to rightly enjoy the blessings of both body and soul that He richly and freely provides for us.

          Dear friends, God has been gracious to you, and this grace rests not upon you, upon how great or how thankful you are.  Rather, it rests upon His love, His steadfast love for you that endures forever.  And He is faithful and just, and whenever you are gathered into His house, He will see that His love is proclaimed again to you – all thanks and praise be to Christ Jesus our Redeemer, who has gifted us with the Holy Spirit and restored us to the Father.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  + Amen.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year



Last Sunday of the Church Year – Matthew 25:1-13 – November 23rd, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming King +

          And here we are.  The Last Sunday of the Church Year, the close of another cycle of reading through the Scriptures, hearing the entire plan of salvation laid out, hearing all that Christ Jesus has done for us.  And here, at the end, we are pointed forward, pointed to the Last Day.  It shall come – we do not know when – “Watch therefore, for You know neither the day nor the hour.”  It’s that truth that we confess in the creed – He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  And to teach us, to prepare us for His second coming, Christ Jesus tells us the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.



          “Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.”  One of the odd or strange things about living today, almost 2000 years after Christ first tells this story, is that we just don’t get how incredibly stupid and foolish these foolish virgins are.  This is the ultimate “duh” story.  If you were a virgin invited to the wedding feast of someone rich and famous, you had one job – you were there for one thing – to be a light bearer, to stand there with a glowing lamp and look pretty.  A glowing lamp.  One that has fuel.  I’m trying to think of a modern equivalent of something that would be just as flat out obvious and stupid.  It would be like 11 Sooners went onto the field to play football, but 5 were foolish and didn’t bring their pads and helmets.  Completely dumb. 



And this plays out in the next part: As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.  But at midnight there was the cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him.’  Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’  But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’”  And this is part that always strikes us as odd – share, make do with what you have.  No, it doesn’t, it can’t work that way.  Boy, the other team is awfully big and I don’t have my helmet - hey, I know, split your helmet in half and we can each wear a half, isn’t that a brilliant idea?  You are either ready for the wedding, for the game, or you aren’t.  If it’s the day of your wedding, and one of your bridesmaids never bothered to buy her dress and instead just wants to share a dress with one of the other bridesmaids, she’s just an idiot.



And the foolish miss it.  They knew the wedding was coming.  They had their lamps.  But because of their folly, the are left out in the cold.  The wise are prepared, they follow the Bridegroom to the party, to the marriage feast.  The foolish are left with no one to blame but themselves.  They never got ready, they never cared, even when the bridegroom was late and they had extra time.



So, in the Church, for us here today, what separates the wise from the foolish?  What distinguishes those who are prepared for Christ’s coming and those who aren’t?  Today, just as it was in Christ’s day, those who have heard the Word of God, heard the preaching of the Gospel, can be either wise or foolish.  Matthew 24 and 25 are all about the second coming and the end times – the teaching, the warning, the heads up is given.  And even Christ Jesus knew that there would be those there hearing Him who just didn’t care.  Who would smile and nod, and then go on with life with nary a thought.  And we see the same today.  What is the difference?  In the parable it’s oil – do you have your oil or not?  Did you bring your pads and helmet?  Wait a second, we heard a few minutes ago about armor – “Let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  The difference is this – the wise pay attention to Christ and His forgiveness, they receive His salvation that He proclaims and preaches and gives here in this place, gives through Baptism, through preaching, through the forgiveness proclaimed here, through the Supper.  That is what gives us faith and love and makes us ready for Christ to come, that is what gives us salvation.  Everything rests, hinges, upon hearing and receiving Christ’s gifts.



And now, we get to the dangerous part of this sermon, of preaching upon this text.  We’ve got the text sorted out, we see what is going on… and now to apply it.  And there’s a danger, a simple but terrible way we could apply this.  We could turn this into a giant lament and gripe session about the foolish, about all the people who aren’t here, about the people who would say oh yes, yes, I’m a member at Trinity/Zion, but haven’t darkened the door in ages.  And I could rail against them angrily – grr, naughty people.  I could be sad and wring my hands – oh, those poor fools.  And either way I would end up patting all of us on the back and saying “see how good and great you are because you are here today” and sigh and be full of self-satisfaction.  Except, none of that has to do with Christ Jesus and forgiveness.  None of that would be oil for the lamps, pads or helmets for the game.  Even though Christ makes a distinction between the wise and foolish, dear friends, never let this text become an “us versus” them thing.  The point is this – Christ is coming, and while Satan wants you unprepared, Christ prepares you.



Christ is coming.  We confess this truth over and over again.  And yet what does Satan, what does society tell us?  That we are stupid to believe this – that it’s been thousands of years and nothing.  As though the Scriptures aren’t chalk full of things taking quite a long time and the faithful waiting.  But we are bombarded by this, we are attacked and assailed by those who want to cause doubts.  And it wears on us – as the text says, we become drowsy.  And so we must hear the Word.  Christ has said He will come again, and so He shall. And yet, even life itself in this world tries to drag us down.  Aches and pains, death, mourning.  We all see it, more than we want to.  Isaiah laments this reality – build a house and someone else inhabits it; plant a vineyard and someone else gets the grapes, labor in vain, bear children for calamity.  Things in this life go terribly, and we can be tempted to just not care, to run off and try to find whatever fleeting pleasure and joy we can – eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.  Run around like mad to make this Holiday season the perfect ho-ho-ho time of joy and wonderful because we had better have fun or else.  And it doesn’t work.  Something’s going to go wrong with Thanksgiving; December’s going to be a mess as it always is.  Because that’s life in a fallen world.



“The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.”  There is more.  As much as Satan and the world and our own dying flesh try to tell us that this junk in life is all that there is, there is more.  Christ Jesus knows – He understands what you see, what you experience.  He created this world, and on the very day that sin first messed with His creation, His coming was proclaimed – He would come to crush the head of Satan, to put to right what had gone wrong.  And He knows what life is like here – He Himself took on human flesh, became man, was born, had to cry to get fed, had to wait to have His diapers changed.  He grew and all the junk we see, He got too, He went through.  He hungered, He thirst, He ached, He was betrayed and mocked and ignored by friends.  I am reminded of John 6, a great chapter – Jesus feeds the 5000 thousand, should be an utter triumph.  But instead, they want to make Him an earthly King by force, and He runs away.  He walks on water, and the disciples are afraid.  He proclaims that He is the Bread of Life – and people complain about the preaching.  And we hear this – verse 66 – “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”  Jesus knows exactly what your life, what life here is like.  And in one of the more poignant passages of Scripture, we hear this:  “So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’  Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.’”



From 5000 down to twelve.  Even down to just 5 wise virgins.  And yet, what is the hinge?  The words of eternal life – the words proclaiming the marriage feast of the Lamb that shall endure for all eternity.  Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, came and suffered and died, took up all that we face in this world, and He rose to give you eternal life.  To fill your lamps with oil.  To fill you with Himself, with His forgiveness – because He Himself is the Light of the World.  Over and against everything we see, this is truth.  Because of Christ Jesus, you are forgiven, and He shall come again, and you will be raised.  Come gather where His Word is proclaimed, come to where His Body is given for you, His blood poured out for you, rest in Him – and He will see that you are well and thoroughly prepared for that day when He shall come again to bring you will joy into His feast that will have no end.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming King +

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Mouth Shall...

Why am I, Eric Brown, given to speak?  Why am I called by God to open up my mouth?  Why me, when I have a speech impediment?

I just finished watching, for the first time, the movie "The King's Speech" -- fantastically well shot and well acted.  And it touches a bit close to home.  When I think of my earliest memories of school, I actually think of the speech therapy sessions, where I would be pulled out of class and head down the hallway to another little room and work on my "r" sounds.  Which, the vast majority of time now actually sounds like an r.  No, now it's the lateral lisp, the side effect of a palate that needed to be expanded leading to a tongue that doesn't quite fit my mouth right.

And yet, here am I.  A preacher.

Why am I given to speak?  Why not someone better, more accomplished, more refined?  Someone with a more resonant voice and diction clear and clean as can be?  Why am I given to speak?

Because, when it boils down to it, *I* am not important.  The things in the church, they are not about me, nor my qualities.  Yes, I work on my diction, and I even hope in improves... yet whether I am clearer now than I was 8 years ago or whether I'm not... that isn't the point.  *I* am not important.

O Lord, open Thou my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Thy praise.

God is the One who is important.  He is the One who has done it all; who takes the fallen, the frail, the ones cursed by sin and broken and betrayed by their own flesh, and out of His great love takes on flesh Himself, becomes a curse Himself, is Himself broken and betrayed and dies.  And Christ Jesus will be praised - the salvation He has won will be proclaimed.  Lips will be opened.  Eyes will see... whether blind, or terribly near-sighted, or closed by death, they shall see, and we shall rejoice.

I sit here and type, thinking and reflecting on all the theological back and forth I see, I am part of.  I see the social causes, the culture wars, the cries for improving this or progressing there.  I feel the pull of my own ego and flesh call out for not just mere recognition, but power, glory, success - the creation of enemies that I would then trounce and show my superiority over.  And I see the times when I am hung up like a scarecrow to be made the convenient straw-man for another.  It's the way of flesh in this world.  And as I type, as I sub-vocalize in my head the thoughts and words that I want wield to exert... they are clean and precise... and so often they are words of death.  Clean, pristine words of death.  Death of my neighbor.  Death of my own self by damnable pride.

And then I actually have to say something.  Gone is the sub-vocalization, the false perfection that my mind tells me is my own.  And the lisp lingers, and sometimes even the old wough ways of not speaking wight pop out.  And I hear it.  The law ensconced upon my tongue, echoing into my ears, reminding me of my own sinfulness, my own mortality.

Irony.  I can't even properly say "progress".  What hope could I ever place there?

And yet, here I am.  A preacher.  Not because I will myself to preach, to proclaim.  Oh, Lord, open Thou my lips, that I may declare the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus for you, for me.  Open my lips, that the very Body and Blood of Christ may be placed upon my troublesome tongue, that my sins be removed and atoned for.  The Spirit and the Bride say come - God grant that He open my lips in His service to declare His praise and invitation, and nothing else, evermore!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Trinity 22 Sermon



22nd Sunday after Trinity – November 16th, 2014– Matthew 18:21-35

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          Once again, let’s consider the purpose, the reason for the existence of the Church.  There are many for whom the Church is about social connections.  I’ll go to this church, it has the most people, the wealthiest people there.  If I go there I’ll be in with a good crowd; it’s the Church to be at.  For some, Church is mainly a family place, something for their kids with lots of entertaining programs.  For some, it’s even their main social hub – this is where my friends go, and we get there and we chat.  For some, Church is about learning to live a disciplined life and better morality, for some Church is about trying to get blessings from God – a favorite of the TV preachers.  But all of these dance around what Church, what the Christian faith is really to be about.  Church is about, first and foremost – salvation.  The reason Christ comes down from heaven is for our salvation – Jesus comes so that by being forgiven we may be reunited with Him for all eternity.  The central thrust, the central focus is that we have been Justified, made righteous, forgiven by Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection; that we receive this forgiveness, that we cling to it by faith.

          This is what our Lord teaches us today with His parable.  Peter had asked a question to our Lord – “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  Peter was wondering just how much he really had to put up with – how much he should forgive.  He suggests the number 7. . . and as we know where the story is going we can scoff at Peter.  We shouldn’t.  7 is a generous number – it’s more generous than we think of today.  Seriously.  For us, it’s Once bitten, twice shy.  How quickly can we write someone off because they did 1 thing that annoyed us?  If we are honest with ourselves, Peter’s suggestion of forgiving the brother seven times is often much more generous than we are willing to give.  But our Lord brushes Peter’s suggestion aside – Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Nope, Peter, not even close – try 490 times – try forgiving your brother so often that you cannot even remember how often you have forgiven your brother.

          This is what the Christian faith looks like.  We as Christians are to be not simply those who receive forgiveness, but we are to be those who forgive.  And we are not to make excuses why we don’t forgive, we aren’t to stop and pause and think, “Well, I don’t know if they were really sorry, so I’m still going to hold a grudge.”  Nope.  Put all thoughts like that far away from you – vengeance, punishment, comeuppance, just deserts – all that belongs to the Lord.  As for you – when your brother wrongs you, forgive and show love.  Our every effort should be so that eventually our brother is restored to us in love and fellowship – and we should never, never feel justified in bearing anger or ill will towards another – and any thought that would excuse or justify those ill thoughts is of the devil.

          This is a hard teaching.  It’s one none of us like, and why?  We, in our own sin, delight in finding excuses on how and why we don’t need to forgive, making excuses to give us loopholes to grouse, to be hateful towards our neighbor and yet feel good about our hatred.  We know this song and dance, and we know over the long wrong it really harms us.  So why?  Why can it be so appealing to hold on to wrath, why does it appeal to us so – and how can we learn to avoid it?  Our Lord tells us a parable to explain why.

          Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.  When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.  Now, first, let’s go over what a talent was – a talent was roughly 20 years wages for a simple worker.  Consider that – let’s say that one makes 25,000 a year, at 20 years, that is half a million dollars.  So, conservatively, this man owes at least 5 billion dollars.  We are talking crazy, stupid money here.  And the man cannot pay.  And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.  So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”  And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt.  Now note, this is very important.  The servant never says he is sorry.  The servant never says he is wrong.  The servant is still arrogant and brash – I’ll pay you back.  That’s a stupid boast – it can’t be paid back.  And yet, even for a servant as annoying as this – the master releases him, and he forgives the debt.  No, you don’t need even to pay me back – I will write it off.  What love!  What generosity!  What little that servant understood.

          But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, began to choke him saying, “Pay what you owe.”  Now, hundred denarii is a hundred days wages – let’s call it $10,000.  A serious chunk of change – not 5 billion, but something of note.  But the servant just goes crazy – chokes the other servant, demands satisfaction.  So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”  He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.  No, for this debt, there is no mercy given.  And this is shocking, it is horrifying to the other servants.  And they go and tell the master, and the master summons this servant and says, You wicked servant!  I forgave all that debt because you pleaded with me.  And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy upon you?”  And in anger, his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt.  So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.  Well, sometimes our Lord can be blunt, and His bluntness cuts through our excuses.  We are to forgive.  Period.  But consider this question with me for a moment – why is the master so angry with the wicked servant?  It has nothing to do with that servant’s debt – the master was willing to forgive that.  Rather, what angered the master, what made the servant wicked, was that the servant did not recognize what mercy, what forgiveness really was.

          Consider this – you have received God’s love.  Christ Jesus has died for your sin – you have every blessing imaginable – you have life and salvation and heaven – all yours on account of Christ Jesus.  He has covered your debt – every sin, every vile word or deed you have done, every unclean thought – He has forgiven.  Your debt to God is huge – it is nothing you could ever make up.  Yet the Father in His love and mercy says, “On account of the death of My Son Christ Jesus upon the Cross – I forgive you.”  To make this truth completely clear, God even sends pastors out to proclaim this forgiveness over and over.  This is what God has done for you.  This is reality, that great and wonderful truth.  There is forgiveness!

          The wicked servant, though, seems to just blow by the mercy that he has received.  He does not learn to show mercy – and instead he shows anger.  He does not know what mercy, what forgiveness is.  So – do you recognize, do you understand what forgiveness is?  Do you understand what Christ Jesus has done for you?  Do you see the veritable mountain of sin that He has forgiven you, is your focus and wonder there – or with wickedness, do you your turn your eye to the annoyance that your brother has done to you, and do you look at your brother with hatred and anger?  This is where the rubber meets the road in the life of one who would be a Christian.  Is your focus going to be upon Christ and Him Crucified, is your focus going to be upon the God who comes down from heaven to win you forgiveness so that He might have you with Himself for all eternity – or is your focus going to be upon the people who have wronged you, and upon your anger, upon your hurt, upon the petty self-satisfaction you get from thinking you are better than them?  Which is bigger, which is more important, because your focus cannot be both upon Christ and upon your anger – and here is the kicker – when you choose to focus upon your anger, to harbor it – you are choosing to turn away from Christ.  You are choosing anger and wrath over forgiveness – and God will say, “fine, have anger and wrath for all eternity, since that is what you crave.”

          Kind of chilling, is it?  So what now?  Do I count up how many times I have proclaimed forgiveness here?  (Oops, I’ve been here 10 years, that’s more than 490 times I’ve forgiven you, you’re off the wagon/ well, I’ve done around 170 services here, you only get 320 more times and then you’re out of luck?) No – rather, out of His love, God calls you to repentance over and over again.  Repentance means to turn away from your sin, your sinful desires, and rather to turn to Christ, to behold Him, to keep your eyes there.  Your Lord knows you are tempted in this way – your Lord knows that Satan loves to stoke the fires of your anger – and so our Lord, in His great love you, in His ardent and fervent desire to have you with Him for all eternity, calls out to you once again, and says that while your sin may be great, His love for you is greater, more wondrous, more astonishing.  God repents you, turns you back to Himself, pulls your eyes off of your own thoughts and feelings and sins and instead gives you Christ for you again.  You are forgiven, this is the great truth.  Take and eat, take and drink – this is My Body, this is My Blood, and you are forgiven, and you are strengthened in love towards your neighbor, even the neighbor who sins against you.

          This is the wonder.  Our sin is so real.  The weight of it, the vileness of it, it’s real.  It’s heavy – it’s a $5 billion dollar burden none of us could pay.  And yet, our Lord forgives – and this forgiveness is the heart, the center of our lives.  He wants nothing to take our eyes off of this, nothing to shake us loose from this – to let His mercy be the highest truth in our lives.  And so, over and over, He tells us of His love, gives us His forgiveness again, calls us to receive His Body and Blood – all so that we might not fall again into great shame and vice, all so that when we do fall, we might repent and be restored.  Christ in His mercy has forgiven you.  Keep your focus there.  Do not let sin, including the sin others have done to you, wrest your eyes off of Christ.  Rather – remember that this place is a House of mercy for all sinners who desire forgiveness.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Trinity 21 Sermon



Trinity 21 – John 4:46-54 – November 9th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus, Who shall come again +
          We are coming to it.  The end of the Church year.  And the texts are beginning to shift, to move to thoughts about the beginning and the end, creation and the re-creation of all things on the Last Day.  And here we have Jesus in our Gospel lesson returning to Cana.  Cana, where He had done His first miracle, where oh so quietly Water had been turned into Wine so that the party, the wedding feast would go on, where as the Scriptures had foretold the hills would drip with sweet wine. And when Jesus returns to Cana, we hear this:  “And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.  When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.  So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.’”  Wait a second – why the somewhat cold shoulder that Jesus gives here?  I mean, Jesus rebukes this fellow a bit, chides him.  Jesus almost sounds exasperated – isn’t this a great thing?  I mean, the fellow comes from Capernaum, the town over – the town that would eventually basically become Jesus’ headquarters.  What’s to complain about, what’s to imply that this fellow didn’t believe?

          To answer that question, let me ask another.  What is the point of Jesus coming?  Why did He bother to come down from heaven in the first place?  Was it just to be a wandering healer, a turner of tricks?  Was He basically a really good snake oil salesman?  Here let me rub JC’s miracle exilir on your scalp, it’s good for what ails you.  Will make your cough go away and cure your baldness.  Because, that is basically what this official thought.  Does that sound too harsh, too judgmental?  Note what he says – come down and heal my son.  And even after Jesus rebukes him, he says again, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Do you see the nuance?  Jesus, it’s nice that you brought your healing dog and pony show back to Cana, but you need to get on to the big time, come to my town, Capernaum.  I need the healing circus there!  You don’t do anyone any good up here in Cana, what good is it to have you here?  I need you at my place and you can work Your mojo there.  So chop chop, my son is dying.  He doesn’t believe yet – He doesn’t understand that He is talking to God Himself when He is talking to Jesus.

          Consider – we all have prayed to God for healing for someone.  It’s something we do all the time, every service here we have prayers for somebody.  And when we pray to God, we just pray.  Please heal, take care of this.  We don’t pray to God saying, “God, you had better send an angel, and maybe even Elijah back down here this instant so they walk into that hospital room and can do some good.”  We trust, we understand that God can heal whomever He wants whenever He wants however He wants – there’s no hoops He has to jump through.  That’s not what this official believes.  That’s not what He thinks of Jesus, yet.  He doesn’t understand – even the rumors of the wedding at Cana that had reached him, He hadn’t gotten everything together.  So Jesus would give another sign.

          “Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your son will live.’  I’m not going to play by your rules, I’m not going to do things your way.  Don’t worry, official, I will handle things, but I will handle them My way… and that way is this.  I will speak, and your son will live.  And we know what happens.  The fellow then believes, heads home, the runners come announcing that his son got better, and what do you know, it’s the exact same time that Jesus spoke that the son was healed.  This is the sign that Jesus does.  And what is it a sign of?  A sign that He is God Almighty.

          In Hebrew, there was an important distinction in words.  Humans could make things, could fix things, could do things.  We could take what is already there and fashion it, shape it, tend it.  However, in Genesis, in our Old Testament Lesson, we heard a word that is only ever used by God.  Create.  Barah in Hebrew – berasheith bara Elohim et Hashemaim ve-et haarez.  In the beginning God CREATED the heavens and the earth.  And in all the Scriptures, God is the only one Who “creates” – Who simply speaks things into being, into existence.  Let there be light, and there is.  Let there be trees, animals, birds – and there are.   That’s creation, creation from nothing, and only God does that.  Man, we can shape and mold things.  We can plant seed, and crops will grow – it’s God who says let there be, and then there is.  And so here comes Jesus, and this official is just thinking that He is a mere man – and so he’s expecting Jesus to fix something, to do something, to make a potion, or even turn one thing into another.  Those are all things that men of God, the prophets might have been able to do.  But he isn’t expecting Jesus to speak and simply have things happen – he’s not expecting Jesus to create.  That’s a God thing, and he isn’t expecting that.  And so this is the sign that Jesus gives, hearkening back to Genesis 1 – I, the Word of God incarnate, by Whom all things were made, I will speak, and your son will live.

          So now, let us consider ourselves, our own lives.  What do we expect of Jesus?  What do we think of Him, what do we think He has come to do?  I look around at the mentions of Jesus on the tv, on the radio, and I see and hear how Jesus is treated as merely a really good fellow.  A healer.  If you buddy buddy up to him, he can give you goodies and blessings, but if you upset him, boy are you in trouble.  It’s almost like Jesus is treated like a really powerful mafia boss – If you make Don Jesus happy, He’ll give you protection and money, but if you upset him, you might wake up with a horse’s head in your bed, capice?  It’s a “jesus” who will give you your best life now, or a “jesus” who is sending us Ebola because you people didn’t vote for the right person.  And it can rub off on us – where we start thinking of Jesus merely in terms of the here and now, of how my day tomorrow is going to be impacted and that’s it.  It’s the spirit of the age, and we can get caught up in it.  A short term Jesus, a Jesus for right now, and if things in your life today go poorly and badly and don’t shape up the way you wanted them to be, well, I guess you didn’t do enough for Jesus.  That is what we hear, what we can even fear.

          Now, over and against that, think of what we just confessed in the Creed.  Who is Jesus?  He’s not just some guy thinking about what this afternoon is going to be like.  He didn’t come merely to provide some short term fix or give you advice on how to be a nice person.  No – He was Crucified, Died, and was buried.  He rose, He ascended, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and because of this we believe in the forgiveness of sins and what?  The forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.  The problem isn’t any particular problem we happen to come across.  The problem is that Creation, the Creation which God had so lovingly created, called into being; it was messed up by sin.  And Christ Jesus came to restore it, to re-create it.  To undo sin and death with His own death and resurrection, and to undo everything in this fallen world by coming again on the Last Day, wiping the slate clean, and starting over with a new heavens and a new earth and putting us there.  Jesus’ primary focus isn’t a temporary fix, it isn’t your best life now, it is your life everlasting.  This time here, it’s a blip, that’s all.  A drop in the bucket compared to eternity, and that is what Christ Jesus has set up and prepared for you.  And here’s the thing – this fallen world, our own sinful flesh with all its fears and worries, even Satan himself try all to distract us, to trap our minds and thoughts merely on the here and now, to minimize Christ, to not see Him for what He is, and to judge Jesus only on whether or not we are getting what we want right this instant.

          This is the point of that Ephesians passage – the armor of God.  Satan schemes against you – he tries to attack and distract and destroy you now.  But note – we are fighting in this “present darkness”, the day of evil.  Those are all short term things.  Yes, right now will not always be enjoyable – them’s the breaks in a fallen world where there is sin and strife and backed up sewer lines.  But Jesus hasn’t come merely to pat you on the back and send you back out there – He didn’t come to just leave you in this present darkness, to let you see only a day of evil and that’s it.  No, He will support and protect you – rest in Him, in His righteousness, in His Gospel, use the Word of God against these temptations.  But what is the point of His righteousness, His Gospel, indeed what is the point of all of the Word of God?  Christ Jesus, the very Word of God who brought Creation into existence, has come and suffered and died for you, so that your sins are removed, and He has risen so that He will, on the last day, raise you and pull you out of this place of suffering, and He will give you all blessings, and not just for a time, not just for a day, but for all eternity.  This is what He has done, this is what He will do – and God grant that we see this ever more.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, Who Shall Come Again +

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Saints' Day Sermon



All Saints’ Day – November 2nd, 2014 – Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          Sometimes we as people can be very near sighted.  And I’m not talking about the fact that I am wearing contact lenses that I’m basically blind without – I’m talking about our perspective.  We can get so focused upon ourselves, our immediate surroundings, that we don’t see the big picture – we can miss the forest for the trees, as it were.  All Saints’ Day is a day where we are brought back to the larger picture – where we are made to remember that Christ’s Church is more than just this place right now.  The Church of God consists not just of we few who bothered to show up on a Sunday morning – but it is the full company of heaven, the countless throng from so many nations.  It is not just us here – but the Church is full of countless millions of Christians all around the globe.  It is not just us here – but the Church is made up of saints from all times, those who lived hundreds, thousands of years ago on earth yet live in the presence of God right now – and even those who are yet to be born and brought to faith before the Lord returns.  Christ’s Church, His Body, spans all times and all places, and as we are united to Him, we are united together, bound up in His Holy Communion, in a way we so seldom pause to comprehend.  All Saints’ Day is a day that we do this – where we remember all the saints – many times we will focus more so on those from our own congregation who have recently been given rest from their earthly labors and now see God face to face, but it is truly a day where we see just beyond the here and the now.

          We must remember, dear friends, that the Church is not defined by us.  The Church is not created by us, it is not made by us, it is not run by us.  The Church is the Body of Christ – and yet, we can be so bogged down in the every day concerns of life, of bodies not in pews and bills to pay that we can forget this.  We don’t define the Church.  Rather, the Church is the Body of Christ, is those who are gathered around Christ’s Word, are washed into Christ’s Body by Baptism, who receive Christ’s Body for forgiveness and strength – and also those in eternity who are with Christ now, the Lamb of God, face to face.   The Church is those who struggle now on earth, and those who have received heavenly joy. So, what does this look like – our Lord tells us.

          Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.  Christians are going to be poor in Spirit.  Christians in this world will see so much sin, and violence, and filth that our spirits must ache, must feel poor and lowly.  Consider this past week.  How much pain, how much disappointment did you see?  How much wickedness and sin did you see?  In a sinful world, this is what we see, and rather than delighting in this like the world does – it causes us sorrow.  It caused Christ Jesus sorrow as well, and for this reason He came down from heaven to win salvation – He Himself bore up our infirmities – so that He might win for us by His death and resurrection –the kingdom of God.  Because Christ came and was poor in spirit, those who are of the Church have the kingdom of God.  The Saints who have gone before us, they see this now fully.  We, we have this in part, but then we too shall have it full.

          Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  There’s much to mourn in life – not just death as a whole, but all the little, bitty bits of death we experience before hand.  How many of us have dying ears, dying eyes?  How many of us have dying friends, dying relationships, dying hopes and dreams?  There is much to mourn.  And what does Christ Jesus do – He comes down from heaven, and He mourns, He encounters all the loss and suffering that we do – even tastes death.  And why?  So that He might rise, and that in rising He might bring us with Him, so that He might comfort us with heaven the resurrection and life everlasting.  The Saints in heaven, they see, they receive the comfort of our crucified and risen Lord right now – they behold Him in His risen Body upon the Throne and they therefore know that on the Last Day they too shall rise.

          Are you seeing the pattern here?  The beatitudes aren’t just pretty words – they describe the Church and Christ.  The first part describes what we see here in this sinful world – the second part describes what all the saints who from their labors rest now see – and all of this, whether we are the Church militant here on earth or the Church triumphant is ours because of Christ – because He is the poor Man who inherits the kingdom of God, but makes it ours – because He is the One who mourns His fallen creation but is comforted by redeeming it.  The Church has its existence in Christ.  Let’s see more.

          Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.  As Christians, we are called to be meek.  When wronged, we are not to wrong in return.  We are not to focus upon ourselves, but our focus is to be upon our neighbor.  And in this, we simply follow Christ.  Christ Jesus is the Meek One, who went quietly and meekly to the Cross to win us forgiveness for those times when we are not meek, when we are brash and sinful.  But our Lord was meek, and He has inherited the Earth, and He has promised this, and not only this, but a new heaven and a new earth to all His Saints.

          Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Does this not describe us here?  We hunger, we thirst for righteousness.  We confessed our sin, we said we lack, we need righteousness, we need forgiveness, we don’t have enough of it on our own.  Christ saw the world’s lack, and so He became Man, became our righteousness for us – lived perfectly in our stead and said to us, “Here, I long for you to be righteous, take My righteousness.”  Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness – Our Lord says, “Take and eat, this is My Body – take and drink, this is My Blood.”  And this is the same feast that the Saints in Heaven are celebrating eternally – they are most well and truly satisfied by our Lord.

          Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  We do not show mercy like we ought – often we are mean and cruel and self-centered.  But Christ our Lord is merciful, and He has called us unto Himself, has bound us to Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism, applied His Name to us, and He gladly gives us mercy for His Name’s sake.  We see this now, the service itself focuses us upon mercy over and over – but we also often forget.  We struggle with sin, we wander – our Lord must call us back over and over again.  But consider the Saints of heaven – they see this mercy, they have received it in full, never to wander, never to stray.  The Love of Christ has been made complete in them.

          Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  In and of ourselves, our hearts are not pure.  So what do we do?  We cry out to God – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me!  And Christ our Lord does – He gives us forgiveness over and over all our days, until our last day, and then what?  The Saints see God face to face, they dwell with Him.  God desires you to dwell with Him as well, and so He forgives you, makes your heart to be pure.

          Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Christ Jesus is the true peacemaker – He made peace when He went to the Cross, when He suffered and died – when He cried out, “It is finished.”  And it was finished – our war, our rebellion with God, begun by Adam and Eve in the garden – our Lord put an end to it – He made peace.  That was 2000 years ago.  But then, in the here and now, in our own lifetime, Christ took water and His Word, and He baptized you into His own death, made you to be a partaker in all that He has done – you share in Christ’s death, you share in His peace which He won for you, you speak this same peace out, and now God is your Father.  The Saints see this clearly.

          Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.  To be a Christian is to struggle, is to be reviled and thought poorly of, to be mocked by the world, indeed, in many places, to be a Christian is a death sentence, to mean the government, the angry mob, will come for you.  Just as the world did to Christ, so too happens to Christians today.  But what does our Lord teach us – yes, Christ suffered, but His in the Kingdom of God.  Likewise, should we suffer – so be it – the Kingdom ours remaineth.  We have this promise – the Saints in heaven see this promise in full now.

          And finally, Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  You are part of the Church, and despite what we like to tell ourselves – the Church is never popular, we never live in a nice, clean world.  This sinful, fallen place is always sinful and fallen, and if you strive to follow Christ, you will be mocked and reviled.  For so the prophets were treated, for so was our Lord Himself treated.  But what is the reality – the reality of eternity that stretches beyond the here and now, beyond our present suffering?  That being united to Christ, we will face difficulties in this life, but Christ will see us through them until we too are brought unto the joys of heaven and life everlasting – joys far surpassing what we see here.

          Do you see, dear Christian, the larger picture?  Do you see from the Words of our Lord that you are part of something much greater than just your own little life?  Your Lord Jesus Christ has had compassion upon you, beheld you in your sinfulness, in your struggles in this life, and He has had compassion to you.  And He has gathered you by His Word, joined you to Himself through the gift of Holy Baptism, and He has said, “I will suffer all for your sake, so that you might have everything for My sake.”  He has promised us new heavens and a new earth – told us that this fallen one shall pass away and we will get that which is better.  Right now though, we are here on earth – we don’t see this fully.  The Saints in heaven do, they behold Christ face to face right now.  And our Lord knows that we left on earth don’t see this perfectly, that we only see dimly and in a mirror now, not yet face to face.  So He calls us here to His Church, invites us to join in for a few moments with the song of Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven – gives us His own Body and Blood, so that we might be sustained until the day when we do get to see Him face to face.  Christ Jesus blesses all His saints, and thanks be to God, by the power of His forgiving Word and the wonders of His blessed Sacraments – you are numbered with those saints.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reformation Day Sermon



Reformation Day Observed – October 26th, 2014 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus +
          What defines a Lutheran?  Here we are on Reformation Sunday, remembering how almost 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg – it’s a time for reflection, so what defines you?  What makes a Lutheran a Lutheran?  What makes this congregation different from all those other ones out there?  Is it merely that this is where your grandma and grandpa went?  Is it merely that you’ve got a lot of German blood in your veins and they used to do things here auf deutsch?  Or do you even think sometimes that you are a Lutheran because we Lutherans got it right, unlike all those other folks?  No.  None of that is what defines a Lutheran.  What shapes a Lutheran, what shapes you is this: you not only can be, but often are wrong, and you know it.  What shapes a Lutheran is the knowledge that we need to repent, that we need to be reformed and reshaped by God.

          Consider our text.  Here in the Gospel of John we have Jesus having a discussion with some pious Jews who believe in Him – and yet, there comes a hiccup.  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  A great statement, a famous one – the truth will set you free.  And yet, the reaction of these folks is… off.  They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ’You will become free’?”  And here the trouble comes in.  As a question – how did you define a Jew?  What made a Jew a Jew?  Too often they viewed things in terms of their birth – we are children of Abraham.  Sort of like saying “we’re good Germans”.  They viewed their family lineage with pride – same thing can happen today.  But they missed the point, they forgot who they were.  In fact, what they say here is utterly foolish.  What’s their complaint?  “We have never been enslaved to anyone!”  They forgot who they were.

          Think back to Exodus 20, where God gives the Ten Commandments at Sinai.  He doesn’t just start with the first commandment – rather this is what God says to the Jewish people: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Who are you, Jewish people?  You’re the people that God rescued from slavery in Egypt – that’s how you are defined.  That’s your identity, that’s why you celebrate Passover.  You are the people whom God rescued… rescued from slavery in Egypt, rescued from the Philistines by the hand of judges and finally by David the King, rescued from exile in Babylon.  The Jewish people were constantly getting enslaved – in fact, even as they speak these defiant words to Jesus, they were basically conquered and enslaved to the Romans.  And they should have had no problem admitting they were enslaved – because they were the people of the God who frees the slaves, who rescues them.

          When Jesus brings up the idea of being set free, this isn’t anything new.  It’s all over the place in the scriptures, it’s one of the major themes of the Old Testament.  To “redeem” someone in the old testament was to buy them out of slavery and set them free.  For a Jew to say “we’ve never been slaves to anyone” is as idiotic and bizarre as an American on the 4th of July saying, “Independence?  Bah, we’ve never been under anyone’s thumb.”  It is utterly stupid – I would say it makes no sense… but it does.  Just a very sad sense.  The Jews there who were talking to Jesus forgot who they were in relation to God.  Rather than seeing themselves as poor people who often get into trouble but are rescued by God, they puffed themselves up, they elevated themselves.  We don’t need God, we don’t need this truth to set us free, because we are great and good and wonderful and don’t need any help from anyone, thank you very much.

          Jesus responds to them.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  No, you are slaves, you are slaves to sin.  And the same can be said of us.  I used to think when I was little that if I just tried hard enough, maybe I could go a whole day without sinning.  Yeah.  No, not going to happen.  Especially when you don’t define sin as just the big, gross bad stuff.  No, when we consider sin the way the Scriptures do, when we consider that we are to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect – and not just perfect in what we do, but perfect in thought, in word, as well as in deed.  No, every moment of every day, we are sinful, we are full of sin.  Even this morning, sitting here in Church – have we done this perfectly?  No, wondering minds, callous and cruel thoughts flittering in and out, distraction and disdain.  We see our sin.  We know that we are sinful.  And we know that this sin is something we will have to struggle and fight against our entire lives – that’s Thesis number 1 of the 95 – “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

          That’s where we start.  The acknowledgement not just that we have happened to do some bad things (but we’re better now), not just that we sometimes sin; rather, we are sinful, full of it, and that as long as we live, every minute of every day, our entire lives, we need to repent.  That we, left to our own devices, are wrong.  We take sin, our sin seriously.  And that’s what shapes and defines Lutherans.  Our Roman friends – The Church is never wrong, when the Pope makes the official decree from the seat of Peter it cannot be wrong.  Or our Eastern Orthodox friends – when the bishops gather in council and agree, they can never be wrong.  Or the folks in the various protestant denominations who think that if they just keep growing in the Spirit they’ll stop sinning – It’s sad how often I’ll hear people say that they don’t sin anymore.  All a denial of reality, all a denial of the fundamental problem.  We poor, miserable sinners.  And we can’t fix it.

          “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”  We can’t fix it, but Christ Jesus can and does.  This too is part of your identity as a Lutheran – you are a sinner, but you are one who hears the Word of God, who strives to remain in the Word.  Why?  Because that Word makes us to know the Truth – and when we hear Jesus say “the Truth”, He’s not just talking about facts that are correct and accurate.  He’s not just talking about being able to win at bible trivia or what have you.  Just a few chapters later, Jesus says, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.”  Do you want, O Christian, to be set free from sin, do you want your sin forgiven, do you want everlasting life?  Then there is only One who can do that – and that is Christ the Crucified.  Christ Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who sheds His Blood for you upon the Cross – He alone, Christ alone can set you free and free indeed.  But How does Christ set you free?  He, Christ Jesus, is the Truth - “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”  The Holy Spirit takes the Word, the proclamation of Christ Jesus and His death and resurrection for you, and with that Word He makes you to know Christ, and He sets you free from sin.  It all happens by the Word of God.  Just as in the beginning all things are created by the Word of God, so too, in your life now, forgiveness and salvation and eternal life are given to you by the proclamation of Christ and Him Crucified, and we look no place else.  As Hebrews proclaims,  Let us fix our eyes upon Christ Jesus, “the founder and perfector of our faith.”  Christ Jesus, who starts it and finishes it, the Alpha and Omega as Revelation puts it, the beginning and the end, the all in all.  Everything drives to Christ.  The Word points us to Christ.

          And yet, again, so many care little for the Word of God, for the Word that points to Christ.  It’s what we just sang, “The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it.”  People will ignore the Word, they will ignore Christ.  They will look to their traditions, or to their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own hearts – and sadly they often blame the Holy Spirit for the junk they spew forth.  So be it.  That’s the way things have gone since the fall – since we were first tempted away from the Word… “did God really say”?  But here is the reality for you.  God has come to you by His Word.  That Word has been preached and is being preached to you right now.  God took water and tied it to His Word of Truth and Life and washed you in it in His baptism.  He will take His Word and tie it to Bread and Wine and give you His own Body that was crucified and His own blood that was shed for you – and why?  Because He knows your sin, He knows your struggle, and He will not abandon you to sin and death.  Luther’s hymn continues, “He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.”  He is with us now in this battle plain of life, this constant struggle against sin, with us by His Word, by His Sacraments, by the Spirit that makes us to hear and believe-  I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him – of course not, for everyone who sins is a slave to sin… but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened with His gifts of baptism and preaching and absolution and the Supper, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  He is by our side, now, even in the midst of this fallen world.  And you know what – this world is hard and ugly, and we ourselves often act hard and ugly too.  We need not deny it, or pretend otherwise.  Why?  And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife – though these all be gone – though everything in this life fall to pot, though we be shown to be the poorest and miserable of sinners – our victory has been won, been won by Christ Jesus.  The Kingdom ours remaineth.  When you abide, remain in Christ’s Word – there is nothing that can be done to you or by you or against you which changes this truth.  Christ Jesus is King, His Word is truth, He is Truth, and He says you are free and forgiven in Him.  The world, the devil, our sinful flesh always strive to distract us, to tempt us, to lead us away from this truth, but God in His mercy and the power of His Word and Spirit continually calls us to repentance, makes us to repent, dare I say reforms us.  That is what we celebrate this Reformation Day – that though we often are wrong, Christ Jesus is always right and pure and holy for us, and He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  All glory be to God alone – in the Name of Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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.