Saturday, September 11, 2021

Trinity 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 11th and 12th, 2021

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

Continuing on from last week's Epistle dealing with the evident works of the flesh as opposed to the fruit of the Spirit, St. Paul says in today's Epistle – If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. So, as Confirmation Class is starting up this weekend, let's ask now the old Catechism question – What does this mean? What does it mean to live by the Spirit, to walk by the Spirit? I mean, if you hear people say that they are spiritual today, it can mean almost anything as long as it's smug and condescending. Or “I'm spiritual, but not religious” - which Paul would have thought to be as dumb as saying, “I'm a human, but not a person.” In our culture today and in our society today we so often think of “spiritual” as being something high faluting or up there, maybe in our minds, or meditate in a Lotus position and transcend your body or whatever the latest claptrap is. And all that misses the point. Listen again to Paul - If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. This isn't imaginary, this Spirituality stuff isn't in your head – we live by the Spirit, we walk by the Spirit. Living and walking are some real, tangible things. Down to earth things. Paul gives a list of what this tangible real Spiritual life, living and walking by the Spirit looks like – don't provoke each other, help each other out, don't boast, learn the word of God and pay your preacher, keep on doing good things. He doesn't say “go sit under a waterfall” or
“take an expensive vacation to India”. It's life. The fact that you are a Christian, that Jesus' forgiveness has been given to you, that you are baptized, shapes you.

And to contemplate this further, and indeed, to rejoice in Jesus' forgiveness even further, let's consider now our Gospel lesson. And it doesn't seem like this would be a Gospel lesson to rejoice over. I mean, Jesus tells us not the worry – and then lists a bunch of terrible things. And He drops an “O you of little faith” on us. How is this a rejoicing sort of text? How is this a Spiritual life text. Very simply. Alright Confirmands, you're getting a heads up on Sunday night's lesson, so listen up. Adults – the question for you is this: What is the First Commandment? (You shall have no other gods.) And what does this mean? (We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.) Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” We're used to hearing this, we're used to jumping on into consider the lilies of the field, but pause for a second. Did you hear what Jesus just said. He said, “Don't worry, even about starving to death naked.” That happens more often in history than we'd care to admit. It happened often enough in the Roman Empire of Jesus' day – it would happen in Jerusalem in 70 AD, it happened in our lifetimes in the Concentration camps of Germany, or to our Lutheran brothers and sisters in Siberia, or even now in China and other parts of the world. And that's human cruelty, that's to say nothing of natural disasters, floods and famine and earthquake where the work of lifetimes are turned to rubble. What do you mean, do not be anxious, what do you mean do not worry? Isn't that something to be afraid of, Jesus?

You shall have no other gods. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Fear. Fear is a spiritual thing. You hear all the time in the Old Testament that we are to “fear the LORD” or “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” - and that sounds so strange to us because we as modern Americans hate the idea of fear. But fear is there, there's always something that one fears, something that one understands as the biggest threat, the highest priority. And fear is Spiritual. Spiritual doesn't mean disconnected to your life – if something is Spiritual it is tied to your life and permeates all parts of your life. And as such, Satan will use the fear of various things to drive you, to torture and twist you. After Pearl Harbor President Roosevelt had fantastic insight when he said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” Fear drives you. FDR didn't want the American populous driven by fear to stupidity after Pearl Harbor, and in that sense he was right. We see a fear, and we will do anything, anything, to avoid it or counter it. And if the fear is big enough, we will jettison all morals, all sense, we will throw our neighbor under the bus. Fear will make us turn on friends. Fear turns people into informants. Fear turns people into killers, whether it's the stranger, or even the child in the womb. All driven by fear, driven by what-ifs and we have to do something. All driven by Satan who wants us focused on anywhere and anything but Christ Jesus and His love for us. All seeking to make us live in fear, walk in fear. This misplaced fear of Satan's is in the air today, it's all around us and palpable.

And Jesus says no. We shouldn't fear first and foremost this trash Satan throws us, whether it's our health or what our friends and family think of us, what will the neighbors say. First and foremost, we should focus on what God says – He's the One we should fear above all, because He's the One who can do the most. And what does the Triune God say of you? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Are you not of more value... Jesus says you have value, great value. That in the eyes of God Almighty, you have deep value. So much value that when Satan tempted Adam and Eve into sin, when Satan used them to unleash death and destruction and all the things we fear – that God planned for your salvation. That Jesus would become man and die for you, in your place – that He would rise on the third day to win you everlasting life because you have value to God. The Holy Spirit makes you to know this – the Lord and giver of Life Himself makes you to understand the value that God places upon you, upon your neighbor for whom Jesus died. You live by the Spirit as a redeemed, forgiven, and valued person – and when you walk around don't just see fear, see that you are valued by God and that the person next to you is valued by God, even if they don't see it and treat themselves like trash.

So whose words, whose opinion will you fear, will you give priority? Because that's what fear does – it assigns a priority in your life, and if you choose a dumb priority, bad things happen. So what is the priority – what Jesus says of you – that you are more valuable than His own life and that you are forgiven and bound for everlasting life, or the stupid worries and fear that the world is peddling? What is the priority – seeing your neighbor as someone Jesus died for, or seeing them as an enemy to be defeated, an obstacle to be overcome? If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. That's the point Paul is making here, that's what Jesus is teaching – remember who you are in Christ Jesus's eyes, and let that shape how you see the world and your place in it.

And this doesn't mean that you won't see troubles. Jesus Himself saw plenty of trouble – that Cross up there is a big old sign trouble if ever there was one. And He openly tells us “Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Seeing the value God has placed upon you and your neighbor actually brings trouble and hardship – you don't get to treat life as cheap. You don't get to view your neighbor as expendable or disposable, toss them away when it's convenient to do so. And there's still sin swirling around, and there are still fears and words trying to make you forget who you are in Christ, make you forget the dignity we as His children have. And that's all hard. But remember here that God knows this, and He knows what you need. And He is the One who is in control. Listen again to how our Gospel lesson starts.

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. Yeah, money and stuff can drive a lot of fears – how many people will be silent and not speak the truth because it might get them canceled and hurt their pocketbook? Money is a fearful master... but Jesus says you can't have two masters... Therefore, I tell you, because I, Jesus, am your Master – I have purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the Devil with My own blood, I have baptized you and poured water and My Spirit upon you, and you are part of My Kingdom, and you live by My Spirit. Did you hear Jesus just take charge right there? And He is in charge, and He's in charge for you good. And whatever comes down the pike, even if it is fearful and scary, Jesus is still in charge, and He still conquers over all things, and He does so for you good, because you are of value to Him beyond our ability to understand.

So my friends – walk by the Spirit – that is, walk around your life understanding who you are in Christ Jesus and what Satan is trying to do to you and to your neighbors. There's fear out there, crazy making evil driving fear. See that and know that as a spiritual thing, the work of Satan... but more importantly remember who you are as a baptized and forgiven child of God, alive in the Spirit, fed this day on Christ's own Body and Blood, and bound for eternal life. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Eyes upon Jesus, Words proclaiming the Christ and Him Crucified, fear in it's proper place and Jesus in charge – for you are forgiven. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Trinity 5 Sermon

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11 – July 3rd and 4th, 2021

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

      “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing.” Consider what had been going on in Peter's life going into that one occasion of which our Gospel speaks today. There's a simple little note there, that Jesus is standing by two boats, but the fishermen had gotten out of them. They were washing their nets. Their day was done and over. And Jesus just gets into a boat – doesn't ask permission, doesn't say, “Permission to come aboard captain.” Just hops onto the boat and looks at Simon Peter and asks him to carry Him out a bit. So there's Peter, after a long night of work already, tired and worn... and now he's playing ferryman to Jesus. And then Jesus teaches, preaches – while Peter is already tired and worn out from the previous night's work. Things just keep getting longer and harder for poor Simon Peter. And then Jesus is done... He's finished His preaching, and Simon Peter will finally, finally be able to go home, see the family, get some rest. Or maybe not.

     Jesus says to Peter, Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Jesus wasn't done yet. Simon Peter wasn't done yet. And do you hear the resignation and despair? “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing.” It's worse than just the end of a long day – it's the end of a long day that was utterly unproductive. That trip home would have been a trip of failure, it would be the farmer having to tell the missus that the crop in a field failed. Peter's day had been utter failure... and now, just more work. Stupid work. Utterly foolish work. Fishermen fished at night because you didn't catch anything during the day. Well, except seaweed and junk, so the nets would have to be cleaned again. But no, Jesus doesn't seem to care about Simon Peter's day – go do more work. “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your word I will let down the nets.” That sounds so formal – it's someone saying, “If you say so, boss.” I think this is a grade A dumb idea, but if you say so.

      And then there's a massive catch. So big they have to summon out the other boat – James, John, get over here, we can't haul this catch in. There's the the frenzied action of the fishermen as they rush to haul in the catch, to divvy it up. But Peter stops while the crew runs around frantically. They hit the nets while Peter hits the deck. And when he speaks, there's something new in his voice. Fear. Utter and abject fear. Do you hear it? “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.” Did you hear the fear? Maybe not – we're sort of used to hearing the bible in a nice and proper, polite fashion. I mean, how many of you said the word “depart” this week? Maybe if you went to the airport – we hear “depart” as a nice, organized dismissal. I'll say it later – Depart in peace. But that's not the flavor of what Peter is saying here. This is “get up and get gone.” This is “run away”. This is “retreat”. It's an emphatic word – it's not just saying “go” it's saying “go away.” Why? Please just get away from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord. There's fear there. There's fear because Simon Peter understands his own sinfulness, his own flaws. He had just done a “yeah, sure, whatever you say Boss” to Jesus, and Simon Peter has just really started to figure out who this Jesus is, that there is something miraculous, something divine going on here – and you don't act all blasé about God. And in reality, that's what our sin is. We know what we are supposed to do, we know what God wants us to do, and we blow it off. Or even if we do it – even if we shove off into the deep so that He can shower abundant blessings upon us, so often we do so half heartedly with resignation – sure, whatever. Sin to insulting to God – Simon's sin was insulting to God – your sin insults God. Your sin takes blessings that God has given you and disdains them, cheapens them, ignores them, breaks them, defiles them. And we can ignore the fact that this is what our sin is easily enough when we are all caught up in our own wants, desires – our desperate searching for some sort of happiness over against the resignation and despair we see. But when Jesus is right there in front of you, when God Himself is sitting in your boat, then there's fear. You want God gone. Get away from me.

     And Jesus says no. Yeah, no Simon, I'm not going anywhere. Well, okay, actually Simon, I will be leaving, but when I do you're going to be coming with Me. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Oh, and James and John too, and Andrew your brother. You're all coming with Me. And as I am preaching and teaching now, you'll be preaching and teaching soon enough. So, no more of that fear there – you're with Me, and in Me it's all good.

      At first you can hear a lot of resignation in Simon, then you can hear an understandable fear in Simon. You can see these things shape Simon Peter's actions – but they don't shape, they don't define Jesus, nor do they define how Jesus treats Peter. Jesus is not driven by fear or shame or guilt or any of the things that drive us. Jesus loves. Jesus is determined to rescue and redeem Peter. Even when Simon Peter is having a lousy day and ignoring Jesus' preaching, Jesus just saunters on up – come on, into the boat fish-boy, push on out. Hear my preaching, and you want fish, well, I'll give you fish. But I'm going to give you something greater. I'm going to give you Myself, I'm going to give you the Church, and you'll get to be part of the place where instead of being defined by your fears or your sins or your desires, you'll be defined by the fact that I am your Savior, that you are baptized, redeemed, forgiven, saved, bound for life everlasting beyond fear and sin and foolish desires. Simon Peter didn't have to do something to get ready for Jesus... Jesus just walks up and saves Him. Dare I say, Jesus catches him, for Jesus is a fantastic catcher of men.

So, how often does fear and resignation shape, drive our lives, my friends? I'd wager quite often. I'd actually be inclined to be utterly honest and say all the time. Think on the Small Catechism – every meaning to a commandment starts “We should fear and love God...” and every sin really can be boiled down to fear, fearing something other than God. Thinking something is bigger, more powerful, more important than God. I'm inclined to say that all sin is driven by fear... I'll allow for some false and misplaced loves to drive some sin, but even there, I don't know. So much fear. Fear of rejection driving people to do anything to gain acceptance. Fear of failure driving people to do anything to succeed. Fear of emptiness driving people to do anything to try to fill themselves up by what they consume or purchase. And by people, of course, I mean us. I mean me. And all around, so many things playing off of our fears, our insecurities, our desperation – “triggers” if you want to use the hip lingo. And at times it's so easy to be overwhelmed by them. And they always push us, sometimes we don't notice, and sometimes we do and we become keenly aware of it and we become resentful and angry and afraid.

      And Jesus says no. No, all that junk, all that stuff doesn't define you. It doesn't determine who you are. Your life is more than just that. God gets to define you. Jesus says, “You're mine. I forgive you.” Seriously. That's what defines you – you are a baptized, forgiven child of God. Period. End of story. Well, but what about this... yeah, well what about Christ Jesus, God Himself, becoming man, taking up your sin, going to the Cross, dying and rising, all to rescue and redeem you from all your what abouts. You are baptized. You are forgiven. You are bound for eternal life. And even if the worst happens – even if, even when you die – Jesus says no. Jesus didn't make you to be dead, so He will raise you from the dead. Period. Because while there are so many things, so many fears and troubles that try to cling to you, and that most certainly seem to in real, lousy ways, the truth, the ultimate truth is this. You are loved by God almighty, and He does not cast you aside, and He will not abandon you or leave you. You are His own – Jesus has purchased and won you from all sins and from the power of the devil – from Satan's despair and Satan's fear - not with gold or silver but by, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, so that you will be His own and so you will live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. That's what catching men means, it means catching them into eternal life, and that is what Jesus has done to you. His Word, His Spirit have been poured out upon you, and He's not just going to let the world, let Satan have you. Not even death gets to keep you – you belong to Jesus. Therefore forgiveness, life, and salvation are yours.

      Sometimes in this world things just suck. They stink on ice. Peter had been having a lousy day – it was obvious. We understand his resignation – we toiled all night and caught nothing. Seems like it could be the story of our life sometimes. But it's not. It's in the story, but it's not the story. The story of your life is this – Christ Jesus has come to be your Savior, and He has done so, and so you are safe and secure in Him. Yes, there are things that are bad and fearful – but none of them top Jesus Christ for you, and Jesus remains for you, even now, even today, even unto all eternity. You're baptized, redeemed, and forgiven – that's the real, full story. And that's precisely why I'll end the sermon like this. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Trinity 4 Sermon


Trinity 4 - 26th and 27th, 2021 – Luke 6

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

They are off by one verse. It seems as though everyone and his brother, even the worst, most despicable lout on the planet knows a verse from this morning’s gospel, or at least a quarter of the verse. “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” Oh, how wonderful, how neat – and don’t you ever, ever even hint or insinuate or suggest that I’m doing something wrong. . . cause then you are judging, and that means you are a bad, bad person! We all know that this isn’t the point of our Gospel lesson. In fact, if there were one verse from here to have memorized, one verse that puts all of this into perspective, it is the very first verse of our text today – “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” There it is, there is the key. Be merciful, just like God is. That’s the key to understanding everything in the Gospel.

When we think, when we talk about God – we need to remember and understand that He is merciful. We need to understand that God’s desire is not to condemn, not to damn, not to punish, but God's desire is to save, to restore, to heal, to bring growth. God is not petty. God does not enjoy tormenting people or showing them who’s boss – He’ll show you that He’s boss if you demand it, if you insist, if you mess around with Him – but that’s not what He wants to do. Think about this – why did God make Adam and Eve in the first place? Was it so He could be mean to them – or was it because He loved them and wished to give them a wondrous garden in which to live? Of course it was because of love. And even when Adam and Eve fall, yes, there are consequences, but before God even addresses the consequences, He promises a Savior. Yes, I will send a Savior for you, but in the mean time, you’ve messed up the world a bit Adam and Eve, and things will be rough. Seriously rough. But for right now, let Me make you some clothes. Mercy abounds. Luther would call this showing of mercy God’s proper work – how God prefers, first and foremost to act. Punishment, stuff like that, is called God’s alien work – that which is foreign to Him, that which comes about only because on occasion we need to be kept in check, we need to be reminded of our sinfulness. But overwhelmingly, God wants to show mercy, and even if He does punish, does show us our sin, it’s so we will repent and receive mercy.

With this in mind, hear what our Lord teaches us today – “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.” Or in other words – your approach to life is to mirror that of God’s approach – you are to strive for mercy. Judging here doesn’t mean simply seeing that something is wrong, simply observing, but rather placing yourself in a position of authority over another. When I consider my neighbor, shall I seek to be merciful to him and aid him, or shall I set myself above him and say, “You are lousy and horrible”? Which of these is Godly? Shall I pray earnestly that my neighbor be forgiven, or shall I call upon God to damn him? Which of these is Godly? Shall I strive to forgive my neighbor, or shall I say, “No, your wickedness is too great, too big even for Christ on the Cross to handle, I will not forgive.” Which of these is Godly? Shall I be generous with my neighbor, freely helping and aiding him with the blessings God has given me, or shall I turn a blind eye to him in his need, thinking God will fail to support me if I use my stuff to help my neighbor? Which of these is Godly? The whole point of the instruction here is about our attitude and approach – are we to seek God’s mercy, both for ourselves and for others, or are we going to instead delight in pride and condemnation?

Christ teaches us that we are to be Godly, that we are to be merciful like our Father in heaven, that we are to be people of forgiveness – and if not – well – “For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” God desires mercy. God desires forgiveness. God becomes man and suffers and dies so that there is plenteous forgiveness. Christ and Him Crucified should be the focus, the center, the approach of our life, and when it is, when we confess our sins there is always overflowing forgiveness for us. However – if we choose that we prefer to angrily judge, God can be the angry Judge too. If we want to damn our neighbor, God can be the great Damner too. If we want to withhold forgiveness, withhold aid and care, God can withhold forgiveness and aid and care too. This is the warning Christ gives us – do not reject the God of mercy and love, for that is folly.

And the key to this, the way in which we are kept from falling into sins which reject and despise God’s mercy, sins of pride, of arrogance, of hatred and disdain is two fold. Listen – “He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they both not fall into a pit?’” The first thing to remember as a defense against your pride and arrogance is to remember that you are just as blind, that you are just as foolish, that you are just as lousy as your neighbor. Now, do we believe this? Think about the person this week who annoyed you and upset you the most – do you really believe that you are just as lousy and blind and foolish according to your sinful nature as they are? Cause that’s what Scriptures say – and it’s the truth. There is a beauty to understanding this truth – it frees us from pride and animosity – it lets us have compassion. When we get dumped on by someone, we shouldn’t become hateful or angry – we should remember that we too are blind, we should think, “Is this what it feels like to other people when I act the fool - Good Lord, have mercy upon me.” We must know our own blindness first and foremost – and we must tend to it. After all, does not our Lord say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 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 second key is to live a life where you receive forgiveness. The only way the log in our eye is taken away is because Christ Jesus Himself took up that log, and was nailed to it and crucified upon it. It is there upon the Cross where Christ wins forgiveness, it is there from the cross where the streams of forgiveness which cleanse us flow from. Christ here is encouraging and instructing you to focus on forgiveness, to see that you yourself receive it, that you delight in it, that you rejoice in it – and when you have, then and only then will you be prepared to help your neighbor rejoice in God’s forgiveness as well. Then you will be able to speak the forgiveness that you have received from Christ to your neighbor. Do we understand that, do we realize how wondrous and how powerful this is? What we have received from Christ, the forgiveness that He has piled upon us, richly, a good measure of it – He has given us the power and authority to speak it, to give it to others. The same flood of love that God used to wash the log out of our eye, the power of His Word and Spirit, He gives to us to use to cleanse and forgive the speck that is in our neighbor’s eye. We get to be like Christ – we get to be Christians – we get to be little-Christs speaking the Word of forgiveness and life to our neighbor.

Did you not hear what Jesus said? “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” You are by no means above Christ your teacher, but when you are trained, when you learn to see things like Christ sees things, when you learn to look at the world through His love, when you desire to show mercy as your Father in heaven shows mercy – then you will be like Christ. You will do Christ like things – you will speak forth Christ’s powerful Word of life and forgiveness. What we learn here in this service, what we receive here, we take out with us and bring to the world. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved – that Word of Christ was given to us, applied to us – and then this week, wherever we go, it is with us, and we may speak it to others so that the Holy Spirit might bring them to belief and forgiveness as well. We complicate so many things in our folly, when we in our sinful blindness try to take charge of things. Dear friends, you need no plan, no program, no massive funding campaign to save the lost. Listen to Christ – by the power of His Word be forgiven, and then you will see clearly to reach out to those suffering from sin, and speak to them the same Word to forgive and restore them.

Be merciful, for your Father in heaven has been merciful to you – for this mercy and love which He has for you shapes and colors everything in your life. It defines you – you are one who has received the Word of life and forgiveness – you are one who now may speak that same Word. This is the reality of your life – do not neglect it for the sake of anger or pride or the desire to rule over your neighbor. Rather, delight in God’s love and mercy to you always, especially throughout this week in the life God gives you to lead this week in the world. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Trinity 2 Sermon


Trinity 2 – June 11th and 12th, 2021 – Luke 14:15-28

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

Oh goodie! Did you hear that Gospel lesson? Did you hear how Jesus talked about how important it is to come to church – oh, it is time for Pastor Brown to just rip into the people who aren't here today, all those people with their stupid excuses. Whew, he'll put a boot up their backside and how! I hope, my friends, that that wasn't the sermon you were expecting today. I mean, it is true that this text does tell the story of people who give incredibly foolish reasons not to come to a wedding feast – and the wedding feast is the emblem, the image of the Church, God's Kingdom, the altar and the Supper and the eternal feast of life everlasting. And it is good on occasion to think of what excuses we might make for not attending church, but this text is a bit more cutting and ironic than that. It hits a little bit closer to home, it hits a bit closer to the pews and the folks sitting in them (or at the picnic as the case may be) than just a harsh finger wagging at those people who aren't here today.

Now, are you sure Pastor – because those three jerks in the parable don't show up. “Please have me excused, Please have me excused, I cannot come.” Seems to be about skipping church – naughty naughty naughty. Yes, I know, but we really need to back up and start at the beginning of our lesson. Too often we want to rush and run to the punchline – slow, back up. The very first verse of our Gospel – listen again. When one of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to Him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” We actually jump in mid-story here. This happens when Jesus has been invited to a feast by some Pharisees, and He shows up, but there's the man with dropsy – is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus heals the guy, rescue your Ox if it falls in a well, and don't sit up front in front of the King, sit in the lowest place. We will get that text later on this summer. But a lot has gone on at this meal... and what is people's reaction?

So there's this guy there at the meal – he is reclining with Jesus – eating with Jesus. That's what reclining at table means, it means that you are in the middle of dinner with someone. And this guy has seen Jesus heal, he's heard Jesus preach – he's heard the things Jesus has said. And yet, what is his response? Oh, yes, someday it will be great to be in the Kingdom of God and at that feast. Yeah, it would sure be cool someday to be at that feast... not like this strange and awkward feast where Jesus keeps escaping from the traps we set for Him and then lecturing us. What this man says is supposed to be a conversation shifter away from something that is controversial and upsetting (like Jesus healing and Jesus preaching) onto something safe and dull where everyone can agree: “Bread in heaven, oh, bully bully – quite right, quite right.” It's the Pharisee's equivalent of “Boy, we've had some strange weather lately, haven't we?” But the problem is that Jesus is right there – the Kingdom of God is literally at hand, for there is Christ Jesus the King. And you are literally eating bread with Him, and the King is speaking. Yes, the weather has been strange because I calmed a storm, now let's get back to business here. Quit dodging and deflecting and ignoring My Word.

And that's why Jesus tells the parable. You see, in the story, the folks who refuse the invitation to the feast aren't “bad people” who skip service and the like. The people in the story who make excuses to ignore the feast, to not be there are in fact the ones who are there with Jesus as He speaks. You're here with Me at this feast – but you wish you weren't. You're hearing My word, but in your head you wish you were somewhere else. I've preached to you, but you've got some excuse for why it doesn't apply to you. And so, my friends, while there are plenty of texts that focus directly upon those who blow off coming to Church, this parable, it's context, when it was preached – it was directly at the people who were there with Jesus. It was preached directly at us.

Ewwww. That's not any fun. It's much more fun to be the good guy, the nice, upstanding members of society who do all the right things. Yeah, that sort of plays in too. Listen and hear the excuses again. But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” This is an utterly polite and proper way to decline an invitation. There's nothing rude about it at all, and it's plausible, we all know business must go on. Same with the oxen. And as for the third – And another said, “I have married a wife, therefore I cannot come.” Jewish custom excused all newly weds from all social obligations for a year – if you were newly married the king couldn't even draft you for war. All quite polite and proper. All doing the right thing, looking good and well off and like nice members of society. Of course, the reality is that they were hiding behind the veneer of their primness and properness to simply ignore the man and his banquet. The politeness is just a shield to fend off that silly banquet.

The danger for us, my dear friends, especially in a day and age when the world is getting crazier and more openly wicked, is that we will hide behind our primness and properness, that we will hide behind the fact that we are good little Christian boys and girls. Unlike... them. And then we can become smug and arrogant and proud in ourselves. There's only one problem with that. Jesus, His feast, His story and His salvation – it's for sinners. Real sinners. People who know that they need Jesus, not people who think that Jesus ought to consider Himself honored that they bothered to show up. And no, we wouldn't be that crass about it, because again, prim and proper – but this is the temptation that eats away at Christian faith. The temptation towards self-righteousness. The temptation towards aggrandizing the self, to thinking that compared to all those “bad” people you really are all that an a bag of chips.

Jesus is a forgiver. He is determined to be a forgiver. The way that Jesus insists on relating to people is by being their Savior. Jesus is God Himself become man to die upon the Cross to win forgiveness for His people, who has risen to bring life and immortality to light, who is the Lamb who was slain and has begun His reign. That is what His Kingdom looks like. And when we know our lack, that we are in need, that we are not worthy of this feast, that Christ's goodness is so far beyond us – well, then we let Jesus remain a forgiver and things go well. We hear His preaching that points out our sin, and our reaction is “Ugh, God be merciful to me, the sinner.” And then He is merciful, then He does forgive without fail. Take and Eat, take and drink – shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins, and there is nothing left for us but to say Amen and sing His praise. And that's actually being at the feast, being in the kingdom of God.

But your flesh will fight against that – because sinners would rather talk about other peoples' sins than their own. And the world will fight against that – the world tries to paint the church as either a moral club for “the good people” or a gathering of blithering idiots. Both miss the point – the Church, Christ's feast, is where sinners receive forgiveness. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. That's the point of the Church. But if you start to think that you don't really need forgiveness – well, you'll excuse yourself. Maybe it will be spectacularly where you stomp out of the doors of the Church all in a huff, or maybe it will be hypocritically where you go through the motions each week but couldn't care less – after all, one must keep up appearances. Here but not here – that's how plenty of people have handled coming to Church – it's what the Pharisees were doing in our Gospel text, and there are tons of other examples of it throughout the Scriptures.

So, what now? Well, once again Wisdom has built her house, and the call for the feast goes out. Forgiveness in Christ Jesus is proclaimed. Forgiveness for you, because God remains merciful, and Jesus deigns to eat with sinners – whether they are open sinners that everyone knows are bad or whether they are sinners fighting off hidden sins like hypocrisy and arrogance and disdain. Doesn't matter the sin, forgiving it is Jesus' specialty, and He is precisely where He has promised to be – in His Word wherever two or three are gathered in His Name, in His Church, in His Supper. And He is here for you, for your good, and for your salvation. He who has ears to hear, let Him hear. Let him hear the forgiveness of Christ Jesus. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Friday, June 11, 2021

LeRoy Gerberding


LeRoy Gerberding – June 10th, 2021 – John 3:16-21 and Romans 5:1-8

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

Mark and Jill, family and friends of our brother in Christ LeRoy, grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. For God so loved the world. This is a verse that we are familiar with, perhaps the most familiar verse in the world. And it's one that we actually misunderstand. We hear that “so” and we think of it in terms of “so much” - that God loved the world SO MUCH... and it's true that God really does love the world, but this isn't talking about so much, but the how, the how so of God's love. God loved the world – well, how so. This is how God loved the world – He gave only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. If you want to know what God's love looks like, how God shows love, the answer is Jesus dying upon the Cross, taking up our sin and sin's punishment, and Jesus rising to give us His life and His righteousness, to ensure that we rise.

LeRoy understood this. LeRoy understood that God loved him, and that even though he was a sinner and far from perfect, Christ Jesus died for LeRoy to rescue LeRoy from sin and death and Satan. And this knowledge, this grounding, this faith permeated Leroy's life, and it shaped the love that He showed. You see, God loving the world by sending Jesus to the Cross is a practical sort of love, an “it needs to be done” sort of love. Without Jesus going to the Cross, things go badly, so Jesus does what Jesus needs to do for your good, and that's just what He's going to do. And LeRoy received that love, and that love shaped LeRoy. Now, I am not going to presume to tell you all how LeRoy showed love to you, but I will mention one example of how LeRoy showed love to me and my family. Oh, how so? This way. Just a touch over six years ago I moved up here, and it's the first day in the parsonage and the moving van is here and I've got two toddlers and my wife and I are running around like chickens with our heads cut off, and the doorbell rings. And it's LeRoy. And he's got a bag of groceries. Figured we wouldn't have had time to go shopping yet and we'd need to eat, so here you go Pastor. And that was that. Simple, practical. Nothing flashy, nothing dazzling – but utterly kind and loving and thoughtful. LeRoy received God's practical loving care, and God saw often enough that we received God's loving care through LeRoy in utterly simple, quiet ways.

And there was that same simple, quietness that I'd see when LeRoy would be here with us at Church, and I know it was the same simple, quiet love he got to show to you down south when he went that way. Quiet and simple doesn't mean easy, though – and increasing frailty and age makse things harder and brings frustrations. But for a man of faith like LeRoy, that's okay. Didn't change God's love for LeRoy – For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. We are weak, but He is strong. And even though LeRoy's weakness grew, indeed grew too strong for him to bear, we shall see the strength of Christ Jesus for LeRoy, because LeRoy belongs to Jesus, and LeRoy was redeemed by Jesus, and LeRoy will rise with Jesus. And the next time we see LeRoy, we will see him risen and refined, with the same love that we have known, but its strength renewed, and the dross of sin and the hardship of frailty all gone, and man, if I'm not actually eager to see LeRoy in his full flower. We've missed him up here these past few years, but that's the thing about being in Christ. We do miss people, and there are absences and separations – just the reality of life in a fallen world. But God shows love. God shows love to rescue His fallen children and to redeem them and restore them, to overwhelm death with His Life Everlasting. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. This is what our brother LeRoy sees in full now, face to face with Jesus, and because God indeed loves the world, loves His LeRoy, loves you, we will see it face to face with Jesus and with LeRoy and with all the saints who have gone before us and who will follow after us, because God's love is utterly practical, and we shall delight in it forever, all thanks be to God in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Trinity 1 Sermon


Trinity 1 – June 5th and 6th, 2021 – Luke 16:19-31

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

What does sin look like? We spoke last week about the idea that we are sinful, that we are corrupt and in need of redemption – well this sinfulness breaks out in our lives, corruption creeps out. What does that look like? Well, to show us what sinfulness looks like when it spills out in our lives, Jesus tells us the story of the Rich Man. You want a depiction of sin, what sin can turn us into – behold the Rich Man. Listen.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. So, what do we learn about this Rich Man, the villain of the story, just from this set up? Well, first we learn that he's well off – purple dye was insanely expensive in the ancient world, and their idea what one could afford to eat was much less than what we would expect today. This guy is loaded. “Does that mean being rich is a sin?” No, not necessarily. But what does this man do with his riches? Are they a tool for him, whereby he can serve his neighbor, where he can do good for others? Well, given the fact that he lets Lazarus starve on his doorstep, that he won't even let the beggars go through his trash, no, he doesn't use his wealth for his neighbors. Street dogs treat Lazarus better than this rich man does.

Remember that we are commanded by God to love our neighbor – and love here means to be charitable to them in our thoughts and actions. We are to serve them, help them, put the best construction on them. We are not to be our neighbor's master but rather one who helps them as best we can. And the Rich Man here – that's not his concern, even though he has both the ability and opportunity to help. And this is something that should resonate with us – because America has rightly been called the land of opportunity. I'd wager that every one of us in this room has a more lavish lifestyle than this rich man would have had. In Jesus' day it would have been utterly wild to have 10 changes of clothing; I'm guessing most of our closets are more full than that. And as for feasting sumptuously, that basically meant they could eat meat everyday – we don't find that luxurious, we find that normal. And thus we have something to consider – how do we view what we have? With gratitude and a desire to help our neighbor, to deal fairly with them, to help them protect and improve their possessions and income (as the catechism says), or are we discontent and obsessed with more? Do we cling on to our possession – dare I say does the love our of stuff possess us and turn us loveless and cold? And this is not just a “put more money in that plate” appeal – I am glad for how generous this congregation is, but we're called to love our neighbors, not merely tithe. An envelope a weekend doesn't entitle you to be a jerk the rest of the week. So, ponder – what love and care does your sinful flesh want you to not show – and fight against your flesh.

But you see, the Rich Man's problem wasn't just that he was greedy, that he wasn't generous. That's not the heart of sinfulness – that's a symptom, that's something that spins out from being sinful. No, the root is much worse, and it is exposed when the man dies. I'm going to reread this conversation that the Rich Man has with Abraham – and as I do, I want you to pay attention to how the Rich Man listens to Abraham. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things (cause you wouldn't give him good things), but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us. Alright, so Abraham has laid out the rich man's selfishness, the justness of his punishment, and that there's nothing that Abraham could do anyway. Does the guy reflect on how bad he was, how he was in the wrong? And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them lest they also come into this place of torment.” Does the Rich Man listen? Take his lumps? No, he doesn't. Oh, Abraham, you know, my brothers are grade A jerks, you better talk to them. He doesn't reflect upon his own sin, he thinks about what his neighbor does. I'm not the donkey, don't pin the tail on me – they are the real donkeys. That's another way sin breaks out – not me – them, they are the bad guys. And still the bossing around, still the desire to be in control – send that beggar boy Lazarus.

We're coming close to the root, but we aren't quite there. Almost – keep listening. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead they will repent.” [Abraham] said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Did you catch it? The root of all sin? Hear the Word of God – pshaw, what good is that? Moses and the Prophets – the Old Testament – meh. Catechism time – What is the Third Commandment? Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. This is what you see in the Rich Man, a grade A despising of the Word of God. A despising of God's commandments, but more than that, for the Word of God is more than just commandments and threats for what happen if you break them – the Scriptures are more than just finger wagging warnings. The Scriptures contain the promise, the Gospel, the truth that God Himself would come to rescue and redeem His people and save them from their sin. And the Rich Man and his ilk – no use for that at all. He's all talk, he's all bluster – back-talking Abraham from hell and giving him sass. He is full of disdain and arrogance and no love whatsoever.

But you see, the Scriptures aren't just Law – the solution to the sinfulness of the Rich Man isn't just “don't do what he did.” It's not “be generous and it's all good.” No – what of the Christian life – what of the life of faith, what does that look like? Well, it looks like Lazarus. What defines Lazarus in this story – what does he do? We never hear him talk – we never even see him move. He's laying on the Rich Man's doorstep hoping for some food; then he's at Abraham's side – and the image here would be laying at his side, his head on Abraham's chest – that's why one of the old terms for heaven was “the bosom of Abraham”. At a feast in the ancient world you reclined, you laid down at the table. Waiting for food in life, and then at Abraham's side in the afterlife. But what does Lazarus do? What is the essence of what a Christian does?

I'm sorry, I set you up a bit. That's the wrong question. While Christians do in fact do many things, while we show love and care, and while we fight against temptation and while we praise God, that's not the heart, the essence of what it is to be a Christian. A Christian is not defined by their doing – a Christian is defined, is made by receiving. We are defined by faith, by hearing. Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God. To be a Christian is to be one who receives, who takes in and receives what God gives them. Who hears the Word of God – both the Law and most especially the Gospel. They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them? Okay – this is why when we heard from Moses in Genesis, the first book of Moses, y'all all said, “Thanks be to God.” Because to be a Christian is to be one who hears, who receives the Word of the LORD. To be a Christian is to be one who recognizes all their stuff as daily bread, given to them by God – we've received. Of course we can be generous; others can receive good things from God through us, and God will continue to give us our daily bread so we don't need to horde our stuff or be stingy... because we receive good things from God. And most importantly – well, someone did rise from the dead that we listen to – Christ Jesus, God Himself. Jesus went to the Cross and took away our sin and rose to give us His life and righteousness – and Christians receive that. You're forgiven – great! Amen. Jesus gives you His Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation – to strengthen you in faith so that you continue to hear and to strengthen you in love so that you fight against sin in the week to come – great! Amen.

We are not defined by what we do. If we honestly examine our actions, and we ought, we will always find places where our own love is a bit cool, a bit on the short-shrift side. And indeed, we ought fight against that. But the Christian faith is not “I'm a good person and those people are jerks.” The Christian faith is that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us – and Christ Jesus brings all that He has done to us in His Word and in His Sacraments, and the Holy Spirit makes us to be receivers, receivers of His good gifts, and we are given life, and we delight in it now, even in the midst of the sin and chaos of the world, and we look to the time when we will delight in life everlasting in full. Hence we pray come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Trinity Sunday Sermon

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

We have reached Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday marks a change in the Church year. For the past 5 or 6 months, with Christmas and Lent and Easter, we’ve really been looking at things Jesus has done – events in His life. But now, entering the Trinity season, our focus through November will be on teaching, Christ’s teachings, what we need to know about God. And so celebrating Trinity Sunday we start off at the beginning with the most important and basic thing – We see the Holy God and our relationship to Him.

We see and learn in our Gospel that our God is Triune – that the One True God has three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father Almighty sends Christ Jesus, the Son, to win salvation. The Holy Spirit takes people and has them born anew, gives them life, so that by believing in the Son, they might have salvation. This is what God does, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what the Apostles’ Creed speaks to, this is what the Nicene Creed speaks to, and this is what the Athanasian Creed speaks to at length – that we were created and are saved by a Holy God who is One God in three Persons, and Three Persons yet only one God. This God is righteous and good. This God is Holy and loving and merciful.

And so the question becomes what is our relationship with this God. How do we, we human beings, interact, relate, deal with God Almighty? For this, let’s start with our Old Testament lesson. Isaiah is a priest, a highly ranked priest. He is in the temple, and he is doing the one yearly sacrifice in the Holy of Holies. For that year, Isaiah is the top of the tops, the highest of the high. Humanly speaking, it doesn’t get better or higher than Isaiah. And Isaiah enters the Holy of Holies, and there, something unusual happens. Isaiah beholds not just the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but He beholds the heavenly courts, beholds God Himself. And what is his reaction? “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah knows that at this moment, his life is forfeit. By rights, he should be obliterated. Gone, done away with. Why does Isaiah know this? Because Isaiah knows that he is a sinner.

Sometimes I think we don’t really think about what it means to be a sinner. We will pay attention to specific sins, to actions which are bad. Actions which are naughty. Stealing is bad. Murder is bad. And that is right. But Isaiah points to something bigger than just sinful actions. Sin isn’t just something you do – it is a description of who you are. You are a sinner, and that is part and parcel of everything you do. Here is Isaiah, and what is he doing? He is serving God in the temple. He is doing the things of a priest. He is doing the highest, the most holy service a person could do. If anyone could ever point to what he is, what he is doing, and boast about it, it would be Isaiah right here. But he doesn’t. Isaiah beholds the LORD, and he fears. I am unclean. My lips are dirty. Everything that comes out of them is corrupted. Even there, even there doing the highest worship, Isaiah sees that he is a sinner, and that everything he does is sinful.

That’s what the word sinful means – it means full of sin. This is what you are, this is what I am. Full of sin. Everything, everything we do is tinged and tainted with sin. Everything falls short. Now, when we look at the person next to us, we might strut out our chest – oh, I’m not as bad as this person. We can get all full of pride when we think we are better than our neighbor. And you know what? You might be better than your neighbor, so what? Here in this place, before God, that all goes out the window. You are a sinner. Period. Plain and simple. Compared to God, judged by His standards everything you do, everything you have ever done is flawed, lacking what it should be. Nothing you’ve done is perfect – rather it is sinful. This is what Isaiah sees in this text.

This is the same thing that Jesus says in our Gospel. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” What are you like? You need to be born anew. You need to be born. In front of God, by yourself you are as good as dead. And we get this all over in Scripture. We hear this over and over again. Paul in Ephesians. You were dead in trespasses. Dead. Not alive. What we do, our sinful acts don’t impress God. Hear what Isaiah says in chapter 64. All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Oh, I’m so good – no you aren’t, you’re a mess in your pants. Scripture is blunt on our condition. By nature, there isn’t a good thing about us, and we are rotten through and through. We have sinned, and we fall short of God’s Glory, and if you think otherwise, you are simply lying to yourself. There is nothing in you which earns or deserves God’s respect or God’s love. That’s hard and harsh, and we don’t like to admit it, but when we compare ourselves to God, when we view ourselves in light of God’s Holiness, this is what we see.

This is what God sees as well. He sees our lack. He sees our shortcomings. The flaws we work so hard to hide, the sins we try to cover up, the problems we pretend we don’t have – God sees them. And this is the wonder. Although by rights God could wipe us out, toss us into the trash can – He doesn’t. For God so loved the world. God loves the world – God loves you, and this is how God loves you. When we hear “God loves you” – it’s not just a matter of God thinking you are nice. It’s not a matter of God loves you so He puts up with you. This is how God loves you – He gives His only Son, gives Jesus Christ over to death, sheds the blood of Christ so that your sinfulness might be covered, cleansed, and washed away. Everything about you that is wrong, that is lacking – the fact that you are a sinner, through and through, is covered by Christ Jesus. Just as you are completely a sinner, Christ Jesus is completely and totally righteous and good, and upon the Cross He sheds His blood so that you would be made righteous and good and brought into God’s presence.

This is what God does with us. He takes us sinners, and He forgives and purifies us so that we can be with Him. We see this in the Old Testament. Isaiah is there before God, and Isaiah knows His life is forfeit. The wages of sin is death, and Isaiah is expecting to get paid in full. But what happens? Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And He touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God wants Isaiah to be with Him, so what does God do? He sees that Isaiah is forgiven. The Altar, the place of sacrifice, that applies to Isaiah, that is done for him. Who is God? Do you wish to know what God is like? This is what God is like – He is the God who forgives sinners.

This is what Jesus teaches in the Gospel. You must be born again. You must be given new life. And this isn’t something you can do by yourself. You didn’t choose to be born of your parents – and likewise you don’t do anything to be born again. God does this, and God did this when He took you, and brought you to His font, and taking Water and His Word, washed you clean in Baptism. God did it when by Water and the Word He poured His life giving Spirit into you. And you are now born of the Spirit. God dwells within you. The blood of Christ covers you. You are now completely and totally holy. You are now a saint. Just as the Angel brought a coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips – what do we get? Christ Jesus brings us Himself, His own Body and Blood from the true altar, the Altar of the Cross, and He places His own Body and Blood on our lips, and we are clean, we are righteous. All that Jesus is, all that He has done, overwhelms us, and we are forgiven. What Isaiah foretells in chapter 1 is brought to completion in Christ – though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. By yourself, by your own nature, apart from Christ you are a filthy, bloody rag – but Christ Jesus has won your forgiveness, and God has washed you, cleansed you, purified you so that you are white as snow, like clean fresh wool.

When God sees you, He sees you as completely righteous and holy. Why? Not because of who you are or what you do. Because when God looks at you, He sees Jesus. The Father sees His Son when He looks at you, He sees you as His New Creation, that you have new life in Jesus. This is the entirety of our lives as Christians. By nature we are completely sinful – and if we look to ourselves, if we trust in ourselves, if we persist in justifying ourselves – sinners is all we will ever be – and we will be damned. But the Triune God comes into our lives, calls us to repentance, and makes us holy and righteous. And now, in this life here on earth, we see both. We see the sinner, worthy of damnation; we see the saint given heaven. This is the struggle in your life. This is why your life is difficult. Because you are both sinner and saint. This is what we see in Baptism. “What does such baptizing with water signify? It signifies that the Old Adam in us,” that is our sinfulness, “should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man,” the righteous saint we are in Christ, “come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” While we live, we have both – we are at the same time sinner and saint. And as God’s people, we struggle against our sin and confess it. We don’t ignore our sin, we don’t puff ourselves us, we fight temptation and confess our sin, because God makes us righteous; God makes us holy, God washes us clean and gives us forgiveness as often as we need it – and since we are always sinners, that’s often, that every day. He gives us this forgiveness in His Word, in His Sacraments – bringing us ever closer to Him, and making us look more and more like Christ.

Dear friends in Christ, marvel and delight in the God whom we Worship. God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit beholds us sinners, but because of His love for us, He wins for us salvation in Christ Jesus, and He makes us Holy by the Working of the Spirit. Our God wishes to be with us for all eternity, and He does all that is required to see this happen. Our Lord gives us heaven, He gives us Himself. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Pentecost Sermon


Pentecost – May 22nd and 23rd, 2021 – John 14

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

      The Holy Spirit has an incredibly important job, although it's a job that we probably don't think all that highly of, certainly not like we ought. In fact, sometimes Lutherans will be told by other folks that we don't focus enough on the power of the Holy Spirit, all the wild and amazing things that He can do – that we should be talking up the Holy Spirit every chance we get. And, I suppose there's a point to that, but the problem is when we start thinking in terms of power and possibilities we can go off into wild flights of fancy and get distracted from the utterly profound and mysterious wonder of what the Holy Spirit actually does. The Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, has the most amazing task and job, the most amazing impact upon your life. He gets to work... with words.

      Words. Specifically the Word of God, but words. If I were to ask you to write a list of the most awesome, profound things in human existence, how many other things would you have put before you got to “words”? This is perhaps why folks want to focus on fire or earth shaking wind, things that seem powerful or unusual, but there are few things more profound than words. And as Jesus teaches us, the Holy Spirit is in charge of the Word, how you hear the Word of God and how you speak the Word of God. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you.

      Do you realize how drastically important this is? That the Holy Spirit teaches, that He brings Jesus' Word to your remembrance? I want you to think about something for a moment. How many words did you hear in the past week? How many words were there shouting for your attention? And not just conversation – how many words did you hear on the TV and radio? How many did you read? How many billboards did you see, how many advertisements? How many people were trying to teach you and instruct you about what you need to do and how you need to act and what you need to believe? We are bombarded by words. And there are some words of wisdom and beauty that we hear, but then some words are down right evil and wicked – you might have had some of those unleashed upon you this week. Most words we come across aim towards a good goal, but they are lost and wayward and have no foundation. They drive at justice, but don't know what justice is. They aim at freedom, but they don't know in Whom we have freedom. They call for order, while adding their own chaos. They speak of love, but instead of service to the other freely given they speak of greedy desires. So many words that miss the mark, that fall short of their target – and the world spirals further and further into the anger and discontent that Satan and his corruption brings. This world is full of twisted words.

And yet, there is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has given to you – Whom the Father has attached to Jesus' Word. And the Holy Spirit was poured upon you in your Baptism, and the Spirit accompanies the Word of Jesus, and the Spirit works upon you to make you remember Jesus and His Word, even in the midst of all the braying out there. Justice and Righteousness – behold Christ Jesus who obeyed the law completely and who took up all your punishment in your place. The Spirit makes you to remember this. Or freedom – you are free in Christ – it is for freedom you have been set free, return not again to a yoke of slavery. You aren't defined by what they say you must do to fit in or signal what side you are on – you are forgiven and free in Christ Jesus, bound for everlasting life. Or order – God Himself has created a wondrous order, and He has Himself instructed us on how to tend to that order, to tend to each other – indeed, this is love, is service, is charity. Having been forgiven by God we forgive others and strive to be charitable to them – this is how God brings about order and love in His creation – we love because He first loved us and because in utter charity with no worth in us Christ Jesus redeemed us by His death upon the Cross.

     This truth of Jesus is a simple truth. And when the world would distract us and try to have us forget it, to set up idols of our own, the Spirit uses the Word to bring Jesus back to the forefront of our mind. And this truth is a deep truth. And so the Spirit will teach us. Whenever you are in the Word, the Holy Spirit works upon you, teaching, revealing to you what you need to know. It doesn't matter if a text is familiar, if you “know” it – the Spirit teaches it anew. I do not know what points, what aspects of today's texts and sermon and hymns will resonate with you – I don't know what you will see (or rather what the Holy Spirit will reveal, will teach to you). I don't even know for myself – rarely do I end up writing the sermon I intended to write, and often things strike me unexpectedly in service. This is the Spirit at work – teaching us, reminding us of Christ Jesus, each as we need, and it happens when we are in the Word of Jesus. The Spirit accompanies the Word of Jesus with truth and power so that we understand.

      And this is why I would encourage you to be in the Word – not just for an hour on the weekend if you can make it, and not just at bible studies (which are quite fun here, and Jesus has promised that He Himself will be present wherever two or three are gathered in His name). Be in the word. Jesus answered him, 'If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and We will come to him and make our home with him.” What a fantastic promise from Jesus! What access you have to God Almighty. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all promise to be with you, to make their home with you whenever you are keeping, treasuring, tending to Jesus' Word. The Word of Holy Scripture. The thoughts and meditations upon the Scriptures that are the core of our hymns and songs, the ideas the Spirit brings. Even the prayers that you pray – because that is something else the Spirit does – Romans 8 - Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. You don't have to go on some quest to find God – God makes Himself to be found precisely where He has promised – in the Word of Jesus. And the special and unique job of the Holy Spirit is to see that this Word is brought to you and delivered to you and that you hear it, that you receive it.

      And this is the most simple and ordinary thing. Too often when we think of the Holy Spirit acting in power, we think of, we want something dramatic like what we see in Pentecost. Tongues of fire, a mighty rushing winds, speaking in tongues. But that's not the amazing thing. Rather this – And they were amazed and astonished, saying - “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in our own native language?” How is it that we hear – that's the miracle, that's the wonder... and it is the most simple, ordinary thing we hear. Daily you live in God's Word, daily you are directed and guided by the Word and Spirit away from sin and wickedness. Daily you receive the forgiveness of Jesus, for in this Christian Church [the Spirit] daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers – because that's what the Spirit does with God's Word. And that forgiveness is how the Spirit gives you life – life where you are freed from the constant blather of guilt and shame that are dumped upon you. Life where you are free to forgive and free to be forgiven. Life where you are free to take the gifts you have received from God and to use them in service to your neighbor in accordance with God's Word has He gives you opportunity. Life filled with peace.

      Jesus said, Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. Oh, the words of the world so often have strings attached – traps and snares all designed to manipulate you, threats to pull the gifts away from you at the drop of a hat. That's not how the Spirit works God's peace through His Word. Over and over the Spirit takes Jesus' Word and gives you Jesus, gives you access to the Father in prayer, gives you forgiveness and life and salvation – and never based upon what you do, never conditional or hinging upon you. Jesus' Word is secured by Jesus Himself, it hangs upon Christ and Him crucified. It is finished and it is for you.

      There will be many words you hear this week, some important and some quite frivolous. I hope you enjoy them rightly and safely – but know that there are words that are vital, words of vitality and life that you hear – the Words of Jesus. The Holy Spirit brings these to you whenever you cling to and focus upon and keep His Word. God grant you to enjoy His Word this week and be strengthened there by. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Sunday - 2021


Easter Sunday – April 4th, 2021 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Alleluia!

Christians are sometimes told that we are delusional – I know I have friends who think frankly that I'm nuts to be a pastor – and the way they think of Christianity is that we just follow silly little tails ignoring reality, expecting life to be happy all the time and never anything bad and blah blah blah. And chances are that as the years go by, this will be an assumption that becomes more and more common about us Christians, about what we believe. And that is because people do not know, or do not care to know the story. Yet, consider our Gospel lesson today. While there is joy, incredible joy, there's also fear and sorrow and confusion and even despair. The Christian faith is not that because of how great or smart we are nothing bad will happen – no, quite the contrary. We acknowledge that in this life there will be hardship and fear and pain and death – that these all came upon God Himself, Christ Jesus – but we also confess that in the face of all these things, in the face of evil and wickedness and sin and suffering and even death itself, there will be joy, defiant joy, resurrection joy because of Jesus Christ. Listen.

Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” Think for a moment on the emotions that would have been at play in Mary here. Sorrow, grief. Jesus had died and there had not been time to properly tend His body, so before the sun rises they head to a tomb to do right by Him, and before they can get there, the grave has been broken into (or out of as the case may be but they don't know that yet) and He's gone. This isn't a “happy” story yet, this isn't some delusional story of victory. This looks to be not only defeat, but having your nose rubbed in your defeat by the wicked tyrants of the world.

So Peter and John go to the tomb, and when they get there, they are absolutely no help at all. They head on in, see that the tomb is empty – they don't get what is going on, and then we hear: “Then the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood weeping...” Again, think on the emotion – the friends you ran to for help have no answers, and then they ditch you. They don't even stay with you in the midst of your fear, they leave you – just wander off. Man, even as we acknowledge that hard, dark days come – we've got to admit that Mary is having what has to be a rough morning, rougher than most of us will ever face. And that is a thing – you will face dark days, you have been, and often help will be scarce to be found. That's not unusual, that's not a sign that you are unloved by God or any such thing. Nope, even Mary Magdalene, famous Christian, right there. The Scriptures don't pretend that hardship and sorrow don't come, and when we listen to the Scriptures we don't pretend that hardship and sorrow don't or won't or can't come upon us. No, we know the powers of sin and death and Satan, and we know that they are at work in this world. We see it. But there is something else to see, and it is important that we see it. Watch.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” There is a change here in the story. There's a shift. The first ten verses are full of tragic sorrow – it looks to be a sad ending, full of confusion and doubt. But right here there's a shift. There's confusion – but this time it's the angels who are confused. Uh, ma'am, uh, why are you crying? Jesus told you He would be raised on the Third Day, and see, He's risen, He's not here. There in the tomb, you have two angels, celebrating the everlasting victory of the Lamb, and Mary doesn't see them (not really), she doesn't understand, she doesn't comprehend. She doesn't see the Word of God fulfilled yet, she only sees her sorrows and fears and pain – and so she says, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they laid Him.” Having said this she turned around – pause. Mary turns her back on angels. Now, in the Scriptures we see people duck in fear of angels because they show up in surprise – Angels do get to say that “Fear not” phrase over and over – but you never see someone just go, “eh” and turn their back on angel; that doesn't happen! These angels get the task to proclaim Jesus' resurrection to His friends, and they get nothing. “Uh, I thought they'd have a little different reaction there, didn't you?”

But it gets worse – Having said this she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. There is Jesus, risen in front of her – raised from the dead – cue the great and glory hymns and... record scratch. So upset, so overcome by tears and fears that through them she doesn't even recognize Jesus, Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus standing right in front her. And Jesus speaks, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Um, hi there, were you looking for someone. Parents, you may know this – when your kid is so overwrought with something and the solution is right there in front of them and you want to laugh but you feel so bad for them – that's this. Seriously – listen to Mary ramble – every parent knows this – Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Well fella, if you're the grave robber, let me go grave rob you back... it's utterly ridiculous – driven by fear and sorrow and not seeing, not knowing what is going on right in front of her.

So Jesus does the wise thing. He calls her by name.
Jesus said to her, “Mary.” I don't know how Jesus said this – maybe it was soft and tender – Mary. Maybe it was a bit amused/exasperated – Mary. Maybe even questioningly – Mary? I don't know, Jesus is Mary's friend, He'd know how to talk to her in that moment. And it clicks, it clarifies, Mary hears, Mary sees. And then right there, hearing and seeing the Risen Lord, then there is the joy. Maybe even a bit too much joy – Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father...” This is a good, accurate, literal translation, but it sounds too formal to our ears. If we're just talking with friends, we don't use the word “for” - I must go to the store, for I am to make you a cake. And so we hear this, and it sounds stuffy and formal – away from me, for I have serious business to be about. Nope – that's not what is happening here – this is not a distant and stuffy God trying to put some distance between Himself and Mary. This is, “Ah, okay Mary, you gotta let go, cause I've gotta go ascend, and I'm going to have you go tell the disciples that I'm checking in with My Father and their Father.” We've all been there – where someone is overjoyed to see us, but we still have stuff we have to do. That's exactly what this is, once you get past the accurate but stuffy sounding translation. This is joy and mirth and nothing but humor and relief and joy – joy in the end, defiant joy over and against and beyond all the junk that sin, death, and the devil can throw at us.

Oh Christian, yours is not a delusional joy, pretending that everything will always be hunky dory. Nope, we know what we see in life, good times, bad times. Ups and downs. As St. Paul says, I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. We could add whatever contrasts we wanted here – it resolves the same, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

And that is Jesus Christ, raised from the dead by the glory of the Father. That is Jesus Christ, who is no stranger to you, but who has called you by name – there at the font – baptized by your name. And whatever chances or turns your days take on this earth, in the end Jesus Himself will call you by name and you will be raised to everlasting life, even as He Himself is raised from the dead, and there's not a cotton picking thing Satan and the hosts of hell can do about it, because they are defeated, destroyed, done for, kaput. And so, we are given a defiant joy – we'll hear Jesus teach us about this more in a few weeks, but a defiant joy, that cannot be taken away – that even in whatever situation we find ourselves, the fact remains that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, and in Him we are forgiven, we have life now and we have eternal salvation. We have His strength – even if sometimes we don't see it, if sometimes the tears are too thick – Jesus sends forth His Word, and we are forgiven and restored again.

That's the story, that's how it works. All the confusion, all the noise, all the fear and pain – it all resolves in Jesus. He Himself took it all upon Himself on Good Friday, even to the point of death, of dying – and then He rose. And that's the way it goes for you – all upon Christ, and then just as He was raised from the dead, so too shall you be. And then, the joy that we can't even quite wrap our heads around yet – the eternal joy, the steadfast joy that wavers not nor wanes. Sometimes we have glimpses, sometimes things are blurry – but this fact remains. You are baptized into Christ Jesus; He is with you and you shall be with Him, both now and ever more in your own resurrection. This joy defies all the junk we see now, and it shall endure forever. Amen. Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia.