Saturday, March 31, 2012

Naming a Child for somber reasons

My son is named Victor. It's a good name. And I will note something, a somber thought I have about naming my child. It's a good name, and one that would be a comfort to me should I ever have to bury him.

My friend Anna died a few years ago... actually, her name was Anastasia. Anastasia is the Greek word for resurrection. What a wonderful name... and a wonderful thing to remember whenever my thoughts drift her way.

Rev. Donavon Riley put on his blog a letter which is somewhat "infamous" among some Lutherans as it contains the whole "sin boldly" line of thought which is both abused and then wantonly rejected due to its abuse. But in the paragraph after that, there is another, similar line which is wonderful.

"Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world."

Should the day come that I must bury my son, should that sin be strongly smacking me in the face... God grant that I rejoice in Christ who is the true Victor, the Victor over sin and death for my son's sake.

Of course, this is also why the very first time I spoke his name to him outside of the womb was when he was baptized into Christ so that he would have this victory.

And if it comes that he must bury me -- remind him that the name "Eric" simply means powerful, and that Christ Jesus is much more powerful than sin and death.

Defending Even the Sinner

One of the things I don't like about the new translations of Luther's Small Catechism is that they have changed the language of my favorite part. I learned the meaning to the 8th Commandment as "We should fear and love God so that we we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything."

Now, the part that they changed was that last bit - that "put the best construction on everything". Now it's "explain everything in the kindest way"... which I guess is perhaps easier to understand, or less archaic a usage... but I like the old one better.

I am to defend my neighbor - to actively do so, to construct his defense, and do it well. Even my neighbor who disagrees with me, even my neighbor who is mean and cruel to me, even my neighbor who... sins against me.

WHAT? But if the man has sinned against you, how can you be about defending him!?

Because I am to speak words of love and kindness towards my neighbor. If someone sins against me, my hope ought to be to restore him and our relationship in love. Is this not defending him? Is this not protecting this man from the attacks and the assaults of the devil?

WHAT? But are we not to publicly call out sin for the wickedness it is!?

Sure. We call out sin. But we are to defend even the sinner, to be a balm, to pick him up when he is broken and wounded and carry him to safety, for he is our neighbor and we are to love him. We cannot let ourselves be swept up to where we forget that our neighbor is far more any sin he has done. Christ our Lord died to destroy sin, but to save the neighbor. Ought our words about our neighbor be any less?

WHAT? Are we not right in saying that you are an antinomian who just relaxes the law and let's people just skirt by!?

Haven't you heard the law in what I have said? Haven't you heard how harsh it is? It allows me no room for self-justification. It allows me no room to say, "See, I have done well." It allows me no rest, for I must always defend. It allows me no comparison that would say, "Behold that speck, what a lousy speck attracting eye my neighbor has." I must be about the business of building up my neighbor, of defending him, even when my flesh wants to revile and destroy.

Which is really nothing but a reminder of my own sin. Of course, this also serves as a reminder of who Christ Jesus is - He is my mighty fortress who defends me, the sinner. Who sheds His blood for me and tells Satan, the vile accuser "this one is not yours, he belongs to Me, and I see no sin on him, only My own righteousness."

As the Psalms sing: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
2 O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleas for mercy!

3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.

5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.

7 O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel
from all his iniquities.

Should my voice plead only for myself, or shall I not cry out for mercy even for those who sin against me?

Shall I condemn, or shall I too cry out, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do"?

Shall I be about marking iniquities, for no one may stand when they are marked?

Shall I cast my enemy to the ground, or shall I plead with God to spare him, even to restore him?

With God there is forgiveness. With God there is steadfast love, love that wavers not even when we sin against Him. With God, we see redemption from all iniquity.

Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me -- one that defends even my enemies, one that is zealous to cover them with the best construction, one that is eager to be kind in every way -- as you have done it unto me.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Lent Midweek 6

Lent Midweek 6 – March 28th – John 14:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Our Gospel lesson takes place on Maundy Thursday evening. There in the Upper room, before He heads to His passion, our Lord teaches His disciples, His closest friends. And as He prepares them for what is to come, for His suffering and death and resurrection, He tells them that He is doing this to prepare them a place in heaven. And just to cap things off, He says, “And you know the way to where I am going.” And then Thomas, good old Thomas peeps up with, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Talk about a deflating answer – You don’t know, Thomas? Here Christ has been pointing them to heaven and salvation – the mansions of the Father… ah, nope, don’t know what You’re talking about, and I certainly don’t know how to get there.

In response our Lord says tonight’s I Am statement: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” With these words our Lord sums up His entire ministry, the entire point of why He came, what He was here to do. He is the way, He is the truth, and He is the life. When we think of Jesus, when we think of His ministry, nothing encapsulates it better than Jesus saying that He is “The Way”. In fact, the first Christians just said that they were those who were part of “The Way”. Christ Jesus is the way, the path which brings us to restoration with God the Father and with each other. If we are to spend eternity with the Father, Christ is the way. There is no way apart from Christ – you cannot get to the Father apart from Christ. Doesn’t matter how good you think you are, doesn’t matter how nice you have been – apart from Christ you cannot reach the Father. Period.

You can think about it this way – every Gospel lesson we hear, every sermon that is preached here, is nothing more than expanding upon this idea of Jesus being the Way – every Gospel lesson, every sermon simply shows and explains what Christ has done in order to bring us, restored and forgiven, before the Father. He becomes man to fulfill the Law in our place. He is baptized, so that we might be baptized for the forgiveness of our sins. He lives the perfect life, fulfilling our righteousness. He suffers and is mocked in our stead. He suffers and tastes death so that He can defeat it for us. He rises, so that we too will rise. Every thing is just Christ paving the way to life everlasting. He is the way, and there is no other way, no other name under heaven by which we are to be saved.

What we must be wary of is this – our sinful flesh despises the fact that Christ and Christ alone is the way. Our sinful flesh does not want to rely upon Christ – it wants to rely upon itself. Our sinful flesh doesn’t like not having a choice in the matter. This is especially true for us as Americans – we love having our options, our choices, the ability to customize – we do this to everything. Yet Christ tells us that He is the way alone, and our sinful flesh can take umbrage at this. This is the way Satan attacks many people – by denying that Jesus is the way. How many folks today will say, “oh, there are many paths to God”? This verse calls them liars. Many folks will try to make even the Christian faith a pick and choose sort of thing, where they observe parts and other things they will ignore. Doesn’t work that way. Christ Jesus is the way, and apart from Him, we can do nothing.

To make us to see and understand this, Christ Jesus came teaching. He came to be the Truth. Over and against the false temptations of Sin, Christ came to show us our sin and show us His righteousness, which He gives to us to give us life. As John teaches us in his first epistle: “If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us.” Did you hear that – if we claim to be perfect, we are liars like Satan, and Christ, the Truth, dwells not in us. Yet, when we speak truthfully about our sinfulness, what then? “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we speak with Christ His truth, we receive forgiveness, He cleanses our sin, takes it all away. This is the truth that sets us free, the truth that gives life everlasting.

There is a lot of blabbering that goes on in the world today about religion, about God, about faith. Here is how you can cut to the chase with it – does it speak the Truth? Does it confess with Christ that I am a poor miserable sinner, does it show Christ Jesus winning me forgiveness with His life, death, and resurrection? Does it proudly proclaim that Jesus alone is the way – or does it point to something else, my works, my worth, my merit? If it is not speaking of Christ for you, Christ who comes to win you salvation, who comes to give you life – it’s trash. And again, remember that the world will dangle all sorts of things out there for you to be focused on, even in churches. But the center and key must remain this – that we are sinners who receive forgiveness on account of Christ Jesus. In fact, this is what life is.

This is true because Christ Jesus is life. Our life, our existence, our salvation rests solely and completely upon Him. Again, this is something that cuts across the grain of American society. How often have you heard someone say, “It’s my life, I can do with it what I want.” Actually – no. First of all, it denies the reality that we were created to be in relationship with others. Yes, I have a life, but my life, part of it belongs to my son. He has the right to lay claim to my time. Yes, I have a life, but in this life, I am a pastor. You here have the right to my time, my service. It is a deception of sin that makes us think that we should live only for ourselves – we were created to love and care for one another – that is what life is. Sin has wrecked that, made us selfish and fallen. But that is why Christ Jesus came – He came because He is life, and He will restore you to life, life everlasting. If you are to have life, you will have it only by Christ, only in Him. You belong to Him. He is your redeemer, He has purchased and won you from all sins, from death, from the power of the devil. You belong to Him, and He is your life. And this is a wonderful thing, a wonderful gift. It’s a wonderful thing to be Christ’s, to have your life come from Him. Because apart from Christ there is only death, there are only lies and delusions, there are only wandering paths into loneliness and isolation and doom and destruction. Christ Jesus does not desire that for you, so He comes to you through His Life giving Word to call you unto Himself, to redeem you, to forgive you and make you His own, so that in Him you have life. He invigorates you, beats down your selfishness and fills you with His own life, His own love. That is a mighty thing.

Lent is winding down – know what you are seeing. You are seeing Christ Jesus re-establish life in this fallen world – bringing life to fallen mortals, bringing Truth, making us to really be alive, taking us to the Father. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And all this He is for you, for your sake, so that He might have you with Him in His Father’s house for all eternity. In the Name…

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Publicizing a "Public" Sin

So... how and when ought a pastor speak out about sin? I know the classic distinction that is made is between private sins and ones that are public -- private being the ones that aren't know, and then public ones being the ones that are entirely well known by all and happen openly.

Here's thing. Just because something happens "in public" doesn't mean that it is public sin.

Well, what can that possibly mean?

An example - let's say I'm a Applebees and I see Church member "Dwight" get completely hammered, throw a plate on the floor in anger, just make a total fool of himself.

This isn't necessarily a public sin. Is there an arrest with public notification? Is it something EVERYONE knows about? Nope... it's Dwight making a fool of himself.

Therefore, if I show up at church and say, "Let us not behave boorishly... like Dwight here" -- what happens is this. I'm not preaching against sin, I'm not confronting it... I'm making people think, "Oh, well, what did Dwight do?" I shouldn't preach, "And let's try not to get ferschnickered at Applebees like some of us have taken to" -- because than, instead of the law being used as a tool to bring about repentance the hearers instead think, "Well, do you know what's going on... oooOOOooo, I wonder who the pastor is talking about."

If one's addressing of a sin publicizes that sin... it wasn't a public sin and it shouldn't have been publicly addressed.

There is a need and a desire to cover people from shame... Noah gets covered when he is drunk... and I doubt Shem or Japeth went on about how "some people can't hold their wine".

The temptation for us is this -- we think everyone knows what we know, has read what we've read. We are in an information happy society where we want to publicize the random thoughts we have. I'm doing that here, in fact. The danger is this -- if I say, "I'm going to call _____ to the carpet for his shameful _______" -- most people don't know about it... why am I just bringing up more shame?

Ah well, thus is life.

Lent 5 Sermon

Lent 5 – March 25th, 2012 – John 8:42-59

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Oh, that Jesus – He was such a sweet, quiet boy. You are of your father the Devil, and your will is to do you father’s desires. That Jesus, He’s just as nice as can be. Whoever is of God hears the Words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God. That Jesus, He is as kind and gentle as a lamb. If I were to say that I did not know Him [that is, the Father], I would be a liar like you. I think that sometimes, when we think about Jesus, we can almost have this watered down, sugary sweet image of Him. We treat Christ like He is a 98 pound weakling who keeps quiet, or maybe like a sitcom dad from the 50s where the sternest He’ll get is a raising of His eyebrow. Jesus is God Almighty. And yes indeed, Jesus is very kind, very loving, indeed the very definition of love itself – but there are some things that Jesus does not put up with. Jesus doesn’t mollycoddle sin. Jesus doesn’t ignore sin. He doesn’t behold wickedness and shrug – instead He says, “Go and sin no more.”

That is what He is doing in our Gospel lesson for today. Throughout lent, we’ve seen Jesus go on the offensive. He’s attacked Satan at His temptation – He’s cast out demons, and He’s broken hunger down. Those are all things that are outside of us, are other. Today, though, Jesus goes after something else. What gets Jesus all riled up? Unbelief. If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but He sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear My Word.” Jesus here is speaking to, as verse 31 says, “Jews who had believed.” Many heard Jesus with joy at first, and they fell away. Jesus here spells out why. You cannot bear to hear my Word.

It’s easy to like Jesus if you simply watch what He does. Heals people. Great! Feeds them. Wonderful! This is good stuff. We can even add teaching people to the list. Folks from other faiths, even the most crass modern atheist who despises Jesus, will call Jesus a nice, moral teacher. You cannot bear to hear my Word. Well, what “Word” is that?

If we were to think about what Word people can’t bear to hear – at first we might think it is God’s Law that they cannot bear. And if you catch someone redhanded, if you confront them about something that they are doing that they shouldn’t be – they probably won’t be happy, but that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. You know, by in large – we like the Law – or at least the idea of the law. The Law says, “You should be nice.” I doubt many people are going to say, “No, I should be mean and nasty and hurt people.” People like the law. They like it watered down, they like ignoring the parts of the law they have a hard time with – but by in large, people like the idea of the law – just give me some rules to follow and let me be. No, the problem here, the Word that people cannot bear to hear, is the Gospel. The Gospel offends. Remember what Paul says. But we preach Christ Crucified – a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” A stumbling block – something people can’t get around. Folly – something that is foolish and unwise. Now, the Law – that makes sense to people. Pretty much everyone except the most extreme nut job, will if pressed, admit that there are things that they do that are wrong. Okay – I messed up. People will admit that. The question is, how does one fix that – how does one handle sin. In the Gospel – Christ Jesus says, “I will save you – I will win you forgiveness, and you will have life in my name.” And that upsets people. Well, wait, how could that upset people, Pastor?

Think for a moment, about a little child tying his shoe. And he is struggling with it. And her mom stoops down to help him, and what does the kid say? “No. I can do it myself!” We’ve all seen a kid do that. I’m already fearing how often I’m going to end up hearing it in not too long. And not just kids. If you are married, I bet that you’ve said, “I can do it myself” to your spouse. If you are up there in years, you’ve probably said “I can do it myself” quite stubbornly to someone who wanted to help you out with something. We like being independent. We like being able to stand on our own two feet.

The Gospel says, “Yes, although you have sinned, you have life and salvation in Christ Jesus. He is the one who has done it.” The problem is, all too often we want to do it ourselves. That is why the Gospel offends. “Okay, so I’ve messed up, I’ll just get myself out of this hole! Wait, what? Jesus is my Savior – how dare you imply that I’m not good enough on my own.” By nature we want to take pride in who we are, in what we do. We want to make things all about us – we are from the right family, we do the right things, we are nice people and that’s why we’ll get to heaven. Think of most funerals – there will be eulogies. Oh, so and so was such a nice person, surely God will want a nice guy like him in heaven. Bleeck! Makes me want to vomit, and I mean that literally. Even when confronted with the death, we still want to pretend that we are strong enough to stand on our own.

We want to do things ourselves, and that can apply to our salvation as well. In fact, that’s what unbelief is – it’s hearing that Christ is our Savior and saying, “No thank you, I’ll do it myself.” It is not believing in Christ, not trusting in Him to be our Salvation. That’s the heart of unbelief. And why is there unbelief? Because we don’t want to be “of God” – to be dependant upon Him; we want to do it ourselves. The problem comes in in the fact that. . . we can’t do it ourselves. We know this, we teach this, we learn this anew all the time. We look at not just part of the Law, but at its consequences. The wages of sin is death. I’m sure that is a familiar verse to all of you here. And we know what it means. The wages of sin is death, and I’ve already earned my plot in the ground – I earned it before I even drew breath, for in sin my mother bore me. Death is what I deserve, and I can’t change that. Period. No mere human, born in sin can do that. Doesn’t matter how much good I do, doesn’t matter how nice I am – I cannot atone, I cannot make up for my sin. But God can – in fact, if my sin is to be covered, it must be God who covers it.

This is what Jesus teaches us today. “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” So the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet 50 years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” I AM. Now, remember back to Exodus. How does God identify Himself to Moses? “I AM”. God – the One who exists, who is, who was, is, and will be forever more. The Jewish people took this idea very seriously. In fact, when I learned modern Hebrew – I didn’t learn the present tense of is – I didn’t learn how to say, “I am” – because it isn’t used. Doing a literal translation, you just say, “I a man. I going to the store.” You never say the word for I Am. The word is never used – because that’s God’s Name, that’s who God is. And there is Jesus – and not only does He use the Word I AM – but He says, “I AM” and means, “I AM I AM.” I Am God.

Jesus has to be God to win us salvation, because only God can save us from our sin. It is something we can’t make up for, we can’t atone for – we can’t cover it. Even all the sacrifices of the old testament, they merely pointed forward to the true sacrifice that would cover our sin. Or, if you prefer, hear how Scripture puts it – But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of His own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. That is such a rich passage, and we can shoot right by it. Christ appears – how? God comes as a Man – God comes and dwells, tabernacles, tents among us “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” – not in sinful flesh, but in His perfect, sinless Body. And what does He do? He sheds His perfect, sinless blood to secure an eternal redemption – one that doesn’t wear out, one that covers all, one that endures. Christ became what we are – a human. Christ suffered what we deserve – suffering and death. Why? So that we might be like what He is – holy and righteous. So that we might spend eternity with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth. This is what Christ does, and this is what Christ alone could do. Upon the Cross Christ Jesus won forgiveness, earned us life to fill up and cover the death our sin had earned.

Not only your sin in general – but your unbelief as well – the fact that by your nature you struggle against God – God has handled that. I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Christ Jesus my Lord, or come to Him. The struggle with unbelief is no stranger to us. We know pride – that would lead us to trust in ourselves. We know selfishness – that would cause us to look away from God and only at ourselves. We know hatred – that would make us feel justified in whatever sinful action we take. But what has God done? But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.

This is what God has done. By His Word, be it preached, be it tied to water in Baptism, be it tied to His Supper – God has called us to faith. He has given us belief. And we still struggle. We say, “I belief, help my unbelief.” And God continues His work – just as He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith – in this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. He continues to apply His Word – His Word of the Gospel to you, and you gladly hear it, for you are of God – you are Baptized. He continues to come to you in His Supper, to give you the very Body that was crucified, the very Blood that was shed for you – so that you might be and remain in Him. We hear God’s Word, we receive His working in the Sacraments – and therefore we know that we shall never taste eternal death – for we are Christ’s – we are of God, and we rest secure in His love. But we preach Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power and the wisdom of God.” Christ is Crucified, and you have life in His name. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Why so offended?

So - why did you get offended? And no, I don't mean, "what did that mean, bad person do that annoyed you" -- I mean, why did you get offended? Why were you set off end by this other person's actions - why were you knocked off balance?

Just something to think about -- why did you let your self get knocked over? If you have been "off ended" by someone... why aren't you standing back up, dusting yourself off, and getting on with life? If someone has "up set" you... why are you remaining up set instead of standing back up and doing what you ought to be doing?

Being offended, being upset simply means you are abbrogating responsibility for your own actions, feelings, or responsibilities.

You are you. Live the life you have been give to live -- love your neighbors, even your enemies. Show them kindness. When reviled, do not revile in kind. Explain things in the kindest way. Bear one another's burdens, including when that person is in and of themselves a burden.

But dust yourself off, stand back up, and do not let anyone offend you.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. - Galatians 5:1

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. - 1 Corinthians 16:13-14

You know -- don't let yourself be offended. It's never worth it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

5th Lenten Midweek SErmon

5th Lenten Midweek Service – I Am the Resurrection and the Life

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
We have sort of gotten used to death. Doesn’t mean we like it, but we’ve sort of gotten used to the idea, and now we human beings face it with a certain amount of weary and wary resignation. “It’s just what happens. It’s just nature taking its course.” And we know it is inevitable – death and taxes, the things we can’t avoid. And our reaction to it is… odd. We know it’s coming, but we do so much to pretend it isn’t there – it can be the elephant in the room that we never discuss, that we pretend is far, far away. And it’s getting worse in American culture today. We worship youth – you can’t watch TV for an hour without the latest diet or exercise fad that will make you look younger. We idolize being young, being a teen, being wild and rebellious… you know, being able to pretend that our actions don’t have consequences, even deadly consequences. We want to pretend that we can ignore death, push it off away. We’ll pretend that our bitterness and anger don’t bring death to our friendships, that greed and lust don’t kill relationships. And even when loved ones we know die – oh no, we don’t want a funeral, let’s have a celebration of life instead. We would rather live in our memories than confront the truth of death – that since the fall death has always been around mankind, snapping at our heels. And sinful man tries to deal with it, make accommodations with it, even drink it away or try to pretend it doesn’t happen, but the simple fact is that this world is full of stinking, bitter death.

Mary and Martha hadn’t held a celebration of life for their brother Lazarus. No. He died. And they had a funeral. And four days after he died – three days after the funeral, because in Jewish culture you buried the dead within 24 hours – three days after the funeral they are still surrounded by mourners. There was less pretend then. They knew that they were facing down death. I guess it came at you quicker then. You didn’t have the medicines to prolong life, the safety features, the antibiotics. If I had been born in the time of Christ, I wouldn’t have survived child birth, and I’m willing to bet most of us in this room have already faced things that would have been fatal then. It was harder to pretend that death wasn’t death then. So they didn’t. They mourned. Even Jesus mourns – He weeps. Jesus is God, God become man to enter into this fallen world, this world that is constantly attacked and berated at death’s every whim. And why?

Martha knew that Jesus was kind and loving – that He did good. But she thought there was only so much that He could do. And Martha, hearing that Jesus is coming runs out and she says, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” I’ll admit, I’m not sure what to make of this. Is it a simple confession of faith – yes, Jesus, You could have healed my brother. Is it lamenting the what-ifs – oh, if only you had been here, Jesus. Is it accusation – golly gee willickers gosh darnit Jesus, why weren’t You here to heal my brother? You better fix this! I don’t feel bad being confused – I’d imagine Martha herself was feeling quite confused. And then Jesus speaks to her – “Your brother will rise again.” Again, this isn’t anything strange. How often do we say this to each other at funerals? It’s part of our faith – I look for the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. And even Martha thinks of the resurrection – “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” And there Martha is – thinking forward, sharing that same thought that so many of us have had at the funerals of loved ones, really looking forward for the last day, looking for it eagerly.

But then Jesus speaks again, and He turns everything on its head. “Jesus said to her, ‘I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.’” Jesus did not come to be a mere miracle worker, healing the sick for a brief time. Jesus did not come to be a mere teacher of morality and kindness, showing us a better way. Jesus did not come to simply be a comfort and friend in the midst of the trials we face in this slow, tedious death that we falsely call life. No – Jesus Christ, the Son of God, stepped into this fallen, sinful, decaying world because He Himself is resurrection, because He Himself is life. Over and above all the nice things, the platitudes that people will say about Jesus, about His teachings, this truth stands out above all others. He is the resurrection and the life – and He has come to destroy death. He didn’t come just to heal Lazarus, just to stop him from dying for a time. If that was all Martha could have hoped for, her hopes were set too low. Jesus Christ came to destroy death. All around Christ was death. Of course there was death, He was surrounded by sinful man, and the wages of sin is death. But He came, and in His own body He put a stop to sin – He was sinless and perfect. And because of this, He said that He would take up our sin, take up our wages, and put them to death for us on the cross. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, takes it to the cross. He who is life Himself comes to die, in order that death might be forever broken, in order that death might be done away with.

Because Christ Jesus is life – everyone is going to rise. Those who believe in Christ rise to life everlasting, those who do not believe to everlasting condemnation – but they are going to rise too… because Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the Word of God which called creation into being, is a Living Man, is Life itself, and because He lives, every man, woman, and child ever created will live forever. The grave will not keep them – He is the resurrection and the life. And this is His joy, what He loves to be. He delights in giving you life – not just then on the last day, but life now, life that shines forth in care and compassion, life that turns you into a light in the middle of this world of darkness and death, little foretastes of the life that is to come. He does that here in John 11 – after our text, well, we know what happens. “And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me, but I said this on account of the people standing around that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’” Just a foretaste, a little snippet of what is to come. But it is going to be even better come the last day, friends. The same Lord who calls forth Lazarus will come with a cry of command and with the voice of an archangel, and all the dead will rise. That’s the way it has to be – He is life, He is the resurrection, and when He comes in Glory, when He comes with His power and divinity totally unmasked, life and resurrection will be the only thing around us to see. But there will be one slight difference then – with Lazarus, Jesus has to say, “unbind him.” That word “unbind” is another word for forgiveness. Sin binds, chains us. It had chained us to death. We are still somewhat wrapped up in death and sin, even now. But on the last day, when we are risen then, when forgiveness and life and salvation have taken their full effect – well, as John says in his 1st Epistle, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” On Easter morning, no one has to unbind Christ – the cloths lay there in the tomb. He is the resurrection and the life – and what He is, He gives to us. This is what He has come to do. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

What You Fear Shows What You Value

Pastor Peters asked which is worse, Rome or Geneva in a recent blog post. This plays off of one of my old college statements:

A Baptist is just a Roman Catholic without the Liturgy or Sacraments.

I think you can defend this statement -- there is some focus on Christ, but then things shift to my works very quickly... even more quickly in Baptist theology. So it had always confused me why so many Lutherans seem more ready to ally or team up with the Reformed than with Rome -- and especially Reformed that are... radical, and do things like deny infant baptism or reject the creeds.

To be honest, there is another difference between a Baptist and a Roman Catholic. The Baptists jettison the Pope.

Here is my contention - look at the other denominations, and think about which ones annoy you more or less -- and you can learn from this. You'll figure out what errors you fear most -- which highly what you value most.

Many Lutherans, at least in America, highly value independence - the idea that you can't tell me what to do, that I can do what I want. I get this - it's something I tend to like myself, and I can be death on legalism. Hence, there's a lot of fear of the Pope, who might take that away. (In fact, my Roman Catholic friends have often say that we Lutherans pay more attention to the Pope than most [Roman] Catholics do).

But that's not my greatest fear. I fear losing the Sacraments. I fear losing the Gospel - the working of God upon me in the Word, in Baptism, in the Supper. If you lose that, legalism or worse is inevitable. Hence... I'm not nearly as freaked out by Rome or the specter of the mean Pope being a tyrant as I am... losing worship and the Sacraments.

Think about what annoys you in theology, what you value. This will show you what you really value.

Lent 4 Sermon

(I forgot to post this)

Lent 4 – John 6:1-15 – March 18th, 2012
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
And now we have reached the midpoint of Lent. Three weeks down, three weeks to go, and we have reached a time of rest and contemplation, time given to us in the Church Calendar to reflect upon God’s goodness to us. The text that we use to ponder this is the familiar feeding of the 5000. And while we see in this a reminder of God’s goodness, we will also note a brief warning that will shape us and prepare us for the rest of Lent. Let us cease dilly-dallying and rather dive in.

“After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius. And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.” Now, consider what John tells us about this crowd. They are following after Christ because they have seen the sick healed. They are observers, they are watching to see what He will do – they are viewing Jesus as we might view a celebrity or a reality TV show – oh, how interesting, I wonder what Jesus will do next. Jesus is at arm’s length for these people – He’s dealing with the sick, not with them. I might read the headlines about the celebrities while standing in line at the grocery store – but I don’t expect them to actually interact with me.

Christ Jesus is not a movie star or a rock star. He is not simply some distant face out there in the spotlight or shining from the silver screen. He has come to deal not just with the people we think are sick and lowly, but He has come to deal with us because in fact, we are sick and weak and lowly. Listen to how Jesus views the crowd. “Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand. Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’” When Jesus sees the crowd, He knows that He will not let them remain as simple observers of what happens, He will not let them simply watch as He cares for others – no, He will care for them personally and directly. Of course He will, He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the God who delivered His people from bondage in Egypt in the time of the first Passover who has now come to truly deliver all man kind with His own death and resurrection. Jesus is here for all, not simply for all to see, but for the benefit of all. And as He sees these people who are simply waiting to see how He will help someone else, Jesus plans to feed them.

But everything is always a teaching moment for Christ, for He knows how much we need to grow and mature in trust and love, and so He asks Phillip how this crowd would be fed. “Phillip answered Him, ‘Two Hundred Denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.’” Phillip is caught totally off guard. He starts running the numbers through his head – it would take $20,000 to cater even a cheap meal for this crowd, and we don’t have that kind of cash on us. Do you hear how Phillip is caught off guard, how he doesn’t know how to respond to the question? He thinks automatically of the worldly, the civil, the nuts and bolts economics of life. Forget the where to buy bread, just think of the cost! It will be impossible. But the where is the key – the where is Christ. Christ will not make bread to satisfy Himself, but Christ will act to show love and care for His neighbor. Where will you find bread, you will find it in Christ, who with His own precious blood and innocent suffering and death will buy not only bread, but will buy us life and salvation and forgiveness. But as of yet, Phillip doesn’t quite get it yet.

So, a second disciple tries. “One of the disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many.’” Now, have in your head the right image – these aren’t loaves of sandwich bread… these are dinner rolls. These aren’t 10 pound bass, freshly caught – this is a can of tuna fish. This is a small child’s lunch. That’s is. Andrew is saying to Jesus, “There’s nothing here, Jesus, nothing to buy. You’ve set us an impossible problem, and we can’t feed these people. Even if we bought this kid’s meal, it wouldn’t do any good.” And Andrew is right – neither he nor Phillip will be able to provide for these people. But it does not matter what Andrew or Phillip can or cannot do, what matters is that Christ is determined to show love, and so He shall.

“Jesus said, ‘Have the people sit down.’ Now there was much grass in that place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.” I know this was this past Wednesday’s sermon, and it comes up later in John’s Gospel, but why do you think John notes for us that Jesus makes people sit down in a place where there is much grass? Remind you of a Psalm, the 23rd one, perhaps – He makes me to lie down in green pastures? Because that is the point here, precisely the point. Jesus is the Lord, and He is the Good Shepherd of these people, and they will not want for food on this day. They will lie down and be fed. Again, this drives at a truth that we must remember – Christ is involved in our lives, whether we know it or not. We will speak of how God causes rain to fall on both the just and the unjust. We learn in the catechism that God gives daily bread with or without our prayer, and even gives it to the wicked. He gets involved. These folks who thought that Jesus was just a show, just something for them to see and observe – no, they will be shown that He is there for them. They will receive the miraculous as well. So they sit down.

“Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted.” And Jesus gives them their fill. He is God Almighty, all of Creation is His, and He will make creation serve Him. And so more than enough food goes out, and the people are fed. And these people receive the benefits. They are no longer cold and callous observers, they are participants in receiving the blessings that Christ brings, and they know it. This is a wondrous thing.

Now, I would have you note the language John uses here – “and when He had given thanks, He distributed them”… does that sound familiar to any of you? They parallel the Words of Institution by which Christ Jesus gives us today His own Body and Blood to eat and drink under bread and wine. And note – the feeding of the 5000 is not a communion service, but John wants us to make a connection. While we do not receive bread that miraculously appears, miraculously multiplies from Jesus, we do receive from our Lord His gifts in the Lord’s Supper. In that meal is it not just our bellies that are filled, but rather we are given forgiveness and life. We receive not just some bodily care, but we receive the full fruits and benefits of all that Christ Jesus has come to win for us, and we are refreshed, prepared to face life in this world until we are brought to the life of the world to come.

And the people there, they understand that they have seen a wonder. “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’” So the people see, and they know something wondrous is going on. Jesus, He is mighty and powerful, look at what He can do. But alas, there is a slight problem. “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” This is the twist to this feeding that always gets me, that always hits me hard. Here these people have just received a miracle from God, Jesus has just taught them wonders… but they don’t want to learn, instead they want to rule. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer “Thy Will be Done”. These people wanted things to be done their way now – look at how good Jesus is, let’s use Him, let’s make Him do what we want Him too, we could eat high on the hog every day. And Jesus slips away – no, He has come to serve, but serve on His own terms, to serve by being the suffering servant who dies for the sins of the people as the prophets of old had foretold.

Here we get a warning. Yes, Christ comes to serve, but His service is all focused on the Cross. We don’t remain at Jesus’ Grassy Buffet gorging ourselves, we don’t get to turn Jesus into the Blessing King, giving us what we want our way right away – although that is how many are tempted to treat our Lord. If we look for merely temporal blessings that our flesh might crave, then we will fail to see Jesus, for Jesus always goes to the Cross, always moves not to give us the best of this world, but to free us from bondage to sin here in this fallen world. Just as Jesus withdrew to the mountain by Himself here, so our Lord will go to Mt. Calvary Himself, and there He will bear the burden of our sin and destroy it. He refreshes us now: rejoice in this but do not be distracted by it. His greater task is the cross which wins us for eternity. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Saturday, March 17, 2012

I Bound What?

One of the things that I have noticed is that folks who toss around the Law and legalism often seem highly confused when people say that their rules are binding their conscience or are burdensome. I was giving thought to this fact this morning. Here is my initial two pronged thesis.

Legalists and pietists never think they are binding some one to the Law because they don't think the Law is a terrible, crushing thing. They do not think they are binding someone's conscience because they have found "the way" to live that keeps their conscience "clean".

Now, while that may sound condescending and cruel... it's not. Most of the time folks who whack people with the Law upside the head don't think they are doing any whacking. The Law of God is good... therefore if something crushes you, that just needed to be crushed. Of course, this completely ignores whether this is a matter of Divine Law being used to bring forth repentance so that one might see Christ all the more, or this is a matter of someone dropping their own paths and plans for the truly pious life smashing another person with yet another holy hoop to jump through.

The Law is not good in a vaccuum. It is good because it shows our sin - that is why it is good and wise. The Law is good because there is Gospel... if there is no Gospel, nor if there is a movement towards the Gospel, the Law just kills... and that isn't good.

Too often the Law is used to drive not to the Gospel but to a level of self-satisfaction, where one has obtained the appropriate level or course of actions and piety - where one can then say, "All these I have done from my youth" - or at least, "I used to not understand, but now I'm a good Christian and I _____________" where that blank is filled with some self made bit of piety.

And this shows up across all theological lines. Whether it's living the purpose driven life or finding the exact right way to comport one's self, it all becomes reflexive saying, "see, I have done what I need to."

That is not the Christian faith. The Christian faith is "Christ be merciful to me, for You have done it all for me." There is life only in Christ. There is peace only in Christ.

If you look at the law and get a feeling of peace... you're actually ignoring the law. When you throw Law at folks and wonder why they squirm, you've forgotten the Law. And when you toss your own proclamations and people and can't understand why they reject them as inappropriate, you have learned nothing but why the Papacy in the middle ages was so glad to be the way it was.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Question Not to Ask

Don't ask someone if they have a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Seriously - it's not a good question.

If a person is alive, they have a "relationship" with Jesus. He's God. They are a creature. Without God sustaining the universe, they wouldn't exist. That's a relationship right there.

A slightly better question would be if they are aware of that relationship, if they know and think about all that God does for them. In fact, I think this is something that is worthy for all Christians to ponder -- growth as a Christian isn't necessarily a matter of some outward or external "improvements"... but it is the continued growth and awareness of all that God has done for you in providing you what you need for this life and in providing salvation.

But even then... that whole relationship language is just a bit off. It makes things sound... optional. Like a human relationship, where you can ask someone out on a date or break up with them.

You don't get to end your relationship with God. You might choose to rebel, you might choose to be wicked... but He's still God and He still provides you your daily bread. Christ Jesus has still died for your sins even if you hate Him for it. God is God, and there's nothing you can do to change that fact.

We aren't the actors in our faith - we don't create, we don't go forge a relationship with God. Rather this - by the power of His Word, God opens our eyes over and over and over again so that we see more and more the continued care and love that Christ shows us in all things. We realize more and more His goodness, even as the world, Satan, and our sinful flesh try to blind us.

He is our God - faith is simply seeing and believing this to be true.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Lent 4 Midweek Sermon

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

And so now we get to the familiar one, now we get to the I Am statement that actually may be the most familiar of them all. “I Am the Good Shepherd.” This is an incredibly familiar statement – think how often in pictures or art Jesus is shown as a shepherd. One of our windows is of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. There are Good Shepherd Lutheran churches, I know several. I don’t know many “The Door Lutheran Churches” – but Good Shepherd, that’s a good name. And this text comes up every year a few weeks after Easter – it’s one we hear often. And the fact that the 23rd Psalm is probably the only one most of you have memorized doesn’t hurt either. So instead of going through the whole text, let’s just focus on verse 11 tonight and consider it: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The simple and first idea is this – Jesus is a Shepherd. Jesus is One who gently and faithfully guides His flock in order to care for them and to protect them. And really, if you look at the entirety of the Old Testament, you can see this idea come up often. You have the Lord protecting Abraham and leading him where he needed to go. You have the Lord leading Jacob as well, and Joseph. And of course when you get the Exodus, you have Moses leading the people of Israel. And all of those men, guess what they were – Shepherds. It’s not just David who was a shepherd. When I was in Egypt a few years ago, our tour guide pointed out that statues of sheep only happened after Abraham arrived… he argued that Egypt didn’t have sheep before Abraham showed up. And Jacob was a shepherd, and his Rachel tended the sheep – and of course, Rachel means “Lamb of God.” Joseph is visiting his brothers at the flocks when he gets sold into slavery in Egypt, and when Moses flees Egypt, he becomes a shepherd as well. There may not be a more consistent image of guidance and care in the Old Testament than that of a shepherd – the one who cares for and guides and protects the sheep from wild beasts.

Thus it is no surprise that God would be compared to a Shepherd. Again, this is Psalm 23 stuff – the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Well, of course I won’t want, God will care for me. Of course God is going to keep me safe and lay me down in good pastures. It was a powerful image, and a common one in the holy lands – there’s a lot of rocky hill country that’s not good for crops but fine for grazing sheep – people get this idea, and the idea of God being a Shepherd, One who can tend for and care for people even in a dangerous and harsh environment is a common one.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” But what we hear tonight in our Gospel, that’s a bit different. Okay, so Jesus calls Himself the good shepherd – He ratchets the rhetoric up – it makes sense to say that Jesus is Good, that He is superior to all those Old Testament Shepherds we came across. But then there is one change that is just astonishing. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. In all of the Old Testament, with all of those Shepherds, when do you ever see them die for the sheep. David didn’t die for the sheep – he saw the lion coming and took it down with his slingshot! They had thought that the wild beasts had gotten Joseph, but it was all a trick, and he was alive in Egypt. It’s like the line from the old movie Patton – a soldier’s job isn’t to die for his country, it’s to make the other guy die for his country. A shepherd’s job isn’t to die for his sheep, it’s to make the wolf, the lion, the thief die for coming after his sheep! At least that’s how we are used to thinking. Love, protect, defend your livestock… but die for, no, not quite.

But Jesus is no ordinary Shepherd, for we are no ordinary sheep. We were sheep who had wandered and gone astray, and so our Shepherd goes after us to reclaim us, gather us again. Consider this. If your sheep wanders into a swamp, the only way you are going to get that sheep back is if you go into the swamp yourself, and if that means you get much and stench on you, so be it. A hired hand might not do that, he might tell you to take this job and shove it, but the Shepherd, you do what you have to do. But it wasn’t merely to some other hill or into a ditch that we had wandered, or even into a swamp or bog – no, we had wandered into death. Adam and Eve had put themselves into a world of hurt when they ate of the tree in the Garden, when they ignored the Good Shepherd’s proper pasture and went after Satan’s snack instead. And it caught them. It caught us. We were trapped by death, we were brought into the kingdom of death. The hired hands, they would run from this, but the Good Shepherd knows what He must do. He must rescue the Lost Sheep, and if means entering the kingdom of death, so be it. If the sheep have abandoned the paths of righteousness for the path of death, then the Shepherd will go through death in order to get them. If the sheep had consigned themselves to the grave, then to the grave the Good Shepherd will go.

The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd goes to the Cross, to the tomb for the Sheep. But He doesn’t stay there. The Good Shepherd, having invaded Satan’s domain to rescue and reclaim His wayward sheep then leads them out again back to where they should be. That is what Easter is – when Christ strides forth from the tomb, that is our Good Shepherd who had laid His life down for us leading us out of death. When the Shepherd calls o ur name – for He even calls me by name, as He has done in the waters of Baptism, this is where He leads us, He leads us to everlasting life. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for us, but He takes it up again, He takes it up again so that we might have life. He leads us out of slavery to sin and death unto release in the true Promised land, the life of the world to come. We wandered out of Eden, and He has said, “Follow Me My sheep, for I will bring you to the New Heavens and the New Earth, the new Eden I have made for you.” He is our Good Shepherd. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Lent 3 Sermon

Lent 3 – March 11th, 2012 – Luke 11:14-28

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Once again, Christ Jesus our Lord strides forth to battle. Once again we will see Jesus tangle with Satan and his minions – but the battle will not be done when the demon is gone. No, today we will see another battle, another fight. This fight is against man’s desire to not view himself as helpless, man’s desire to save himself. Let’s work our way through this text and see what we get this morning.

Now He was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. It almost sees as though by now, Jesus casting out demons is just old hat. Another day, another demon cast out. There is no long story of the mechanics of what happens here, there is no pleading mother that we see, or friends bringing the man. . . simply the man has a demon cast out of him to the crowd’s astonishment. What does this mean? The fact that Jesus casts out demons, the fact that Jesus takes on Satan and His minions, the fact that Jesus performs miracles shouldn’t be surprising to us. Oh, we still marvel at this, but it’s not surprising. This is what we know Jesus to be doing. But not everyone is happy.

But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons,” while others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven. The human mind, sinful and depraved, has no limits to what it will say, think, or do. We are the undisputed masters of denial, we will go to any lengths to avoid any truth we don’t like. And here we see people look for reasons not follow Christ, not to acknowledge that they need Him. Oh no, this Jesus, He’s in league with the Devil. Oh no, um, we need a real sign from heaven. . . as though casting out demons isn’t a clear enough sign. And note, this doesn’t have to do with the facts of what happened. . . this isn’t what we get from a lot of people today who even deny that any of this happened. No, these are people who see that Jesus casts out a demon. . . and then try to work their way around it. Why is that? They don’t like what Jesus says, what Jesus is about. If Jesus claims to be our savior from sin, then that means I’m a sinner and I need a savior. And that’s what these people don’t want to hear.

It’s the same thing we oftentimes don’t want to hear. Don’t think that these people in the text are the only ones who see what God says, what God does, and then stick their heads in the sand. We do this, this is the normal operating procedure of what our sinful nature does. We all have our pet sins, the weaknesses we are more susceptible to. . . and man if we don’t try to white wash them, if we don’t try to work around them, to excuse them. We will dodge the truth. We will dodge the commandments. Don’t covet! And then we see something shiny and new that our neighbor has. Don’t lie, and quickly the neighbor is badmouthed. Don’t steal, and then we can be quickly underhanded when it helps us out. No adultery, and then our lust runs wild, even if only in our thoughts. Don’t kill, and then we hate. Just run through the commandments, run through the catechism and what Luther says about them. . . and sit and take a hard look at yourself, and you’ll see that we will duck and dodge God’s Law often at our own convenience.

But Jesus doesn’t simply let us live in our delusions . . . He speaks His Word over and over again. And do you see what He does here in the text? It is a tour de force of destroying delusions. First, Jesus tears apart what the people are saying. But He, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid to waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? Now, Jesus here isn’t expounding on the profound mysteries of salvation, this isn’t a deep and thought provoking observation. He’s just making a simple and obvious point. Guys, Satan ain’t dumb, and what you are saying isn’t making any sense. He is more than smart enough not to wreck himself, so what I did isn’t Satan fighting Satan. I’m fighting Satan for you. Jesus is just very calm and rational here, and He picks apart the people’s complaints. This is what God’s Word always does, this is what the Truth always does. . . we throw up barriers, we hide behind delusions, and God’s Word very simply pokes holes in our protestations. Most of the time our excuses don’t make any sense, and one of the things that God will do is simply show us how our excuses don’t make any sense.

But He continues. Rather than just showing these people that they are in denial, He shows them why they should know better. For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. Look guys, we can see that God is at work here, many people are casting out demons in My name, your own sons, even! Your sons see the truth, they live in it, and if they understand why don’t you? This is just a great twist that Jesus gives here. We tend not to be consistent in our delusions. We will pretend that something that we do is alright, but terrible and wrong for our neighbor. Jesus just points this out right here. These people, because they are angry and upset with what Jesus preaches, are willing to condemn Him, to lie about Him. . . but what are they going to say about their kids? And this also brings out another interesting point. They will be your judges. There is nothing wrong with, out of love, calling a spade a spade. That doesn’t mean we should be high handed, that doesn’t mean we ignore our own sin, but what do you think these sons are going to say to their dads when they find out about this? They ought, if they are good sons, tell their fathers that they are wrong. They ought to see to improving their father’s honor, so that their dad doesn’t stumble around and act the fool. God will speak His truth to us through many ways, including through our loved ones who will properly admonish us when we need it.

But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you. And here we see the twist, the change of emphasis that Jesus makes here, and here their delusions are directly attacked. He’s made His point about these people, Jesus has laid down the law pretty bluntly, so now He’s going to change His focus. Oh, He’s going to now focus not on destroying our personal lies, but speaking the Truth about Himself. What is going on with My healings, My preaching? The Kingdom of God has come upon you. Do know what that means, do you see what Jesus is saying? He is saying I am the Messiah. I am the promised one. What you have been waiting for since the days of Adam has come, God’s chosen champion is here.

And then Jesus explains exactly what He is doing. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe, but when One stronger than he attacks him and overcomes him, He takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoil. Satan is a strong man, and Satan has been dwelling in the world, has been claiming it as his own since the fall. The prince of this world has been having his way, trusting to his own power, but behold, now Christ Jesus, the Stronger One, has come in, and what does Jesus do? He attacks Satan. Jesus goes on the offensive, Jesus bashes down Satan’s armor, Satan’s servants, He casts out demons, and Jesus reclaims us. Had you thought about it that way? That we were Satan’s property, his horde, his prizes of the war which he had waged on God. And then Jesus comes on a raid, and smacks Satan around, and takes us away from Satan and into His own household?

This is the part of the text, the truth that we, that our sinful flesh, can find so displeasing, so dissatisfying. We like to pretend that we, by ourselves are okay. That we are alright. That’s we are decent people – and yet the Messiah comes, and He says that He is here to rescue us. That means that we need rescuing. That means that our lives aren’t up to snuff, that means that we need to repent of our sins and be rescued by Christ. And just as the people in the text complained about Christ and wanted to live in denial, so too that is the temptation for us today. To live in denial, to simply pretend that everything we do is wonderful and nothing we do ever stinks. But Christ does not let our delusions stand. He doesn’t here our protestations that we are fine and just walk away, leaving us to our own devices. He knows that we are lost without Him, and even as we in our sin protest, He comes to beat down sin and death and the world to win us salvation. This is what we see here this today. There’s a demon that makes a man mute – even before the fellow can ask, Christ casts out the demon. And this is stated so matter of factly because this is what Jesus does. He takes it to Satan, He takes it to Satan’s kingdom, and even our delusions won’t prevent Him.

And this battle against Satan is seen most fully, most dramatically, upon the Cross. It is there, as He hang dying, that Jesus enters most fully into Satan’s house. Death, that’s Satan’s thing, that’s what comes from the sin that Satan loves to stir up, that’s where we are stuck without Christ. Without Jesus all our delusions and dreams about how wonderful we are simply end in a grave covered with flies and maggots. But Christ will not stand for it, He will not let us remain bound to Satan, and so upon the Cross Jesus goes crashing fully into Satan’s Kingdom. The Lord of Life confronts the lord of the grave, confronts Beelzebub, the lord of the flies, on Satan’s own turf, and thoroughly destroys him. Satan is vanquished, crushed, beaten and broken. And what then does Jesus do? He pulls us out of Satan’s clutches, He frees us from the fear of the Grave, and gives us life in Himself. Christ our Lord is raised from the dead, and by our Baptism, God has tied Himself to us, He gives us His own resurrection, and we are raised to new Christ’s new life.

This is what Jesus is doing, this is what His goal and task is, the defeat of Satan and our liberation. This is what we see Him doing all this Lent, marching His way to the Cross, swatting Satan’s servants out of the way, and more than that, wresting our eyes off of ourselves and on to Him. And what we see? All His foes defeated, all opposition crushed, as He gathers you, His beloved people to Himself. All praise to Christ Jesus our Lord, who gathers us back to Him by His Word when we err, and who crushes Satan for our freedom. In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Confidence and Knowing why others think the way they do

Just a brief and simple thought. It is good to know your own beliefs and why you hold them. That's one of the things shown from the Catechism... how often does Luther quote the Scriptures in his explanations -- see, this is why we believe this.

However, there is another aspect to this. Knowing why others think the way they do can give you confidence. If someone introduces an idea (let's say Macroevolution), that can be highly intimidating. But if you know the arguments, the rationale behind it, the assumptions that are made... then you can have confidence in the face of it.

Knowing accurately what other people think doesn't simply let you convince them better... it keeps you from being knocked off balance by them.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The amping of rhetoric and willful ignorance

Social Media has put me in an interesting position, one that leads often to my frustration. Many of my friends from college are very liberal... I was in some ways the token conservative. Many of my friends from Seminary are very conservative... I was in many way the token libertarian (although not quite as token anymore).

This means whenever anything happens... I get the rhetoric spew from both sides. And it disgusts me.

Do you know how many "wars" I've seen people talk about this week? I've learned that some of my friends hate and control women, and I've learned that some of my friends hate babies. I've learned that some hate the poor because they do X and that others hate the poor because they do Y.

Yesterday I wrote this: "Not everything in Politics is a "war". If the headline or tagline involves the phrase "the war on ______" the piece isn't primarily focused on teaching or convincing you - it will be focused on scaring and manipulating you."

Tonight I wrote this: "If your overblown rhetoric annoys and galvanizes the other side while offending those in the middle or the fence... you probably should refrain from using it. Don't call people names, especially in frustration. It tends to backfire."

And, of course, for thinking this I was shown to be an evil conservative or a gutless liberal... depending on which side I upset.

What frustrates me the most is this... I often know folks on both sides of an argument... and I know each side's argumentation... not their posturing, not their political rhetoric... but why they hold the positions they do. There are legitimate differences of opinions, there are different priorities... and these lead to differences.

But instead of knowing this, learning this, and letting the battle be over what values should take center stage, instead of battling over how best to accomplish goals... we fall to rhetoric and name calling. We engage in a willful ignorance of our political opponents and simply are reduced to vilification to try and sway people to an emotional tie to our position.

And it's disgusting.

And you know what -- it happens in almost every fight in this country. It happens not just in politics, but in our homes, in our congregations.

We do not love our neighbors who disagree with us. We do not love our political enemies and explain things in the kindest way. We do not take time to instruct, to plead. Instead, we worry about conquering and dominating.

God have mercy upon us all, but we are a mess.

The Tyrany of "What is Needed" for the Church

What is needed for the Church? What does the Church need now? What must we do now to avert the terrible tide of ________?

I hear these sorts of questions all the time. And to be honest, I have learned to pretty much lose interest. It's a horrible question. Why do I say that?

First of all, what the Church needs doesn't change. The Church needs Christ the Crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Simple as that. If Christ is overshadowed, whatever overshadows Him needs to be fixed. There isn't ever anything new the Church needs -- she only needs to return to who she is - the Bride of Christ. The Church is always in need of repentance, of reform, of returning her focus to the Bridegroom and Him alone.

Second, the answer to the question of what is needed doesn't lead to "reform" but rather the creation of new pet projects. And more over, if you don't jump up and down and celebrate this new pet project, you are bad and evil. It's all tyranny, it's all about control, it's all about trying to make people do what you want them to do, your plans, your solutions. And it runs on fear.

Do not fear. Look to Christ. His perfect love casts out fear. He gives growth through forgiveness. He does. Really.

If only we trusted Christ and His Word more than we trust our plans.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Lent Midweek Sermon 3

Lent Midweek 3 – March 7th, 2012 – I Am the Door

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Our verse for tonight, our Lord saying “I am the door of the sheep” is one of shame for me. In the spring of 2000, down in Norman, I was a college student taking his Greek test to pass out of Greek at the Seminary, and when finished the test, I walked into Pastor Nehrenz’s office and said, “What in the world is a probata – I know it’s ‘I Am the door to something, but what in the world is that?’” I read Homer, you had swords and armies, you didn’t talk about sheep. So this verse has stuck with me for rather embarrassing reasons for quite some time. It’s interesting though, when we think about the things that Christ is, all the I AM statements, “door” ranks pretty low. In fact, of all of these midweek sermons, this is probably the least familiar – if I had been familiar with it, I wouldn’t have blown the answer on the test. So let’s consider our text and see what our Lord teaches.

First, let’s consider the first verse: “Truly, truly, I say unto you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way; that man is a thief and a robber.” This is our context. You’ve got a sheep-pen, where the sheep are gathered nice and safely. If you are supposed to be dealing with the sheep, you enter through the door of the pen. Makes sense. But if you aren’t supposed to be dealing with the sheep, if you are there to mess with them, there to steal, there to rob, you slink in, you creep in some other way, and you snatch them away, maybe entice a few with some grass, some feed, get them to come to you and then abscond with them. And we can think about modern ways of saying this – if I drive by a house at night and see a guy walking through the front door, I don’t think much of it. If I see him crawling in a side window… I call the police. If you aren’t coming in through the door, you are probably up to no good.

Now, realize that our passage is describing the Church – the Church is the sheep pen, and you guys are the sheep. Now, how does someone rightly approach you? “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” Keep in mind that the Latin Word for “shepherd” is “Pastor”. And yes, next week we are going to talk about Jesus being the Good Shepherd, so don’t jump there yet – He’s the door tonight. If someone is going to be a right and properly called pastor, how does he come to the Church? Through the door. Through Christ. And openly so – the gatekeeper knows who he is. This is part of the reason why the Lutheran Church has always kept the practice of having our pastors be both called and ordained. A pastor is to be called by the local church – where they acknowledge and say, “Yes, you are our pastor” and they are to have been ordained, acknowledged by the other pastors who say, “Yes, you are indeed a pastor.” That’s why the absolution reads, “I as a called and ordained servant of the Word announce the grace of God unto all of you, and in the stead and by the command of My Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.” Stead and Command. There’s no sneaking around, there’s no mystery as to why I’m here – it’s all open and straight forward – I have been called here to preach Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins – that’s the voice, the words that you need to hear.

And then we get to the crux of the issue at hand – “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.” When I come to you to do my pastor stuff, how am I to approach you? How am I to come? Sneaking through a window? No, I come through the door, through Christ Jesus, and everything I say or teach is to be focused on Christ the Crucified who has died for the forgiveness of your sins and risen so that you will have eternal life. He is the door – He is the way in which the sheep are to be accessed… and if I’m dealing with you without Christ, without proclaiming His salvation, then I have fallen into false doctrine and error.

This passage shows us how to spot false doctrine. “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” If it’s not focused on Christ, if it’s not about the forgiveness of sins, it’s false doctrine, meant to kill and destroy your faith in Christ. As Christians, as God’s own precious lambs, you know how to recognize false doctrine. And the simplest way to check is to listen for the voice of the Good Shepherd – is the preaching, is the teaching giving you Christ and Him Crucified for you so that you may have life and have it abundantly. And not “wealth”, not the trappings of this world, not stuff – but that you may have life – that you might rise out of your grave because your Lord has come to call you out of it. If the preaching is just about having stuff now – this is the place where rust and moth destroy. Satan wants you focused here, and he stirs up pious sounding scoundrels who preach wealth and health and anything but Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of sins. Christ came that you may have life.

This is to be the focus of preaching. If there comes a time when the sermons I preach no longer give you Christ and His forgiveness, get rid of me. I say this not only for your sake, but for mine – because if I fall that far your kicking me to the curb may very well be the thing that brings me back to my senses, returns my focus to Christ. But if you will for a moment, consider that life and life abundantly is also the point of the sacraments. What’s the point of baptism, what does it give? “It works forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Or what does such baptizing with water signify? “It signifies that the old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts, and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise; who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” Life, and life abundantly.

Or consider the Lord’s Supper. What is the benefit of such eating and drinking? “That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.” Again, life, and abundant, everlasting life. And if you didn’t notice, all I was doing there was quoting from the Small Catechism. The reason some stodgy old pastor, or perhaps some stodgy young pastor tried to get to you memorize it was so that when thieves and robbers preach junk at you, you’d know to reject it.

Christ Jesus is the door. He is the right and proper way for you to be approached, the right and proper way for you to receive life. And if some so called teacher wants to tell you about “God” – about how things are, and he’s not preaching Christ and Him Crucified, if he’s telling you some other “Gospel” that isn’t focused on the death and resurrection of Christ for you – stop up your ears. You are God’s sheep, don’t listen to false voices. And you will know these false preachers by their works – for they do not show the works of Christ for you, they show some other works. Flee them. But when you hear your pastor enter by the door, enter bringing Christ and Him crucified, rejoice, because in receiving Christ, you receive life everlasting. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Fredom of the Call (or "See, I'm Not the Only One")

Pastor Chris Hall writes a wonderful piece on the freedom one has upon receiving a call.

The money quote: "So I have freedom. Freedom to decide where I want to be, and what is good for my family. I don’t have to fret and moan and vision-quest for God’s will. I don’t have to wring my hands and sweat and fear to make a wrong decision. He’s already revealed it. God said “yes” to both."

Sometimes we get this idea that God has every minute detail of our life mapped out, and that He's up in heaven watching us smacking His head saying, "No, NO! I had wanted you to have the French Toast for breakfast this morning, not the Swedish Pancakes... why, why must you deviate from My plan!?!?"

As we hear in Galatians 5:1 - "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." We do not live in constant fear of thwarting God's hidden will - we do not have to pry behind the curtains of heaven to figure out what God really wants us to do.

He has revealed His will to us in His Word - and when that Word leaves options open, we are free. For my friend Pastor Hall, God has revealed two options, two calls - one in Enid, one in Tulsa. And in six months, whichever places Pastor Hall is serving will have a fine, faithful pastor. And I am most glad to see that he views this as freedom.

We ought not submit again to a yoke of slavery -- and the burden of trying to figure out what God wants us to do apart from His revealed Word is slavery of the most terrible kind. It is slavery to the fears of a sinful heart and the imaginations of a fallen mind. Christ has set you free - the Word of God has set you free - cling to Him.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Luther on John 15:5

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Note that this is what He means when He says: “He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” He wishes to point out that Christianity is not attached to the outside of a man or put on as a garment, that it is not the adoption of a new method and manner of life and action, like monasticism and self-chosen sanctity, but that it is a new birth through God’s Word and Spirit and the creating of a man who is entirely new from the bottom of his heart. But thereafter, once the heart is born anew in Christ, fruits also flow: the confession of the Gospel, works of love, obedience, patience, chastity, etc.
So Christ would herewith forewarn His disciples to be sure to stay with His Word, which makes real Christians, people with a new life and nature, who bring forth may fruits from the Vine, and to beware of all kinds of other teaching, which inverts the order and wants to make the tree out of the fruit and grapes out of thorns and thistles. For nothing will ever come of this attempt.
- Luther

This idea, the idea of outward works still threaten us today, even though we don't have monasteries and the like. What we have is the outward appearance of being "good" -- the monks were the "good" Christians of their day, and we today have our own self-created ideas of what a "good" Christian looks like. And we are tempted to put that image of the "good" Christian on us, to keep up appearances, to have people applaud us because of our actions.

That's not the way it works. That is doing nothing. Repent. Hear the Gospel. And Christ will give you His life, and you will show forth love, not ape your pious appearing neighbor.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28 – March 4th, 2012

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
Last week in our Gospel we saw our Lord confront Satan and his lies there in the wilderness, we saw our Lord put Satan to flight. This Sunday, our Lord heals a young woman, the daughter of a Canaanite woman, of demon possession. This should be no surprise – if you’ve defeated Satan, defeating one of his minions isn’t going to be a problem. In fact, the healing of this girl is almost incidental to the story – we never see her, we never hear her. Instead, we see the interaction between this woman, the disciples, and Jesus, and in this interaction, we see our Lord fight something else. We see our Lord take on pride and ego, pride and ego that can lead to a weakening and even destruction of faith. Let us examine our text.

“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O LORD, Son of David, my daughter is severely depressed by a demon.’” Consider this: Jesus has just been having bitter discussions with the Pharisees, who are so full of themselves and their own righteousness, that to get a break, He heads to the coast, leaves Jewish territory behind. He is going to take a break from self-righteousness. And what happens? There, in that place, is a woman who calls out for mercy, seeking Jesus’ aid. And do you note what she calls Him? She calls Him “Lord” – that’s a good starting place, she recognizes Him as divine. Moreover, she calls Him “Son of David.” Think about this – the Canaanites were the ancient enemies of Israel, the ones who had fought David – this is the descendant of folks like the Philistines, and there she is calling Christ the Son of David. She is repenting of the sins of her people – this is astonishing. It would be like a member of Al-Qaida suddenly announcing to the world that he has repudiated Islam and is becoming a Christian – something we should all rejoice over.

But there is a problem. “But He did not answer her a word.” Doesn’t this seem strange? How often do we see Christ ignore someone in the Scriptures? We don’t see it often – and there is a reason for it. Jesus is going to teach His disciples, give them a quiz, see how they react and respond. And they fail utterly. “And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’” I really don’t know if there is a more chilling sentence in the Scriptures – I mean, think about this. Here you have the disciples seeing a poor woman who has confessed Jesus to be Lord, to be the Son of David, the Messiah… eh, send her away, she’s bothering us. And not just being dismissive of her – they BEG Jesus to send her away. It’s hatred and contempt of the most vile sort that these disciples show. So we have a contrast set before us – this woman who is in desperate straits and throws herself before Jesus for the sake of her daughter, and the disciples, who when they hear of this woman’s plight, instead of praying for her, instead of begging Christ to heal her, beg Him to let her and her daughter remain in suffering, remain oppressed by one of Satan’s demons.

This is the battle Christ fights in our Gospel today. The real opponent isn’t that demon that has possessed the girl – having defeated Satan a demon is small potatoes. The larger danger is disciples’ approach. The pride, the ego that the disciples had – pride in being good Jewish men who wouldn’t stoop to dealing with a Canaanite woman, pride in being the real disciples of Christ as opposed to this foreign trollop. The disciples saw themselves as the good people, the righteous ones, the ones that Jesus owed something to, and they had nothing but disdain for woman. And this makes them cold and callous… this pride drives from their hearts any semblance of love or compassion… and at this moment, these disciples are nothing.

Hatred kills faith. Disdain and ego and pride kill faith. They twist our eyes back onto ourselves where we think only of ourselves and ignore both God and neighbor. Send her away, for she is annoying us because she’s crying, she’s making a scene, and we don’t want to be bothered. I’m hard pressed to think of more faithless words in the Scriptures. And so, Jesus decides to use this Canaanite woman to teach the disciples, teach us what faith is, teach us what to repent of when pride and ego stir up hatred to attack our faith.

“He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’” Note this – Jesus is answering the disciples here – He is responding to them. Alright, you guys are so proud of being of Israelites, that’s what you think is important – alright, let’s do it your way, I’m here just for you. Guess she’s not My problem, deal with her yourselves in your own arrogance. This is throwing the disciples’ pride back in their face, this is throwing ego right back at them. And it stops the disciples flat. They got what they wanted – they wanted a Jesus that was just going to deal with them… and it doesn’t do them any good. This is throwing their failure right at them, showing them they have gotten an F.

Then the Canaanite woman comes forward, and she shows what faith is. “But she came and she knelt before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’” The disciples were brash, telling the Lord what to do, how He should or shouldn’t treat others. This woman is humble simply asking, pleading for help. She doesn’t command, she simply pleads. There is great humility here. And Christ is going to show the depths of her humility, her faith. “And He answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’” And Jesus insults her – you deserve nothing, you little dog, you wretched little thing. Now, imagine for a second what the disciples’ reaction would have been if Christ had called them wretched and mangy dogs. Think of how incensed they would have been, how angry – how their pride would have flared up – how dare you say such things. We are Israelites, we aren’t dogs, we are the good people. In fact, we’ll hear a conversation like this with the Pharisees in just a few weeks. That pride, that ego would blot out and blind everything.

The Canaanite woman doesn’t approach Christ with ego, with pride. She comes with humility. Christ tells her, “You are lowly, you are poor and wretched and deserve nothing.” And she says yes. Yes, You are right, I am poor and lowly and I deserve nothing… but You are good and kind and you will see that crumbs fall my way. To which Jesus says, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter is healed – she has shown the disciples what faith looks like.

The question we must ask ourselves is this. How do we approach God? Do we approach God as those who are worthy of His blessings, as those who can say, “Because I am so wonderful, I demand that you treat me well?” That isn’t faith, that’s pride. Or do we approach our Lord and say, “I, a poor miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You” – do we approach God seeking mercy not because of who we are but of His boundless mercy and for the sake of the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death of Christ Jesus? This is the approach of faith, where we cling not to ourselves, not to our own righteousness, but cling to Christ. For this is a battle that Christ comes to wage – He wages war not only against Satan, but against our own sinful flesh. If left to our own devices, we would do nothing but fight against God – our sinful flesh wants everything our way, our sinful will thinks only of what seems good to us, feels good to us, makes us look nice and proper. We need this sinfulness in us broken and destroyed – that is the point of praying “Thy Will Be Done” – God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. In our text, it was not the disciples’ will that was done, but rather Christ’s gracious and merciful will – and in faith, we call out to God to see that His will is done, indeed, to see that the power of His Gospel, His love, His forgiveness come crashing into our lives and change us, break us free from our sin and ego and make us to grow in love. That’s the prayer after the Supper – that receiving His gifts “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” – that God would increase our faith, that we would learn ever more to not only cling to Him but to love our poor and wretched neighbors who need Christ as much as we do.

Lent is a season of repentance, it is a time of self-examination. And when we look at ourselves, we see the little flares of pride and ego pop up, pride and ego that would hinder and prevent us from showing love, pride and ego that would make us want to close our eyes to our neighbor and turn our backs upon God. But Lent is also the season where we see Christ Jesus go to battle for us, for our sakes, and part of that battle He fights for us is against our sinful flesh. He reproves us and corrects us, shows us our sin that we might repent of it, but more than that, He shows us mercy, shows us His goodness and kindness, teaches us that we need not have any ego because it is not our worth that earns His love – rather He freely gives it, that He sees that we are fed, take us poor miserable sinful dogs and washes us in Baptism and says, “You are now My brother, My Sister, indeed, My own Body, and all that I have, My righteousness, My holiness, My life – it is yours. See, I love you, and I will stop at nothing, not even death, to free you from sin.” Christ fights for us, dear friends, and that is a wondrous and humbling thing. It is His fighting for us that gives us the gift of faith by which we have life in His name, all thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +