Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Law, Finding Fault, and Self Service

Proclaiming the Law is never self serving.  At least proclaiming it properly isn't.

Well, what do I mean by that?  When one speaks the Law to another person, one is laying them bare, is killing them.  The Law kills.  It slays the Old Adam -- it kills what needs to be killed but it still kills.  But that killing is done in order that the Holy Spirit may make alive again through a word of the Gospel proclaimed as soon as the Law has done it's work.  Using the Law is always to be a service to the neighbor, to be about their good, their benefit.  It *is* to be an act of love.  And as an act of love, the follow through of the Gospel and Comfort will be second nature -- but if there is no love, it will just be hanging, dangling law.

Consider -- if you see a child ready to play with poison and tell them no, that is a act of love -- that's what properly proclaiming the Law is.  But imagine for a second a person who thought, "Oh boy, if that kid eats that poison, they will throw up, and I think throw up is icky, and then I'll have to waste time taking them to the hospital, and think of how much money that costs... meh, I better stop them."  How is the child going to be stopped?  Just a harsh word and then left alone?  Now, a parent who loves the child will say no, but then also sooth the cranky child, find them other things to play with, teach them what is good to play with and what is bad -- in other words serve the child.  That way there is growth and life.

So - consider this.  How often do you speak the Law in a self-serving way?  How often do you proclaim the Law not so that you may then speak life and salvation to your neighbor, but rather in a self-serving way? How often is your "law" (if you can even call it that) simply a venting of your own disgust, a pious blathering of self-justification at the expense of denigrating your "morally inferior" neighbor.  Is the Law a tool you use to drive the annoying away from you, to elevate yourself - or is it a tool God uses to break sinful hearts so that they might be restored?  Do you give thoughts to the hopes of repentance... not just in the "I hope they stop bugging me sense" but in the "they ought to be my brothers and sisters who I will continually care for" sense?

Bilbo Baggins said that it's a dangerous thing stepping out your front door - you never know where the road may lead.  Likewise, it is a dangerous thing properly proclaiming the Law -- it isn't a drive by, a scatter bombing that you unleash and then forget about.  It is the first act of a lifetime of love and service to another... and if you don't think of it as an act of love... are you really speaking God's Law, or are you simply demonstrating your own annoyance and hatred?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Trinity 8

Trinity 8 - July 29th, 2012 - Matthew 7:15-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
    "Beware of false prophets".  That is how our Gospel lesson begins today - and so I will ask.  How often do you, O Christian, end up being wary, end up looking out for false prophets?  Is it something you even really ever think about doing?  Because you do need to be on guard against false prophet, because Satan is still active, still wants to lead you astray.  But do we even really think about there being false propohets today?  Part of the problem might be that we don't even think of their being prophets -- now, if some random fellow starts making bizarre predictions, we tend to write him off - but a false prophet is more than that.  The word "prophet" doesn't just mean some guy making predictions about the future -- anyone who is teaching, explaining the Word of God - saying, "This is what God means when He says" is taking on the role of a prophet.  Anyone who teaches about God, who claims authority to talk about God and instructs others is a prophet.  It means false teachers, false preachers as well -- and those we have around us today in spades.  So today, we will listen to our Lord's warnings and consider how best to know who false teachers are.

    "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."  The very first thing to note is our Lord speaks of deception.  Of false teachers trying to appear good and righteous and holy, and yet being something much more dangerous.  They are wolves in sheep's clothing - that famous phrase.  Now, before just skittering past that, let's ponder this for a bit.  Part of false teaching is deception, is putting forth a false front.  This makes sense, for since they are false they are serving Satan, and over and over we are told that Satan is a liar, is full of deception, wants to lead people astray.  The very first thing to be wary of is if someone wants you to put forward a false face.  Martin Luther, in describing a good theologian, a good teacher, said that a good theologian "calls a thing what it is."  This includes when we talk about ourselves.  Do we put up a false front, do we throw on a sheep skin to look harmless, or are we honest and truthful about who we are?  This is why I love having Confession and Absolution at the beginning of service -- no more masks, no more trying to pretend to everyone that everything is wonderful -- no, we are honest.  We are poor miserable sinners.  Does the preacher try to tell you that he doesn't sin, that he has found the key to being perfect, does he offer to "teach" you to do the same?  Then he is a false prophet.

    Continuing on, we hear this: "You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."  Now, think about this - there is a contrast that is set up. First Jesus warned us that we these folks will try to decieve us, that they won't be what they appear.  Then He tells us that we will know them by their fruits.  Well, which is it Jesus?  Do we judge by how they appear?  Do we judge by works and what they do - and if so wouldn't we expect the righteous and true to have better works?  Here is the problem.  "Fruit" does not equal works that look good.  That's not the fruit.  Yes, good works and kindness flow forth from a Christian and part of our lives - but that's not what defines, what shapes a Christian.  I know plenty of athiests who are quite nice and give plenty to charity - but you wouldn't want them to teach you about Jesus because they'd be quite wrong.  Jesus goes and lists some false fruits, so let's look at those first.

    “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven."  Just running around talking about Jesus, just claiming to know, to believe - that's not a fruit.  Of course it's not - every false prophet is going to claim to believe in Jesus, everyone who has been decieved and led astray is going to think they are right.  And not just people who claim Christ - listen to our Lord go on.  "On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’"  Casting out demons, doing mighty works, miracles -- even these aren't the fruit by which we are to discern false teachers.  No, our Lord gives two phrases that teach, that instruct -- those who do the will of the Father are good, and the workers of lawlessness are bad.

    Oh great.  Now Pastor is going to drop a serious Law Bomb here and just hammer us up and down and back and forth about what we need to do for God.  No, not quite.  In John 6 Jesus is asked, "What must we do to be doing the work of God."  And Jesus' answer is quite simple - “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."  Consider - what is the will of God?  What is God's Will?  Well, that we fallen men be saved.  That though we have sinned, Christ Jesus has died for us - when Christ prays in the Garden that the Father's will be done, it sends Him to the Cross.  This is the key, this is the test.  You know the verse where our Lord says, "I am the vine, you are the branches, He who abides in Me shall bear much fruit."  If we are attached to Christ, what will come forth from our mouths but Christ?  What will we speak but Christ and His mercy and forgiveness?  What does God desire but that people know His mercy, know His steadfast love which endures forever?

    For this to be known, a preacher, a true and right one will have to preach two truths, two things - Law and Gospel.  The Law must be preached, and anyone who doesn't preach God's Law is a false prophet.  We are not to be workers of lawlessness, we are not to ignore what God has said.  When God says, "thou shall not" - you shall not.  This was the other week, but whoever lessens a commandment is to be called least in the Kingdom of God.  And there are two reasons we as Christians need the Law.  For one, it instructs us, it guides it, it teaches us how to love our neighbor.  You neighbor needs you, needs your kindness, your love, your compassion.  God's law reminds you of that, teaches you that - it is for your neighbor's good that you follow the Law, and God would have you learn the Law for your neighbor's sake.  But also this - God would have you learn the Law so that you might know that you are a sinner who is in need of salvation.  The Law shows you your sin - the Law shows you your need to confess, to repent.  And here's the thing - if you don't think you are that big of a sinner - you aren't going to think you need a Savior.  And then you's remain in your sins and you'd die.  That's why those who don't preach the Law are so dangerous - they will strangle your faith to death with false contentment - they will in their sheep's clothing praise you up and down and tell you how wonderful you are, while never showing you your need for Christ -- and your faith... withers away.  The Law must be preached - we must have that reflection upon the truth that we fall short - otherwise we will end up ignoring Christ.

    And then there is the other thing that a true preacher must do - he must proclaim Christ and Him crucified for your sin.  Not only must you hear that you sin, but you must hear that Christ Jesus has died for your sins.  This seems obvious - of course people are going to preach that Jesus has died for your sins.  But I tell you - be wary of this.  All false doctrine, all false teaching cuts and attacks this truth - it attacks Christ dying and rising for the forgiveness of sins.  And this can be a subtle attack - it can be merely the glamorization of certain sins so that they aren't forgiven.  It can be an approach where Christ's forgiveness is just assumed -- but then let's get on to something else, something that is more important -- as though anything you do is more important that Christ Jesus dying for the sins of the world.  It is not just those who cry "Lord, Lord" - but those who point to the Crucified One, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And the Gospel is this -- not just that Jesus did stuff once, long ago but now we are on our own.  No, the Gospel is this - Christ Jesus has died for your sins, and by His Word and Spirit He now gives you this forgiveness, and you are forgiven.  Right now, this is a reality, you are forgiven - your sin has been taken from you, you have been turned away from it, brought to repentance, and you have life in His name, life now and life everlasting.  Anything else, anything less than this - it is false teaching, it is a false prophet trying to give you peace apart from Christ - and apart from Christ Jesus there is no peace.

    Be wary, my friends.  Pay attention, for around us is a constant prattering and blathering about God - and much of it is false, much of it is junk, much of it would decieve you and lead you astray.  But this is God's will for you - that you repent and struggle against sin, and that you believe in Christ Jesus who has died for your sin.  He is your righteousness, your life, the fulfiller of all things for you.  In Him you have salvation - let your focus ever be upon Him.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


"21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’  - Matthew 7:21-23

There is a truth that is most ironic.  The more one points to one's works, the more one talks about what one has done, even things that are good (like casting out demons, and even things more mighty than that), the more one is merely a worker of lawlessness.

How can this be?  Isn't the Law simply a matter of do this, don't do that?  No - the Law is not merely used in this fallen world to show us what is good or to curb with threats those who would engage in gross wickedness.  The Law has a theological use -- to show you your sin.

If you look at the Law and do not see your sin, you are a worker of lawlessness, for you have denied the purpose of the Law.

If you look at the Law and do not see a need to repent, you are a worker of lawlessness, for in vain you think you do the Law instead of seeing how short of it you come.

Often Lutherans will be chided for being so focused on this theological use of the law, the showing of our sin.  Why can't we move beyond that and focus on the "important" things the Law teaches, like how to be good, how to show forth social justice, how to be a good little Christian (I even heard one man start a sermon "yes, yes, we all know that Jesus died for our sins, now let's move on to living).

If you see the Law, if you hear the Law in such as way as though it does not accuse you of sin, you are ignoring the Law and are a worker of Lawlessness.  You have forgotten that the will of the Father is to trust not in yourself or your own righteousness but to trust in Christ Jesus, His only Son.  The Law shows you your sin so that you do not trust in yourself -- and if you think to use the Law so that it does not, you have become a worker of Lawlessness, a false prophet. 

Why would you declare to God all you have done for Him, when God's people have in all ages declared rather what He has done for them?  False prophets and workers of lawlessness point to themselves positively - those who are true point to God and the salvation He brings.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sermon for St. Mary Magdalene's

St Mary Magdalene - July 22nd, 2012 - John 20

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
    I find that this sermon was a bit of a tough one to write.  I mean, today is the day we celebrate St. Mary Magdalene, and on Saint's days you normally get some passage of scripture that is a bit less than common, normally about the person's background or past.  Not so today.  No, this passage today is the Gospel lesson for Easter - not an unimportant or often skipped reading in the Church year.  It's also interesting because in the past 20, 30 years so much utter junk has been written about Mary Magdalene.  Every crackpot who writes a book or novel about Jesus has Mary doing anything and everything, just making her the center of the wildest stories.  It's all quite crazy.  And yet, our text today simply thrusts us back to Easter morning, to the empty tomb, to our risen Lord.  This is most appropriate, because over and against all the hoopla and hype, over and against all the hero worship and things like that, Mary reminds us of a simple truth - we are called saints, we are called brothers and sisters of Christ, children of God, not on the basis of who we are or what we have done but rather because of Christ Jesus and what He has done.

    Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.  Consider this for a moment.  The horrors of the crucifixion were a scant few hours in the past.  You had that horrible, dreadful Friday, and then, the Sabbath comes, and there must be rest.  Rest and fretting and fear and sorrow for Mary.  So early on Sunday morning, before the Sun has risen, Mary goes to the tomb.  We hear from the other gospels that other of the women were with her -- they go eager to mourn, to dress a body.  That's it.  That's all.  And if Christ were just any other man that had been admired, had been deemed just a great teacher - that would have been it.  Mourning, weeping, and then heading home and back into obscurity.  We don't have records of all the women who mourned David's death, or Elisha's, or any of the other folks.  If this had been anyone else's tomb Mary would have remained just another one of billions and billions of mourners in front of tombs of the dead that the world has seen.  But this time, this mourning Mary comes across something different, something new.  The stone in front of the tomb had been rolled away.  Something strange is afoot.

    So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”  So much for a modern American hero.  Mary sees something that she doesn't understand, and what does she do?  She runs for help.  Hardly the ideal, hardly something heroic and brave.  No feminist professor is going to tout this as a mighty example.  No, Mary leaves it to Peter and John to creep into the empty tomb, to look around, to see it empty.  Or in otherwords, Mary is simply doing what you or I might do - see something strange and you tell someone else.  You get help.  Again - there's nothing here that screams out for Mary to be emulated, to be respected.  Just so matter of fact.  And indeed, when we continue on with following Mary, what do we hear?  But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.  There is Mary.  She's confused and hurt and in pain.  But do you know what?  Hurt, confused, and in pain is quite often what God's saints look like.  Sometimes we can get this idea that being a Christian is supposed to turn us into Superheroes where we overcome all our problems in a single bound, where we fly from one success to the next faster than a speeding bullet, where our "prayer" becomes more powerful than a locomotive. That's become the idea of what a Christian looks like - a life of victory and power and might.  And yet, over and against that - there's Mary.  Standing and crying in confusion and sorrow.

    Dear friends, that's quite often what a Saint looks like - that's what God's own holy people often look like in a sinful fallen world.  Those who cry, those who weep - blessed are you who mourn.  Mary isn't a superhero - oh, no, unlike the fakes and posers she can totally sing the Psalm with David - How long, O Lord.  And the thing is, our sinful flesh wants to be horrified and repulsed by weakness, by sorrow.  That akwardness when someone else is crying, is weeping, that discomfort when you hear their tale of woe.  The quick thoughts of "something like that could never happen to me."  That's why so many people run around trying to pretend that the Christian life is one of power and might and nothing but success and bury their head in the sand to ignore the suffering of their neighbor.  And yet, there is Mary, standing and crying.

    Ponder this.  Who is the first person to see Christ after His resurrection?  Who is the first witness?  Someone powerful and mighty?  Someone bold?  No.  It ends up being Mary.  The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost - He came to comfort the afflicted - as we heard Zechariah sing a few weeks ago, "to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  Christ Jesus does not first appear to the joyous, the wonderful, the perfectly fine.  He shows Himself to a sorrowful, weeping woman.  And Mary is deep in weeping.  This next quote really is one of my favorite in the Scriptures: she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”  Not just a quiet or polite mourning, not just a keeping it down so as to not bother people.  Mary is mourning.  Mary is so deep in mourning that she doesn't recognize Jesus.  This is true anguish.

    Perhaps this is the lesson we ought learn from Mary's example this day.  America has inherited many traits in our history, and not all of them good.  From the British we have inherited a bit of a stiff upper lip, from the Germans stubborness, from the Scandanavians a sense of primness and properness - and when you mix those in a hard to farm southern plains you get a big dose of self-reliance, a strong dose of "I can do it myself, and if I can't, well, just move on to something else."  We become so guarded with our emotions, with our feelings, with our hurts, so focused on convincing others that nothing is wrong that often enough we end up lying to ourselves.  Instead of admitting our hurts and pain, we deny them, pretend that they don't exist.  While that can be practical for getting a job done, there is a danger to it, a spiritual danger.  Those hurts, those pains - they are simply the impact of sin upon your life.  Mary is mourning a death - the wages of sin is death.  The aches and pains of life - again, the result of sin.  Increased pain in childbirth, working and eating by the sweat of your brow.  Brother set against brother because of sin.  And the thing is - it isn't that far of a leap to go from denying or pretending that things don't hurt to pretending or denying sin.  It's a common move - I've seen it over and over again.  No, seeing pain, seeing suffering, these all should remind us that we are sinners in a sinful world.

    And in reality, in truth, there is only one cure, one solution for sinners in a sinful world.  Jesus said to her, “Mary.”  The only solution is Christ Jesus, Christ Jesus who has died and risen again looking upon you in the midst of a world of hurt and pain and sin and calling you by name.  It's only when our risen Lord addresses Mary by name that she gets relief, that she has joy.  Likewise - our denial, or stiff upper lip won't fix anything - at best it might help us to endure.  But God does not desire you merely to endure, or keep up a facade.  No, He has called you by name and washed you in the waters of Holy Baptism - He has called you unto His own family - and this He has done not only to give you salvation, but so that in the midst of this life, in the middle of all the trials and temptation you would remember that you are His, that you belong to Him, that He is indeed your Savior from sin, that He will Himself deliver you from this world of sin.  You don't belong to sin anymore, you won't remain under sin's sway.  You are forgiven, you are redeemed.  And it's when we see Christ, see Him, that we do have joy even in the middle of sorrow - that we learn to look head to the day when He shall come with Trumpet sound and call us unto His side by name, where we will leave the old world of sorrows behind and dwell with Him in the our own resurrected bodies in the New heavens and the new earth.

    Mary was simply a faithful woman, a woman who saw sorrow and pain in life - and yet had joy because she beheld her resurrected Lord who called her by name.  Christ Jesus has called you by name, gives Himself to you, and shall call you by name on the Last Day.  Like Mary, this is where we find our joy, not falling into the egotistical games of the world, but trusting in the deliverance that Christ Jesus has won for us.  Until that day our prayer will remain, Thy Kingdom Come, Come Lord Jesus.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Not All the Confessions are Used the Same

Often we will speak of the Confessions as this wonderful massive whole - the Confessions.  I'm thinking that sometimes that is less than helpful - it would be like a woodworker simply speaking of "The Tools".  Well, yes, they are the tools, but even I, mechanically inept as I am, know that there is a difference between a drill and a plane, being a saw and a hammer.  Different tools, different jobs.

While the Confessions all confess the Scriptures they do so under differing circumstances.  Those circumstances shed light on how those particular confessions are to be used.  Let's consider:

The Apostles' Creed - this is a Baptismal Creed - it is a basic overview confessing who God is and what He does.  You can see this in Luther's explanation of it in the Small Catechism -- totally focused on what God does.

The Nicene and Athanasian Creeds are slightly different.  They are much more focused on condemning error and safegaurding truth.  The Nicene Creed says, "God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God" precisely to cut off errorists.  Likewise the Athanasian.  These creeds highlight dangerous errors with which Satan would attack Christians.

Then then is the Small Catechism - simple, basics - meant to be flexible and applied -- sort of a lens through which to understand faith and life.

Then there is the Large Catechism - these were sermons to preach, to teach the Small Catechism.  These are more didactic, more applied.  These end up being great examples of how to apply.

Then there is the Augsburg Confession.  The purpose of the Confession was to demonstrate that the Lutherans were not creating new doctrines but were confessing what the Church had taught.  The AC's point is "We are not crazy Anabaptists."  Now, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession was written in response to Rome's refutation -- so it's theme is different.  It has become, "Here's how you crazy Papists have gone off track."

Smalcald serves as a blueprint for theological discussion between us and Rome.  The Treatise shows why Papal authority as it had been exercised is problematic.

And finally the Formula of Concord.  The FC deals with problems that arise after Luther's demise -- problems within Lutheranism, problems we acquired from discussions in other denominations around us and interacting with them.  It's not a document meant to expound profound truths but rather show when Lutherans have gone too far and abandoned peace.

These are different tools.  Remember this when citing them.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – Matthew 5:17-26 – July 15th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          This morning we hear our Lord preaching once again in the Sermon on the Mount, and I fear that our familiarity with this passage makes us forget just how wild, how bizarre this preaching would have sounded when our Lord first spoke it.  Consider the start of the sermon – the beatitudes – blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Completely radical.  In that day, you didn’t think those who were poor in spirit, who were burdened by the troubles of life, who saw the impact of sin were blessed – in fact, we don’t really today.  But Christ comes in and says, “No, no, you who suffer, who see that this life is fallen and desolate and a waste land, you are blessed, because you aren’t going to cling to mammon when you hear Me preach; instead you will long for heaven.  Blessed are you.”  That’s what Christ is doing with the beatitudes – turning on its ear the idea of what it is to be blessed – but that is a sermon for another week.  This week we take up just after the beatitudes, and here Christ Jesus turns the idea of what it means to be righteous, what it means to be good, upon its head.

          Our Lord begins, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”  Now, even as He turns things upon their head, Jesus makes a very good point.  He hasn’t come to destroy the law, He hasn’t come to destroy righteousness or morality… but He is going to do something different.  He is going to fulfill the law, fulfill it truly, unlike the false fulfillments that people were setting forth.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Nothing will be soft sold – nothing with be lessened, nothing will be blown off.  We are to be righteous, and that is that.  Being Righteous was one of the main Jewish focuses of life.  I was listening to some lectures on my road trip, and they were about influences on Western Culture, and in talking about the impact of the Old Testament the professor noted the Jewish focus on righteousness, on doing what is good.  That was the heart of the Jewish approach to life – that’s what the Pharisees strove after.  When Paul says that he was a Pharisee’s Pharisee, he is saying that by the standards of the world, he was a good man.  But whereas the poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven, unless your righteousness is beyond the Scribes and Pharisees, you don’t get the kingdom of heaven.  And why?  Because the Scribes and Pharisees relax the commandments, because they treat the commands of God as something that we accomplish rather than goals that we are to strive for, goals that we are to in humility confess that we do not accomplish.  Yes, the Law of God is to show us how to live, but it is also to show us that we are sinful, that we are in need of forgiveness and mercy from God – and if you relax the Law, make it more manageable, think that you no longer have room for improvement, well then you are lost.

          Jesus gives an example – actually several, but we are only going to look at the first.  Murder.  The fifth Commandment.  You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  A simple commandment.  You shall not murder.  Thou shalt not kill.  Simple enough.  But there is a depth here, there is rich teaching about life and how we ought to live, how we ought to treat our neighbor.  And if our focus is upon our neighbor, we will see that depth.  If our focus is only on trying to prove ourselves okay – we miss the depth.  We check it off.  Hey, look at me, I’m okay, I’ve not murdered anyone.  I’m not like that person that showed up on the news – I’ve never had my mugshot taken with blood on my hands, what I good boy am I.  Jesus turns that on its head.  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.”  Jesus so quickly cuts to the heart of the matter.  Murder, when it boils down to it, is just the highest and most obvious expression of anger.  Why does one man kill another?  Anger.  Cain is angry with Abel, and he kills him.  David is angry with Uriah the Hittite for having such a beautiful wife, for letting scandal come upon David, and so he kills him.  Anger turns our relationship with our neighbors upside down.  To be righteous is to seek to serve the neighbor; to be righteous is to have compassion.  To be angry destroys the desire to serve, to have compassion, and rears up the desire to hurt, to harm, to put back in their place, to put into the grave.  When you are angry, you fall short of righteousness.  And don’t try to speak to me of Righteous Anger, don’t go about relaxing the law, trying to justify yourself.  When Christ showed righteous anger in the Temple, He did not kill or hate the money changers, but He Himself died for them less than a week later – in His righteous anger He still acts for their good.  No, to be angry for us fallen men is to be liable to judgment.

          Or there is, “whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”  Perhaps you think you have kept your anger hidden.  Or perhaps you think it is justified – of course you can be a bit angry with your brother – he’s a fool, and when you call him as such you are only speaking the truth.  If you insult, you are liable to the council – it’s a supreme court case, it’s a matter of high treason to righteousness.  You are not to insult your brother but to serve him!  And if you look callously upon your brother, if you cuss him out – read him the riot act… you are liable to damnation.  There is no way around it.  When the Lord said, “Thou shalt not kill” – He wasn’t giving you a simple hoop to jump through; He was teaching that you are to be righteous, that you are to be concerned about your neighbor’s life, about making it better – and your anger would have you do the opposite.  Harsh.  No relaxing of the Law here.

          So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25  Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.”  Be reconciled!  Don’t worry about outward shows of piety, don’t worry about making sure that everyone knows what a “good little Christian” you are and how much you give to the Church – make amends with your brother.  If you have wronged someone, repent – and show them love and care and compassion.  In fact, this last verse is the verse that kicked off the reformation – Thesis number 1 of the 95 – When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” – He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance – and “repent here” is literally “pay the last penny”.  Because this is where the rubber hits the road.  If we look at ourselves and think, “Eh, I’m pretty good – it’s a shame more Christians weren’t like me” – we are lost.  We are lost in self-righteousness.  No, rather when we contemplate God’s Law, God’s commands, we are to consider how short we fall, and we are to repent, to turn away from our sin, our short comings and strive to do more and more – strive even knowing that I was sinful yesterday and thus I failed, that I am a sinner today and I will fail, and that unless the Lord returns even tomorrow I will be a sinner and I will fail.  Doesn’t matter – repent, strive after righteousness, full righteousness, and confess your sin, your lack, your failing.

          That’s what it means to be poor in Spirit.  To see when you look at your life not a tale of triumph where you crush all your foes, where you conquer over every difficulty.  No, it’s to see your life honestly, see your sin, your lack, your need, and to repent, to confess.  To you who repent, to you who are poor in Spirit – blessed are you, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  “But how, pastor – how – my righteousness has to exceed the Scribes and Pharisees, and I’m not going to play their game, I’m not going to relax the Law so I can say, ‘see, what a good boy am I!’”  Listen again to your Lord’s Words.   Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  You do not fulfill the Law – but Christ Jesus does, and He does so for you.  The righteousness that God demands of mankind – our brother, Christ Jesus, true God and true Man performs.  Think of how often the Father’s voice booms from heaven – this is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.  Christ fulfills the Law.  And yet, the Law says that those who break the Law must die.  Eat of the tree – die.  Break the law – get stoned.  And we have broken it, and we are doomed to death – and so Christ says, “fear not, I have come to fulfill the Law – there will be a death, a death on account of sin – but I will take up your sin, I will bear it Myself, for I am the Lamb of God who takes upon His shoulders the sin of the world, and I will die for you.”  At your baptism, your sins were washed away – they were washed onto Christ, and He bore them to the Cross and there He died, there He fulfilled the Law for you.  This is why we look to the Last Day.  Even should we die before Christ returns, so be it – Christ will come and say, “Death, you don’t get them, you don’t get to keep them – I have died and thus they shall live.”

          Your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, not because of how hard you work, not because of how wonderful you are, but because your righteousness is actually Christ’s righteousness which He gives to you in His Word of forgiveness and life – which He poured upon you in Baptism so that you would rise to newness of life – which He gives to you as He gives you His own Body and Blood in His Supper.  Do not relax the law – no, strive and repent, but above all see your Lord who has fulfilled the Law for you.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Trinity 5th - July 8th

Trinity 5 – July 8th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

          One of God’s concerns is that His people on Earth have people who have been trained to teach, to preach the Word.  It needs to be done.  People don’t just figure out God on their own – the Word must be proclaimed, the Holy Spirit must come through the Word, or no one will understand what Paul describes as the “foolishness” of God, that is, the Gospel of Salvation and the Cross.  In both our Old Testament and our New Testament, we see examples of God calling men into His service, into His Ministry.  In the Old, we see Elijah calling forth Elisha to preach to the faithful remnant of Israel – in the New we see Jesus calling forth Peter to be the head of the Apostles, to preach Christ and Him Crucified in Jerusalem, in Judea, even in Rome.  This morning, let’s look at Jesus’ call of Peter, and see what we learn from it.

            Now, you may not have noticed it just from hearing the Gospel read, but really, Jesus is being quite pushy here.  He is.  If Jesus had walked up to you guys the way He did to Peter, you probably would have been annoyed and aggravated. Listen – On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him [Jesus] to hear the Word of God, He has standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked him to put out a little form the lang.  And He sat down and taught the people from the boat.  Do you see what the situation is?  It’s probably some time in mid-morning, and what’s going on in poor old Simon Peter’s life?  He’s out of the boat, he’s cleaning the nets.  You see what that means?  He’s done working.  If you were a fisherman, you worked through the night, it was a nocturnal job.  Peter’s just been up working the entire night – he’s washing the equipment.  His day is done, it’s Miller time, or the equivalent then.  And then Jesus says, “Um, take me out in your boat for a bit.”  No Peter, no seeing the missus for a bit and then going to bed, you get to take Jesus out into the water.  And then do you see what Jesus does?  He sits down!  This isn’t going to be a 30 minute lecture, this isn’t going to be some 13 minute sermon – Jesus is sitting down and getting comfortable – Peter’s going to be there for a long time.

          And then it gets even better.  And when He [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at your word I will let down the nets.”  Now, remember, this isn’t a nice relaxing afternoon of fishing, oh, how about another cast before we head on in.  This is hard work.  The nets are heavy, and the guys have already missed their sleep.  Plus, they will have to repeat all that clean up work again.  What Jesus asks here is just strange.  It would almost be like if someone asked you to go combine a field that you had already harvested.  Yeah, why don’t you turn around and go over that field again.  Jesus is being incredibly pushy, He’s asking Peter to do stupid things because you don’t catch fish in mid day or mid afternoon – but Peter goes and does it.

          And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.  They signaled to their partners in the other boats to come and help them.  And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.  But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  And then the unthinkable happens.  These are professional fishermen with the best equipment – and their nets are breaking.  They signal for help, and the catch is so much that even two full professional fishing boats start to flounder when the catch is hauled in.  And then Peter reacts in a way that we in America completely forget about when we look at the Bible.  Peter is afraid.  He is freaked out.  Peter says, “Get away from me.”

          Well, why does Peter say that?  Hasn’t Jesus just shown His power and might?  Yes, exactly, and that’s precisely why Peter says – “Wow, you are God.  I’m sinful, get out of here please before you smite me.”  This is something we in America, in popular Christianity completely forget.  We are so full of ourselves, we think we have a right to just up and talk with God, sit on the porch, chat a bit.  We forget what it means that God is God.  We’ve lost our sense of Awe when it comes to God.  And part of this is the English language, the way it’s developed.  We hear the word “awesome” and we think, cool, neat, spiffy.  That’s not what Awe means in the Bible.  Awe means by rights you ought to die unless God is merciful.  If you as a sinful human being see the might of God, that’s the reaction you will have.  Isaiah in the temple when God calls him – Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.  The Shepherds Christmas evening, that’s a happy cute moment, right?  And the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear.”  No, they drop to the ground and tremble.  If we, right now, sinful men and women, saw God’s unbridled glory, our reaction wouldn’t be “Oh neat.”  We would be scared out of our minds, we would lose control of our bodily functions.  It’s a serious thing.  And this is precisely what we see with Peter here.  He doesn’t take God as casually as we do.  His image of God isn’t a kindly old man who we might sit and play a few hands of pitch with – it is God Almighty, the Righteous One who does not abide sin.  And at that moment, as Peter sees the fish, as Peter puts two and two together and realizes who is in that boat with him at that moment, Peter knows his life is forfeit.  He is a sinner in the presence of God, and he is as good as toast.  Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.

          And Jesus said, ”Do not be afraid.”  Simple, simple words, yet probably the sweetest Simon Peter had ever heard in his life.  Do not be afraid, I’m not going to smite you, I’m not going to blast you into oblivion.  Jesus here speaks words of Mercy and peace to Simon Peter, and that is what allows Peter to actually have peace.  Note, Peter doesn’t placate God here, Peter doesn’t earn Jesus’ favor.  A few minutes before Peter was quite saucy with Jesus.  “You know, we were just fishing all night, guy, but I guess we can head back out.”  No, Jesus is the one who speaks, who removes fear.  And that is Jesus’ right.  Jesus has every right to say, “Don’t be afraid.”  Why?  Because Jesus knows why He is there sitting in that boat looking down at this freaked out guy.  Jesus is sitting in that boat simply in order to go to the Cross, to suffer and die, so that the sins of that man groveling before Him might be forgiven.  Sin is a terrible, terrible thing – it causes us separation from God, it means that we by rights should cower in fear whenever we hear the Name of God mentioned – because we’ve earned our wages – and the wage is death.  But when God sees sin, He sees the Cross, He sees that sin crucified, removed from us and done away with.  Peter’s not the one who will bear the brunt of God’s Wrath, of God’s Anger.  Jesus will upon the Cross, and Jesus knows that – so He says, “Don’t be afraid Peter, I’m the One who is going to get it for you.”  That’s why Jesus can say these Words, because of the Cross.

Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.  It’s really sort of witty what Jesus says, a good little pun Jesus makes here.  This catch of fish shouldn’t amaze you Simon Peter, I’m going to be putting you to work catching men, saving them, pulling them out of their lives of sin and bringing them my redemption.  Peter is going to say “Do not be afraid” to others now, that’s what Jesus is telling him.  Peter will be preaching the Cross and Christ Crucified to people up until the day he dies.  That’s how he will be catching men – and just like this catch of fish it won’t be because Peter is skilled, or because he knows the proper times to do thing – it will happen because of the power of God.  The Holy Spirit will work through the words that Peter speaks and work faith in men.  The Holy Spirit in fact works faith through the Words that Peter wrote over 1900 years ago and works faith in men today.  Jesus uses Peter to be His spokesman, to be His mouthpiece to speak God’s Peace to sinful men who need that peace in order to live.

That’s the same thing that goes on here in this place.  Do you hear how God puts His Word to work in this service?  “I announce the Grace of God unto all of you.”  Your sin is forgiven.  “Glory be to God on high and on Earth, peace, goodwill to men.”  Your sin is forgiven.  “The Lord be with you, and with your Spirit.”  Look, we have God’s peace, God is here with us now forgiving us.  “Lift up your hearts” – Yes, it’s okay, you are forgiven, enjoy the presence of God, enjoy the forgiveness you receive in His supper.  “Deliver us from Evil.”  Yes, it’s been done, upon the Cross.  It’s been done, at our Baptism we were most fully delivered from evil, Satan has no more claim upon us for we have been adopted by God.  “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.”  That is the point of every service that happens here in this place – that Jesus words to Peter, Do not be afraid, might be repeated to repentant sinners gathered here.  In what is one of the most amazing miracles, God has continually kept His Word Preached and His forgiveness given, even to this day, to this place, to sinners like us.  God continues to draw us towards Him, no matter what sins we have done, no matter how we have wandered, Christ Jesus calls us to His house to receive His forgiveness, over and over again.

Dear friends in Christ, all thanks be to God that He continues to speak to us today through His Word – that God has not let His faithful remnant falter, but age to age He remains faithful to us and continues to have His live Giving Word preached to us, that He continually comes into our lives and says, Do not be afraid, for I am your God and Savior.  Amen.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Church and State and Holidays of Sorts

Some people are born on the 4th of July.  I was ordained on the 4th of July.  This leads to some interesting reflections from a simply personal point of view come this day.  It's a political holiday (which always leads to some interesting thoughts coming from my thoroughly libertarian and classically liberal mind), and for me it is also a theological anniversary (which always leads to some interesting thoughts coming from my Lutheran mind).

Freedom is an interesting beastie -- and often despized.  Especially by those who have it.

As Americans we have freedom -- and yet more and more we want the government to give us stuff, and if we must tax our neighbor for it, so be it.  And in the pursuit of ever better stuff, or ever better security, we gladly tread on our neighbors when our forefathers were brashly telling England "Don't tread on me."  Freedom has turned out too be too scary for us -- we might fail, we might fall... instead of walking on our own, we would rather be carried by our nanny state. 

As Lutherans we rejoice in freedom -- we know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, we know that we have been set free, that we are new creations in Christ Jesus created for good works of love and service to the neighbor that we will simply walk into.  And yet, how often we revert back to a culture of shame and castigation, where one will assert rules and demands for "proper" behavior upon one's neighbor... not as a guide for wisdom but as the curb, the stick wherewith I will beat and berate you if you do not do as I like.

As a Synod we had once agreed to walk together, freely, without force or coercion, yet simply out of love of God and the enjoyment of fellowship to act as independent congregations and pastors yet in concert.  Now, we scrabble to win political victories... because the institution is worth so much, and rather than walk our separate ways, each taking a worthy and appropriate share, we will demand dominance of the whole beast.

Force.  Control.  Coercion.  Fear.  All antithetical to freedom.

Alas, thus is life in the fallen world, were we cling not to the love that casts out fear, but the fallen and broken powers whereby we think we can make our neighbor do as we will. 

In the midst of this, we are called, whether privately as the Baptized who bear the Name of God or as Preachers given Pulpits and Altars to tend, to proclaim freedom to those who were captive to sin - that the chains of Satan have been broken by Christ Jesus our Lord's death and that the fetters of death have been burst apart by His resurrection. 

Everything else is vain pettiness.  Everything else trades our birthright for lentils which soon will rot and fester and stink.  You are forgiven.  You are free to worship, to show love without fear.  Who condemns you -- it is not God.  Rejoice in freedom, rejoice in having neighbors to serve even as they bind you, haraunge you, abuse you.  Their disdain lasts only but a short while -- serve and love and even obey those in station above you - and rejoice for you know where your treasure truly lays, where Congress cannot tax, where no vote can steal it away (or grant it). 

We depend only upon Christ the Crucified who lives to die no more.  In Him we have freedom, in Him we are independent of all those who would bind us.  Ah, sweet and true liberty, found only in Christ!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Trinity 4 Sermon - Elder Read

July 1st, 2012 – Trinity 4

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +

          Our Gospel lesson today comes from what is often called The Sermon on the Plain.  In Matthew, you have the sermon on the mount, but Luke records for us a sermon given by our Lord upon a plain.  And there’s no way around it, there is a lot going on in these few verses that we have before us today, so what we are going to do is simply look at each of these ideas in order and try to get a picture of what our Lord is teaching us.

          Be Merciful even as your Father in Heaven is Merciful.  And right off the bat here we have the statement that puts everything that we are going to talk about in context.  When we think about God as Christians, the first thing we think about should be the fact that He is Merciful.  That He is a loving God who forgives the sins of people like you and I.  That’s the only reason we could even dare to think about God, because frankly, if God isn’t Merciful, you and I are in a whole heap of trouble.  The only reason sinful folks like you and I are able to come before God is because of the fact that He shows us mercy, that God does what is needed for our salvation, that He sends Christ to the Cross to win forgiveness and restore us to relationship with Him.  Whenever we talk about God, that needs to be first and foremost on our minds.  We aren’t here in God’s house because we’ve earned our pew, we aren’t here because of how wonderful we are – we are here simply because of God’s Mercy.  God’s Mercy, therefore, should be the main part of the discussion whenever we talk about God.

          Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven;  And here we have probably the most well known and probably the most abused passage in all of scripture.  Judge not, lest ye be judged, as the old King James puts it.  This verse is often thrown back at Christians.  If we ever should say to someone, “Um, you know, you probably shouldn’t do that, we often will have this verse thrown back at us.   “Hey, Judge not– Don’t you judge me!”  But what is going on here, what is Jesus saying?  Jesus isn’t telling us to turn a blind eye to sin.  He’s not telling us that if we see our neighbor engaged in sin, that if we see our neighbor actively doing something wrong that we should just stay silent, shrug and say, “Eh, who am I to judge.”  That’s not showing love.  What one of us here, if we saw an infant getting ready to sick a fork in an electrical outlet, wouldn’t stop them?  Same with any sin – if we see our friend and neighbor something that’s wrong, we go, we talk, we out of love give advice.  But, like Jesus says, we don’t judge.  Why?  What does it mean to judge?  What does a judge do?  A Judge is the one who sets the punishment.  A Judge is the one who condemns, who sentences.  That’s God’s responsibility, that’s God’s duty, not ours.  That’s why we don’t use the phrase God Damn, because it’s certainly not our place to tell God who or what to damn.  Even if we as a Church have to excommunicate someone because they refuse to repent, that means we have to say, “If you don’t repent of this, hell is what awaits you” – but that isn’t us setting a punishment – that’s warning them of the punishment God has declared so that hopefully they will repent.  We don’t have to assign punishment.  Vengence is mine, sayeth the Lord, so we leave that to Him.  So, practically, what does this mean?  It means in our relationships and interactions with others, our focus isn’t on setting punishment, on telling our neighbor what they are going to get.  Rather, we show concern, we show love, we give a warning if a warning needs to be given, but always out of love. 

And make no bones about it, this is hard, especially when we have been wronged.  If someone hurts us, we want to lash out, we want to punish.  But that’s not our place.  We don’t spend our time looking at God’s wrath, we don’t delight in God’s vengeance – Be merciful even as your Father in Heaven is Merciful.  That’s what God wants us to be looking at.  And do you see what happens?  When we get caught up in wanting others to be punished, we forget and overlook our own sins that are worthy and deserving of punishment – and when we do that, we forget about Christ.  We can forget about the mercy that we have received, and then, we are lost.  This is why our focus always must go back to the Cross, to God’s love- because we live our lives in the shadow of that Cross, as ones who humbly have been called to God’s House, to His Altar to receive His Forgiveness.  That’s the point of forgive and you will be forgiven.  It’s not that if I’m nice to this jerk over here I earn God’s favor – no, it’s that the only way I can be nice to the people who hurt and annoy me is if I live my life constantly remembering, receiving, delighting in the forgiveness that God has given a jerk like me.  Jesus speaks these words, Jesus instructs us to live this way for a very clear reason – so that our eyes are always focused on Him no matter what we do, no matter what our neighbor does to us.

Give and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.  We all know this idea, but probably with other words.  The Golden rule?  Do unto others as you would have done unto you?  Now, it should come as no surprise to us, but when Jesus tells us to do something, it’s probably going be a good idea.  Here we get some of the practical consequences of our actions.  If we all start showing mercy and love to each other, what are we going to be receiving from each other?  Love and Mercy.  Now, this doesn’t mean that if we do good everything will turn up roses – because it won’t.  We are sinners in a sinful world; we should never be surprised when our goodness is paid back with wickedness – because we ourselves pay back plenty of people with wickedness often enough ourselves.  But our attitudes can encourage others to act in different ways, and it’s better that our actions and examples teach others to show love – and hopefully some of that will come back to us.

He also told them this parable.  “Can a blind man lead a blind man?  Will they not both fall into a pit?  And then, a bit later, Jesus also says, Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye.  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.  Another thing that is vital is that in everything we do or say, we must always remember to examine ourselves and attend to our own weaknesses and flaws.  The simple fact is all of us here have weaknesses of our own, sins that are more tempting to us, acts and attitudes that we ourselves have to deal with.  Now it is true, we are called to care for and love our neighbor, but we are also to care for and improve ourselves.  And that’s hard and painful.  Who here likes to admit their weaknesses?  Who here likes to say, “You know, I have a hard time with this.  I can’t do that anymore”?  And one of the things that can happen, and this is what Jesus is warning us against with these words, is that we throw ourselves into the problems of others as a way of ignoring our own problems.  Now, of course, we have crass examples – we love to gossip, pay attention to what other folks are doing, and ignore the dirty laundry hanging in our back yard that we should be cleaning.  But there is another temptation that waits for the Christian.  We can be focused on our neighbor in a good way, but to such an extent that we forget to work on improving ourselves.  We can use our neighbor as an escape so we can ignore our own problems.  That’s not right.  That ceases to be loving your neighbor and rather becomes avoiding your own sin.  God has given us our own life to live, and we have issues in our own lives that we need to deal with.  Examine your own life, know your own weaknesses, look for the logs in your own eyes – struggle against the sin that lies creeping at your door, and then you will actually be prepared to help your neighbor in their struggle against their sin with love and compassion.

          But do not think for a moment, dear friends, that you struggle alone against your sin.  By no means.  The struggle against sin is always taken up by Christ Jesus.  Hear again His words.  A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.  Isn’t that fantastic?  Isn’t that just a wonderful statement, a wonderful way Jesus describes what He is doing in our lives?  We are Christ’s own disciples, we are the ones learning at His feet.  When we talk about our struggles against our sin, that is Christ teaching us how to handle sin.  And how does Christ handle sin?  He kills it, He crucifies it, He takes it with Himself to the cross and destroys it.  That’s what Christ does with sin, and this is how He handles our sin.  When you were baptized, you sin was killed, your sinful flesh was killed, buried with Christ Jesus.  That’s the point of Baptism, that Christ puts away and destroys your sin, so that you may rise to new life in Him – new life now and forever.

          Christ teaches this truth in our Gospel lesson.  But everyone, when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.  That’s what Christ is doing, right there.  That’s what this place, this service, God’s Word, all of it, is doing.  We receive Christ, and we are made to be like Christ.  Granted, we don’t see that fully now – now we still have struggles with sin, now we daily repent, we daily drown our sinful desires, but Christ Jesus is still your master, and He still fills you will mercy and love so that you might grow now, even until you are fully like Him on the Last Day.

          Be merciful, even as your Father in heaven is Merciful.  Dear friends, this is what Christ Jesus is accomplishing in us this moment, this very day.  Here in His House, as we receive God’s Mercy, we are trained to show mercy ourselves.  We are trained and taught by Christ Jesus our teacher to grow all the days of our lives, until the day comes when our training is done, and we indeed look like Christ Jesus our Lord, whom we shall see face to face for all eternity.  Amen.