Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Never Waste Your People's Time - WIWILIS#1

 I remember back in my early days of blogging and social media communication that an older pastor lamented that anyone who hadn't been in the parish 10 years really shouldn't talk.  As I had been out 7 or 8 at this time, and we agreed, I was sure he wasn't talking about me.  Maybe he was.  But at any rate, many of the last few years have been relatively quiet from me in terms of this blog, or even social media discussions.  I guess I tired of the debates, got busier with family and parish.  Or maybe it was just a bit of wisdom kicking.

What it says about that wisdom that I thought to sit down this morning and type here, wandering and meandering (maybe listening to Mike Rowe's excellent podcast has some unintended and perhaps less than ideal consequences), I'm not to say.  I am just getting over Covid, perhaps I need to write to get my juices flowing and overcome some lingering fatigue.  Or perhaps it is that I am hoping to have two new Seminarians sent to my circuit, and so I am pondering all the things I worry they might end up doing.

At any rate, I decided I would embark upon a list, a written journey of ideas entitled:

What I Wish I Learned in Seminary

I learned many things in Seminary.  I am utterly grateful for the well rounded theological education I got at Fort Wayne.  But even our standard Seminary program knows that you cannot be prepared for life in the parish just by class time - it's why we include vicarage, a year of time in the parish to help round things out.  I frequently remember things taught to me by Rev. Stewart Crown, my vicarage supervisor.  Not everyone gets as excellent a supervisor as I did, though.  So, I am going to write a bit in the days and weeks to come, as I both have time and as ideas come to me.  And so now I begin.


At the Seminary we spend a lot of time in the art of handling worship.  We have classes on conducting the liturgy, several classes on preaching.  We have classes on education and counseling.  And there's an issue that seemed to be danced around but never said bluntly.

Don't waste people's time.

Dr. Scaer would sort of get to this by repeatedly admonishing us, "GET TO THE POINT," but that was always in the context of our own answers or questions.  I think many people thought that was just his gruff demeanor.  But there was a truth behind it that is vitally important.  If you have the gumption to think that you are sent by God to get up and talk in front of people or lead divine worship, there's a chance you might be a bit too in love with the sound of your own voice.  You might... like the worship service or the idea of preaching and teaching, and you might thus be easily entertained and delighted by everything that goes on.

Your people probably aren't.  Your simple existence, your "ministry of presence" isn't as grand as you think.  Don't waste peoples' time.

Consider - if my goal and point here was really to convey and teach people an important lesson (don't waste people's time), my meandering introduction, three full paragraphs, do nothing for that.  They could have been in a separate post.  They didn't get to the point... and I'm certain that a percentage of people tuned out, stopped reading, went somewhere else.  That's okay here in this blog - it's me messing around for my own benefit and for the amusement of the bored, idle, and those wanting to show some signs of being "busy" in theology.  It's not the Gospel.  It's not the Divine Service.  It's not the brief sliver of time a week that people perhaps, maybe, have set aside to receive the gifts of God.

Don't waste their time.  Don't be slow in giving the gifts.  Don't turn worship into the Pastor show - give the gifts and get out of the way.

Pastimes are fine to have.  I love baseball in the summer.  I love sports radio, having it on in the background while I'm driving.  Or podcasts - lovely things.  But when you are preaching or teaching, that's not a pass-the-time sort of thing - it is a time to give the gifts of God.  Give them.  Get to the point; the point is Christ Jesus Crucified for you.

You can be solemn and respectful without being ponderously slow.
You can explain ideas in depth without being pedantic.
You can maybe hit that additional point in a different sermon or the next class.

Besides, it's much better for people to leave service or study thinking, "It's a shame we didn't get a little more" than to have them thinking, "Thank God that's over with."  We are to encourage people in the joyous reception of God's gifts; not turn them into chores.

Try it.  Make your sermon this week a bit shorter... edit it, and cut out just 50 words here and there.  Add just a touch of pep to your step around the chancel.  Get the liturgy done a minute quicker - see how it flows.  The beauty, the solemnity is still there... what gets cut is the fat and dross (what gets cut is us as pastors being too self important).

When people are giving their time to God, don't waste their time for them.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

St Stephen

Good King Wenceslas looked out/ on the feast of Stephen.” On the feast of Stephen, today, December 26th. It at first seems strange to suddenly go from Christmas to such a sad story as Stephen’s, the first Christian Martyr. However, it makes sense. We have just celebrated the feast of the Nativity, the birth of Christ. But Jesus' birth doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It's not just a nice tale that we tell and then forget. No, Christmas has an impact and an effect on our lives. From Stephen, we can see what that is.

First, on account of Christ, we are all called to service. Let me read from just before our epistle text. Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”  And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.... This is how we meet this Stephen, this is the first time he shows up. And what is he? A man of faith, a man alive in Christ, a man who has the Holy Spirit. What clearer sign is there that the events of Christmas have impacted Stephen than this? Christ Jesus comes down and takes on human flesh, works out the plan of salvation, and what do we see? Stephen now filled with faith and the Holy Spirit. The result of Christmas and Christ’s life is that Stephen knows who God is, that Stephen believes in the Salvation won for Him by Christ Jesus, and that the Holy Spirit now dwells in him.

On account of this, Stephen is called into service. Stephen is asked, “for the good of your fellow believers in Christ, please do this. See that everyone is cared for fairly and kindly.” The faith and life that Stephen has is put into action. Faith isn’t just some dead possession, the Christian life is not something that we keep on a bookshelf and have to dust off every now and then, it is a relationship with God that moves us to action. Think of it this way. I’m sure many of the kids here this morning got new toys yesterday, and well, probably quite a few of us adults got new toys as well. So, are these toys just to be kept in the box, oh, look, I have a toy, how nice? No, they are to be played with, they are to be used. That’s the way it is with the Christian faith. We aren’t supposed to just keep it wrapped up, but rather we are to exercise our faith in the service of others. We live.

But sin still wants you dead, and your faith with it. Because of sin, we humans are the masters of the excuse, of dodging and shifting responsibility. When it comes to service of others, all too often our gut instinct is to avoid, to grumble, to wonder why someone else isn’t doing this, isn’t helping out, why am I the one stuck with this. There are times when our faith is an inconvenience to our schedule, and we’d rather just stick it in the closet with that gift our aunt gave us 7 years ago rather than actually use it. This is the temptation we are to avoid and beat down. As Christians we must remember that we are always going to be called into service, called to show love to our neighbor, to reflect back the love that we have received from Christ. This is something that Stephen does, and it is something which we ought to emulate.

Stephen also demonstrates another aspect of the Christian life. On account of Christ Jesus, we are called to confess. In our text today we see Stephen getting in trouble because he speaks plainly and clearly the Word of God. Stephen has been preaching and performing miracles, but the powers that be are upset, and so he is taken before the Jewish rulers and called to account. And what does Stephen do? Does he start playing the great game of cover my hide? Oh, this is all a misunderstanding, there’s no big deal, just let me go. Things are getting a little tense, a little hot in here, I had better stop what I’m doing, drop it, and just roll away? No, that’s not what Stephen does. We skip most of what Luke records for us in Acts, but we get the end of it. Stephen preaches, Stephen rips back and calls a spade and spade, giving them a good double barrel blast of the law. And they kill him. They drag Stephen out, they pick up rocks, and beat him to death.

So, was Stephen foolish? Was he unwise? No. Stephen was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. As Christians, as those who know who God is, who have tasted His Salvation, we are called to proclaim, to speak out the truth of God's word. Now, by this I’m not telling you all to get your sandwhich boards and stand out on the side of the road and start screaming at passer-bys in cars. But when you are questioned, when you are asked, “Who is this Jesus”, when one comes and denies your Lord, your duty is to confess Christ, whatever the consequences.

And that's not easy. Few things are more scary, more terrifying than speaking. Think in your own life apart from religion specifically. How many of you have things that you would like to tell someone but are afraid to? Someone is doing something wrong that hurts them, but. . . you just can’t say it, because you might upset them. Someone could use some advice, you have a recommendation, but what if they take it the wrong way. All too often we don’t speak when we ought to. Instead of showing love and care and service, instead of helping out, we say nothing. We have that fear of someone becoming upset with us, and that fear runs and rules our lives, not the love that we have from Christ.

Fear of speaking comes in even with good things. Who here hasn’t felt their knees turn to jelly when you want to say something sweet and romantic to someone? I’d wager that there are some guys here who have been married quite a while who still ho and hum before they work up the courage to tell their wives that they love them. Why then, should we be surprised when we have to confront fear when speaking the most wonderful words ever, speaking of Christ Jesus our Lord? Being bold in your faith can be hard, it can be frightening. There can and will be negative consequences in this life. If you doubt that, look at the prophets, look at the Apostles, look at Stephen, look at the cross itself. Nonetheless we are called to Confess, to speak boldly about Christ and Him Crucified when the opportunity presents itself.

So how? So far we have talked about many demands, much law. I, a poor miserable sinner, am called to service which I grumble about and do not do, I am called to confess Christ, and man, there are times where I just back down and run away. What now? Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. What now is this. We remember what else we are called to. We are called to be with the Son of Man, called to be with Christ Jesus. Dear friends, the Christ child does not remain idle, Jesus doesn’t just keep a low profile. Rather, He grows and suffers and dies and rises again. Why? So that He would call you to His side, that He would send His Holy Spirit to call you by the Gospel and Enlighten you by His gifts. At any and all times, we are to look to this, to remember this fact. Jesus, God Himself, calls you to be with Him. Emmanuel – God with us! This is what Stephen sees even as he lies dying, as the life is pounded out of him. Christ Jesus His Lord calling to Him, giving more and more forgiveness, bringing more and more Salvation. When Stephen sees Him, Jesus is there ruling at the Right Hand of God, calling His servant Home.

God constantly calls you as well. You are called by His Word to hear again and receive again the forgiveness of our sin. He calls you to the Altar, to His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood for the strengthening of your faith. When you are burdened, when you see your lack, you are called to look at Christ and see His love and Salvation, which is beyond anything else in the world. By His Word God constantly strengthens you and refreshes you when the world batters you down. Here in His house He gives you the gifts you need, preparing you to go out into the world and live the lives of service, the lives of confession that He calls you to. Here Christ Jesus fills you again with faith by forgiveness, by preaching, by His Supper, so that you are kept strong and firm, so that you are picked up whenever you stumble. Here in His House, we are gathered by Christ, just like a mother hen gathers her chicks, and under His protective wings you receive all that you need to grow in faith towards Him and in fervent love towards one another. Here in His house the Christ Child is at work for you, forgiving you and leading you.

And so, dear friends, on this December morn, we see who God is, who this Babe of Bethlehem is. He is the God who calls you to service, the God who calls you to confess him, but more than that, Jesus is the God who constantly calls you to be with Him, to come to Him, and to receive His blessings. And this He shall do, even until you see Him standing at the right hand of the Father yourselves. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Newborn King + Amen

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Christmas Day Sermon


Christmas Day, 2021 – John 1:1-18

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Newborn King +

He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, yet the world did not know Him. John here gives one of the simplest and best descriptions of the state of what sin looks like. We often think of sin primarily in terms of doing bad things, being naughty. And we therefore contrast sin with doing nice things. If I just do enough good things, then clearly I've dealt with sin. But that misses the point. Sin isn't just about my actions – defeating sin isn't a matter of “works done by us in righteousness” as St. Paul points out in Titus (a verse you should have all memorized from the Catechism, because if you want your Pastor to talk about righteous works he'll start at memorizing the Catechism). Bad acts, bad thoughts, words, and deeds are all just a side effect of what sin is. At its core, sin is not knowing, not experiencing Christ Jesus.

When Christ Jesus made the world, when the Word Himself summoned forth creation, it was all gift to us. Nothing but gift – and not to slate any of your shopping skills or the cleverness of Santa - better gifts than anything found under the tree this morning. And Adam and Eve knew it as gift, and they knew their relationship with the LORD as gift – they'd walk with Him together in the garden in the cool of the day. But the temptation, the lure Satan put forth was that there was something else to know, something better than the LORD and His gifts. Eat the fruit, have the knowledge of good and evil – don't receive merely what God gives, but take for your own. Ignore the trees God gave you and pull a “gift” off of this one. And sin is unleashed. And nothing is good. Contentment is gone. Fear and anger have come. And then what happens? Adam and Eve hear the sound of the LORD coming, and they hide. Why? Why hide from God, why hide from your Creator? Because they didn't know Him anymore. There was Jesus, in the world, the world that He had made, and Adam and Eve acted as though they didn't know Him. As though they thought that Jesus was going to show up and smite them instead of show love to them. Love that should have been the most obvious thing becomes a love unimaginable.

And Jesus promises to clean up the mess. He could not be with Adam and Eve as He had been before the Fall – they couldn't handle it. Satan had his claws upon them, wickedness enveloped them in anger and excuses, sin had blinded and deafened them. And so He promised right then and there in that garden that He would rescue them – the LORD stares down Satan and promises to come, become Man Himself to rescue His creation and to crush Satan under His feet.

And then we have the rest of the Old Testament. And it is nothing but over and over the Word of God coming to people who have forgotten, who intend not to know Him, and reminding them of the promise over and over. The LORD comes to Abraham – have a covenant, be circumcised and remember the promise. The LORD comes to Moses, rescues Israel who had all but forgotten Him – have the Law, remember the promise. Judges and Kings and prophets, all dealing with sin, with folks not knowing the LORD, and yet there is preaching and prophecy again proclaiming the promise. Know the LORD.

And finally, in the fullness of time, He comes. Jesus is born of Mary. The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. And even when He comes in the flesh, people still don't know Him – thus the power of sin. He came to His own, and His own people did not receive Him. Think on the Gospels, how often people don't understand who Jesus is, how often He surprises them with His love and compassion. Even the disciples, who should know Him better than anyone are repeatedly caught off guard. Why would He heal even gentiles, why would He cast out their demons, how can He be walking on water and stilling storms, why would He eat with sinners and tax collectors? Over and over – people don't know. Why? Because He is the Word by Whom all things were made, without Whom nothing was made – and there is not one of His creatures that He does not love and care for. But sin, but this stupid desire and determination to not know who God actually is blinds them, blinds us, and Jesus and His love continually catches people off guard.

And of course, it caught the disciples off guard the most when He told them bluntly that He would fulfill the promise – that He would go to the Cross and die to crush the Serpent's head, that He would rise to life on the third day to bring back life for His friends. Peter tries to talk Him out of it – get thee behind Me, Satan. Sin is not knowing who Jesus is. And yet, as He wanders though this world infested and made idiotic by sin, Jesus simply goes on to the Cross and does what He promised to do. And there, the very Body that our LORD took up, that was shown forth and revealed on Christmas – dies. And then, He rises, and life is won again for us, life with God.

But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. Oh, Jesus comes to make us children of God again, to restore us unto what Adam and Eve were before the fall. Because that restoration, being again what Jesus created us to be – it wasn't going to happen by anything we did. It wasn't going to be a matter of inheritance, nor of self control keeping our flesh in check, nor of making a decision to be better folks. Jesus knew none of those would work. Instead He does the work for you – and by His blood and by His life, you receive again a welcome into the family of God. You were claimed by God Himself in Holy Baptism. There at the font Jesus declared that He Himself is your brother, and that all that is His is in fact yours, given to you. That's the right that you have – all that belongs to Jesus now belongs to you. Because that's who Jesus is and always has been – the Giver of gifts. Here's a gift, receive it, delight in it.

And you will. Eternally. Now, you still contend with sin. Satan, the world, and your sinful flesh all conspire to make you forget Jesus, to not know Him. Yet that doesn't stop Jesus – He's not intimidated in the slightest. He came to you in Holy Baptism – of course He will come to you again and again. The Word Incarnate comes in His Word. He dwells among you today as He gives you His Body and Blood under bread and wine. Jesus makes you to know Him in His Word and His gifts of Baptism and the Supper. And even as things rage, even as sin tries to blind you and often enough does – Jesus comes to you again and again. And even when death comes for you and tries to close your eyes off to God forever, Jesus will speak His Word and open your eyes and you will see Him, and you will be raised from the dead and restored unto life, true life, life like back in the garden life. Because Jesus remains a giver – not just on December the 25th, but always, now and forever. So that being justified by His grace [that is His gift, His free gift] we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is the reality, this is the truth of who you are and who Jesus is for you. And because He keeps His promises you will see it – now though a mirror dimly, but then face to face. The world might already be thinking about tearing down the decorations, wrapping all this Christmasy stuff up by Monday or Tuesday – but no – the real Christmas celebrations have just started. The feast is today, the feast is to come – and you will see it, and you will know your Savior's face, and see His own joy as He gives you grace upon grace for all eternity. Merry Christmas my friends in Christ! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King.

Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Eve Homily


In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Jesus was not the Messiah that people expected. Almost everyone who comes across Him is surprised, or shocked, or even dismayed. Even with the prophecies, even with the Scripture proclaiming what Jesus would be, He wasn't what people expected. He certainly was a surprise to Joseph and Mary – His coming wasn't what they had planned on or expected. The wise men following the star expect a King of the Jews born in the finest palace – but they must be sent to Bethlehem, and not even to the best house there, but to a stable and a manager. The very same manager where shepherds, of all people, lowly shepherds who were even low on the shepherd totem pole, stuck with 3rd shift night duty, were the first the see the Savior. We're so familiar with the Christmas story that it seems old hat, but nothing here plays out the way that anyone really expected.

And Jesus' ministry – the same thing. People expected someone to restore an earthly kingdom, and Jesus isn't interested. He in fact runs away when they want to make Him king. They hoped for someone who would drive out the Romans and get rid of earthly injustice. Jesus in fact heals the people who arrest Him, and He meekly faces the grossest miscarriage of justice upon the Cross. People were looking for a Jesus that would belittle their enemies and cast them out; instead Jesus is found at table with them, eating with them. Every expectation, turned upside down – even as John the Baptist, even as Jesus Himself point to Scriptures to show what the Messiah would do.

We shouldn't be surprised that Jesus wasn't what people expected. Jesus, the real Jesus, still isn't what people expect, or want. Even today we'll hear people talk about Jesus as though He's just a wise teacher who will give them a few life tips and then leave them alone. Or Jesus is the ultimate feather in the cap in the case of an argument, where Jesus would agree with our every political idea or social whim – why Jesus would even buy the same brand of canned corn that we do. A Jesus who is a tool, easily used but then left on the shelf ignored when we're not building our schemes.

That's not who Jesus is. This Babe, lying in a manger, is God Almighty. He is the Word of God by which you were made. This Child is your Creator. This Boy is the one Adam and Eve hid from in the Garden, the One that every sinful human being has run from and danced away from since. And still, He comes. Jesus made us, and He is determined to be with us – to be Emmanuel – God with us. And so He comes and is born – True God and True Man. And so He wins us redemption – the Cross is His goal – His own death and resurrection so that even dying we would be raised to new life, forgiven and restored. And even as people turn their faces away, stop up their ears – Jesus comes to you today. His gift of Holy Baptism has made you His stable, your heart His manger. His Word of forgiven takes all He won upon the Cross and applies it to you. And even as the world doesn't know it, He comes to you under bread and wine, giving you His own Body and Blood for the remission of your sin in His Supper. Jesus is not what was expected, but He is the gift that was promised – He is your Redeemer. Merry Christmas my friends in Christ. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Trinity 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 11th and 12th, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Trinity 5 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Trinity 4 Sermon


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

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

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

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

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

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

And the key to this, the way in which we are kept from falling into sins which reject and despise God’s mercy, sins of pride, of arrogance, of hatred and disdain is two fold. Listen – “He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they both not fall into a pit?’” The first thing to remember as a defense against your pride and arrogance is to remember that you are just as blind, that you are just as foolish, that you are just as lousy as your neighbor. Now, do we believe this? Think about the person this week who annoyed you and upset you the most – do you really believe that you are just as lousy and blind and foolish according to your sinful nature as they are? Cause that’s what Scriptures say – and it’s the truth. There is a beauty to understanding this truth – it frees us from pride and animosity – it lets us have compassion. When we get dumped on by someone, we shouldn’t become hateful or angry – we should remember that we too are blind, we should think, “Is this what it feels like to other people when I act the fool - Good Lord, have mercy upon me.” We must know our own blindness first and foremost – and we must tend to it. After all, does not our Lord say, “Why do you see the speck that is in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.’”

The second key is to live a life where you receive forgiveness. The only way the log in our eye is taken away is because Christ Jesus Himself took up that log, and was nailed to it and crucified upon it. It is there upon the Cross where Christ wins forgiveness, it is there from the cross where the streams of forgiveness which cleanse us flow from. Christ here is encouraging and instructing you to focus on forgiveness, to see that you yourself receive it, that you delight in it, that you rejoice in it – and when you have, then and only then will you be prepared to help your neighbor rejoice in God’s forgiveness as well. Then you will be able to speak the forgiveness that you have received from Christ to your neighbor. Do we understand that, do we realize how wondrous and how powerful this is? What we have received from Christ, the forgiveness that He has piled upon us, richly, a good measure of it – He has given us the power and authority to speak it, to give it to others. The same flood of love that God used to wash the log out of our eye, the power of His Word and Spirit, He gives to us to use to cleanse and forgive the speck that is in our neighbor’s eye. We get to be like Christ – we get to be Christians – we get to be little-Christs speaking the Word of forgiveness and life to our neighbor.

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

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

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Trinity 2 Sermon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 11, 2021

LeRoy Gerberding


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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Trinity 1 Sermon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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