Saturday, October 14, 2017

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 – October 14th and 15th, 2017 – Matthew 22:34-46

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

Always putting Jesus to the test! Always trying to trip Him up, always trying to get Him to say something strange, to do something weird. How tiring it must have been for Jesus to deal with these Pharisees. He was constantly hounded by them – and yet how does He respond? Does Jesus respond in anger? Do we see Jesus in our Gospel lesson jumping up and down and throwing a fit? No, with patience He not only answers the question of the Pharisees, but He also shows them the question that they need to be asking. Let’s look at the Q & A that Matthew records for us in the Gospel lesson this morning and see what we learn.

But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Here Matthew refers to just before our text – the Sadducees liked the first five books of the Bible but didn’t believe in the resurrection – thought that was just myth, hooey, hogwash – like many of the “educated” today. And they came up and were trying to trap Jesus, and Jesus shows them that He will raise the dead. God doesn’t raise people, you say? Then why does God say to Moses “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob?” Is God the God of the Dead? - Oh no, God raises the dead, in fact, that's the Messiah's main job. Now, the Pharisees were the Sadducees' main opponents, so when the Sadducees fail, the Pharisees get together and they decide that they are going to tangle with Jesus. So they get together, they confer, they chat – and they come up with what they think is a doosey for Jesus.

And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” This is a classic trap question. It's a set up. You make a person pick between multiple good things and then hammer them for whichever they don't pick. Which of your kids do you love the most? What's more important, Baptism or the Lord's Supper? Well, what's wrong with my family? These are questions to which there is no good simple answer – if you try to give a simple answer, you are in trouble. They can bite your head off if they want to. Pick one of the commandments Jesus, and then we’ll complain about whatever You don’t pick. That’s the set-up, that’s the trap. Pick one Jesus, and we’ll accuse you of not respecting the all the other commandments. This isn't an honest question – it's a question looking for a fight.

But Jesus doesn’t play along. And He said to him, “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.” So do you see what Jesus does? I’m not going to pick one of the ten, I’m not going to let you trap me – rather I’m going to let you know what all the commandments really mean. Love God. That’s the commandment, that is the summation of the entire law. And it is – Jesus points out the simple truth that any and every sin is just an instance or a place where we don’t Love God. We choose something else, we follow something other than His Word, we sin. And my, that happens often, doesn’t it? You see, God’s Law isn’t a checklist of things to do – Alright, I came to Church this morning, that means I don’t have any other gods and I’m honoring the Sabbath day – wow, two down, see how wonderful I am! No, God’s law is about the attitude you are to have, about what motivates you to act. Is it the Love of God? Whenever your motivation is something other than simply God’s Love, be it earning praise, worrying what other people will say, desiring to prove yourself better than your neighbor, then you are sinning. Period. As the Catechism puts it, you're fearing, loving, and trusting something other than God. Jesus points this out – whenever we put something above God – we sin. And this means we sin a lot, basically constantly, even in the nice things we do. Jesus, with His answer, rips our eyes off of our own sense of righteousness and instead shows us our lack.

And a second is like it – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. And just in case these Pharisees were going to attack Jesus for ignoring His neighbor, for ignoring commandments 4-10, He cuts them off. Note what Jesus says. This second commandment, it’s like the first. In fact, it really is just an extension of the first. If you love God, then you will love your neighbor. Why? Because that’s what God created you to do. That's what He gave you your neighbor for. So your love for God is chiefly and primarily shown in how you treat your neighbor. We know this. How do we demonstrate our faith, how do we show the World out there that we love God? By how we love them. The purpose of Church, of this Worship isn’t primarily, isn’t first and foremost to demonstrate your faith – This service is about God’s Word, about Him giving us forgiveness and strength and life – that’s the primary purpose of Church. Where we show God that we love Him is by what we do when we walk out those doors, by the love that we show the people whom God puts into our lives. But you see what this means, don’t you? The great and terrible warning that Jesus speaks here. When you don’t love your neighbor, you stop loving God. When you treat your neighbor with scorn – that’s sin, that’s not loving God. When you gossip, when you harm your neighbor’s reputation – that’s sin, that’s not loving God. Our Lord says, “Whatsoever ye hath done to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” When you hate your neighbor, you are hating God. Plain and simple, no way around it.

On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Every command we see in Scripture, every instruction, every piece of Godly advice is simply an explanation of these two commandments. Here, this is how you Love God. Here, this is how you Love God by loving your Neighbor. These are the commandments that should be before us whenever we make a decision – how am I showing love, how am I loving God and my neighbor in what I am going to do. What God wants us of us isn’t mysterious – it’s not some dark hidden secret, it’s quite clear. Love God, love your neighbor – even love the ones that don’t love you.

Well, there's some wind out of my sails. I do not love like God's Law demands. The Law just reminded me what a jerk I actually am, in spite of the I'm so great tales I like to tell myself. That's what the Law does – it reveals our sin. When we look at our actions under the light of God's simple Law, we see how they are lacking, how they fall short of what God wants of us. I don’t love God with my whole heart – I don’t love my neighbor. I’m a greedy, selfish, nasty little fellow, who sins constantly in thought, word, and deed – and I brag and boast about the little that I do! Good night! When I consider what I do I ought to cower in terror of God Almighty. If left with just the Law, that's where I'd be stuck. But then Jesus asks His Question.

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 at My right hand, until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’ If then David calls Him Lord, how is He his Son? Do you see what Jesus does – alright, enough talk about your lack – let’s put the focus on Me, the Christ. Here we see Jesus ask a question to teach and instruct, to prepare them so that they would understand. The Christ, the Messiah, He will not be just an earthly king – He won’t be focused on the political power you dream of. The Son of David will also be the Son of God and David's Lord; the Christ will be True God and True Man, begotten of the Father from all eternity, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus points them to Himself, to the mystery that He is both God and Man, that He is indeed the Lord of His own Earthly ancestor.

So the question becomes for us, why? Why does Jesus ask this specific question this way? Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. That’s why. Jesus is pointing out to these Pharisees who He is and what He is going to do. The Christ is not just simply a man, not just a fellow down the street, but He is also God Almighty. And why does God Almighty take on human flesh? Because in order to save mankind from sin, a Man must fulfill the law – there must be some Man somewhere who is righteous, who actually does fulfill the Law, who Loves God with His whole heart, who loves His neighbor as Himself, who shows them the greatest love in that He lays down His life for them. The law must be fulfilled, or we must die despairing. That’s the way it is – if there is to be any hope for humans, then a human must fulfill the law. And that’s what Jesus does. God takes it upon Himself to fulfill the law in our place. And indeed, Christ completely and fully does the law – not for Himself, but for you and me. The wages of sin is death – the Law demands punishment and death for your violation – and out of His great love for us Jesus fulfills that as well. Jesus goes to the cross, Jesus says “I will pay the penalty – if man is to be punished, then I will be punished.” Upon the cross He pays for our sin, takes up our punishment – and in return He gives us His life. All His Love, He gives to us. All His righteousness, He gives to us. We now have His righteousness. When God sees us, He sees us Holy and redeemed, spotless and blameless – because He sees His Son. We are Baptized into Christ, and all that belongs to Christ is truly ours now as a free gift.

Do you see? Jesus asks the question that we need. We need a Savior, we need a Christ who is both God and Man to win us from sin and give us His own righteousness. His question brings us to Himself, Jesus’ question focuses us upon His Cross and His salvation. Rather than trying to trap us and embarrass us, Jesus teaches us and shows us the Gospel, holds on to us with His Love, so that we would see and understand who He is. This is what He always does – He calls out to us sinful folk and brings us to Himself, so to give us forgiveness and life everlasting, indeed to give us Himself and all that He is. Take and Eat, Take and Drink. Behold the goodness of our God, who loves even us sinners, and makes us His righteous saints. All praise and Glory be to Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns forever and ever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Trinity 17 sermon

Trinity 17 – October 7th and 8th, 2017 – Luke 14:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So in today's Gospel, we get two stories, two times when people watch each other, look them over. We start with the Pharisees watching Jesus, and then Jesus watching the Pharisees. And the thing to note, my friends, is how these are two radically different approaches to life – they form a striking contrast – one that we should learn from, one that we should benefit from. So, let's work our way through our text and see what we see, shall we?

One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. Alright, so do you see what's going on? Jesus gets an invite to come to Sabbath dinner – which was an honor. And being a good Jew you didn't work on the Sabbath – everything had to be prepared beforehand, and at dinner you didn't really do much. You sat and talked about the Word of God together. That's the way it's supposed to go. Yet this time, this big-wig Pharisee invites Jesus to his house for the Sabbath meal – but he does so with false pretenses. They are going to be hard at work on the Sabbath examining Jesus, seeing if He will mess up some how. And to make it more likely that Jesus “messes up” - oh look, here's a fellow with dropsy. Drospy was basically what they called any nasty swelling disease, where there's massive fluid retention and things like that. And the fellow with dropsy isn't a Pharisee – he doesn't belong there, this isn't his crowd. He just happens to be there, right in front of Jesus. And the Pharisees are all side-eyeing Jesus – so what are you going to do there Jesus? Are you going to work on Sabbath – because then we can complain about how you worked – naughty naughty naughty. Or will you ignore the fellow – then we can complain about how you are a lousy healer. It's a trap.

Well, Jesus isn't one for just taking a trap – He likes to flip them around. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” Jesus knows it's a trap – that's why he “responds” to the lawyers and the Pharisees. I see your trap – so I'll throw the ball back in to your court. How do you folks want to play this – do you want me to heal or not to heal? “But they remained silent.” Of course they do – because they are worried, terrified that Jesus will get on their case no matter what they do. Do you see their fear – they think Jesus is just as petty and mean as they are, and they are worried that He'll get the high ground in all their petty games. They can't spin it to their advantage. So they have to be silent.

Then we get one of the most matter of fact accounts of a healing ever. Then Jesus took him and healed him and sent him away. Go on home, you don't want to be here – go rejoice with your family. Now let me get back to these Pharisees here. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?” Jesus brings up a simple question – emergency acts were allowed on the Sabbath. You didn't plan work – but if crazy stuff came up, you take care of it. But here's the thing – And they could not reply to these things. The Pharisees were the super-Jews of the day – they went above and beyond the Law, just to make sure that they never came close to “breaking it”. They had a ton of extra, man-made rules about the Sabbath to try to stay out of that situation. So if they agree with Jesus that emergencies can be tended to on the Sabbath – they admit that their rules go beyond what God has said. And if they disagree, they show themselves to be loveless and hateful. Their plan to eyeball Jesus has ended in abject failure. They can't say anything – they are silenced.

Well, mostly silenced. The Pharisees do what most groups do when an uncomfortable truth is spoken – they ignore Jesus and go back to their meal. We'll just leave Jesus there and carry on as normal. Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor... They ignore Jesus and go back to normal – which means there is all sorts of jockeying for places of honor and prestige – I want to move in closer to the most popular person there, who can I squeeze in between and the like. We see this all the time whenever someone popular or powerful shows up – people start swirling around trying to get into better position. And the Pharisees had left Jesus alone – which is a dangerous thing to do – and Jesus sees all this flittering and fluttering around, and suddenly He starts to talk. And imagine every head suddenly swinging toward Him – cause they had forgotten He was there. When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person.' Then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, 'Friend, move up higher.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Oh, this is fantastic on many, many levels. What does Jesus do when He ends up watching the Pharisees? First, and on the simplest level – He just puts them back on track. I hope you noticed that Jesus did not just invent this idea, this parable on the spot. He's riffing off of, He's expanding on Proverbs 25 – our Old Testament lesson. He's talking about and expanding upon Scripture – which was the point of the Sabbath meal. Folks, we aren't here for posturing, or putting folks up or putting folks down – we were here to enjoy good food while we delight in God's Word. So let's talk about the Word, folks! Jesus calls them away from themselves and their own pride, and rather He focuses them upon the Word.

However, the super neat thing Jesus does is He shows how He is the Messiah. Now – wait a minute, how in tarnation is Jesus teaching that He is the Messiah here with this parable. Remember, Jesus is playing off of Proverbs 25 – this is a famous Proverb – the Pharisees would be expected to make the connection – they knew their Old Testament much better than we do. Proverbs 25:6 begins “Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence...” The King. A Proverb written by Solomon – the Son of David. And yet, Jesus shifts it – when you are invited to a wedding feast. Over and over, both in the Old Testament and in the New – the Kingdom of God is likened to a wedding feast. The classic depiction of God's relationship to Israel was of a husband and wife – so Jesus is basically saying “I'm the King, the wedding feast is coming – I'm the Messiah”. This is textbook Messianic preaching. I'm the Messiah, and I am here, and you guys shouldn't bother trying to posture and strut in front of me – you should be humble, you should repent as John the Baptist had preached.

But it's better than that. This parable is all about Jesus – and we can tell by the last sentence – For EVERYONE who exalts himself will be humbled, and HE who humbles himself will be exalted.” Did you catch it? If you're doing a simple contrast about life, you use the same subject in both parts of the sentence. You do this or you do that. Everyone who does X and everyone who does Y. But that's not what Jesus does. It's a contrast between everyone who exalts themselves and the One, the singular One, the only One, who truly humbles Himself. Yes, Jesus is the Messiah – and you know what the Messiah does? He doesn't come to put everyone in their place, He doesn't come to strut His stuff. He doesn't come to be the giant Queen Bee that makes everyone buzz around Him. Nope – His goal, His job, His delight is to bring in the wedding feast of the Lamb, to look at fallen sinners and call them into the eternal feast that has no end, and in order to do that – He has to take away your sin. And so Jesus is the One who will humble Himself by going to the cross and who will be exalted on the third day when He is raised from the dead.

Do you get the difference in approach? The Pharisees are utterly self-centered – watching Jesus just so that they can try to one-up Him in the pecking order. And they can't, so then they start to ignore Him. Then Jesus is watching the Pharisees – and if He wanted to read them the riot act, He could. Jesus could have laid into them and made them feel two inches tall. But that's not what He does. When Jesus looks upon these Pharisees, these folks who have specifically invited Him there just to hurt Him – He points them to the Word, He points them to Himself as the Messiah who longs to invite them up higher, to call them to be with Him forever.

So here's the thing. The world loves to look for weakness, but it does so for a very evil reason. When the world sees weakness or tragedy, it casts blame, makes political speeches, laments how other people are ruining the world. The world will use your weakness against you – and if we are honest, we too are tempted to use other peoples' weakness and flaws against them. But that's not what Jesus does. To be sure, Jesus sees you. He even sees you with all your warts – all of them. He sees you with with all your sin and wickedness, even the ones you try to ignore, even the ones that leave you speechless. But here's the twist. Jesus isn't seeking to crush you – no, He sees your sin to take it from you and place it upon Himself. That's what He did at your baptism – that was a promise to you that every drop of sin had been washed off of you and washed onto Christ Jesus – who would take it to the Cross for you. Jesus rescues you from the well of sin and death. He dives right on into your sin and goes to the Cross. Then, He rises from the dead and He calls you to His Supper to strengthen your faith and help you to show love to your neighbor. While the world is full of people watching everyone in order to place blame, to get political advantage, all that sort of junk – that's not a game Jesus is interested in playing at all. His goal, His focus is being your Savior no matter what happens in the world. And that He is. Simple. Period. Jesus sees you not to cast blame upon you, but to take way your sin, to say to you, “Friend, come up higher with Me for all eternity.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Trinity 16 Sermon

Trinity 16 – September 30th and October 1st, 2017 – Luke

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

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

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

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

This funeral procession is the picture of sin. Do you want to know what sin is – what sin means, what your sin means? Look at this funeral procession. Your sin turns everything upside down. You were created to live loving your neighbor, yet you sin, and you hate, you harm, you hurt, you ignore your neighbor. Instead of being a blessing to them, you curse and swear and grumble at and about them whenever they annoy you. You curse them with your words, with your thoughts, with what you do and what you leave undone. Utterly backwards from what God had created His world to be. And sin unleashes havoc and chaos upon creation, and nothing holds together. God had created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. . . now things are backwards because of sin. Now, the breath of life leaves our bodies, and then they fall apart into dust again. Sin turns everything upside down. And please understand – I’m not simply talking about “big” sins. Get rid of any sort of comparison, any sort of “well, I’m not perfect, but so and so is really bad.” Yeah – so what? Even if it is true, and it probably isn’t, the wages of both of your sin is still death. It makes no difference to you – sin is sin is sin. It kills you, it destroys you, it turns your life inside out, and if someone else’s sin is more spectacular than yours, that doesn’t mean your sin is good. Don’t let Satan trick you into minimizing the impact of your own sin – the wages of sin is death.

“And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Think how bold our Lord is here. Walks up to a woman at a funeral who doesn’t know Him from Adam and says, “Do not weep.” Of all the people there, she would have the reason to weep! Her life is in shambles. But Jesus can walk up to her and say, “Do not weep,” because He has compassion upon her. Now then – this is what the Church is looking for. This is why we follow Jesus. Because He has compassion upon those whose lives are in shambles. So, what about your life? Everything going perfectly well? And don’t think in terms of “Oh, how are you – oh, I’m fine, what about you”. How about it? See any shambles in your life lately? If not it’s simply because you’ve got your head in the sand. We in the Church ought to be honest about the problems we face in life – and while programs and networking might alleviate some of the problems – they don’t fix them. While fun can help us forget our troubles, while acceptance can help us pretend they don’t exist – they don’t fix them. But here we see Jesus, and He has compassion, and because He has compassion, He is bound to help – and He, He is the one who can fix things, fix things for this shattered family in Nain, fix things for us gathered around Him in the Church.

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Trinity 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 23rd and 24th, 2017 – Matthew 6:24-34

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Well, that's a great way to start a lesson, isn't it? It just sort of drops a great big bomb on our laps. Two things are set against each other – God and Money. And we are made to think about this, to ask ourselves the question. How often would I rather serve money than God. Oh, these are dangerous waters, aren't they? Money sermons in church can hit too close to home, too close to the wallet, too close to my hobbies and all the other things that I really, really like to do.

The fact is we all love money. It makes us feel powerful. We'll do stupid things for money, and then we'll do even stupider things with our money. But here's the thing. Money, wealth, mammon, stuff – they're a cruel master. Right after bringing up this distinction, Jesus talks about worry and being anxious – worrying about what you will wear and what you will eat and all those everyday humdrum fears we have. You do realize what Jesus is pointing out. Money, loving money, serving money, will only make you anxious and worried. Even the world recognizes this. You get this in pop music, even in rap. Mo Money, Mo Problems. You spend your money to buy something really nice, then you have to buy even more insurance because what if something happens to it. You get a decent car instead of a beater, and then suddenly the ads tell you that you need an even nicer car, and you're no longer content. When money dominates our lives we just get thrown into a never-end cycle of fear and discontentment. Think about it – how many times this past week were your fears and anxiety based upon money, based upon stuff – whether there was enough for all the things you “need” or for all the things you want to do? I paid bills this week – I didn't sit down and cheer when I paid them, I cringed.

This is because we think that Money is power, that money gives us control. We think that if we had just a bit more cash then we'd be in control, that we would be able to make everything the way we want it to be. We think money is power, never recognizing that is takes control and rules over us and becomes our master – and money is a terrible master. Makes you work and sweat and fret, and it's never enough. Do you see, do you understand how many stupid and wretched things your sinful flesh will do to just try to be in charge? I know at the temptation of Jesus, when Satan says, “I'll give you all the kingdoms of the world if you just bow down and worship me” we can think, “That's a silly temptation.” Yet, how often do we jump through hoops for cash, thinking that cash will let us control our lives? Then the money doesn't bring us happiness, it doesn't bring us joy. And even the world will finally admit that in the end, you can't take it with you.

You cannot serve God and money. So what does this mean, Pastor? If I'm being honest about myself, it's clear that entirely too often I want to serve money, that I want to be all about the Benjamins and cold hard cash. Does that mean that I'm up the creek without a paddle? Listen. Jesus says: You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life....” This is one of the happiest “therefores” in all the Scriptures. So often people will present “You cannot serve God and money” as a chance for a choice, for a call for you to make a better decision. The only thing is that if we're talking about “money” and decisions, we tend to make terrible decisions. But Jesus doesn't tell you to choose between Him and money. He says “Therefore I tell you.” You can't have two masters – it doesn't work. Therefore I will be your Master, I will be your Lord, and I will be the one telling you how things will be, not money. Money tells you to fret and worry and be anxious – but I, Christ Jesus, your Lord and Master, say unto you, don't worry about stuff, because stuff, your food, your clothing, your life – that is all in My hands, not money's hands, and I will take care of you. Period. Because I am your master, and you will listen, not to your fears and anxieties driven by money, but you will listen to Me. You don't have two masters; you have One. His name is Jesus.

And here's where our sinful flesh wants to chime in with a giant and loud “BUT!!!” Okay, Jesus, we get that God is in control, we get that we pray for daily bread, and yeah, we talk about in the Small Catechism in the Creed how God has made me and all creatures and given me my body and soul... BUT what about this? And then our flesh throws out some fear in front of us. Sometimes, in hindsight, the things we worry about are flippant and silly. I remember when I was devastated because my mom bought me the wrong Transformer toy – how am I to get my daily bread when my mom can't tell one transformer from another! Sometimes the fears are big and nasty. Maybe this is the second notice on that power bill. Or “your position has been eliminated and your services will no longer be required.” Or Dad just had to buy a hospital bed for mom. Those are scary things. But let's ratchet it up. What about the day, our flesh cries out, what about the day when I'm the one who needs the hospital bed, what about when it's my eyes that can't see anymore, what about when I die, huh? What about then, huh?

Well, first of all, the day I'm dying money isn't going to do anything for me. Money's a vain and fleeting master – when I kick the bucket any money I have will just go to some other folks; hopefully they won't fight over it too much. But more important than the powerlessness of money is the greater truth – Jesus Christ, O Christian, is your master. Even in the face of death, Jesus is your master. And do you know how you know that He is your master no matter what comes in your life? We saw it today. A few minutes ago, we saw Christ Jesus publicly declare that He was Lord and Master of (Bennet and Gunnar / Jax). He joined them to Himself in the waters of Baptism, placed His name upon them. You see, Baptism isn't just some cutesy ceremony, it isn't just a photo op (although baptismal photos are cute). Baptism is where the Trinue God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit publicly says that you, the baptized, are His own child, now and forever. And why does Jesus stake this claim upon you?

Well, when Adam sinned in the garden, Satan had his nasty little fingers on us – Satan had a claim on us. We had sinned, and the wages of sin is death. We were consigned into Satan's kingdom of death. And Jesus does not want that – He doesn't want us just stuck in death, and so He would have to rescue us. And you know what that rescue means? He had to go where we were. If my son gets stuck in a slide and I have to rescue him, I have to climb into the slide and drag him out. Since we were stuck in the kingdom of Death, Jesus had to enter into death itself. That is why Jesus became man, that is why He went to the cross. He suffered and died because you and I were going to die. And if we were left to die on our own devices, that would have been it – the grave would have been our last stop. But no, Christ went to the Cross and He died and He entered a tomb of His own. Then He blew the kingdom of death apart by rising on the third day. And what Jesus does in His Church is takes what He has done with His death and resurrection and brings it to us in Holy Baptism, He brings you out of the kingdom of death and brings you into His kingdom of everlasting life.

Whatever comes in your life, whatever trials and doubts or fears or problems you face – even up to and including your death, because if the Lord tarries and doesn't return soon, death will come for all of us – whatever comes – you know for certain that Jesus Christ is your Lord because He has baptized you, He has joined you unto Himself. And in fact, He spends your life preparing you, training you to face down the fears Satan throws at you... even the fears of death. You've already died and live with Christ. Remember the lesson from your Catechism days – what does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. Where is this written? St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” This is the greatest and highest reality of your life, who you are. You are one who has died to sin and is alive to God in Christ Jesus.

And we forget that sometimes, don't we. We get turned away from Jesus and get focused upon other things. Like money. That's the example in the text. We start thinking money will fix our lives. There are others. Our ego, lust, anger, pride. All these things try to make us think they bring us life, try to make us forget that Christ is our life. And so often we run after these things and slam headlong into the muck and the mire and get burdened by fear and shame and guilt and worry. Those fears, those worries, that guilt and shame are what we end up focusing on, no matter how hard we try to pretend they're not there. We start acting as though money were our master – or whatever other idol tells us that it is our Master. And that is when Jesus says to you again, “No - I am your master, not money, not Satan, not sin, not the flesh.” He pulls our eyes off of all that other junk and says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Seek first the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom that you were made a member of when you were baptized. Seek Jesus' own righteousness, the righteousness that He gives you whenever He forgives your sins! 
 
Do you see? No one may serve two masters – and while we might forget that, Christ Jesus does not, and He always remembers that He is your kind and gracious master, your good and gracious King, and so He will always call you back unto Himself, back to His Kingdom. How could He not – for you are His own, baptized into Him. You have life in Him. This the reality of your life – not your cash. You can't take your money with you, but Christ Jesus will take you with Him for all eternity, for He has purchased and won you from those lousy masters Sin, death, and the devil, all so that you will be His own and live under Him in His kingdom forever. You belong to Jesus, and He will never abandon you. God grant us ever more to remember this! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Trinity 14 Sermon

Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-17 – September 16th and 17th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Ah yes, the “thankfulness” text. The healing of the ten lepers. The text we hear twice a year, both today and on Thanksgiving Day where we can get the lecture, the waging of the finger – you little boys and girls need to be thankful, so you better go turn around right now and tell God Thank You! And if the preacher is a bit unscrupulous… or maybe if the budget seems tight, you might even hear “and by thank you I mean put more money in the plate you ungrateful slobs.” Too often this text is treated as an occasion to just hammer people for ungratefulness – to say “God wants you to be thankful… or he’ll be mad at you” – as though God is petty and only gives blessings just to make us grovel for more. No that's not how it works. God blesses us purely out of His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worth in us, and He doesn’t need our thanks. So this becomes the question, the question our text will answer today why, if God doesn’t need our thanks, why does He want us to give thanks? Let’s dive into the text.

“On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.” The very first thing to note is this – Luke tells us that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem. In Luke’s Gospel, that’s not just a note, a factual snippet. The second half of Luke’s Gospel over and over repeats that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem – and why? Because it is in Jerusalem where Jesus wins salvation for us by His death and resurrection. Luke 18:31-33 explains this focus – Jesus says: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.” Over and over in Luke, we are reminded of Jesus being on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross to win salvation. So – that is the background of this text, what we need to have in our heads – this text will be teaching us about Christ’s struggle against sin and death, it will be teaching us about His death and resurrection – He is on His way to Jerusalem to defeat sin and death.

“And as he entered a village, He was met by 10 lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” The impact of sin, death and decay show up in His path. He comes across 10 lepers who cry out “Lord, have Mercy” - the same thing we have already cried out today here in Worship today several times. These men who are ravaged by this disease call out to Christ seeking mercy – and mercy He will show. “When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Under the law of Moses, if you had leprosy, had a skin disease, you were exiled. Had to be for the good of the community. But, if you were healed, then you could go and show yourself to the priest, who would examine you and let you be restored to the community. And Jesus says, “show yourselves to the priest” – but did you note? They weren’t clean yet – it was only as they went that they were healed. That, my friends, is faith. Jesus says, “Go” – and even as they look at themselves they see their sores and wounds – yet they go, because Christ has said so. And again, we too are often in this same position. Christ has said to you, “Go, you are forgiven, your sins are no more.” And yet, when we look at ourselves, so often we see more and more sin, more and more flaws. Christ has said that we are washed clean in Baptism, that we are a new creation, that we will have the life everlasting – yet often, it doesn’t look this way. I wrote the rough draft for this sermon on Monday morning, and even as I wrote it I knew that there would be countless way between Monday and the weekend where I would do stupid, foolish, hurtful, sinful things – wretch that I am. Yet, over and above what I see in my life, what we see in our lives, our regrets, our shame, our guilt – Christ Jesus has said that we are clean, that we are forgiven – that he has presented us as His own Bride without spot or blemish – and thus in faith we believe what Christ has said, we trust His forgiveness.

And now we get to the turning point of our Gospel lesson. “Then one of the 10, 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 Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” Literally, the turning point. One of the lepers, seeing that he is healed, turns around, praises God and gives thanks. And Jesus looks at this a bit wryly – “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?’” Now, here is the danger for us in reading this – we can read this and suddenly want to go and condemn the other 9, say “ah, those evil, wicked nine – bad bad bad!” But this isn’t our Lord angry – we don’t hear “And then Jesus cursed those other nine with leprosy nine times worse.” No – they are still healed, they are forgiven, they are showing themselves to the priest just as Jesus had commanded. But because they did not return to praise God and give Him thanks, they miss the most wonderful thing. “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.’” Jesus explains everything to this leper, and only he understands fully because he returned for praise and thanksgiving.

Now, there are two very, very important things we need to notice to understand this. Let’s work backwards – Your faith has made you well. We don’t hear this rightly as Americans. We hear the phrase “your faith” and we think it’s talking about how strongly we believe, or how dedicated we are. That’s not the point. Jesus isn’t saying to this man “You are well because you really really really believed.” This is the type of claptrap we hear today – oh, if only you really believed then X will happen, you’d get the new car you want, your kids would behave better, your life would be great… if only you believed more. That’s not what Jesus is saying – Jesus is talking about the “object” of this man’s faith, talking about who this man believed in. This man believed in Christ, and because of Christ he has been healed. Consider – what if this leper had really really really believed that the Greek god Apollo would heal him? He’d still be a leper. No, it was faith *in Christ* that brought about this healing.

And what does the one who has faith in Christ hear? “Rise and go”. Now, we miss it because we don’t speak Greek – “rise” is a resurrection word. Jesus isn’t just saying “stand up and get out of here” – He literally says “you are rising and going” – you are being raised, you are being given life. Jesus isn’t simply saying, “Go away kid, you’re bothering me” – He’s giving the man life and salvation, and He tells him this so that the man sees and understands what it is that He has. You, Samaritan, you are receiving now what I am going to Jerusalem to win for you – you are receiving now the fruits of My death and resurrection as you are being raised and given new life now even as you will be totally raised and totally given everlasting life on the Last Day. This is forgiveness of sins and life and salvation.

And that fact, dear friends, lets us know what this text is about. It’s not an admonition to be grateful – it’s not the wagging of the finger. It’s a call to worship. This text is telling us, teaching us that we benefit from worship together. Consider – what does the leper do, seeing God’s goodness to him? He praises and gives thanks? Now, where do we generally turn from our normal everyday lives, enjoying the blessings God has given us, and pause and praise and give thanks to God? Worship right here. We call upon the Name of the Lord, pray, praise, and give thanks. And again, if we knew Greek, it would stand out more so. Where do we generally gather for communion? Here in Church – and what is one of the common names for the Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist. And the word Eucharist means “He gave thanks” – it’s from the words of institution – and on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread, and when “He had given thanks”. Again – in the Scripture “thanks” isn’t just personal thing, a feeling of gratitude – it was always tied to worship. Thanks meant going to the temple, it meant prayer and praise, worshiping God and receiving His gifts.

And this is the point of this text – we are called here into Jesus' presence, to this place for worship – so as to receive from Christ His good gifts of salvation. And this isn’t because we have to prove anything to God by our diligence. It isn’t as though if we miss too many Sundays suddenly we are off the salvation gravy train. Rather this – Christ Jesus your Lord loves you, and He would have you constantly know and receive His love, His mercy – have it preached to you, have it fed to you in His Supper. He knows what life in the sinful world is like. He knows that you sin daily and often, so over and against that He would have you hear forgiveness proclaimed often, He would have you taste His forgiveness as often as you eat and drink the Supper. He knows that life in the world beats us down, that if we listen to the world we forget the wonders of His blessings for us and instead become shaped by greed and lust and earthly power – so He calls us out of life in the rat race so that we can see and know what is going on. Yes, you are still a sinner in a sinful world, but over and above that another more wondrous truth stands out. Christ Jesus has died for you, He has risen for you, and He is raising you. He raises you now so that you may face the trials of this life standing upon Him, resurrected by Him. He shall raise you forever more on the last day. Whatever you see this week, whatever happens, whatever the world looks like this week – Christ Jesus is still your Lord, He still has had mercy upon you, and He will still call you to this place so that you may hear, may receive His mercy and forgiveness and love over and over so that you may stand fast and enjoy all of His blessings to you, come what may in this world. Christ has so much to give us for He has gone to Jerusalem, He has defeated sin and Satan and death, He has overcome the world – and we are raised and have life in Him. Rise and go your way, your faith has saved you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Trinity 13 sermon

Trinity 13 – September 9th and 10th, 2017 – Luke 10:23-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Before we consider the familiar story of the Good Samaritan, it would be good for us to look at the introductory verses, because they really do set the stage for what this whole text is going to be about. Jesus says to the disciples, Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” And this really drives home the wonders of being in the New Testament Church, wonders that we can overlook. On occasion, we will think about the events of the Old Testament – prophets and the Red Sea and all those type of things, and we can think, “Man, how cool would it have been to be around back then.” Yet Christ shows us something that is true – the pinnacle, the highlight of all of Scripture, isn’t the Exodus. It isn’t the fall of Jericho, it isn’t the kingdom of David, or Elijah defeating the priests of Ba’al, or Daniel in the lion’s den. No, the thing that all those people, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, Daniel, the thing which they all hungered to see was the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus, was what we see and know from the 4 Gospels. Jesus is the highlight, the point, of Scripture.

And yet, so often, He is overlooked. Forget this talk about Jesus, forget this talk about what He does – let’s get on to the good stuff, you know, stuff about me, what I have to do. That happens now, and it happened then. And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Now think about this – Jesus has just pointed out that kings and prophets would have given their eye teeth to see Jesus, and what is the question – what shall I do to inherit eternal life. A question about me, about my actions – forget focusing upon You, Jesus, let’s get back to me. And we can’t even lambaste this lawyer too much, because this is what sinful human beings do: turn everything back onto themselves – it’s about me, me, me – and Christ is overlooked.

But Jesus will answer him – what does the Law say, what does the bible say? Well, it says Love God and love your neighbor. Yep, that’s what you are supposed to do – if you want things to be about you, go get to work. It was a silly, simple question – what am I supposed to do? Show love. Duh. That’s sort of basic Christian living 101 there – as a Christian you are to love God and love your neighbor. That should have been obvious.

But now the fellow is embarrassed. He had wanted to put Jesus to the test, to ask an impressive question, and he had failed. He had wanted a good answer about what wonders he himself could do – and got this. And then we are told – But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “and who is my neighbor?” So, the guy is embarrassed because he just asked an obvious question, and so as to make himself look good, he asks, “who is my neighbor?” Do you see what’s going on? Jesus has just commented on how the kings and prophets of the Old Testament would have loved to see Him face to face here on earth – and the guy right there in front of Jesus couldn't care less about Jesus. He’s trying to focus on himself, to make himself look good. Even his question “who is my neighbor” isn’t a matter of “I want to serve my neighbor, who is this one whom I should serve” – but it’s an attempt to make himself look good. This man is focused entirely upon himself. He’s not seeing Jesus. So Jesus will tell a story to change his focus.

Let me reread the story, so we all have it fresh in our minds. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among some robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now, the road from Jerusalem winds through passes in the mountain, so it was a dangerous road, and this fellow gets mugged and beaten. This is a very real scenario. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. So we have two people who go by – a priest, one of the leaders of the people – sees the guy and hurries on. Now, this is lousy, but understandable. Think about driving through a bad neighborhood; if you see evidence of bad stuff going on, isn’t your instinct to lock your doors and drive a bit more quickly? Same thing he does here. And then the Levite, he is another respected member of Jewish society – the good family. He does the same thing. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. Remember, the Samaritans were the descendants of the northern kingdom, the rebels, the semi-Jewish scum of the day. People Israelites looked down upon. Yet this Samaritan sees the beaten man and has compassion, feels for him, and is so moved to act. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, “Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.” And the care that this Samaritan gives is fantastic. Oil was used to clean, wine was used to disinfect. Good care. He puts the guy on his animal, meaning he has to walk – meaning he puts himself in danger – if the bandits come, the animal and the hurt man might get away, but this Samaritan would be in a heap of trouble. And then, when they reach shelter, the Samaritan doesn’t just dump him off, but cares for him, and then, when he must go, pays for his continual care. And after this, Jesus asks, Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? Yeah, the Samaritan. And Jesus tells us to go and do likewise.

So, how then, is this parable about Jesus? I mean, there is instruction for us – this is how we are to show love, fully and completely, and even at danger and risk to ourselves. That’s the standard that we are to hold to. It’s the standard we don’t live up to – the fact that this is the standard is the reason why we all had to say, “I a poor, miserable sinner” just a few minutes ago and confess our sins to God. But here's the point. So often we will duck responsibility and try to justify ourselves, but if we focused honestly upon ourselves, upon what we do, we'd see nothing but how we come up short, nothing but how there is more and better love to show. Indeed, we know that we should always strive to show better love to our neighbor, but if we honestly looked at ourselves in this matter, we'd see it's not pretty. Sin has battered and bruised us; we do not show love like we ought.

So let me ask you the question, which shows how this parable is all about Jesus. Who is your neighbor? When you are broken by sin and guilt, when people whom you should have been able to count on fail you, when the world is dark and cold and dangerous – who is your Neighbor? Christ Jesus is.

Consider again who the Good Samaritan is. He is someone who is looked down upon. Does that not describe Jesus, for He is treated as an outcast. His own did not receive Him. He was looked so down upon that He was even crucified? And what does this Samaritan do? When he sees the man, he has compassion. Likewise, Christ Jesus has compassion upon you – we had a sermon a few weeks ago at the feeding of the 4000 that used that very word – compassion. Christ is moved to act when He sees us broken by sin. The Samaritan came and bound the man’s wounds with oil and wine. What does Christ do – He comes and He binds our wounds with the gifts of Baptism and the Supper. Back in the day, baptismal rites almost always included oil – the part where we mark the Cross was done with oil. And in the Supper, Christ gives Himself, His life and forgiveness to us by giving us His Body and Blood through bread and wine. And more than just binding our wounds, what does Christ do? The Samaritan carries the wounded man to an inn – Christ brings us into His Church where He continually cares for us. The Samaritan charges to the innkeeper to care for the man, giving him two denarii, two coins with which to do it. Christ Jesus has charged me, as your pastor, to care for you, giving me His Word and His Sacraments, with which to do it.
With this parable, Christ is not merely teaching us that we are to love our neighbor. Rather this – He is showing us and teaching us about His love for us, what He does for us, and indeed, why we should long for this care. His love for us is so complete, so thorough and full, for He provides for us all that we need, He gives us the forgiveness He won upon the Cross, and sees to it that this forgiveness is still proclaimed through His Word, still handed out through His Supper. He has brought us here today to hear His Word of life, which we have. What remains for us today, then, is to receive His other gift for us, His own Body and Blood in His Supper. His love for you abounds, abounds in ways that would have boggled Abraham’s mind. Jesus gives you a feast that Solomon, in all his splendor, would have given all his wealth for. Let us rejoice in His gifts to us together, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – September 2nd and 3rd, 2017 – Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So Jesus is just walking by, on His way to wherever He is going, and suddenly, the people bring to Him a man who is deaf and mute. Can’t hear, can’t talk. These people beg Jesus to lay His hands upon him, to heal this poor man. These are good people, these are good folks. They are utterly kind to this deaf man, bringing him to where he might be healed. They are good and faithful folks, trusting in the goodness of our Lord. And of course, they expect Jesus to heal the man, as do we. But let’s look at what Jesus does in how He heals this man.

First, we hear this, “And taking him aside from the crowd privately”. The very first thing Jesus does is He pulls the man apart from the crowd. Consider what life would be like for the deaf-mute. He has a hard time communicating – he can’t understand, he can’t speak and let his own wants be known – he is cut off. And then, his friends come, and they rushedly bring him out to Jesus – do you see how this might be confusing? So what does Jesus do – first thing, he takes the man aside. There’s not going to be a whole crowd for this man to see and try to take in – Jesus brings this man’s focus onto Himself. And then, what do we see? “… He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” I really do think that this is one of the most beautiful things in Scripture. Well Pastor Brown, why is jamming your fingers in someone’s ear and spitting and grabbing his tongue beautiful? Because Jesus lets this deaf man know exactly what He is going to do for him. You can’t hear, can you? Well, you can feel – do you feel My fingers going into your ears – well, in a moment My Word is going to come into your ears and open them. You can’t talk, can you? Well, you can see. Can’t spit out the words – well, after I speak My Word, this tongue that doesn’t work right will be able to spit those words on out. It is wonderful care and compassion – it is the Great Physician letting His patient know what He’s going to do. And Jesus didn’t need to, I suppose – He could have just healed the guy right away – but now the man will understand this healing, understand the love that God has for him.

“And looking up to heaven He sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘be opened.’” A little bit more visual demonstration – see, I am praying, see, my movements tell you what is going on. And then the Word is proclaimed – “And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” The Word of God once again takes effect. The Word of God, which brought all things into being in the beginning is spoken once again, and there is recreation. Sin, death, the falleness of the world, these all try to destroy creation – try to break it. This man couldn’t hear – broken. This man couldn’t speak right, had an impediment – broken. And then the Word of God comes in, and creation is restored, things are made once again to how they ought to be, those ears that were meant to hear hear again and lips that were meant to speak speak again.

So, what does this mean? What do we learn from this? We see that Christ Jesus, out of His great love, will speak His creative and restorative Word to people to heal them. And this is true for you. Consider your own body. I’d wager that quite a few of us here woke up with aches and pains today, bits and pieces where our own bodies no longer quite work right. I know that some of you, like the man in the lesson, don’t hear so well – and some of you don’t hear nearly as well as you think you do. I’m not immune – I’ve got myself a speech impediment, and I know aches are coming and my ears, my eyesight are all going to be going soon enough. We are sinners in a sinful world, and as such the impact of sin ravages our bodies. That’s what this world brings us – we talk about 40 being over the hill. No, really once you hit around 23, 25, the body’s not improving and growing anymore – it’s starting its slide down towards the wages of sin. And that’s simply where we’d be ending up – but for one thing. Christ Jesus our Lord delights in speaking a Word of creation and restoration. Sometimes we see this in healings here – people getting well again from things they had no right to get well from. Many of us probably could have been dead already, and if it weren’t for God’s care and compassion and healing, we would have been. I should have died at birth; my heart stopped. Yet here I am. It’s why we pray for folks every week – every day. But it's even more than that, dear friends – “and I believe in the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come.” The full and complete restoration will come then at the last day when we hear our Lord with the cry of an archangel raise us from the grave, restore our Bodies, restore not just hearing and speech but every sense and every power and every faculty to these bodies here – whether we are alive when He returns or whether our bodies have been long decayed. Either way – spoken unto life again. This is God’s great love for you. You too shall be healed, and it will be for all eternity.

But this text, dear friends, while speaking directly to physical healing, also teaches us and reminds us of more than just our physical healing. This text, this lesson, is an image of the spiritual healing and creation that goes on in your life as well. Spiritually speaking, when you were born, you were born Spiritually deaf and dumb – sin had you cut off from God, cut you off from man. And that’s what sin does – it makes you deaf to hear. It makes you unable to speak rightly. And what happened? Someone brought you to Jesus, someone brought you to where the crowds were gathered around Christ Jesus. Again, this deaf mute wasn’t left to find Jesus on his own, he was brought to Him. Of course, this man had to be brought to Jesus – he wasn’t going to find Jesus on His own. Likewise, someone came to you – perhaps your parents before you can remember, perhaps a friend, and you were brought to Jesus.

Now, let’s keep thinking about this. Brought to a place where crowds were gathered around Jesus – do we know a place where people all gather around Jesus, even today. . . oh, yeah, Church. And what happens to you in God’s Church? God deals with you directly. The Word of God is proclaimed, and you are given faith – your own callous, sinful ears are pierced and opened by the Word of God, and you understand the forgiveness He has won for you upon the Cross with His death and resurrection. And Christ Jesus Himself, through one of His servants, didn’t spit, but took water and spoke Christ’s own Word, and baptized you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – and you were washed clean of your sin, made a child of God, restored to the community of the faithful.

And this isn’t just a thing of the past. Are you still a sinner in a sinful world? Yes, indeed. Satan still tries to clog your ears, tries to tie up your tongue. How about it? This past week, anytime you turned a deaf ear to anyone, anytime you failed to speak words of love and care to another? Of course, and if you think you hadn’t failed this past week, you need to think again. So what does Christ Jesus do? He brings you again to His House, to His Church, where He speaks His Word into your ears to open them, where He places His own Body and Blood upon your tongues so that you are forgiven and may show forth His love. This place is all about how we receive from God through the Word, through the Sacraments (which are nothing other than God’s Word tied and joined into something physical for physical people like us), how we receive from God the love and forgiveness which Christ Jesus won for us upon the Cross. The same sort of things that this deaf man received, the same pattern holds for us here today in what we receive here.

Now, I would like to just take a moment before we conclude to do a little teaching, a little explanation. I have mentioned that I think it is beautiful when Jesus sticks His fingers in the man’s ear, when He grabs the fellow’s tongue. These actions, these physical actions tell and teach what Jesus is going to do. Here in God’s House, we have physical actions that tell and teach us about the faith. Consider – what happens before the Gospel reading? Those who are able to rise do so. Why? What does that movement teach – that something wondrous and worthy of respect and honor is going to happen – the Words of Jesus will be proclaimed. That is worthy of respect. That teaches. In a few moments, I will ask you to rise – why? Because you will receive a blessing from God – and that too is worthy of respect. When I give that blessing – I will make the sign of the cross. Why? Because that tells and teaches you that because you are baptized you can be assured that you have this blessing, that you have God’s peace which surpasses all understanding. These movements, standing or sitting, the sign of the cross – when I kneel in confession, whether I face y’all to speak the Word to you or whether we all face the altar in prayer towards God – these things all teach and focus us upon the receiving of God’s Word – so that even if our minds wander, our bodies move and pull us back onto track. Even these little things, like bowing of our heads in prayer are designed to continually focus us back upon the love and mercy that Christ Jesus has for us.

And so, with this in mind, my dear friends in Christ Jesus – when you hear and consider this text today of the healing of the deaf mute – know that the same Christ Jesus who healed this man does the same for you. He cares not only for your body, which He shall raise again on the last day, but with the power of His Word He has spoken faith into you, brought you into His Church, where our lips are opened and we proclaim the glories of the God who has brought us redemption and forgiveness. For this we shall give Him praise with all the heavenly hosts, even forevermore. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Trinity 11 - Pharisee and Tax Collector Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 26th and 27th, 2017 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Alright, I know the last few weeks have been a bit heavy – this stretch of the Trinity season has a lot of texts that call for introspection, that call for us to examine ourselves. And they all drive us to the point where we will confess before God, “I am a sinner.” It's not an accident that in today's Gospel lesson the emotional high point of the text is the tax collector beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” The point is that when the Law of God hits us, shows us our sin, we learn that there is nothing that we can bring to the table in our relationship with God; that there's nothing in us that lets us have leverage or manipulate God into liking us, blessing us, giving us more. Several weeks ago the Epistle had this great line from Romans - Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? We aren't in control, and instead we are at His mercy. But friends, being at God's mercy is precisely the best and safest place in all the universe to be. Being at God's mercy means, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified”. It's great to be at God's mercy because God is merciful.

So today we get the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And the ultimate point of the parable is that we need mercy, we need forgiveness; and that God gives that mercy and forgiveness to us in Christ Jesus. And we know this parable, we know the point – I often will call this the Lutheran Parable. But we can know it so well that we do it a disservice. We hear it and go “Pharisee bad, tax collector humble and good – let's go.” Well, no – the tax collector viewed himself as bad, as a sinner. Before we can get to the happy ending, we likewise need to learn to see and know our own sin. This is another one of those introspection texts, that call us to examine ourselves. What is it that can hit you, O Christian, that can make you forget your need for Jesus and His mercy? Jesus tells us with the set up- “[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

Two things there. First there is self-trust. I'm righteous enough already. This is nothing but spiritual delusion, it's utterly ignoring reality. And if we think of stupid, vain self-trust in the regular world, it can be almost comical. Imagine watching someone who doesn't know how to bake but decides that they are going to make a fancy cake for their kids' birthday, or if I were to try to go and build a tree house because the neighbors built one. Seriously, I am mechanically inept, I can't assemble flat pack furniture. And if we sat around sharing stories I'm sure we could all tell tales of where we went and did something where we were completely in over our head. Most of the time they are funny – but that's because baking a cake or wood working projects aren't normally life or death. If I was woodworking, you could laugh at me. If I said, “Well, I think I've got appendicitis, so I'll just remove that myself with his kitchen knife” - that wouldn't be funny. That would be bad. Very bad. And yet, even more so it is worse to approach God this way, to deal with not just something that could kill you physically but deals with your eternal salvation. You don't saunter up to God when salvation is on the line and say, “Hold my beer, Jesus, I've got this.” And yet, whenever we start thinking along the lines of how we are good Christians, how we're better than those folks over there – that's exactly what we are doing.

You see, the sign of this pride, the warning, the canary in the coal mine if you will, is treating others with contempt. How do you know, how do you spot when your self-trust is rearing its ugly head? When you start treating others with contempt. When you look at them and say, “I could do that better.” Or even worse, when you look at them and say flat out, “I am better.” That's the sign that you are all out of whack spiritually, that you are no longer focused on receiving from God His good gifts by faith but are way off on a sinful ego trip. Where you are no longer seeing the world, seeing yourself rightly.

Consider the Pharisee. Hear again his egotistical, sinful “prayer” - “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” You can just hear the condescension rolling off of the guy. But here's the sad thing, the bitter irony. Not a single one of those things that the Pharisee mentioned was bad in and of itself. They actually were all good things. It is good not to be an extortioner. Really, it is. It's good not to be a mobster and get involved in all of that. It's a messy, dangerous, violent life that isn't good or enjoyable at all and is prone to paranoia. Frankly, I'm glad I'm not a mobster. Or consider adultery. It's a terrible thing to get stuck in an affair – they are messy and painful and they break things. Affairs devastate families – y'all know this. It's a wonderful thing not to get caught up in affairs – it makes life much better. Or tithing. It's a great thing to tithe – to be generous with your wealth and to take care of the church. I'm never going to preach against tithing. The Pharisee had a good life, he was in a good spot.

But here's the problem. Because the Pharisee was so concerned with proving his own worth, because he wanted to demonstrate his self-trust, he missed the point entirely. The Pharisee would be right to thank God because every thing on that list was a gift to him from God. Every single thing. And even though he knows he should thank God – the Pharisee doesn't get it. He doesn't understand. He thinks this is all about who he himself is, not what God has given him. God had richly blessed him with what we normally think of as blessings – health, wealth. But more than that – God had kept him safe and out of trouble – this is a major theme of the Scriptures, where God prevents people from getting into trouble; Balaam's donkey, Abigal stopping David's rage, Namaan's servant keeping him from leaving Elisha angrily. That's a great blessing. I've messed up enough in my life, my sin has brought me and others enough pain to where I'm glad when I see something that God has kept me away from. But that's about what God does, His blessing, His mercy – it doesn't say anything about me and my virtue. And that's the danger – when we think we have good things because we are good. When we think that way, we forget that it is God who is good.

Then there's the Tax Collector. We know nothing about his life. He could have been a lout – as tax collectors were often assumed to be. He could have been a pious and devoted family man. We don't know. The Pharisee assumes the tax collector is a jerk, but let's be honest; we've all made plenty of assumptions about people that were flat out wrong. But it doesn't matter either way – we don't need to know about the quality of his life, the quality of his moral status because the Tax Collector isn't there on the basis of his quality, of how good he is. The Tax Collector could have been vastly more generous and kind than the Pharisee, but that's not the point. Whether he's better or even if he's worse - meh. The tax collector knows that he is a sinner. No point in comparing. But more than that, he knows something else. He knows that God is a giver, and especially a giver of mercy.

When the Tax Collector walks into the temple, he isn't presenting anything of use to God. There's no bargain, no bribery, no deal making. Simply a request – be merciful, give me mercy, give me mercy God because I need it because my sin is great. I don't care whether it looks bigger or smaller than someone else's sin – it's my sin, and it's horrid, and I need it to be mercied. And I know that you are the God who is steadfast and faithful and abounding in mercy. And He received mercy from God. Went home justified. Because that is what God does. He gives mercy.

When you come here, when you come to this place, to this house – don't come here trying to impress anyone. Don't come with airs trying to show what a nice little person you are. This is God's house – He's not interested in you trying to impress Him. Not in the slightest. He's not expecting you to come here to make a deal, He doesn't need you to make vain promises or swear oaths about this or that. He simply wants to take everything that Jesus did, everything he won by going to that cross and pour it upon you – He wants to richly mercy you, cover you with mercy, dare I even say baptize you with it, feed you with it, make His mercy be the largest thing you see in your life. Why? Well, for one, because that is who your God is – not some angry, petty tyrant but the merciful Lord who sees to your salvation. And He gives you His mercy both for now and for eternity. He gives you mercy now so that you would be forgiven and see all the other blessings He has given you so that you can enjoy them now over and against your sinful, egotistical flesh that wants to and often does abuse them. God says, “Here, receive mercy from Me, and thus be ready to enjoy all the other blessings and good things I give you.” But also God gives you mercy for all eternity. Here, receive mercy from Me, and thus be ready to rise from the dead and enjoy rightly forever all the blessings I will give you in the life of the world to come.

This is Jesus' goal. This is what He's focused on in the text by preaching this parable, it's what He's doing by going to the cross. It's what He's doing by having His font right here to wash people in His Baptism, it's what He's doing by having some fellow stand in His stead and preach His Word of mercy and forgiveness, hand out His Body and Blood to forgive sinners. You are at His mercy, which is precisely where life and salvation are present for you, now and fo rever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.