Sunday, February 20, 2011

Septuagesima Sunday

(as I am feverish this morning, I may stray from this more than normal - I hope not, but I may)

Septuagesima Sunday – Feb 20th, 2011 – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We are now entering on the old season of Pre-lent, the 3 Gesima Sundays, if you dig the Latin. And these three Sundays have a specific role and job in the Church Year. Now, Epiphany itself is the season where Jesus is revealed to be true God and true Man. That’s why we’ve had readings like the Wise men and the star, or healings, or even the highest one, the Transfiguration. On March 9th, Lent begins – Ash Wednesday. And what we see in Lent is Christ Jesus taking the battle to Satan, we will see Him tempted, we’ll see Him cast out demons and even raise the dead, all culminating in Good Friday, where our Lord battles Satan upon the Cross. But what this Sunday and the next two Sundays do is they take a little pause from focusing on the action of Christ, things that He does – and instead, we hear a bit of teaching from our Lord. Why? What we are going to see and learn in these next three weeks are things that we need to bear in mind when we enter Lent, things that we need to understand so that can begin our observance of Lent in humility and wonder.

Our first lesson leading us toward Lent this week is the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. So, let us consider it. “For the Kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.” In the ancient world, if you didn’t have a fixed, set job, and you wanted to work, you’d go hang out in the town square and if someone needed something done, you’d go work for them. These are day laborers, the folks who are sort of on the bottom rung of the economy. But, a denarius a day is a good, solid wage, so a bunch go. Good deal. “And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace and then he said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’” So at the third hour, we’d call it 9 o’clock, the master sees more people who need work, so he says, head on out, and I’ll pay you what is right. More of you, go on, get to work. “Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.” At Noon, at three in the afternoon, still he gathers more people and sends them out into the field. “And about the 11th hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired them.’” Now let’s pause here – I want you to a moment consider the hopelessness that these workers would have had. If you don’t work, you don’t make any money, and if you make no money, you don’t eat. This isn’t people just being lazy and defiant, these workers would be burdened, depressed, broken – just sort of consigned to going to be hungry tonight. Why? Because they have not been hired, no one has called them to work. Until now. “He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’” Finally, they get a bit of work, maybe they might get enough to get a crust of bread.

So, we have a bunch of workers, some who have worked 12 hours, some who have worked only 9 or 6 or 3, or some only even 1 hour. “And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages beginning with the last, up to the first.’ And when those hired about the 11th hour came, each of them received a denarius.” Now, bear in mind, this would have been shocking. A denarius was a full day’s wages for the middle class – it would be like paying someone who worked for an hour in your fields $120, $150. It’s not just generous, it’s a stupidly high wage for a mere hour of work. “Now, when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These have worked only one hour and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’” Now there are some unhappy campers. When they get paid their denarius, their solid day’s wage, suddenly the workers hired first aren’t content, aren’t happy. They see what others got, and they think they deserve more. And they tell the master this, to his face, which is kind of brazen.

“But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’” And the master speaks the simple truth – this is what you knew you were going to get – this is what I told you would happen, and it is. Why shouldn’t I be generous – I was generous to you in agreeing to pull you off the street and pay you a solid day’s wages for your work – why if I want to be generous to another as well do you complain? And our Lord concludes the parable saying, “So the last will be first, and the first last.”

So then, what do we learn from this parable? Let’s consider a few things. In this parable, we are the laborers. We are those in the field. This corresponds to us as Christians living out our lives in God’s Kingdom, waiting for the close of days when we obtain life everlasting. A few things to note. First, while all these laborers start working at different times, they have one thing in common. If it weren’t for the master calling them, saying, “Come, I will give you work” – they would have had nothing and would have been left cold and hungry and alone. Right off the bat, we need to learn to ignore our own works, how wonderful or good they are. That is never, never the point. Nothing is said in this parable about whether or not any of these folks are good workers, or hard workers. The center of this parable isn’t the laborers’ work, but the fact that hey have been called to work by the master. Likewise, we as Christians are not defined by the work that we do – rather what defines us, what shapes us is that we have been called by Christ Jesus into His kingdom. He has called us, He has worked forgiveness in us, He has given us righteous and strength to show forth His love in the world. This is an important reminder for us as we approach Lent – because Lent is the season where we see Jesus doing the real work, where we see Jesus winning us our salvation. In Lent, we see Christ Jesus go about winning the forgiveness and righteousness that He gives to us in the Church – and when we consider that forgiveness, that righteousness, we can’t look at it thinking we earn, that we deserve. If we think we earn God’s mercy, we will just be arrogant and thankless. No, we receive this mercy and forgiveness simply because God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.

And another point to remember is that while God has called all of us, He didn’t call us all at the same time. Some of us have been Christians all our lives. Some of us converted later in life. Some of us were raised in the Church and then wandered away, being called back again at the end. The danger that we have is as human beings we like to rank, to value, to say, “I’m better than her, but she’s better than him”. We like to establish pecking orders. Again, that’s not the point in the Church. When we do such things, when we try to rank ourselves, we end up looking at ourselves – I’m better than him, I’ve done more that her, so on and so forth. The point isn’t us and what we’ve done, the point is Christ Jesus and His salvation for us. Whoever we are, whatever our story of how we were brought into the Church, what stands out isn’t us, but rather how God in His great love and compassion brought us to faith by the power of His Word. What stands out is how even though we are undeserving, how we are poor, miserable sinners, God still makes us to know His forgiveness. This is what needs to shape us and our approach – not who is better, whose done this longer, who knows more, who is more holy. It’s not about us, it’s about Christ Jesus, who by His death and resurrection restores us to eternal life.

Because when it all boils down to it, it is all about God’s love and generosity and mercy to us. We are all sinners, and I don’t mean we are okay people who just sin a bit, I don’t mean we’re pretty good people with just a few smudges or scuffs to clean up. Thinking like that only leads to pride and arrogance and great sin. No, we are all truly sinners, all lowly, all the last, and yet, we are made to be the first by God, we are called up out of sin and death, brought into His kingdom. We are called away from the despair and loneliness and hopelessness of the world, called away from the vain and bitter struggles for power and respect that shape everything in the world, and we are instead brought to God’s House where we are given everything by God, life, salvation, forgiveness, victory over death, encouragement, hope. And here’s the neat twist – why do we, we who are last and lowly receive such things? Because Christ Jesus, the highest, the most holy One, because He comes down, lowers Himself, takes our place, He suffers for us, He is crucified for us. He becomes the last and lowest so that we might be raised up. And this is what we will see this Lent – our Lord going forth and winning those blessings that He gives to us all here in His Church. We will hear Him cry “It is finished” so that we might receive the wages of life everlasting. We will see blood and water flow from his pierced side, so we might be cleansed by the waters of Holy Baptism and receive forgiveness from that same blood in His Supper. Our life, our hope rests not out our works, how long, how hard we have done stuff. Rather, Christ Jesus alone is our life and our reward – to Him be all praise and glory and honor. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Covering and Downplaying of Wickedness

When people sin, when they are vile, when they do that which is reprehensible, how do you respond?

I ask, because one of the downsides of our internet culture is that we will instaneously want to lash and beat and strike back those who harm us in doing wrong. We will justify this by saying that public sin requires a public rebuke.

Does it?

Consider tomorrow's Gospel, the workers in the vineyard from Matthew 20.

And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12saying, 'These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and(D) the scorching heat.'

This is public. This is direct. This is immediate. And it is vile - it is an utterly sinful allegation.

So what does the Master do? Does he smack down the sinners? Does he go quickly and warn the other vineyard owners against hiring these rapscallions? No.

But he replied to one of them,(E) 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14Take(F) what belongs to you and go.

Just gentle correction. No attempt to shame. No attempt to lessen their reputation.

And that gets to the heart of the matter - even if someone is wrong, publicly wrong, we are still called upon to defend their reputation. We are called to cover their shame, not invite others to see it, not to draw attention to it. We do not need to vilify those who are wrong....

But it seems like we certainly like to.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Luther Quote

Note this fun quote from a sermon in 1534:

Those who hold that God is not willing to favor everybody with salvation become either desperate or secure, godless people who spend their lives as cattle and think: “After all, it is already decreed whether I am to be saved or not. Why, then, should I be inclined to take great pains in this matter?” No, this is not the way to think. You have the command to hear God’s Word and to believe that Christ is your Savior and has paid for your sin. See to it that you carry out this command. If you find yourself unbelieving or weak, pray God for His Holy Spirit, and do not doubt that Christ is your Savior and that you are to be saved through Him if you believe in Him, that is, comfort yourself with Him. Our dear Lord Jesus grant this to us all. Amen

Even before you get Calvin going on in full about limited atonement, even before you have the once-saved, always saved idea that so permeates America, you have Luther predicting the American complacency that we have today - the carnage left upon our Calvinist background. Neat stuff.

Monday, February 14, 2011

"TA" and the Church

So I am over on Facebook, and an ad pops up on the side - there's a thumbnail of a picture that is black with lots of grey writing that is too small to read on the thumbnail, around 40% of the picture is taken up by a striking pale gal with short, hip red hair.

And the ad top reads: "Grow Your Church with TA!"

TA there apparently means "Truth Advertising"


I don't know, if you are going to show a picture of a "hot" girl, I'm not thinking "TA" is supposed to refer to Truth Advertising.

Now, I could go off onto a standard (for me) rant about how the Word of God grows the Church, not our slick presentation of it. Or about the hyper-sexaulization of America.

No, instead, let's rant a bit about advertising itself. Think about it - we are bombarded with hundreds, thousands of adverts every day. And what is the main goal of any ad? To make you... want. To make you desire.

That chili's ad? It's meant to make you want food. Anyone on a diet can tell you that.

That ad with the sexy model - well, it's trying to tie your lust into their product... ah, so if I buy a Budwieser or a Lexus, I'll get the hottie.

That ad for the new toy - well, now your kid can't live without it and will be a screaming, horrible demon child until it's passions are fulfilled.

Now yes, I know, some ads can simply inform. We've got as a circuit radio ads going... they are nice and shocking... they talk about how we are all sinners. (Shocking ads can work too). But to be honest -- most advertising isn't about informing, it's about shaping and driving and manipulating sinful desire.

Is that what the Church is about? Well, we don't really want to shape desire - we want to beat it down. We want to learn to repent of it, learn to not be ruled by our passions, learn to see more and more Christ Jesus our Lord and His forgiveness.

Is your slick presentation, is your worldly approach doing that -- or are you giving a little TA with a bit of Jesus tossed in there?

In the world, not of the world people. And it's stuff like this that Jesus is referring to here.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration Sunday – February 13th, 2011

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
We can be so busy. It seems as though we always have something to do, somewhere to go, full calendars, schedules packed. And snow days don’t make that any easier – it just means more intense work when things get cleared off. In fact, it seems as though work dominates our life, our identity. When you meet someone, you generally get asked, “So, what do you do?” We define ourselves by action. Now, this isn’t a completely bad thing – work is good, being productive is good. As Christians we are called to show love to our neighbor, and that means doing things for our neighbor. We have been given the various vocations in our life by God – so indeed, going and working is a good thing… but what we must remember is that it is not the only thing, or even the most important thing. Our life, our existence, when it boils down to it, isn’t defined by our work, by what we do. We are defined by Christ Jesus, by the fact that we have been Baptized into His Name and redeemed by His Blood. What truly shapes you and me is the fact that we are those who have received salvation from Christ through the gift of faith which He gave and worked in us through His Word.

We can forget this. And when I say “we”, I’m not talking about the crass person who just stops going to church, who even basically stops believing. No, I am referring to us here today – we who would be diligent and sincere Christians, who would be faithful – we can let our desire for busyness overshadow the simple reception of God’s gifts that truly shapes and defines our faith. We get an example of this trap in our Gospel lesson. “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.” This is what we call the transfiguration – where the figure, the appearance of Christ Jesus is transformed – where the Light of the World begins to shine forth with His own light. What this is, dear friends, is a picture of the life of the world to come. What are things going to be like for eternity? Well, Christ Jesus, shining forth perfection from His own Body, and the people of God gathered around Him and His Word. We see a picture of salvation, of eternal life – this is Jesus revealing Himself as God almighty, perfect and holy – the Savior whom Moses and Elijah and all the patriarchs and prophets foretold, the God whom they worship. Really awesome and profound stuff.

And Peter understands that this is a wondrous thing – “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Great observation – it is good, it is a wondrous thing – to see the glory of the Lord be revealed – this is what every pious Jew in the world had been waiting to see. Peter’s words here even inspire hymns – Tis good Lord to be here – great hymn! But, there is a problem. Peter doesn’t just stop there, Peter isn’t content simply to be there, to behold Christ in His glory, to listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah chatting back and forth. Nope, like so many of us, Peter starts worrying about getting to work. “If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter doesn’t want to just sit and listen, Peter wants to get to work. And what Peter suggests is very reasonable – they were around Sukkoth – the festival of booths where the Children of Israel would basically go camp out in order to remember their time in the wilderness – so Peter asks a very reasonable thing – shall I fix up a couple of tents so Moses and Elijah can observe this festival with us? There’s only one problem – by offering to work, by wanting to snap to it and get to work, what would Peter miss? Oh, yeah Jesus, You are shining forth in glory, and Moses and Elijah are there with you… um, how about I go over there and pitch a few tents. Jesus, Moses, Elijah… oh, I’ll go get some work done. When Christ Jesus is talking, when Moses and the Prophets are there speaking to and about Christ, that’s not the time to go get the chores done!

But the point here is not that Peter is lousy, but we are so much better. We’re just as bad. Here we are, gathered together in Zion, gathered around the Word of God, we heard from Exodus, written by Moses, we hear the Spirit Inspired words of Peter recorded for us in His epistle, we hear the Gospel of Christ Jesus – yet I’m willing to bet that every one of us has had our thoughts drift off onto worrying about getting something or other done. And this isn’t Pastor Brown picking on you either, I’ll catch myself at least a dozen times a service worrying about what comes next, do I have this or that set up. We can get so focused on doing stuff that simply coming here, being here, simply hearing the Word of God can be so hard for us. Americans are a hyper-active people, we value hard work, that is what we train ourselves to do… and sadly, we don’t really train ourselves to be simple hearers of the Word, not as much.

Well, Peter doesn’t get to build his tents. “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’” The Father cuts Peter off. It’s not about putting up a tent, Peter. It’s not about what you are going to do for Jesus – it’s about Jesus and what He does for you. Jesus is the One who pleases the Father by living the perfect life, by going to the Cross, by wining salvation for all mankind. Likewise, dear friends, whenever we want the focus in Church to shift on to what we do, how wonderful we are – we need to pause and listen to Christ, listen to His Word, hear what He has to say to us.

Now, hearing the voice of the Father utter freaks out the disciples. “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” And you would be too. Why? Because as much as we like to hide behind our works, as much as we like to tell ourselves that we are good people and focus on all the nice things we do… not all of our works are good. In fact, when it boils down to it, none of them are, not really. All tainted with sin. We are sinners through and through, and everything, even the nicest, most wonderful thing you’ve ever done – tainted with sin. Not one of us is perfect, not one of us is righteous – Peter, James, and John know that. And there is the voice of the Father, there is the presence of God Almighty – and sinners in the presence of God die. Get blotted out. Bad things. And so they hit the deck – and you know what, if the voice of the Father suddenly started echoing out in here, we all would be hitting the deck too. Sinners do not stand brashly in the presence of God almighty.

We do not stand, but there is One who stands for us. “But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’” Beautiful, absolutely beautiful and profound. Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the One whom pleases the Father comes to you, and He touches you, He joins Himself to you in the Waters of Baptism, gives Himself to You in His Holy Supper and says to you, “Rise, have no fear.” This is forgiveness talk. This is last day, the trumpet of God sounding forth and the Lord calling us forth from our graves saying, “Rise, have no fear” sort of talk. Of our own strength, we cannot stand before the Father… and so the Father says listen to Jesus. And what does Jesus say, what do we hear our Lord proclaim to us – the same thing we always hear from Him whenever we stop running around like chickens with our heads cut off, worried about getting this or that done. We hear Christ say, “You are forgiven. I have done it all for you, I have even faced down death, and I have risen. Now, you too rise, you too live, you too have life everlasting that the world and death and sin cannot take away from you.”

“And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The Christian life isn’t defined by what you do, by what you give. Do you do things – well, sure, of course, Christ Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, we’re gonna end up bearing good fruit. When its time to work, let us strive to work well. But that’s not the heart, that’s not the center, that’s not what defines you as a Christian. Rather this – Christ Jesus comes to you through His Word, physically touches you in Baptism, in His Supper, calls you away from sin, away from vain delight in your own action, and fixes your eyes upon Himself, so that you might pause, that you might be still and know the Lord, Christ Jesus; that you might know and see that because of Him your sin is forgiven, that because of Him Hell and death are overthrown and have no more hold upon you, that because of Him and His righteousness you are rescued from Satan. This is what He does to you in your life through His Word, this is what He makes you to see and understand and remember once again whenever He pulls you away from the troubles and burdens and busyness of the world here in His Church. And here He always speaks to you, for you are His beloved for whom He died and rose again – Your sin is forgiven, rise and have no fear. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Who's the Hero?

So, I want you to think about your faith, what you believe, how you approach Christianity - and then answer one simple question. Who's the hero?

Now, don't just say "Jesus" because you know it *should* be the right answer (it is the right answer, by the by). But examine yourself. Think about what you focus on when you talk, when you meditate and pray, when you think about your life, your worship. Who is the hero there - who is the one who is the center, the one doing stuff, the one doing the rescuing?

Is it Jesus... or when it boils down to it, have you been treating yourself as the hero of your faith. Has your faith be more and more about your works? Has worship been about making you feel some emotion you want? Have your works been a matter of you needing to demonstrate your righteousness?

The Christian faith is not this. The Christian faith is about Christ and His work of winning salvation for you. Worship is centered in Christ giving you this Salvation through His Word, through His sacraments. Even the works that arise in your life - you are just a vine, He is the righteous Branch who gives you life and makes you to bear fruit so that what you do isn't about you - it's simply Christ's own love flowing through you to a neighbor who needs that love.

We know Jesus should be the hero - the problem is that we can assume that He is in our theology, but then run off and start elevating ourselves.

Jesus is the hero - and anything that would have you think otherwise is of Satan and your sinful flesh. Forget those things, and rather, come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith - the true hero and center of all things.

A short Fisk

Okay - if you aren't making watching Fisk's videos every Tuesday and Friday as part of your routine... just do it.

This is one he did yesterday - an addendum.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Blizzard Post

I know I haven't posted much lately (I did make this blog post over at 4 and 20 Blackbirds because. . . well, it's been snowy and things have been slow.

But let me tell you what I've been pondering. Activity and Passivity. I'm not going to write too much because a lot of these ideas are going to come out in this Sunday's sermons. We can want to be so active - we can want to define who we are by what we do.

That's fine for life in the world - that's fine when it comes to our loving our neighbor.

But when dealing with God, we are to be passive - we are to be still. We aren't to be the doers - we are to be those who hear what Christ has done. We aren't to be the talkers, we are to hear the Words of Christ. We aren't to do do do, we receive our Lord's Body and Blood because He has done it all.

So, if you too are snowed in, and you see the piles of things that could be done... relax. Read a bit of Scripture - listen to the Word of God. Relax, be refreshed by Christ, and delight in Him.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Epiphany 5 Sermon

(Or... the "not-recyclable until 2038 sermon)

Epiphany 5 – February 6th, 2011 – Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Epiphany is the season of Light – the season where we focus on and marvel at the fact that God loved poor, miserable sinners such as us, and so He came down Himself, became Man, in order to win us salvation with His death upon the Cross. When Christ comes to earth, He comes to shed His blood and die so that we who are condemned to death by reason of our sin might be forgiven; He comes to rise again on the third day in order to burst open the doors of death so that we too will rise. And all through Epiphany we’ve seen how this is something that Christ does for all men – that Jesus is indeed the Light to Lighten the Gentiles. The Wise Men – Jesus came for them. The poor and lame, even the Lepers. Jesus came for them. The Centurion and others who are hated, Jesus came for them. Even those of little faith, the weak, those who find the Christian life to be a struggle, Jesus came for them. Or in other words, He came for us. This is the wonder and joy that we see in the Church – that we are gathered here together and that in this Church our sins are richly and daily forgiven.

But it seems to us that there still is a problem. Evil remains in the world. Listen to our parable for today. “The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.” So, here’s the situation – what do you when what you thought was wheat turns out to be a weed instead? And the way this works is that when they were young, the weeds looked a lot like wheat, but it was only in their ripening that you could tell the difference. Now, our Lord tells us what is going on – “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. This field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” I think this is an apt description of the world – you’ve got some wheat, and you’ve got some weeds. You’ve got those who are focused upon Christ – the children of the kingdom – those who are baptized and live out their baptismal lives, by daily repentance struggling against sin and seeking Christ’s forgiveness – and then you’ve got the weeds… who don’t. Who brush off the idea of repentance, who don’t care a whit about forgiveness.

People who care nothing for Christ and His Church often cause us great pain and sorrow. I have been keeping the Christians in Egypt in my prayers, because with that turmoil in that country, who knows how things will go for them – it seems the weeds are growing up around them ever stronger. Or even closer to home, there are those who reject Christ or ignore Him or even hate Jesus, and as such they can reject us, or ignore us, or even hate us. And the bitter, bitter irony of this is that Christ Jesus came for all – we know that Jesus came and died for the sins of the whole world – their sin too – those people who are the fiercest and most bitter opponents, the most hateful and hurtful people we know, Christ died for them too. And yet, they reject, deny, and ignore. That is sad. And then, often, they cause troubles for us, annoyances for us – and then suddenly we don’t just feel sorrow – we can want to do something about them… and what sort of things?

When the servants see the wheat in the field, and the master tells them that an enemy has sowed them there, the servants ask a question. “Then do you want us to go out and gather them?” Sounds sort of nice – gather. Let’s be a bit more colorful – do you want us to rip them out of the ground, bundle them up, and burn them. That’s what they would be gathered for – indeed, on the day of harvest, that is what will happen. But do you see the approach, the servants are eager to dive into the field and start ripping and pulling and tearing, all in order to “fix” things. This, likewise, can be the way we are tempted to respond as well. When we see wickedness, when we see people who anger and annoy us, our first response can be to want to reap vengeance, to dive on in, both fist swinging, and pummel the tar out of those evil people. Our first thoughts can be on trying to make sure that the wicked get what they have coming to them. We can want to be destroyers.

But the master stops his servants, doesn’t let them go traipsing through the fields to go on their weed hunt. Why? “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.” The master is worried about what today gets called “collateral damage.” Sure, you might get the weeds, but how many plants of wheat will you dislodge, displace, hurt, and even destroy in the process? What are the unintended consequences of your actions? Who else will it hurt? And this, dear friends, is what we ourselves need to remember whenever we want vengeance, whenever we want to “take it to” someone, whenever we want to be the instrument of punishment. This always ends up hurting extra people - especially when they see you, a Christian, rampaging through the field like the proverbial bull in a china shop. In our zeal to fix, to punish, we can often bruise and batter people we didn’t intend to. And why? Because in seeking revenge, we stop focusing on our neighbors and stop focusing on showing them love, but rather we seek revenge, and don’t see the other damage we are doing.

This isn’t to say that the wicked get off scot free. Hardly. “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Gathered to be burned – but just not by you. Not your job. Our Lord explains that on the last day, that’s when things will get sorted – not until then. And this really drives home a point that we need to remember. Even with all the times where our Lord gives warnings of the end, of how the wicked will be thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – that’s not His focus. That’s not why Jesus comes, at least not primarily. The reason He comes is to rescue people from sin, to save them from everlasting torment. The reason He warns us of the fires of the last day isn’t so that we can look up at the sky and say, “I hope Jesus comes today so so-and-so will finally get it.” He teaches this so that people might understand the consequences of evil, repent of it, and receive life. In other words, Jesus is much more interested in mercy.

So now I will call upon you to examine yourself. Are your thoughts more thoughts of mercy or thoughts of vengeance? Are your thoughts more towards delighting in the wonders of forgiveness that Christ has won for all, that all people should benefit from, or our your thoughts more focused on how someone else did you wrong? When you see your neighbor, do you see someone for whom Christ Jesus has died, or do you see someone who is an annoyance, making your life more difficult? Do you love your enemies and desire mercy for them, or do you hate them back and desire their destruction? It’s easy to view people as difficulties, as burdens – because to be honest, sometimes they are. But that’s not all they are – they are people for whom Christ Jesus died, they are people put into our lives so that they might receive from us love and mercy.

In this, we fail. I don’t see any way around it, I don’t see how I can claim anything else. I doubt any one of us would have to think too hard to come up with times when, even quite recently, we’ve been angry, annoyed, put out, and as a result have let that anger, and maybe even a desire for vengeance, come to the fore and overshadow love and patience and mercy. And so this text today calls us to repentance – warns us of our sinful desires for vengeance, calls us to the carpet for the sin of neglecting to show mercy and love.

But why does our Lord give us this parable? Not because He hates us, not because He wants to hurry up and get to His vengeance against us – but because He is God Almighty who has come to earth to win forgiveness for precisely this sin and all other sins which swirl around us. He calls us to His House, His table, not in order to condemn us, but in order to forgive us and give us life in His name. Hear the last verse, the closing word of this parable – “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let Him hear.” Forgiveness and restoration is Christ’s goal, Christ’s focus – and He doesn’t want your eyes to be taken off of this – He doesn’t want you to waste your time worrying about punishment and condemnation – He will see to that sad duty when it is needed; but that is not for you and I. Jesus has something better for us – we are children of the Kingdom, washed clean of our sin by the gift of Baptism, and we are being prepared for the everlasting Kingdom where we will shine forth in holiness and righteousness. This is what Christ’s mercy brings about in you and me – and so, let us continue to turn away from sin and give thanks to God that He continually shows us and gives us His mercy through His almighty and life giving Word, and let us pray that His mercy shape us ever more into agents of love and mercy, even until the last day when we will do so perfectly. In the Name…

For Some Super Reading...

Thomas Lemke gives an excellent overview of why textual variants are a lovely thing. Well worth your reading.

Oh, and if you have to deal with ranging Unitarians, his site is wonderful.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The main "Function" of the church

A friend of mine asked on his facebook what the main "function" of the Church was. Here is my response.

The main function? Why is everything about "function" - about action, about doing? Such an active question, such a post-industrialization question.

The Church hears. The Church receives blessings from her Lord. Asking what her main func...tion is ends up being akin to asking what the main function of a child being hugged in a warm embrace by her father is.

Let me expand upon this.

So often, in our American, Brandeisized culture, we are focused on our activity, making it ever more efficient and productive - do do do do do do do. That's how we think, that's how we view not only problems but even blessings and benefits. I've received a blessing - now I better go do something with it.



Why do we think that everything revolves around our activity - or to make it more Lutheran, Christ acting in and through us? Why does everything boil down to us being the actor, the one being used to act? It's true, it often happens that way -- but that isn't a "me" thing... that's a God thing.

Moreover - I'm not defined by what I do. The Church is not defined by what she does, what her function is. She is defined by what Christ has done for her - what she simply receives. Likewise, we are defined by what we have received from Christ -- we are the baptized.

Quit trying to do everything. Relax. Receive the gifts that comes from what God has done. Yes, we are active-- but we also receive.

In fact, I'd say our main "function", if you can even use that language, the main thing that defines us as the Church, as Christians, is that we receive. Let's quit turning our receiving of God's gifts into action.

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This stands out to me all the more because I am a pastor. I miss simply being able to receive. My call makes me active so others can receive. I rarely get to hear a sermon - I preach it. I rare simply receive the Supper - I administer it. I have been thrown into an active role.

To be honest, that is what I have come to crave most about vacations and time off -- those Sundays when I simply can go and hear a sermon, when I can simply receive the Lord's Body and Blood, and all the other concerns fall away.

This is not to say that I would stop being a pastor -- I have been called to preach and administer the sacraments... I know this - I couldn't stop for too long yet... I'd get cranky. But when I get vacation, that contrast stands out strongly, and I appreciate it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Left Behind" Folks - see, you got it backwards!

More Scripture showing that the left behind crowd and rapture lookers got it backwards.

Matthew 13:30 - the parable of the weeds in the field, speaking to the weeds (the sons of the evil one) amidst the wheat (the children of the Kingdom). They are all left together... well, let's look at Scripture.

"Let them both grow together until the harvest, and at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, 'Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burn, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

So, let's see - what happens first - ah, yes, the wicked are seized and thrown into the fires - and then the Church, which remains, parties. No secret midnight harvest to pull the wheat out. No massive huge steps or things like that.

Matthew is quite consistent on this point - the wicked get taken away first... because that's how it works. When you come upon a bank robber, the cops don't bust in, leave the robber there, pull everyone else out and then say, "Oh robber, you're going to get it now." They go in, arrest, drag him out - and then the rejoicing.

Now, this is by no means the point of this text in Matthew -- but sheesh guys, instead of reading fiction or trying to turn grasshoppers into helicopters. . . just try paying attention to the Word.