Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Midweek Advent Sermon 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Sarah was old. And, well, she had been old for a long time. She was already 65 when she and Abram had set out from their old home of Haran for the Holy Land, and by now she was 89. And while over and over the Lord had said to Abram that he would become a great nation, Sarah had become convinced that this wouldn’t happen through her. Sure, God had promised this to her as well – changed her name from Sarai to Sarah to remind her daily, to remind her whenever anyone addressed her that she would bear a son – yet she had basically given up hope. Then the three “men” showed up, and her husband Abraham had burst into the tent and set her to work to prepare a feast for these visitors – obviously they were of importance. And when everything was cooked, Sarah couldn’t but help herself. She stood at the door of the tent listening to these men and her husband, just to see what they said.
“The LORD said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’" Those were no mere guys from down the road. That was God come to visit her husband – and once again God says that she, she will be the one who has this blessing. And Sarah does something that any of us who are tired and worn and simply sure that nothing good will come to us can understand. She laughs. And this isn’t a laugh of joy – it’s that coarse, bitter laugh, that snort, that sarcastic laugh – that “yeah right” sort of laugh. “So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?’"So sad, so bitter.So sure that the promises of God are just going to come up empty and short. And God calls her on it – asks, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” And all Sarah can do is deny that she laughed in her fear.
We are not strangers to doubt. All of us here are familiar with those creeping doubts that can sneak in. Understand that this is the goal of your old foe, the Devil. He wants to make you doubt, make you doubt God’s Word. This is what he did even from the very beginning – murdering Adam and Eve with his lies that caused them to doubt God. And Satan will try to stir up doubt in you as well. But consider Sarah for a moment – she doubts, and what does this bring her? It makes her bitter, where even her laughter, even her “joy” is tarnished and marred. It makes her afraid of God – God graciously comes to her house, and yet, she is left in fear. This is why Satan loves to stir up doubt – it first makes Christians miserable, then it makes them afraid of God, and if that fear goes unchecked enough, people will keep running and running away.
This is how Satan will attack you. Satan will try to get you to doubt the promise that God has made to you. And what promise is that? Not the promise to give you a son, but the promise He made when at your Baptism He made you His own son, His own daughter. At the font God promised you that your sins are forgiven, promised that He would support you through anything you face in this life, no matter how difficult or hard, and finally, that He would raise you from the dead come the last day and that you will indeed inherit the new heavens and the new earth – and that all of this promise is on account of Christ Jesus and His death and resurrection. Satan will try to make you doubt this. Satan will attack the idea of Baptism itself – he will tell you that it is preposterous that God could give so wonderful a gift through mere water – surely there must be something great and wondrous that you must do. “How can water do such great things? Answer: It is not the water that does them, but the Word of God which is in and with the water, and faith which trusts the Word of God in the water.” This is an old ploy of Satan’s – that why Luther included this question in the catechism. It’s one that we get thrown at us even today by people who downplay baptism.
Satan also causes us to doubt the promises of God by having us look at the troubles we face in our lives. Our foe says to us, “Surely, if you really were a child of God, you wouldn’t be facing these hardships that you are – surely this problem would go away, or that would have never happened to your family, or your pocketbook wouldn’t be so tight.” We can even hear this preached if we turn on the television – after all, doesn’t God want you to be happy so if you just have enough faith you’ll get more and more blessings now. And the words that hammer our confidence in God and bring doubt are said with the biggest smile. But note what happens here – it’s a bait and switch. God has not promised us nothing but joy and wealth and health and success in this life. He hasn’t. Baptism wasn’t your heavenly Father giving you a credit card to go shopping with. In fact, Christ Jesus has even warned us that in this world we will face difficulties precisely because we are His, because we belong to Him. We are told that the world will hate us. We are told that we will have to be patient, that there will be times when we cry out with the Psalmist – “How Long, O Lord?” But the promise of God given you to in your Baptism still holds – He is your God, and you are His forgiven child who will rise and you will live long after this world and its vain and fleeting glories are gone. Satan will use troubles now to get you to doubt what God has said will happen then. Satan will try to make you miserable, angry, and fearful, so that you hide from God and let your faith wither and die.
God understands how Satan attacks you, and this is why He proclaims His Word to you again and again. When Adam and Eve hid in the garden, God still came to them. When Sarah laughed, when she derided God, when she was fearful and afraid – God didn’t change His mind. God doesn’t turn to Abraham and say, “Get that laughing fool out of my sight – go find yourself a better wife.” Nope – He has said Sarah will have a child, and so she shall. A few chapters later, in chapter 21, we hear this: “The LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did to Sarah as he had promised.” Simple enough – at the right time the promises of God are fulfilled. Indeed, even Sarah marvels at the turnabout – she says, “God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.” She admits the irony – I was laughing in bitterness but now I laugh with joy – and when people hear this, they will laugh with joy too.
This is to be a lesson, a reminder for you this Advent Season, dear Christian friends. This unusual birth is a reminder to you that God’s promises always come true – even if the world, even if our sinful flesh call out to deny it, to doubt it. Your old foe wants you fearful and afraid, wants you bitter and coarse. But the Word of God holds true. Your baptism is true. The promises God made to you there at your Baptism still hold. God does not despise you, does not disdain you. He continues to support you now, and in just a little while, you shall see. Just as Sarah was able to hold Isaac in her arms and have joy – in just a little while you will lift up your arms and see them resurrected and renewed – you will laugh with joy in your body then made sinless and deathless. God always keeps His promises. He kept His promise to Sarah and Abraham – He kept His promise to Adam and Eve to send Christ Jesus – and He shall keep His promise to you to have you as His own child at His side for all eternity. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen.

The Dangers of Checklist Theology

My friend Rev. Donavon Riley writes the following: All these little hills we're prepared to die on are just that: little hills. All of them the result of shallowness, of ignorance, about the correct teaching (and preaching) regarding justification.

So, while we give away the high ground on justification we storm up & down all these little hills thinking that if we can just take enough of them for our side, i.e., third use of the law, closed communion, women's ordination, etc., we'll win the war. But, what we refuse to admit is that we've lost the war already.

So, rather than pray for the Holy Spirit to lead us, guide us, teach us, enlighten us & so on we fight on in the name of Christ, all the while assuming we have the central teaching of the faith so locked down that we never have to re-visit it. Yet, as we see published across Facebook daily by pastors, professors & laity, justification is six feet deep in the ground stinking of worms... or Worms as it were.

Riley makes a fantastic point. This is the curse of systematic theology - that we will end up shaving and dividing theology into discrete little chunks that we look at and appraise and evaluate, and as long as they are in good shape, things are fine. It's as though we approach theology by examining all the pieces of a puzzle to see if they are in the proper shape... but never assemble the puzzle.

Consider - the Pharisees had all their specific rules and regulations down, but they lost the greater picture all the actual commandments were supposed to point to -- love God, love your neighbor. Instead, their abuse of the Law and creation of new, false laws let them do the exact opposite - come up with reasons to not love God and to not love their neighbor.

Likewise, all theology in the Christian Church is tied to and flows from Justification, the fact that we are forgiven and justified before God on account of Christ Jesus - that we live by faith in Christ. That's how everything ties together.

Now then - how does the "3rd use" tie to Justification? Or "closed communion"? Or "women's ordination"?

This is not me denying that they do -- they most certainly do. But when you argue your position, when you approach these topics, do you give any thought to how they fit, how they tie on into Justification? Or do you simply see if they are shaped the "right" way? If you do not tie them to Justification, to Christ Jesus and His Work, you're simply looking at puzzle pieces to make sure they aren't bent - you've lost the picture of the puzzle as a whole. You've lost the forest for the trees.

With every topic you need to ask yourself, how does this tie into Justification by faith. Otherwise... what's your point?

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A brief answer to a few questions above to cut the knees off of trolls:

1 - The 3rd Use ties to Justification in many ways because it flows out of Justification. If Christ Jesus has given us new life, if the Holy Spirit has made us His dwelling, we will be guided by the Law. Period. It might also curb and accuse us at the same time, but whom Christ Justifies He also enlivens (for where there is the forgiveness of sin there is also life and salvation). Therefore, any approach which neglects this fact and base will distort the 3rd use into some matter of divine persuasion or coming up with good, rational plans for living. Nonsense - the 3rd use is simply the Spirit using the Law to remind us who we *are* in Christ. It's not design to make us become or progress, it shows us who in Christ we *are* as the Justified.

2 - Closed Communion ties to Justification because the only time a person is denied the Supper is when their actions or beliefs (if you wish to divide the two) threaten the doctrine of Justification. The examples in 1 Corinthians come to mind. You have a man who is living in manifest immorality without repentance. This is a denial of Justification - it is denying that Christ has forgiven and given him new life. Therefore, hand him over so he might repent. Likewise, those who do not discern the body of Christ in effect attack Justification -- they are denying the purpose of the Supper (the forgiveness of sins) as well as denying Christ's winning of salvation (as long as you eat this bread and drink this cup you do show forth the Lord's death until He comes) -- to treat the Supper as indifferent is to treat Christ's death as indifferent, or at least less important than the fact that you have temporal wealth and want a full belly.

3 - Women's Ordination ties to justification in two major ways. The first is that you cannot make a "Scriptural" argument for Women's Ordination without attacking the veracity of the Scriptures. You have to look at Paul's injunctions against having women teach and hold the authority of the office by saying something akin to "that's just Paul's opinion." So - what else is just Paul's opinion? 1 Corinthians 15? Galatians? It opens a dangerous slope that all too easily leads to the denial of Justification.

But even more directly, the Scripture that is used *for* Women's Ordination is Galatians 3:28 - There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The statement then follows that, "see, there is no difference, so women can be pastors because there is no difference." What this does is that it totally misses the point of the passage... which is in fact about justification. Consider the preceding verse: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ." This is Justification talk - the point of this is about how all are saved in Christ, regardless of the very real distinctions in the world. But instead of letting Justification remain the focus (indeed, that we are justified by faith and now works, as is the point of the chapter and book), the verse is abused to become a self-justification for a category of work! Instead of being freed from the law by this passage, it twists it into a new, politically correct law -- and returns us to a slavery of our own devising, a slavery to the whims of society, rather than leading us to delight in Christ and His salvation no matter who we are. You can't do the "scriptural" legwork on women's ordination without either inadvertedly endangering Justification or removing justification as the point of Galatians 3.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Sermon to Start the New Year

Advent 1 – Matthew 21:1-9 – November 27th, 2011

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This is the way we start the Church year, the way we begin this season of Advent – with the story of Palm Sunday. It’s a familiar story, a popular story, a happy one. Who among us doesn’t like the waving of palm branches, the joyous excitement and expectation of joy to come that is part and parcel of the day? And we start the Church year with this reading because this is what Advent is all about – that joyous expectation, that excitement that Christmas is almost here. Advent is the season where we get to look forward – we take our place with those of the Old Testament looking forward to the first coming of the Christ Jesus, which we will celebrate come Christmas Eve. However, this text is not simply here to set the mood, to set the ambiance of our Christmas Shopping Season, it’s not merely meant to whet our appetites for the holidays. Rather, this text teaches us who Christ Jesus is, who this Child whose birth we celebrate on Christmas is, who it is that does all these miracles, who it is that goes to the Cross. This text doesn’t just set us up for Advent, but it sets us up for the entirety of the Church Year, it sets us up for every reading we will hear, every sermon that will be preached, every service in this place. Why do I say this? Because everything in the Church can be summed up in the words of prophet Zechariah, “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

So, let us ponder this for a bit. The very first thing we have to get down pat is that Christ Jesus is our King. Well, duh, Pastor, we know that! Yes, we know that, we all say it, we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” – but I wonder if we, especially we as Americans, really get what the fact that Jesus is our King… means. For the last how many months have we been in the middle of a Presidential election cycle? You’ve got all the Republican candidates fighting tooth and nail to get a nomination, and then we’ve got almost a full year of campaigning to go. And what’s going to go on in all this? Massive criticism. We will hear for the next year every thing President Obama has done wrong, and every idea of any Republican who might get elected picked apart and torn to shreds. And then, at the end of it all, we will walk up to the polling booth next November and say, “I choose this one.” That’s not how it works with a King. We don’t choose or elect Christ – rather, He is the King, and He has said, “I am Your King, and you will be My people.” We aren’t the ones in charge – He is. And more to the point, while we might have every right as Americans and in fact a civic duty to think critically about our leaders and evaluate them… that’s not our relationship with Jesus. Christ Jesus isn’t going to check the polls to see if we like what He does. He is the King, and what He says goes.

And as sinful human beings, according to our sinful flesh, we hate the fact that Jesus is King. That’s what sin is – sin is nothing other than rebelling against Christ Jesus and trying to make ourselves king in His place. Our King says, “Don’t eat of this tree” – the serpent says, “Eat of this tree, then you’ll get to be like God, you’ll get to be the King!” And thus sin and our rebellion begins. And every sin, every temptation to sin is nothing more than us telling Jesus, “No, we don’t want you to be our King.” But here is the wonder of the ages – even though by our sin we reject, we turn our backs upon Christ Jesus, He does not abandon us. He could have simply washed His hands of us – said, “You don’t want to be in My Kingdom of life and joy – fine – forget you. Enjoy your wretchedness.” But He doesn’t. Instead, He tells His servants to say, “Say to the daughter of Zion- Behold, your King is coming to you.” Christ Jesus is not content to let you remain in sin, remain in rebellion, and so He is determined to come to you. If you now dwell in a fallen sinful world, He will come into that sinful fallen world, be born of a Virgin, to rescue you. If you now dwell in Satan’s clutches, He will come, be tempted and hounded by Satan, all to restore you and make you once again part of His own kingdom. If you are hounded by death, Christ Jesus will even be scourged and crucified, all to give you life that does not end or fade. Your King is determined to be your King, and what we see here in His Church is nothing but His coming to you and for you.

“Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” Christ Jesus is King, and He will do things His way, for indeed, His is wise and gracious, and He knows what is best. And He comes humbly. In our text we see Him entering Jerusalem upon a donkey. And that is a humble thing – even with the crowds lauding Him – it’s humble. A conquering king, one would think, should enter a city on a mighty steed, with vast armies behind him. In fact, that’s sort of what the crowd there was hoping for – a mighty warrior king who would thrust down the Romans and kick the gentiles out. That was what they were expecting – but that is not what Christ comes to do. No, His enemies are much bigger than the small fish of Roman rule – no, His targets are Satan and Sin and Death – and so He comes humbly. It is in His humility and gentleness that He defeats our foes – Christ Jesus doesn’t wrap His hands around Satan, but rather defeats Satan by being handed over to death. His humility is what brings Him victory. But the crowd did not want a humble king. They wanted one who was brash and bold and would drop down the smite on the Romans… and so Christ Jesus is rejected.

We today need remember that Christ Jesus, our King, is humble. Granted, as He is risen, He is exulted, and every knee shall bow at His name, but He is still humble, and He still teaches us to be humble. In every teaching of Christ, you will see this Humility come forth. Let’s think of some examples – turn the other cheek. What is that but humility – what is that but being determined to still love and care for your neighbor regardless of what he or she does to you? That’s humility. Or the one I referenced last week – let your light shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify… not you, but glorify your Father in heaven. Again – humility, learning to shape our lives so that others are shown God, so that others are pointed to Christ Jesus who is their king as well. That’s humility. One could very easily say that the Christian life, that growing as a Christian is nothing but learning more and more humility. It is nothing but learning to beat down those sinful, egotistical desires, and rather being a humble servant, content to show love to the neighbor no matter what the cost – even as Christ Jesus our King is humble and is content to show us love, no matter what the cost.

And again, we can rebel against this so. I know people who will say, “I just don’t see how those crowds on Palm Sunday could be the same ones shouting out for Jesus to be Crucified on Good Friday.” I know how – my own flesh cries out against Christ when I am called on to be humble. If someone annoys me, my sinful flesh doesn’t want to be humble, it wants to strike out and lash out, and at that time it too would have yelled, “Crucify Him, away with this humility, I want nothing of it!” But Christ Jesus knows this struggle that I face, that you face – and thus He continues to come to us, He comes to us humbly. He comes with mercy and compassion and forgiveness that breaks down and destroys our pride, our arrogance our sinfulness that upon reflection brings nothing but shame. Christ does not spurn you in your sin, but instead He deigns to come once again to you to forgive and renew you.

And how does Christ Jesus come to you? “Behold, your King is coming to you, Humble.” Christ Jesus comes to you this day to forgive you your sin, to give you His own humble strength, and how? In very simple, humble means. There are no flashes of lighting or peals of thunders – that will wait for the last day. There are no brash demonstrations of power and might. No. He comes to you humbly. He knows that you struggle against sin, and so He comes to you humbly through His Word of forgiveness and life spoken to you. And even that spoken Word of forgiveness is given humbly – He doesn’t send James Earl Jones or George Clooney or some other such famous person – no, He sends a short, overweight guy with a lisp. Eh, so be it – you are forgiven on account of Christ Jesus, your Humble King. Your Humble King comes to you via holy baptism, which again, is really a humble thing. A bit of water combined with the Word of God – not much to see, in fact, much of the world disdains baptism, thinks the best it might be a symbol, a quaint ceremony. No – it is your King coming to you, it is your King declaring that you are now His royal co-heir of the new heavens and the new earth, that life everlasting is yours. Your Humble King comes to you in His Holy Supper – and again, that is Humble. To have His most holy meal, nothing complicated or grandiose is needed – He takes bread and He takes wine and by the power of His Word He Himself comes to us, restores us, renews us. And all of this, all of it for our own good. Even before we would think to seek Him out, He has called us into His kingdom and promised to be with us – because He is our Holy and Righteous and Good King, who in His humble love for us brings us salvation.

This is what we will spend the season of Advent looking forward to with expectant hearts – to see the mystery of His holy and humble nativity. This is what we will see the rest of this Church year, indeed, every time we are gathered together in worship – we see our humble King coming to us for our own good. Behold, Oh daughter of Zion, your King is coming to you, and He will come to you humbly in this place, in His worship even until the day when He comes again and takes you to share in His eternal reign world with out end. Come quickly Lord Jesus – In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day Sermon

Thanksgiving Day Sermon – Luke 17:11-19 – November 24th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I will admit it, the Thanksgiving sermon is one of my least favorite ones to write. It’s a rough sermon to write. It’s on thanksgiving. So… what do I as a preacher do? Do I stand up here and wag a finger at y’all saying, “You better be more thankful”? I don’t want to go around just dropping law bombs – I want to preach the Gospel. Do I stand up here and spout off platitudes about how wonderful life is? Well, I can, but we aren’t ostriches, we don’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore things that are bad and rough in the world – and there’s been plenty of that lately. Do I go all sappy and gooey and emotional – maybe sigh and wax poetically about how thankful I am for my son? That would be so sticky sweet I’d want to throw up. It seems as though if we try to just preach on giving thanks, it either becomes some sort of moralistic diatribe, or some pie in the sky denial of reality, or just tacky emotionalism – and I don’t like any of those three. So instead, let’s be blunt, let’s be honest, let’s consider this harsh world and how our Lord confronts it.

“On the way to Jerusalem, He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance, and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” Those lepers are in a pathetic state. I don’t know if there was anyone to be more pitied in the ancient world than lepers. You were cut off from society – you had to live on the outskirts – and you never could really see the people you love again, even though they were so close, just inside the city walls. It would be horrifying. So – what to do? Tell these lepers to count their blessings? Say how wonderful the past year has been for them? Nope. First things first – we need to recognize what sad, horrible shape these lepers are in. They know it, they see Christ and they call out for mercy. They don’t pretend, they don’t whitewash anything – they see their lack and they call out to God for deliverance.

So, what of you? Do you see your own struggles, the trials that you face? I guess some of these are obvious. Hasn’t been a lot of rain. Some of us aren’t quite as healthy at the moment as we have been. I’m sure jobs or family matters are rough for many of us. There are some things that everyone might know… and some things, well, very few people, if anyone else knows them. That private hurt that you don’t share. That stubborn temptation, that vile sin that keeps jabbing at you like a thorn in your flesh. That disappointment that you’d never breath a word of lest you hurt people you love. Martin Luther’s last words were, “We are all beggars before God.” Let’s modify that a bit today – we are all lepers in this world. We all have things in this life in this fallen world that are horrible and terrible… and seeing this, we cry out to Christ for mercy.

“When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Again, astonishing what Christ does here. Lepers couldn’t enter town, they couldn’t be among people – but if they were healed, the priest could examine them and let them back into the community. And Christ tells them to go – and as they start walking, they are still diseased, they are still lepers… yet Christ says go, and they go… and on the way they are healed. Likewise, dear Christian friends – Christ knows your pains, your sufferings, your hardships. He knows your sin and all the impacts of your sin – and He says to you, “I have suffered and died in your place – now go on your way, show yourselves to the Father as one who is pure and righteous in My Name.” And that’s how we live our lives – we are moving ever closer and closer to being fully restored to the community, to the heavenly kingdom… and we go confidently, knowing that Christ Jesus has sent us, knowing that by the power of His Word our sin is forgiven, knowing that by the power of His Word the trials we face will be endured.

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” The leper gives thanks when? When he sees that he has been healed – when he realizes what Christ Jesus has done for him – that’s when he has joy and thankfulness and delight. Likewise, dear friends, thankfulness will not come if I wag the finger at you. Thankfulness will not come if I pretend that nothing ever stinks, or if I get all sappy. Rather this. Consider your sin – now, know that you are forgiven by Christ Jesus. You are healed. You might have some of the junk of this life still clinging to you, but Christ has declared you clean, and on the last day you will rise new and clean and spotless and pure. You are healed. And it is in seeing this, in knowing the depths of Christ’s mercy that thankfulness will simply and naturally arise. Thankfulness comes when we realize what we have is all gift… and yes, this holds true for all the things in our lives – we deserve none of it… but God gives, gives blessings even to us unworthy sinners in this sinful world, and He gives freely… and He gives not just for this brief time here, He gives not just fallen stuff in this fallen world, but He gives life everlasting.

“Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the 9? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” The danger for us is to stop seeing God and His Word at work in our lives, to stop seeing the power of forgiveness and life. We can delude ourselves into thinking we have earned our daily bread, after all we worked hard for it. But seeing forgiveness, seeing that free grace – it is an astonishing thing. “And He said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” The leper saw, rejoiced, understood what was going on, and then there is joy and praise and thankfulness. Likewise, I encourage you this day to see and know the mercy God has given you – you have placed your faith in Christ, and you are healed. You may not see it fully now, the dross of this life may distract you – but Christ has declared you forgiven, He has rescued you from your sin and this sinful world and given you new life, and You are His and shall be His for all eternity. You are clean and forgiven by Him – and this is a joy that no one can take away from you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Taking Offense

I have an adage that I like - it's one that I think sort of works as a nice little guide. The Christian seeks neither to give offense nor to be offended

This is actually one of my little pithy summations of what the Scriptures teach. Don't try to offend people, and don't let yourself get offended.

Now, when the Scriptures speak to "offend" they literally mean the abandonment of faith. Clearly you shouldn't be damaging people's faith, nor should you engage in activity that would destroy your own.


However, let's loosen the language here and make it more... general, more in line with how modern English speaks of being offended. Or upset. Or ticked off.

These are all different ways of saying "being angry" - but they all have something in common. They all refer, linguistically, to being thrown off balance. If you are offended, you are off - ended. You are no longer on your proper end. If you are upset you have been tipped over. And if you are ticked off, you are moved off of your proper and normal tick.

Think like an athlete for a moment. If I am going to hit a golf ball (or throw a punch), my legs are vital. The ability to drive, to use force all comes from... my balance. Try hitting a golf ball while not balanced. (Or watch someone who is off balance try to tackle someone... ugh). You can't. You lose all strength if you lose your balance.

Likewise - if I am offended, if I am upset, I have lost my balance -- and I become weak. Powerless. I cannot speak correctly and too the point... and I will miss the mark. I will fall into gross sin.

Seriously, that's why I don't trust anger -- it throws me off balance, and instead of thinking about how best I can serve my neighbor... I think of other things, vile things - and then I don't speak truly anymore.

That's bad.

Likewise, if I upset my neighbor, if I throw them off balance -- it makes it hard for them to show love (of course, the exception is if I have upset them off of their open sin... sometimes if our tick is the wrong tick, we need to be ticked off). Hence, if I unduly upset my neighbor, I am simply hindering them in their own tasks of showing love.

Thus - try not to give offense and don't take offense.

Oh, and don't play the "offend" card either - it's tacky and cliche'.

And just as another note -- if you are in a discussion with someone, and they brush aside your argument and land a solid counter punch... that's not a sign of them being offended. Just saying.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 20th, 2011 – Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
In the shed outside my house, there are boxes. Plenty of boxes. Boxes from my parents. When I had just gotten here (to Lahoma) 7 and a half years ago, my parents saw this as an opportunity to finally get rid of all the stuff I had left behind at their house when I went to off to college – and so, when they came up for my ordination, there all the stuff was. And I put it in the shed. And I told myself, “You know, I should go sort that out.” But it was summer, and it was hot, so I said, “I’ll wait until it’s a bit cooler.” And then I looked up, and it was winter. And I said, I should go sort out the boxes in the shed, but it’s tool cold, I’ll do it in the spring when it’s a bit warmer. And then I looked up, and it was summer, and too hot. And I have done this for 7 and a half years. Every time I thought about those boxes, oh, the time wasn’t just quite right, I’m busy – I thought more about it this week, but really, don’t I need to be in the house to help Celia with Victor. Excuse after excuse – and the boxes are still there in their chaotic, disorganized state – and part of me doesn’t think that this might not still be the case in another seven and a half years.

Of course, really, while I’d like to get all that stuff organized, it doesn’t really matter a hill of beans if I do or not. Ultimately, it’s not very important. But what it does show, what it does demonstrate is the fact that we human beings have a terrible ability to procrastinate, to put things off, to leave them for later. For some things, this isn’t that big of a problem. If a 25 year old toy becomes a 40 year old toy before it gets sorted, that’s no big deal. Some things are a bit more important, but we can put them off. Maybe that doctor’s visit or procedure that we just don’t really want to have done… or if I were preaching this sermon in February the mention of taxes and the IRS might bring some dread. Our Gospel lesson today, however, is a warning against letting this procrastination, this shunting aside of things, this laziness from impacting our Spiritual Life. We can leave the toys in the shed; if we put God on a back burner, the consequences can be catastrophic.

“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” First things first – the very first word – “then”. Jesus is letting us know that He is talking about the Last day with this parable, with what things will be like then. When the last day comes, what’s the Church going to look like? Well, you’ve got 10 virgins, 10 young girls ready to meet the Bridegroom. Basically, this means that these girls, these teens just moving into adult society, just moving into the real world, are ready to go to their first big party. And back in the day, you’d have the young women lead the groom on into the wedding – they got to look all pretty and then they had their first big party. And wedding feasts were good parties. So, all these 10 girls should be eagerly awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. This is the picture of the Church today. We are in the Last days - we in the Church know what is coming – we know that Christ Jesus will come again, and that when He comes again will we have the resurrection of the dead, the New Heavens and the New Earth – that this life of sin will be tossed aside and we will finally be mature and holy and righteous. This is why we confess in the Nicene Creed – “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” Now, we are simply waiting for that time, biding our time until our Lord returns to lead us to the new heavens and the new earth.

“Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” If you are going to be in a parade, a procession, and your job is to have a lamp, you need to have oil. That’s just how it is. So, if you are foolish, and don’t bring oil, it shows that you aren’t really paying attention, that you don’t really care. Nothing is sinking in. That you are being a fool. If you are wise, you are prepared, you know what you ought to do, and you strive to do it. Now, let us consider the Church. Earlier in Matthew, we hear our Lord tell us that we are to let our lights shine before men that they might see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. You know, the whole this little Gospel light of mine song, right? Well, what do we have with Christians – we have the foolish and the wise. There’s not a one of us here in this Church, there’s not a person on the roles of this congregation who doesn’t know about Jesus. We all have our lamps, as it were, we have all been baptized and washed clean. Great. But then – well… what happens when indifference sets in? When we begin to disdain the Word of God, disdain Church, disdain hearing preaching or receiving the Supper? We grow cold. We ignore what Christ has done for us, and thus we begin to ignore our neighbor. We become no longer interested in letting our light shine. We stop caring about God’s love, and so we no longer worry about showing God’s love. James says that a “faith” without works, without love is dead and worthless, isn’t really a faith. A lamp that makes no light isn’t any good, and if your lamp is without oil – well, not a whole lot of good. I mean, no oil is worse than hiding it under a bushel – it’s basically dousing the light, it is looking at God’s gifts and saying, meh. And that is what the foolish do. If we cut ourselves off from the Word of God, become like a lamp with no oil, and that doesn’t do anyone any good, ourselves or our neighbors.

“As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’” Simple enough idea here – all ten girls get tired and fall asleep. The day wears on and rolls into night and they sleep. And then, the groom shows up, and it’s time to go, and they all start to flutter around. Likewise, we don’t know when Christ will return. We don’t generally walk around outside looking up in the Sky trying to spot the first glimmering of His coming. Even as we live our lives, even as we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” or “Come, Lord Jesus” – we don’t expect it right… now. But there will come a time when it is now, when Christ has returned.

“Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came and those were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward, the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’” It’s time. The moment is now, the day is at hand. And there is no time to go running about trying to buy oil at midnight. And while the foolish are all thrown aflutter by the coming of the bridegroom, the wise are ready, prepared, and go with joy. Likewise for those in the Church. If we are to be prepared for the End, we must remain in God’s Word, we must receive His forgiveness and love, we must be gathered around His font and lectern and pulpit and table lest our faith crumble and die. And this isn’t something we can safely put off – this is more important than some 25 year old toy in a box in a shed. Because the fact is – if you blow off the things of God, His Word and Sacrament and your faith crumbles and dies, when He returns, it will be too late. When Christ comes back, I’m not going to run to this pulpit and start preaching – I’m not going to hurriedly set up communion. That’s it. When He returns, this service is done, and it’s on to the heavenly feast. And if you are ready – that day will hold no fear, indeed it will be nothing but joy for we will see Christ Jesus, our Light and our Life come to take us out of this world of darkness, come to give us new and everlasting life. If you aren’t ready that day – well, there isn’t anything I or anyone else will be able to do for you then.

“Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Watch. That is how we end the Church Year – a reminder to watch. Just as this year draws to a close, so too someday this world will draw to a close. We must remember this fact. We cannot assume that we will always have more time. We cannot simply say, “Eh, later, later – I will come to Church later.” Because in our procrastination, we can kill ourselves – we can take the wonderful gifts of God and let them get rusty and decrepit as we leave them sitting on the shelf. Watch therefore. Keep your eyes open, O Christian! Do not be caught unawares, but keep your eyes focused not upon the skies for the second coming, but keep them upon Christ and where He has promised to be present now for you to forgive you your sins and make you ready for the life of the world to come. Keep your ears open so that you might hear the preaching of the forgiveness of sins! Keep your mouth opened, so that you might receive this day His Body, His Blood given for the remission of all your sins. Receive Christ Jesus Himself, and you will be prepared by Christ to meet Him when He comes again in glory. Do not let the world twist you aside from this, do not let other fleeting things become a higher priority – things all fade here but the Word of the Lord endureth forever, and that same Word is the power of Christ Jesus that makes you to endure forever, even unto life everlasting. Christ the Crucified has won for you salvation by His Blood, and He gives you that gift freely in His Word. God grant that He keep us steadfast in His Word even unto the life of the world to come. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shoddy But Humorous Theology #1

Shoddy But Humorous Theology #1

It has been noted that today there is a lack of respect and appreciation for children, and that this has unleashed all sorts of ills upon our society. Too often people disdain God's gift of children, much to our detriment. I will agree.

However, I would assert that this is really caused by a greater and more wicked evil... the fact that all too often children disdain God's gift of sleep. I write this as the father of a 3 and a half week old. He clearly despises God's gift of sleep, both for himself and for his parents.

Frankly, if our infants cherished the gift of sleep and sought it diligently, especially when it is dark outside, it would be much more clear what a blessing they are.

As a note - this shows the Justice in God punishing the sin of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th generation. Why? Because the reason the father sinned in the first place was probably because his son kept him up all night, and if it weren't for the lack of sleep he might have better resisted that sin.

This concludes today's episode of Shoddy but humorous theology.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Law Always...

There is an old phrase in Lutheranism that I like -- the Law Always Accuses. The point is this -- as we are not perfect, the Law always shows us our lack, where we fall short. It always accuses us.

Likewise, I'd like to propose a companion idea. The Law always binds. Seriously - the Law will always bind the conscience of a Christian. If God speaks the Law, people are bound to it. If He says "Thou Shall Not" - that is going to weigh upon my conscience, and it is bound.

Likewise, if I as a pastor say, "Thou shall not" or "Thou shall" - that is going to bind the conscience. That is going to put pressure to behave in a certain way upon a person. In fact, many times, if we speak the law, we DO want to shape behavior. If I tell my son in a few years, "You will take out the trash" - that's an attempt to shape behavior.

Now, what does this mean? I, as a pastor, had better make INCREDIBLY SURE that when I tell people what they should or should not do, that I am speaking only God's Word and not my whims, not my thoughts, not my desires. Why? Because I am a pastor - and people expect me to be speaking not for Eric Brown, but for God. Any anything I state will have God's weight behind it.

For a pastor to give a command that is not in scripture is wrong... it's an abuse of God's Name, of God's authority. It's saying, "God wants you to ______" when He did not really.

The Law always binds... and if you speak law you are binding people. Make sure that you are speaking a Law that is God's Law.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trinity 21 Sermon

Trinity 21 – November 13th, 2011 – John 446-54

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
As Lutherans we believe something very simple, yet vital to faith. God’s Word does what it says. Now, that’s not an earth shattering statement. I would hope that most of you, hearing me say “God’s Word does what it says” thought, “Well, duh, of course it does.” However, remember that the Devil’s chief ploy, His chief goal, is always to get you to doubt God’s Word. That’s the way it’s been since the beginning, since the Serpent said to Eve “Did God really say?” The heart of Lutheranism from the days of the Reformation up to this very day has been a clear and strong focus on what God’s Word says. If God says something, we simply believe. Scripture is Scripture and we place ourselves under it. And also, if Scripture is silent on a matter, we remain silent as well. Our focus is always on what God’s Word says and nothing more – we don’t pry into unrevealed mysteries, but rather delight in what God’s Word shows us plain and simple.

So why this rant to start off this morning? Because in looking at these three texts, each of our readings, we see an example of God’s Word doing what it says – we have signs displayed before us so that we might believe God’s Word. From these lessons we see three of the things that God’s Word does. God’s Word creates, God’s Word Restores, and God’s Word Protects. This is the very same Word that is at work in His Church, at work in our very own lives. Let’s take a gander at God’s Word at work in these texts, and also meditate on how God’s Word is at work in our lives.

So let’s start with our Old Testament lesson. Creation. In all of Scripture the first thing, the first idea that is taught is that God’s Word Creates. “And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God speaks, and it is done. Where there was no light before, God speaks and then, suddenly, there is light. “And God said, ‘Let the Earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the Earth.’ And it was so.” Isn’t that wonderful, just how matter of fact Scripture is here. And it was so. In fact, by day six of Creation, it’s just assumed that when God speaks, what He speaks is created. Okay Pastor, we get the idea, so what’s so important about this? There is no light, and God speaks, and suddenly there is light. There were no plants – God speaks, and suddenly, there are plants. No animals, God speaks, there are animals. God’s Word creates by Itself. God brings forth and actually brings stuff into being, makes things out of nothing. When we make, when we so-called create, we use stuff, material. If you make a dress, you make it out of fabric. If you make a car, you make it out of steel and plastic and wires. Our creations come from something else. But when God speaks His Word, He truly Creates – He speaks and it is. It’s not a molding, not a changing, but a true creation. A new creation. Where before there had been nothing, see what God has done by the power of His Word.

And this, dear friends, is your story, is the story of your faith. The reason you have faith, the reason you believe isn’t about you, it isn’t about what you have made yourself into, but rather God brought His Word to you, and by the power of that Word and the Holy Spirit, He created faith in you where there had been no faith before. The Word is proclaimed, and faith is created. The reason you have faith, the reason you believe, the reason you trust in these promises of God is that God Himself has worked faith in you. That God has called you. That God has given you faith. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength come to Jesus Christ my Lord, or believe in Him, but that the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel. This is what that means – that God’s Word created, worked, brought forth faith in you. This is why we gladly celebrate infant Baptism – because we see in it God’s Word at work, God’s Word creating faith in the heart of a small Child – God’s Word giving both forgiveness and the very faith which believes that forgiveness. And what’s sad is our sinful flesh doesn’t want to believe this. We want salvation to be something we do, we want our part – we want to be able to point to a decision we made, a vital point where we did what was important. Adam never chose to be made. None of us chose to be born. Yet God called us into being. Likewise, as regards our faith it’s not that we chose God, but rather God in His mercy has called each of us by His Word and given us faith to receive all the gifts and blessings He gives us. God’s Word creates, both the world and our faith.

And then, when we look at John, we see another thing that God’s Word does. It restores. “Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your son will live.’ The man believed the Word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.’ The father knew that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, ‘Your son will live.’ And he himself believed, and all his household.” God’s Word restores. We hear of a son in need of healing – Jesus speaks, and the son is healed. Dear friends, we live in a world that is wracked with sin, where things don’t work right. Bodies get sick and frail and die – that’s not what we were created to be. Sin has unleashed upon the world all sorts of strife and violence and illness and all that other bad stuff. Sin unleashed a fever upon a young boy nearly 2000 years ago – and God speaks, and the boy is restored. The fever done away with. His life, his health, restored to him. God’s Word restores, puts things back right they way they should be, returns to life.

God’s Word restores even unto this very day. And I’m not talking about faith healings here – God hasn’t promised us the ability to heal the sick or anything like that – rather we pray and leave that in God’s hands, to work healing if it is His will either through extraordinary means or by the men and women he has given talent and training as doctors and nurses. But today God’s Word restores, God’s Word combats and fights and breaks down not just the symptoms, but the cause of problems in this world – God’s Word fights against sin – and not just the sin of the world, not just “sinfulness” in general – but very specifically our own sin. Jesus knows our condition, knows that we struggle daily with sin, that daily we give into sin – that our sin threatens to grind and wear down and destroy the gift of faith that He created in us. So God has given us a promise. Later on in the Gospel of John Jesus says to the Disciples in the upper room after His resurrection “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” This is the promise that Christ Jesus has given His Church – this is the promise that you asked me to exercise the day you called me to be your Pastor – to be the person who speaks God’s Word of forgiveness here in this place. And God is at work in that Word. Our Worship, our time together these Sunday mornings isn’t just a play acting. It’s not just sitting around remembering good old Jesus. God gathers us around His Word and speaks it to us to that we might be restored. God calls us here so that we might hear “You are forgiven” and know that yes – God has spoken that Word of forgiveness to me, right here, right now, and I am forgiven this very hour. Just as that boy’s fever broke at the 7th hour, every week in that hour following 10:45 our sin is broken, done away with, destroyed, and we are forgiven. God is at work in our lives restoring us, creating in us clean hearts. His Word gives what it says, and God sees that His restoring Word of forgiveness is preached and proclaimed daily and richly in His Church.

And finally, I’d like to spend just a few moments looking at our Epistle lesson. Put on the Armor of God. This passage is like an old friend. On the way into school each morning my mom would go over this section of scripture with me as we put on the full armor of God. But again, this is all about God’s Word. Put on the belt of Truth. That’s the Word. Christ Jesus says I am the Truth, He’s the Word. Put on the Breastplate of Righteousness – we are made Righteous because of God’s Word – because Jesus Christ gives us His own righteousness through the Word. All of this, the whole armor is simply Paul’s way of discussing the various ways in which Christ Jesus comes to us through His Word and gives us protection, the ways in which Jesus Himself protects us with His presence. It’s the Armor of God – it’s the armor that comes from God, it’s the armor that is God at work in our lives protecting us. Is this not wonderful – that God devotes Himself to our protection – that He constantly gives Himself to us by His Word for our protection against so many things? You see, that’s the heart of what it means to live as a Christian – to be in Christ. To have Christ over you and in you – to have Christ dwell richly in you through His Word.

And this is what we celebrate whenever we have the Lord’s Supper at this altar. Jesus Himself comes into our life and gives us all His righteousness and holiness, preserves us in His truth by His Word. And what Word will Jesus have spoken to His people? Take and eat, this is My Body, given for you. Take and drink, this is My Blood, shed for you. Jesus knows the struggles you face, He knows the dangers of life in the world – but that’s where He wants us to live. Out there, in the world – out there being lights in the darkness of sin that enshrouds the world. And so, He calls us together to His Table, brings us to His supper. And why? So that His True Body and Blood will keep us in the faith, will make us and clothe us with His righteousness, will give us strength to face the trials of this world. Jesus gives us Himself in the Supper, and where Jesus is we have protection and strength. And again, should any of you desire this Supper, be it on a non-communion Sunday, or during the middle of a stressful week, or the night before what will be a trying day, simply ask, and with joy we will receive Christ’s forgiveness and strength from His Body and Blood together.

God’s Word does what it says. This is why we are people of the Word – this is why, as Paul says, we are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. It’s all about Christ Jesus, the Word made flesh. We believe the Word, because the Word is how God comes to us – be it His Word recorded for us in Scripture, His Word preached, His Word Spoken or sung in the Liturgy, His Word attached to water in Baptism, His Word attached to Bread and Wine in His Supper. We are people of the Word, who delight in the Faith that His Word has created in us, who thirst for the forgiveness that His Word gives us, and who shelter in the Protection we receive in His Word. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Fear of Anger and Frustration

My practical experience with parenting is quite limited, as my son was born not even 3 weeks ago. However, this has long been something I've noticed, watched, and observed with interest - personally, professionally, and theologically. What follows may be disjointed, but let me get my thoughts out on paper.

First and foremost, I totally distrust so-called righteous anger. This in many ways I learned from my parents, both negatively (for I myself have a temper, and it's one which I got my parents), but also positively. One of the things that my parents were fantastic about was not punishing me when they were angry... not that the punishment would necessarily be less when they cooled down, but when there was punishment... it wasn't about their anger, it was about cause and effect, about actions have consequences (especially bad actions). It was didactic.

Early this morning, my son was being a butt. Of course he was, he is my son, and he will be like his father. And he has determined in the last 4 days or so that there is no reason at all that he should be sleeping in his bassinet at night, no way! Daytime - okay, but night when mommy is trying to sleep - NO!

He had fought hard last night when I laid him down (I let tired mommy finish up stuff in the front room - I got to be the mean daddy)... it was just temper. But after around 10 minutes of rubbing and talking (I firmly believe in talking to your kid from an early age) to him, explaining the importance of sleeping in his bed -- he wore himself out and slept. This morning, as mommy had lain down, I did the same - and as the boy was yelling at me (I frankly think that babies do have language skills, and most of them are vulgar!), I was rubbing him and cooing him to sleep. And after around 5 minutes this time - out like a light.

I can see why some people get angry or frustrated with kids - especially mommies (I get to say, "Oh, look dear, I need to work on a sermon... bye" - Mommy doesn't). But as I was there, consoling and exhorting my child to sleep - there was no anger. There wasn't even really frustration. I was calm, I was in control, I was able to act rationally and in the best interest of my kid (because dude, you needs to learn to be able to sleep, otherwise your life will be suxxor!).

Calm - rational - in the best interest of who you are dealing with.

That's the key I think for behavior, on deciding not just how but when to act, when to speak. Are you calm. Are you rational and thinking or given to emotional swings. And are you acting in the best interest of whom you are dealing with.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Here is why I so often get frustrated with how many theologians I know and respect handle God's Law. I remember, oh, months ago, some one had posted somewhere a comment about a pop star's latest vulgar song "Shame on you!" Simple enough, common enough phrase.

But why say it? What's the point? Is it for the musicians' benefit? No, because he ain't reading that guy's facebook page. Is it to warn off people of the vileness... well... that's not what it says. It's not, "You know, there's some strong language here, so I'd suggest avoiding it" -- it's "shame". It's not a protection of the innocent or uninformed... it's shame.

Is "shame on you" a best construction? Is it helping to improve your neighbor's reputation, or desiring what is good? Or... is it frustration and anger and disgust leading to a "pious" lashing out? And it's not even a call to repentance - it's a call to embarrassment. After all, isn't that the point of shame - if someone gets embarrassed enough maybe they'll stop doing something.

But here's the problem. When I use the Law, is the purpose of the Law simply to force behavior that I want, or is my speaking of the Law meant to serve my neighbor, even the one I am speaking against?

From a theological perspective, the Law is never simply to curb or direct behaviors -- it is to prepare for Gospel, to show ones' need for the Gospel. And if you have a speaking of the Law that has no natural and normal flow to the Gospel, what is its point?

And the problem is that when we speak the Law, when we speak something that is TRUE, but out of anger or frustration, we break it. The Law is designed to flow to the Gospel, to Mercy, to be called off at the first sign of repentance so that a brother might be restored. But when I am angry, when I frustrated, I'm not thinking about restoration or growth - I'm thinking about simply making them stop.

How are you speaking the Law? Is it from your fear and frustration, or is it from a desire to love and serve and hopefully be restored even to that dirty rotten jerk who is messing with you -- not for your benefit, but for theirs. Not so that they would stop annoying you, but so that they would abandon that self-destructive and futile path that they are on.

But, but, but we have the best of intentions, we only want what is right, we what what is best for society and the country! Two things. First - are you acting out of fear of what might happen, anger at what has? Still not good. Second, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

No love, no care for your neighbor -- then you are just a noisy gong, you are nothing, and you gain nothing.

What did you expect? For apart from Christ you are nothing, and without Him nothing good will come of our actions except ruin and destruction. Be focused upon Christ yourself, and be ready to focus your neighbor upon Him, even the worst of your neighbors, for without Him, we are all lost and come to nothing.

Our anger, our fear, the trials that cause them, they shall pass away, as will our works that are done simply to counter or react to them, but the steadfast love of the Lord endureth forever.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Law with No Benefit

(From Walther's Law and Gospel, Reader's Edition - page 11) Nor is this the difference: that only the Gospel is necessary and not the Law - as if the latter were a mere afterthought that could be done away with if necessary. No, both doctrines are equally necessary for us humans. Without the Law, we cannot understand the Gospel; and without the Gospel, the Law is of no benefit to us.

The Law is not the point - the point is the Gospel. The Law is vital, because without the knowledge of sin, the Gospel is nonsensical - what is the point of being saved if one doesn't need saving?

But note the idea that if there is no Gospel, the Law has no benefit. So what if I strive after the Law - it gives me a smoother like now. Well, if we only live for now and there is no resurrection, we of all people are the most accursed.

Everything is to serve the Gospel - and not the "Gospel" meaning now you get to do nice things, not the "Gospel" meaning my evangelical commands for holy living. Everything serves and drives to this - while you were yet a sinner, Christ Jesus died for you. Because of this, you are forgiven and you will live forever.

That's the point. Of everything. And if that isn't the point of what you are driving at... well, then you've missed the point, haven't you?

A short observation

The Law is simple but very hard to do. Love God, love your neighbor. Simple as can be, but terribly hard and difficult and we rebel against it.

Legalism tries to reverse this. It thinks that by complicating the Law, you can make it easier to do. If you define and get exact and this and that, you can just follow the "divine" checklist and that is it... and in reality legalism becomes nothing but a pious excuse to avoid love that is hard.

An few analogies about the focusing on the Law

Imagine that you are terribly, terribly sick, and that the disease is deadly. And you go to the doctor, and the doctor looks at you, sees your death coming, and he says, "Well, let me give you a cough suppressant, that way you cough less."

That's nice, I suppose. It helps a symptom but does nothing to provide a cure. And you'd still die.

If you want to know why I get so cranky when I come across people and theologians who always want to spout off about the Law, about Natural Law, about how to fix society... that's nice and all. If you are given by God the duty to care for this world and time in your vocation - go to it. Lawyers and legislators, go make good Law!

But if you are a theologian and a pastor, if you are given by God the duty of handling the Gospel, the power of God for salvation and life everlasting... why the hell in the world are you futzing around with the Law and social niceties and speaking ultimately a word of death instead of the Word of Life?

It would be like the chef at the wedding feast ignoring the preparation of the meal and instead trying to make sure that all the napkins on the table are neatly folded. Get to the Gospel! Get to Christ and Him Crucified for sinners instead of simply trying to make sinners less messy, less... sinnery.


Or is the problem really that you no longer believe that it is the Word of God that gives power and life and recreates and you think that instead you have to give your new rules to *make* people be good. Wise fool, the letter kills but the Spirit giveth life. And all your legal barns and constructions will be brought to nothing, all your works will be burnt away as the straw that it is.

Preach Christ and Him Crucified. Show the Cross and its folly which is our salvation. Give the medicine of immortality, not your moral cough drop.

Monday, November 7, 2011

How to avoid discontent (Number 9, Number 9, Number 9)

There is much discontent in society today. It seems no one is happy or pleased or content with what they have.

I have a cure.

Quit looking at what your neighbor has.

Really, it's as simple as that. Quit comparing what you have to your neighbor's stuff. You can always find someone who has more than you, you can always find someone who doesn't work as hard as you do but yet has more - and then your sinful, selfish nature will say, "It's not fair."

But here's the thing - when you look at what your neighbor has, you ignore the blessings that you yourself have. Your riches end up tasting like ashes in your mouth because of what someone else has. They aren't rich enough for you - not because they are "bad" - not because God hasn't provided for you... but because of covetousness.

Commandment number 9 - Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's house. God doesn't tell us this for no reason - worrying about what our neighbor has, wanting what he has always leads to unnecessary suffering and sadness. That's just what happens. Rather, look at what you have, ponder all the ways in which God has indeed blessed you - and you will delight in His Goodness to you.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

All Saint's Sermon

All Saints’ Observed – November 6th, 2011 – Matthew 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
This sinful world loves to pull the wool over our eyes. The world and our sinful flesh love to deceive us, to hide from us the true wonders and blessings that we have. It’s as though in our lives in this world we are always wearing mud splattered goggles, and we see merely grime and filth and not the landscape beyond. Today, in our Gospel Lesson, Christ Jesus clears our vision, speaks to what true reality is. We hear this lesson today, on All Saints’ Day, because while we struggle to understand these truths that Christ teaches us, our brothers and sisters in Christ who have gone before us now see these truths clearly before God – we feebly struggle, they in glory shine – as the hymn would put it. But let us turn away from the grime of the world and our sinful flesh and give ear to our Lord’s teaching, so that we might be strengthened and encouraged.
“Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And He opened His mouth and taught them, saying, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.’” And thus our Lord begins the Beatitudes, thus He begins what is known as the sermon on the mount. And our lesson for today, the Beatitudes, is one of contrast. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Why would we ever think that someone who is poor in spirit, someone who is downtrodden, worn out, someone who sees difficulty in this life is blessed? Because when you realize the troubles and sorrows of this world, you can then rejoice in the true gifts of God and receive them with gladness. How many people are content to wallow like pigs in this mud sty of a world? How many are content to blow off the things of God and live like animals, simple rooting after their base wants and desires. But to you who are poor in spirit, who recognize the lack of what this sinful world offers, Christ Jesus promises you the Kingdom of Heaven. For you do not realize that Christ Jesus Himself was poor in Spirit – do you not know that even as you lament this life, Christ was moved to bloody tears in the Garden? He knows what a mess this world is, and for your sake, to rescue you and give you the kingdom of heaven, He came down into this world and went to the Cross so that you might live. You are blessed, even if the world doesn’t think so.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The world doesn’t think those who mourn are blessed. In fact, the world hates the idea of mourning – let’s not have a funeral, let’s have a “celebration of life.” It’s pretty lousy to celebrate a life that you no longer get to share. And so we mourn. We don’t pretend this world is all sunshine and daisies. And we even mourn things before we die. Whenever we lose something, we mourn it. You don’t have the strength you used to – and you mourn. Opportunities are lost, friends and loved ones move away – and you mourn. But to you who mourn, Christ Jesus promises you comfort. For do you not realize that Christ Himself mourned the loss of Adam, of Eve, of this world to sin – and so He came to be your Savior, to restore you? Indeed, He promised you His Holy Spirit – and what does Jesus call the Holy Spirit? He calls Him the Comforter – because when the loss stands before you, the Holy Spirit reminds you of the promises of God, God’s promise to you that you will live, that you will be restored, that every tear will be wiped away from your eyes. You are blessed, even if the world doesn’t think so.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” The world doesn’t think the meek are blessed. In fact, the world despises the meek. The world says that if you want something, you’ve got to grab it for yourself. The world says if you want something done right, be bold and arrogant and do it yourself. The world calls for you to loudly protest and demand change with threats and accusations. But what of you, when you see your own frailty? When you realize you just don’t seem to have that strength or vigor – or more to the point, when you don’t want to have to bowl over the blow hards and the rabble rousers – when you just want to be. The world says that you will then get the short end of the sick. But to you who are meek, Christ Jesus says that you will inherit the earth. For do you not realize that Christ Himself was meek, that when He was reviled He did not revile in return, that even He prayed that the cup of suffering might be taken away? Yet the Father raised Him on the third day as the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and you who are baptized, who were meekly united to Him, you shall inherit it as well. You are blessed, even if the world doesn’t think so.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The world thinks striving after righteousness, after forgiveness and true justice is folly. The world loves revenge, but lying calls it justice. The world loves “mercy” as long as you get plenty of praised heaped upon you for showing it. But actually striving after doing what is right, actually striving after truly loving your neighbor – that’s rare. And more over, confessing your sins, admitting that you have not been as righteous as you ought – that is never done. The world hates confessing its sin – in the world it’s never my fault, or what I do isn’t really that bad, or if it is, let the cover ups begin. But you know that all this palaver by the world is false – for you struggle to do what is right, and you see your on sin and you long for it to be forgiven. This can be painful and harsh, but to you who hunger and thirst for righteousness, Christ Jesus says that you will be satisfied. He is your righteousness. Whereas you might lack, Christ by no means lacks for righteousness. He hungered for it, strove to do it, and He did – and He gives His righteousness to you, declares you to be righteous for His sake. He takes up your sin and gives you His holiness in its place. He declares you to be His temple, He gives you new life, He makes you His workmanship so that you do bear good fruit. We do not see this perfectly yet, but it is the truth. You are blessed, even if the world doesn’t think so.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Mercy is looked down upon in the world. Even as it is touted loudly – it’s not really praised. If you show mercy to a person in need, you’re a mark, a sucker. If you show mercy in a business deal, well, that’s no way to get ahead. If you show mercy to a friend, well, you’re just a doormat who is going to get walked all over. The world says that you need to be hard and cold to survive and mocks true mercy and compassion that simply gives. But you know the importance of mercy, for you know that you yourself need mercy. You know your own lack, indeed even your own lack of mercy, and so your neighbor’s lack brings forth sympathy. You who desire mercy to rule the day, Christ Jesus says that it shall, and you shall receive it in full. Or do you not know that Christ Jesus desires mercy? Through the Psalmist He declares that He desires mercy and not merely sacrifice. His desire for mercy was what drove Christ to become Man, to win salvation – His desire is to shower mercy upon you, and so He does. Free grace and mercy is yours from Him. You are blessed as you strive for mercy, even if the world doesn’t think so.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The world disdains purity. It’s true. The world loves filth and whatever coarse pleasures it can get its dirty little fingers on. But what of you? It seems as we move on that these beatitudes apply less and less to us. Yes, I am battered and poor in spirit. Yes I mourn! Um… I suppose I’m meek. Um… I guess I hunger and thirst for righteousness. I’m sort of merciful… sometimes. Now pure in heart – what about it? There is a movement here, and shift in the beatitudes, where we see not just what the world does to us, but our own sinful nature slide more and more to the foreground. How often are we pure in heart? I find that my motives are almost always mixed, that I am at war with myself, the good that I wish to do I don’t do, the wicked that I do not want to do is what I end up doing. Pure in heart? Not overly. Which is why we cry out with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew right spirit within me.” Why? So that God does not cast us from His presence – so that we may see God. Do you not realize that while you are not pure in heart, Christ Jesus creates in you a clean heart, by the power of His Word He forgives you and makes your heart to be pure? This is His great promise to you, this is the direction in which your faith and life grow. And this, this can be so hard to see, for our sinful flesh is so strong. But because Christ Jesus is your Lord, He will continue to purify your heart, and He will bring you unto Himself, and so you are blessed, even if the world and your own flesh tell you that you aren’t.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Oh, how often we don’t make peace! How often we want to mix it up, bring vengeance on those who wrong us, how often we let ourselves be shaped by our anger! But Christ Jesus is a peacemaker – He says “Peace be with you” – He breaks into your life and declares His forgiveness to you – He washes you in the waters of holy baptism and says, “You are forgiven, you are a child of God, and I will work in you and through you and I will make you to be a peacemaker – I will make you to be one who speaks my word of Forgiveness.” And so often we do not see this in our own lives – so often we do not strive to make peace – and so Christ Jesus says to us again, “Peace be with you, I forgive you”. He fills us with His forgiveness so it cannot help but overflow out of us and onto our neighbors. And you are blessed, because Christ Jesus in the One who makes peace with you, and His Word beats down your sinful flesh, and He makes you to be His own peacemaker, for you are His brother, His sister, you are a baptized child of God, and by His Word He shapes you into a new creation – even as we struggle to see this. You are blessed, even though the world and your flesh tell you otherwise.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Christ Jesus has an impact upon your life – He comes in, He breaks through your sinful exterior, with His law He crushes your sin, and with His forgiveness He makes you to be His new creation. You’re not totally perfect yet – but even the beginnings of this new, good work He has begun in you will not be tolerated by the world. Indeed, our Lord tells you plainly that the world which hates Him will hate you now. You will be persecuted because you strive after righteousness, because you listen to the Word of God. People will do anything in their power to hurt and harm you, to sully your reputation, for they hate the God who has redeemed you, they despise the God who has forgiven and restored you, and they revile the love of God that God shows through you. This is the final, the last ditch effort the world makes to blind you to Christ, and your old sinful flesh, as it is being drowned and destroyed by Christ will call out to you to listen to the world, to give up, to abandon Christ. Ignore this temptation – and see this all for what it real is. You belong to Christ, and because of Him your reward is great. The world can bray like a donkey, your flesh can throw its tantrums, but these do not change the truth – you look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. You look to the time when all of God’s saints from every age and every place will be gathered around the throne with joy everlasting. And this is yours, for Christ has given it to you, even gives it to you today in His Word of forgiveness and in His Supper. Cling to Him, cling to His Word of life that gives you life now, that gives you the life everlasting. You are one of His saints, for you have been redeemed by Christ the Crucified, and your Risen Lord and Savior has promised you His own life as well, and the world cannot change that fact. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Does the Fix Come First?

So often the temptation within Christendom is to preach the Law as an attempt to fix things - to bring about new laws and rules which will makes things better -- that new rules will bring about a reform.

Sasse brings this out nicely on his history of the reformation. Every human reformation rests upon laws trying to fix things, laws trying to make things work. But that was not the Reformation - nor is it how the Gospel works.

Consider Luke 19 and Zacchaeus. Does Jesus walk up to Zacchaeus and say, "Now here's how it is going to be - give half of your goods to the poor, and pay back 4 times anyone you have defrauded... and then we can get to the good stuff?" No - Christ gives Himself to Zacchaeus... and in spontaneous response, he produces all sorts of works of love and contrition... not by force, not by the design of some moral dictator, but out of who Zacchaeus is as a redeemed and forgiven child of God.

Same thing holds true today, guys. When people see forgiveness and delight in it, they will show love. And their works will flow, not from your law or your wise planning, but from a free and joyous spirit. The fix always follows the Gospel... if only we would trust God's Word more than our own wisdom!

Snake Hunting with Pastor Weedon

Pastor Weedon has an excellent blog post about faith and repentance and Christian living. As a Christian, you are a snake hunter.

Of course, why do you need this link. Aren't you reading Weedon's blog anyway?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The True and False Comparisons of Time

Our life on earth is brief. This becomes obvious to anyone who thinks about it. Our time is short. So, what do we make of this fact?

It's interesting to see how people end up playing with the concept of time. For the Scientist, time becomes an idol, the false creator god. If you deny that God is involved in creation you must substitute billions and billions of years.

Medieval Rome did the same thing - but with Purgatory. So you want to have wickedness now - well, we know you can't work it off now... so we'll give you thousands, millions of years to work it off in purgatory. The mammoth nature of time once again used to replace the action of God - this time the justifying power of His Word.

There is a way in which we can think about time being brief here - considering the following from Luther: "It is certainly true that every Christian who wants to confess the Word by preaching it or by giving an account of it in court is in a very bad way on this earth. He is uncertain every hour and is in danger of being driven from his property, wife, and child while other folks are plentifully supplied and live in luxury and ease. But if we include in this view what is reserved for us and what we are there [in the world to come] to obtain, we ought certainly be very happy about the situation and far rather pity the poor, miserable world. For what difference does it make that people now step on us, intensely annoy and harm us? After all, we cannot be the losers. But if we do lose, we lose this mortal body. This, however, is losing no more than husks. Meanwhile the treasure remains ours; we shall plentifully receive again what we leave here, and much more besides, eternal, divine possessions."

I don't know - I just find it interesting. For some, the enormity of time serves as a way of trying to work around God, to replace Him. But for the faithful who simply trust in God and His salvation, the fact that our time here is brief is, well, not so bad. We've got plenty to look forward to, and it isn't bad.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The folly of the sinful nature

My son Victor is a bit of a night owl. Me bride and I are working on changing that, so that means keeping him awake and playing with him during the day so that he sleeps better at night. And you know, it sort of worked yesterday.

Sort of. Okay - it worked wonderfully, but it's just the first day and a new habit isn't formed in a day. But of note was what happened at 4:15 this morning, when Victor the Stubborn bug decided HE wanted to be awake, even after daddy had laid him down in his bassinet.

So, what did the boy do? He cried - loudly. And after around 3 or 4 minutes of letting him cry, daddy came and picked him up... and the boy fell right asleep. Why? Well, he had worn himself out crying. That defiant cry ended up turning around on him. That cry demanding that he get to stay awake became the very cause of him falling asleep so much more quickly than if he had just simply played in his bassinet.

Thus the folly of the sinful nature.

Think of times where you give into sin and temptation - do they not rebound upon you?

You lash out because you are frustrated by things in life... and all you do is tick off people who frustrate your life more.

You want to go and forget things... and then you have a headache to remember as well.

You want to live fun and care free... and your care free fun drops a bigger burden upon you (fines, a kid, hurt relationships, etc.).

My son Victor may someday gain the wisdom to learn that it is easier to do what his father wishes, to enjoy the freedom that dad wants (because actually, if he's quiet in his crib and let's his mommy sleep, dad would be content). But maybe not.

Of course, how long does it take us to learn that it is to our own benefit and good to beat down our sinful nature, to fight against temptations with all our might? Beat down temptation - beat it down.