Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tomorrow's Sermon

What? So few posts? Eh, I've got mono - I feel like I'm 80. Oigh. Actually, my 80 year olds tend to get around better than me.

Trinity 17 – September 30th, 2007 – Luke 14:1-11

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

Why do you do the things that you do? What causes you to make the decisions you make, to choose the choices in your life? When it boils down to it, why do you do the things that you do? For the Christian, the why of something, the reasoning why something is done is more important than the act itself. As Christians, we are to be focused on acting for the right reason, the right motivation – acting with the right intentions.

So why do you do the things that you do? Our Lord is invited to a Pharisee’s house in our Gospel text – and there is a man there, sick with dropsy. And it was a Sabbath – and all these Pharisees are there watching Him, watching to see what Jesus would do. But they were already lost – what is much more important is why Jesus does what He does. And that is what Jesus tries to teach these Pharisees – this is why He asks them questions and then gives them advice – for the reasons why one acts is just as or more important than what is done.

You see, when it boils down to it – there are basically only two reasons why a person does something – greed or love. A person may act out of greed – act because he expects something to benefit himself. This is the way of the world – where decisions are made on the basis of what is best for me. This is the way of the world, where one holds a finger up to the air before acting, where one spends one’s time wondering what other people will say – and acting only if you will garner their praise. On the other hand, a person may act out of love – may act not thinking about himself or his own benefit – but act simply for the good and benefit of the neighbor. Now, this may require deliberation, it may require thought on how best to aid the neighbor – but there is no worry about what people will think, or even if they will see. This love brings about acts that are done even when no one knows, no one sees, no one praises. This is the way in which a Christian is to approach his life – seeking to act out of love.

Jesus shows us today how foolish it is to act selfishly, to act worrying what the world will think of you. One Sabbath, when He 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. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? But they remained silent.” Here is the set up. The Pharisees have set a test for Jesus. Their traditions say one doesn’t do work on the Sabbath – and they watch Jesus to see if He would have the audacity to do work right in front of them. Now, Jesus could have been cowered, He could have thought, “Oh, I better just not do anything, these Pharisees might think poorly of me – they might even not like me, not invite me to dinner anymore.” Jesus could have thought how best to use the situation to His advantage – what can I do that will make these people like me more? But He doesn’t. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Simple. Jesus heals the guy. Why? Because he needed to be healed. . . and besides, living your life constantly worrying about what others think of you – bearing that burden of constantly trying to bribe people into liking you is folly.

You can’t keep it up – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you dance the little dances you think they want you to – because human opinion is such a fleeting thing. Listen to the parable Jesus tells these Pharisees. When you are invited to a 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,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. If you live your life always trying and striving to have other people think better of you – to puff up yourself, to claim honor – you’ll not have it. It won’t last. That’s the thing about the world – it loves knocking heroes off of their pedestals, it loves scandal, it loves tearing people down. And that’s what you’ll get if you live your life playing by the world’s rules – because it doesn’t matter how popular you are now, how many people like you now – someone “better” will always come along – and all of your striving and working will be for naught. Heartache and worry – all for nothing, only to be reduced to the seat of shame.

This is not how or why Christ acts, dear friends. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Simple. Decisive. This man is suffering – Christ will stop his suffering, and if the Pharisees don’t like it, they can go rot. Jesus acts with no regard for what the Pharisees will think of Him – He simply acts out of love for this man. But then, Jesus also acts out of love for these Pharisees, these Pharisees who are so prepared to look down on Him. After the man whom He has healed has left, Jesus says to the Pharisees 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? Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He isn’t trying to justify His actions – He’s teaching. He’s showing love to the Pharisees, He’s trying to show them the right way. Of course you pull your son out of the well – for you love your son and that love will compel you to act. The purpose of the Sabbath day wasn’t to demonstrate how good and holy you are to everyone – it was to provide rest and a time to hear God’s Word, a time to worship and serve God. Serving the neighbor, showing love, that too is serving God – acting in love is no violation – it would only violate false, self-promoting standards that you establish for yourself. Even as the Pharisees try to trap Him so they can look down on Him, Jesus calls out to them, reaches out to them, tries to pull them out of their funk and mire.

And there was no praise for Him in this. No praise for healing the man, no praise for His patience in how He deals with the Pharisees. But Christ Jesus acts out of love – not out of the desire to be praised. Likewise, dear Christians – when you act, your actions must come out of love, and not from the desire for your own vain glory. And showing love as a Christian ought – many times it isn’t very popular. It’s not popular to show kindness to those who are looked down upon – it’s not popular to say no to wrong doing that everyone else is doing – it’s not popular to hold fast to what God says rather than the vain ideas of the day. But it shows love. It shows love by caring for those who need to be cared for no matter what anyone thinks. It shows love by not standing by idly while your friends harm themselves. It shows love because by defending the true faith of Christ Crucified you defend life and salvation for all people. This is to be your task oh Christian – to show love in all things – every act, every decision – how do I best show love here? That is how you are to live – that is how you are to treat your neighbor.

Dear friends – this is how Christ has treated you. Everything Jesus does, He does for you and for your sake. Every action Jesus takes He does to win you life and salvation – no matter what the cost to Himself. Jesus must die, must be whipped and left to die on a cross – so be it, if that is what is required for you to be saved, for you to have forgiveness – to the cross He goes. Christ Jesus always acts so that you might know and receive His love. Shall we ponder the wonder of Church itself – that God has preserved this congregation for so long through so much – simply so there is a place where you can hear His Word and receive His Sacraments? Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder the mystery of God’s Word – that God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, chooses to have His Word written and preserved so that you might learn it, hold it on your heart, so that you might never be away from His Word that declares His love for you. Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder Baptism – that God joins Himself to you – washes away all your sins and declares you His own child, His own heir, the beneficiary of all that is His – and that He does this freely, indeed, for most of us when we were too young to even say thank you? Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder the Supper – that Christ Jesus, as a sign and token of what He did upon the Cross, gives you His own crucified and resurrected flesh in a way that you can receive and handle so that your sin is forgiven and your faith strengthened. I have been asked by those who deny the Lord’s Supper, who deny Christ why Jesus would have to let Himself come to us in this way. Simple. Given and shed for you. Jesus always acts for you. In everything He does – Christ always seeks your benefit. He is the one who comes to you when you are weak and lowly, a sinner who is humble and confesses his sin, and says to you, “Friend, move up higher” – that is, come and be with me, be my companion for all eternity, join me through the trials of this life on earth and then on join me for all eternity in Heaven.

That’s what every sermon here boils down to, isn’t it? It’s what everything we say as Christians drives at. Jesus Christ died. . . for you. He rose from the dead . . . for you. Behold His Body and Blood, given. . . for you. The sheer and utter wonder that Christ acts in the completely opposition fashion of the world – that He craves not His own glory, but rather that God’s priority is showing love to you. This is the wonder of the Christian faith. This is the truth we try to emulate in our daily lives – living our own lives for the benefit of our neighbors. This is the saving truth that we proclaim to the world. Jesus always acts for you. And He has done it, everything that you need – all thanks be to God for His great love for us. Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Random thoughts. . .

September 11th, 2001 was a Tuesday. Tuesday is one of my favorite days of the week, and yet it is also one of the most dangerous for me - for it is new release day for both books and music.

Two artists had debut albums that were to come out on September 11th. One was by Melissa Lefton - - and it got pulled. Happy self-mocking pop didn't seem like it would fly. (Go look at the video for her song "My Hit Song" - ) Another was by Lennon (Murphy) - and angry girl rock didn't sell like people thought it would -- things went down hill.

I got to meet Lennon Murphy at the famous Girls Garage Concert of November 2003 - even have - er - had e-mails from her on the old computer that is dead. Lennon has worked at keeping a go of things - she did an acoustic album that I thought was just beautiful. . . but is by in large unknown.

Now, yes, the ramifications of 9/11 upon the American Popular music scene isn't a general matter of great interest, especially upon a theological blog, but it is strange to think of how two rather promising musicians, set for a fall release (most likely to coincide with school returning to session) basically saw their careers go by in large belly up - at least in terms of big dreams and massive success.

It's funny to see how fickle and fleeting anything that deals with popular culture is - and yet, what is the temptation? To try and market religion along these fickle lines. Bizarre. I love pop culture, but I see how fickle and changing it is - which is the exact opposite of the Christian Faith which is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Yes - this post is random - perhaps entertaining - but random. Certainly not how we'd want our theology - right?

Tomorrow's sermon

To save stress on the morrow - I am finishing up my sermon and printing the copies for my hard of hearing folks tonight. Here it is.

Trinity 16 – September 23rd – Luke 7:11-17

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

Did you see it, dear Christians, did you see the fierce battle fought in our Gospel text? Did you hear the din of the ancient war, did you hear the echoes of the combat and contest that was our Gospel text. Oh, no, there were no swords, no guns or bombs, no bloodied and broken bodies strew across the ground – but make no mistake – our Gospel lesson was indeed a battle – it was an episode of the Great battle. Our Gospel shows us the battle between God and Satan, between life and death.

Behold the two armies marching out to meet each other. The army of Light and life follows its captain, Christ Jesus our Lord. Soon afterward He went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him. And this army is fresh off of a victory. Jesus has just healed the servant of the Centurion, cut off the old foe death at the pass, prevented the enemy from gaining any ground. As so, the crowds follow Christ to a little town called Nain. And as they approach, they behold a second army arrayed against them. 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. A second army, following in the wake of death. A second throng, united in misery and mourning – a miserable procession with death at its head, death shouting and taunting – look oh Christ, oh healer. Too late, too late, death has already had it’s sway here. A second army, following death, and expecting nothing other than death.

So, what does Jesus do? What is His response seeing this funeral procession? Will He yield the field, stand aside and let them march their most unmerry way to the cemetery? No. The royal banners forward go, and the Son of God marches forth to war. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion upon her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Behold Christ’s weapons which He uses in His struggle. Compassion and mercy – with compassion Christ strides forward to take on death, determined to show mercy. Then He came up and touched the bier and the bearers stood still. He walks up and puts His hand on the bier, the open casket, virtually grabs the body. There is no hesitation, no nervousness that we might have around a dead body, no fear of death for Christ. He simply marches in and puts down His hand, stops the procession of death in its tracks. And then, our Lord speaks. Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. Christ speaks, and death is undone. The Lord of Life opens His lips, and a mother regains her son. Jesus acts, and everything that was expected, all the words of vain comfort the villagers had planned melt away into nothing, destroyed, defeated, no longer needed. Christ goes forth to battle, and He wins. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people.” And the forces of death flee, death’s army breaks and scatters – Satan flees in terror while death’s deserts cling to Christ and God is praised and glorified. This is the battle we see in our text this morning – Christ taking the battle to Satan and Death, and Christ defeating them both.

This battle, this contest, dear friends, it should be a familiar one to you. It is one you fight every hour of every day. Do you realize that you are constantly fighting, constantly engaged in a battle of your own? We tend not to think of our lives that way – maybe on occasion, if we sing “Onward Christian Soldiers” or something – but even then we tend to think of big groups of Christians doing great and good and wonderful things in the world. But this is not of what I speak. No, today, let us spend a moment to look at the battle you yourself wage, every hour of every day – against sin and death. Do you feel Satan attacking you – the old crafty foe crouching at your door like a ravenous lion – the temptations that swirl around you? You realize that is Satan trying to kill you? All sin is death – all sin is tiny little bits of death that well up and try to dominate our life. An unkind word to a friend, and a little bit of the goodness and blessings of our life dies. A simple white lie to get out of trouble, and our good name and reputation dies a little bit. We choose to ignore the Word of God, have something better to do – and a small little dagger is driven into our faith, trying to whittle it away to nothing. A bit of desire for what our neighbor has, and our contentment and thankfulness for God’s blessings dies. Satan is always attacking you with sin and death – the two are hand in hand – and Satan is always attacking, seeking your downfall – whether it may come with some great gross sin where you openly defy God, or by a series of small ones – paper cuts leading to the death of faith. This is what Satan has planned for you.

But Your Lord Jesus Christ does not leave you to your own devices in your battle against Satan. Just as in the text, He is the One who fights Satan in your life. Think on this. You are baptized. 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. God Almighty – the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost – the Triune God has joined Himself to you, placed His own Name upon you, sealed by water and the Word – to what end? That daily your old sinful nature might drown, might die – that daily you might put death to death – so that the New Man, so that Christ Jesus Himself might shine forth in your life. Christ Jesus does it for you and in you. Stay close to Him, cling to Him, cling to His Word so that He might do His Work in You.

But what of the times, oh those dread times, when you don’t drown the old man like you ought – when you ignore the Word, when you sin. When you look at your life and you see the hurt you have caused others, the hurt you have caused yourself. What then? What when you feel like the dead man from the text, lying in the casket of your sins, stuck and unable to fix it? What then? The same thing as what happened in our text. Christ comes to you. Did you think that He would abandon you – that Satan’s small victories in your life would sour Christ upon you? No – He comes to you – and He speaks His Word of life to you. He sees your sin and says, “I forgive you” and that sin is done away with. He sees your broken, sinful body that struggles and strives against temptation and so often fails – and just as He put out His hand and stopped that funeral bier in its tracks, as He physically wrested that young man from death – ponder what Christ does for you. Physical He intervenes and strengthens your weak, failing flesh, with His prefect, immortal, life giving flesh – Take and eat, this is My Body, given for you – take and drink, this is My Blood shed for the remission – for the retreat and defeat and destruction of all of your sins.

Do you see dear friends, what Your Lord is doing? He is focusing your eyes upon Himself, He is bringing Himself to You, He is uniting Himself to you in Word, by what you see and smell and taste. All of this – uniting you to Him. And why? Because the true battle, the final and ultimate battle – it’s already been done. Our Gospel text today – it was just foreshadowing, a preview of what was to come. And dear friends, your life, Satan’s attacks on you – the death throes of a defeated foe. The great battle has already been fought, when Christ Jesus took on death square on – walked into death’s domain willingly, like a lamb to the slaughter. When Christ went to the Cross, He was fighting death, fighting death for you – and Satan thought he was winning, Satan cackled with glee as the whips rent Christ’s flesh and Satan danced as nails held Christ fast to the cross. And Jesus died. And Jesus went to death. But there was no victory for death – no final triumph for our foe – for Christ Jesus strode forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday, alive. Death could not hold Him and was thus defeated. Nothing more could death do – defeated, defanged, destroyed.

And everything Christ Jesus does in your life, dear friends, is simply taking what He has done with His death and resurrection and making it the center, the highest reality of your life. Satan tempts you with sin, seeks your downfall. Christ says, “Begone, for this one is mine – I have died for him and claimed him as my own in the waters of Baptism.” Satan hounds you with guilt, says that you deserve death for what you have done. Christ with His Word says – “You did deserve death, but I took death for you, and death has no more hold upon you – for you are my forgiven child.” Satan points out how weak your flesh is – and Christ says take and eat, for indeed, you are My Body, you are My own, and all that I have done and all that I am – I give to you freely that you may be with me forever. All that Jesus does, He does to give Himself to you, to unite Himself with you – to declare you not only forgiven, but alive in His name.

And so, we see struggles in this life. Temptations come, and sometimes they come hard and with avengence. Sins cry out to us, and sometimes they sound good. Our flesh seems weak, and our bodies even fail, and we can even see our own death approaching. Yes, Satan still tries to attack us horribly – but we know that the battle is done, that Christ is the Victor – and so we cling to Him, we struggle on – and what comes, it comes. But in all things we go forth in this life with victorious confidence – for we know the battle is won – and even should the day come where our eyes close in death – we know what will happen. That with the sound of trumpet, we will on the last day hear our Lord say, “I say to you, arise.” Amen.

At Weedon's Request

Finally, I will try to figure this out. . . here is a picture of me bride from me honeymoon. This is from Davy Byrne's pub in Ireland - the same one from Joyce's Ulysseus. Note that she has a nice pint of Smithwick's ale.

As for me - here I am holding, yes, the superbowl trophy at the Waterford Crystal factory. They make three - one that is the real one, one that is a back up they take with them, and a third for reference. This is the reference copy of this year's trophy.

Finally, this is Celia and I at a fine pub in Kilkenny - I have a nice bowl of Guinness Stew - she has Chicken Volavent. The pints were of Kilkenny ale - the one we both liked best.

Lest it sound like I am whining. . .

I hate to feel like I'm whining on here. The last two weeks have been nothing but ugh, ugh, ugh from me - but, well, it's been an ugh kind of two weeks. So here it is, just before 5. I've been up since just before 4 - not really able to sleep. I was worn out yesterday afternoon and slept 4 hours - so I don't know if that is part of it. My throat and the back of the roof of my mouth are sore, and that is playing a part (and that should be a semi-constant for the next 6 weeks or so). So now I will sit here with a cup of tea and ruminate on things.

Mono will be good for me - and this is why I say this. One of the major critiques I have of the US is that we place so much value on what we are doing - and if we aren't doing, we aren't worth anything. This stands out so clearly if you go visit overseas - the pace of American Culture, even in the rural areas, is astounding. This is a strength (helps the economy, I suppose), but also a great weakness socially and spiritually. Everything wraps around what we do - not who we are, not what we receive and enjoy in life -- or to use a trite phrase - we don't take time to stop and smell and the roses - and thereby miss out on a lot.

This is one of the reasons why Lutheranism rubs so many Americans in such a wrong way - it's fundamentally never about what you do. Even when we talk about our good works - they are actually what Christ does in us and through us. Our focus is not on our actions, but Christ's actions and what He does for us. Or worth is determined by what God says it is - and that means our worth is in Christ's estimatation more than His own life which He lays down upon the cross for our sake. We simply receive - and that so runs contrary to the rugged individualism of American Culture.

And even as I critique this attitude and approach, I myself have been falling into it as well as regards the execution of my duties as Pastor. For too long I've been driven to do more and more here at my Church - pushed by fears of what people will say or how they will complain if x, y, and z don't get done (irregardless if x, y, and z even need to be done, much less if they need to be done by me). Well - now I can't overwork myself - or I should say - I'll probably end up overworking myself at 40 hours and have to rest, rather than pushing 60. That is a good control for me. Moreover - I now have a built in shield against complaints -- not that my actions should be dictated by what people might say, but I am as flawed and senseative as the next guy. Besides, I had forgotten much of the internal, mediative aspects of being a pastor - that I am to be studying the Word so as to better preach and apply it - and that doesn't necessarily mean running around all the time. I keep pointing out that I need to relax and study more - perhaps now I shall.

And what's nice - this isn't me just being all Pollyanna, trying to put a positive spin on it. Even as I sit up here somewhat uncomfortable - neither able to sleep on the couch nor next to my blistering hot wife (in terms of the body heat she radiates) - good things are happening. I see how this will help me grow.

Sometimes things aren't about doing. They are about being. They are about growing. They are about learning. It's nice to be entering one of those times again - or so it seems to me. I find it amazing how God works through our weaknesses to focus us and make us grow - be still and know that I am the Lord - My grace is sufficient for you. A good focus.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Decreased Bloggage

I may not be writing as much for a bit. Why? I have mono. Yes, mono. The kissing disease. I think my wife is a carrier and she gave it to me. Oigh.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Illness and the importance of prayer

Well, I am feeling better but I am still fighting off something. Just got a second round of antibiotics from the doctor (also took a mono test). I have been incredibly weak (got through service on Sunday in the midst of massive cold sweats). Quite often I have been left sitting on my couch or in bed. Members of my congregation have had things happens - things that I normally would be at - and they understand perfectly well why I'm not there. . . but still, it's a little annoying to me.

And so I am left to pray. Here I am, newly 30, feeling like I'm 80, and so I learn. I've been praying much more, more thoroughly, in a more focused manner (although brief, I have been tired). Even as I sit and lament all that I cannot do at the moment - I pray. I guess I am doing exactly what I need to do.

I have told the elderly that indeed they can pray - in fact, that may be the only act of direct service to others that they have left to them (there is the service one gives to the neighbor by letting them serve you and do their own good works - I'm learning that one too). I actually understand this better myself now, and that will probably make my teaching better.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Trinity 15 Sermon

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

I think people often misunderstand the idea of growing in the faith. There seems to be this idea that to grow in the faith, to better understand God and His love for us means that somehow you understand the bizarre and the hidden. Books about the hidden sayings of Jesus or the secret mysteries of the Bible. Not so, dear friends. While there are great and wondrous mysteries, they are not strange, they are not bizzarre. Our Lord commends unto us a faith as of a little child – simply trusting what indeed He has taught us. That tends to be the hard part – to simply trust what our Lord says – yet that is what we are called to do. And so today, as we look at our Gospel lesson, we are again going to review that which is simple, that which is basic – and indeed, this is a good thing, for we so often forget it. God cares for you. Simple as that – and if we slowed down and remembered this, our understanding of God and His love for us would be so much greater.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Our Lord asks us this morning a question – is not life more than food, the body more than clothing? Is not your life about more than your stuff, your job, your things? We tend not to think this way often, do we? How many of you this week have been quite busy contemplating all the trappings of life – how to pay for the things you want, when to plant, who thinks what about me – so on and so forth. We get caught, we get fixated on the things of this life. We identify ourselves by our jobs, by where we live, by who we are friends with, by what we can do. We treat our life, our existence as simply the sum of the things that we have, the things that we do. But that is not who we were created to be. Man was created in the image of God, created to be in relationship with God. That’s a wonder of the Christian faith. In the garden, Adam walks with God. In the garden, Adam simply tends the creation, not wresting crops from amidst the weeds by the sweat of his brow. But sin makes us forget who we were created to be. Sin looks at and desires the trappings of this life – power, money, wealth, worldly respect. None of this matters, none of this lasts. Everything in this sinful world grows old and decays – it does not last. No, as Christians, our focus is to be on things that endure, things that last – our life with Christ, our life in union with all of God's saints from all times and in all places. As Christians we are to be content to be simple stewards of the gifts God provides for us so that we can show love to those who place God in our lives.

This is hard. Every day we struggle with sin, every day Satan tosses more and more temptations and lures in front of us – things to crave, things to desire, things we think are so important, are so vital to our life. This is why our Lord teaches us not to be anxious. Listen to the Words of Jesus. Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Again, it's one of those things that sounds so simple we assume that it is too good to be true. God will provide. But when it boils down to it – isn't it true – that indeed God provides for us? What happens so often is we see our work, the things we do, the actions we take – and we think that our possessions are about what we do. I've worked hard for everything I have. That may be the case – well done, hard worker. But who provided you with that talent that you could use? Who provided you with that strength that you could use? We rely upon God and His goodness to us – and the sad thing is we can take His simple and routine blessings for granted – and forget that everything we have comes from His goodness.

This past week, I have been sick, sick as a dog. I was spiking up over 102 for 5 days. I went to see the doctor for something other than injury for the first time in over a decade. I was so sick that I couldn't sit up long enough and concentrate to write this sermon until Friday – I tried and couldn't do it. Even then, I had to take breaks, and I didn’t finish until Saturday. I found this quite annoying. In fact, if I don’t have a rough draft of my sermon done by Monday, I tend to be cranky. But you know what? It didn't matter how much I fretted on Monday – the sermon wasn't going to get done. It doesn't matter how many of these I've written – my experience was for nothing. And so, I was left to sit in a feverish state through the week looking at this text – Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? That sort of put things in context. That whole “they are weak but He is strong” truth that we can forget in our pride. We worry, we get ourselves worked up, trying to control every little thing that happens – and sometimes our efforts just don’t work. Our worrying doesn’t add anything to our life. In fact, we know that worrying can shorten our life – that stress can kill us, make us crotchety. When we forget that God is in charge and rather make it all about me and my strength and what I can do – well, we set ourselves up for disappointment and failure.

And the thing is, we don't need to focus, we don't need to worry about the things of this life – that's not a burden we need. We don’t need to be the ones in control – for we know that God is in control, and we know that God provides for us. In fact, we should all be praying this several times a day. Right before our Gospel text in Matthew, Jesus teaches the Lord's Prayer. Fantastic prayer, of course – and what is there smack dab in the middle but this phrase – give us this day our daily bread. Everyday we pray that God provide us what we need for the day – and that's it. As simple as that. Jesus doesn't instruct us to pray something long or complex – we don't have to tell God whether we want wheat bread or white – we simply put everything into God's hands. Give us our daily bread – give, freely, out of Your own goodness, give because You are God and You are good – give us our daily bread. That which we need for this day, whatever that is. Do you see how simple that prayer is? All the complexities of life, all the drama, all the times we get all worked up and riled up with worries and cares – not needed. We know that God provides for us, just as He has in the past.

Indeed, we know that God provides us with all that we need not only for this life, but also for life eternal. This is what we see and trust by faith. The mystery, the wonder of the Christian faith isn't simply that God provides for our needs, but that God has had mercy upon us – that even as we so often fret and flitter and abuse His gifts to us – God restores us to Paradise. This same Jesus who tells us not to be anxious about our life will lay down His own – He will stride boldly to the Cross in order to be able to provide for You not just your daily bread, but His life giving Holy Supper. He suffers and dies not just to see that you have shelter against the storms of this fallen world, but that you have a home with Him for all eternity. This is the wonder which we see each week here in His house – that God has mercy upon us and gives us life in His name. That's why Jesus can tell us not to be anxious, why not to worry about what we eat or wear. Is not life more than food, the body more than clothing? Indeed it is! For you have been claimed by Christ – in the waters of Holy Baptism God declared you to be His own child – your life is more than just that life of a mortal man, doomed to die. You have been given the gift of immortality, that even though you die, yet you shall live in and with Christ for all eternity!

All the drama, all the burdens we worry about, all the things we fret and worry about – not needed. Not needed at all. God is the one in control, God provides for us, God holds us tenderly in His almighty hands, showing His love for us not just in the things of this brief sojourn we have in this sinful, fallen world, but God will be our God for all eternity, providing for us completely with all that we need for salvation and eternal life. God grant that we rest securely in the knowledge of His salvation. Amen.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The effects of illness

For the first time in a long, long while, I am ill. As in, for multiple days ill. As in me bride is trying to get an appointment for me at the doctor's office. I haven't been to the doctor since college - 8 years ago for an ankle injury. The last time I went for health was 11 years ago when I thought I might have had something like mono. Normally I feel nausous, sleep for a day, maybe take it easy for two - and that's it.

This time -- well. . . I felt a little scratchy in my throat last wednesday - so I went home and slept - and felt better. Thursday went fine. Friday, my day off - well. . . I was up at 3:45 to see a member who was having surgery at 6 an hour and a half away, and then when I got back, another member went into the hospital near by in town - so after 10 hours of running around on little sleep around hospitals I sat on the couch and vegged. And I started to spike a fever. I tend to run low on temps - right around 97.5-98. I was in the high 99s. But it broke. I felt okay saturday morning - and then, I taught adult instruction for 2 hours and then spent 4 hours manning a fair booth . . . and then I started feeling bad again. Sat on the couch - spiked over 100 - went to bed. . . fever broke at midnight - I had to change my sweat drenched clothes. Then Sunday morning comes - do my preservice stuff early - feel okay for around half an hour, and then start spiking again. Teaching Bible Study and do the service while feverish (which was fun) - sleep in the car as me bride drives me out to Woodward so my parents can celebrate my 30th (which was monday) - and playing Monopoly, I spike again, to over 102. Sleep on ride home, determined to rest on Monday. Fever comes, fever goes. Fever comes, fever goes - but never really leaves a time where I feel good. And today - oigh, I feel weak. Less warm - still spiking, but weak.

Mondays I like to get the rough draft of my sermon done - and then I tinker with it all the weak. Be not anxious is this week's text. I'm behind the power curve. Only a third of it done - maybe. I get tired writing it. Confirmation class is supposed to restart tomorrow, and I'm not overly prepared - and I may not be up to it tomorrow. All these things are flitting around - all the things that call out for attention - and the body fails, the body doesn't allow for it. Sitting up, typing this, I can feel the strain it has.

So what of this? All too often we place such burdens upon ourselves, we define ourselves by what we accomplish, what we do. I "HAVE" to get this done. In reality - no. Do what the Lord gives you to do - be Steward of the time and talents and treasure you have - and be content with that. One of the beautiful things about illness is that it can make us pause - make us remember that our lives are not defined but what we do but by what Christ has done.

Nights where sleep doesn't come because of fever - they put perspective on those nights where sleep doesn't come because of fretting. Days where you sit and your wife tends to you (that is lovely, by the by) put perspective on the days where you serve. Why do you serve? To your own glory? All too often, that becomes the case. Be served, oh servant, lest you become proud in your service, and your works become a bane to you!

And in all things, God shows love and mercy, providing the true, meet, and salutary daily bread to all of His children.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Trinity 14 Sermon

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

This gospel lesson, the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers, I find it tends to make me feel a bit guilty when I hear it. When I first start to hear it, I cannot help myself, I think about who I would be, what I would do – if I were one of the ten, which would I be – the one who comes back, or one of the nine who just went about their merry way. The temptation is to think that surely, surely I would have come back to give thanks – that upon receiving that great blessing, my first thought would be to turn right back around and kneel at Christ's feet and give thanks.

But then, I think – what would it have been like to be one of these lepers – to be in their shoes. Here you are, outcast – condemned to wander the desert, away from all your family and friends and all the things that make life good. And Jesus walks by. And you know who He is, you know what He can do – and you call out to Him, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” A great cry, a great plea for help – full of faith and trust. And He tells you to go to town, to show yourself to the priests. Contact again. Other people. Family and friends – go there, go see all them. And they all start to walk – dirty and diseased and filled with leprosy. . . And as they went, they were cleansed. Imagine that moment – you had left, you had started walking towards town in hope, in faith – trusting that what Jesus said would come to pass – and it does. And in that moment – what would you do? I have trouble thinking that I would do anything other than in pure excitement and joy run, run to show my now cleansed body to priest, run to all my friends and loved ones who were lost to me, run in joy to share that joy. Pausing, turning around, heading back to go stop and thank Jesus for what He had done – I think that would have been rather far from my mind.

So what of you? Do you think that you would have been the thankful one? Why of course – my parents taught me to be thankful! My mom would smack me upside the head if I didn't say thank you. So, let me ask the question. Are you always thankful? Every blessing that you get, is your first thought thankfulness to God? Every single one? Have you thought on the scope and scale of all the blessings you receive from God? Think about it – think about all the blessings you receive from God, from the greatest to smallest. Do you return instantaneous thanks for them? Thanks full and worthy of what God deserves? And what of the times when God spares you disaster – when things only go a little bad instead of completely and totally bad? How is your thankfulness then? Or what of when things are even worse? At times of disaster do you call out to God “Why, why did You let this happen to me” or do you call out to God, “Thank You Lord, for restraining the wickedness of this world so that I am not completely ruined”? At the horrible, terminal diagnosis, do you thank God for warning you of your approaching death, so that you have time to put your affairs in order, to see loved ones again? At every moment, do you show God thanks for the blessings in your life? You see, thankfulness isn't just a simple response – but thankfulness is to be one's whole attitude, whole approach – recognizing that everything in one's life is gift from God – that even in the worst, darkest moments of our life, we are always to be thankful, for God indeed defends us and shows us more mercy than we could ever deserve.

Well, okay – so perhaps I'm not as thankful as I should be – but I'm thankful for the big things. And if it were something amazing like being healed of leprosy, well, I'd be thankful right off. We've had a sermon on thankfulness, talking all about it – things to be thankful for – what place, what rank, how quickly did forgiveness come to the fore in your thoughts? Which is more miraculous – that God cleanses the sores of the body, or that God gives us forgiveness and cleanses our souls? Which is the greater wonder – that Jesus gives some people health, a better life – or that God Himself came down from heaven, took on flesh, suffered and died for us to give us not just a better life now but true eternal life with Him in heaven? And we train ourselves, we do, here in the church – we train ourselves to be thankful for forgiveness above anything and everything. You should know that you won't ever hear a sermon from me in this pulpit without proclaiming Christ's forgiveness – not a service goes by here where it isn't proclaimed. Indeed – what do we ourselves say in our Communion Liturgy? Let us give thanks unto the Lord our God – it is meet and right so to do. It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks unto You Holy Lord, Almighty Father, ever lasting God. That's what leads into Communion – because chiefly, we give thanks for Christ, what He has done, and what He’s going to give us in this Supper- where Christ gives us His own Body. And what afterwards? The thanksgiving –Oh give thanks unto the Lord for He is good and His mercy endures forever. We give thanks unto Thee, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift. All the time we are taught to be thankful for the great gift of forgiveness – and how often do we fail in that, how often is our thankfulness lacking? How often can we not even be bothered with it? Sunday comes and there’s too many chores to do. Daily Devotions don’t happen. Do you see why this text can make me feel a bit guilty? It reminds me of my failings, that I fail to be thankful to God, and that I even when I am thankful, it lacks. I can even lack thankfulness for forgiveness, I can overlook it and run right on by, ignoring all that God has done for me. So often I run on my merry way without thanks.

Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well. And here is the beautiful thing, dear friends. Here is the hope, here is the comfort, here is the joy that this text has. If we stop too early, we don't see it – we only see our lack. But then we see Christ in action, and we are comforted. I'm not as thankful as I should be – so what does that mean for me? Is my only hope that God somehow not notice my sin? That I get away with it, just this once? Well, no, God notices. He does – so I can't hope that He ignores my sin. No – God is quite aware of my lack – and in fact He acts on my behalf. My sin doesn't paralyze God. When I sin, when I fail – I don't tie God's hands. He still acts on my behalf. Look at the text. Even as so many fail, so many sin – Jesus still shows love, still heals. Even knowing that thankfulness might be hard to come by, Jesus still has mercy and compassion upon these lepers. Were not ten cleansed! They are cleansed, Jesus still heals them, knowing that their thankfulness will be sparse. Even knowing that your thankfulness will be sparse – Christ Jesus goes to the cross – takes up your sin and puts it to death on the cross – and wins you forgiveness. And more over, even as you can neglect to give thanks for this forgiveness – Christ still yearns to provide it to you. The Sunday where you are too busy for Church – Christ still sees that His Gospel is preached and ready for you the next. That day where you are tired and skip your daily devotions – Christ still supplies you with His Word – the bibles in your house don't all vanish. God is so patient and loving with us. Ponder this with me. When someone isn't thankful to you – when they don't show you thankfulness – what is your reaction? Bitter, upset, angry? Why’d I even bother? God doesn't treat us like we treat each other – God continues to show mercy, continues to call us unto Him, continues to shower us with every blessing of both body and soul – even when we aren't perfect and nice. Indeed, He knows that we aren't perfect and nice – and so He calls us over and over unto His House to hear His Word – to have His Forgiveness spoken to us, to receive His own Body and Blood – all of this to forgive us anew, to strengthen us in faith, to teach and focus our eyes on where they should be, so we can see more and more the depth of His love for us. And He doesn't stop. His mercy endures forever.

If you look at this text, dear friends, and spend your time looking at the lepers – you will see your own lack. It will stand out and be obvious like the sores on these lepers, it will smell like the rot of their decaying flesh. But if, dear friends, you look at our Gospel text and see Christ – see what He does – you will see the depth and intensity of His love for you – a love that is not based on what you do, a love that is not earned or merited by how nice you are – but a love that is unconditional – a love that doesn't merely overlook faults but covers them in His righteous blood and forgives them. Our God always shows us love, always offers us forgiveness, always desires to strengthen and heal us – even when we don't remember this. God grant that He continue to hold before our eyes the Cross of Christ Jesus – so that we might not become content in our sins, but strive ever more to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified, and learn ever more to join in the thanks with the hosts of heaven for the salvation He has won us. Amen.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Emerging Church - Back to the Future!

Well, so I have been seeing more and more on the topic of the Emerging Church - how it is new and hip and vital - or so I am told. "This is the future of the Church!" - or so the story goes. People gathering in small house churches to gain better access to more authentic spirituality than they can get in large, faceless congregations.

This is new? :sigh: This is why we need more and more history classes taught at the Seminary (I'm almost convinced that for the training of theologians it is pointless to try to learn theology if you don't learn history -- "The Structure of Lutheranism" is probably as informative and much more practical than Pieper - because without the history, you don't understand why Pieper emphasizes what he does). If you were awake and aware in History class, you might have noticed something. As Bon Jovi sings - "It's all the same, only the names have changed. Every day, it seems we're drifting away."

First, let's take Pietism, and then let us change small groups or clubs into "house churches" and change holiness, the goal of pietism, into something equally amorphous - "spirituality" - and you have the Emerging Church. A group that desires to place their experiential enjoyment of faith as the defining factor of what is true - except this time that experience is based not on a sense of "holiness" where one is a better person in terms of living, but based on "spirituality" - where one feels more connected to the "divine".

And what ought to be the Lutheran response? To point to good old fashioned preaching on Justification. To adminster the Sacraments. To deal with people individually with Law and Gospel. Yes, yes, each of those a cliche', but they are our cliche's for a reason. When done - they provide all that either of these groups, pietists or emergers (does that work as a term) desire. Do you wish to be holy, to flee from a life of sin? Hear the life giving and sanctifying Word of God - hear His law that hits you and convicts you of your sin - hear the Gospel that lavishes the holiness of Christ Jesus upon you. Do you wish to be close to the divine? Draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord - indeed, ponder that you, Baptized Christian, have been joined to Christ - joined more closely than anything earthly we have - where marriage is simply a picture of the higher reality of your relationship to Christ - and ponder that you have in your mouth God Himself who purposefully and inentionally designed this meal so that He would be with you always, not just in thought, not just by what you hear, but by what you can see, and taste, and feel, and smell - connected by every sense.

Cynically - what will be the Lutheran response? By in large. . . unthinking conservatism will reject this at first - simply because we haven't done it. . . until the movement outside Lutheranism begins to die. At this point, as it is on the decline, we will decide it is a fine idea, run with it, and be foolish theologically and probably 10-15 years behind the power curve of theological trends to boot - tossing out the baby to have more room in the crib to store jars of old bathwater. Thus is life.

There is nothing new under the sun. What remains for us is always the same - preach Christ and Him Crucified - no matter what fad reinvents itself.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Trinity 13 Sermon

Trinity 13 – September 2nd, 2007

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Allow me to ask you a question. Your relationship to God, your Christian faith – it is defined by what you DO for God or by what you RECEIVE from God? The basis for who you are as a Christian, indeed, what makes you a Christian – is that based upon what you do for God, or what you receive from God? This has been the question since the fall of man – it is a question that comes up in the Old Testament – it is a question that is debated even today. Where as Christians do we put our focus, on what we DO for God, or what we RECEIVE from God? In fact, in our Gospel lesson, we see this same discussion going on – and we see our Lord’s Answer, our Lord’s Answer given to a lawyer who had definite ideas about his own answer.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” In our text, a lawyer approaches Jesus – and what is this lawyer’s focus? What shall I do? What do I need to do, what work must I do to inherit eternal life? This lawyer, his understanding of being a Christian, of being a believer focuses in on what He does for God. That colors his whole approach, what do I have to do? So Jesus ask him a question. “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” There you go. If you want your relationship with God to be based on what you do – well, there you go. Love God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, with your whole strength, and with your whole mind. Well, that should tell us that we can’t do this. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything with my whole heart or with my whole soul. I’m quite often confused – even when I do something good I’ll grouse and complain about it. And as for the neighbor. . . well, it’s pretty hard to love the neighbor as yourself. All too often when I look at my neighbor, I become impatient and unkind, and can just get flat out annoyed. Do all this and live. Jesus sets a high bar there – if your relationship with God is about what you do – you have to do it all. . . always. . . completely. And we can’t do that.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” This lawyer, he realizes that he can’t do all this stuff. Man, that’s a lot. And so this man does what everyone who focuses on works, on what they do, does. They lower the bar. So, who exactly is my neighbor? Since I have to love – who can I not show love to? What’s the littlest that I have to do? It’s amazing – he asks what he’s supposed to do – and then suddenly wants to make it less. But the law has nothing but harsh demands. And they are thorough. We see how thorough they are through the story of the Good Samaritan.

“A man, was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now, by chance a priest was going down the 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. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 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. 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 when I come back.” Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” This is both who you are to love and how you are to love. Your neighbor is not defined by your race, religion, or nationality. It’s not a matter of just who you like, who is your social peer, who is convenient. Who is your neighbor? Anyone and everyone. When we say neighbor we aren’t simply referring to people we like. Behold the Samaritan, who belonged to a race that was looked down upon by the Jews. He shows love, even to someone who probably wouldn’t spare him a second thought, even to someone who might berate him. He is a true neighbor. So who, oh members of Zion – is your neighbor? Yes, your family, yes, your friends – but also that person next door who annoys you – he is your neighbor. The rude person at work – he is your neighbor. That person who doesn’t speak English – he is your neighbor. Indeed, even a terrorist who plans wickedness for this nation – according to God he is your neighbor – and you are beholden to love him and to pray for him.

And the love you are to give your neighbor is not to be shoddy, it is not to be second best. Behold what the Samaritan does – he gives of his time. The Samaritan stops what he is doing, interrupts his travels to care for the beaten man. The Samaritan gives up his animal and walks so that this beaten man can ride. The Samaritan is diligent – he doesn’t just do the minimum, but he stays with the man to nurse him to health – he pays amply and richly to see the man cared for. Behold how you are to love your neighbor – with your time and with your efforts and with your treasure. Indeed, you are to hold nothing back, and all that you have, all that God has made you a steward over is to be used for the ultimate benefit of your neighbors, those God puts into your life.

Now, let us return for a moment to the original question asked in this sermon. Your relationship to God, your Christian faith – it is defined by what you DO for God or by what you RECEIVE from God? So – is your relationship to God defined by what you do? You have just heard from Jesus Himself how one is to love God, wholly and completely. You have just seen His description of how one is to love one’s neighbor. Do you match up? Do you wish to approach God Almighty and say, “Alright, judge me by Your Holy and perfect standards God, and see how well I match up!” No. That can’t be the way we relate to God – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And yet, what is the temptation which Satan gives us? To focus on our works, on what we do. To puff up our pride to where we saunter up to God and demand of Him His respect and blessings because golly gee wiz we’re good Christians. That is the way of death and eternal damnation – and when pride comes creeping at your door, when you start to think that you are a better Christian because of all that you do, repent, lest you fall away from the faith, and God does judge you by what you have done and by what you have left undone.

No, our relationship to God is defined by what we receive from God. Let us return to the story. Who is my neighbor? Let us answer that from the perspective of the beaten man. Was the Priest a neighbor to him? No. Was the Levite a neighbor to him? No. His own people forsake him. But was the Samaritan a neighbor to him? Yes. And why? Because this beaten man received love from the Samaritan. Know and learn, dear Christian, that this image that Christ holds before us describes how you and He relate. Look at your own life – are you not beaten and broken? Has not Satan kicked the tar out of you and left you for dead – indeed, as Paul says dead in trespasses? Are you not unable to help yourself, to do all the things that God wishes you to – to fulfill His law? Beaten and broken. And yet, as the Samaritan came to help the beaten man, Christ Jesus comes down from heaven, takes on Human Flesh, becomes Man – in order to help you. Christ becomes your neighbor – you have a relationship with God only because of what Christ does for you, only because God has compassion upon you. Our Lord comes and beholds us, beaten and broken by sin and He binds up our wounds and sets about the business of healing us. Indeed, He does all the work and carries us to where we shall receive healing. He pays for our healing, not with gold or silver, but with His Holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom. Christ picks us up and claims us as His own – for He picked up the Cross and died for the right to claim us, the right to declare us forgiven, the right to cry out “I have done what they could not – I have shown love to God and neighbor perfectly – It is Finished.” And He cares for us until His return. He places us in His church where we are cared for. Our wounds are bound up just as the beaten man’s were – with oil and wine. In the early Church, the baptized were always after baptism anointed with oil – and the sign of the cross upon their forehead. Oil in this story points us to our Baptism. And wine, dear friends – Christ still binds up our wounds of sin and gives us forgiveness, as He attaches His own blood shed for us to wine, which He gives to us in His supper. Do you see, dear friends – what the basis, what the focus of our relationship with God is? That Christ Jesus comes to us, while we are lost in sin, and that He is the One who starts this relationship, He is the One who sustains it.

Dear friends in Christ, let us with joy and gladness answer the question. Why are you a Christian? Because Christ Jesus has come to you, and you receive from Him forgiveness of your sins and life in His name. You are a Christian not because of what you do for God, but because of what you receive from God – because of what God does for you. This is our joy and hope – for where as we fail daily and often – God is faithful and just and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. This is who Your God is – the God who comes to you and gives you life in His Name. Amen.