Sunday, June 30, 2013

Trinity 5 Sermon

Trinity 5 – Matthew 5:1-11 – June 30th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          I’m not sure if we understand just how foolish our Lord’s instructions to Simon Peter, the instructions to cast out his nets, must have sounded.  We are used to the story, we know what happens, so it seems so clear, but pause for a moment, and consider what Simon Peter’s day had been.  He had been up all night, working, toiling, for nothing.  Empty net after empty net, doing nothing but hauling by hand wet, rough, net.  All night long.  A lousy day.  And then, when he is tired – Jesus commandeers his boat, and then Jesus sits down and teaches from the boat.  So after a long day of work, then you get a morning’s worth of teaching – a trip to Church as it were.  And then, Jesus tells Simon Peter to cast out the nets.  In the daylight, when the fish would be swimming deeper to avoid the heat – when it was foolish to try to fish – which is why the fishermen had been out all night.  And you can almost hear the sigh that Simon Peter must have given.  Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!  But at Your Word I will let down the nets.  Tired, worn, and weary, Peter casts out the nets again.  Do you know what this would be like?  Imagine that we had an evening service here during the middle of harvest, and one of our farmers has just finished going over a field that was a complete loss.  Nothing on it.  And after the sermon I were to say to him, “Why don’t you go run your combine-thingy over that field again.”  A completely stupid and foolish idea.  I highly doubt that any farmer would humor me on that – and as well they shouldn’t – I’m not God.  But Simon Peter does cast down the nets at our Lord’s Word, and we know what happens – the miraculous catch of fish – miraculous in terms of size, in terms of time and timing – a number of fish that is unbelievable.

          What we see here is a perfect and wonderful demonstration of a truth that impacts everything.  The wisdom of God seems utterly foolish to sinful man.  Plain and simple.  Quite often what God plans, what God says, seems to us like sheer stupidity.  This is true of both God’s Law and Gospel.  Consider God’s Law.  What does God teach us to do?  Love your enemy.  Put your neighbor’s need ahead of your own.  Turn the other check.  Never take advantage of your neighbor in business deals.  Always give of yourself.  From the world’s perspective, from the perspective of our sinful flesh, these are all utterly foolish – these have absolutely nothing to do with looking out for number 1!  And when we are tempted, every temptation is nothing more than Satan slithering on up to us and saying, “Look, this stuff that God wants you to do – doesn’t it just seem so foolish?”  To sinful man, God’s law looks foolish.

          Same thing with the Gospel.  Same thing with the Cross.  That God Almighty would come down from heaven and suffer for the very people who spurned Him and rebelled against Him, who constantly sin and flout His commands.  And more than that – the fact that this is given freely, the fact that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake and that we don’t have to do anything, indeed, that we can’t do anything, that there is no way we could make it up, and more over God doesn’t even want us to think about making things up to Him – that God would say, “No, I Myself will handle this, I will take your sin from you and Crucify in Myself and restore you unto Myself.”  Do you see why St. Paul can say that the world views this as utter folly?  It’s so opposite of what the world expects.  And yet, by faith, we know God’s acting for what it is – the power of salvation.

          Simon Peter, in that moment when he sees the nets full of fish, when he sees the wisdom of the world so utterly and completely throw upon its head, knows that he is in the presence of God.  Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.”  Simon Peter doesn’t call Jesus “Master” anymore; he doesn’t just humor a slightly nutty preacher – rather, this Jesus is LORD, is God Almighty, is Jehovah.  And Simon Peter knows he is a sinner, and Simon Peter knows that he’s got no business being this close to a Holy God. . . by rights, by all earthly wisdom, there should be nothing for sinful man but punishment and wrath, condemnation and the curse of death, nothing but the wages of sin, the burden of the expulsion from the garden to come crashing down on Simon Peter right then and there.  But again, Jesus in His utter and true wisdom decides to do something the world would see as foolish.

          Do not be afraid.  Do not be afraid.  Put away your fear.  Do not worry about any punishment, do not worry about any judgment coming from Me against you.  Do you hear how foolish that sounds.  Why, even to American Christians – we love our fire and brimstone sermons.  The most famous sermon in American History, and a classic of literature, is “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God.”  You turn on the TV and you hear preachers shouting until they are blue in the face about how there will be Judgment for this, for that, watch out, God’s gonna getcha because He’s Holy and Hot to Trot to put the smack down upon your sinful backside!  And there is one of those sinners – right in front Christ – expecting the worst – thinking the best he can hope for is that God will go and leave him alone.  Think about that – Peter’s only hope was that Jesus would go away.  Depart from me!  And what does our Lord say?  “Do not be afraid.  I’m not going anywhere – in fact, you will be coming with Me.  I will be with you and you will be with Me, and I will forgive you and make you My servant.” 

          Do you see, do you understand who God is?  God is no longer out to get you.  God is not seeking to punish you.  Why?  The Cross.  Every sin ever was carried by Christ to that Cross and done away with, punished.  God’s wrath was completely and fully poured out upon Christ – there’s no wrath left for you, there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  God really and truly isn’t out to get you – Christ stepped up to the Cross and took that bullet for us.  And so He can say even to us today, “Do not be afraid.  Know my forgiveness.  Your sins can no longer condemn you, for I have borne them for you.”  Do you realize that, do you understand that – there is no sin that you do that can condemn you – the only thing that condemns is unbelief, is spurning the Cross, is saying, “No thank you” to God and His mercy.  Believe, trust in God by the gift of faith, and there is salvation.  No belief – and there is damnation.  That’s it.  The only thing that gets anyone to hell is rejecting God, not believing Him, spurning the cross – the only thing that can condemn is someone’s own stupidity and unbelief – literally.

          But here is the wonder and joy that we have.  God has called us to faith by His Word, we have heard the message of Christ Crucified, and by the Grace and power of God we know it for what it is – our salvation, our hope, that to which we cling.  And we know how God bolsters that faith, by the gift of Holy Baptism, by the repeated preaching of that same Word, by His repeatedly giving us His own Body and Blood to strengthen us.  By the fact that Christ has created His Church, has over and over called men to be fishers of other men, to cast out the Net of God’s Word and Sacraments to catch and bring people into Church.

          And again, this is a place where the wisdom of God is so much greater than the wisdom of men, and this is something we always need to bear in mind.  I will be honest with you – there are a lot of worldly ideas out there about how to grow the church, how to “catch men” as it were.  And they are creeping into the Missouri Synod – and the bureaucrats who simply sit and an office and see nothing but numbers and dollar signs, who think like worldly businessmen are taking a strong, strong liking to them.  Some of the stuff that comes down the pike is utter worldly, utterly stupid – treating people who don’t know Jesus like they are mere consumers ready to buy something.  Let’s market this, let’s advertise this.  I’ve been out in the parish for 9 years, and it seems like some stupid new plan or model shows up every 2 years, and three years later it’s outdated and cliché.  Utter stupidity.  What is forgotten is that the Church of God is not a business of the world, and it doesn’t run by the world’s dog eat dog rules.

          How does Simon Peter catch the fish?  Is it because of his hard work?  He’d been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything.  Is it because of his wonderful plans?  They had fallen flat.  Was it a neat 7 step plan, or 40 day commitment to fill in the blank?  Nope.  But at Your Word I will let down the nets.  The catch comes simple and solely because Christ said so – because of God’s Word.  If Simon Peter becomes a great fisher of fish by God’s Word, doesn’t it stand to follow that Simon Peter will be a fisher of men by. . . God’s Word?  And what do we see Peter doing on Pentecost?  He’s. . . preaching.  He quotes, and then even later on ends up writing, Scripture.  When he’s good he’s all about the Word of God.  The same thing is upon us.  The Church has always been about the Word of God, Law and Gospel, and when we abandons that Word, we are no longer Church.  We, as long as we desire to remain “Church”, must be devoted not to our plans, not to our goals, not to what we’d like to see, not to dreams of full pews and fuller offering plates, not to how many people show up at the latest pep talk or concert that pretends it’s Church – rather this.  We must be devoted solely and only to Christ and His Word, to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – to be in the Word and to proclaim that same Word and nothing else to others.  And then we will dwell in the House of the Lord all our days.  As for others, the folks out there – hopefully through our lips God’s Word will work upon them – if not, the Holy Spirit works when and where He wills.  We remain in the Word, we continue to trust in His Wisdom while the world laughs at our folly – for we know God’s Word for what it is, we know the Cross for what it is – the power and wisdom of God for salvation.  While others will demand signs in the pocketbook and nifty plans – we will preach Christ Crucified, that stumbling block and folly to the world, and rest securely and comfortably in His love, His forgiveness, His righteousness.  He has told us that we need not be afraid – all that remains then is for us to receive the Supper and give thanks.  O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy to us, in spite of the blustering of the world, endures forever.  To God alone be the glory.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Friday, June 28, 2013

Officer Training

I will admit it.  I like some military sci-fi.  I've not read the entirety of the genre, but the Honor Harrington books are really good.  I'd also imagine Horatio Hornblower style books would be good to read too -- I need to pick them up.

And pastors should read books like these.  Why?

Because we are officers.

Consider how an officer, a captain is supposed to act.  In the face of danger or trouble -- calm.  State what needs to be done and do it.  No panic, no hand-wringing.  Calm, cool, and collected.

As Pastors, we should remember that.  We encounter many things in this world that are wrong, messed up, bizarre, or strange.  But we are to be officers, leaders of men.

Panic does not become us.  Nor does bemoaning what is to come.  We know the battle is hard -- which is why we sing hard songs.  "And take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife, those these all be gone, they yet have nothing won, the Kingdom ours remaineth."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – Luke 6 – June 23rd, 2013

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

          “You have every right to be angry.”  I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before, it’s probably been said to you.  You may have even told it to a person – I have.  You have every right to be angry, to be upset.  Actually, we don’t, not the way we can think of it.  Anger happens, it’s the response that we sinful folks have when we are wronged.  St. Paul says, Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”  Yep, we on occasion get angry, get upset – occasionally we will be angry, but we have no right to stay angry, no right to let anger influence our actions.  This is what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel lesson; He shows us why our anger is something we should avoid and beat down when it flares up.  Let us listen to our Lord this morning.

          Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.  This is what you are to be – merciful.  When you think about it, mercy is as about as far from anger as you can get.  I know when I am feeling angry, when I am upset, mercy is the farthest thing from my mind.  When I’m angry, I want vengeance, I want someone to get what they deserve, I want them to suffer humiliations galore.  That’s not what I’m supposed to do, that’s not who I’m supposed to be.  I am to be a merciful, loving person.  The problem is my Old Adam, my sinful flesh doesn’t crave mercy.  It craves power and control and respect, it wants to teach people a lesson.  That’s not who we are to be.  We are to be like God, God who is merciful – and not just merciful in general, but merciful to us.  God has His way, His way is forgiveness.  That’s how God likes, that’s how God prefers to handle sin.  That is God’s plan – sin should be forgiven.

          But if we refuse God, if we demand that sin be punished, if that’s how we want to be, God will do things our way.  You want people’s sin to be on their heads, you want them to suffer for their wrongs – okay.  Have it your way – but that’s how it will work for you as well.  God says, “You don’t like forgiveness, you want judgment and punishment and condemnation to be the way things work, so be it.”  Jesus warns us of this.  Judge not and you will not be judged, condemn not and you will not be condemned.  It’s really quite simple.  How do you want it to be?  Do you want to keep a record of sins done against you?  Hear the Psalmist – If You, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand?  If you want to demand that vengeance be taken against another for their sins, if you want to abandon mercy – guess what comes to you.  And this makes sense.  I remember playing basketball on the play ground growing up – and most of the time, we wouldn’t foul each other, we’d pull off, we’re just having fun.  But then, someone fouls, drops the hammer on a guy.  And you know what happens, next time, that guy gets fouled.  And soon we’re all knocking each other around.  Same thing here – God wants our lives to be ones of mercy – but if we want them to be full of judgment and condemnation – God will play that way too.  And you know what?  That’s not good for us.  Growing up, I was small.  I could never give as good as I got when we started fouling – it was bad for me.  Trying to play the judging game is bad for us.  Blame game, condemnation game, bad for us.  Ends up with us in hell.

          You see, that’s what we deserve.  That’s what it means when we say that we are sinners.  Sinners deserve hell.  By rights, sinners ought to be damned.  Period.  But see what your merciful God gives you.  Christ Jesus goes to the cross and bears the punishment of sin in your place, takes it all, takes it fully – and in return He gives you forgiveness – and forgiveness not just for yourself, but forgiveness for you to give out freely to all who have wronged you.  Do you know why – because that person who has gotten you upset, the person you want to beat with a stick – it’s already happened.  Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God was already beaten with a stick for them – in fact, He was whipped, had a crown of thorns put on His head, and crucified.  And so Christ gives us forgiveness, fills us with it so we do not have to bear any grudge or anger.  Any wrong that has been done you, Christ has made full atonement, born the full punishment for it already.  This is why He says, forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap.”  This is how richly He has forgiven you.  This is what Jesus has done for you.  And this, on His forgiveness, is where your focus is to be – and do you know why?  Because when you are angry, when you are upset with someone and want them punished, when you condemn – you are denying Christ, or at least ignoring Him.  You are saying that the punishment Christ suffered wasn’t enough, not enough for this person.  “Surely, when Christ died for sinners, He wasn’t dying for this person who offended me.”  Yes, He was.  Be merciful, and show the same mercy that you have been given.  The mercy you show isn’t your own mercy – it’s just the mercy that you’ve received from God, and you are simply passing it on.

          You see, this is what Jesus is doing.  He is training us and teaching us to be like Him.  A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.  Jesus trains us with His Word, with His forgiveness to be forgivers, to be people who gladly speak His Word to all, even to those who have wronged us.  He is teaching us to be like Him.  Christ Jesus, who died for you even as you sinned against Him, is training you to show love and give forgiveness like He does.  And this is hard.  It’s not what our sinful nature wants.  In fact, this side of heaven we never will be fully trained.  We have to wait until the last day, until we rise ourselves and share bodily in our Lord’s Resurrection to be fully trained, to be fully like our Teacher.  But we are to strive to be like Him  We are to struggle, to work on this, to show more and more forgiveness.

          So Jesus gives us an image to help us, to keep us in check and move us the way we should go.  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 do not see the log 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.”  Tend to yourself and your own sin.  That’s what Jesus says here.  Quit your yapping and complaining about what the fellow next to you is doing.  Why?  Because your sin is bigger – because you ought to be able to see your own sin so much more than you can see your neighbor’s sin.  Because your sin is great.  It is big.  However much that person has done to you – you’ve wronged God more.  Plain and simple.  That’s what we are to remember.  When someone wrongs you, don’t think “Oh, I can’t believe what they’ve done. . . how could they.  Well, I never.”  Yes you have!  In fact, when you are wronged, it should call you to repentance.  Oh look, I’m still in the sinful world, surrounded by sin.  Let me check myself and my own sin - oh yeah, I’m still a sinner, I still have my own problems to deal with, good night look at the size of this log in my own eye.  Try that.  When someone wrongs you, take a good look at yourself, and see your own sin.  When that shoe of “he’s a sinner” is on the other foot, on your foot, you won’t be so quick to want to bash heads in.

          Instead, you’ll want to look to Christ.  And this is where we give thanks and rejoice.  None of us gets rid of the logs in our eyes.  None of us get it cleared up enough in this life.  But Christ Jesus has become our brother, the spotless lamb, without blemish or defect, without any log or speck in His eye – and Jesus comes to us, and He says, “Brother, I see that log in your eye.  Let me handle that.  I see your sin, and I forgive you and take it from you.”  That’s what forgiveness is.  It is Christ removing our sin.  This is what Christ gives us freely and over and over again.  That’s what He fills us with – and which we give to others.  When we have been forgiven, we see our neighbor’s sin, we see their struggles, we see the problems that they have, even the things they’ve done to us – and when we dwell, when we live in Christ’s forgiveness, we see clearly and say, “Let me get that for you brother – your sin is forgiven by Christ Jesus our Lord.”  That’s the way we are to be.  And it’s a struggle.  This is why we daily ask for forgiveness – Lord, forgive us our trespasses – because we need that forgiveness, we need that strength over and over again so that we can use it in our lives.  And so our Lord comes to us again and again – He speaks His Word of life to us and makes us whole.

          Dear friends – God has not condemned you.  Instead, He gives you forgiveness, and He spills this forgiveness up and over and through you into the people in your lives.  He calls us here to His house to rejoice in His forgiveness, to receive it anew, and to give thanks to Him.  To God our Father in heaven, all praise and glory be given for the abundant mercy He shows us through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Haters Have It

I am a sports fan.  I listen to Sport Talk radio the way most holier-than-thou folks listen to Christian Pop.  In the morning, Mike and Mike come on (so much that my son has "Mi-Mi" as part of his small but growing vocabulary).  And last night the Miami Heat won the NBA title with LeBron James winning the MVP award.

And the haters are out.

It's astonishing to see the vitriol that comes out, the denigration... or even the attempts at denigration.  "He's not as good a Jordan."  Wow... there's an insult... "You sir, half way through your career, have not proved yourself better than the consensus best player ever."

But there's that desire to... drop down and put the fellow in his place.  There's that vitriolic reaction.  And this isn't just an Oklahoma thing (where the Heat beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals last year)... there is almost a reaction against his success.

I just think he's a fabulous player.

So - why all this sports blah blah blah when I haven't written here in so long?

Consider how you approach your neighbor.  Are you constantly trying to put him in his place?  Do you denigrate his success (it's only luck, he has friends who helped him, whatever other excuses you give) -- or do you delight and rejoice in his successes.  Even if he is your enemy?  Even if he gets the job you wanted, the promotion you were seeking, the praise you were craving?

Are we used to rejoicing with and for our neighbor anymore?

I don't think so.  I think in our culture the Haters have it... and we are all the much more bitter and dour for it.

And its so unneeded -- there's blessings and joys enough to go around -- be content with yours and rejoice in the ones God permits your neighbor - indeed, help them to rejoice in them.

Which is basically the point of 2nd table of the Law according to Luther's Small Catechism.

Something to ponder, something about which to repent.  Thanks be to God that Christ does not hate His brothers who were His enemies, but rather dies and rises for them!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Trinity 3 Sermon

          This morning’s parable, dear friends in Christ, isn’t just about the foolish younger brother – it isn’t just the parable of the Prodigal Son.  No, we see three people, two sons and their father – we see a family full of discord and strife.  If anything this is a parable about the father who continually has to struggle to keep his family from imploding – who goes to any length to try and mollify his sons.  And of course, we understand that this parable is really describing the ways in which God treats us, the lengths He goes to for our sake.  So let us dive into this parable this morning and see what we learn.

          The main problem that arises in this parable is that neither son understands their father.  The younger son doesn’t get his father.  The elder son doesn’t get his father either.  Both really don’t seem to know him, each ends up wandering away.  We know about the younger son – the one who wants his inheritance early.  You know what that is – Dad, I want my inheritance is the same thing as saying, “Why don’t you just hurry up and kick the bucket, you old geezer, you are only good to me for money.”  Kind of crass.  And then we know what the younger brother does with that money.  He blows it.  Squanders it on reckless living.  And you know what that means – suffice to say the kid hits rock bottom.  And this is the point we can shake our head at – oh, how horrible this kid is, look at all that he’s done.  Yeah – bad stuff – he’s foolish, he’s hateful towards his father in demanding the inheritance.  But that’s really about him, that’s about him being stupid.  But it’s when the guy is standing slopping pigs we see that he doesn’t know who his father really is.

          Listen.  But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!  I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.  Treat me as one of your hired servants.  We’ll what’s wrong with that!  It’s about time that he comes to himself, comes to his senses – admits that he’s been horrible.  Yeah, he’s dead on about himself, he has sinned, he isn’t worthy to be called the man’s son.  But here is the problem.  He thinks his dad will treat him like a lowly servant.  This young kid is afraid, thinks that his father will be cold, and heartless, thinks that his father will say, “You dirty rat, I oughta, go sleep in the barn and I’ll find some mean and nasty chore for you to do tomorrow – you make me sick.”  That’s what the young man thinks his father will do.  That’s why he’s so afraid and nervous about heading home.  That’s why he’s ready to beg to be a servant.  He doesn’t expect compassion from his father.  And he was wrong.

          The elder son, he doesn’t understand his father either.  The elder, dutiful son, is out working in the field, and he hears music and dancing, and he calls to one of the servants and asks what is going on.  He hears that his brother has returned, that his father has killed the fattened calf, that the party is a celebration over the return of that money wasting, worthless, no good brother of his.  The elder brother doesn’t understand his father either.  He storms off into the night.  He fumes, he sulks outside.  And even when his father comes out to him, this elder brother doesn’t understand who his father is.  This elder brother goes on a rant, says words just as despicable as the younger brother’s wretched living.

          “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never once disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends.  But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”  What vile words.  I’ve been good, and there’s been nothing in it for me!  You, heartless old man, have never given me anything good!  How horrible, how heart-wrenching.  The elder son, always working, thinking he’s going to earn blessings from his father by what he himself does.  He doesn’t understand his father’s generosity, his father’s love.  I bet he never even asked the father for a goat – because this father would have freely given one.  But no – the son is bitter – the son thinks more of his own hard work than the father’s love.  The son thinks of himself, what he’s earned and what his brother might be sponging away, and he fails to rejoice over the redemption of his brother.

          Do you see, dear friends, how neither son really understood who their father was?  The younger son thought his father would be cruel and callous to him – the elder son thought his father a harsh tyrant who never showed love and generosity, who had to be impressed with hard work and labor – the elder son thought that he had to earn everything on his own from his father.  Both of these sons just don’t understand who their father is, and what the father does.

          Now, this is instructive for us today, because the sons illustrate the two terrible ways in which we Christians, we who are of God’s Household, we who are of God’s family, can begin to misunderstand God.  How many of you have had thoughts similar to those of the younger brother?  How many of you have seen some of the wretched things you’ve done in your life and then thought, “I’m horrible, I have sinned – God couldn’t possibly forgive me!”  It’s the last part that’s the problem – there’s nothing wrong with seeing your sin, in fact, it’s something that we need to do – the problem comes in when guilt and fear makes us think that our sin is too big for God to handle, too big for God to forgive.  The problem is when we end up approaching God doubting that He will forgive or even being afraid to approach God.  Just as the younger son forgot that his father is merciful, do we not as well sometimes forget that God is merciful to us?  That is one of the dangers, one of the traps we can fall into.

          And then there is the trap that the elder brother falls into.  The elder brother starts looking at everything in terms of what he does.  Look at all I’ve done for my father, I deserve better in life.  I’m such a good, dutiful son, why doesn’t he treat me better!  Are there times when you can end up treating God this way as well?  If you’ve ever thought, if you’ve ever said, “Well, I’m a “good” Christian” you have.  The temptation here is to approach God on the basis of what you’ve done – look at me God, see how much I’ve done for you!  You owe me.  How wretched and sad – treating God as though he were a petty tyrant, a miserable god who could be bribed with a few things that we do.  And yet – is that not how we sometimes can end up dealing with God?  Why did you let this happen to me – I’m a good person, I don’t deserve this!  Can we even sometimes brag about ourselves to God? 

          These are two errors we can fall into, two dangers Christ warns us of.  We can in our guilt over sin forget God’s mercy – we can in our arrogance forget our need for God’s mercy.  We can forget that this is who God is – the God who shows mercy.

          Look at the father in the story – there is something remarkable that he does with each of his sons, that we can overlook.  First, with the younger – But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and embraced him.  Now, with the elder – His father came out to him and entreated him.  Did you notice what the father does – what type of person he is?  In both cases the father goes out to his wayward child.  The father seeks out the son.  The father’s love to his younger son pre-empts that son’s plea to work as a servant – the younger son merely confesses his sin and is welcomed back into his father’s house.  The father’s love seeks out the stubborn elder brother and turns his eyes off of his own works – Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.  It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found.  In both cases, the father tenderly goes to his wayward sons, goes out to them, and strives to bring them back into the home.  And in both cases, what the Father does is… well, it would have been viewed shamefully.  Good, upstanding men didn’t run – you wore robes, if you were running you had to hike up your skirt – and you just didn’t do that in public.  Nor would you leave your own party to deal with a pouting son – that older son should be coming back to you!  But in both cases, the Father, in His zeal suffers shame and scorn to comfort his children.

          Dear friends, hear this and know who your Heavenly Father is.  Your heavenly Father is the One who continually comes, who continually reaches out to you to show you mercy.  Whenever you fall into error, be it great shame and vice, be it wretched pride and arrogance, your heavenly Father always desires that you be forgiven and restored, brought back into the family, brought back into the household, brought to the feast.  God desires you here in His house, receiving His forgiveness, that forgiveness which He provides for you through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  God is not too proud to redeem you – God’s good and true Son Jesus Christ will endure the shame of the cross and death to see that we are restored to the family.  And this is the call that goes out every week – return to God’s house, be forgiven.  Return and rejoice in the Father’s mercy.  Our Lord even calls you to a wonderful feast, given whenever we partake of Christ’s own Body and Blood in His Supper.  This is who God is – the One who has mercy upon you, the One who desires to restore you continually, the One who wants you always to remain with Him, to be with Him in His house and in His worship.  God’s Word will always seek to show you mercy – and for that, we who have wandered and gone astray many times are right to give Him all thanks and praise.  To God alone be all glory.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Yet another but now the most awesome Podcast

Well, I've gotten into the world of podcasting with my friend and congregational elder - Thomas Lemke. 

Here it is!

Because, well, we're just going to read through the Scriptures and talk about them.  You know.  And have fun.  You can listen.

Trinity 2 Sermon

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          When one of those who had reclined at table with Him heard these things, he said to Him, ‘Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God.’”  Alright folks, a simple trivia question for you to start today.  When one of those heard… what things?  What’s going on, what’s the setting here for our text in Luke?  What comes before this in Luke Chapter 14 is the famous meal at the Pharisees’ house, where it’s the Sabbath day, and they bring in a guy who is sick, and they are watching to see if Jesus would dare heal the guy, which He does.  And then you have Jesus teach – don’t sit in the place of honor lest someone more important than you show up and you get kicked to the back – for everyone who humbles himself will be exalted, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.  We will actually look closely at that in detail in September – but for today, remember this is the setting.  Jesus is there among the smug, the self-righteous and cocksure folks, and He’s basically been reading them the riot act.  And then one of the guys pipes up – “Oh yeah, it’s gonna be great when we get to the Kingdom of God and we good fellas get to have the righteous, everlasting party.

          And to this, Jesus responds with a story.  “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.  And at the time for the banquet He sent His servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’”  Now, let’s make sure we understand what is going on.  This is a “great banquet.”  What does that mean?  It means it is the party to end all parties.  In the ancient world, your celebrations were all about feasting – about good food, good wine, celebration on and on.  It is a big time shindig – and it’s not just something thrown together – it’s planned out, well in advance.  It should be long expected, the social event of the year – and finally, after the waiting, the day arrives.  And people should be as excited for this as kids on Christmas morning.

          But what happens?  “But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.  Please have me excused.’  And another said, ‘I have bought a yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.  Please have me excused.’  And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’”  Do you see what theses guys are doing?  They are just blowing off the host.  Completely blowing him off.  And they try to sound polite and proper – but even if you sound all nice and polite when you are blowing someone off, you’re still blowing them off.  And for stupid things.  Examining a field isn’t an emergency – they field will be there tomorrow.  Same with the Oxen.  And as for “I’ve got a wife” – well, it’s the big party of the year and everyone’s invited, your wife too.  But on and on the excuses pour in, and they all sound so nice and proper and prim.

          But the master isn’t fooled.  “So the servant came and reported these things to his Master.  Then the Master of the house became angry.”  Nope.  He knows when he’s being blown off – he knows a lousy excuse when he hears it, and he knows dishonesty when he hears it.  And so in anger he lets them have their way.  Fine, if they don’t want to come, they don’t need it, they don’t get it.  Instead, the Master says to the servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”  Get the scum of the city, the people that the “good” people look down upon.  Call them into the feast!  And the wise servant replies, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and there still is room.”  And the Master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and the hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”  Go on, not just the poor Jewish folks – go get the strangers and the foreigners, the uncircumcised gentiles that are traveling.  Go to the hedges – that is, go to where the robbers and highwaymen are hiding and ready to kill and murder people and all them in!  Why?  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”  We are going to have a party, a party the likes of which this town has never seen before, a party for the ages, and everyone will be there… everyone except those who rejected and insulted me – and they will know what they missed.

          Now, of course, when Jesus first says this, He is calling the Pharisees to the carpet.  You Pharisees are the ones who act so nice and prim and proper – but I am here, the Promised Messiah – I come bringing with Me the Kingdom of God – but you don’t like Me, you don’t like My Kingdom.  One of you stupidly says, “Blessed is everyone who *WILL* eat bread in the kingdom of heaven.”  Will.  Future tense.  Do you not know that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand – for I am here, the Messiah, God Himself has come to you… and you don’t care.  You’re missing the party already as you make your nice and pious excuses – but the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, even the Centurion and the Samaritan woman, even the tax collectors and the prostitutes – they hear Me, and they rejoice.  And so, they will rejoice forever, sins forgiven, lives restored – and you arrogant jerks in your pride and self-righteousness are going to miss it, even though you should have been looking forward to it more than anyone.

          This is the same word of warning that our Lord speaks to you this day.  This is the warning He speaks to you, the good “Church going” members of Trinity/Zion.  Consider who you are.  You are those who know who Jesus is, who have been raised in the Church, who know the difference between right and wrong – the fine upstanding people of this community.  Just like the Pharisees were the fine, upstanding people of their community.  And what is the danger for you?  To take Christ’s banquet, to take Christ Jesus coming to you, to be present with You in worship for granted.  “Well, what do you mean, Pastor, we’re the ones who were good and showed up today unlike all those other skippers!”  Yeah, that’s wrong, they should be here – but in the text, Jesus isn’t talking about folks not there, He’s talking to the Pharisees who were sitting there and having the Sabbath meal with Him right then and there.  And here is the warning.  We are here because we have been called here by God – He has said to us, “Come.”  That’s how Revelation ends – the Spirit and the Bride (that is the Church) call out, “Come!”  In fact, the word in Greek for “Church” literally means, “the called-out people” – those called out from there homes unto Christ, those called out of darkness into His marvelous light.

          But why have we been called?  To what end?  To what purpose?  If you are hosting a banquet and you invite people, what are you invited there for?  You are invited to eat, to rejoice, to be refreshed and rejoice.  That’s the idea.  And you who have been called here to God’s House – what have you been invited here for.  Not to show that you are better than folks out there, not to show how nice and prim and polite and proper you are as you make excuses for your sins.  You have been invited here to receive forgiveness from Christ Jesus.  You have been invited here so that you can hear, mark, and inwardly digest His Gospel.  You have been invited here to receive Christ’s Holy Body and Blood, given and shed for you, when we can be bothered to spend the extra 15 minutes of service to have it. 

          And the problem is this.  You are going to be tempted by Satan, even as you are here, to forget why you are here.  You are going to be tempted to do the vain and foolish comparison game?  You’re going to be tempted to sit and complain and grouse (even in your head, even if you are too polite to say anything) about the other folks in the other pews.  You are going to be tempted to exalt yourself, think of how wonderful you are… and then you miss the point of the feast.  This Church isn’t about how great you are – it’s about how great God is.  God is so wondrous that when mankind had fallen into sin, when man in his pride and arrogance had destroyed perfection, indeed, even when we ourselves run and act the fool every day of our lives – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us..  You, who were estranged from God and trapped in death and in sin, Christ has come to you and make you alive in Himself!  He has called you who are poor, miserable sinners, so often blind to the needs of your neighbored and crippled in heart and deed, and He has said to you, “You are mine, for I have died for you, I have risen for you, and I am here with you so that you will be with Me for all eternity.”  Let nothing distract you from this truth.  Let not the lures of this world and all its busyness distract you.  Let not your own pride, your own stubborn and misplaced sense of achievement distract you.  Christ Jesus Himself is here, He has come to you here in this place to forgive you your sins.  To give you life and salvation.  To comfort you in the face of all the junk that happens to you in the world out there that beats you down.  You are Christ’s, you are called to His feast, and His Spirit has opened your eyes so that you see and know what He has done for you, and you rejoice in it.  To God alone be all the glory.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Resisting the "Ideal"

Lutherans have had (or maybe had had) a long tradition of resisting attempts of Christians around them to perfect society.  Consider Luther's response to the various anabaptist groups with their various social efforts and reforms to make the perfect society - always rejected.

Or consider the Old Lutheran response in America to Finneyism and the New Measures - the rejection of the social Gospel.  Again, it was seen to miss the point.

We stood up to this in the 40s and 50s when again, Christianity turned into a social movement.

In the 80s and 90s we in the LCMS mocked the ELCA for it's political panderings.

And now what?

See, this is why I tend to be so annoy when I hear more and more talk about trying to fix things in the world, trying to make things better, trying to restore whatever, trying to correct society.

That's not the Gospel.

The orders of creation, as wonderful as they are - not the Gospel.

Any temporal blessing is not the Gospel.

Marriage is a wonderful thing - but it's not the Gospel.  And you know what - I look forward to the day, the day of the resurrection, when my wife will no longer be given to me - but rather we will together see our Lord face to face with all the rest of the saints in a world that really is perfect.

Ain't no law on earth going to sully that.

See, what happens is this -- we become worried about law and society -- and understandably so.  Nothing wrong with a good political fight or those working in the political sphere.  The problem comes in when our fears about the inevitable decay of society (see, this is what conservatives used to believe - that all societies crumbled and at best we could slow their decay, maybe - or be around when God establishes something new) impacts our theology.

The Christian faith doesn't reside or rest in the state of affairs of the world.  Whatever it is like, Christ is still crucified and risen.  Society changes, but He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

+ + + + + + + +

Or to put it this way:

Hank Hill once said, "You aren't making Christianity better, you're just making rock and roll worse."

I will say, "You aren't making society better, you're just making Christianity worse."

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Trinity 1 Sermon

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

          Do you know better than God?  That is the question that we will ponder this morning.  Do you know better than God?  Oftentimes we can be quite sure of ourselves, we can be more than willing not only to do what we wish to do in our own lives, but we can be more than willing to tell our neighbor what they ought, what they need to do with theirs.  We enjoy instructing others – dare I say in the middle of a sermon that we can enjoy being a bit preachy.  That’s bad enough, but does it become worse, dear friends?  Are there the times when you see fit to lecture God, times when you think that you know better than God?

          That is the situation of the Rich Man in our Gospel today.  And as our Lord Jesus describes him, we see and understand what a wretched man he is.  There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s tables.  More over the dogs came and licked his sores.”  Indeed, what a wretched man this rich man is – to let a hungry, sick man die on his doorstep, to lift not a finger.  That is wickedness, that is sin.  I’m sure we can agree on that.  In fact, it is quite vile.  And so, I’m sure it is no surprise that when this rich man dies, he ends up in hell – none of us are shocked by this turn of events.

          So why is the rich man in hell?  Let us think about that.  Is it because he is mean and nasty?  Is it because he is proud and arrogant?  Is it because he was rich, and rich people just end up in hell?  The story that Jesus tells continues to center around the rich man – and he makes demands, even in hell – Hey, send that beggar boy down to give me water.  Requesting that a person leave heaven to come to hell to satisfy you is sort of mean.  Making demands of Abraham is rather proud.  But these are all simply symptoms of the rich man’s great sin.  Listen again to the end of the conversation he has with Abraham.

          And [the rich man] said, “Then I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them of this place, lest they also come to this place of torment.”  But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”  And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.”  He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

          Did you hear it?  Did you hear the root and cause of every wickedness and evil that the rich man produces?  How does the rich man treat God’s Word?  He treats it with utter contempt.  We see that while he is alive – for God’s Word instructs us to love the neighbor, to care for those in need, to give freely of the blessings God has given us.  The Rich Man has contempt for that.  God’s Word has myriad warnings about the cost of wickedness – there is plenty of warning in Moses and the Prophets – in Numbers wicked Korah and his followers are swallowed alive into hell, what bigger warning is there than that?  If you listen to Moses and the Prophets, you know what is going on.  But when the rich man is told this – he contradicts Abraham.  No, Father Abraham, God’s Word, the Word of the Lord, the Word of the Prophets who spake by the Holy Ghost – this Word is worthless.  God’s plan to work through the Word doesn’t work, it isn’t good enough.  I have a better plan, I know what will work.

          There it is – the cause of each and every sin – what every sin boils down to.  I know better than God.  God in His Word says one thing, and I will do another, because I know what I should be doing better than God.  That’s what all sin is – all sin is a violation of the First Commandment – You shall have no other gods – we should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  When we sin, we are showing no fear or respect towards God – we show Him no love – and when we choose our way over His, we certainly are showing no trust in Him either.  All sin stems from rejecting and despising God’s Word.

          This is not just a problem or a trial for the rich man in this story dear friends, but it is the way in which Satan will attack and tempt you.  Satan will tempt you to reject God’s Word, just has he has tempted mankind since Adam and Eve in the Garden.  Satan tempts us to treat God’s Law with contempt.  Now, I’m sure none of you here would say that you try to treat God’s Law with contempt.  But let’s examine ourselves for a bit – and on this, you’re have to do a bit of work yourself – because I don’t know precisely what lurks in your heart, but I know how Satan works, I know how he attacks me, how he has attacked others before me, so I’m pretty sure the old evil foe tries this on you.  Satan tends to simply get us to overlook parts of the law, while pointing out how we keep others parts.  For example – Let us say that one is generous.  Satan has no problem pointing out to you your own generosity – look, you are kind and give freely of what you have – certainly not like that rich man in the story.  And we become prideful.  But love to the neighbor is not summed up simply by cash – not simply by the 7th commandment.  What of all aspects of love?  Do you speak kindly of your neighbor?  Do you encourage your neighbor?  When people are frustrated with your neighbor do you defend your neighbor?  Do you place your neighbor’s needs above your own?  This is what happens to so many Christians – we see one aspect of our lives where we do well – and we become content – I’m doing well.  And we start to ignore the places that we don’t do so well in.  And then Satan has a wedge, a foot in the door – and pride and arrogance force love out – to where even that “good” that we do is done out of pride – see what a good person I am – and we are lost.  Beware of this dear friends – for God’s Law is beyond our ability to do.  We never, never ever are the Christians, are the people we ought to be in this life.  There is always something that we lack, something that we fail in– and when you fail to see that, when you hear the Law and simply think, “Well, I’m doing that,” then you have despised God’s Law, and are lost.

          And our wiley foe Satan also tempts us to show contempt for the Gospel.  Moses and the prophets did not speak only Law, but they also boldly proclaimed the Gospel – the Messiah is coming!  He shall defeat Satan!  He shall Redeem Israel!  Or to Abraham today – And [Abram] believed the LORD, and He counted it to him as righteousness.”  God dealt with the people in the Old Testament the same way He deals with us – God tells us what He will do for those in the Old Testament or what He has done for us in the New, and we believe – we hear the Word of God’s promise and it brings forth belief in us.

          Yet, just as the rich man contradicts Abraham, do we not sometimes think that God’s Word isn’t enough?  Do we not think that simply preaching the Gospel – that simply saying, “This is what Christ Jesus, True God and True Man has done – He has gone to the Cross and suffered and died that I might be forgiven and He has risen again that I might have new life” – do we not sometimes think that simply proclaiming this to our fellow sinners who are in need of forgiven isn’t good enough?  Do we trumpet the Gospel – do we hold the Gospel forth like a badge of honor, do we proudly proclaim it?  Oftentimes, the answer is no.  We don’t trust the Gospel sometimes – we don’t really trust its power for other people.  We worry about other things – we try to attract people to church in other ways – and the Gospel is pushed off into a corner.  I love these advertisements, and by love I’m being completely sarcastic, for Churches that say nothing of Christ.  Come here because it’s fun.  Come here because we are nice people.  Come here because you’ll meet people who can help you out.  Come here because it’s the in place to be.  Where is the person who sounds like Paul – I am determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified!  Where is the person who sounds like John, who boldly says, “We love because He first loved us” – everything is about Him and what He does – it’s not about me!  Are we not sometimes tempted to have contempt towards the Gospel and make Church about us rather than about Christ?

          But dear friends, we know and have been taught and are continually taught by God’s Word, the Holy Spirit continues to exercise the power of the Word in our Life, and to turn us away from these wicked thoughts.  God’s Word is powerful – and it makes us like Lazarus.  By the power of the Word and Spirit we see that we are weak and poor miserable sinners – that our vaunted strengths of moral character really aren’t that wonderful, and that sin covers us like many sores.  Thankfully, by God’s Word and Spirit we see that our salvation is not dependent upon our own strength – but upon what Christ Jesus has done.  And so we struggle against our sin and look to Christ Jesus for forgiveness.  This is what God’s Word proclaims, this is what God’s Word teaches, this is what we train ourselves to love and respect – God’s Law and God’s Gospel, which is His plan for our salvation, and all that we need for that salvation.

          Luther’s lasts words still ring true – the words he spoke on his death bed as death drew near.  “We are all beggars before God.”  Indeed, my dear friends, you are.  You come before God as broken sinners struggling with various aspects of your lives, struggling against challenges you often don’t like to admit to yourselves, and certainly don’t want anyone else to see.  But God has had mercy on you – God does not simply leave you to die in your sin – but rather His Son has come into the flesh to share in your burdens and win you redemption.  God does not leave you lying hungry on His door step, but invites you to His altar to feed not on crumbs that fall, but upon His Word, and indeed feeds you the very Body and Blood of Christ given and shed for you.  This is His Will, this is what His Word declares, and this is Your life and Salvation.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Outrage Seems So Unbecoming

For the past few years, there has been much outrage and open indignation amongst us more traditional folk over the ongoings in society and the like.  And I just can't get into it. 

Why?  I am a child of the mid-80s and early 90s.  Thus, I equate "outrage" with, well, liberal tomfoolery.  When I think outrage, I think Meryl Streep before congress shouting, "What are we doing to our children!?"  I think of all the things that early 90s Rush Limbaugh made fun of.  And besides - I grew up as Alternative music blossomed.  But what - isn't that full of outrage?  Well, sort of -- it's full of disdain... so you go do your own thing and forget what the suits (or society) want.

Thus, in a very real way - outrage seems unbecoming.  It seems... weak.  If you don't like something -- don't go along with it.  Stand up.  Be yourself.  Do what is right -- know what is right, even say what is right.  But don't whine about it.  And don't try to manipulate people -- that's what those crazy libs did.

It used to be we met outrage with calm.  We met political correctness with freedom.  Now we see your outrage and raise our own, now we meet your correctness with an even better correctness of our own.

And it all seems in vain to me.

But I'm not going to be outraged about it.  Instead, I'll simply continue to rejoice in Christ Crucified for sinners.  That's always true, no matter who is stamping their foot in indignation.