Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trinity 9 sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trinity 8 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Trinity 7 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – Matthew 5:17-26 – July 2nd and 3rd, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That's the gauntlet that Jesus lays down for us, the standard He puts before us. If you are going to get into heaven, your righteousness needs to top, needs to surpass, needs to be well beyond the sort of righteousness the Pharisees and the Scribes show. Which ought to make us ask a question – what is righteousness, what does it look like? It's a word we hear often enough in the Scriptures – righteousness, being just. What does that actually look like?

The Scribes and the Pharisees, they thought that they had righteousness all figured out. They thought that they had this righteousness thing down pat. After all, hadn't God given them the Holy and Sacred Law? Didn't we just hear the Commandments given by God at Sinai? And all the rest given by Moses? Well, just do those, and then you'll be righteous, you will have great righteousness, easy-peasy! Simple as pie. And that was the attitude of many – the scribes and the Pharisees thought that they were righteous. There's another episode in the Gospels where the young man comes up to Jesus and proudly proclaims that all these commandments he had done since his youth. So, see – there is the checklist for the chosen, the holy handout from God with the 10 easy steps for making yourself righteous. Or maybe not.

Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'” You know the old basic part of the law... but did you think this was merely a simple checklist? Let's see, I haven't strangled or beaten someone to death, so therefore I'm good. Is that what you thought righteousness was? Really? Did you not think that God almighty was trying to teach and show you something more wondrous than that? Jesus then says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.” So you think everything is hunky dory just as long as you don't murder – well, let's think about this. Come on, scribes, remember Genesis 4 – Cain and Abel, the first murder. How does it start – Cain gets mad. That's where murder starts – from anger, from wrath, from looking down at someone because they “deserve it.” Jesus says that this is bringing judgment onto yourself. Moreover, if you insult your brother – if you go tell other folks, “Man, this fellow over here is a jerk” - you're liable to the council. This isn't a simple judge that you'd get tossed in front of – insulting someone makes it a Supreme Court case. And if you say, “you fool” – call someone something mean to his face – that's the sort of thing that will get you tossed into the lake of fire.

What's going on here? Why so strict, Jesus? You see, the righteousness that God is seeking isn't what we call “civic” righteousness. You murder someone, the cops will get called – but in town, well, if you just complain about folks, or even tell off someone at the gas pump or checkout... you probably won't end up in jail. Society will just sort of let that slide... in society we don't demand perfection. The thing is, before God – in terms of righteousness before God – perfection is the demand. And so, let us say God places someone into your life, someone whom you are to love and serve – that's the summation of the law, right? Love God, love your neighbor. And there's your neighbor, whom you are supposed to love and serve. Who do you think you are to go and get mad at the person God has put into your life for you to love? That's not love – that's breaking the law. Do you see how that works from God's perspective? And then, if you don't just get mad at your neighbor, but then bad mouth him – you're trying to go get other people riled up at him – that's hateful to even more folks, that's all sorts of bad. And if you tell the fellow off – call him a moron to his face – Katie bar the door, that is wretched. Well, now, Pastor – isn't that taking things a bit too far? No, not really. Let me give an example. Think if you went to a restaurant, and instead of asking to take your order, the waiter walks up and says, “Your momma must be stupid because she sure dresses you funny.” What would your reaction be? Would you be pleased? Would you say, “eh, it's okay, at least he didn't walk up and stab me with a steak knife – let me leave a nice tip”? No – it would be horrible. And yet, what of you? Do you not realize that God has placed you in your neighbor's life to serve them – so who are you to be angry at them, or to insult them, or to yell at them?

Do you get the point? To be in God's presence, to deal with God's standards, you need a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. And guess what? Ain't not a one of us who can come close to that sort righteousness. Seriously. Let's think about that rude waiter again – if that's how you were treated, how many of you would have just let that slide? Or how many of you might have had a good, choice, angry retort. I don't think I can say in this pulpit what sort of things I might have said back to that waiter. And the thing is – if I chewed him out, complained to the manager, got him fired, no one here would blame me – because according to the simple and cheap righteousness of the world, “Well, he started it” is a valid excuse. Meh, he deserved it. But that's not God's righteousness. That's a watering down of the Law, that's selling it short. The law isn't “love your neighbor unless he's a meanie first.” While we might be content with that sort of thing, that's not what righteousness looks like.

You know what God's righteousness looks like – what the righteousness that you need looks like? A few chapters down the line in Matthew, we hear: “ And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.” When Jesus was reviled, He did not revile in return. Instead, He suffered and died for those who reviled Him and mocked Him and cursed Him. The only One ever who was righteous is Christ Jesus... and He gives His righteousness to you. That is what happens at the crucifixion. That is what He is doing. As He dies, He suffers all the judgment your unrighteousness deserves – and as He is pierced righteousness flows like water and blood from His side – the water of the font, the blood of His Holy Supper. That was the point of that nice reading from Romans 6 which we just heard – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? You were joined to Christ's righteous death, and in that death a wondrous exchange took place – He took up your wickedness, indeed, took up the wickedness of the entire world – and in exchange He gave you His own righteousness, so that God the Father looks at you, He sees you washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, sees utter perfect righteousness – the righteousness of Christ Jesus. Christ's love has reconciled, has joined and restored you unto Himself for all eternity – that's the reality of what Christ and His righteousness does for you.

This is why Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.” This isn't some divine checklist for what hoops you have to jump through before you can come into God's House – it's dealing with reality. Here we are, standing in God's House – and we all know that we are standing here not because of how great we are, but because of how great and loving He is to us, because of the redemption won for us by Christ Jesus. That's the greatest, highest reality in the world. So, therefore, because of that, go make peace with your brother. Go forgive and be forgiven. Be reconciled. Because we all know how fights and disagreements go – you get mad at them, they get mad and you, and you start thinking how at least you're not as big of a jerk as they are, and they think the same about you. Did you note what Jesus said, though – He didn't say, “If you did something to wrong your brother” - He said if you remember “that your brother has something against you.” It might be silly. It might be inaccurate. It might be foolish – your brother might very well be a moron. So what? You're both sinners; and you don't need to try to prove a thing to anyone about how you're right and he's wrong – because that's not what your righteousness is. Your righteousness is Christ and Him crucified, and that's the only shot at righteousness that your brother's going to have as well. You're both just sinners who need Christ – so go and be reconciled, go and speak Christ's mercy and peace and forgiveness – and then come before the altar, before the mercy seat of God, and hear that mercy, receive that mercy placed upon your lips from that altar in His Supper.

Because that's the only way we get through this life, folks. There's two paths – that path of trying to prove yourself righteous, or the path of receiving Christ's righteousness. Trying to prove yourself righteous – well - “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put into prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” You can try to have your life be the great contest of “I'm right, he's wrong.” You can if you want, you can let God's righteous Law be the judge – the thing is, that ends up with you in hell. No, Christ doesn't want you trying to put your life on trial – cause you'll lose, even if you're not as wretched as your neighbor. The Law will get you both. Instead – come to terms quickly – there's a famous part of Isaiah 1. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” That phrase in Hebrew “let us reason together” - that's Hebraic Legal language for coming to terms, that's settling out of court. Jesus doesn't want you to go to trial – He was tried and crucified for you, so let's work out a deal, you and I – though your sins are like scarlet, I have suffered and died and clothed you in the white, spotless robes of My own righteousness. You are forgiven.
Because that is what Jesus does. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. He has come to fulfill them for you,, in your place. He has come to give you a righteousness that far surpasses any human tit-for-tat that we deal with in this life, a righteousness that is so righteous and strong that it will call you forth from the grave and give you ever lasting life, will pull you into the Kingdom of heaven. This is who you are in Christ, for you are Baptized and joined to Christ's death and resurrection. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sermon for the Augsburg Confession

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – June 25th and 26th, 2016 – John 15

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

In 1530, the Turkish armies were marching through southeastern Europe. These Muslim warriors were at the gates of Vienna, and the Emperor was in a fix. You see, in Germany there was this pesky religious problem. Many men were crying out against religious abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, princes and leaders of men were boldly proclaiming belief in Christ Jesus as their Savior, apart from works of the law. This religious discussion was leading to political chaos, and one can’t summon forth armies to a counter-attack, to a new crusade, in the midst of political chaos.

So Emperor Charles V summoned these nobles and many theologians to the town of Augsburg, where he would demand their obedience, where he would demand that they put aside their differences with the Roman Catholic Church. The princes were waiting for Charles when he arrived at Augsburg, and they knelt before him. Margrave George of Brandenburg was their spokesman, and said that before they would deny their Lord, they would let Charles cut off their heads. Charles was taken aback at this – said in broken German, “No cut off head, good prince, no cut off head!” But Charles was put off; he couldn't understand why these Germans were so stubborn and determined. And the Emperor asked them to make a presentation of their position, their faith.

Therefore, on the morning of June 25th, 1530, they proclaimed what they taught, what they believed. They read what came to be known as the Augsburg Confession. In 28 articles, or topics, they set forth what they believed and what false doctrines they rejected. Rather than simply going along with the Emperor wanted to get along, they put their lives on the line to confess the truth that we as Lutherans hold dear. In reality, June 25th, 1530 was the birthday of the Lutheran Church, it was where we as a people said boldly and proudly that we will confess the truth, that we will remain true to Christ no matter what pressures are brought to bear, no matter what threats are leveled against us.

This is precisely what Jesus describes in our Gospel Lesson today. Hear again: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” The options confronting those German princes were either to go along with the Emperor and see temporal and earthly gain, or to remain in Christ, confessing him and facing punishment, war, and death. In reality, there was no option. They confessed Christ and Him Crucified – for apart from Him, they knew that they could do nothing. And their stance, their bold confession echoes on down to today. The reason we are here, able to worship God rightly, able to confess the Gospel is because people before us have boldly confessed, boldly taught us these truths.

But this is a frightening thing, to remain in Christ no matter what, to confess the truth. It can be frightening for us today. What will people think of us if we doggedly hold to our beliefs? Our goal is to confess Christ truly, to say “There is salvation in Christ and Him alone, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” – we are concerned about the Truth; and we don’t tolerate, we don’t put up with false doctrine – and this upsets people. We don’t brush off as unimportant what God has declared in His Word. This is our heritage. The men who presented the Augsburg Confession, they knew they might be killed. The Emperor could put them to death for their religious rebellion – but they confessed the faith. Why? If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. The other option was worse! Why give up eternity for pleasing an Emperor now? Why forsake Christ for the sake of the wisdom of the world, the opinions of today? The people, the families that founded this congregation, that was their attitude as well. They could have just joined in with the other denominations, they could have hob-nobbed with the big-wigs in town, played the game – but they didn’t. Why? Because they desired to abide in Christ – that was their priority. So they sacrificed their time, their talents, their treasures which were so dear as they scraped out a new living down here. They built a Church where Christ would be preached, where the Gospel would be proclaimed in its truth and purity. And we today, we here, we have made the same bold confession – you made it when you were confirmed, when you stood in front of God in His Church, and vowed to defend what you have been taught, to die before abandoning it. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” You said, “I do so intend with the help of God.” That’s part of our Lutheran heritage. We shall abide in Christ, so help us God.

And as we know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we have no problem as Lutherans confessing the same confessions as our forefathers in the faith. The old Creeds are familiar to us. We confess the Small Catechism as generations before us have. But sadly, today, as a whole, we don’t pay as much attention to the Augsburg Confession as we could. Which is sad. The Augsburg Confession is the most beautiful, the most eloquent, the clearest confession of the faith that has ever been written. While we do not have time to read the Confession in its entirety, allow me to read one of the articles – Article 4 – on Justification. Lutheran theologians have said that this is the Article upon which the Church stands or falls, and rightly so for if we abandon this, we are no longer worthy of being called the Church. Listen: Our Churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight. This is heart of what we believe, this is the heart of what Scripture teaches. You are a sinner, and you cannot be justified by anything you do. Nothing that you do gets you right with God. It doesn’t matter how much money you give, it doesn’t matter how many little old ladies you help across the street, how popular and influential you are – your strength, your merit, your worth, your works, the things you do cannot save you. Apart from Christ you can do nothing. On the contrary, you are saved because of what Jesus has done – because He went to the Cross and made satisfaction, because he won forgiveness for your sin. You receive salvation when you hear and believe this, when God gives you His forgiveness.

This is what we hear throughout the scriptures. Paul says, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Peter says, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” John says, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness.” And this is the truth we defend. We oppose any teaching, any doctrine which says that we aren’t sinners in need of a Savior, and we oppose any teaching that robs Christ of the glory of our salvation. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We defend the Gospel, the teaching that you are saved by what Christ has done, and we defend this tooth and nail against any and all who would rob it from us.

This is what we do, this is why we gather every weekend here in this place. Christ builds His Church upon the Gospel – and so we in His Church abide in Him and in His Gospel, and we are grown by Him. Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession explains this. That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works. God works in His Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us forgiveness and faith through the Word, be it preached, be it attached to Water in Baptism, be it Christ’s own Body and Blood attached to bread and wine in the Supper. This is how God grows His Church, through the gifts He gives us here. This is why Trinity was founded, and this is why she still exists to this day. This is how we define the Church – Article 7 says, “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” That is what we are, and it is our duty as members of Christ’s Church to see that this is what we remain. Why? Because we always need the forgiveness that Christ gives in His Church. Our friends and neighbors, they need forgiveness as well, so we are to preserve and safe guard the Gospel here so that it is always here for them. We gather to listen to God’s Word, to sing hymns to God, to delight in the forgiveness God gives us. We maintain this confession, we fight the good fight of faith, and cling fast to the promise of salvation that God gives us, come what may. We abide in Christ – and He brings forth fruit in us, the fruit of the Spirit – now in part, and then in full on the last day.

Dear friends in Christ – God has given us a great gift. He has given us salvation freely through Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection. We receive this salvation and forgiveness in His Church, and as such, together as His people we boldly confess the truth that Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to God apart from Him. This is what we do today, this is what God-willing we will do in the future, and this is what the faithful before us have done. We give thanks to God that He has shown us His Son, and we ask that He continue to keep us steadfast in His Word through all the trials of our life, so that we might obtain eternal life, and that through us the light of the Gospel might be shown throughout the entire world. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

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.