Sunday, July 28, 2013

Trinity 9 Sermon

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

          Christians can be lazy and dumb.  Christians can be foolish and unwise.  Not that we should be, not that believing in Jesus is an excuse for us to be careless in life or anything like that – but sometimes Christians can just live in a la-la land where we expect everyone to be nice and to do what we want and we all love each other and isn’t it wonderful.  Blech.  The world isn’t pretty all the time.  Just because we find delight in it doesn’t mean that everything is fine.  Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean there will be no trials, no sore spots, no rough sailing for us.  In fact, Christ warns us that the world will hate us because of Him.  And so, to help us prepare for what this life on earth will hold for us, our Lord tells us the parable of the Dishonest manager.  Hear the Word of the Lord.
          He also said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.  And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you?  Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’  Here’s the situation – there is the manager – and he’s got a cushy job.  It’s a good gig.  And he’s living out his life, when disaster strikes.  He gets fired.  The rich man hears that the manager is doing poorly, so the rich man cans him, fires him.  Note, the rich man doesn’t say, “Give me an account, explain what you’ve done.”  Nope.  I’ve heard stuff, turn in your account, turn in your books – you’re fired.  Suddenly, out of the blue, the manager is fired, going to be left on his down.  Disaster has come – and we don’t know if he deserves to be fired.  He might have been a fine manager, but jealous people wanted him gone.  Or he might have been rotten and is simply getting his comeuppance.  Either way.  Disaster comes.  How does the manager respond?
          And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me?  I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.  I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’  There’s no denial here.  There’s no –the sun will come out tomorrow- from the manager.  His life is ruined, and he knows it.  He’s realistic.  He knows he’s going to be out of a job.  He sees the implications of disaster and realizes that in a bit, it will be too late to do anything.  So he acts.  So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’  He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’  He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’  He said to him, ‘take your bill and write eighty.’  What does the manager do?  He bilks the rich man, he steals from him – sort of.  Technically, the manager is still the manager until he turns in the books – the accounts are his to oversee as he pleases until then.  What the manager does is completely legal – the manager has every legal right, until the books are no longer his, to erase debt.  It’s sleazy, it’s dishonest, but it is perfectly legal.  And so, before he finally hands over his books – the manager basically made himself a pension.  He saw the hard times that were coming, he saw his own lack, and decided that he would make a living off of the rich man.
          And you would think that the rich man would be livid, that he would be incensed, that he would be spitting nails.  Nope.  The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.  The rich man is impressed – that’s good thinking.  That’s foresight.  The rich man looks and it and thinks, “Well, I was going to fire him, it makes sense that he would look out for himself.  That was pretty smart of him.”  The manager didn’t panic; he didn’t freak out – he kept a level head and got through the situation.
So why then, does Jesus tell us this parable?  What are we to learn from it?  For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.  Shrewd.  To have understanding of what is going on around you.  To be shrewd is to be realistic concerning disaster – to know that bad things are coming and to prepare for them.  This is the wisdom that the dishonest manager has – he knows what situation he is in, and he takes it into account.  The sons of this world, the people out there who don’t believe in God – they are shrewd too.  They see the world for the dog eat dog rat race it is.  They know that it is cutthroat and harsh and mean and gritty – and they prepare for it.  They are prepared to handle disaster when it strikes, because they know it will strike them.
This is the danger to Christians – this is why Jesus speaks this parable.  We can be so foolish and unaware sometimes.  We can get this false idea that simply because we are Christians disaster won’t hit us.  If our faith is just strong enough – nothing bad will happen.  You guys have heard people say that.  If you believe enough, your loved one will get better.  If you pray hard enough, everything will work out.  That’s foolish.  Christ says “Pick up your cross and follow me,” not pick up your ample checkbook.  How did the world treat our Lord?  They mocked Him, they whipped Him, they crucified Him.  Why should you expect different in this life, O Christian?  Satan has designed your fall.  He wants you to stumble.  If you can’t be distracted by wealth, maybe problems will shake your faith.
And this, sadly, is what happens when we base our faith on improper things, when our faith looks to success – if you are a Christian you will have money and power and wealth and everything will work out.  Really?   Is that the sign that God loves you?  Then why does our Lord say, “Blessed are the poor, blessed are the meek”?  The thing is, once Satan gets you thinking that way, once Satan gets you thinking that God makes the people He loves rich – if financial disaster comes – your faith is not built upon Christ but upon the stuff that just vanished.  Or what about basing your faith on your emotions?  I want to feel God, I want joy joy happy happy feelings.  Does that mean if you are sad, is that a sign that God doesn’t love you anymore?  Does that mean if tragedy strikes and you mourn, you weep, that God doesn’t love you?  Satan would have you think that – our Lord says, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  God’s love for you isn’t based upon your feelings.  Whether you are happy or sad, does that change the fact that God loves you?  If you are shaken, if you are devastated in your life, does that change the fact that Christ Jesus died for you?  Not in the slightest – but Satan wants your focus, wants your attention anywhere but Christ.  If you pay attention to stuff, Satan rejoices – because when that stuff goes away, Satan has you.  Satan loves it when you rely on your emotions – because emotions change, we get down, and we start turning in on ourselves and our feelings and our problems, and we forget the Truth – we forget Christ, and our faith is shaken.
          This is not what Christ Jesus wants for you.  This is why Jesus wants you to be wise – this is why Jesus gives us this example.  Know that bad things will come in this life.  You are still in the world, and so things will go poorly.  There will be bad days.  There will be disaster.  Relationships and friendships will fall apart.  Loved ones will die.  Jesus knows this, and He wants you to get through it.  This is why Jesus teaches us not to love the things of the world – so that when the world takes them away, we aren’t devastated.  He doesn’t want us to fall apart.
          And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous wealth so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwelling.  What does this mean?  Don’t love your stuff – don’t love the things of this life – give it away.  Share with folks, don’t hold on to everything – why?  Because it will fail.  The things of this world will fail – and if your focus, if your hopes are tied to it you will fail as well.  Rather, have your eyes upon the eternal, have your eyes upon Christ.  He will never fail.  Whether the bills are paid or whether they aren’t – that is true, the Cross is true.  Jesus has died for your sins.  That’s where you live.  Whether you are happy or sad, You have been baptized, Christ has claimed you as His own, has publicly declared that you are His forgiven, redeemed, and precious child – and a bad day, a horrible day doesn’t change that.  This is why we always look to Christ, this is why we hear Jesus, Jesus, Jesus died for me, over and over here.  This is why we receive His forgiveness each week.  Because Christ puts our eyes where they ought to be – on Him.  That way, when the trials of life come, we hold our ground; this is how He keeps our feet from slipping, and how He keeps us steadfast.  We live off the bounty of the master, freely given to us.
          Be wise Christians, be shrewd.  Know that bad things will happen.  Know that disasters will pop up – and don’t pretend otherwise.  But know this – that no matter what happens, Christ Jesus has died for your sins, and never let anything or anyone tell you otherwise.  This is the wisdom God wishes you to have, that you see Him and His forgiveness at all times, no matter what trials you face.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +  Amen.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Open Thoughts on "Lay Deacons" and the Like

One of the issues that looks to be a matter of some discontent and concern for the next three years will be the question of Lay Deacons.  Resolution 4-06a was passed overwhelmingly - and directs the President to meet with a committee to figure out how to handle this situation.

Here is the background.  For several decades a few districts, mainly on the west coast, have had the practice of creating "lay deacons" who are authorized by the District President to, under his authority and supervision, engage in Word and Sacrament ministry (i.e. preach and consecrate Holy Communion) even though they have not had any formal training recognized by the Synod.  In addition, in 1989, Synod authorized districts to have various "Lay Ministry" programs where folks who had not gone through Sem could be authorized to preach and consecrate.

This has lead to much consternation for more conservative folks.  First, there are those who contend that this violates the 14th article of the Augsburg Confession which says that we do not allow anyone to publicly preach or administer the Sacrament without a regular call (rite vocatus).  By not being ordained, the contention is that people exercising these offices are violating AC XIV.  Second, there are additional practical concern in the fact that you have folks who aren't as thoroughly trained, drastically underpaid, and often isolated (while there is direct supervision, most lay deacons or lay ministers operate quite some distance away from their licensing District President in isolated communities).

The practice has also been vehemently defended by others as a practical and necessary way to provide preaching and the sacrament to people in areas that simply cannot support or afford a pastor.

Also of note is that 6 years ago the Synod created the SMP - Specific Ministry Pastor - which is a program that is run by the Seminaries with the purpose of training men who are called and ordained to work is a "specific" context (i.e. isolated communities, ethnic communities).  This program was designed to see that folks are cared for, but yet making sure that the men serving these congregations are ordained and receive at least some Seminary training.  This program also had some additional changes in oversight due to complaints that some in the program were not in "specific" settings (i.e. large congregations were using the program to establish cheap assistant pastors), and then there are also some complaints about the lower level of education.

With all this in mind, here are my thoughts.

1.  Terminology - The biggest problem with this whole issue is one of terminology.  There is not and cannot be such a thing as a "lay deacon".  If you are made a deacon and given an office and duty to preach and administer the sacrament, you are no longer "lay".  You are no longer simply one of the people (which is what "laos" - laity - means), but you are there among them to serve them.  To say "lay deacon" is as nonsensical as saying "civilian deputy".  If the Sheriff deputizes you, you aren't a fully trained police officer, but you certainly aren't a civilian anymore. 

Unfortunately, the word "lay" has been used to denote not one who is to hear (consider the table of duties - what hearers owe their pastors and what pastors owe their hearers), but rather one who is not seminary trained.  That is more of a social understanding of lay... not a church understanding of lay.

2.  A Regular Call - The second problem I have is with how many understand AC XIV.  Many will say that this means that one must be trained synodically, certified synodically, called, and ordained.  Period.  In response, I will say that this had been (and note the tense) the normal understanding of this in the Missouri Synod.  However, I will note that the main thrust of AC XIV notes that when it comes to clergy that our clergy are placed following "the rules" - that is, that no pastor is a pastor simply because they stood up and said, "I'm preaching now" - as is the custom amongst some of the radical reformed.  Even with the lay deacon and lay minister programs, there is oversight and the placement of a man into an office rather than the man assuming the office of his own accord. 

3.  A Tiered Clergy - While it has not been the custom in the Missouri Synod, the Church has often had various tiers of clergy.  Even today in Rome a bishop has different powers and authorities than a priest than a deacon.  This has also been the set up in some Lutheran Churches throughout the world.  There is nothing fundamentally wrong with establishing different levels and offices for the sake of good order.  We acknowledge that this is a matter "de juro humano" - according to man's law, not divine law. 

Thus, my simple solution is this.  We ought establish a tiered clergy.

Of course, I would contend that to a certain extent we already do -- for wherever there is a Head Pastor and an Assistant Pastor, you have tiers... one that is recognizable as the Bishop (Head Pastor who has his own altar and exercises all authority on his own accord and by virtue of his own call) and Priest/Presbyter (Assistant Pastor, who only can preach or administer when instructed and allowed by the head). 

Yes, folks - our typical parish pastors aren't "priests" - they are bishops.  I am the Bishop of Lahoma.  I preach and administer the sacraments there not with the District President's permission (so he is not a "bishop" in that sense), but by virtue of my own call.  Indeed, I perform confirmations - something accorded to bishops.  I am in all effect the Lutheran Bishop of Lahoma.

So, let us have actual "deacons".  Let us have clergy who act only in accordance with the direct oversight of a bishop.  Let us ordain them as such, and even let us have them authorized to consecrate the Supper (I am thoroughly in agreement with Ignatius of Antioch here - the safe Eucharist is the one done by the Bishop or by the one whom the bishop designates).  Let these deacons be like permanent Vicars who are designated to preach and administer the sacrament, but only under direct supervision (and continued training) of a parish pastor nearby.  Moreover, a deacon is only elligble to be a deacon until they head to the Seminary and are ordained as pastors... which is sort of the agreement we have with SMP.

Nothing wrong with tiers. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Some Thoughts Upon a Convention

No, you didn't get daily updates from the Convention.  And you know why?

Well... I'm cheap.  Internet was $14 a day at the hotel.  So, here, you will get it in one fell, semi-stream of consciousness lump.

Oh, things were so much nicer than 6 years ago.  Really, they were.  There was so much more levity, so much more laughter, so much more... freedom to not take everything so seriously.  President Harrison was funny, VP Mueller was funny... sometime unintentionally.  There was a good rapport with the fellow delegates.


Really, Brown?  That's going to be the first and biggest thing you note.  That it was fun?

Yes.  You see, even though some might have tried to make this a dire, dramatic convention... it wasn't.  And it shouldn't have been.  There weren't that many difficult resolutions, and most of those were pretty much fixed by floor committees (who by in large did a fantastic job -- although when the one chair almost rejected the 1986 translation of the Small Catechism and replaced it with the 1943 as a friendly amendment, that was sort of crazy and awesome).  And things... passed.  Easily.

Apart from a few of the elections, I think there were only maybe two items that passed with less than sixty percent of the vote.  IT wasn't a fixed 52-48 sort of vote on everything... it was more 86-14.  Which is good.

Which is good.  This wasn't a convention to suddenly try to "fix" everything from the last 50 years.  It wasn't one to right every wrong or browbeat folks back into line.  It was a convention that was designed to set a direction.

And you know what -- brace for disappointment some of you -- that direction is not "We Must Crush All Liberals and Utterly Destroy Them!"

No - the direct is to... well... strive for collegiality and a better and more faithful confession.  It is, I guess a way of "destroying" the libs... not by casting them out, but by being patient and teaching and... well... over time making them less liberal.  Which, well, is the approach we should have started taking 70 years ago. 

So, I am well pleased. More that some, I'm sure.  But then, some thrive on faction, on being the hopeless crusader.  That's not going to be encouraged... either by open support or by vilification.  For either the conservative or the liberal. 

And that is a good, good thing.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Confess! Reacting Forfeits Too Much

I have a T-shirt that I like to wear.  It's simple black with a mere line of text in white.

"By Reading This Shirt You Have Given Me Control of Your Mind."

I think it's humorous, but it does point to a larger reality, a reality too many of us in Lutheranism have forgotten.  Too often the "other guy" sets the terms of the discussion and controls you.  If you are reacting, you are no longer in control... you have already let your opponent win.

What do I mean by that?  Consider - who are we to be?  We are to be those who preach Christ and Him Crucified, who proclaim the Cross in season and out of season.  We are those who speak the Truth.

But what happens when you... react?  Even if you are trying to speak the Truth... your primary focus is not "the Truth" - but it is reacting, responding, dealing with what "they" say.  And so your actions, your thoughts, your responses are no longer shaped by the Truth, but rather shaped by their language, their assumptions.  Even if you fight against their definitions... you're responding and acceding to their definitions.

I see this all over the place.  It comes up in theology when we will debate the Reformed while using Reformed categories.  It will come up when people fight "feminism" but rather let feminist assumptions about what was and what is rule the day.  It comes up when people fight any social ill.

Rather, as those who are servants of the Word, as those who are children of God, we are to rather apply the Word.  We say what the Word says and we remain silent where the Word is silent.  We don't dance to any tune except that laid down by the Scriptures.

So, no, we don't try to defeat any enemy.  We don't try to prove X, Y, or Z wrong.  Instead, we confess what is true.  We take the Word of God and we apply it to any situation we come across... not seeking out counter X or prevent Y, but merely to proclaim that which is true.

Do you, oh "Confessional" Lutheran wonder why you are caught in such terrible dogfights, why you are surrounded by foes? 

It's because you are fighting and not confessing.

We Confess.  And if the Emperor wants to take out heads off, so be it, we do not abandon our Confession.  Fighting at best leads to concordats... not Concordia.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Enforced Drama of the Moment

So, I am a delegate to this year's National Convention.  I've been one before, 6 years ago.  From the "conservative" side of things there was a lot going on.  A lot we "needed to get done."  There were elections, there were resolutions (including SMP introduction) that we just had to get fixed, or else the Synod was doomed.

I even got to see the groups that were planning and prepping to... well, not necessarily split in 2010 if things continued to go bad... but yeah, that's basically what was getting put into motion.  It was a very dire time.

And now, here I am, six years later, getting ready for a convention that is different.  Oh, the President is already elected, and he's not liberal (although some blowhards who think that the President is some how going to smack down one or two people and that will "fix" the Synod are drastically disappointed in him... and probably wouldn't be satisfied with anyone).  The 1st VP slate, because of changes to the nomination process, is utterly solid.  5 men I know and respect are there - I could punch my button at random and be happy with the result.  And as for the resolutions, there really aren't any that are... dire.  There are a few that are important - some originazational things, some things to be fixed or tweaked... but there shouldn't be anything earth shattering.

And I was pleased, because through most of the summer, it seemed like we had realized that.  I met with my circuit (and the pastoral delegate for the neighboring circuit) at the beginning of this month, and we all were surprised at how quiet and calm this looked to be.

Of course, in the past week....

Finally I've started to see things that the Synod in Convention just HAS to do.  Things that are dire.  I've gotten blanket e-mails... one telling me that the wording of a resolution that would create a task force to study human sexuality, well, it was reworded and a few references to "the bible" were replaced and instead the aspects of sexuality that were to be discussed were delineated instead.  Apparently this means that the Task Force could suddenly become super liberal and pull and ELCA on us.


First of all, so we think the Synodical President who has gone to capitol hill and is an open and public defender of traditional marriage is going to let a task force run rampant?  Second of all, even if we did get such a dire and liberal task force, would they be meeting and cackling in their dark and depraved corridors of power, ready to unleash godless havoc upon the synod when suddenly one person would say, "But wait!  The resolution said our answers had to be BIBLICAL.  Multiple times!"  And would they then all sigh and throw their craziness to the wind?

Um.  No.

And that's just one of several Conservative... well, let me call them "enforced dramas" that I've seen.  Moments where people have tried to artificially exacerbate an issue to make sure that there is some noble fight to hold down, to make sure that there is some great flag for all the "good" guys to rally around.

And what's funny about this is, well, I come here today remembering 2007.  Now we will pick apart the united list candidates because they aren't "right" on something -- when some of these folks are the same ones we cheered when they somehow got elected in 2007 in the face of all the folly going on.  I remember it being a great success when we got to register and list out by name our no votes to SMP - now we wring our hands because we only have two resolution to choose from to bring further oversight thereunto.

It's a radically different convention set up than 6 years ago. Unfortunately, it seems like too many guys are still trapped, wanting to make it all about fighting for some politically hopeless cause.  Well, except this time, I think we might be engineering some, well, politically foolhardy and unnecessary drama.

Relax.  We are going in a good direction.  As Sasse notes, the Church can be patient.  We can be patient and let people learn and grow, let the Holy Spirit work.  We are not sectarians who must have the great revolution.

We are the sons of Luther and Wittenberg, where it takes 3 years for the mass to be reformed, or longer for it to move to the vernacular.

We are not the sons of Zwingli and Zurich where we must take up arms.  We are not the sons of Hoffman and Muenster where we run after crazy ideas and try to perfect things on earth.

We are not in junior high.  We really don't need to create drama and tension.  We can simply be sons of God and peacemakers.  We don't need to try to position ourselves to be the great heroes who will "save" the Synod - that isn't what is needed.  We need less heroes, and more folks who are simply calm, polite, gracious to the weak and less understanding -- you know, folks who are simply faithful.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Growth or Arrogance?

You wish to talk about your growth in sanctification?  You wish to talk about how you are progressing and doing better and better?

I see your focus upon yourself, and instead, I raise you the 6th Petition.

The Sixth Petition.
And lead us not into temptation.
What does this mean?--Answer.
God, indeed, tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us, nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and gain the victory.

... nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice.

So.  You think you've done such good hard work to grow?  You think you've been such a diligent and good little Christian, and that because of your hard work you have advanced in all things virtuous?

I say to you in your arrogance this:  If you are kept from great shame and vice, this is not due to you.  It is the gift of God to you, a mercy he gives to you.

You have forgotten the phrase "There but for the grace of God go I", and in your pride you have substituted, "See I how I have grown beyond these things."

Let us learn once again the Catechism's plain and Christ centered teaching!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Trinity 7 Sermon

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

          The word “how” is one of the most dangerous words that there is.  It can be cold, it can be cruel, it can be full of doubt and despair.  Listen to the disciples use it in a dangerous way.  How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?  Does that seem like a dangerous question to you?  It is – spiritually it is one of the most dangerous questions the disciples have ever asked.  How – how can, one, that is, how can Jesus do anything here?

          So, here is the situation.  Jesus has been preaching out in the wilderness, and He has been preaching for three whole days.  That is an ordeal.  That’s not only a long time to preach, but it is a long time to listen, to pay attention.  The people are worn out mentally.  They also didn’t bring a ton of food – most weren’t expecting such a long of a time of preaching – so they are hungry, they are worn out physically.  And Jesus sees this, and so He turns to the disciples and says, I have compassion upon the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat.  And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.  And some have come from far away.”  This is the problem that Jesus poses to the disciples.  I want to feed these people.

          And then the disciples ask their dangerous question.  How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?  Do you hear the danger in that question?  It’s full of doubt, it’s full of disbelief.  Oh sure, it’s nice that you have compassion on the crowd, Jesus, but a fat lot of good that’s gonna do!  They need bread, they need food – and just how do You think that You are going to do anything for them in that department?   How?  A question of doubt, of disbelief, a question of a lack of trust.

          Jesus hears this question.  Hears the disciple’s skepticism.  So Jesus asks how many loaves they have.  Only 7.  Even the disciples were running low themselves – and they were used to wandering and traveling around with Jesus.  Maybe the disciples own hungry bellies rumbled their way into making them more skeptically.  Be that as it may, we know what Jesus does.  He takes the bread, blesses it, has the disciples hand it out – and all are fed.  4000 people.  And there are leftovers.  7 loaves of bread feed 4000 with 7 baskets full of leftovers.  The snide question of “just how are You going to pull this one off, Jesus” has yielded to simple amazement.  Jesus feeds the people, and then, He sends them away.  I’ve had My compassion upon you, now you can head back to what you need to do.

          This is our Gospel lesson.  So, what do we learn from it today?  Well, how often have you found yourself in the position of the people from the lesson today?  I don’t mean that literally – I don’t expect that any of you have gone and listened to a three day sermon; in fact, I firmly expect that if I were to go over even thirty minutes you probably would start chucking hymnals up here at me.  No, I mean this.  Have you ever gone where the LORD has led you, have you ever struggled to follow Him, to do His will – and been worn out in the process?  Worn out mentally, worn out physically, worn out emotionally?  Have you struggled to do what is right, and gotten to your wit’s end?  That’s where the people, that’s where the disciples are in today’s text.  They’ve been following Christ – and they are plumb tuckered out.  It’s been hard upon them.  Being a Christian, living as you ought, beating down your sinful flesh and showing love to your neighbor is a hard, wearing thing.  The Christian life is not Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  It is hard, wearing labor sometimes, is it not?  It is easy to get worn down.

          And here is where the danger pops in.  Here is when Satan attacks.  When you are worn and weary and worried and full of concern and fatigue – Satan will whisper a word of worry into your ear.  How?  How am I going to get through this?  How am I going to be able to go on?  How will we get through this?

          Think about how we end up using the word “how”.  All too often, how isn’t a word of confidence – it isn’t I know that God will see me through this, I’m just wondering what He will do – how He will do it!  No, so often it becomes a word of doubt.  How is this possible?  How can this be?  I’m at the end of my rope and there’s nothing that can be done – how will I ever get through this?  Doubt and fear and forgetfulness.

          Yes, forgetfulness – because when we are tired and worn, we are quick to forget, quick to forget the many ways in which God has supported and sustained us in the past.  The disciples in the text had seen miracles before – but they forgot them, and they worried, they doubted, they feared.  You, dear friends, every one of you, looking back on your life can see countless times where God has upheld you and supported you through all sorts of trials – financial, mental, emotional – how many things has He seen your through?  And yet, what is the danger?  When we get in the moment – “Alright God,  HOW are you ever going to be able to get me out of this one?”

          There is a truth that we must remember.  Our Lord says, “I have compassion.  Compassion.  Do you know what Christ is saying to you when He says that He has compassion?  He says, “I share in your sufferings, I share in yours burdens, I know them, and I desire to support you through them.”  That is what compassion is – to suffer with, to suffer alongside of.  And this is the attitude that God has towards you.  And if we only remembered this, if our eyes were continually focused upon Christ’s compassion, how much pain and doubt would we be spared?  Doesn’t mean that our trials are any less sore – but we would remember how they all end – with our Lord having compassion upon us – with our Lord doing what is necessary to support and relieve us – to give us our daily bread, to give us strength to forgive others just as He has forgiven us – to make us lay down in His green pastures.  This is what the Lord does for us, in all trials, in the face of all problems that we encounter in this life.  When we remember what Christ has done, when we see His promises, our doubts about His care drift away, and we take heart and courage even in the midst of the struggles we face, the difficulties and challenges we face.  We slug through them, or perhaps more accurately He slugs us through them.  We know that God has compassion upon us.

          There is another aspect of this text that we should ponder, another application.  Can we be tired, can we be worn out Spiritually?  We are not just bodies, not just hunks of meat running around in the world, but we are also beings with a Soul, with a Spirit.  Can you get worn out Spiritually as well?  Quite often the more stressed we are bodily, the more stressed we are in the world, the more stressed we can be as regards our faith.  Times are tight and tough, and we can forget God’s love.  People are rough, and all thoughts of forgiveness, including God’s forgiveness towards us, can go out the window.  Mentally we get beat down – and the promises of God don’t seem all they are cracked up to be.  And we can begin to doubt – not just about how God will get us through life – but we can actually start to doubt God’s Word.  Oh, it doesn’t start off that bold or brash – but just in little bits and pieces, doubt chipping away at faith.

          Remember this, at all times, over and against Satan’s efforts to beat you down - that God has compassion upon you, and that the highest form of His compassion rests in the forgiveness of your sins, won for you upon the Cross.  His forgiveness for you is something that God never wants you to doubt.  But we live in a day and age of doubt.  God gives us tangible promises, tangible signs of His forgiveness and love, and people in the world try to tear them down.  He has given you the gift of your Baptism – attached the promise of forgiveness to water, washed you in it.  Yet how many people will say, “How can that do you any good – especially if you are a kid.”  Doubting the promise of God.  Or the Lord’s Supper – Christ’s Body and Blood, given to you under bread and wine for the forgiveness of your sins – a great and wonderful gift.  And what’s the question that goes up?  Well, how can that be?  Again, doubting the promise of God.  Even with the spoken Word of God, people want to bring in doubt.  In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins.  Well, how can a simple human pastor do that?  We live in a world that is full of doubt about the things of God – where Satan wants to tear down any promise of God.

          Listen to the Word of God, and trust in its promises.  Baptism now saves you.  This is My Body, given for you.  This is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.  Peace be with you – as the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.  And when He had said this He breathed upon them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.  All of this, the very Word of God – all of it, designed and intended to make sure that you always receive forgiveness and know that you are forgiven – all of it designed to make sure that you know that just as Christ supports your body and life, He protects and nourishes your faith.  Do not doubt His Word, but believe.  Hear again what He has declared to you, receive again the forgiveness that He gives to you.

          Because, dear friends – that is what the true cure for doubt is.  Hearing God’s Word of compassion – His love and His care for you in both Body and Soul.  The Lord provides you what you need for this life, and He will sustain you and see you through any trial you encounter, just has He has already seen you through the trials of your past.  And more than that – He will also grant you rich and sweet forgiveness, washing away your sins and also alleving your doubts, giving you strength to face the trials of life, giving you strength to show the love that you ought.  God grant that He always draw you unto Himself by the power of His life giving Word of forgiveness.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – July 7th, 2013 – Matthew 5 

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
          It seems that Jesus spends an awful lot of time teaching us how we are supposed to treat each other.  At times, I almost feel like a broken record up here – is Jesus teaching us about loving our neighbor again?  Yes.  And He does this for a very simple reason.  We tend to be bad at loving our neighbors.  That whole second table of the law can give us problems.  But Jesus teaches us today about what the law is, what it is for, and uses our neighbor as examples of how deep and full God’s law is.  So let us listen to the Word of the Lord this morning.

          For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.  God has given us His Law.  There is right, and there is wrong.  Either something is allowed, or it isn’t allowed.  Either something is good, or it is bad.  That’s the way it is.  We live in a society that wants to make all sorts of exceptions, that wants to blur the lines between right and wrong, that says Morality is changing.  God’s Law, His decree of what is right and what is wrong doesn’t change – and this means when we say what is right and what is wrong, we need to check with God’s Word.  If God’s Word says something is wrong, we have to say it’s wrong.  God says no fornication, so pre-maritial sex is out.  God says no homosexuality, so we can’t say its right.  That’s the way it is, whether we like it or not.  We listen to God’s Word.  Also, we don’t condemn things that God doesn’t condemn.  No where does God say that drinking is a sin – so we don’t say drinking is a sin.  Now drunkenness, that’s wrong.  If you are uncomfortable drinking and it goes against your conscience, scripture says not to go against your conscience.  But is alcohol itself evil and wicked?  No – God never says that, so we can’t.  What this all boils down to is when we are discussing what is right or wrong, we don’t look to what we think or feel, we don’t look to what our friends and neighbors think or feel, we look to God’s Word and what He says, and we follow God’s Word.  This means our sinful flesh doesn’t like what it hears in God’s Word, and we will want to make excuses, to dance around the issue, to make up our own laws which we like, but we aren’t supposed to avoid the law – we are to keep it.
          In fact, hear what Jesus says.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  The law is to be kept.  Period.  Think of the nicest, best person you know, the best “Christian” that you’ve met.  You are supposed to be even better than them – you are supposed to be striving and working to be always better and better, to know God’s Word more, to follow His will more.  We are to be righteous.  Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.  That’s how we are to live.  And just because we are forgiven doesn’t mean we should shrug off sin.  What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  That’s Paul in Romans.  Your life as a Christian, the nuts and bolts of it, is a struggle to give heed to God’s Word and His law, to seek ever more to learn how to live it in your life.
          And we fail at that.  Our sinful nature ducks and dodges the law.  We try to get the bare minimum done, or else we ignore the law completely and just do what we want.  But no, we are supposed to fulfill the law, to actually do it, to fill it to the brim.  And Jesus gives us an example to explain this.  You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; and whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.  God’s law is deep.  There is depth there.  His Law isn’t a simple thing, easy to do.  So we have the 5th Commandment – Thou Shall Not Kill.  Simple, right?  I haven’t killed anyone, never put a knife in someone, so I’m scot free, right?  Not quite, says our Lord.  The Law says if you murder – you are liable to judgment.  Jesus says that this means even if you just are angry with your brother – you are liable to judgment.  That being angry with someone is tantamount to killing them in your heart.  When you are angry, you are guilty.  Period.  Likewise, when you insult someone, not only are you guilty, but you are “liable to the council.”  How guilty are you if you take that anger that is in your heart and express it by insulting, by speaking ill of someone – you are liable not just to judgment, not just to the local guys, but to the council, to the big wigs.  Insulting someone is a federal offense – it isn’t just the local cops coming for you, it’ the Feds, the FBI gets called in.  And then – whoever says, “You Fool” is liable to hell.  Now, the word here, you can translate it as fool – but it was basically a swear word in Jesus’ day.  So Jesus says if you’ve cussed someone out, it’s not just a guilty verdict and a little fine.  It’s hell.  The book is thrown at you.  Cussing someone out means you deserve the death penalty.  This is how serious God’s law is.  And this is how deep it is.  I doubt there’s many of us here who can say we’ve never sworn at someone – because yelling “you jerk” or “darn you” in anger is the same thing as cursing – it’s improper language in anger.  We fall short of the law, and often.  And we get this – go look at the Commandments in the Small Catechism – Luther gets this down pat.  The Law implies much about how we live, how we are to treat our neighbors, and we fall short.
          Jesus does something else to explain just how important this is.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go.  First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.  Which is more important to God – the cash you toss in the plate, or how you treat each other?  Which is more important to God – that you come here all dressed nice and put on the good face and smile, or that you actually love your neighbor and respect each other?  How you treat each other is how you treat God.  Whatsoever ye have done to the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.  I mean, these are the first things we learn – I know, because I remember them in the King James because I learned them before the ESV version came out.  This is the point that Jesus makes.  The Law about how we treat each other is vital – because when you sin against your brother, when you don’t love them like you ought, you fail to love God.

          And so we deserve hell.  Our righteousness by no means surpasses that of the Pharisees.  Plain and simple.  But hear what our Lord says.  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or Prophets; I have come to fulfill them.  Jesus doesn’t come to us and say, “that’s alright right, just do what you want.”  Jesus isn’t some doe-eyed happy-clappy sap that tickles your ears.  He’s blunt.  I’m not doing away with the Law – there still is right and wrong.  But here’s what I am doing – I am fulfilling them.  This is what the Gospel is – that Christ Jesus has fulfilled the Law in our place, in our stead.  That Jesus Christ is righteous, and that He applies this righteousness to us, He covers us in His righteousness, He pours it on and over us, so that we are declared not guilty.  Or as our hymn just put it – “As by one man all mankind fell/ and, born in sin, was doomed to hell/ so by one Man, who took our place/ We all received the gift of grace.”  Christ is righteous, and on the Cross He takes your punishment.  We get the “taking our punishment thing.”  We get the whole paying off our debt idea.  Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.  Jesus pays that off for us and we are sprung from hell.  That’s a common idea.  But Jesus points us to another aspect of His salvation here.  In His Word, in Baptism, He gives you His righteousness, He covers you with it.  Jesus says, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  This is completely true.  Your righteousness has to be better than that of the scribes and Pharisees, and that still holds to this day.  And your righteousness does exceed the scribes and the Pharisees, because Jesus has given you His righteousness.  That’s what happened at Baptism – you were covered with Christ – He brought you into the family, and all that is His is yours.  That’s what happens when the Gospel is preached to you, that’s what happens when you receive His Body and Blood in the Supper – He literally gives Himself to you.  That’s why we say that the Supper strengthens us in love towards God and towards our neighbor – because in it we receive Jesus’ own righteousness.
          That’s what the Gospel is.  The Gospel message isn’t that God doesn’t care about sin anymore.  The Gospel doesn’t mean you can go and do whatever you want.  This is the Gospel – that Christ has paid for your sin fully; that you are forgiven, and that in His Word and sacraments He gives you this forgiveness, and not just forgiveness, but He gives you His own righteousness and strength.  Your life is His life now, Christ Jesus lives in you and through you.  This is what we celebrate and rejoice.  Not just that Jesus has wiped my slate clean, but that Jesus comes to me over and over, gives Himself to me, all that His to me, so that I might be His own and live under Him in everlasting righteousness and holiness.

          Dear friends in Christ – behold what Jesus has done for you.  Whereas you are breakers of the law, whereas you lack righteousness, Jesus steps in and says, “Father, forgive them their sin.  I will take their punishment.  And not only that, I will give them my life, so that You might be pleased with them as You are with Me.”  This is what God does in His Word, this is the gift He gives us, this is what we sing and proclaim all our days.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.