Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Are we closet Marcionites?

I was made to think about something. I wended my way into a Tradition vs. Scripture discussion, and once again it was put forth "Well, what about the Church before the written word, before Paul. . . see, it was the Words of the Apostles - Oral Tradition!"

I've seen that argument many times before. . . and I realized that it's utter bunk. Why? It wasn't as though the Scriptures were not read in the Early Church in 36 AD - they read from Moses and the Prophets. At the end of Luke our Lord describes what the preaching prior to the New Testament would have been - explaining how all that was prophesized in Moses and the Psalms and the Prophets has come to completion in Christ.

Of course there was a written Word - and the Apostles cite it!

So, why don't we bring this up? Why do Lutherans not shout this from the mountains - why do the Papists neglect this? Are we closet Marcionites? Even as we quote from Matthew over and over "All this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet" (especially at this time of year), do we end up chopping away the Old Testament?

In our discussions on the written Word, why do we so often forget the Old Testament?

Ours is Not a Hallmark Religion

Many people seem to view religion in this Country as a cute, sweet thing. Almost like a Hallmark card. You come to Church, you see something pretty, you open the card and get a nice little phrase that quick and easy, and then you close the card, put it away, maybe look at it if you get lonesome or wistful -- but by in large the pretty picture stands on the shelf while you go about your life. We want Church to be. . . simple, polite, unobtrusive, and mainly on the shelf.

I find this to be true more at Christmas time - partially because things can become so romanticized, so. . . picture perfect (like something by Courier and Ives). And partially because this is the time of year when many people will pull that religious card off the shelf, trundle off to Church for the first time in ages, smile wistfully, and then not be seen again for ages again. Back onto the shelf with the pretty card until I think it's time to see something pretty again.

But ours is not a Hallmark religion. Our faith is not something to be left on the shelf throughout the year. And at no time of the year is this more evident than at Christmas (well, perhaps Good Friday). Behold the setting - road weary people forced to a barn, even when one is pregnant and ready to give birth (oh, how kind!). Forced into a stall, piled high with fodder, and who knows when last it was mucked out (oh, how sweet!). The pain and agony of child-birth, woman's curse from the fall of Eve so that Eve and all after her might be redeemed (oh, how lovely!) Angels appearing before shepherd who fall to their knees in fear and must be told, "Be not afraid" (Oh, how beautiful!).

No, Christmas would have been a visceral, fleshly thing - all the muck and down in the dirt of this human life, all wrapped up there in that day. Christmas isn't the card on the mantle - it's the pain and sorrow and trouble and rugged beauty of this human existence in this fallen world -- it's the pain of human bodies, the sorrow of disdain, the troubles the rise up to meet us each day, the glimpses of beauty that fight there way through this - it's the very stuff we see every day of the year. . . yet with one wondrous difference.

This time, in the center of it, that Child is no mere Child - that Child is God. That Child is Emmanuel, God with Us, God Himself come down from heaven to burst into our fallen world, so that with His own Body He might redeem our own Bodies, with His life He might win for us Life everlasting.

The point of Christmas isn't that it is a pretty time on a shelf, but that God Himself breaks and bursts into all the hurt and pain that we face in this life, and He declares to us, "I Am your God, and I win you salvation, and I am with you, always and forever, even unto all eternity." This is our religion - the religion we celebrate whenever Christ comes to us in the Lord's Supper, the religion we live whenever we ourselves enter into the messy world and show forth Christ's love unto our neighbors.

Ours is not a Hallmark Religion - ours is a religion where sin is attacked, confronted, confessed, and defeated by our God, because He is the God who comes to be with us.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Which is the more important Clause?

“Now, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”

John, towards the end of His Gospel, gives us these words. And there is a contrast set forth - two clauses. John notes that there is more that the disciples saw that isn't written. John notes that what is written is written for belief and salvation.

Which clause is more important?

This is what I find frustrating about so many of the Tradition vs. Scripture battles that come along. They end up moving into the realm of whether or not tradition is valuable, whether or not it is true, how much we use it. It puts all the emphasis and focus on that first clause -- is this part of that other stuff that the disciples saw, is this stuff that is rightly handed down?

We can surmise, we can come up with guesses - we can delight, even. (I myself love the tale of John refusing to enter the Bath when he sees the gnostic leaving - and on Christmas day the tale of Satan smacking the guy who doesn't doff his cap at "Homo factus est"). But is tradition and its veracity the thrust and focus?

It isn't for John. Yes, there is other stuff - but this, this here, this Gospel is written so that you may believe in Christ and have eternal life. The other stuff is nice, may be nice, but the meat, the real McCoy is here in the Word. If you want surety, if you want something concrete, go to the Word, because it has what you need.

Tradition informs. Tradition may safeguard. Tradition may even protect errors that have crept into the Church over time, (for as we see in John 21:23 - the brothers are capable of twisting the oral tradition as well). But the Word of God gives what we need.

While we make use of the first clause, we live in the second.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – December 20th, 2009 – Luke 1:36-55

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
We are often told in the Christian Church that we should praise God. Let me ask the question. Why? Why should we go about and praise God? Now, do not misunderstand me – we should by all means praise God – but let us take the time this morning to consider the reasons why we are to praise God. Sometimes I think the reasons we think to praise to God, why we might want to praise Him, can be a bit off. Maybe we just want to fit in, maybe we just like the singing, the endorphin kick. Maybe we feel guilty about what we’ve done this week and we think that if we praise louder we ourselves can drown out our past. But why should we as Christians praise God?

We hear the answer given most beautifully in the words of the Magnificat, the song here given by Mary. Indeed, these words are called a song because right away the Church put them to music and sang them – they are part of the Vespers service even to this day in our hymnal. And this song explains is such wonderful detail why we praise God, what our praise of God is to be for and about. It serves as a wonderful reminder of why we will be pausing this Thursday Night, and taking time away from our gifts this Friday morning to come to Church again and worship and praise God even in the middle of a busy holiday week.

Before we look at the words of the Magnificat, let’s review the situation. Mary is now pregnant with Jesus, and she goes to visit her old cousin Elizabeth who is pregnant with John the Baptist – and when Mary walks up, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and she cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greetings came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” So, we see an unusual occurrence here – the older relative begins to fawn over the younger – goes on and on about how wonderful Mary is. How will Mary react? If something like this happened to me, I’d probably clam up, cheeks red from blushing – I get bashful when the other, older pastors in the circuit give me a give me a compliment. Or I could see someone being overwhelmed, befuddled. There could be lots of different reactions to this. But Mary takes the best one – She decides to simply turn the attention away from herself, and rather place the focus upon God.

Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” We don’t often use the word “magnify” this way, but it means to make great, to make a big deal of, to focus upon. Your magnifying glass lets you focus upon something and see it clearly – and praise does this – it focuses us upon God and what He has done. This serves as a reminder of what all Christian praise must do if it is to be called praise – it has to focus upon God – it has to be about what God does. It has to rejoice in God and in His salvation. Christian praise is always tied, always points to the fact that God Himself acts on our behalf and saves us. This is what we praise God for – and Mary will continue to expand aspects of this in her song.

“for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed, for He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Mary recognizes something about herself that we in America can forget. She sees that she is and deserves to be humble – that she is lowly, that there is nothing in her that demands success or praise or glory. And yet, God has beheld her, God has seen her, and God is the One who has elevated her – in fact, all generations, even our to day, learn of the Blessed Virgin Mary – her words will echo throughout churches, children will want to be her in Christmas programs – and why? Not because she herself is wonderful, but because God, the Mighty One, has done great things for her. If she were not the mother of our Lord, not a one of us would have even heard of her. Mary is acutely aware of God’s blessings given to her, precisely because she knows that she does not deserve them. She is humble.

Sometimes it can be hard for us as Americans to remember that we too are humble people, and that any good, any blessing we have comes simply from God’s blessing and favor upon us. That’s not the way we think as Americans. We don’t tell our children that they are humble and lowly – we say, “Someday you could be president.” We don’t say that God will use them and the talents He has given to them as He sees fit; we tell them that they can grow up into whatever they want to be. And sometimes we can forget that our talents, our blessings are all things that come from God, that the opportunities that we see, these are gifts from God. Mary though, she sees, and because she sees she praises God for the great things that He has done for her. And likewise, consider the wonderful gifts that God has given to you – your talents, your abilities, your opportunities. These are things He has given to you freely and wondrously, and for this we ought give praise to God.

“and Holy is His Name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” But it gets even better. God’s Name, the God who does all this for you, His Name is holy, and He is full of mercy. Mary sees that – and her name will ever be associated with God’s Name. She will forever be remembered as Mary, the Mother of God. And she sees the great mercy that she has received, that she, a sinful being, receives such wonderful things from God.

Now, dear friends, consider the fact that you are Baptized. You have been joined into God’s own Name, His own holiness has been applied to you. You are made to be part of God’s Family as assuredly as Mary, Jesus’ own mother is part of His family – for you have been Baptized, you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father, you now have Christ for your brother, you are His family – and as such, you receive His Mercy. The greatest and mightiest thing that God has done for you has nothing to do with your bank account, or your home, or how talented you are – those are wonderful, but they aren’t the greatest. You have been forgiven on account of Christ – you have been given the gift of faith and welcomed into the family of God. God in His great mercy and love for you has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this is something that is for eternity – and it’s not dependent upon you, but flows totally from Him. God is rightly praised for this.

“He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” Mary brings out another thing that God does that we know yet often forget. We do not need to look very hard to see wickedness in the world, to see the mighty and powerful abuse and harm others, indeed, even harm us. But Mary’s words remind us of a truth that we can forget when we see the wickedness in this world – there is so much more that God prevents, there is so much that God brings to an end. The proud are scattered, their plans fall apart and often do not come to fruition. The tyrants on their thrones fall, the powers crumble – evil doesn’t endure because God brings an end to it. And this is a comfort to us, it gives us a new perspective – for even when evil is done to us, even when we are getting it heaped upon us – we know that God does not let it last, that it will crumble and fail sooner or later and that He will deliver us.

Indeed, the great example of that is the very fact that Mary is pregnant with the Christ Child as she says this. No more will God be content to have fallen king after fallen king come and rule on this earth – no more will He let this world’s prince have His sway – no, God Himself comes to be our king, to be our Lord, to defeat Satan – and because He has come we have victory assured. The brief battles we face now in this life will give way and yield to the eternal victory celebration of heaven, because God’s strong arm wins the victory by being nailed to the cross and rising again on the third day.
“He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.” The coming of Christ changes things; things will be different because of Christ. Wickedness will be overcome, the powerful will be cast down. The failings and the disappointments that we face in this life eventually will go away. And instead, God fills us with all joy and blessedness. And as those of the New Testament, we see these words of Mary and the promises they point all gathered in to the Lord’s Supper. If you believe that you are spiritually rich, that you need no forgiveness, that you have no need for God’s mercy – you will remain as empty and shallow as you were. But for you, dear friends, you who see and know your own sin, who know your own struggles, who feel the pressures of life in this world and who are burdened – you who are hungry for righteousness – behold what God does for you. He calls you to His own table, and here He fills you with not merely good things, but the very best thing – He fills you with Himself – Christ Jesus gives Himself unto you, in a way most wondrous and amazing – He forgives your sins in His Supper, He gives you His own strength – He helps you face down the fears of the past and helps you to face the trials of the future, because in His Supper we see the proof that He is with us, indeed, in His Supper He is with us.

Dear friends, Christ Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, is here, and because He is Here, because He has called us unto His family through the waters of Baptism, because He gives Himself to us in His Supper, we see and understand His great love for us – we see and understand all that He has done and accomplished for us. For indeed, while we were humble and lowly, while we were weak – He is the one who is strong for us, strong to save – who comes to rescue us and free us, not merely for the brief span of our lives, but for all ages and ages, even unto life everlasting. This, dear friends, is why we magnify the Lord, this is why we focus our eyes upon Him and in thanksgiving sing His praise – because we see all that He has done for us, freely and without worth or merit in us. Christ Jesus came to be our Savior, and He shall come again to bring us unto heaven, and so we say again, Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Go and Read

If you haven't, go and Pastor's Peter's thoughts on the different between Salvation and Spirituality. Fantastic

Being Busy and the Need for Study and Meditation

I find that the busier I am, the more I am aware of the need (and benefit) of study and meditation - be it from the pause for daily devotions or from gathering with other Pastors and discussing (going to a place where I will hear, not simply teach). It is when I am busy and running around and worn - especially when I am busy with multiple sermons and services bouncing around my head - that pause to be in the Word - to be a hearer is such a wonderful benefit.

The worst trick Satan has played upon us is the idea that we become too busy to pause and be hearers of the Word. Instead we become worn and worn and yet even more worn. Our work becomes more onerous. And we become slower and slower. . . and the work seems to pile even higher and higher (so of course we have less time for worship).

The Word of God refreshes. The Gospel gives joy. The Supper strengthens.

Sometimes we as Lutherans. . . okay. . . most of the time we as Lutheran shy away from speaking of the emotional benefits of worship and the Word -- and this is because we don't like making absolutes about emotions - we don't just say, "Worship should make you happy." Hearing the Word will not always make one happy (if you are content with your sin, it most certainly won't!).

But when you are weak, when you are heavy laden, when you are seeing the toil and wear of the world -- you are seeing Law, and the counter for that is Gospel, and the Gospel brings with it joy and refreshment and wonder. And not only the Gospel, but the joy it brings, is a good thing.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The mirror of existence

Advent is the season of the mirror of existence. One can speak of two sorts of law - direct law, where you have done something; and then the mirror of existence, where you just see that the world is broken.

Advent is the season of the mirror of existence. There will be signs and wonders, there will be good men tossed into prison. Things are falling apart and being shattered and broken.

It is into this broken and fallen world, amidst the shattered fragments of what amounts to life in this desolate place, God Himself steps, to rescue us, to restore us, to give us heaven.

Advent is such a beautiful time of the year, and all the more beautiful because we see just how much Christ restores when He comes and brings healing.

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – December 13th, 2009 – Matthew 11:2-10

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Picture yourself in a prison cell, cold and dark and damp. You’ve not been treated well or respectfully, probably haven’t been well fed. The hygiene isn’t the greatest. And you sit there, waiting, your life in the hands of a king who isn’t all that stable. You have no rights, no protection under the law – you do not know what precisely will happen to you, but you know it will not be pretty. And you sit there, in that dark cell, all by yourselves. And why are you there, are you a thief, , a thug, a murderer? No, you are there because you came preaching the coming of the Christ. You declared out loud “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” You strove to prepare the people for His coming – including this King Herod who has you imprisoned, whom you admonished for his immorality. And now, the simple reality is that the next time you leave this cold, dark cell, it will be for when they come to take you and kill you.

You do get visitors – your students do come, they talk a bit about the news of the day. You hear bits about the stir Jesus is causing, the One who you had pointed to – but He’s out there, and you’re in here, and in here it’s dark and cold and you are so often left alone with your doubts and fears. Your life is on the line. Is it right? And so you ask your disciples, your friends, to go and ask Jesus a question. “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Is it really You, Jesus, who is the Messiah? Am I here for the Right Person?

John’s disciples go, and again, John waits, alone in that dark prison cell. We don’t know how long – he himself probably couldn’t tell, probably lost track of time. Time passes. And then, your disciples return. And they say, “He told us to come and tell you what we see, what we hear – the things that have been happening out here while you’ve been in jail. This is what He told us to tell you. “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the One who is not offended by Me.” And there, in that dark cell, John the Baptist rejoiced, was glad, was filled with joy and hope. There he would have been able to speak once again the words of our introit, Rejoice in the Lord always. And why – because of what Jesus says and does.

You see, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Do you understand John’s perspective? Is this Jesus really the Messiah, your Cousin who you knew growing up, is He really the Lord God almighty? You know, but you have doubts – and then you hear what He does. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk. Yes, that is something that the Messiah does – God Almighty who made heaven and earth will come, and He will fix His creation – the blind, those whose eyes have been destroyed in this sinful world, they are healed. Those who are lame, whose bodies are broken, they are healed. Creation is restored. That’s something the Messiah would do.

But more than just that – the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up. Leprosy and deafness, and even death, all had a common idea, a common theme. They separated people, they tore loved ones asunder. If you were a leper, you were banished, you would never see your family again. If you were deaf, you were cut off from your family, you could never hear them, never have a conversation with them again. Isolated and alone. And if you were dead, well, you were dead. But look at what the Messiah comes and does – He restores relationships – those lepers who were cut off from their family and friends now rejoice, now dance and touch and hold and hug their loved ones again. Those people who were deaf, who could not hear, now hear the sounds of their loved ones again. And the father weeping over his daughter, the mother weeping over her son, now hold in their arms their children alive again. The relationships that sin and the impact of sin tear apart – the Messiah has come, and He is beginning to put them aright.

But more than just this, the highlight of it all – the poor have good news preached to them. The poor, the ones whom the world overlooks, the ones whom the world would rather not deal with, they have good news preached to them. This Jesus is no charlatan trying to make a quick buck, this is no placater of persons, this is no false prophet trying to grease the wheels of sinful society – but the poor hear, the folks who have no way to repay, who have nothing in them that would make them worthy, the ones who are helpless and lost – they hear good news preached to them. Indeed, even those who are stuck in a prison like John is, who no longer will be able to do anything for this Messiah, people who according to the standards of this fallen world are worthless – they too have good news preached to them. This is the Messiah, come for them, come for all people.

But our Lord had included one line there for John, for uplifting him and supporting him. John’s disciples also add in that little line – Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. John would have heard what the Messiah is doing, what is going on, and he would not have been offended –rather, this was his hope – his hope that Jesus is the Messiah is proved true – and Jesus tells him that he is blessed. Do you know what that means? By saying this, Jesus says, “Yes, John, you are in that cold, dark prison cell. Yes, John, it will be your head on a silver platter. And yes, John, even with all of this, you are blessed, for I am the Messiah, I am God come to save His people, come to save those who are stuck blind in prison cells and shackled to the wall, those separated from family by prison bars, those who are even going to die – I am your God and Messiah, and because I am here whatever Herod does to you now, you are blessed for all eternity. This is what our Lord has John’s disciples preach to him, and John rejoices, and sounds of joy and wonder that cell had never heard echoed throughout Herod’s dungeon. And John was refreshed, and John was prepared to face whatever came. The Messiah had come, and all would be made right in the end.

This Sunday of Advent is named in the Latin “Gaudete” – the first word of our introit – Rejoice. That is the point, the theme of this day. That’s why the pink candle is lit today, why the 3rd verse of “Light One Candle” is “joy”. Because this is the Sunday where our focus is upon the fact that the coming of the Messiah brings joy even to the darkest, dampest places we are in. This story here of John in his cell serves to highlight the joy that we have as Christians in hearing of Christ and what He has done. It is a joy that nothing in this world can trump, can triumph over. Whether it be illness or frailty or poverty or loneliness or even persecution and death, the fact remains that the Messiah has come – that God Himself has come down from heaven, fulfilled the Law in our place, gone to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, and He has been raised to life so that we too might have life ever lasting in His name. Nothing can change that – it is the truth – it is the truth that surpasses everything else. And so we are to take comfort, as Isaiah says, because our warfare, our rebellion against God is over – and Christ is the victor, and He gives us all the rewards and spoils of His battle to win us from sin and death and the devil. This is our joy – the joy that Christ tells John’s disciples to proclaim to him.

This is the joy that Christ wants us to be focused on. In our text, after John’s disciples leave to bring their joyous news to him, Jesus turns and asks the crowd a question. What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” You all went to see this John preach, why did you go? What did you want to see? “A reed shaken in the wind?” Were you going to see fluff? Someone who would put his finger to the air and just say whatever society wanted him to say? That wasn’t John. What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.” Did you go to learn about earthly wealth and power and might? You wouldn’t hear that from John. What then did you go out to see? A Prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” No, you went because John was preaching the coming of the Messiah, and here I am. The focus of John was upon Christ Jesus – and that’s where John’s preaching and focus was supposed to be.

So let us then put Christ’s question to us. What do you come here to see? Do you wish to see a reed shaken in the wind – someone who will just tell you and teach you whatever it is you want to hear, whatever society says is good? Who will give you the good, entertaining song and dance? Is that what Church is supposed to be? Or should it be a time for learning how to get those fine clothes, that fine house, that nice car? A place to meet people and make connections so you can get that better job? Is that what Church is supposed to be? God forbid that this place ever crumbles and decays into that. No, this place is to be a place where Christ is pointed to and proclaimed – where we who are spiritually blind might be enlightened by God’s Word, where we who are made lame by sin might learn how to walk as God’s faithful, where our relationships with God and neighbor might be restored by the power of Christ’s forgiveness, where we might be given new and eternal life in Christ Jesus. And this is something that is done not by our strength, not by our power, not by our actions – but all of this is done by Christ through the power of His Word. St. Paul says that he, and those pastors after him, should be considered servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. And here we receive, we participate in those joyous mysteries of God – we hear absolution. We hear good news preached. We receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord for forgiveness and for life. These are the wonders and joys that happen here, that God brings to you and makes real for you here. This is the joy that you receive here no matter what your week was like, no matter what trial awaits you in the week to come. Christ Jesus has won for you forgiveness with His death and resurrection, and He now comes to you and gives you salvation. And we know that He shall come again. This is our joy, this is the joy to which we cling as we await His second coming, this is the joy that we hold to as we await the resurrection of the dead on the last day when we will be given glorious bodies like His. Christ has come to win us salvation, and He will come again to see that we have it in full. In the meantime, He comes in His Word, in His own Body and blood in His Supper as a pledge and promise and token of this that the world can never take away. Let us rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

"I married me a powerful ugly creature"

Quite often it is easy for those who would be devout Christians to become frustrated with the sad state of the Church -- and by this generally the sad state of the people next to them in the pews (or failing to be in the pews next to them) is meant. And throughout the course of history, no small lack of theological idiocy has arisen as people have tried to come up with new plans to fix this - whether it be pietism where you basically take the "scared straight" approach, or even the approach that seems popular today, where you focus so much on grow-grow-grow in order to just replace those slackers with a hopefully unending supply of new givers. . . um. . . I mean, new members who have full pockets. . . um. . . I mean are full of zeal.

When thoughts and frustrations like this arise, I would suggest that we would do well to remember two things about just who we are in the Church.

1. We aren't the hero, we are the damsel in distress.

What do I mean by this? In the story of our lives, we aren't the hero who comes in swashbuckling and saving the day. We aren't the clever ones who outwit the Devil, we aren't the ones who by our own strength knock down the foes. We are the damsels. We are the ones who are distressed by our own sin, locked in the tower of our wickedness. We are the ones who are rescued when Christ comes being born of a virgin, when He shatters the shackles of sin with His death and resurrection.

As such, we shouldn't focus on how WE are going to do something to make the Church grow. We aren't the ones who do the rescuing - Christ is. As such, let us simply attend to His Word, and let Him rescue people by His Word. Too often the temptation is to think things rely upon us - what are we doing to do to make things right. We forget that we are the ones who are made right by Christ.

2. In and of ourselves, we are some powerful ugly creatures.

(This phrasing is lifted from the show Firefly which you should have watched already by now. . . if not, it makes a lovely Christmas present)

What does this mean? When we start wanting to fix the Church, fix other people in the Church, make them better Christians. . . we forget how broken and in need of healing we ourselves are. Christ speaks to this with that whole speck in the neighbor's eye, ignoring the log in our own. I'll say this -- we are damsels in distress, but the hero doesn't come and rescue us because we ourselves are beautiful -- no, we are some powerful ugly creatures.

The problem is that we can. . . forget this. We can start playing the comparison game. The Christian faith is not a race to make sure you are better than your neighbor - it doesn't matter what your neighbor has done - the question is you and your actions. Are you perfect? And the answer is no, and so you've got plenty to tend to in yourself. You might be the prettiest girl in uglyville, but that still means you're ugly. And we can become filled with pride and just become nasty folk.

The Christian faith isn't our hero tale - it isn't where Christ comes to us because we are so lovely - it is the story of where Christ comes with joy and gladness, and He binds to Himself a powerful ugly creature, and He makes her to be His beautiful bride, without spot or blemish through the washing of the water and the Word.

He is the One who does this for you, and He is the One who does this for any and all. Let Him be the One who is active, let Him be the One who is active even in you.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tell John

The 3rd Sunday in Advent has one of the semi-contraversial readings in Scripture, Matthew 11:2-11, where John sends his own disciples (he's in the clink) to ask Jesus, "Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?"

Many people, good men who I know and respect, will explain so as John is really just trying to point his own disciples to Jesus so they are cared for after he is silver platter surprise at the royal party. However, that just doesn't sit well with me, because of what Jesus says.

"Go and tell John what you hear and see. . . ." Go and tell John. Jesus doesn't tell these folks to forget John and follow Him; our Lord instructs them to go and preach to John.

We can forget (or pretend) that the preachers of God's Word don't need to be hearers. That isn't true - we need to receive the Word ourselves. We need encouragement. We need to have the Word of God proclaimed to us - especially in life and death situations.

I am reminded here of the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, powerful Christian writings. Ignatius is on his way to death - and he writes beautiful words... but he also always gives thanks for the support, the preaching and succor of the Sacrament that he himself has received.

This is the point of the text - Christ Jesus is the Messiah, and that is something we always need to hear, to hear anew. Life in a fallen world can oppress us - even we who know the Truth - the world will try to stamp that out. Preachers - hear you the Word yourselves so that you are bolstered in the faith!

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – Luke 21:25-36, December 6th, 2009

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Ah yes, Christmas time approaches, when we all go out and decorate and put up little electric lights all over the place. And there will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars. Ah yes, this joyous season where we all dream of a gentle snow to give us a nice, white Christmas. And on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves. Ah yes, a season where we all just are determined to get along and talk about pretty ideas, like peace on earth. People fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. Ah yes, a time of the year where we just sing happy songs whose meaning we have forgotten. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. This second Sunday in Advent, this reading of this Gospel lesson, always seems so. . . opposed to what we see running around in the world. December is the time of year where we put on our happy faces, get into the Spirit, get into the Christmas Cheer! That’s what we are supposed to do according to all the TV shows – go out and spend more and more, eat, drink, and be merry. And yet, here in God’s House, we hear Christ’s words of reality. So often our society will treat Christmas as a time to ignore reality, to try to forget what is going on. We will try to sweep our problems and sorrows under the rug. Money’s been tight? Who cares – look at all the wonderful deals, and we have financing! Relationships been rough? Who cares – put on a sweater and smile, we have guests coming over! Yes, we’ll talk about peace on earth, though we’ve had troops out in tents in the desert for years and years. The world makes pretend at Christmastime.

Our Lord, though, doesn’t call us to pretend-time. Our Lord deals with reality. And quite often, the reality of this world is harsh, it’s unpleasant – and while we might try to forget troubles for a while, to put them out of sight and out of mind, they will still be there tomorrow. Storms and wars and rumors of war, distress, violence, chaos breaking out. All these things still happen, even in December, when we try to forget them. But our Lord says, “No, don’t try to forget them, don’t try to numb your mind to them. Rather this. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Don’t ignore the troubles of the world – but rather in the midst of them, take heart, stand up straight and tall and proud, for your redemption draws near.

Advent is the season where we focus on the coming of Christ – what it means that Christ is coming. And our Lord here reminds us that the coming, the approach of our Lord, is always companied in this sinful world with things that cause the sinful world distress. Consider our Lord’s first coming at Christmas. There were signs in the sky – you had the Star of Bethlehem. Rulers of the world were perplexed – Herod was driven to the point of killing children, Mary and Joseph had to take infant Jesus and flee for their lives. When Christ first came, the world was chaotic and messy. Or consider when Christ won our redemption – because this is what He was directly speaking to in this Gospel. When the Son of Man was lifted up upon the Cross – what happened? The sky became black, and then, when He died, the earth quaked, and even the Roman Solider, the sign of the height of earthly power, falls to His knees and says, “Surely, this was the Son of God.”

Likewise, dear friends, this season of Advent, where we focus on preparing to celebrate our Lord’s first coming, we are also directed to prepare for His second coming. The same signs are still here, we still see all the reminders of chaos and wonder in the world. And our Lord warns us not to miss them. And then He told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’ Christ our Lord teaches us to be watchful – and as Christians we see things differently than the rest of the world does, we see all things through Christ and His Word. The world sees tough times which we would do well to forget for a while, that we should drown in holiday cheer. Our Lord says, “No, see the tough times, and let them be a reminder to you to stand up tall and joyous, because they let you know that I shall come again.” We don’t rejoice to forget, we rejoice because we see! To be a Christian, to see things through Christ is to be filled with all boldness, to be given a confidence that the world cannot know. For we who have been baptized and washed in the blood of the Lamb know that no matter what comes, what we see our days – Christ Jesus our Lord has won us salvation, and He shall come again, and Heaven and life everlasting is ours. And we are to rejoice in this always, not just for a few dark weeks in December.

But know this. The world seeks to shake this boldness that you have in Christ. The world seeks to beat down your faith, to twist your eyes off of Christ, to exchange His true Hope and wonder, for baubles and fleeting pleasures. Our Lord warns us of this. But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. The world wants you not to be bold in Christ, but to be weighed down – to where you no longer focus on Christ. Now, our Lord tells us three ways that the world will do this. First, the world wants to dissipate us. What does that mean? To dissipate means to shatter and spread out, to dispel – the frost on the grass dissipates as the day grows warm, a storm dissipates as it runs out of steam. This is what the world wants to do – to spread you thin, to evaporate you, where you are so busy and so into this and that, running to and fro that you have no focus and so that you’ll fall apart. The world wants you to be scattered, where you can’t focus on anything, and so you’ll fail to focus upon Christ. That’s one way the world attacks Christians. The second way is that the world wants you to be drunken fools. You’ve got problems, things to do that you want need to do – just get blottoed. Or. . . do whatever you have to do to forget about them. We shouldn’t think this is just a warning against strong drink – but it’s a warning against any type of behavior that we end up using to escape from reality, whether it’s drugs and alcohol, or spending money wildly, spending all your time doing this or that just so that you don’t have to face reality. When we ignore reality, of course we will ignore Christ Jesus – the Highest reality. We’ll be hungover, either from booze or our own busy-ness, and we will ignore Him. And finally, the world will attack you through the cares of life themselves. The world will try to make it where your problems, your struggles seemingly overwhelm you, where they are all that you end up thinking about, where you’ll focus just upon them and not upon Christ.

The world wants you to forget about Christ, period. But what does your Lord instruct you? But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and so stand before the Son of Man. Pray. Focus not upon the things of life, but be focused upon God in prayer. Stand up straight, look to God, be focused upon Christ Jesus, so that you might not dismiss the troubles of life, but with all Christian boldness stand in the midst of them, stand until Christ returns.

This is what our Lord trains you to do – when you face trial or sorrow, when you are overwhelmed with abundance or stretching to make ends meet – whatever situation you are in, you are to look to Christ, to be focused upon His Word. Heaven and earth will pass away, all the things that trouble and vex you so, they too will go away, but the Word of Christ Jesus will endure forever, because the Word of Christ is about Christ, and He endures forever. Our Lord, in this Gospel text, is doing nothing else than teaching us to be focused upon Him, at all times and in all situations to wait with humility upon Him and His deliverance, a humility that makes us bolder than the most brash person in the world – for we rest upon Christ, we lift up our heads because we know our King of Glory is coming. At all times, Christians are to look to Christ.

And Christ gives Himself to you, Christ our Lord comes to you. Indeed, on the last day He shall come again, but until that day, lift up your heads here in His House, for here indeed He comes to you. His Word, focusing you upon His love still rings out here and will continue to do so. His Supper will be given to you who are in need of forgiveness and strengthened faith until He comes again. Here we will be gathered in prayer, so that together we all might encourage one another with His Word, so that you remember that you are not alone but that we are together in Christ. His House is a House of Forgiveness and prayer. And we together see here things the way they really are, the way that our Lord tells us they are in His world – here we understand the world and why it works the way it does. And we see it, and with joy and hope we stand up and raise our heads, for we know that Christ our King is coming, as assuredly as He came that first Christmas, to be our Savior and to win us salvation and to give us heaven.

Remember this during this coming week, after you’ve walked out those doors and you end up facing all those things in this world that can be scary and intimidating. When you see them, lift up your heads, for they are nothing but reminders that your Lord Christ Jesus has defeated this world and your sin, that He has won you salvation, and that He shall come again to bring you to heaven for all eternity. Lift up your head and celebrate, and let your celebrations be true celebrations because of what Jesus has won for you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Thursday, December 3, 2009

You know what the Law is like?

The Law is like Gordan Ramsay coming into a restaurant on Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (I highly prefer the British version).

***Note - Ramsay is highly vulgar and coarse. Lots of foul language. Seriously, former Scottish footballer, horrid langauge, but. . . you know, the law doesn't treat us gently either. The broadcast on BBC America is somewhat bleeped - what you hunt on youtube may not be****

I watched a new episode last night - the restaurant was "The Runaway Girl" in Sheffield - and the owner just kept following his own ideas, which in the food business were the height of folly, and wouldn't listen.

And Ramsay just pounded him, over and over - and the fellow didn't listen, the fellow complained because Ramsay wouldn't point out the good things that he did. And Ramsay said something along the lines of (and this is a paraphrase): You are losing your business, you've lost your house, you're losing your best friend and girlfriend (who were working with him and frustrated), 98% of what you do is wrong, and you don't listen, and unless you start listing you will fail.

It was a textbook example of how people wish to self-justify ourselves. The house could be burning down around us, and we'd complain that the matches didn't have any warning label telling us not to play with them.

Ramsay is relentless. When we preach the law, we need to be relentless - we need to provide no escape - just show sin and fault until all the excuses are gone and there is repentance. And that is hard to do.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Few things are better for a Pastor

Few things are better for a Pastor than when you realize that the kids in your congregation are getting it.

Two of the folks that I confirmed last year ended up going to various other churches with other people this past month. One ended up going to a "revival" meeting. . . the other to the big mega Baptist church in Enid with a friend after a sleepover. And both were able look at what happened at these services and realize that they were. . . bad.

The revival was a few weeks ago - the mega church was just this past Sunday. As for the one this past Sunday, on the board in the Adult Study room I have written "We repeat what should never be forgotten" - a fine statement regarding the liturgy. The baptist "preacher" was apparently preaching against those small churches that are traditional and just keep doing the same thing. . . and my member thought of the board.

Things to make a pastor's heart happy!

Advent Midweek 1

Texts - Isaiah 9:1-8, Acts 13:32-39, John 12:27-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This advent season, our focus will be upon the idea of hope. When we talk about hope as Christians, we do not use the term as the world uses the term. When the world uses the word “hope”, it uses it to speak of something that might happen, but might not. I hope OU wins it's bowl game, but this year, I'm not so sure. However, when we are in the Church, the way in which we use the word “hope” is different. Our hope in the Church is a sure and confident hope – something that we know will come, something that we know will be - because God has said so, because God Himself has done it. Our Hope is our Faith – the two are one and the same.

Advent is the season where we consider what our Hope as Christians actually is, we see our hopes placed and fulfilled in Christ Jesus, for He is the true source of all our hope. However, while we in the New Testament Church see Jesus as the source of our hope, for many folks in Jesus' day, He was a disappointment. Their hopes had become skewed, their hopes had slid off – they heard part of the Word but didn't think things through, and so they slid off into error – and thus, when Jesus came, He was disappointing. Tonight, we will consider the fact that Jesus is the true Hope for the Throne of David, over and above the low, misguided expectations people had.

Now, as we live in America and have no king, we don't quite understand the way the people of Jesus' day thought about the Throne of David. Today, we say, “No king – fantastic, let's go vote on something.” But for the folk of Jesus' day, not having a true king of your own meant that you were a conquered people, that you were defeated and subjugated to another. For them, the idea of having someone sit upon the throne of David as King meant basically what we think of when we think of freedom – no other country bossing them around, a peaceful existence, a just government, good economic growth – all the things we hope for in this world. And they had reason to think this would come – Isaiah had said, “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.” The Messiah would come, and He would make the throne of David something for the people of Israel to be proud of.

However, they miss the point. They kept thinking in earthly terms, they kept thinking in terms of a line of kings, one after another – or maybe even someone who would live hundreds of years like the patriarchs of old. But that isn't what Isaiah points to – it points to One King, and His government and rule will increase and will not end – we aren't just talking about the way things ran in some idealized past, this isn't misguided dreaming about some golden age – but it is a description of reality – that the Messiah will bring everlasting peace and everlasting righteousness. This is what Paul points out when he preaches in Acts 13 – the kings of old died and remained in their tomb – they served for only a time, but Christ Jesus has risen from the dead and He lives and reigns to all eternity.

When Christ comes, He preaches to His own death and resurrection. He speaks to how He will suffer and die and rise again in order to defeat sin, to make open the path to heaven and to ensure His eternal reign. And the people really dislike this idea - “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?" They understood what Jesus was saying when He said that He would be lifted up – that was a way of speaking about crucifixion – a kind of death that was public and shameful and horrid. How does death come into our dreams of an earthly kingdom? If your king gets put to death, that doesn't mean good things for your kingdom. In fact, that pretty much means that your kingdom is done for.

But Christ's kingdom isn't meant to be one just of this world, it isn't meant to be one simply for the Jewish people – no, the Throne of David will be much bigger than that – it will be the Throne of Heaven itself – it will be the Throne before which not merely the Jewish people but all the people of the world will fall down and worship for all eternity. This is the true hope for the Throne of David, this is the hope which we are part of. The Throne of David is a truly eternal Throne – one which outlasts this world which will pass away – it will be the Throne around which we are gathered. Do you see how God's plans are so much more and higher that what people expect – we might expect a good life now, comfort while we grow old and die – yet Christ says, “I will call you forth from the grave and give you eternal life and have you be by my side in heaven forever before My throne.”

This is what our Lord accomplishes when He comes. Our Lord comes not to simply take up an earthly throne, not just to be a worldly ruler – but rather, to defeat Satan, the ruler of this world. This is what He does when He goes to the cross. Our Lord comes to the manager precisely so that He might go to the Cross, He is born as a Man so that He might win for us men our salvation by His innocent suffering and death. And then, He rises – and as a Living Man, never to die again, He ascends and, as we confess, He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. He is seated upon the everlasting Throne of David, where He is our God right now, from whence He gives us all the blessings we have in this life, and from whence He shall come again at the last day to deliver us from all wickedness and call us to His eternal and perfected Kingdom.

Dear friends in Christ, we too have hope in Christ, hope that is centered around the everlasting Throne of David. And we have learned from our Lord what this means – that He is our Savior and our life, and that we shall have peace and security and blessing far surpassing anything we could think of in this life – all because He came to earth and suffered and rose. This is our Hope to which we cling. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

The Slow but Sure Victory

"So what I told you is true. . . from a certain point of view. You are going to find that many of the truths to which we cling depend greatly upon our point of view" - Obi-wan Kenobi.

Yes, I just quoted Obi-wan. . . I'm a nerd, so sue me. However, this is a response to my last post. My wife read it yesterday, and she thought about it, and she said, "I suppose it makes sense, but I think it's more a slow victory."

This raises the question - what's your point of view. If we look at things in this earthly life - it is the long defeat, the slow decay of things here until the end. If we look at things from the perspective of heaven and eternity, the kingdom ours remaineth - it is victory, though sometimes seemingly slow in coming.

Whenever we look at things in this world with honesty, we will see the Law, we will see the impact of sin. Whenever we behold Christ and what He has done for us, we will see His triumph over all. Which way you look, what lens you peer through, shapes what you see. We can see through a law lens (let's call it a blue lens), and we can see through a Gospel lens (let's call it a blood red lens), and when we see them together, we get the full, 3-D picture of life. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but Christ's Word shall never pass away. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Rereading Tolkein - the Long Defeat

I have been rereading Tolkien's Lord of the Rings again, and I was just struck again how much theological imagery and such is in the book, how I don't think you can understand the book unless you come from a Christian, and in reality, a sacramental Christian background.

A thought for now - the elves in Lothlorien speak of how they are fighting "the long defeat". Of course it is the long defeat - they are still in Middle Earth, they have not gone over the sea into the West, and while there are joys and wonders, there is also wickedness and strife and encroaching evil. And while they desperately love their forest and land, they know that they are losing, that it will fade.

They called this "the long defeat". And Tolkien thought this described human existence in a fallen world quite well - "Actually, I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect 'history' to be anything but a 'long defeat' - though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory." (Letters of Tolkien, 195)

There are many times when being a Christian, when dealing with a church, when being a pastor makes clear that this life is indeed the long defeat - where things get diminished and fall and fail, where nothing is what it was. And we may have brief flares of new piety, new devotion. . . but they flicker and fail, and we compare ourselves to our fathers in the faith, and we see how flat and weak we are, even for all our own triumphs.

Here is the thing. This is the way it is, this is the way it has to be in a fallen world. In Ezra 3:12 when the temple is being rebuilt, the foundations relain, we hear "But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid." It was just going to be. . . less than it was. Or imagine Noah's approach to the world after the flood - of seeing all the change, of having there be rain and rain over and over again, of eating meat. . . things not the way they were.

That is Advent - where we see and remember that this life, for all its glitz and glamour, really is just the long defeat - and hence we look towards our Lord's coming. He came once, and He shall come again.

Monday, November 30, 2009

It's good to know

It's good to know that Steven Seagal is keeping Father Hollywood safe.

Seriously - Met Ott's grave and Deputy Seagal - Gretna may be the coolest place east of Lahoma.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A quick thought on closed communion

How is the simplest way to describe closed communion? When you commune at a Lutheran altar, we expect you to only commune at Lutheran altars until you die. That is what we ask of our confirmands - will you face all sorts of wickedness, even death, than fall away from the faith as you learned it?

This also explains the old "deathbed" exception. If someone is dying - well, yes, then this will be the last altar they commune at.

If little Sally comes home and wants to commune but next week she's going to go right back to her mega-church de jour -- sorry. No where else until you die - that's the standard.

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – November 29th, 2009 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This world is broken. Has been ever since the fall. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the world has been broken. We as people – broken. We are now prone to hatred and anger and envy and strife and sorrow and sadness. We are no longer perfect, and even if we were, even when there are times when we are not at fault – our neighbor still can be – and pain and suffering still comes anyway. Broken. And the world itself – broken. Nature itself seems out to get us half the time, to ruin itself with storms and natural disasters, animals tearing each other to shreds. All broken. Nothing works right. And indeed, God does spare us from some of this brokenness, gives us blessings and moments of joy here in this life – but still, here in this world, things all fall apart eventually. There is anger and pain and terror and suffering – all which flows from, all which is a consequence of sin.

The prophet Jeremiah, though, sounds the call for this Advent season, speaks out to us in this broken, fallen world that lies in the grasp of sin. The prophet calls out, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” There is a promise, given by God, that someday the King will come, and what will this king do? He shall be wise, and He will do justice, He will see that things are righteous. He will fix things, He will make things to be the way they ought to be. Now this, this is a thing to wait for, to watch for with eagerness! That is what Advent is – where we of the New Testament Church pause and wait to celebrate our Lord’s coming at His birth, where we watch and ponder what our Lord’s coming was for, what it means, how it happened, so that we might give God thanks aright for it.

Some 600 years after Jeremiah spoke these words, we see the events of our Gospel text. We see Christ Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey there on Palm Sunday, and here we learn about how our Lord comes. This is the promised coming of the King, a coming that is lowly and humble, a coming for justice, and a coming for righteousness. Christ comes to be all these things, to win for us salvation and forgiveness, to fulfill all the Scriptures spoke of Him, and to prepare heaven for us and us for heaven. This is what He does when He enters Jerusalem.

It’s not what the broken world expects. Back then, the crowds had something else in mind. The crowds had wild expectations for what would happen once Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Many were expecting the casting off of the hated Roman overlords. But Jesus doesn’t revolt. Many were expecting miracles galore. But that isn’t what Christ Jesus, who reigns wisely does. Jesus goes to the temple and teaches, and then Jesus goes to the cross. And the world is befuddled. Same thing today. The broken world doesn’t understand the coming of our Lord that we celebrate at Christmas. The broken world thinks that the coming of the King should mean 50 days of great sales at the stores - the broken world expects the Savior to save our lagging economy. The broken world thinks that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are happy during these cold months. The broken world is content to have its parties and its festivities, and then pack up what passing thoughts of an infant laid in a manger they had until next October when they can start making a profit off of it again.

But Christ never acts in the way the broken world wants Him to. Christ our King comes humbly – mounted on a donkey. When Christ enters Jerusalem, He does not come upon a charger of war, He does not come leading a host of zealots ready to storm Pilate’s quarters, slaying Romans. No, He comes humbly, and He rides His donkey up not to the worldly seats of power, but to the temple, and He fixes things there, focuses people upon God and prayer. Christ our King comes to bring Justice – but not the justice the broken world craves. The broken world thought Justice meant punishing the wicked harshly and severely – driving the Romans before them. They thought Justice would mean more cash in their pockets, just like the world today thinks justice means giving the right bailout to the right people, making sure health care reform is just so. But when Christ comes to execute Justice, He slays no one, He punishes no one. Rather – He Himself goes to the cross to see Justice done – to see the sins of the broken world punished in Himself. When you behold the Cross, you see Christ Jesus executing Justice, you see Justice done by the King, as He Himself takes up the sins of the world. And Christ our King comes to bring and to be righteousness – but not a righteousness the broken world expects. The broken world expects righteousness to mean that things are the way they want things to be. The broken people of Christ’s day would have expected a righteous world to be ruled by them, where the other peoples of the world all acknowledged their superiority and served them – that would be nice! But that isn’t the righteousness that Christ brings – when He wins for us forgiveness upon the Cross, He also pours out His Spirit upon us, enlivening us. Christ’s righteousness is not that He makes things to be the way we want them to be, but He comes to us and makes us to be the way God wants us to be. He fixes our brokenness, pulls us away from our own sin, strengthens us to resist temptation, makes us to be those who show forth love, who are humble and just and righteous again by the power of His Word.

What Christ did then, back on Holy Week, is the same thing He does for us today. He shatters our broken expectations of Him, and shows us indeed who God is and God’s great love for us. Today the broken world expects the Christian life to be a life of power and might and stuff – where we think that it is our time to seize the best of this life now. That is the seemingly constant refrain of the false preachers – they make millions off of this message. Yet how does Christ come? He comes through His Word – He calls us not to a life of Champaign toasts and caviar dreams, but to a life of contemplation, where we hear His Word and mediate upon it, think about it – and then speak it back to Him in prayer, sing it back to Him in hymns. He calls us to worship, where we are no longer focused upon ourselves, but are focused upon God and His love for us. He calls us to a life of service, where we care for the neighbor, show them love, make sure that they have their best life now – this is humility, to focus not upon yourself but upon God and upon your neighbor. This is precisely what our Lord does when He rides into Jerusalem on that donkey, when He comes to us in His Word. Our Humble Lord teaches us humility.

And Christ comes to us today to teach us what justice is. The broken world today still expects justice to be about the slaying of our enemies, where the neighbor who has wronged me will get his just deserts. Christ though, teaches us what justice is – He teaches us and gives us justice through His gift of Baptism. He says, “I will slay your enemy, your true enemy – and your true enemy is your desire to sin – behold My justice as I drown your sins and your Old Adam by water and the Word.” When we ponder Baptism, we see what Justice truly is, what it entails. At your baptism, God Almighty connected you to our Lord’s Crucifixion – tied you to Christ’s own death to be the proof and assurance that when Christ died for the sins of the world, yes, indeed and truly, He died for your sins – that when Justice was done to Him, it was done also for you. God’s Justice means that you have forgiveness on account of Christ, that your sins are washed away. And again, this is not of ourselves – we have this gift of justice and forgiveness not because of our boldness, not because of our worth – but because Christ Jesus is the King who does justice, who gives out justice, who does all that is needed to see that justice is done. We do not come to faith as spiritual vigilantes, taking God’s law into our own hands by our own decisions – but Christ comes, and He is just for us, and He makes us to be just – He justifies us.

And of course, Christ comes to show us righteousness. The broken world is selfish, is focused upon itself. Christ comes to draw our eyes off of ourselves and rather to make us righteous people who show love to their neighbor, Christ makes us to be whom He created us to be in the first place. This is what He accomplishes through His Supper. Christ comes to us in His Body and Blood to forgive our sins and also to strengthen our faith, to fill us with His love so that we might do righteousness, so that we might show forth His love in the coming week. This is why we give thanks to God upon receiving this Supper, praying – “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love towards one another.” And that is what God does, what God accomplishes through this blessed meal. God works upon you – when you are here, when you hear His Word, receive His Supper, God is active – the Holy Spirit acts upon you, improves you, restores you. He makes you to show a right and holy life.

Whenever Christ comes, He comes teaching us humility and giving us justice and making us righteous. The season of Advent, which we now enter, is nothing else than a call to remember this, to focus upon this, to see this. The broken world would distract us, dazzle and blind us to Christ – but our Lord tells us to be patient, to watch and wait for His coming and His deliverance – a coming and deliverance we celebrate and remember at Christmas, a coming and deliverance we have now whenever Christ gathers us to His Church, and a coming and deliverance that we shall have in full for all eternity when He comes again, taking us from this broken world unto His holy Heaven. May God focus our eyes upon Christ this advent season. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Sermon

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

When times have been tough, when the year has been not as wonderful as years past, Thanksgiving Day always seems a little more poignant. When everything has been coming up roses, we can approach Thanksgiving with a haughty attitude – ah, yes, what a year, I suppose we should give thanks – and then when it is done we fly away from Church and the tedium of thankfulness back to enjoy all our wonderful stuff. Thanksgiving, in a good year, can be almost perfunctory – something we have to do. But on those years when things are a bit tighter – when things have been a bit rougher, we reach this day, and it becomes a true day of reflection, a true day of thanksgiving – because that small touch of lack and sorrow simply serves to highlight all that we have received from God in His unbridled love and mercy.

Our Gospel lesson is a familiar one – the 10 lepers. And when we hear this story, sometimes we can be a bit detached from it. Sometimes it seems hard to relate to these lepers – I mean, they have horrible, wretched existences. We don’t. They were horribly ill; we live in a land with the greatest health care ever seen, where illnesses that were a death sentence 50 years ago are cured with ease. They were beggars with no wealth – we live in the wealthiest nation the world has ever seen. It can be hard to relate to them normally – but this past year. . . well, it’s a little different, isn’t? We’ve had those debates and fears regarding health care, we’ve seen chaos in the economy reminding us that we could lose our jobs – we saw crops become brittle and break – and suddenly, these lepers don’t seem as distant as they normally do. Instead of just looking upon them detachedly, we can understand them a touch better.

These lepers cry out to Christ for healing – they wish to be restored, to be healed, to be delivered. And Christ tells them to go into the city, to show themselves to the priests. And at His word they go, they walk by faith towards town, and as they go they are healed. They see first hand the wonders of God’s care and love for them, and they are ecstatic. But then, only one of them, a Samaritan, turns around and returns to Christ to give thanks. On this day, this year, when we have seen so clearly where we could be, we pause to turn and give thanks to God, because we see and understand how richly and undeservedly He has blessed us – and He has blessed us here at Zion. By rights, 10 percent of us should be unemployed – but God has preserved us. The odds say that at least some of us should have been evicted by now – yet our homes remain. We have seen horrible illnesses and tragedies in our community – and yet, we are preserved. Even those of our congregation who have died were preserved to either ripe old ages or lived much, much longer than their health problems would have led us to expect. Indeed, many of us have even received wondrous healing this year. We see what God has done for us, and we turn now, knowing it could be so different, and we give Him thanks.

But if we make this day a day of thanks for earthly stuff alone, as so many in this land will do, we will miss the point. These earthly blessings of God are indeed wonderful things – and we are right to rejoice in all the blessings that our Father gives purely out of His divine goodness and mercy without any worth or merit in us. But that is not the end. Whenever we think of our earthly blessings, we ought to then move in our minds to all the spiritual blessings which God has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord. This is a year when we see a bit more clearly how messy this life, this world can be. We see the impact of sin a bit more clearly now – and we see its impact upon us more clearly as well. It is not swept under the rug – it confronts us, face to face.

Christ Jesus our Lord saw the trials and tribulations of this world – and then out of His great love for us, He chose to come down from heaven and enter this world in order to win us salvation. Ponder that for a moment – there is Jesus, enjoying the perfection and wonders of heaven – and yet, He takes on human flesh and strides into this messy place. And while here on earth He takes upon Himself all the things that we can fear. He takes on poverty, He takes on illness, He takes on the scorn of friends. Even Satan is astounded at what Christ takes on – even Satan at the temptation in the desert looks at our Lord’s suffering and says, “This is crazy – why do you treat Yourself so – command stones to turn to bread, eat something, you are God after all!” And yet, our Lord dives into this world with all its sorrows whole heartedly. And why? Because in coming to this world, our Lord joins Himself to us – He makes a tie between Himself and us, sealed in the waters of Holy Baptism. And then He suffers all – everything we could think of fearing, everything this world could throw at us, the things we’ve seen more clearly this year – even death, Christ tastes it. And then He rises – and He says to us – “I have done it all, and I have risen. This new life, this is yours now.” Christ Jesus wins us salvation.

And every time we see a temporal blessing, every time we realize just how much God has protected us in this earthly life, it should point us again to Christ Jesus, Who came down from heaven to be our Brother, so that we might see the love of God not just in earthly things which will fade, but that we might see this Love face to face for all eternity when we stand in the presence of God. These temporal blessings which we give thanks for are but an appetizer of what is to come – a sampling of the restoration that is ours in Christ for all eternity. And so dear friends, let us truly give thanks this day for all the blessings God has given us – the blessings of body – for this life, and the blessings of soul – for all eternity. God has made us to behold His love for us – let us rejoice and give Him thanks. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

An Excellent Petersen Post

Rev. David Petersen has a wonderful post on why we feel stress over at his blog.

I don't know why I cross post this here. . . I mean. . . really, if you don't have Petersen's blog bookmarked, why would you have mine?


Relatives. . . go over to this other blog and read it!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday – November 22nd, 2009 – Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
We have reached the end of another Church Year. Soon our thoughts will shift to our Lord’s first Advent and our preparations for the celebration of His birth – but now, we do not look back – we look ahead. Just as the days grow shorter and colder here on earth, we are reminded that the hour is getting late, and that our Lord will return, sooner or later. And yet, so often it seems like it will be later – that our Lord’s return seems delayed and pushed back. We can come to this Sunday of the Church Year – nod and say, “Oh yes, oh yes – Jesus will come back. . . I suppose – that whole ‘and He shall come to judge the living and the dead’ thing” – and then promptly forget about our Lord’s Second coming until November roles around next year unless there is some natural disaster or something that makes us wonder about the end of the world in the meantime.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is not the approach or attitude our Lord wishes us to have. We are not to be those who are complacent, but we are to be those who are watchful and prepared for our Lord’s Second Coming, so that when that joyous day does come – whether we are among those living or those who are rising on that day from the dead – we will be ready for that day. And so, our Lord speaks a parable to teach, to train, to tell us how we ought to prepare for His return. This is the familiar parable of the wise and foolish virgins, so let us attend to our Lord’s Words, and then take them to heart.

Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. So what in the world does this mean? Well, back in the day, as part of the high, formal festivities of marriage, the young, unmarried girls would get to come out, and they would serve as lamp bearers – they would be part of the groom’s procession, going before him, all young and pretty with their lamps – they would bring joy to the whole celebration. And this was a big deal – this was something you got to do when you were finally grown up – a rite of passage. The excitement of these girls would probably be like girls today going to prom – you get your hair done and get the nice dress, and it’ll be a late night, maybe with an all night party. So that is the type of eagerness that these 10 virgins would have – this youthful wonder and joy and excitement.

This is the same sort of excitement we ought to have when we consider our Lord’s return. When our Lord comes back, we will be leaving the childhood of this life, where we see things only dimly, where we struggle with burdens and sin – and instead we will be stepping into the heavenly feast, we will obtain perfection, we will grow up in Christ and be like Him. And when we think about the joys of heaven, when we think about what is to come, we are rightly excited.

Five of them were foolish, and five of them were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. But there is a problem for some of these girls – they are not prepared. They don’t have any oil – they figure that they will have time to get some when the time comes. Why would you not have oil when your job, the reason you get to come to the party is to have a lamp? I don’t know. That’s why they are called the foolish virgins – and as we’ve all been foolish on more than one occasion, I’m sure we can relate. The key point is that some are prepared, but others aren’t. Then. . .

As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. Of all things in this parable, this is what I love the most – they all fall asleep. I remember the first time my parents decided to let me stay up for New Year’s – I was little, and we were in Ohio visiting family, and I was so excited, bouncing off the wall the whole evening. . . and wore myself out and fell asleep around 11 from exhaustion. This is what happens here – these girls weren’t ready for the delay, and as such, they wear themselves out, they become drowsy, and they fall asleep.

We Christians – we often become drowsy as regards our Lord’s Return. We will think about it for a bit, we’ll be excited – but then, the humdrum of life creeps back into our lives. . . and we just sort of drift off. We don’t think about it. We confess the creed – but don’t think about it. We pray, “Come Lord Jesus” before we eat but don’t think about our Lord’s Coming. We pray, “Thy Kingdom Come” with nary a thought of our Lord’s return. We become drowsy and sleep. And our Lord knows this will happen. In the parable, all ten fall asleep. But the difference isn’t in who is awake or sleeping; the difference is in who is prepared.

But at midnight there was a cry, “Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourself.” And now things come back to bite the foolish virgins. They are completely unprepared – their lamps flicker and falter. And it’s too late. The best they can do is try to hurriedly run to the store and buy some oil – but it’s midnight. What dealer is going to be open? They are going to have to wake the merchant up, and he’ll be moving slowly, and it is just going to take too much time. Really, it’s too late. Simple as that – they weren’t prepared, and they aren’t going to make it.

And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterwards the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” The wedding starts – the party begins, and the wise virgins get to go marching in, and there is joy and merriment. But for the foolish virgins, they are left out in the cold. The doors are closed, they are not let in – they miss out. Their folly has cost them. And lest we think that this is just a tale about the importance of being prepared – lest this become a sermon where I merely admonish you about life insurance and such – our Lord says, “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Our Lord reminds us here that we are to be prepared for His coming.

This is something that we need remember, that we need to be aware of. We do not know the day or the hour – our plans, our expectations of the future may not come to pass, for the Lord may interrupt them – either by bringing that day for everyone with His return, or by bringing that day just to us through our own death. And we don’t like to this about this – we don’t like being confronted by our own mortality, we don’t like recognizing the simple truth that this life we lead here can be ended in a moment – Christ will come, so we need to be prepared for that, not when we are older, not next year, but now.

So – what makes one prepared for our Lord’s return? What makes a Christian wise? Solomon says in proverbs “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The way in which we are prepared is when we have that proper respect and love towards God, so that we live our lives knowing that He might return at any moment. We are to be in His Word, we are to be living out our Baptismal life, we are to be receiving His Supper so that we are filled to the brim with His love and his Spirit. This is our preparation. This is the oil that we need. Sadly, often as Christians we will play the “later game”. We will do all that Spiritual stuff later. Push it off a bit. Oh, I’ll get back to Church more once things get settled down a bit. Oh, I’ll get back to Church more once I have kids. Oh, the kids are restless, I’ll start going again when they get a bit older. Oh, well, you know, there’s so much going on, I need the rest on Sundays – I can do more when the kids are finally out of the house. Oh well, you know, maybe when I retire I can make more time. Oh well, you know, I really like to sleep in. Later, later, later. Our Lord says this is foolishness. Consider the foolish virgins – they knew stuff. They knew the bridegroom was coming – but they did not prepare accordingly. Likewise – we here all know that Christ is coming – but do we prepare for it as we ought – or do we shrug worship off, do we act indifferent to the study of God’s Word? Do we sleep comfortably in our beds while our Lord comes to His House here to give the faithful His own Body and Blood for their forgiveness? Christ comes here every time we worship – God Himself is present. . . and we make excuses. To know Christ will come and to do nothing is the height of folly.

We do not know the hour – we do not know if we will have a later – and we do not want to be lulled into indifference – for indifference is merely a step away from unbelief and the death of faith. If we treat Christ’s return as if it will never happen, as if it is not important, then soon, we will treat faith itself as if it is not important, God as if He is not important, and we will be lost. And so once again, you are called by God to this place, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Wisdom calls out to you, pleading with you to be wise, to be prepared. And this is the utter wonder of it – your preparations are not hard – it is not some onerous task that God gives you – salvation is no 15 step plan or a series of flaming hoops to jump through. Rather this – Christ Jesus has died for you, and through His Word, through His Body and Blood, your sin is covered – your flasks of oil are filled to the brim with His righteousness and love – and you are prepared. And He shall come again. The Bridegroom has invited you to Heaven, He has given you His Word, a lamp unto your feet – He has anointed your head with the waters of Holy Baptism, more precious than any oil – live in these gifts, see that they are part of your life now, so that you may be prepared for eternity – for indeed, our Lord shall return. Until that day when He does return, He comes to you here in His House, in preaching, in the words of absolution, in His holy Supper, all so that you will be ready on that day when He calls you to eternity. May we all be found prepared in Him on that day by the power of His most precious Word and most lovely sacraments. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Coming upon the busy time

Many Pastors might say Lent is the hardest time of the year, but I say Thanksgiving-Epiphany is the hardest time by far. We will say that Advent is short - that it is only 4 weeks, but then, we forget that the week before is generally Thanksgiving, and then after Christmas there is New Year's Day, and then a week after that is Epiphany. 6 weeks here (7 if I could get people to show up for Epiphany, which has never been a custom here) of extra services and the like - just as much as Easter.

And then multiple dinners and such like that - and Norman Rockwell expectations, and hustle and bustle and all that jazz. Ugh.

This is why Advent is such an important season - why thanksgiving is so apt. They are times of pause, times of rest, times to step away from all our stuff and to ponder what God has done for us. Even as it is so busy for the pastor - who moves from the 4 services of October to the 15-18 services of 7 weeks - it is a fantastic time of being gathered in the Word and brought to restful contemplation of His love for us.

Which just means I'm going to go work on Bible Studies now, cause I want to be at least 7 weeks ahead of schedule before thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

We have "Sedes" - not proof-texts.

A religious argument is never a pretty thing. Mix politics and religious disagreement and you get something like the 30 Years War, but religious argument alone can be quite nasty. But sometimes these arguments need to be had - the faith needs to be defended. And in these discussions, Scripture is the weapon we use - sharper than any two edged sword.

But how do we use Scripture? Pastor Peters gives an excellent account of the dangers of proof-texting", which is what happens when one just tosses Scriptures out willy-nilly - out of context, to prove a specific point. Scripture is not a grab bag though, it is one unified whole - we don't just throw a verse out and say, "There." We don't use Scripture just as proof for our arguments - that's not the approach we should take.

Rather, we should speak in such a way that what we say flows from Scripture - where Scripture is not only the end, but also the beginning of what we say. As Lutherans, we don't have proof-texts, we have "Sedes Doctrinae" - or "Seats of Doctrine" - verses upon which doctrine rests. And so when we discuss a specific doctrine, we don't just run right to a specific verse and say, "Ah ha! I win!" Rather, we look at what the Scriptures say, and then shape our words from there.

An example of this approach would be infant Baptism. We don't look for the magic bullet verse that says, "Go baptized kiddos" - but rather, we look at the verses that establish what we teach about Baptism and seek to apply them. We are taught in Mark 16 that Baptism is part of the life of salvation (He that believes and is baptized shall be saved) -- we hear in 1 Peter 3 that "Baptism now saves you." Thus, we say that Baptism is part and parcel of salvation. Then we consider what Scripture says about sin - Romans saying that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God", or David confessing that "in sin my mother bore me," and from verses like these we see that Scripture teaches that all people, including infants, are sinful and in need of salvation. We consider Matthew 28, that children would be included in "all nations" - or Acts where Peter says that the promise is for "you and your children" on Pentecost - or the whole households being baptized in Acts. To the objection that infants can't really believe, and therefore have no need of baptism (or no benefit), we point to where Paul says that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world (for see, faith is not about human wisdom), or in Ephesians where we see that the faith by which we receive grace is a gift - not a working of our own, not even a working of our mind.

Doctrine is built upon the Scriptures - discussions of God's truth pull from all over His Word -- they are not ended by simply pointing to one passage all by its lonesome and saying, "Hey, there you go." We study the Scriptures - see the picture they paint, and then we speak -- our words that we say are to flow from what we see in Scripture.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trinity 23 - and Stewardship Sunday

Trinity 23 – November 15th, 2009 – Matthew 22:15-22

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So often when it comes to discussions and debates, we do things the easy, sloppy way – instead of trying to convince people that we are right, we just try to point out that the other side is foolish. Instead of saying why we should or shouldn’t do something, we’ll just trash the other side. This is the way of politics and fights and all sorts of things today. Name calling and trap questions seem to be what we expect. In today’s Gospel lesson, the Pharisees approach Jesus with a trap question of their own. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Ceasar, or not?” This is nothing more than an attempt to make Jesus look bad. Remember that the Jews of this time are a conquered people – the Romans are viewed as vile oppressors, a tax collector is the lowest of the low. And the question is asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes.” This is a trap question. If Jesus says no, why, then He is teaching rebellion! If Jesus says yes, why, then He is just a tool of those mean Romans. The Pharisees think any answer Jesus gives will make Him look bad.

But Jesus doesn’t just say yes or no. He asks the hypocrites for a coin. They hand him a denarius – and Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” It is the image of Caesar – and so we get the famous saying, “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus’ answer is clear. Yes, you give to Caesar, to the earthly government the things that you ought to give, but you also give to God the things that belong to God. So then, this day, we will have to ponder two things – what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?

First, let us consider the government, for this is the far easier one. As a Christian, we are to be good citizens. We are to pay our taxes – and with this passage there is no way you can get around this. We are to obey the laws of the nation in which we live – we are to do our civic duty – we are to be informed voters, serve if called upon to serve, and all the things we learned in Civics class in High School. And all these things aren’t just matters of indifference – they are part and parcel of living your life as a Christian. This is because we remember that government is a gift from God – this is why every Sunday we pray for our government, pray that God would guide and protect our leaders and lead them into the way of peace. If you wish to read more on this, Romans 13 is the place to go on this. But the point is this – as long as we are still in this world, as long as we still live here on earth – we are to be good citizens. We aren’t to use our faith as an excuse to avoid or shirk our duties. We are to obey the laws of this land and serve our neighbor by performing the duties we have as citizens.

That is a simple idea. Distasteful when it comes times to pay taxes, distasteful on occasion when we see the griminess and name calling of what passes for political debate these days – but it’s clear – render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But the next part, ah, the next part tends to be much harder for us. Render unto God the things that are God’s. What are these things that belong to God? Well, the simple fact is that everything that we are and that we have belongs to God – but this doesn’t tell us much about what we ought to do, how we ought to behave. What are your duties as a Christian – what are your duties as a member of this congregation? And really, this should be straight forward, because if you are a confirmed member of this congregation, you not only have heard what your duties are, but you have answered publicly that you will do them. So, let’s review what we vowed at our Confirmation.

After we are asked about our beliefs – do we confess the creed, do we believe that the Bible is the Word of God – at our confirmation we are asked if we will do certain things. Here is the very first question about what we will do – Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? The answer – I do, by the grace of God. Did you note that – the very first thing, the highest duty that a Christian has is to hear God’s Word and to come to the Supper and receive our Lord’s Body and Blood faithfully. Very first. This is the most important thing – to be in the Word, to seek to receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. And this makes perfect sense – when we think about the things that are God’s things – what is more of a God thing than His Word? What is more Godly than the Supper, for the Supper is the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord Himself! We are to tend to the Word and the Sacraments, we are to attend the Worship where these gifts of God are given to us. This is what Christians do – we are the people who gather together in Church and receive from God His love and mercy, who gather and praise Him for His goodness – this is something that we ought render unto God. In Divine Service two in the hymnal, the Offertory for that service, which is nothing but verses of Psalm 116, points this out clearly. What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call upon the Name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the Name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.” What are we to render – the thanksgiving and prayers that are proper of God – but this isn’t just meant to be something private – rather we gather together in the Lord’s House for this, we receive here the very cup of Salvation. Your highest duty as a Christian is to be part of the worship life of the Church in so far as you are able. Period. This is third commandment stuff – we are not to despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. First duty – attend Church.

Then, when we were confirmed, we were asked another question. “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” Again, the answer, “I do, by the grace of God.” Your responsibilities as a Christian do not end the moment you walk out those doors. You are to take what you have learned here and put it into practice out there. You are to recognize that everything in your life revolves around God. Are you a parent – remember that children are God’s gift to you – and serve them as parents as such. Are you a child – remember that your parents are a gift to you from God, and serve them as such. Your friends – a gift from God – treat them as such. Your neighbor – love them, for they are a gift from God. Your government – part of your service to God is rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. You are not to be merely a Sunday morning Christian – but rather throughout the entire week, you are to show and demonstrate Christian love. If you wish more on this – I would suggest looking at the table of duties in the Catechism.

Then we were asked another question – “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” I do, by the grace of God. This is a question of value, of priority. Your confession, your belief in God – your membership in God’s Church – is to be the highest thing in your life – to where you would suffer all – where as we sing they could come and take your goods, your family, even your life, and yet you would remain faithful. As Christians, we have a duty to not be swayed by the glitter and baubles of life, but to keep our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith – to see to it that we keep coming to Church rather than falling away.

And there is one final question – we don’t ask if of kids at confirmation, but we do of adults who transfer in – and it is most appropriate – “Will you support the work our gracious Lord has given this congregation with your prayers and the gifts that God has given you?” “I will, with the help of God.” When you are bound to a congregation, you have particular responsibilities to that congregation. I am bound here as your pastor – I have duties that were given me at my installation. I have no choice – I must preach, I must administer the sacraments, I must teach – I am bound, I am ordered so to do. That was the vow of my ordination. However, as members of this congregation, you also are given responsibilities – you are to support the work of this Congregation with your prayers and with your gifts. First, just briefly on prayer. I would ask that you hold not only myself, but this congregation, its members, in your prayers. Prayer is part of the Christian life – and your prayers should include this Church and your brothers and sisters in the faith here. But also, you are to support this congregation with your gifts – with the gifts that God has given to you. It is your job as a member of this congregation to see that this place has the funds to keep the building maintained, to provide for the people who work here. That is part of how you support this place. You are also, as your own talents give you opportunity, to help out with the activities of this congregation. If you can cook – cook so that we may eat. Sing when we sing. When we do something here – give the aid that your talents afford. This is your duty, this is the stewardship you are to exercise.

I would ask you now to pause and consider all these things we have discussed. Have you made attending church your priority? Have you sought throughout the week to live as a Christian, and done so. Have you been proud of your faith, or have you been ashamed of your confession, sad that you don’t fit in with the rest of the world, with your friends? And have you supported this place with your time, talents, and treasure as you ought to have? When we get these all laid out before us – it is a heavy load. The truth is, we have not been as faithful as we ought. There are times our attendance has been lax, our living lousy, the Church far from our thoughts, and quite often our time, talent, and our treasure remain at home. In our duties, we often fail.

Christ Jesus, though, does not fail. He has a duty towards you – and that duty is to win you salvation – and this duty He performs, He bought you, not with the gold or silver of Caesar, but with His own life blood – He did not shirk His responsibility but strode boldly to the Cross, winning us forgiveness. When you were baptized, Christ Jesus bound Himself unto you – He said, “You are now part of My Body, and I will care for you and forgive every sin and give you heaven.” Christ takes his duty seriously, and everything you need is given by Him. We have hope not because we do our duty – but we have hope because Christ has done His. And our God is not a cruel taskmaster – but rather this – He calls you here to His House, not to give you a random burden, but to give you rest from the burdens of this world, and to see that you always dwell in Christ, that you do not fall away – that in hearing His Word and receiving His Body and Blood you might be kept in the One true faith forever. Jesus does not turn away from you, but calls you here once again, so that you might receive and rejoice in His good gifts. God grant this unto us all on account of Your Son, Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +