Saturday, October 31, 2015

Reformation Day Sermon

Reformation Day - October 31, 2015 - John 8:31-36

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit+
Tonight we celebrate and observe Reformation Day. Why? Yes, yes, on October 31st, 1517 Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, really giving a start to what becomes known as the Protestant Reformation. But why do we observe this day? I ask because there is a very wrong way to think about Reformation Day, to think about the Reformation. You see, the idea of reform in the Church is nothing new. Read Paul’s epistles. 1st and 2nd Corinthians are calls for that Church to reform. Looking at Church history, I can find calls for reform in every Century of the past 2000 years. What makes this one, the one we celebrate tonight different? Why do we observe it?

Was it that Luther relied simply upon the Word of God? Well, that’s true. Luther does rely simply upon God’s Word, and much of his calls for reform were simply calls to be focused on the Word – but there are other reforms like that. When they wrote the Nicene Creed in the 4th Century, that too was a reform of the Church that relied simply upon the Word of God as the source of truth – “and rose again according to the Scriptures.” In fact, any good “reform” in the Church in any age and place relies simply upon the Word. No, the thing that distinguishes the Lutheran Reformation from all others is what Dr. Luther wrote with Thesis number 1. The 95 Theses start this way: “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” There it is. That is the difference – our reformation is not a single event, but an entire life.

Many reformers have come in the History of the Church, and they have had their plans for fixing things. I could talk about many in detail – Wycliffe and Hus and Gregory the Great and Leo IX, or after Luther you have folks who found other denominations, like Calvin or Wesley. All with their plans for fixing things. All seeing problems in the Church and saying, “Ah, if we do this, it will fix things.” Plenty of reformers came up with plans to fix things, some good, some bad. The Nicene Creed is good reform, it eliminated a lot of heresies. However, new ones just popped up afterwards, many even worse. Some of the reforms folks dreamed up weren’t so good. In 1049, Pope Leo IX saw that too many of the clergy were living scandalous lives, so he said, “That’s it, priests can’t get married anymore.” Priests not being allowed to marry has been around less than 1000 years, less than half the history of the New Testament Church – it was plan to fix things, but it hasn’t removed scandal. Or in the 18th Century, John Wesley thought if we just gave simple guidelines to follow, a simple method, we could perfect people – and you get the Methodist Church. Didn’t make perfect people. All too often reforms come about with the idea that when it happens the Church will be fixed and it’s all good. In fact, this is sometimes the view we can be tempted to take of our own reformation, as though when Luther nails the 95 Theses on the door he “won” and everything was fixed.

“When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Here is the Lutheran difference. For Luther, there was no sense of fixing the Church and then it is done, no restoring the Church to some mythical pristine state. Luther was a student of Scripture, a student of history, and someone with keen insight into his own spiritual condition, and as such he saw one truth that stands out clearly. Satan and sin are always trying to destroy Christians and the Christian Church – trying to enslave us to sin, trying to make us fall, to stumble, to forget what we know. And because of this, we the people in the Church, from youngest to oldest, lay and clergy alike, are always, always in need of repentance, always in need of Reform.

Reformation Day ought not simply be a celebratory day for the past, but it ought also be a day where we consider our own lives, where we consider what reform and renewal is needed for us. Until we reach heaven, until our bodies are raised on the last day, we will always need to live lives of repentance. Why is this? Hear what our Lord says in John 8. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” While you live, Satan and your own sinful flesh will keep trying and trying to get you to fall into sin, to get stuck in things worse and worse, to trap you in slavery to sin. This is happening to you now. So I will ask you – what sins tried to ensnare you this week? How was Satan trying to shackle you, to make you less than who you ought to be this past week? Now there’s too many options to mention here, too many sins with which Satan can try to allure you. Are you being tempted to do things that you know are wrong and being trapped that way? Are you being tempted to not act, being tempted towards complacency, not doing the good that you know you ought, and thus trapped that way? Are you being tempted to ignore Christ, to think less and less about His love for you, to put off or minimize the things of Jesus and His Church? Are you being tempted to focus more and more on the world, on stuff, on mammon, on the idols of your own devising and desiring? Yes. These are ways in which Satan attacks you constantly – and as for the specifics, I don’t them, but Satan tailors them to you, to try to appeal to you, to try to shackle you in sin again and again and again. And as you are sinful, his shackles are always somewhat appealing.

Thus, every Reformation Day is a call to repentance. Repent. Turn away from these temptations. Don’t simply assume that you are doing fine, that everything is hunky dory. Don’t be tempted to assume that a quick little dab of spiritual duck tape, the latest book with 12 steps to having whatever it is that they are selling will simply fix things and then you will be done. As long as you live, your life will need to be one of repentance, for Satan your foe crouches like a prowling lion, ready to pounce. Sin lies crouching at your door, and it is easy to fall. Repent. Seek out your sin and turn away from it.

But turn to where? When you see your sin, when you see your struggle – and if you see your sin you are going to see struggle, because the simple fact is we tend to like our pet sins, we like to give into them, and it is a struggle to break them down – when you see these things, where do you turn? Our Lord says “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth with set you free.” The cure, the solution, the strength for struggle, the shelter and protection you have been given is the Word of God. And what makes this Word of God so good at protection? Because the Word of God gives you Christ Jesus Himself. Think about this – Jesus says that when you are in the Word, you are His disciples, you are learning and following Him. He says that when you are in the Word, you will know the Truth. This isn’t just “truth” as in you will know neat little facts – a few chapters later in John Christ our Lord says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Your solution, your hope, your salvation is Christ Jesus Himself – and where do you find Jesus, where can you be sure that He is present for you, present to forgive you, to restore you, to reform and reshape you after Satan and the world have done their best to wear you down? Where your Lord has promised to be – in His Word, whether that Word is read and proclaimed, whether that Word is attached to water in His gift of Baptism, whether that Word is attached to bread and wine so that our Lord can give you His own Body and Blood thereby. Abide in the Word – not simply so that you know more stuff – but when you Abide in the Word of Christ you abide in Christ – and it is Christ Jesus who gives life, Christ Jesus who wins victory for you over Satan, Christ Jesus who is your mighty fortress who wins victory for you where with might of yours could naught be done. A Christian is simply one who continually is turned away from sin and unto Christ.

Every call to repentance, every call to turn away from sin, every preaching of the Law of God, must be accompanied by the proclamation of the Gospel, the proclamation that Christ Jesus, with His perfect life, death, and resurrection has won you salvation, has freed you from the power of the devil, has given you new life, given you strength for your fight against evil, has forgiven you and cleansed you from your sin. And this is a continual thing. This is something that is to shape your entire life here on this earth. You will always need Christ and His Word of forgiveness to defend and protect you from Satan, for the Devil never stops seeking your downfall. Our lives are not like a football game, where the referee blows the whistle and then suddenly Satan stops and says, “Oh well, I guess I can’t try and tackle you anymore.” Satan doesn’t fight fairly or politely. And we are worn down, battered and bruised by his assaults. To you who are bruised and battered by sin, Christ Jesus our Lord comes, and He speaks a Word of forgiveness and life. You are forgiven and have life in Christ. He calls you to abide in Him by calling you to His table, where through His Supper He will abide in you. Over and over and over our Lord gives you life and forgiveness, to defend you against Satan, to reshape your heart that Satan continually tries to break. His love for you endures, and He will always reshape you, reform you through His Word.

We call this day Reformation Day because of specific historical events. And that is a good and fine thing – I’m never going to knock talking about History, and especially Church History. But in reality, every Saturday or Sunday, every worship here, every time the Baptized children of God are gathered around God’s Word and Preaching, every time we come to the Supper and receive Christ’s life giving Body and Blood, it is Reformation Day, for through these means, through His Word and Sacraments Christ Jesus our Lord takes us and reforms us, reshapes us, renews us so that we would continue to remain in Him despite the attacks and assaults of the devil. Our old evil foe now means deadly woe – but for you fights the valiant One who God Himself Elected, Christ Jesus – He fought for you upon the Cross, and He fights in you and for you now through His Word, through the grace He gave you at your baptism, and through His Supper. God grant to us continual reform all the days of our lives until we reach the new life of the resurrection on the Last Day. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. +

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Today's Sermon

22nd Sunday after Pentecost - October 24/25, 2015 - Mark 10:46-52

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Dear friends in Christ, our Gospel text for this morning is the last thing that Mark records for us before Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jericho is the last big town before you hit Jerusalem - it's Jericho, then Bethany (which is basically a suburb), and then Jerusalem. After this, it's on to Holy Week and the cross for Jesus. If you want to think of it this way, this little passage is the apex, the last big hurrah of Jesus' preaching and teaching - what comes next is His passion. And so in a way this is the last thing Mark wants to focus us on before shifting us to passion week - this is what His passion is all about, what it is all for. So let us ponder this text together.

"And as Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside." So there's a great crowd with Jesus - and they are starting to get excited. One of the things to remember is that there was a certain Messianic fervor that was whipped up - people were waiting and hoping that there would be a Messiah who would come, who would march upon Jerusalem and basically take care of those wicked, evil Romans. This is an almost militaristic procession - think about it, even a few of the disciples were armed with swords. You could even almost call this great crowd a mob - that's the mentality. And as they are marching along the road to Jerusalem, thery by pass by a blind man. Bartimaeus. And he is begging, and he's doing what beggars have always done. He's got a good spot picked out where lots of people go walking by. There's a reason panhandlers work the busy intersections in Chicago, not the corner of maple and main in Herscher. And so there Bartimaeus is, and he hears the crowd, hears heavy traffic. And more than that.

And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And there it is. There is the cry of faith. Last week we heard Peter begin to talk all about the great stuff he had done for God. Not so Bartimaeus. The blind man cuts to the chase. He's not worried about measuring his own works or deeds. He's not looking for cash or power on earth. He's not even thinking about the glorious revolution where we drive out the Romans. Simply this - have mercy on me.

We hear that word "mercy" a lot in the Scriptures. We speak it a lot - there isn't a service in this hymnal where we don't echo Bartimaeus' words and cry out to God for mercy. But what is mercy? Mercy is simply this - a gift, freely given, no strings attached, to aid or help someone. It's not mercy if there's some sort of deal - you wash my back then I'll wash yours down the road is not a plea for mercy. And the reason our liturgies, the prayers of the church teach us to call out for mercy is because we have such a hard, hard time thinking in terms of mercy, or even believing in mercy. The world doesn't work on mercy - the world works tit for tat. The world works on bargains and cutthroat deals. Buy low, sell high, and in fact, to the world's understanding, if someone is desperate and you can charge them more, then they are at your mercy. That's mercy to the world - look at someone and then make them jump through hoops before you help them. But that's not what Bartimaeus is calling for. He's got no hoops he can jump through, no tricks he can do. Instead, he in desperation calls out to Christ Jesus, the Son of David - mercy.

And the crowd doesn't like it one bit. "And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent." Keep quiet, beggar boy! You are ruining our celebration. Yeah, the Son of David is coming, the new King is here, and he's not here to deal with the likes of you; he's here to go kill some Romans! Mercy? We want revenge that we'll call justice! We want murder and mayhem and theft and spoils that we'll call glory. And you, you blind beggar, you can't help with that at all. You're just a bump in the road, to be shouted down, to be avoided. Sound callous? Let me pose a scenario. What if, next Labor Day, while we are having our wonderful, celebratory parade, some scrubby, dirty panhandler from Chicago makes his way down here, plants himself at the corner of third and maple, right on the corner of the church property, and during the procession he starts wailing and begging? How many of you would be inclined to shush him? Or drag him away? Call the cops on him? We want to be happy and celebrate, you are bringing us down, man! That's the same thing that folks do to Bartimaeus - just shut up, this isn't your day, it isn't your parade, He's not the Son of David for you, He's our king, not yours.

It doesn't stop old blind Bart. He keeps crying out - "But he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!'" The racket continues. And then we hear this. "And Jesus stopped..." There's the hinge - the parade has paused, it's such a ruckus that things stop in their tracks. What will happen? Okay, we're Christians, we get that Jesus is going to heal the fellow, but look at what Jesus does - He never passes up a chance to teach. "And Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'" Call him. Speak to him. Not shout him down, but you very folks who were dismissing Bartimaeus and looking down on him; you go talk to him and bring him to me. Jesus doesn't just stop in front of Bartimaeus and walk up and heal him, ignoring the crowd. No, Jesus makes the crowd bring Bartimaeus. "And they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take heart. Get up; He is calling you.'" How beautiful. This is the first fix, the first healing that Jesus does today. Jesus pulls those words of anger and disdain off of the crowd's lips, and makes them to speak words of grace and mercy. Oh Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare your praise.

This, my dear friends, is something that is near and dear to our hearts as Lutherans, part of what defines us, shapes us. As this weekend is the last Sunday in October, many of our fellow congregations are observing the Reformation today - since Reformation day is next Saturday, we'll have a full service for it - but I'll touch on it now. We see reformation right here in this text. The Reformation is simply this. Christ Jesus takes His Word and shapes and reforms us to where our words and thoughts are no longer aligned to our wants, whims, or desires - because you know what? Our wants and whims and desires are often foolish, bad for us, bad for our neighbor, down-right wicked. And instead of those, by His Word and Spirit, God reforms us to where instead of our own words, we speak His Word. Create in me, a clean heart O God, renew a right Spirit within me! Jesus reforms the crowd by His Word. But, more on that next Saturday night at 7 - and I encourage you all to attend that service as well.

And only after dealing with the crowd does Jesus' attention shifts to Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus is brought to Him, and Jesus asks, "What do you want Me to do for you?" Now, we miss the contrast, because we jumped over Mark 10:37 - but John and James have just asked for power, to be seated 2nd and 3rd in Jesus' Kingdom. The mob is marching with Christ, looking for power and might. And then there is blind Bartimaeus, who sees more clearly than any of them. "And the blind man said to Him, 'Rabbi, let me recover my sight.'" Rabbi, that I see again. That I can open my eyes and see you face to face. That is what Bartimaeus asks for - literally. The word he uses means both to see again and to look up at someone. Let me see You, Jesus! "And Jesus said to him, 'Go your way; your faith has made you well.'" This is one of the verses we can mishear in modern English. We hear that phrase "your faith" and think it talks about the quality of belief, how well a person believes. You believed really, really hard, so therefore you are well. Nope. Not the point. The point is the object of that faith, what you believe in. What did Bartimaeus believe? Not that Jesus was going to kill a bunch of Romans, not that Jesus was going give him money out the wazoo. Bartimaeus' faith was this this - I know that my redeemer lives - that I shall see him with my own eyes. Yes, Bartimaeus, your Redeemer does live, and He brings restoration with Him.

"And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him on the way." Go my way, Jesus? My way is to follow you, and I'll still call out for mercy, I'll still need your love freely given, for though my eyes can see, I still am a sinner, I am still mortal. I will need forgiveness and resurrection and eternal life. And with that, Mark moves to the triumphal entry, Palm Sunday, where Jesus goes into Jerusalem, goes to the cross for Bartimaeus, for you.

What then shall we say? What shall we add here? There is Christ, on His way to actually be our Great High Priest, to suffer humiliation and death so that He may give us restoration and life. This is something the world cannot understand. Indeed, the world will revile this, speak out against it, mock it, try to shout it down. Indeed, even our own sinful flesh cannot grasp it - we are by nature sinful and blind to the things of God. But God has given you the gift of faith, even as Bartimaeus was blessed with faith well before his eyes were healed - and thus you see your Savior, you see His sacrifice to win you forgiveness, you see and even call out for mercy. And when you err, His Word brings you forgiveness and mercy again, and we learn to cry out for it together. Thanks be to God for his great mercy unto us. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Friday, October 23, 2015

Vocation, Power and Duty

Sometimes I don't wonder if there hasn't be a shift in how we as Lutherans (at least in the US) end up addressing many social issues of the day.  This can come up in economic discussions concerning welfare, or domestic issues - how husband and wife interact.  It comes up a lot in discussions on roles of women in the church.  It comes up in discussing pastor-congregation relations.

We've adopted a language of power.

I remember several years ago there was a conference on pastors and congregations with the subtitle "Who is in Charge Here".  That's power language.  Or we will introduce language about rights - what are the rights of various members -- or has this person infringed my rights?  Again - that's a power sort of angle - what powers are (or ought to be) inherently mine?

It makes sense that we would adopt this sort of language: we are Americans.  This is our political language.  We talk about Democracy - power to the people.  We have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution.  Politically, I lean libertarian - I'm all about rights and the limits of power.

But ponder this with me.  We are Lutherans.  The Catechism never delineates our rights or power.  It's not a language of power... it's a language of duty.  The Catechism doesn't have a table of powers - it doesn't delinate the powers of a pastor and the powers of the hearers... what does a pastor owe his congregation and vice versa.  It's the table of duties.

Or even consider the 10 commandments.  Let's pick 9 - You shall not covet your neighbor's house.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbor's inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right (obtain it by a show of right), but help and be of service to him in keeping it.

It's not about your rights... in fact, even if you have rights, who cares about that - your job, your duty is to help and be of service to your neighbor.

Wow... that's actually "get your legalese rights talk out of here and go love your neighbor instead."

There was a reason Paul surrendered his rights.  He understood his duty.  Maybe we would be served well to stop thinking about power, about who is in charge, and rather focus on the duties our vocations bind us to.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

21st Sunday after Pentecost

21st Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 10:23-31 - October 17/18, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Now, remember, last week we had the rich, young man who was so eager to please Jesus - oh, Jesus I want to follow you. At least he was eager until Jesus said he should give all his stuff away to the poor. Then, he goes away sorrowful, for he was very rich. But he missed the point. The point of the Christian faith, it's goal, is not to get earthly treasure - in fact, we confess that all this earthly stuff is just dross that will fade away. Rather, we are looking forward to the resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come. This poor rich guy couldn't see that yet, and he walks away sorrowful. And as he walks away, our Gospel lesson today begins: "Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, 'How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!'"

And this is the point where sadly, all too often, we just sort of shrug our shoulders. Eh. Okay, well, that's... something, I guess. But it's got nothing to do with me, not my circus, not my monkeys. Maybe Donald Trump or Bill Gates ought to be worried. I mean really, how many of us squirmed when we heard this text? Because there are texts that make us squirm - and this one, boy did it make the disciples squirm: "And the disciples were amazed at His words." It made the disciples drop their jaws in utter amazement. What in tarnation are you saying, Jesus? Because this statement shocked the disciples to their core. Because, in their hearts they knew and expected that good service to God would mean earthly power and glory, especially when Jesus set up His earthly kingdom and showed those ungodly Romans who was Boss. As evidence of this - a few verses after our lesson, Mark 10:37 (which we'll skip over next week for some reason) - James and John ask Jesus, "Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left hand, in Your glory." When we get to Jerusalem, and you run things, we want positions 2 and 3 behind you, because we've earned it -- unlike Peter or the 9 who couldn't cast out that demon a few weeks ago, we haven't messed up - we should get top billing... and power, and riches. And they ask this even after Jesus says, twice, how hard it will be for the folks having wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven. Even after hearing the whole "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God" - they still ask for earthly power and might and wealth. Doesn't it seem shocking? That they would be so brazen?

No... it doesn't. Because we are just as bold and brazen as they are. Here's the hinge of this text for us - we Americans are the rich. We are. We're not in some 3rd world hovel. We have stuff in spades. How many of you in this room have a legitimate worry that you will starve to death this winter? Or are down to two sets of clothing and they are starting to wear out fast? See, the problem is, while we are rich, we live in the land of the Super rich - so we compare ourselves to them... naw, I'm not rich. Yet let me ask the question - how often does money or wealth influence and shape your decisions and thinking rather than what God in His Word has said is good and right? Well, I know I probably should give a good offering to the church... but you know, there's that new doodad that's coming out...? Well, I could stand to help out that poor guy over there... but my kids want one of those doohickeys, so I better look out for them... besides, if they are poor, it's probably their own fault! Why should I reward them, they'll probably just blow it on booze or drugs because they are bad poor people and I'm a good little Christian... and there it is. How often in our minds, in the back of our heads do we equate being a good Christian, being a good person, with wealth? If I work hard - I should have money. If I am smart - I should have money. If I keep my nose clean - I should have money. And if someone has more than me - then they are more successful than I am... think on that - we measure success in dollars - not in terms of virtue, or kindness, or goodness, but in dollars. That's how we keep score. We are the rich.

"Children, how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God." We know this verse - we smile and nod. Yet how often does wealth and money sit at the back of our head, like a seductive tyrant, ready to shape the way we look at everything? How often even in the Church even does money become an issue, a point of contention and even anger? At least the disciples are more honest when they are astonished at this, when they wonder, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus, we know the way the world works - everyone wants more stuff. Everyone wants more money. There's not a single one of us in here who, if our income were suddenly cut in half, wouldn't be complaining up a blue streak. I mean, we can get angry if we get passed over for a raise, or if Social Security doesn't give us a cost-of-living bump.... And yet, how often does Christ teach us to be content with whatever we have -- there's a reason He has us pray for Daily Bread, daily necessities, not more stuff. There's a reason He points to the lilies of the field or the Birds of the air. If love of money is a sin, is a root of all sorts of evil - who then, Lord, can be saved?

"Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.'" You want a sign of how corrupted we are by greed? How often have you heard people use that phrase "for all things are possible with God" tied not to salvation, but to their big awesome plan for more stuff? Do you see - it really is impossible for man. Yet there's the wondrous truth - the One who says this to you is no mere Man, but He is True God and True Man, even Christ Jesus the Lord. Christ Jesus had no love of money, no idolatry of wealth. He never butters up the rich and powerful; instead He turns over the moneychangers' tables. He doesn't worry about keeping up with the Joneses - foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest His head. So be it - for He came to this earth not seeking His own wealth, His own leisure, but He came seeking to win you salvation with His death and resurrection upon the Cross. It is always, always about what Christ Jesus does for you.

And yet, in the back of our mind, we still want to think in terms of power and wealth - if I do good, God will pat me on the head and give me stuff. Here's Peter piping up - "Peter began to say to Him, 'See, we have left everything and followed you.'" Peter began. Did you catch that? Peter starts up with the same old song and dance, what a good boy am I! And Jesus cuts Peter off - "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for My sake and for the Gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life." Did you catch it? At first it sounds like a nice little reward - I do something nice for God and I get rewarded a hundredfold in this life... awesome. Um... wait... did you say with persecutions? Persecutions?

What Jesus here is describing is the reality of the Christian life in this fallen world. There is a cost to discipleship. If you are a Christian, you are going to tick people off. Friends will mock and revile you. You will end up passing up on various opportunities because you know that they are wrong. Doing the things you are called to do as a Christian in this world will bring you earthly hardship and sorrow. Yet even in that sorrow, you do have brothers and sisters a hundredfold - I'm an only child, yet how many of my brothers and sisters in Christ do I see sitting in front of me right now? If I go on vacation, how many different houses of God could I enter and be welcomed as a brother in Christ - more than hundreds, thousands. This is the reality - you have been called by God into His Kingdom, into His Church. And this is a place where things are not focused upon what you do, what you have done. No - here we are all forgiven sinners, all washed in the Blood of the Lamb, all Baptized into Christ. Here we approach the Lord's Altar and enter into Holy Communion - and not just Communion with God... but Communion with one another... and when I say one another I don't just mean the folks you can turn around and see right now - I mean the one another of all time and all places, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. These things are impossible for us to wrap our minds around, but God has made them not merely possible but the truth, the reality. Your life is more than just the rat race you see out there - you have been redeemed and purchased by Christ for life everlasting. You are God's own precious children - Jesus Himself left His house, He let His brothers and mother think He was nuts, He forsook gathering children and lands - so that He would have you as His brother, His sister, in His house, in His Kingdom for all eternity.

"But many who are first will be last, and the last first." My dear friends, indeed, my brothers and sisters in Christ, who are mine for all eternity - as you go on your way this week, beware of that greed, that desire for money that clings to your sinful flesh. It seeks to dominate you, to twist you, to make your life miserable. Rather, remember this - you are more than your bank account, you are more than your stuff. You are something utterly wonderful - a redeemed child of God - and this is not based upon what you have done. This is not like the fallen world where your value is based upon what you do... no, though you are indeed a miserable sinner, the last, the lowest - Christ Jesus has come, and He has suffered and died for you, He has risen for you, He has sacrificed all to claim you as His own, and He makes you to be first in Him for all eternity. You have in Christ wonders and blessings our sinful minds can't even wrap our heads around. When temptation comes and weighs heavy upon you, especially fears about stuff, or lack of success or any of that junk - you are Baptized, Christ Jesus has brought you into His Kingdom; you belong to Christ for eternity, a co-heir with Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and you shall delight in His good reign for you in His kingdom for all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

20th Sunday after Pentecost

20th Weekend after Pentecost - Mark 10:17-22 - October 10/11, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Our Gospel lesson begins with a few subtle words that give color and shape to the rest of our lesson, something we might miss. "As [Jesus] was setting out on His journey...". His journey? What journey is Christ on? This is fantastic - He's journeying to Jerusalem. He's headed to the Cross. Last week we heard He reentered Judea; two weeks from now we will see Him in Jericho. So Mark reminds us of this wondrous little point - even while Jesus is having the conversation with the fellow here (who is often called "the rich young man"), Jesus is thinking about His own death and resurrection for this young man, for us. So, let's look at this text, but just keep in the back of your mind Christ's death and resurrection - because I'm sure we'll get back to that before the sermon is over.

"A man ran up and knelt before Him and asked Him, 'Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'" What a strange question. What does a person do in order to inherit anything? I mean, if I inherit something, it's not that I *did* anything... it's that someone who loves me died and left me stuff. I mean, I shouldn't be doing anything to inherit - I certainly shouldn't be making someone die so that I can get their stuff. This is why the younger son in the parable of the Prodigal was so heinous - dad, give me half of your estate now; I wish you were dead already and I had your stuff now. But the guy who asks this of Jesus is nice and zealous, seems eager to work, eager to please. And that's what Jesus calls him on.

"And Jesus said to him, 'Why do you call Me good? No one is good but God alone.'" So, fella, are you thinking getting eternal life is going to be based upon what you do, upon how good you are? Well, guess what? If it is - you are in trouble, because no one is good except for God. Now, you happen to be in luck, because Jesus is God, and He is good... but that's not really what the rich fellow is saying, is confessing yet. He was right to call Jesus good, but he didn't know what he was saying. He wasn't confessing Jesus as the Christ - he was just buttering Him up a bit. And so Jesus continues: "You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not bear false witness, dot not defraud, honor your father and mother." You see guy, if you are going to ask a question about what you should do, it's always going to drive back to the commandments. And I'll let you guys in on a secret - if you ever ask me what you should do, I'm going to point you back to the commandments, possibly even with their meanings from the Catechism. That's not just for kids - that's for all of us, they should be shaping and informing what all of us do.

And this fellow talking to Jesus, he paid attention to his own catechism lessons back in the day. "Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth." This is a translation that just sounds bad in English - it sounds arrogant. His answer wasn't. That word that we translate as "keep" is "ephulaxamen" -- a phulax is a guard, a watchman. He's not sauntering up to Jesus and saying, "I'm the bee's knees, Jesus" - he's saying, "I've paid attention to the commandments since I was little." What he says here is no more arrogant than if one of you were to say, "Yeah, I remember Pastor Royer teaching me the commandments; in fact I keep wanting to say 'thou shall' instead of 'you will.'" And the fellow learns - just calls Jesus teacher this time. Teacher didn't like the "good" added on, I'll not use it. He's an attentive, sincere fellow.

"And Jesus, looking at Him, loved him, and said to him, 'You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow Me.'" If you ask about what you should do, there's always more to do. So here it is: if you wish to follow Jesus where He is going, sell your stuff and go. Because Jesus loves the kid; he's just a great little devout boy. You can come along. Yet - "Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions." Now, this will actually be what we discuss in detail next Sunday, because Jesus will springboard off of this onto a larger discussion about wealth and greed and power - but Jesus found the sticky point, didn't He? Stuff. And it's a sticky point for us in America too - that idea that if we are good, devout little Christian boys and girls we should get more stuff - that Jesus should come sweeping in like an even more awesome Santa Claus and give us presents not just once a year but all the time? Not what it's about, kid. If you will follow Christ Jesus, it's not about how much stuff you have.

Make sense - all on the same page? Now, we're going to look at the story again. And why? "As [Jesus] was setting out on His journey." Too often we will look at this text in a vaccuum; we'll look at it just as a little story about morality and maybe even finger wagging - you are nice people but you ought give more to the poor... coughcoughcoughorOFFERINGcoughcoughcough. It's not primarily a money drive guilt trip text, or even at text looking at the depth of God's Law - the law here is simple, basic, from your youth sort of stuff. No - this text is about Jesus' death and resurrection. Listen.

"As [Jesus] was setting out on his journey, a man ran and knelt before Him and asked Him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?'" Oh fellow, it's not what you do. It's what Jesus is going to do, it's what He is journeying to do now. There's going to be an inheritance coming to you guy, but it's not about what you do. Christ will go to the Cross. And if you want to know about the inheritance He leaves you... "Drink of it all of you; this cup is the new..." New what? New testament... as in Last will and testament, as this is that which I leave to you as an inheritance, so that you receive the forgiveness of sins; and with that the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. This is what Jesus is on His way to do when the kid asks Him this question - to establish the Supper, to go to the Cross, to die and rise precisely so that this kid can have eternal life.

And then Jesus asks, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone." Oh, kid - don't ask a law question. Don't ask a question about what you have to do, because you aren't God. You're a fallen, sinful human being, and you are going to fall short. But I am in fact God, and I have come to do good in your stead. I have come to not only truly do all these commandments, but I've come to fulfill them. Because the law always has a demand. It's do this, or you die. I come to fulfill the law; I come to die for you. Of course I come to die for you, for I love you. I come to rise for you, for I love you. Jesus isn't whistling Dixie when He says that He loves the fellow - Jesus truly does.

And there's one more bit of death and resurrection in the text. Jesus is on His way to the Cross - "Go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." It's funny, kid, that you brought up inheritance. What happens when you die? All that you had in this world, you give up... you don't get to take it with you. And it all gets handed out, distributed to others... and you get to see the treasures of heaven. You get to see the treasures of heaven because Christ Jesus opens the gates of Heaven to all believers. Might as well just be bold with your life and follow Christ.

Dear friends in Christ - when St. Paul says that He is determined to know nothing among us except Christ and Him crucified, this is what He's driving at. Everything in your life, in reality, is shaped by the death and resurrection of Christ the Crucified. The truth is you've already died - you were buried with Christ in Holy Baptism, washed and joined to Him. Your life is not an attempt to earn or win God's favor and eternal life. You already have it; Christ has won it for you already. Your life is not an attempt to gather and more and more stuff. You've already died - you're a living sacrifice, living out your own last will and testament; your life now is basically just distributing your stuff to your neighbors even now... we could call that stewardship, we could consider the Father in the parable of the Prodigal who does in fact give his stuff to his son before he actually dies (but again, that's another Sunday). But your life isn't about your stuff, the size of your bank account. Nope - you just are here caring for your neighbors in their bodies and proclaiming the wonders of Christ for the benefit of their soul, and even that just for a brief time - that's the reality, that's the truth of it.

Sin will try to tell you otherwise. The man in the text was sorrowful, why? Because he had lots of stuff, he thought stuff was the point. This is what Hebrews would call the "deceitfulness of sin." Sin tries to wrest our eyes of off Christ and the eternal life that is our now, and rather make us focus on stuff, junk, things of this life. No - the truth, the great truth is this. Christ Jesus went on His journey to the Cross; and you do follow Him. He has joined you to Himself in Holy Baptism. He has given you eternal life; life you have now, life you shall see in full later. Until then, rejoice, be at peace, and know that Christ Jesus has died and risen, so you are forgiven and have life in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Pentecost 19 Sermon

Pentecost 19 - Mark 10:2-16 - October 3/4, 2015

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
As chapter 10 of Mark begins, Jesus has headed back down to Judea. Soon in the Gospel He will make His way to Jerusalem and Holy Week, but today we hear Jesus teaching, as He is wont to do, and the Pharisees approach Him to mess with Him, as they are wont to do. "Pharisees came up and in order to test [Jesus] asked, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?'" Test? How is this such a test for Jesus? Seems like a simple question. But here's the thing, dear friends - it's a politically touchy one. Let's be honest, how many of you got a little bit squirmy when you heard the Gospel, thought, "Oh great, Pastor's going to preach on divorce." It's a touchy subject today, it impacts a lot of families today. And it did then too.

You see, in Jesus' day, divorce was basically a favored tool of, not to sound all liberal and such, a tool of male oppression and domination. In the Jewish world, a man could basically divorce his wife at the drop of a hat for whatever reason - you displease me woman, I show you the door. And you didn't have a lot of jobs for women back in those days - so if you were divorced you went back to your dad's house if he were still alive, otherwise you "worked the streets." That was just what Jewish men were used to - and that kind of power let the Jewish guys wield a big stick. However, it was a hot topic around Jerusalem at that time, because the Romans were there, and Rome let women divorce their husbands too - and moreover, in Rome husband and wife both owned their stuff individually, so if the wife gave the husband the boot, she could keep her stuff. It was a hot button social issue of the time in Judea. So then - what will Jesus say? Will He uphold the old Jewish custom, which favored men and gave them tons of power (and if He does this, He will surely anger a lot of the women who had been following Him), or will Jesus sort of side with the new Roman approach - which would freak out all the men around?

As Jesus tends to do, He turns the question around. "What did Moses command you?" What did Moses say - what do the Scriptures say? Not what is our Jewish custom or what is our Roman custom; not what is our own attitude or opinion, but what does the Word of God say. And the Pharisees answer: "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away." See - the Jewish side is right - that's our answer. Clean cut case, right? Nope - it was a shoddy, incomplete answer. "And Jesus said to them, 'Because of the hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." Your answer was lousy. While there is that note about divorce being allowed, it was allowed for the hardness of heart - because of failings in man. Do you want to be hard-hearted, Pharisee? Is that your goal - to show how cruel and callous you are -- you can if you wish, Moses will allow it. But you forgot something else. Moses wrote Genesis, and what does Moses teach us in Genesis 2? The two shall become 1. That's the goal, that's the ideal. Your job as a husband, O Pharisee, is not to worry about your rights or how you are going to control and boss your wife around but to love, honor, and respect and care for the woman God has joined you to. It's not about power - it's about showing love to your neighbor, to your wife. And because you were thinking about power, you messed up.

A few brief words before we carry on in the text. It is because of texts like this that the Christian Church has placed a high view on marriage, and never really liked divorce. No one should like divorce; divorce means something has gone catastrophically bad, things have gotten ugly. Everyone gets that - even the places that adopted no-fault divorces - let's separate folks before they ugly - and that just made things even uglier. It's a mess. And it's all driven by the hardness of heart that comes from sin - from that point where someone starts to think, "I don't care, I'm going to do what I want and the other person can hang for all I care." And that is a sinful attitude we are to fight against, my dear friends. Ironically, President Kennedy of all people nailed what our attitude should be for marriage, for any relationship. Ask not what your country (or your neighbor, or your spouse) can do for you, but what you can do for your country (or neighbor or spouse). That's the ideal. And it's a hard, harsh ideal. One our sinful flesh doesn't like at all. Yet I would encourage you all, wherever you are, whatever your relationships are now - strive to show love and care. Make your relationship about what you give, not what you get -- and if the both of you do that - and throw in being ready to forgive when you mess up, it tends to go relatively well.

That said, let's continue on in the text. What Jesus has said, pointing to the whole of Moses, really does undercut and undermine both the Jewish and the Roman approaches to divorce. It takes that War of the Sexes that was brewing in that day and just flips it on its head. And we can see how shocking this is when we hear, "And in the house the disciples asked Him again about this matter." Are you sure about this Jesus? Cause, I mean, I'd rather have an escape hatch just in case she nags or is a bad cook or something. Nope. "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." It's not about power and debates, folks - you ditch her and go onto a trophy wife, that's bad. Oh, and this isn't Me supporting Rome's divorce laws - if the wife does the same, that's bad too. Instead of power and control, think a bit about love and service.

And this discussion gets the disciples really rather flustered. The proof is what happens next. "And they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them." You know how when you get flustered, you become forgetful and cranky. Well, there's the disciples. Chapter 9 has Jesus dropping the little kid in their midst - they forget that. Jesus rebukes them for telling someone not to cast out demons, for tossing about their power - they forget that. And so we hear, "But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Ew, indignant Jesus. Quit being such "grown-ups". Yeah, quit worrying about power and control and being in charge and telling others what to do and what you can get out of things - and be like a little kid, like a toddler.

Now, Jesus is not romanticizing kids here; He's not saying, "oh, what precious little darlings." Kids then were like kids now - you've probably got wailing and running around and crying and bashful kids hiding behind parents - all that same stuff we see today. But the great thing about little kids - whether they are happy or cranky or whatever, you can do one thing. "And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them." You can pick them up and carry them. Kid's crying - pick him up. Kid wants to run off - pick her up. Kid is bashful and doesn't want to say hi - pick him up. And hold them in your arms, and bless them, do good to them. If they are wanting something stupid, you just hold them, wait them out, and then give them what is good for them.

Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a little child shall not enter it. Did you note the word "receive"? How do kids receive things? When they are given things. Oh foolish disciples, it's not about your power and control. Marriage isn't about who is the boss of whom - rather, what has God given you, what has God joined together? What have you received? It's about what God does - everything starts and flows from there. And you know what else? The kingdom of God, the whole Church works the same way. You receive it like a little child.

So - how are you child like? Are you wild and rambunctious? Some of you are. Are you crafty and like to get up to no good? Some of you are. Any of you throw fits or tantrums this week, whined about not getting your way? Picked on the people God has put into your life, threatened to take your ball and go home? Said, "I don't like you anymore, I don't want to play with you" and thought about just leaving and getting a divorce? However old we are, we are always able to act the petulant child. Yet God your Father is a far better parent than any of us are, and He sees you as His own, baptized into Him, joined to His family. Covered by the blood of Christ Jesus - so there's no punishment, just love for you. And He never pushes you out of His arms. You are his forgiven and beloved children, and He receives you and blesses you. Oh, you want to pout and wallow and hide in your room - well, whenever you are ready, Supper is always on, Take and Eat, Take and Drink, your sins are forgiven. God's not going to kick you out, no matter how bad you've been. He doesn't divorce you - Christ continues to love His bride the Church and will never send her, never send you away. Even if there is an excommunication, that's not done in anger - that's just the parent saying, "Yeah, Bob's pitched a fit and locked himself in his room - hope he comes out soon. I'll keep Supper warm for him when he does."

You see, dear friends, God's love for you is not conditional, it's not based on *if* you are a good little boy or girl. No, God cares for you when you are good or bad - and let's be honest, when we examine ourselves we are nasty little brats - yet God is faithful - His love endures, the redemption won by Christ Jesus always rings true, and Our Father remains Holy, and His kingdom continues to come to you, so that you may receive His goodness always. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +