Sunday, March 30, 2014

Lent 4 Sermon

Lent 4 – John 6:1-15 – March 30th, 2014

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          The fourth week of Lent is known sometimes known as “refreshment Sunday”.  It’s a week where we ease up a bit on the intensity of our self-examination and penance in Lent – where we take a slight breather.  If we wanted to be really prim and proper, and if we actually had them – we’d have the pink, the rose colored altar cloths on the altar, just like the 3rd week of Advent.  It is the final rest stop, the final breather before Lent takes us through its intense push towards Golgotha, towards Good Friday.  This is a relaxing, refreshing day.  And so, our Gospel text is the feeding of the 5000.  It’s a familiar text, a great text, a refreshing text.  So, let us look at the text, and see what we learn about how God refreshes us.

          After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberius.   And a large crowd was following Him, because they saw the signs that He was doing on the sick.  Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples.  So that is the setting.  People following Christ, people wishing to hear His Word, listening to Him, all gathered.  They’ve been there all day.  They are tired.  They are worn out.  They are hungry.  Imagine yourself there.  If I go over 15 minutes on the sermon, how many of your eyelids get heavy?  Now imagine a sermon that lasted all day.  By the end of our hour here, how many of you are sore from sitting in the pew for that long?  Now imagine 12 hours walking after Jesus, or at best sitting on the ground looking up hill.  We can imagine how sore and tired those people must have been.

          But we also see and understand how tired we ourselves are.  It is hard to be a Christian, isn’t it?  It is tiring work.  All around us we see people taking the easy way, the wide path that leads to hell.  We see people backbite and stab each other – but we strive to show respect as instructed in the 4th Commandment.  We see everyone else simply look out for themselves, but we strive to support our neighbor in his bodily needs, as instructed in the 5th Commandment.  We see people jump from person to person in pursuit of pleasure, but we strive to be faithful, to show love to our spouses even when that can be quite difficult, as instructed in the 6th Commandment.  We see people get ahead by hook or by crook – but we strive to do things honestly, as instructed in the 7th Commandment.  We see people attack and speak cruelly of others, but we strive to defend them, speak well of them, put the best construction on everything, as instructed in the 8th Commandment.  And all this we do – while trying not to covet, while trying not to look over the fence and see what our neighbor has and think, “Boy, they’ve got it so good.”  Dear friends, I would suggest that our lives as Christians are more wearying than simply sitting, more painful than the hunger after a day without food.  The Christian life is hard – God sets a high standard for us and we strive to do His Will – we strive – it is hard work, hard and tiring work.

          Lifting up His eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward Him, Jesus said to Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for He Himself knew what He would do.  Phillip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”  One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”  We strive to do God’s will – and it’s hard, and oftentimes we stumble.  Look at poor Phillip.  Jesus lays out the Commandments to him – ah – how are we to care for these people’s bodies and lives, Phillip?  And Phillip draws a complete blank.  Um, I don’t know Jesus, I hadn’t really thought about it.  Phillip falls flat on his face.  And Andrew, well, he’s a little bit better.  Uh, here’s what we have Jesus – but it won’t do any good.  Do you hear the despair, the resignation in Andrew’s voice?  Well, it can’t get done.  The life of a disciple was hard, and Phillip and Andrew, with this task before them, fail.

          Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  How often at the end of the day, when thinking back on something from the day, do you look at it and think, “I messed that up royally.  I completely blew it”?  One of the most amusing things in the catechism is what Luther writes after the evening prayer – “Then go to sleep at once and in good cheer.”  I find that hard to do quite often.  The folly, the wickedness I have done this day gnaws at me, and the burdens of the morrow hang in front of me.  It’s hard, seeing your sin.  It’s hard when you have something in front of you, and afterwards you realize you handled it completely poorly.  Often times we don’t handle the challenges in our life the right way.  We stay silent when we should speak up and defend our neighbor – or we speak up and gossip when we should stay silent.  We work and work when we should be paying attention to the Word – or we see our neighbor, the stranger in need, and we sit back and lift nary a finger.  We look with disdain upon the blessings we have and look with lust at what our neighbor has.  And then we kick ourselves.  I knew better than that!  We see our lives for what they are – chances to do good where we do wickedness instead – chances to show the love of God where we simply show our own hate and indifference.  Sometimes, we even despair, like Andrew here.  Oh well, what good it is – no matter what I do I will mess up.  We are beaten and broken down quite often.

          Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, about 5000 in number.  Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.  So also the fish, as much as they wanted.  And when they had eaten their fill, He told His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”  So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barely loaves, left by those who had eaten.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  Phillip – he doesn’t know what to do.  Andrew – eh, what good are these few loaves, these two fish.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  He takes care of things.  He sees that people need to be fed – and so He feeds them.  He sees that Phillip and Andrew cannot, so He does for them.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.

          This is what we are to remember in our lives as well.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  Do you see your own sin – does it weigh heavily upon you?  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  He stretches His arms out upon the Cross and says, “Let me take that for you.”  Your sin isn’t your own any more – Christ Jesus has taken it from you.  The burden of it – He has taken it.  Yes, your sin is great.  It’s horrible and wicked.  There are probably things you are still kicking yourself for from long ago.  Christ died for that sin, and He has taken it from you.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  Flee to Him for refuge, confess your sin, and He is faithful and just, and will cleanse you from all, all your unrighteousness – even the big, dark, scary skeleton in the closet ones.  That is why He calls you to His house, week after week – to give you forgiveness – so that you know that the flaws and follies of the past week are done away with – put to death upon the Cross.  So that you receive His forgiveness and the confidence in His love that comes from forgiveness.

          It’s not a problem for Jesus.  This is what we are to remember when we think about the things that will come – the challenges that we will face, the seemingly insurmountable difficulties that will come.  It’s not a problem for Jesus.  He has claimed us in the waters of Baptism, He has joined Himself to us, we are His now.  Do you see and understand what this means?  You’ve sung since you were little.  Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.  It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  The Holy Spirit has made you His dwelling place – do you see what that means? Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  It’s not a problem for God.  He knows our lack, better than we do, in fact – and He is the one who provides us strength.  Consider what God gives to us in the supper.  This meal isn’t just symbolic play time – it’s not just us sitting back wistfully and thinking about good old Jesus.  Christ supports and sustains us in this life – He strengthens our weak, tired bodies with His own Holy Body and precious Blood.  In this sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given.  We are forgiven.  We are given life – life for today, life for tomorrow – Christ’s own strength to thrive.  All these things in our life that cause us consternation – they aren’t problems for Jesus.

          Jesus looked upon the 5000 with compassion and fed them.  Likewise, Christ looks upon you with compassion, and He takes up your burden and gives you His forgiveness.  “Hence all fear and sadness!  For the Lord of gladness, Jesus enters in. . . .  Thou art still my purest pleasure, Jesus, priceless treasure.”  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lent 3 Sermon

Luke 11:14-28 – Lent 3 – March 23rd, 2014
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          No one likes to feel helpless.  Most of the time, when I come across hurts and agonies and frustration, it’s over something that is beyond our control.  We like to be footloose and fancy free, not bound by fears or worrying about events that seem to be spiraling along without our say.  And as such, you aren’t going to like what I’m going to say here.  You are helpless.  That’s what Jesus shows us today.  Hear His Words:  When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are safe.  Do you hear the description?  The strong man is Satan, is the Devil, is Beelzebub, the prince of this world.  And he is armed, fully armed – ready for battle at a moment’s notice.  And do you hear what Satan is doing?  He is guarding his goods, keeping them for himself.

          In the garden Satan slithered in to God’s Kingdom, and by his wiles and deceit, the serpent stole God’s most prized possession.  He allured Adam and Eve into sinning.  And then something happened.  Adam and Eve realized that they were caught.  That they were trapped.  That things weren’t like what they were before.  Satan had claimed them as his own, and Satan has claimed their children, their descendants as his own as well.

          This means you.  In this life, Satan has bound you, has tied to you all the trappings of sin.  By sin we have been corrupted, and we are now spoiled.  Temptations cling to you everywhere you go.  Every part of your body now moves to all sorts of wickedness and evil.  Mouths that were made to praise God speak wickedness about the neighbor.  Eyes made to see the beauty of God’s creation look on others with lust, and jealousy, and envy.  Hands given to aid the neighbor instead work his harm, break and hinder, hurt and wound.  And against this, we of ourselves are helpless.  You know the words of the hymn – With might of ours can naught be done – soon were our loss effected.  Adam and Eve took of the fruit, and our loss was effected, it was done.  And Satan smiled in the garden, smirked with diabolical glee.  He smirked over Adam, and he smirked over you, for he knew that you would be powerless against him.  And so Satan stood, the ill-gotten prince of this world, usurping what was rightfully God’s.

          With might of ours can naught be done – soon were our loss effected.  But for us fights the valiant One, whom God Himself elected.  Hear again the Words of Christ Jesus our Lord.  When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own place, his goods are safe; but when one Stronger than he attacks him and over comes him, He takes away his armor in which he trusted and divides his spoils.  Satan was confident.  Satan was sure of his own strength.  His hold upon mankind was sure – no man was there who could defeat him.  This was Satan’s armor, his confidence.  But then, in the fullness of time, the Father sent His Son, Christ Jesus, into the world to take on human flesh, being born of the Virgin Mary.  And was made Man.  This is what we say in the creed.  And then suddenly, there was something Satan least expected – a Man who was outside of his control, who wasn’t his possession, who was not bound to sin.  And indeed, Satan tried to ensnare this one – tempted Him in the desert – but Christ would not bow to Satan.  And instead, our Lord fought.  All over Christ Jesus brought wreck and ruin to Satan’s kingdom.  Behold, a mute.  Satan has bound him, broken him for his own pleasure.  Christ heals him.  And Satan and his entire kingdom shudder at this, for they know that the Stronger Man is here, for this is no mere man, but this is True God and True Man.  For us fights the valiant one.  This doesn’t just mean that Jesus fights on our behalf, but rather that Jesus fights in order to win us.  Jesus takes on the strong man to steal his goods, to take us away from that serpent, to undo his theft in the garden.

          And this is done, finally, upon the Cross.  These opening salvos of Christ’s war upon the devil, these healings, these miracles – these were simply to let us humans know what was going on.  But it is there upon the cross that the mighty battle will take place.  It is there upon the Cross that the fray will be fully entered, as our Lord takes on Satan’s greatest strength – death.  And our Lord tangles with death, and our Lord emerges victorious – winning for us freedom from Satan and giving us salvation.

          And so many don’t get this; they don’t understand.  He casts out demons by Beelzebul.  People see what Christ does for them, and they call it wickedness.  They mock the Lord of Life by saying that He is a servant of Beelzebul, the lord of the flies, the master of the maggots of decay.  That’s what Beelzebul means.  Even today this happens.  Christ is put forth not as Savior, but simply a man who was kind and now lies rotted away in his grave.  This is what liberal so-called theology gives us.  And yet others miss the point.  Others, to test Him, kept seeking from Him a sign from heaven.  Signs there have been aplenty.  Even signs from heaven, as we saw at His Baptism.  And yet, some still resist.  Some would rather just watch a good show and be entertained than believe.  Some would rather sit and say, “Go on, give us another one” than rejoice in the forgiveness of their sin.  We get this today as well.  Which sells more – a book that talks about the wonders of forgiveness, or a book that tells you how you can get more blessings out of God, how you can demand for yourself new signs of heaven right into your pocket book?  Now, does all of this doubt and unbelief mean that Christ didn’t do His job?  Does it mean that He somehow messed up, didn’t quite get it right?  No, our Lord explains this in our text.

          When an unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, “I will return to my house from which I came.  And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order.  Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there.  Oh, make no doubt about it – Christ has done His work.  He has driven out Satan.  He has even put our house in order.  But what happens?  Some people end up being a very welcoming place for Satan.  Some people put at naught what Christ has done.  This is what Paul warns of us in the Epistle.  Freed from Satan, some choose to forsake Christ and return to their life of sin.  It happens, and it isn’t God’s fault.

          So what do we do?  What do we say now?  We see this danger, and it is a danger for us.  Paul warns us that we are to flee these sins.  We all still feel those strings Satan has tied to us, we all feel those temptations that the devil has tailor-made for us.  But listen again to what Jesus says of the cast out evil spirit – it passes through waterless places seeking rest.  Here is your hope.  You aren’t a waterless place.  Rather, you are very wet, for you have been washed in the waters of Baptism.  You have been drowned in the font, soaked in Christ’s righteousness.  Remember your Catechism!  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by DAILY contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  Baptism isn’t just an event of your past – rather, it is where you live.  Your life is lived from the font.  Your life is one of repentance.  Yes, daily my sinful desires are beaten down by the strength of God, daily I struggle against them, and daily I return to God for forgiveness.

          You see dear friends, Christ came not just to simply forgive you and walk away.  He’s not like some tent preacher who shows up, gets everyone fired up and saved, and walks off into the sunset never to be seen again.  Christ understands.  Christ understands that while you are yet in this flesh, until you undergo the resurrection of the body, Satan, though defeated, will still have his dirty fingers stirring the pot of your lives.  And so Christ Jesus doesn’t leave you.  He joins Himself to you in Baptism.  Unites Himself to you – and not just a long time ago when you were Baptized – but daily He comes to you. He comes to you in His Word, His Word of forgiveness that re-bolsters you against Satan.  He fills you with His Word over and over again.  He comes to you in His Supper – He gives Himself to you, His very own Body and Blood.  And why?  So that when Satan comes snooping around your door, he doesn’t find you empty, but rather sees you filled with the Lord of Life Himself.  You receive Christ in the Supper, and Satan flees in terror back into the waterless places of the world, for Christ is the Stronger Man whom he cannot resist.  You are the Stronger man’s own, and He is your strength and shield, and He defends you.  Remain steadfast in His Word, faithfully receive His Supper, so that you might not abandon him and be overcome.  Daily and often we need Christ to fill us, to return us to our Baptismal life, and daily and often He does this, He shapes and forgives and fills us again through His Church’s preaching of His Word and Administration of His Sacraments.

          Dear friends in Christ, you of yourself are helpless.  There are things in this life you can’t control.  That’s just the way it is.  But here is what also is true.  Jesus isn’t helpless.  Christ our Lord scatters the forces of Satan, and His feet march tirelessly to the Cross to win us forgiveness.  And Christ is tireless yet today – for He tirelessly comes to you and brings His forgiveness to you daily, so that you might rely solely upon His strength and shelter under His wings.  He is the Stronger Man, and He shall prevail over the hosts of hell for all eternity.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Just a Bit of Grammar Repeating...

Let us consider a word... say, "Justification".  The basic idea behind it is "just" or righteous, good, correct.  If you take "just" and add different ends to it, you get different words.  Add an "ly" and you get an adverb.  But when you add that "ification" to something - it means being made _____.  You know, like a FACTory makes something - same Latin idea.  Justification mean being made just.

So, we get that Christ is our Justification.  That He is the one who Justifies and is the Justifier (that -if- group of letter is related to making something).

Now... likewise, if we are talking about "Sanctification" we are then talking about how we have been made Holy.

Now, if we have been made holy, are there effects?  Sure!  But do my actions make me holy?

It's simple folks - the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, and sanctified me (oh, it's that -if- again!).

Let God take the credit for things.  Really.  Including your sanctification and your justification.  Just like we confess in the Small Catechism.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Do Not Taunt Happy Fun Law!

As long as I remain in this flesh, I remain a sinner.


That's the reality.  It doesn't matter how good I am, how much great advice I take, how much better I am now than I was back then.

I am a sinner.  I am a man of sinful lips who dwell among sinners.  Even if I'm nicer than them, this truth remains.  I am a sinner.

And yes, while I do delight in God's Law - I am yet a sinner.  (Thanks be to God that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us!)

Too many people forget this.  Too many people fall into the old Pharisaical trap - they water down the law into a doable checklist - they point to their own accomplishments and build their own self-esteem.  The treat the law as that good advice for moral living - a way to make their neighbors just as good and moral as they themselves are (well, SOME of their neighbors at least... many can't obtain THEIR level of holiness).

And thus, the Law is preached not as God's Law in its full sternness - instead it is treated like it is a Happy Fun Law.

Do not taunt happy fun law - because it's still the Law, however you want to try to water it down.  God is not mocked.  And the Law condemns.

Your "advice" kills people.  And yeah, they probably needed to be killed... the Law of God is good and necessary.  Daily the old, sinful flesh needs be drowned.

But we need life - we need the Gospel.  We need Christ Crucified and Christ risen for us!  If we are left with merely happy fun law... we are left dead.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lent 2 Sermon

Lent 2 – Matthew 15:21-28 – March 16th, 2014

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          One of the great myths, the sacred cows of society today is that we as a people have advanced, have evolved, have become better over the course of time – that we in our ever expanding wisdom know so much more than our pathetic forefathers did.  This is the myth of the modern world, that we are modern, that we are improving more and more and ever better and better.  I, though, am a historian, and to me, it is obvious that this is not the case, that we are no better morally than our grandfathers or our ancestors of 500 years ago.  I’m not going to say that we are getting worse all the time either – rather this.  Sinful fallen people remain sinful fallen people, and the same temptations we have faced since the days of Adam and Eve are the same ones which we face today.

          That is why we can understand the dangers shown in our Gospel text today; that is why the same lessons apply to us.  Two contrasting approaches to life are shown to us today in this text.  On the one hand we see people living life according to the world’s standards, judging by what the world sees as appropriate, good, and right – and on the other hand we see a person who lives by faith, trusting that God will do what is meet, right, and salutary.  These are the two options in the text, they are the same two options that we ourselves see, that we ourselves choose between, that we struggle with to this day.  Do we live thinking like the world, accommodating its sin, or do we instead in faith determinedly cling to Christ?

          And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus had been having a go around with the Pharisees and the Scribes prior to our reading – the Pharisees who thought that they were better than others because they kept their unique customs and traditions, the Scribes who would honor God with their lips but despise Him in their hearts.  And Jesus seemingly takes a break from having to deal with the Scribes and Pharisees, and He heads north to the coast – to a foreign land.  His disciples follow Jesus to this neighboring country, and then we have this most amazing pair of examples laid out for us.

          And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”  Now, this is fantastic and wonderful.  Behold how the gospel has spread!  Even in this foreign land, this woman has heard the Word of God proclaimed!  She knows who Christ is.  Did you hear her – she calls Him Lord, she acknowledges Him as God.  She calls Him Son of David – she acknowledges Him as the promised Messiah, great David’s Greater Son – even though she is a foreigner.  Think on that – Son of David – even though she is not a Jew, even though she has no pipe dreams of a Jewish kingdom.  In fact, an earthly Jewish kingdom would probably be bad for her, as the Canaanite people were viewed as little more than dogs by the Jews in Christ’s day.  But she has heard, and by that Word she was brought to faith, and in faith she calls out to Christ for mercy.

          Dear friends, there is nothing more beautiful, more wondrous than a person in faith calling out to God for mercy.  She gets it – she understands – she knows her need for the Savior and she knows who that Savior is.  This is the happy ending, the happy conclusion, the happy faith that we pray that all people throughout the world would come to.  But as always, with things in this life, sin can get in the way.  And we see this come up.  Note what Jesus does at first – But He did not answer her a word.  At first Jesus doesn’t say anything.  Now, at this point, many preachers, many more fine than me, will begin looking at this text as focusing on the need for a patient faith, for us to remember that God works on His own time table and not ours – that faith trusts that Christ will act in our best interests when He deems it best for us.  All of this is true.  We see this truth demonstrated often – we see it in the 10 lepers who head towards town and only as they are walking are they healed.  We see it again and again in the Scriptures – faith waits upon God, even when it seems God is silent.  But with this text, there is an interesting twist – when Jesus is silent, we hear the disciples fail.

          And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.”  They came and begged. . . they begged.  Send her away.  Get rid of her – she is annoying us.  Two prayers are set forth before Christ – one by this foreign woman who calls out for mercy, the other the haughty prayers of the disciples to do away with this woman.  I always feel a little shocked when I read this verse – I pray for a living, it is part of my duty as Pastor to see to the prayers of the Church, and this prayer of the disciples is vile and gross and wicked and evil.  Whereas they should have been rejoicing, whereas they should have glorified God that even amongst the people of Tyre and Sidon, the ancient enemies of Israel, their Lord and Master was acknowledged and believed in, they don’t.  And they fail.  Instead of praying for mercy, instead of praise, they show forth hatred and disdain.  And it wasn’t even as though she was complaining about something small and petty – none of her dresses fit right anymore or too much grey in her hair.  No, it’s a demon.  She wants help against a demon.  Still, the disciples would turn her away.  They would rather let a demon run rampant then have this poor woman aided.

          Why?  Why did the disciples show such disdain?  The reason is simple.  Instead of thinking like Christians, instead of viewing things in terms of faith, they were thinking like typical people of the world and following the world, they fail.  If you were born and raised a Jew at that time period, you would be born and raised to view Canaanites, and especially Canaanite women with utter contempt.  The disciples thought like people of the world, not as people of faith.  They failed.  I read this verse, and I am disgusted.  Then I think, and I am disgusted with myself as well.

          Do you think that we in Modern America are immune to our prejudices?  Do you think that we haven’t been taught to despise people on the basis of their race or nationality or color, or even gender?  Oh sure, we could point to the points where we here were the victims of it – we can go back to 1917 – back then in WWI the German churches around here weren’t too popular – but I would wager when it comes to bias, when it comes to hatred and anger – every one of us can give just as good as we get.  And who we hate can change.  What if I had showed up here 30 years ago in the middle of the cold war with a thick Russian accent – what would you have thought then?  Or if I were middle eastern today? Or what if Pastor Brown had shown up and he was actually. . . Brown.  And there are other things – how quick we can be to despise the poor or someone who just doesn’t “look” right, or if they have struggled with addiction, or if we hear that someone had done some jail time, or even if they come from “that” family.  Whatever it is, it seems the capacity of fallen man to show disdain and hatred is limitless. We too often can write people off just as quickly as the disciples do – and it’s wrong and vile.  We play the world’s games, we think along the way the people in the world do – and in so doing we fall in to great sin and hatred and vice and shame.

          Our Lord wants to contrast the difference between the hate of the world and the life of faith – He wants to show the disciples and us today how radically different the life of faith is from the attitudes of the world.  And so, He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”  Fine, you disciples wish to think you are high and mighty – so be it.  See, alright, is this the type of God you want?  Cold and haughty to others?  Then since you think she’s beneath me, you deal with her.  But the woman persists.  But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.”  And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  There, another answer of harshness, almost like one kid at school picking on another to fit in – is that what you crave disciples?  And a vile response at that – Jesus basically called her a female dog, you know what He called her.  Is that the type of God you wish for, o Disciples?

          But this woman, this faithful, faithful woman, she knows and recognizes the One True God as He is.  Our God is not a God of our petty hatreds but a God of steadfast love and mercy.  She knows that He will show mercy.   She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  Yes, Lord.  What powerful words of faith.  Amen.  That’s what she says – Amen, Lord, what you have said is true.  I am a dog, I am worthy of nothing, nothing which I ask of you.  There is no good in me that I should have rights to demand anything of You.  But you are the Master, and I know that when I hang around Your table crumbs will fall to me, and I will be satisfied by Your generosity.  You are the God of undying love, and You will show love even to unworthy me.  And Jesus confirms for us that this is the right answer, that this woman demonstrates our faith, for He answers her saying, “O woman, great is your faith!  Be it done for you as you desire.”  And her daughter was healed instantly.  Jesus recognizes and commends her faith – and puts the disciples to shame.

          This lent, we are focused once again on Repentance, for repentance is the life of faith.  Repentance beats down everything that would distract us from Christ’s Mercy.  This woman’s repentance was clear – she was not focused on the prejudices of the world, for the Canaanites were no fans of the Jews – she was not focused on her pride, but rather in faith confessed her sin and lack and unworthiness.  Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.  In faith she turned away from all these things and turned to Christ alone, seeking from Him alone mercy and salvation.  And Christ delivers.  Even over and against the powers of a demon, Christ delivers.  Of course Christ will cast out this demon, He is here to wreck havoc and chaos amongst Satan’s kingdom.  This is the battle He wages all this Lent, this is the battle that reaches its climax on Good Friday.  And throughout this season we are called to repent – to turn our eyes away from our sinful and selfish desires, from our hatreds and petty squabbles and to see with the repentant eyes of faith, to behold our Lord win us freedom from our sin.  When we look in faith, we will with repentant hearts confess our sins and call out to Christ for mercy, and then we will behold nothing but Christ, we will be as Paul, determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – for Christ is merciful, and He is determined to give you the gifts of life and salvation which He wins for you by His death upon the Cross.  And this He does for you without fail.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 13, 2014

That Old Bookstore Section

I know a lot of brick and mortar bookstores are closing down, and I now live 90 miles from the nearest Barnes and Noble, so I don't get to just wander a lot of large bookstores anymore (we have a Hastings in Enid, which is nice, with big tall shelves, so when you head to your Fantasy/Sci-fi section you can pretend the rest of the store doesn't exist).  But there was a trend which I had noticed back in the day when I'd know every Borders and B&N in the metro where I lived.  Two sections would always back up right against each other.

Self-help and Christianity.

And it used to annoy me in my younger days just how big the Self-help section would be -- of course the late 90s and early 2000s was the time, the era of self-help, when that was the trend.  When you read a book and it's supposed to give you 7 steps to making you a better you!

Of course, that also was the popular idea of what Christianity was.  Christianity was viewed as self-help + Jesus.  It wasn't just "do what this author says and you can make yourself _______"; Christianity was just "do what Jesus says and He will make you _________."

Not a large difference.  Still, not a lot of "Gospel" - not a lot of "this is what Jesus HAS done for you, and you ARE forgiven, you ARE a new creation, you ARE holy and precious in His sight."  Or if you got that, it was followed with a "but if you want to get the good blessings, toe this line...."

When I think of that trend, the height of it, I think of 1999 - the end of my time in college, just as I'm getting ready to go to Sem.

Now, let's jump 15 years forward to today.  When you are speaking about current LCMS theology, you really need to go back culturally 15 years, because LCMS "power" types are a bit slow.  Around 15 years slow.  We will inevitably get the "new" trend from the higher ups that are designed to "reach the peoples" that are already out of date (the 2010 or so "EXTREME" focus is a good example of this).  And even among the clergy, there will be those hitting their mid thirties or their forties, just starting to get established, and they will think of their glory days of College and Sem and when they first started out - and they will *know* how to FIX THE SYNOD --- by recycling what was trendy when they were a student.

I shudder to think how in 2030 there will be some watered down form of twerking... maybe "shake it for Jesus".  The cultural misappropriation surely has to known some bounds.

But, I digress.

Well, it seems as though the time to re-appropriate the late 90s self-help craze is upon us.  See, I remember being a young Lutheran in the bible belt laughing at all the then self-help craze.  It's not the gospel, it's all Law, Law, Law.  It's nothing about "me" doing stuff with a thin veneer of a cross-less Christ.  His death and resurrection was incidental - the resurrection of the dead was not looked forward to, instead it was the resurrection of my self-esteem and confidence.  The life now surplanted the life of the world to come as the basis of our hopes.

The good old days are here again.

Listen.  Read.  Watch.  And tell me if I am wrong - or are we not getting more recycled "here's the way you go about living" as the focus of Christianity taking the foreground.  Even as Christ is pushed to the corner - as we are getting ready to celebrate Easter, which most of our country seems to think is merely an excuse for colored eggs, jelly beans, and chocolate bunnies, are we redoubling our proclamation of Christ Jesus, died and risen for you - or is more and more of the talk about... you... your life, your moral improvement, how you can do better?

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion,  which will not be taken away from her.”

Except by preachers who have become Martha trying to relive the glory days.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Give Me A Big Enough Lever...

I wanted to name my son Archimedes.  Archimedes was a really smart man - and one of the quotes attributed to him (beside "Eureka!") is "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world."

Ah, the joys of physics and simple mechanics.  If there is a fulcrum, if there is length to the lever, you can move anything.  We love levers -- I'm a baseball fan.  Pitching - a lever.  Batting - a lever.  Great stuff.  Golf is all about levers.

We can love our levers too much when it comes to theology.  Our love of levers is why we disdain the Gospel.  The Law - man, that can be a pretty long lever -- and when you place it upon the fulcrum of guilt, or obligation, or duty - many, you can move people to do some crazy stuff. 
The Gospel provides no leverage upon one's neighbor. I can't use the Gospel to make *you* do anything... and thus to many it is of little use.  The Gospel provides for no manipulation.

The Gospel is not about shifting or moving you.  The Gospel is this:

Christ has died and risen for you - and thus you ARE forgiven.

That's not a movement, that's a simple reality.  You are forgiven, and in Christ you have life, both now in the face of sin and in spite of sin, and life everlasting when sin will be remembered no more.


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday – March 5th, 2014

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
The old adage is that if you want a conversation to say polite, there are two things you don’t talk about. Religion and politics! Of course, it seems like folks are still willing to talk up politics, given the popularity of Fox News and MSNBC – but discussions on religion and God and Jesus and faith have been… pushed aside.. Overall, Jesus doesn’t get a lot of mention in public discourse these days in our country, whether we’re talking about politics, the weather, the economy, education, life or death, or anything else, or if He does, it’s just a passing nod without really saying anything. Generally, Americans take their religious convictions to be private and personal.  Even otherwise devout Christians keep Jesus in that Sunday-morning box and bring Him up not at all the rest of the time - Pastor Hall, who used to be at Redeemer, would refer to this as “functional atheism”.

This differs entirely from the view expressed repeatedly in the Scriptures: Psalm 105 “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples”; or Psalm 96“Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!”. We who bear the name of the Lord are exhorted to confess it, to make know the reason for the hope that is within us. And yet, when the time comes, we can clam up, be silent.  What is the problem? Why do Christians speak of Christ Jesus, our God and Savior in hushed tones, even with one another? What has driven our speech about the Lord so far underground? Who did this to us?

There is no single answer to all these questions. Obviously, the devil has played his evil role, and he still plays it. The modern world has been mounting its attack on Christianity for a quarter of a millennium and more. Yet you may be surprised who else did this to Christians. In many ways, we’ve done it to ourselves.  We did it, and we continue to do it, when we take on habits of speaking about God and thinking about Him that simply trivialize him. We make Him out to be less than He is and to do so much less than He does. As a result, God ceases to be very important to us. Then He becomes so easy to brush off that it’s downright scary. He can be absent not only from our speech, but also from our hearts.

The modern world has no monopoly on trivializing God, though. We find it in the text. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus referred to three key elements of Jewish piety: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. Our Lord observed that folks would make a big show of the fact that they were giving alms. They would pray in the most public places so they could be seen quite readily. They would make themselves look terrible while they were fasting because they wanted others to notice them and sympathize with them. In short, as these people were engaging in all their religious acts, their thoughts hardly centered on God. Their intentions scarcely had the goal of praising Him. They were hypocrites, Jesus pointed out, like actors playing parts. The purpose of their piety was not for them to praise God but instead for them to use God for something they wanted: to be praised by people. They trivialized the great God to be noticed by mere humans. In the end that was all they got: “they have received their reward,” Jesus said repeatedly. Thus Jesus warned, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven”.

Think about church life today. “How many Christians have had their feelings hurt because they didn’t receive ‘the recognition they deserved’ for their service in the church? How many dollars would have been withheld if there had been no memorial plaque in honor of the person who donated the money Soli Deo Gloria, ‘to the glory of God alone’?” It is terrible to use God in an attempt to obtain approval from people. The approval may not follow. But it can be equally bad when the approval does follow, for the approval itself might grow to be the big prize in our eyes, and God ends up being pushed aside. It’s a hollow victory. You get your recognition, and that’s all.

This point applies more broadly; we can trivialize God in other ways to get what we want. Theologically shallow times can persuade us that God’s role in our lives amounts to making us happy or giving us some sort of fulfillment. If this is the way we start thinking, it won’t be long before we find that a nice vacation trip or exciting new job can also give us happiness and fulfillment. The nice warm bed on Sunday morning can give us rest and peace. And we are tempted to settle for that, and that is the reward we receive. The Lord offers us so much, yet in our sin we can settle for a great deal less. Then that’s all we’ll get.

The problem is unbelief, and under God repentance forms the only solution. He has not ceased to be the one with whom we must reckon. Before his judgment we stand, even now. Yet this almighty God remains our Father. The word “Father” is used of God ten times in the first eighteen verses of Matthew 6. He does not want us to be left as orphans. He is and wants to be our Father. He, the “Father of lights,” stands behind all blessings. From him comes “every good gift and every perfect gift”.

Still more, he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He sent his Son into the world and thereby loved the world supremely. Everything Christ did, he did so that he would be your Lord and so that God would be your loving Father. This includes—at the beginning of Lent we recall how it especially includes—Christ’s own suffering and death.

In fact, Jesus is single-mindedly fixed on the death and burial in which he would give his own life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28), for you. His death and burial stands at the heart of the Gospel. He wasted no time or thought trying to make these things look pretty. It didn’t matter whether his actions met with the approval of people wanting to serve their own purposes. Jesus stood out as different. He was determined to serve his Father. He was determined to do the Father’s will, rather than His own. All he wanted, for himself and for the world, was the approval of God the Father. That was all he needed, and it meant everything.

For a while it appeared impossible to get, when darkness covered the land and Jesus cried out that God had abandoned him (Mt 27:45–46). Yet this was part of carrying out the plan. Christ took your place. He died the death that you should die. St. Paul writes, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God”.  This all became clear on the third day, when the burial tomb was empty and the angel said, “Do not be afraid.” Jesus, who had been crucified, was risen as he said. The Father had approved. He approved of Jesus, and in his Son He approves of you.

There is nothing that tops this.  The world might hold out riches before us, our friends might threaten their disapproval if we get too religious-y on them, temptations might come aplenty, but the truth remains, Christ has died and risen for you, you are Baptized into Christ, and God is indeed Your Father, and in Christ, you are His beloved son, His beloved daughter.

And as a child will ask his father, so too you have been given the ability to call upon your Heavenly Father in prayer – indeed, your Heavenly Father wants you to pray to Him.  This is one of the most astonishing things in the world – God Almighty, Maker of all things, actually wants you to bring your requests to Him.  If we actually thought about this, it would astonish us.  How many of us might get a little tongue tied if suddenly talking to a judge, or a celebrity, or even just normal public speech.  And now, God Almighty says, “Go ahead and talk, I’m listening.”

This is why Christ Jesus teaches us to pray.  This is why He gives us the Lord’s Prayer.  He knows that prayer can be daunting, that often words fail us, that we get confused and lose focus.  And so, He teaches us to pray.  And the rest of this Lententide, we will be focused on the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.  Now, because we are doing a rotation, we’re going to jump around a bit.  Next week, Pastor Ray from Garber will preach on the 5th Petition, then Pastor Dorsch on the 1st, then Pastor Whittenberg on the 2nd, then Pastor House on the 3rd, and finally Pastor Orr on the 4th.  I’ll get to finish up the 6th and 7th on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  So, this Lent, we will mediate upon Christ Jesus, His love for us, and the wonderful gift of prayer that His love has won for us.  God be with you through these upcoming midweek services, as you grow and learn more of His love for you in Christ and His gift of prayer.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sermon for Quinquagesima

Quinquagesima Sunday – March 2nd, 2014 – Luke 18:31-43

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not understand.  Last week, Jesus quoted these words from the Old Testament to describe a lack of belief, a lack of faith.  And they seem quite apt for today’s Gospel lesson as well, for in today’s Gospel we see a contrast, a contrast between the disciples who hear but do not understand, and the blind man who sees more clearly than they do.  So, let us dive into our text and see what we learn today.

          And taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.’  Jesus speaks these words to the Disciples just before Palm Sunday – He is trying to prepare them for Holy Week and His own Passion.  And it’s not the first time.  In fact, this is the third time Luke records for us Jesus telling His disciples bluntly that He is going to have to die and rise.  This is why we are going to Jerusalem, this is what the entirety of the Old Testament is pointing towards.  Christ’s death and resurrection.  And Jesus spells it out for them: For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.  And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”  Everything we get starting Maundy Thursday through Easter, spelled out in detail.  All the things we will ponder in just a few weeks ourselves – what we confess in the Creed – and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.  He suffered and was buried.  And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures.  This is some of the basic stuff, this is the sort of thing for which we had been waiting for the Messiah to come.

          And the Disciples don’t get it.  But they understood none of these things.  This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.  They don’t get it.  Why?  Well, what had we heard last week – that Satan would come and snatch the Word away, and some would not understand.  And at this moment, that describes the Disciples.  What Jesus says to them is utterly incomprehensible.  It’s not how they want the story to go, it’s not what they want to happen, and it doesn’t matter if Jesus has told them three times, they still don’t want things to go that way.  Some of them were zealots, and they wanted the glorious revolution against Rome.  Some of them wanted at least power and respect amongst Jewish society, and having your Leader slaughtered doesn’t bring that.  Jesus doesn’t tell them what they want to hear.  And at this time – they blow Him off.  They have their own dreams, their own visions, and who cares what the Word of God has said, indeed, who cares what Jesus Himself says – He must just be confused because He isn’t describing the awesome life of power and success that I want.

          Be wary here, my friends in Christ, because this same temptation can be thrown against us.  How often are there things in Scripture that we don’t like?  And think about this?  How many times does the Word of God show you your sin, condemn you?  The Scriptures are very good at popping holes in the self-righteous bubbles we try to live in.  And it’s easy to ignore that.  It’s much easier to focus on and lament the things others are tempted towards, to focus on the sins of “those people”, and ignore the log that in is our own eye.  Or not just dealing with sin – but what of the Christian life?  Is the Christian life one of power and success and triumph because we are just such good people and we are buddy-buddy with Jesus?  Man, we are in like Flynn!  But then Jesus says, “take up your Cross and follow Me.”  St. Paul says that we are to be living Sacrifices.  That we are to suffer for the sake of the neighbor, that we are to serve them, even surrender our rights and not demand our own way.  This says nothing of my own personal power and glory – in fact, it calls me to be a servant!  We are taught that we are to love God and to love our neighbor – and in our sin, we don’t.  Of ourselves, we have not love, and we are nothing.  I have heard it said that as people we prefer affirmation instead of information – and when the Scriptures inform us of our sin, of our lack, of the fact that we do not control our lives and that there will be hardship, we can brush the Word aside.  We will instead run after any lie or false dream or vision that Satan whips up to affirm our sinful pipe dreams.  Thus is the way of our sinful flesh.

          In our text, the Disciples with their disbelief stand in stark contrast to a blind beggar just outside of Jericho.  As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging.  And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant.  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  The blind man sees.  He does.  His day doesn’t start with any grandiose pipe dreams.  He’s not plotting the downfall of the Roman Empire, or running all of Jerusalem.  He hasn’t asked to rule at Jesus’ right hand.  He doesn’t pretend his life is perfect and grand. No, what’s his day been?  Begging.  His wild hopes are, “hey, maybe I get enough food today.”  There’s no delusions.  And then he hears a crowd, and he hears that Jesus is coming.  And he does the only thing he can.  He begs.  He calls out to Jesus, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!  I am blind, but see me, Jesus, see me and show me compassion!  There’s no planning, there’s only the hopes for some mercy now that Jesus is here.

          That, dear friends, is who you are by faith.  You are one who has turned a blind eye to sin and your own delusions, and instead simply cry out to Christ Jesus for mercy.  There’s a reason why we sing over and over have mercy upon us.  There’s a reason it comes up in our prayers, over and over again.  Because in our lives, in our time here in this Church, in this place, we are being trained to see God’s mercy.  To seek His forgiveness, His strength, His righteousness, His life.  Luther’s last words were that we are all beggars before God.  It is not that God needs us, nor that He owes us anything because we are just such good people, but rather we are those who repent, who understand the wretchedness of our sin, our flesh, and the world, and who by the power of the Spirit seek mercy from Christ.

          And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.  That’s a tough crowd.  You don’t even have the gawkers thinking, “Holy cow, we’ve got a blind guy here, maybe Jesus will heal him!”  Eh, just be quiet.  They hear his pleas for mercy, his cries for help, and there is no love that wells up with in them, no compassion, no pity.  Rather, simple disdain.  And let’s face it – what do we often receive in this world?   The same disdain.  What happens when we live as though we believed that we were actually poor miserable sinners?  We face disdain, we face the rebuke of the world.  Our faith is mocked, and folks wish we would just shut up with our talk of sin, with our talk of needing mercy.  But He cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”  He is not put off.  Neither false dreams nor the scorn of men stop him – again and again he cries out for mercy.

          And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him.  “What do you want Me to do for you?”  He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.”  This is a bold request… but it’s a simple one.  Let me recover my sight, let my body work again, let me be relieved of the impact of sin upon me.  Fix me.  Make me whole.  And Christ responds, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.  And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.  And Jesus heals the guy.  And the guy can see and he praises God.  Simple and straight forward.  And, dear friends, it is what happens to you.  And no, don’t worry, Pastor Brown isn’t going to go all faith-heally blawhbalahwalaha here.  What are you asking of God when you ask for forgiveness?  What is Jesus giving you when He forgives your sin, when He gives you His Body and Blood in His Supper?  Let’s remember our Catechism:  What is the benefit of this eating and drinking?  These words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

          When Christ forgives you, you are given life.  Life now.  Now, will that normally show up as eyes that couldn’t see seeing again, or ears that didn’t work suddenly working again.  Eh, most likely not.  But you do have life.  You are filled with Christ’s life, with His love, and that spills out through you.  You do have life – and there will come a time when your aches and pains will go away, when your eyes, your ears, or whatever else doesn’t work will work again – and that is on the Last Day, when on account of Christ you will rise whole and perfected and follow in His train singing His praises.  You are forgiven, life and salvation are yours – and some things we see now, but much we will have to wait to see, to know, to experience.  Because this is the promise that Christ made to you – not that you would not have to struggle against sin – while you are in this life, you are going to have to fight and beat down your sin daily.  Nor has Christ promised you earthly wealth or power or might.  Rather, He has promised you that your sins are forgiven and will be remembered no more, that the power of death and the grave is broken, and that you will rise to be with Him for all eternity in your resurrected body.  This is the hope that He has given you, this is His promise to you.

          And so dear friends, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight.  We are called to beat down our own sinful desires and to ignore the false hopes and dreams the world or our flesh will parade before us.  Rather, we are called to be beggars, beggars who call out to Christ for mercy and await His love and goodness to us.  He will not fail in showing this love to you, for indeed, as we will see in the next few weeks this Lententide, He will fight and beat down Satan and sin and even death itself, so that He may with great love give you life eternal.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the light of the world + Amen.