Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trinity 9 Sermon

Trinity 9 – August 12th and 13th, 2017 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  With these words, Christ Jesus our Lord lays down the gauntlet, He really chides us.  We here, we who know Christ, we run around like fools, whereas the wicked, the evil at least act shrewdly, at least take stock of their situation and what is really going on.  This text today is a wake up call, a call for Christians to start thinking, pondering their life, their salvation – but Jesus does this in a backhanded way.  Instead of holding a positive example before our eyes, Jesus shows us a liar, a cheat, a thief – someone who plays the game of the world well, and we are supposed to draw the parallel to our own lives.  This we will do today God willing.  Let us begin first by examining the shrewdness of the dishonest manager.

          “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.”  Now, this is the first sign, the first inkling that the manager was shrewd.  This manager has a cushy job – he’s basically in charge of buying and selling possessions for a rich man, he’s in charge of the business.  And what’s he doing – he’s skimming a bit off the top.  He’s been sweetening his deals with other people and living the good life.  He’s like the businessman today who uses the company card for “business” – because of course he needed to take that potential customer out to the finest restaurant in town, take him out for a nice round of golf on the company expense account.  He needed to take that expensive business “trip” all on the company dime.  Maybe even just a little extra old fashion skimming as well.  Again, this seems like a pretty sweet deal – but here is the problem.  He’s dipped a little too deeply, enjoyed a bit too much of the high life with the company footing the bill – and he got called out.  “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”  And the shoe drops.  You’ve been wasting my possessions – you’re fired.  Go collect your books and bring them to me tomorrow. 

          So now the situation has changed.  Instead of being able to live this life of luxury, he’s losing his job.  The tables are turned.  So, what will this man do?  Weep?  Rant?  Complain?  No – he takes stock of his situation.  “And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”  Let’s see what we can do, shall we?  I’ve had a nice, cushy job – but that’s going away.  I can’t dig – I’m a soft, indoor worker, that type of job would kill me.  I’m too proud to beg.  Now, consider – this isn’t really admirable… we value strength, we know you shouldn’t let pride get in the way – but this manager is a wicked lout.  He’s a weakling, he’s sleezy – but he is at least honest about himself.  When troubles come, there are no vain boasts about what he’s going to do, no bluster.  He knows his limitations, great as they are.  And so, he hatches a plan.  “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’”  You know what – I haven’t turned the books in yet.  It’s time to cut a deal, it’s time to get in good with other folks, so that way I can sponge off of them and land on my feet.  “So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”  And the plan goes into effect.  He is going to give people a discount.  One man owes 100 measures of olive oil – now because of the manager he only owes 50.  A measure of olive oil was 875 gallons – so, what – fourty-some-thousand gallons of olive oil discount.  That’s a pretty penny.  Or the wheat – a measure was 1200 bushels or so – here fellow, take 24,000 bushels of wheat on me.  If someone gave you 24,000 bushels of wheat and then knocked on your door and said, “Well, I got fired, I don’t have a place to stay, do you mind if I crash here for a bit” of course you are going to let him in and stay.

          And with things all set up, things all prepared, the accounts get turned in.  And under Roman Law it’s all technically legal – the manager was s till an authorized agent, he had authority to deal.  “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”  And the master had to hand it to him – the guy was sharp – a liar, a cheat and needed to be fired, but he was sharp.  This is shrewdness according to the ways of the world, where it is expected that you are supposed to lie, cheat, and steal all in order to get ahead, all in order to live it up now.  And this manager is shrewd for a son of this world. 

          But now, what of you, what of the sons of light?  What is shrewdness, what is true wisdom for us?  Well, let’s go through the story again, but we are going to flip it and think of it in terms of a child of light.  So to begin, we had a manager who was wasting his master’s possessions.  How does that apply, how does that describe the Christian?  Well, consider what we as Christians are.  We are stewards, managers of God’s wisdom and God’s blessings.  We know God’s truth, we know the Law, we know the commandments, we know what is good and God pleasing.  We have blessing after blessing from God – all the first article gifts that we talk about in the explanation to the Creed – body and soul, house and home, family and friends.  And what do we do?  We waste them.  We ignore the commandments and sin.  We engage in wickedness and vice.  We abuse God's blessings – instead of seeing them as gifts we vainly boast that we have earned them.  Instead of being content and trusting in God, we covet and fret about making more and more.  We know the Good things of God, and yet we sin in thought, word, and deed.  And in this we see that we aren’t as shrewd as the manager.  He at least lived what he thought was the good life – and we, we know what it is that is good.  We know what is God pleasing.  We know how to live, we know how to have peace and contentment and security.  And what do we do?  We blow it.  We waste it.  We worry when told not to worry, we hate our enemies when told to pray for them.  We fill our lives with sin that wastes and destroys and taints the blessings we have received, and everything turns to dust and ashes in our hands.  We give over to sin.

          And then we get called on it.  Even as the manager was brought before the rich man, so the Law of God, when preached, lays us bare, shows us our sin.  Give an account of your actions – have you been perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?  Or have you wasted what He has given you?  And just as the manager had to turn in his account – well, the wages of sin is death.  So the Law comes crashing down – you have sinned, and you will die.  That’s what’s going to happen.  So what becomes the reaction?  Often the reactions are unwise.  How many people who know better still live as though they will never die?  How many Christians live in denial, pretending that they aren’t sinners, pretending that they haven’t offended God with their sin.  Or how many think that they will just be able to work out things with God by their own strength, by their own powers? I'll be good! Or worse, I AM good. There’s a lot of ego, there’s a lot of pride, there’s a lot of people who think God owes them.  That’s utter foolishness – the manager knew that he was up a creek… you would be wise to recognize this as well.  By your own powers, by your own strength, you cannot make things up to God, you cannot find a way out of your own sin, you cannot save yourself.  It’s only vain human pride and folly that would say otherwise, but yet so many Christians end up falling to folly, end up falling to pride.

          No, often we are not shrewd, often we are not wise.  We must see ourselves, our sin, our lack truly, and then we must realize that we are weak.  We are weak, but God is strong.  In the story, the manager lives not by his own strength, but he lives off of the master – he makes his living by living off of the master’s stuff.  Likewise – you will not have salvation or redemption by your own efforts or power – you only have salvation in Christ.  It is not your hard work that will redeem you – it is Christ’s work.  It is Christ’s death and resurrection which wins you life and salvation – anything else is a waste.  If we trust in ourselves, we will die – if we trust in Christ Jesus, if we delight in the salvation which He earned for us, even should we die we will be received into the life everlasting.  And this is the wondrous truth that we cling to – the truth that the Holy Spirit who has given us faith points us to over and over.   We are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, apart from the works of the Law.  And so over and over Christ comes to us, sends us His Word to drive us to repentance, repentance away from our sin and foolishness – and instead He holds before us His Cross, He says to us, “Behold, I have paid the full penalty for your sin – I have swallowed up your death, and because I live, you too shall live and have life in My Name. Cross out your sin, for I have written the sign of My Holy Cross upon your forehead and upon your heart.”

          Christ our Lord warns us, warns us that sin and Satan will try to shift our focus away from Christ Jesus, away from His Cross.  So He calls out to you today to be wise, to be shrewd.  He calls out to you today so that you would keep your focus upon Him and the salvation He has won for you.  He brings His forgiveness and mercy, His Spirit to you in His Word proclaimed, in His Holy Supper.  Be wise, be shrewd – cling to Christ and His salvation, for in Him you have life eternal. God grant that He continually fix our eyes upon Christ!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trinity 8 Sermon


Trinity 8 - August 5th and 6th, 2017 - Matthew 7:15-23

There are some sermons that are quite easy to write – where the words just flow, where it's fun to write it. And then there are some sermons that are hard to write, where it is a struggle, and if you happened upon me while I was working on it, you would find me quite grumpy. And then, then today, this sermon is one I wish I didn’t have to write. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” I wish I didn’t have to preach a sermon on this topic – I wish as your pastor that I didn’t have to worry about false prophets, that I never had to contend with false teachers – I wish I could send you out those doors into the world without a thought about what vile, faith destroying junk you will hear out there, because I know that you all have enough on your plate. But my wishes, my desires, do not create reality – and our old Satanic foe still, even now, means deadly woe. I'd guess even you yourselves have seen him at work – have seen people fall, seduced away by false preachers who leave them shattered and broken. So this text must be preached – beware of false prophets.

So, how do we know a false prophet? Would that it would be easy – that we could simply listen to see if the name of Jesus is mentioned – but our Lord says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Just because someone claims to be teaching or preaching Christ doesn’t mean he is. There are false prophets out there who blaspheme our Lord’s holy name and lead people astray. So, how are we to know? Hear what our Lord says. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? We will know them by their fruits – we will see, we will hear what they produce, and that is how we will know if they are false or not.

So what does this mean? Do we listen to the people who seem nice, do nice things? Do we listen to the preacher who has the biggest smile, who has the best handshake? No, for hear how our Lord describes what He will say to these accursed false prophets on the final day! On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” When our Lord talks about knowing a tree by its fruit, He isn’t just talking about things that look nice. Jesus isn’t talking about things that seem impressive to the eye. Look at the wonders we’ve done, we’ve even cast out demons in Your name – still a false prophet. How are we to know then, by what fruit will we tell a false teacher? How do we discern?

Did you hear the last phrase of our Lord? “you workers of lawlessness.Lawlessness. Working against the Law. Lawlessness – those who are not justified. And now, dear friends, we see what it is that we need to be wary of. Now we can see and understand what it is we are to watch for. Simply looking to works, that doesn't cut it. Being nice doesn’t cut it. What makes a Christian a Christian is that as Christians we never pretend that we are hunky dory– instead we are sinners who have been Justified by Christ Jesus, we have been declared righteous by God, and we delight in the fact that Jesus Christ is the one who fulfilled the Law in our place. And so now dear friends, listen, and hear how you mark out false prophets, how to know if their tongues are forked or not. Listen, dear friends, to how they preach the Law and how they preach the Gospel – and if either is erring or lacking, stop up your ears and flee from them.

False prophets misuse the Law of God. When we speak about the Law, dear friends, this refers to anything that has to do with what we do. If it’s about what you do, what you ought to do, what you should do – it’s Law. The Law deals with our behavior, what humans do. And the Law always, always condemns us. There is never a time when we can say, “Finally, I have done what God commands in His Law – finally I am a good Christian.” We cannot be like the young man in Scripture who looks at the commandments and boasts, “All these I have done from my youth.” No! We know that we are sinful, that we fall short, that even our best deeds are as filthy rags. The Christian life is one of constant and continual repentance, where we constantly and repeatedly confess our sins and also struggle against our sinful nature which desires more and more to sin.

Dear friends, if you hear preaching or teaching in the world, if you hear the radio or tv preacher, if you read the so-called Christian book that doesn’t treat God’s law in this way – avoid it. The point of the Law isn’t that you are better than your neighbor. The point of the Law isn’t that if you follow these 8 easy steps you can ensure God’s blessings. The point of the Law isn’t advice on how to have your best life now. Now, Is the Law of God good and wise? Yes – I even have been known to make you sing the old hymn with that title. If we live our life in accord with God’s law, will our lives be smoother? To a certain extent, yes – if I don’t lie, I don’t have to clean up the messes that come from lying. But Christianity is not simply a set of rules to follow, not a moral code to a good time on earth – because the point of the law isn't how to live right, but rather to reveal the truth that you don't and can't live right because you are sinful. Thus the Christian faith is about life and salvation – understanding that we of our own strength have no life and salvation. The Law, when it is preached, always hits you, hits you right here (on the chest, on the heart) – the Law convicts you of your own sin. Otherwise it is not being preached rightly. It's being watered down, relaxed. And if it’s not being preached rightly, it is being preached falsely in order to sell you something, to make God simply a giant goodie dispenser in the sky, to make you confident in yourself and what you do because you're not 'them' – not those wicked people. Listen to how people preach the Law – and if their preaching doesn't show you your own sin, doesn't pin the tail on the donkey right here, be wary of what they will be preaching.

Also, dear friends, false prophets misuse the Gospel. Actually, they fail to preach the Gospel, that’s a more accurate way to say it – and instead of preaching Christ and Him Crucified, they give something else, they say Lord, Lord, but give nothing of Christ. The Gospel is this – Christ died for you. Given and shed, for you. The Gospel is this – that Christ Jesus does what is necessary for your salvation, and then gives this salvation to you freely, freely forgiving your sins, freely gifting you with faith, freely giving you all that you need to be with Him for eternity in heaven. Anything, any teaching which undermines this Gospel, is of Satan. If that sounds harsh, let me read what Paul writes to the Galatians, who had been listening to false prophets: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Let him be accursed. Anathema in the Greek. Let him be consigned to hell, let him be damned. This is serious, a serious matter – for Satan seeks to lead you astray. Listen to what is preached, and if it is not Christ and Him Crucified for you, then have nothing to do with it – for false doctrine kills, and is not to be tolerated.

And this is why, dear friends, why the Lutheran Church has put such a focus on teaching. This is why we have confirmation class starting again this fall – it’s not just a hoop to jump through before communing but that we might learn what true doctrine is so that we can avoid the bad. That’s why I harp on the Small Catechism, so that when you are out in the world and hear false prophets, you will know and remember the truth instead. That’s why you are to teach your children. That's why we have a Sunday School – we need some more teachers to teach kids Christ and Him Crucified. That’s why we confess the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week – so we are reminded of what we are to be listening for – if the preaching doesn't mesh with the Creed, kick the preacher out! That's why thankfully Dan was so stubborn and picky about the music here and why we'll continue to be so. If it isn't proclaiming Christ and Him c rucified, what good is it? This is important – that you here learn to evaluate things in the Church not on how pretty something is or how dynamic someone is, but rather, are they proclaiming Christ and Him Crucified. Because workers do come and go. Volunteers volunteer for a time and then new ones stand up. And that's fine – all who serve are utterly replaceable – if I get hit buy a bus tomorrow go call another preacher to take my place – but a preacher who will preach Christ. Because it's never about the individual, never “see what I did” but rather Christ Crucified for you, Jesus who loves you and gives you forgiveness and life and is the same always, yesterday, today, and forever. It must always be Christ Jesus for us poor sinners because that's where life and salvation is.
Why can I say that? Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This is the will of Your Father who is heaven – that you repent of your sin and receive Christ’s forgiveness. Or as the Catechism puts it in the meaning of the third petition - God's Will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.And so God your Father will send you people to show you your sin, to break down your sinful nature - but also to show you Jesus, give you Christ. He will even use you to do this for others. Now, Satan will try to distract you, will throw up smoke screens, all that stuff. He'll even dangle out false preachers to try to lure you away. But you know the truth, you know what any one who preachers or teaches is to proclaim, you know what lyrics our hymns are to echo forth. Christ and Him crucified for y ou. You are forgiven and rescued from your sin by Him. Period. The End. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.