Saturday, June 25, 2016

Sermon for the Augsburg Confession

Presentation of the Augsburg Confession – June 25th and 26th, 2016 – John 15

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

In 1530, the Turkish armies were marching through southeastern Europe. These Muslim warriors were at the gates of Vienna, and the Emperor was in a fix. You see, in Germany there was this pesky religious problem. Many men were crying out against religious abuses in the Roman Catholic Church, princes and leaders of men were boldly proclaiming belief in Christ Jesus as their Savior, apart from works of the law. This religious discussion was leading to political chaos, and one can’t summon forth armies to a counter-attack, to a new crusade, in the midst of political chaos.

So Emperor Charles V summoned these nobles and many theologians to the town of Augsburg, where he would demand their obedience, where he would demand that they put aside their differences with the Roman Catholic Church. The princes were waiting for Charles when he arrived at Augsburg, and they knelt before him. Margrave George of Brandenburg was their spokesman, and said that before they would deny their Lord, they would let Charles cut off their heads. Charles was taken aback at this – said in broken German, “No cut off head, good prince, no cut off head!” But Charles was put off; he couldn't understand why these Germans were so stubborn and determined. And the Emperor asked them to make a presentation of their position, their faith.

Therefore, on the morning of June 25th, 1530, they proclaimed what they taught, what they believed. They read what came to be known as the Augsburg Confession. In 28 articles, or topics, they set forth what they believed and what false doctrines they rejected. Rather than simply going along with the Emperor wanted to get along, they put their lives on the line to confess the truth that we as Lutherans hold dear. In reality, June 25th, 1530 was the birthday of the Lutheran Church, it was where we as a people said boldly and proudly that we will confess the truth, that we will remain true to Christ no matter what pressures are brought to bear, no matter what threats are leveled against us.

This is precisely what Jesus describes in our Gospel Lesson today. Hear again: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” The options confronting those German princes were either to go along with the Emperor and see temporal and earthly gain, or to remain in Christ, confessing him and facing punishment, war, and death. In reality, there was no option. They confessed Christ and Him Crucified – for apart from Him, they knew that they could do nothing. And their stance, their bold confession echoes on down to today. The reason we are here, able to worship God rightly, able to confess the Gospel is because people before us have boldly confessed, boldly taught us these truths.

But this is a frightening thing, to remain in Christ no matter what, to confess the truth. It can be frightening for us today. What will people think of us if we doggedly hold to our beliefs? Our goal is to confess Christ truly, to say “There is salvation in Christ and Him alone, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life” – we are concerned about the Truth; and we don’t tolerate, we don’t put up with false doctrine – and this upsets people. We don’t brush off as unimportant what God has declared in His Word. This is our heritage. The men who presented the Augsburg Confession, they knew they might be killed. The Emperor could put them to death for their religious rebellion – but they confessed the faith. Why? If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. The other option was worse! Why give up eternity for pleasing an Emperor now? Why forsake Christ for the sake of the wisdom of the world, the opinions of today? The people, the families that founded this congregation, that was their attitude as well. They could have just joined in with the other denominations, they could have hob-nobbed with the big-wigs in town, played the game – but they didn’t. Why? Because they desired to abide in Christ – that was their priority. So they sacrificed their time, their talents, their treasures which were so dear as they scraped out a new living down here. They built a Church where Christ would be preached, where the Gospel would be proclaimed in its truth and purity. And we today, we here, we have made the same bold confession – you made it when you were confirmed, when you stood in front of God in His Church, and vowed to defend what you have been taught, to die before abandoning it. “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” You said, “I do so intend with the help of God.” That’s part of our Lutheran heritage. We shall abide in Christ, so help us God.

And as we know that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, we have no problem as Lutherans confessing the same confessions as our forefathers in the faith. The old Creeds are familiar to us. We confess the Small Catechism as generations before us have. But sadly, today, as a whole, we don’t pay as much attention to the Augsburg Confession as we could. Which is sad. The Augsburg Confession is the most beautiful, the most eloquent, the clearest confession of the faith that has ever been written. While we do not have time to read the Confession in its entirety, allow me to read one of the articles – Article 4 – on Justification. Lutheran theologians have said that this is the Article upon which the Church stands or falls, and rightly so for if we abandon this, we are no longer worthy of being called the Church. Listen: Our Churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight. This is heart of what we believe, this is the heart of what Scripture teaches. You are a sinner, and you cannot be justified by anything you do. Nothing that you do gets you right with God. It doesn’t matter how much money you give, it doesn’t matter how many little old ladies you help across the street, how popular and influential you are – your strength, your merit, your worth, your works, the things you do cannot save you. Apart from Christ you can do nothing. On the contrary, you are saved because of what Jesus has done – because He went to the Cross and made satisfaction, because he won forgiveness for your sin. You receive salvation when you hear and believe this, when God gives you His forgiveness.

This is what we hear throughout the scriptures. Paul says, The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Peter says, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” John says, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us from all unrighteousness.” And this is the truth we defend. We oppose any teaching, any doctrine which says that we aren’t sinners in need of a Savior, and we oppose any teaching that robs Christ of the glory of our salvation. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” We defend the Gospel, the teaching that you are saved by what Christ has done, and we defend this tooth and nail against any and all who would rob it from us.

This is what we do, this is why we gather every weekend here in this place. Christ builds His Church upon the Gospel – and so we in His Church abide in Him and in His Gospel, and we are grown by Him. Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession explains this. That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparations and works. God works in His Word, the Holy Spirit comes to us and brings us forgiveness and faith through the Word, be it preached, be it attached to Water in Baptism, be it Christ’s own Body and Blood attached to bread and wine in the Supper. This is how God grows His Church, through the gifts He gives us here. This is why Trinity was founded, and this is why she still exists to this day. This is how we define the Church – Article 7 says, “The Church is the congregation of saints in which the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.” That is what we are, and it is our duty as members of Christ’s Church to see that this is what we remain. Why? Because we always need the forgiveness that Christ gives in His Church. Our friends and neighbors, they need forgiveness as well, so we are to preserve and safe guard the Gospel here so that it is always here for them. We gather to listen to God’s Word, to sing hymns to God, to delight in the forgiveness God gives us. We maintain this confession, we fight the good fight of faith, and cling fast to the promise of salvation that God gives us, come what may. We abide in Christ – and He brings forth fruit in us, the fruit of the Spirit – now in part, and then in full on the last day.

Dear friends in Christ – God has given us a great gift. He has given us salvation freely through Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection. We receive this salvation and forgiveness in His Church, and as such, together as His people we boldly confess the truth that Jesus Christ alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to God apart from Him. This is what we do today, this is what God-willing we will do in the future, and this is what the faithful before us have done. We give thanks to God that He has shown us His Son, and we ask that He continue to keep us steadfast in His Word through all the trials of our life, so that we might obtain eternal life, and that through us the light of the Gospel might be shown throughout the entire world. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – June 18th and 19th, 2016 – Luke 6:36-42

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Well folks, who are you supposed to hate and be angry with and blame this week? It's been a terrible past few weeks for justice and order in society, and the outrage cycle's been working overtime. The Stanford rapist with his pathetic sentence, the vile shooting in Orlando, alligators, and all of this in an election year, where if you don't vote for the candidate I like, you will bring about the end of the free world. Where will you place your outrage? What sort of angry cries will you make publicly to show that you care? Don't you see, we have to do something! There is wickedness, there are bad people out there! Blame! Boycott! Ban! That’s the chatter of the world – that’s what the talking heads tell us. And it’s also what we end up thinking, it can be how we approach things closer to home. Did you hear about what he did…well, I never. Oh, you know what she is like. I can’t believe they would be so stupid. We have been trained with an “eagle” eye to scope out flaws and errors, to beat people down for them, to shun them, to belittle them – and maybe even to crush them.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven, give, and it will be given to you.” What is your life to be, oh Christian? What is your day to look like? What is to dominate your thoughts – mercy or condemnation? Forgiveness or judgment? You see, when our Lord says that we are to be in the world but not of the world, He is not speaking merely to abstaining from vile and gross and open sin – it’s not merely “Don’t kill, don’t have affairs, don’t rob banks”. He is calling you away from the world, away from the way the world thinks, away from the way the world operates. He is calling you away from a life where the solution is judgment and condemnation.

Let us be honest. We love judgment, we love condemnation. As long as its someone else getting judged and condemned. As long as it's the “bad” guy getting it. The bad guy. That's a loaded term. Think of it this way: if we watch a movie, don’t we want, don't we expect the bad guy to get it in the end? We don't want the bad guy to apologize; we want a spectacular death scene and the hero to ride off into the sunset. Now, I'm not going to knock movies, but the problem is we end up treating real life, our neighbors this way. We label them “bad guys” - and we love their comeuppance, we love folks getting what they deserve. We’ll even use that language – I hope they get what they deserve, I hope they get what’s coming to them – with nary a though about what we ourselves by rights deserve. The self-righteous indignation flares up – we view ourselves as better than them, less worthy of condemnation, and so we are willing to dish it out, to hope for the worst for them, to just let them have it with both barrels. Take that, you miserable sinner! “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Do you see how poorly the world and our flesh train us to live? The sinful worlds tells us that if we just get a bit more condemnation in, then suddenly we can fix the fall – then people won't be “bad” - they'll be “good”... just like me. How stupid is that?

Christ tells us a parable. “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” Do you not realize, o Christian, that you yourself are a sinner? That by the strict judgment of God's law, you are the bad guy? It’s not that you are wise and know everything and have everything figured out, and thus you can tell people how it ought to be and smack them down when they don’t listen. Do you not realize that you too are blind? That the flaws you see in them you yourself have? “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” We listen to the ways of the world, we let the shrill and angry guide and shape us into being shrill and angry, we let the judgmental and condemnatory teach us to judge and condemn because we are not in fact above them, we are not better than them… even though we so often think we are. We fall in to the same traps as the rest of the world, the same sins. And in fact, not just the same sins – sins more vile than theirs. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’” The speck of your neighbor, or the log of yourself? The dust particle floating through the air, while ignoring the beam of wood as big as the the supports of our Church? This is the depiction, the description of who we are according to our sinful flesh, what the world tries to shape us and mold us into being. Harsh and full of condemnation and disdain – and yet worthy of condemnation and eternal disdain ourselves.

“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Yet what of God? What is His approach? Thankfully, God is not out to get you. His ways are above our ways – and while we in our earthly wisdom love punishment and destruction, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man, and this is for your own good. Your Father in heaven is merciful to you. He has sent Christ Jesus to take up your sin, to bear the weight and shame and guilt of it all upon the cross, to suffer and die for you, in your place, in your stead. And now there is no more judgment left, no more condemnation left. Now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus – that’s how Paul puts it in Romans. Our Lord Jesus here is not merely going off on a finger wagging law kick here, telling you what you yourself need to do. If that were the case, we would all be without hope, for we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But Christ Jesus has come, and He has borne the weight, the punishment of your sin in your place. God is merciful to you, and so Christ was judged in your place, He was condemned on account of your condemnation – and all the judgment in the world, all the condemnation in the universe is used up on Him. What then is left here? Remove the judgment and condemnation from these verses and what do we hear? Nothing but mercy and forgiveness. While the world shouts at you, “Judge, condemn, dish out punishment,” Christ steps in, and He says, “I have taken all that on Myself, and for you only mercy and forgiveness remain.”

And this He pours into your lap, this He gives you in good measure, overflowing, full, pressed down without any little air pockets of sin not covered. You are forgiven, forgiven in full. You are baptized, and all your sin is washed away. You are forgiven, for Christ and Him Crucified is proclaimed to you here, now, today. You are forgiven, for Christ has shed His blood for you and gives it to you in His Supper – this is reality. He has called you out of the darkness of the world into His marvelous light. He has made you to be not the world’s disciple, but His disciple. “A disciple is not above His teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” Christ Jesus is your Lord and He has purchased and won you from Sin, death, from the power of the devil. Christ has rescued you from this loud braying world with His precious blood – and He is now your Master, your Teacher. And He will make you to be like Him. When the world yells around you with hatred and anger and vengeance and destruction, when the world would blind you with all this – He calls out to you again, and He fixes your eyes upon Himself. Even as He Himself was condemned, left to hang upon the cross to die, He called out Father forgive. And He trains you, trains you to be like Him.

How does Christ train us; what does Christ do to us? “How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’” Christ knows sin – He was nailed to that log in your eye, the log of the Cross. He bore your sin, He knows it far better than you do – He took it up from you even before you were born. He has taken it away from you, He has forgiven you. And now, with the log out of your own eye, you see clearly. You see clearly not to condemn, not to decry how terrible it is that these people keep getting specks in their eyes. You see clearly so as to forgive. The Son of Man came into the world not to condemn the world, but that it might be saved through Him. Likewise, you who have Christ as your brother by the gift of baptism, who participate in His Body and Blood, you dorealize that the only reason you even know of any of your neighbor’s sin is so that you will love them and in mercy be able to forgive them, be able to restore them, be able to proclaim the realities of Christ to them? You are forgiven, and so now you are forgiveness people. You have been mercied, and so now you are mercy people. This is the reality, this is what Christ's Church is. You’ve been in the world with its junk and hatred and anger all week – step away from that for a moment, forget all that, and remember who Christ says you are. You are forgiven – that is the great reality, greater than anything you saw on the news or in your neighbor last week, greater than anything you will see in yourself in this week to come.

And so dear friends, it is true, you and I are indeed poor miserable sinners, and by rights, we deserve nothing but condemnation. But God in His mercy has chosen not to condemn you – Christ Jesus your Lord deals with condemnation for you upon the Cross. You are out of that business now. Rather, you are forgiven, redeemed, sanctified by Him. And yes, the world, Satan, even your sinful flesh will try to make you forget that, try to sucker you back into their condemning games. And often enough they will succeed. But you are forgiven, that is the great truth, and one day Christ will come again, and that truth will be all that we see. Come quickly, Lord Jesus! Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

To Complain or to Ask Why?

We like to complain.  Admit it, I'm sure there are plenty of things that you've complained about today, or in the last week.  Things that didn't suit your fancy, fit your standards, weren't your cup of tea.  Things that were just wrong.

And we complain about them.

At least that's our knee-jerk sinful reaction.  And lets be honest, complaining rarely is effective or helpful.  I know when I am complained at, I tend to become defensive rather than caring.  Nothing can help to stir up in me a nice-round of self-justification than a good frivolous complaint.

So rather than complaining, might I make a suggestion.  Ask why.

Why would you support that candidate?
Why would you do things like that?
Why don't you like this?

And I mean to ask with all sincerity.  I mean to ask with a sense of wonder, a sense of wanting to know what makes this other person tick.  Instead of assuming that they are utterly evil and wicked for preferring McDonalds to Steak and Shake (or whatever the dire issue is at hand about which you feel compelled to complain) - ask why.  And honestly.

Sometimes, the answers to that "why" will be in fact utterly foolish or just in bad taste.  Sometimes there are concerns that are valid and good... but just ones you don't have to deal with.  Sometimes they've never thought why -- and if they start to think why then you can actually have a good discussion.  And sometimes their why might make you re-evaluate your own set of whys.

Which is why it's much easier and sometimes safer to complain.  When I am the one complaining, it's clear (to myself) that I know what is best.  I know what I want.  I know what you should be doing and you should be accommodating me.

All that "I, I, I" makes our old sinful flesh very comfortable... even if we are making a fool of ourselves.  If you go read one of those "The Customer is Not Always Right" websites where angry, complaining customers make fools of themselves, at the root there is an ego trip driving them into making their folly apparent to everyone.

No, it is better to ask why.  And if their why is good - you've learned.  And if their why is bad - you can offer up a better idea which they are free to take or leave (but even if they leave it, it's still there - a bit of truth always right there).

Complaining is rarely constructive.  Ask someone why, and you both might grow.

Trinity 3 Sermon

Trinity 3 – June 11th and 12th, 2016 – Luke 15:11-32

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

This morning’s parable, dear friends in Christ, isn’t just about the foolish younger brother – it isn’t just the parable of the Prodigal Son. No, in the parable we see three people, two sons and their father – we see a family full of discord and strife. If anything this is a parable about the father who continually has to struggle to keep his family from imploding – who goes to any length to try and mollify his sons. And of course, we understand that this parable is really describing the ways in which God treats us, the lengths He goes to for our sake. So let us dive into this parable today and see what we learn.

The main problem that arises in this parable is that neither son understands their father. The younger son doesn’t get his father. The elder son doesn’t get his father either. Both really don’t seem to know him, and each ends up wandering away. We know about the younger son – the one who wants his inheritance early. You know what that is? “Dad, I want my inheritance,” is the same thing as saying, “Why don’t you just hurry up and kick the bucket, you old geezer, you are only good to me for money.” Kind of crass. And then we know what the younger brother does with that money. He blows it. Squanders it on reckless living. Parties and hookers and booze and then he's broke – suffice it to say the kid hits rock bottom. And this is the point we can shake our head at – oh, how horrible this kid is, look at all that he’s done. Yeah – bad stuff – he’s foolish, he’s hateful towards his father in demanding the inheritance. But, people are stupid and foolish all the time. It is when the guy is standing slopping pigs, though, that we see that he still doesn't know who his father really is.

Listen. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants. We’ll what’s wrong with that, Pastor?! It’s about time that he comes to himself, comes to his senses – admits that he’s been horrible. Yeah, he’s dead on about himself, he has sinned, he isn’t worthy to be called the man’s son. But here is the problem. He thinks his dad will treat him like a lowly servant. This young kid is afraid, thinks that his father will be cold, and heartless, thinks that his father will say, “You dirty rat, I oughta.... bah! Go sleep in the barn and I’ll find some mean and nasty chore for you to do tomorrow – you make me sick.” That’s what the young man thinks his father will do. That’s why he’s so afraid and nervous about heading home. That’s why he’s ready to beg to be a servant. He doesn’t expect compassion from his father. And he was wrong.

The elder son, he doesn’t understand his father either. The elder, dutiful son, is out working in the field, and he hears music and dancing, and he calls to one of the servants and asks what is going on. He hears that his wayward brother has returned, that his father has killed the fattened calf, that the party is a celebration over the return of that money wasting, worthless, no good brother of his. The elder brother doesn’t understand his father either. He storms off into the night. He fumes, he sulks outside. And even when his father comes out to him, this elder brother doesn’t understand who his father is. This elder brother goes on a rant, saying words that are just as despicable as the younger brother’s wretched living.

“Look, these many years I have served you, and I never once disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!” What vile words. I’ve been good, and there’s been nothing in it for me! You, you blind old fool, you have never given me anything good! How horrible, how heart-wrenching. The elder son, always working, thinking he’s going to earn blessings from his father by what he himself does. He doesn’t understand his father’s generosity, his father’s love. I bet he never even asked the father for a goat – because this father would have freely given one. But no – the son is embittered – the son thinks more of his own hard work than the father’s love. The son thinks of himself, what he’s earned and what his brother might be sponging away, and he fails to rejoice over the redemption of his brother.

Do you see, dear friends, how neither son really understood who their father was? The younger son thought his father would be cruel and callous to him – the elder son thought his father a harsh tyrant who never showed love and generosity, who had to be impressed with hard work and labor – the elder son thought that he had to earn everything on his own from his father. Both of these sons just don’t understand who their father is, and what the father does.

Now, this is instructive for us today, because the sons illustrate the two terrible ways in which we Christians, we who are of God’s Household, we who are of God’s family, can begin to misunderstand God. How many of you have had thoughts similar to those of the younger brother? How many of you have seen some of the wretched things you’ve done in your life and then thought, “I’m horrible, I have sinned – God couldn’t possibly forgive me!” It’s the last part that’s the problem – there’s nothing wrong with seeing your sin or knowing that you are wretched. In fact, it’s something that we need to do. The problem comes in when guilt and fear makes us think that our sin is too big for God to handle, too big for God to forgive, when we think our sin is bigger than Christ Crucified. The problem is when we end up approaching God doubting that He will forgive or even become afraid to approach God. Just as the younger son forgot that his father is merciful, we are tempted to forget that God is merciful to us. That is one of the dangers, one of the traps we can fall into.

And then there is the trap that the elder brother falls into. The elder brother starts looking at everything in terms of the “good” things he does. Look at all I’ve done for my father, I deserve better in life. I’m such a good, dutiful son, why doesn’t he treat me better! Are there times when you can end up treating God this way as well? If you’ve ever thought, if you’ve ever said, “Well, I’m a “good” Christian” you have. The temptation here is to approach God on the basis of what you’ve done – look at me God, see how much I’ve done for you! You owe me. How wretched and sad – treating God as though he were a petty tyrant, a miserable god whom you need to bribe to get anywhere. And yet – is that not how we sometimes can end up dealing with God? Why did you let this happen to me – I’m a good person, I don’t deserve this! Can we even sometimes brag about ourselves to God? These are two errors we can fall into, two dangers Christ warns us of. We can in our guilt over sin forget God’s mercy – we can in our arrogance forget our need for God’s mercy. We can forget that this is who God is – the God who shows mercy.

Look at the father in the story – there is something remarkable that he does with each of his sons which we might overlook. First, with the younger – But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and embraced him. Now, with the elder – His father came out to him and entreated him. Did you notice what the father does – what type of person he is? In both cases the father goes out to his wayward child. The father seeks out the son. The father’s love to his younger son pre-empts that son’s plea to work as a servant – the younger son merely confesses his sin and is welcomed back into his father’s house. Welcome back son, and know that I love you. Likewise, the father’s love seeks out the stubborn elder brother and turns his eyes off of his own works – Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found. I don't have to give you a goat, all that I have is yours already. Now, come on, let's go eat and rejoice, because my joy and mercy is yours as well. In both cases, the father tenderly goes to his wayward sons, goes out to them, and strives to bring them back into the home.

But there's one more thing to consider about the Father here. In both cases, what the Father does is… well, the world would have viewed it shamefully, looked down upon the Father for doing it. Good, upstanding men didn’t run – back in the day, you wore robes, if you were running you had to hike up your skirt – and you just didn’t do that in public. Nor would you leave your own party to deal with a pouting son – that older son should be coming back to you! What would the guests say? You're the Father, how dare you lower yourself to placate that pouter. Let him starve, teach him a lesson! But in both cases, the Father, in His zeal suffers shame and scorn to comfort his children.

Dear friends, hear this and know who your Heavenly Father is. Your heavenly Father is the One who continually comes, who continually reaches out to you to show you mercy. Whenever you fall into error, be it great shame and vice, be it wretched pride and arrogance, your heavenly Father always desires that you be forgiven and restored, brought back into the family, brought back into the household, brought to the feast. God desires you here in His house, receiving His forgiveness, that forgiveness which He provides for you through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. God is not too proud to redeem you – God’s good and true Son Jesus Christ endures the shame of the cross and death to see that we are restored to the family. He rises to see that the feast of everlasting life will go on without end. And this is the call that goes out every week – return to God’s house, be forgiven. Return and rejoice in the Father’s mercy. Get a foretaste of the feast to come and know that the Father indeed loves you. This is who God is – the One who has mercy upon you, the One who desires to restore you continually, the One who wants you always to remain with Him, to be with Him in His house and in His worship, the One who says, “all that is mine is yours.” God’s Word will always seek to show you mercy – and for that, we who have wandered and gone astray many times are right to give Him all thanks and praise. To God alone be all glory. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Trinity 2 Sermon

Trinity 2 – Luke 14:15-24 – June 4th and 5th, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Our lesson today begins with the words, “When one of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things...” Heard what things? What is the context of our Gospel lesson? Well, you see, Jesus had been invited to the house of a Pharisee for dinner – but they had invited Him with ulterior motives. Jesus is there, and what do you know – a sick man is there. And it was the Sabbath – so what are you going to do Jesus, are you going to heal on the Sabbath? Jesus was invited to dinner as a trap. He doesn't care though – Jesus shows up, eats the tasty food, and goes ahead and heals the guy who is sick. If you've got a ox that falls in the well on a Sabbath, you pull it out. And then Jesus teaches what Solomon had said – don't elevate yourself in the presence of the king. It's better to be humble and have him elevate you. And in response one of these smug pharisees there, who had been trying to trap Jesus, hears all this and he opines, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Oh, didn't that just sound nice and pious? Wasn't that special? Oh, someday, someday it will be good. But here's the problem. Um, fella, you realize that you are eating bread, right there and now with Christ the King, right? You just saw a miracle, a man healed. You just heard the Word of God incarnate preach upon His own Word while eating dinner. Will eat bread? You are right now. What more do you want? And here we get to the problem, to the lesson for today. The Pharisees don't like what God is doing, they don't trust Jesus to be a Messiah that is good for them. And so, they'll miss out.

Jesus brings this out by way of a story. “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.'” So here's the set up. There's going to be a banquet – a great one. The best foods made by the finest chefs. A shindig to surpass all shindigs. And in the ancient world, when good food was being served, you showed up, and you ate. I mean, even Jesus gladly goes and enjoys a good meal at this Pharisee's house knowing that it's actually a trap for him. So imagine if you will, Oh Pharisees, not just a Sabbath meal, but a great feast, long awaited. And the day arrives. The feast is prepared. It's time – come, for everything is now ready. The “will be” is here, the dinner bell is rung.

And yet, what happens? “But they all alike began to make excuses.” I bought a field and have to look at it. I bought five yolk of oxen and have to check them out. I just got hitched and can't come. The oh so polite excuses are made. But here's the thing. They are all stupid. Really, they are. You mean, you didn't look at the field before you bought it? More over, if you bought it sight unseen, do you have to look at it now? It's already too late, you shelled out the cash already. Same with the oxen. And as for the wife; this is the social event of the year, she'll want to be there. None of these excuses are real and valid. They aren't “my wife fell into a well, I need to pull her out”. There's nothing that demands immediate attention. So, you see what is going on, right? They are just blowing the guy off. Apparently these excuse makers don't trust the master to throw a feast that is worth their time to come to – and so they decide to just blow it off.

Just like the Pharisees are intent upon blowing Jesus off. He heals a man right in front of them – and there is no loud praising of God. Just indifference. Back to their humdrum life and political jockeying. Oh, someday it will be good in the Kingdom of God – cause now with this lousy Messiah it sure isn't! So Jesus continues. The servant reports this to the master, and then, “The master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.'” Blow off my feast, will they? Oh well – I've got my food cooked and by George there's going to be a feast. Go bring in the poor and the cripple, the folks these arrogant jerks look down upon. You know, like the fellow with Dropsy who was at the Sabbath dinner, the one Jesus just healed. And the servant says, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” Even before being told, the servant knew to get the poor. The servant knew his master. The master wasn't going to pout, he wasn't going to wring his hands, he wasn't going to act like a love sick teenager and sit in his room and write angsty poetry to the folks who skipped. No, the servant knew that the master was good and would want folks to enjoy his feast. So we brought in the poor already – but there's going to be plenty of food and drink still left over. “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.” Go pull in strangers and travelers – and even the folks who hide behind the hedges; the thieves and the highway men, the bandits, the terrorists and rebels. Pack 'em all in, because we are going to have one fantastic feast, and there's plenty for everyone. Well, almost everyone. “For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Blow off my feast? Act as though I don't know how to set a good table, how to throw a good party? Everyone in the world will be there, and we'll be enjoying ourselves – and you arrogant jerks can just go pout and sulk by yourself. The party can go on without you just fine.

In the story, the folks making excuses miss out on the fantastic party – and they do it to themselves. There's no one else to blame. Their own lack of trust, their own disdaining of the master and of his party ends up hurting only themselves. Likewise, this is what Jesus tells the Pharisees. You know, Pharisees, I can tell you don't like what I'm doing; you don't like that I'm talking to and healing the poor and the scuzzy; you don't like that I'll forgive and help even people you look down upon, like gentiles and women. I know you'd rather that I pat you on the back and tell you how great you are. But here's the thing; I'm the Messiah, and I'm here to win salvation for the entire world. Even for the folks you in your sin don't like. So you've got two options; you can either trust that I know what I am doing in winning salvation for the world; or you can pout, disdain My mercy, and burn in hell. It shouldn't be much of a choice, but if you are literally hell-bent on being upset that I do things like heal on the Sabbath and forgive sinners, and would rather pitch a really hot hissy fit for all eternity; you can... but I'm still the Messiah, and I'm still going to go to the Cross and die for the sins of the world and rise from the dead and bring forgiveness and life to the world. Your tantrums won't stop the plan of salvation. And the only person they'll hurt is you.

So then. What do we see and learn from this? Well, for one, this is a big, strong, get yourself to church sort of text. I mean, in the text, that language of being called, being invited – that's all churchy language. And the way the story goes is that the folks who are in fact gathered together to the feast (see the altar, the great feast) are safe, are blessed. And who gets into trouble? The folks who want to go and do their own, individual things, apart from the feast, away from everyone else. The ones who cut themselves off in their pride, their disdain of the master, their disdain of the feast, their disdain of the folks at the feast – it's because they refused to be gathered, they refuse to come. And this is a place where finger wagging would be quite justified. Get yourself to church, to bible studies, be in the Word together with us here and often.

But I don't want to just finger wag. That can lead to eye-rolling and in one ear and out the other responses. So let me ask this. Is God trustworthy? Seriously – is God worthy of your trust, ought you be able to trust that God does in fact know what He is doing? And we know the answer ought to be yes, we know that we are to fear, love, and TRUST in God above all things. But it is hard. Think about how the rubber meets the road in your life, and think of the times when you are tempted to not trust God. Think of the times when you look at this place, this service, mercy and love and forgiveness even for those who hurt you or aren't as “good” as you, and you want to think, “That's not how I'd do it, that's not what I want.” You realize that is all Satan and your sinful flesh trying to get you to not trust in God, right? And here's the thing, and this is especially true for us who are life long Lutherans. We can treat forgiveness like it's chopped liver. We can blow it off instead of seeing it as the gift it is. There was an old fellow in Oklahoma, actually died before I showed up out there, but even years after he died folks would say, “Old Layton, he became Lutheran after he married, and he'd say, 'You Lutherans don't know what you have.'” He's talking about forgiveness, the clear preaching of the Gospel, the Word of God spoken and sung in our liturgy and hymns, the beauty of the Supper. And whenever folks there would start winding away or pining for something else, Layton would pipe up: You Lutherans don't know what you've have! In the Gospel lesson, the Pharisees didn't realize what they had – pining for some future something else when Jesus is right in front of them doing miracles.

Remember what you have here, O Lutheran. When your flesh tries to turn you into the Pharisee, remember what you have here. Wisdom has built her house – and here you hear the wisdom of God. Here you receive forgiveness of sins. Here you are healed of death – even though you die yet you shall live. You have passed out of death unto life in Christ. So what if the world hates you? So what if we here aren't the high and mighty and rich and powerful; so what if we're just poor miserable sinners? We are forgiven by Christ. We are declared His brothers and sisters in Holy Baptism – declared to be princes and princesses of the universe. You are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. That's what this feast is – it's the celebration of the royal, everlasting life that Christ gives you. Don't let some stupid bit of spite make you turn your nose up that. Lesson 3, dear friends: Trust Christ, for He really has good in store for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

But the Culture War!!!!

I'm not big on the Culture War.  Never have been.  I rolled my eyes at the Culture Warriors a decade ago (both the Liberation Gospel Leftists and the Grocery Store "Changing a Culture For Christ" Churches I saw in Oklahoma).  The point of the Church is not to somehow magically stop the sinful world from being sinful.  Rather, it is to preach the Gospel.

I found a couple of Luther quotes that had been on Bulletins back from 2007 and 2008 for the 2nd Sunday after Trinity.  Consider them for a moment, especially in light of the Culture War.

No Need to Repay the Poor World in Kind
(From a sermon on 1 John 3:13-18) Whom is the world harming with its hatred? It will not succeed in taking from you the [eternal] life you have and it does not have, nor will it subject you to the death which you have already escaped through Christ. If it does much, it may slander you with bad words, take your possessions or your rotten, stinking carcass, which is bound to decay anyway, so that you are actually promoted into life through the death of the body.
       And so you are avenged on the world much more than it is avenged on you. You have the joy of being translated from death into life, whereas the world must remain in death forever. Moreover, while the world imagines it is depriving you of both kingdoms, heaven and earth, it must lose body and soul. How could its hatred and envy be punished and avenged more terribly? In order not to please the devil and the world and, still more, not to injure yourself, you should so act as not to let your salvation and comfort be spoiled on account of the world and lose this treasure because of impatience and a desire for revenge. In fact, you should much rather take pity on the world’s wretchedness and damnation; for you lose nothing but only gain, for all that, while the world has nothing but loss. And for the small loss which you do suffer materially and temporally it must pay you an exorbitant price both here and there.

Ingratitude Has Made Many Lose the Word
(In Luther’s diary in 1538 he points out that when people become unthankful for the Word, they fall away) God willing, we shall put forth an effort to leave to our posterity a true church and school, so that they may be equipped to teach and to govern. Nevertheless, the ingratitude and the irreverence of the world terrify me. Therefore I fear that this light will not long endure, not over fifty years. It has always run its course. In the times of the patriarchs it flourished for a while – under Adam, Noah, Lot, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Josiah, Hezekiah. But Ba’al dominated the intervals between them and had to be uprooted periodically. Consider the course of the Word in the time of Christ. It did not stay fifty years. Indeed, the heresies of false brothers soon rose in the times of the Apostles. Thereupon Arius reared his head. Thereupon Ambrose, Hilary, Augustine again restored the Word, whereupon the Vandals and Lombards again put it out. Then Greece, too, and other regions had it. So it continued to migrate.

Now, consider both of these quotes.  Shall we get agitated and freaked out when (not if, but when) the world hates us and messes with us?  No.  Shall we abandon the Gospel and shift our focus to fighting the world?  By no means!  The Gospel is our victory both now and eternally.

Yet what so often happens.  We become unthankful for the Word.  The Gospel that gives life now seems less important, less vital than fighting the latest social issue or political campaign.  After the Vandals and Lombards came, they wanted the Pope to become a political leader... and he did... with the best of intentions.  Yet we see where that led.

Preacher!  Tend to the Gospel of Christ Jesus that gives life everlasting!