Saturday, September 1, 2018

Trinity 14 Sermon

(Back after some technical problems with the blog)


Trinity 14 – September 1st and 2nd, 2018 – Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
This lesson should be quite familiar to you, since you hear it twice a year. You hear it right around the Labor Day (give or take a few weeks), and then you hear it again at Thanksgiving. It is the story of the 10 lepers. Isn’t that how we normally think of it – 10 are healed, but only 1 is thankful. And yes, on Thanksgiving Day that will probably be the angle we look at this text from. However, really, this text isn’t primarily about the lepers, and it isn’t first and foremost about thankfulness or our lack thereof – it’s about Jesus – who Jesus is, what He does. So, let’s look at this text and watch with care our Lord and see what we learn about Him here today.

On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This is actually important – when Luke in his Gospel says that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, this means Jesus is getting ready for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, that our Lord’s passion is coming closer and closer. This happens but days before Palm Sunday – and so Christ’s focus would be on winning us salvation – He’s on that task, on target and focused – He is on His way to Jerusalem. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” So, Jesus is focused on salvation. He’s journeying, He’s probably tired and worn out from the road – He’s just entering a village to get some rest – and what happens? Lepers show up – lepers. Dirty, filthy, unclean, nasty looking lepers. And they cry out for mercy. Have mercy on us.

Now, consider for a moment your own life. It is the end of a long day, and you have things to do tomorrow, you have big, important things on your mind – and then, just as you are ready to rest, someone comes up and wants something. What is your reaction? How quick and ready to love the neighbor in that situation are you? The old sinful flesh likes to rise up then and there, doesn’t it, to grumble and complain? But, what does Christ do? These people are calling out to Him when He most certainly is tired and has other things on His mind. Does He brush them off? Does He say come back tomorrow? No – He cares for them.

Now, we learn from this. Of course, we learn that Christ’s attitude is to be our attitude as well. We learn what we ought to do – and in reality, we see how often we fail. Whenever we compare ourselves to Jesus we are simply going to see how we don’t measure up. If anything, when we compare ourselves to Christ we realize we look more like those scrubby lepers, disgusting and wretched. So, consider this. Have you felt worn and weary? Have you looked at your life and been disgusted by what you see? Do you know that you are unclean – an utter mess? You are – if you aren’t sure if you are, compare yourself to Jesus. Are you as holy and good and righteous as He is? Then you’re a mess – and don’t try denying it, ain’t none of us here going to buy it. Each of those 10 lepers knew every other one was a leper, and every one of us knows we all are sinners right along with all the other sinners. And we know that we need Christ, that we need His healing, His forgiveness, His mercy.

But here is where Satan can creep in. Do you ever feel as though – well, you know, you really shouldn’t bother Jesus with that. Well, ought you really pray about this AGAIN, I mean, come on, Jesus has to have other things on His mind? Are you going to bring yet another problem and burden to God – sheesh! We can be so ashamed of our problems, of our sin, that Satan tries to isolate us, tries to separate us from God. The Devil is a liar and a murderer, and when he stirs up these thoughts, he is lying to you so he can try to murder you. In our text, does Jesus ever hesitate in helping these lepers? Does our Lord cop an attitude? Does He throw up His arms, make a big sigh, come on people I was just getting ready to have dinner and wash my feet, why are you bugging me now? No. Simple as that. There’s no bad reaction from Christ – He’s not bothered or annoyed by this in the slightest – having mercy is what He came to do, so He delights in getting to deal with these lepers. Learn this, know this – Christ delights in dealing with you. Christ Jesus delights in having you pray to Him and bring your burdens to Him. Christ Jesus delights in having His Word proclaimed to you, enjoys having you receive His Body and Blood in His Supper for your forgiveness, for the strengthening of your weary faith, for your healing. That’s why He had the Apostles and prophets write down the Scriptures, why He has sent you a called and ordained Pastor, and has had one here for over 100 years. This is what He delights in.

And as our Lord delights in mercy, He heals these lepers. “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’” When you were a leper, you were banished from the community until your disease cleared up – and when it cleared up, you could present yourself to the priests, who would then declare you fit for returning to the community. So when Jesus says, “Go show yourselves to the priests”, He is making them a promise that they will be healed. And so, they go. And the wondrous thing is, they aren’t healed yet when they start walking, but they start heading to the priests anyway, and then what happens? “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Simple as that. As they are going, they get healed. No big production – simply Jesus says it, promises it, and it happens.

Now, consider how our Lord deals with you. He has promised you forgiveness. He has washed you in Holy Baptism, so you are clean. He has spoken life and salvation unto you in His Word, He has given you His Body and Blood as the promise and token that you will rise again on the last day and have eternal life. Now, note two things. First – none of this is showy. God works through simple means. When He healed the Lepers there was no song and dance – when He heals you, it’s not that spectacular to look at. In baptism, you are joined to Christ, adopted by the Father to be His own redeemed child, made an heir of heaven and eternal life – and what do we see? Eh, a splash of water. In the Supper, Christ Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood, joins you together with all the saints of all ages, we participate for a moment in the joys of heaven and are prepared for eternal life – and what do we see? Eh, a small wafer, a sip of wine. In preaching, in absolution, I as your pastor get to declare to you that you sin is forgiven, that Satan’s power and hold over you is completely broken because of Christ’s death and resurrection, that you are now holy and blameless in God’s sight on account of Christ, that you will rise to life everlasting – and what do we see? Eh, a short half-bald guy with a lisp. Jesus doesn’t make a big production of things. Why? Because that way they are repeatable. Is there someone new to the faith, does a baptism need to be done – we don’t need some weird, precious substance – look, here is water, what hinders us from baptism now? Nothing. Simple. Or do we need to be refreshed by Christ, forgiven and prepared for life now and for all eternity, could we use His supper? Eh, look here, Pastor’s got some bread and wine – let’s have the Supper. I even have a portable kit for it. Or even with a pastor preaching – God keeps raising up new ones – so that if something happens to me, God will send you someone else – simple things. God gives His mercy to you in simple things. He doesn’t make stupid demands of you – He didn’t tell the lepers to do 100 pushups first, or to go travel 1000s of miles – simply go, and I will heal you. Likewise, in your life, simply come, hear His Word, receive His Supper, and you have God’s forgiveness in full.

Which leads to the second thing. When those lepers started walking, they looked down at themselves, and they saw their scabs, their sores, their illness. Yet their Lord Christ Jesus had told them to walk, and so they walked to go see the priest, and on the way they were healed. Likewise, dear Christians, when you look at your life now, when you see the problems and temptations that you face – they seem to stick around. You know, I expect that the burdens and trials you faced yesterday are still going to be there tomorrow. If you are struggling against a temptation now, probably you will still be struggling with it tomorrow. This healing of Christ’s, the forgiveness we receive – we don’t always see it right away. We don’t always see the life we have in Christ – and Satan wants to have us see our sin and say, “Eh, guess it didn’t take for you – give up, despair, curse God and die.” In contrast to Satan, I say to you – when service is done, head on out those doors and live your life – but live your life remembering the promises of God to you. Christ Jesus has given you His promise of life and salvation, and you shall have it. You have forgiveness now, and you will grow, you will see that life creep out in part now, but you will have it in full for all eternity. Now, you’re in your sinful flesh, and one burden, one temptation gets licked, well, another one pops up. That’s the burden of life in this sinful world – the problems of a decade ago, well, they might be gone, eh, then you'll have new ones. Or even if these old burdens linger on – yes it’s horrid, it’s difficult, it’s annoying. And we are called to struggle against these desires of the flesh, but Christ’s promise to you still stands. You are forgiven. You have life in Him. He works in you now, and He will on the last day call you forth to new life, and then you will see yourself healed, fully clean, fully redeemed and ready and prepared to spend eternity with Him and the family of God, an eternity where your praises will not be lacking, where you will be joined with all the saints of all ages in rejoicing before God and delighting in whatever it is that you’ll be doing in the new heavens and new earth, putting your restored and sanctified talents to good work there.

Christ Jesus is good. He is never too busy for you, for He is eager to save, eager to forgive. His promise of life and salvation is yours, and He wants you to know this always, to remember it always, to receive it often so that you might be always confident in Him. Satan will do his damnedest to make you forget this, but the love of Christ for you is more powerful than Satan, and His promises hold true now and forever more. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit+

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – August 18th and 19th, 2018 – Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
There's so much crazy talk in the world today about what love is. And I know intellectually as a historian and a theologian that folks in this sinful world have always been messed up on what love is; this is why Paul and John in their epistles constantly have to spell out for us what love actually is. But it seems today our society and culture uses “love” to describe every sort of weird desire or lust folks might have. Over and against that, over and against what you might hear from the world about love, in our Gospel lesson today Jesus gives a tour de force demonstration of what love actually is. Let us listen to what Jesus does, and learn of love.

“Then He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” First, the set up. This is the point in Mark's Gospel where the scribes and pharisees were so hounding Jesus that He ended up wandering around the gentile lands. Right before this lesson you have the Syrophoenician woman - “yes, LORD, but even little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.” And then right after today's Gospel lesson you have the feeding of the 4000, because everyone hears about this miracle even though Jesus tried to keep them quiet. So Jesus is there, surrounded by strangers, foreigners, non-jews. You know – folks that He'd be expected not to like, the sort of people that the good Jerusalem folks wouldn't dare associate with. And these people have heard rumors about Jesus, so they bring up a fellow – and they want to see a miracle. Go on, lay a hand on him and show us something cool!

I have great sympathy for this deaf fellow, not just because he had a speech impediment and I don't exactly have the cleanest speaking voice myself, but because he must have been utterly confused. What Mark describes here is not a calm, polite scene. The word here for “brought” is literally “carry”. It's not that they coaxed a shy volunteer forward, they wanted to see a miracle, so they grabbed some guy who was messed up. Hey everybody, whose the most messed up person in town – oh, it's that deaf guy – oh yea, quick, go grab him. And so a crowd rushes up and grabs the fellow – and he's deaf, he can't hear. If you can't hear, you don't understand what's going on around you as well as you might – like as some of you are finding out more than you'd like. So boom – they dump this guy in front of Jesus and say “lay hands on him.” Come on Jesus – we brought you someone, now go do that thingy with your hands and the waving and power and might.

Jesus doesn't give the crowd what they want. Instead, Jesus decides to love the poor deaf man. Listen. And taking him aside from the crowd privately.... Did you note that? Before there's any healing, Jesus gently pulls him away from the crowd, gets him out of that mass of confusion. And then, when the guy is calmed down a bit and things are less chaotic, Jesus moves into action. “He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” But that action isn't healing yet. The guy is deaf, so Jesus acts out for him what He's going to do. Your ears, I'm going to pop them open. Can't get stuff out of your mouth because your tongue is tied – well, I'm going to shake that tongue loose. Then one more pantomime - “And looking up to heaven, He sighed...” See, I'm praying here – and then, only then, does the healing take place. [Jesus] said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

There's a lot of hay we could make out of this. This is indeed creation restored – the Word of God who spoke all creation into existence restores creation by speaking. All things are done well, they are good again because of Jesus. And this also is a great depiction of how faith itself works – we who were deaf to God, dead in sin and trespasses have our ears opened by the Word and Spirit and we are given life.
But for today, let's focus on this. This is what love is, this is how love operates. This miracle stands out like a sore thumb in Mark's Gospel. See, Mark's Gospel has this incredible pace to it. The word “immediately” gets used over and over. It's the shortest Gospel, everything happens quickly. And then you get this miracle described – and everything just slows down. Everything becomes slow and deliberate. And that's what love is. When Jesus comes across this fellow, He shows Him deliberate care and service. He doesn't just lay a hand on him while the crowd goes wild, but instead Jesus takes the time to care for him individually as He knows is best.

This is Christ's love for you. To be in the Church is to be one whom Jesus has called, whom Jesus has pulled away from the rush and sin and chaos of the world, called out of darkness into His marvelous life. And over and over in His Church, Jesus deals with you gently and directly. You were baptized by name, you yourself were. God claimed you and washed away your sins. He places His own Body and Blood upon your tongue in the Supper. And yes, we do many things together, for we together are the body of Christ, yet there still remains that individual care for you. While we do confess our sins together and receive forgiveness together – if there is some fear or doubt or guilt that messes with you – I'll forgive you individually and specifically, because Jesus doesn't want you miserable and afraid and guilty. And if you want and need the Lord's Supper, give me a call, I'll bring it. Because Jesus wants you, yes you, to know His love and forgiveness and mercy is for you. Jesus doesn't lose you in the crowd – I might, I'm a sinful human being, so please do let me know when you need something – but Jesus wants you forgiven and cared for.

This is also how all our vocations work. Vocations are those special relationships we are given by God in which we are to love and serve people. Our vocations set up and show us people for whom we are specifically to care. And each of us have many of these that God has given us. I will use myself as an example. I'm not the pastor for every church in the world; I'm preaching here at Trinity because God has called me away from every other place and to this specific congregation and to you here. I don't supervise every single vicar in the vicarage program; I supervise vicar Weideman. God did not call me to be everyone's husband, He gave me to and joined me to Celia. I'm not everyone's dad – just two people. And so on and so forth. And this is not accidental – this is deliberate on God's part, shaping and forming the ways in which I am to show love – these are the good works which God prepared before hand for me to walk in. And likewise you – in order to see that His love and care for His creation is shown, God places you into relationships with other people – husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, employer and worker, neighbor, citizens, all these things – so that you may care for these specific people, and also be cared for by them in return. These are your vocations – and if you want to consider them, I'd recommend finding the Table of Duties in the Catechism, because it goes over specific Scripture passages dealing with all sorts of vocations. But remember, these relationships are gifts to you from God, opportunities for you to care for and serve others.

Yet we know how things so often work. We are attacked by sin and Satan – and do you know what sin does? It deafens us; it binds up our tongues. All too often we don't listen to the people God has placed in our lives, all too often instead of speaking words of love and care for them we say nothing or shout nonsense. And often we are on the receiving end, where folks don't listen to us, where they don't speak rightly to us. That's really what Satan is trying to accomplish with sin – Satan is trying to wreck and ruin the relationships of love and service that God gives us. And this is why, over and over, again and again, Christ Jesus comes to you with His Word of life. This is why He opens your ears with His Word and gives you faith. This is why He fills you with His love. This is why He opens your lips so that you mouth may declare His praise. Because He is a giver, because He loves you and wants you to enjoy your gifts that He has given to you. And so, He arms you with forgiveness and mercy to fight against sin – your own sin and the sin that is done to you. Satan would isolate you; Christ is with you and gives Himself to you and centers all your relationships and vocations in Him, in His love.

And the world doesn't understand this. The world keeps rushing on in its chaotic mess, the world keeps on rolling along in its selfish conceit, looking out for number one. But Christ Jesus is your Lord, and He has given you ears to hear. He frees you to love generously because you know with certainty how much He loves you. And should you ever forget it, should your own love ever flag – come here and hear again His love for you, for you are God's own baptized child, and He will never forsake you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Back from Vacation

I just wanted to note that I am back from Vacation and ready to get back into the grind!

Monday, July 9, 2018

HT Breakout Outline

(Here's the outline for my sectional for the 2018 HT conferences - posted here just in case I lose handouts)


Granny's Getting Older

Introduction
While we often think of “raising a family” in terms of care for the young (parents for children), there is also the other side – care for parents and grandparents – David sending parents to Moab, Jesus saying, “Woman Behold Your Son” on the Cross. The Orphan and the Widow are both to cared for.

I – Understanding the Aging Process (The Elderly Are Like Backwards Teenagers)
1 – Everyone ages – that's just the reality of life – but sin and death twist this. The aging curve (beware the freshman 15, the thirties – my need for readers)
2 – Imagine growing towards what you were two years ago, or three years ago.
3 – The Body Weakens and the Mind Slow (The talents you hone now, imagine them withering)
4 – Finances Get tighter.
5 – Independence is valued, but they become less capable.

II – Simple Ways of Serving
1 – Companionship – Be “present” with them. Youth presence can have a profound impact. (babies are the future, you are their past – I get to start to commiserate)
2 – Subtly Lending a Hand – from you better than from others.
3 – Listening and Learning to their Experience
4 – Helping the primary caregivers (like your parents)

III – Things Going Bad
1 – Mourning and Loss (Not just death, but losing abilities)
2 - Doctors and Disease
Scary Sounding names – like “congestive heart failure”
3 – Dementia
Don't correct, just roll, like you would with a toddler.

IV – Transitions
1 – Assisted Living/Moving in with the Kids
2 – Nursing Home
3 – Skilled Nursing Care
4 – Hospice
5 – Hospitals and the end of care. DNRs, Palliative care, the “plug” - but not euthanasia.

V – The Resurrection of the Body

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – July 7th and 8th, 2018 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
As Christians, as those who pay attention to our Lord’s Words, we ought to pay attention to that which He commands. That’s not an earth shattering statement – all of us here know that we ought to try to behave, to strive to show love to our neighbor. And yet, what is the reality? So often, we just don’t even bother. And more than that, we justify our bad behavior – we start playing fast and loose with the Word of God – we ignore it, we twist it to serve our ends, rather than learning to love and serve God and neighbor. Jesus will not let that stand. And our Lord Jesus today teaches and demonstrates the two major errors, the two major ways in which a Christian can ignore, can twist God’s Word of Law in a harmful way.

First, our Lord says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” God in His Word has told us many things about how we are to live, what we are to do, how we are to behave. He has given us the 10 Commandments, and there’s a very good reason why even 3500 years after Moses we still sit down with our children and teach them the Commandments to this day. God’s desire that we lead decent lives has not changed. However – that doesn’t mean that Christians aren’t tempted to. . . pretend that the Law doesn’t really matter any more. Note what Christ warns against – Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. There is a temptation amongst Christians to. . . relax God’s Law. To shrug off what He has commanded, to just. . . ignore the Word of God where it becomes uncomfortable. This is often thought of as the classic “liberal” error when it comes to God’s Word – to just ignore what you don’t like. A place where this is obvious today comes up with the 6th Commandment. A lot of discussions in a lot of places on Homosexuality relax, to use Christ’s Word, what God has said about Homosexuality. A lot of places are relaxing on the issue of premarital sex. There is a whole facet, a whole wing of the Christian Church that is systematically chipping away at Scriptural ideas of morality.

However, this is not just a time for me to lambaste all those liberal Churches out there. They might do this openly and publicly, but consider in your own life the times where you yourself are tempted to. . . relax God’s Law. God says, “Love your enemy” – but we can… not apply that to this particular enemy who has us really upset right now. Or how often do we ignore or forget that we are to be patient and kind and instead justify and defend our anger because *they* were just messing things up. The temptation remains for us to cut ourselves some slack when it comes to right and wrong – and that is dangerous, because when we do that, it’s not just a small thing, it’s going directly against the wishes and will of God. Thus, as Christians, we are to be on our guard against ignoring the parts of God’s Word that say things about us and our behavior that we don’t like.

But there is another error that Christ warns us against – and this is the opposite error of what we just discussed. Our Lord says, “You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’” Our Lord here is attacking the stereotypical Conservative error, the error of legalism. The Pharisees were by in large rather conservative folks – and the big danger that they had was while they took Scripture seriously, they didn’t see its fullness, they didn’t understand and apply it to themselves, and so they became smug. They would hear the 5th Commandment and say, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone, therefore I’m doing all right.” And they became legalists, they became focused on how they DID the Law so well. The thing was – they really hadn’t. In their arrogance they assumed that they were righteous, when in reality their righteousness was lacking. Note what Christ does here – He ties murder to anger. Anger leads to murder, and so if God tells us not to murder, clearly He would want us to avoid the anger which could lead us to murder. And this is clear from the Scriptures. Consider the first murder – Cain slaying Abel. Before Cain murders Abel, God says to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” Be wary of anger and where it leads. Jesus isn’t teaching anything new – He’s teaching what had been taught from the beginning – but the problem was that when too many folks looked at God’s commandments, instead seeing God’s Law as showing them their sin, showing them what they needed to struggle against – too many folks simply viewed God’s instructions as a mere checklist. And pride and arrogance crept in. In fact, they would add extra things to their checklists that weren’t in Scripture, like a good Jew would wash his hands a certain way. Does this not happen today? Don't we today too have our own traditions, in our families or town or church, that we think just have to be done, where we just know that we are better because we do it the “right” way? Rather than focusing on what the Scriptures say, people can go off on their own smug self-righteous ego trips, pointing out how good they are.

Again, this is a danger for us today. We here strive to take God’s Word and His Law seriously. And the danger is that we can assume that we know what we need to know – we hear the commandment and we think we’ve got it down – but we forget to think about the implications of the commandment. This is one of the beauties of the Catechism. Luther would keep us from falling into this trap – because in the explanation he states not only what we are to avoid, but what the commandment implies what we are to do. Take the 5th Commandment. “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” If we aren’t to kill, then we aren’t to harm, and if we aren’t to harm, then that implies that we are to help. In every physical need.

When it all boils down, the danger is that we misuse God’s Word, especially when it comes to the Law. We can act as though God’s Law doesn’t matter on a certain issue and flat out ignore what God says; or we can become prideful in how we are good Christians and stop thinking, stop mediating on God’s Word, becoming unrepentant and arrogant. But the truth is this – God’s Law is deep, it is profound, and whenever we hear a commandment from God, we should search ourselves to find out how we fall short of that commandment – for each of us has sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and there is not one who is righteous, no, not one. Whenever you hear a command of God, it should be obvious to you that you haven’t done it like you ought - and if you don’t think that, then you aren’t hearing God’s Word rightly, you aren’t listening. Our Lord says, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That’s the standard, that’s always the standard of God’s Law. We dare not relax it, we dare not ignore it.

And we, dear friends, are by no means perfect. That should be obvious to all of us. And the consequences of the Law still hold – the wages of sin is death. What Christ says here is true – Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. In and of ourselves, our righteousness is never that high. Whenever we hear God’s Law, we see our lack and our need to repent – every time. However, we also hear something else in God’s Word – our Lord speaks and says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” There is One who is truly righteous, whose righteousness has exceeded that of any of us, who lived the perfect life, doing all that was pleasing in His Father’s eyes, and that is Christ Jesus our Lord. And what Jesus does is that when He goes to the Cross, He is making a trade. There at the Cross, Christ Jesus takes up all of your sin, all of your lack of righteousness, and there He receives its wages in full and dies – but He does this so that in exchange for your sin, He can give to you all of His Righteousness. Consider this – you are Baptized, you are joined to Christ. Your sins have been washed away from you, and Christ has given you His righteousness. When God sees you, He sees Christ. Every good, every wonder that Christ has done, that’s what God beholds when He sees you. When God looks at you, He sees the life of Christ Jesus – and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is this way. What happens when we commune – we receive Christ, we receive His Body and Blood, His very life, so that our sins are forgiven, removed from us, and so that we are filled with all that He is. We see and understand the depths and the wonders of Christ’s forgiveness for us, His great love for us – that He has indeed made us to be righteous with His Righteousness – a righteousness that we will finally see in full on the last day. May we see this ever more fully as well!

And so dear friends, I warn you not to ignore God’s Law, but rather I encourage you to examine yourself in light of God’s Law – knowing full well that the light of God’s Law will always shine on many-a-nasty spot. But when you see these flaws and errors, in humility and faith repent of them, for God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we see our sins, we learn to not trust in ourselves (which can only lead to disaster), but rather to cling to Christ Jesus, who in great joy and gladness freely gives to us His righteousness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Trinity 5 Sermon

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11 – June 30th and July 1st, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
When we come across Simon Peter, he is at a low point. We see him and his partners cleaning up the nets after a long night of fishing, a long night that yielded nothing. Peter had spent the night throwing net after net over into the water, hauling wet rope up by hand, and gotten nothing. No fish. Nothing to sell. And after that back breaking but fruitless night, they are on the shore cleaning out the nets – because the seaweed and the junk has to get off of them and maybe when we are done we can just go home. You all have had rough days, you know how it is at the end of the day, you just want to be done and be done and be done. That's where Peter is – and I know when I'm there I'm tired and cranky and dour.

Then Jesus walks on up and drafts Peter for a bit more work. Push off from the shore, I'll preach from your boat. It makes wonderful acoustic sense – sound bouncing off the water, the shore forming a bit of a natural amphitheater... but it also means that instead of going home and getting rest, Peter is stuck there. Maybe he enjoyed listening to Jesus preach, maybe he didn't. I'm not going to pretend that all of you here are always just thrilled to be here and super-attentive to the sermon, especially if your week has been hard, or you're coming off of a night shift or something like that. Yet the preaching goes on – probably hours of it, and tired and sore Peter still waits, and waits... and then Jesus turns to Peter. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. This is stupidity. This is folly. You don't catch fish in the middle of the day, that was why they'd been fishing all night. And if they let down the nets, they'll just have to clean them up – but Peter resignedly says, “At your word I will let down the nets.” And then an unexpected victory – a catch so massive that the nets break, so big that they have to summon the other boat and they both begin to sink because they are just so full of fish. Peter's day has gone from lousy to unimaginably prosperous! You might think Peter would be overjoyed. But he's not.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.' Pause there and think about that. Depart from me, for I am a sinful man. Peter isn't a fool. Peter knows something divine, something miraculous when He sees it. This is a sign of God's presence and activity and this is Messianic – and he's afraid. He knows that he's a sinful man and God is here – so he begs Jesus to go. Does that seem strange to you? Why would anyone be scared of God showing up – oh, I don't know, do people even today get all happy dappy about Judgment Day or the End of the World? Because that is what Peter is seeing – the end point of all things. Don't think of this as “oh, Jesus my friend is here” - Peter would have viewed this as apocalyptic and fearful. The Messiah has come, the great and awesome day of the Lord has come... and there Peter is. A sinful man. And he had been looking God square in the face; he had been sassy and saucy (we toiled all night and caught nothing) with God Himself.

That got people killed in the Old Testament. Even Elijah, the greatest prophet, had to wrap his face and cover himself before talking to God – even Elijah wouldn't dare to enter the cave where God appeared but remained at a distance. Of course he did – sinful man doesn't do well in the presence of God! And there's Simon-Peter – and he'd been sassing the Messiah. And so he asks Jesus to go. And this isn't a sign of disbelief or no faith – no, Peter is a faithful man. But he is sinful, and he knows that sin and God don't mix, so the best he can hope for, the mercy he seeks from Jesus is this: Go away, and just don't smite me. That's what Peter thought mercy would be – God, just leave me alone.

Do you know what the real difference, the real impact of Jesus is in practical terms? We new testament folks have a hard time even conceiving of how anyone could possibly want God to depart from him. Oh, we still get mad at God when lousy stuff happens – Elijah grumbled in the Old Testament and we grouse at God about how things aren't fair today too... but when we grouse at God we just go ahead and grouse. We don't wait patiently on a mountain top and then humbly cover our faces – we look up to heaven and grouse. Kind of presumptuous, isn't it? That's how comfortable we are with God – because we are New Testament people – we are people who have been born and raised in the last days of the world. We see everything through the lens of Christ Jesus, God come to be with us in a way that we can handle, God come to redeem and forgive.

This is what it meant when Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not be afraid – whenever you hear that phrase in the bible that means that God is about ready to do something good for the sake of His people – He is going to show mercy and forgive and make things right. The punishments for sin will be taken away and sinful man is going to be forgiven instead of blown to smithereens. And we are the baptized, we live, we have our identity established in the fact that we have been forgiven by God. We are the people who live viewing God as their dear Father whom they can approach in prayer with confidence as dear children ask their dear father. We are those who have been given faith and are those who have been invited to Christ's table this day for strengthening of that faith. As St. Paul says, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” We are caught men and women, we are those who have been caught and rescued from the world and brought into God's house by the power of the Word and Spirit.

And sometimes we can forget just how strange and wondrous it is to have faith. Many of us are just simply used to it – we can't remember a time when we didn't have faith. We can forget just how foolish our faith is. From our Epistle lesson, Paul is not wrong when He says that the Gospel, this forgiveness in Christ without any works on our part, it foolish and folly. We live in the world, we know how that works. If someone wrongs us, does something to hurt us, don't we EXPECT them to make it up to us? You messed up, how about a little “restitution”? In this world we live in “I'll make it up to you” - that's the wisdom of the world. And yet that's not how you relate to God – well, okay, sometimes in your sin that is how you try to relate to God – we will want to cut a deal, maybe at least I'll wash your back God and you can wash my back in this way sort of thing. But that's not how it works with God. God's approach to you is utterly foolish. He gives and gives without demanding anything back. Here you go Peter, have some fish, and no, I don't need a cut of the profits, no I don't need “free” advertising on the side of you boat. Here you go. Utterly free. And that is what God does for you – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Oh, the foolishness of the Cross, to die for sinners! Jesus cries out for mercy for those who are crucifying Him, He cries out for mercy for you and me – a mercy that takes dead, dying, sinful people – people full of sin where everything is tainted and wrecked by selfishness and greed and hatred and lust and envy – mercy that takes people like you and me and dies for us. Dies to forgive and give live and save. Jesus going to the cross, according to the wisdom and logic and dog eat dog sense of the world, is the dumbest thing in history.

But that's who Jesus is. That's what your God is like. Just when Peter has a chance to corner the Galilean market on fish, Jesus calls him away from that. No, Peter, we're not going to be rolling in dough, that's not my goal. We're going to wander around and proclaim mercy and forgiveness, and even to people who will reject it and kill me – but as go, some of them will be caught up into faith. And even after Easter, as you go on your way you'll end up making disciples of all nations (even the races you don't like) by baptizing them and teaching them. And over the many generations, that's where we come in. We have been caught up in all this Jesus stuff. We have received His love and mercy – and we are even entitled to speak it forth. Foolishly. Stupidly. We have a boldness to forgive others who don't deserve it in the slightest. We have a boldness to love our enemies, and let them know that God Himself died to forgive them. We have the boldness to confront our own sin – because let's not pretend that we are perfect. No, we are bold to face down our sin and fight it down – that sin gets in the way of loving our neighbor or forgiving them so for their sake we need to fight it, and we do so boldly because we know that God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That fight against our own sin will be the theme for the next few weeks, in fact. But all of this is seen and viewed through the astonishing love that God has for us in Christ.

Peter's day had gone from lousy to wondrous in a way he couldn't imagine. Didn't mean things were suddenly easy – but they were good. Christ saw to that. And this Jesus promises to make all things work for your good with His foolish love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – Luke 6:36-42 – June 23rd and 24th, 2018

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

Who is God? What's He like? Seems like a fairly basic question – and kind of an important one. If someone were to ask you who your God was, what He was like, what sort of answer would you give? I think sometimes we're tempted to jump first and foremost to things like “powerful, almighty, omnipotent” or things like that. God is awesome and powerful... and while that's true, that doesn't tell us what He is like. Even saying that God is the Creator doesn't say much – I know plenty of people who are angry at the world, angry at the universe for how things have turned out. We might move on to saying that God is love – but that's still a bit abstract, at least in this present day and age where we really don't know what love is. Who is God, and what is He like?

Jesus tells us. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. That's who God is. You want to know who God is, what makes Him tick? He is merciful. He isn't defined primarily by His attributes, by being “Almighty”. God is merciful, and He uses His power, His might, His Wisdom all in order to show mercy to His creation that had and has rebelled against Him. And I think one of the things that is problematic about the Church today is that when we think to describe God, to proclaim God – we don't think first and foremost of “merciful.” And because of that, we miss the point. We might say things that are accurate, facts that are factual, but we miss the point. Listen to Jesus in our text, how He centers everything on God's mercy.

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. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap, for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. What kind of God do you have? Because really, how you view, how you think of God is going to shape the way that you view everything in life, the way you think about all the people in your life. And here's the thing: if you think of God as a judgy sort, a nit-picky sort of God whose primary way of looking at you in a sort of harsh looking over, checking for all the flaws... well, that's probably how you're going to view all the people in your life. And that's how you'll worry that they will look at you, and your life will be run and organized on the basis of being all judgy, and you'll even think you're impressing God so He'd judge you less. Except it's all a lie, it's messed up, and it is miserable.

Or maybe you go beyond just judging and griping and nitpicking – maybe you are out to condemn. Oh, the blame game, so many people's favorite today – find the right people to blame, to be angry about. The thing is, the finger pointing keeps going, the condemnations get thrown around more harshly and harshly and the circle of “good” people gets smaller and smaller and you worry more and more when your “friends” are going to condemn you and write you off... and that too is all a lie, all messed up, and all miserable.

In opposition to what our flesh wants, what our world craves – God is merciful. His primary focus, His plan, His desire is to forgive. To give good things. To be merciful. God actually wants to forgive you. That's the whole point of Jesus; God becomes man and goes to the cross and dies Himself so as to save your bacon, so as to be merciful to you. And God's not sitting up in Heaven looking for nitpicking reasons to condemn you; He knew you couldn't save yourself so Jesus Christ did it for you... and your Father is glad of that. He is glad and eager and willing to forgive because He is merciful. And His mercy is full, rich, and grand. He's not miserly with His mercy, waging a finger and saying, “You better not need any more forgiveness bub” - no, His forgiveness is full, thick, shaken down, pressed down, overflowing. That is who your merciful God is; the One rich and abounding in actual love and true mercy – forgiveness and life won by Christ Jesus for you.

But if you don't see this mercy, if you want to run things by judgment or condemnation, if you want God to be the big boss man so you can boss other people around, well, you'll be of no use to anyone. Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? If you forget who God is, if you forget His mercy, you'll never lead anyone to God. You've never give anyone the love and mercy of Christ – instead you'll just drag them into some judgy, condemny, bitter grousy pit. You'll just end up playing all the same old sinful games the old Adam loves to play. And that will not only harm them, but it will harm you as well. You both will fall into a pit. When you grouse and complain about your neighbor, it doesn't fix anything – it just makes both your lives worse.


This is why in the church we are continually focused upon God's mercy. This is why that word “mercy” show up at least 10 times in today's service. This is why we are focused week in and week out on forgiveness. Because we need to have our eyes placed upon the forgiveness won for us by Christ, the mercy He shows – otherwise we'll stop. We'll abandon forgiveness. The Lord's Prayer is right – we forgive others only because He has forgiven us, and when we no longer want to forgive others we'll flee and run away from God's forgiveness for us! By your God is merciful, and He loves to forgive, and that's what He does to you. He forgives you and teaches you to forgive. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The purpose and point is that we who are forgiven much learn to forgive our neighbor much. That we learn to remember that God is merciful, and so we show that same mercy we have received to our neighbor.

Consider the final illustration from our lesson. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother'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 yourself 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. Why do we see our brother's speck – because by nature we are “hypocrites” - we are people who live “under-judgment” - that's what the word hypocrite means, that crit part means “judge” - like critic or critical. And our sinful flesh has a reflexive, self-defensive move... to make sure no one notices our flaws, we shout about everyone's elses. We get on their case instead of cleaning up our own mess. And when we act that way, we aren't really acting for our neighbor's good but rather to give ourselves a false sense of superiority. And Jesus calls us away from that. No, our first job is to tend to our own log – to see our own sins and faults as serious sins, serious faults. And we are to see that they are forgiven, that we receive forgiveness again and again for them, that we strive against them – and only when that is the case, only when we live in forgiveness will we start to see our neighbor rightly. We will see their flaws, their weaknesses, their faults – not to elevate ourselves above them, but to show them mercy. To give them the same care that God has given us. To speak the same comfort to them that God has give us. To be patient with them as God has surely been patient with us. We will use the strength that God has given us not to crush and destroy, but be to merciful.

And that's it. That's the lesson. Simple and sweet as that. God is merciful. And there's a part of us that thinks this is too easy... that surely we have to DO something more – we have to work it out and butter up God. There's a part of us that is annoyed with this, because it lets the other guy off the hook too easy – that they ought to suffer for what they've done, that they ought to jump through hoops to make things up to us. And all that is is our sinful flesh rearing its ugly head, fighting against God's mercy – God's mercy to us and God's mercy to our neighbor. But here's the thing – your flesh doesn't get to change God. He is merciful, whether or not you want Him to be, and if your sinful flesh throws a tantrum, that's not going to change God one bit. Instead, what He does out of His love and mercy for you is He crushes your sinful flesh, pulls that log away. In His mercy He takes away your heart of stone and gives you a true heart. He drowns your Old Adam in the waters of Baptism and calls forth a new man to live forth in mercy and love and righteousness. This is what God is doing to you and for you and in you and through you by the power of His Word. And sometimes we miss it, we forget this, we love our logs and try to blind ourselves. But God remains who He is – not merely the Almighty, but your merciful and loving Father, and He continues to show you mercy. Hence, we always say “Lord Have Mercy” even until that day when we rise to new and perfect life in full, in His presence forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Trinity 2 sermon

Trinity 2 – June 9th and 10th, 2018 – Luke 14:15-24

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
They lied. They lied. When they said why they “couldn't” come, they were lying. Oh, some of them used the proper, polite language – animals, fields, please have me excused. Others hid behind loopholes – in the 1st Century a Jewish newlywed was excused from all social obligations. But none of these were reasons they couldn't come – they just didn't want to come. Oxen and fields could wait, and even a newly wed wife knows that there are just some parties her husband ought to be at. The simple truth is that they just did not want to come.

When Jesus tells this parable, He is at a dinner that He had been invited to. It was a Sabbath Dinner at the house of a “ruler of the Pharisees”. And it had been a lousy dinner for Jesus – it's the one where there was the fellow who had dropsy, and they were all eye balling Jesus to see if He'd heal the poor schlub. And once Jesus actually heals the guy and tells them why it's fine that He healed the guy, the Pharisees try to ignore Jesus and carry on as though he weren't there. If there would have been a dinner to skip out on, that would have been the one to skip! But no, Jesus is there, and He teaches these obstinate, proud Pharisees. And He gives this parable. And note – in the story, the feast would have been fantastic – a “great” banquet. We aren't talking cold cuts and deli trays (not that there's anything wrong with that). We aren't even talking a pork chop pot luck, as lovely as that is. We are talking cruise line catering, prime rib, Michelin Stars the top of the top sort of dinner party. One that no person in their right mind would skip.
And the three people who were invited, they just didn't want to go to the party. In reality, they just didn't like the host that much, didn't trust him. Figured his idea of a feast wouldn't be up to their standards – and they played the utter fool. So they miss it. And here's where the parable turns. Their foolishness doesn't stop the master of the feast – he orders his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Alright, if the “good” people don't want to come – just bring in the people they'd spit upon. Dinner's ready, and by George we are going eat and celebrate. But then the servant says, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”

Now, think like a Pharisee for a moment. The main reason why you didn't like Jesus was He kept preaching and teaching and dining with the poor and sinful and scummy, the ones not worthy of your high society. Do you see what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees? If you don't want to be with Me, be with the Messiah, if you don't want a Savior – I'm not going to sit on a block of ice crying because you are stupid – I'll gladly save the poor and lame and the nastiest of the nasty – the highwaymen and bandits and even robbers crucified on a cross next to me. But as for you, if you want to keep on with your stubborness, well - “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Pout all you want, Pharisees, about how your prestige and “goodness” aren't appreciated, how you're losing your privilege and respect. God's plan of salvation still carries on... and if you are determined to have it carry on without you, well, too bad for you.

Now, the question that remains for us today, my dear friends in Christ, is how do we folks gathered here today “hear” this parable? Because there is a great danger, a terrible way to misunderstand this parable. In this parable Christ does give a dire warning to the Pharisees – if you blow off the feast, if you blow off Christ Jesus, then you are lost. As the Apostle says: And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. That's just the way it is. But here's the problem. Here we are at Church – at the feast - and instead of hearing this as a warning to us, as a reminder to us that we ought not get proud and smug like the Pharisees, a warning that we ought not get all high and mighty and think that we just wonderful people unlike the rest... we can hear this parable through a filter of pride and smugness. We can look around and say, “Hmmm... lots of people not here. Not like it used to be in the old days.” And we can nurture little fires of condescension towards our neighbor. That's not what this parable is for. Jesus doesn't tell it to its first hearers to increase their pride but to break it.

And that's how we must hear it too. One of the dangers of our sinful flesh is that it loves to compare, and it especially loves to compare in a way that places ME above someone else. I'm better than them. The problem is this runs completely against the message of salvation in Christ Jesus. It trashes the Gospel. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Whenever I think I'm better than other people, I'm no longer looking for my own Savior – and I certainly don't want them treated as well I'm treated – I deserve to be treated better than them! That's why the Pharisees couldn't see, couldn't understand Jesus. They couldn't figure out why He would waste His time with scum. They couldn't conceive that He actually loves those people. The Pharisees couldn't even see that that Jesus loved the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so caught up in fighting for position and prestige, that they didn't see Jesus' love when He was sitting with them at dinner. They missed the feast and wouldn't come when the feast was right in front of them! Therefore we ought to repent, and we ought to fight against and beat down and put to death any thought or desire in us that would make us smug and ignore Christ Jesus.


Because there is no smugness in Christ. Instead, He shows love, over and over again to the unworthy. Love to us. The great feast of eternal life is indeed prepared because Jesus Christ, in perfect love, went to the cross for you and died for your sins, for your smugness and pride, for the disdain you show. And He went to the Cross and died for those who suffer in this world, for those who are caught up in sin, for those who have fallen into Spiritual blindness. He died for all. He prepared salvation for all. Honestly, truly. In full. Every sin ever done, He took it up and put it to death upon the Cross.

Here is another danger, another way we can botch this parable. We can mishear the last sentence, where the master says, “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” We can hear that and start viewing it in terms of “well, this person doesn't qualify anymore because they did X.” No, this isn't about figuring out who out there “qualifies” for the Gospel, who out there is “good enough” to be saved because we aren't saved by our works – rather we are saved by grace that is given freely to us, while we are dead in trespasses. The Master isn't forbidding the excuse makers from showing up – if one of them came running up and sheepishly said, “the fields can wait” - he would have come in. But that just wasn't going to happen. He doesn't say they can't come, just that they shall not. It isn't going to happen, not because of the master, but because of them.

And he can say that because he's the master. God Himself knows who won't come in the end – but you and I are not God, and we have absolutely no business trying to figure out or even worse presuming that the Holy Spirit won't work faith in some person and bring them to the feast. We aren't the master, we are the servants. And so when we see someone who isn't here and should be (which frankly is everyone who isn't here), we don't condemn them, we don't consign them to hell, we don't cross them off the list. We view them as blind and lame and crippled – we view them as poor miserable sinners who need to be forgiven – so we proclaim the Gospel. Jesus has died for you: come to the feast where there is forgiveness, where there is baptism and preaching and absolution and the Lord's Supper – come, and receive life from Christ. And we treat them that way even if they are “bad” - even if they have hurt us. So what if they are bad – I'm the foremost sinner, I'm the biggest sinner I know, and if Christ died for even an evil jerk like me, covering those sins (even those sins that hurt me) is small potatoes. Go out to the highways and hedges – that's where the really bad people are – the robbers and muggers and murderers. There is forgiveness, even for them. And Christ would have His house full. Call them to His house as you come across them – because you can tell them with absolute Gospel certainty that Christ has died for them and loves them and wants them to receive forgiveness and life in His name – and that He will pour it upon them abundantly at Trinity.

And some won't listen. And some will put up excuse after excuse – maybe old excuses and maybe new ones. We have our own sinful flesh to fight against – we know how those temptations work. But Christ Jesus has poured His Spirit upon you, making you new, giving you strength to put your sinful flesh to death: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” And when that is scary, when your sin looms large as you fight against it, remember, that even today the call goes out – come to the feast. Come, for all things are ready, for Christ has died and has risen, and He has done this for you, so that you are indeed forgiven. And He shall come again, and you will be raised to life in His name. This is His sure and certain promise to you, out of His great love for you. In the Name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Trinity Sermon

Trinity Sunday – John 3:1-17 – May 26th and 27th, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
By in large, people don’t like to be different. People don’t want to stand out from the crowd, don’t want to stick out. Even the people who want to be “rebels” or stand out simply stand out the same way every other “rebel” does. Maybe in the 50s if you wanted to be a rebel you would wear jeans and a black jacket – just like James Dean. Or when I was in college, you’d dye your hair a wild color – right after you went to store where they sold tons of hair dye to all those other people who wanted to be rebels just like you. Even our rebels like to stick together. By in large, we don’t really like to be different.

But here is the truth. As a Christian, you are different from the rest of the world. This is what our Lord teaches us today – That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Last week was Pentecost – we saw again and were focused upon the wonder and mystery that we have received the Holy Spirit from God through the gift of Baptism – we are born of the Spirit. We are Christians – and as such, we are different from the world, we will be different, or to borrow from a song, we now have a little Gospel light, and we are called to let it shine in the midst of a world full of people who have no light. That makes you different from the rest of the world. The world dwells in darkness and loves it, but you are a child of the light, born of the Spirit. Christ our Lord shows us what this means in our Gospel lesson today.

To begin, we hear, “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.’” So, here you have Nicodemus, a powerful and respected man. A ruler of the Jews, sometime high up there, one of the hoity-toity, a muckity-muck. And he is bold and he comes to Jesus and says, “Oh yes, we know You are a Holy teacher sent by God.” But did you note when Nicodemus says this? By night. When no one is around to see. Jesus teaches and preaches all the time, in front of crowds. Does Nicodemus come then, when people can see? No, he doesn’t want to stand out. Nicodemus creeps up to Jesus, skulking around like a thief, and when no one can see then he puts on a bold face. Oh yes, we know. . . we know. He’s there by himself, in the dark, hiding his actions from the rest of the Pharisees, yet still he’s trying to hide himself in a crowd. We. Do you see how ashamed and fearful Nicodemus is here? What would happen if people found out he was conversing with this Jesus? Would he be mocked? Would people laugh at him? And Nicodemus wants to know more, knows that he should learn – he does say that Jesus is a teacher, and you go to a teacher only if you need to learn – but Nicodemus is flat out scared and ashamed.

Now, consider your own life. Are there times when you are scared, when you are ashamed to be a Christian, ashamed to be a Lutheran? When you are keenly aware of the fact that your faith doesn’t let you fit in with everyone else? Are there times when you wish you could just fit in better – maybe with the folks at work or school who are coarse and unkind? Or even when you wish that this Church just wasn’t. . . so different from the other Churches around – that it would be nice if we just kept quiet and did what they do? Not would it be more truthful, not would it better proclaim Jesus and His forgiveness, but wouldit just be. . . more comfortable? The thing is, when we have these types of thoughts – where are looking? When we worry about fitting in, are we looking at Christ, are our eyes focused squarely upon our Crucified Lord, are we determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified, or are our eyes wandering to the folks around us? This pressure to impress others, to fit in, to do what “they” do, whoever they are, has been around since the fall, and it is harmful and destructive. It is blinding, for it takes our eyes of off Christ.

Which is why Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Unless one is born again, he’ll not see. His eyes will be off elsewhere and he’ll miss, he’ll ignore these things of God, he’ll ignore the things of Christ Jesus. And Nicodemus, he misses the mark here too. “Now can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Misses the point. Is there some bizarre ritual I must do in order to join the club? No, there isn’t. You’re thinking is off right now Nicodemus – our Lord says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” You are thinking in fleshly terms, Nicodemus. This birth has nothing to do with your earthly mother – it has to do with the Spirit taking water and joining you to Christ Jesus and your Heavenly Father! To be a Christian, to be one born of the Spirit means that you think, that you see things along spiritual lines. We think in terms of the faith, in terms of the Creed – our lives are shaped by what we believe, that see things along the ways we have been trained from the Catechism. The world loves and trusts all sorts of things, power, wealth, fame. We have been born of water and the Spirit, and so we know that we are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is the Spiritual truth. The world strives to get ahead, to have more and more, to be powerful and successful and make people adore you. We have been born of water and the Spirit, and we know that we are to love our neighbors, to serve them, to strive to make their life better even at cost to ourselves. That is the Spiritual truth that we are part of.

But the problem is that right now we are so flesh-y. We know the Spiritual truths, we know how our lives ought to be – and yet so often we fall right into those comfortable, sinful patterns of the world. We worry about what our friends and neighbors think more than we worry about what God has said. We worry more about what luxury we might not have more than we worry about what our neighbor needs, what our Church needs. The old sinful nature rises up in us, and we turn our eyes away from Christ and towards that utterly sinful, messy world and we dive on in there. Luther is wonderful to read on this – I don’t think that there has been a theologian in the history of the church who has been so eloquent and so blunt on the struggles we have with our sinful flesh – here is one that I surprisingly like – “The original sin in a man is like his beard, which, though shaved off today so that a man is very smooth around his mouth, yet grows again by tomorrow morning. As long as a man lives, such growth of the hair and beard does not stop. But when the shovel beats the ground on his grave, it stops. Just so original sin remains in us and bestirs itself as long as we live, but we must resist it and always cut off its hair.” That’s where we are at – constantly fighting the same struggles against sin, constantly beating down sinful desires. The struggles we worked against yesterday pop up again today. And whenever we look in the mirror, whenever we take stock of our life honestly, we will always, always see more sin creeping. In fact, as you grow in the faith, as you learn to see things spiritually you will see more and more sin in your life, you will see clearly the vileness of things that you had been used to doing with nary a thought.

So then, what remains? Nicodemus asks, “How can these things be?” We can ask it too. When we see the sinfulness of our lives, when we cast off the smug, self-righteous “Oh, I’m a good person” attitudes and look at ourselves, we can ask this question too. How can we be turned away from sinfulness and unto God? What is our Lord’s response? “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” It is true that sin is a vile illness, but you have been Baptized into Christ Jesus and His death, and this means that your sin has been taken up by Christ, that your sin was lifted up with Christ upon the Cross and put to death. On account of Christ Jesus, the sin that you have done is forgiven. The sin that merits your death and damnation is done away with. And that is how you have eternal life – that is how you have it now. You are baptized, you are joined to Christ, and you are risen as He is risen. It doesn’t always show, sometimes your sinfulness hides it, but Christ Jesus Himself dwells with you. The True and Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is with you, and they give you strength to actually show love even now when you still must struggle against your sinful flesh. Life with God isn’t just a down the road in heaven thing – it’s a now thing. Yes, you will be perfected on the last day, but right now God is with you, right now He gives you life and strength. Right now your Lord gives you His own Body and Blood so that you would be kept firm in the faith, firm in forgiveness, strengthened to show love. And this is the wonder and the beauty of it all – Christ has given you salvation, given you His own Gospel light, and He makes this light to shine all the more in you when He draws you unto Himself. Just as the people in the wilderness were healed and had life when they beheld the bronze serpent, you are forgiven and have life when you are focused upon Christ, when you are focused upon the Word of God – and Christ Jesus wrests our eyes off the world and makes us to grow, to know the things of God. And when you fail, when you sin, He wrests your eyes back onto Himself. This is how you grow, by being focused upon Christ and seeing Him.

And because of this, you will stand out from the crowd. You will be different from the world, for the world couldn't care less about the things of God. The world couldn't care less for the Word, the world despises Baptism and the new birth it brings, the world despises this most Holy Supper of our Lord’s Body and Blood – but you have been given eyes to see, you have been called by God to receive forgiveness and eternal life. You have received the Gospel of Christ, and thus, all thanks be to God, you are different, you are changed – you are united with Christ. A blessed life in Him to you all. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pentecost Sermon

Pentecost – May 19th and 20th, 2018 – Acts 2, John 14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The last 4 or 5 weeks or so have all been leading up, preparing us for this week. The time spent in John’s Gospel, hearing our Lord in the Upper Room, promising the Apostles the Spirit, were all leading, all driving to our Lesson from Acts 2 today – the day of Pentecost, the birth of the Christian and Apostolic Church, the Church which you and I are a part of, the Church which not even hell itself can prevail against. And so, when we consider Pentecost, we see and learn how our Lord shapes and grows His Church, even to this day – so then let us ponder what it is that our Lord does on Pentecost, and how that is done now in our midst.

First things first – we see and learn that God has an impeccable sense of timing. It has been 50 days since Jesus rose – 7 weeks. It’s been 10 days since the Ascension – and what of the Apostles? They had been left to hang on out in Jerusalem. Well, why would God just have them hang out – why not just dive in and get to things right away? Because God is patient and does things at the proper time. God waits for Pentecost. Now, one of the things that we end up saying that isn’t quite accurate is that we will refer to Acts 2 as “that first Pentecost.” It’s not – it’s not the first Pentecost. Pentecost was a Jewish festival – Shavout – the festival of weeks, one of the major holidays – 50 days after the Passover. And all good Jewish men would go to the temple and bring the first fruits of the year, the barley harvest, in as an offering. This is why we hear from Acts, “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” It was a day of a major festival, so you have people from all over the Roman Empire and even beyond who had come to Jerusalem to celebrate this year’s Shavout in Jerusalem at the temple.

So, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles, and they preach in the temple, who hears it? Not just the local folks – but folks from all over the world, who are then going to go and return to their homes. This is fantastic timing by God. And while the disciples might have been sitting around bored wondering, “come on God, get on with it already” – when God acts, it is the right and proper time. This is something we need to remember as well. The Church belongs to the Lord, and He establishes the harvest. He is the One who grows His Church, and He acts with wisdom and love for His Church. We are not in control – God is. This can be a very hard truth for us to accept as Americans. As Americans we like to be in control – we’ll just work hard and then we’ll be whatever we want to be – we can be self-made men. There are no self-made Churches – this congregation is not formed by our own wisdom, by how suave and entertaining the pastor is, or any of that. No, the Church grows by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God, at work here in our midst, bringing us to faith, growing us in the knowledge of God, and establishing in us ever more love and devotion and trust in God Almighty and in Christ Jesus.

And this leads us to the second, big lesson of Pentecost. We often think of Pentecost as the Holy Spirit’s big day – look, here’s the Holy Spirit, here is power and might and speaking in tongues. Catch the Spirit – woo-hoo! Is that the point of this day… that we become some type of holy cheerleaders – We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ‘bout you? Yeah! Go team Jesus! Pentecost wasn't about excitement, or speaking in tongues (Paul has to warn the Corinthians off of trying to do that all the time) or even really about the Holy Spirit – and we miss this because our lectionary, our system of readings cuts off the story right when it starts to get good. It’s like we’re on a roller coaster and we get to the top of the first hill and then… we’ll just stop here. The good stuff is what comes next.

To sum up what we heard, the Spirit falls on the apostles, and the folks all hear them in their own language – over 15 languages are mentioned. It's a miracle of hearing, people hearing preaching – and so Peter stands up to preach. Peter explains from the Scriptures that this is what Joel told us all would happen – listen now to how Peter drives right on in in the next verses. This is Acts 2:22-24. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.” The point of Pentecost is this – that Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for our salvation is proclaimed in the various tongues of the world.

You see – the Holy Spirit has a very simple job. He points to Christ. He proclaims Christ. He opens our eyes, opens our minds, so that we understand the Word of God which proclaims Christ Jesus to be our Savior from sin. John 14 – “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.” Or John 7 – Jesus says, “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive…” The Spirit brings the Word to us, and then establishes and grows and protects faith in Christ Jesus and His salvation. The Spirit focuses us upon Christ. The Spirit is why when we hear God’s Word we are pointed to Christ, why and how we understand all this Church stuff really being about Christ and His love for us. The Spirit is why Christ Jesus and Him Crucified has remained the heart and center of all that we are and hear in the Church. The Holy Spirit keeps us in Christ Jesus so that we believe and have life in His Name.

The special tie for you in this is your Baptism. When Peter finishes his sermon, the people say, “Now what?” And Peter’s response, Acts 2:38-39, is as follows: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Baptism gives the forgiveness of sin, and it gives the Holy Spirit. When you were baptized in Christ’s Name, in the Name of the Triune God, your sin was forgiven. More than just that – the Holy Spirit entered in to you, took you up as His own dwelling place. Again, we cannot emphasize enough that Baptism is God’s Work, it is something that God does upon you, that God gives to you. Peter’s not telling these people to jump through hoops for God. Be baptized… that’s passive, that’s receptive. Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Again – passive, receptive. Baptism isn’t what we do for God, it’s a gift wherein God works upon us. Even… our children, for this promise is for you and for your children. All about what God does – because everything in the Church is ultimately about what God does – the God who loves you, becomes man for you, goes to the Cross and suffers and dies for you.

There is another spirit at work in this age, the spirit of antichrist, the spirit of Satan. And how do you recognize Satan at work? Not by horns and a pitchfork, but by this. False and lying spirits will by hook or by crook try to distract you from Christ Jesus. This is what John says in his first Epistle, chapter 4 – Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard was coming and now is in the world already.” How do you know? What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus has come, that He is true man and true God, that He is the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is their focus upon Christ and Him crucified? If not, don’t listen to them. Is their focus upon what Christ Jesus has done for you… or what you need to do for God (which generally involves you obeying them and giving them stuff)? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. Do they point out how Christ has done everything required for your salvation and gives this gift freely – or do they attach strings to it, say that you yourself must add a bit of this, a bit of that? If it’s the latter, don’t listen. If they glorify and extol you rather than Christ, if they point to how wonderful you are, do not listen to them. We are simply this – sinners who have been redeemed and forgiven by a gracious and loving God, even Christ the Crucified who has risen and given us His own life by the power of His Word and Spirit.

And this is the focus of the Christian Church – it has been since those 3000 were baptized and returned to their homes and proclaimed Christ and Him Crucified. This is what shapes us today, as we, the Baptized in Christ’s Name, are gathered together by the Holy Spirit around the Word of God and Christ Jesus' own Supper. May our eyes ever more be upon Christ Jesus, even to all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +