Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Thought and Passing on another link

So, Sunday I got a phone call in a meeting from a fellow who started firing off rapid fire questions about the Greek Text and why I defend/the the Trinity when the Greek doesn't say anything about prosopon... which is really a hard conversation to jump into when you've had to step out of the meeting you are running to answer it, and the fellow doesn't seem to care that you don't have a bible (English or Greek) in front of you.

Two thoughts.

First - there was a big deal made in the rapid fire about the term prosopon, the term Trinity - it's not in the bible. Well... duh. It's a theological term that was developed to be short hand concerning what the Scriptures teach. And of course you aren't going to see it in the Greek... because it was a Latin term developed in the West which the Greek speaking East adopted (Tri-une... see that une... that's Latin) -- so trying to find a later coined term in an early document is silly. It's like saying, "You can't call 500-800 the Dark Ages... no author from that time calls it the Dark Ages!" It's a term... that's all.

But the bigger thing was about the actual doctrine of the Trinity, not the word "Trinity" or "person" itself. And Thomas Lemke has a wonderful link about this very topic (Mr. Lemke seems to have as his own hobby discussing things with Unitarians of all shades). In this post he quotes another blogger - Nick Norelli - speaking about how when folks bring there presuppositions to the discussion, there will be errors. This is what Mr. Norelli says concerning Arians (which would apply to most modern day Jehovah's Witnesses, who are basically rehashed Arians):

Rather than saying that Father, Son, and Spirit were God, they said, “No, this can’t be right because God is a Monad and the Monad is indivisible,” so they relegated the Son and Spirit to subordinate creatures and said that the Father was the Monad. Again, they already knew what could or could not be true so they made Scripture conform to their system rather than making their system conform to Scripture.

This is why I heard thinks that... well, yes, "LORD" is how Jehovah is referred to in the NT, but "Jesus is Lord" can't be a reference to that... and that you can't have Jesus really being God... but rather it's just a Hebraic affectation that lets one standing with God's authority take the title...

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with with God, and the Word was God. Right there - that's what underlines the Trinity. There is One God (was God). Yet, we can speak of internal distinctions of a vast and mysterious nature within God (with God) -- using human language we've coined the phrase "1 God, Three Persons" to try to get this across.

Oh, and is Jesus God and Lord? Well, what does Thomas (the Apostle, not Lemke) say in the Upper Room? "My Lord and My God." And Jesus commends him - He doesn't lash out at Him for being a polytheistic heretic.

Sometimes I think we should confess the Athanasian Creed a bit more often.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Some Thoughts on Matthew 20:1-16

As I was pondering Matthew 20 - the parable of the workers in the fields, I had a thought. So often we think of this parable in terms of *what age* a person is brought to faith - that some are of the faith their entire lives and that some are late converts.

Now I wonder. Consider the complaint of the early workers - "And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’"

I have been a Baptized member of Christ's church since I was an infant. There is not a time that I can remember where I was not a Christian.

Yet - what burden of the day have I borne? What scorching heat have I faced? I am an American. Even as I might complain about being underpaid -- I am wealthy. If I complain about difficulties - I've never had my life threatened for the sake of the Gospel. Having people complain about how they don't like how my sermons do or don't do ______ is hardly "scorching".

I wonder if it isn't hubris and pride that make us in America think that we are the hard workers, that we have been long laboring for Christ. I hear what happens to our brothers and sisters in Africa, in Asia - those who literally have to face down tangible threats of persecution... they are the ones who have faced the heat, not I. And it is a sign of great generosity on God's behalf that I am promised the same forgiveness of sins and salvation and life as they are, even though I am wealthy and comfortable in a way they could not comprehend.

Just some thoughts.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – January 29th, 2012 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
And so today we reach the pinnacle, the peak of Epiphany, there on the mountain of the Transfiguration. We talk about Jesus revealing His Glory – it shines forth today. We speak of Christ being the Light of the World – He glows today. We are at a hinge in the Church Year – after this we will begin our travels towards Lent and then to Calvary, and so the Transfiguration works as a time to focus us, to set us, to fix our eyes upon Jesus so we know what it is that we will be seeing in the weeks to come. Let’s consider the text.

“And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” First of all, we have the note that this is happening “after six days” – well, what happened six days earlier? In chapter 16 you have Peter’s bold confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And after that Jesus that He is, and that He has come to be killed but raised on the third day. And of course, Peter rebukes Jesus, Jesus says, “Get behind Me, Satan!” And then Christ tells His disciples that whoever would follow Him must deny himself and take up his cross. So what we had just seen in the Gospel was an episode where it was shown that Christ has come to suffer and die for sinful man, sinful man who continually thinks he knows better than God. Peter says “Oh, you are God” and then turns around and starts telling Jesus not to do things. That is what happened six days before. We are going to be talking about God and His efforts, His struggles against sin

However, there is more going on in this simple sentence – but to get it, we need to think in terms of the Old Testament. If I say “sixth day” to you, and you are thinking about the Old Testament, that’s the creation of man. The idea of the sixth day always focuses on man’s creation, man’s fall, and the promise of restoration. Moreover, we see them go up on a Mountain. For a moment, just think about how many Mountains from the Scriptures you know – Mount Sinai, Mount Zion, Mount Ararat. Even the word “Armageddon” is just a way of saying “Har Meggido” – or Mount Meddigo in Aramaic. God does things on mountains. God gives Moses the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai. When God talks to a despondent Elijah, it is on a mountain. And because of this, the next verses really shouldn’t be any surprise.

“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.” And there, Christ Jesus is transfigured – there you could say that He drops His guard a bit, and His innate, divine glory shines forth and through Him – He glows – the grime and dust from His clothes are overpowered with the radiance of His glory – it is an awesome thing. And not only that - Moses and Elijah are there – the two top preachers, the two top prophets of the Old Testament are there. It is hard to explain just how fine, how sharp a point this event is – everything in the Old Testament is funneling right to here and this moment, all coalescing and coming together. It is as if every bit of the Scriptures is there just ready to burst forth in fulfillment, and what happens? And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” There, at the culmination of everything - Peter starts talking. Peter offers to start working. Now, what he offers is very kind – it was probably around the festival of booths, the holiday when the Children of Israel would basically camp out for a few days to remember the sojourn in the wilderness. And there’s Peter saying, “I’ll go set up the tents for everyone, if they want to stay.” It’s a fine, nice thing – but think about the timing. There is Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah – and He’s brought you along, He’s invited you to listen in, and what do you do? You interrupt and offer to go off and do something else. The text had said, “Behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah” – and then there’s Peter, offering to do anything but beholding. It would be like one of you standing up right now and saying, “Um, Pastor, you like coffee, let me go make you a fresh pot of coffee” right in the middle of the sermon. Nice sentiment, but terrible timing.

This sort of provides an example of a problem that we ourselves face – the pressure to always be busy, be about doing something. What we forget is that God knows that we are busy, that we have plenty on our plates – and so in His wisdom He has called us to time of rest, times to hear His Word. Human beings have always been ready to run themselves back into the dust from whence God made us. He had to tell the children of Israel, “Take a day off and rest and hear My Word, it’s good for you.” Peter here shows the same thing – instead of being ready to hear and listen, he’s ready to be working. Same thing with Mary and Martha. And thus so often with us Christians. This is not to say that we aren’t to be about striving after good works and loving our neighbor – but what defines you, what makes you a Christian? Not your works, but receiving Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, hearing His Word. It’s Christ Jesus coming to you that gives and grows faith, that makes you who you are in Him. And lest you think I’m just pontificating, “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.” Even before Peter is done presenting his plan, the Father’s voice cuts him off and says, “Look at Jesus, listen to Him!” Peter, you were brought up on the mountain not to do, but to behold, to listen, to hear and to learn.

Likewise, dear friends, even as we go about doing many things, here in our congregation, in our homes, in our communities, at our jobs – even as we go about all these things, we are summoned by God to His house (to His Zion), so that we might hear Christ Jesus. And in actuality, as the weeks roll by into Lent and towards Easter, what we will be going on here is nothing but what the Father has instructed – listening to Jesus. We will behold His actions, we will hear His teaching, we will see Him do what He came down from heaven to do – to take on Satan and sin and death and defeat them for us.

We need Jesus. We need His righteousness, His holiness, His perfection, His sacrifice. That truth is demonstrated in our Gospel as well – “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.” When the Father speaks, the disciples hit the dirt. Again, this is something we can skip by, we can forget. We cannot stand on our own before God – we cannot saunter up to God and say, “Here I am, look at all the wonderful things I have done, I have served you so well – now give me stuff.” It doesn’t work that way – we are sinful, and sinners who stand by themselves on their own merits before God, sinners who try to invent their own brand of holiness, sinners who try to do religious stuff on their own terms – they die. Peter – Peter at that moment probably thinks that he is going to die. He had just interrupted a Divine action, and if you do that – you died. We, of ourselves are not holy and righteous, all our works amount to nothing, and if left to our own there would be nothing for us but to be terrified of God.

“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” The only way to stand before the Father is to be bound, to be tied to His Son, Christ Jesus our Lord. See what happens in the text – James doesn’t poke up his head to see if the coast is clear, John doesn’t just pop and say, “Well, thank goodness that’s over with.” They are terrified, they know the impact, the consequence of their sin, and they are scared out of their mind. Before they do anything – Christ comes to them, He touches them, He lifts them up, and they see only Him. Those verses right there are a depiction of your life as a Christian. You were lost in sin, condemned to nothing but eternal damnation – and then Christ Jesus came to you and He touched you. And I don’t mean this in just some figurative “oh, how touching” sort of sense. Jesus walked up to those disciples, and True God become True Man physically touched them – a real incarnate Lord comes to the disciples. Likewise, that same Incarnate Lord has come to you and He has touched you. He has touched you by water and the Word – He touched you as the waters of Holy Baptism were poured upon your head, He said to you, “You are baptized, your sin is forgiven, and indeed, you are now part of My Body, part of my Church.” He comes to you physically in the Supper – He places His own Body, His own Blood upon your tongue – and why? So that He can say to you, “Rise, and have no fear.” That’s a word of forgiveness – that’s “go now, depart in peace.” That’s let us go forth in the peace of the Lord. His Word continues to be spoken to you, heard by you, even now, even this day.

Everything in our lives, our existence as Christians is centered in and flows from Christ – for He Himself comes to us, gives us His Holiness, His righteousness, His forgiveness, His life – and when we are in Him, when we receive Him, we are strengthened, we are renewed, we are prepared to endure all the trials and temptations of this world, for He has already fought them down, He has already crushed Satan under foot, and in Him, we have the victory. And it is important for us to always behold this, to always see Christ, to always hear what He has done for us – because Satan does desire our fall, the old serpent desires us to fall away. Let us fix our eyes upon Christ – let us give heed to what He has done for us, let our focus be upon Him, let us rest securely in Him – thus we can rise and go through those doors in peace, in trust, in confidence in Christ, knowing that He is the Righteous One, the Lamb of God come down to earth to win us salvation and redemption. And let us with awe and wonder hear this proclaimed to us anew these next few months. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Friday, January 27, 2012

Faith works

Just as a simple observation - we say that the Gospel gives forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

We get forgiveness... we understand that whole salvation. Why do we seem so worried about that life part? Now, again, don't misunderstand - this isn't some anti-law rant... but the Gospel creates and gives life, true life, life which strives to fulfill the law willingly.

Why don't we trust the Gospel. Faith works... literally - faith leads to works. That's what faith does - it clings to Christ and receives all good things from Him - including life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

You may find a wonderful blog post here that deals with Justification and the power of God's Word - something that is repeatedly (and often unintentionally) denied.

Being Ryno-like

When I was little, my sports hero was Ryne Sandberg - the Ryno. A great second baseman. I wanted to be like him.

So - how would I become like him? Should I mimic his swing - look in the mirror and see if it looks like his? Buy the same sort of glove he uses? Maybe keep practicing that awesome play that he made or try to jump into the pose that was on my poster where he was in the air turning the double play?

Well... no. That wouldn't make me like Ryno.

You know what did (to a limited extent)? Lots and lots of fielding practice - a couple of hours a day fielding grounders that I had thrown off the wall and then thrown again (great for getting your release down). By taking batting practice, by hitting the ball over and over again.

Or in other words - to become Ryno-like, I didn't simply try to "be like Ryno" - rather, I strove to do the things he did, the drills that he did.


So - you want to be Christlike -- that doesn't come by trying to pose yourself like Christ. Rather this - focus upon your neighbor, serve them, love them - for that is what Christ did. Strive to do the will of the Father - what He has declared in His Word (and not what seems good, holy, and neat to you). And do this over and over and over. Those are the drills. Anything else is just play-acting and pretend - like the kid looking in the mirror who thinks he's Ryno but couldn't field a grounder to save his life...


So, why am I not a professional ball player right now? The thing I like to complain about the most is that when Dad got sent to Nebraska there just was no baseball out there -- the legion team I played on after my HS freshman year played 6 games. I had been good defensively at 3rd - my coach said my D was good enough, right then, to play at a small college. But skills atrophy if you don't keep them up.

But in reality -- I didn't grow into an athlete.

See, a kid can practice all he wants, but unless he grows up to be 6 foot 4 and not 5 2, probably not going to be a professional ballplayer. You have to be fed, you have to grow.

Athletes today are highly focused on diet and nutrition. If you want to grow as a Christian... the best way isn't to focus first on your drills, your acts of love and kindness... you need to eat properly - you need to be fed on Christ, receive His love and forgiveness.

Then the growth, which He is in charge of, well, He'll take care of that for you. Really, He will. You are His workmanship - really, you are. The good works you do, He's prepared them for you - you'll simply walk into them.

Make sure you are fed - then you may practice your faith well, get your jersey dirty... then be fed and be ready for the next day.

The Dangers of Theology by Title

How quick we are to categorize and assign people a title. We hear five words from someone and say, "Ah, you are a __________." Lutheran. Papist. Missional guy. Confessional. Hyper-Euro. Congregationalist. Neo-Evangelical. American Evangelical. Baptist.

On and on it goes.

But applying a label is not doing theology - it's in fact the opposite. It's throwing up a short cut so that you don't have to think or analyze something. If you say X and I don't like it - I can chalk up a title against you so I can excuse not listening to you. Or perhaps the other way (Oh, this guy is a good _________, so what he says must be good).

Don't run to a title, don't run to a term and try to fill in the blanks -- and I do this often enough myself. Consider what is being said... and consider it not on the basis of the historical formation of groups and factions - but view it in the light of the Scriptures.

Even if what you hear is wrong, if you are thrown to the Scriptures in considering it, it will be a benefit. (Now to feed the kiddo)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Trying to do Jesus' Job for Him

In prepping for my Hebrews study, I was struck by how often we in America put things backwards. For example - how often have you heard someone admonish someone to be more "Christlike" -- implying that by our own work and efforts and strivings we become like Jesus.

I translated Hebrews 2:16 thusly: For indeed it is not angels whom He delivers, but He delivers the seeds (spermatos) of Abraham.

In my notes, I explain how I use the awkward in English "seeds" to point out that this is plural, where as the promise is given to the singular seed (Christ), as Paul points out in Galatians.

Christ becomes man... and then, as He as a man has suffered and died and risen and gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation - He makes us to be like Him.

The Seed of Abraham makes us to be seeds of Abraham.

It is not that I must make myself more Christlike -- rather, in giving forgiveness and making me holy and righteous, Christ Himself makes me to be like Him. In giving me eternal life, the Risen Christ makes me to be like Him.

It's always Christ's activity - He is the One who comes down to me to lift me up unto Himself.

Why do we spend so much time trying to do Jesus' job for Him? He works for us in the Gospel... why do we rush back to the law and try to do His job for Him?

Another Analogy

Imagine you were passionately in love with someone - that you wanted this person to be a part of your life forever and ever. And so... you never talk to them, but rather wish fervently that one of your friends would go and tell them how important they are.


How would that work?

One of the things that is somewhat unhealthy in our congregations is the idea that the Pastor (and maybe the elders) are the designated "visit people people" - that if someone is upset, absent, sick, whatever -- it's the pastor's job (and maybe the elders) to go visit them and... well... fix things.

Now, this isn't to say that as a Pastor I do have a duty to visit folks. Some visits I do with joy... some... well, going to a person's house uninvited still terrifies me. But here is the thing - if *I* visit, I am giving direct, spiritual care. I am preaching Law or Gospel. I am giving counsel or advice or admonition.

A pastor, an elder making a visit doesn't let the a person know that they are "loved". It doesn't.


Does a visit from the principal or teacher let a student know that her classmates love her?

Does an appointment with the doctor let a person know that his family loves him?

This boils down to position. The folks of my Church don't know me as "Eric Brown" - they know me as Pastor Brown. That's not a bad thing -- people need a pastor. But I'm never going to be just someone who cares for them... even if I do, there's that "it's his job" tinge that creeps in the back of peoples' minds.

You cannot tell other people (in normal circumstances) that you love them and miss them via proxy. It just doesn't work well, it doesn't seem real.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Epiphany 3 Sermon

Epiphany 3 – January 22nd, 2012 – Matthew 8:1-13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
So, here we are, in the midst of the season of Epiphany, and we have seen that Jesus is the promised King of the Jews, True God come to earth. We have seen Him point to the truth that He is the Messiah, the Christ who will make the mountains drip with rich, well aged wine. So, we have seen that this Jesus is True God, that He is the Messiah who is come to bring restoration and salvation... but to whom? Who does this Christ Jesus come to save? You realize that even with the wise men, we see Jesus there with His family. Last week, at the wedding of Cana - that was probably the wedding of a sibling or a cousin. Has He only come just for His blood kin, His close family, and the rest of the world held at arms length, at best only serving Him and giving Him gifts? Not quite, as we see in our Gospel today.

So today we have two healings. First, we see a leper who kneels before Him saying, "Lord, if You will, You can heal me." And Jesus touches him and says, "I will; be clean." The second healing happens when a Centurion comes forward and says, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly." And when Jesus offers to come, this Centurion says, "Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed." And, of course, the servant is healed. So here we see who people who make requests of Christ - a leper and a Centurion. Dear friends, you could not find two more different people living in Judea. Consider the one - a leper, the lowest of the low. To be a leper was to be an outcast, to be outside of society, where even the criminals and the robbers would have scorned and despised you. And then you have the Centurion - a gentile, a foreigner, a stranger. And not only that - one with power. A Centurion was an officer over 100 men, probably the highest ranking Roman official there - a man of wealth who has servants. Opposite ends of the spectrum, aren't they? The local but outcast, the foreign and powerful but despised. And yet, when they ask, they receive – indeed, Christ Jesus gladly intervenes personally in their lives.

If you were a good Jewish person of the day, you wouldn't have expected the Messiah to consort with either of these men. If a leper came up to a Pharisee in those days, the Pharisee would have recoiled in horror. Instead, Jesus reaches out and touches the man, healing him. You would never touch a leper - it defiled you - yet Jesus does. If a Centurion came up to a Pharisee, the Pharisee would be curt but polite, do whatever business had to be done and then move on. And yet, Christ offers to enter his home. You didn't enter the house, who knows what defilements that house would hold, there might be pig's blood or something even worse. And yet Christ hears the pleas of this Centurion, and He even offers to enter the man's house! So, what does this mean, what does this teach us, what does this reveal to us about Christ? Christ Jesus has come to save the world, to save all sorts and kinds of people, and not just the people that we might expect.

We say the words often - we say, "For God so loved the world", we'll talk about Jesus being the Lamb of God who takes away the Sin of the World (we say that one several times in the service). We know Galatians, for their is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female - all are one in Christ. Yet, let us be honest. How often do we fall back into the worldly practice of judging, of categorizing, of thinking where someone "belongs"? There are people who if they walked into this Church seeking Christ's forgiveness and mercy, well, our first reaction would be to draw back with a raised eyebrow. One of the things that we know, but is so hard to put into practice, is the truth that God desires all people, that He came for everyone. We know this - but too often we listen to our flesh. There are individuals that we just don't like, or there are stereotypes or attributes that we fear, and this can tempt us to cut these people off, to cease showing them love. We must fight against this, my friends, we must fight against focusing our eyes upon our differences or the things we don't like - instead, we must focus our eyes upon Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the entire world.

Why? Why should we look to Christ? Why should our eyes be focused upon Him instead of having our eyes focused on and by the world, by those divisive ways of thinking? Why should we repent of our judgmental thinking or thoughts that are shaped by earthly power? Because the sinful thoughts and dreams of man never really pan out, never satisfy. Because the world is broken, is fallen, and such it tries to drag us down along with it, to twist our thoughts and bring us ruin and despair. Consider the text. A man had leprosy, and according to the world there was nothing to be done but to banish him and let him die. A man was paralyzed, and to the thinking of the world - that's it, that's all she wrote. The world often thinks this way, fatalistically with doom and gloom, but you have been given ears to hear, you have been given the gift of faith in Christ Jesus, and by the power of the Holy Spirit you know that Christ Jesus, your Lord has come into this fallen world to defeat sin and death with His death upon the Cross. And so eager is Christ to restore this Creation that as He goes to the Cross, He fixes things along the way. The leper cries out, and Christ heals. The Centurion prays, and Christ answers. Christ comes and gives small, temporary restorations to His creation, even as we all await the true restoration of the last day, when we will rise as He has risen, live never more to die, never more to even worry about death. The world says, "You have no lasting hopes for the future, so by hook or by crook make the best of what you can now" - whereas faith says, "Behold Christ, and know that because of Him that even though you die, yet you shall live."

And my dear friends, do not fall prey to the false teachers who want to take this promise of Christ and then twist it back just to vain, worldly goods. Don't give heed to the faith healers or the prosperity preachers, for all they do is peddle the same rotten wares of the world, just with a veneer of Christ dabbed upon them. Place your trust in Christ, pray "Thy will be done" - and if He gives you in this life better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness or health, so be it... you know what His will for you for all eternity is, for He has paid the penalty for your sin and that because of Him you are forgiven, that because of Him you will receive the full restoration in the life of the world to come. It matters not what you face in this life, it matters not what people think of you, how they categorize you, for Christ Jesus has suffered and died and risen again for you. This is where our focus is, and remembering Christ, hearing His promises, we are given strength to endure whatever we face in this life.

I would have us note one more thing. With both these healings, Christ accomplishes restoration by the Word. Consider the leper. Christ looks at him and says, "I will, be clean." When He heals the servant of the Centurion, He does so saying, "Go; let it be done for you as you have believed." The Word does it - and it really should stand out by how Christ speaks - "be clean, let it be done." Does that sound familiar? "Let there be light"? The Word of God is creative, it is restorative, it makes things come into being and restores them to the way they should have been and would have been had it not been for the fall. The Word of God, Christ Jesus Himself, fixes things by proclaiming the Word. And we see this same thing happen in the Church in our Sacraments. Christ Jesus takes water and the Word and washes us in Holy Baptism and says, "Be clean, all your sins are forgiven." Christ Jesus calls us to His altar, where we believe that He comes to us to give us His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins, and He says to us, "let it be done for you as you have believed." Christ Jesus comes, He brings His own creative Word to us, and because He has spoken to us, because the Holy Spirit has called us through the Gospel and enlightened and sanctified us, we know that we have forgiveness and life in Him. And the wonderful thing is that this Word cannot be taken from you, it can not be stolen from you – Christ Jesus has given Himself to you, made you His temple, and thus His salvation is yours. His victory for you is complete.

So, what do we see and learn today? That Christ has come for all people - that not just His relatives are to be saved, but that "I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven". Moreover, we know that He means us, for, well, in many ways we are His family, for He is our brother and we have received the adpotion as sons in Holy Baptism, you could say that we are His kin, for indeed, we receive His own Body and Blood in the Supper. And as He lives, so shall we live too. God is with us, with us to forgive and restore us, to lighten the darkness of the this fallen world with His love. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Friday, January 20, 2012

Loving the Alien?

One of the tenants, the angles of Lutheran theology is that for Christ, preaching the law is an alien opus - a foreign or strange work, where as the proclamation of life and forgiveness and salvation is His proper work. This idea, this concept is vital for understanding how a preacher ought to approach preaching.

What is my goal, what do I desire for people? When I leave the pulpit, what am I to hope that people have received?

Ultimately, it has to be that they have received the forgiveness of their sins, life, and their salvation. Consider the Creeds - what is the focus there? God creates. "Who for us men and for our salvation". The Lord, the giver of life. The forgiveness of sins. This is what we confess God does, and so this is what His servants need to be about "doing" - giving out God's forgiveness.

The temptation for the preacher is to begin to love the alien work. To love, to elevate, to see as the "real" work the work of the Law. To think that the highest form of the pastoral arts is in reproof and correction.

Note, I am not arguing antinomianism - the proclamation of the law is an alien work but it is still a "work" - it is still to be done. But it's not the point.

The problem is this. We do not see the heart. We do not always judge rightly what the fruits of repentance are. But we can see outward displays of righteousness... and so the temptation for any pastor is to preach so that those outward displays are shown -- and we can fall into a "whatever works" approach... and fall in love with the alien.

Guilt can be a fantastic motivator to drive up the offering, but it doesn't forgive sins. Spectacle and prosperity preaching can drive up attendance, but it doesn't give life. And even as the pastor looks out and says, "Ah, see how wonderful things are" the Gospel is shuffled off.

Your job is not to "fix" people. Your job is not to make them better.

Oh, preach the Law, but preach it to kill them - to put their sinful flesh to death. Then do your proper work - give them life, give them Christ. That's your job.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

All Is Vapor

So, I just saw that I had made my 1,100th post. This is 1101. That's quite a few times where I have sat down in front of a computer and put some thoughts here.

You know what - even though they are out there on the internet, even though they are "there"... meh.

I mean, really - sometimes folks might find an old blog post (normally one on some controversial subject)... but the vast, vast majority of these posts just fade away and are forgotten.

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. Or, I tend to like vapor of vapors, all is vapor. Things in this life fade away... the post that got blog of the week is old hat in a month and no longer remembered within 6.

On the one hand, this is something that teaches humility -- all the effort we think we put into things, all the angst of this or that project -- and most of them don't last. Vanity of vanity, vapor of vapors. Let us abandon that sense of pride, that ego that makes one think that ones own actions are the hinge of the world.

But on the other hand, I love the temporary nature of things... not because things fade, but because how God always gives the new. There are several blogs I love... and while I might not remember what I read there 4 months ago... God provides more and new things to learn... always, over and over. There's something new and new again.

Ah well... thus is life in this fallen place -- things fall apart and are ground into dust and all the while there is God restoring and granting things anew. To dust I shall return - but God is going to put that dust back together, and much better. Little reminders of that all the time.

A familiar and rough pattern

My son loves to play on his bug mat. As it will occupy his attention for around 20-30 minutes and let me get stuff done, I love him to play on his bug mat. However, it always ends the same way. He will get the hiccups.

First, they will start -- and he'll play through them. He will ignore them. Then they get bigger and bigger, and it disrupts his play time a bit, but he fights through them. Then, they are too much for him, and he is angry and upset -- at least until he gets a nice drink and it cures the hiccups. And woe be to the daddy who tries to give him a drink before he's done playing on the bug!

Thus it is all our lives. There is a sad and dangerous pattern we can fall into. We will be going about our lives, enjoying things that are good and pleasing... and then there's a bit of sin, a bit of temptation that creeps in. And it impacts us, it shakes us, but we try to ignore it, try to pretend that those moments don't impact the rest of our life. And if anyone points out our sin - woe be to them! It is only when that sin, when it's impacts become shattering that we readily confess our sin and receive with joy.

This is why we are admonished so often to examine ourselves -- not so as to make sure that we are "good" people or to increase our piety - but so that we can confess the sin that creeps in, nip it in the bud, and prevent it from ruining our lives.

My son is learning -- I can give him milk a little bit more quickly. He'll even drink it to cut the hiccups knowing that he'll probably fall asleep. He learns.

Would that we would learn to examine ourselves and confess our sin!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

True Authority

According to his flesh, man thinks authority has to do with the ability to make another do something. That's not authority - not really. True authority involves setting someone free, free from sin and death by the Gospel.

Lots of people can boss around a slave - even other slaves. But if the Son sets you free... well, that's a Son sort of thing.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Slightly Different Angle

I have the distinct honor of being part of the Worldview Everlasting Team where I get to help answer questions that Pastor Fisk doesn't address in his Ask the Pastor Videos. I like it, it's a good collaborative process -- and if there are questions that don't really interest me... I get to ignore them and let someone else take them. It's very nice.

But what I enjoy most is when a couple of us write up answers to the same question. This is where it becomes interesting - I write my answer, and then I see someone tackle the same question from a slightly different angle.

The slightly different angle is one of the most wondrous things in theology.

We aren't talking heresy, we aren't talking false doctrine - but we are just talking about coming to and pointing at the truth from a slightly different angle, a different approach.

There are wonderful nuances in theology. This would be obvious if we compared sermons. Pastor Hall and I both use the 1 year lectionary - and while our sermons would preach the same truth, the nuances, the approaches, the things we emphasize would be slightly different (he doesn't post his sermons on his blog). If one went to his 8 am service and then my 10:45, it would be a neat, stereo or 3D view of the text.

The image I have liked for this is this: consider you hired two artists to paint pictures of your Church. And let us say that one artist loves the color blue, loves blue overtones. And then let us say that the other artist loves pulling out depth via shadows. Two artists, painting the same Church, but you would have two very different paintings. Both true paintings, but each emphasizing and pulling out something different.

The great danger for any Christian is to think, "I know this. I know this text, I know this doctrine, I have studied my catechism and thus I know what this means." You may, but you know it and are used to seeing it simply from your angle. Seek out other good theologians and thinkers, others who are faithful, and learn from their approach. That is a wondrous thing.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

110th Anniversary Sermon

110th Anniversary – January 15th, 2012 – John 2:1-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Old fashioned Jewish weddings could last a long, long time. I don’t mean a few hours, or all night. It wasn’t uncommon for a wedding and the party following to last for days. And so, even as much as we stress about wedding planning today, it was much more difficult then. You had to store up provisions, you had to plan out several meals. And while the family would have to provide and arraign all these things, you would have a dedicated “master of the feast” whose job it would be to see that all the new courses and meals kept being brought out, whose job it would be to see that all the merriment and joy continues.

“And on the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with His disciples.” And so right after Jesus begins His ministry, He takes His few disciples and brings them to a wedding in Cana – quite probably the wedding of a relative as His mother was in the know about what was going on behind the scenes – “When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no more wine.’” Mary knows what’s going on in the back, in the kitchens. And what is the problem? They have run out of wine. Now, think like a good Jew for a moment – wine is part of everyday life, it’s a staple of life. More over, there would never be a Jewish celebration without wine – for as Psalm 104 teaches, God makes plants bring forth both food for man as well as “wine to gladden the heart of man.” Wine was a good and holy thing, a gift from God to bring joy – even in the middle of the Passover meal, even in the middle of the escape from bondage in Egypt, there is still wine. It’s a great and sacred gift from God.

And there, at that feast in Cana – it was out. Gone. Dried up. God gives wine for joy and devotion – and it’s gone. Do you see how this would be an embarrassing thing? How this would be viewed as just a bad sign for the married couple – I mean if the joy runs out even before the wedding party is over, that doesn’t bode well. And so Mary goes to her Son and tells Him that the wine is out. He says, “Woman, what does this have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” Mary knows. Mary knows that her Son Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. She knows that when the Messiah comes, it will be as the Prophet Isaiah declares in the 25th Chapter, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,” – Mary knows this, and she starts putting two and two together. My Son is the Christ, the Messiah. We are at a feast. Cana is in the hill country…Lord of hosts, a feast, full of wine? It’s a good connection to make. But Jesus tells her, “No mom, Isaiah 25 isn’t being fulfilled in full, not yet. It’s going to be a while before I tangle with death and swallow it up.” But Mary knows how God works – God likes to give partial fulfillments – little foretastes of the goodness to come, and so she says to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” If there’s going to be wine at this party, well, it’s in God’s hands now.

We know what happens – “Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons.” These jars are used for religious washings and blessings, and God Himself is going to use them for a miracle. Quite fitting. “Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. And He said to them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.’ So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called to the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” And Mary was sort of right. There it is – good wine, well aged, there at a feast in the mountains. Christ acts with love and compassion for this married couple. It’s not the full fulfillment, but still, love and joy are given. And this wedding feast is saved, the celebrations will be able to continue, and there will be joy and laughter and delight in God’s gift of love that he had given to the bride and the groom.

So, Pastor Brown, that’s all well and good, but today we are celebrating the 110th Anniversary of Zion – and this is just the normal text for the 2nd Sunday in Epiphany. Couldn’t you have picked out something better, something a little more appropriate for an anniversary? Nope – because first of all, if you are going to celebrate an anniversary, it’s going to probably be appropriate to talk about a wedding. But more than that – the Wedding at Cana is a image, is a parallel of what God has done in this place for the past 110 years. In fact, what God has done for His people here for these past 110 years is even more a fulfillment of Isaiah 25 than what we saw in John 2. Or did you not know that every communion Sunday in this place is nothing but the continuing wedding celebration of Christ Jesus and His beloved Bride, the Church? This is what St. Paul teaches in our Epistle: “This mystery [marriage and the two becoming one flesh] is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” Whenever you see marriage in the Scriptures, God uses it as a teaching image, teaching about His salvific love for us. This is also why God tends to get really upset when people make a mockery of marriage or eschew it – that doesn’t go over well in the Scriptures. But we are taught that Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, “giv[ing] Himself up for her that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, suffers and dies – and with His death He destroys death – Isaiah would say that He swallows it up forever. And He does this for His bride, the Church – it is for the Church that He gives Himself up. And having giving Himself up, He takes the Church and washes her, makes her clean and pure, and then He brings her into the great and never-ending feast of joy and love for all eternity.

And what has God been doing here in this place for 110 years? Well let’s see, Christ Jesus, who has died for us, washes us with water and the Word – that’s Baptism. Christ Jesus has established this congregation to be a place people are baptized – that through this congregation they might join the Church that is timeless and spread throughout the world – that they might be washed clean of their sin and forgiven. And then what happens to us who have been washed clean in Holy Baptism. We who are now part of the Church, part of the Holy Bride of Christ, are called by our Lord to come to His table, to His feast. The Lord’s Supper is the Wedding Reception – it is where we here on earth for a moment touch and participate in the joys of the heavenly feast that goes without end – therefore with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven – we for a moment are brought into that feast now all so that our sin would be forgiven and that we would have strength to endure this life until we are called to the never ending feast. This is what God has been doing here for the past 110 years.

Because that’s what a Church is, that’s what a Congregation is. It is simply a place where God takes the promises He has made to His people in His Word and delivers them to people. The timeless truth, the timeless Gospel is given to us here and now in this place. Christ Jesus comes to us here with His gifts and His blessing. He comes here and His mercy does away with our sin, His love covers our sadness and shame, His righteousness beats down our sinful desires and fills us with compassion for our neighbor. That’s what this place is. And God has been kind to us, kind and loving, for He has called us here to this place to receive His mercy, not just as individuals, but He has called us together. God does not just leave you alone in this life, but He gathers us together where we together may hear His Word, where we together may receive Communion and celebrate that we have been joined together in Christ, where we may pray together “Our Father”. And for over 5 generations, God has continued to come to His people in this place. Through language changes and World Wars and depressions and oil busts and dust bowls – through almost every tumult and trial you can think of in this world, Christ Jesus has still continued to come to His people here. He has continued to provide us His rich feast. This is a great and joyous thing.

We see from our Gospel, indeed, we see from the entirety of the Scriptures how Christ Jesus our Lord desires us to have joy – not a mere passing earthly joy – but the true joy of having our sins forgiven and being restored to everlasting life. For 110 years, He has called us to partake, to share in this here. This is a wondrous thing – for from the Mount of Calvary where the pall of death was destroyed rich wine flows even here to Lahoma rich wine, wine become His most Holy Blood, given to us for life everlasting. Christ Jesus will not let the celebrations of His love end in vain – God grant that we rejoice in Him all of our days in this life, and even into the life of the world to come. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Friday, January 13, 2012

Bordering on the Political

(Note - this will be somewhat political, as in US politics)

I value life. I think making sure that children are fed is a good and laudable goal and should be a high priority. I'm sure you agree with me.

However, what would be your reaction if you came home from work and I was, unannounced or uninvited, in your kitchen preparing a meal for your family, because, well, I know how to make lovely and healthy meals.

Would you be upset? After all, I'm just trying to feed the children?

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Part of any life, the life that we value, is the idea of vocation - that we are called by God to serve the people he places in our lives in certain ways.

I love to cook food. As part of my vocation as husband, I am free (and even obligated) to see that there is a meal for my family. Thus, I cook.

As the Pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, I am free (though somewhat less obligated) to help provide food for the various meals there. Thus, I cook.

As a neighbor, I can bring a casserole or dish over to a neighbor who might appreciate it - in this I am free.

However, if I we to assume and take away your vocation, and simply say, "I will be the one to feed your family" - that would be wrong. It would tread upon the vocation God has given you.

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Imagine how you might be upset or offended if I had come into your kitchen and just decided that *I* needed to cook your dinner. Even if it was a wonderful dinner, might it not be upsetting? Even if it is useful, might you not grow to resent it, might you not keep a smile on your face while inside you are more and more aggravated?

I think a wise political policy remembers that other nations are sovereign, that they have their own houses that they need to tend to themselves, and that while we are free to help if asked (bring over a casserole upon request), it's not our job or duty to take things over, or bring "a balanced diet" to the world. That is arrogance on our part and builds up bad will... rather let us teach by example.

And tend to our own kitchen, which is a mess.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

More Thoughts on Offense

I have an adage that I like - "A Christian seeks to neither be offended nor give offense." It's a simple idea, a simple phrase. Be balanced and help others to be balanced. Don't try to get thrown off kilter, and don't tweak other people needlessly.

I think part of the reason why I like this focus, especially on the "don't be offended" is because in our society today "I'm offended" has almost become the self-righteous way of lying.

Follow this stream of events.

Person A doesn't want to do X anymore.
Simply stopping X would make A seem "bad" or "not a good Christian".
Person B does something.
Person A says, "Oh, how terrible that B has done this. I am offended. I must stop X in response."

This isn't about offense. This isn't about anger. This is using the idea of "offense" as a pretext.

I think this is one of the things that annoys (I almost typed "offends") me most about the whole "taking offense" angle -- that it is often disingenuous - that it often doesn't drive to the real heart of the matter. If you don't want to do something, say you don't want to do it. Then consider whether or not you are right. Don't build up an artificial case to justify yourself.

Be honest when examining your wants and desires, and don't fall into the self-righteous trap that "offense" can afford you.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

An Analogy

Let us say that your daughter married a lousy man, who decides up to and leave her and run around with the dames. And then, one night, a few months later, he shows up on her door step in the rain asking to come in. And your daughter asks him, "Are you back for good?", and he says, "No, Betty and Jane and Angela were all busy tonight. I'll be back with them tomorrow, but I'm here now, let's enjoy the night."

Would any of you want your daughter to open the door, or would you rather she slammed it in his face?

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is why we have closed communion.

When a person is confirmed, they are asked, "Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?" Likewise, when a person is married, they are asked, "will you keep her in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to her alone, so long as you both shall live?"

Both are intended to be lifetime commitments, not something you just flirt and flit into and out of on a whim. As we would know that it would be wrong to encourage the scoundrel male in the example above, likewise, we ought not encourage people to be dismissive of their Confirmation vows in how they practice communion.

And you realize, this isn't a stretch. Consider: "For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."

The analogy is most appropriately applied to communion, because the Sacrament of the Altar is the higher and greater mystery to which marriage points.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Not as Much Posting

So there my son lies, on his bug mat, having a nice conversation with the orange bug-rattle thing. This is what my mornings have consisted of.

Feed. Burp. Clean up spit up. Entertain. Place Victor on the bug and while he is entertained, hurriedly get ready.

This doesn't leave as much time for posting.

So - does this mean that I'm not leading as "Spiritual" a life, that I'm not lost in contemplations or the like.

Nope. It just means that while I might have them, my hands might be full, and well, there's nothing wrong with that.

It's good to have time with my midget. What's going to be more fun/interesting/terrifying is when I get the full nights with him when his mom goes back to work (on the night shift).

But it is lovely to know that tending to my son is a good and God pleasing thing... even as I think he desires to learn to talk simply to complain at me. Ah well - "feed me now" would be a good first sentence to say, wouldn't it?

My thought of the morning is this - let not your theology become compartmentalized, where "theology" is that stuff on the computer screen, or that stuff in that specific devotional. You are a Christian - you see all things through Christ - you approach all things as one redeemed.

Everything in your life is tied to theology. Even playing with a baby ties into vocation, service, theology of the cross, sacrifice, order of creation. Theology isn't just a Sunday morning or blog viewer thing - it is the total encompassing of your life.

There's your challenge for the day. Consider the theological implications of what you are doing when you aren't actively trying to ponder theology. It's a good thing.

Now, I will delight in my son, who has figured out how to grab Orangie the Bug and twist him and look at him from other angles. This is new and exciting.

Theology is always new and exciting, because those timeless truths are always applied anew in our lives. Great stuff.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Epiphany Sermon for Zion

Epiphany Observed – Matthew 2:1-12 – January 8th, 2012

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today we are marking the beginning of the season of Epiphany – the season where the same Christ Jesus who has come down from Heaven is revealed to the nations – and so for the next few weeks leading up unto Lent, our readings will be focused upon Christ Jesus being revealed, of His divinity being shown to the nations. And to start, we begin with the story of the Wise Men who come from the East and bring Him gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But instead of focusing on the Wise Men, instead of just jumping to Bethlehem, let’s consider Herod and Jerusalem for a bit. Here is how our Lesson begins: “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold wise men from the east came to Jerusalem saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star when it rose in and have come to worship Him.’” First things first – with the wise men you have a joyous proclamation – that the King of the Jews, the promised Messiah has been born. And this is not just any old king, this is a wondrous King, so awesome that even those from distant lands know that they ought to come and worship Him. This child who is born is not only a King for the Jews, but a King for all nations – and not only a King, but the True God made Man who is worthy of worship. These wise men are announcing that everything the Old Testament had prophesied, everything the people of Israel were supposed to be looking to was at hand.

And yet, what is the reaction? “When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” It apparently was a big deal, these wise men coming. I mean, not only Herod hears about it, but all of Jerusalem – it’s big news. It’s good news. And yet, what is the response? People are troubled. They are fearful. Why? Why is there fear and disconcertion at such good news? Well, Herod – we can tell that Herod is worried about his position. He’s the king, but if there is a new king, well, that means he gets replaced – so Herod even plots to have Christ’s life snuffed out as an infant. And as for the people of Jerusalem – there would be change and turmoil, and their comfortable lives might be upset. The Christ would come to bring justice and mercy and righteousness, and the every day humdrum of their lives would be overturned – and we cannot have that… and so they are troubled.

Does it seem strange to think that the reaction of so many people to the revelation of Christ Jesus, to the announcement that He has come, would be to be troubled? It shouldn’t, because whenever the Gospel of Christ is preached, whenever the Good News is revealed, it will always be troubling to those who are self-focused and concerned with worldly respect. If a person’s first thoughts are about the here and now and making a buck and acquiring earthly power, then the Gospel of Christ is upsetting. Christ coming reminds people that they are not the ones ultimately in control – that He is. Christ’s coming reminds us that this world and all the things that we treasure in it will pass away. Christ’s coming reminds us that He is the center of all things, not us. And sinful man hates all these truths. Sinful man wants and craves power and might, and thus hates Christ.

But you realize, my dear friends, I haven’t been talking just about things that only those bad people out there think about. I’ve been talking about what hits us here in this room. I’ve been talking about how Satan tries to attack you, tries to attack me. The Christian life is one of trust in God and service to the neighbor – a life where we place our well being in God’s hands as we simply serve our neighbors without thought or worry about what we will receive in return, without concern over what we will achieve. We show love simply because love is what should be shown, even to our enemies and those who hate us, knowing that God will provide what success He desires, and also trusting that God will tend to our needs. We know this, we are well trained in this – but doesn’t it seem like having this approach gets a little bit harder and harder every day, doesn’t it, even in this place? We labor, we work, we strive to have a good and thriving congregation… and well, who seems to care? It seems as though less people show up to things, it seems as though it’s harder to get people to help, it seems like nothing goes on, nothing goes well. I know that’s what it seems like, I hear it from y’all, I feel it myself. And here’s the thing – it’s not really true. Okay, yes, our attendance is down, but other than that, we are a pretty vibrant congregation. Our calendar was full these past two months with activities and parties and opportunities to serve. We’ve fed the poor and given gifts to those who’ve got nothing, we’ve rejoiced and celebrated with each other – we have people volunteering to do more and more around the congregation – and we have plenty lying ahead with our anniversary next week and then Groundhog a few weeks after that. Our bible studies have been doing well – things are good. That is the reality - and yet – it is easy to ignore this and rather simply think about attendance numbers, and then we become disheartened, and we can get worn down and worn out. It’s so easy to be troubled.

I read of Herod, I read of Jerusalem being troubled, and I think of our own troubles here. In reality, Herod and Jerusalem had nothing to worry about – they were receiving good news and blessing, but because of their fear and worries, they didn’t see it as good news. Satan had blinded them, he had blinded them to the good news of what God was giving them in Christ Jesus and how God was blessing them. And how did Satan blind them? By shifting their focus away from Christ and onto their own fears and concerns about their status and power and what people thought of them and their own ease and comfort. Dear friends in Christ – do not let Satan do the same to you. So often our fears revolve around what people will think about us, how they will react to us. We become worried about what *we* can do to entice them, to cajole them, to manipulate them into… well, showing up and making us feel better about ourselves and our congregation. And the thing is, that’s just a path of sorrow and pain. Why? Because when we think about trying to please everybody, we forget to focus on the Christ Jesus whom they and we need. Because when we think this way we become focused on every hurt, every slight that we might feel, every time someone says no or shows indifference – and we focus on our pain and hurt. We get so caught up in stuff, in the humdrum junk of life that we forget to focus on the wondrous truth. Christ Jesus is our God and Lord, and He has won us the victory over sin, death, and the devil. This is true. This is our reality, this is the good news that should shape every moment of our lives, that should brighten every moment of our lives, that should constantly be upon our tongues – Christ Jesus the Light of the world is our light and our life – He has come to be our King, and even if the world comes crashing down around us – so be it, He is the God who has suffered and died and risen for us, so we know that no matter what we face, we too will rise with Him – it’s a done deal. And when we are focused upon Christ, when we see things through Him, through what He has done for us, what He continues to do for us and through us here – then we have joy, then that fear is cast out. Do we not receive forgiveness in this place every week? Do we not have every opportunity to learn together, to work together, to care for each other? The world can’t change that, the sins and indifference of our neighbors and loved ones can’t change that, our fears and insecurities can’t change that. And yet, we are so easily tempted to think like Herod, to think like Jerusalem, to be blinded to the love of Christ and rather be focused upon immediate fears and worries.

“After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped him.” The wise men, who are rightly called wise – they paid no attention to the troubles of Herod. They didn’t abandon their journey when Jerusalem around them murmured in fear. Even though they had already traveled long and far, even though the countryside around them seemed to be getting more and more troubled – that was not their focus. Instead, they were focused upon Christ, and seeing Him, worshipping Him, they were filled with joy. This is true wisdom. To see, to behold Christ Jesus, to know His salvation. That’s what the Wise Men see – this is God come to earth, come to earth for them, to win salvation with His death upon the cross for them. Everything else pales in comparison. Dear friends in Christ, Your Lord has still gone to the cross to pay the penalty for your sin, and you are forgiven. Your Lord Christ Jesus has still risen victoriously from the grave, and so no matter what this world throws at you, at us, you will rise and live eternally with Him. This is truth, and in His love for you, Christ Jesus continues to draw your eyes unto Himself, He continues to reveal Himself to you here, to shine His light and pour His love upon you in His Word, in His Supper. God is at work here for you, reviving and restoring you. Nothing can change that, nothing can separate you from Christ’s love. So let us be bold in focusing upon that love, upon receiving it, upon sharing it, upon pointing others to it and inviting them to join in receiving His gifts with us. What will happen – well, concerning numbers or anything like that – I cannot say. But I can tell you what will happen. Christ will be here for you, and He will forgive you, and He will give you growth in love and wisdom and compassion so that you will be better prepared to face whatever dourness this world throws at you. Your Savior is here for you, He has been revealed to you, and He will never abandon you, for He is indeed your light and your life, and no darkness shall ever overcome Him. God grant that we learn this ever more. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Epiphany Sermon for Trinity

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
Today, dear friends, we celebrate Epiphany – the fact that indeed Christ Jesus is a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel. Epiphany is the time of the Church year where we look at Christ Jesus and we see that this Child, this Man preaching and teaching is in fact true God. During the weeks of Epiphany, we see and behold the evidence that this is no simple fellow, but rather is True God and True Man, and that He has come into the world to win salvation for all people, for the whole world. To start off Epiphany, we hear the story of the wise men, of the Magi from the East – we see the first gentiles who worship Christ the King.
Now, to understand the significance of this event, of the wise men coming to worship Christ, you need to understand the mindset of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth. The people of Israel had lost their way. They had forgotten who they were and why they existed. Oh, they knew that they were God’s Chosen people, a people special to the One True God, but they forgot for what reason they were set apart. God had called Abraham, had called Israel apart from other people to be the lineage that would produce the Messiah. The Lord gave to the people of Israel the Law through Moses, not to make them better people, for the Law does not give life, but to hold them separate from the world. Circumcision, the Sabbath Day, the dietary laws, the purification laws – these were not about morality or right and wrong – rather, all these laws kept the people of Israel separate and distinct from all the other peoples of the world. And why? So that the people of Israel by their very existence, by their uniqueness would be a constant reminder to the rest of the world that the LORD God would send forth a Messiah, a savior to redeem not just the people of Israel, but the whole world.
Over the course of time, by in large the people of Israel had forgotten that. A few faithful men and women remembered that the promises of salvation were for all – Simeon knew that Jesus was a light to the gentiles, Mary knew that all generations, Jewish and Gentile alike would call her blessed. But most folks had forgotten. You see this in how they viewed the Messiah. The expectations were that the Messiah would chase off the Romans, restore the Kingdom of Israel on earth. The idea was that the nation of Israel was to rule and have power – that’s what it meant to be God’s special people. They forgot that their purpose was to serve others, that the Lord promised Abraham that all people would be blessed through him, not fall at his feet. Even in the early Church this was problematic – Peter has to be told directly by God that the dietary laws are no more – Paul has problems with the Judiazers wherever he goes. The idea that salvation was for the gentiles, for those outside the people of Israel went against false thoughts of power and glory that were ingrained hard and fast, and it took a while for people to get over their false dreams of power.
Let this be a warning to us here, dear friends. We too, like the people of Israel, are within the house of God. We have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. But why? So that we might have power and glory? So that we might lord it over others? So that we might look at the people out there and feel smug and say, “I am so much better than them”? I don’t even have to answer that, you know these attitudes are wrong. But Satan’s tricks are old, and the same deception he worked on the people of Israel he tries to work on the Church today. Satan tries to get us to lose our focus, to forget why we exist. So why does this Congregation, why does Trinity Lutheran Church stand today? It is not meant to be a place where the good people go. It is not meant to be a place simply where our family gathers. It is not meant to be a private, holy club. Yet sadly, sometimes, even unthinkingly and unintentionally, these are the attitudes we end up taking. We can unthinkingly establish an us versus them type of attitude – and we can be cold and indifferent to the stranger, to our neighbors who as of yet are not of the faith. We can unthinkingly become prideful in our own so-called righteousness, and become stilted and jaded, just like the people of Israel were of old.
So why does this congregation exist? The Wisemen show us. And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him. That’s what this house is for. This is a place where we are to come, and not just us, not just our family, not just our friends, not just the people we happen to like, but this is a place where all people are to come and worship Christ. This house is to be a place where Christ is proclaimed, where He is revealed to us in His Word and in His Sacraments, this house is to be a place where salvation and the forgiveness of sins shines forth to all people who need it. The wise men were strangers and foreigners, they were outsiders, and yet they are welcomed into Joseph’s house to worship Christ. This is an example and a reminder to us – that this congregation is to be a place of worship, a place where any and all people can come and receive salvation. In fact, we are to be a beacon, a lamp on a hill, we are to call all people here to behold the wonders of God and to delight in His salvation. When we see people who are not our members, we shouldn’t look at them and see people who don’t belong. We shouldn’t see people who are different. Rather this – we should see people who ought to be our members, we should see people whom we should help to see the Light of Christ and hope that they join us, learn of Christ, become part of our fellowship here. We should see them, and realize that they ought to be here and that God indeed wants them here.
Sadly, sometimes we get in the way of that. Our prejudices and dislikes can get in the way. We can be quite comfortable where we are at, and new folks, new blood as it were, might stir things up too much. We can desire this house to be our house – the way we want it to be - rather than God’s House where His Word which calls forth all people takes the day. Our sin, our sinful desires and jealousies and dislikes and hatred can seek to cover the Light of Christ which shines here. Of this, we need to repent. This Church is to gladly let Christ shine forth, not cover Him up, not hide Him under a bushel, as the old song goes.
Thankfully for us, Christ Jesus knows well how to deal with us, how to handle our sin. The wise men again with their gifts remind us of this. Then opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts teach us about Jesus. Gold. That is a kingly gift. We see and remember from this gift that Jesus Christ is King, that He is the One in charge – that Jesus is the One who executes Justice. And so we are humbled, and so we are brought under the Law, under the King’s rule and reminded that we are to repent, that we are to flee and avoid sin – that we are to strive to live by the Word of the King. And although we often fail in this, although sin still clings to us – in the other two gifts, frankincense and myrrh, we see our hope. Those are gifts of spices, they are the spices which were placed upon a dead body. The wise men remind and point us with their gifts to the Cross. This is why they come to worship – not simply because Christ is King – but because Christ Jesus goes to the Cross and suffers and dies. It is there upon the Cross that Jesus shines forth most brightly, it is there upon the Cross as He cries out “It is Finished” that we see our Lord shine His brightest as He beats down and conquers and destroys sin. That, our Lord Crucified, is why we gather here and worship. Because Christ Jesus has shed His blood and won for us the forgiveness of our sin. St Paul says that He is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. That is what we here are to know and focus on, and we are to constantly receive the forgiveness that Christ wins by His crucifixion. We are to use the strength that His forgiveness gives us to beat down our sin so that He can shine forth. We are to delight in His forgiveness in our worship and praise, and we are to delight in the fact that this forgiveness was won for all people, Jew and Gentile alike – family and stranger alike. And so we are brought here, called here by the Word, so that we might repent of our sin and delight in the forgiveness which God has won for us. This is why Trinity Lutheran Church still stands – so that your sin, and that the sin of all people who enter here, might be richly forgiven here in God’s House.
Epiphany is the season where Christ Jesus shines forth – where we see more and more His Holiness shine forth. Light and life have entered the world in Christ Jesus, and He calls all people to His House to bask in the Light of His forgiveness. Christ is here to bring salvation to all who need it. This is our hope and joy, and this is the truth we strive to ever know more and more, and this is the truth that God shows us ever more and more by the forgiveness of our sin daily and richly by His Word and Sacraments here in His House. Amen.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Depersonalized Drama or Drama Light?

So, I've seen some goodly sniping on the internet these past few days -- not that this is a strange thing, or a 2012 thing. And I haven't really gotten involved -- and no, that's not a 2012 resolution thing. I just simply haven't had the energy or inclination. The same old debates about this or that fall to the back burner when your son is sleeping poorly and you're fighting off a cold.

And so, I've only observed briefly, and I thought about the whole internet flame war dust up what have you. See, I don't like drama, I don't like dramatics - I love maturity (well, most of the time...). Okay - I love maturity with the exception of when it prevents sophomoric humor (see, honesty!). But conflict and tension and backbiting and wounded feelings and affectations of wounded feelings... drives me nuts. I can't stand pity parties -- when we are instructed by the fathers to see which of us can be the more wronged, this wasn't what they were talking about.

However, noting the flame wars and the like... I've noted quite a few level headed, mature fellows getting involved. Indeed, people who can be quite nice suddenly seem to become lunatics when they are sitting at a keyboard (I'm looking around very innocently now with a coy smile, in case you were wondering).


I have an idea, but I'm not sure how to entitle it - it's either "Depersonalized Drama" or "Drama Light".

On the one hand - the internet depersonalizes arguments. You can have all the drama you want, all the andrenaline kicks, the self-righteous congratulatory high... and you don't see the person you are trouncing. Or if you are into getting a little bit of a pity fix... it's not from someone you see and interact with... it's just there on the computer whenever you need it. We can get the emotional kick of Drama without having to actually deal with real people that we have to see over and over. IS that the appeal - that we can get the emotional highs but then cut off interaction with ease, so we can turn it off and get back to normal like that?

On the other hand, maybe this is more just "Drama Light" -- because there is that medium of the computer, our fighting can taste great while being less filling at the same time (if you are under 30, that was a reference to old beer commercials). But maybe it's just that it is a lighter, less intense version of the drama... it doesn't impact you as harshly and rather can be smooth.

I don't know. Either way, it's probably not really good for you. Or your neighbor. Ah well.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Sermon for Christmas 1 - 2012

Christmas 1 – Jan 1, 2012 - In the Name of Christ Jesus our New Born King +
Dear friends in Christ, today is one of my favorite Sundays in the Church Year. I absolutely love this Sunday, I love this text. I love hearing Simeon sing the praises of God, I love hearing old Anna giving thanks. I’m almost sort of sad that our Gospel text is the text for the Sunday after Christmas, though. This Sunday is traditionally one of the worst attended across the land. People are traveling, and away from home they don’t make it out. People are just all Churched out from all the festivities of Christmas. Add to this the fact that today is New Year’s Day, when many of us might have been staying up later than normal, and meh. It is a Sunday that is often missed – which is so ironic, as it is the Sunday where we see two folks waiting patiently in Church for their Lord to come. Let us look at this text, see what it teaches us not only about our Savior, but also how it guides and shapes our worship as well.
And when the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. Yes, Joseph and Mary, being good parents, being faithful folk, on the 40th day after His birth bring Christ up to Jerusalem and offer the Sacrifices mandated in the Law of Moses for young boys to get. Do you see what this means? Even as a Child, even before He could walk or speak, our Lord Jesus Christ was obedient to the Law of God. What does Paul tell us in Galatians? That God sent His Son, born of Woman, born under the Law, to redeem us who were trapped by the Law. When Christ Jesus comes to earth, He doesn’t come as some stranger, He doesn’t come as some dignitary who is far above us. God becomes Man, becomes one of us, gets into the same boat as we are in. And why? “to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” We are burdened with sin, with seeing and knowing all those things that we do that we aren’t suppose to do, with seeing and knowing all those times we fail and fall short and don’t do what we ought. We are under the Law. Its weight comes crushing down upon us, like a roof that is collapsing, like a cave-in – and trapped as we are by the Law, Christ Jesus comes in, and He rescues us by bearing the weight of the Law for us. He holds up the cave in so we can escape - with His arms outstretched upon the Cross He keeps us from being Crushed by the Law. And this is what we see Jesus doing today. He is here with us under the Law, He is indeed Immanuel, God with us – and God here to save us.
And as Mary and Joseph bring the boy Jesus in, they come across old Simeon. God had somehow let old Simeon know that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. So old Simeon came to the temple every day, and old Simeon waited, waited patiently in the temple. And then Simeon sees Jesus. He runs up and takes the babe in His arms, and in the Holy Spirit he says the words we know as the Nunc Dimitiss. . . the words we sing whenever we commune – Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace/ according to Thy Word/ for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation/ which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people/ a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of Thy people Israel. The song of wonder and glory and joy that we sing, these are the words of Simeon. And why does Simeon say them? Because he holds in his hands, old, wrinkled hands that aren’t as strong as they used to be, Jesus, the promised Messiah. Simeon is dying, yet he holds in his hands the Christ who will be his salvation, who will call forth Simeon again from the grave on the last day. Dying Simeon holds the One who gives him Life Everlasting in his hands. And so, Simeon says, “Okay – I can die. Let death come – it will not be a terror for me, for I will die in peace.” Why in peace – why can Simeon go boldly to his death, go comfortably? Because he has seen it – he has seen Salvation, he has held in his own hands the very Body of God, the fact, the proof that all the promises God had made His people, the promises that God would be among us and live among us and rescue us from sin – Simeon holds the fulfillment, the proof of all that in his shaky hands. What more is there for him? What more does Simeon need to see? God’s salvation is here.
Dear friends in Christ – what do you see when you see Christ? When your mind comes across Jesus, when you think of Him, what do you think of? What we ought to think of Him, what we ought to see is the same thing that Simeon saw. Salvation. Life. Forgiveness. When you hear in Scripture of our Lord walking around, doing whatever it is that He does – that is your salvation. That is God at work for you. That is Jesus becoming a human being like you so that you can be a child of the Father like He is. That is Christ breaking down the hackles Satan had chained you with, it is Christ taking the noose off your neck. That is Christ stretching out His own hand and grabbing yours and taking you to heaven with Him. This is what Simeon sees – and by faith this is what we see as well. By the teaching of His Word and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit this is what we will see more and more, this is what our focus will be upon. Christ Jesus our salvation.
We do get another elderly person popping up in this text. We see Anna. Anna’s 84. Anna, like Simeon, has been in the temple a long time. And she sees Jesus, she recognizes who He is. And what does she do? And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel. What does she do, what is Anna’s response? She gives thanks. She gives thanks to God – and how is this done? By speaking, by speaking of Him. The way in which we give thanks to God is by speaking, by talking about Him, by saying, “Look at what God has done for me.” We spell it out. And what does Anna do? She sees folks who need what she needs – she sees folks who need a Savior as much as she does. And so, she spends her time saying, “He’s here – the Messiah has come.” This is thanks.
Dear friends, the words of Simeon and Anna, the words of these two pious servants of the Lord shape our worship, craft and shape how we worship even to this day. After the sermon, after the prayers, we will celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Do you see what that is? Do you know and understand what it is that God gives to us in the Supper. We enter God’s House, come into His temple, and what do we see? “Take and eat, this is My Body, which is given for you. Take and drink, this is My Blood, which is shed for the remission of all of your sin.” What Simeon waited his whole life for we get in the Supper. Simeon held the Body of Christ in his hands, we have Christ’s own Body placed in our hands, upon our tongues. Our Lord comes to us as sure as He came to Simeon – and we see what He brings. Whereas Simeon’s eyes merely saw salvation and held it in his hands, we not only see and touch, but we smell it, we taste it, we taste God’s Salvation. This is how thoroughly God comes to us – He would be our God and have us be His people so He calls us to His House and feeds us on His own Body, the medicine of Immortality, gives us Eternal Life, gives us His life.
And then, we echo Simeon. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. We aren’t saying, “Okay, service has been long enough, I want to get out of here.” We are saying – We can face death now, Lord. It holds no more fear for us. What ever this year holds, we leave this place in peace – we are at peace with You, God, and You are at peace with us. You have forgiven us and given us all that we need for this life, You have called us to heaven. When You are ready, so are we – for You have joined us to Your Son Christ Jesus – You have brought us into Your family, indeed You have Baptized us, made us part of Your Son’s own Body - - indeed, You have fed us with that Same Body to keep us steadfast in the faith. We are ready for whatever comes, for we know Your salvation and we have it right now. That is why we sing the song of Simeon when we commune.
And after that, just before we leave, before we head out in the world, we pray a prayer that is known as the Thanksgiving. Having echoed Simeon, we echo Anna. “We give thanks to You, almighty God, that You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.” We give thanks to God by saying what He has done. And then, “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love toward one another.” Lord, we are going out into the world – help us, be with us, make us to love others, not just love them a little bit, but love them fervently. We echo Anna, who gives thanks to God and then shows the highest love, by speaking of Christ.
Our worship, dear friends, isn’t shaped by what we want or what we like – it is shaped by Scripture, and we follow its patterns, what it has laid down for us. And today, we have been blessed to see that pattern, to see the guides which mold how we praise God and give Him thanks. So, having seen the shape of our worship, let us with gladness receive the Salvation our Lord gives us. Amen.