Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Lent Sermon that Wasn't

Here is the rough draft of the sermon that would have been preached tonight, had service not been cancelled.

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          It was good to be the King.  There was David, basking in his power, his success, his earthly glory.  Long gone were the days when he was the littlest, forgotten brother.  Long gone were the days when he was stuck tending the sheep or playing the messenger boy.  Now, he was king.  He didn’t even need to fight his own battles anymore, he didn’t have to slay the giants himself anymore – he had generals and warriors to do that.  He was on top of the world – and King David knew it.  And one day, might King David, while his armies are out fighting for him, takes a walk along his roof, and he sees the lovely Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of David’s loyal soldiers.  And she’s mighty good looking, and David knows that it’s good to be the king, and his affair is on with Bathsheba.  But there’s a problem.  Now she’s pregnant.  Oh well, David will arraign a cover-up – he can do these things, he’s the King.  He summons Uriah home, everyone will think it’s Uriah’s kid, no more scandal.  Except Uriah refuses to enjoy the comforts of home while his own men are in the field.  This is a problem, unless you are the King.  So David sends orders with Uriah himself, orders instructing faithful Uriah to be sent on a suicide mission and killed.  David can order that – it’s good to be the King.  And Uriah is killed, and David takes Bathsheba to be his wife, and a son is born, and David thinks everything is fine, everything is hunky dory, because he is the King, and surely what he does is fine and good.
          “And the Lord sent Nathan to David.”  God sends in the prophet Nathan to rebuke David.  But Nathan doesn’t come in shouting or railing.  He begins with a story.  “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one, ewe lamb, which he had bought.  And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children.  It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms and it was like a daughter to him.”  Do you see how heavily Nathan is laying this out?  How much he is setting up the story.  And while we listening, we reading the Scriptures can see so clearly where Nathan is going with this – King David doesn’t see.  Nathan continues, “Now, there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”  And what is David’s reaction?  Does he ponder his own actions, his own sinfulness?  No – why he is just and good King David, favored of God.  “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and he had no pity.”  And as David says these words, David is sure that he is the righteous, the just king.  As the Lord Lives!  As I, God’s appointed King lives, this injustice will not stand!  Let the man be put to death, let him taste the wrath of God and of the King!  How defiant, how swift, how decisive King David is here and now!  And why shouldn’t he be.  David is, after all, a good King, a good man.  Or so he simply assumed.
          And Nathan lays him flat with but a few words – 2 in Hebrew, four in English.  Attah Ha-esh.  “You are the man.”  You, David, who assumed that you were high and mighty and righteous, you who think that you ought to judge the wicked harshly, you yourself have fallen into wickedness!  It is interesting and instructive for us what happens here with David.  David doesn’t view himself as wicked.  If you had asked David if he was a good Jewish man, he would have said sure.  He would have simply assumed it.  But here in lies the problem.  David has become powerful, and he has become self-confidence, sure of his own good, his own righteousness – and in forgetting humility, in his pride, he sins.  And he doesn’t even think about it, because, after all, he’s David, God’s anointed.
          This is the danger that we ourselves face.  We here are Christians.  And we are the good ones, why we are the ones who not only come to church every week, why, we’ll even come to mid-week services, see how good we are!  Even in strange and bad weather, here we are.  And suddenly, the temptation sets in for us to view ourselves as the good ones.  The better ones.  Not like those people over there, not like the rough and coarse folks.  We assume that we are righteous, and that opens the door for sin and temptation, for casual cruelty or senseless sin and vice to sneak on into our lives without even noticing it, without even thinking about it.  And this is why we here, we who are diligent in coming to God’s house, why we ourselves must hear God’s Law, see things from God’s perspective, so that we might know our sin and repent of it, lest we grow in shame and vice.
          Nathan explains things to David from God’s perspective.  “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel.  I anointed you King over Israel, and I delievered you out of the hand of Saul.  And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah.  And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more.”  Yes, David, it is good to be the King, but that has nothing to do with how good you are – it has everything to do with how good God is.  All these things, David, you have received simply out of Fatherly Divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worth in you.  And God would freely give you more – if for some reason the multiple wives you had as king weren’t enough and you just had to have another good looking gal, the Lord would have provided!  This is how He has favored you, David.  And yet, what is your reaction?  Why have you despised the Word of the Lord, to do what is evil in His sight.  You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and killed him with the sword of the Amorites.”  Instead of letting Me give to you, David, instead of receiving My blessings, you took and took for yourself.  And there are consequences for David.  The rest of his reign – well, it’s not so good.  There’s violence.  And just as David stole someone’s wives, his wives are going to be publicly stolen – David’s own son does this, runs David out of the palace and sets up a tent on the palace roof and has his way with his dad’s concubines in public so everyone can see it.
          Our sin has consequences, even the sin that we in our pride like to ignore.  Our proud actions and words poison relationships and have consequences that can come back to bite us years down the road.  Sometimes relationships are broken, trusts betrayed, and then they are never the same again.  Defend us and preserve us from this, dear Father in heaven!  And this is why, in His Word, God continually shows us the Law, so that we would examine ourselves and beat down our sin before it rises up and causes us too much problem.  This is why in our Word God continually shows us that He is the One who is good to us, so that we rejoice and delight in Him instead of falling into pride.  Or do you not realize that your devotion, your zeal for God isn’t about you – it is a gift from God that you should rejoice and give thanks to Him for.  In all things God uses His Word and Spirit to defend us, to protect us… and when needed as it often is, to cut us down and bring us back to repentance.  Again, for all things, God intends repentance and redemption, as we see even here.
          For that is how the story ends.  David repents.  “David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’  And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die.  Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.’”  So, what do you think?  Was this kind, or was this harsh?  And our first reaction may be to see it as harsh – the child will die.  But let us consider this again from a greater perspective, from God’s perspective.  Nathan is right – God has put away David’s sin.  But there will be trouble.  The son that David loves, Absalom, who should be his heir, will rebel, will harass David, and will die.  There will need to be a new heir, a new son of David to take the throne – but it will not be this young infant, the child conceived in bloodshed and murder.  No, David will comfort his wife Bathsheba, and she will conceive again, and she will give birth to a son named Solomon.  Solomon, who is the wisest of men.  Solomon who builds the Temple.  Solomon who is the ancestor of our Lord Christ Jesus, the true Temple, the Temple that is torn down upon the Cross and rebuilt on the third day as He rises from the tomb all so that the sins of the world, even the sins of David might be put away by the Lord.  In all things, God works, moves us towards repentance and salvation.  This is what He did for David, this is what He does for us by His Word.  God grant us His Holy Spirit, that we might be defended from great shame and vice, and that we might be quickly restored when we do err.  Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and the perfector of our faith.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified, Amen.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Spirit, Restoration, and Burden Bearing

"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy,[a] drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Brothers,[b] if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load." - Galatians 5:16-6:5

In the Name of Jesus Christ +

St. Paul gives us words of the highest wisdom when he writes, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness."  These words drip with care and love and charity - they drip with the Holy Spirit and His fruit.  Indeed, this is how St. Paul describes the Spirit as working in and through a Christian - if one has the Spirit, then there will be a zeal for gentle restoration of the erring brother.  There will be the acknowledgment that you yourself might fall into sin and temptation in reaction to what another has done.  Rather than destroying, rather than fire and brimstone, there is the call to restore, to bear with another's burdens.

I have been teaching Galatians to my vacancy congregation, and I've been leafing through Luther - and the thing that stands out in Luther is this.  While many people today will think of Galatians as the letter of strong denunciation (which Paul has for the Judaizers), over and over Luther emphasizes the patience, the peace, the loving care with which Paul addresses the Galatians.  Even when St. Paul chides them, it is done gently and lovingly.  

How do we deal with the erring brother today?  Do we treat him gently, bearing his burdens quietly?  Do we speak with him patiently, letting the Word of God and the Spirit work upon him in God's own time?  Do we even treat him with kindness, following the golden rule as even the pagans know it?  Do we control ourselves, making sure that we speak not out of our own passions or fears?

This is the anniversary of Luther's death.  Already on the internet I have seen several things pointing to Luther - pointing to him as the defiant reformer, the brash and bold insulter of heretics, the denouncer of Anti-Christ - and so on and so forth.  And it's sad to me that this is how he seems to be remembered.  The Luther of the letters of Spiritual Counsel is ignored.  The Luther who was willing to believe the best - who dedicated the Freedom of a Christian to the pope, thinking and hoping that surely he was simply being led astray - is forgotten.
The Luther who said that he did nothing is dismissed as we instead create a false image of a hero whom we then vainly emulate. The Luther who prays before preaching not for glory or praise but simply a right understanding of the Word, who prays that God be with him lest Luther himself destroy it all, does anyone speak of this?  It is as though the shepherd is defined by the few times where he had to attack a lion or wild animal, but the normal, every day care is forgotten.

I worry that this is an evidence that we care little for the Word of God, that we care less about a Spirit who brings with Him gentleness or peace or kindness.  We view the Church as a battlefield with fights that we must win, not against Satan, but against each other.  We aim to kill the wounded and erring, lest their cries of distress disturb us.  We seek justification, to defend our actions even as we skewer and bring to light the slightest flaw in our neighbor.

Over and against all of this, all our posturing and political tomfoolery, over and against our ego and false pride where we think that we are kingmakers and movers and shakers, over and against the false dreams of our glorious revolution that will change the world stands this simple truth:  Christ Jesus has died for sinners, of which I am chief.  He did not die for a righteous man when He died for me.  He did not die for someone whom He needed to fix this world or the Church or to slay the modern day dragons of whatever.  He died for a sinner who has often has his own burdens borne by others, who has been patiently taught by true brothers in the faith.

May the God who richly forgives is in Christ, also grant us His gentle Spirit!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – February 17th, 2013 – Matthew 4:1-11

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.”  Immediately after He is baptized in the Jordan River, Jesus goes and is tempted by Satan.  Immediately.  In Mark’s Gospel the Spirit doesn’t just lead Jesus into the desert, the Spirit “throws” Him.  And why?  Well, what we see this week, and indeed what we will see every week this Lenten season is our Lord Jesus stepping into the fray, coming into this world and dealing directly with all the things that impact us sinful human beings.  Jesus is going to go and systematically take on all thing things that come about with the fall – this week it is temptation, hunger and thirst, false dreams of power… and more and more during the weeks to come, finally culminating on Good Friday when He Himself takes on death.  But it really starts in earnest here.  At His Baptism, Jesus took His place at sinful man’s side, at our side.  And so, He goes where we sinful men have been since Genesis 3.  No longer are we in the garden, no, we are in this wilderness of a world, suffering and tempted.

          “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.”  Because Adam listened to the temptations of Satan, he was cast out of the garden and would have to toil and sweat and labor for bread, would have to fight thorns and thistles… and sometimes those thorns and thistles would win.  Because the children of Israel would act like Satan and grumble against God, and they would have to wander the wilderness for 40 years.  And then we see Jesus, striding where Adam had been cast, where Israel had been forced to languish – and unlike them, unlike those who had done things wrong, Jesus is determined to oppose Satan, determined to do it right.

          “And the tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”  Now, let us hear and see what Satan is doing.  How did Satan first tempt Adam in the garden?  Eat this fruit, and if you do, you will be like God.  It was an appeal to vanity and power using food as the shiny lure.  This is the same thing Satan is doing here with Jesus.  This isn’t “If you are” in terms of Satan not knowing – but it’s playing off of vanity.  “You’re the Son of God – if you are the Son of God, why are You of all people suffering from hunger this way?  What are you doing here suffering - there’s no reason You should be suffering.”  It’s an appeal to vanity, an appeal to the ego.  It’s the same ploy Satan uses on us.  You’re a good little Christian – why aren’t things going better for you?  Why should you have to suffer?  Why should things be difficult for you, especially when those people over that it more difficult for you?  But here’s the clincher – Satan knows that Jesus could end His suffering.  Jesus, make bread.  You can do it, it would be easy for you.  End your own suffering, don’t put up with it, it’s beneath you.

          And our Lord responds.  “But [Jesus] answered, ‘It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”’”  God had sent Israel out into the desert to realize that they did not live merely by bread, but they lived truly by the Word of God.  And this is the heart of Satan’s temptation – to abandon the Word of God, to slide away from it.  And Jesus will have none of it – man lives by the Word of God.  This is true simply every day in the sense that all that we have is provided by Christ, the Word of God by Whom all things were made – but it is also more profoundly true.  Mankind had fallen.  Adam sinned, Israel sinned – you and I, we sin.  We had chosen death.  Wages of sin is death.  Therefore, if we are to live, we can live only by the Word of God, indeed, only by Christ Jesus, the Word Himself becoming Man, taking His place with us, being the Suffering Servant Whom Isaiah foretold, being the One who would crush Satan’s head.  That means Jesus would suffer – and this hunger is just the beginnings of the suffering, the bruised heel He would endure as Genesis puts it.  And Jesus will not be dissuaded.  No, Satan – it is not beneath Me to suffer – I came to suffer and redeem My people, as I had proclaimed through the Prophets.

          Satan tries again.  Then the Devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike your foot against a stone.’”  Satan here does something interesting – he himself quotes Scripture.  Alright Jesus, this is what You Yourself spoke through the Psalmist that You would be preserved.  Well, just go head – jump here, jump now, in the presence of all these people.  Why, they would see angels and they would all laud and glorify You!  Do you see the temptation here?  It is an appeal to glory?  Imagine what the reaction would be today if we all saw angels fly to someone’s rescue.  It would be astonishing, the praise and glory and pomp the person would get would be astonishing.  And again, is this not something we in our sin crave – some obvious sign of God’s favor, where everyone could look at us and say, “Boy, God must surely like him?  Wow, she must really be living right, look at how God has blessed her.”  All an appeal to our ego and our desire for Glory.

          And our Lord responds.  Jesus said to him, “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord Your God to the test.’”  That’s not the point of the passage, Satan.  The point of that Psalm isn’t “go be stupid to force God’s hand.”  Rather this – read the next verse of Psalm 91, Satan!  For He will command His angels concerning you to guard You in all Your ways.  On their hands their will bear You up, lest you strike Your foot on a stone.  You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent You will trample under foot.”  Jesus is telling Satan, “My way, My path is not to gain glory, not to be some Divine show off, but rather My way, My path is to trample and defeat you, to tread you down.  And nothing is going to stop Me or get in My way.”  There is no craving of glory for Christ – rather He simply goes about His business of defeating Satan.

          One final try for Satan.  Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to him, “All these I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.”  This is what Satan says here: “Okay, okay, you want to redeem these folks, you want them back.  I get it – when they sinned they became mine, Jesus.  But even now, they aren’t that bad, and with Your guidance and power You could make this world almost a paradise again for them.  Fine – I’ll give them back – just worship me.”  See, this is what we can forget – when Adam sinned, humanity became basically Satan’s plaything.  Luther in our hymn refers to Satan rightfully as “this world’s prince”.  And so, Satan makes an offer – he offers Jesus mankind, but mankind on Satan’s terms.  Let’s not have any stepping on of heads, any crushing talk.  Rather, let them live it up now, and you live it up now, and we’ll all be happy.  Again, this is the temptation that we ourselves have – to merely live and let live, to just go with the flow, to love this world as it is and to ignore the things of God, to forget and forsake the life of the world to come.  It’s an appealing temptation for us.

          And Jesus responds.  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan!  For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”  And Satan leaves.  Why?  Because something happened which hadn’t been seen since the fall.  A Man, a living, breathing Man, Man who is True God as well, but still a Man – fully and completely resisted temptation.  There was no room for Satan, no little bit of self-justification or pride laying hidden under the surface.  No mere outward righteousness hiding sinful thoughts.  No, here Christ Jesus full resists Satan perfectly, in a way that we never do – and Satan must flee, must run for the hills.  And so it begins.  The first, opening battle for salvation is won by Christ.  Lent will continue.  Satan could not tempt Jesus away from His journey to the Cross, could not come to some treaty or bargain with Him. 

          “And behold, angels came and were ministering to Him.”  Christ Jesus your Lord knows what it is like to suffer. He knows what it is like to be under the burdens of Satan.  He knows what it is like to be in the wilderness, to be cast out of the garden.  He has come to restore life and salvation to you – but He knows your frailties.  So He also deigns to send folks to minister to you, to serve you, to refresh you.  And how?  We do not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God – the Word of forgiveness that tells us that in Christ we are forgiven, that we will endure the trials of this life, that we will rise from the dead on the Last day.  We live as the Baptized, as those who are not simply cast into the wilderness, but rather those who are always in the life giving flood of Christ, adopted as sons, heirs of the righteousness and holiness that is His.  We are those who receive His gifts in the Supper, not mere bread and wine, but also His Body and Blood – given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins, for the strengthing of our faith – given so that we ourselves might survive our Lent and time of suffering, that we might endure our time in the wilderness of this life and finally obtained the promised land on the Last Day.  While we may discipline our bodies by giving up something this Lent, we do not starve, for Christ Himself gives us what we need for forgiveness and life.

          Round 1 has been won by Christ.  The Devil’s first offensive has been blunted and turned aside.  But as we continue through Lent, there is still more for Christ to fight, to overcome.  There is still shame and suffering in this world, shame and suffering that often impacts us directly.  But Christ Jesus our Lord will not leave us to face this suffering alone – as we will hear next week.  But remember this week, over and against the temptations of Satan that great truth – while we may be weak, Christ Jesus is strong.  He has fully beat down Satan, and while Satan may still scowl fierce, the Lord of Life has defeated the old serpent for you.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Friday, February 15, 2013

Preaching Wisdom on Mike and Mike

So, this morning on Mike and Mike, the fellas asked Billy Curry, an old, seasoned football coach, a question about a specific player and how he should handle his affairs -- what advice would Bill give him.  And here is an abbreviated version of what Curry replied (although the punchline is complete)

We all know the story of the young preacher who was eager but just didn't fit.  So the young preacher was working really hard on his sermons, but they just didn't seem to be working right. The Congregation didn't like them... and so one day after the service he asked one of the respected members of the congregation, who didn't look too happy, what he thought of the sermon. And the old man said, "You did fine for the first 15 minutes, but then you quit preaching. Then you went to meddling."

Now, I think this is a fantastic point - Curry used this story as basically saying, "I'm not going to make someone else's choices for them."  And he spent the rest of the interview refusing to give an answer.

Now, consider.  What is our duty as pastors?  Is it to make people's decisions for them?  Is it to tell them how their lives should look? 

Only in a very broad and general way.

It's one thing to say, "love you neighbor."  It's another thing to start a food pantry and say, "see, you can help here."  It's a completely different thing to say, "You need to volunteer at our pantry."  Suddenly from speaking truth or even showing opportunities - there is... meddling.  Trying to tell people exactly how they are going to show love.

Don't meddle.  Preach the truth -- and the great truth is Christ Jesus has died for the forgiveness of sins, that He has risen so that we will rise.  Meddling ain't better than that!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday Sermon – Jonah 3 – February 13th, 2013

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          This Lenten season we will be looking at the topic of repentance, using various examples of repentance from the Old Testament to guide our thoughts and our meditations.  Tonight, we begin with one of the great examples of repentance, the people of Nineveh.  And what we see here in Jonah 3 is a great reminder of a simple, fundamental truth that we can so often and so easily overlook, and that is the fact that repentance isn’t our doing – it is something God does by the power of His Word.  God calls and brings people to repentance. 

          I suppose some basic ground work is in order before we get into the text of Jonah 3.  There is the word repent itself – it means to change direction, to change a “pent” – or you can even think of it as being bent back into the proper shape.  The Greek word for it is “metanoia” – literally a changing of the mind.  And one of the things which we remember is that this reshaping, this redirecting, this changing isn’t something we do to ourselves.  It’s an act of God.  This is 3rd article of the Creed stuff – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.  Repentance is not a matter of how smart you are, or how good you are – it is a matter of the Holy Spirit working upon you through God’s own Law and showing you your sin, so that you are restraightened, redirected, and then ready to hear and behold the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  So, without any further ado, let’s look at our text for tonight and see God at work bringing Jonah to repentance. 

          Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”  So the very first thing that stands out in that the Word of God comes to Jonah a second time.  Why a second time?  Because the first time, when God had commanded him to go to Nineveh, Jonah hadn’t liked the Word of God, and he ran away.  Sails off in the opposite direction – and God raises up a storm, Jonah tells the sailors to throw him over board, they eventually do – and God raises up a giant fish to swallow and save Jonah.  And even then, God must tell Jonah a second time to get up and go to Nineveh.  It’s a great deal of work God has to go through to get Jonah to Nineveh.  And finally, Jonah goes.  So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city,[a] three days' journey in breadth.[b] Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”  And Jonah goes, and Jonah preaches.  The prophet arrives and warns that in 40 days, God will wipe out Nineveh.

          It doesn’t seem like much of a sermon, does it?  Not a lot of hope there.  Not even a lot of finger wagging against bad and wicked deeds.  But it does point to one simple and great fundamental truth that sinful man loves to rebel against.  The truth that God is in control.  Note, there is no bargaining here – there is no “unless you do X, God will do Y.”  Nope.  It’s simply God speaking through His prophet saying what He is going to do.  It is God proclaiming that He and He alone is actually the One in control, and what He says goes.  And so this preaching cuts to the heart of all sin.  All sin, every act that you or I or anyone has ever done is nothing but seeking to ignore God and claim control for ourselves.  God says “Do this” – and we don’t.  God says, “Don’t do this” and we do.  We do what we want, and God and His Word can take a long walk off a short pier.  It was that way with Adam and Eve in the Garden – who in fact thought that if they ate of the tree they would then be in control, just like God.  It is that way with us, when we made up excuses for our actions, our words, our thoughts.  And it was surely that way in Proud Nineveh.  And there, all throughout the streets of that large city, the prophet of God comes announcing God’s plan – 40 days yet and Nineveh will be overthrown.  God is the one in control, not you Nineveh, not even me, because I certainly didn’t want to be here.

          And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached[c] the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.  The people believed.  The Holy Spirit working through the Word crush and broke the proud hearts of the people of Nineveh, and they repented.  They believed.  What God has said is true – even with all its crushing impacts for us.  They throw on sackcloth and ashes, an old sign of repentance, one that is used even up to this Ash Wednesday.  They abandon the comforts of life that had driven their lives.  Instead, they simply listen to the Word of God which the prophet proclaimed, and they believed it.  Again, this is one of the things that is so problematic about repentance – it makes us see truths about ourselves that we would rather overlook.  Our sinful flesh would rather believe that everything that we do is wonderful, good, justified, or at least okay because it’s not as bad as what that other person in that pew over there has been up to.  We like to pretend that our actions have no negative consequences.  And that is why, in His Word, over and over again, God calls us to repentance – that is why we confess.  The word confess simply means “to speak with” – and when we confess our sins we are speaking with God His own Word, we say that God is right.  We believe what He has said about our sin, and we say, “Yes God, you are right.  We are sinful.”

          The King’s reaction, what he says in the midst of this repentance is wonderful as well.  And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”  The king knows what is going on in his city.  He knows what is going on in his own palace, in his own heart.  Turn, turn away from your own evil way, the way that you think is best rather than doing what God has said is good.  Put down the violence of your hands, for God has created you to serve your neighbor, not harm them.  You are not in control – quit acting like it.  Let God be God, let God be in charge.  And then, two simple words.  Who knows.  Who knows, perhaps God may choose not to smite us after all.  Who knows?  The king doesn’t – but God does.  With these words you get the proclamation that God is in control, not me.  The king doesn’t say, “surely our repentance and prayers will make God spare us” – that would just be more sin and ego and sinful man thinking he is in control!  Rather, the king confesses that people in Nineveh are deserving of both temporal and eternal punishment.  And now, it is in God’s hands – He is the One in Control.

          When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.  And God relents.  Much to Jonah’s consternation (who spends chapter 4 pouting because he wanted to see Nineveh blown up), God spares Nineveh.  And do not run with this the wrong way – don’t put the focus back on Nineveh.  This isn’t people manipulating God.  Rather, God is in Control – and who is this God?  He is the One who desireth not the death of the sinner.  He is the One who is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  He is the One who loves the world so that He sends His Son to the Cross to die for sinners.  It is good for us that God is in control, because He is a God of mercy and steadfast love that never ends.  Just as God’s Word shows us who we are, shows us our sin, it over and over shows us who God is – the One who loves and forgives the sin, the One who would not let man remain trapped in His own sin.  The One who relents from disaster – even countless disasters in our own lives that we are never even aware of the possibility of.  He is in control – and His Word drives us to repentance, makes us see that we are not in control – and why?  So that then the Holy Spirit by the power of the Gospel may show us that God is in control for us, for our benefit.  He has sent His Son to the Cross for you, He has raised His Son from the tomb for you, and because God is in fact in control, you are forgiven and will be raised to life everlasting in Christ’s Name.

          So, do not fear the topic of repentance.  Whenever we consider God’s Law, it will show us stuff about ourselves that we don’t like.  But God does not come merely to condemn the world, He works to redeem and created the world.  He is in control, and this is His good and gracious will towards you.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sermon for Quinquagesima 2013

February 10th, 2013 – Quinquagesima – Luke 18:31-42
In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

          They did not understand.  The disciples, the twelve, those who had followed Jesus through thick and thin, His closest friends and allies, they did not understand.  There is Jesus, on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus getting ready for His own Lenten Season, for the final push and struggle against Satan, and He tells the Disciples that the time is approaching – that the time is at hand.  And taking the twelve, He said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”  Look, here is what is going to happen, this is what is coming up.  Jesus spells it out pretty neatly.  We have Good Friday and Easter pretty well summed up here. . . but the disciples, they just don’t understand.

          But they understood none of these things.  This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.  Flies right over the disciples.  And why?  Because their minds are deluded, their vision is off.  They do not see Jesus as they ought.  Jesus tells them, behold, the time has come for me to fulfill scripture, to do all the work of salvation which the Messiah is supposed to do – I will be the suffering servant who dies for the people and wins them forgiveness.  I will atone for the people, that is I will pay their penalty in their place.  Everything that is written about the Son of Man will be accomplished – and the hour is at hand.  It will happen once we hit Jerusalem.  And the disciples don’t get it.  They just don’t see it.

          So why not?  What does this teach us, what does this remind us off?  Jesus uses a very important word to start off His sentence – see.  See, we are going to Jerusalem and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  And the disciples don’t see.  The idea of Jesus suffering and dying is completely foreign to them, they can’t comprehend it.  This is Jesus, this is the Son of God – surely He wouldn’t suffer – He’ll just steam roll the Romans, take charge of everything, smack some people around.  Their eyes were not upon Jesus, not upon the Messiah – but their eyes were upon false dreams of earthly power and glory.  They saw things of the world – but they refused to see the Spiritual things – the Divine plan of salvation which Christ laid out for them.

          This is typical, dear friends.  What we are to remember is that by nature we are spiritually blind.  When it comes to matters of faith, we don’t by our own strength or wisdom seek out and find God – we could search for God for a lifetime and never find Him on our own – because we don’t by nature have eyes that will see Him.  When Sinful man looks for “god”, he looks for a powerful being, yet a “god” who is so stupid and foolish that somehow we can butter him up.  When sinful man looks for “god”, he looks for someone like Zeus – lots of power, runs around chasing after gals, someone who we’d like to be like, strong and handsome – the type of god who would be a rock star or show up in a snazzy beer commercial.  When sinful man looks for “god”, he looks for someone who is powerful and will give him stuff, if he just prays the right prayer.  Sinful man looks for god to be a kindly uncle who will send blessings our way but otherwise leaves us alone.  By nature, that is what we want to see, that is the type of God we want to find – a god who simply gives us stuff here on earth, makes our life better here, and just sits back and smiles.  The problem is – that isn’t God, not the One True God.

          After the fall, God does not simply sit back and smile at His fallen creation.  For all the complaining and griping we do about others, we actually will put up with sin quite a bit.  If it is someone we like or love doing something, we can shrug it off.  Oh, you know how he is.  Oh, well, you know, that’s just how kids are these days.  We make excuses for the flaws in people we like, and this is particularly true of the person we like the most – ourselves.  How many times this week have you rationalized something that you’ve done that you know you shouldn’t have, how many times have you come up with silly, vain excuses to excuse your bad behavior?  We are beings who love to make excuses.

          God doesn’t.  God doesn’t brush off sin.  God is not blind, He sees sin for what it is.  Death.  Destruction.  Eternal separation from a Just God.  Pain and suffering and anguish.  People separated and cruel to each other.  God is honest about things – but He doesn’t just sit back up in heaven, He doesn’t wash His hands of the human race – but rather this.  Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven.  Christ Jesus comes, and He does all that God through the prophets said He would – to deal with sin.  Christ bears that cruelty and separation that we know from sin when He is mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.”  He bears our pain and suffering and anguish when He is flogged.”  He bears our death when He is killed – all in our place – all as our substitute – so that the Father can look at Christ Crucified, so that the Son can show the Father the nail marks in His flesh and say, “I have done it, I have born the price of sin – for My sake give your people life in My Name.”

          This is what we have been given to see here in Christ’s Church.  Christ has opened our eyes.  This is what we see through the Word, this is what we are taught to understand.  That Christ Jesus has won us forgiveness – and that He comes to us today, even comes to us in His own Body and Blood to give us that forgiveness.  This is what we see and receive and rejoice over every Sunday here in this place – the forgiveness won by Christ upon the Cross.

          There is more to our text.  As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant.  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Now, Jericho is on the way to Jerusalem, and as Jesus passes, this blind man hears that Jesus is coming, and He begs for mercy.  And Jesus sees the chance for an object lesson here.  Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.  And when he came near, He asked him, “What do you want Me to do for you?”  He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”  And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.  Jesus sets up an object lesson for the disciples and for us this morning with this healing.  The man is blind, he cannot see.  He realizes that there is nothing he can do to restore his sight, nothing to make himself whole.  And so, having heard of Jesus, he calls out to Jesus.  And note what Jesus does.  He stops.  He doesn’t continue on His merry way, leading a great parade of glory – He stops and shows mercy.  Jesus restores his sight.  Again, this is a profound truth – this is what Jesus is all about – fixing creation, restoring fallen humanity.  Disciples, when you look at this, do you merely see power and might, or do you see God come to earth to fix things – first the little things like this man’s blindness, but soon fixing all the sin of the world by the Cross?

          The crowds saw a healing that day, but you see something greater each week.  You see something more wondrous every Sunday.  In fact, you receive it, it happens to you.  Sometimes we can think of forgiveness as a simple, one time thing.  We can think of it as some dull event in the past – a mere fact.  But we are sinful people in a sinful world, and Satan keeps throwing up things to blind us to Christ.  We sin, and our eyes become closed off to God – we err and we are blinded again.  Yet we are called to God’s house, we hear Him, Hear His Word – and we call out O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world – have mercy on us.  We call out to God to take away our spiritual blindness, to forgive us our trespasses again so that once again we might see rightly.  And our Lord does – He gives us forgiveness over and over again – He restores us to the salvation He gave us in our Baptism.  With His Word of forgiveness, He removes the log of sin from our eyes, and we can see.  With His Holy Supper, He opens our eyes to see a taste of the heavenly, eternal feast.  What God does for you here in Church, dear friends, is more amazing than the miracle done for this blind man – for he takes what He has done for you upon the Cross and brings it to you, makes it first and foremost in your life once again.

          The disciples do eventually see this – they see this on the third day when they behold Christ the Crucified who lives again.  They understand the love that He shows to them in giving them what they truly need – the forgiveness of sin.  Likewise, we see this as well – and we come to hear God’s Word, to receive His Supper, so that we might always see it, that we might be kept steadfast in the one true faith unto live everlasting.  We understand that God shows His love for us in dying for us while we were yet sinners, and giving us free forgiveness.  Satan will try to lure us away, Satan will try to blind us with thoughts of power and glory and wealth here on earth – just as he tempted Jesus – that is our text for next week.  But our eyes are fixed upon Jesus, by faith our eyes yearn to behold our crucified Lord and no other, and to receive the forgiveness He gives.  He has given us life, and so we live.  He has given us sight, and so we look to Him, always and evermore.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Where's the Tentatio?

Where's the Tentatio?

I feel like the old lady from the Wendy's commercial when I look upon so much of what passes for theology today, but instead of "Where's the Beef" I think, "Where's the Tentatio?"

The old standard for what makes, what shapes a theologian was "Oratio, Meditatio, and Tentatio" - that is Prayer, Meditation (or reflection), and Testing (or trial, temptation).  There should be that prayer, that worship-based approach to things.  I can see that.  There should be reflection upon the Word... well, I often find that lacking, or just given in passing.

But where is the Tentatio?

Where is the experience, the struggles one has had with one's own faults and demons and temptations?  Where is that profound knowledge - not just awareness, but experiential knowledge that you are a poor miserable sinner who needs the Gospel every single moment or otherwise you die?

Because, to be honest - I'm not seeing a lot of Tentatio in how people are writing and dealing with theology.  I see a lot of brash and bold statements about what is right and wrong.  I see a lot of statements about how you must do X, Y, and Z.

I do not see... humility.  I do not see "my sin is ever before me" -- rather I see "I thank God that I don't do what these people do."

I see it even in myself when I try to engage.

This is because sinful man, at his core, is more concerned with fixing others, with making the next guy be something convenient than he is with repentance.  Whether that's keeping them from doing something bad, or limiting their freedom so you feel good with your own choices (safety in numbers!), whether it's just being a busy body.

Again - not the point.  Yes, I am to serve and love my neighbor... but I do so not as a judge, not as the paragon of wisdom and virtue.

I love my neighbors as a poor, miserable sinner who himself deserves temporal and eternal punishment.  I love my neighbors as one who only knows what love is because Christ has loved me totally and purely.  I love my neighbors not by my own reason or strength, but because Christ puts me to use, even over and against my sinful flesh, even over and against my druthers or how I think the world ought to be.

If you think you are but a little sinner, you will only want a little Savior... and you will have very little interest in proclaming Him to others, at least not before they get their acts in gear.  But when you see that you are the chief of sinners, then you will be determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified - not only for your neighbor's sake, but also for your own.

God be merciful to me, a sinner!  Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Theology or Social Corrective?

One of the great dangers for American theologians is to fall into the trap of mistaking social correctives for theology.  Now, as Confessional Lutherans, we historically have jumped all over this - we trash Finney and his ilk - we lambaste the social gospel and the like.

However, we too can far prey to the same sort of approach to theology.

Consider.  When you approach an issue, a topic, do you approach it simply on the basis of what the Scriptures say... or do you see an ill in society and then approach the Scriptures trying to find (or more likely justify) some solution that would fix the problem.

The later is not "theology" - it is trying to fix a social problem using Scripture as a secondary support for your plan.

Or to put it this way - if you are trying to fix a problem, you are running from a totally law based point of view, and often this will ignore or run roughshod over Christian Freedom, compassion, and mercy.  Because the Law has teeth.

Now yes, I know, there will be the cries of Antinomian - yes, yes, yes.  But again, is our main thrust and purpose the proclamation of the Law, to be a new and better Moses -- or is it to preach Christ and Him Crucified... and Law so that sinners are shown their sin and need for Christ?

Just something to ponder...

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Right - Dead Right

There is a problem, a vice, an illness that many Pastors have.  The need to be right.

What?  How can that be a vice?  Well, it is, it is the gravest of vices - it is the need to self-justify.  The desire to self-justify is always bad... especially if you actually are right.

What do I mean by this?  Well, let's say something is going on... and you are right.  And there is still some disagreement - you have spoken the truth, but the people will not listen.  They have agreed, but only in part.  What do you do?

Do you exercise patience, letting the other thing and ponder more?  Do you work with them then in private and quiet, away from prying eyes.  Do you rejoice that they have learned some, and pray that they will continue to learn?

Or do you jump up and down and talk about how you are right?

Yes, you're right - but you're dead right.  Dead. 

Dead as in without love.  Without care for the neighbor.  Dead as whitewashed tombs that glisten and gleem so nice and bright and white.

Because this is the thing - when we speak truth, the point isn't to show that we are right and the other guy is wrong.  The point isn't to shed light upon every flaw that they have.  The point is... to proclaim the truth, to scatter the seed as it were.

If you are trying to prove over and over that you were right... you aren't scattering the Seed anymore.

It seems to me that too often we who care about theology can be affronted, offended by those who are wrong.  We seem to take almost personal offense that they wouldn't listen to the truth that WE proclaimBut, that's just the way that it's going to be.  There will always be tares among the wheat -- and we shouldn't be too quick to assume that this person who is annoying me is a tare - and we certainly shouldn't be eager to tare them up by the roots.

Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It doesn't seek its own way.  It bears all things.  And if you speak without love you are just a noisy cymbal. 

Don't worry about being "right".  There is One who is Right - that is Christ Jesus.  Speak His Word, proclaim Him -- and then let the chips fall where they may. 

Sexagesima Sunday

Sexagesima Sunday – February 3rd, 2013 – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          St. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”  Few passages of Scripture demonstrate this truth better than the parable of the Sower and the Seed.  In fact, I don’t know if there is any character in any story Jesus tells that seems more ridiculous than the Sower.  But again, in this parable we learn again God’s wisdom, God’s love – and indeed how His weakness is true strength for us.  Let us consider our parable this morning.

          “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.” As he said these things, he called out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  What a foolish Sower!  His seed gets everywhere, it is scattered all over the place!  Doesn’t this Sower realize that seed is precious, that you shouldn’t waste it?  A full three quarters of his seed is wasted.  Not one of our farmers here would put up with that.  It would be ruinous.  You don’t sow seed on the roads, you don’t plant on the rocks, you don’t throw it into thorns and thistles!  It’s as though the Sower isn’t even a farmer – he sounds more like some city boy playing at being a farmer.  And to people who hear with only the ears of the world, to people who think only by their own reason and strength and without the aid of the Holy Spirit, this would be nothing but a story of utter folly.

          After He preaches this parable, and people are left wondering why Jesus would tell a story of a seemingly stupid farmer, the disciples pull Jesus aside.  What are you talking about, Jesus?  “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’  This is an interesting thing that Jesus says.  Not everyone is going to understand the Word of God.  Some folks aren’t going to get it.  Some will not understand – for some this parable will remain nothing but a foolish tale, or they will run off in strange directions with it.  That’s the way of it in this fallen world.  Jesus is quoting the prophets when He says that “seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.”  That was the story over and over in the Old Testament, especially when the prophets proclaimed the Christ.  But you – you have been given ears to hear, and by the power of the Spirit, you will hear.

          “Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.”  And with these simple Words, Jesus flips everything around.  The seed is the Word of God.  The point of the parable isn’t the farmer, this isn’t about our actions, or how we are to learn not to be so careless or foolish like the farmer – this is a description of how God sends forth His Word.  And the parable does remind us of a truth that we Christians forget: to the eyes of the world, God is foolish.  So often they see His people, His Church at work, and simply mock.  So often the world hears but does not hear, and the Church is ridiculed and mocked.  Indeed, most of these very disciples to whom Jesus is speaking will be mocked and even put to death by the world because they disdain the Word that they will proclaim, the seed that they will sow.  But here we see God’s Wisdom.  The Word will go forth!  The Word will be sent forth into all the world, the mockers not withstanding.  And this makes perfect sense when we remember that it is God who truly sends forth the Word.  The whole world exists how – only by the Word of God – that is how God creates.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  This is true, even though, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,[b] and his own people[
c] did not receive him.  The ignorance and foolishness of the world does not undo the Word of God – and just as God has sent His creative Word throughout the world, so too He will have His Gospel preached to the entire world… even to people who could care less.  With this parable, Jesus is telling us what we should expect when we as His Church look upon the world, when we see disdain for the Word.

          “The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.”  Our Lord reminds us of a truth that we do not like.  This world is not a morally neutral or safe place.  No, in this world there is active opposition to God, and when you proclaim Christ, when you show forth Christ’s love, you will be opposed.  You will be mocked.  There will be angry birds swooping around and pecking at you, there will be turkeys constantly making a mess of things.  That’s just the way it is.  And yet the seed is still sown.  God is not daunted or intimidated by the world – still His Word goes forth.  Even those birds who care nothing for the Word still are alive only by the power of the Word – just as even the most coarse and crass unbeliever still lives off of the goodness of God, off of the care of Him who makes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust.

          “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” A second warning.  In this world there will be trials and testing, and yes, trials and testing even for those who believe.  The seed in the rocky soil sprouts, but it cannot bear the summer heat, it is cut off from the moisture of the soil.  Now, consider this.  You are baptized.  God has come to you in water and the Word, made you His own child.  This is true – even when sorrow and trial and hardship come your way.  For this is the temptation that Satan will throw at you – the idea that old snake will whisper is this – “see how hard your trials are, surely God no longer cares for you!”  Satan will try to dry you out, burn you to a crisp with despair and disappointment.  Over and against the words of Satan, remember the true and powerful word of God – I baptize you In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Your sins are forgiven.  You are not rootless, but you are tied to the life giving waters of Holy Baptism, joined to Christ Jesus Himself, attached to Him.  Do not let the vexations of Satan cut you off – remember your baptism, remember that you are indeed delivered from Evil and the Evil One.
          One final trial.  And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.”  This is the one that we as Americans should know the most.  We are people who are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life.  And Jesus simply warns us of the truth – our sinful flesh will want to turn blessings from God into idols, will take something good in our lives but let it grow all out of proportion, let it grow like a weed, like a cancer, and it can choke us out, strangle our faith.  And this is a common enough reality.  Do I have to belabor the point?  Doesn’t the temptation lay upon all of us to be off doing something else right now?  Our work, our family, entertainment – all blessings from God, yet in this sinful world our flesh would gladly let them be the excuse to forego receiving God’s greater gift of forgiveness with our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

          And then the final soil.  As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.”  Now, don’t get too proud, my friends, don’t puff out your chest and go, “Oh, lookie at me, see I’m good soil.”  Not the point.  The point is not the try to compare soils or figure out who’s good or who’s rocky.  The point is the Seed and the Word of God.  What do you call a good field with good soil that has no seed planted on it?  You call it empty, barren.  And that is what we were – apart from God we would be empty, barren fields, as dead as the highway, unkempt, rocky, full of whatever weeds or junk just happened to grow there.  But what has happened?  God has come to you with His Word, and He has given you growth and wisdom.  This is not your own doing – it is a gift of God.  Do you believe because your heart is good – or rather, as we sing does God create in you a clean heart, a right Spirit within – and thus you hold fast and cling to God?  Do you bear fruit because you are awesome, or because Jesus is the vine, you are His branch, and abiding in Him, remaining in Him you bear fruit?  Is patience your own doing, or is it not the work and gift of the Holy Spirit?

          You have been given ears to hear – and so hear the wisdom and wonder of God.  While you are there, powerless and weak, like and empty and barren field, God in His great love and wisdom comes to you and plants His Word in you, showers you with it, gives it to you with full abandon over and over again.  And why?  So that you would receive the life and love of Christ Jesus, so that you would see the wisdom of God in sending His Son Christ Jesus to the cross for the forgiveness of your sins.  So that in hearing the Word, so that by being joined to the Word in Baptism, being nourished in the Word in the Supper, you would remain tied and attached to Christ, so that He might bring forth fruit and life and patience and a clean heart in you.  You were dead, but the Word has come, and now you live.  You were empty, but the Word has come, and God has called you together here in His house.  You were fallow, but the Word has come, and now you have abundance in Christ.

          The truth is the world will not care for God’s Word, and indeed, your own sinful flesh will fight and rail against it.  But yet in His Wisdom, God has given you the Word of His Son, He has proclaimed it to you even when to the eyes of the world you were trampled upon, or rocky, or prickly and full of thorns.  He has come to you and make you His own soil with which He is well pleased, for He has planted the Word, Christ Jesus in you.      And that Word of God gives you life, gives you what it says.  You are forgiven of all of your sins, you are a new creation in Christ Jesus, even unto life everlasting.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +