Saturday, November 11, 2017

Trinity 22 Sermon

Trinity 22 – Matthew 18:21-35 – November 11th and 12th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We Christians just have to put up with so many things, sometimes. I mean, think of all that we have to do for God. We could all be home nice and comfy right now, or out there making some good cash, or watching [high school football/NFL pre-game shows], but no, we just have to give up our [Saturday night/Sunday morning] for Jesus. And then there’s all the things that we don’t do as good little Christian boys and girls – we don’t cheat, we don’t rob, we don’t have all that wild fun that other people do – no waking up in the gutter for us. We have to give that all up. Why, we poor Christians even have to be nice to people, even to people who are lousy. Look at all that we have to do for God – man, if we aren’t just the best people in the World!

Now, we aren't normally that brazen about it, but don't we sometimes lament what we are supposed to do as Christians? Poor, poor me – that mean old God just keeps on making me do more and more. . . but, oh well, since I’m a good person – I guess I’ll just do what I have to do. And God rolls His eyes. This is a trap that all Christians may fall into – where we begin to focus on all that we do for God, how much we put up with for him. This is where St. Peter is when he asks of our Lord, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Alright Jesus, I get this whole thing that You’re the Messiah and that I should be following you – but just how much are you going to expect of. . . me. . . just how good do I have to be? How much love do I have to show – if I don’t take revenge on a person seven times – well, that’s pretty good isn’t it? If I forgave my brother 7 times, I’d be a pretty good person, wouldn’t I?
We know Jesus’ response. 70 times 7. Many, many times more. But when we hear Jesus instruct Peter this way – what we are we thinking? Are we thinking, “Boy, I better do more and more?” Are we thinking, “Boy, my work as a Christian is never done”? Are we still thinking like Peter, wondering what I have to do to get in good with God? If so – we miss the point. Because Jesus tells a story to get our focus on the right thing. Listen.

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. To explain, Jesus starts to tell a story. Alright, there’s a king, and this king is going to settle accounts with you. Or put it this way – say you owe the government money – the IRS people are at your door, and it’s time to pay. You want to talk about what you have to do, what you owe, what is incumbent upon you – go look at taxes. You pay, or at best we garnish your wages – at worst, into the graybar motel with you. And the fellow in our story – well, he is up the creek without a paddle. 10,000 talents is an insane amount of money. A typical person might make a talent in 20 years. This is sort of the equivalent of saying, “and this guy owed the king 10 Billion dollars.” A ridiculous amount of money.

And what does the king do? He first appeals to the letter of the law. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. If you want to go by what the law says, this is what happens. If you owe the government, let’s even take a smaller number – let’s say you owe the government a mere 10 million dollars in back taxes – what happens to you? Bad, bad things! And the King says, “alright, bad things are coming to you.”

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Now, this is great. Did you notice – the “servant” falls on his knees. He’s already owned by the master – he has no freedom – he’s toast. He’s not a free man anymore – and yet, he falls on his knees, and what does he say? I’ll pay you back. Oh, come on – really? You’ll pay everything? This is utterly ridiculous – it’s like the 3 year old asking her dad to buy a pony and promising her dad that she’ll pay him back. It’s not going to happen. . . and the king should just laugh this guy off.

But the king doesn’t. And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt. No, you can’t pay me back. . . so I’m not even going to demand that you pay me back – don’t even bother trying. Just go, get on your way. Now, we know this wouldn’t happen today – the IRS would never say, “Ah, let’s just forget the audit, and don’t bother about filing next year, it’s all good.” Isn’t going to happen. But don’t you understand – this parable is describing you and God. You owe a debt to God that you can’t pay. God is the Creator – and with your sin you destroy His creation – and you can’t fix that. Can you make up for it, can you restore the earth? It's unpayable – you can’t do it. And yet, what does God do – don’t worry about your debt, your mistakes – I will take care of it Myself – I’ll send my Son Christ Jesus to the Cross, and He will take up your debt, He will clean up your mistakes. Now, go on your way and live your life.

This is how we relate to God. We ought never, never have the attitude of, “look at all I do for God”. All you do – you are sinner! In sin your mother bore you – what are you doing to do to change that! What in you will bribe God? Don’t even try. Make no vain boasts. Rather this – remember who you are – you are a person who falls before God and receives mercy. That is what a Christian is. A Christian is a sinner like everyone else, but a Christian is simply a sinner who is forgiven. And the damnable thing is we can forget this – we start thinking of ourselves as good people, look at how well we pay back God – we’ll cut a deal with You. And do you know what happens to people who forget that they are sinners who receive God’s mercy? Let’s hear what Jesus says.

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him saying, “Pay what you owe.” Now, sometimes we can diminish what this second servant owed – oh, it’s nothing, a 100 denarii is nothing compared to 10,000 talents. That’s not what Jesus is saying. 100 Denarii would be around $12,000 dollars. That’s a goodly chunk of change. I don’t think any of us would bithely shrug off 12 grand – so no, it’s something serious – but the servant goes nuts. Chokes the fellow! And the other servant pleads: So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” Sound familiar? And it’s a lot more realistic. . . but this servant will have none of it. He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. No mercy, no love. Now, by the letter of the law, he doesn’t have to show mercy, to show love. No, the guy owes him cash, let him pay. Isn’t that what we often think when someone sins against us – Hey – he has hurt us, he’s done real damage to me – so forget him. Make no mistake – sin is real, and it hurts. When someone does you wrong – it hurts. But how do we respond to this? Do we forget who we are – do we forget that we too are sinners who are not just as vile, but actually more vile, more worse, more guilty than this person who has sinned against us?

Well, the King finds out about this servant who is unforgiving. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in his anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from you heart. Well, who feels good right now? I hear this and I don’t feel too hot. I know that I can lament all that gets done to me, I can feel good about my anger towards people – and what does God say of that? Nothing good.

It becomes, dear friends, a question of how you will relate to God. Are you going to be proud and demand what is owed you – well, if that’s who you want to be, God will play that game with you. And you will lose – you will lose hard. But you know, that’s not how God wants to treat you. This king in the parable, he didn’t want to put the guy in jail, if he had wanted to he would have done so to start. Instead, the king desires and delights in showing mercy.

Dear friends – God delights in showing you mercy. God desires to forgive you, He desires that His forgiveness overwhelm you and cover your whole life. That is who God is, that is how He desires to relate to you. And that is why He instructs you to forgive your neighbor. Do you realize that this is not a harsh burden, a dire command? No – forgive your brother so that your eyes are always upon forgiveness – because when you remember to forgive that fellow next to you, what else are you going to remember – that God is the God who forgives you.

Think on this – God wants everything in your life to point you back to Him, He wants His Word to dwell in you richly. How much so – so much that even when someone sins against you, when someone hurts you – your first thought should be, “Wow, I do worse to God and yet He loves me – how great is God's love and mercy to me!” At all times and in all places, our thoughts should be upon how God has shown us mercy, that He is full of great mercy and kindness. He is the One who heals those who are broken, who gives out forgiveness. God directs us to this constantly, so that we always remember it, so that we live lives full of His forgiveness. And so, my friends, I encourage you – hear God’s Word of forgiveness – know that He desires mercy for you, know that He gives You His Body, His Blood for the forgiveness of your sin – always have before your eyes and in your ears God’s love for you in Christ the Crucified – so that you may always remain in faith – that you may always remain a Christian – that is, a baptized and forgiven sinner who lives by grace, not by works of the law. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

When You Don't Want the Law to be Lethal Anymore

If we think about them, most major medical treatments are brutal.  Surgery involves cutting and bleeding and all that jazz.  Chemotherapy is poison.  Radiation treatments are... well, radiation.  And we acknowledge that these are done for the best and noble reasons, even necessary reasons - but they remain fundamentally violent actions that take their toll on your body - even if there is the hopes a greater good.  Let's cut you, but to really cut out the bad.  Let's poison and radiate you, but hope we get the bad stuff before we get you.

If you ever need a procedure done, or some sort of strong treatment, you can't go into it (or ought not) thinking that it is of no consequence.  If you are having open heart surgery on Monday you'll need to cancel your Tuesday tee time at the golf course.  Chemo and running a marathons.  Even though the procedures are good for you - they are hard on you.  Pretending otherwise would be utterly delusional.  And, of course, if your Doctor doing your full knee replacement were to say, "Oh, no, don't worry, this is no big deal! There's no recovery time at all," he'd be an utter charlatan.

Likewise the Law of God.  It kills.  Always.  It is given to show the depths of our sin and its wages.  Always.  And even as we acknowledge that this is good for us - that it curbs us and keeps us from falling into greater wickedness, that it shows us what is good and God pleasing - it still kills and accuses us.  Always.

Unless we are delusional. 

Consider the following verses - Romans 3:19 and 20:  "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

If you think that the Law ever stops accusing, you've missed the point.  The Law has to accuse us as long as we are in this life, because we NEED the accusation.  The accusation of the Law constantly breaks down the sin that would make us ignore Christ Jesus.

So what happens, what are you saying when you want the law to not accuse, when you want the law to no longer show sin but rather just give nice advice? It would be like saying you want chemotherapy that doesn't attack the cancer.  It would be saying you don't want God to kill you and then raise you - you'd rather just a bit of a brush up now, have a more comfortable or virtuous life let that be that.

The Law has to be lethal.  Otherwise it's not the Law.  Otherwise it's pop self-help gussied up with religious language.  It becomes a cruel placebo that doesn't do its job, but might make the person feel better about themselves instead... while they get worse and worse.

Nope.  Preach a Lethal Law, then preach a Christ who raises the dead. 

All Saints' Day Sermon

All Saints' Observed – November 4th and 5th, 2017 – Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus +
What does it mean to be blessed? If we are to understand the words of our Lord Jesus Christ this day, if we are to understand what He preaches to us today, we're going to have to focus, we're going top have to understand that word a bit. As He opens the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus uses that word “blessed” 9 times – but here's the thing. At first glance, none of these 9 situations, none of these 9 occasions where Jesus says that we are blessed seem to be any good at all. The reason why is we really don't understand, my friends, what the real and greatest blessings God gives us are. We don't understand that these true and eternal blessings in Christ can never be taken away.

Consider what our Lord says: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” The poor in Spirit. The people who are beat down in this world, who understand just how lousy things can get. You've been there – those times when you see the wickedness of the world, see your own wickedness and guilt in spades. That's not something we look forward to. I bet not a one of use woke up today and said, “Boy, I hope I get to become poor in Spirit today.” “Wouldn't it be great if today I got a bold reminder of how lousy life in this world can be!” And yet, what does Jesus say? “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Do you see the movement, the contrast? Okay – let us assume a lousy day where you are kicked in the teeth, either by what people have done to you and what you have done yourself. Does that change, even one bit, the fact that Christ Jesus has won you salvation and gives you heaven and eternal life in Himself? Nope – being poor in Spirit can't change that one bit. In Christ, yours is the Kingdom of heaven. Even when you are poor in spirit, in Christ you are blessed.

Then Jesus ratchets things up. Okay, let's not just talk about having a bad day. Let's talk about death. “Blessed are those who mourn.” Wow, that's a bold, blunt statement. Blessed are the people who look up and see death. Again, I don't think most of us have said, “I hope I get to go into mourning this week.” Death is a nasty, horrible thing. Here on All Saints' Day, we remember the folks who have died this past year – we certainly aren't cheering that fact. And yet, what does Christ Jesus our Lord say? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, do you see the movement? Let us say that you see death. Does that change, even one bit, the fact that Christ Jesus Himself died and rose from the dead precisely so as to raise His blessed saints from the dead? In fact, this word for “comforted” is a Holy Spirit word – it's what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit in John 16 – I will send you the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete. Does death change the fact that Christ Jesus has promised to raise all the dead, to breath one again the breath of life in to us? Nope. Death can't stop the resurrection that Christ brings. In Christ, you will comforted because nothing stops the Holy Spirit. Even when you mourn, the Holy Spirit still will pour out the life and salvation that Christ Jesus has won.

Do you see the point, my friends? The thing that Jesus is doing? So often when we think of blessings, we think first and foremost of temporal, earthly blessings in our life. If someone says, “I am blessed” they are probably talking about their family, their job, their money, their house. Maybe health or healing. These are all good things – these are all things that we pray for in the 4th Petition of the Lord's prayer. These are daily bread – think on the Catechism. “What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body...” and then the long list of things. These are all good things, but when Jesus taught us His prayer, He summed up all these things as “daily bread” for a reason. They are daily. They are temporary and for a time. They are here today, and often gone tomorrow. Here in this sinful, fallen world, things fade. Moth and rust destroy. Because we live in a world impacted by sin, so many of these earthly blessings fade away.

And this terrifies us. This freaks us out. And we react poorly. Sometimes we live in denial. We pretend everything is fine, when we know it's not. Sometimes we become stingy and horde the blessings we have, fighting so hard not to lose them that we never even really enjoy them. Sometimes we lust and crave more and more – thinking that if we just spent more, ate more, “lived it up” more that then, then these good things wouldn't go away, and we just burn through them all the more quickly. Sometimes we close up in on ourselves, curl up into a little ball to protect ourselves – so determined not to be hurt by losing anything else that we don't receive the things that God gives us. So many different ways we can react poorly. And then Satan really starts to attack us. The thoughts, the temptations come – see everyone else, see how blessed they are – they don't have your problems, they aren't treated this way by God; maybe you're just out of luck with the Lord. And so we put on a brave face, we tell everyone who asks we're fine, we post great and wonderful pictures on Snapchat or Facebook, hoping that no one knows how scared we are, wishing that we could be as happy as our friends are, so often not recognizing that they're just putting on the brave face too.

The crowd that stood there and listened to Jesus that day in Matthew was no different. Didn't have the same technology, but they had the same trials, the same temptations. The same devil was hounding them. And this is why Jesus starts off the Sermon on the Mount this way. Let's talk about blessing, about being blessed. Your blessings are not centered, are not based in these temporal things. They are temporary; why be surprised when they don't last? No, my friends, know where true blessing lies – it lies in God giving you forgiveness and salvation and everlasting life in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus Christ isn't temporary, He isn't here today but gone tomorrow – He is eternal. And you are in Him, so you have not just the stuff we normally think of as blessings, but you have everlasting blessings. Being poor in spirit, not even mourning death can stop these blessings of God to you in Christ Jesus. See the big picture in Christ!

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Alright, so you aren't the big, bold, and brash folks, the high and mighty making deals and power-plays. So what – in Christ you will inherit eternal life in a new heavens and a new earth. Christ gives you this as a gift.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Alright, so you see wickedness and injustice – indeed you see your own sin and you wish it weren't there. Guess what – in Christ you will be satisfied for He takes away your sin and pours His own righteousness into you in Holy Baptism – He calls you to His table and feeds you with His own righteousness.

These are things promised to you by Christ Jesus. These are the realities of who you are in Christ Jesus – you right now are a new creation. You are a new being, a holy child of God. Even in this sinful world, Christ has forgiven you now, called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, joined you to Himself in Baptism, and even fills you with His own love. Even over and against your sin, He has given you His Holy Spirit to work in you His life and salvation.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Jesus makes you to be merciful. He makes you to be focused upon His mercy and love. By His Word and Spirit He moves you beyond just the 4th petition, the daily bread concerns, and He takes you to the 5th petition – and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. You do realize that this isn't a demand upon you, but rather a gift that Jesus gives you. He makes you a forgiver, because He is the great Forgiver who wants to forgive you. He makes you merciful, because He is the merciful God who wants to mercy you.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Do you see where this is going? Jesus makes you to be pure in heart by His Word of forgiveness, because He wants to see you, to have you be with Him for all eternity. This pureness of heart, it isn't something you do. This is one of the eternal and everlasting blessings that Christ Jesus has won for you with His death and resurrection. His death upon the Cross was to purify your heart – His heart stopped and spilled forth in water and blood so that even come the day when you heart stops, Jesus would look at you and say, “Wait a second, this one is pure in me. Rise, get up – you're going to be seeing me forever.” That's why we do give thanks for those who have died in the faith – in Christ they are pure in heart, and they see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Jesus is the great Son of God, He is the great peacemaker – He is the One who appeared to the disciples in the upper room on Easter night and showed them His hands and side and said, “Peace be with you.” He's the One who comes and gives us His Body and Blood for forgiveness and life – The peace of the Lord be with you always. Jesus is the One who makes you to be peacemakers, to be forgivers. Of course you are – for you are sons of God in Christ, and all that is Christ's is yours – yours to give out. And He will use you to forgive, to make peace, to pour out His love, to give out His eternal and everlasting blessings – because that is simply who you are in Him.

We don't remember this all the time. There are times our own sinful flesh looms large. There are times when the world around us raves. Doesn't change anything. You are in Christ – therefore, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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 went before you.” You are in Christ, so of course your reward is great – your reward isn't what you've earned but everything that Jesus has earned for you with His life, death, and resurrection. And the world will rant and rave – of course it does. It knows it's temporary, it's fading, it's bound to be replaced with a new heavens and a new earth. But you, my friends, you are not just blessed by God for a brief time, for a day or for a few decades – you are blessed in Christ with all the eternal blessings that He has won for you. You are part of His Church, His own Body – part of the people of God from all times and in all places. And now, we're going to close the sermon, and we'll pray, and then we'll join in our voices with the angels and archangels, with those we love who are now with the Lord – and we'll celebrate the Supper knowing that nothing can ever take away these eternal blessings of Christ. Blessed are you – for you are in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus – Amen.