Saturday, March 17, 2018

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – John 8 and Genesis 22 – March 17th and 18th, 2018

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The world today tends to treat Jesus as though He were just some kind teacher, almost like a 1st century hippy telling everyone to chill and be cool to each other. And because of that, most folks don't understand why Jesus gets killed, why He was so hated and despised. You might brush Him off, but hate Him? Why would you want to kill Jesus? Do you wish to know why Jesus is put to death – why people are set against Him? John records for us the heart of the matter. What does our Lord say to these folks in our Gospel lesson today? “Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.” Plain and simple – the only reason anyone has a problem with Christ, with Christianity, when it all boils down to it – they cannot bear to hear the Word of God. The Word of God is distasteful, it is unpleasing, it doesn’t tell folks what they want to hear.

I think sometimes we can forget just how distasteful the unbridled law of God is. See, people in general like watered down law – they like law that says, “Oh, just play nice.” Be kind – oh, that’s sweet. But that isn’t God’s law, not in its fullness. God’s law is firm and direct. Love your neighbor – not just give him polite indifference. Love him – actively serve him. Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect – not just try hard and we’ll give you a ribbon for participation. The simple fact is we as sinful human beings do not keep the law like we ought – we are sinful. That’s just how it goes – and we need to admit that and recognize that – and that is hard for our pride, that is hard for our ego to accept. Some things we will confess easily, but other sins, we like to downplay, brush off. And when we slough off our sin, when we minimize it, when we pretend that it, all of it, isn’t that big of a deal, that is a horrible thing. Jesus’ Word describes what that minimizing of our sin actually is, what we are doing when we attempt to justify our own sin. He says, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”

When you deny the Word of God – when you hear the Scriptures speak of your sin, and you want to brush it aside, blow it off – that is your sinful nature kicking in – that is you sounding like Satan. Harsh words, aren’t they – but Jesus calls a spade a spade – and sin, your sin, whatever it is, however little and small you like to pretend it is, is truly nasty and vile. Sin murders. When you do not show the love to your neighbor that God has called you to show them – that kills them, little by little. It harms them, it robs them of the blessings and joy God intended them to receive through you – and that is huge. Sin lies and has nothing to do with the truth. When you dither, when you make excuses – that’s the same stuff that Satan does. When you do not believe what the Word of God says about you and your sin – about your failings and your weakness, you are as bad as Satan, no ifs, ands, or buts – no excuses.

God’s Word of law is blunt and shows us the full depth, the full impact of our sin – the stuff we like to brush over, ignore, sweep under the rug. God’s Word of Law calls us to repent – to confess our sins, all our sins. The Word “confess” literally means to speak with, to speak together. We are called to speak with Christ His Word declaring our sins, every last one, to be horrid and vile. That is part of God’s Word.

Now, there is more to God’s Word – Christ Jesus also speaks Words that are lovely beyond all measure, beyond all beauty. He tells us of a truth that is profound, that is the mystery of the ages – and indeed, for our benefit. At the end of our text for this day, Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” These are some profound words. In the Old Testament, when Moses asks God how He should be called, God tells Moses to call Him – I AM. God – the One who *is*, who exists in and of Himself – the God who creates us, and without Whom we would not exist – the Maker of Heaven and Earth. This truth of God, that He IS, was so profound to the Jews that in the Hebrew language, you never said, “I am” – you would never say I am a Jew – you would simply say, “I Jew.” You would never say “I am a guy” – you would say “I a guy”. God is the One who IS. And what does our Lord Jesus say – I AM. Here Jesus states and says that He is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, comes into this world to deal with, to address and handle our sin. To do what is necessary to fight it, to destroy it, to forgive it. And this too, dear friends, can be distasteful. Christ coming to help and save us from our sins means that we need help, that we need saving. Let me ask you the question – how many of you recently have spurned help, gotten annoyed when someone offers help? “I can do it myself” – those words familiar? Again, words of pride, words of denial. And when it comes to handling our sin, removing its taint, being restored to life – we are helpless, we need a Savior. If you are lying upon the hospital bed with your heart stopped, you can’t go get the paddles yourself – the doctors and nurses must tend to that. Likewise – people who are dead in their trespasses – for that is what Scripture says we were, dead in trespasses – must be restored to life by the Good Physician, Christ Jesus. And the sinful nature rebels against this, fights this tooth and nail – and so many do not believe.

But to you, dear friends, it has been given to hear and know and understand these Words that Christ speaks – He has opened your ears to hear, He has opened your eyes to see. He has given you life and set you free so that you can know the beauty of these words. God Almighty does not abandon you to a dying life of sin, He does not abandon you to the grave and destruction – but rather, Christ Jesus, the great I AM, enters into this world, and He saves you. That’s what our Lord’s Word proclaims, and that gives joy to those who have been made children of the Heavenly Father by the wondrous gift of Baptism – we hear and rejoice at God’s salvation – we even hear and rejoice when He breaks our sinful hearts, because we know that He will create in us new and clean hearts.

Our Lord speaks to this wonder in this text – He says, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day – he saw it and was glad.” Abraham was a man of faith – and as such, he knew that he was sinful, and that sin had consequences. In our Old Testament lesson, the Lord laid out for Abraham the consequences of sin: sin means there must be death. Sin means you must die that even your son, Isaac, he too must die. And yet, even as Abraham takes Isaac and binds him, ties him to the wood, raises the knife to sacrifice him, knowing that death is what both he and Isaac deserve – what does he hear, what does he see? The Angel of the Lord – Christ Jesus Himself before His incarnation steps in, stops Abraham – Jesus keeps Abraham from sacrificing Isaac. Jesus says to Abraham – let us find a replacement – and then there, in the thicket – a ram caught by its horns. Today Abraham, your son lives this day because of this ram. Abraham saw this was glad. But there was more to it, it is as though Christ said to Abraham – “This Ram is for today, but the day will come Abraham, when I Myself will be the One who is sacrificed, not only for Isaac, but for all, for you, and not only to give life for a day, but to give everlasting life, to defeat and conquer death.” That is the day that Abraham rejoiced that He would see – that He longed for above all others.

Now, the Jews had pointed out that Abraham had died – treated him as though he were gone. Our Lord’s Words show us the mystery, the wonder of the ages. No, Abraham was not gone – he doesn’t see death – rather He beholds Christ and so He sees life – He from the presence of God beholds with utter joy what Christ does as He strides to earth and takes on Human Flesh, and goes to the Cross and dies to atone for sin, rises to defeat death and ensure our resurrection. There is no final death for Abraham, for Christ won Him salvation by His own death and resurrection – and likewise, Christ Jesus has won this salvation, this promise of resurrection for you. And this is given to you, this is provided to you by His Word. Our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.” The word here for “keep” means to hold onto to, to observe, to cling to, to cherish. In Christ’s Word, there is life and salvation – His Words are indeed the Words of eternal life – and when you receive this Word – when you hear it, when you are baptized into it, when that Word of God is placed upon Your tongue in our Lord’s most Holy Supper, it brings life everlasting – life beyond death and the grave. It means you will not see death – that even death becomes merely the doorway to life everlasting, that the separation of body and spirit at death will be not be permanent, for our Lord will raise you on the last day and make you perfect and truly living in Him. This is what God’s Word gives you, this is what the Word accomplishes and brings about in you. This is the effect of the preaching of the Word, this is the effect of Baptism, this is the effect of the Supper – that you receive from Christ life. And we live now in Christ's life, with His love, His righteousness, His holiness flowing forth from us into our neighbor's lives, and come the day when we have fully and finally died to sin and risen to Christ - come the Last Day – Christ Jesus will truly be our all in all, and we will show forth nothing but Christ and His love.
In this way, Christ ultimately defeats Satan. With His death and resurrection, our Lord defeats Satan, and with His Word and Sacraments, Christ pulls you out of Satan’s kingdom of death and restores you unto life. This is what He accomplishes, this is what Abraham sees and rejoices, this is why all the hosts of heaven give thanks and praise to God. Let us with prayer then prepare to join them in their songs of celebration, and let us then join in the heavenly feast in our Lord’s Supper. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cannot and Try

I think I have finally figured out what it is that ultimately gets someone labelled a "soft-antinomian" today.  It is the assertion that one cannot fulfill the Law of God perfectly and completely.  This is the teaching that is so offensive that it must be denigrated and derided.

Unfortunately, it's the truth.

You're not going to be perfect in this life.  You will remain sinful as long as you are in the sinful flesh.  And everything you do will be tainted and tinged and flawed.  Even your righteous deeds as filthy rags.  And you will never be able to address God as one who is unlike all these other people - you will always be the sinner who needs mercy... which is okay because Jesus comes to the sinners and washes, cleans, forgives, and raises them.

But here is where the complaint about obedience comes in.  Since we are now in Christ, shouldn't we obey?  Of course we should.  In fact, we are bound to bring forth good works - God will work His good through you.  Yet, we still in this life remain unprofitable servants. (AC 6)  This is not a matter of perfection.

And this is where the matters hinge.  Some people are afraid that if we don't assert that we CAN, that means that we won't even TRY when it comes to the realm of good works.  This is because these folks do not understand warfare.

We are engaged in spiritual warfare.  We are engaged in a battle against ourselves, the world, and Satan.  And it's a doozy - with might of ours could naught be done.  This is why we need Christ to be our champion, to win for us salvation.

Day by day, as we live in this warfare, we will come up across things against which we will lose - but in warfare that doesn't mean you stop.  It means you fight all the more desperately.  Consider an image: Let us say that five armed men break into my house attempting to murder my wife and family.  I would not be able to stop them - I could not do so.  The command to protect my family given to me by God in my vocation as father and husband would be impossible to do... but I'd sure try.  And I'd try hard.  And I'd fail hard. 

We are fighting a constant battle against sin and death in our own lives, and we are going to go down hard.  We are going to die.  Our strength will fail.  That's just the way it is.

"But what of Christ and His strength!  Don't we get His victory?"  Yes, it is ours now, but now only dimly as though a mirror.  It is only later, at that happy then that we will see it face to face.  Strangely, when my attacks failed and one of my home invaders ended my life, that would be when I'd see the Victory of Christ - not in my earthly victory, but in the life of the world to come, where my wife and children would be safe as well.  Doesn't mean I'd fight less here and now - but Christ's good for me far surpasses even my failed.  For all the saints, who from their labors rest!

Too often we want to make Jesus a tool for life here rather than life itself, and life everlasting with Him.  We want to live by possible theory tossed out by Jules in Pulp Fiction - that we are just in an evil world and Mr. 9mm is the Shepherd protecting our righteous backside -- where Jesus is a tool that we in our righteousness use for our own benefit.

That's not the truth.  We are sinners, we are tyranny, but we do try hard to be the Shepherd.

And we fail.  Often.  Never going to come a service where I won't need the confession and absolution before the service -- well, at least until I'm at the eternal service. 

And that's okay.  That's actually for my good.  God's Word will show me my sin and then show me my Savior, and rather than fretting over what I can and can't do, my failures and my so-called success, I learn to live in what He has done for me and what He will bring me to.

We have victory now - but we will experience it and see it and know it in full only in the Last Day.  Let no one rob you of that hope my tricking you into expecting perfect obedience now!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – March 3rd and 4th, 2018 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Another day, another demon. So there Jesus is, just doing His normal Jesus-y stuff of preaching, teaching, healing, and casting out demons. And we get something interesting – When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking a sign from heaven.” Okay, so what in the world is going on? What sort of logical leaps do you have to make to go from Jesus casting out a demon to thinking that Jesus must be a hit man for Satan? What rationale is there for saying, “Well, casting out a demon is pretty good, but, um, you know, can you just make some sort of comet appear in the sky or something so we really, really know”? Do you see how foolish this all is? And we'll get to Jesus' response in a moment, but let's ponder the foolishness first. You know what this foolishness is? It's self-defense. It is the old sinful flesh trying anything to defend itself against Jesus and His righteousness. This lent we've seen Jesus defeat Satan's temptations, we've seen Him call out our sinful and and selfish pride. And what's left, what's the flesh's only option? Deny, deny, deny. Stick your head in the sand, scream out “fake news”, ignore reality. All in an attempt to avoid Jesus.

And so what does Jesus do? As He sees, as He hears this foolishness, what is His response to the crowd? Well, He's not going to let it go unchecked; instead, He is going to expose the foolishness, and then explain precisely what is happening. To start: But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” Alright – let's consider the idea that I am casting out demons by Beelzebul. That is basically an assertion that suddenly old Satan's just gone all sorts of senile and stupid and his kingdom is just falling apart. So that's your argument – that the old Serpent, who is more crafty than anyone... just became an idiot. Eh, Satan's just having a brain freeze at the moment! That's not it and you know it. Moreover – And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. Um, you've noticed how there are a bunch of people who are casting out demons, including many sons of Israel – and they're casting them out in the Name of Jesus. You realize that if you pin the “he must be evil” tail on Me, you've got to pin it on them too, right? Is that a move you want to make – because you can be mad at Me and want to ignore Me, but you say this in front of your kid who is casting out demons and He might tear you a new one.

Do you see what Jesus does? The excuses are just simply and kindly pulled apart. The bad logic, the implications of the snap, desperate arguments are laid out. You really don't want to assert that Jesus isn't sent from heaven, because you won't like where that argument leads. So Jesus just bulldozes their arguments – and then He lays out the truth. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. Quick question – what does it mean if a Kingdom comes upon you? That's sort of a strange phrase, and we often don't think much about it. But what is it when a Kingdom comes upon someone? These are fighting words. Jesus is saying that it is D-Day. What was D-Day – congratulations Germany, the Allied forces have come upon you; they are here and they're going to keep on coming until you are defeated and destroyed. Know what this is, people – these times when I cast out demons, when I heal, when I preach – these are the opening battles where God invades Satan's kingdom and goes to destroy Him.

Which is why Jesus gives another military example next. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe; but when one stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, he takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Satan thought he was sitting pretty. He'd been running the show down here on earth for quite some time, and things were running wild. He had his power, he'd toss it around willy-nilly. He thought you, O hearer, were safely in his clutches. But then Christ Jesus, the stronger man comes – and what does Jesus do? He bursts right on into Satan's domain, the heart of Satan's stronghold – Jesus kicks down the doors of death and dives into hell, smacks Satan around, and says, “all these folks you thought were yours, Satan? Well, they're mine now. You gave them death; I will give them life. You trapped them in sin; I bring forgiveness and mercy. They're not yours anymore, Satan, they are mine. This is the program – Jesus is fighting Satan, and this fight is going to be a doozy, and it's going to end with Satan battered and bruised, but Christ Victorious.

However, having laid out His plan, having stated what He is doing, Jesus turns back to the folks who are pestering and complaining, and He speaks a warning. Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters. This is the battle I'm fighting, this is what I am going to accomplish. I am winning you life and salvation – it's right here with Me. Come with Me if you want to live; I'm busting open the doors of this prison and I will carry you out. However, if you say, “I'm going to stay right here,” if you are hell bent on staying with Satan, if you are just so anti-Jesus that you'd rather stay in Satan's kingdom... well, you can do that if you want. But let Me warn you, that won't go well. When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house clean and swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first. You can reject salvation, you can just hang out and wait for the Devil, but it's going to be bad. Jesus warns that Satan's going to be in a really foul mood because Jesus has defeated him, and he's going to want to take it out on someone, and if you aren't with Jesus, if you aren't living safely in Christ's life and Christ's mercy – guess who Satan's going to take it out on? You. So don't ignore the salvation Christ wins, don't stubbornly cling to Satan, because that way of going is only going to get much, much worse.

Do you hear the warnings that Jesus gives? Jesus died for all; He has won forgiveness for all. All are going to be raised from the dead – the gates of heaven are open, and the only folks who will not draw the benefit of this are the folks who have no faith, who say, “No thanks, I'll just stay right here with Satan.” And that's really, really dumb. Incredibly dumb. And you know what – often our sinful flesh wants things that are really, really dumb. That's the reality. So then, how to handle this, how to keep focused upon Christ and not my own sinful stupidity? Well, there's two more verses to the text.

As He said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Oh, Your mom is awesome! Suddenly there's a 70 year old Roman Catholic nun in the crowd telling us all to pray to Mary to keep safe. No.... But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” No, while Mary is cool, the way of safety, the way to remain in Christ and the blessings He gives is this – hear the Word of God and keep it, cling to that Word, hold it fast and don't let it go. Even when it says things you don't like. Even when it says things about you that you don't want to hear – even when it tells you that the things your flesh wants are foolish and deadly. Because that Word of God will also give you Christ Jesus and His love and His mercy and His forgiveness. That Word of God was attached to water in Holy Baptism, and it makes fountains of living water spring up in you that Satan and his minions cannot bear to see. That Word of God gives life – the same tool by which Jesus fended off Satan in the wilderness is the same tool by which we live. We have life from Christ in the Word.

So, what does this all mean? Jesus here lays out His battle plan, lays out what He is doing. He is going to defeat Satan and win you back from Him – and the way that you benefit from what Jesus has done, the way you remain in His victory is through the Word of God, is by hearing again His promise, His victory, His life. And Satan will toss up stupid and arrogant idea after stupid and arrogant idea, all trying to get you to ignore the Word of God. So, examine yourself. Seek out the places where the Devil is encouraging your own Christless stupidity – and repent of it. Confess with Christ that your sinful desires and thoughts and actions are absurd and evil and bad – and instead receive Christ and His love, His care, His compassion. “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the LORD.” In the LORD. In Christ Jesus. In His Word, which does not leave you empty but fills you with the Holy Spirit who makes you to be fruitful and to walk as a baptized child of the light. Avoid the empty words of Satan, even the empty words and thoughts of your own mind, your own preferences – and rather be in the Word of God, for that is how the Holy Spirit takes all that Christ has done for you, all that Christ has won for you – and how He pours it all into you. All by the Word – the Word preached and proclaimed, the Word tied to water in Baptism, the Word tied to bread and wine in His Supper. This is where Christ's Victory which was won 2000 years ago is brought to you in your life right now. Continue to give us Your gifts, O Lord – in the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – February 24th and 25th, 2018 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Last week in our Gospel we saw our Lord confront Satan and his lies there in the wilderness, we saw our Lord put Satan to flight. This Sunday, our Lord heals a young woman, the daughter of a Canaanite woman, frees her from demon possession. This should be no surprise – if you’ve defeated Satan, defeating one of his minions isn’t going to be a problem. In fact, the healing of this girl is almost incidental to the story – we never see her, we never hear her. Instead, we see the interaction between her mother, the disciples, and Jesus, and in this interaction, we see our Lord fight something else. We see our Lord take on pride and ego, pride and ego that can lead to a weakening and even destruction of faith. Let us examine our text.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O LORD, Son of David, my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’” Consider this: Jesus had just been having bitter discussions with the Pharisees, who were so full of themselves and their own righteousness, that to get a break, He headed to the coast, left Jewish territory behind. He is going to take a break from self-righteousness. And what happens? There, in that place, is a woman who calls out for mercy, seeking Jesus’ aid. And did you note what she calls Him? She calls Him “Lord” – that’s a good starting place, she recognizes Him as divine. Moreover, she calls Him “Son of David.” Think about this – the Canaanites were the ancient enemies of Israel, the ones who had fought David – this is the descendant of folks like the Jebusites, and there she is calling Christ the Son of David. She is repenting of the sins of her people – this is astonishing. It would be like a muslim terrorist suddenly announcing to the world that he has repudiated Islam and is becoming a Christian – something we should all rejoice over.

But there is a problem. “But He did not answer her a word.” Doesn’t this seem strange? How often do we see Christ ignore someone in the Scriptures? We don’t see it often – but there is a reason for it here. Jesus is going to teach His disciples, give them a quiz, see how they react and respond. And they fail utterly. “And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” I really don’t know if there is a more chilling sentence in the Scriptures – I mean, think about this. Here you have the disciples seeing a poor woman who has confessed Jesus to be Lord, to be the Son of David, the Messiah… eh, send her away, she’s bothering us. And not just being dismissive of her – they BEG Jesus to send her away. It’s hatred and contempt of the most vile sort that these disciples show. So we have a contrast set before us – this woman who is in desperate straits throws herself before Jesus for the sake of her daughter, and the disciples, who when they hear of this woman’s plight, instead of praying for her, instead of begging Christ to heal her, beg Him to let her and her daughter remain in suffering, remain oppressed by one of Satan’s demons.

This is the battle Christ fights in our Gospel today. The real opponent isn’t that demon that has possessed the girl – having defeated Satan a demon is small potatoes. The larger danger is disciples’ approach. The pride, the ego that the disciples had – pride in being good Jewish men who wouldn’t stoop to dealing with a Canaanite woman, pride in being the real disciples of Christ as opposed to this foreign trollop. The disciples saw themselves as the good people, the righteous ones, the ones that Jesus owed something to, and they had nothing but disdain for woman. And this makes them cold and callous… this pride drives from their hearts any semblance of love or compassion… and at this moment, these disciples are nothing.

Hatred kills faith. Disdain and ego and pride kill faith. They twist our eyes back onto ourselves where we think only of ourselves and ignore both God and neighbor. Send her away, for she is annoying us because she’s crying, she’s making a scene, and we don’t want to be bothered. I’m hard pressed to think of more faithless words in the Scriptures. And so, Jesus decides to use this Canaanite woman to teach the disciples, teach us what faith is, teach us what to repent of when pride and ego stir up hatred to attack our faith.

He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Note this – Jesus is answering the disciples here – He is responding to them. Alright, you guys are so proud of being of Israelites, that’s what you think is important – alright, let’s do it your way, I’m here just for you. Guess she’s not My problem, deal with her yourselves in your own arrogance. This is throwing the disciples’ pride back in their face, this is throwing ego right back at them. And it stops the disciples flat. They got what they wanted – they wanted a Jesus that was just going to deal with them… and it doesn’t do them any good. This is throwing their failure right at them, showing them they have gotten an F.

Then the Canaanite woman comes forward, and she shows what faith is. “But she came and she knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The disciples were brash, telling the Lord what to do, how He should or shouldn’t treat others. This woman is humble simply asking, pleading for help. She doesn’t command, she simply pleads. There is great humility here. And Christ is going to show the depths of her humility, her faith. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” And Jesus insults her – you deserve nothing, you little dog, you wretched little thing. Now, imagine for a moment what the disciples’ reaction would have been if Christ had called them wretched and mangy dogs. Think of how incensed they would have been, how angry – how their pride would have flared up – how dare you say such things. We are Israelites, we aren’t dogs, we are the good people. In fact, we’ll hear a conversation like this with the Pharisees in just a few weeks. That pride, that ego would blot out and blind everything.

The Canaanite woman doesn’t approach Christ with ego, with pride. She comes with humility. Christ tells her, “You are lowly, you are poor and wretched and deserve nothing.” And she says yes. Yes, You are right, I am poor and lowly and I deserve nothing… but You are good and kind and You will see that crumbs fall my way. To which Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter is healed – she has shown the disciples what faith looks like.

The question we must ask ourselves is this. How do we approach God? Do we approach God as those who are worthy of His blessings, as those who can say, “Because I am so wonderful, I demand that you treat me well?” That isn’t faith, that’s pride. Or do we approach our Lord and say, “I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault”? – do we approach God seeking mercy not because of who we are but of His boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ Jesus? This is the approach of faith, where we cling not to ourselves, not to our own righteousness, but cling to Christ. For this is a battle that Christ comes to wage – He wages war not only against Satan, but against our own sinful flesh. If left to our own devices, we would do nothing but fight against God – our sinful flesh wants everything our way, our sinful will thinks only of what seems good to us, feels good to us, makes us look nice and proper. We need this sinfulness in us broken and destroyed – that is the point of praying “Thy Will Be Done” – God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. In our text, it was not the disciples’ will that was done, but rather Christ’s gracious and merciful will – and in faith, we call out to God to see that His will is done, indeed, to see that the power of His Gospel, His love, His forgiveness come crashing into our lives and change us, break us free from our sin and ego and make us to grow in love. That’s the prayer after the Supper – upon receiving His gifts “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another” – that God would increase our faith, that we would learn ever more to not only cling to Him but to love our poor and wretched neighbors who need Christ as much as we do.

Lent is a season of repentance, it is a time of self-examination. And when we look at ourselves, we see the little flares of pride and ego pop up, pride and ego that would hinder and prevent us from showing love, pride and ego that would make us want to close our eyes to our neighbor and turn our backs upon God. But Lent is also the season where we see Christ Jesus go to battle for us, for our sake, and part of that battle He fights for us is against our sinful flesh. He reproves us and corrects us, shows us our sin that we might repent of it, but more than that, He shows us mercy, shows us His goodness and kindness, teaches us that we need not have any ego because it is not our worth that earns His love – rather He freely gives it, that He sees that we are fed, takes us poor miserable sinful dogs and washes us in Baptism and says, “You are now My brother, My Sister, indeed, My own Body, and all that I have, My righteousness, My holiness, My life – it is yours. See, I love you, and I will stop at nothing, not even death, to free you from sin.” Christ fights for us, dear friends, and that is a wondrous and humbling thing. It is His fighting for us that gives us the gift of faith by which we have life in His name, all thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Sexagesima Sunday

February 3rd and 4th, 2018 – Sexagesima Sunday – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
St. Paul writes in 1
st Corinthians that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Few passages of Scripture demonstrate this truth better than the parable of the Sower and the Seed. In fact, I don’t know if there is any character in any story Jesus tells that seems more ridiculous than the Sower. But in this parable we learn God’s wisdom, God’s love – and indeed how His weakness is true strength for us. Let us consider our parable this morning. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.  And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it.  And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What a foolish Sower! His seed gets everywhere, it is scattered all over the place! Doesn’t this Sower realize that seed is precious, that you shouldn’t waste it? A full three quarters of his seed is wasted. Not one of our farmers here would put up with that. It would be ruinous. You don’t sow seed on the roads, you don’t plant on the rocks, you don’t throw it into thorns and thistles! It’s as though the Sower isn’t even a farmer – he sounds more like some city boy playing at being a farmer. And to people who hear with only the ears of the world, to people who think only by their own reason and strength and without the aid of the Holy Spirit, this would be a story of nothing but utter folly.

After He preaches this parable, the disciples pull Jesus aside. What are you talking about, Jesus? “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’ This is an interesting thing that Jesus says. Not everyone is going to understand the Word of God. Some folks aren’t going to get it. Some will not understand – for some this parable will remain nothing but a foolish tale, or they will run off in strange directions with it. That’s the way it is in this fallen world. Jesus is quoting the prophets when He says “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.” That was the story over and over in the Old Testament, especially when the prophets proclaimed the coming of Christ. But you – you have been given ears to hear, and by the power of the Spirit, you will hear.

“Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.” And with these simple Words, Jesus flips everything around. The seed is the Word of God. The point of the parable isn’t the farmer. This parable isn’t about our actions, or how we are to learn not to be so careless or foolish like the farmer – this is a description of how God sends forth His Word. And the parable does remind us of a truth that we Christians forget: to the eyes of the world, God is foolish. So often they see His people, His Church at work, and simply mock. So often the world hears but does not hear, and the Church is ridiculed and mocked. Indeed, most of these very disciples to whom Jesus is speaking will be mocked and even put to death by the world because the world disdains the Word that they will proclaim, the seed that they will sow. But here we see God’s Wisdom. The Word will go forth! The Word will be sent forth into all the world, the mockers not withstanding. And this makes perfect sense when we remember that it is God who truly sends forth the Word. The whole world exists how – only by the Word of God – that is how God creates. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” This is true, even though, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.  He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” The ignorance and foolishness of the world does not undo the Word of God – and just as God has sent His creative Word throughout the world, so too He will have His Gospel preached to the entire world… even to people who couldn't care less. With this parable, Jesus is telling us what we should expect when we as His Church look upon the world, when we see disdain for the Word.

“The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Our Lord reminds us of a truth that we do not like. This world is not a morally neutral or safe place. No, in this world there is active opposition to God, and when you proclaim Christ, when you show forth Christ’s love, you will be opposed. You will be mocked. That’s just the way it is. And yet the seed is still sown. God is not daunted or intimidated by the world – still His Word goes forth. Even those birds who care nothing for the Word still are alive only by the power of the Word – just as even the most coarse and crass unbeliever still lives off of the goodness of God, off of the care of Him who makes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust.

“And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” A second warning. In this world there will be trials and testing, and yes, trials and testing even for those who believe. The seed in the rocky soil sprouts, but it cannot bear the summer heat, it is cut off from the moisture of the soil. Now, consider this. You are baptized. God has come to you in water and the Word, made you His own child. This is true – even when sorrow and trial and hardship come your way. For this is the temptation that Satan will throw at you – the idea that old snake will whisper is this – “see how hard your trials are, surely God no longer cares for you!” Satan will try to dry you out, to burn you to a crisp with despair and disappointment. Over and against the words of Satan, remember the true and powerful word of God – I baptize you In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Your sins are forgiven. You are not rootless, but you are tied to the life giving waters of Holy Baptism, joined to Christ Jesus Himself, attached to Him. Do not let the vexations of Satan cut you off – remember your baptism, remember that you are indeed delivered from Evil and from the Evil One.

One final trial. “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” This is the one that we as Americans should know the most. We are the people who are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life. And Jesus simply warns us of the truth – our sinful flesh will want to turn blessings from God into idols, will take something good in our lives but let it grow all out of proportion, let it grow like a weed, like a cancer, and it can choke us out, strangle our faith. And this is a common enough reality. Do I have to belabor the point? Doesn’t the temptation lay upon all of us to be off doing something else right now? Our work, our family, our entertainment – all blessings from God, yet in this sinful world our flesh would gladly let them be the excuse to forego receiving God’s greater gift of forgiveness with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
And then the final soil. “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” Now, don’t get too proud, my friends, don’t puff out your chest and go, “Oh, lookie at me, see I’m good soil.” Not the point. The point is not the try to compare soils or figure out who’s good or who’s rocky. The point is the Seed is the Word of God. What do you call a good field with good soil that has no seed planted on it? You call it empty, barren. And that is what we were – apart from God we would be empty, barren fields, as dead as the highway, unkempt, rocky, full of whatever weeds or junk just happened to grow there. But what has happened? God has come to you with His Word, and He has given you growth and wisdom. This is not your own doing – it is a gift of God. Do you believe because your heart is good – or rather, as we sing does God create in you a clean heart, a right Spirit within you – and thus you hold fast and cling to God? Do you bear fruit because you are awesome, or because Jesus is the vine, you are His branch, and abiding in Him, remaining in Him you bear fruit? Is patience your own doing, or is it the work and gift of the Holy Spirit?

You have been given ears to hear – and so hear the wisdom and wonder of God. While you are there, powerless and weak, like and empty and barren field, God in His great love and wisdom comes to you and plants His Word in you, showers you with it, gives it to you with full abandon over and over again. And why? So that you would receive the life and love of Christ Jesus, so that you would see the wisdom of God in sending His Son Christ Jesus to the cross for the forgiveness of your sins. So that in hearing the Word, so that by being joined to the Word in Baptism, being nourished in the Word in the Supper, you would remain tied and attached to Christ, so that He would bring forth fruit and life and patience and a clean heart in you. You were dead, but the Word has come, and now you live. You were empty, but the Word has come, and God has called you together here in His house. You were fallow, but the Word has come, and now you have abundance in Christ.

The truth is the world will not care for God’s Word, and indeed, your own sinful flesh will fight and rail against it. But yet in His Wisdom, God has given you the Word of His Son, He has proclaimed it to you even when to the eyes of the world you were trampled upon, or rocky, or prickly and full of thorns. He has come to you and made you His own soil with which He is well pleased, for He has planted the Word, Christ Jesus in you. And that Word of God gives you life, gives you what it says. You are forgiven of all of your sins, you are a new creation in Christ Jesus, even unto life everlasting. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – January 20th and 21st, 2018 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so today we reach the pinnacle, the peak of Epiphany, there on the mount of Transfiguration. We talk about Jesus revealing His Glory – it shines forth today. We speak of Christ being the Light of the World; He glows today. We are at a hinge in the Church Year – after this we will begin our travels towards Lent and then to Calvary, and so the Transfiguration works as a time to focus us, to set us, to fix our eyes upon Jesus so we know what it is that we will be seeing in the weeks to come. Let’s consider the text.

“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” First of all, we have the note that this is happening “after six days” – well, what happened six days earlier? In chapter 16 you have Peter’s bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And after that Jesus that He is, and that He has come to be killed but raised on the third day. And of course, Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” And then Christ tells His disciples that whoever would follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross. So what we had just seen in the Gospel was an episode where it was shown that Christ has come to suffer and die for sinful man, sinful man who continually thinks he knows better than God. Peter says “Oh, you are God” and then turns around and starts telling Jesus not to do things. That is what happened six days before. We are going to be talking about God and His efforts, His struggles against sin.

However, there is more going on in this simple sentence – but to get it, we need to think in terms of the Old Testament. If I say “sixth day” to you, and you are thinking about the Old Testament, that’s the creation of man. The idea of the sixth day always focuses on man’s creation, man’s fall, and the promise of restoration. Moreover, we see them go up on a Mountain. For a moment, just think about how many Mountains from the Scriptures you know – Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Ararat. Even the word “Armageddon” is just a way of saying “Har Meggido” – or Mount Meddigo in Aramaic. God does things on mountains. God gives Moses the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai. When God talks to a despondent Elijah, it is on a mountain. And because of this, the next verses really shouldn’t be any surprise.

And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.” And there, Christ Jesus is transfigured – there you could say that He drops His guard a bit, and His innate, divine glory shines forth and through Him – He glows – the grime and dust from His clothes are overpowered with the radiance of His glory – it is an awesome thing. And not only that - Moses and Elijah are there – the two top preachers, the two top prophets of the Old Testament are there. It is hard to explain just how fine, how sharp a point this event is – everything in the Old Testament is funneling right to here and this moment, all coalescing and coming together. It is as if every bit of the Scriptures is there just ready to burst forth in fulfillment, and what happens? And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” There, at the culmination of everything - Peter starts talking. Peter offers to start working. Now, what he offers is very kind – it was probably around the festival of booths, the holiday when the Children of Israel would basically camp out for a few days to remember the sojourn in the wilderness. And there’s Peter saying, “I’ll go set up the tents for everyone, if they want to stay.” It’s a fine, nice thing – but think about the timing. There is Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah – and He’s brought you along, He’s invited you to listen in, and what do you do? You interrupt and offer to go off and do something else. The text had said, “Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” – and then there’s Peter, offering to do anything but beholding. It would be like one of you standing up right now and saying, “Um, Pastor, you like coffee, let me go make you a fresh pot of coffee” right in the middle of the sermon. Nice sentiment, but terrible timing.

This sort of provides an example of a problem that we ourselves face – the pressure to always be busy, be about doing something. What we forget is that God knows that we are busy, that we have plenty on our plates – and so in His wisdom He has called us to time of rest, times to hear His Word. Human beings have always been ready to run themselves back into the dust from whence God made us. He had to tell the children of Israel, “Take a day off and rest and hear My Word, it’s good for you.” Peter here shows the same thing – instead of being ready to hear and listen, he’s ready to be working. Same thing with Mary and Martha. And thus so often with us Christians. This is not to say that we aren’t to be about striving after good works and loving our neighbor – but what defines you, what makes you a Christian? Not your works, but receiving Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, hearing His Word. It’s Christ Jesus coming to you that gives and grows faith, that makes you who you are in Him. And lest you think I’m just pontificating, “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” Even before Peter is done presenting his plan, the Father’s voice cuts him off and says, “Look at Jesus, listen to Him!” Peter, you were brought up on the mountain not to do, but to behold, to listen, to hear and to learn.

Likewise, dear friends, even as we go about doing many things, here in our congregation, in our homes, in our communities, at school, at our jobs – even as we go about all these things, we are summoned by God to His house, so that we might hear Christ Jesus. And in actuality, as the weeks roll by into Lent and towards Easter, what we will be going on here is nothing but what the Father has instructed – listening to Jesus. We will behold His actions, we will hear His teaching, we will see Him do what He came down from heaven to do – to take on Satan and sin and death and defeat them for us.

We need Jesus. We need His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection, His sacrifice. That truth is demonstrated in our Gospel as well – “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” When the Father speaks, the disciples hit the dirt. Again, this is something we can skip by, we can forget. We cannot stand on our own before God – we cannot saunter up to God and say, “Here I am, look at all the wonderful things I have done, I have served you so well – now give me stuff.” It doesn’t work that way – we are sinful, and sinners who stand by themselves on their own merits before God, sinners who try to invent their own brand of holiness, sinners who try to do religious stuff on their own terms – they die. And as for Peter – Peter at that moment probably thinks that he is going to die. He had just interrupted a Divine Service, and if you did that – you died. We, of ourselves are not holy and righteous, all our works amount to nothing, and if left to our own there would be nothing for us but to be terrified of God.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The only way to stand before the Father is to be bound, is to be tied to His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. See what happens in the text – James doesn’t poke up his head to see if the coast is clear, John doesn’t just pop and say, “Well, thank goodness that’s over with.” They are terrified, they know the impact, the consequence of their sin, and they are scared out of their mind. Before they do anything – Christ comes to them, He touches them, He lifts them up, and they see only Him. Those verses right there are a depiction of your life as a Christian. You were lost in sin, condemned to nothing but eternal damnation – and then Christ Jesus came to you and He touched you. And I don’t mean this in just some figurative “oh, how touching” sort of sense. Jesus walked up to those disciples, and True God become True Man physically touched them – a real incarnate Lord comes to the disciples. Likewise, that same Incarnate Lord has come to you and He has touched you. He has touched you by water and the Word – He touched you as the waters of Holy Baptism were poured upon your head, He said to you, “You are baptized, your sin is forgiven, and indeed, you are now bound to Me, now part of My Body, part of My Church.” He comes to you physically in the Supper – He places His own Body, His own Blood upon your tongue – and why? So that He can say to you, “Rise, and have no fear.” That’s a word of forgiveness – that’s “go now, depart in peace.” That’s let us go forth in the peace of the Lord. His Word continues to be spoken to you, heard by you, even now, even this day.

Everything in our lives, our existence as Christians, is centered in and flows from Christ – for He Himself comes to us, gives us His Holiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness, His life – and when we are in Him, when we receive Him, we are strengthened, we are renewed, we are prepared to endure all the trials and temptations of this world, for He has already fought them down, He has already crushed Satan under foot, and in Him, we have the victory. And it is important for us to always behold this, to always see Christ, to always hear what He has done for us – because Satan does desire our fall, the old serpent desires us to fall away. Let us fix our eyes upon Christ – let us give heed to what He has done for us, let our focus be upon Him, let us rest securely in Him – because that is when we are able to rise and go through those doors in peace, in trust, in confidence in Christ, knowing that He is the Righteous One, the Lamb of God come down to earth to win us salvation and redemption. We will hear His victory proclaimed anew in these months to come, and we will be strengthened by Him. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Epiphany 2 Sermon

Epiphany 2 – January 13th and 14th, 2017 – John 2:1-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
During His earthly ministry, Christ Jesus our Lord does many great and wonderful miracles. He heals the sick, He makes the blind to see and the deaf to hear. He casts out demons. He even, on occasion, raises the dead. And here we are in today’s Gospel – the Wedding at Cana, our Lord’s first miracle! What mighty wonder will He do – will it be something wild and wondrous – will Jesus start things off with a bang – a mighty healing maybe? And then we hear what He does. He changes water to wine. Is that it? Really? For the first miracle – just making wine? We can almost be dismissive of this miracle – it doesn’t seem as lofty or as noble as the other miracles to us today. In fact for some of my Baptist cousins this miracle is a down right embarrassment. “Jesus making more wine, how scandalous! It must have just been grape juice and not wine.” Dear friends, there are many good reasons why John records this first miracle for us – and that is what we are going to look at today – the importance of this miracle and what it reveals to us about Christ.

We know the story, but let’s review. Jesus and His disciples are at a wedding – and it’s probably the wedding of one of Jesus’ relative. We can say that because Mary seems to be in the know – she knows when the party has run out of wine very quickly – a fact that only people helping with the party would know. And Mary wants Jesus to act – and eventually Jesus does – but only in a quiet way. He tells the servants to fill some jars with water and then take them to the master of the feast – and lo and behold, the water has become wine. There’s not a lot of fan fair, Jesus doesn’t boast to the crowds about this – in fact, really only the servants and also His disciples, who would have been following Him around, know what He has done. And the master of the feast is confused – for this wine is good wine – tasty and strong – the stuff you start off the feast with. This is the miracle at the wedding in Cana.

So, why? Why this miracle, why this way? Let’s start at the end, because there John explains what this miracle is. This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. The key phrase for the moment is that Jesus manifested, made present and revealed, His glory. Whereas we might diminish this miracle, where as we today might not think much of it – John says that this one manifested Christ’s glory. John can say this because John knew the Old Testament much better than we do. Think on our Old Testament lesson – Amos 9. “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen” – one day in the future the Son of David shall come. For years Israel will be without her king – but the Messiah will come. And what will it be like when the Messiah comes? “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” This is actually a common way in the Old Testament of describing what things will be like when the Messiah comes. When the Messiah comes, things will be right again – and even the earth will overflow in its bounty. There will be so much wheat that we won’t have time to harvest it all before we have to plant again, there will be so many grapes that people won’t even have time to plant new vines. And there will be wine enough for everyone – because when the Messiah comes that will be a glorious time and the party and the celebration will not stop. We will not run out, we will not lack.

And so, the disciples see Jesus, this Teacher they’ve been following, the One they’ve heard is the Messiah. And what do they see? Here He is, at a party. And it’s an earthly party. Things are running out. The poor couple couldn’t provide enough for their guests – it would be just another reminder of poverty, of things in this world not working rightly. But, Jesus is there. And very quietly, what happens? Suddenly, there is no lack – and in this little town in the hill country of Galilee there is an overabundance of sweet wine, wine beyond comprehension. Whereas we today might shrug off this miracle – for the disciples nothing could be more wondrous. Prophets might heal, prophets might cast out demons – a prophet like Elijah might even raise the dead. But the Messiah is the One who brings about the over abundance of goodness. We acknowledge that it is God who makes the rain to fall and the crops to grow – and the disciples see that this Jesus is the One who does that – that He is the God who provides. And it is wondrous, it manifests, it reveals His glory completely clearly – it is a uniquely God-like thing that Christ does.

And this miracle also shows us quite a bit about how Jesus will operate, what kind of God He is, what kind of Savior He will be. First, this miracle shows us that Christ Jesus our Lord is full of Goodness. Sometimes we can have this image of Jesus as a stern, disapproving fellow – an angry judge just waiting to smack you down, scouring your life to find the slightest flaw and then lambaste you for it. Of all Christians, we as Lutherans should know that this is not how Jesus wants to operate. One of the things which spurred on the Reformation was Luther’s reaction to constantly being told that Jesus was an angry judge, a Divine Bogey-man who was going to come back and smite him. But look at the wedding in Cana. What is our Lord doing? Simply serving others – simply seeking to see that happiness and joy and laughter and celebration continue on. God does not want you miserable – He doesn’t want you to sin – but our God has created us with bodies that can enjoy many good things, and enjoy them rightly. Now, as sinners we end up abusing these delights - but part of what Christ does in conquering sin is restoring to us right use of these blessings. Jesus is full of goodness – and He wants your life, your existence to be good and full of joy and happiness where you delight in His blessings. He is the God who made all things good – and He will restore them and make them good again. The heavenly party, the eternal celebration will never lack any good thing, and we will enjoy it in all goodness with Christ.

Now, this is instructive for us. When we look at our lives, we should strive to enjoy the blessings that God has given us without abusing them and falling into sin. There is a balance, and falling off on either side is bad. We here know that falling into gross sin is bad. You don’t need me wagging a finger to know that you shouldn’t go out and have affairs or rob people or lie or gossip. That’s how we normally tend to think of sin – the big, naughty things. However, we ought to remember that the joys and blessings in our lives are gifts from God to us – specifically for us to rightly use and enjoy. When we become dour, when we refuse to let joy into our lives, when we refuse to acknowledge the blessings God gives us – that’s sin just as much. That’s going against what God desires. God does not bless you so you can be miserly and miserable. So, consider the blessings that Christ has given you in this life, both great and small, and then with thanks and rejoicing use them with a good conscience and a clean heart. God provides goodness for you.

A second thing to note about this miracle is that Jesus is content to act rather than self-promote. Jesus sees what needs to be done – more wine is needed. Simple fact, they need more wine – and Jesus quietly, without a lot of flash, without drawing attention to Himself – provides more wine. Simple. Jesus isn’t trying to garner praise and attention – rather He has a simple and straightforward desire to serve. Jesus doesn’t tell the bride and groom what He doing – He doesn’t even tell His mother Mary who had asked Him to do something – He simply goes and acts – He serves and then lets His service stand. Christ’s focus is not on seeking His own glory but upon showing love.

Likewise, O Christian, this ought to describe how you act in your own life. As Christians we are called upon to show love, to act, to serve others. Do that. When it is time for you to show love, show your love and don’t spare time worrying about how to gain honor and prestige for yourself. And don’t worry what people think of you. Now, this is easier said than done. All too often when we do something – that little voice inside our head starts wondering about what thanks we will get, or we can think about how nice it will be when people recognize how good we are. This is horribly dangerous to a Christian. Why? Showing love is something that looks outward, looks towards the neighbor. If you are worried about the neighbor’s response towards you, you have stopped caring about the neighbor and rather shifted the focus to yourself. You’ve stopped acting, you’ve stopped doing – and suddenly you are waiting for praise, like a dog with it’s tail wagging and tongue lolling out waiting to be petted. And what’s worse is when we don’t get the thanks we think we deserve – well, see if I help him again. We stop acting, we stop showing love. Avoid worrying what people think or what people will say, avoid worrying what you’ll get out of it. Your Lord calls you to show love – focus your time and effort on thinking of how you can best show that love.

So, why all this focus on service today, on an epiphany day, on a day we are focusing upon Jesus manifesting His glory? There was an interesting note in our text: The master of the feast didn't know where the wine came from, “though the servants who had drawn the water knew.” The servants got it. The servants understood and saw the service that Jesus provided for that feast. The master, the groom – they didn't see it. But the servants did. Likewise, my friends, when you start to see things, to think about things in terms of service, in terms of showing love – well, yes, you will see plenty of places where you could show love better. But more importantly, you will also start to see and notice the ways in which Christ Jesus, the greatest Servant of all, comes to serve you. You will notice the love that He gives you, the worldly blessings He hands to you so that you would be able to hand them to others. We are but stewards of His creation. Everything is His; we simply use it for the good of those He has given us to love. You'll also see and notice more just how rich and deep the forgiveness is that He has won for you upon the Cross – how ready and apt He is to forgive your sins. All very quietly, without much fuss – I forgive you all your sins, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – a bit of water giving eternal life and an invitation to the eternal feast. Take and eat, take and drink, for I wish you to be with me for all eternity. Why? Because that's who Jesus is – the great and loving God who wishes joy and celebration to last throughout all eternity – and He provides for you now as you prepare for eternal life, and He forgives you so that you would enter there. He serves you and fills you with His abundance now, even until you are called into the heavenly feast of the Lamb that will have no end. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Name of Jesus Sermon

Dear friends in Christ, greetings to you this very cold first day of 2018. It's not just New Year's Day, but it's also in fact a Church Holiday, the Name of Jesus. This comes from the fact that it was on the 8th Day, one week after His birth, Jesus was circumcised and named. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson, short though it is. And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Today, let us spend some time meditating on the Name of Jesus as the year slowly ends.

There is one thing to notice here that nowadays we don’t think too much about. The 8th day, which is now, is of profound importance in the Old Testament for a child. The 8th day is when everything becomes official. He’s been around a week, but Jesus is only named at His Circumcision. This was the custom of the day in the Old Testament times. The child received his name on the day of his circumcision. As an example of this, when King David has his affair with Bathsheeba, the child dies on the 7th day. That’s why we never get his name. . . he hadn’t been officially named yet. So, therefore, even Jesus isn’t technically named Jesus until the 8th day.

It was the custom for a long, long time in the Christian Church not to name a child until they are Baptized. We see this in the Baptism service. When I baptize a child, I ask, “How is this child to be named?” That wasn’t just a way for absent minded pastors to remember what the kid’s name is supposed to be, but it was the official act of publicly naming the Child. In fact, this is how Martin Luther got his name. The little Luther boy was baptized the day after his birth, which happens to be St. Martin’s Day, so his name is Martin. The first time I said Victor and Ambrose's names to them outside of the womb was when I baptized them. There is an association of Baptism with naming. Evidence of this is that baptism is also called Christening. . . and rightfully so, Christ-in-ing, putting in Christ. In Baptism we are clothed with Christ. But now, when we think of Christening, we think of naming ships for navy, but that idea comes from the idea of giving a name at Baptism. However today, with legal birth certificates done by the state, we don’t wait to name the kid until Baptism. It’s something that has fallen away, no huge deal, though we will make a big deal of it today – the giving of the name is our focus and our cause to rejoice. Today we celebrate the Name Jesus, because it was today that He took that Name upon Himself.

So let us look at the Name Jesus. One of the other things that we have lost in America is the fact that names have meaning. When you named someone, the name signified something. Our names do as well, but, most of our names aren’t from English, so we don’t know what they mean. Eric, for example, is a derivation of powerful from Swedish. Now, I know that because I’ve looked it up, but I don’t hear my name and think powerful. Neither did my parents. . . I got named Eric because my dad really liked Eric Soderholm, who was the 3rd baseman for the Chicago White Sox in 1977. Even with names that have meanings in English, we don’t think of their meaning. We see some named Butch, and it’s just a name, not a description. We see a guy named Dale, and we don’t think of a valley. Chip, we don’t think of something little. Victor? Oh, what has he won? In America, because we pull names from so many languages, we don’t often think of them having meaning. In Jesus day, in the Old Testament, it was different. Names had meanings that said something, that proclaimed something. Names were meant to be little sermons, little confessions of what is true and real. Like Daniel. Daniel means, “God is my Judge.” Dan is Judge, “i” is my, and el is an abbreviation of Elohim, or God. Abram – exalted father – gets his named changed by God to Abraham – father of a multitude. Ab is father – ram is exalted, raham is of a multitude. The names have meaning.

The Name Jesus works the same way. In Hebrew it would be pronounced Yeshua – Ye being short for Jehovah, the LORD, and shua meaning “saves”. The name Jesus, and the name Joshua for that matter, means “The Lord saves.” Is this not wonderful? Everything about Jesus is Gospel, even His very Name itself. To simply say the Name “Jesus” is to confess that God is the Savior, that He is the One who saves. This is the significance of the Name of Jesus. It tells us exactly what is going on here. Why do we have this Jesus running around? Well, because Yeshua, because The LORD Saves.

And how does The LORD Save? We see this in the fact that Jesus was circumcised. So Jesus is circumcised, what’s the big deal? First, in being circumcised, we see Jesus fulfilling the law. In being circumcised, we see Jesus doing all the things that He needs to do to be completely righteous. If you look at all of the laws of the Old Testament, Jesus does everything that is required of Human beings. By being circumcised, Jesus is placed under the Law as all of us are, except with Jesus, there is one major difference. He can and does do the Law perfectly. No sin, no flaw in our Lord, simply perfection in Human flesh. We see Jesus fulfilling the law in our place.

But also, we see something else. I don’t know how many of you have seen a circumcision, but when you think about it, it’s a bloody thing. You are cutting flesh from a rather tender area, and it bleeds. Do you see what else we get in circumcision? Today we celebrate the first time in which our Lord shed His blood for us. It is at His circumcision that the very Blood which is poured out for us on the Cross is first poured out for us. And it is interesting to note that this blood shedding comes under the law. The Law says on the 8th day males are to be circumcised, and so Jesus is. It is because Jesus our Lord submits Himself to the law that He is wounded, that He bleeds. Is this not the same thing we see at the Crucifixion? Christ Jesus, the Lord of Creation, submitting Himself to the punishments of the law, our punishment, which we deserved, in our stead? Even from the beginning of His days on the earth, Christ Jesus takes His place with us and sheds His blood on your behalf, blood that is always given and shed for you for the remission of all of your sins.

Dear friends, the way we end the old and begin the new year in the Church is to look at Christ Jesus our Lord, the Lord Who Saves, and to give praise to Him for the fact that He is the God who becomes Man and suffers for our sake. In the year to come, may you remember richly the forgiveness that Jesus has won for you, may you hear it preached often, may you taste it often in His supper. Indeed, the Lord Saves, and let us give Him thanks and praise for that in all years to come, even until the end of time. Amen.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sermon for 1st Sunday after Christmas

1st Sunday after Christmas – Luke 2:22-40 – December 30th and 31st, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Newborn King +

          Finally, the time for purification had come. For 40 days, since Jesus was born, Mary had to stay at home. That was the Law. For the first 40 days after childbirth, women didn’t go out in public – probably a good and safe practice for health, but think of it this way. Mary’s been cooped up. And now you finally get to get out, you bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to make the appropriate offering for Him, which is appropriate as Jesus has come to fulfill the Law. And then, old Simeon comes up, and he grabs little Jesus out of your arms and starts singing – singing a song that we ourselves sing after Communion to this very day. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Lord, I can die a happy man! Of course, think about what the past year has been like for Mary – Gabriel showing up both to you and to you husband – you had an angel tell your husband, “Yes, marry her.” How’s that for a confidence builder? And then there’s the birth, and even the Shepherds showing up and praising God. It’s been a non-stop whirlwind of praise and joy.

           And then this old codger Simeon hands you back your son, and then he blesses you, but then he says something quite strange. “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…” Think about the shock of hearing that. It’s been joy to the world, happy holidays, have a holly jolly Christma… what? Talk about throwing cold water on the parade. This Child is going to cause chaos because of who He is, Mary – and people are going to hate Him. The wicked of the world will rally and fight against Him. And it’s true. Think about Jesus’ crucifixion – you have Herod and Pilate and the Priests all conspiring together – that was something unheard of. The priests hated anyone who was gentile, and Herod and Pilate hated each other until the events of Good Friday – they only became friends afterwards. Christ Jesus ends up being one of if not the most hated person in all of history. Do you doubt me? His very name is a curse, a vulgarity. Even 2000 years later people get killed for following Him – ask the Christians in Muslim countries what it means to follow Christ. He is a sign that is opposed. Wow.

Again, we’re not used to thinking this way, especially not at Christmastime – and I’m guessing poor Mary wasn’t either. Which is why Simeon especially notes that this will impact her – “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also….” Yes, Mary – this hatred that your Son will bear, it will hit home for you as well. It’s going to stab you. How’s that for a change of pace – it’s been joy, joy, joy, oh how great it is that you are the Mother of Christ… then wham. A sword is going to pierce your soul too, Mary. The time is going to come when He won’t be the eager Messiah that you want Him to be. The time is going to come when you will just be embarrassed by Him, when you and His siblings will beg Him to come in from preaching and teaching because He’s embarrassing you – and He will shrug you off. My Mother and My brothers are calling for Me – Who are My Mother and my brothers? These here who hear my teaching are My mother and My brothers. Gut punch. But even that will be topped, Mary. One Friday it will come to a head as this little child, your Son, hangs on a cross. Woman, behold your Son. A sword will pierce through your own soul also.

Why all the pain, why all the angst? “So that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” Christ Jesus comes, and He comes Holy and righteous and perfect and good. And we, we are not. We are sinful, fallen men. When people saw Christ, this was something else that they remembered too. And the question was how do you respond to this – when you see God Himself in flesh showing love perfectly, how do you react? And we know what our sinful flesh wants to do. The sinful flesh wants to tear down and destroy anything good that anyone else has. The sinful flesh feels greed and jealousy and hatred and anger. You know that feeling in your gut when you see someone else who has something better than you? That feeling when the other guy gets the job or has the car and you want to beat him? When you see the other gal who has the looks, the whatever, and you want to get all catty? Nothing gets ratings on the news shows like a good celebrity scandal – we love the rich and famous being taken down a peg. Now imagine what your sinful flesh would want to do when it sees not merely something better than you, but One who is perfect. Anyone who looked at Christ while thinking well and highly of himself, as the old sinful flesh is wont to do, would hate Him, and that hate would boil up to the surface – it’s why He even gets killed. And we see this pattern throughout the Bible. Joseph’s brothers throw him in pit and sell him into slavery. King Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, who is his most loyal and faithful servant. The Pharisees, who prized their own holiness, stone Stephen to death. It’s that same old sinful song and dance with Christ, but even more so – because He isn’t merely better than us; Christ Jesus is perfect.

So why any singing, then, Simeon? So why is there any rejoicing? Here is the nuance, and it comes out from Anna, a very old widow lady. Had her husband 7 years, so probably until she was around 20 – and then widowed for over 6 decades. There’s a woman who knows suffering, knows that this world isn’t all its cracked up to be. And she lived in the temple, fasting and praying, and when Christ comes, she gives thanks to God. And note what she does. Anna speaks “of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.” And there’s the key. There’s the difference. For the folks who were waiting for redemption, for those who knew their own lack, who didn’t think that they were the best of the best, who knew that they were poor lowly sinners in a sinful world, for these folks this Christ Jesus brings joy and gladness, because He brings redemption. God had given Anna the gift of faith, and so she saw her need for a Savior, and then she saw Him, and it was good.

By faith, you have been made to see your own lack. Do you see your sin, do you know it, do you understand that you are a poor, miserable sinner? Then the coming of this Child will be a cause for you to sing, for He comes bringing your salvation. He comes to be righteous for you, He comes to bear your own sin, your own weakness, your own frailty. He comes to die, He comes to rise, all so that you would inherit Eternal Life, that you would spend eternity not in this fallen place, but in a New Heavens and a New Earth, that you would have Eden restored. Life in this world is cold and harsh – but by faith we don’t deny this, we don’t pretend it isn’t this way. Instead, we confess our sin, great as it is, and we look to Christ Jesus who is greater than our sin and triumphs over it. We do not love this world, but we look to Christ who has overcome this world – we look forward to the life of the world to come.

Listen again to Simeon’s song, the song we too will sing in just a few moments after we have held in our own hands the Body of Christ, given for us. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” Lord, I can die, I can die in peace. Death – where is thy sting, O Death? Where is thy victory, O grave? This Christ Child has risen from the tomb, and so even if I die – I will live. Sod off, death! Bite me, grave – you couldn’t keep Christ swallowed down, nor shall you keep me. “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all people.” God’s salvation is here – and it’s not something hidden, it’s not a secret. I don’t have to spend 25 years teaching you how to operate the hidden divine decoder ring. No, right here, God become Man, who for us men and our salvation. Here He is, here is salvation. And you have made me to see it, God – you have given me the gift of faith, and thus these sinful, dead eyes have seen with joy their Savior, the Lord of Life. There is salvation, there is forgiveness, there is rescue – and there it is – in Christ Jesus, open, proclaimed to all people. Yes, all people, for He is “A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” Even the Gentiles, even stubborn headed Germans, even spoiled Americans millennia later will see this Child and know Him to be their God and Savior; the Holy Spirit will call folks from all nations. And yes, this is the Glory of Israel – not that we Jews were more holy, not that some how not eating pork makes one morally superior (ugh, how’s that for the false pride of the sinful flesh), but that rather look, there is God come as Man, born from the people whom He told He would come. And thus there is salvation for all, thus there is forgiveness and redemption and love. And by faith, dear friends, you see it.

By faith, God has called you here. By faith, you have been made to confess your sins, called to struggle against them and to strive to beat them down even daily by faith. By faith you have been brought here to this Temple, where Christ Jesus comes to you today, bringing You forgiveness and life. Yes, He comes to you this day – He comes proclaimed in His Word – Christ Jesus lives, and you are forgiven. He comes in His Supper – taste and know your forgiveness, drink and know your salvation. Yes, this world is scary, yes, being a Christian means seeing your own sin and that is a terrifying and rough thing, but behold Your Savior, Christ Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you from all your sins, and lives so that you might live with Him both now and forever. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +