Monday, September 29, 2008

Concerning the previous post

Hmmm. . . I guess the previous post is the answer to the question of "What does one get when you combine a Pastor who has woken up early, has a terribly sore leg (pulled lower ham in my right), is sucking down caffeine, recently read Oberman's essay on Luther's views of humilty and Oberman's essay on the artificial "santized" Luther - and has just written a sermon on Matthew 21:33-44?"

I think that I'm fixing to go teach Latin to some junior high kids is impacting this to.

Nothing worse than pride

Is there anything more dangerous to the Christian than pride? Pride is the most subtle of all the temptations Satan throws our way - for it can creep in and we don't view it as that deadly or dangerous. If one wakes up in Vegas hung over and surrounded by a myriad of cheap hookers (I've been reading much Luther - deal with the blunt language) - one knows right away that one has done wrong. If your brother's blood is upon your hands, it is hard to deny your sin.

But pride - ah, subtle pride. Pride points out how wonderful you are. See how hard you work for God? See, you resist such vile of temptations (no prostitutes for you!). Are you not just a good, fine, Christian? There is only room for one who is wonderful in our lives - either you view Christ as the One is is wonderful, and wonderful to you and for you - or in your pride you will see yourself as wonderful.

Pride wrests our eyes off of Christ, off of the Cross, off of His glories, and places it upon ourselves. And the danger is - sure, it's good that I show love. So what? I am still a miserable sinner deserving of hell for all the others of my offenses. Be gone, pride, and lure me not to hell out of self love!

I think this is why I dislike talking about "my" works in terms of good works. Soli Deo Gloria! To God alone be the glory! Speak nothing about what I have done! Tempt me not with pride! If we must speak of what I have done - let me speak of my filth and wretchedness, that I might repent of it! Let us speak of how our righteousness is as but filthy rags - that I may take no pride their in.

If I wish to work on works, if I desire to improve my life, as I ought, let me rather focus on, by the power and love of God, beating down and breaking my old Sinful Adam and all that which hinders me from doing what should be natural to me, and will be natural to me in the resurrection. We are made to be mirrors of Christ, reflecting His image by simple virtue of the fact that we are made in His image. Lord, polish me clean! Remove the stain and spots, o Lord, and I will shine.

But defend me from pride - lest I once again pour filth on what you have made clean. Lord have mercy!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sermon - Trinity 19 - Matt 9:1-8

Trinity 19 – Matthew 9:1-8 – September 28th, 2008

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
It was love, pure and simple. It was love that motivated these people to bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. These nameless people in the text – and we don’t even know if they were family or friends – whoever they were – out of love and concern for their friend, they bring him, bring this man who can no longer walk, to Jesus. In our Gospel lesson today, we see an incredible story of love – love shown to a poor paralyzed man. But we also see a tale of how often God’s love isn’t desired by man, but rather is despised and rejected. This morning, this is what we will do. We will compare our thoughts about love and how to love with God’s, and see what we learn about God’s love for us.

And behold, some people brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven.” A lot of times, when we hear this, we can think that there is something wrong. We can think that the solution doesn’t fit the cure. Your sins are forgiven? Jesus, the guy can’t walk! Who cares about his sin right now – heal him, make him walk! We can almost. . . be slightly annoyed with Jesus – oh, Jesus, just get to the point and heal the poor guy! You know what this means? It means that often our expectations of God’s love are wrong. We can think, “the chief problem here must be that the guy is disabled – so fix it.” But note something from the text. And when Jesus saw their faith – when Jesus sees the faith of these people, the faith of this paralyzed man – that’s when Jesus tells this poor man that his sins are forgiven.

Before this account, Matthew records many miracles – it seems almost routine. Jesus heals lots of folks of lots of things. Chapter 8 itself has a leper, and the Centurion’s servant, and Peter’s mother-in-law, and two demon possessed men. But this is the first time in Matthew that faith is mentioned with a healing. So maybe it’s not a case of Jesus missing the point, but Jesus hitting things spot on. Think about, for a moment, the times when things go badly in your life – when things go wrong. How often does that thought creep in – “maybe I did something to anger God – maybe this is my sin coming back to bite me”? How easily can we become burdened with guilt and shame? This most likely was the case with this paralyzed guy. The popular Jewish understanding what that if something bad happened to you, some tragedy, it was your fault. In John, when they see a blind man, the disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” So there you have this paralyzed man – and Christ sees his faith – sees the faith of the man’s friends – and our Lord speaks. Take heart – be enheartened, don’t be down – your sins are forgiven.

This is the sadness of our day and age. We so often only see things in terms of this life – how much we have, how good or poor our bodies are – we think with our stomachs and plan with our pocket books – and we so often miss the more important reality. This paralyzed man of faith didn’t have our weaknesses, he knew what was important. He was concerned that his sin condemned him, not just to a life stuck on a bed, on a mat, but to an eternity of damnation and hell. And Christ speaks a word of forgiveness to him, and he is lifted up. Would that our approach be the same as this paralyzed man’s! Would that our faith, our desire for forgiveness dominate our lives, whatever comes in it, be it sickness or health, wealth or poverty, droughts or floods! But too often we don’t think this way, we let the cares and concerns of this life push the things of faith and eternal life to the background. We let ourselves be filled with worry instead of simply trusting. Christ says to you the same thing as he says to this paralyzed man. Take heart, your sins are forgiven. Take heart. Be encouraged – let nothing take your joy from you for your sins are forgiven – and all these trials, all these troubles – they are temporary, they will pass away, but God’s love for you never passes away, the peace of forgiveness and the joys of heaven never pass away. And we should let nothing, no tragedy, no trial in our life ever overshadow this truth.

Let’s continue on in the text. When Jesus says these words, the scandalous thing wasn’t that He didn’t just out and out heal the guy, but rather that Jesus asserted that He could forgive sins. And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” One of the things we can forget about sin is that sin is always against God. If someone sins and it hurts, it affects us, we can complain about what they have done to us. You’ve sinned against me. Yes. . . but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is that sin, all sin, is against God. When David gets caught in his adultery and murder, he doesn’t say, “Boy, I sure sinned against Uriah by killing him – boy, I sure sinned against Bathsheba by dragging her into adultery.” He had, I suppose, but that’s not the thrust David takes. Instead, he says, “I have sinned against the LORD.” David then writes in Psalm 51, the same Psalm from which our Offertory is drawn from “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sight”. Sin is always, first and foremost against God. When your neighbor sins against you, that isn’t primarily a sin against you – but against God. When you sin against your neighbor, when you think poorly of them or speak ill of them or harm them in any way – that isn’t a sin primarily against your neighbor, but you are sinning against God – the God who told you to love that person. This is what those Scribes knew – sin is always against God – and this is why they are shocked by what Jesus says. Sin is against God – so therefore, only God can forgive sins. If Jesus were just a man, this would be most blasphemous!

And Jesus will respond to this. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. Jesus knows what these scribes are thinking – and he knows that they are wrong because they don’t recognize who He is. Yes, Jesus can forgive sins, yes He has this authority. But how to show it, how to demonstrate it? Well, watch this – hey guy, get up and go home. I am Christ Jesus, I have authority over the Body, I have authority over the soul as well. The physical healing here – the man being cured of his paralysis, is only done to show that the Spiritual healing which Christ proclaimed was real. Christ wants to prove that when He says sins are forgiven that He has the authority to do so.

Authority is a big, important word in Scripture, and in the New Testament authority is always tied to being able to forgive sins. And here is the thing – the idea that just confuses and shocks so many folks out there – Christ Jesus gives this authority to His Church in order that even to this day people might receive forgiveness here on earth and know that it is true and valid in heaven. For example, think about the Great Commission. Before Jesus sends out the Disciples to do their work, what does He say? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Do you see how it worked? Christ says, “I have authority to forgive sins, and now I am sending you out to go forgive sins. You have My authority now, you can act in My Name – go baptize people for the forgiveness of sins in My Name. Authority to forgive sins. Or in John 20 – what does Jesus say to the disciples? Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. Even as the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” Again – Jesus sends out the disciples, His Apostles – for that is what Apostle means – it means “sent one” – with a very specific mission – to exercise this authority to forgive sins.

And this is what God’s Church is to be about to this day. That’s why in the Nicene Creed we call it the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church – it’s the Church that does the same things the Apostles did – shower out forgiveness upon people. And this is a marvel – that forgiveness is available. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. That’s what we do even to this day – we glorify the God who gives forgiveness. You see, this is the heart of God’s love for you. Not in the temporary things that fade away, but in the fact that He constantly provides you the forgiveness won for you upon the Cross by Christ Jesus so that you may be cared for not for a day or two, not just until the next crisis, but that you may be cared for for all eternity! God’s love for you is focused upon the big picture, the long run, and He will focus your eyes upon His forgiveness and strengthen your faith so that you may stand and remain strong in the face of all trials in this life, large or small. His forgiveness is real, His love for you is real, and His Cross overshadows all things in your life. You are His, and nothing shall separate you from His love in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Weedon tagged me on this (and I didn't notice cause he referred to me as "Fr Brown" -- um. . . sorry, wouldn't Father Brown be. . . my dad. . . oh, you meant me. . . oh, yeah, yeah. Um. Alright. I've been tagged.

OK, we know that our Lord Himself has to be at the top of the list, so He is assumed. Your five simply follow Him. In Lutheran circles, we will also presume "Fr. Martin of Wittenberg" as well. :-)

So the five would be additional people who (humanly speaking) have greatly impacted your life of faith and love on this earth.

1 - My Dad - Now, yes, yes, cliche - but this is not a cliche answer. My dad went to the Seminary while I was in Junior High. My mom was also a nurse working nights, so quite often when dad would come home with some exciting theological nugget - mom was asleep, so he talked to me. The drive back from field work was 45 minutes of my dad and I discussing the Law/Gospel dynamics of the sermon.

I realized just how much my dad impacted me when I showed up to the Sem and was taking Luke with Dr. Just. I was excited. My dad had taken more classes with Just than any other prof - and Just asks the first "oooOOooo" question - the one where a gem of insight would be revealed. And I sat and thought, "Well, duh, it's obviously a theological passive. . . my dad talks about tho. . . oh. . . that's where dad got that from".

2 - Rev. Mike Knox Pastor Knox was the pastor at Campbell, NE when I was in High School, a good friend to my dad, and also my baseball coach. My dad first got to the parish when I was in High School - you know, when I hit that point where I assumed that everything my dad did stunk. Pastor Knox was a good pastor who didn't have the "he's my dad and stinks" strike against him. Rev. Fred Berry also did this some, but come on, Pastor Knox was just a lot cooler!

3 - [Then Vicar] Christopher Esget - When I went to OU for college, I was planning on being a Pharmacist. In fact, I figured I would be in a Lutheran waste land -- the campus Lutheran Church was ELCA, so I just guessed that there would be nothing good going on in terms of "college ministry" (although I didn't think in those terms yet). And then, my dad and I are wandering around at the Student fair booth, and there is this book-nerdy-looking guy in a clerical sitting with a copy of Tappert. My dad and I looked and each other, and my dad said, "Well, if that ELCA guy is looking at Tappert, maybe he's not completely horrid." Turn out he was the LCMS Vicar from Trinity in Norman.

Vicar Esget was the vicar when I decided to forgo Pharmacy and head to the Seminary. One thing that is wonderful that he did - I had a class on Tuesday nights when the LSF study was. . . so he agreed to meet with me on Friday mornings in the Union to go over the Augsburg Confession. That's part of the reason why, to this day, if people want to study something I will find a place in my schedule to study with them.

4 - Dr. Cam McKenzie - Mighty Mac is the most under-rated prof at Fort Wayne. In terms of simple intelligence, he's the smartest guy there - but humble, quiet, and (unsurpisingly) a bit librarian-ish. But the two things that impacted me greatly were as follows: First, don't assume knowledge. We can so often assume we know what is going on, what Luther said, what Calvin said -- MacKenzie disabused me of that notion - and reinforced that we shouldn't make theological assumptions. Second - he taught the survey of Luther's writings. Instead of assuming we know Luther - let's read him. Lots and lots of him. At the Sem and in terms of History - I loved the early Church and Weinrich classes - I loved and willingly sat in on Rast classes (and I even have taught the people in my Bible study to say, "Baaaaaad" whenever I mention Pietism) - but when the rubber meets the road in the parish - MacKenzie gave me the most Luther, so he takes top billing.

Seminarian Jay Hobson - but don't tell him this - he's a second year - the year of the big head. But, Jay is a fellow Sooner grad who moved on to the Fort. Before he went, we have spent summers working on studies together - Greek the one summer and then chunks of early church the next (last summer that SOB Heath Curtis got him as a summer vicar - SOB is "Summer Only Bishop" -- what did you think it was?). Also, he has preached a few times here. . . and always there is good theological discussion. In teaching him he has forced me to levels of precision that I hadn't had before, and also asked questions that brought me growth. I'm looking forward to seeing his continued growth.

(And I can call him a Padawan. . . or my apprentice -- I haven't figured out if I am a Jedi or a Sith yet)

Honorable Mention. . . Dan Dahling - Pastor Dahling was my pastor in 2nd - 4th Grade. . . and I don't remember as much direct teaching per se (come on, I was a 2nd Grader) - but I did learn two things. Pastors could be cool and smart at the same time, and that Bobby Knight and IU Basketball is a great and wonderful gift from God. He gets honorable mention.

Oh, and I suppose I should tag some people (Don't tag me, bro!). Beisel, Hobson, Beane, Harju, and oh. . . claim me if you want to do it. Who am I to tag someone?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

We never grow up.

And no, I'm not talking about the fact that I ended up playing golf on the XBOX 360 last night - but I think we forget that as people, while we are on this earth, we are never fully mature, we never fully grow up. All too often we still end up running around like teenagers, doing what we want to do without any concern for how it will impact others (or even us). We will rebel against the will of our Heavenly Father (which is why the 3rd petition - Thy Will Be Done - is so often a prayer against our sinful flesh) and "cop an attitude" - or at least that's what I can see in myself. I could sulk then, and man, if I ain't ending up doing the same things today (yes - ain't is a proper contraction for "am not").

Actually, here's some advice. Do you want to know what kind of Christian you are now? Think back to high school - what kind of person were you then? Were you a smarmy, know-it-all? Hmmmm, check and see if you don't delight in how wonderful you are - while looking down on your neighbor. Were you apathetic? Check and see if you don't strive to do good works. Were you ready for a fight at all times? Check and see if you are failing to be eager to love your neighbor (and then there's that whole turning the other check).

We never, while in this life, outgrow the weaknesses of our sinful flesh - and as we are all different, we all have different weaknesses that come along with that sinful flesh. And yes, we might, by discipline and self control put a lid on some of it - but if you want the mirror for what you are probably really like - think back on high school.

Hmmm. . . Luther's last words were along the line of "We are all beggars before God." Maybe mine will be "We are all spoiled brats before God." Actually - probably not. I was absent minded and forgetful as a teen - and guess what. . . I still am. Thus - Lord have mercy upon me!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

St. Matthew Sermon

The Feast of St. Matthew – Matthew 9:9-13

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
So, here in our Gospel text we get to see the call of Matthew. It’s one verse – As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed Him. Seems quite simple – Jesus walks by and summons Matthew to follow Him. But do we really pause and see what is going on? Matthew is there – he’s working a tax booth. He’s got a good, well paying job. He’s probably got everything that a person could want in this life – a big house, wealth, good food. Luke records for us that this dinner that takes up the rest of the text is actually hosted by Matthew. And yet – when Christ calls him, Matthew simply and willingly leaves that behind. There would be no more wealth coming from the cushy government job. The house would be abandoned in order to follow Jesus around wherever he went, and Matthew is given over to a life of teaching and proclaiming Christ, whatever the cost to himself.

When we look at Matthew, we should be impressed and humbled. When Christ commanded Matthew to follow Him, it meant that Matthew had to give up all that he had, all that he was. And Matthew goes. No fuss, no bluster – simply, “he rose and followed Him.” Now, ponder this. We too, have been called to follow Jesus – all Christians are to take up their cross and follow their Lord. We all indeed have things that we are to do as Christians – but don’t they pale in comparison to what Matthew is called to, the burden the Lord places upon him? How many of you here have had to leave everything to follow Christ – how many have had to give up family and friends, leave your job, your home to serve Christ? Tradition even holds that Matthew died a martyr’s death – that following Christ for Matthew meant torture and death. Do any of us reasonably expect to face that in our following of Christ? Yet how often do we grouse and grumble about the simple things that we as Christians who follow our Lord are to do? Daily devotions and study of Scripture seem a burden. Coming to Church is often less appealing than finding something more entertaining – to say nothing of coming to bible study. Our Lord’s command to love the neighbor can fly out the window when that neighbor is difficult. Whereas Christ demands of Matthew that he give up all, Christ lets you serve, lets you follow Him right where you are – and yet – how often can there be grumbling or complaining? The call of Matthew, the fact that he willingly gets up and goes, leave his home and a life of luxury behind should humble us – and encourage us pay attention to how we are supposed to be following Christ even in our own life.
However, on that day when our Lord called Matthew – the Pharisees were not impressed – not impressed with Matthew, and not impressed with our Lord’s decision to have Matthew follow Him. And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” So, not only does Jesus end up calling Matthew, but He sits down and eats with sinners and other tax collectors. You have to remember that there was a rather large hatred towards tax collectors – I’m sure we’d give someone who worked for the IRS today a bit of grief over their job, especially every April. But it was worse in Jesus’ day than just taxes. Imagine the US was conquered by a foreign government, and then that government, Russia, China, whoever, sent tax collectors who would take your stuff, often demand bribes, and just all around bilk you. That’s what the situation was in Jesus’ day – and that’s who this Matthew is that Jesus calls – even if Matthew were an honest tax collector, he was a sell out to the Romans, taking good, hard earned money away from Jews and giving it to Pagans. And then, to eat with sinners? To actually talk to “bad” people. Jesus must be out of His mind!

But note what the Pharisees do. They don’t talk to Jesus – they bad mouth Him to His disciples. Eh, your “teacher” seems pretty dumb to us – look at what He’s doing. It’s sneaky, it’s rude, it’s tricksy. They are definitely not putting the best construction on things or explaining things in the kindest way – rather, they complain behind Jesus’ back. Nasty business, that.

But, at any rate, their snide comments get around to Jesus. So. . . what will Jesus do? How will He respond to these complaints about Himself? Will He defend Himself? “I’ve done nothing wrong here!” Will He defend Matthew? “Hey, this Matthew is a fine, up-standing citizen, don’t besmirch him.” Will He chastise the Pharisees – “if you have a problem with Me, come to Me, don’t pick on my students!” No, what Jesus says is something that is interesting and wonderful. But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” Why am I here – why would I eat with sinners? Precisely because they are sinners and need Me, need My teaching, need My preaching, and most of all, need My forgiveness. And note how blunt Jesus is – yeah, these folks are sinners, they need help, and they were humble enough to know it. Even virtuous Matthew, who by rights could make us blush – just another sinner in need of Christ’s healing. And Matthew even writes it down – how do we meet Matthew? We meet him as a sinner – but Matthew isn’t ashamed of that – for Matthew is a sinner whom has been healed by the Great Physician, Christ Jesus. Do you see what Jesus is teaching with this – that while your sin may be great – the God who cures you and heals you of that sin by His death upon the Cross is greater.

In fact, Jesus spells it out in more detail. He says to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means – ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ Jesus quote Hosea at them. You Pharisees should have known what I’d be doing here – because what does God desire – God desires to show mercy, to show love. God is more pleased showing mercy to a sinner than listening to you bleet on about how wonderful you are and all the sacrifices you offer up, how hard you work for God. And this is something we need to remember. God desires to be a merciful God. God loves mercy, God loves showing mercy – so the fact that you have sinned, God handles that – He gladly shows mercy. If anything, what upsets God more than just sinning is when you reject forgiveness, when you brush off His mercy – when you would rather toot your own horn than focus on His mercy. As Christians, you are to do things, and you should always strive to do better – but the Christian faith isn’t about what you do – it is about the Mercy God shows you because of and through Christ’s death upon the Cross. And this is what we are to learn – it is what Matthew learned as one of Christ’s disciples, and it is the heart of what we learn today – so that we don’t become like these backbiting Pharisees complaining about everyone else and puffing ourselves up with vain works. God is merciful – and He desires to show you mercy. Confess your sin and receive that mercy.

And friends – this isn’t an optional part of being a Christian. To be a Christian, to be in relationship with God is nothing less than to receive His mercy. Our Lord says, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Who does Christ call? He calls sinners. Matthew is called – and his sins are forgiven, and Matthew learns and grows in the faith, and even writes Scripture. Who else is called? All those sinners there, called to repentance – called to receive God’s mercy. And who is left out – the Pharisees, the ones who think that they are righteous – the ones who think that they aren’t sinners. Christ calls them to the carpet – when you’ve realized your need for mercy and forgiveness, then we can have a relationship – but until then – there’s nothing here. If you are smug, if you are self-righteous – there is nothing here in this place for you. If you trust in your own works, that you are just such a wonderful Christian – what good would preaching of the Cross, preaching of forgiveness do you? Until you know that you are sinner – God will have nothing to say to you other than a word of Law to show you your sin.

But you are a sinner, and you know that. You may not like to admit it all the time, or you may like to sort of off-handly admit it – well, sure, we’re all sinners – but so-and-so did this, and man are they bad! Repent. You are sinner. Period. But now see and understand what Matthew so desperately teaches throughout His Gospel. See what Christ invites you to, what He calls you to. He has called you to His house, to hear His healing Word of forgiveness preached to you. He has called you into His family in the waters of Holy Baptism – this is not just a once in a while social visit – but you are called into His family now. You, sinner, are called even to His Table, to His meal, His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This is what we all have in common – we are all sinners called to receive together Christ’s life giving and forgiveness giving Supper – called to be healed of our sin by the Supper of the Great Physician – called to be given His strength. And this is what our Lord shall continue to do for you – whatever your station in life, your job, where you live – even if you don’t get to be an Apostle – Christ calls you to join in His holy feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

Dear friends in Christ – do not be afraid to strive against your sin – to strive to be every day a better and better Christian, to live as God has called you. And when you fail – for when you set yourself to Christ’s standards, you will see your failures – remember that God desires mercy, and indeed He calls you, a sinner, to His house to shower that mercy upon you. This is what God did for Matthew, it is what He does for each and every one of us. God grant that we remember this all the days of our earthly life and remain faithful unto death. Amen.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Learning from McDonald's

I've lived in many different places in this country, and visited more, and talked to people who have lived in every more. One wouldn't normally think about it this way, but McDonald's actually has quite a bit of regional variation. In New Mexico, they would add green chile to your burger upon request. I remember more vegetarian options in CA (not precisely what. . . I'm not a vegetarian, and in CA there was a Jack in the Box, so I went there. If you want trashy, unhealthy fast food, I say go for it. . . but I digress). I have heard that in Maine there are lobster bits at McDonald's, and crab cakes in Maryland. . . probably more cheese stuff in Wisconsin as well. I also think it was easier to find a Shamrock shake in Chicago.

However, even with all of these variations - it was still McDonald's. I could go into any McDonald's in this country and get a Quarter Pounder with Cheese. They even had that in Spain, and Italy, and England. . . and apparently in Amsterdam where it is called a "Royale with Cheese". But the point is, even with the variations, the little things that are different in the various regions. . . it's still the same place, you can still get a burger, fries, and a coke wherever you are at.

When we say that rites and customs don't have to be the same in every Lutheran Congregation - this is the type of variation we are referring to. Do you have Holy Cross day or no? Do you chant or no? DS1 or DS3? Even. . . (shock, gasp!) Common Cup, Individual, or both? But anywhere you go. . . you ought to expect Lutheran substance accompanied with one of the various Lutheran styles.

We've lost that. Now, we don't know what we are going to get in terms of a liturgy when we walk into an LCMS congregation. Will it be using a hymnal? Will it be things made up that week by the pastor? Will it be classical hymns, or will there be a praise babe that all the guys oogle while the gals (at least the straight ones) try to croon along from the words on the giant projector boards.

Part of McDonald's strength is that it can attract travelers. You are taking a trip, the kids are hungry - oh look, a MickeyD's. . . let's go there. But what would happen if some McDonald's no longer served burgers. . . that's not popular there, so they started serving fried chicken and mashed potatoes (cause people like KFC)? Or if suddenly it was fried fish (cause people here really like Long John's Silver)? Or you walk in and there candlelight, white linen, and sushi (okay, that would be awesome, but I like Japanese food)? It would destroy the strength of McDonald's business. . . you can have your local variation, managers - but you will have certain items.

We have too many pastors and too many congregations that have gone beyond local custom and variation and whole scale abandoned common Lutheran practice in a desire to appeal to the local masses. . . normally by copying another Church's style. . . and normally poorly (sorry, you aren't going to out Baptist the Baptists, you aren't going our revive the Revivalists, and you aren't going to out Rock the real rockers). And things become unrecognizable. . . and we have lost our identity.

Our Lord says that the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. Good night - have we Christians been out-shrewded by McDondald's?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Holy Cross Sermon

Holy Cross Day – September 14th, 2008 – John 12:20-33

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
September 14th is a lesser known Holy Day of the Church – Holy Cross Day. At least it is one of the lesser known Holy Days unless you happened to attend Holy Cross Lutheran School for 3 years of middle school. Holy Cross, quite unsurprisingly, made a rather big deal out of Holy Cross day when it would roll around – and it is a good day. Maybe not so high as Christmas or Easter – but once every few years, when it falls on a Sunday, it is worth our time and consideration. So today, we celebrate the Cross of Christ – and we will ponder it and its importance to us, by looking at our Gospel text from John.

Now, among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” In the Gospels, the times when Jesus interacts with Gentiles, with non-Jews are few and far between. But that’s the context, the situation for this Gospel lesson today – Greeks come looking to see Jesus. So – what will Jesus show them – they have come to see Him. What will Jesus show? A healing? Or maybe His wisdom with a parable? No – instead, what will Jesus show them, what will He talk about? His death and resurrection – Jesus will show them the cross.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Christ says this after Palm Sunday as Good Friday approaches. The Son of Man is to be glorified, but His glory is not chiefly in demonstrations of earthly power, His glory is not in wealth, His glory is not a matter of healings. Rather it is this – Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. I don’t think I have to explain the point behind this verse too much around here. Yes, planting time is coming – and yes, seed wheat is expensive – but what is planted should bear a yield worth much more than just the cost of that seed wheat. The wheat must be planted, or their will be no yield in the Summer. Likewise – Christ looks here to His own death, looks to the Cross. Why? Because Christ wants a rich and full harvest – Christ wants to bear much fruit – He desires not to be alone but to have you be with Him for all eternity. And so He must go to the Cross – for it is with His death that Christ wins you from the power of sin, death, and the Devil. Christ desires you – desires His harvest – and so He willingly goes to the Cross, willingly dies – just as our farmers are willingly going to put seed wheat, put money into the ground – so that there might be the joy of harvest.

Your relationship to God is defined by the Cross. Now, there are many things that are part of that relationship – God does indeed bless us with things in this life, God gives us forgiveness, and we pray, we worship – many things are involved in your relationship with God – but it is centered, it is defined by the Cross. Your God is not some distant god who doesn’t care – He is not some angry god you must somehow make happy – He is not some pagan god that your worship needs to entertain. He is the God who willingly suffers for your sake so that He might claim you and have you as His own for all eternity. We understand how we relate to God in view of the Cross because if Christ is to be our God, He must go to the Cross – and He does – He does so willingly.

Now, this is also instructive for our life. Our Lord next says, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” If Christ had decided to scorn the cross – we would be lost. Instead, He willingly suffers and dies for our sake. He suffers all this so He can have this relationship with you, both now and for all eternity. But here is the rub. We can be distracted. We can be so enamored, so in love with the things of this life – so focused on the things we have here, that we lose our focus on Christ, we forget about Him – and our faith starves, and we lose it. It’s the horrid irony – there are so many people who love, who crave the joys and pleasures of this world – and they spend all their time chasing after them – working harder and harder to have more here, jumping after any fleeting pleasure they can find here – only to lose all joy and pleasure and happiness in hell. Christ warns us against this. Do not view this life as the end all, be all of existence. Rather this – Christ and Him Crucified is what is of chief importance – and let Him remain so in your life. Don’t put the work in your life, don’t put the joys in your life above Christ – otherwise your faith can wither and die. This is a thought we don’t like to have. How many people, if you asked them if they were going to heaven, would say, “Sure, I’ve been a good person.” A horrible and sad answer. They’ve forgotten Christ. And yet, how many people, even people raised in the Church, even people raised in this church – might give that answer? But that is what happens to us, to our faith when we put the things of this life above Christ. Your relationship with God is not defined by who you are, what you do – but it is defined by Christ and His Cross – and if you abandon that, you have lost Christ. Make time to be in Christ’s Word, to see His Cross – for there is life and salvation.

Christ makes this more blunt when He says, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there my servant will be also.” We follow Christ – we don’t love and value the things of this life over everything else – rather, we leave them behind, and like our Master Christ Jesus we are to serve – even at cost to ourselves. As we sang earlier today – we follow where our Captain trod. And why? Because our eyes are focused upon Christ – we see Him, we see His love for us, and that love overwhelms us, flows through us, and must be shown, must be given out. That is simply the pattern of our lives – Christ has joined Himself to us – He is the vine, we are the branches – as He is our master we cannot but help but bear fruit – fruit of love and service. Christ has purchased and won us by the Cross, and so we see Him, His love, and He brings us to follow Him.

Doesn’t mean that this is always easy. Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your Name. Jesus knew – Jesus knew that Maundy Thursday and Good Friday would be a hard day, a rough day. He knew. And yet, He knew why it was happening – knew that He would win you life and salvation, that He would do the Father’s will and win for Him a holy people. And so He went to the Cross. Jesus also knows the struggles you face, the times you have hard, rough days. The days where sin looms heavily – the days where you are too busy, too busy working or too busy having fun to make time for Christ. Jesus knows your struggles – and that is why He went to the cross – so that your sin might be forgiven, that those struggles might be conquered and put away. Listen to the last thing Christ says here in our Gospel, and draw from it complete hope.

Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto myself. Christ knows the temptations you face. He knows that Satan, the prince of this world, seeks to load you down, by hook or by crook, to distract you, to burden you with guilt, to do anything he can to distract you from Christ. But know what the Cross is – it is Christ breaking the power of Satan. The Devil no more has authority, no more has control, and in Christ you can deny Satan, you can deny his temptations. And why? Because Christ has been lifted up, He has been lifted up upon the Cross – and He has drawn all people, drawn you here, unto Him. You are focused upon Christ – the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel – and you are now a new creation, made new by Christ and His death. Your old self, your sinful nature was crucified with Christ – drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism. That is the point of Baptism – it connects you with Christ’s death and resurrection – it gives you victory over Satan. That’s why as part of the baptismal rite we have the line – “receive the sign of the Holy Cross both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.” We have been drawn to Christ and His cross – attached to Him in the gift of Baptism. The struggles you face in this life – they are no longer your struggles alone – for Christ is with you. He has died and risen again – and therefore you are never alone – for He is with you always.

And so this day, indeed, every day, every time we gather in this place – see strive to see and understand this gift more and more – we look to the Cross of Christ, we look to the Crucified One – so that we might know His forgiveness better and better – that we might receive it again when we need it (which is always), that our lives might be shaped by the Cross. May God grant that you are always drawn here to behold the Cross of your Lord and Savior Christ Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

I'm a bad politicial Lutheran

I'm a bad political Lutheran. I just can't get worked up about trying to overthrow Roe v. Wade.

Now, don't get me wrong - I firmly believe that Abortion is wrong, and I firmly believe that it should be illegal except in cases where carrying a child to term would kill the mother. If the law was passed tomorrow outlawing it - I'm as happy as anyone.

But to be honest. . . I can't get worked up on trying to change laws or get Roe v. Wade overturned. I don't get all aflutter over the latest utterings of the candidates on abortion. Part of this is just my being jaded. I turn 31 tomorrow - and it's been the same debate, the same legal back and forth my entire life. The struggle in the political world just. . . not bores me but drives me to apathy.

And part of it too is that I think we end up approaching things wrong when it comes to the whole abortion debate. I don't think our focus should be on trying to change the law by some political sleight of hand or that magical election that lets it be done. That won't end the battle. The other side will just try to pull off the same thing (and let's face it, they are more shrewd in their generation than we are). It would be a temporary victory (and yes, if abortions are stopped a true victory, but a temporary one) at best.

Rather this. We should not be using the tools of politics - the tools of the legal profession to change the world. Instead, we should be teaching - teaching about life and the gift that it is. The world will always be full of murders, of those who by hook or by crook will slaughter people - and no, we should not make it easy for people to do this. But the solution to sin is not better law - it is to teach - to teach Christ, to teach and give out the life that He gives.

I know - wide eyed idealist me. . . but I think I would do more good if I teach 10 gals about the value of life than if I spent 10 years trying to get a stricter law passed. And who knows, if enough of us did that - maybe the law would take care of itself.

Quick methods of evaluation

Now, I'm not going to say that we should be in the business of making snap judgments about others - but if one wants to figure out a church, figure out where they are coming from, what their attitudes are, I think I have an idea or two about what to look for.

1. Where are the crosses. The Christian faith is about Christ the Crucified - He is the center, and in particular His Crucifixion and resurrection. Does a church believe this? Look at their sanctuary and find the crosses. Are the prominent - do they dominate the architecture. Even if it is a temporary sanctuary, does a cross draw your eye to it.

2. Chat about the Supper. If you want to know what a person believes about the Supper, ask them what it is and why we need it, what it is for. Do they use logic and reason to limit God (it can't be His real body), or God really coming to us. Are we showing our love and devotion to God, or is the main thing God bringing us the forgiveness we need. The Supper is a great way to understand what people believe about God, sin, forgiveness, worship - all wrapped up.

3. Hymns. Look at the words they sing - are they about Me or about Christ? Are they designed to entertain me or to teach me (i.e. am I making a confession about Christ when I sing)? A simply hymnal or songbook can tell a lot.

Just a few simple places to start the evaluation. Any other things you all like to look for quickly?

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Trinity 16 Sermon

Trinity 16 – September 7th, 2008 – Luke 7:11-17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
There are times when we as Christians do not pause to ponder fully the depth of what Christ Jesus did for us by going to the cross. In fact, I would say that this is quite often the situation. We know the story, we confess the creed, we get the third day stuff. . . and so sometimes we can slide on by, just breeze past it. We can be like the teenager, assuring their parent, “Yes, I heard you, yes, I know what I’m supposed to do,” – but who forgets half of the instructions and runs off joyriding with friends. There is a staggering depth to the wisdom of God which He has shown by giving His Son unto death that you might have salvation, and it is a depth that we as Christians ought to strive to understand more fully every day of our lives until that day when we see Christ the Crucified face to face.

And our Lord Jesus desires that we know what He has done for us, that we understand the depth of His care for us. He desires that we know that He loves us. He desires to teach this to us – but His teaching for us today isn’t just our Lord saying over and over the words, “I love you,” but rather He paints a picture of His love with this miracle in our Gospel lesson today, not just His love for this woman, for this young man – but also His love for you. This is what we will look for today – how Christ shows love to these two people – and from that we will see how Christ indeed loves us by going to the Cross.

Soon afterward He went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him. 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. So, here is the situation. Jesus is traveling, and He comes upon a town called Nain. His disciples are with Him, lots of other people are following Him this day as well – a large group. And as this group of people approaches the town – they come across a funeral procession. A widow is burying her only son. We can understand how that is tragic – but it is more so than you think. Later on we hear that this is a younger man – which means this would be most likely an extremely young widow – just old enough to where she can’t have any more children, but young enough to have many days ahead of her. And her son is gone. Her husband is gone. Where does that leave her? You see, she doesn’t live in a day and age where she can just go and get a job for herself. There are no jobs for middle aged women. They didn’t work. And now, her family is gone – there’s no support. You didn’t have social security, no check from the government at least giving her meager support. We will talk about family values today, but then we will just run off comfortably on our own – they couldn’t in Jesus’ day – no family meant you were alone, broke, destined for a life of begging until you died. When that widow saw her son’s funeral bier, she not only saw her son dead, but she saw her own death.

And that is what Jesus sees when He sees this funeral procession, when He hears the cries and wails. And so, He acts. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion upon her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Christ has compassion – He feels for this woman, He sorrows for her – and so He must act – but even before He does anything, before He performs the miracle, He speaks to the woman – I am here, do not weep. And then, when He has told her that He was going act – then He does. Then He came up and touched the bier and the bearers stood still. Scandalous. A good Jewish person didn’t mess with a dead body – you would be considered ritually unclean. Being a pallbearer is an honor today – it was a burden then. And sudden, Christ touches the bier – a shocking move. And everyone pauses – what will this crazy Man do? And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak. And He raises the dead man. Get back up, you shall live again, you shall walk and talk again. The young man is healed – but then the interesting line – and Jesus gave him to his mother. Now see and understand what you are raised for, young man. This is not about a second chance for you to go and follow the fancy of your heart – this isn’t your chance to go see the big city or some other whim. You have life so that you may serve your mother. Here she is – now go and serve her.

That is what Christ does that day in Nain, sees a poor woman, has compassion, interferes with the funeral procession, raises her son from death, and then gives the son to back to the mother. A great miracle – isn’t it? Yes – but through it, let’s examine and look at an even greater miracle, one that makes this one pale in comparison. Let us see what Christ does for you.

Our Gospel text began with Christ seeing a poor woman. Christ’s love and miracle for you began with Christ Jesus seeing, knowing you were trapped in sin and death. Before the world is created, before the garden of Eden is planted – God Almighty knew you, and knew that you would be born trapped in sin, knew that as you grew and lived your life you would fail again and again, and knew that one day, left to your own, after heartaches and pains, you would die. He knew that left to your own devices, you life was just as tragic, no, more tragic than the story of this widow. And just as we today can miss the impact of how tragic the situation was for this woman, we can forget how dire our straits are apart from Christ. Look on the misery of the world, how sad and ruined lives are, without any hope. If not for Christ, where do you think your struggles would lead you? Indeed, think of the most pathetic person you know – that is where you by rights should be. And then, a sinner’s death. And then, hell, eternal damnation. That is the lot you deserve apart from Christ.

And yet, what happens? Christ has compassion upon you. Just as He sees the sorry state that this widow is in, He sees the wreck that sin will make in your life, and He has compassion – He is determined to save you, to save all mankind from their sin. Indeed, He spoke to us throughout the Old Testament, telling us what He would do. Even in the garden, right after the fall, to Adam and Eve a Savior is promised. Moses and the Prophets all point to His coming – the entire Old Testament is nothing more than Christ saying to His people – Do not weep – for I am coming.

And then Jesus Christ enters the world, True God and True Man – and He does the unthinkable. He touches death. We are used to the cross, we are used to seeing it all over the place – like Paul we are not ashamed of it. We can forget how shocking it is to the world, that it is folly to the Gentiles, a stumbling block to the Jews. We proclaim the Cross every week – and yet, look around – there are churches around here that won’t have a single cross in them. Certainly not a crucifix, certainly not something that actually reminds of Good Friday. Why is that? Because sinful man doesn’t like thinking about the Crucifixion – the people at Nain would have been scandalized that a man would willingly touch a dead man’s bier. Today, the cross is still a scandal. It shocks people because the Cross proclaims that we deserve death – it shocks people because it proclaims that we aren’t just nice, good little people, but rather that we can’t avoid death on our own, that we need Christ. And too many people cover their eyes and refuse to see – they want a crossless Jesus. But Christ does not scorn the cross. If the situation is to be fixed, if your sin and impending death and damnation are to be dealt with, death must be stopped cold in its tracks. And so, Christ goes to the cross, and He dies, taking upon Himself the weight of your sin.

And then the astonishing thing happens. He rises again on the third day – and this resurrection is for you. Behold, I have conquered death, behold I live no more to die, behold death is undone. Of course this young man will be raised, for Christ Jesus our Lord is raised. And because He is raised, because our Lord strides forth from the tomb, we live our lives, we approach every day knowing that whenever death comes for us – so be it. It did not hold Christ, it will not hold me – and I too will live eternally because Christ lives eternally. That is what Christ’s death and resurrection means – that you have eternal life, that God Himself has gotten involved in your life, that He has intervened and brought you through all the trials you have faced, and that He will bring you through all the trials that you will face.

But this life that He has given you – it isn’t yours to do with just as you please. When the young man is raised, Christ gives him to his mother. You too, have been raised to new life – but it is not merely a life of your own wants, your own desires. That was the life of sin, and you know where that leads. But you instead have been given a life where you live for the sake of others, you live to serve, you live to show love to God and to neighbor. Look around you – see the people next to you. The reason our Lord still lets you draw breath is so that you might show love to them.

And in this – we will stumble. I’m sure in Nain three weeks after Jesus raised the young man, he did something stupid and his mom was chewing him out or complaining about something. We are still sinners in a sinful world – and Christ knows that, so He continually brings His forgiveness to you. He has washed you in it in the waters of Holy Baptism, He has it spoken to you over and over again in His Word. When you see the burdens of this life pile up again, when you see failures mount – He calls you to His table – take and eat, take and drink. . . eat and drink what? His own Body – a Body He took up simply to go to Cross and rise again so that you might live. His own Blood, Blood He took up simply so that it might be shed for you and become life for you. Our Lord continually has compassion upon you – and His Work upon the Cross, the life of His resurrection He continually gives to you and makes more and more of a reality for you through His Supper – that you might ever show forth more of His love, His life, in your life.

This is what the Cross means, this is what you are to be reminded of whenever you see it, whenever you see a crucifix. Christ Jesus, out of love for you, steps in the way of death, and by His death upon the cross and His resurrection – He gives you life, and He sustains you all of your days until heaven. God grant that we ever more understand this miracle He did for us. Amen.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

"Why" isn't necessarily a theological question

Pastors are to be well trained theologically. We need to know Scripture and doctrine forwards and backwards - so that we may stand ready to answer questions, or at least know where to look to find the answers.

However, one thing to remember is that this doesn't mean that all the questions we answer - even on a theological topic, will be theological questions. For example - say the topic of Women's Ordination comes up, and you point out that this is not allowed Scripturally - you may be asked why.

What does this why mean? What are they asking? Do they wish to hear a long discussion about the order of creation, or about the Christological nature of the Office of the Holy Ministry? Perhaps. . . but more often, when a person asks "why" to God or one of God statements - it's not a why that means, "Please explain to me the rationale behind this," but rather, "why could God do this because I don't like it."

So we need to ask a follow-up, figure out what they need to know. If you think the idea of not having women pastors doesn't seem fair - you can talk about the order of creation or the Christological nature of the office until you are blue in the face -- it will just be more stuff that is "unfair" or that they don't think it seems right. That theological answer won't do much - because that why wasn't a theological question. It was a complaint.

Doctrine (per se) isn't the response to a specific complaint. Rather - perspective is called for. Not having women pastors is unfair? I'll never have the honor or privilege of giving birth to a child - I'll never be a mom. Is that unfair? It doesn't make sense that God would limit the office to just men -- well, He has limited to more than just "men" - look at the congregation - none of those men are pastors either. It's not something a man can claim by right, but is a vocation given by God.

Sometimes a "why" doesn't need an explanation, it calls for looking at something from a different perspective.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The joys of the Office

There are many joys that one has in the Office of the Holy Ministry. How come no one ever talks about the joys of running around trying to get ready for a new confirmation class when you've been fighting off a stomach flu?

Eh, I'll probably be as drowsy and spacy as my kids this afternoon - should make a good connection with them. Oi.