Thursday, January 29, 2009


The Transfiguration isn't just a matter of revealing who Christ is - it reveals our future. The Transfiguration is a brief glimpse of heaven, where we will behold Christ in all His Glory along with Moses and Elijah, and Peter, James, and John, and indeed, with all the saints. It is a visible depiction of the reality which we receive in the Supper.

We are not people of this World. Christ came into this world, to the Cross, so that He might take us to heaven. Would that we would remember this, especially when the world can be so tempting and distracting! Yes, Peter, James, and John must go down the mountain, but for a short time. Likewise, we toil here but only for a short time. We were created to experience the eternal transfiguration of the life everlasting. Christ Jesus truly is the light of the World!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

So what do I do now

One of the things which I truly believe is that if a pastor wants to write a good sermon, he should read good literature. We study for doctrine, we read for a command of the English language. Now, this doesn't mean that we have to be literary scholars. . . we don't need to be able to break down meter in Shakespeare, but just being exposed to proper usages of English will rub off. Poetry will bring more imagery, good prose will bring better pacing - like children we mimic what we hear, make sounds that seem right, and eventually begin to speak, even if we don't know why things sound the way they do.

It is vitally important to read good books. But I have a problem. I enjoy trashy Star Wars novels. Now, most of the time this isn't too much of a problem - Timothy Zahn does some nice sci-fi - and in fact is quite an oral writer (quite a few run ons that sub-vocalize well, things like that). Besides, in Star Wars novels there can be a good sense of humor, and the prose is at least. . . at least at a level which lets you think that the author graduated from High School.

Except for this latest series, one which I had been looking forward to: Coruscant Nights. It is a three part series that centers around Jedi Jax Pavan between Episode III and IV hiding from Vader and running a private detective agency on the capital world, helping the helpless and the like. The book was supposed to be rather pulpy, hearkening back to 40s detective stories.

The only problem is it is the worst prose I have seen in a mass published novel. Ever. No questions asked. The first book was vapid. . . but I slugged through it. The story was lacking filled with not a Deus ex Machina, but a bunch of gimmick-characters. . . the sort of characters I would expect a group of 5th graders to dream up (like the side character Jedi who isn't really a Jedi, but an offshoot where they use blasters, and she uses the blasters to shoot the bolts that people shoot at her. . . that would be teh awesome!)

The second book was just as poor - a plot that presented itself as a convoluted mystery but was in reality straightforward and time consuming, characterizations that were inconsistent and poorly developed. But I slugged through it. I know that Star Wars isn't master lit, but still. . . there needs to be some fun associated.

The third book came out yesterday. I started reading it yesterday. I'm a third of the way into the book. . . and I can feel it trying to suck the intelligence out of my brain. Oh look, additional characters with incredibly powerful, never-before seen abilities (oooo, look, he can suck the energy out of a machine and throw balls of light at people. . . and he's completely untrained. . . wow! Oh, look, and the new vilian can pickout one person using the force out of a crowd of a million. . . but he hadn't gotten a whiff of the main character in the previous two books - even though he had been commanded by Vader to find Jax Pavan, and Pavan was using his REAL NAME while trying to hide from the Empire. . . ON THE HEADQUARTERS WORLD OF THE EMPIRE).

I could take it. . . I've slugged through dumb Star Wars stories before. . . the one where a bunch of Hutt build a giant death star laser, the one where Luke starts hitting on a Jedi who basically possessed a ship, the introduction of the "Sun Crusher" which doesn't just blow up planets. . . it blows up entire stars! And yes, some of the prose, even in these, was quite bad. Anderson's Jedi Academy had a very good reason behind it being published in paperback and not hardcover (Put some vowels in your characters' names!).

But this is beyond all this, well beyond.

So what do I do? We are still iced over. . . I've got my sermon rough draft done for this week, but will this book, if I force my way through it, do lasting damage to my head? I had been reading some Zahn again. . . and I do have some Tolkein to read afterwards (when in doubt re-read the Lord of the Rings). . . but I'm scared. If you see a rapid decrease in the quality of my writing, send me some nice poetry or prose or something.

I almost feel like HAL from 2001. Reeves. . . what are you writing Reeves? Stop, Reeves. I can feel it Reeves. I can feel it shutting down Reeves. . . .


As a note - we learn good English by reading good English. However, if we study, we understand what makes something good English. Likewise the Liturgy. People learn the Liturgy by participating in it, however, if one studies the Liturgy, one understands it better, and also understands why so many modern fads fall short. In my class that is canceled this morning, we went over the Liturgy to start. . . and as we are getting ready to finish up the Catechism Review, I think we'll go over the Liturgy again - just to see how vivid and vibrant the things we just learned in the Catechism are within the Liturgy.

As another note - yes, reading theology is good and important as well. . . but so much theology comes to us via translation, and quite often the translations are hit and miss, not in terms of accuracy, but in terms of English. Translators might know Latin well, or German, or Greek, but if they don't know English the translation won't have that literary benefit.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The importance of the "follow-up question"

There is one skill from Journalism that Pastors should learn. It's one Stephen Colbert does an excellent job of mocking. . . so if you hate the liberal media, watch Colbert do a taped interview. When he asks questions, they will cut to him intently watching and nodding his head. . . and then asking a follow-up question.

Now, don't ask Colbert style follow-ups. . . but just learn what is expected from him. Whenever someone has a complaint, a somewhat forceful suggestion, or anything like that - train yourself to immediately as a follow-up question asking for clarification or examples. Why?

1 - Prempts defensiveness. When we get criticized, Pastors can be as defensive as anyone. However, if we become defensive it doesn't do anyone any good - we are to be speakers of God's Word. . . and thus our focus should be on speaking the Word, not defending ourselves from the tongue lashing we can receive (in fact, we should be thankful it's not an actual lashing). If the first thing we are trained to do is ask for extra info or clarification, it knocks down the defensive responses we can have automatically.

2 - Undercuts "mean pastor" syndrome. If you want to know how people will view you as a Pastor, think back to how you viewed your parents when you were a teenager. Now, this is not meant as an attack on parishoners, but rather a comment on human nature. When we don't like what a person in authority over us is doing, we wish to complain, and if they don't do what we want them to, we assume that they are "mean" or cruel. This is the gut reaction that all of us tend to have folks over us (pastors included) - and teenagers are just the most obvious example of this. What's the complaint you had about your parents - they didn't understand. . . they didn't care what you think. Ask questions - follow-up questions so they become more precise and specific with what they mean. This shows that you aren't just blowing them off, but that you are listening.

Note, this is important even if you know that what they want is dumb and foolish and won't be done - the point is they don't. If you just blow the foolish idea off, they are going to assume that you are arbitrarily blowing them off. . . because they don't know your reasoning.

3 - Puts answers when they will be listened to. Ask questions, listen, and then either say that you will consider things or give a simple yes/no answer. When the answer is given, say, "If you want to know why, I can tell you, but we can do that when you want to know why." When you "lose" you generally don't want a lecture. Plus, you feel like you have lost complete control of everything (mean, mean, parents!). Letting them say whether or not they want the explanation give them a modicum of control - and means if they are grumpy-wumpy they don't have to listen to a lecture. If they say yes - then explain, and give back ground - take them through the things you have learned. If they say no, check up on them later, see how they are doing, and thank them for coming to you. Then, if they want to hear - tell. If not, let it be.

Folks who are complaining are generally passionate about something you have done, and not in a positive way. Ask follow-ups - show that you are reasonable and patient, and answer them in a way that they can handle.

(Of course, there is the possibility that in asking the follow-up you might see or learn that they actually have a good idea because you completely over looked something. . . but that is neither here nor there).

Ask follow-up questions. It's a good thing. Listen, listen, listen - then your words will carry some weight.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Today's Sermon

Epiphany 3 – January 25th, 2009 – Matthew 8:1-13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
In our Old Testament lesson, we see Elisha the prophet go and heal Naaman, a Syrian military official, of leprosy. It’s a wonderful story – Elisha’s stories are some of the most entertaining in all the Old Testament. The King of Israel is distressed because Syria’s king wants Namaan healed – Elisha walks up – not a problem. I’m the prophet, I’ll take care of it. And Namaan gets healed, although at first he is dubious of Elisha’s cure. 7 times in the Jordan – eh, that’s too simple, do something spectacular. But no, Elisha is the Prophet, and as such Elisha knows how God works – God sends His Word forth, occasionally attaching it to something physical like water, and wonderful things happen. And the end result is that this leprous foreigner is healed. It is a wonderful lesson. It teaches us about the power of God’s Word. It reminds us of God’s love, even to the gentile, the non Jew. A beautiful story.

A story that, although it is remembered, in reality its point is forgotten by the time of our Gospel lesson. That was almost 800 years before Christ when Elisha did his healing, and the lessons of that healing were by-in-large forgotten. But the lesson needs to be taught in order for Christ Jesus to teach us who He is, what kind of God He is, and so our Lord will heal again. Matthew 8 takes place right after the sermon on the Mount, right after Jesus has done much teaching. And now He is going to act, and in our lesson, we see two things back to back – Jesus heals a Leper, and then Jesus heals a Centurion’s servant.

Sadly, to many people in Jesus’ day both of these acts would have been shocking. First, consider Jesus’ healing of the leper. When He came down from the mountain, great crowds followed Him. And behold a leper came to Him and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” The audacity of this miserable, dirty leper. There are crowds present – plenty of healthy people – he should be off in the desert. He should be standing at a distance crying aloud, like the 10 lepers do. If you are a leper, you don’t approach other people. This is bad behavior – and Jesus should punish it, should smack it down. Send the leper away, lest He infect all of us with his pestilence!

But Jesus doesn’t. Any “good” Jew of the day would have recoiled in horror from the leper. But Jesus doesn’t – in fact, Jesus stretched out His hand and touched Him, saying, “I will; be clean.” He touched him! Jesus actually touched a leper! You don’t do that! That makes you ritually unclean and unfit for society. Who knows how long it had been since this person had felt any human contact, and Jesus just goes right on up and touches him. Astonishing. And this brash leper gets healed. All of this would be pretty close to scandalous.

And what came next was even worse. When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, appealing to Him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.” Think how shocking this would be. This Centurion was a foreigner – and not only a foreigner, but a Roman officer. He was one of the people occupying Israel, he was a foreign invader. What business would Jesus have dealing with him? If anything, the people were probably hoping that Jesus would lead the glorious revolt which would kill this Centurion and every other dirty Roman in the country. And instead – Jesus talks civilly with him, and Jesus even agrees to help him. The shock of this – and on top of that uppity leper. Jesus is doing some wild things.

So, what does our Lord reveal to us about Himself in doing this? He shows us that God doesn’t care about your earthly status. He doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, if you are healthy and hale or weak and lowly. He doesn’t care if you are Jew or Gentile, American or foreigner. He doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t even care whether you’ve been a Lutheran all your life or who your grandparents were – He loves all His creation, all the ones who are His. It doesn’t matter if you are the wealthiest of the wealthy or the dirtiest of the scum – You are one whom God desires. And in fact, the key thing, the key point isn’t your heritage or standing, isn’t whether or not people fawn over you. There is one thing that this leper and this centurion had in common – and that is faith.

Christ our Lord shows us the importance of faith in a Christian’s life with these two healings. Even with so many differences – because this leper and this centurion are about as different as you can be in the ancient world – the key thing in common in their faith. We talk a lot about the faith of the Centurion – But the Centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” Scripture tells us that when Jesus hears this He marveled, marveled at the Centurion’s faith. And what do we see about this Centurion’s faith? First, he acknowledges who Christ is. Always calls Him “Lord” – the Centurion acknowledges that Jesus is Lord – that’s the heart of faith. He knows who Christ is. Second, this Centurion knows Himself. I am not worthy – I don’t deserve your time. How is that for humility? He admits his lack, his lowness. Faith confesses sinfulness, confesses that we are unworthy. And Third, this Centurion knows the power of the Word. The Word does what it says – and that is what faith is – believing that what God says, what God promises in His Word will happen. This Centurion believed that when Jesus says that His servant is healed that the servant is in fact well and truly healed, simply because God says so. That is faith.

But the leper also demonstrates faith. He knows his lack, and in faith this leper too approaches Jesus, and note what the leper says. “Lord, if You will, You can make me clean.” That is one of the finest prayers in all of Scripture. It’s a simple statement of fact. God, I know what You can do, and should You want to, You will do it. It’s utter and complete trust. God, I know You can heal me, and if You want me healed, You will. If for some reason You do not want me healed – Thy will be done, and I still give praise to You name. It’s a fantastic demonstration of faith. Both these men, the leper and Centurion, cry out to Christ in faith, they know and receive His blessing.

So, what does this mean for us? What do we learn from this? Do we learn that if we just ask God in the right way He’ll do whatever we want – if we just pray hard enough our every desire will come true? No – because the Leper knows that he’ll be healed not because he wants to be healed, but because God wills it. Does it mean that if we are humble enough, or ask with the right humility that God will do what we want? No – because the Centurion reminds us that we are the ones who are under God’s authority, we listen to Him and do what He says – Christ is not our servant who does what we want – it’s the other way around. No, this text is not a blueprint for making your future, your tomorrow better in this life. No, dear friends in Christ, this Gospel this morning describes your life in Christ right now.

Consider who you are. You are a sinner – and let’s face it, if any of us were suddenly transported back to Christ’s day and were wondering around Jerusalem, we would have been horribly looked down upon. In fact, many of us are probably looked down upon by people even now. How many of us in this room are considered by others to be embarrassments or disappointments? There’s not a one of us in here who isn’t – and if you think you aren’t considered an embarrassment or disappointment to someone, you’re fooling yourself. No, we are not here because of how wonderful we are – rather, we have been given the gift of faith and we are called here – miserable sinners that we are – and we are brought here and we are cleansed by Christ’s Word of forgiveness. We here today receive forgiveness and healing, just as that Leper did, just as the Centurion’s servant did – and though ours is a healing of the Spirit, it is no less wondrous.

And that is what has to happen here, that is what this place, if it is to remain, must always be about – the applying of Christ’s forgiveness won by His death upon the Cross to sinful people through the Word of God. That’s the way it has always been in the Church and that’s the way it will stay until Christ returns. Paul in Romans says, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the Gospel to you also who are in Rome.” Paul is a preacher of the Church – He is obligated to preach. The same thing happens today. I as a called and ordained servant of the Word. . . I’ve been called by God here to preach the Gospel – I’ve been ordained, that is I have been placed under orders to preach. . . I am a servant, and as the Centurion points out, the Master tells the servant to do this, and it has to be done. Same as it was 50 years ago with Pastor Hannusch and same as it will be 50 years from now with Pastor whoever. The point is that God’s Almighty Word of forgiveness is proclaimed here, that the power of God for salvation is given to believers here. That’s what defines us, that’s what makes this place Zion Lutheran Church, and that’s why God has allowed us to continue to exist – to be a place where His Word is proclaimed, where we are called to have our sins forgiven and to grow in faith.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow recipients of God’s love and mercy and those who dwell and live in His forgiveness – remember Who your Lord is. He is God Almighty who loves you, who takes on Human Flesh to suffer upon the Cross in your place, who rises from the dead to ensure that you can take your place next to Him in all eternity in Heaven. He is the One who gives this all you to freely, which you receive through the gift of faith. I urge you to remain in His Word, delight in His forgiveness, and rejoice in His good and gracious will towards you all of your days. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World – Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Shock to the System

Now, I will say that in some areas I have high hopes for President Obama. Personally, I love the plan to close Gitmo. I love the calls for transperancy. I love the fact that he's already starting to tangle with Pelosi and Reed in congress. However, there would be some bad.

Abortion funding has been reestablished. Embryonic Stem cell research gets a major green light.

Obama has the aire around him of being a president of hope - and there are many things that I do hope that he can accomplish - but we are to remember that no man is perfect, and there are places where he fails drastically. One of those is on the protection of human life, especially of the unborn variety.

Keep the president in your prayers, pray that he might grow in wisdom and compassion, but more so, be prepared to remain steadfast in your own defense of life, and be not swayed by popular swell. While the world and even our own government will accept what it will, we are called to follow the Word.

And this is nothing new - it's just that we in America have deluded ourselves into thinking that this is a Christian nation. It is not - it is a nation of the world, and thus as bound to the acceptance of sin and vice and horror as any other government. And we as Christians are called to be in the world but not of it - that means we are called to be in America, but not of the current American mindset when that mindset run contrary to God's Word.

Maybe the presidency and policy of Barrack Obama will be a blessing, and not in terms of whatever slice of his political hope that we happen to find appealing, but as a reminder to us of what we as Christians believe, teach, and confess -- and especially a reminder that what we believe is to be taught and confessed - rather than just assuming that people know it already.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A thought for the morning

Popularity is always a dangerous thing. The reason for this is simple - the World is very Evil, and it is full of people who are sinful. There are always more who are unrighteous than those who are righteous, and even in the righteous we do tend to like to give into the Old Adam.

The Church should never try to be popular, it should never appeal to fame or the like, it shouldn't be thinking along the lines of what might draw people into itself. . . because once you start thinking like that your thoughts become focused trying to meet the desires of the sinful masses. The Church is not to try to appease sin, the Church is to be about forgiving sin.

We are not to look to the whims of society, but in all that we decide we should have as our first consideration, "Does this rightly proclaim Christ and Him Crucified?" Paul is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified; we must have the same determination as well.

Now, in this effort, we can look to see places where we can improve on this proclamation -- not that we make the Gospel clear or effective, but that as sinful human beings we can cloud or obscure the Gospel. It's not that our actions make the Gospel more. . . Gospely. . . but that we should strive to get out of God's way.

A better preaching of the Gospel isn't done by trying to figure out what people want. . . it is done by examining one's own self and repenting of your sin which turns eyes away from Christ. Don't plan - just repent.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Today's Sermon - Epiphany 2

Epiphany 2 – John 2:1-11 – January 18th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s something we can all work on. We can be selfish, we can be dour and refuse to see joy. That’s how sin impacts us, that’s one of the ways sin tries to mess with us. But remember and behold Christ Jesus your Lord, who is tireless in His efforts to serve you – to rescue you away from sin and to bring you forgiveness and the joy of heaven. In fact, it is not a coincidence that the Prophet Amos, when speaking on what things will be like Messiah comes, mentions wine – nor is it inappropriate for Christ our Lord to have used wine in His first miracle. It is quite fitting, for in the miracle of the Lord’s Supper, the miraculous gift whereby Christ Jesus comes to us to bring with us forgiveness, to give us strength to fight against all sorts of temptations, how does Christ Jesus our Lord come to us and give us these gifts? He comes to us, giving us His Body and Blood in, with, and under bread and wine. This Supper we have not only provides forgiveness, but it is a foretaste of the feast to come, a continual reminder that we live our lives in this world as ones who look forward to the life to come, to the wedding feast of the Lamb to His bride, the Church, which will last for all eternity. There, no joy will ever be lacking. And know that Christ Jesus wasn’t you to be part of that joy, and He provides forgiveness overflowing for you. Amen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Baptism of our Lord Sermon

The Baptism of our Lord – Matt 3:13-17 – January 11th, 2009

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
If you want to understand what Christ Jesus our Lord does during His time on earth, you need simply look to His baptism. What we hear in Matthew’s Gospel, the focus of our entire worship today, the Baptism of our Lord, this sets the stage for everything that Jesus does. In every Gospel Jesus begins His public ministry, His teaching, His preaching, His miracles only after He is baptized – only after this encounter with John at the river Jordan. This lesson sets the stage for everything that Christ will do until He goes to the Cross. So let us look through the text and see what it is that we learn about who Jesus is and what He does.

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. So, we have Jesus leaving His home of Nazareth and heading down to the Jordan in order to be Baptized. It is a simple thing, but let’s be clear – Jesus knows what He is doing. This is not like an impulse buy – Jesus wasn’t just wandering around Jerusalem and then He hears John – no, Jesus is specifically coming to John to be baptized. This marks a change. No longer is Jesus going to stay up in Nazareth, no longer will He remain a mere child, or an apprentice, or the carpenter’s son – Jesus is going to begin His work for your sake – and He does so by going to John.

John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” And this catches John off guard. John knows His Messiah when he sees Him, and John does the math in his head. Let’s see, I’m baptizing for repentance, so sinners can repent of their sins and be ready for the coming of the Messiah. Okay – and Jesus is not only without sin and therefore needs no repentance, but He’s also the Messiah we’ve been waiting for. And He’s here – why? John sees his baptism simply from the perspective of us sinful men – he sees it as something that only sinful men would find useful. But Christ will teach John otherwise.

But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. Jesus teaches, and then John understands. Jesus teaches by saying that His being baptized is “fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” And then John gets it. Baptism involves repentance, but it also goes beyond that, it centers around the idea of fulfilling all righteousness. You see, you and I as sinful human beings – we do not fulfill all righteousness. We of ourselves lack righteousness – we don’t get done everything that we ought to do – and in fact we end up doing that which we shouldn’t. We fall short. And John had seen his baptism primarily from our perspective – we confess our sinfulness and receive God’s forgiveness. Jesus now shows John what this Baptism is going to do from God’s perspective. When Jesus is baptized, this will fulfill, this will be completely and totally righteous.

You see, the Christian faith properly speaking isn’t about what we do. The focus, the thrust of Christianity can never fall upon our actions – it’s never a story where we are the hero. Rather, it’s about what God does. As proof of that, consider the Apostles’ Creed which we just confessed. That creed is all about what God does – yes, I believe, but look at what God does. He makes. He comes to earth. He is born, suffers and dies, He descends and conquers Satan, He rises again, He ascends, He shall judge. He rules His church, makes people His saints, forgives sins and resurrects bodies, He gives life everlasting. The Christian faith is a faith which looks to what God does and proclaims, “This is what God has done for me.” When Jesus goes to John to be baptized, Jesus teaches John this truth. This Baptism is really about what Jesus does – He is the One who fulfills all righteousness.

And so Jesus goes and is baptized. Know what your Lord is doing for you when He does this. That Baptism is a baptism for sinners – for people who by rights deserve punishment and separation from God. Yet Jesus steps in and does what is right. If you were to see a child playing in the street about ready to be hit by a car, the right thing to do is to push that child out of the way, even if it means you get hit. It doesn’t matter that the kid was silly and foolish for playing in the street, it doesn’t matter that his parents weren’t watching him like they should have, and it doesn’t matter that you knew much better than to be playing in the street – the right thing to do is to save the kid. This is what Christ Jesus is doing when He, the spotless Lamb of God, takes His place among the repentant sinners. When Jesus steps into the Waters, He takes steps towards the Cross – when He steps into the waters He stands before the Father and says, “Father, any punishment or wrath that these sinners have earned by their disobedience – I will take it, I will suffer it in their place – I will save them.” When Christ is baptized, He is promising to go to the Cross for you. He is taking up upon Himself the weight of your sin. When you were washed in Baptism, the guilt of your sins is washed away – but it doesn’t just vanish – it is washed onto Christ. In the river Jordan, Christ takes up your own sin and carries it with Him to the Cross.

This is why we hear, when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on Him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” What Jesus does is righteous – it is right and proper for God to save you – and so the Father is well pleased with what the Son does. God Almighty looks upon Jesus and says, “You have done well.” And Christ continues to do well. His earthly ministry is a tour de force of righteousness. He continually shows love to His neighbor, He cares and loves, He heals and teaches. Jesus shows love and the Father is well pleased.

But again, all of this is done for us. Let’s again ponder our own Baptism. When you were Baptized, you were washed clean, your sin was removed from you and placed upon Christ. We see this. However, Jesus doesn’t just take sin from you and then leave you standing by yourself – in exchange for your sin, Christ Jesus gives you in Baptism His own righteousness, His own Holiness, He makes you His dwelling place. When Scripture speaks of putting on Christ, putting on the Armor of God, wearing the robes of righteousness – this is all describing what God does for you at Baptism. Not only does God take away your sin, but He covers you with Christ’s righteousness – He fills you with Himself. Paul is describing what happens in Baptism when he says that God makes Christ “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” When God looks at you now, when He beholds His Baptized child – God sees Christ Jesus – He sees a Christian, one who is in Christ. Every good, ever wonder that Christ has done – that is done for your benefit, and it is what God sees when He looks at you. Because Christ has put Himself upon you, God sees you and is well pleased with you. God doesn’t merely wash away your sins and then leave you to fend for your self – Baptism isn’t merely just making you a blank slate – rather Baptism is where God removes your sin and in place of that sin fills you with His love – it is where He molds you into whom He desires you to be. Just as a potter puts water on clay so he can mold and shape it upon his wheel – so God takes the Water of Baptism and shapes you into His righteous servant, makes you to look more and more like Christ.

Christ does everything for you so that you can be sure and confident. If He does it for you, it is done, it is finished. He takes up your sin and bears its punishment. In it’s place, He gives you His life and His salvation. All of this, all the benefits Christ wins for us, we receive these in Baptism – and all of this blessed exchange where Christ takes our sin and gives us his righteousness is established when our Lord is Baptized. When we have a Baptism here, we say a prayer which includes the line, “through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and lavish washing away of sin.” When Christ steps into the Jordan, He is ensuring that the water in this font is well prepared to be joined to His powerful Word to bring you forgiveness and life and salvation. God has joined Himself unto you through the gift of your baptism, and you receive the benefits of all that He has done, and He continues to work in you and through you because of your baptism. You are now His forgiven child, and wherever you go, you go there in the Name of the Lord, under His protection and bearing His Name. You are His new creation and all this is done for you by the very same Christ Jesus who strides into the Jordan to fulfill all righteousness, to be your very own righteous Savior. Behold Christ Jesus Your Lord in the waters of the Jordan, taking His place by Your side. Know all that He has done for you – the joy of life and salvation given at Your own Baptism. May God keep you in your baptismal grace unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

300 - Things we do not like

For the 300 hundredth post (THIS. . . IS. . . GADFLY) - I was inspired a much more accomplished blogger - Pastor Weedon, and it is this post on closed communion that got me thinking - but here is my idea for this morning.

There will be things you don't like about the Christian faith. There ought to be. You are sinful. God is holy. In this life, things that God says rub against our grain. Now, I don't know what of the Christian faith will sit poorly with you - but something will. I don't like hell. Closed Communion can be hard. I don't like telling members of my family that they cannot commune because of their false confession. There are other things, some people don't like the 3rd article of the Creed (I believe cannot. . .what?). We could make a long list, I'm sure.

There will be something in the Christian faith that rubs you the wrong way - something you don't like, something you wish were difference. But we are not called to create a theology of our own devising, we are called to confess what God reveals in His Word about Himself, about ourselves, and the relationship between God and Man.

If you find that you like every idea in the faith, if you find that everything works precisely how you like it, if examining the Word of God never makes you uncomfortable in the slightest - you may have just fallen into heresy.

Just a thought for this morning.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sooners, Cubs, and Expectations

Well, last night the Oklahoma Sooners lost a close game in the National Championship 24-14 to Florida. . . and it could have swung OU's way if they had made a play or two. However, there will be much bellyaching. . . this is the 3rd time in the past 7 years that OU has lost in the national championship game. . . oh, this is horrible, what do we do. . . .

I'm a Cubs fan as well. The last time the Cubs played for the National Championship in baseball was in 1945. The Sooners have 4 times in the last 9 years. 5 times in those 9 years the Sooners have finished in the Top 5, 7 times in the top 10. This is fantastic. . . and yet, lose a close game and there will be wailing and nashing of teeth. I can't imagine the Cubs having a run anywhere near like this. I'm thrilled that the Cubs have made the playoffs 5 times in the last 25 years, finishing in the top Quarter - the equivalent of basically being a top 15 team.

But, if your expectations are high, you will not be content.

This truth impacts how we live our lives as Christians. Christ instructs us to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. When it comes to living our own lives, in struggling against sin - we should not be content with our own behavior - we should always be striving to improve, to show more love, to do better.

I'm sure that's how the players on OU are feeling right now.

However, there is the other side - we need to moderate our expectations of our neighbors. The Law is directed at us, we are not to direct it at our neighbor. Rather, when dealing with our neighbor we need remember what God says about mankind - that we are fallen and sinful and fall short of His glory. Therefore, have low expectations for your neighbor - that way you can be content being with them and serving them.

Think about it - when you are most angry and upset with people, when you are most frustrated, is it not because you expect people to do more than they end up doing, to know more than they do, to care better than they do? Those expectations lead to disappointment, lead to frustration, lead you to possibly ceasing to show love as you ought.

Approach yourself like an athlete - be critical, strive to do better and better, and strive in all things to be perfect. Approach your neighbor like a Cubs fan - hope to have some fun in the sun, but know that they will probably disappoint you. Love them anyway.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

No. . . Feasts. . . Til Brooklyn!

I enjoy Saints' days. I do. I like the change of pace, the readings that we only get on Sunday every 5-10 years or so. And there can be some debate as to which feast days will be observed on Sunday morning and the like. My opinion - if it is better in my estimation as the Pastor of said congregation to examine the themes of the Saint's Day - we'll do that. If it is better to stick with the standard pericope, we'll do that.

One of the things this has meant is that in Advent and Lent I've held off of observing Saint's days - because those seasons have such a wonderful progression to them - and the progression is about the movement of Christ into this world and then towards the Cross. The seasons are designed to prepare us for Christmas and Easter - so I don't mess with the preparation.

This month, the 18th we have Peter's Confession and he 25th we have Paul's conversion. I was planning out the month, considering whether or not to do these or to do the standard Epiphany texts. . . which made me think about the season of Epiphany. Epiphany too has that same progression. . . it is about the actions that Christ takes that demonstrate He is the right and appropriate one to challenge Satan (starting obviously in Lent with the temptation and culminating on Good Friday). Even though it is a season of variable length, it is a season that shows what Christ does.

So - no Pete, no Paul. We'll do Epiphany.

So, what does this mean? I think I have figured out how I wish to approach feast days in general. There are the seasons of the year which are specifically about Christ's life and actions (you know, the first half). In these - the general rule will be to say no to the feasts (with the exception of the 3 after Christmas). After we get into the Easter Season - then lean towards the Saint's Day.

Why? Once you get past Easter 2 (with the exception of the Ascension, which I transfer), the lessons tend less to be about the actions of Christ and focus more on the teaching of Christ. Therefore, a saint's day can be observed in the second half of the year without interrupting the narrative flow of Christ's action - it is teaching one lesson instead of another - if I as pastor believe the other less is more appropriate.


Monday, January 5, 2009

Ephiphany Observed Sermon

Epiphany Observed – January 4th – Mathew 2:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Although technically we are only on January 4th, the 10th day of Christmas, today we are going to celebrate and observe the 12th day of Christmas – January 6th, the day of Epiphany – the season of the Church year which we are about to enter. Epiphany means to shine upon, it is a season of revelation – where we see and understand more and more just who this Christ Child is whose birth we have been celebrating these past few weeks. And to start off the season of Epiphany, we have a lesson of vital importance for each and every one of us in this room – the coming of the Wise Men.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." We are used to this story. We are familiar with it. We tend to just toss out some wise men with our nativities without much thought, we sing “We 3 Kings” because it has such a fun refrain. And so we forget just how strange it would have been for the people in Herod's court to have these wise men – and no, Scripture doesn't say how many of them, to have these wise men simply show up. And by rights they shouldn't be there – they don't fit in. Think on your classic Nativity scene. The stable – well, okay, there's no room at the inn. That explains the animals, that makes sense too. And shepherds – well, Bethlehem was kind of rural, so the fact that folks in fields right on the outskirts of town might show up, there's nothing strange about that. But these Wise Men showing up – from the East, they stand out like a sore thumb. They had to travel a long way – and more over, they were Gentiles – they weren't Jewish – and yet they knew that this Jewish Boy who was born was important – and not only important – but that this One who was born King of the Jews was True God whom they ought to worship.

That's astounding – that these Gentiles would seek to find the young Jewish Child whom they know is God. This, dear friends, is really where you fit into all this Christmas pageantry. This is the wonder of Epiphany – that this Christ Child who comes really is for all people – not just all classes of Jew, not just for the rich and the poor of Jerusalem – but for all people – even those strangers and foreigners. Even those people from the East – even those Germanic folk from the north. That's part of the reason why in a classical nativity the three Wise Men will be three different skin colors – all peoples of the world will be saved by this Christ Jesus, all nationalities – red and yellow, black and white. It does not matter a hill of beans where you are from, Christ is for you. Already this Sunday our brothers and sisters in Christ have worshiped our Lord in Asia, in Europe, in Africa. My friend who is a Missionary in Venezuela is probably preaching right now as well. You fit in now – you are a part of the story – even the Gentiles, even non-Jews – they have a Savior.

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet. . . . You heard last week what sort Herod was, his cruel plans and plottings which result in the death of children. We would expect wicked Herod to be troubled by this news – but all Jerusalem as well? The chief priests and the scribes, even the people who knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they are troubled too? Why? Well, sadly, it boiled down to earthly things. If you are King – and someone else is born to be King, it means your reign will be cut short. It means that maybe it won't be all about you or your kids. It may be that, like John the Baptist, you must decrease that Christ may increase. Herod didn't like that idea. It made him unhappy. You've h eard the phrase, “If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy”? Same thing with kings. This coming of Christ is met with such fear – fear of how it will impact King Herod.

Allow me a few moments of bluntness. When you hear these words, when you hear of Herod's fear, of Jerusalem's fear – know that this is precisely how Satan will try to tempt you, the same fear the Devil will try and raise up in you. Why is Herod afraid? Because Herod’s focus is on his kingdom, his power, his stuff. Why are the people afraid? Because angry kings might mess with their lives, their power, their stuff. They are afraid of their stuff being disturbed – and they did not seek to worship Christ Jesus as the wise men did. Oh, you wise men, just go ahead with out us – come back when you've found Him, we can't be bothered now. . . we have emergency plans to make. Instead of beholding God – Herod's eyes and the eyes of Jerusalem are firmly faceted on earthly politics and pomp and power.

This is the way in which Satan will try to attack you. What you have to remember is that you also can be compared to the people here in Herod's Jerusalem's. If I were to ask any of you, “Where was Jesus born” - is there anyone in this room who can talk who wouldn't be able to tell us that He was born in Bethlehem? These were people who knew who the Messiah was, who in theory where those who were looking for His coming. . . but when it comes down to it, when He comes, there's just not that much interest – other than what chaos and trouble it might cause. We've got to focus on the hum drum things of life.

Isn't that the temptation that Satan levels at us Christians, we who know who the Messiah is, even today? How many are not here because they cannot be bothered? Too much stuff going on, too many things coming up? But as you know, God's Law is not given to us so that we can point fingers at others – rather the Law is applied to us. How easy would it be to fall into that habit, to slide away, to become worn down with cares or worry? Or even for us here – how many of us felt joy and wonder at being allowed to come to Church? We are invited into God's House to hear His Word – in fact, God Almighty will give us His Body and Blood today – and did any of us this morning look like kids on Christmas day ready and excited to go? Or was it more of, “Well, we probably oughta get to Church today”? Did we approach this morning thinking more that it was the end of vacation with a little bit of dread of heading back to the normal slew of things now that the holidays are done – or thinking that Monday is going to bring the new slate of 2009 business, or another crop to worry about? We too, each us of here – even as we are here, we can be worn down the weight of this world, our responsibilities here and now – where our eyes become focused mainly on the things of this life, jobs, bills, weather, the economy. And that's heavy. That comes with fear.

This is why God calls us to worship – to have us rest from the responsibilities of this world and instead be in His care, be served by Him, be refreshed by Him. We are told in Scripture that perfect love casts out fear – and Worship is where we see, where we receive God's perfect love – where once again He applies it to our lives through our ears, where He places it upon our tongues. The heart of worship is that God gathers us to focus upon what He does for us, the rest and forgiveness which He gives to us.

Those people whom we rightly call the wise men knew this. See what they brought to their worship of Christ the King - And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Gold and frankincense are part and parcel of worship. When Moses builds the tabernacle, when Solomon builds the temple – gold is used - the idea of a precious metal shows that what is going on is something precious. That's the reason why the chalice is probably the only silver cup that any of us drink out of – there is something wonderful and unique that happens in worship, in God coming to us. The stuff we use in worship shows that. Frankincense was also part of worship – the tabernacle and temple were always filled with smoke – smoke of incense. The incense, the smell was a reminder, a confession that God was present at worship for the benefit of His people. Gold and Frankincense were things that were present at worship, that let you know you were at worship – so the wise men brought them to be present at their worship. But then, they also bring myrrh. Myrrh is used to anoint the dying – myrrh is the chief spice that is used to cover the stench of death. On easter morning when we see that the women are hastening to the tomb with spices to anoint the body – the chief spice of that mixture is myrrh.

This Christ Child whom the wise men worship, whom we ourselves worship, is the God who becomes Man to stare into the face of death and win us life through His own death and resurrection. The wise men see and know this – it is part of their worship. When we gather here for worship today – the center, the focus of our worship is that Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, and thereby wins us forgiveness and life – and that what He has done trumps and enlightens everything in our life – that His love drives away the shadows and fears of this life – that in the light of Christ we face all things confidently seeing the proof, the depth of His love for us – knowing that nothing can separate us from Christ our Lord.

This is what our Lord brings to us here in His House – the Lord who comes to serve His people with life and Salvation, the Lord who comes and gives of Himself to bring us unto Himself and enfold us with His love. And He continually pulls us unto Himself. He is our God – He comes even to bring the Gentiles into His Kingdom – to pull us away from the world of sin and strife and to give us Life in His name. All praise and glory be unto Christ Jesus, our God who wins for us salvation. Amen.