Saturday, October 29, 2016

Reformation Day Sermon

Reformation Day Observed – October 29th and 30th, 2016 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Contradicting Jesus is never a good thing. Really, it's not. That's pretty close to lesson 1 that we learn – the meaning to the first commandment is “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” If we are to trust God, then we certainly ought to trust His Word, let His Word stand, let His Word tell us how things are and how they are going to be. And yet, this is the core of what our sinful nature is – it is an inherent distrust and disdain of God's Word – and so as we observe Reformation Day today, we will give thanks to God that He doesn't just let our sinfulness run amuck, but rather continues to speak His Word of life to us, continues to grant us His Holy Spirit that we would believe and have life and freedom in Him.

We see an example of how human sinfulness works in today's Gospel lesson. Our Gospel lesson really is a turning point in the Gospel of John – it is the point where Jesus says something that is so “offensive” and scandalous, that people decide that He must be killed. Listen to the first verse again - “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him...” Do you see how John describes them? They had believed. They had seen the signs and healings and believed in Christ. They had seen the Feeding of the Five Thousand, and they believed. They even hung around after He had said that He was the bread of life – when lots of people left. Earlier in John 8, Jesus had talked about how He was the Light of the World – these folks are good with that, they like that. But then, Jesus says something that they just can't abide. “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Doesn't seem so bad.... Here Jesus lays the groundwork for how the Church is supposed to operate until He returns – we are to abide, to live in, His Word. When we gather, when we discuss and study and talk and plan and pray – all of that is to be centered in Christ's good and gracious Word. And that Word is God's own truth, and that Word sets us free. Free from sin, free from Satan, free from death even. There shouldn't be any problem with this, right?

The Jews who had believed, well, many of them had a problem. “They answered Him, 'We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say: You will become free?''' Fear, love, and trust God above all things. Well, the problem is these folks loved themselves quite a bit, they were full of pride and ego and were just so sure of themselves. And so they protest – we're not slaves, in fact we've never been slaves to anyone! Which may be one of the dumbest things ever said in the Bible. First of all, they are conquered people, controlled by Rome. So, yeah, don't get all uppity about how free you are now. Second of all – they are Jewish folks – they celebrate the Passover, which is what? The celebration of God freeing them from slavery in Egypt. And besides Egypt, don't forget the Babylonian captivity – where God's deliverance leads to the festival of Purim. Or even you have Hannakuh, which dealt with God's deliverance from the hands of a Greek conqueror who had profaned the temple. Yes, the children of Abraham have often been enslaved. Of course, there was the big one – Yom Kippur, the day of atonement. The day where their sin was taken away, where they were freed from sin. In fact, pretty much every holiday that they had was a commemoration of being freed by God. And Christ has come to be the true fulfillment of all of these holidays – the true passover, the true gift given to the poor, the true feast, the true light in the true temple, the true Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And yet, even with this history and worship so focused upon God's deliverance, they instead are filled with pride and arrogance. How dare Christ say that they need to be delivered!

So now, how do we hear today read this text? What do we take from the story so far? Do we shake our heads at how terribly they blew it? Do we jump to the times 500 years ago and shake our heads at how terrible the medieval church had gotten (because as anyone whose been in bible study the past few weeks while we are looking at the history of the Reformation knows, it was a bit messed up)? Do we in our own pride echo their Words and say, “Well, we've never been that messed up”? Do we echo the words of the Pharisee from the parable - “I thank God that I've never been so messed up like these people.” We certainly ought not. Reformation is not the celebration of “we're right and they are wrong” - it is the day where we give thanks to God that He continually reforms us by His Word, reforming and reshaping us in our own lives.

Consider yourselves, my friends in Christ. Consider the world around us, the day and age in which we live. Are we not surrounded by all sorts of strange teachings and all sorts of wickedness? Was there pride and ego in Christ's day – it's got nothing on the pride and ego we see today! Was there bizarre teaching on the eve of the Reformation – we've got bookstores full of crazy teaching! And all of this, and our wealth, and our power, and our greed and passions and lust are all swirling around us, all calling out to us to just forget Christ Jesus, to ignore church and the hearing of God's Word, to just go off and do other things. We are Americans, and we are well off and comfortable – and often slaves to wealth, work, stuff, and trends. Those are the idols the world pumps into our ears and our eyes incessantly. If you don't believe me, simply look, listen – see what it is that you get fed by the world this week. And we are constantly battered by this.

“Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever, the Son remains forever.'” Jesus is one to call a spade and spade. If you sin, then you are a slave to sin. This is the sad and simple fact. And guess what? Each and every one of you here has sinned, and as long as you are in this life, you will still keep on sinning. Not that this is good, not that this is okay. Not that we are to just go with the sinful flow. No, we are called to fight against our sin, to struggle against it. But here's the sad, harsh reality. I could preach til I'm blue in the face, and you and I'd still be sinful folks who fall into sin. We could try our hardest not to sin, and we might even get one bad habit licked – but then something else would just pop up. Do you see how stuck we are, how enslaved we are to sin. And the reality is that at some point you are going to pause, look at yourself and say, “I can't believe I did that... again.” That's just how it is.

So what do we do? Do we just ignore our sin and talk about our strong points. Eliminate the negative and accentuate the positive? Well, that doesn't really get rid of sin. Or do we try to do extra work on the side to make our sin up to God? That's just digging ourselves in deeper and deeper. That's why we sing, “With might of ours could naught be done, soon were our loss effected.” No, it cannot hinge upon us – rather, it must hinge upon Christ, and thanks be to God, it does. Jesus says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” As you go through your life, my friends, and as you see your sin pop up and out in new and aggravating ways – don't hide from it, don't pretend it's not sin, don't abandon all sense of right or wrong. Rather this – look to Christ Jesus.

If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Consider this. At your baptism, Christ Jesus made a promise to you. He declared that all that He has done – His righteous life, His perfect obedience to the Father – all that is yours. When the Father sees you, He sees Christ's righteousness – in Christ you are good with God. He doesn't see your sin, He only sees a Christian, a little Christ. And yet, Christ Jesus knew that you would still be dealing with sin, with death, tangling with Satan. And so Jesus went to the cross and died and rose – and again, at your baptism He made another promise to you. His death would be your death, and His resurrection would be your resurrection. He promised that the day would come when He would indeed set you free from sin – and when you are raised from the dead, which you will be, for Christ has promised you this, you will then be utterly and totally and completely free from sin. No ifs ands or buts about it. And this truth, this promise of God is the center and key thing in the Church. It's why at the end of Matthew we hear Jesus say, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It's the main thing – that all that Christ has done is poured out upon us in Holy Baptism, and we live our lives as the Baptized – as those forgiven by Christ, as heirs of the promise of freedom from all our sin.

Yet the world still batters us, sin still warps us, and Satan still hounds us. We are like a knife that gets abused and made dull and worn – and we lose our ability to cut through all the junk we see through in this life. And so Christ reforms us. He reshapes us, hones us, sharpens us, by His Word and Spirit. He gathers us here to His house, and rather than forgetting who we are, He makes us to remember that we are the baptized. Everything here revolves around everything Christ has given you in your baptism. We begin the service, remembering our baptism. We confess our sins – and Luther notes in the Large Catechism that our repentance is nothing other than a continual return to baptism – remembering who again Christ has made us. And we live in this – we live lives of repentance. We live lives defiant against sin and the world and death – proclaiming that Christ Jesus has lived and died for us. We proclaim this in our hymns, our preaching, in the Lord's own Supper. We sing as the baptized, we hear the Scriptures and the Sermon as the baptized, we come to the altar as the baptized. As Luther again says in the Large Catechism, “Therefore every Christian has enough in Baptism to learn and to practise all his life; for he has always enough to do to believe firmly what it promises and brings: victory over death and the devil, forgiveness of sin, the grace of God, the entire Christ, and the Holy Ghost with His gifts.” Over and over we are restored by God unto our baptism, made anew in Christ, pulled away from sin and death, even until He comes again.

So therefore, my friends, let us this Reformation Day once again give heed to Christ Jesus and His Word – and let us believe what His Word says of us, especially the promise He made to us in the Water and His Word in our baptism . We are indeed sinners through and through, but He is good and gracious and wins us the victory over sin and death, and because of Him we shall be free indeed. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What Would Sanctification Look Like?

Why don't you talk more about sanctification?

Why don't you focus more on holy living?

Why don't you tell people more and more what they are supposed to do?

These are the sort of questions that I'll often run across, and I'll admit, they always strike me as sort of strange.  They are so active and aggressive.  They are focused on me and what I do rather than Christ and what He does (He is the one who Sanctifies - we are made to be holy).  Am I to tell you how to have better reason to boast? 

But it does get me thinking.  Do we know what the "sanctified" life would look like?  Think about this - how often in the Scriptures is the great and good example not what we'd expect.

It's not the rich who give proudly - it's the unnoticed widow with her mite.
It's not the official from Capernaum making bold demands - it's the humble Centurion.
It's not the servant who says what he does - it's the one who says he's unworthy and simply does as he was told.
It's not the one who does great and obvious works - it's the one who has love.

You know what Holy living looks like?  Things I don't notice.  Things that don't draw my attention.

Consider the fruits of the Spirit... how often are they noticed, how often do they draw you eye?  Folks being peaceful don't draw your attention - the guy shouting angrily does.  Folks exercising self-control don't draw your attention - the folk whooping and hollering do.

Call me cynical... but I don't wonder if some of these requests aren't trying to find ways in which the old sinful flesh can find "good" things to do that draw the attention back onto itself.  What can I do that I can focus on and see, and that way they'll say good things about me.

There is a famous prayer where we pray for a "quiet and peaceful" life... one that goes by without notice.  That's a good thing.

And you are forgiven in Christ.  That is what you have.  That is what He gives you.  It really is all good, it really is all holy already.

God grant that I would learn to see this more and more and notice myself less and less! 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Trinity 21

Trinity 21 – October 15th and 16th, 2016 – John 4:46-54

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

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

One of the dangers in modern America is a tendency to almost quietly sell Jesus short, to undercut His power, and substitute our own. To think that He can’t do things that He says He does. We had an infant baptism here today/yesterday – yet many would deride this – it's no good unless they decide for themselves – oh, so God can't bring life and salvation unless I act? Kind of makes God out to be sort of powerless. Or there are those who deny that Christ's Body in Blood is really present in the Supper. “He's up in heaven, He can't be down here on the altar!” Or maybe we could stop telling the Word of God that He can't do what He says, hmmm? Or even think about what we hear about prayer. Oh, if you just say this prayer the right way God’s gonna give you all blessings that you desire. Am I in charge of God? Do I get to tell God, “You must bless me and in this way”? Do you see how over and over sinful man wants to tell God how to do His job, what He can and can't do? And this is where the man in our lesson errs. Please heal my son – great. You need to come down and heal him in this way – not so great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is more than we expected, but God does more for us than we anticipate. This is His great love for you. Go, you will live. + In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Trinity 20 Sermon

Trinity 20 – October 8th and 9th, 2016 – Matthew 22:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The people of Jesus' day, the Jewish folks, had always been looking towards a feast. Not just any feast, but the feast of salvation and victory and life and joy. It's how the Old Testament works. Adam and Eve fall by eating the wrong thing – but God in His mercy provides rescue, gives His children good things to eat. So yes, Adam would work the field and grow crops by the sweat of his brow, but one day – the feast would come. One day there'd be Eden restored – in fact, Eden surpassed – a feast beyond anything that mankind had ever seen.

In the meantime, the people of God would often get in trouble, but God would deliver them through food. When they were slaves, trapped in Egypt, God rescued them from the hand of Pharaoh – and how? While the Egyptians were hit by the 10th plague, the death of the first born, the Jewish people sat in their houses and had a hasty feast. There was the blood of the lamb on the door, and there was the Lamb – roasted quickly. And they had to eat not in comfort, but fully dressed with their staff in their hand because they were going to have to get up and go when Pharaoh finally let God's people go. A feast – but a hurried one, a meager one. It was the feast that they celebrated yearly in remembrance of God's deliverance – in fact, at the time of our Gospel lesson, Jesus in the temple during holy week, the week leading up to the Passover celebration. And so, there Jesus is, speaking to people looking forward to the Passover feast, but also the greater feast, the feast of all time in the Kingdom of God. To these folks, Jesus speaks this parable.

The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. There it is. This is the feast that we've all been waiting for. Not the mere passover meal of lamb and bread and bitter herbs, but God's Kingdom will be like unto a great feast, a royal feast – a King sparing no expense to throw a party for his son and bride. It won't just be the party of the year, or of the decade – it will be the party of all time! It's what we've all supposed to have been waiting for. The great and free and everlasting feast. And the call goes out – the feast is ready! And... crickets. Wah-wah-waaaa. The folks who know, the folks who should have been eagerly looking for this feast – nothing.

Again he sent other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, see, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” Maybe they just forgot. Maybe they forgot how wondrous this is going to be. It's not a cold-cut sandwich spread. It's not even that nice family chicken or lamb dinner. This is oxen and calves, the fatted ones even. It's the top of the top folks! Come! Come to the wedding feast and rejoice and celebrate and just have fun! But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. Nope. They wouldn't come. Some just blew the King off – doesn't that just sound like a bad idea, blowing the King off? But anyway, they blow him off, head back not to something better, not even to a different party... but back to the farm, back to the business. Sorry, King – I'd rather stare at the back end of my oxen plowing a field than eat yours; sorry King – I'd rather go build a table than sit and feast at yours. Those were just the foolish ones, but it gets worse. There are scoffers and mockers – folks who mock and manhandle the servants, even killing them. Well, you don't mess with the King. The King was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burnt their city. Could've had a feast – instead, your city in flames. Way to go. Bad choice.

But now, what is our king to do? Then he said to his servants, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” Alright, just head on out there, and whoever you come across, whatever they may be – invite them. Tell them of the feast. It doesn't matter whether they are rich or poor, popular or scorned – red or yellow or black or white – bring them all in. Let's pack this party and get it going. And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests. Both bad and good. Doesn't matter, let's get the party going. So the servants pack them in, get them all seated, and we're ready to go. But there was one more problem.

But when the King came in to look at the wedding guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – for many are called, but few are chosen. Well, that escalated quickly. Actually – not really. The custom at the time would be at a royal feast, the king would deck you out royally. Think of it like a themed kid's birthday party – where you walk in and they hand you themed hats – and you go to the party and you wear that little pointy paper hat because that's what we do at the party. Well, this guy's not wearing his wedding garment – he's too cool for school – he's too “good” to wear the royal robes the King gave him. You know what he is. He's a spoilsport. And he was speechless – it wasn't a mistake, it wasn't that he hadn't gotten one – just nope – I want to do my own thing, I don't want to be lame like you folks. And so out you go – no spoilsports at this party – and then the feast begins. Many had been called here, but only a few finally made it to the feast. So what of that – let's eat.

The folks standing in the Temple that day would have known what they were hearing. Jesus, in this parable sums up the history of the Old Testament. Over and over God reminds people of His great feast through His prophets – reminds them of the coming of the Messiah and Salvation. And over and over again the prophets are treated shamefully. Moses is constantly disobeyed and aggravated. The judges are routinely forgotten. Even Samuel, the greatest of the judges, gets put out to pasture and ignored by Saul. And then when God gives Israel an earthly King, as they so wanted, they reject the line of David, and there's rebellion. And then prophets come, and they preach, and they are mocked, beaten, rejected, dragged into exile... and finally, the city of Jerusalem is burned. And all the prophets had called out, “return to God, come and wait on His deliverance, wait on His feast.” Isaiah cried out, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters, and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Seek the Lord while He may be found.” Come, come to the feast – seek the Lord while He's here jumping up and down saying, “I'm over here, come to the feast.” And they didn't. And there was destruction.

There is reproof and warning here. Don't reject Me, Christ says, as your fathers rejected me and were destroyed. And yet, by the end of this very week, they will have seized Christ, and treated Him shamefully, and killed him. No more of this! We want to hear no more of this, we are going to do our own thing, we will dance to our own tune, and to hell with what God wants to give us! Oh well. To think that by pouting you would stop God's Kingdom from coming. To think you are going to prevent God almighty from doing what He wants to. Kill the Son – oh well, look at this, He is raised on the third day, and He ascended into Heaven, and when He comes back all the dead will be raised and there will be the everlasting feast of the Lamb, the feast of victory – and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

But in the mean time - “Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.” Folks, it's not an accident that at the end of Matthew Jesus tells the disciples - “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, Baptizing them.” That was intentional. He did that on purpose. And here we are in the parable – the invitation has gone out throughout the world, even to strange and exotic places like Herscher. There is forgiveness and salvation in Christ Jesus – He has died and risen and your sins are forgiven. Because of him and in Him you will have everlasting life – simply believe. Come, be baptized into Christ, clothed in the robes of His royal righteousness. Have a foretaste of His feast – see that you are indeed forgiven, that you are joined to Christ – this is His Body, this is His Blood -shed for you for the remission of all of your sin.

Yet, there was one word of warning at the end of that parable. All of us here – we are here, we are worthy, we are chosen and elected – in Christ. In Holy Baptism. We come to this place with trust in the fact that Jesus is righteous and good – not trust in ourselves. And know what Satan will do. He'll try to get to us blow this feast off – to just go back to our business and stuff and ignore the feast. That's not good. Or, more insidiously, he'll try to stroke our ego, tell us that we are here because we're just that good – unlike those bad people over there. Nope – not the way this works. There's not a person in this town, in this county, in this world who shouldn't be in here. And all of us – here not on our own merits, but solely because of Christ. Remember that. See what he has done for you. Fight down your sin, fight down your pride. Confess it all, and rather receive the good things God gives you, because it is His joy to bring you gifts. Walk wisely – that is know your own sin and strive against it, but more importantly, know Christ Jesus who has richly defeated death and won forgiveness for your sin, so that you have everlasting life. Rejoice in the gifts He gives you, now and forever more – for you are called to the everlasting feast, and you are chosen in Christ for everlasting joy and life. You were chosen indeed, In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Trinity 19 Sermon

Trinity 19 – October 1st and 2nd, 2016 – Matthew 9:1-8

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

It was love, pure and simple. It was love that motivated these people to bring this paralyzed man to Jesus. These nameless people in the text – we don’t even know if they were family or friends – whoever they were – out of love and concern they bring this man who can no longer walk to Jesus. In our Gospel lesson today, we see an incredible story of love – love shown to a poor paralyzed man. But we also see a tale of how often God’s love isn’t desired by man, but rather how it is despised and rejected. So that is what we will do - let us compare our thoughts about love and about how to love with God’s Word, and see what we learn about God’s love for us.

And behold, some people brought to Him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, My son; your sins are forgiven. When we hear this, we can think that there is something wrong. We can think that the solution doesn’t fit the cure. Your sins are forgiven? Jesus, the guy can’t walk! Who cares about his sin right now – heal him, make him walk! We can almost, if we dare admit it, get slightly annoyed with Jesus – oh, Jesus, just get to the point and heal the poor guy! You know what this means? It means that often our expectations of God’s love are wrong. We can think, “the chief problem here must be that the guy is disabled – so fix it.” But note something from the text. And when Jesus saw their faith – when Jesus sees the faith of these people, the faith of this paralyzed man – sees their heart – that’s when Jesus tells this poor man that his sins are forgiven.

Before this account, Matthew records many miracles – it seems almost routine. Jesus heals lots of folks of lots of things. Chapter 8 itself has a leper, the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and two demon possessed men. But this is the first time in Matthew that faith is mentioned with a healing. So maybe it’s not a case of Jesus missing the point, but Jesus hitting things spot on. Think about, for a moment, the times when things go badly in your life – when things go wrong. How often does that thought creep in – “maybe I did something to anger God – maybe this is my sin coming back to bite me”? How easily we can become burdened with guilt and shame! This was the case with this paralyzed fellow. The popular Jewish understanding what that if something bad happened to you, some tragedy, it was direcly your fault. In John, when they see a blind man, the disciples ask, Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” So there you have this paralyzed man – and Christ sees his faith – sees the faith of the man’s friends – and our Lord speaks. Take heart – be enheartened – your sins are forgiven.

This is the sadness of our day and age. We so often only see things in terms of this life – how much we have, how good or poor our bodies are – we think with our stomachs and plan with our pocket books – and we so often miss the more important reality. This paralyzed man of faith didn’t have our weaknesses; he knew what was important. He was concerned that his sin condemned him, not just to a life stuck on a mat, but to an eternity of damnation and hell. And Christ speaks a word of forgiveness to him, and he is enheartened! Would that our approach be the same as this paralyzed man’s! Would that our faith, our desire for forgiveness dominate our lives, whatever comes down the pike, be it sickness or health, wealth or poverty, droughts or floods! But too often we don’t think this way, we let the cares and concerns of this life push the things of faith and eternal life to the back burner. We let ourselves be filled with worry about this world instead of simply trusting. So Christ says to you the same thing as he says to this paralyzed man. Take heart, your sins are forgiven. Take heart. Be encouraged – let nothing take your joy from you, for your sins are forgiven – and all these trials, all these troubles – they are temporary, they will pass away, but God’s love for you never passes away, the peace of forgiveness and the joy of Christ never pass away – for they are eternal, they are the things of eternal life. No tragedy, no trial of this life can overshadow this truth.

But Satan will try to overshadow this. When Jesus says these words, the scandalous thing wasn’t that He didn’t just out and out heal the guy, but rather that Jesus asserted that He could forgive sins. And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming. There was a good reason they said this. One of the things we can forget about sin is that sin is always against God. If someone sins and it hurts us, we complain about what they have done to us. You’ve sinned against me. Yes. . . but that’s not the main thing. The main thing is that sin, all sin, is against God. When David gets caught in his adultery and murder, he doesn’t say, “Boy, I sure sinned against Uriah by killing him – boy, I sure sinned against Bathsheba by dragging her into adultery.” He had, I suppose, but that’s not the angle David takes. Instead, he says, I have sinned against the LORD.” David then writes in Psalm 51 “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Your sightand then begs for a clean heart and a right spirit. Sin is always, first and foremost, against God. When your neighbor sins against you, that isn’t primarily a sin against you – but against God. When you sin against your neighbor, when you think poorly of them or speak ill of them or harm them in any way – that isn’t a sin primarily against your neighbor, but you are sinning against God – the God who told you to love that person. This is what those Scribes knew – sin is always against God – and this is why they are shocked by what Jesus says. Sin is against God – so therefore, only God can forgive sins. If Jesus were just a man, this would be most blasphemous!

And Jesus will respond to this. And Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk?’ But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” – He then said to the paralytic – “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. Jesus knows what these scribes are thinking – of course He does, He is God with us, Emmanuel! Yes, Jesus can forgive sins, yes He has this authority. But how to show it, how to demonstrate it? Well, watch this. Hey guy, get up and go home. I am Christ Jesus, I have authority over the Body, I have authority over the soul as well. The healing here – the man being cured of his paralysis, is only done to show that the Spiritual healing which Christ proclaimed was real. Christ wants to prove that when He says sins are forgiven that He has the authority to do so.

Authority is a big, important word in Scripture, and in the New Testament authority is always tied to being able to forgive sins. And here is the thing – the idea that just confuses and shocks so many folks out there – Christ Jesus gives this authority to His Church in order that even to this day people might receive forgiveness here on earth and know that it is true and valid in heaven. For example, think about the Great Commission. Before Jesus sends out the Disciples to do their work, what does He say? All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Do you see how it works? Christ says, “I have authority to forgive sins, and now I am sending you out to go forgive sins. You have My authority now, you speak My Word and act in My Name – go baptize people for the forgiveness of sins in My Name. Authority to forgive sins. Or in John 20 – what does Jesus say to the disciples? Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you. Even as the Father has sent Me, I am sending you.” And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven.” Again – Jesus sends out the disciples, His Apostles – for that is what Apostle means – it means “sent one” – with a very specific mission – to exercise this authority to forgive sins.

And this is what God’s Church is to be about to this day. That’s why in the Nicene Creed we call it the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church – it’s the Church that does the same thing the Apostles did – shower out forgiveness upon people. And this is a marvel – that forgiveness is available. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men. That’s what we do even to this day – we glorify the God who gives forgiveness. You see, this is the heart of God’s love for you. Not in the temporary things that fade away, but in the fact that He constantly provides you the forgiveness won for you upon the Cross by Christ Jesus so that you may be cared for, not merely for a day or two, not just until the next crisis, but that you may be cared for for all eternity! God’s love for you is focused upon the big picture, the long run, and He will focus your eyes upon His forgiveness and strengthen your faith so that you may stand and remain strong in the face of all trials in this life, large or small. His forgiveness is real, His love for you is real, and His Cross overshadows all things in your life. You are His, and nothing shall separate you from His love in Christ Jesus. Whatever came at you this week, whatever sins clawed at you again, whatever fears loom large in this week to come – take heart, my friends, your sins are forgiven. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.