Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent 1 Sermon

1st Weekend in Advent – Matthew 21:1-9 – November 28/29, 2015

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
And here we are. The start of a new Church year, the start of the season of Advent where we begin to focus on our celebration of Christmas and our Lord's First Coming. So then, why in the world, of all the stories in the Gospels, do we start with Palm Sunday? Seriously – does this seem odd to you? We have moved to the historic, 1 year lectionary – I can say with confidence that for over 1000 years the Church has started off advent this way. So why? Well, even then as today, it was easy to lose sight of what Christmas is. 1000 years ago, you had all sorts of pagan festivals in the background; today we've got all our modern folderol associated with “the holidays” to distract us. 1000 years ago, you had plans for parties and celebrations; same thing today. 1000 years ago, this time of year could become the time of great sentimentality, just as it can today. And here we begin advent – and over and against all the crass, the maudlin, the silly things of this season (which are fine in and of themselves, I'm not that big of a scrooge), our Gospel text makes a bee line to the heart of what Christmas, of what our Lord's Incarnation is all about. Christ Jesus our King came down from heaven and became man to go to the cross and be your savior. And that's what we will be focused upon in this text – how and why our King comes.

As our Gospel text begins we get a bit of an odd conversation. Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,  saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me.  If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” Seems just a bit strange – you there, disciples, just run on into town and grab me the first donkey you see. Engage in a little, not animal theft, but livestock borrowing. I mean, just think how odd this is, really – what would be your reaction, oh farm types, if someone just walked up to one of your horses. “Oh, yeah, we need to borrow this.” It's meant to sound odd – but note Christ's explanation. Just tell them the Lord needs them. Now, I want you to understand – that is a heavier statement in Greek than it sounds in English – it's not the braying of a child in front of a Christmas toy display telling you that he just absolutely needs something. It is necessary, it is God's Will for the Lord to use these animals.

In fact, Matthew goes on to explain.  This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,  “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” When we see the entry on Palm Sunday, this is fulfilling Scripture. This is Messianic. This was to be the neon-sign signal to folks that yes, the one entering Jerusalem here is the Messiah, is the Son of David. He is the promised King. And what kind of King would He be? He doesn't come in on a tall horse of war, with an army at His back. This is not a “hail the conquering hero” sort of procession. He comes humble. Even the parade that happens is sort of just thrown together. Humanly speaking, months of planning weren't involved – just grab some cloaks, grab some big leaves. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.  Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. You realize we put more forethought and planning into decorating this church on Palm Sunday than they did the first Palm Sunday? It was a humble thing.

So there Christ Jesus is – entering Jerusalem – not as a conqueror, but humbly. He's not coming to kill Romans, to slaughter the wicked. Why does He come? And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” The crowds sing correctly. Hosanna – that is “save us now”. Christ Jesus comes to save people – not by beating up the bad guys, not by giving us better rules to make everyone keep their ducks in a row. He comes to go to the cross to win salvation. To suffer and die and bear up upon Himself the full weight and consequence of sin. Christ Jesus, the spotless lamb of God, comes to Jerusalem upon that donkey to take away the sins of the world and put an end to them with His death upon the Cross; He comes to undo death with His own resurrection. Christmas, my dear friends, always drives directly to Good Friday and Easter – that's the whole point of Christmas, and this morning, as we begin our Advent celebrations, we are reminded of this truth.

However, when we speak of Christ coming to be King, we shouldn't think merely of how He came long ago. No, Christ Jesus is also our King who comes to us today, in this place, in this service. He comes not to rule with an iron fist, comes not bringing name-it-and-claim-it goodies. He comes this day to save us now. And that is how He always comes. Jesus still works in the same way today.  Say to the daughter of Zion, see your King is coming to you today, humble.  What is happening this weekend at Trinity?  Two baptisms. One Saturday, one Sunday. And what truly happens in these baptisms?  Christ Jesus the King comes as He always does – He comes and by water and the Word He declares Audrey and Adeleine to be His own daughters, to be daughters of Zion.  And He comes to them humbly, comes not in expensive, lavish goods, He comes not demanding some difficult set up or requirements – no, see your King comes to you humbly and simply in water and the Word.  No, there will be nothing to keep Jesus from coming to His child – water and the Word, and now there is a forgiven child, a new creation, one given life everlasting and all the benefits of Jesus' own death and resurrection.  And why?  Because Christ Jesus our King has authority – all authority in heaven on earth has been given to Him – so He makes disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit.  That's what Jesus uses His Kingly authority for – to bring people salvation, to seek and save the lost, to suffer the little children to come to Him – to give His blessings of life and salvation to ever more and more people, even before they could think to ask, even before they could think to choose Him, even before they could listen too all the ads telling them what they should want.  Because that is who Jesus is – He is your King; He is in charge. And your King who will come to you, not because of what you want or what you desire – but because He is your King who loves you, and will stop at nothing to win you salvation.  Or do you not realize that this is what Advent is about.  Behold, your King is coming – and how did He first come?  Christ Jesus, the Word by Whom all things were made comes down from heaven – as a Child.  Weak.  Helpless.  His power cast aside so as to save the powerless.  Our King always takes up humility – His birth, His entry into Jerusalem, His death – and all for your salvation.  This is the God, this is the King who has chosen you, called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, who has made you His child in the waters of Holy Baptism.  This is what He has taught you to pray for when you pray both “Thy Kingdom Come” as well as “Thy Will Be Done” - that we would learn ever more to trust not our wants and desires but His good and gracious will, that we would see His authority have full reign in our lives. 

Behold, daughter of Zion, your King is coming.  That is what we see and learn this Advent season again.  Remembering how Christ came, we remember how He Himself has come to us through His Word, through His gift of Baptism.  Of course, it's not just in Baptism that He comes. Indeed, He comes to us whenever His Word is proclaimed, whenever the forgiveness that He won with His death and resurrection is declared to the world. And even more wondrously, we rejoice and give thanks in that He comes to us today for forgiveness in His Supper, in, with, and under Bread and Wine. Indeed, we ourselves will join in and sing the song of Palm Sunday when our King comes to us humbly under the means of bread and wine. And not only does Christ come today; we also remember and pray that He would quickly come again, that He would show Himself to be our true and eternal King who will give us for all eternity that which we truly need – the resurrection of our bodies and the life everlasting with Him. There's a lot to this season of Advent – more than rushedly planning parties and baking cookies or getting shopping done. It is a time where we are refocused upon the love that Christ Jesus has for us, that He comes in humility to die for us, that He comes to us daily to bring us that salvation He has won, and that He shall even come again. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Sermon

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I will admit it, the Thanksgiving sermon is one of my least favorite ones to write. It’s just a rough sermon to write. It’s on thanksgiving. So… what do I as a preacher do? Do I stand up here and wag a finger at y’all saying, “You better be more thankful”? I don’t want to go around just dropping law bombs – I want to preach the Gospel. Do I stand up here and spout off platitudes about how wonderful life is? Well, I can, but we aren’t ostriches, we don’t stick our heads in the sand and ignore things that are bad and rough in the world – and there’s been plenty of that lately. Do I go all sappy and gooey and emotional – maybe sigh and wax poetically about how thankful I am for my family and how great it is to be in Herscher? That would be so sticky sweet I’d want to throw up. It seems as though if we try to just preach on giving thanks, it either becomes some sort of moralistic diatribe, or some pie in the sky denial of reality, or just tacky emotionalism – and I don’t like any of those three. So instead, let’s be blunt, let’s be honest, let’s consider this harsh world and how our Lord confronts it.

“On the way to Jerusalem, He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance, and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” Those lepers are in a pathetic state. I don’t know if there was anyone to be more pitied in the ancient world than lepers. You were cut off from society – you had to live on the outskirts – and you never could really see the people you love again, even though they were so close, just inside the city walls. It would be horrifying. So – what to do? Tell these lepers to count their blessings? Start talking about how wonderful the past year has been for them? Nope. First things first – we need to recognize what sad, horrible shape these lepers are in. Because they know it, they see Christ and they call out for mercy. They don’t pretend, they don’t whitewash anything – they see their lack and they call out to God for deliverance.
So, what of you? Do you see your own struggles, the trials that you face? I guess some of these are obvious. The world seems a mite dangerous right now. Some of us aren’t quite as healthy at the moment as we have been. I’m sure jobs or family matters are rough for many of us. There are some things that everyone might know… and some things, well, very few people, if anyone else knows them. That private hurt that you don’t share. That stubborn temptation, that vile sin that keeps jabbing at you like a thorn in your flesh. That disappointment that you’d never breath a word of lest you hurt people you love. Martin Luther’s last words were, “We are all beggars before God.” Let’s modify that a bit today – we are all lepers in this world. We all have things in this life in this fallen world that are horrible and terrible… and seeing this, we cry out to Christ for mercy.

“When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” Again, astonishing what Christ does here. Lepers couldn’t enter town, they couldn’t be among people – but if they somehow got better, the priest could examine them and let them back into the community. And Christ tells them to go – and as they start walking, they are still diseased, they are still lepers… yet Christ says go, and they go… and on the way they are healed. Likewise, dear Christian friends – Christ knows your pains, your sufferings, your hardships. He knows your sin and all the impacts of your sin – and He says to you, “I have suffered and died in your place – now go on your way, show yourselves to the Father as one who is pure and righteous in My Name.” And that’s how we live our lives – we are moving ever closer and closer to being fully restored to the community, to the heavenly kingdom… and we go confidently, knowing that Christ Jesus has sent us, knowing that by the power of His Word our sin is forgiven, knowing that by the power of His Word the trials we face will be endured.

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.” The leper gives thanks when? When he sees that he has been healed – when he realizes what Christ Jesus has done for him – that’s when he has joy and thankfulness and delight. Likewise, dear friends, thankfulness will not come if I wag the finger at you. Thankfulness will not come if I pretend that nothing ever stinks, or if I get all sappy and maudlin. Rather this. Consider your sin – now, know that you are forgiven by Christ Jesus. You are healed. You might have some of the junk of this life still clinging to you, but Christ has declared you clean, and on the last day you will rise new and clean and spotless and pure. You are healed. And it is in seeing this, in knowing the depths of Christ’s mercy that thankfulness will simply and naturally arise. Thankfulness comes when we realize what we have is all gift… and yes, this holds true for all the things in our lives – we deserve none of it… but God gives, gives blessings even to us unworthy sinners in this sinful world, and He gives freely… and He gives not just for this brief time here, He gives not just fallen stuff in this fallen world, but He gives eternal life.

“Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not 10 cleansed? Where are the 9? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’” The danger for us is to stop seeing God and His Word at work in our lives, to stop seeing the power of forgiveness and life. We can delude ourselves into thinking we have earned our daily bread, after all we worked hard for it. But seeing forgiveness, seeing that free grace – it is an astonishing thing. “And He said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” The leper saw, rejoiced, understood what was going on, and then there is joy and praise and thankfulness. Likewise, I encourage you this day to see and know the mercy God has given you – Christ has given you the gift of faith, and you are healed. You may not see it fully now, the dross of this life may distract you – but Christ has declared you forgiven, He has rescued you from your sin and this sinful world and given you new life, and You are His and shall be His for all eternity. You are clean and forgiven by Him – and this is a joy that no one can take away from you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

What's an Idol

"Little children, guard yourselves against idols" - 1 John 5:21

And that's how John ends his first Epistle.  He hadn't mentioned idols directly in the whole book.  Just one last little note.  Guard yourself against idols.

Well, actually that's false.  John was talking about idols the entire book.  He had just spent a whole book talking about how it is important to love your neighbor.  Seriously, love your neighbor.  Even if they are sinners, love them and pray for them.


So, you don't want to love *that* neighbor?  You know, that one.  The one who did X, who hurt you by doing Y, who failed.  The one whose live seems to keep on going when it hasn't gotten the vengeance or punishment or consequences you think he should have.

And so you don't love him.  For very good reasons.

You have to hate him, because otherwise things are injust.
You have to hate him, because he has besmirched virtue.
You have to hate him, because of the dignity of the office.
You have to hate him, because the seriousness of sin has to be shown.

Little children, guard yourselves against idols.  Especially when you turn a desire for justice, or virtue, or respect for the office, or even the Law into an idol.

Yes.  All these things can be idols.

See, that's the thing about idols.  Rarely are idols things that are bad.  Money can be a terrible idol - but it's not that money is bad, it's the love of money, it's when money is loved more than God when things become a terrible idol.

Justice is a good thing... but do you love it more than your neighbor?  "Whenever someone says, “I love God” but hates his brother, he is a liar, for the one who doesn’t love his brother whom he has seen is not able to love the God Whom he hasn’t seen." - 1 John 4:20

This is what idoltry looks like - when you love something so much, even so much, that it gives you the excuse to hate your neighbor.

Little children, guard yourselves against idols.

Christmas Carol Theology

It's that time of year.  The time for "A Christmas Carol".  Now, let me make a disclaimer.  I really enjoy A Christmas Carol.  My mom would spend December while I was growing up playing version after version of a Christmas Carol - I don't know how many takes on the story that I've seen.  I do love the story.

However, it gives me pause, especially as a preacher.  Theologically - it's wretched.  I mean, think about it.  Scrooge is a jerk - and what happens?  He's shown how it's better to be nice and then threatened with death and punishment for being bad... so he tries to bargain.  "I'll change, I'll change, I will honor Christmas."

It is law, but law alone.  Law left to its own devices.  There is no Gospel, there is no mercy or forgiveness - it is the Law leading to utter works righteousness.

So.  Here is my question for you, O Preacher.

You been leaning a bit Dickenish lately?

Because if the goal is to modify behavior, the Christmas Carol method works really, really well.  Scrooge is a changed man.  Why, he becomes a outward paragon of virtue and is well loved by his community.  The thing is... he still dies.  Sure, it's not the lonely, pathetic death that the Ghost of Christmas Future had warned him of - but he still dies, even if Bob and others mourn him.  There's no mercy though, no forgiveness.

What is your goal, what's the end you are seeking, O preacher?  That people become better?  That they move from vice to virtue?

I quote my own translation of 1 John 5:13 (because I'm editing that part of the 1 John bible study right now and it's handy) - "This was written so that you may know that you have eternal life by believing in the Name of the Son of God."

That's not a Dickens' focus.  And trust me - no one harps on the importance of loving your neighbor more than John (of course, some folks think "love your neighbor" isn't virtue-y enough or ethically enough, I suppose).  Yet always, always John returns to Christ, to forgiveness.  Indeed, love is perfected in us - is finished in us - blood, water, Spirit crying... always back to Christ.

The failings and decline of civilization are highly, highly frustrating.  But you, o Preacher, are not called to be a new Dickens - you're called to proclaim what John did.  The goal is that people know that they have forgiveness and life in Christ -- love, virtue, culture, whatever -- that all can flow from there.  But Christ has to be the center.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Last Sunday Sermon

Last Sunday of the Church Year – Mark 13 – November 21/22

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So much fear. So much terror. That is what we are used to seeing nowadays it seems. But here's the thing. As we close the Church Year today, as we look towards the Last Day, the end of time – we remember a great truth. Christ Jesus has won us the victory – and nothing in the news last week, nothing in the week to come can change that. Period. Seriously. One of the great annoyances that I have is when people will use end times texts to try to get people all worked up and worried – not the point. Rather, Christ proclaims victory for you. Even in this text, Christ's Victory for you is all over the place in our Gospel text. Listen.

“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” Okay... after what tribulation? The tribulation that we are in now, the troubles of this life, where there are wars and rumors of war, so on and so forth. Jesus lets us know something nice here – the troubles will end. They will be stopped, put an end to. And how? Even as Creation itself starts to fall apart, to unravel, we will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then He will send out the angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” And then Jesus comes. With power. Great power. Is the whole universe coming undone – doesn't have a thing on Jesus' power. And you know what – Jesus doesn't come just to strut and pose, it's not the greatest photo op in history – He comes, and He send His angels to gather you, yes you, for you are the elect, you have been chosen by God, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, brought into His family, and forgiven. And Jesus will come and He will send His angels to gather you wherever you may be – from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. Doesn't matter what the days you saw on the earth did to you – God's not going to forget you. Jesus comes to save. And that's not a bad thing, not at all. This is just what Paul says again in Romans – for I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels or rulers nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Period. The love of God for you in Christ Jesus lasts beyond even the end of the world.

Jesus then, to further make the point, gives a brief illustration. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that the summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, know that He is near, at the very gates.” It's the simple image – you can tell the time of year by looking at the trees. And this example isn't something to dread – Jesus doesn't say, “Just as when the last leaf falls off the tree you know there will icy-snowy-retribution to make Tom Skilling quake with fear...” No! The example is summer – joy, life, growth, things nearing fruition. Indeed, here's the wonderful twist, the wonderful way in which Jesus instructs us to view the world. When there are tragedies or troubles, “when you see these things taking place, know that He is near, at the very gates.” Even in the worst of times, you are not abandoned by God. Even at your worst, Jesus remains God for you, for your good. And He will come again in His good time – but He isn't distant or ignoring us now. No – He is our Lord who sees us through the days that He deigns to give us. And we will endure in Him. Listen.

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Now, this is one of the more interesting verses in the bible. There are multiple ways people take it. Some people had thought it would mean that the second coming would happen within a generation's time – and that was a major problem in the early church. In John 21 John corrects folks who thought that Jesus had said that He'd return before John died. So what happened is there became multiple ways folks would interpret this text. One way, a faithful way, is to say that Jesus really is pointing to the Crucifixion and Resurrection here with “all these things” - that when Jesus dies and rises, everything is sealed, signed, delivered. When we see Christ raised, we know how the story goes – and that could be the main thrust. That's not the way we normally think – but it sort of is a good, Jewish way of thinking about time. Another common way of reading this verse is to take it to refer to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, which happens in 70 AD. That works too. However, the way I like, that I think fits in best with the rest of the text is this. When Christ says “this generation” He's talking about the Church. The Church, the sons and daughters of God, that generation of God will endure until the end, no matter how dire it looks. And why do I like this? Heaven and earth will pass away. Earthly generations will pass away. But what will never pass away – the Word of God, the Word of God that has given life to Christ's Church on earth. The Word that made you a child of God. It's a call towards confidence – yes, things will be rough, but Your God's love for you is greater than the roughness of this fallen world – His love for you that He declared in His Word and water when He washed you in Baptism, that doesn't fade away. At any rate, the whole point is this – God's Word endures, and that Word is good for you.

Jesus then makes a slight transition. But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It's always a great dark amusement to me how seemingly every other year there will be a new book that comes out that says, “We've found this verse and that verse and looked at the moons and we've determined that X will be the last day.” Um, no. No one knows. Even Christ Jesus said that He Himself didn't bother knowing that. And yet, we can have such a fascination with predictions and trying to figure out when things will happen, as though the scriptures are a puzzle or a cryptogram just waiting to be solved. But that's not what is going on here. No one knows. And you know what – that's a good thing for us. It is. Because that way we are on guard and are awake. As Christians, we are to be continually in the Word of God, hearing it, receiving it – we are to be confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. It's to be habitual, who we are. We are to be awake. Now, consider instead what can happen if you know something is to be done by a certain day. Some of you here probably would tend towards procrastination – put things off? There's still plenty of temptation towards that with the faith as it is – well, we'll head to church once we have kids... well, once the kids get bigger... well, once they get done with sports... well, once they are out of the house we'll have time... well, it's just so nice to have some time to ourselves – yaddy yaddy ya. Imagine how much worse that would be if we knew, for a fact, when Christ would return. Or there's the other option – if I have a deadline, I tend to get stuff done early... wrap it off, be done with it, put it away and don't worry about it. That's not the approach we are to have to God either – it's not as though we are to hurry up and get our holy homework for the week done on Sat/Sunday and then shrug and live as heathens the next 6 days. But those are the temptations – especially when we know the timing on things. So instead, we are told to watch, be awake.

It is like a man going on a journey, when He leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning – lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: stay awake. Don't compartimentalize your faith – don't push Christ and His gifts to the side, don't let this hour now be the only time pondering God's gifts to you or let it be the only time you have any semblence of Christianity about you. Remember who you are: you are a baptized Child of God, and that isn't something that is true only on the weekends, but it is to shape who you are all the time. That's what this idea of being awake is describing.

Sometimes we get this off idea that what our Lord is instructing us is that we are to be constantly watching for His return... as though every few seconds we should peak up at the sky just to make sure that He hasn't come back yet. That's not how the story goes. The master gives the servants their various tasks – and the expectation is that they just simply keep busy with those tasks as is proper, knowing that He could return at any moment. When he returns shouldn't matter – they should be doing their duty. Likewise, He has given us tasks to do until He returns. This is what it means then to be awake. It means to live, to be living out who He has made us to be – parents, children, workers, students, friends, neighbors, spouses, and above all, forgiven sinners. The way you prepare for the end of the world is you be whom God has made you to be today. And you strive to do your best, and when you fail, you confess your sins and delight in God's forgiveness. This is the point of Luther's daily prayers, both evening and morning, that we will pray today. Be with me in my tasks, and give me forgiveness. And that is being awake, being aware of God and knowing that He shall come again.

So there it is. In this world, we are confronted and battered with terror and fear and anger. Yep. But you still belong to God. You have been purchased by the blood of Christ Jesus; you are forgiven, and nothing in this world can change that. So God has left these standing orders for you – that in the midst of this messed up world you are to continue in showing love according to whatever jobs or duties He has given you, always remembering the love and forgiveness that He has given you in Christ Jesus – and do this until He returns. And as for the rest – eh, it's in His hands, and that's a good place for it to be. And so we face these things with hope and confidence, for God's love for you is great and wondrous and lasts longer even then heaven and earth. Amen.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Today's Sermon

November 14th and 15th – Mark 13:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
During the days of Holy Week, Jesus confronts idolatry head on. If folks are making an idol of money, He'll turn the money changers tables over – He'll tell the Pharisees to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. If folks are making an idol of themselves, He'll point out their folly like He did with the Sadducees and their self-idoltary like He did with the scribes. And today, there's one more idol to confront, this one pointed out even by His own disciples. “As He came out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, 'Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!'” Yep, one more idol to face today. The temple.

To refresh and make sure that we are all on the same page – what's the first commandment? Thou Shalt Have No other gods before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That right there is your definition of what an idol is – it is anything that we fear, that we love, that we trust in more than God. And there Jesus is, He's been preaching and teaching, and one of the disciples looks at Him as says, “Man, isn't this temple great!” Love and trust God above all things. This was an idoltary of the temple – where that great gift from God that was meant to focus folks upon God and the coming Messiah ends up overshadowing Christ Jesus Himself. And this is why Jesus points out a truth about all our earthly idols – they will all fall. And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” The temple wasn't the point – and it does not last forever. Its stones, its curtain, its holy places – they all were just meant to point to what Christ Jesus would do. The temple was not eternal. And it would fall. And it did – in 70 AD when the Romans stormed Jerusalem after putting down a rebellion, they destroyed the temple. They built giant fires next to the walls, and they superheated the rock, and the moisture in the rock began to boil. What happens then? Well, ever popped popcorn – the same thing. Utterly destroyed. Stones thrown down.

As we approach the end of the Church year, we are reminded that the things we see here in this life are temporary. Even things that are great and wondrous blessings of God – they are just temporary. This building – it's gorgeous – but it's not meant to be everlasting. Do you think people will be using these pews, sitting under these lights 500 years from now? Or even the building itself – Trinity's rebuilt the church once in her history already. (Eh, maybe the chancel carpet will still be around buy by in large things change) Such a wonderful blessing – but it's not going to last forever. This world is described by our Lord as where moth and rust destroy – here things fall apart. And not just buildings. Our relationships, our families. We acknowledge it – til death us do part. Our bodies – they fall apart. Our minds – they dull, they fade. All things here in this fallen world are ravaged by sin, given over to decay and decline, and indeed, they shall all fail.

Which is why Jesus here is trying to wrest the disciples' eyes off of their idol de jour, off of the temple and how pretty it is, and rather onto Himself. While in this world there is decay and decline and destruction, in Christ Jesus there is new life and rebirth and restoration. Because He goes to the cross and dies, sin is done for. Decay and death are destroyed. Does your body fall apart – Christ will raise it. Does your mind dim – Christ will enlighten it. Does the world come crashing down around you – behold, Christ shall give you a new heavens and a new earth. That's the point – that's why we look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.

Jesus continues on this theme, trashing all sorts of idols in the rest of our text. And as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished.” Jesus leaves the temple, and He sits down on the mount of Olives opposite the temple – sort of staring the temple down. And some of the disciples ask Him, when's this all going to happen, when is the bill to come due and all this destruction take place. Do you hear the fear, the worry? Indeed, is it not a fear and worry that we ourselves often fall into – fear of the end times? So Christ Jesus pulls the disciples eyes off of their fears and on to Himself. Listen.

“See that no one lead you astray. Many will come saying, 'I am he!' and they will lead many astray.” Listen, there are going to be false prophets, false messiahs all over the place. We've had plenty of major cults like that, even in the past 50 years. We've had plenty of false social saviors. No – don't run to those idols. “And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. And in the world there will be violence – but even this, do not fear it more than God. It's scary, but it doesn't supplant God – your worries about society – don't let them lead you astray either! “This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.” This is the way it has to be – for the world is fallen, and it is shaking itself apart. Of course fallen men are going to war against fallen men. Of course leaders will lead nations on wicked courses – trust not in princes, they are but moral. Earth born they are and soon decay! This is just the way it is – do not let these things fill you with fear. They are typical.

But here's where it ramps up. “But be on your guard. For they will deliver you over to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, to bear witness before them.” It's going to get rough – especially for the Apostles. You doubt that – read the book of Acts? They are constantly kicked in the teeth. And why? “And the Gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations.” Because they will be proclaiming the Gospel of Christ Jesus – and the world will always kick and scream when it hears the Gospel. That's what the world does. But God will not let folks in this world just go quietly to death in sin and damnation – no, He will have His Gospel proclaimed, and He will see that the apostles are brought before the councils and synagogues and governors all so that His name will be proclaimed. He will place preachers in pulpits, He will place you in the lives of your friends and neighbors so that the Gospel of Christ Jesus, the forgiveness He has won with His death, the life He has declared, shown, and promised with His resurrection – this will be proclaimed.
And note, my dear friends – this isn't a finger waging moment. This isn't Jesus saying “You guys better work harder doing evangelism.” No – the Gospel is going to be preached. It's going to happen – God will see it happen. It must, because God wills it, and His will will be done. Even through the Apostles, even through us. But it's not about us and what we must be – it's what He will and must do. Listen – “And when they bring you to trial and deliver you over, do not be anxious beforehand [about] what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.” Not about you – it's about God working in you and through you. This is where I feel bad for the folks who think that they have to speak in tongues to prove that they have the Spirit. It's so much simpler than that. The Holy Spirit works with the Word. Simple as that. Even though I worked on this sermon – eh, it's really the Spirit who is working – who gives me words to say and who gives you ears to hear. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel – so on and so forth. When the kids go off to Sunday school – the teachers will teach, but in reality the Holy Spirit will be teaching both teachers and students. This week, when you talk to your neighbors, your kids, your parents, your friends – and you declare what Christ Jesus has done, when you forgive them the sins they have sinned against you – that's really the Holy Spirit working in you and through you. And don't worry about it – Relax. It's not about you – it's about Christ Jesus and what He has done – and the Holy Spirit points it that direction.

Do you see why Jesus takes on idols? All these fears and loves and trusts that we have that are utterly misplaced and silly – and yet, there stands Christ Jesus. He is life, He is forgiveness, He is salvation. And He gives Himself to you freely. He even distributes it to others through you freely – and while I am talking about the Lord's Supper, I'm not just talking about the Lord's Supper – but rather whenever the Word is proclaimed and given. We in the Church are part of a wondrous reality, a profound mystery. God is at work for us and through us and in us – this is a wondrous truth. And yet, this fallen world will fight against it. “And brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.” It will get ugly. The dying idols of the world will not go quietly – they will kick and scream and do whatever to make you worship them, to make you fear, love, and trust them. So be it. “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” They don't win. And take they your life, goods, fame, child, or wife, though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won. The Kingdom yours remaineth – because Christ Jesus is not like any of these fallen idols. The stones of the temple were torn down, and they are still torn down. Christ Jesus though – He says of Himself “tear down this temple and I will rebuild it in three days” - and He was right. He has been crucified, He has been raised – and you are forgiven, you are bound for more than just this fallen, dying world. You are a baptized child of God, an heir of life everlasting. Rejoice, rejoice believers, and let your lights appear – for you belong to Christ Jesus, and He does not fail. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

24th Sunday after Pentecost

24th Weekend after Pentecost – November 7 & 8, 2015 – Mark 12

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Mark 12 is the chapter where Jesus goes and gets Himself killed. He's not crucified til later, but this is where He gets Himself killed. In Mark 11, Palm Sunday happens, and Jesus cleanses the temple, and the Chief Priests challenge Jesus, and He backs them down. Jesus has upset the high and mighty in the temple - so be it. But it's in Chapter 12 where Jesus really makes waves amongst the wrong people. He annoys the Pharisees when they test Him about taxes - the whole "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" passage. That tweaked the rich Pharisees. Then the Sadducees, another party comes up - and Jesus smacks them down - "Is this not the reason you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God?" Then come the scribes, and they test Him - what's the great commandment - Love God, love your neighbor - that's the sum of the Law. And everyone famous and powerful in Jerusalem is embarrassed, and frustrated, and annoyed with Jesus. Then, to top it off, we get today's text. The teaching that will make them want to kill Jesus.

"And in His teaching He said, 'Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplace and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation." Oi. Now folks, we are going to take our time and walk through this, indeed, we will hear what warning this text brings for us as well, and it's going to be an insightful, intense one. So, bear with me, and let's hear the stern Law of God. What Jesus says here at first seems utterly surprising, because when Jesus is attacking the Scribes, He is attacking the folks who know the Scriptures, the Bible, better than anyone. Is that whom you would expect Jesus to level an attack against? I mean, these are the good, bible believing, indeed bible quoting folks of the day. If anyone should be safe, it should be them, right? But here's the thing - it does no good if you know the Bible but simply use it as a stick to beat others with and prop yourself up.

Listen again. What do these scribes, these learned folks do? What is the result of their studies? They like to "walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplace." What does that mean? They are show off and braggarts. They want to be praised for how wonderful, how knowledgeable they are. Everywhere they go they let everyone know how much they know - and they expect you to fawn over them. Indeed, when they head to the synagogue, they take the best seats. They expect the places of honor at feasts - people ought to be just so glad they came. And they do all this, funded by widows. And indeed they even, "for a pretense make long prayers." On and on they will blather, even in prayers. Show offs even praying. They sound like horrible people - right? Actually, they were highly respected Jews of the day. And everyone knew how highly respected they were, especially the scribes themselves -- and yet, they were under condemnation, great condemnation - for they had missed the point of those Scriptures, for instead of glorifying God and His salvation, they sought to glorify themselves, to receive great renown here.

So what does this mean, how does this apply to us? Let me try to update the language - "Beware of the good Christian people (be they pastors or professors and pewsitters), who smile and drive around with the fish symbol bumper sticker on their car on their way to their volunteering, who sit up straight in Church and bible study, who look to be the best of the best in the Church here on earth." That's the warning that Jesus levels today, that's what it would sound like to us. It ought to sound strange, backwards, counter intuitive. But Jesus does address a danger that we all should ponder - the danger is that all our "religiosity" is just for show.

Now, neither Jesus nor I are saying that you shouldn't study the Scriptures - indeed, get thee to bible study. This isn't saying don't sit in Church and pay attention, nor is it saying never advertise your faith. The question is this - why? Why do these things? Is it to be seen, to be praised by men? To have the ladies of the congregation think you are just the bee's knees? To show the world that even while they might be lousy evil people, at least you are going to be a good Christian, you've got your life sorted out, your ducks in a row! Then you've missed the point and are standing under, remain under condemnation, great condemnation.

There is great wisdom in the Scriptures. There is wondrous advice for how to live one's life, how to conduct ones' self. It won't lead you wrong. There's fantastic moral teaching. But the point, the goal isn't to improve you and make a better person than those schlubs out there - it isn't to elevate you and make you great. It isn't to teach you how to be lauded and praised by adoring fans. The Law of God does this: it teaches you that you are to love God, that you are to love your neighbor - to be focused on them. If you are thinking about how you are "good", or how you are "better" - you're not looking at God, you aren't looking at your neighbor and their needs in order to show them love. If you are comparing yourself to your neighbor you have violated the law, for that is not showing them love. Of course, for us in this life, the great purpose of the Law is to teach, to show us, to make us know this truth: you are and will always remain in this life, a sinner. And even if you are the best of all the other sinners running around, you remain simply that, a sinner. And all your pride and arrogance gets you no where.

And with this teaching still echoing, Jesus goes, and He starts to watch people. "And He sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And He called His disciples to Him and said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.'" Whom does Christ praise? The rich, the powerful? The successes? The best of the best? No. The widow most folks wouldn't even take a second glance at. Not the ones making a show of how wonderful they are, how generous they are, dare I say what great Christians they are. No - the gal who simply out of love for the neighbor gives... and doesn't spare a second thought to what she's going to get back. In fact, she's not going to get anything back. She had next to nothing; now she's got nothing. So be it. She loves God; she loves her neighbor, she knows that God will have mercy upon her.

So often the widow's mites, as I grew up calling those coins, will get used to be a finger waging moralism tale -- especially as we hear this towards the end of the year; the traditional time for Stewardship drives! "See what a great percentage she gave, don't you think you could give more, maybe increase your tithe?" I suppose that's partially right - I mean, go be generous. You've been richly blessed - go give out of the abundance that you have received. But it misses the bigger point the context of the passage has established. Jesus has been talking about folks who crave honor and respect and earthly glory, who want to be acknowledged for all that they do. Those who are the good people and want you to know it. You know what you good, successful folks? All you've done, all the greatest contributions you've made - not even worth the two measly cents that widow tossed in. All your efforts, and some old bitty comes along and with nary a second thought tops all you have done.

Do you see how this gets Jesus killed? Anyone feeling really happy with this text? It doesn't let us be smug, it doesn't let us pat ourselves on the back. Points out that we want stupid, vain glory. Takes the silly dreams of earthly power and fame that we have, even "fame" in the Church, even fame with a pious coat of "Christian" paint on it, and says that they are rubbish. Says that the best of us are still actually lousy. Takes the greatest things we do and says that they are worth less than two measly cents. Is it any surprise that the rich and powerful folks wanted Him dead? It's a blow to the ego, isn't it?

Jesus didn't come to be liked. He came to fulfill the Law. He came to show love to God and show love to you - and He did that by getting Himself killed. This is our Hebrews' lesson - "But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him." Jesus comes to go to the Cross, to suffer and die, because we are sinners who need it. How big of sinners are we? We can take even the things of God, Church, the bible, and twist them with our pride and ego to where we want to use them to praise ourselves. And so He comes. And He puts away sin. Your sin. It is put away. Done away with. Gone. Forgiven. That's the truth. It doesn't remain. This is the wonder, the true glory shown forth in the Scriptures. Jesus comes to save you, save you from sin, save you from yourself. The great wonder of the Scriptures is not the teaching about what you are to do yet fail in, but the teaching that Christ Jesus Himself does all, gives all, suffers all for you. You are Baptized into Christ - so you are judged not on what you have done, not on what people see or don't see, not what they think or don't think. You are judged on the basis of what Christ Jesus has done for you - and He has washed you in His blood, clothed you in the robes of His own righteousness, declared you forgiven, called you His brother, His sister - a co-heir of eternal life - and He shall even call you forth to everlasting life.

Don't bother playing the holier-than-thou game. It doesn't benefit you anything - indeed, it can only distract you from Christ Jesus and the true Holiness that He pours upon you freely. He has done it all for you. All that is left for us is to enjoy the blessings He freely gives and wait for His return in which He will save us, all thanks be to God! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Sunday, November 1, 2015

All Saints' Day Sermon

All Saints' Day - November 1, 2015 - Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Today, as we observe All Saints’ Day, as we give thanks to God for the love He has shown to those who have died in the faith and now rest in His Presence in heaven, awaiting the resurrection to come on the Last Day, we must, hearing out Gospel lesson, as ourselves a question. What does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to be bless’ed? Nine times our Lord uses this word – in fact, it is sort of the key word for this text. So then, what does it mean to be blessed – what is blessing for a Christian?

If I were to simply ask you what some of the blessings in your life are, you’d probably end up saying things like life, health, house and home, family and friends, having nice things. Now, these are blessings – in fact, the next few weeks in our Catechism lessons we will be going over a lot of these as we look at the First Article of the Creed. God has made me and all creatures – my body and soul. These are indeed blessings – but this physical stuff, this stuff for life here and now is not the summation of God’s blessings to you – nor are they really the highest. There are times when we Christians need to think beyond just this world, this stuff. As Christians we are to be in the world, but not of the world – we are to recognize these are temporal and temporary blessings, but understand that there is much more in store – that while we enjoy things here, we are in a fallen world, and these blessings will fade – but that this is fine and okay, for Christ gives us much, much more than these.

Listen to what our Lord says. “Blessed are the poor in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” This is one of the most profound things you will hear. Consider those who are poor in spirit – those who feel heartache and pain, those who know their mistakes, who see how they have hurt others and sorrow over it. The poor in Spirit are those who confess with us what we confessed in our confession – I a poor, miserable sinner. What does our Lord say to you? Poor, miserable sinners like you are blessed because Christ Jesus comes to you and gives you the Kingdom of heaven. Do you see how this is a spiritual truth, a spiritual blessing? Whenever you are sorrowful, whenever you repent of your sin, you are blessed, blessed because Christ Jesus is quick to bring you forgiveness. Even in your sorrow and suffering, when you are at your lowest, you are blessed with a blessing that lasts to all eternity. And this is a present reality – for theirs IS the kingdom of heaven. Right now, you are forgiven by God on account of Christ – and that is a blessing that will never fade.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, this idea of mourning is bigger than just sorrow over a specific death. It’s blessed are those who mourn, who are sorrowful, who look around in this world and see things just absolutely not as they should be – who see thing after thing falling apart, who see the rack and ruin of sin everywhere. To be a Christian is to mourn – because we know that this world is not what it should be, not what it was made to be – that we live in a fallen world where everything, where we, could have been and should have been so much more. You will be comforted – because you will see the new Heavens and the New Earth. Do you not think that our dearly departed brothers and sisters aren’t comforted now in Christ’s presence in heaven – do you not know that we will all rejoice in the New Heavens and the New Earth together? This is a true blessing that you have promised to you from God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Meek here doesn’t mean shy, it doesn’t mean bashful. It means those who are lacking, who aren’t rich, who are lowly and meek and at the bottom of the rung, who get trampled on by those in power, who have no power or strength of theirs to fight or take anything in this life. The oppressed, the downtrodden – these are the meek – those who do not have earthly power, or who refuse to use their power for their own selfish gain, who refuse to play the dog eat dog game. This is what you as a Christian are. And you are blessed, for you shall inherit – what? We have “earth” here – but that doesn’t quite hit the point well. It’s Tein Gein in Greek, in Hebrew it would be “Ha Aratz” – the Land. . . the promised Land. Are you worn down here – are you treated as a despised stranger in this life, foreign and away from its power and might – you shall be part of the promised land – be a stranger here – heaven is your home. That’s the point here – when you see things here go against you – you are blessed, because you shall inherit the new heavens and the new earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And here is the key, here is the center. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – blessed are those who look at their own life and say, “I am not righteous, I am not perfect, I am a miserable sinner.” Why is that a blessing? Because to you who know your sin, who know that you lack righteousness, Christ Jesus our Lord pours out His own perfect, complete, total righteousness upon you, washes you in it, even literally feeds it to you – so that you would be satisfied – that your lack would be done away with, so that you would have all that you need in Christ Jesus and in Him alone. Whenever you desire Christ, He always gives Himself to you, gives you His love and His forgiveness.

Now what comes next in the Beatitudes here is a shift – we have seen that we are blessed even when things look their worst, when we see pain and suffering and sin. Christ tells us we will be satisfied – that we will have His forgiveness and have it abundantly. And this makes us into new people, into a new creation. This is why Jesus then says, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Are you focused on forgiveness –then you have been made to be merciful – and this will not be taken away from you. There is not going to come a point where Christ decides to change His mind about His love for you, where He decides to revoke your forgiveness – He has filled you with mercy, and He shall always give you mercy as long as you desire it – His forgiveness to you makes you merciful, and He keeps giving mercy more and more.

We also hear, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” What do we sing in a few moments – create in me a clean heart, O God. And will God ever cast out of His presence those whose hearts He has cleansed, whose hearts He has purified by His Gospel? By no means – for you who are forgiven by Christ, whose hearts have been cleansed of sin shall see God. And this is the wonder of this day, of All Saints Day. Our loved ones who have died in the faith – this is them right now – their hearts are now pure, sin no longer touches them at all, and they see God this moment. This is an awe inspiring thing.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” This is one of my favorite verses – that word “peacemakers” – it is those who do, who make peace real. Those who give out Christ’s peace, who say, “Peace be with you”, who forgive sins, whether someone happens to forgive sins in public on Sunday morning or whether one forgives sins at home with the family, with their friends, with the neighbor, with the stranger. This is about forgiveness. And what do we hear? You shall be called sons of God. So let’s ponder this – you have Christ Jesus, the Only Begotten Son of God, go to the Cross to win salvation, who from the Cross cries out for forgiveness, who from the Cross proclaims that all the work of salvation is done, who rises and appears to the disciples and says, "Peace be with you" – He is the Peacemaker. And then what happens? He takes you, brings you to the font, baptizes you, joins you to God’s family, says, “You now too are a child of God, and you too now shall be a peacemaker – you shall give out the very same peace and forgiveness that you have received – you will be an agent of love and peace in this world that doesn’t know it – and I myself will work through you to bring eternal blessings to people.” This is a wondrous thing – and again, the highest blessing we have is never simply 1st article, never just about this life – but about forgiveness and salvation which gives us the life to come.

But of course, in this fallen world, the peacemakers, the sons of God will be rejected and despised. What happens to Christ will happen to you. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” When you focus on Christ’s righteousness and forgiveness, when you point to Christ alone, when you are determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – the world won’t like it. People will rant and rave against you, they will lie about you, they will spread horrid rumors about you, they will mock you. They will think you are weird. They will see you as weak and try to take advantage of you. They will do everything in their power to make your life here miserable. Here in the US, that ends up being mere annoyances – in the lands of ISIS where they break into a church service and slaughter worshipers on Sunday morning – a little more direct. Doesn’t matter – you are blessed, indeed rejoice and be glad even in this – because yours is the Kingdom of God. How could it not be yours, for you are forgiven. You have been drawn to Christ, focused beyond the glitz and glamour of this world, and you shall have the joys of all eternity, the joys of perfection, the joys of the resurrection on the Last Day, the joy of you yourself being like Christ, seeing Him as He is. And this is a blessing no one can ever take away.

Do not forget, ever, my friends, just how blessed you are in Christ. The world will seek to wave baubles and trinkets, bling and swag before your eyes – but that is not your true blessing. Your true blessing is salvation, and life, and forgiveness, which you have abundantly in Christ. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +