Saturday, November 26, 2022

Advent 1 Sermon


Advent 1 – Matthew 21:1-9 – November 26th and 27th, 2022

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

This world is broken. Has been ever since the fall. Ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the world has been broken. We as people – broken. We are now prone to hatred and anger and envy and strife and sorrow and sadness. We are no longer pure and whole, and even if we were, even when there are times when we are not at fault – our neighbor still is broken too – and pain and suffering still comes anyway. Broken. And the world itself – broken. Nature itself seems out to get us half the time, to ruin itself with storms and natural disasters, animals tearing each other to shreds. All broken. Nothing works right. And indeed, God does spare us from some of this brokenness, gives us blessings and joy here in this life – but still, here in this world, things all fall apart eventually. There is anger and pain and terror and suffering – all of which flows from, all of which is a consequence of sin.

The prophet Jeremiah thus sounds the call for this Advent season, speaks out to us in this broken, fallen world that lies in the grasp of sin. The prophet calls out, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” There is a promise, given by God, that someday the King will come, and what will this King do? He shall be wise, and He will do justice, He will see that things are righteous. He will fix things, He will make things to be the way they ought to be. Now this, this is a thing to wait for, to watch for with eagerness! That is what Advent is – where we of the New Testament Church pause and wait to celebrate our Lord’s coming at His birth, where we watch and ponder what our Lord’s coming was for, what it means, how it happened, so that we might give God thanks aright for it.

Some 600 years after Jeremiah spoke these words, we see the events of our Gospel text. We see Christ Jesus ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey there on Palm Sunday, and here we learn how our Lord comes. This is the promised coming of the King, a coming that is lowly and humble, a coming for justice, and a coming for righteousness. Christ comes to be all these things, to win for us salvation and forgiveness, to fulfill all the Scriptures spoke of Him, and to prepare heaven for us and us for heaven. This is what He does when He enters Jerusalem.

It’s not what the broken world expects. Back then, the crowds had something else in mind. The crowds had wild expectations for what would happen once Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Many were expecting the casting off of the hated Roman overlords. But Jesus doesn’t revolt. Many were expecting miracles galore. But that isn’t what Christ Jesus, who reigns wisely does. Jesus goes to the temple and teaches, and then Jesus goes to the cross. And the world is befuddled. Same thing today. The broken world doesn’t understand the coming of our Lord that we celebrate at Christmas. The broken world thinks that the coming of the King should mean 50 days of great sales at the stores - the broken world expects the Savior to save our lagging economy. The broken world thinks that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are happy during these cold months. The broken world is content to have its parties and its festivities, and then pack up whatever passing thoughts of an infant laid in a manger they had until next October when they can start making a profit off of it again.

But Christ never acts in the way the broken world wants Him to. Christ our King comes humbly – mounted on a donkey. When Christ enters Jerusalem, He does not come upon a charger of war, He does not come leading a host of zealots ready to storm Pilate’s quarters, slaying Romans. No, He comes humbly, and He rides His donkey up not to the worldly seats of power, but to the temple, and He fixes things there, focuses people upon God and prayer. Christ our King comes to bring Justice – but not the justice the broken world craves. The broken world thought Justice meant punishing the wicked harshly and severely – driving the Romans before them. They thought Justice would mean more cash in their pockets, just like the world today thinks justice means giving reparations to the right people, making sure this political program is just so. But when Christ comes to execute Justice, He slays no one, He butters no political bread. Rather – He Himself goes to the cross to see Justice done – to see the sins of the broken world punished in Himself. When you behold the Cross, you see Christ Jesus executing Justice, you see Justice done by the King, as He Himself takes up the sins of the world. And Christ our King comes to bring and to be righteousness – but not a righteousness the broken world expects. The broken world expects righteousness to mean that things are the way they want things to be. The broken people of Christ’s day would have expected a righteous world to be ruled by them, where the other peoples of the world all acknowledged their superiority and served them – that would be nice! But that isn’t the righteousness that Christ brings – when He wins for us forgiveness upon the Cross, He also pours out His Spirit upon us, enlivening us. Christ’s righteousness is not that He makes things to be the way we want them to be, but He comes to us and makes us to be the way God wants us to be. He fixes our brokenness, pulls us away from our own sin, strengthens us to resist temptation, makes us to be those who show forth love, who are humble and just and righteous again by the power of His Word.

What Christ did then, back on Holy Week, is the same thing He does for us today. He shatters our broken expectations of Him, and shows us indeed who God is and God’s great love for us. Today the broken world thinks a Christian life ought to be one of success and wealth and power where we finally win some political battles and set things right. Yet how does Christ come? He comes through His Word – He calls us not to a life of Champaign toasts and caviar dreams, but to a life of contemplation, where we hear His Word and mediate upon it, think about it – and then speak it back to Him in prayer, sing it back to Him in hymns. He calls us to worship, where we are no longer focused upon ourselves, but are focused upon God and His love for us. He calls us to a life of service, where we care for the neighbor, show them love, make their life better than than ours. This is humility, to focus not upon yourself but upon God and upon your neighbor. This is precisely what our Lord does when He rides into Jerusalem on that donkey, when He comes to us in His Word. Our Humble Lord teaches us humility.

And Christ comes to us today to teach us what justice is. The broken world today still expects justice to be about the slaying of our enemies, where the neighbor who has wronged me will get his just deserts. Christ though, teaches us what justice is – He teaches us and gives us justice through His gift of Baptism. He says, “I will slay your enemy, your true enemy – and your true enemy is your desire to sin – behold My justice as I drown your sins and your Old Adam by water and the Word.” When we ponder Baptism, we see what Justice truly is, what it entails. At your baptism, God Almighty connected you to our Lord’s Crucifixion – tied you to Christ’s own death to be the proof and assurance that when Christ died for the sins of the world, yes, indeed and truly, He died for your sins – that when Justice was done to Him, it was done also for you. God’s Justice means that you have forgiveness on account of Christ, that your sins are washed away. And again, this is not of ourselves – we have this gift of justice and forgiveness not because of our boldness, not because of our worth – but because Christ Jesus is the King who does justice, who gives out justice, who does all that is needed to see that justice is done. We do not come to faith as spiritual vigilantes, taking God’s law into our own hands by our own decisions – but Christ comes, and He is just for us, and He makes us to be just – He justifies us.

And of course, Christ comes to show us righteousness. The broken world is selfish, is focused upon itself. Christ comes to draw our eyes off of ourselves and rather to make us righteous people who show love to their neighbor, Christ makes us to be whom He created us to be in the first place. This is what He accomplishes through His Supper. Christ comes to us in His Body and Blood to forgive our sins and also to strengthen our faith, to fill us with His love so that we might do righteousness, so that we might show forth His love in the coming week. This is why we give thanks to God upon receiving this Supper, praying – “we implore You that of Your mercy You would strengthen us through the same in faith towards You and in fervent love towards one another.” And that is what God does, what God accomplishes through this blessed meal. God works upon you – when you are here, when you hear His Word, receive His Supper, God is active – the Holy Spirit acts upon you, heals you, restores you. He makes you to show a right and holy life.

Whenever Christ comes, He comes teaching us humility and giving us justice and making us righteous. The season of Advent, which we now enter, is nothing else than a call to remember this, to focus upon this, to see this. The broken world would distract us, dazzle and blind us to Christ – but our Lord tells us to be patient, to watch and wait for His coming and His deliverance – a coming and deliverance we celebrate and remember at Christmas, a coming and deliverance we have now whenever Christ gathers us to His Church, and a coming and deliverance that we shall have in full for all eternity when He comes again. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Thanksgiving Service


 Thanksgiving Day Service – 1 Tim 2 and Luke 17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
    What does it mean to be thankful?  I ask this question, because our society today really doesn't know what it means to be thankful.  And no, I'm not going off on a rant about how people are spoiled and ungrateful – rather this; what does it mean to be thankful?  What does it mean to be full of thanks?

    Too often, we use “gratitude” and “thankfulness” as though they are exactly the same thing.  I can have gratitude inside me, I can be very grateful for something just in my thoughts.  But thanks, thanks have to be said.  Thanks have to be given.  Thankfulness is never silent, but rather thankfulness is always spoken, shouted, or sung. Or written out on a card.  Or conveyed.  We get so caught up today in our feelings and emotions – “you better think about what you are thankful for today” - well, what good is that if you never actually give thanks?

    This is why Paul instructs Timothy and us as follows: First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.  The first thing on Timothy's to do list as a pastor, the priority for the church under his care is this: pray.  And there are a variety of prayers that Paul encourages Timothy and us unto.  There are supplications – where you ask God for something.  Heavenly Father, bless our homes and families.  Supplications are the requesting of a benefit, asking God for His favor.  Then there are “prayers” - and this is the word for the normal prayers of worship.  In peace let us pray to the Lord – Lord have mercy.  Ask for blessings, worship God, and then a third sort of prayer: Intercession.  To intercede is specifically to get between God and another person and ask God to not smite them even though they deserve it.  It's the prayers for mercy that we pray for those outside the church – to turn the heart of our enemies, to do good to our enemies.  We know the impact of sin, we know what evil does – Lord, defend our neighbors, forgive them for they know not what they do.

    And then, at the end, after all of these other sorts of prayer, Paul brings up thanksgivings.  We are to pray to God for kings and all in high position, we are to pray that we might have a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified – and we are to give thanks to God for the fact that we have had such peace and quiet in our lives.  We are able to gather here today in safety.  Even in the midst of turmoil and economic stress that we've not seen in decades we are able to celebrate and feast with our friends and families this day.  And while the world might be all messed up, at least we are still allowed to carry on in godly dignity here – this is a wonderful thing.  And indeed, we should give great and wondrous thanks to God who has preserved us in the face of so many strange and various dangers and oddities.  So yes, we are this day going to give thanks to God for all these wondrous 1st article blessings that He has preserved for us.

    Thinking on this – I use that phrase “1st Article Blessings” perhaps a little too often, it's a comfortable short hand, but to be specific, when I say “1st Article Blessings” I am referring to the explanation of the 1st Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism.  And just in case you can't just rattle it off on demand, let me refresh your memory: I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.

    You have that long list – and the focus is that it is all given by God.  And then, at the end there is that tie between thanks and praise – it is my duty to thank and praise.  That's what we hear in our Gospel – when the 1 leper returns and gives Jesus thanks, Jesus says, Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?  Do you see that tie there between thanks and praise.  They go hand in hand.  If you are thanking someone for something, you are at the same time praising their actions.  This is why praise, why proclaiming what God has done, is always part of our worship – in the liturgy, in the creed, in the hymns.  We proclaim what God has done, thanking and praising Him.

    But I don't want this day to just be a first article day.  We aren't merely focused on temporal, physical blessings.  God has done far more.  Christ Jesus has come and with His death and resurrection He has won you forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation.  He has won you your body not just for a few decades until the grave swallows you, but but this body that He has given you, He will raise and have you keep it.  He will restore it unto eternity.  This is why He says to the healed leper – Rise and go your way, your faith has” - made you well is a bit soft of a translation.  The word there is sesoken se – has saved you.  It's the same word that is the root of the word Savior.  It's the same word as in 1 Tim 2 – This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved.  Christ Jesus is your Savior, and He has brought this salvation to you, He does so today in His Word, in His Supper where He gives you His own Body and Blood.

    And that's the cycle, the pattern of worship – God's love and our response.  God gives, and we receive while returning thanks and praise.  This is why in a few minutes I'm going to say, “Let us give thanks unto the LORD.”  In fact, one of the earliest and even still a common name for the Lord's Supper is the “Eucharist” - which is just the Greek word for Thanksgiving.  We see what God has done for us, the blessings of body and soul, and we come to His house, we ask for mercy, for continued physical blessings, we give thanks for what God has done, we hear His Word (thanks be to God), we taste and see that the Lord is good and then we thank the Lord and sing His praise.  Thanksgiving, my friends, isn't mere gratitude – it is prayer, it is praise, it is worship, it is receiving again the good gifts of God that Christ Jesus has won for you and proclaiming again His death and resurrection, His victory over sin and death.  This is why Paul tells Timothy – tend to the prayers – tend to the worship – because the rulers need our prayers so that our lives can be peaceful and quiet enough for us to gather for worship to hear the Word of God, to come to the knowledge of our salvation again hearing that Word and preaching, that we might give thanks to Jesus as He gives Himself to us in His Supper.

    Every time you enter this house for worship and praise, it is truly thanksgiving.  A blessed thanksgiving day to you in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Last Sunday of the Church Year


Last Sunday of the Church Year – Matthew 25:1-13 – November 19th and 20th, 2022

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Coming Lord +

You aren't wise. Well, thanks a lot Pastor, and you're a blithering idiot too. Well, yes – you, of yourself, are not wise, nor am I, of my own self, wise. Left to our own devices all of us in this room would happily run headlong into every sin and vice that tickles our fancy – we'd play the fool with zeal. Any of us can look at our lives and see plenty of times when and where we've been the fool – and if we are honest and humble we can probably find plenty of places where we were kept from doing something foolish by God – those “there but for the grace of God go I” moments. Of ourselves, we are not wise.

I bring this up today because before we get into our Gospel text we need to remember what it is to be wise in the Scriptures, where wisdom comes from. If we don't, we will drastically misunderstand the parable of the wise and foolish virgins – we'll be tempted to look at ourselves and say, “See how wise I am, how ready I am – unlike those people.” That's not wisdom, that's arrogance, that's damnable pride and folly! No – in the Scriptures what is Wisdom? Wisdom is a gift of the Holy Spirit that He works through the Word. Wisdom isn't an attribute that we possess, it isn't a statement about how sharp we are, the power of our own reason or strength – it's always a gift that comes from the Holy Spirit through the Word of the LORD. The Spirit works in us the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom. The Spirit is the Spirit of Wisdom, and the Word is what gives us wisdom.

So with that in mind, let us listen to Jesus. The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. As a reminder, the most common depiction of “heaven” - of the life of the world to come – is that of a giant celebration, a feast of victory, a wedding celebration. So Jesus gives us a tale about preparing for heaven, for the new creation. And in this story, you've got 10 virgins who have a spot in the wedding – they'll be part of the procession where the groom comes in like a hero, and they'll be following after him with their lights and they'll be beautiful and it will be all romantic and they'll catch the eye of a guy and this is great. There is nothing that could be better.

And yet, we hear – Five of them were wise, and five were foolish. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil for their lamps. Every year I try to find a modern analogy to explain just how stupid this would be – so here it goes. Imagine you were going camping, and you were told to bring a flashlight, and you show up and someone's brought a flashlight, but there's absolutely no batteries in it. “Well, you didn't say to bring batteries.” This is utter folly; it is utterly moronic (the literal Greek word for foolish here is moron). It's not getting the point. You are there to provide light, so why would you come utterly unprepared to let your light shine? You've missed the point of the whole party and your place in it.

As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, 'Here is the Bridegroom! Come out to meet Him.' Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, 'Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.' There's a long delay, and then suddenly, unexpectedly, it is go time. No man knoweth the hour. And this is one of the places where we can mishear this – why can't they share. Sharing is nice. No, doesn't work. Hey Jim, my flashlight doesn't have any batteries – can you pop one out of yours and lend it to me. No, Bob, I can't. What the wise say here is the right answer – if you need oil, you go to the oil vendors. That's the perfectly correct answer – that's where you need to go.

But alas, there is no more time. And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with Him into the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterwards the other virgins came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But He answered, “Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.” They miss it. There are deadlines, there are times when things just have to be done and if they aren't, you miss out. Make an exception for me! No, sorry, it doesn't work that way. This is something we have a hard time understanding in our rich, lazy, spoiled society. We are so used to accommodations being made to cater to us, we're so used to getting extensions on our projects or leniency at work – it's okay if I'm just a few minutes late, right boss – today this hard and fast deadline sounds utterly cruel and unfair. The harsh truth that not everything is about us just seems... cruel. Well, not everything is about you. You are not, in fact, the center of the Universe. That would be Jesus. Colossians 1:16 - For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him. You exist for Jesus, not the other way around.

And if I may carry on here – did you note how pushy and entitled these foolish virgins were. Give us some of your oil – why should you have it, give it to me. Open to us – who cares that we missed your party, you need to open up to us. Be wary of this attitude, this foul spirit at work in our present age where we think we get to pick and choose and customize everything according to our own liking. That's not the way things work with God. That's not the way things work with His Word. That's not the way things work in Jesus' Church – in the Church we are to subm[it] to one another out of reverence for Christ as Paul teaches in Ephesians 5. We don't demand others cater to us, we cater to them, we adjust ourselves to them so as to help and serve them as though we were serving the Lord – that was last week, as ye hath done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye hath done it unto Me. Watch and be wary of how the world is driving you and playing up to your pride and ego in these latter days.

Our Lord continues – Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Watch, be prepared, because you do not know what tomorrow or next year will bring, or even if there will be a next year. Do not delay, be prepared for our LORD's Coming, because whether it's His second coming or the day of your death, you will meet your LORD, and you don't know precisely when. So, don't act like an entitled fool, presuming upon Jesus and thinking that He answers to your beck and call. Don't push things off like the foolish do. Rather, be wise.

Now Pastor, not to be too picky here, but didn't you start this whole sermon by saying that we are all fools? Yes, I did say that none of us of ourselves were wise. We all say that every time we confess our sins here – we say that we are by nature sinful and unclean, that we constantly sin in thought, word, and deed, and that this is our fault. This isn't about your wisdom. The call here to watch, to be ready, is nothing other than a call to be in the Word of God in the Church where the Holy Spirit works upon you, where He enlightens you with His gifts, where He sanctifies you and prepares you for the life of the world to come. By the Word the Holy Spirit is at work, giving you life and salvation, This is what we learn in 2 Timothy 3 - But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. Be in the Word, know the story of salvation, know your place in it so that you are prepared to receive it all and delight in it. The wise virgins knew their role in the wedding, they valued their place, and they were prepared. The foolish didn't, and they missed out. Likewise, O Christian, you know the story of the Scriptures – that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. By grace you have been saved through faith, not by works, so that no one may boast. Continue to hear that Word, that Story. Continue to be in the Word where the Holy Spirit makes you wise unto salvation, where He comes and works faith in you and works love through you unto your neighbor. Because there's no other place for salvation – there is no other name than Jesus whereby there is salvation. He alone is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – Salvation isn't a choose your own adventure book – it's the story of Jesus. Watch, therefore – watch Jesus, hear His Word – and He will prepare you for His everlasting feast.

Because while you and I might be foolish in and of ourselves, God Almighty isn't. The Father knew what He was doing when He sent Jesus into this world to be your Savior, to be born and die for you, to rise for you. Jesus knew what He was doing when He had you baptized, the Spirit knew what He was doing when He called you by the Gospel. And if the world out there thinks this Church stuff is nuts, oh well - For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. The Spirit of God has come upon you by the Word, and He has given you Christ Jesus, the Light of the World, and thus you are prepared for the everlasting feast in Christ. Rejoice, rejoice believers, and let the light of Christ worked in you by the Spirit appear!

Thursday, November 17, 2022

2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year


2nd Last Sunday of the Church Year

Some of you may not realize this as I wear contacts, but I have terrible, terrible vision. Without my contacts in I cannot see clearly more than a foot in front of my face. When I wake up in the morning, everything is a blur, until that moment when I put on my glasses. I can try to squint and pull on my eyelids and get fleeting glimpses of things, but nothing is truly crisp until I put my glasses on. Then all those colorful blobs became clear and sharp. For you, O Christian, the end times should hold no more fear than simply putting on a pair of needed glasses does – because what Christ describes in the Gospel here, when He describes the end times, is simply Christians and non-Christians both seeing clearly who God is and seeing clearly how this impacts their earthly life. Everything Christ goes over here in this text, we know now. Of course we know it now, He’s told it to us! But what He says, what He teaches, we don’t see clearly all the time, and indeed, we will see it most clearly on the last day. But let us learn and remember our Lord’s Words this day.

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. Before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And this is why we call the Last Day “Judgment Day.” This is what we refer to when we confess that He will come to “judge both the living and the dead.” God will look upon us, and decide whether we go to His right with the sheep waiting for green pastures, or to His left with the goats awaiting the fires of hell. Does that make you nervous? Does the idea of separation between the sheep and the goats make you a little on edge? It shouldn’t, not in the slightest. Whenever there is a judgment, whenever there is a competition, it is vital to know what the criteria of judgment is. If I were to suddenly decide to raise a sheep for the county fair, I’d do horrible, because I’m a city boy who has absolutely no idea what the standard of judgment is. But you, O Christian, you do know what God’s standard of Judgment is. What does Scripture say that Christ is separating here? It says He separates the sheep from the goats. It’s a simple distinction in life, and it’s simple in the text.

The question here, the basis of division at the end, is simply this. Are you a child of God, brought into His Kingdom, washed of your sins? Simple as that. Do you believe on Christ, who has purchased you from all sins? Are you His baptized child? Then you are a sheep. You see, the fact that Christ describes this as a separation between sheep and goats is such a comfort. It’s not a matter of good and bad, it’s not a matter of have I done enough stuff to earn my way into heaven. Simply, are you a sheep, or are you a goat? And this isn’t a matter of anything you do. A goat can’t do anything to suddenly become a sheep. Rather this – this whole image describes Christ simply calling His own, His own people whom He has redeemed and forgiven, the Shepherd calling His sheep to His right hand. And that’s what you are. So the day of Judgment should hold no fear for you. Hasn't Christ already declared you to be His own? He claimed you in Baptism, He sees you preached to, He feeds you His Supper. You are a sheep – relax, rejoice, and give thanks to God for His blessings to you.

Listen again to the words the Christ will speak to you on the last day, and hear how they focus on what He has done for you. Then the King will say to those on His right, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Do you hear the comfort in those words? Why are you a sheep? Because you are blessed, you receive blessings from God. Because you inherit, you receive as a Gift the benefits of the works of Christ, His life and death and resurrection, you receive a kingdom which has been prepared for you since the foundation of the world. Do you note that? At the moment God creates the world, He knows already and is preparing already eternal life for you. This says so much about God and His love for you – that it is utterly unconditional, that even before you exist He has such great love towards you. It is a wonder and a marvel, and one that we will only see clearly and fully at the End. Christ tells us, and so we know now, but then we will see face to face.

And it is not only Christ’s love that we will see and understand, it will be the love that we show in our own life, at the end we will understand this fully as well. Now listen to one of the most wondrous verses in all of Scripture. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” Christ then begins to describe the life of the sheep. He says, “Look, O My sheep, My own forgiven ones, at what your life was. Look at the love you showed forth to Me all your days, at which I, God Almighty, rejoice.” And all the sheep say, “Huh?” Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You a drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?” When? When did we do these things that You find so pleasing, Jesus? When did we do all this great stuff? Christ paints a picture of just dumbfoundment here – one sheep asking another, “You remember doing this Bob?” “No I sure don’t Jim. You know what He’s talking about Tom?” “Nope.” And here comes the kicker, when Christ explains it. And the King answered them, “Truly, I say unto you, as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to me.”

Do you see what Christ’s answer says about your life? Do you see, just for a moment the truth that we forget, that slides on by us so often? Every action, every kind word you say, every bit of love that you as a Christian show – even the simple things, indeed, especially the simple things that we over look, are done unto Christ and give Him great joy. The simple moments of care that you show your family, your friends, and indeed, which you ought to show strangers, are good works done to the glory and pleasure of God. And these are so often simple things – yet Christ points them out with praise. How many of you have ever fed an infant, or changed a diaper? Well done, good and faithful servant. You have served Christ. How many of you have ever put food on your family’s table, or cleaned the dishes off of that table? Well done, for you have served Christ. How many of you have shown simple kindness to a stranger, opened a door, offered to carry a bag, been polite? Well done, for you have served Christ. How many of you have done your job, studied in school, or even sat and let another show their love to you by their good works? Well done, for in this you have served Christ.

This is the image, this is the wonder, this is what we will understand fully on the last day. That our lives are really and truly lives of Good Works, works that flow without our notice, works that come forth and come forth, over and over. That while we are still sinners, that while we sin and mess up all the time, yet what does God see, what does God do with our lives? He brings forth from us mountains of Good Works that we rarely even notice or think about, He works in us and through us and is well pleased. Your entire life, everything you do, is shaped by Christ. And we get little bits and glimpses of this now, but it is only at the end when we will fully understand and appreciate and realize the impact that Christ has upon our life now. And indeed, while we are still here in this world of struggle, we will continually ask God for more strength, ask that He might work in us and through us more and more, ask that He might strengthen us by His Word and Sacraments so that we might continually live out the life here and do the works here that He has prepared for us – works that are not a burden or harsh – but works that simply come, that we simply do, as naturally as breathing, without any fanfare, without any note – simply because that’s who we are in Christ.

I do want to bring up one more thing – there is a whole other section in our Gospel, where Christ addresses the goats, the unbelievers. And I’m not going to go over this in full detail – even though there’s nothing wrong with a 20 minute sermon, I’m not going to preach one today. But just a simple thing to think about this week for when you have to deal with people who in some way hurt you. In the text, we have Christ lay the charge against the unbelievers – you didn’t do any of this good stuff. And they say, “when did we see You and not help You?” And this is how Christ responds. Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. When someone sins against you, when they do you wrong, when you feel hurt, when you feel anger – rather than holding on to that hurt, rather than acting out in anger – remember this. It was not done against you, that sin is against God, and let God deal with it how He will. This is another reality that we only glimpse briefly. We have no need to hold on to hurts, to anger – we can let all of these slide off of us – because we are attached to Christ, He is our strength and our shield – and He will handle it. Remember that all this week when things go against you, when people are harsh and cruel. So be it – it’s hard and rough in this world – but it doesn’t change the fact that you are a forgiven child of God who shows forth love and awaits eternal life. Try to keep your eyes focused there, and let no one here blur your vision of the everlasting realities.

So dear friends, in this life, we so rarely see, so rarely ponder the actual reality of our lives – that we are God’s own children, and that everything, this life, the afterlife, both in heaven and earth, are shaped by Christ and His love for us. Be at peace, O sheep, your Shepherd knows you by name. Amen.

Thursday, November 3, 2022

All Saints' Sermon


All Saints' Observed – November 5th and 6th, 2022 – Matthew 5

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

So much. There's so much dreck and dross in this world. There's the times when we are just crushed by life, when we mourn loved ones who die, when self control doesn't seem worth it anymore. We look out and we see wickedness all around, where people don't even seem to make a pretense of being a decent person. We forgive people and get stomped on. We try to behave and get insulted for it. We try to calm things down, stop the fighting, bring people together, and that just means everyone gets mad at us. And if we bring up Jesus, Katie bar the door, they'll be after us with their verbal guns blazing. So much. There's so much of it going on around us.

And as much as we might lament our days, that's the same way things have always worked, really. They were the same way that things were working on that day when Jesus sat down on the side of a mountain and began to teach. His disciples came to Him, and Jesus looked at them, saw them in this world that's just so filled with sin and wickedness and death, and He says something that sounds so utterly bizarre. Blessed. You who are stuck in all this muck and mire – you are blessed. And actually, it's a stronger word than just “blessed” - this isn't some nice southern gal saying, “Well, bless your heart, sugar” - no, this is Makarioi! Blessed – fortunate, happy, you've got it in the bag. It's great to be you. That's what Jesus says. That's what Jesus says to all these people. And we're used to the Beatitudes – some of you might even have them hanging on your wall at home – and we can hear them as nice, safe platitudes. They aren't. They sound astonishingly crazy and insensitive. Oh, you're poor in spirit – fantastic! Oh, just come from a funeral – well, what a great day. They're going to persecute you and kill you – sweet! Do you get how just off the wall this would have sounded?

Why? Why would Jesus start off His preaching, His sermon on the mount with something this brash, this seemingly insane? Because He's Jesus. He's God become man to be with you – to be Immanuel, God with us. He's God become Man to take on sin and death and Satan for you, for your good. And because of Jesus, because Jesus has come down and He's on that mountain right there preaching to those disciples – yeah, it is fantastic, it is wonderful, you are fortunate and blessed, and there's not a thing Satan can do about it.

Consider what is going on with everything that we see around us. Go back to the beginning, where this junk started. You know, the Garden, Satan slithering on up and tempting Eve. What is Satan trying to do? What is He trying to accomplish in tempting Eve? To get her and Adam to sin – yes, but why? Why does Satan want Adam and Even to sin, to fall? So they'll die – yes, but why? Why would Satan want a bunch of dead people? Satan's goal is this – he desires to separate Adam and Eve from God – he desires to take that relationship between God and man and just tear it to shreds. It's the 10th commandment – that desire to see a relationship that God has established and trash it, tear it down. Sin separates. Sin divides. That's what all sin does – it takes what God has joined together and tears it asunder. The first three commandments all deal with your relationship with God, and how sin breaks that. The rest deal with the neighbors that God gives you, the gifts He gives, and how we break those apart. Satan's goal is to separate you from God, to pull you away from Jesus, to rip the Holy Spirit out of you and leave you an empty, lifeless husk.

And when we see the world and sin and see our own hearts and the sin there and all the things that make us poor in spirit or that make us mourn, that make us hesitant and long for things that are better – that's Satan using sin and suffering to try to separate us from God. And He seriously and deeply drive us into the pit, and it's wretched and horrible, and we feel isolated and alone... and Jesus sits on down right next to us and says, “Hi there – it's Me, God. Immanuel. God with you – and yeah, I'm here with you even now, it's all good. I've got this, I've got you. Satan thought he was going to separate you from Me – stupid Satan. Daft bloke never knew Me. I created you to be with Me, and that's how it's going to be, and it's going to be good for you, and no satanic detour is going to stop that, no matter how twisty it is – so you just hold on, relax, and I'm going to rescue you.” And Jesus, God Himself, just dives right on in to all of the worst of life to be with you, to change the way that you see this life. Because you don't just see the world, you don't just see sin and death – you see Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior, with you. Through it all.

So, are you pour in Spirit – do you see the world around you stink on ice? That's why Jesus is with you and says, “I get it, that's why I give you the kingdom of heaven and will bring you to a new heavens and a new earth that Satan won't mess with. It's all good.”

So do you mourn – do you feel and know the impact of death? That's why Jesus with with you and says, “I get it – literally, I got My own death – went there Myself – and I blew apart death by My resurrection – and you are going to be with Me even through death unto the resurrection. It's all good.”

Are people trying to drag you into the fight, the muck when you know you should sit it out (because that's what meekness is – it's keeping your sword in its sheath, it's keeping your mouth shut instead of pouring gasoline on the fire when you really want to)? That's why Jesus is with you and says, “I get it, there's a ton of wickedness out there – let Me handle it. Vengeance is Mine, because I handle it far better than you. So don't you worry about making anyone get their comeuppance – you just sit back and enjoy My gifts to you. It's all good.”

Are you hungering and thirsting for righteousness? This is why Jesus is with you and says, “You want righteousness – here, have Mine. Yours would never be enough anyway – take your fill of Mine. I forgive you. I wash you in My righteousness. I'll even give you Myself – take and eat, take and drink – righteousness over abounding. It's all good.”

Are you seeking to show mercy? This why Jesus is with you and says “You know, that mercy you show is My mercy that I've given to you, that I've filled you with – and you know what? I'm right here with you, so keep on being merciful – because I'll keep filling you up with mercy faster than you can dish it out. Because that's why I've got you here in this world – to hand out My mercy. It's all good.”

Are you there trying to make peace? This is why Jesus is with you and says, “I've made peace, peace between you and God, and so when you are giving out peace, you're declaring what I've done for you and for those folks trapped in sin. I'm with you, I've baptized you – hey, you're a child of God too now – declare My peace – seriously, it's the first thing I tell the disciples after I rise – I love giving out peace, and I'll gladly be with you and give peace out through you. It's all good.”

Do you get persecuted? This is why Jesus is with you and says, “Oh yeah, I know. That's really lousy. I'm still with you. See My cross, see what they did to Me? And I could have bailed, I could have run away, but I didn't, because I am with you even now, and no matter how deep and dark it goes, no matter how evil and revile-y it gets, I'm with you and you're with Me. Nothing can separate you from Me and My love. It's all good.”

Do you see, my dear friends? Everything that Satan uses to try to separate you from God, everything that he throws at you – Jesus simply says, “Nope – won't work Satan. You don't get them; I'm with them. You might distract them, you might confuse them – but that doesn't work on Me. I'm with them, they are Mine, and they are truly blessed no matter what you do, so scurry on back to hell you old goat.

And Jesus means all of what He says here in the Beatitudes. His victory over Satan is complete and full – we're the ones who get distracted, we're the ones who pull away, we're the ones who forget. Jesus doesn't. He never gets distracted from redeeming you, He never pulls away from you; He who has you engraved on the palms of His hands will never forget you. And part of the reason we hear this text on All Saints' Day is we're rejoicing today for and with all those saints who have gone before us. Because you know where they are? They're with Jesus – and there's not a distraction or trouble pestering them. They don't see the junk we do – they see only Jesus. And when He returns, they'll be with Him, and we all will see Jesus as Jesus is, and He will make us to be as He is – you are going to be like Jesus, holy, righteous, pure, loving – for all eternity. Because when Jesus says that He is Immanuel, God with us, He means it. Jesus is with you, and because He is, it really is all good. Amen.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

A Seminary Interview Question

 When I was in college preparing to go to the Seminary, I had to go through my district interview.  There was a bit of a question as to where I should do it - I had been from Nebraska, but was attending school in Oklahoma, and then my dad had taken a call to Southern New Mexico which was part of the Rocky Mountain District with it's headquarters in Denver.  It was finally decided that I could interview through the Oklahoma District just to make everyone's life easier.

And so there I sat in a room at Trinity Norman, next to Rev. David Nehrenz (now the Oklahoma District President) across from VP Hartman (who would shortly be the Oklahoma District President) and a few other high ranking and respected pastors.  And they interviewed me, asked me questions to see if I would be fit for a spot at the Seminary.

The question was asked of me: What does a Pastor do?

I responded quickly and simply, "Preach the Word and administer the Sacraments."

And stopped.

And there was a pause.  

It was slightly awkward.  I could tell the district officials were wanting more; Pastor Nehrenz was next to me grinning slightly in anticipation.

Finally I expanded.  Yes, I knew that Pastors did a lot of other things, but all those other things were things that the laity could do and ought to do as well.  Visit, pray, works of service.  But the key thing for the Pastor is this: Preaching the Word and Administering the Sacrament.

That answer sufficed for the district officials... though one of the guys there wanted something probably a bit more flowery and glowing about the joys of ministry or some such thing.  

I don't remember much else, but I remember the contrast - how simple and focused the answer was that I gave - preach the Word and administer the sacrament.  Quick, to the point, the things that distinguish the Pastoral Office from the other duties of Christians.  And I remember how almost disappointed folks were with that simple distinction... they wanted there to be more.

But there isn't.  This is the beauty of the priesthood of the baptized.  That we all, lay and pastors alike, have the great gifts of God, the treasures of Christ Jesus, as our inheritance.  Pastors are simply placed into an office whereby the have the responsibility to preach the Word and administer the Sacraments for the sake of all the people.  Administer the gifts.  Steward the mysteries.  Simple servants.

And you end up reading things like Luther's Letter to the German Nobility and you get this spelled out in such detail.

I just get to do what I've called to do... and that's a lovely thing.

Reformation Day Sermon


Reformation Day Observed – October 29th and 30th, 2022 – John 8:31-36

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

So, what are you a slave to? Well, Pastor Brown, that's an awfully harsh question to start a sermon with! True, even Jesus doesn't just start off the conversation He's having in the text right there, so let's tone it down just a little bit. What is trying to enslave you? Because that's what's going on – sin, the world, and the devil are trying to enslave you. What sins, what idols are demanding more and more of your time, warping your priorities, robbing you of joy, and trying to make you disdain the good gifts God gives you? And I know that this is a heavy topic – but did you hear what Jesus said, the language He used? Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. Jesus is blunt here, and He doesn't leave exceptions. Everyone. All the people who are doing a sin are slaves to sin. And frankly, given that you and I commit sin, we're included in this.

So why is this a text for Reformation Day? In part it is because in the Reformation the idea of the enslaving power of sin was once again taken seriously. Over time, in the normal course of the history of the Church, sin began to be ignored, poo-pooed, downplayed. Works began to be praised – sure you sin, but just do some good stuff and that will get you out of it. Sure, you didn't turn the homework for the entire semester in, but maybe the prof will let you turn in extra credit. Or slip them a bribe and you can buy your way out of it. Surely, surely, there can be someway that we can work our way out of our sins, our misdeeds. No – because everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. You and I, we're enslaved to sin. We fight against it, we strive to discipline ourselves, we can and ought to try to make amends afterwards... but we still sin. Even if you make “amends” you're still mending something you had no business ripping apart in the first place.

And there are all sorts of sins that try to enslave us. One of the great standard ones that we'd harp on in the past in the idea of Greed – how many people were slaves to the almighty dollar. Some of you know this yoke – where the work calls and calls and demands more and more, and family and friends are pushed off into a corner – and for what? Cash to buy a new doo-dad that you're too busy working to enjoy? Perhaps other sins take the fore today – we see the enslaving and twisting power of lust all around us today, whether it's the proud displays in the world, the deviance that would have us mutilate our own bodies, the bored flings that rip marriages apart, or even just the flickering lights of phones or computers behind closed doors where no one else can see. Do you see the enslaving power there? Leisure and entertainment enslave, too – I can't come to work today, I have other things to do – I can't come to church today, because look at this other thing over here. Our hobbies so often drive us with cruelty where they take more and more time and money, where they become chores that we fool ourselves into thinking that we still enjoy. And what other things are out there that are enslaving – screens, social media, our food and diet (and sugar), all sorts of addictions, politics turned into a spectator sport of tribalism instead of service to the public, making sure we “support” the right causes where our support isn't actually doing anything to help but simply yelling at people who don't virtue signal properly. Do you see how we could go on – we could spend an hour just touching on these things, and not even going into detail about them.

Jesus wraps them all up this way – Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. And the worst of it is, as much as we will decry sin, as much as we will shake a fist that the sins that don't call to us... there are ones that call to us, and even as stupid and enslaving as they are, we like them. We make excuses for why we do them. We run back to them again, We like them. We love them, we choose them. And the Reformation begins with the acknowledgment of this blunt, harsh reality. We sin, we're stuck in sin, and we ourselves can't work our way out of it. It's verse three of Luther's Dear Christians One and All Rejoice. My own good works all came to naught, no grace or merit gaining. All the penance, all the pilgrimages, all the things I do don't change the fact that I sin. They might be good for my neighbor, but they don't fix me, they don't fix my problem, they don't rescue me or deliver me from my sin. Free will against God's judgment fought, dead to all good remaining. And let's not even talk about how maybe there's a spark of goodness in me – I know myself, I see how my mind will repeatedly make excuse after excuse to not only allow my sin, but to justify, to praise it. My so-called free will freely and happily sins because everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. I am stuck and trapped in sin and thus trapped in bondage to death and the powers of Satan, and despite all the blather otherwise, there's nothing I can do to change that.

Now let's go back to the beginning of our Gospel lesson – hear again what Jesus says. If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. Oh, Jesus knows that you aren't able to free yourselves from sin, that you cannot change yourselves. And in fact, He doesn't expect you to – no more than I'd expect any of you to rip one of those trees out of the ground with your bare hands. Jesus knows what is beyond you – and He knows what He must do for you. Jesus will act – He will act through His Word. And whenever you abide, whenever you remain, whenever the Word of God comes upon you, something happens. Several things, actually. First, You are truly My disciples. My disciples. You're not just left and abandoned to sin, you aren't just left to your own devices. You are tied to Christ. You belong to Him – Jesus claims you by the Word. No, you're not merely a slave to these stupid vices – you're Mine. You belong to Jesus – and He disciples you, He turns you into a student, to one who is learning, who is beginning to see. Beginning to see the power and weight that sin burdens and entraps you with – but also seeing and learning something else even more important.

And you will know the Truth. Truth is a big word in John's Gospel. John records for us Pilate dismissively saying, “What is truth?” during Jesus' passion. We'll hear all about truth today, about My Truth – which is really just my opinion that you aren't allowed to object to it no matter how unattached to reality it is. But when Jesus says that you will know the Truth, Jesus isn't speaking about random ideas or facts, and He's certainly not talking about my lived experiences. Jesus later in the Gospel says, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The Truth. With a Capital T. Jesus. In hearing Jesus' Word, not only are you tied to Jesus, made to learn the reality of sin in the world, but you are made to know Jesus, to know He who is the Truth. By the Word of God, the Holy Spirit pulls your sin-trapped, enslaved eyes off of your idols that torment you, and He puts them squarely on Jesus. Quit looking at yourself, quit looking at what you do, whatever good you think it will do – and look at Jesus. And you will know Him, you will experience Jesus at work in your life.

And what is that work of Jesus? And the Truth will set you free. This is what Jesus does. He sets you free. With His Word, He breaks the power of sin – He curbs you and pulls you away from sin with the law, He shows you your sin to break your pride and love of sin – but more than that, Jesus comes to set you free. The whole point of God becoming man, the whole reason Jesus is born and lives is simply to set you free. Set you free from sin, death, and the devil. And everything that Jesus does in the Scripture is driving at your rescue. Is there sin? Jesus forgives it! Is there guilt? Jesus pays for it! Is there death? Jesus takes it up and rises again, and so shall you! All the powers of sin that work upon you, Jesus is breaking them down in your life now. And we don't always see this now, and we don't see it in full yet – the Truth will set you free. There's a fullness to come that you will see, that you will know only come the last day and resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

But this salvation that Jesus has won for you does impact you now. You are granted faith, faith which clings to Jesus Christ alone. You're thrown upon Jesus and freed from the useless burden of trying to justify yourself. You're given forgiveness now, over and against your sin. And where there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation. You do have life now, you do see what sin does, you are made to fight against it, Jesus brings forth in you good works that serve your neighbor and supply the proof that faith is living. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me! And Jesus keeps coming to you in His Word – the Word that the faithless couldn't care less about – and that Word brings you forgiveness and life, that Word brings you Jesus. He's by your side even in this battle you see against sin and all the other junk that constantly seeks to mess with you. And because Jesus is with you, there is confidence. God Himself is on your side, God Himself fights for you. He will not abandon you to this slavery to sin – because before you were a slave to sin, you were His. He made you, and He Himself will redeem you, will rescue you from sin and restore you to the living beings you were created to be.

By the Word, we hear this. By the faith the Holy Spirit works in us, we see this. And so we see the world more fully and broadly – see sin in all its power and terror – don't soft sell it out there or in your own heart... but see that Christ Jesus and His love for you is even bigger than sin, bigger than Satan, and conquers over them all. For you, for your good. So if the Son sets you free [and He has, O baptized child of God] You will be free indeed. Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Trinity 19 Sermon

Trinity 19 – Matthew 9:1-8 – October 22nd and 23rd, 2022

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

    “Take heart, My son, your sins are forgiven.” With those words, Jesus throws the scribes into a tizzy – indeed with these words that Jesus sees still spoken to you here in His house, Jesus throws the entire world into a giant tantrum of epic proportion. I do not know if there is anything that Jesus says that more fully and quickly encapsulates drives to the heart of the Gospel, the Gospel that Satan and this world are bound to oppose.

    Consider the story in our lesson. Jesus comes back to “his own city” - this would be Capernaum, the big town by Nazareth from whence Jesus started His ministry. So Jesus is in a place where people know that He is preaching and healing – and thus when the friends of a man who is paralyzed hear that Jesus is back in town, they pick the guy up and carry Him to Jesus. And Jesus sees this fellow, looks at him laying there and says, “Take heart, M y son, your sins are forgiven.” The scribes pitch a fit, how dare this bloke say he forgives sins, that's something only God can do, harrumph, harrumph, harrumph.

    Now, to be fair, these scribes have a point. Forgiveness is a God thing. We acknowledge that all sin is against God – remember that love God, love your neighbor thing? Even when you sin against your neighbor, you are also sinning against God who gave you that neighbor. So while you as an individual ought forgive anyone who sins against you, they also need to know how they stand before God, they need God's forgiveness. The problem with the scribes is that, even with all the Scripture pointing to Jesus, teaching that the Messiah would be true God and true man, they don't buy it. So, Jesus, True God and True Man, knows their thoughts. He sees right through them... because He's the Son of God. And then Jesus decides to heal the paralyzed man – and why? Which is easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Rise and walk”? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins – He then said to the paralytic - “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. The physical healing was secondary. The important thing was forgiveness. In fact, I'd argue that the paralyzed man needed forgiveness more – especially in the culture of that day where if there was some physical misfortune there was also crushing guilt and the assumption that your sin caused it. Forgiveness would have made the man ecstatic. The healing was good, the forgiveness was better.

    And so, the key, the center of this whole text isn't the healing – the healing is just so you know that Jesus can back up what He said earlier - “Take heart, my son, your sins are forgiven.” That sentence is completely true – see, this man walks again. And this sentence is something the world hates, something Satan fights against in your life daily and routinely.

Consider the first part - “Take Heart” - that is, have courage, have boldness, don't shrink, don't be intimidated. Sin and Satan try to intimidate you all the time. How often this week did the world try to get you stupid Christians to just keep your traps shut? Don't you dare bring that stuff up around here! How often did the wiles of Satan shine forth to kick you in the shin? How often did the overbearing wickedness and stupidity out there try to crush you? How often did the Accuser reveal to you your own sinfulness, to break you, to tell you how terrible and wretched you are and leave you in despair? A common tactic that Satan uses, that the world excels in using, is breaking you down – is just overloading you with how much vice there is in the world, or telling you that the cost of being a Christian is just too high, or even throwing your own guilt in your face and rubbing your nose in it – all of this to rob you of courage, to rob you of strength, to make your life miserable. And the thing is – Satan doesn't even have to lie to do this. The world is full of wickedness. People probably don't want to hear about your faith. You do have sins, many of them nasty. And frankly, if we were supposed to rely upon ourselves, there'd be no reason for us to have any courage, any heart whatsoever.

       But Jesus isn't telling us to ignore reality when He says, “Take heart.” Hey there guy, I see that you are paralyzed. Take heart. Jesus says Take heart to a man who is weak, who can't walk. Why? Because the reason we take heart, the reason we are bold, isn't because of ourselves, because of who we are or how strong we are – we have courage because Jesus is here. With might of ours could naught be done, soon were our loss effected – but for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected! We are weak, but He is strong! Therefore, because Jesus is here, take heart. Jesus isn't merely telling the guy to buck up, don't worry fellow – just keep a stiff upper lip. No – Jesus is there with Him, and Jesus is his strength – and the world hates that because while it can steamroll some paralyzed guy or knock over you or me, it can't do anything to Christ Jesus. So the world hates it when Jesus says, “take heart” - because it takes our eyes off of sin and death and weakness and puts them squarely on Jesus.

    But it gets worse for the the world. Jesus says, “My son.” The world is quite content to have you believe in “god” as long as this “god” is some faceless, distant entity. “Oh, he's out there somewhere, awfully far away, kind of cold and indifferent – maybe powerful, maybe not... but what's that got to do with anything.” The world will allow for that type of god – a god that has nothing to do with you. But that is not the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My son. That's what Jesus says to this man. It's not just that there's some god who is far off and just leaves this man to the deprevations and attacks of Satan – no, no – My son. There's a tie here, there's a bond here, you have value to Me, and there's no way on My green earth that I'm going to just abandon you or forget you. You're Mine, you're My creation, My child, My brother, one for whom I would and indeed, for whom I will give My own life on the Cross to save.

    God is not indifferent to you. Jesus knows you – He knows your name. He called you by name at the font – that's why I ask that old fashioned, formal question, “How are you named” - that's why I baptize kids “So and so, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Because there fundamentally is a personal relationship between you and God. You don't need to get one – you have one. God is your Father – and even if you're mad at God and pitching a fit – tough. He still is your Father and He still loves you. Even if you run away – you're His child and He will care for you. The world doesn't get to eliminate God, remove Him. He remains your Father, much more in truth than any of us human fathers are dads. Jesus doesn't disown you, He doesn't undo the promise of your baptism. You're His – and the world can't do a thing about it.

    And then, there's the phrase that caps it all off. “Your sins are forgiven.” But what if you have pitched a tantrum at God, what if you have ignored what He has said, what if you've been on the run forever – what if that person that you come across this week out there has been on the run? Your sins are forgiven. That's what Jesus says. That's what Jesus does. He comes and becomes man, and He takes up your sin, He takes up the sin of the world, and He drags them all to the Cross in His own Body and He puts them all to death. See the Cross – there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because He took it all up. And Jesus, who has come to be with you and give you courage, who is always your Creator, says to you that you are forgiven. Period. Did I stutter? Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. As far as the east is from the west, so far will I remove your sin from you. Father, forgive them – it is finished.

      There is nothing that Satan and this sinful world hate more than Jesus' forgiveness. We all see it, the rage, the anger – the drive to keep the rage going, to never forget, to never reconcile, to cancel forever, to keep the grudge alive. The world despise the forgiveness of Christ Jesus. Oh well. That's what Jesus does. He forgives. He forgives you. Your sins are removed from you, they are taken away, and you are clean in God's sight, and you are going to be raised again from the dead. Period. But what's more, my friends – When they saw it they were afraid, and they glorified God who had given such authority to men. Forgiveness, the authority to proclaim Jesus' forgiveness, has been given to you. It's the family treasure, the birthright of every baptized child of God. The forgiveness that God has declared to you, you speak it as well. Now, as a Pastor, I do this publicly, here – in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ. And when doing the absolution from Divine service 1 or 3, I'll make the sign of the Cross over y'all in blessing, because I'm addressing the baptized children of God. But you all have that authority as well – you announced God's pardon and forgiveness to me today as we used the old “Confititor” form of Confession and Absolution where we take turns confessing and forgiving. You're baptized, you've received God's forgiveness, you get to declare it to other people because they are people for whom Jesus has died.

    And this forgiveness is spoken to you so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who forgives sins. It's the Word of eternal life, and it is given to you for you good and for you to use for your neighbor – there is no greater love than this, that Jesus laid down His life for you and for your neighbor. And even though the world will try to muzzle you, to terrorize you, to make you think that God is distant and far – no, you know the truth, you know reality. Christ Jesus has come, God Himself has taken up the battle against sin, death, and the devil for you – and He has won you the victory with His death and resurrection. And this victory, this forgiveness and life and salvation has been applied to you. You are baptized. Christ is indeed present for you, He comes you to this day – and there's not a cotton picking thing Satan or the world can do about it. Take heart, My son, your sins are forgiven. Amen.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Bible Study - Which Ordo is It?

 So if you've been following Lutheran Twitter (a strange and bizarre place) or even Lutheran Blogs... which you probably are if you see this... there has been a round of discussions on the role of women, in particular whether or not they can write a theological book which in particular has study questions so as to be used in a bible study.

There is much discussion on what is meant when Paul says in 1 Timothy 2 that he does not permit (or suffer, if you like the King James) a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.

I, like some, hold that these ideas - teaching (διδάσκειν) and even authority (αὐθεντεῖν - authenticate, verify) are describing the life of the Church.  This is talking about handling the Word and Sacrament ministry of the Church - given that right after this Paul goes on to the qualification of Bishops and Deacons.  This is what Paul is speaking to.

Of course, there are some who want to make this a blanket statement about the relation of women and men all over the place (to greater or lesser extent).  But even if some will grant that this is a statement about the Church, surely this would apply to the writing of theology or what goes on in bible study!  Surely this is a violation of the Order of Creation.

Interestingly, Luther doesn't really use that term of "order of creation" - but he will speak of the three orders - that this world is broken up into three (I'll call them) spheres... that of the Family, the Church, and the State.  There's different chains of command in each of these, different responsibilities.  As a Pastor, I'm bound to preach (that is teach - didaskein) and administer the Sacraments.  As a father, I have a house of my own to manage.  As a citizen, well, I don't hold office other than voter.  In each of these ordos I have different vocations, different duties, different responsibilities.  I get to discipline my sons - I don't get to just discipline any kids in the congregation (that would be usurping the role of their parents) and certainly I don't get to discipline just random kids in the neighborhood.  

There are three ordos - Family, Church, and State.

So - Bible Study - Which Ordo is it?

The assumption seems to be that as Bible Study takes place in Church that it is clearly a part of the Ordo of the Church.  This is not the case.

First, both Sunday School and Bible Study as we think of them are novelties.  Luther wouldn't have known of them. But the terms used - study, school - speak to what they are.  They are training - and training belongs properly to the Family.

This is the start of the catechism - as the head of the family should teach....  Studies, Sunday School, even (and perhaps especially) Confirmation Class are all properly under the sphere of the family, the home.  When I teach confirmation class, or the Sunday school teachers do their thing, we are operating "in loco parentis" - in the place of the parents.  This is shown by the fact that I can insist that my kids go to Sunday School, but I can't insist that any other children must go - I can only encourage and suggest.

I will even assert that Bible Study belongs to the ordo of the family, not the Church.  Consider - let us say there's a massive blizzard and all Sunday activities at the Church are cancelled.  A dad might well have his family spend some time in devotion and study; he's not going to celebrate the Lord's Supper at home (even if he's me!).  In fact, I expect that the men and women who do attend my bible studies would do that, precisely because they are focused upon studying the Word.  And I also expect that even people who do not attend any of my studies also do their own devotional study of the Word on their own.

Bible study most properly belongs to the home.  In fact, many congregations have bible studies in the home - there was a ladies' group in my own congregation that met for study last night in a member's home.  And food.  Food was there too... and my wife didn't bring any of it home for me as she sometimes does.

... that was sad.

Of course, food is a difference as well.  As a Pastor, I tend to food in the Divine Service - the Body and Blood of Christ under bread and wine for us Christians to eat and drink.  Then, there's bible study - with coffee and snacks for the people who hang around to eat and drink.  Those are categorically different things!

So, I will assert here that although things like Bible Study, Sunday School, and Confirmation Classes may (note, may, not must) take place even on Church property, they do belong to the realm of the family, and as such are governed by the family.  Now, as the Pastor of this congregation I get oversight of anything done here at this place... that's only because the members of the congregation who have their own authority have designed me to exercise such oversight.

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If, in fact, the idea of bible study belongs to the ordo of the home and not the ordo of the Church, there is much more flexibility for what can be done.  The instruction therein belongs to a different ordo than the preaching of the word, the shepherding and teaching, that is mine as a pastor - that is denied not only to women but also to all laymen as well for the sake of order in the Church.

In the home there is more freedom.  I cook and my wife assembles the furniture we get... because I like cooking and she's better mechanically than I.  This isn't a violation of Scripture, nor does it undercut the Order of Creation... because I see my house so ordered this way because it seems to rightly utilize my talents and the talents of the woman that God has given me... and frankly, none of you have an ounce of authority to gain say me - go back to your home (and if you're rude I won't let you take any of my tasty food with you).

And so I'd assert the same with even studies.  Those are things given to the home - let the pater familias designate responsibilities as he sees as good. 

And I suppose, that for the sake of not causing confusion or offending the weak, I'd so oversee the studies of my congregation to curtail the role of women in studies - just Sunday School and not the adult class... that's fundamentally my ordering of a familial responsibility designated to me by the congregation and families of the congregation done in accordance with their wishes and expectations.

But I'm also very hesitant to instruct other families how they must do things... and indeed, other Sunday Schools and Bible Studies at other congregations full of families not my members - I don't have much say.  And if the Scriptures do not forbid, I cannot myself.  I can only give counsel and advise.  

So - there you have it.  Rambling thoughts and conclusions and takes.  Less Scripture than I'd like - at some point I can make a defense of the idea that 1 Timothy is giving primarily instruction for the Ordo of the Church and not instructions for the state or family... but at some other time.  This will suffice for the day.

Monday, October 17, 2022

A New 4th Use of the Law?

 Lutherans have long allowed for 3 uses of the Law.  The primary use of the Law is what often gets termed its 2nd Use (maybe central use would be better) - the Law reveals our sin.  It shows us our sin, drives us to repentance, and thus we are prepared to hear the Gospel.  This is the theological use of the law.

However, the Law also provides for order in society.  It acts as a curb (1st use) where it's threats and punishments keep wickedness in check by fear and threat.  It also acts as a guide (3rd use) where those who love God may thereby seek out to do works of service to God that are pleasing to Him and beneficial to society.  Both of these are centered on loving the neighbor - whether by force or by devotion to God the neighbor is served.

Every so often, though, I end up seeing what I think is a purposed 4th use of the law - the Firebreak use of the law.  People see a trend in society, something that is wrong - and rather than just staying strictly with what God says, an additional firebreak is extended.  Instead of simply "don't eat" - a "don't touch" gets added... because if you can't touch it, you can't eat it.  And there are many examples of this through the ages.

Don't fornicate - so don't dance.
Don't gamble - so don't use face cards.
Don't violate the Sabbath - so don't go over X steps.
Don't misuse the name of the LORD - so don't even speak Jehovah.

So on and so forth the pattern goes.  And the arguments are always wonderfully appealing - there is a danger, and clear and present danger - and we can't give in an inch to them, so to make sure they stay far, far away, we are going to... add things.  Expand the meaning.  Give our holiness a little lebensraum so that it is not defiled.

And these always go poorly.  Wickedly.  The gateway to tyrannical legalism because is it as much and as wicked a sin to add to God's Law as it is to take away from it.

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The Pastoral Office is reserved only for men.  It is the office of preaching and teaching, of administering the Sacrament.

But the public square is not reserved for pastors, nor the writing of books, nor discussion.  In these forums, all the baptized alike are of the royal priesthood, with all the rights there given.

Fear of woman pastors, fear of society losing any distinction between man and woman is no reason to go beyond the limits God has set.  And we do not add to His Word the firebreaks we think we need because of His fear, no more than we ignore His Word to be culturally relevant.  Either is the way of folly.