Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Who Speaks About Contentment Anymore?

 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:10-13


In all the ramblings about how you need to grow, how you need to do better, how you need to be a better Christian... how often do you hear about contentment?

I mean, it's the chief point of Philippians - Paul is content.  Even though he suffers in prison... eh, it gives me a chance to preach to my jailers.  I am content.  I know the peace that surpasses all human understanding - I know I am redeemed by Christ, justified and forgiven.  I know that whatever I see, He will raise me to life everlasting.  I am content.

But that's not what we talk about -- no, that's too... passive.  We want to be active, we want to be the hero, we want to be the ones running around and doing doing doing things.  See, it even says that I can do all things...

But did you note the context.  What "all things" is Paul referring to?

Not your pet project, not your own mighty goodness, not your latest campaign to remold the world in your image.

I can do all - I can be brought.
I can do all - I can abound.
I can do all - I can face plenty (a dangerous thing)
I can do all - I can face hunger

I can do all - I can face abundance
I can do all - I can face need.

And actually, I don't like that "I Can" -- we hear "I can" and suddenly think about what we DO... it's actually "I have strength".  I am strong in whatever situation I find myself - and why?  Christ strengthens me.

In Him, I am content no matter what I see.

Do I have great wealth and success - Christ is still my Lord and Savior.
Do I have terrible failures - Christ is still my Lord and Savior

Do I see my sin - Christ is still my Lord and Savior
Do I have the temptation of seeing how good I am - Christ is still my Lord and Savior
Do I see my culture crumbling around me -
Christ is still my Lord and Savior
Do I see the blessings of the world -
Christ is still my Lord and Savior

In Him, there is contentment.

Now, when I'm not looking at Christ - when I'm looking at myself, the world around me, my job, my hopes, my dreams... well, then there's not so much contentment.  But Christ calls out over all this hub-bub, all this hustle and bustle, all this ego, all this shame, and He cries out "IT IS FINISHED"

I have learned to be content, for I am strong in Christ, for He strengthens me.

Merciful God, focus my eyes ever more upon Christ!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

What is the Great Struggle of the Day?

Let me start by saying that I know that I am a Romantic.  Even as much as I try to tone it down, I still am one.  I still love the epic story, the tale of the grand fight, the sweeping vista and epic consequences of the heroic individual struggle.  At my core, I get that.

And so I ask, what is the great struggle of the day?  What is the great battle that we are called to in our lives?  I mean, if you asked folks from the "Greatest Generation" - their epic struggle was clear enough to History - World War II (that's why they got the label of the Greatest Generation) - and indeed, everyone had their part, be it in service or even on the homefront (I believe that is where that term gets coined).  We were all part of that struggle together, and we were working for something bigger.

And that tends to be what we want as humans.  We are social beings, we want to be part of something, to build a lasting work to our efforts and our ideals.

So what is the Great Struggle of the Day?

Is the the War on Terror?  Is it dealing with Islam?  Is it fighting abortion or gay marriage?  Is it small or state government and personal liberty? 

Of course, those suggestions show a bias.  I know folks who might think in terms of the War on Poverty, or Fighting Bigotry, or Fighting for Women's Rights and Marriage Equality.  It might even be providing affordable health care to all.

Either way, the big epic struggle where we are going to do our part to make the world better - to make the world safe for democracy as it were.

Because that's the way the delusions of the sinful flesh work.  They want to view things in grand, sweeping turns, where we are the lynchpins of fate (or at least we helped so and so be the lynchpin with our grassroots support).  We crave the heroic, we crave the glory -- and of course, it's never, never, never about our own power and respect and what people think of us and that they see how valiant we are... we are of course always only fighting for the Greater Good.

When it boils down to it, when it comes to how we sort out the story of our lives, we want to be the hero, or at least the plucky companion who helps out the hero.  After all, if we cannot preach like Paul we can at least be like faithful Aaron holding up the prophet's hands - right?

And that's how we tend to view things, that's the way the ideas sort themselves out.  We are engaged in an epic struggle to make the world a better place and it hinges on us and when we finally win the Star Spangled banner will be unfurled and the crowd will start humming the Battle Hymn of the Republic... or maybe if it is a theological heroism that we crave we will hammer down our point and the crowds will break out into A Mighty Fortress and.... yeah.

Might I suggest something else for the Great Struggle of the Day.  Or maybe it should be viewed as the Great Struggle of Every Day. 

Romans 7:21-25:  So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There's a different struggle.  Not the struggle to change the world (Eric Clapton song not withstanding), but the daily struggle against one's own flesh.  The struggle not to fix the world, or change the country, or stop the rising tide, but the simple fact that every day when I wake up in the world, wake up still in this life, my own flesh wages war on me, leading me astray in to wickedness, leading me to false dreams of my own glory and strength, telling me over and over that I am the hero and that whatever I must do to accomplish my heroic path is right and justified and good because someone has to step up and take and stand and just go and do it, Hero!

The only problem is, look at what Paul writes.  He's not describing us as... the hero.  Or even the plucky sidekick who helps the hero.  No.  We are... wretches.  We are stuck.  Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay.  Impotent to rescue ourselves - My own good works all came to naught.

We aren't the hero of the story.  We are the damsel in distress.  And we aren't even the pretty princess, we are a Leah, we're with the dull eyes, we are wretches.

But God had seen my wretched state/ before the world's foundation/ and mindful of His mercies great/ He planned for my salvation/ He turned to me a Father's heart/ He did not choose the easy part/ but gave His dearest treasure.

God said to His beloved Son/ It's time to have compassion/ now go bright Jewel of My Crown/ and bring to all salvation/ From sin and sorrow set him free/ slay bitter death for them that they/ may live with You forever.

That's THE STORY.  That's THE STRUGGLE.  It was a strange and dreadful strife when life and death contended.  And this need always be our story, the lens through which we see our lives, the world, all around us. 

Our Lord explains the story, explains the struggles you will face every day.  "
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

As for you and your household, do what you will, but as for me - well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Reformation Day Sermon

Reformation Day Observed – John 8:31-36 – October 28th, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Ah, Reformation Day!  The day where we celebrate the fact that we are Lutherans and we have it right.  The day where we can say, “I’m Lutheran born and Lutheran bred and when I die I’ll be Lutheran dead!”  We can be tempted to treat this day like it’s a pep rally, a celebration of our most excellent heritage and our superior culture.  And when we do, it’s a good thing Luther is dead, because he would be shocked and ashamed of this type of approach.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a wonderful thing to be Lutheran… but not because we happen to be Lutheran, not because we were baptized at this particular font or because long ago at Confirmation we answered some questions and did some memory work that we have long since forgotten.  No, what is the heart of being a Lutheran is the turning away from pride in ourselves, our heritage, our own worthiness, and rather being focused upon the Truth, Christ Jesus, the Son of God.  And this plays out in our text for this morning.

          “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, ‘If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.”  So here’s the set up.  Jesus has been preaching, He has just in the verses before this declared He is the light of the world, that belief in Him will rescue people from dying in their sins.  Great stuff.  And people believe that – oh, isn’t that nice and wonderful.  And then Jesus adds this.  If you abide, should you abide in My Word – then you are truly a disciple… and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set us free.  Now, as we have the rest of the Gospel, we know where Jesus is going.  Jesus declares a few chapters later, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life – no man cometh to the Father but by Me.”  Christ is pointing to Himself – He is saying, “Listen to the Word, listen to what I preach.  I will teach you, I will train you, I will give you Myself, and I Myself will free you from sin and death and the power of the grave.”  And this is what He had just preached – I am the light of the world – listen to My Word and you will be enlightened.  You will not die in your sins – you will be free from them.

          But there’s a problem.  Jesus has done something – He is no longer speaking abstractly about light or life or death… things that are abstract, or distant.  No, now He has turned things to people directly – you will be set free.  Yes, you, right here – you are in sin and bondage and you need to be set free.  And this is when the indignation sets in.  “They answered Him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ‘You will become free?’”  This is one of those statements in the Scriptures where if you think about it, you just want to go nuts.  This is one of the dumbest things ever uttered in the scriptures, this even tops Cain saying, “Am I my brother’s keeper.”  These are Jews saying this.  Now, first thing about the present day for them – they are in Jerusalem… a conquered city.  You have tons of revolutionary movements promising to free them, to drive the Romans out.  I mean, it would be one thing if you were a Jew and heard Jesus promise to free you and you thought it would be the glorious revolution where Rome would get theirs.  But nope – pride kicks in, ignoring the present reality.

          But it’s worse than that – it’s not just denial about the here and now.  It’s a denial of the past.  If you go to Exodus 20, where God gives the 10 Commandments, the Law that basically defines what a Jew is, how does it start?  God declares, “I AM the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”  Who are you, O Jew?  What is your identity?  You are not just a child of Abraham, but you are the children of Abraham whom God rescued from slavery!  When Jesus says that He, the Truth, will set you free, this is Jesus pointing to the wonder and mystery that He is God, the same Lord God who freed them from temporal bondage in Egypt, the God who has come to free them from bondage to sin and death and give them everlasting life.  And instead of hearing this and rejoicing – these folks get their dander up.  What’s this about me being a slave – um, forget you Jesus, we ain’t never been slaves to nobody no how, no Sir-ee!  And suddenly, the entirety of the Old Testament from Exodus onwards is tossed out.  Over and over God is identified as the one who brought His children out of Egypt – that’s the heart of celebrating the Passover, that’s the heart of all the Old Testament celebrations.  But nope – not us.

          Do you see how big of a disconnect this is, how glaring it is?  And yet, the purpose here is not merely to see how far off these folks are, but let us be warned of the same thing today.  The Jews in the text had begun to make assumptions about themselves.  They were from the right family, the right people, they did all the right things – surely that means everything was hunky dory.  But what had they abandoned?  The Word.  The Scriptures.  And so when Christ points to the Scriptures, points to Himself as the fulfillment of the Scriptures, they become indignant.  This, dear friends, in the same danger that confronts us today.  How easy is it for us Lutherans today to become complacent, to rest on our laurels, as it were.  Good family, was baptized, was even confirmed – hooray me.  And then we will run with our own thoughts and ideas, no matter how strange or crazy they are, and think that they must be good and right.  It’s not a far cry to go from saying, “We’ve never been slaves to anyone” to saying, “We’ve never done it that way before.”  We can fall prey to the assumption that what we do is right simply because *we* are the ones doing it, and we are the good people after all.  And suddenly, our focus is no longer upon the Word, no longer upon Christ, no longer constantly studying and listening to Him.  Instead, we have put up a new God – ME.  And that is whom we follow.

          That is what is going on in this text, and that’s why Christ comes back hard here.  Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever, the son remains forever.’”  So, not a slave?  Well, clearly you are perfect and never fail then – right?  That’s where the rubber meets the road.  Do you sin?  Still?  And don’t do the comparison thing – don’t do the “Well, at least I’m better than so and so” – being better than the Gentiles or the jerks out there doesn’t mean squat.  Do you still sin?  If so, you are a slave to sin – and you know what that means?  On your own – you are stuck outside the house – outside the kingdom.  Period.  Only the Son gets to stay inside the Kingdom.

          This, of course, drives to the heart of the matter.  It drives to repentance.  Reformation Day is not the day where we celebrate that we are right, or that Luther got it right, or that because we are in this Church, surely we have it right.  My family is all ELCA, and let me tell you, I have seen where the “Well, we are Lutheran, we must be right” leads when the Scriptures are ignored.  It ain’t pretty.  But I say that not to congratulate ourselves on having been right 40 years ago – I say it as a warning that we too must take heed lest we fall.  And that is the point of this day, it is Thesis number 1.  When Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church on October 31st, 1517 – he wasn’t trying to build some new Church or denomination.  He wasn’t trying to shout out how he was right and everyone must listen to him.  Nope – here is Thesis number 1 – “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”  Not rest on your laurels, not assume you are okay – whether it’s because you are a good little Jew, or today a good little Lutheran, or back then because you bought a nice little indulgence from the peddler.  No, as a Christian, you have been called by Christ Jesus to repent.  To see in your own life sin rearing its ugly head.  To see and know that you, in and of yourself are a slave to sin – that you sinned last week, and you know what – Next Sunday even though I’ll be on vacation, Pastor Roggow will be here/at Zion and there will be confession and absolution and it won’t be wasted because you’ll need it, and I’ll need to hear it from Pastor Brennan up in Denver too.  Because our lives are ones of repentance – because we are stuck in sin that we can’t deal with.

          But Christ can and does.  “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  And Jesus Christ frees you.  His Word of forgiveness, which His death and resurrection for your sins give Him the right to declare, frees you.  And you are free – when you die you will rise to life in Him.  The problem is our own sinful flesh rebels against this.  We are baptized, we are not slaves but sons of God, co-heirs with Christ…but our sinful flesh wants to keep running out into the muck and mire of sin.  And so Christ comes, and He calls us to repentance, to turn away from our sin unto Him, to be His disciples, to hear not our own thoughts and plans but His Word of truth and life, to be conformed to Him, to be forgiven and set free by Him.  And so He calls us out of darkness into His marvelous light – over and over and over again.  Even as the world, even as Satan, even as your own sinful flesh try to make you in your pride and arrogance forget Him, Christ comes to you again, and He brings you to repentance, and He brings you forgiveness, and He sets you free again.

          Dear friends, now is not yet the time for the celebration of how wonderful we are.  We are still sinners in the sinful world.  We are those in the Church Militant.  We still fight daily against sin and temptation.  We still must lead lives of repentance, lives where we do not trumpet our own works, but rather confess that even our most righteous seeming deeds are but filthy rags, that all our boasting must be excluded.  Until we die and are raised at His return, we are to repent and place our trust solely in Christ.  And Christ is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, all thanks be to Him.  Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Thy Word!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

There is No "Can" for the Christian

Here I will be critical of myself, my own thoughts, my own language.  It is that insidious creep of American Style progressive-change-motivational junk impacting how I speak about us in light of God's Word.

Consider this sentence.  "You *can* do good works."

Sounds nice, doesn't it?  See, this is an option for you, see, this is what you might do, see what is possible, if only ________ - and then some preacher fills in the blank with his latest hodge podge of ideas about neighbor-improvement.  And we all become the Infomercial Spokesmen selling the new and better you, but if and only if you call now.  Supplies are limited - life is short, hell is hot.

Listen to the Scriptures speak instead.

"But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."  1 Peter 2:9-10

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus."  Ephesians 2:4-7

or even...

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." - Matthew 5:14-16

Here's my question:

Where's the can?

Where is this discussed in the terms of possibility or motivation or convincing?  It's not.  It's all reality, it's all concrete.  Not you can be a chosen race - you ARE a chosen race.  Not that you can live - you have been made alive.  Not that you can be light - you are light.

Because you are in Christ and Christ is in you.  He is the Light of the Word, He is the One Raised from the dead, He is the Royal Priesthood.  You are now Christ's People.

It's not a question of can - it's a question of who you are.

Are you a sinner?  Yes.  Do you sin daily and often?  Yes.  Do you sin even now?  Yes, for you still are in fallen flesh.  There's no "can" about these.

But there is another truth as well.  Are you forgiven?  Yes?  Has Christ claimed you as His own?  Yes.  Does He dwell in you?  Yes.  Does He bring forth fruit in you daily and often?  Yes.  Do you do good now, so that even the Father in heaven sees only Christ and His Righteousness in you, declaring "Well done, good and faithful servant"?  Yes.

There's no can in this.  It's not a question of what might be - it's not some noble dream.  It is truth.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  We are buried with Him in Baptism, we are His now, and we will be like He is when He comes again.  Simple truth - that's the way it is.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

We Preach Reality, Not Change

Today, in America, the idea of public speaking is rife with the idea of change.  When our politicians speak, they are trying to change our minds, to make us like their policies.  When the commercials come on TV, they are trying to get us to change products.  Public speaking in America is the art or persuasion, of changing people's minds.

But this is not what the church is to be about - this is not "preaching".  When I preach, I'm not trying to convince you of something.  I'm not trying to make you suddenly vote for Jesus.  I'm not even trying to get you to change you life.

Preaching is declaring reality, fact, truth.  It's not change that sets you free, but Christ Jesus who is Himself the Truth. 

You have sinned.  Sin is death.  This junk in your life - yeah, that's sin and death messing with you.  But God became Man.  Jesus suffered and died for your sin.  He has risen from the dead.  Because He has, you will too.

Those are not persuasion, those are not enticements - that's simple reality.  That's completely true regardless of what you think or belief.

The problem is too much of the idea of persuasion has crept into American Preaching.  We feel we have to convince people of everything - convince them to come to our church and not that one, convince them to vote for our political party (whether right or left), convince them to make their lives look just like we think it should be (whether that is a moral description, a wealth description, a social description).  *WE* have to, because if we don't make them listen, who will!?!?!?

Preachers - it's not about you.  It's not about the change that you think you can make, the advice that you give.  That may be good, it may be bad.

It is about Christ Jesus.  It is about the Word who became flesh, it's about He who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven.  It is the reality that you are indeed a new creation, that the Holy Spirit is indeed the Giver of Life.  That you are free indeed.  This is all reality.

We report.  We declare the Good News. 

We don't need to be op-ed pieces trying to sway public opinion. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Just a Little Bit of History Repeating...

During the 'battle for the bible', we were "allies" with the Evangelicals, and we unthinkingly aped their style without regard for theology. This has had a devastating impact.  This paved the way for "Evangelical Style, Lutheran Substance" - this begets so much of the worship wars that we are still experiencing.

Yet, because those who ignore History are doomed to repeat it, in the midst of another battle, this one about sex, we are "allies" with Rome, and we have people unthinkingly aping their approach to works and sexuality without regard for theology (and especially Justification).

Pay attention.  Watch how people are talking - and if in their fears over society and worries about the future they aren't grasping at the most powerful straw they see - Rome.

There are many times we can be allies with Rome... but we must watch out for the theological creep - for the drip of their assumptions to move in.  Watch, lest grace be less and less imputed and more and more infused, as it were.  Watch, lest we grow tired of simply trusting Christ and His Gospel, and try to impose more order via sanctification and the like.

Or do we not realize that is just warmed over Roman Catholicism?

Justification cannot be tossed to the side.  Law and Gospel are not outmoded ways of thinking.
And if you hear even the good Lutherans speaking this way - be on guard, for these will be the men who birth the heresies of the 2030s and 2040s.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Trinity 21 Sermon

Trinity 21 – October 20th, 2013 – John 4:46-54

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          We don’t get the fullness of who Christ is and what He does.  Our old sinful flesh just has a hard time comprehending this.  But thankfully our lack doesn’t undercut Jesus.  This is what we see in our text today.  “So [Jesus] came again to Cana in Galilee, where He had made the water wine.  And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.  When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went down to Him and asked Him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.”  Jesus had been wandering around, He’s been in Jerusalem, He’d been in Samaria, and now, He’s back in Galilee.  And this official from Capernaum, where Jesus spent a lot of time, hears that Jesus is back around, and he goes to Jesus and begs Him to come to his house and heal his son.  Seems pretty good so far, doesn’t it?  Except Jesus’ reply is sort of curt to this man.  So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”  Well, why would Jesus say that to this fellow?  He obviously believes. . . I mean, he came to Jesus to ask for healing, he wants Jesus to come.  Why would Jesus say that unless there are signs there won’t be belief?

          Here is why.  This fellow understands that Jesus is holy, that He has power – but he doesn’t get it fully.  What does this official ask Jesus?  Come, come and heal my son.  I want to see you lay hands on him, I want to hear your cry out with a loud voice, I want You to heal him thusly.  He’s still thinking of Jesus in terms of merely some sort of  mere wonder worker.  The thing is… does Jesus need to walk up to this boy to heal him?  Does Jesus need to walk up to this son to heal him?   But the man is insistent – “The official said to him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’”  We are wasting time with talking Jesus, when we should be walking.  Let’s get a move on it, before my kid dies.  What this fellow completely overlooks is that Jesus doesn’t need to go with him to heal the kid, Jesus can heal him right there.  The guy doesn’t fully understand just how powerful Christ is, and so he tries to boss Jesus around.  I hate to sound so critical of this guy, but while there is good, while it’s good that he knows to go to Jesus – he’s trying to micromanage Jesus, he’s selling Jesus short, and we need to be critical of things like this, we need to be wary of this sort of attitude, especially in ourselves.

          One of the dangers around us here in the bible belt is a tendency to almost quietly sell Jesus short, to undercut His power, and substitute our own.  To think that He can’t do things that He says He does.  The obvious one for me is talking to people about Baptism or the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus refers to baptism as being born again – the scriptures call it a gift that unites you to Christ, Peter says in his epistle, “Baptism now saves you.”  And yet, what do we hear about it?  Oh, it’s just symbolic.  Oh, baptizing infants doesn’t do any good unless they decide to do it themselves, because what’s important is that you are giving yourself to God.  Do you see how this sells short Christ Jesus?  This whole power and wonder of God working through Water and His Word gets undercut… it’s as though people assume that Jesus couldn’t really mean all this stuff He says in His Word about what He gives us in Baptism, so we make Baptism about what we show and give to Jesus.  Or the Lord’s Supper – this drives me nuts.  Jesus says, “This is My Body” – and then people will say it isn’t.  Oh, it’s just symbolic.  How can this be Jesus’ Body, He’s stuck up in heaven?  I just don’t understand how this could be Jesus’ Body, how can it be His Body.  Well, maybe because He’s God and He said, “This Is My Body” and what He says goes.  You see, this is the danger – that we will slowly doubt, undercut, deny what Jesus Himself says because… it is mysterious and wondrous to us and we can’t comprehend it, because it’s about Him being more powerful than us and in control, and we like to be the ones in charge.  Think about what we hear about prayer.  Oh, if you just say this prayer the right way God’s gonna give you blessings.  Am I in charge of God?  Do I get to say, “You must bless me and in this way”?  And this is where the man in our lesson errs.  Please heal my son – great.  You need to come down and heal him in this way – not so great.

          Jesus said to him, ‘Go, your son will live.’  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”  Now, I will praise this man.  Jesus doesn’t give the man precisely what he asked, what he demanded.  Jesus doesn’t go to Capernaum.  He does something better.  Jesus speaks a word of life.  Go, your son will live.  And hearing, the man believes – the man learns and gets it.  If Jesus says something, it’s going to be, it will be true.  And so in faith, he heads home.  His plans of dragging Jesus along with him are dashed – but as he walks home, he goes trusting in Christ Jesus and His Word.  And that trust proves true – the servants come running to meet him – Your son lives.  And what do you know – the son is healed at the very hour when Jesus said, “Go, your son will live.”  This was now the second sign that Jesus did when He had come from Judea to Galilee.”  The proof is in the pudding, as they say.  Who is this Jesus – well, let’s see, He speaks, and then there is life.  Hmm, can we think of Someone who speaks, and then there is life, say life springing up from the ground?  This is a God thing that Jesus does – this shows that He is God, that He is the Word of God by Whom all things were made.  This is what Jesus does – He restores life.  If you want to know who God is, He is the One who gives life, and He gives it by the power of His Word.  What Jesus says, is.  And this truth, this wonder is revealed, is shown to us by this miracle – it is the proof of who Jesus is, it is His credentials.  This Man Jesus is God come down to save us.

          Now, what do we learn and take from this?  Consider your own life, what you see.  How many of you see your bodies not working like they used to?  How many of you see signs of age and wear when you look in the mirror?  Oh, as a society we try to hide that today, don’t we?  But it’s there.  Or how many of you, when you look at your lives see things broken – broken friendships, broken families, broken people, even yourself broken – just all those things that wear you down.  Some of these tails of woe I know, some I don’t.  You know some of mine, some you don’t.  We all have them.  We are sinful people living in a sinful world – nasty horrible stuff happens and we all get older and things start wearing down and dreams and plans don’t work out right.  This is reality.  How do we respond?

          The world gives us a few answers.  One answer the world gives is to simply ignore these problems, pretend they don’t exist.  Oh, you could just go get blottoed or high, stoned off your rocker, that way you don’t have to face reality.  Or, you could do what is more common – live for stuff, whatever is the latest and greatest thingamabobber they offer at the store.  The world offers many ways for us to pretend that the difficulties of life aren’t there – dab a little make-up on and you’re just as young as you used to be, get the spiffy car and you’ll feel footloose and fancy free, or just drink till you forget.  And of course, these are all lies – none of it is real, none of it fixes the problem – but it seems appealing.  It gives us something we think we can do, something we think we can control – when in reality these problems are beyond us.  Another answer the world gives is the simple dour answer.  What you see is what you get. Everything is basically just cold math and random chance and that’s all there is, so smoke ‘em while you got ‘em.  Scrap, fight, claw for whatever brief pleasure you can get, because that’s the best it is.

          But you know reality.  You know what is going on.  Sinners in a sinful world.  It’s all death. Change and decay in all around I see.  Our bodies, they break and die.  Our friendships, they can break and die.  Hopes – they can break and die.  And this isn’t just the way it is, this isn’t just nature, the random chance of the universe.  We are fallen, we have sinned, and the life that we should have had is tainted and fallen and broken, and we of ourselves can’t make it right.  We are less than we were created to be, that’s the reality of life in a fallen world, and if left to our own devices, all the toys, all the money, all the drugs, all the ambition and power won’t change that fact.

          And even as you see this, know this, Jesus says, “Go, you will live.”  This is Christ’s message to you, “Go with confidence and peace, face down anything you see in this life, for you will live.”  When Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, He is facing down all this junk and trash we see in life, the stuff we don’t talk about, He goes to the Cross to fix the fall – and Jesus stares it down, takes it upon Himself, let’s the world do it’s worst to Him, let’s the world kill Him most cruelly – takes the wages of our sin upon Himself.  And on the third day – He rises.  He rises victoriously over sin, death, the world – all this junk tried to destroy Him and He just strides on out of the tomb.  He is the God of Life, the God who creates with a Word, the God who forgives with a Word, the God who gives new life in Himself with a Word.  And Jesus says to you in His Word, when you are feeling the weight of this world upon you – Go, You will live.

          Do you feel your own body turning against you?  Go, you will live.  You will live eternally, and even if you die here, you will live again, because Christ’s Word of life will not be broken.  You are going to live better in the resurrection than you do now.  Do you look around and see friendships broken, relationships destroyed?  Go, you will live.  You have been Baptized into Christ Jesus, made part of the Communion of Saints, brought into a family that after the resurrection of the dead on the last day will have no more problems, will not break, but will be united with Christ forever.  Do you see things wrong in this world?  Go, you will live.  You will live eternally in the new heavens and the new earth where moth and rust do not destroy, where there is peace.  Do you see sin in your own flesh, wearing you down?  Go, you will live.  Christ Jesus has forgiven you, and your sin is done away with, destroyed, and in the life of the world to come it will not be remembered any more.  And this is not random, this is not mere chance.  God has called you, planned for your salvation even before the Creation.

          This is more than we expected, this is more than what our normal prayers ask for.  God does more for us than we anticipate, but this is His great love for you.  Be confident in Him.  Go, you will live.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Old Hymns are the Best

If people ask what religious text (other than the bible) has had the most impact upon my theology and thinking, they'd get a surprising answer.  Some might guess that it would be the Small Catechism (which is up there, and a good one to impact your thought), or maybe another writing of Luther's (Freedom of the Christian or maybe the Greater Galatians commentary).  Those who want to write me off will claim that I've just been suckered in by the works of ___insert-theologian-to-complain-about-here____.

Nope.  It's a hymn.  Salvation Unto Us Has Come.  Luthernism in a nutshell... er... verse form.

Salvation unto us has come (say, look at how that verb works... we're not active)
by God's free grace and favor (free, you say?  His favor)
Good works cannot avert our doom (lacking in power, you say)
They help and save us never (... never?  Never help myself?)
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone (so... not looking at my works?)
Who did for all the world atone (so I can tell my neighbor what Jesus did for them?)
He is our one Redeemer (Huh - our.  Not just my...)

A lot that probably sounds rather familiar to readers of this blog in there, isn't there?

Now, I'm not going to do the whole 10 verses here... maybe that would be a good series... but let's just consider the verses (I'm using the LSB 555 version).

2.  You do not meet God's holy demands, because your flesh does not have pure desires.
3.  If you think you can work your way to God or prove yourself to Him, you missed the point.
4.  Attempting more works just leads to increasing guilt.  Corruption sucks.
5.  Christ fulfills the law for us (yea incarnation!)
6.  We are glad and saved by Christ.
7.  The Word and Baptism point to this truth, over and over.
8.  Law and Gospel (oh, and if you think there's peace in the Law, you've messed it up)
9.  Faith Clings to Christ and alone justifies - works serve the neighbor and demonstrate faith.
10.  We praise the God who reveals His love in Christ.

Yep.  That's where I come from most all the time.

So, if you don't like that I speak to the false, misleading dream of the Law...
If you don't like the constant thrust on the frailty of our flesh...
If you don't like the idea that the law always accuses and brings no peace...
If you don't like the fact that Christ alone is our righteousness...
If you don't like the fact that works are for the neighbor and should be viewed in that light...
If you don't like the constant trumping of the Gospel....
If you don't like the return to the Word and disdaining of your virtue philosophy...

Then take it all up with Speratus. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


A blonde woman walks into your nice little store that you run, and she looks at you and says, "Who stole the till" with a strong, Swedish accent.  What do you assume?  Do you race to the front of the store to see if the cash register is still there?  Or, knowing a bit of Sweedish, do you know that "Hur står det till?" is Swedish for "How are you"... even though it sounds an awful lot like "Who stole the till"  (thanks to this site for providing such a fine example).

Sort of a big difference.  You've been robbed versus how ya doing.  IT's the same sounds, the same data, the same information - but if your assumption (namely - this gal is obviously speaking English) is off... totally wrong.    

This is why I don't get all out of sorts with the great debates on Evolution vs. Creation and all that - and the piles of evidence tossed against each other on both sides.  The evidence, the data is the same... it is.  There's just two different presuppositions.

1.  We must assume completely natural processes with no divine intervention.
2.  We assume God does what the Scriptures say He did.

Two different presuppositions, two different ways of seeing and observing the world, two different languages.  And if you don't understand the different assumptions that are made, you'll just get into frustrating shouting matches.

Cause it works both ways.  If I am vacationing in Sweden and see that the Cash Register has been opened, I might say, "Who stole the till" (although thanks to this blog post, I never actually would!  See how useful this is!), and the nice Swedish shopkeeper might smile and nod and tell me that she is doing very well in Swedish.

See, this is the thing.  I don't have to disprove Evolution or the Big Bang, or any of that.  I get it - this is your best guess, looking at the data, of what happened.  That's the language you are speaking.  I happen to speak a slightly different one.  And here's the thing - there's no way that you can prove that there is no such thing as Divine Intervention to me.  Now, I can look at your theories, and I can see where things don't hold up within the rules of your own system, and you can do the same for me within the rules of mine (say how does this mesh with Scripture, how does Scripture mesh with X)

We see fossils of sea creatures in the mountain.  You hear echoes of a time 300 million years ago when this was under the ocean, I hear echos of a freaking big flood that covered those mountains and did some crazy stuff.

Two different languages.  Now, please stop saying how terribly narrow minded and close minded I am for not simply conceding that your language is right and is the only possible way in which one can view the universe.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Trinity 20 Sermon

Trinity 20 – October 13th, 2013 – Matthew 22:1-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Something to think about before we begin to look at this parable today.  “And again, Jesus spoke to them…”  Them who?  Whom is Jesus speaking to in our Gospel lesson?  Well, this takes place in Jerusalem, in the Temple, during Holy Week.  Jesus has ridden in on Palm Sunday, He has cleansed the temple – and there He is, Tuesday of Holy Week – and before the week’s out, He’s going to be killed.  This is the type of parable that gets Jesus killed, that riles up the proud and arrogant.  It is double barrel buckshot.  It is straight, no chaser.  Hold on to your hats, because we are diving in.

          “And again Jesus spoke to them in parables saying, ‘The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a King who gave a wedding feast for His Son, and sent his servant to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.’”  Right away, this is a slap in the face.  We like our wedding receptions today – not like they did in Israel though.  The wedding feast was THE party, and it was be there or be square.  There would have been nothing more disdainful than skipping a wedding feast, nothing ruder.  In fact, there would have been nothing more foolish than blowing off a wedding feast, especially one thrown by the rich and powerful, because it mean great food, great wine, great music, great everything.  You don’t skip the royal wedding feast.  Think of it this way – If you get invited to a presidential inauguration, you go, even if you didn’t vote for the fellow, because that is going to be one fantastic shindig.  Now kick it up a few notches – and that’s the feast that is going on here – and they don’t go.  Utter stupidity.  They cut off their nose to spite their face.  And everyone listening would think they are foolish.

          “Again, he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who were invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready.  Come to the wedding feast.’”  An appeal is made again.  Guys, it’s gonna be a great party!  There’s nothing chincy here – nothing sub par.  It’s prime rib and veal, and it’s ready.  Come on – even though you’ve been rude – come on!  Come!  And still nothing.  Well, not nothing, worse than nothing.  “But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants and treated them shamefully and killed them.”  They don’t even listen.  They don’t even smile and nod and think up of nice excuses.  They just walk off.  “Come to the, wait, where are you going?”  And it gets worse.  The ones that stay to listen – “Ah, yes, you can come to the w… hey, wait, let go of me, wait, wait, why are you picking up those stones…”  

          Now, we can hear that and think, “Man, that would be terrible.”  But remember to whom Jesus is telling this.  There He is, in the temple, and the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people had already confronted Him there this day – and this is what He says to them.  Here’s Jesus’ History lesson – here’s the History of Israel in a nutshell.  God sends people, and you ignore them.  Moses goes to lead you to the promised land, and you grouse and complain and are left to die in the desert.  God sends you Judges, and you ignore them, Kings and you rebel, Prophets, and yes, you even kill them.  And God has sent Me, and you even disdain and ignore Me.  And you know where that’s going to get you?

          “The King was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.”  Yep.  You keep ignoring God and disdaining His feast, His salvation… guess what’s coming your way.  And know the full insult – the King sends His troops.  What’s the big problem politically in Jerusalem back then?  Caesar.  Rome.  Roman troops who threaten to destroy Israel.  Yeah, chief priests – when they wipe you out, they’ll be doing the work of God more than you guys have been.  Heavy stuff.  Jesus is not pulling any punches.  Calling a spade a spade here. 

          But note what comes next.  “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.  Go, therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.  And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good.  So the wedding hall was filled with guests.”  The King – he’s not a jerk.  He’s not mean.  He’ll do what he has to – I mean, if you are hell bent on destruction and chaos, he’ll put you down.  But that’s not his primary goal, that’s not what he wants or delights in.  Look, there’s a wedding feast, I’ve got my prime rib, I’ve got my veal, I’ve got my good wine because that’s how I like my wine – now go get some guests!  And so the servants go.  And they pull in folks – and note this, both bad and good.  We like to judge by bad and good, but this isn’t the contrast the king makes.  The ones destroyed by the King – they were “not worthy.”  Why were they not worthy? Simply because they ignored the invitation, they didn’t want to come.  So who are the worthy?  Well, they are from all walks of life, they are both ‘bad and good’.  Folks in that feast will be ones that you would like to have around and folks you in your sinfulness wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole.  It’s not a matter of good or bad, naughty or nice, rich or poor, male or female, Jew or Gentile – nope, everyone is invited, regardless of how rich, nice, strong, awesome, or wonderful they are.  The feast is on, come and get it.  And the ones deemed worthy are simply those who hearing the invitation, believe it.  The King wants me – sure thing!

          And to hammer the point that it is those who listen to the King who are worthy, Jesus adds this: “But when the king came into look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment.  And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’  And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”  Now we don’t get this at first.  Garments are provided – they were a gift of the host.  Think about it this way.  Let’s say there’s a kid’s birthday party, and everyone’s wearing those stupid little cone hats with the point and the string.  And so you have the birthday party, and everyone’s having a great time – and you walk in, and there’s the one adult who just refuses to put on the hat.  Really?  Really?  Oh, I’ll assume you just didn’t get one handed to you – wait, what’s that in your hand?  The hat crumbled up… really?  Just go you party pooper.  You aren’t going to spoil this for everyone else with your sulking, so out you go.  And the party will go on perfectly fine without you.  But those who come and rejoice and let God be God and throw His party how He wants it, we are going to rejoice and have fun in Him.

          Because that’s the point of this parable.  There is Christ Jesus, standing there in the temple, in Jerusalem, and there He declares that the Heavenly wedding feast of the Son, the eternal salvation of His people is going to happen.  The feast is ready – the calf is fattened, the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world is ready to be slain.  And nothing is going to stop it.  Do you have the good people, the religious sorts, like these Chief Priests and the hoity-toity who want to stop it and ignore it – well, you can’t stop the feast.  It is on, Christ will go and He will suffer and die and rise and sins will be forgiven, even the sins of the people you don’t like, and if you Chief priests, you elders, you respectable folks don’t like it, well, you can just stubbornly hang out here until Rome tears this city down around you.  Salvation is coming.

          And this is the point of the parable for us.  We are those who have been called into the Kingdom of God from the highways and the byways – it’s a long journey from Jerusalem and the Holy Lands to here in Oklahoma, but still the messengers have gone out, and here we are, those who have heard God’s invitation.  But a danger remains for us.  The point, the focus, is and must remain on the feast of the Lamb.  The good Jewish leaders – they thought they had things more important than Christ and His feast of forgiveness.  Gets them into trouble.  The same temptation remains for us – don’t be distracted.  The feast is on, it’s all ready, we’re just waiting for the dinner bell, the trumpet call of the Last Day that will raise the dead so the feast can be served!  Satan would have us neglect this, have us focus on the here and now, on worldly stuff – disdain Satan, and cling to Christ.

          And as for the feast – you are ready.  You have been clothed in the right wedding garments, you have your silly party hat – for you have been baptized.  This is the thing – you aren’t here in this Church because you are good, or because you are wonderful, or because you are getting better.  Nope, you’re a sinner whom God has called and whom God has redeemed – Jesus is your Savior and He will make sure you are dressed properly – He will wash your robes in His own blood and make them spotless garments fit for the eternal wedding, He will wash His bride and make her spotless.  It’s not about how great you are, it’s how great He is. But make no bones about it – the world thinks all this is pretty silly, the world thinks you’re pretty silly.  And the temptation will be to take off the party hat, to shrug off of the robes, to in pride and arrogance say, “See, I’m good, I’m worthy in and of myself – I’m an awesome person, I deserve to be here, I don’t need the forgiveness that these other folks need, certainly not as much as her, I don’t need the party hat – I am too cool for school.”  It doesn’t work that way.  The feast of the Lamb is for sinners who are forgiven.  And if you don’t want forgiveness, don’t think that you need it… God will let you have your own way – out you go.  But the celebration feast of the Lamb will go on, forgiveness will be proclaimed here until the day when we see its full effect when we and all the dead are raised to the new and everlasting life and there is nothing but the joys of the world to come, the never-ending feast and celebration of God and His goodness.  And nothing will stop that.  Not Satan, not the smug and self-righteous.  The Lamb who was slain has begun His reign, alleluia.

          And so, today, once again the call, the announcement of the feast is made.  Christ has been slain, He has been raised, and the time is approaching.  But you, my dear friends, you are ready.  You have been baptized, you have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness (not your own righteousness), and so you are ready.  Remain in Him, rejoice and give thanks, for the feast is coming, and it will come soon.  Oh give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy, His feast which He brings us to, endureth forever.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Proving Yourself... Why?

So much angst.  So much desire to prove yourself to others.  That's what goes on.  So much justification - I do X, and here is why X is good... or perhaps even more, here is why X is the virtuous thing to do, the CHRISTIAN thing to do.  All good Christians should and ought to do X!


To whom must you prove yourself?

Seriously.  Do you *need* to prove yourself to your neighbor?  Does it matter a hill of beans what they think?  No.

Do you *need* to prove yourself to God?  The only thing you will prove to God is that you are in and of yourself a sinner who falls short of what you ought to be doing - no matter how virtuous or uber-Christian you are.

We all fall into this.  We want to demonstrate that we are right, good, better, spot on, what have you.  And you know what - when we step back, it's silly.  Think of the proofs, think of the justifications you've given in the past week.  How many were... lies?  (Well, not real lies, I mean, I did it, I just fudged it a bit... you know... I lied).  How many were lies to yourself, justification for yourself to do something you shouldn't or not do something you should?  Need I mention the plans I had for today that I blew off (or need I even mention how by writing this post now I can pat myself on the back and say I'm at least doing something religious...)

See, if we look at ourselves honestly, the "proof" tends to spiral down into the gutter quickly.  How quickly it goes down, down, down.


Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.

Christ is quicker to come down than we are.  He sees us, He knows us to be trapped in this stupid cycle of self-justification (because that is what attempting to "prove" yourself is) and self-righteousness (because that is what thinking you've "proved" yourself is)... and He comes and He puts an end to it.

Christ says, "I will be your righteousness.  I will be your proof.  Though your sins are are scarlet, they will be white as snow.  See, I have risen.  See My Hands, My Side - they are your proof - and there is nothing more for you to prove, nothing you could prove."

You cannot prove yourself to God.  Thanks be to God that He proves you unto Himself in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why "better" is so often a dirty word.

In this world, in this life, we are often accustomed to viewing things in terms of "better" or "worse."  Which choice is better, which would be worse to do.  It's just the way of navigating a nasty, sinful world where the "best" rarely if ever happens.

I saw a discussion on line that got me thinking about this - it involved the discussion of St. Augustine's "divorce".  I put divorce in quotation marks because the assertion was made that Augustine separated from his concubine - and so therefore didn't really divorce.  Therefore, he's not an evil divorcer.

See... it's better that way.  We aren't supposed to divorce, and since he wasn't really married (although a concubine was a recognized status) that separation wasn't really a divorce.


"Better" is all too often an attempt to excuse sin, to work around it, to justify it.  The situation was not right, it was not good, it was not best.  Period.  And while in the world we can categorize and rank and such... it's sinful.  Full of sin.

Augustine was well aware of this - his Confessions pull no punches. 

But here's the danger.  While in the world we can talk about "better" - when it comes down spiritually, we don't talk "better" -- we talk "maxima"... mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa... my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault.

I don't need to show that my sin is better than it could have been.  I don't need to show how it could have been worse.  That's nice and all... seriously, for the world, it's nice.  But within the Church, as regards my spiritual health... that's dangerous.  That leads away from confession, that leads away from relying upon Christ to be my righteousness, that lead to pride. 

So what if what I have done is "better" than other options... it is still my sin, my most grievous sin... I will confess it, and rejoice that Christ has borne it for me upon the Cross.

Anything else is, well, damning with faint praise.  Thanks be to God for His great love to me in Christ Jesus!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Sermon for Trinity 19

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

          How often we look for the wrong things.  How often our eyes are off wandering and we miss the amazement that is there before us to behold.  How often doubts and fears assail us, and the wonder and mystery of the ages slides on by – for indeed, there is nothing new under the sun.  We too today overlook the mighty acts of God, just as the people in our Gospel did.  And so Christ must again teach us and show us what is important, where our attention should be.  Hear our Lord and learn this morning.

          And getting into a boat He crossed over and came to His own city.  And behold, some people brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed.  And when Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”  Put yourself there.  Behol d, here is Jesus, the great healer, the Man who works miracle after miracle, who has restored hundreds to health.  And a paralyzed man is brought, laid before Him.  And then what does Jesus say?  Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.  It sort of seems like Jesus has His priorities wrong.  It’s sort of seems like Jesus ain’t doing what He should be doing.  If I went to see my doctor and the doc looked and me and said, “Take heart, your sins are forgiven,” I’d be sort of upset.  What kind of diagnosis is that?  What kind of healing is that?  Jesus, there’s a man lying paralyzed in front of you – get too it, take care of him, show him love!

          Our eyes are off so often – so often we fail to see what is real, what is important.  We see a man lying paralyzed – we see a body in need of healing.  What does Christ Jesus our Lord see?  A man in need of forgiveness.  We see the body held fast by a crippling disease.  The Lord sees a heart held fast, crippled by sin.  Jesus is wise, so much wiser than we.  Think on this for a moment.  What is it like, on those sleepless nights, where you lie in bed – can’t sleep, stare at the ceiling – and thoughts come in – regrets, sorrows, things that you know you shouldn’t have done, cruel things said carelessly to loved ones now long gone?  What are those nights like?  We struggle through them, but eventually morning would come, and we get up and begin our day.  For this man, for this paralyzed man, there is no getting up in the morning.  For him, he is always stuck in bed, trapped there with nothing but his thoughts, his fears, his worries, his guilt.  And what does Jesus do?  Jesus gets to the more dire problem.  “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.”  Jesus gets to the point.  Jesus says what needs to be said.  This paralytic’s heart was heavy burdened, and so Jesus tends to that.  Besides, guilt is a much more serious affliction than paralysis.  You know what I mean.  When you are feeling guilty and sore – you don’t do anything.  You shrivel away, you crawl away, you hide away.  Guilt and remorse chokes us down.  Christ removes guilt.  This is what Christ does for this man.  He gives the man peace, He releases this man from the burden which he could not bear.  This is the love Christ shows.

          Alas, Christ’s love does not please all, and there are those who dislike it when it is shown.  And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.”  So, why do the scribes think that Jesus is blaspheming?  Because forgiveness is the purview of God.  Forgiveness is God’s business – so who does this Jesus think He is?  Think of it this way.  Say I went to the Co-op and filled up my car with gas – and then I just charged it to your account without asking you.  You’d be upset – because I have no right to do that.  The scribes hear Jesus, and they think, “He has no right to do that – He is misrepresenting God.”  That’s why they think Jesus is blaspheming.

          Except, well, Jesus isn’t blaspheming God – because He is in fact God Himself.  And so, Jesus desires to teach these scribes, to show them that is He right to forgive sins.  But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts?  For which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.”  And he rose and went home.  Did you catch it – did you see why Jesus does the miracle?  It’s not primarily for the paralytic’s benefit.  It’s not for the sake of the paralyzed guy.  Jesus does this healing to teach, to show love to the scribes who doubt Him.  This miracle is a bit of proof, a bit of evidence for Jesus.  It demonstrates His credentials.
          When Jesus speaks, His Word does what it says.  If Christ Jesus says, “You are forgiven” then you are forgiven.  Period.  Case closed.  That’s the way it is.  If Christ Jesus says, “Rise and walk” then you will rise and walk.  Period.  Case closed.  That’s the way it is.  That’s the way of God’s Word – it is creative, it does what it says.  God says, “Let there be light,” and there is light.  And sometimes we have a hard time with this idea.  Sometimes we have a hard time trusting to simple words.  Why?  Because our words – they don’t really have that much power all that often.  I remember many-a-time my mother saying, “Eric, clean your room.”  She said it many-a-time because. . . the room didn’t get cleaned like it should.  Mom would speak, but nothing would happen.  And that’s the way it is with our words, what we speak.  I’m sure you don’t have to think hard to remember some grand plan that just never happened.  Bold times where you’ve said, “I’m going to do this. . .” and nothing ever happened. Our word fails. Our plans crumble. Our vows get broken.  We don’t live up to what we say always – and so we can tend to mistrust words a bit, tend to eye them a bit warily.

          And then we hear Christ’s Word – and sometimes we doubt it as well.  It seems beyond our ability to believe, it sounds too fantastic.  We hear the Word say that God loves us and blesses us – and then we see tragedy and trial strike – and we can doubt the Word.  We hear the Word say that we are to love our neighbor, and we feel their scorn, and don’t really want to love them, and wonder how even God could possibly love them.  We hear the Word say that we are forgiven, but Satan is there breathing His threats and lies against us day and night – and we wonder if that Word is true.  This is nothing new.  Satan has always tried to get us to doubt the Word of God.  That was the first temptation.  Did God really say. . . come Eve, doubt God’s Word.  That was Satan’s plan from the beginning – to make us doubt.

          But that You may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, Rise, pick up your bed and go home.  Christ wants to remove your doubt.  This is why Matthew records this healing.  Because it demonstrates who Jesus is, it demonstrates His authority.  His Word is true and good and valid and right.  Those doubts that we often have, Christ’s Word trumps them, triumphs over them, casts them aside.  Hear and believe that God’s Word is true, that God’s Word is powerful and does what it says.

          When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.  This makes people afraid.  They see more, they understand that something bigger than just healing is going on.  God has given authority to men.  And what authority?  Authority over the body?  The ability to heal?  That’s not what’s amazing.  The amazing thing is the authority to forgive sins.  The authority to speak for God.  The authority for a man to open his lips and have God’s Word pour forth.  That is the wonder, that is the amazement, that is what dumbfounds and shocks these people.

          And we miss it.  Ours is a callous and indifferent generation.  We behold the wonders of the ages, we see what Abraham and Isaac and Jacob longed to see.  We see that which is more impressive than all miracles and stairways to heaven or holy ladders or the like.  What happens here?  What happens in this place?  I don’t think we really realize it.  I don’t think we really understand what goes on here in God’s Church.  God has given to His Church, to His people here on Earth the authority to forgive sins.  Think about that.  Think on the wonder and amazement and miracle that we sort of slough off, treat as casual and commonplace.  God speaks here in this place to us today.  This same authority which Christ exercised in our Gospel is exercised here whenever the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed.  My job, my duty, my privilege and honor is to speak God’s Word of forgiveness here in this place.  Your sins are forgiven – and that Word rings true – it resounds to the skies and opens the gates of heaven – it burrows down and collapses the very gates of hell in defeat.  Because fundamentally – I’m not the one saying it.  I speak not on my own authority, but on God’s authority.  Is that not astounding?  Every Sunday in this place – God’s Word is proclaimed.  We open our hymnals for service and Satan hides in fear.  The Word is proclaimed, and forgiveness is given, and we receive life.  Our hearts that are paralyzed by guilt and fear – they are made new, created clean again.  This is the House of God – it is the gate of Heaven, we come here and taste the heavenly meal that David and Elijah and Jeremiah could only dream of – we get it.

          The Church service isn’t about us and what we do.  It isn’t about what we bring.  It’s about God and what God does for us and what He brings to us here.  Even the things we do in the service – it’s God doing it.  The Lord opens our lips, and we declare His praise, His glory.  What have we spent the morning doing?  Our liturgy – that’s God’s Word being spoken back and forth to each other.  Our hymns aren’t just little ditties that are to make us smile and feel good – they are about more than tapping our toes.  Our hymns recount what God done, what He is doing in this place.  They proclaim the truth of His Word.  They are about what Jesus does.  All that goes on here, every word from both my lips and your lips, spoken, preached, recited, or sung, they all point to Christ Jesus, the Lamb who was slain for you and for the sins of the world.  That’s what this service is, that’s what Sunday morning is about.

          That’s why God has called you here, out of your busy schedule and out of your work.  Because He wishes you to take heart.  Because He speaks to you again His life giving Word – Your sin is forgiven.  We receive here in His house a miracle greater and more astonishing than healing.  Christ Jesus, in His great love for you, has seen to it that this place has been established so that you might always hear His Word, has called and sent me here to speak that Word to you, and not just on Sundays but whenever you need to hear it, whenever your heart is faint within you.  Your sin is forgiven – and though our hearts often fail, and we are weak, and slide into sin – He comes to us again and again, and forgives us anew, and always gives us life in His name.  This is our joy, this is our hope, this is our song and hymn.  This is why we praise God and acknowledge Him to be the Lord.  Because He has delivered man – He was born of a virgin – He over came the sharpness of death on the cross and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.  And so now we sing until Judgment day, when He shall come and see us, and our great and glorious Judge shall say, “I have redeemed you with my blood and I count you as one of my saints, come to the feast prepare for you.”  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.