Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Liturgy Shaping Life

I love our liturgy.  I do.  I just wished it shaped our lives more.

What do I mean?  Ponder this - what are the main points, the themes, of the liturgy?  It's a continual cycle of repentance, an asking for mercy - which is then followed by forgiveness, the pronouncement of absolution, of peace, of forgiveness.

It's confession and absolution in sung form, with a sermon (which is primarily a forgiveness thing) and the Supper (which is primarily a forgiveness, life, and salvation thing) standing out as the peak moments of absolution.

It's all about confessing sin and forgiving sin.

Now, ponder this.  Is that how your life the rest of the week is shaped?

Is your week filled with more confession of your own sins or self justification and self-elevation?

Is your week filled with more forgiveness or more disdain toward the neighbor because of something they have done... or even *had* done long ago?

The liturgy isn't merely supposed to be pretty Jesus time, or praise-joy-joy time.  It is also to be training for life - the pattern that extends through the Benediction on into the week.  Our lives are to be ones that are ones of constant repentance and also constant forgiveness.

Yet how often our lives become a matter of how we are better than that person, how often we focus on the remembering of sins rather than the forgiving of sins.

Would that we loved the liturgy, not for it's outward beauty, not for it's artistic value, not for finery, nor for it's trendiness or hipness or dynamic outreach, or whatever other types of things people talk about with Worship.

Would that we loved the liturgy for Confession and Absolution - and would that this pattern stay with us the whole week!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sexagesima Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday – February 23rd, 2014 -  Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          In the three Sundays before Lent, we are given by our Gospel texts a chance to review the three great "Solas" of theology, the three great "alones".  By Grace alone, through faith alone, and Scripture alone.  Last week with the parable of the workers in the vineyard, we saw the grace of God in action, His great love, His great generosity which we ought not let our covetousness or jealousy begrudge.  And this week, in the parable of the sower and the seed, we will be dealing with the gift of Scripture, of God's Word, of the proclamation of the Gospel and some of the frustrations we encounter when using God’s Word.  The explanation of the parable begins, "The seed is the Word of God."  So, with that in mind, let us examine the text.

          And when a great crowd was gathering and people from town after town came to Him, He said in a parable, "A sower went out to sow his seed."  Normally, when thinking about or looking at this parable, I will jump right into the parable itself.  It makes sense, if you want to study the parable, look at the parable.  But note the introduction.  There is a great crowd, people from town after town.  And what is Jesus doing?  He is preaching, He is proclaiming the Word.  Even as He is speaking this parable, Jesus *is* the Sower, He is scattering His Word out upon the crowd.  If you want to think of it this way - the parable is an explanation to the disciples, to us, of what is going to happen with that Word that Christ Jesus is proclaiming right then and there – it’s what happens with the Word of God that we proclaim even to this very day.

          And He does so by the image of a sower scattering His seed.  Now, this is still a very powerful image in our society today.  Even though its probably been a while since any of you farmers walked along with a bag of seed and just started tossing it, it's one of those images we have as Americans - be it Johnny Appleseed, who was a big deal back in the Great Lakes, or even the sower that I have on my class ring from OU – it’s one of OU's major logos.  We know sowers. And sowing like that was a haphazard way of doing things.  It's not cold, precise, and logical.  It doesn't measure the cost of the seed and make sure that none is wasted, it doesn't plant the seeds in the single precise spot.  It scatters, it throws the seed to the wind to let the wind take it where the wind wills.  And that too is an important idea - we say "wind" today, but in Hebrew, or Greek, or Latin - the word for "Wind" and "Spirit" are the same thing.  There is a parallel being set up here - just as the wind blows the seed where it wills, so too the Holy Spirit takes the Word of God where the Spirit wills.  Jesus tells this same idea to Nicodemus in John 3 when He says, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  So this is what we see here - we see the sower tossing out his seed, trusting that it will be carried to where it needs to go.

          "And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it.  And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”  Out goes the seed.  Some of the seed ends up not being very productive - not because its bad seed, not because it's not good.  Just, stuff happens.  The birds eat some of it.  Some of it hits rocky soil.  Some of it gets killed by weeds.  We're surrounded by fields here, we all know the sorts of things that can happen to a crop.  That happens to some, and then some of the seed sprouts and grows and matures yields a harvest.  This is just what we see happen in agriculture - if you toss in drought or hail or bugs, we get the same sorts of things, even with our well drilled fields today.  Jesus here is just pointing out the common, simple things that happen.  And then He adds, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

          And the disciples are confused.  What's the point, what does this mean?  And so Jesus says to them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’"  Jesus here is referencing a common refrain of the Old Testament about idols and idolaters.  The idols, the statues have eyes, but they don't see.  They have ears, but they hear nothing.  And those who worship them, who fall into idolatry - they don't see God's truth even though it's clear in front of them, they don't hear the Word even when it is proclaimed to them.  The truth is simple, as simple as what happens to a crop that is sown, but some just will not get it, will deny it, will fight against it.

          And then Jesus explains in detail.  "The seed is the word of God.  The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."  Jesus is saying: There are going to be those in that crowd that just heard me preach who are going to blow it off right away.  Who shrug it off.  Whom Satan has convinced that there is no God, or that if there were a God He would be doing something much more spectacular than just talking about some crazy old farmer.  After all, we had heard that this miracle worker Jesus was passing by, and we come all this way to see Him, and all He does is talk about tossing seed.  This is simply the reality of what is going to happen.  There are going to be those who hear the Word and couldn't care less.  There are going to be those who hear, and just decide to mock, belittle, and ignore.  They remain fast bound in Satan's clutches - it happens.  Disciples, don't be surprised - and you here, do not be surprised when it happens.  Your beliefs, the truth of God that you proclaim will not always be respected or well received.  That is just the reality of life here in a fallen world. 

          There is another thing that happens in this world.  "And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away."  What else will you see, oh Disciples?  There will be those who love what you preach... but then life won't suddenly get better.  Things will remain hard, and they will flit away.  They will decide that the Word of God doesn't give them enough, and off they will go.  Does this not happen today?  Or the third possibility?  "And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature."  Oh, do we not see this one all the time?  Is not America the land of cares and riches and pleasures?  We have so much wealth and luxuries, and yet we worry about so many things - the artists of today point out how when there is more money there's just more problems.  And how many people today are just simply too busy, have too much going on for them to hear the word?  And they just slowly fall away, waste away.  This is just what is going to happen in the fallen world.

          And then, of course, there is the fourth possibility.  "As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience."  And in some, the Word, the precious seed takes root, springs forth and bears abundant fruit.  This too is something else that happens, something that we see.  So then, what do we do with this parable that we have heard?  Where do we go from here?  And I ask that question, and the first things that comes to my mind are all the stupid, foolish, wrong-headed answers that I have heard.  There is no parable that gets used as a springboard for more stupidity and tomfoolery than this one.

          I have heard people say that this parable teaches us that as Christians we need to focus our efforts at evangelization on finding that good soil, to make sure we don't waste our time, our churchly efforts on bad and rocky ground.  So, let's get this straight - the parable describes how the Word of God is generously proclaimed to call, carried by the Spirit all over the place... but oh no no, we need to focus on figuring out who is good soil... because we are the masters of reading men's hearts I guess.  Or the one take that I hear is where it becomes a giant law bomb - alright, so you people here better be good soil, you better start producing fruit, I want to see more fruit and I want to see it now!  An impatient demand for good works, even as we are told that we will "bear fruit with patience."

          No, what is this parable teaching us?  As Luther would say, as we ought to be able to recite - I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, My Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel.  That is the truth we see, we hear in this Gospel lesson, in this parable.  This parable is to be a comfort - and you have been give eyes to see and ears to hear by God not so that God could terrify you, but comfort you.  You live in a sinful world, a world where terrible and horrible things happen.  And God gets mocked, faith gets tested, and we are often just so busy.  That is true.  But God still comes to you in His Word.  The Holy Spirit still wields the Gospel - and He does so not coldly or harshly.  God does not sit combing the details of your life to see if He ought to cut you off of the Gospel train - but instead, the seed is scattered, the Word is proclaimed.  It is to be proclaimed here in this place, even if you've had a terrible week, even if you've been particularly nasty this past week.  A sower went out to sow his seed.  God's Word is to be proclaimed, without a care for where it lands, whether or not those hearing it are worthy enough.  My job as your pastor isn't to figure out how good or bad you are - it is to proclaim to you that Christ Jesus has died for your sins.  And then, the Holy Spirit will do His thing.  Likewise, in your own lives, do not be afraid to confess the faith, to confess Christ Jesus, to tell others that He has died for them and that they are forgiven.  Some won't care, some will fall away.  That happens - but as for you, you know the truth of what Christ has done.  Cling to Christ.  Hear the Word, know that the Scriptures are true, and that Christ has died for you, and your sin is forgiven.  He who has ears, let him hear.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Sower, the Seed, and Comfort for the Preacher

Being a pastor often means there's plenty of time for guilt and self-doubt.  It's just what happens - when you job is handling the Word of God, sharper than any two edged sword - yeah.  When you are dealing also with a business (because our congregations are also businesses) and the various expectations and demands and goals for success - and these demands conflate with the emotional toil that comes from dealing with the Word of God and the people who need to hear it - it can be a big old whammy.

And then, every year on Sexagesima, we get the parable of the Sower and the Seed.

He who has ears, let him hear.

I don't know if there is anything that is more comforting to me as a pastor than that. 

My task, my goal, my job - it's not to fix people.  It's not to do everything right.  It's not to grow a business.  These are all things beyond my control - I am incapable of these things.  As Luther has us pastors pray, if left to ourselves, we would bring it all to utter destruction.

I am not the architect of the church.  I am not the one who gives it growth.  I am not the chief fixer.  I am not the perfect, unshakable pillar of Lutheranism.  I am not the uber mench.

I'm simply a preacher.  A sower of the seed, one who casts out God's Word.

And he who has ears will hear.

Simple as that.

I don't need to micromanage things - I am simply to preach the Word, and he who has ears will hear.
I don't need to figure out whether that person is really, really repentant - I am simply to preach the Word, and he who has ears will hear.
I don't need to find the secret of massive growth - I am simply to preach the Word, and he who has ears will hear.

Maybe the soil God gives me to sow will be rather dry, or rocky, or weedy.  Or maybe it will be good soil.  I don't know - that's not my responsibility. 

A sower sows the seed.  A preacher preaches the Word.  And the Spirit does what He wills when He wills it.

It's good to be reminded, pastors, that we are not actually one ones in charge. 

He who has ears, let him hear!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Septuagesima Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday – February 16th, 2014 – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          With the observance of Transfiguration Sunday last week, we see a change in focus in our readings in Church.  We are now in the “Gesima” Sundays, Sundays which have as their focus ideas about how this Christ Jesus, who is indeed true God and true Man, how He relates to the Church.  How does Jesus deal with the Church and how does the Church end up responding to Jesus?  And from what we see in our texts today, it seems as though we don’t always respond well to God.  In fact, we might almost call this Sunday “Grumbling Sunday” – there’s grumbling in the Gospel, grumbling in the Old Testament, and as Paul talks about how as Christians we need self-control and we need to keep on striving towards the goal, he’s probably writing to folks who have been grumbling as well.

          Grumbling seems almost to be an obsession in our country.  As a Baseball fan I like to say that Baseball is the national pastime – but in truth, it’s probably grumbling – and I’m no exception.  I’ve been watching the Olympics – and there’s lots of American journalists grumbling.  I enjoy listening to Sports-talk radio, which is basically listening to other people grumble about sports.  And I doubt I’m alone – if one were to head to the co-op, what might one hear?  If one were to listen to folks talking at their desk at work, what might one hear?  If one pops one’s head in the beauty shop or walks past the people standing in line at Walmart, what might one hear?  Or shall I bring up politics or the government?  Fox News or MSNBC?  Americans like to grumble.

          The sad thing is that our grumbling is so unneeded.  Consider our Gospel text.  For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.  After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.  Now, remember this about these laborers, the ones hired first.  When the master finds them, they have no job.  Without the master finding them, they would have had no work, they would have made nothing, and probably would have gone hungry.  Instead, the master finds them, He gives them a good wage – a denarius is considered a solid wage in Jesus’ day, so the master isn’t undercutting them or dealing with them on the cheap.  He treats them fantastically.  And then, And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace and to them he said, “You, go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.”  So they went.  Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same.  And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing.  And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?”  They said to him, “because no one has hired us.”  He said to them, “You go and work in the vineyard too.”  So more workers come in, each working less and less time, to where you have folks who only work one hour instead of 12.

          Before we continue with the parable, do note one thing about the master in this parable?  He wants as many workers as he can find, and he keeps bringing them in.  He doesn’t make snap judgments – he doesn’t say to the workers who join at the 11th hour, “Boy, you people must have been real lazy to not find work” – instead, why aren’t you working?  Let’s put you to work!  Christ deals with people in His Church the same way.  Whereas we can make the snap judgments, whereas we can see the person out there in the world who has been having a rather foul and wicked time of it and think to ourselves how horrible they are – God’s approach is different.  God’s approach is, “It doesn’t matter what they had been doing or where they had been, they ought to be in Church, they ought to be part of My family.”  It’s an astonishing love that God shows, an astonishing desire for the lost – which shouldn’t surprise any of us.  He called us into His Church by His Word, by Baptism, why wouldn’t God want to be calling other people in?  The lectern, pulpit, and font are all still here, guess God still wants more folks here, the folks you know, that you come across in your life.  Whoever they are, they belong here.  And when you see someone who isn’t here, someone who doesn’t know or has forgotten Christ’s love, someone who thinks they aren’t good enough to be here, that’s a tragedy.  God calls us all to His house.

          And when the evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.”  And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius.  Now when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.  And in receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them the equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.  And now the complaining sets in.  Why should this lazy bum who hardly did anything, who worked only in the cool of the day get the same thing as me?  And they have a reasonable argument – more work should mean more pay!  The grumblers view everything in light of what they have done – look at our work.  They forget one thing – things all center around the master.

          But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go.   I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?  Or do you begrudge my generosity?”  Look at how the master has rightly and properly treated these workers who came first.  They had no job – he gave them one.  He promised them a good wage – he gave them a good wage.  In all things the master has done what he said he would – he has treated them completely fairly and honestly.  He has done exactly what he said he would – and yet, they grumble.  And why – not because of how the master treated them, but because of how the master treated others.  If these early workers had been paid first and then sent on their way, if they never knew what the other workers got, would they not have gone home satisfied, content with what the master gave?  Instead, when the comparison kicks in, when they see what another has the complaining begins.

          So what about us? When we grumble, when we complain about how things are going, is our grumbling because God isn’t providing for us and we are doomed. . . or is it rather a matter of us comparing ourselves to someone else and what they have, and then grumbling, then coveting what the other folk have?  That’s the way grumbling works – it ends up being a comparison between you and your neighbor.  This person has this better than me, that person gets this when I don’t.  And when we do that, we begrudge God His generosity.  We see it as evil when God gives good things to our neighbor instead of us.  What God chooses to bless you with has nothing to do with your neighbor.  Rather, God gives freely to you – rejoice.  And yet, instead of focusing our eyes upon God and marveling at His goodness to us, we cast a covetous eye upon our neighbor and are dissatisfied.  Or we can even think up excuses why we needn’t show them love, why we shouldn’t serve and care for them.  We become stingy, for when we grumble, when we complain, we forget His generosity to us.  When we focus on what someone else has, we forget how richly God has blessed us.  When we lament how well God treated us in the past, in the good old days, we spurn the blessings He gives us freely now.  And in our complaining we not only show no love for our neighbor, the neighbor whom God desires to be a part of His family, we also cease showing love towards God and rather show Him contempt.

          So, what should be done?  How should God treat us?  I am reminded of the threat that my parents would make when I was grumbling about what I got – if you don’t like that you can have nothing instead.  Seems a fitting punishment.  Or if we were employers and our employee started grumbling, fine – if this isn’t good enough for you, don’t let the door hit you on the way out and go find another job.  That’s what we could expect in this world, is it not?  But is that how God treats us?  No, master in the parable is gentile in dealing with these first workers – Friend, I am doing you no wrong.  He calls them friend, he treats even those complainers with courtesy and compassion.  He closes no door – he still gives the good wage, even when not appreciated.  I imagine this owner would still be willing to hire these folks the next day – no firing, no blacklisting for them.

          Know and understand how generous, how patient God is with you.  How many times has God continued to give His blessings to you, even when not appreciated?  All blessings, be they material blessings or spiritual blessings.  When we are not thankful, does God not still give us our daily bread?  Behold His great love for you.  When we are lax in our devotion and worship, when hearing His Word and receiving His Supper becomes a secondary priority instead of our first, does God not continually welcome us to His House to hear His Word and receive His forgiveness?  Behold His great love for you.

          This is the point.  Christ Jesus, true God and true Man, came into this world precisely to go to the cross and suffer, to pay the penalty for sin, even the sin of grumbling, even the sin of not appreciating Him and thrusting Him to the side.  It should be no surprise that God continually calls you – for that is how God relates to you, that is how God deals with you.  God is not seeking an excuse to damn you, He is not trying to find a reason to scratch your name out of the book of Life – rather all that He does, everything, is so that you might receive forgiveness for your sins, so that you might be strengthened in faith during the days of your life, so that you might obtain the imperishable prize of heaven.  Or in other words, every action, every thing that God does is based out of His love for you.  Sin would have you forget this, your flesh would have you cast covetous glances at our neighbors, but God in His Word calls you out of the darkness of sin into His marvelous light so that you always see and know and delight in His love for you, will create in you a clean heart.  In all things, remember God’s love, for it is His love that shapes the Church, that shapes you.  That is how Christ Jesus deals with the Church – ever showing love, and in that love ever forgiving us with gladness.  This is His love for you.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the light of the world.  Amen

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tell Me Why I Shouldn't Listen to Him

But is he Lutheran?

Isn't he wrong on some other topic that he isn't talking about right now?

Didn't you hear about the scandals of his personal life?

You know about his family, right?

You know what his dad, his grandad did back in the old _______ scandal, don't you?

+ + + + +

When you are reading someone's ideas... are the critics engaging the idea, or are they doing something else?  Do we refute ideas, or do we just tell you details as to why you shouldn't listen to someone?

Ack and Alas for Lutheranism today!

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Scarlett Letter

In High School I got to read the classic "The Scarlett Letter".  Unlike many of my classmates, I enjoyed it.  It has one of my favorite quotes - "Let man tremble to win the hand of woman lest he win with it the utmost passion of her heart."

It also was a rather scathing critique of Puritan culture and the idea of shaming as a corrective to society.  And I'll be honest, I don't like shame (which should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog), I don't like it as a social tool.  It too often a tool of self-righteousness. 

There is a movement again towards shame.  Towards the idea that not only must a person bear the temporal consequences for their actions and sins... but that they ought to continue to be shamed the rest of their lives.  That the finger ought to be pointed, that the preface of "don't you know what this person DID" would be best articulated over and over to where we would never forget this. 

I was trying to think about what stuck me as so futile, so callous about the "shame" culture that seems to be making inroads into Christianity, or moving from radical protestantism into Lutheranism.  And then I realize I've said it before.

The following is what I posted in May of 2012

What changes behavior?  What makes a person new, what makes them to show forth love?  I would hope that anyone reading this blog would be quick to say, "The Gospel" -- that when we receive forgiveness from Christ we are given new life, that He creates in us a clean heart and provides a right spirit, that being filled with His love we then become conduits for that love... just as a branch is a conduit from the vine to the fruit.

Yet what happens so often when we see someone doing something we do not approve of?  We do not seek the end of the Gospel, we do not speak a direct word of repentance so that they might be restored.  Instead, we rely on shame.  We whisper cruel words about them to others and hope that the rising tide of disdain might trickle it's way back to them and that the weight of disapproval might coerce them into a different behavior.

That's not life.  That's just murder.

Seriously.  What life is given by shaming another?  What growth?  What creation?

No, all that happens (at best) is that a person is crushed even more, isolated even more.  That's what sin does -- it isolates, it kills.  At worst, they may be hardened, they may fall into even worse shame and vice simply to be defiant against your petty cruelty -- if you will complain, I'll give you something to complain about!

Christ our Lord does not say, "Blessed are the shame-inducers, for they have made the kingdom a bit nicer a place."  It's blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Shame does not make for peace.  Distant disdain does not make for peace.  Tarnishing a reputation does not make for peace.  Only words of peace and forgiveness make for peace, restore, give life, drive out fear.  Let us remember this.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Transfiguration Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
            And after six days. . . six days after what?  Before we get into our text this morning, let’s back track a little bit to six days before hand.  Six days before our Gospel, we get Peter’s confession – You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  We get Jesus telling the disciples that He will be crucified, and Peter telling Jesus not to go to the cross.  “Get behind me Satan!”  We have Jesus telling the disciples that if they are to follow Him they must take up their own cross and follow Him.  This is what we see in chapter 16.  The disciples see, but they don’t see.  They need to understand more – and so, a week later, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with Him to one of the mountains in Judea, and there those three disciples witness the transfiguration.

          And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.  One of the things we can do as Christians, and I know it sounds silly, but bear with me, one of things we can forget about Jesus is that Jesus is God.  That this Man Jesus is God Almighty with a capital G, capital A.  That He is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.  We see that this morning – that’s what the transfiguration is at its heart.  For this short time on a mountaintop Jesus lets His Divine Nature shine forth unhindered – the Light of Light reveals who He is.  Sometimes when we think about Jesus, we can sort of separate the Man from God – we almost think of Jesus as though His time on earth was just a change of pace from His time in heaven – He took a break from being God but now is back up in heaven doing His God things.  But the transfiguration shows and teaches us otherwise.  This Man Jesus is God.  When we see Jesus, we learn that God has taken up flesh and become Man.  The incarnation is not temporary.  When He was made Man, He remained God, and right now God is a Man.  How much does God want to share in your life?  That He becomes Human Himself.  And when Jesus came down, when He was born of the Virgin Mary – He didn’t give up being God – He wasn’t watered down God, He wasn’t God Lite – He is still true God.  But before His resurrection, He didn’t always let it show.  Why?  Because Jesus doesn’t need to brag about who He is.  Jesus didn’t come to earth to show off how wonderful He is.  He didn’t come to hob-nob or socialize – He came to win salvation – and to do that, He needed to suffer, He needed to let Himself be dragged to death, even death upon a Cross.  But this morning Jesus gives these three disciples and us an Epiphany, a revelation of the truth that He is indeed both God and Man.

          And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.  This shouldn’t surprise us.  Remember what the Old Testament is often called in Scripture – the Law and the Prophets.  And what do we see here – Moses, the Law-giver, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets – talking to Jesus.  Of course they would be talking to Jesus – all of the Old Testament points forward to Jesus.  Moses looked forward to Christ – for Jesus is the true Tabernacle of God, He is the true and once and for all sacrifice, the true deliverance from slavery, not merely to Egypt, slavery to sin and death.  Elijah looked forward to Jesus – He is the ultimate defeat of Baal and all false Gods, Jesus is the redemption that Elijah preached and prophesized about.  Again, here we see something spelled out that should be obvious.  All of God’s Word points to Christ Jesus and what He does.  The point of the Bible, its main job, is to show forth Christ our Redeemer.

          And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here.  If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  Now, Peter isn’t being silly here – rather he is being quite polite.  The Israelites celebrated the feast of booths, the feast of tabernacles – where they would gather around Jerusalem and set up tents to remember how God preserved them during their wandering in the desert.  It was a religious holiday – and Peter basically asks Jesus if Moses and Elijah are coming to celebrate.  Peter will get things ready – it’s okay Jesus, if they are staying, I’ll get everything ready, you just keep on talking.  But even though he is being very polite and proper, he misses the point.  Jesus didn’t bring you up on the Mountain to have you run errands, Peter.  He brought you here to teach you.  Here Peter has Jesus there before him with this wondrous opportunity and gift, and Peter’s thoughts are elsewhere.  On the holiday that they are celebrating.  On hotels for the guests.  On what Peter could be doing instead.  Just the way we get sometimes, so over busy and worried about what *he* is doing..  Peter gets excited, and his focus shifts, his mind races, and suddenly, just like us, he starts looking at all the things he has to do.  Here is Jesus before Him, transfigured and shining, and Peter wants to head on off and be busy.

Of course, maybe Peter thought this would last a while – that there would be days and days of having Moses and Elijah around – but Peter was mistaken.  This was only to be a brief glimpse of heaven here on earth – heaven doesn’t stick around on earth.  Even before Peter finishes his sentence we hear: He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”  When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise and have no fear.”  And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.  The climax of heaven comes, the Father speaks, and Peter and the rest of the disciples cower in fear and then, gone.  The moment has passed, and it’s just them and Jesus on the mountain.

          You see, Jesus understands.  Jesus gets the point – He knows what He is to be about.  Moses and the Prophets – they pointed forward to Him.  They pointed forward to the spotless Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world.  That’s what Jesus is about, that’s what He is going to do – and in order for Him to do this – He has to come down off the mountain.  It’s not yet time for Jesus to eternally shine forth His glory – Jesus still has work to do.  Sin, your sin, Peter, James, and John’s sin, the sin of the world must be dealt with.  Christ must go to the Cross and suffer and die.  This is what Moses and the Prophets pointed to, this is what they proclaimed.  And so, Jesus steps away from the Mount of Transfiguration.  Jesus isn’t about glory.  His main concern isn’t acquiring praise.  He doesn’t want to show off or “live the dream”.  He revealed Himself to the three disciples as He wanted to, and now it is time to head towards the cross.  And Jesus explains why He must head to the cross.

          But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.”  Because His eyes are set upon the Cross, because that is where Jesus is going, Jesus can touch the disciples, can tell them to have no fear.  Remember, they were just in the presence of God – sinners before God Almighty.  You know what that does to sinners?  It terrifies them.  Think on Adam in the garden after he sinned.  What does Adam tell God?  I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid.”  That’s what sin does.  It makes us afraid of God, and rightly so, for God is just, and does not tolerate sin.  God is just and punishes sin – punishes our sin.  And yet Jesus tells them to have no fear.  How can He do this – how can He tell these sinful men to have no fear when they’ve heard the voice from heaven, when God Himself has just touched them, God Almighty and pure and righteous?  Because Jesus goes to the Cross – because His eyes are set upon Calvary.  Because Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – He takes it away from us, Jesus claims our sin, and holding on to our sin, He takes our punishment upon the Cross.  “My God, My God, why hast Thou Forsaken Me?”  That’s not play acting, that’s not just a dramatic line in some book – that is Jesus taking your punishment.  You see, when Jesus says, “have no fear” – He’s not just speaking soothing words.  He’s not telling a little lie to calm you down.  When Jesus says “have no fear” He is telling the disciples that their sin, their reason for having fear, is being taken away by Him.  Christ’s comfort is true comfort, true forgiveness.  Because of what Jesus does upon the Cross, His Word has power and authority to forgive sin, even to this very day, even to us sinners here at Trinity/Zion Lutheran Church.

          This is why the Father says that He is well pleased with Jesus – because Jesus does precisely what the Father wishes.  God is our Creator – He created us to be with Him.  Sin messed that up.  God is not content to let sin mess up His creation.  So, Christ Jesus comes, becomes part of that creation, and fixes it Himself.  Creation will be good again, Man will be good again, and it happens in Christ. This is why the Father is well-pleased with Jesus.  And this is why the Father is well-pleased with you.  When God looks at you, He sees Jesus.  Why?  Because when God looks at you, it’s not rose tinted glasses He uses, but blood stained glasses.  You have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and are now spotless.  You have been Baptized into Christ – His life is now your life.  That’s what Baptism means – that your life is Christ’s – not merely in the sense that “Jesus owns my life” – God has that with or without Baptism.  He’s the Creator of all, and all things belong to Him.  But at Baptism Jesus gives you His own life, covers You with Himself, with His righteousness, and now the Father is well-pleased with you, His forgiven and redeemed Creation.  Your life *is* Christ, it is no longer merely you who lives, but Christ who lives in you.

           And when they looked up, they saw no one but Jesus only.  Of course they saw only Jesus.  Jesus is all they needed.  And Jesus is all we need.  Christ Jesus our Lord gives us life and salvation – which is why in this place we see no other.  We don’t chase after false gods.  We don’t try to work our way up to the Father by our works.  We don’t wait to just get zapped by the Holy Spirit.  Rather, we see Jesus – we see Jesus as He comes to us in His Word, revealing Himself to us – giving us His forgiveness.  We see Jesus as He comes to us in His Supper.  We always see Jesus coming to us, touching us when we are lost in sin, and giving us His forgiveness.  Have no fear, Jesus has come to you, and He is all that you see.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Presentation Sermon

Presentation of Jesus – February 2nd, 2014 – Luke 2:22-32

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          You know, this Gospel text was the text for the Sunday after Christmas, and it is one of my favorite texts – there’s the Nunc Dimitis, Simeon taking the child Jesus up in his aged hands and bursting into the same song we will sing in just a few minutes.  It’s a great text – and it’s one that we had just 5 weeks ago.  So why have it today?  Again.  So soon.  Because Groundhog’s day is a Church holiday… sort of.  Today is properly known as the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord – and it is 40 days after Christmas, because when the firstborn male was 40 days old, you brought the child and mother to the temple and offered sacrifices, both to purify the mother and declare her fit to be back in public and also for the sake of the child.  This day was also known as Candlemass – because it was the custom 600 years ago that if you were going to bless candles, you’d do it today.  Christ, the pure light enters the temple, we might as well bless the candles lighting our church. But there was superstition that developed around this day – as it’s almost halfway to spring – so you get the old English poem - If Candle mas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.  Then, you add some Germans in Pennsylvania who say, “We’ll pull out a groundhog and see if he sees his shadow… and then have a party” – and there you go.  So there’s a lot of strange history and custom that goes on into this day, a lot of culture and tradition.

          So what?  So what is the point of this day, this feast, this focus?  Our Epistle lesson from Hebrews actually sums this up, explains it well.  So, let’s work our way through this text from Hebrews and consider it this morning in light of what goes on in our Gospel.  To begin, we hear, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things.”  In the Nicene Creed, we confess that our Lord Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin and was made man.  So why the doubling up?  Why say that He was “incarnate” and then also “made man”?  There actually is a nuance, a note of some deep theological importance there.  To be “incarnate” simply means to have flesh, to have a body.  And you know what – if God wants to take a body, He can do so.  He’s God, He can do what He wants.  But that phrase “was made man” describes what Hebrews is talking about when it says that He Himself likewise partook of the same things.  If you’re God, you could just say BAM, and then there you are, in a body.  But when Christ comes, it’s not merely to have a body, have flesh – it is to fully take His place among us, to share in all the things of this life that we are exposed to, that were partake of.  He is like us in all ways except sin – and so what does that mean?  It means He was made man.  And He grew like you did.  He went through all the awkward stages of youth that you did.  That this is what we really see here at the Presentation of our Lord.  We can get sort of romantic and sentimental around Christmas time – we can hurry to the happy image of Mary looking bright-eyed and full of energy with perfect hair holding the happy, smiling Baby Jesus.  That’s just the image we like to have – it formed an interesting contrast for me, because that wasn’t what December 26th looked like when Ambrose was born.  When Christ Jesus comes, He doesn’t come in some super special, Hallmark card way.  He partakes in all the stuff we did.  So, 40 days after He is born, Mary heads to the temple to be purified, because giving birth isn’t easy.  Christ has offerings given up for Him, because He Himself is placed under the same Law, the same burdens, the same obligations as the rest of us.  And so here it is, you have Christ, as He is taken to the temple, shown to be fully taking His place with us.

          And where will that taking His place with us lead?  “He Himself partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to life long slavery.”  Taking His place with us means that Jesus is going to die.  This is what happens to men after the fall.  His incarnation was not going to be just a two week vacation away from heaven to see the sights on earth, but it He would take His place with man, even going to death.  The same Jesus who is carried in His mother’s arms to the temple is going to come to that Temple Palm Sunday, is going to preach and so anger folks with the Truth that He will be put to death.  The same Jesus who had His parents offer up two turtledoves (just like in the Christmas carol) will offer Himself up to purify and redeem His parents, to redeem us.  And the way in which He does this is to die.  There’s a great bit of language here – that through the fear of death we were subject to life long slavery.  Think about this – how much does the fear of death shape and move things in our lives?  Parents watching over their kids, going to a new place, a city, being in traffic?  How much political discourse is spent on wars and fighting – or even health care?  How much does the fear of death drive us?  It drives us like a cruel task-master, where we don’t think first and foremost about what we ought to do, we worry about death.  And it makes sense – death is a big old scary thing.  It’s a nasty tool that Satan uses to keep you fearful and afraid and miserable.  Life long slavery.

          Over and against those fears, behold Christ Jesus, your Lord.  He Himself takes His place with you.  He Himself dies, dies a death that is both gruesome and publicly embarrassing – about as bad a death as you can get.  And why?  To free you from the fear of death, to free you from that slavery that death tries to put you in.  Death is scary – but there is a greater and more profound truth.  Christ Died, and Christ rose, and so shall you.  I look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.  This is the heart of the Christ faith – that we defy death.  That we celebrate baptism, whereby we are joined to Christ’s death.  Why?  Because He wants us to share in His resurrection.  This is why we eat His Body that was given up for us, His Blood that was shed for us – the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the Lord’s death – and because He died and rose, so shall we.  Over and against every fear of body or death that Satan tosses in your face stands the greater truth of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

          And this is not an accidental thing on Jesus’ part.  It’s not as though He stumbled into this death and resurrection for you.  For surely it is not angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham.  Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  There it is.  This is all done for you, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.  Ponder this.  Jesus doesn’t become an angel to redeem fallen angels.  Why do you think Satan rages so fiercely against mankind, why do you think he rages so fiercely against you?  It’s jealousy.  Even as great and mighty as Satan is and was, the chief of the angels – he was always meant to be a servant.  You were created to be the brother, the sister of Christ.  To share in all that belongs to Christ.  To be valued above all creation… including the angels.  The King’s brother outranks the servants – and that’s what you are by virtue of your baptism, you are an adopted child of God.  And when Adam sinned, egged on by Satan’s jealousy and spite, fouled that up, here comes Christ, without hesitation, to become the new High Priest that we need, to make propitiation, that is the full and proper atonement for sin.  To make things all right again, to restore you to perfection, to restore you to holiness, to bring you once again to your proper place as an heir of God.    Christ Jesus does this, and He does it well.

          But what of us in the here and now?  Oh, there after the resurrection, when we are raised, when we see the dominion that we will have over the New Heavens and the New Earth, but what of now?  We get a final, beautiful nuance.  For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.  Jesus understands.  He does.  He gets it.  He knows, He has experienced what life in this world is like – He knows what you go through now.  And so, He is determined to aid you.  He is determined to strengthen you and encourage you with His Word, He is determined to grant you free and ready forgiveness for whenever you fail.  Over and over again.  That’s why we have the Supper so often, frankly, it’s why we should have it even more often – now may this true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and keep you in the one true faith.  Christ understands, and He gives Himself to you so that you may be freed from sin, freed from the fear of death, freed like Simeon to sing, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”  That’s being freed from the fear of death right there.  Because this is the reality, this is the truth.  Christ Jesus loves you, He has become man to be with you now, to see that you will rise and be with Him for all eternity, that you will share in all that is His.  And Satan and Death and World can’t do a thing to stop it, because their power is broken.

When Joseph and Mary bring Jesus into that temple, they bring Jesus in to take His place as one of us, they bring Jesus in so that He can go about His business of redeeming and forgiving you and winning you eternal life with His own Blood.  The cruel slavery of death is broken, the reign of Satan must yield to the reign of Christ, and we all have been made pure in Him, all thanks be to God.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +