Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – February 28th, 2010 – Matthew 15:21-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Just prior to our Gospel lesson, our Lord had been teaching, and our Lord had pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and their laws. He says, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” What we say, what we speak, shows our hearts. And quite often the human heart can be a dark, wicked place. Quite often our own hearts can be dark and wicked, quite often we are in need of repentance. Have we learned this, or do we just go through the motions?

I ask this morning, because in our Gospel lesson, our Lord puts the disciples to the test. The disciples know why our Lord has come – that He has come to fight evil, that He has come to heal, to cast out demons, to take the battle to Satan. And they rejoice in this, they delight in this. They are the people who are following the Messiah! How wondrous! How glorious! What great people these disciples are! And then, what happens? And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Do you know how fantastic the words are that flow from this woman’s mouth? First of all – she’s not from Israel – she’s a Canaanite woman. And what did the children of Israel do when they entered the holy land? Took land from the Canaanites. Fought them, warred with them, killed them. And so here you have this woman approach Someone who should be her enemy, someone whom her own people should despise – and what does she do? She calls out for mercy. Fantastic. I need Your help, Jesus. And more than just calling out for mercy, she calls Him LORD. You are God, Jesus, I recognize that You are the LORD, God Almighty. Fantastic. Yes, Jesus is the Son of God! Well spoken, Canaanite woman! But even one more. She calls Jesus Son of David. I know, Jesus, that You are the King of my enemies – that You are by rights King of the people who have warred with mine for 1500 years. But still, I humble myself before you – have mercy on me, for my daughter is being attacked by a demon. Do you hear how wondrous this is – such a beautiful confession of faith and trust in Christ? Excellence and beauty flow forth from this woman’s heart.

But then we hear this – “But He did not answer her a word.” Well, this seems odd. Or maybe it doesn’t seem so odd – perhaps you’ve offered up a prayer to God, and it seemed as though He was silent, that His answer was a long time in coming. But why is Jesus silent here? Our Lord is silent here for the disciples sake. Our Lord is going to test the disciples, see what they have learned, see if they have grown. So our Lord is silent – He doesn’t speak to this woman yet – first He is going to deal with the disciples a bit. Now, this can be a lesson to us as well. Sometimes our Lord doesn’t answer our prayers on our timetable, sometimes His answers don’t come in sudden spectacular displays of might – and in these situations we must remember that everything isn’t about us. There is a time and a place for God to answer us, and if He delays, we can be sure that it is for our good, and especially for the good of the neighbor – that God has plans for us and for the lives of our neighbors that we, stuck in the moment, cannot see, won’t see until later in hindsight, or maybe we will never see. Whatever the case, we are simply to continue in prayer and in trust of God, placing all things in His Hands; because, that is what Christians do – they place things in God’s hands – let Him do what He knows to be best.

And then the disciples speak. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” Oops. Well, that’s a big old F in the gradebook if I’ve ever seen one. Here you have this woman, continually crying out to the Lord, continually praying to God for mercy. And what are the disciples thinking? They beg – did you hear that? They beg Jesus to send her away. Not to heal her, not to please tend to her needs quickly. Just . . . send her away. She’s loud and annoying, just get her out of here. Why such contempt? Because that is what the typical Jewish man of that time had for Canaanite women. The Jews then grumbled about Canaanite women the folks here might grumble about people of a different skin tone, or poorer folk, or what have you. They couldn’t be bothered with her. So let me ask the question – and again, I want you to consider this carefully. Consider your own life – are there times when you sound like the Disciples here? Where you disparage someone? Where you treat another human being, created in the image and likeness of God, as though they were beneath you, as though they were not worth your time? Where you really cannot be bothered by someone with the likes of them? That is the wickedness of the heart that our Lord speaks of, and we ought to repent of it.

And yet, did you note one other thing? Even as the disciples tell the Jesus to send the woman away – she is still crying. She is persistent – she is faithful. She knows where to go for mercy, and so she goes there. And then, Jesus will use her as a teaching example to put the disciples to shame. He answered her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” He throws her race in her face. This would be good training for the Disciples, for they too would be despised by many for their race. But it does not stop this woman. But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” I’m not here because I am of a good race, I’m not here because I’m from the good family and I deserve it. I’m here because I need help. What faithful words! So Jesus will use her as an example again. And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus insults her – for the disciples would be insulted for the Name of Christ. Calls her a female dog. Says that she is lowly and despised. But this doesn’t rattle the woman at all. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” You are right – there is nothing in me that is worthy, nothing! And yet, I know, Jesus, that You will care for me – that this great love that You will show me is easy for You – that for You healing my daughter would be as easy as brushing table scraps onto the floor.

And then our Lord says it – “O woman, great is your faith!” There, disciples! Do you see this? This is the right answer, this is how you should behave! Not prideful, not begging Me to send people in need away. But is the face of hatred and scorn you too should be tenacious, you too should continually cry for mercy – and not only for yourselves, but for others! This woman seeks compassion for her daughter, why did you not likewise seek compassion! You showed forth wickedness – she showed forth faith. And the woman was right – handling this demon would be as simple for Jesus as brushing crumbs off a table. “Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. The time was right and proper for her prayer to be answered, and so Christ acts, and the daughter is healed.

So, what do we learn from this text this Lenten Sunday? Namely this. We know that our Lord comes to battle wickedness, that He comes to defeat Satan, to cast down the prince of this world. What we need to remember, though, is that evil and wickedness isn’t just out there – too often it is here, in our own hearts. We are sinful people – and even though we know better, even though we are like the disciples and follow Jesus and strive to learn from Him, too often we let the wickedness of our hearts control what we say, what we do. It is not just Satan that our Lord needs to break – He needs to break the sin of our hearts daily. And do you know how He does this? Imagine a piece of glass cookware, or a glass mug that has been heated to where it is hot and inflamed. What happens when you poor cold water upon it? It breaks, it cracks, it shatters. This is what our Lord did to your sinful heart at Baptism. Your heart was enflamed, enraged with wickedness and sin, and our Lord took water and His Word and poured it upon you to break your wicked heart. Listen again to the catechism. “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” God breaks your sinfulness, makes you contrite – that’s what contrite means, it means broken – God breaks your desire to sin. And why? So that the New Man, so that Christ’s own love might shine forth through you. And so friends, I encourage you, do not be afraid to hear the Word of God which points out your sin. Yes, it hurts, but when that sin is shattered, Christ’s love appears all the more in you. And our Lord does not leave you then – He does not discard you or leave you to fend for yourself. The sins of your heart will not drive Him away from you – for indeed, He came down from heaven precisely to win you salvation from those sins. Rather, He will always care for you – He takes you who by rights are no better than a mangy, flea bitten dog, and He washes you clean, takes you and makes you His brother, His sister, calls you to the His own table and says, “This is what is yours, what belongs to you. Take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My Blood, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Do you see now the shape of the Christian life – that we are washed clean in Baptism, that the Word is applied to us to break our sin, that the Word is given to us to give us life, that the Supper is given to us to forgive, to give strength – all so that the words that come from our mouths might be Words of faith and life – and this not only for our sake and for our salvation, but so that by the Word of faith and life that flows from our lips others might be made receive this love of Christ Jesus as well.

This is the faith that Christ has called you to – a faith where insults and scorn may come, but where you are focused upon Christ, where you call out to Him to show love to your neighbors who are suffering, and where you delight in all that He gives to you, for He is generous, and He is gracious, and He is merciful. He has come to break the power of Satan and to win salvation, and by His Word, by His Baptism, by His Supper, He gives this all to you in your life, to Him alone be the glory. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Healing powers of prayer. . . or the healing power of God?

So this past week I've been seeing an elderly member of my congregation in the hospital every day. Her heart wasn't beating properly. She is in her early 80s, and from last Saturday through Tuesday, it looked like she was going to basically have to need open heart surgery - a high risk surgery for her (she has bad kidney's too - but is otherwise normally vigorous). There were many prayers with her and many for her. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, her heart jumped back into a right and normal rhythm - she passed her next exam and procedure with flying colors - and by Wednesday afternoon all the doctors were in complete agreement that she wouldn't (and shouldn't) have the surgery. Even the surgeon.

Thus, seeing her that Thursday morning was really good - her strength was returning (it had been all week, but it was really kicking up), starting to pick back up - a good conversation with a hale and hearty 81 year old is great fun. And I closed with prayer - thanksgiving for what has come, requesting continued healing, asking blessing upon the hospital staff - the standard fare.

And as I turn to walk out. . . the baptist chaplain had been standing there (a self proclaimed "Holy Roller Baptist" no less), and he complimented the prayer. And then, he told a story about how he prayed with a Muslim at the hotel where he is also a chaplain (cause in reality we all have one God - the same God gets worshiped at all the churches in Enid. . . which may be accurate, I think we are all Trinitarian here) and how the fella had a kidney stone and how he had asked the fella what the name of his god was and the fella had said that Muhammad was the name of his god (??? what kind of Muslim is this???) but then the chaplain prayed to the God of Abraham and Issac and Jacob and asked God to use His Heavenly knife to heal this fella so that he wouldn't have to have a procedure done and what do you know. . . the next day the pain was gone. Doctors couldn't find anything - what a mighty prayer. . . and of course, I had a good prayer too.

I ended up pondering this for a while - for it was clearly a self-aggrandizing story. Alright - look at who I healed with this prayer. Of course, I also thought, "Um, maybe he passed the kidney stone - that would make the pain stop." I was just sort of going through the various thoughts that come up when one hears of the miraculous and the benefit is placed upon a person -- be it the holy roller or be it the "I saw vision of St. ______ and then I was healed."

But then I had another thought. The guy was rambling about a kidney stone, and here my own member was going to need open heart surgery, open freaking heart surgery - then the next day - nope, um, things look better. Shoot, I could have not only matched him, I could have raised the fella - I see your kidney and raise you a heart. . . dang right I pray well!

But the thing is. . . that's not how we as Lutherans tend to think. Soli Deo Gloria. At no point in the 28+ plus hours that I had known that this woman was doing better had I though that it had anything to do with me. . . it is what God does. Was it my prayer, someone else's prayer. . . who cares? To God alone be the glory. Simply raise prayers of thanks and continued blessing - the same sort of prayers we do every day.

This almost makes me sad - it seems as though so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ think of prayer as exceptional -- in the sense that it is the exception to the rule, it is what is done when you want merely an exception to happen. . . "Lord, I know I probably need to go to the doctor for this kidney, but if you could find it in Your heart to get me out of this. . ." But it is - prayer is normal. . . it is the shape of our life. God gives use the wondrous all the time - sometimes it might stand out in glowing colors, sometimes is it much more subtle. Either way, it's just a matter of we who are His workmanship wandering in the ways He has set out for us -- and our prayers remain the same - thanks for the blessings of past, mercy for our sins, strength and endurance for what is to come. The immediacy of the problems of the day might bring one of those into focus - but really, our prayers are basically the same every day, every week - even with the same words (Our Father. . . .)

Sometimes I think we can be jealous of the charismatic and the "extraordinary". That is a shame, for when we do so, we simply forget how ordinary God's care for us actually is. It's all daily bread -- sometimes we just see that there is gravy on what our Lord provides. We do not live in a world where God's care is random, fleeting demonstrations of extreme power - it is constant. We do not need mighty words or mighty saints to intercede for us (although they do) - because Christ Jesus is our great High Priest who always does so.

SDG has great wisdom. To God alone be the glory. Maybe if we thought this way more, we would simply see more and more all the things He does for us. Just some thoughts this Saturday morning.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Radio Alert

I will be on Table Talk Radio Live this evening (Sunday, Feb 21st) at 8pm Central time discussing Baptism. You may listen in at

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – Matthew 4:1-11 – February 21st, 2010

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Let’s start at the beginning. There it is, a garden, rich and luscious, full of every good plant, every good fruit imaginable. And there, into this wondrous garden, God places Adam and Eve, the pinnacle of His creation. Adam and Eve, made in the image and likeness of God – here is the garden, enjoy it, work in it, delight in it. But be content with who you are, be content with being God’s servant. And then, into that garden, slithers the serpent, bringing with him discontent and doubt. He hisses into Eve’s ears words of doubt – did God really say? He hisses words of envy and strife and discontent – eat this fruit, then you won’t be the servant anymore. When you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. Eat this, and you won’t have to be merely the servant, merely the caretaker, merely one who cares for others. You’ll get to be the one in charge, you’ll be like God – because even today when we think of God our gut instinct is to think of power and control, to think of God as the big bully in the sky who gets to set the rules. And so Eve takes and eats, and then she gives Adam, and he takes and eats that most unholy meal, and it all falls apart.

We know what happens. Adam and Eve – ruined. They will live lives now filled with strife and chaos and pain, son murdering son, so on and so forth, until they die. Life turns to death. But not just for Adam and Eve. . . but for the world. That perfect garden dissolves, the trees and plants fail, things dry up, good plants are replaced – the ground itself is cursed. Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you. The world falls. . . the perfection of the garden is dashed. That is how it all starts – then this sinful globe kept on spinning and spinning and getting worse and worse. The man and his wife whom God placed in the garden failed. They ignored the Word of God, traded His good gifts for the serpent’s poison, and they are consigned to death, and the world is consigned to ruin.

Now, we move to our Gospel lesson. When we look on the setting, it is no perfect garden. That’s dried up, gone, swept away. Instead, it is a wilderness, wild, untamed, unkept lands. The full effect of the fall has its sway. Thorns and thistles are it. It is dry, it is dreary, it is unlivable – it is a place of death, just like what in reality this entire fallen planet had become. And then we hear this – Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil. Consider what this is. Jesus Christ, true God and yet also true Man, strides forth into this wilderness, this wild fallen place, this anti-garden of Eden, the precise opposite of what Eden had been. Steps into this fallen domain of Satan. And why? Led by the Spirit, put there by God. God had put Adam in the garden, and so now Christ Jesus, the New Adam, the New Man is put into its fallen wreck. And why? To succeed and be victorious where Adam failed, to begin the work of fixing and restoring the fall. And so, God Himself takes up our weakness, becomes man, stands with us – hungers and is frail, fasts 40 days and 40 nights. God is not some bully overlord, but He in love comes down and takes His place by our side. But whereas we sin, our Lord will not falter. And then – the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Do you see the temptation? Christ is there in the wilderness to fight Satan, to challenge the serpent and put him in his place. And Satan saunters up and says – you know what Jesus, you’re God. You should be taking care of yourself. You should be focusing on what you want. . . what you need. It should be all about you. Come, Jesus, it’s quite reasonable to be selfish here, and after all it’s not hurting anyone.

But then our Lord rocks the powers of hell with His reply. “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Do you see what our Lord does? Satan had said, “look to yourself, tend to your own needs.” Christ smacks the devil down. “No, Satan, I will not look to My own wants. My belly, my stomach is not God. Rather this – Man lives by the Word of God. That is how man lived in the garden before you came along and tempted Him – the Word of God called forth that garden, and man listened to God, and he lived quite happily. And I too, as Man, will live simply by the Word of God – away with your temptations!” These are powerful words from Christ – of course they are powerful, they are the Word of God.

Satan regroups. Figures he should try a slightly different approach. And the Devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up lest you strike Your foot against a stone.’” Alright – so You want to play nice with the Word of God, do you Jesus? Alright, well, here it is Jesus, bona fide Word of God. And note what Jesus says to him. “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Do you see what Satan was trying to get Jesus to do? Use the Word against God! Use the Word to make God jump through hoops for you! If you do that, if you use God’s Word like Satan suggests – it is putting yourself in charge of God. Jesus will have none of it. No, Satan, we do not put God to the test like that – we live by the Word, not above it. Man is to be God’s servant, not God’s master.

And so Satan tries one more trick, one more temptation. Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” One more temptation for you Jesus – yes, I know you think God should be the master, but aren’t I a better master than Your Father? Your Father has sent You here from heaven to win these people – to suffer and die for them. I mean, look at You Jesus, fasting in the desert for 40 days – You’re a mess! The Father’s way is so hard. Listen – I will give you what You want – You can have these people, you can have this world. . . just do things my way. And my way is much easier. There it is – the temptation – avoid the cross and still get what you want. And our faithful Lord says, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God and Him only shall you worship.” And Satan flees, and the angels come and minister to Christ.

Satan came and he brought the three temptations that are so often our downfall. So often, we live by our passions and desires, by our wants. The eye sees something it wants, and we lust after it, we crave it, we do whatever we can to satisfy our desires. Christ does not give into that temptation. So often, we try to manipulate God, to abuse His Word, His Church, try to make God do what we want, say what we want. Christ does not give into that temptation. So often, we crave power and glory, and we will do whatever it takes to have our way. Christ does not give into that temptation. And something wondrous happens there in that wilderness, as Christ our Lord defies Satan. There you have Christ Jesus, true Man, turn His back upon Satan, and rather listen simply to the Word of God. And at that moment, the gates of hell begin to shake and tremble. Satan’s power lies in tempting man away from God – and so what is God’s response? Christ Jesus comes as the truly obedient Man, Man who does what Adam and Eve should have done – tells Satan to take a hike – and the power of the Serpent begins to crumble.

You see, dear friends – the wages of sin is death. When God’s Law lies broken, there can be no life that endures. And so our Lord Christ Jesus comes down to become Man, and in our place He takes the Law of God, and He fulfills it, He does it. Man lives righteously because Jesus lives righteously. And the battle is on – God Himself invades Satan’s kingdom of death as a living Man. He starts to undo, reverse the fall, paving the way for eternal life. This is what we see at our Lord’s Temptation – and this is what we continue to see. Every time our Lord shows love or compassion, every time our Lord does what is right – a bit more and bit more of Satan’s kingdom is defied and destroyed, whittled away.

And our Lord Christ Jesus does this for you. The reason He defied Satan there, the reason why He was worn and weak was so that He might stand at your side and say, “I am righteous and holy enough for you – and you will have life in Me.” Christ is righteous, and by the power of His righteousness, you are forgiven. And Christ undoes the fall in you. Consider again Genesis – Adam and Eve ate, disobeying God, bringing death and violence and sin into the world. Do you wish to see how God makes things right? He says to you – “Come to My Table – and I will give you a meal much better than what Satan offers.” Satan gave Adam and Eve a meal of death, Christ gives you His own Body and Blood for eternal life and salvation. Christ takes bread that we must struggle for, the bread of death, the bread which by itself doesn’t satisfy, doesn’t give life – He takes this bread and adds the Word of God to it – says, “Take and Eat, this is My Body, given for you.” And in this meal of forgiveness we are given the bread of life, we are given strength, His own strength to beat down Satan, to turn away from the temptations Satan throws at us. In this Supper, Christ undoes the Fall in you, in your life. His mercy takes hold of you and grows in you – the fight He fought against Satan takes place in you.

And indeed, our Lord continues to struggle against Satan, continues to beat him down, even unto His own death upon the Cross, by which our life and resurrection are ensured. This is His great love for you, this is the struggle He wins for you. All praise and thanks be to Him. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Devotions

One might find some quality daily lenten devotions here.

Ugh. . .

Last night, in the spirit of Mardi Gras, before I went to bed I decided to take a spray of whipped cream out of the can. Even though it was a month before expiration, apparently it had gone sour. This leads to a very sad morning with aches and chills. I hope this clears up before service tonight.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Not allegory but example. . .

Oftentimes an allegorical interpretation of a text in Scripture can be annoying to me -- I enjoy it in moderation, I like it when we see connections in Scripture, but when we start saying that this is really that. . . a little much. And yet, why is allegory so often popular? Because it makes any text easier to apply - the allegory lifts the text up and then via the analogy you can drop it right upon the people.

I find I have come to view texts less and less in terms of allegory when applying them and more and more as though they are examples. . . consider the temptation of Jesus. How can this be applied directly to the people? Why, it's an example of the ways in which Satan will attack us with temptations, it demonstrates where we are to flee when tempted. Will the temptations we face be the same - no, but that's how Satan works.

Or even consider something that is happily allegorized -- like the sacrifice of Issac. Rather than trying to specifically tie things up and say "this is that!" - it's an example. God intervenes so that we are not saved from death by substitution. . . ditto scapegoat, any sacrifice, etc. These are examples of how God works.

Or even the Good Samaritan. What are the two coins he leaves? Are the Baptism and the Supper? Are they Word and Sacrament? Are they Scripture and Tradition? Allegorists may fight over this. Or rather, do we learn instead that God leaves over abundant care. . . care that we see in __________?

Maybe we should try to learn from the examples of Scripture rather than finding the wondrous allegory. Signs fit, signs are examples, signs are repeated. Sign of Jonah? The prophet is swallowed and restored after three days so that Nineveh, full of the despised, might be saved. What do we learn from this example - that Christ rises to save the despised, even as folks look on in disdain.

I don't know -- just some thoughts running around the head this morning.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Quinquagesima Sunday Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday – Luke 18:31-43 – February 14th, 2010

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today is the last Sunday of Pre-lent. This Wednesday we will gather in humility and repentance and observe Ash Wednesday – we will begin our 6 week season of repentance, pondering our Lord’s Passion and Death. And so it is fitting, that this Sunday before, we hear our Lord speak to His passion. “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise. This is precisely what we will see, what we will behold this upcoming Lenten season, indeed, what we will see on Easter. And yet, we hear this strange verse following. Concerning the disciples it says, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” It was hidden, they didn’t get it. Well, why not? Wasn’t Jesus pretty blunt and plain? Suffer, die, and rise. And yet, it didn’t make sense to them, they didn’t get it. Why not?

We see the answer in the rest of the Gospel text – a contrast which shows what is going on. As they drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. Jericho is on the way to Jerusalem – it’s sort of like hitting Edmond right before Oklahoma City, or Sand Springs right before Tulsa. It means you are almost there, it means that they are all getting closer and closer to this stuff Jesus had just spoken about. And there, on the side of a road, is a beggar. He’s blind. He hears a bunch of commotion, and he doesn’t know what is going on. He asks what is happening, and they tell him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And suddenly, this wise, wise blind man starts screaming at the top of his lungs, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And it’s annoying – and people are telling this blind beggar to be quiet, to just shut up. Don’t you know there’s a spectacle, a thing to see, a giant spontaneous parade, people having their own fun following Jesus, be quiet you beggar and stop bothering us! How the crowds do not understand either! And yet, the man keeps calling out, Son of David, have mercy on me. And then something wondrous. Jesus stops. All the commotion comes to a halt – no more parade. And Jesus commands that the blind man be brought to Him, and our Lord asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man asks to see again. And our Lord says, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” See again – for you trusted in Me, had faith in Me, and that is the right and true faith! And the man praises God – for he can now see, even though he had seen and understood Jesus more than the disciples or the crowd had. This blind man understood, even when blind, because he knew and understood the need for mercy.

You see, dear friends, that is what separates the disciples, the crowd, from this blind man. The disciples, they couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying to them, because they were thinking in terms of earthly power and glory. You say you are going to be beaten, Jesus? Arrested? Mocked? You can still wind and wave! You can simply slide away from an angry mob! You have power to make food, to heal, even to raise the dead! With all your power, with all your might and glory, how could they ever catch You, how could they arrest You? Surely that would never happen! Prior to the crucifixion, the disciples are thinking in terms of earthly power and might – and so they don’t see. Maundy Thursday comes and even Peter is drawing his sword – we’ll cut you a path to freedom Jesus! They don’t understand.

Neither do the crowds. To them, Jesus is just a spectacle, a sight to see. This is that wonderworker we’ve heard so much about, oh look, there He goes, I wonder what He is up to now. Jesus is just entertainment for the crowd, a celebrity, a distraction from the normal humdrum of life – something that will be talked about for a while – you remember when Jesus came passing through town, oh yes, that was something neat. So they don’t understand either – and when the beggar starts calling for mercy – oh, what a downer, what a kill joy! Be silent, you miserable beggar boy, and don’t bring us down!

But this blind beggar, he sees. He’s not thinking in terms of power – he doesn’t want something as trifling as entertainment. He wants mercy – Son of David, have mercy on me. This blind man knows that he is weak, that he is lacking, that he is in need. And as such, he calls out to Christ Jesus for aid, for help, and then our gracious and loving Lord has the man brought to Him – how wondrous is that – doesn’t leave the blind man to grope around to find Him, doesn’t let the man struggle – no, bring him to Me – and then our Lord shows mercy and gives healing.

If you do not understand this – you will not understand lent, our Lord’s passion, or Easter. I mean this with all sincerity – if your focus is wrong, if your expectations of what God and Church and Jesus are supposed to be are off kilter, you will not see or understand what the seasons of Lent and Easter, what the heart of the Christian faith is all about. It is quite true that when many think on Jesus, they think primarily in terms of earthly power or glory. They teach a “theology of glory”, where being a Christian means that you are one of the good people whom God likes, and so you’ll get the best of blessings. Just send in a little cash now, and God will bless you out the wazoo later. Or there are the so-called Christians who teach not Christ but simply having a positive mental attitude. If you just set your mind to it, good things will happen, cause God is our buddy bud who gives us neat stuff. Name it and Claim it. These are the same types of thoughts the disciples had – the disciples were expecting the glorious revolution where the wicked Romans would be driven out. How many preachers talk politics all the time, where if we just elect the right people we’ll drive all the wicked people out and make this country a perfect land, God’s land right now? Blind. Or how many preachers will go on about earthly riches and stuff and wealth – forgetting that our Lord says that you cannot serve God and Mammon, forgetting that our Lord says that His Kingdom is not of this world. Blind. And this is why you do not hear these preachers preaching the Cross – for to them it is folly – what good is death when we want stuff and toys now?

And dear friends, you will not understand Lent and Easter if you come to Church simply to be entertained. If you come to Church because you like the music, like the preacher, think it’s something to see – you’ll miss the point. If you come because it’s a family place, because your friends are there – that’s not the point either. These aren’t necessarily bad things – but they aren’t the point, aren’t the reason God calls us to gather here. God doesn’t establish His Church on Earth simply so we can have a place to hang out together. We’re not a club, we’re not a Moose Lodge or social networking hub. It goes so far beyond that, and yet, for so many that is all they crave. What place has the best music, the most lively preacher, the best youth program, the nicest day care, the richest members, so on and so forth. Fine things, but not the point.

No, if you wish to understand what Lent and Easter, what God’s Church is about, you must think like and understand things like the blind man. Consider him. He is there, and he must beg. He cannot see, there is so much he doesn’t understand, he knows he needs help. And so, he cries out for mercy – and God shows it to him. Christ orders that all things be done so that this blind man might receive mercy – bring him to Me and let me heal him. Dear friends – we are poor miserable sinners. We are so often blind. We are so often weakened by sin. We so often don’t understand. And so, we call out for mercy, and thus God brings us here to His Church, and he heals us. Do your sins blind you to the needs of your neighbor – Of course they do, but Christ forgives you and now you see and now you may show love. Do your sins make you weak? Of course they do, but Christ forgives you and gives you His own strength through His Word and Sacraments. Does your sinfulness keep you from understanding the things of God? Of course it does, but here in His House God’s Word of life forgives you and works understanding in You.

And now we stand upon the precipice of Lent, ready to see our Lord’s Passion, ready to see Him take on Satan and sin and death and everything that we face. And why? The key to understanding what our Lord is doing this Lent, this Easter, is found in His question to the blind man. “What do you want Me to do FOR YOU?” For you. When Christ acts, when Jesus does stuff, He always, always does so for you benefit. Who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. And so, what we see, what we are intensely focused upon this Lenten season will be the things that Christ does for us. Jesus doesn’t just live in a vacuum, but all the things He does and accomplishes are done on your behalf. Jesus knows your every weakness, He knows that you are weak, but He is strong – and so He will take up the battle on your behalf. Does Satan hold mankind in bondage to sin – Jesus will take on Satan. Does the fear of death loom over us – Jesus will take on death. And all of this, He does for you, this is His love for you.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus – by the power of His Word, Christ Jesus has made you to know that you are a poor miserable sinner in need of His mercy – mercy that you cry out for even to this day. And your Lord hears your cries, indeed, He heard them before you were even born, and out of His great love for you, He came to be your Savior from sin, came to win for you life eternal. And now, once again, we here together are on the doorstep of Lent, the season where we will watch with awe and reverence, where we will with great humility and repentance behold our Lord’s fight to save us. The Father has had mercy upon you through His Son Christ Jesus, and so to the Father and Son and Holy Spirit evermore be all praise and worship, both now and forever more. Amen.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

An ad

Blogger gave me an ad for an on-line ministry degree. And I clicked and I saw this:

"A career in a Christian leadership role is a tremendous way to live a life rooted in God and in The Church. By pursing Bible College online, you can remain committed to your family, friends and church while you study for a degree. We know you desire a career that positively impacts the lives of others - now you can go to Bible College online and make that dream a reality! "


Remain who you are, just tack on being a pastor.
Live out your dream -- and what's a calling anyway.
Why disrupt your life to be a pastor?
Study to be a pastor so you can know more.
It's an awesome life!


Feeling is the New Seeing

One of the things Pastors will hear on occasion is that someone doesn't "Feel" something - that this or that isn't making someone "feel" something. We live in a day an age where feelings and emotions are almost equated to faith.

"Now, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen" Hebrews 11:1

Feeling is the new seeing. The biggest obstacle to faith in the past seemed to be the demand for physical evidence - give me something to see! Give me some "proof" or evidence. Now that idea of evidence has moved towards feelings - excitement, what have you.

Our forefathers craved relics - physical proofs of the faith. Today, let's get pumped up on praise songs, for those feelings will be the proof of faith.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

God's Mobile Fortress

This is a thought which came up in this morning's Psalms study, which has been a wonderful benefit to me (the class, that is).

Psalm 59:9-10

"O my Strength, I will watch for You, for You, O God, are my fortress.
My God in His steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies."

This language of God being a "fortress" shows up all over the Psalms. It makes sense, a fortress is a wonderful thing in combat. However, there is one major weakness or liability to the typical fortress. It is stationary. Your castle might be strong, but it isn't mobile.

Yet what do we hear of God, the Fortress? In His steadfast love He will meet me. Our Mighty Fortress isn't just a Fortress, He is a mobile Fortress, not bound and stuck in one place, but ready to be our Fortress wherever we are.

And then of course, there is the wonderful worship image of God in His love coming to meet us and show us mercy - is that not what the Divine Service is? Just a fantastic reminder of how God's care is over and above anything that we on the earth are used to thinking of.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The more things change. . .

"Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, "Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations." - 1 Samuel 8:4-5.

This, I think, is maybe the most descriptive depictions of the common temptations that we as Christians can face. Here we are in God's Church (or nation, if you are Old Testament) and we look up, and man, do we see problems. Everyone's getting old - the kids aren't showing up like they should. What shall we do?

The elders of Israel made a demand of Samuel - give us a king. . . just like everyone else. This is the temptation of human nature - to run with the crowd. When we are off on our own, apart from the rest of the people, and things look rough, our first instinct is to jump back in the crowd.

And so, even today, the temptation for the Church is to do what everyone else in the world is doing. Church ought to look, sound, and feel just like the rest of the world - or so many clamor. And yet, in doing this we forget one simple thing.

It is not our church; it is God's. It is not grown by our effort or wisdom; it is grown by the Word of God. It does not stand upon our abilities to fit in; it stands upon Christ.

When things go bad, we want to duck our head and fit in. This is sad - for we should seek to be faithful.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Sudden Bravery of Oklahoma

It is snowing out -- we are supposed to get snow, then rain/snow mix in the morning, and then turning to more snow in the afternoon - 2-4 inches (more, if the cold gets here quickly) plus a bunch of wind. It is a pretty snow now. . . but here's the thing.

There's only three school delays. People are just buzzing around.

Boy, you have snow on the ground for 10 days, and then some little flurries don't seem like much.

There's a parable in there somewhere, but I've got a sermon to write.

+ + + + + Addendum + + + + +

The point of the story is don't worry about snow if it ain't on the ground. Day heated up to 35 - all that snow melted, and we got nothing.

Sexagesima Sermon

(Sorry, forgot to post this yesterday. . .)

Sexagesima – Luke 8:4-15 – February 7th, 2010

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We are now in the season of Pre-Lent, the Gesima Sundays – Sundays that begin to focus us, prepare us for the season of intense repentance that is Lent. The Gospel lessons of these three weeks remind us of important truths about the Christian faith that we need to bear in mind as we ponder our Lord’s struggles against Satan and Sin and Death on our behalf. Last week, with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, we were reminded that we are saved by Grace alone. It is only because our good and gracious God generously calls us to His Kingdom that we have salvation. Today, we are taught another truth – that this power of salvation, that this calling out to us by God is done, is accomplished through His Word alone. This is the point of the parable of the Sower – and we are reminded again today what a precious gift God’s Word is and its proclamation, and the ways in which the world, Satan, and our sinful nature will attempt to make us despise and forego this gift.

We are familiar with the parable. A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled down underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold. Now, let us consider the actions of this sower. They seem foolhardy at best. Now, I’m not a farmer, but I’ve done enough gardening at least to know that one doesn’t generally cast seed onto the path. If I want to grow green beans this summer I’m not going to throw seeds on my driveway – or if I want to try and grow some sweet corn I’m not going to just throw seed out back there in the brush. And yet, what does this sower do? Seed flung everywhere. Just casting it out wildly, not caring where it goes – just cover the ground with seed, and we will see what grows. This would have been strange to hear even in Jesus day – the thought would be, “What sower sows upon the path? Or into the rocks?” Seed is to valuable for that – why waste seed in a place where you know it isn’t going to grow?

But our Lord explains this parable, explains the actions of the sower very simply. He says, Now, the parable is this: The Seed is the Word of God. And now we begin to see and understand. The way in which God handles His Word is beyond what we would expect. When something is precious, our instinct is to horde it, to be very careful and cunning before we put it to use. That’s not what our generous God does – He simply scatters the Word all over the place – even to places, even to people we wouldn’t expect. There is no place where God hesitates to have His Word proclaimed, to have His Word preached. Let this be a lesson to us. There are times when we are. . . hesitant. . . concerning God’s Word. We can see someone, someone hurtful, someone foolish, someone mean – and we can basically write them off – assume that they are beyond all hope. God would have His Word scattered even unto them. We do not need to try to judge the hearts of men before we proclaim Christ’s Word – we do not need to sit and try and decide who is worthy to hear. Rather this – God’s Word is to be cast everywhere and to everyone. There is not a person who shouldn’t hear the Word – it is for everyone. And if a person rejects, ignores, spurns it – so what? For you see, God’s Word is limitless. If I am planting crops, I can run out of seed. We will never, though, run out of the Word of God – He has placed His Word upon our minds and upon our hearts and upon our lips – and it doesn’t run out – so we can be confident and bold and free in proclaiming the Word. And why? Because the only way that people will be saved, the only way that you yourself have received salvation is because someone else brought God’s Word of life and salvation unto you. This is the utter power and wonder of God’s Word – His Word of life and forgiveness that is to be proclaimed everywhere.

Our Lord goes on to explain the rest of the parable. The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Now here is what we are going to do this morning. We aren’t going to try to figure out if someone we know is a “path” sort of person. I can’t see the hearts of men and neither can you, so any such thoughts and speculations along those lines would simply be arrogant and in vain. But rather this – what do we learn from this example? We see one of the ways in which Satan attacks people who have heard the Word. He takes it away from their hearts – or in other words, Satan tries to build up a distance between you and God’s Word – Satan tries to keep God’s Word as far away from your heart as possible. This is how Satan attacks you. When we talk about our heart, the things we hold in our heart, we talk about the things that are important and dear to us, things that we treasure. Satan will try to make you think the Word is worthless – to make you think that time spent in the Word, hearing it preached, receiving it in the Supper, studying it, that all this is worthless, he’ll try to make it seem distasteful. There are times we don’t always like what the Word of God says. The Word says, “You are a sinner and you deserve to die.” We don’t like hearing that – and so Satan slithers in, just like he did in the beginning, and he says, “Eh, you aren’t that bad, and you sure won’t die – just go ignore what God has said and do what you will.” Same old trick from Satan. So my friends in Christ, I encourage you – consider your own life and the ways in which Satan is tempting you to despise God’s Word. I can’t tell you specifically how he attacks you this way – but this is what the Devil does – be wary of it.

In addition to just general disdain for the Word, we hear another way in which Christians are attacked. And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in a time of testing fall away. The key phrase there is “time of testing.” Life in this sinful world is hard – and often, being a Christian makes it harder. Consider the Christians in Muslim controlled parts of the World – consider the Christians in Indonesia who have their churches bombed, or in parts of Northern India or Pakistan, or in Nigeria where Christians are in danger of being killed. Being a Christian makes their life in this world harder – but this should be no surprise. Christianity is not merely a balm for this life, it isn’t some worldly insurance plan, but rather it is a faith that confesses that this world is evil and full of sin and that God sent His Son to the Cross to suffer and die that we might have eternal life enduring well past this world’s end. But this is not the only testing that Christians might face. I don’t think any of us here are going to have to worry about being killed for our faith in the immediate future, but what of your own testing? Scripture calls you to love your neighbor? Do you – even when that neighbor is a nice collection of choice swear words? Scripture calls you to be bold in your faith. Are you, even when your friends, when people you like and respect mock your faith, brush it aside, treat it as unimportant? Consider the ways in which being a Christian, trying to live as a Christian, makes your life in this world difficult. And again, this will impact each of us differently – but consider this – and know that Satan will try to use that discomfort, that awkwardness as a wedge to drive you away from God, to dry up your faith and make you brittle, make you broken and fit only for the fire. Be on guard against his wiles this way.

However, Satan doesn’t merely use a stick to try and beat the faith out of us. Sometimes he uses a carrot as well. And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. So now the question becomes, how busy are you? Are you too busy for God? Whether you are running around with problems, or running around with good things and riches and pleasures – Satan will try to use them as a wedge between you and God’s Word. And in many ways, I think this may be the one we get the most of here in America. We are a busy nation, always on the go-go-go. We are always out to make more money, get better stuff, keep up with the Jones, be “successful” – so on and so forth. And what Satan will do is he will play up this attitude. Why come to Church when there’s something more profitable to do – work waiting to be done? Or why come to Church when there is great fun to be had Saturday night? Or why not just rest and relax and enjoy all the fruits of your labor? And then of course, time for the Word during the week is right out! So again, let me ask the question – what are the ways in which Satan attacks you along these lines? How does he try to weasel you away from God in this way? Be on guard for it, and know if for what it is when it happens.

Now, there is one more thing in this parable, something which stands out over and above these wiles of Satan. As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. This is what God desires for you, and this is what God accomplishes and brings about in You by the power of His Word. The only reason any fruit is born, any crop grows, is because of the seed planted in the ground. Likewise, consider our Lord, and how often He gives you His Word over and over again. Have you been a bit hard hearted – have you been a bit rocky or thorny? Our Lord doesn’t write you off, but rather instead His Word is cast, is proclaimed to you, is given to you, so that you might grow, that you might learn to hold fast to the Word ever more and more, that you might find joy in living out your faith. This is why our Lord gives His Word to you in so many fashions. His Word is given to you in Scripture, His Word is washed into you by Baptism, His Word is proclaimed to you, His Word is spoken to you in the Words of Absolution, His Word takes root in bread and wine and thereby His gives you His own Body and Blood in His Supper – and all of these many ways are so that you might always hear the Word, be in the Word, that you might grasp it and hold fast to it and bear fruit in love. For know this, dear friends in Christ. Our Lord knows the wiles of Satan, He knows what the old serpent is up to – and our Lord attacks Him now in your life through His Word, just as assuredly as He attacked Satan when Christ Himself went to the Cross to win us life and salvation. And thus, we have life in His name. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world +

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Church and man's ego

I think one of the most profound gems that Luther gave us was the notion that it is quite simple to identify the Church - that a mere child could do so -- it is where the Gospel is rightly preached and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

Something has happened, though, to us sinful men who dwell both in the Church and here on earth. We rightly understand that one must see to it that the Gospel is "rightly" preached, that the Sacraments are "rightly" administered. And that is good - we must mark out those who would cause division and teach others to choose error. But yet, we move beyond this.

In our ego, in our desire to categorize those beneath us and to have ourselves stand upon mounds of errorists we have defeated (ah, what an elevation that is!), we have let Ego come in. We will snipe and pick at others. . . and we loose all humility. We become more studious and diligent in finding the wrongs of others than of studying the Word and being diligent in our own preaching.

Let one preach rightly, let one administer rightly. Show what is wrong and why it is wrong. Be people focused upon the Word - be the Church, and let the light of Christ shine so that even those in error might see it and repent.

Repentance - that is what the Word proclaimed desires - not victory over a heretical foe. Repentance. And in our ego and pride in our own rightness, we forget righteousness, the righteousness of God which seeks the lost. Lord have mercy upon us, and restore us, that we might continue to grow ever more in the faith into which You have placed us1

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Not quite an "Ethics Person"

I am not an Ethics Person. Note: I did not say that I am not an "ethical" person - just that I am not a person who really enjoys the deep and strong discussions on ethics where right and wrong on each specific point are attempted to be preemptively nailed down. It bores me. . . and it also strikes me as somewhat egotistical especially when I think I can write it down so that I can apply myself to others.

And partially, it's simple. Do the Law. Show love. There it is -- that is Christian ethics. . . Love God, Love your neighbor. That's it.

Too often ethics becomes either a vain attempt to get out of loving God and neighbor (the liberal twist) where love is redefined with indifference to Scripture and the Law or ethics becomes a descent into moral handwringing about how horrid the world is.

The Christian Ethic is simple - show love. Period. You must show love. The Christian Ethic is the law of God.

Now - how do I best show love in a situation? That can be a sticky wicket - and there are tons of variables, and there will be conflicts and nastiness. . . and no matter what you do, it won't be ideal. In these cases neither shirk your duty denying God's law as the liberals do, nor wring your hands and hide behind some complex ethical code of your own devising. Go and show love the best you can, make the best use of the talents God has given you, be His workmanship and walk in the paths that He has set up for you.

And know that whatever you do. . . you will sin. You will fall short. It will not be perfect. Strive for perfection - but be bold, not in your own righteousness, but in Christ and His righteousness and love for you as the source of your salvation (ah, Luther's lovely "Sin Boldly, yet Believe More Boldly). Do what you think is best, but know that not only will your plans and actions always fall short and miss the mark, but know that Christ is your Savior who has redeemed you and who gives you strength to live.

You know, that's why I'm not an ethicist. It's how people relate to that Luther quote. The liberals read only "Sin boldly", stop there, and decide that they can party. The conservatives read "Sin boldly", stop there, and are shocked (Shocked, I say!) and must fix all these problems. Ethics seemingly never moves to Believe More Boldly Still. And as such, vanity of vanities, all is vanity!