Saturday, November 26, 2016

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – November 26th and 27th, 2016 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This is the way we start the Church year, the way we begin this season of Advent – with the story of Palm Sunday. It’s a familiar story, a popular story, a happy one. Who among us doesn’t like the waving of palm branches, the joyous excitement and expectation that is part and parcel of that day? And we start the Church year with this reading because Advent is all about joyous expectation in the face of hardship, excitement that Christmas is almost here. Advent is the season where we get to look forward – we take our place with those of the Old Testament looking forward to the first coming of the Christ Jesus, which we will celebrate come Christmas Eve. However, this text is not simply here to set the mood, to set the ambiance of our Christmas Shopping Season, it’s not merely meant to whet our appetites for the holidays. Rather, this text teaches us who Christ Jesus is, who this Child whose birth we will celebrate on Christmas is, who it is that does all these miracles, who it is that goes to the Cross. This text doesn’t just set us up for Advent, but it sets us up for the entirety of the Church Year, it sets us up for every reading we will hear, every sermon that will be preached, every service in this place. Why do I say this? Because everything in the Church can be summed up in the words of prophet Zechariah, “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

So, let us ponder this for a bit. The very first thing we have to get down pat is that Christ Jesus is our King. Well, duh, Pastor, we know that! Yes, we know that, we all say it, we pray “Thy Kingdom Come” – but I wonder if we, especially we as Americans, really get what the fact that Jesus is our King… means. We're used to having a president. We're used to polls and voting and they had better campaign and tell me what I want to hear, otherwise I'll vote for the other person! You've got 4 years to impress, or You're Fired! We love our democracy – the rule of the people – we the people! We're in charge! That’s not how it works with a King. We don’t choose or elect Christ – rather, He is the King, and He has said, “I am Your King, and you will be My people.” We aren’t the ones in charge – He is. And more to the point, while we might have every right as Americans and in fact a civic duty to think critically about our leaders and evaluate them and even protest them if we want… that’s not our relationship with Jesus. Christ Jesus isn’t going to worry about opinion polls or even angry crowds – even the one of Good Friday morning. He is the King, and what He says goes.

And as sinful human beings, according to our sinful flesh, we hate the fact that Jesus is King. That’s what sin is – sin is nothing other than rebelling against Christ Jesus and trying to make ourselves king in His place. Our King says, “Don’t eat of this tree” – the serpent says, “Eat of this tree, then you’ll get to be like God, you’ll get to be the King!” And thus sin and our rebellion begins. And every sin, every temptation to sin is nothing more than us telling Jesus, “No, we don’t want you to be our King.” Well, that sort of puts a point on it – yet it's true. Sin is rejecting God. But here is the wonder of the ages – even though by our sin we reject, we turn our backs upon Christ Jesus, He does not abandon us. He could have simply washed His hands of us – said, “You don’t want to be in My Kingdom of life and joy – fine – forget you. Enjoy your wretchedness.” But He doesn’t. Instead, He tells His servants to say, “Say to the daughter of Zion- Behold, your King is coming to you.” Christ Jesus is not content to let you remain trapped in sin, trapped in rebellion, and so He is determined to come to you. If you now dwell in a fallen sinful world, He will come into that sinful fallen world, be born of a Virgin, to rescue you. If you now dwell in Satan’s clutches, He will come, be tempted and hounded by Satan, all to restore you and make you once again part of His own kingdom. If you are hounded by death, Christ Jesus will even be scourged and crucified, all to give you life that does not end or fade. Your King is determined to be your King, a King for you, and what we see here in His Church is nothing but His coming to you and for you.

“Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” Christ Jesus is King, and He will do things His way, for indeed, He is wise and gracious, and He knows what is best. And He comes humbly. In our text we see Him entering Jerusalem upon a donkey. And that is a humble thing – even with the crowds lauding Him – it’s humble. A conquering king, one would think, should enter a city on a mighty steed, with vast armies behind him. In fact, that’s sort of what the crowd there was hoping for – a mighty warrior king who would pull down the Romans and kick the gentiles out. That was what they were expecting – but that is not what Christ comes to do. No, His enemies are much bigger than the small fish of Roman rule – no, His targets are Satan and Sin and Death – and so He comes humbly. It is in His humility and gentleness that He defeats our foes – Christ Jesus doesn’t wrap His hands around Satan, but rather defeats Satan by being handed over to death. His humility is what brings Him victory. But the crowd did not want a humble king. They wanted one who was brash and bold and would drop down the smite on the Romans… and so Christ Jesus is rejected.

We today need remember that Christ Jesus, our King, is humble. Granted, as He is risen, He is exulted, and every knee shall bow at His name, but He is still humble, and He still teaches us to be humble. In every teaching of Christ, you will see this Humility come forth. Let’s think of some examples – turn the other cheek. What is that but humility – what is that but being determined to still love and care for your neighbor regardless of what he or she does to you? That’s humility. Or how about “let your light shine before men that they might see your good works and glorify”… not you, but glorify your Father in heaven. Again – humility, learning to shape our lives so that others are shown God, so that others are pointed to Christ Jesus who is their king as well. That’s humility. One could very easily say that the Christian life, that growing as a Christian is nothing but learning more and more humility. It is nothing but learning to beat down those sinful, egotistical desires, and rather striving to be a humble servant, content to show love to the neighbor no matter what the cost – even as Christ Jesus our King is humble and is content to show us love, no matter what the cost.

And again, we can rebel against this so. I know people who will say, “I just don’t see how those crowds on Palm Sunday could be the same ones shouting out for Jesus to be Crucified on Good Friday.” I know how – my own flesh cries out against Christ when I am called on to be humble. If someone annoys me, my sinful flesh doesn’t want to be humble, it wants to strike out and lash out, and back then it too would have yelled, “Crucify Him, away with this humility, I want nothing of it!” But Christ Jesus knows this struggle that I face, that you face – and thus He continues to come to us, He comes to us humbly. He comes with mercy and compassion and forgiveness that breaks down and destroys our pride, our arrogance, our sinfulness that upon reflection brings nothing but shame. Christ does not spurn you in your sin, but instead He deigns to come once again to you to forgive and renew you.

And how does Christ Jesus come to you? “Behold, your King is coming to you, Humble.” Christ Jesus comes to you this day to forgive you your sin, to give you His own humble strength, and how? In very simple, humble means. There are no flashes of lighting or peals of thunders – that will wait for the last day. There are no brash demonstrations of power and might. No. He comes to you humbly. He knows that you struggle against sin, and so He comes to you humbly through His Word of forgiveness and life spoken to you. And even that spoken Word of forgiveness is given humbly – He doesn’t send James Earl Jones and his booming voice or Brad Pitt or some other stunningly handsome celebrity – no, He sends a short, overweight guy with a lisp. Eh, so be it – you are forgiven on account of Christ Jesus, your Humble King. Your Humble King comes to you via holy baptism, which again, is really a humble thing. A bit of water combined with the Word of God – not much to see, in fact, much of the world disdains baptism, thinks the best it might be a symbol, a quaint ceremony. No – it is your King coming to you, it is your King declaring that you are now His royal co-heir of the new heavens and the new earth, that life everlasting is yours. Your Humble King comes to you in His Holy Supper – and again, that is Humble. To have His most holy meal, nothing complicated or grandiose is needed, no caviar or single malt scotch – He takes bread and He takes wine and by the power of His Word He Himself comes to us, restores us, renews us. And all of this, all of it for our own good. Even before we would think to seek Him out, He has called us into His kingdom and promised to be with us – because He is our Holy and Righteous and Good King, who in His humble love for us comes to bring us salvation.

This is what we will spend the season of Advent looking forward to with expectant hearts – to see the mystery of Jesus' holy and humble nativity for our salvation. This is what we will see the rest of this Church year, indeed, every time we are gathered together in worship – we see our humble King coming to us for our own good. Behold, Oh daughter of Zion, your King is coming to you, and He will come to you humbly in this place, in His worship even until the day when He comes again and takes you to share in His eternal reign world with out end. Come quickly Lord Jesus – In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Sermon

Thanksgiving Day, 2016 – Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
There are moments, things in life, that just amuse me – that I find ironic and funny and yet also off. And one of those strange quirks is just how many churches, how many congregations don’t have service today on Thanksgiving. And then we get this Gospel lesson – “Where are the nine?” It just sort of stands out to me as ironic. And I’ll talk with guys, and the reasons are familiar – folks are traveling to see family, and there’s all the busy cooking to be done, and now there’s even shopping tonight to get ready for (although people tend to be embarrassed telling a pastor that). And all of this I understand – I’ll do all of it today too. But it does give background, insight into our text and also into the whole idea of thankfulness. This text is not “good people give thanks, bad people don’t, aren’t you glad you are a good person” – rather, it shows how easily we can be so absorbed by the blessings God has given us that we forget God, more or less.

“On the way to Jerusalem [Jesus] 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.’” As background – if you were a leper in the ancient world, you were banished from the cities. You had a contagious skin disease, and for everyone’s good, you had to go. You were consigned to a life of isolation and solitude – unless you banded together with a bunch of other lepers. It was horrific – you are banished and also sick, and sick in a somewhat gross and disgusting fashion. And so when Jesus comes, these folks call out to Him – have mercy. Heal us! Help us! Precisely what they ought to do.

And Jesus responds. “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priest.’ And as they went they were cleansed.” One of the things that always, always amazes on this text is that every leper starts walking to show themselves to the priest while they are still sick and full of leprosy. There is no better picture of what our lives are like, of what faith is, of what walking by faith and not by sight actually is. When they look down, they see nothing but sickness, yet Jesus has said, “Go” – and so they go. Go show yourself to the priest, show yourself to be healed – because that’s what you had to do to get back into the community. If the priest declared that you were clean, you could come home. And even as they see the sores still upon them – they go at Jesus’ word. Now, consider this. You see and know your own sin. You are a sinner – that’s just reality. And let’s face it, there are times when that reality, that truth, the horror of our own sin stands out and smacks us right between the eyes. But what has Christ Jesus said to you? You are baptized, and washed clean by Me. Peace be with you. Take and eat, take and drink, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin. This is what He has declared… and yet, day in and day out, we see our sin. But at Christ’s word we believe, and we know that we are clean before the Father in heaven.

It’s a powerful depiction, a powerful image of faith. And it is true – “And as they went they were cleansed. 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 thanks. Now, he was a Samaritan.” And they get healed. The word of the Lord rings true. And here we move to the crux of this text – only one returns and gives thanks. And so often here comes the finger wag – you better be thankful, unlike those lousy 9 lepers. But that’s not quite what Jesus would have us ponder. “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Did you hear it? We don’t have Jesus condemning the nine – we don’t hear “And Jesus called down fire from heaven and smote those ungrateful jerks.” No, Jesus asks a question. Where are the nine? Why didn’t they return and give… praise. It’s really not even a question about thankfulness, but rather, praise.

I’m sure the 9 lepers were quite happy that they were healed. I’m sure they weren’t indifferent or shrugging things off. In fact, I’m sure they were quite enjoying the blessing that Jesus had given them. I know that if I were suddenly healed and able to see and hug and hold my wife and kids for the first time in months, in years, I’d be quite happy. Just as the folks who are traveling to see family or busily cooking or plotting out their shopping runs are delighting in blessings that God has given them. But here’s where the rubber meets the road. When you are focused on the blessings you have received, it can be easy to in your joy forget to where those blessings came from. We rejoice in family – but how often do we remember the words “What God has joined together… let not man put asunder.” We rejoice in our food – but how often do we remember that this is the daily bread that God has provided? How often do we say the common table prayer at record speed? And of course, even with the shopping and sales, how often do we pause and think, “Ah, yes, this is how God wondrously and fantastically has provided for me, how He has clothed me and sheltered me and supported me in ways that Solomon in all his splendor couldn’t have imagined?”

“Was no one found to return and give praise to God….” That is the question. It's not thanks, it's praise. To praise God is to declare what *He* has done, and so often we can view the things in our lives forgetting that they come from God. We can say “my family, my town, my church” – forgetting that they belong to God and He has give me to them in order to serve them. We can open up our wallet when paying for the turkey or that great sale and think about how hard we worked in the office, in the fields, and forget that it is God’s own bounty that has provided for us, that He has given us time, talent, and treasure, skills and opportunity. And again, this isn’t some holier-than-though finger wagging. When I go shopping, I generally don't, “Oh, look at how blessed I am” – I think, “Did I get everything on the list?” It is just the reality of being sinners in a sinful world that we are not always aware of what God has done, that these truths that we know are not always first and foremost in our mind. This is part of the reason why it is good to pause, to return to God in His Presence in His House and to offer up praise. Because here together we are pulled away from that rat race out there and made to think about God, made to praise Him together in our worship.

But more than just that. The key point of worship isn’t the praise we give. That isn’t the highlight, isn’t the focus. The text doesn’t end simply with Christ’s question about the 9. It continues. “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.’” In the end,what’s the difference between the 1 and the 9? They all get to go on their way, they all get healed, they all get the physical blessings – indeed, they all had faith in what Christ Jesus had told them and received the benefits He promised! But the Samaritan gets to be in the presence of Jesus, gets to be in Christ Jesus’ presence and hear Jesus speak directly, personally, closely to Him. Before they had only heard Jesus at a distance – now this Samaritan hears, sees Jesus face to face as it were. And that is what Church is. The fellow who gruffly says, “Well, I can think about God while I’m fishing on Sunday morning – I can be thankful while I’m on the golf course” – they are right. You can. But it is here, in this service, where God is present for you, where God comes to you and blesses you directly. It is here where you hear His Word proclaimed, here where He comes to you in His Holy Supper, here where God Himself is Present for you. And that doesn’t happen golfing or fishing or shopping or cooking or in any of those other wonderful first article blessings. It is where two or three are gathered in His Name that He has promised to be – bringing love and mercy and forgiveness. Where He has promised to say to you, “see, you are made well, your sins are forgiven.” It is here were we are refreshed and prepared to rightly enjoy the blessings of both body and soul that He richly and freely provides for us.

Dear friends, God has been gracious to you, and this grace rests not upon you, not upon how great or how thankful you are. Rather, it rests upon His love, His steadfast love for you that endures forever. And He is faithful and just, and whenever you are gathered into His house, He will see that His love is proclaimed again to you – all thanks and praise be to Christ Jesus our Redeemer, who has gifted us with the Holy Spirit and restored us to the Father. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Last Sunday Sermon

Last Sunday of the Church Year – November 19th and 20th, 2016 – Mt. 25:1-13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming King +
And here we are. The Last Sunday of the Church Year. It is the close of another cycle of reading through the Scriptures. We have heard the entire plan of salvation laid out, heard all that Christ Jesus has done for us. And here, at the end, we are pointed forward, pointed to the Last Day. It shall come – we do not know when – “Watch therefore, for You know neither the day nor the hour.” It’s that truth that we confess in the creed – He will come again to judge the living and the dead. And to teach us, to prepare us for His second coming, Christ Jesus tells us the parable of the wise and foolish virgins.

“Then the Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” One of the odd or strange things about living today, almost 2000 years after Christ first tells this story, is that we just don’t get how incredibly stupid and foolish these foolish virgins are. This is the ultimate “duh” story. If you were a virgin invited to the wedding feast of someone rich and famous, you had one job – you were there for one thing – to be a light bearer, to stand there with a glowing lamp and look pretty. A glowing lamp. One that has fuel. I’m trying to think of a modern equivalent of something that would be just as flat out obvious and stupid. It would be like 11 men went onto the field to play football, but 5 were foolish and didn’t bring their pads and helmets. Completely dumb.

And this plays out in the next part: As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was the cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’” And this is part that always strikes us as odd – shouldn't they have shared, made do with what they had? No, it doesn’t, it can’t work that way. Boy, the other team is awfully big and I don’t have my helmet - hey, I know, split your helmet in half and we can each wear a half, isn’t that a brilliant idea? You are either ready for the wedding, for the game, or you aren’t. If it’s the day of your wedding, and one of your bridesmaids never bothered to buy her dress and instead just wants to share a dress with one of the other bridesmaids, she’s just an idiot.

And so the foolish miss it. They knew the wedding was coming. They had their lamps. But because of their folly, the are left out in the cold. The wise are prepared, they follow the Bridegroom to the party, to the marriage feast. The foolish are left with no one to blame but themselves. They never got ready, they never cared, even when the bridegroom was late and they had extra time.

So, in the Church, for us here today, what separates the wise from the foolish? What distinguishes those who are prepared for Christ’s coming and those who aren’t? Today, just as it was in Christ’s day, those who have heard the Word of God, heard the preaching of the Gospel, can be either wise or foolish. Matthew 24 and 25 are all about the second coming and the end times – the teaching, the warning, the heads up is given. And even Christ Jesus knew that there would be those there hearing Him who just didn’t care. Who would smile and nod, and then go on with life with nary a thought. And we see the same today. What is the difference? In the parable it’s oil – do you have your oil or not? Did you bring your pads and helmet? Wait a second, we heard a few minutes ago about armor – “Let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.” The difference is this – the wise pay attention to Christ and His forgiveness, they receive His salvation that He proclaims and preaches and gives here in this place, gives through Baptism, through preaching, through the forgiveness proclaimed here, through the Supper. That is what gives us and builds us up in faith and love and makes us ready for Christ to come, that is what gives us salvation. Everything rests, hinges, upon hearing and receiving Christ’s gifts.

And now, we get to the dangerous part of this sermon, of preaching upon this text. We’ve got the text sorted out, we see what is going on… and now to apply it. And there’s a danger, a simple but terrible way we could apply this. We could turn this into a giant lament and gripe session about the foolish, about all the people who aren’t here, about the people who would say oh yes, yes, I’m a member at Trinity, but haven’t darkened the door in ages. There are members here I haven't met in a year and a half, folks who say that they are members but probably don't even know my last name. And I could rail against them angrily – grr, naughty people. I could be sad and wring my hands – oh, those poor fools. And either way I would just end up patting all of us on the back and saying “see how good and great you are because you are here today” and sigh and be full of self-satisfaction. Except, none of that has to do with Christ Jesus and forgiveness. None of that would be oil for the lamps, pads or helmets for the game. Even though Christ makes a distinction between the wise and foolish, dear friends, never let this text become an “us versus” them thing. The point is this – Christ is coming, and while Satan wants you unprepared, Christ prepares you.

Christ is coming. We confess this truth over and over again. And yet what does Satan, what does society tell us? That we are stupid to believe this – that it’s a waste of time. It's been thousands of years and nothing. As though the Scriptures aren’t chalk full of things taking quite a long time and the faithful waiting. But we are bombarded by this, we are attacked and assailed by those who want to cause doubts. And it wears on us – and as the text says, we become drowsy. And so we must hear the Word. We must be awoken again with the call, Here is the bridegroom, come out to meet him.” Christ has said He will come again, and so He shall. And yet, even life itself in this world tries to drag us down. Aches and pains, death, mourning. We all see it, more than we want to. Isaiah laments this reality – build a house and someone else inhabits it; plant a vineyard and someone else gets the grapes, labor in vain, bear children for calamity. Things in this life go terribly, and we can be tempted to just not care, to run off and try to find whatever fleeting pleasure and joy we can – eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Run around like mad to make this Holiday season the perfect ho-ho-ho time of joy and wonderfully perfect because we had better have fun or else. And it doesn’t work. Something’s going to go wrong with Thanksgiving; December’s going to be a mess as it always is. The same old family fights will probably be fought again this year. Because that’s life in a fallen world.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” There is more. As much as Satan and the world and our own dying flesh try to make us believe that this junk in life is all that there is, there is more. Christ Jesus knows – He understands what you see, what you experience. He created this world, and on the very day that sin first messed with His creation, His coming was proclaimed – He would come to crush the head of Satan, to put to right what had gone wrong. And He knows what life is like here – He Himself took on human flesh, became man, was born, had to cry to get fed, had to wait to have His diapers changed. He grew and all the junk we see, He got too, He went through. He hungered, He thirst, He ached, He was betrayed and mocked and ignored by friends. I am reminded of John 6, a great chapter – Jesus feeds the 5000 thousand. This should be an utter triumph. But instead, they want to make Him an earthly King by force, and He runs away. Then He walks on water, and the disciples are afraid. Then He proclaims that He is the Bread of Life – and people complain about the preaching. And we hear this – verse 66 – “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” Jesus knows exactly what your life, what life here is like. He saw it, He lived it. And in one of the more poignant passages of Scripture, we hear this, words that we sometimes sing in service: “So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered Him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”

From 5000 down to twelve. Even down to just 5 wise virgins. And yet, what is the hinge? The words of eternal life – the words proclaiming the marriage feast of the Lamb that shall endure for all eternity. Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, came and suffered and died, took up all that we face in this world, and He rose to give you eternal life. To fill your lamps with oil. To fill you with Himself, with His forgiveness – because He Himself is the Light of the World, and in Him, you are the light of the world, for He has given all that He is to you. Over and against everything we see, this truth remains. Because of Christ Jesus, you are forgiven, and He shall come again, and you will be raised. Come gather where His Word is proclaimed, come to where His Body is given for you, His blood poured out for you, rest in Him – and He will see that you are well and thoroughly prepared for that day when He shall come again to bring you with joy to the heavenly wedding of the Lamb and His Bride, to His feast that will have no end. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming King +

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Neighbors or Symbols

In the week following our rather contentious election, I have been bothered by the reactions I've seen.  I've been bothered by the great distress many of my friends have had, at how violently emotions have gripped them.  I've also been bothered by the haughtiness and short memories I've seen from my other friends, because I remember the great freak out and panic of 8 years ago.  (Liberals and Conservatives freak out in different ways - liberals tend to be active, protest, riot, try to affect change; conservatives tend to focus on circling the wagons, protecting themselves and their own -- image that - liberals tend to want to liberate and conservatives want to conserve.  Freak outs both times.)

The observation I have today is this.  I wonder if we really see our neighbors as people - as living, breathing people with a mass of emotion and hopes and dreams and fears and inconsistencies, or do we see them a symbols?  Are they complex human beings, or are they reduced to a check-mark to be categorized into a box?

For many Donald Trump is no longer a person.  He's a symbol for sexism, or racism, or hatred in general.  Therefore, if you voted for Trump, you didn't vote for a person, you voted for sexism, or racism, or hatred.  But before my conservative friends decry how horrible this is, President Obama was a symbol as well.  For those who voted for him, he was "hope".  And for those who voted against him, President of Obama was a symbol.  A symbol of doom, a symbol of saying "we lost the culture war." 

Let's be honest, conservative folks - you all knew a pastor or two who stopped praying for the president by name in the prayer of the church, right?  Oh, you could pray for the president, we're supposed to do that - but to pray for Barack... that meant praying for the symbol of "abortion" or "gay marriage."

All too often we don't view people as people - they are symbols.  They are representations of our hopes or our fears.  And we will stick different meanings to different labels.
Are millennials a symbol of "laziness" or "systemic change"?
Was Hillary Clinton a symbol of "Equality" or "Cronyism"?

We could go further, couldn't we?  We could look at this idea of conflicting symbolism and move into some really dangerous ground politically, couldn't we?  Yeah - we could.  But I don't want to (I will say consider your own symbolism that you use).  Instead, I want to bring up one more symbol.

Me, as I wear my collar - am I a symbol of "forgiveness" or "rejection"?

It should be forgiveness - that's what I am, a professional forgiver.  However... I've got several friends who really don't handle me as well since I've become a pastor.  Not because I suddenly became more conservative - but as a member of the clergy I've got a new layer of symbolism applied to me that wasn't there before.  I'm not just Eric - I'm also a conservative pastor.  I get the symbolic weight of all the other pastors they know - sometimes good weight, but often bad.

Whenever there is hurt, whenever there is chaos, whenever there is political power to be gained or manipulated, we like to revert to symbols.

We're not symbols.  Jesus didn't insymbolate - He was incarnate - He became a living, breathing, flesh and blood human being, with thoughts and opinions (and guess what - they probably wouldn't line up with your political opinions or mine, so let's not even go there -- let's not reduce our Lord to a political symbol).  As the Creed said, "... and was made Man."

Those people out there - even the ones you are upset with, disagree with, are mad at, are mocking, are shaking your head at - they aren't just symbols.  They are people.  They are people for whom Christ Jesus suffered and died, they are people for whom Christ Jesus rose from the dead.

But are they being foolish?  Probably.  I'm foolish all the time.  I attach all sorts of stupid meanings to things all the time.  I spent a week breaking out into tears of joy because Kris Bryant fielded a ground ball in Cleveland -- symbols are powerful things.

But people are more important, especially the neighbors God has placed into your life.

Don't symbolize your neighbor - go love them.  Care for them, give them patience.  And when they need to hear it, let them know what Christ has done for them, let them know that they are forgiven.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Trinity 25 Sermon

Trinity 25 – November 12th and 13th, 2016 – Luke 17:20-30

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our coming Lord +

We are approaching the end of the Church year, and that can be an uncomfortable time of year. This Sunday and the next will deal with the end times, and we can hear our Gospel lessons and start to get nervous, get worried about when the end will come, worried that it will be here too quickly. And if we do that, we completely get everything – everything - backwards. What we will be doing instead is trying to step away, step outside of our preconceived notions of what the Last Days are like – and we will step away from the fear that the world tries to heap upon us about this, and rather we will learn to look forward to the resurrection of the dead, as we confess in the Nicene Creed. So what we will do today is look at this text of Luke, paying careful attention to what Jesus says, and see how we as Christians are to think about the end times. Let’s start at verse 22.

And He said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go out or follow them. Did you hear what Jesus warns the disciples of – what Jesus warns us of? Jesus’ warning isn’t. . . you better watch out, the scary end times are coming – oooOOOOooo. No. The warning is it’s going to take too long – and you will have the days where you sit and think, “I am tired Lord, I’m fed up with all the sin and wickedness and vice I see, I’m tired of my hurts and agonies and sufferings and I want to go home.” And Jesus warns the disciples that they are going to have days like this – and He won’t have come yet.

Isn’t this so completely the opposite of how we in America tend to think of the end times? We in America have been taught and trained to fear the end times. In many ways we are no better off than the monks in Luther’s day, terrified that God might actually come back. The end is nothing to fear. What is hard, what is difficult, is living as a Christian in a sinful world. This world, with all its vaunted pleasures, can be nice sometimes – but it can be mean and nasty and rough and painful the rest of the time. And Christ doesn’t pretend that it isn’t this way. God doesn’t play pretend with you – He is always honest. And yes, this life is rough – and you do have the days where you think, “Lord, just come back already”. You will, because as a Christian you will see the world for what it is.

And when you are hitting those points of struggle, when things seem long and weary – what do you do? You wait on the Lord – you don’t go running off after every fly-by-night scam artist with the latest and greatest heresy and false teaching designed to give you everything your heart desires. You don’t go running after the cult in Jonestown or Waco, you don’t buy into what the quacks are shouting. You simply pray “Thy Kingdom come,” and wait – because when Christ delivers us, it’s going to be obvious that He is here to deliver us. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in His day. When Christ comes back – it won’t be hidden, there won’t be a little secret coming where Jesus sort of sneaks around and talks to a few people to give them the secret decoder ring. No, when Christ comes again – He will come again and it will be right then and there.

And now we will get to some verses that I think can cause some consternation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They will be eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot – they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all – so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. We hear this, and man, it sounds bad. The end times will be like the flood – who wants that! The end times will be like Sodom and Gamorrah – I don’t ever want to see that, I don’t want God to wipe me away in a flood or smite me with fire and brimstone. We hear the punishments, we get panicky and nervous and scared.

But let’s take a moment and listen to what Jesus says. Jesus doesn’t say it will be like the flood, He says it will be like in the days of Noah. So what happened to Noah? He was surrounded by a wicked, evil world, so wicked God couldn’t stand it. And what does God do for Noah – alright, here you go Noah, I will rescue you, I will save you. You will be preserved and these fools who do you such harm won’t even know what hit them. Come into the ark, you and your family, and you will be saved. That doesn’t sound so bad – being saved, being rescued from evil. See what is Christ saying here? I’m going to do for you, o Disciple, what I did for Noah – and that’s a good thing, that’s a comfort.

And again, Jesus doesn’t say that the end times will be like Sodom – He says that they will be like it was in the days of Lot. So what happened to Lot? He was stuck in Sodom. He was stuck in a horrible place, people wanting to break down the doors of his house and abuse his guests, where there’s a real chance that his daughters will be brutalized. And so, what does God do? Alright Lot, it’s time to go, it’s time to get you out of there, let’s get you to someplace better. God rescues Lot from a wicked place. And even though Lot tries to warn the folks, tries to get them to repent – they never see it coming. See what is Christ saying? I’m going to do for you, o Disciple, what I did for Lot – and I will rescue you. Be patient, endure wickedness, and know that I will deliver you.

Don’t you see? The Last Day not a curse. It isn't something to scare you. Jesus is not the boogey-man or the monster in the closet; we shouldn’t be scared of His coming. Rather this – when Christ comes again He will do so to rescue you, to take you from this vale of tears unto the joys of eternal life – and that’s not a bad thing. And still we are nervous about it. So was Lot. He dragged his feet in leaving Sodom – the angels had to pretty much drag him out of there. But what Christ is saying, what Christ is teaching us is this. Don’t fret, don’t worry about the Last Day – indeed, don’t even worry about your own death – because I am your God, and I will deliver you, for I am with you always.

That is Christ’s promise. Listen to the beginning of the Gospel lesson. Being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, He answered them, ‘The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Do you hear what Christ is saying? The Pharisees ask Christ – so when is the Kingdom going to come, when are we going to get the good stuff. And Jesus says, “Quit looking for signs, the Kingdom of God is here in your midst, I am here, what more are you looking for?” This, dear friends, establishes for us how we as Christians approach all things. This shows why we can be bold and confident even as life grows long and we become weary and things in the world just keep getting worse. While we wait for Christ’s second coming, we remember that we aren’t waiting alone. Christ is already here in our midst. What is the Psalm that we all know – Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death – which is precisely the kinds of fears and trials this text talks about – yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil – and why? For Thou art with me.

This is what Christ proclaims to you. Fear nothing, for Christ is with you – and Christ is bigger than anything that you might face in your life. Christ is with you now – for you are Baptized, you were joined to Him by water and the Word. Christ is with you now – He continues to speak His comfort to You through His Word. Christ is with you now – He comes to you in His holy Supper. Christ is always with you – and what does this mean? It means that in the end you will be rescued from every evil, every danger that this world can throw at you and you shall obtain the eternal life that Christ has won for you.

That’s how we approach the end as Christians. Not with fear, not with trepidation. We approach all these things remembering that we are God’s own children, that we are united to Christ. As we await the end – we are simply waiting for God to show to everyone, to show to the entire world what we already know, what we already have. That He is our God who saves us, who protects us, who guides us, and who ultimately delivers us from wickedness unto His eternal life. So dear friends – fear not any talk of the end – for you know what happens, and it ends well for you. Christ Jesus is your Lord, and He lives, and He has won the victory for you – let not death, let not talk of the end appall you any longer. Be confident in Christ Jesus your Lord. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming Lord. Amen.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

All Saints Day Sermon

All Saints Day Observed – November 5th and 6th, 2016 – Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
One of the temptations for every pastor is to turn the sermon into happy advice time. Guys like giving advice. We like to be the folks who can sweep in, say, “Well, you should just do X, Y, and Z, and everything will be fixed.” And for the last three hundred years, there's been a strong trend in Christian pulpits to basically turn Christian teaching and preaching into advice time. In the 18th Century in Germany, you'd hear sermons about the virtues of growing potatoes. Now you can walk in the bookstores and find books about the Christian way to balance your budget; there are sermon series on all sorts of “handy” advice, from how to vote, how to have perfect kids; so on and so forth.

And then, All Saints' Day, we hear our Lord Jesus Christ begin to preach. And it's not happy advice time, not in the slightest. Jesus begins with some of the most audacious statements ever spoken. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Do we think of those as being blessed? If someone is poor in spirit, is feeling down-trodden, don't we try to get them feeling better as soon as possible? If someone mourns, we don't say “congratulations”. If someone is shy, we don't say “great” - we find the article about 7 simple ways to overcome your shyness. And if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, well, go on out and do something – there's surely some protest or social justice cause de jour for you to go and help out with. That's how we think today – we are problem solvers and go-getters and we expect everyone to be problem solvers and go getters, and that's what we try to make everyone be. Fix everything, make everything right, be part of the solution.

And yet, even today, with all that we do, with all our advice and endless books and articles about how to get better, with all our wondrous technological advancements and with all our material wealth... what do we still see? People who are poor in Spirit. People who mourn. People who are meek, who don't want to run the rat race to get ahead. People who see injustice in the world that they can't fix, and who hunger and thirst for true righteousness. See, part of the problem is we want to think we are in control – that if we just had that little bit of information or good advice, we could flip the switch and make everything wondrous. And we can't. We can't. There are simply times when we can't change what's going on around us – and sorrow will come, and mourning will come. Feeling ineffectual and out of control, feeling helpless against the wickedness of the world, these will come. As Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” There's a time, a season – and we are no more in control of those times than any of us gets to control the weather or the seasons. Some days are good, and some, not so much.

So here we are – and Jesus begins to preach, and He doesn't tell us how to take control of our lives and situations – instead, we are presented with our utter lack of control. Because that's our lot in life, we don't get to control the things we'd most want to control. And yet, here comes Jesus Christ, true God and true man, and He looks at you, and He says to you, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You and I, we don't have much power. We don't have much control. Even whoever gets elected President, they'll get to spend the next 4 years learning how little power and control over things they actually have. Yet there is Christ Jesus, and He has power and control, and He says to you that yours is the kingdom of heaven. Are you down-trodden now – well, Christ comes to give you the Kingdom of heaven. And what does this kingdom look like? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Not a there there, or a pat on the back, or you'll adapt to the new normal – but comfort, comfort that comes about from seeing the dead raised again to life come the last day. Comfort that comes from being reunited in the life of the world to come.

Do you see what Jesus is saying here, what He's doing? He is laying out how His salvation works. He's laying out what He is going to do and accomplish as true God and true man, and what He will give to you. Not mere advice to slog along for a few more days, but eternal life and everlasting salvation. And how does He do this for you? He comes down from heaven and takes His place at your side, in the midst of a world full of suffering and pain, and He takes it all upon Himself. Jesus Christ becomes poor in Spirit – weeps tears of blood in Gethesame, that's poor in spirit. Because He will have you in His Heavenly Kingdom, and He will suffer even the Cross to get you there. Jesus Christ Himself mourns – shortest verse in the bible – Jesus wept – and He Himself will see that He is comforted when He calls you, His own friend, from your tomb come the last day.

It goes on. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Christ's reign as king doesn't come with armies and might, it comes when He lets them beat Him, whip Him, place a crown of thorns upon His head and crucify Him with a sign that says, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. Yet, because He dies and rises, He may say to the disciples, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And then He uses this authority, and gives life to you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Christ Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness. When He goes to be baptized, John would have stopped Him, but Jesus tells John, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness.” And Jesus constantly fulfills all righteousness, from there even unto the cross – He does everything well, and he even takes up the entire punishment that we deserve – and He is satisfied enough to cry out, “It is finished.” Nothing pertaining to righteousness is left undone, and so there is now salvation in Him.

And all these things Christ gives to us. He calls us away from a world that is full of strife and contention, a world that tells us all sorts of varied things we must do to get ahead. And Christ Jesus tells us, “No, not that – you are baptized and joined to me. You are my own righteous and holy ones now, so be not like the world, but think like Me.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The world hates mercy – mercy is for suckers. You don't just give freely – if you give there had better be a string attached. Over and against that, Jesus says “I am totally focused upon mercy – and I would have you give mercy as I have given to you – and I shall keep pouring My mercy upon you.”

Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity isn't praised by the world, in fact, when the world saw Christ Jesus who was indeed pure in heart, they hated Him so much they killed Him. Yet who are you, O Christian? You are the baptized, you are one who has been washed clean of all your sin, given a pure heart by Christ. And why? So you will see God. You are forgiven by God because God wants you to see Him, see Him for all eternity and remain in His presence forever.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Peace isn't popular – we've always got to be fighting, whether we're war hawks or social justice warriors. Yet Christ came to make peace – true peace – peace that says, “I forgive you.” Do you know what really denotes a Christian, what is the most Christian thing? Saying, “I forgive you.” It is what the Son of God says to you, and as you are now His brothers and sisters, it is what you are given to say. No matter what the strife, the pain, the anger, the hurt – you are authorized by God to say, “I forgive you” - because you know Christ Jesus who died upon the Cross, and you know that His Cross, His death and resurrection, are bigger than any sin you come across in this life.

Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” No, no advice on how to make the world like you more – rather this. If you are focused upon Christ and His righteousness – upon the fact that we are sinful and need Christ's forgiveness, His perfect righteousness that far surpasses our own, you'll get kicked in the teeth for it. That's the way it is. But you are sons and daughters of righteousness, and everlasting life is yours. Indeed, Jesus says, “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.” We know how the story goes – we've seen it played out over and over again in the Scriptures. The world attacks the church, attacks your faith, attacks you. That's the way it is – but you see beyond just this world, beyond just the here and now – you see the bigger picture, the picture of eternal life and salvation, won not by your actions, but won by Christ Jesus.

This is why we rejoice today. This is why we give thanks to God for the saints who have gone on before us this day. Even as the world did its worst to them, they spoke and proclaimed the wonders of God's love, and now theirs is the kingdom of heaven, with great reward. And we shall see them again, and we shall dwell with them again, and together we will be with Christ forever and ever, safe from all sorrow, together in joy and love for all eternity. That's what Christ preaches to you today, and it's certainly better than the Christian guide to buying a better house. Heavenly mansions top that.