Saturday, January 12, 2019

Epiphany 1 Sermon

Epiphany 1 – January 12th and 13th, 2019 – Luke 2:41-52

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
This weekend we get a Stained Glass Window lesson. We do – our Gospel lesson is one of the windows we have, right over there. Boy Jesus in the temple. Oh this was one of my favorite lessons as a kid. But here's the thing – this is a rich and deep lesson, and we don't quite get the fullness of it because we aren't first century Jewish folks. So listen in for a wonderful and profound story that reveals, even in His youth, who Jesus is.

“Now His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He was 12 years old, they went up according to custom.” So, what's set up? It's spring time and Jesus' family has made the trip to Jerusalem to celebrate the passover – something they do routinely. And remember something about Passover – it culminates with the sacrifice of the lamb, and then the whole lamb is to be eaten with no leftovers – and if your household wasn't big enough to polish off a lamb in one sitting, you got together with a neighboring house. Celebrating the Passover was communal, normally it would be an extended family celebration. And Joseph and Mary's custom was to head on down to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover with a lamb not just slaughtered at home, but in the temple – and you'd find a place to hold the meal with your family. Jerusalem had plenty of places for this – years later the disciples rent out the upper room. So it's not just a church service, but it's also sort of like a bunch of overlapping family reunions too, or maybe heading up to a lake house in the summer where everyone descends upon it and suddenly this empty place gets really crowded and fun.

“And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing Him to be in the group they went a day's journey, but then they began to search for Him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for Him.” Now, do not be critical of Joseph and Mary here in this slightest. Think of a big family reunion – my dad's family would have one (and still does) in Ohio at my cousin Larry's farm – and my grandma and her 5 siblings would be their, and their kids, and their grandkids – often over 100 people. My parents didn't know where I was most of the time – I was somewhere on the farm with the rest of the kids. That's the same assumption here – Jesus is surely off with His cousins who are all running around and talking and laughing as we make our way back home. It's only at bed time, when it's time to camp, that they see that Jesus isn't there. And that's when they hightail it back to Jerusalem.

“After three days they found Him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Now, this is one where our window gets it wrong, but gets it right. If you look at our window, Jesus isn't sitting – He's standing up, finger in the air, making a point. Well, technically, Jesus would have been sitting, but we miss the point when we hear that. In Jewish culture, you sat to preach or to teach. I'm preaching, but I'm not sitting, I'm standing up here making points. And that phrase “listening and asking them questions” is the description of how a rabbi taught. The closest I get to that today are the times in confirmation class where I'll ask the kids a question, and when they answer I say, “hmmm, well, in that case what about this?” So understand what Luke is describing. Joseph and Mary, after days of frantic searching, finally see Jesus in the temple, and he's there rabbi-ing the rabbis.

And of course, this catches the parents off guard - “And His mother said to Him, 'Son, why have you treated us so? Behold your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.'” And exasperated mom comes in. We hear this as though it's very formal talk – it isn't. If your mom ever talked at you with her teeth shut and her eyes bulging – that's what Mary's doing right now. That “behold” is probably closer to a “look here, boy” in modern parlance. Mary is both ticked and relieved, and all that well of emotions from the last three days is coming out. However – and this is funny – she comes upon Jesus when He's been in Rabbi mode for a few days, and so He answers her like a Rabbi would – “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” This isn't a kid giving his mom sass – this is precisely how a Rabbi would teach a student. And it goes over Mary and Joseph's head (they're not students; no epiphany light bulb for them yet), but after that Jesus leaves, heads home – He “came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” He went along like a good little boy – even though He had been showing to all the teachers that He was in fact the Teacher of Israel, even though He had made a fantastic claim – that He must be in His Father's House.

So then, what is the point for us in this lesson? While there are many things that we can draw from it, I think what should be deemed most important are the first recorded words we have from Jesus – the first red letter words, as it were. “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?” So much is said today about people “searching” for God, looking for Him. Our culture today likes to treat religion and faith and “spirituality” as though it's a personal quest – whether it's finding God, or finding yourself – since “yourself” tends to be the most popular god in this country anymore. But Jesus cuts that off. There is no searching to be had. It is no mystery where Jesus is present – He must be in His Father's House. Jesus is present in His Church – and you're not going to really find Jesus apart from the Church. If you want Jesus to be present for you – to teach you and forgive you and redeem you, He's going to be in the Church. And for the times when you can't get to Church, or need Church other than on the weekend – like before a surgery or something – you give the Church a call, and I'll bring Jesus and Church to you. And if you are struggling and wondering about something, a question, a burden – let me know and I will give you Jesus. That's my job. Life and faith doesn't need to be some laborious, dramatic struggle on your part. All that angst is just folly that our culture has heaped on – it's basically watered down indulgences and relics that we recycled and internalized – Luther in the monastery beat himself with whips, we get tempted to think that we have to beat ourselves up inside. That's not what Jesus teaches, nor is it what He wants. No – He is in His Father's house – and that's where He always is. That is where we are to seek the Lord while He may – may – be found. That “may” is a word of permission – Jesus allows Himself and makes Himself to be found for you and for your forgiveness in His Church.

And what sort of Jesus must be in His Church? Well, to be certain, a teaching Jesus. A Jesus who opens up the Scriptures. His teaching is not just lecturing or moral finger wagging – it might behoove us here to think about the last conversation of Jesus' that Luke records for us in chapter 24. Jesus tells the disciples just before He ascends: “'These are My words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures and said to them, 'Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” This is the teaching of Christ – that He is the one who fulfills the Law and Prophets and Psalms, and that because He has done all this, because He has died and risen, repentance and forgiveness in His name is to be proclaimed – law and gospel. When Jesus teaches us with His Word, we see our sins and we see our Savior.

But it gets deeper than this – and this is fun. Note – Jesus says that everything in the Scriptures is about Him and fulfilled by Him, and that He must be in His Father's house. What kind of Jesus do we have? Well, let's think about today's lesson – Jesus is there at the temple for the Passover, and then Joseph and Mary find Him again on the third day. That's the Jesus that they find in the temple – a Jesus who is submissive to His parents will. Now, consider a Passover a few decades down the road, where Jesus goes to Jerusalem, where He tells His Father in the garden not My will but Thine be done – and then the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is slaughtered at Sundown upon the Cross, yet on the Third Day, there He is, risen from the dead and proclaiming Peace. There He is, teaching the disciples on the road to Emmaus and to be found in the breaking of bread. There He is among the disciples who had locked themselves in the upper room, preaching His resurrection and peace in the midst of their fear. Of course He is - Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house? And even today – His Word of forgiveness and mercy is proclaimed here – even today He is known among us and comes to us in the breaking of bread in His Supper. Even today He comes to us, and the Peace of the LORD be with you always. Of course He does - Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?

My dear friends in Christ – the boy Jesus in the temple is not just a cute story (although it is cute, I will grant that). Indeed, it is Christ Jesus openly preaching and teaching, pointing forward to what He as the Messiah would do, and teaching and reminding us not only of what He does for us as our LORD, but reminding us that He is always present for us in His Church, for He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, so that we too may dwell in His House both now and eternally. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – December 22nd and 23rd, 2018 – Luke 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
One of the adages one of my fellow pastors likes to say is “follow the verbs.” It’s a great little guide for keeping on track when reading the Bible. Follow, pay attention to the verbs – keep your focus on who is doing what. If you do that, whenever you read the Scriptures the wonderful thing that you will see is that God is the One who is active, who is *doing* things for you. December is such a time of busy-ness for us, where we run around with lists and decorations and plans and all that – but in the Church, Advent is a season where we wait and listen and see what God is doing for us. And this fourth week of Advent there is nothing better to ponder, nothing with better verbs to follow, than our Gospel text, where Mary will sing forth her song, the Magnificat.

Let’s remember the set up. Mary is pregnant – not married, young, probably 13 or 14, Joseph was planning on divorcing her, calling off the marriage – God has to send him an angel to get him to relax. You want to talk about your weird, stressful situations? You want to talk about times where we’d get thoughts of “what am I going to do?” Here’s one for you. And Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, and Elizabeth just starts gushing. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” We’ve got Elizabeth gushing, we’ve got baby John jumping in the womb, it’s all wild and caddy wampus!

And then Mary speaks. She speaks the words of the Magificat – words the Church has sung for over 1900 years. And listen to this, pay attention to the verbs, pay attention to Who is doing What. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”. Here we have Mary doing something – she is rejoicing, she is praising God. That’s what “magnify” here means – if you have a magnifying glass, it makes whatever you are looking at bigger – Mary’s praise is showing the bigness, the greatness of God. And from Mary – that’s it. That’s the last time Mary talks about anything *she* does. All that is on her plate to do is to praise and rejoice – there’s nothing left for her to do, because God is going to do it all. “For He has looked on the humble estate of His servant” – who is Mary? She’s just a humble nobody. A simple servant. Yet, what happens? God acts on her behalf – God does all the work required to make her the mother of God. And because God acts, well: “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me.” Mary was just sitting there, and God acts, and wham, she is going to be called blessed. Even Elizabeth is praising her – and not because Mary has done anything, this is all solely because God has done something great for her.

Now pause here for a moment. There’s a reason why the Church sings this as well. Let me ask you a question. Are you blessed? And I don’t mean this in a “are you buying your spouse a lamborghini like that televangelist” sort of way, but I mean this: Are you blessed – that is, has God looked upon you in your lowly state, and has He done great things for you, so that from now on, until the end of time and even beyond unto eternity, you will be called blessed? Yes. Your answer is yes, too. It is not just that Jesus came down and now Mary gets to say, “I’m the mother of God, see how blessed I am” – Mary may be His mother, but Christ Jesus is your brother. Think on that – you are, in Christ, the brothers and sisters of God Himself. And not because of anything *you* do – rather He comes and declares this to be true. This is why Jesus came, to win you salvation with His death and resurrection, these are the great things He has done for you, and come the last day when you are raised from the dead by Christ, you will reign with Him. From now on even the angels in heaven will declare you blessed, for you are one redeemed by Christ Jesus. And again – all about what Jesus has done.

“and Holy is His Name. And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” Again, we get more focus on God, who God is, what He does. God’s Name, the God who does all this for you, His Name is holy, and He is full of mercy. Mary sees that – and her name will ever be associated with God’s Name. She will forever be remembered as Mary, the Mother of God. And she sees the great mercy that she has received, that she, a sinful being, receives such wonderful things from God.

Now, dear friends, consider the fact that you are Baptized. You have been joined into God’s own Holy Name, His own holiness has been applied to you. The proof, open and public, that you actually are Christ’s brother, Christ’s sister, it’s right there at the font – for you have been Baptized. You have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father. You now have Christ for your brother. You are part of the household of God – and as such, you receive His Mercy. This reality, this truth of who you are in Christ all flows not from your strength or what you do – it flows from His mercy. You have been forgiven on account of Christ – you have been given the gift of faith and welcomed into the family of God. God in His great mercy and love for you has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this is something that is for eternity – and it’s not dependent upon you, but flows totally from Him. It is all Jesus for you, for your good.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. Mary shows us more God at work – and with something we don’t focus on as often in the Church today. We do not need to look very hard to see the mighty and powerful abuse and harm others, indeed, even harm us. But Mary’s words remind us of a truth that we can forget when we see wickedness and oppression in this world – there is so much more that God prevents, there is so much that God brings to an end. The proud are scattered, their plans fall apart and so often do not come to fruition. The tyrants on their thrones fall, the powers crumble – evil doesn’t endure because God brings an end to it. And this is a comfort to us, it gives us a new perspective – for even when evil is done to us, even when we are getting it heaped upon us – we know that God does not let it last, that it will crumble and fail sooner or later, and that He will deliver us.

Indeed, the great example of that is the very fact that Mary is pregnant with the Christ Child as she says this. No more will God be content to have fallen king after fallen king come and rule on this earth – no more will He let this world’s prince have His sway – no, God Himself comes to be our king, to be our Lord, to defeat Satan – and because He has come we have victory assured. The brief battles we face now in this life will give way and yield to the eternal victory celebration of the life of the world to come, because God’s strong arm wins the victory by being nailed to the cross and rising again on the third day.

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever. God’s great actions for you continue. The coming of Christ changes things; things will be different because of Christ. Wickedness will be overcome, the powerful will be cast down. The failings and the disappointments that we face in this life eventually will go away. And instead, God fills us with all joy and blessedness. And as those of the New Testament, we see these words of Mary and the promises they point to all gathered together in the Lord’s Supper. If you are so dumb as to think that you in yourself are spiritually “rich”, that you are fine on your own, that you need no forgiveness, that you have no need for God’s mercy – you will remain as empty and shallow as you were. But for you, dear friends, you who see and know your own sin, who know your own struggles, who feel the pressures of life in this world and who are burdened – you who are hungry for righteousness – behold what God does for you. He calls you to His own table, and here He fills you with not merely good things, but the very best thing – He fills you with Himself – Christ Jesus gives Himself unto you, in a way most wondrous and amazing – He forgives your sins in His Supper, He gives you His own strength – He helps you face down the fears of the past and helps you to face the trials of the future, because in His Supper we see the proof that He is with us, indeed, in His Supper He is with us.

And then Mary stops. She’s pretty well covered everything, hasn’t she? These are all the things God has done for her, done for you. And all of them, all of them depend upon God, upon His strength, His mercy, His righteousness. My dear friends in Christ – rejoice in Him, for He has done all things for you already, and now we simply await His return when we will see all things in full. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – December 15th and 16th, 2019 – Matthew 10:2-10

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Now, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, 'Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?' This is how our text for this Sunday starts. John the Baptist in prison. The boldest, brashest professor of Christ there was – the man who called out sin most bluntly – you brood of vipers – the man who declared a confession of Christ so beautiful that we ourselves will sing it just before communion – Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And he's in prison. Put there by a wicked, weak-willed and manipulated man. The government had failed him, and he's stuck in prison, and while he hears all this stuff that Jesus has done cold, dark, and dank prison walls and his own impending death are all that he can see. And so the messengers go out with a very important question – are you actually the one who is to come, or do we look for another.

Look for another. Use our eyes. Go on a search. You see, what John was seeing wasn't meshing up with what he thought he knew. If this Jesus is the Messiah, then why do I see the impact of death and sin so drastically? If my cousin is God incarnate, why am I wasting away here – isn't there some sort of heavenly hook up – a literal get out of jail free card that ought to come into play? If I've been good, then why are bad things happening to me? My friends, you know these sorts of thoughts. They are the very same thoughts that we get whenever our life goes sideways, and it's not our fault (or at least doesn't look to be our fault). This the question of doubt and fear and anger that comes up in any of those “why do bad things happen to good people” situations that we so often find ourselves in. The sort of questions that come up when what we see isn't what we want to see.

And so John's disciples go, and John's disciples ask Jesus this question – apparently right in front of the crowds. This isn't a pull Jesus aside sort of thing – up front and open – Hey Jesus, what about your cousin that you've left in prison? Are you the coming one, you coming to do all that awesome rescue stuff, and maybe starting with a prison break? Sort of puts Jesus on the spot. But Jesus, like He always does, just answers calmly. “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Now, let's pause there. Jesus does something very important. Two things are mentioned – what you hear, and what you see. Hearing and Sight. And John, John had started to put more of an emphasis on his sight, what he was seeing. I'm looking the lousy prison I'm in, so do I need to look for someone else. Jesus sets up a different emphasis – go tell John – if someone tells you something, you hear it. Go tell John what you hear. Faith comes by hearing.

We can give hearing short shrift today. In our modern age, we don't think faith comes by hearing. We think the phrase “we walk by faith, not by sight” is backwards – oh no, we say “seeing is believing”. You ever realize that that simple phrase that we toss about is actually directly contradicting the Scriptures? But this is just part of the culture, the day and age in which we live – we want to be shown things. We end up thinking that things are most real and certain if we see them for ourselves. And this even creeps into how I preach. How often after I make a point do I end up asking, “Do you see?” See? You didn't see anything – you heard. But we associate reality with what we see.

This is why faith can be so problematic. This is how Satan attacks us. Instead of listening to God and His Word, we go by what we see. And it's been this way since the garden – God says don't eat. Satan says, 'eat it – it will open your eyes to good and evil' and “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food...” My sight, elevated over what God says. This plays out in all our lessons today too – not just with John. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem – call out words of comfort and peace – but that hadn't been what she'd been seeing. She'd been seeing hard times. Or 1 Corinthians – the Corinthians are in the middle of one of the nastiest church fights in history, where some are supporting Paul, and others are hating Paul and supporting Apollos, and other yet are saying we should ignore both of them and rather try to get Peter over here. It was a mess – people saw enemies and louts all over. And Paul says this: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. What do you see? Do you see the pastor you'd rather not have... or do you hear someone proclaiming the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation, the mysteries of God? When it comes to baptism, do you just see water on a kid, or did you hear the Word of God comprehended with that water and attached to it making it a life giving water and lavish washing away of sin? Or in the Supper – do you just see bread and wine, or did you hear Christ Jesus say, “This is My Body, this is My Blood”? That was the problem in Corinth addressed later on – For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment on himself. But we can keep going - Do you see your spouse as a pain in the ying-yang, or do you hear God say that He has given you to your spouse as a gift and joined you two together? Do you see your neighbor as an annoying jerk and sinner, or do you hear that Jesus Christ has taken away the sin of the world? Do you get caught up in sight, rather than the Word?

Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached them. Oh, there's a lot going on here, my friends. First, Jesus is giving the laundry list of the signs of the Messiah from the Old Testament. John, you've heard the Old Testament – well, doesn't what you hear is happening now line up perfectly with what the Old Testament said? Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. But Jesus does something else that is subtle and strongly emphasizes hearing. Oh, the blind see – there is some seeing involved. But let's move past sight, shall we? The lame walk – because I told them to walk and they heard it. And lepers are cleansed – because I spoke clean and they heard it. Even the deaf who couldn't hear – I speak and they hear. The dead, I speak and they hear. Even death itself will not hinder the power of God's Word. But the kicker John, the best thing of all, the most Messianic thing going on – the poor have good news preached to them. Hearing.

Yeah, John – prison sucks. You are in a lousy place. You are poor and miserable right now. But, you know John, you were poor before you went into that prison too. You of all people, as the great preacher of “repent” should know that you are a poor miserable sinner. But be at peace. Comfort, comfort John! The preacher of the Good News, the Gospel is here. You have sins to repent of – well, the Lamb of God who takes away those sins is here. You must deal with evil folks who will hound you to death – well, so does the Christ – and in fact, a head on a platter is a lot quicker and nicer than the Cross. And you know what John – even to you there, when you are at your lowest, when you aren't able to do anything good any more, when your service is at an end – the Good News of Salvation and life is proclaimed to you. And whatever they do to you in that prison – if they take your eyes, or break your legs, or let you fall into disease – or even when they take your head – doesn't matter. The Good News will be preached to you – and with your sins forgive by the Messiah you will rise. God Himself has said so.

And so, John's disciples go back, and they speak this word to John, and faith comes by hearing. And John, even in that prison, has everything – every good and wonderful gift there in the word of God. A former LCMS President – Al Berry – had a simple catch-phrase: Get in the Word, Missouri! Hear the Word, Trinity. Service here in this place, where the Word of God is proclaimed – this should be a priority. But not just this service - This is why there are so many bible studies offered here – get in the Word. Hear it. If you're on the go, I can recommend wonderful podcasts to listen to. Be in the Word. Because your eyes are bombarded day in and day out with so much wickedness and temptation, and it's easy to just fall into walking by sight. That's even what Jesus asked the crowd there – What did you go out into the wilderness to see? Was John just a spectacle for you, a show? A reed shaking in the wind or lifestyles of the rich and famous. No – John was a prophet. One who speaks the Word. More than that – John was a promised prophet – who fulfilled the Word. God's Word of promise is the center – not what we see.

I don't know what you will see this week. Some of it will be flat out bad. Some of it will seem like a good thing but not be at all what it was cracked up to be. Some of it will be razzle dazzle and some of it will be winter gray dreariness. But the Word of the LORD remains true, His promises remain sure. You are forgiven, you are His Baptized child and an heir of eternal life. Christ Jesus comes to you in His own Body and Blood this day to proclaim this peace to you again, so that you are in His peace, His comfort no matter what sin or the world or your own flesh or the Devil himself try to shove in front of your face. You are forgiven and redeemed. Peace be with you. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Assertion: There is never a non-salvific punishment in the Scripture

Here is a theological assertion for a day:

There is never a time in the Scripture where God executes a punishment that is not also designed to work salvation for His people.

I think this is important because we can end up putting God's Wrath, God's Anger, God's Punishment off in an abstract box, as though this somehow describes who God is or what He is like.  We forget that these things - wrath, anger, punishment are always in relation to sin.  It's not as though God is just sometimes wrathful; He executes wrath upon sin.

And sin is not just some neutral, moral category describing X number of bad things.  Sin is the enemy that seeks to enslave and destroy you.  And God will not have that... so there is wrath and anger and punishment, but however that plays out, it plays out for your salvation.

God really does work all things for your good.

Go out of the garden, because you will receive salvation via the Messiah, not your own works.
Pain will increase in childbearing, but the Son will be born.
You will eat bread, but Christ Jesus will give you Himself and forgiveness in bread.
The flood drowns wickedness but saves and rescues Noah.
The fire and brimstone delivers Lot from Sodom.
The Red Sea drowns pharaoh but rescues Israel.

See the pattern.  Even to the ultimate emblem of God's wrath and anger and punishment - the Cross.  It is wrath and anger and punishment - but it is for your good to deliver and rescue you.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent 2

2nd Sunday of Advent – Luke 21:25-36 – December 8th and 9th, 2018

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
The things of the Christian faith are backwards. Last week, things were utterly backwards. We had Palm Sunday in winter talking about a King who enters Jerusalem not to conquer and kill the enemy but rather to suffer and die – to win forgiveness even for our enemies. To the thinking of the world, that is utterly backwards. Well, today we have another backwards sort of text, where Jesus turns everything upon its head, and where we are taught to do things that seem just the opposite of what any sensible person would expect to do. Jesus teaches us how to face the end of the world.

We've touched on the end several times in the last few weeks – 3 weeks ago we talked about how things might be boring while we wait, 2 weeks ago we had the wise and foolish virgins. And today, Jesus speaks about the end times in the way that we are most used to – fear. “There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the seas and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” There it is – there's the end times we're used to talking about. The scary end times, the panicky one. It's the disaster film, the horror film chaos sort of end times. Panic and fear. And, well, there is going to be some weird scary stuff with the end of the world – it's the world's end. But, remember, Jesus is going to have things be backwards for you, O Christian. “Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” When the world panics, when the world is gripped with fear because things are crazy and they are just getting crazier – that's not time for you to panic. That's not time for you to give into fear and hunch over and hunker down. That is the time for you, O Christian, to stand up straight. Shoulders out wide, chin up – just like you're going to sing, because you are going to be bursting into song. It all means that you redemption is drawing nigh. It means that Jesus is just that much closer to coming again, and “then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Christ will return, and we will sing – yes, even you stubborn people who don't like to sing. It's going to happen – and it will be good.

Sometimes we forget just how profoundly different our lives and our attitudes are as Christians. We face all things in this life resting in Christ Jesus our Savior. Oh, to be sure, sometimes we too give into fear or panic for a moment or a time – we are still sinful human beings after all. However, the way in which we view things is different because of Christ Jesus and His love for us. A huge problem – like the end of the world. Well, for you O Christian, since you are in Christ, it's all good. It all works out for your good in the end. And this is the truth that you know – it all works out for you, whatever trial or trouble. You're in Christ – this dying world and the wicked therein can do their worst to you, can make things really lousy and miserable for you – but you are in Christ, and so really, in the long run, they can do nothing to you. Nothing that lasts. Whatever they do to you must end and be followed with the sentence, “and then Christ returns and you are raised to glory for all eternity.” That fact gives you an incredibly different, a radically backwards approach to things. End of the world – lift up your heads. Someone attacks you, causes you problems – Jesus says to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. That's not just being well behaved – that's because you are in Christ Jesus – you are sure and safe, and the fact that they are being evil to you just shows how sadly they are trapped, would that Christ would rescue them too! We look for Christ to come, even to our enemies, to come to them with love and mercy and peace – love and mercy and peace that Christ Jesus even gives to them through us. This is the utterly backwards way in which we live our lives as Christians when we see things through and in Christ.

Jesus continues with another little image. And He told them a parable. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the Kingdom of God is near. It's getting closer. Christ's return is getting closer. The world is continually falling apart. This is something we like to ignore – we have spent the past 200 years telling ourselves that actually we are improving and getting better and all that. Yeah, 200 years ago we didn't have deadly peanut allergies, and people didn't starve to death on wheat. Our technology is improving (thanks be to God!) – but not us. Humanity as a whole is at least as weak and frail as it always has been, and I'd say more so. And we keep on finding new ways to hurt and harm our neighbor, we take innovations and weaponize them. But, our task today is not just to lament how lousy the world is. Nope, you know this all for what it is. The leaf is coming out, the summer is near. All of this just reminds us that the Kingdom of God is near, that Christ is closer and closer to His return.

“But wait!” some of you might say. “What about this next line that Jesus said? What about 'Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.' It's been almost 2000 years since Jesus said this!” You're right – it has been 2000 years since Jesus has said this. However, the problem here is with us and how we think of the end of the world. We think of the end of the world as something that is off then – it's merely coming. That's not quite accurate, biblically speaking. It is more accurate to say that the End has begun and will be finished when Christ comes again. This is how Hebrews starts – Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us through His Son.” In these, these here now, last days. We are in the end of time. The end of the world has already started.

Consider – there will be signs in the heavens... and on one Friday afternoon, they put Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, up on a cross. And the sun was blotted out and darkness covered the land – Luke describes this saying, “and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour [3 pm], while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice said, 'Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit!' And having said this, He breathed His last. Now, when the Centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, 'Certainly this Man was innocent!' And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.” Do you see it? The Son of man, lifted up in the air, dies. And while the world is shook, and people beat their breasts in terror, one fellow straightens up and praises God. The innocent Man, the Man without sin has shed His blood, and salvation comes into play. With the Cross, the world is done for. It is finished. The Kingdom of God is here, because we are able to proclaim Christ and Him Crucified – Died and Risen for all. We are in the end, even now before the end. The first coming in complete, we simply are waiting now, in these last days, for the second coming.

So, Jesus continues - “But watch yourselves lest your hearts become weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” And the temptation that you face, o Christian, is to forget that you are in Christ in these last days. You are a forgiven child of God, and as such you are a tool that God uses to not only do good earthly things for the neighbor, but also to bring Christ Jesus and His love and mercy to people. Wherever you go, you bring with you the blessings of God Almighty, to be given freely and generously to your neighbor, without thought or worry about what you will get back in return out of it – because you are in Christ and your story ends with the resurrection of the dead, so it doesn't matter what you get out of it now. But, we do get tempted away from that, don't we? And Jesus warns us what tempts us away – dissipation. Where you waste things and squander them and fritter them away – like when what looks to be a promising rain shower dissipates and breaks up and we get nothing and the farmers grouse. We too can get scattered and lose our focus on Christ and not do folks any good and stop being a blessing to them. That's not good. Or we can get caught up in drunkenness – where we go simply to live in immediate pleasure, and stop being a blessing to our neighbor. That's not good. Or we can be so focused on the cares of this life – of what we want, what we “need”, that we forget that our job is to love the neighbor while Christ tends to our needs. Again, not good.

Over and against this, we are called to prayer – and this is a we. It's a plural – But stay awake at all times, praying that [y'all] may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. Over and against the dangers of dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life, Christ calls us to gather together for prayer – and this word for prayer here is fascinating. It is the begging sort of prayer, it is the 'Lord have Mercy' sort of prayer. It is the Christian cry for deliverance that we together pray here in the Church seeking Christ's forgiveness. And what happens here? Christ comes to us, and He strengthens us with His forgiveness. You are forgiven, you are joined to Christ in Holy Baptism, and Christ gives you Himself in His Supper to strengthen and keep you in the One true faith, to keep you in Christ. And in Christ – you are prepared. You are raised up, now and eternally. You are prepared for whatever comes, and whenever you come here to His Church, Christ will continually prepare you for whatever comes down the pike.

And that's how it works. You are prepared for the end, because you are in Christ Jesus. And while the world goes spinning, you remain steady and steadfast in Him, for He is your Lord and Savior who has won you forgiveness with with His death and won you everlasting life with His resurrection. Nothing can change that. So we face the end with hope, we face fear with love, we face sin and wickedness with the forgiveness of Christ, and we wait together, calling upon God to give us mercy. And Christ Jesus does so as He comes to us in His Word and Sacraments today and even until He comes again on the Last Day. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Advent 1 Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Who is God? Who is He? What does He do? While that seems like a broad and wide question, it is basically what Jeremiah was asking the Kingdom of Judah in our Old Testament text. See, Judah was in a bind. It was right around 588 or so B.C., and the Babylonian kingdom up north was rattling its sabers and had already invaded Judah a few times, had already taken Daniel off to captivity. And Judah didn’t know what to do – but the prevailing wisdom was that Judah should buddy buddy up with Egypt and trust in Egypt to protect them.

If Jeremiah had asked a Jew of his day who God was, the expected answer should have been this: “He is the LORD our God who brought us up out of the land of Egypt.” That’s really how the 10 Commandments start – that’s the point of Passover – the LORD is the God who got us out of slavery in Egypt. And now what – with fear and worries about Babylon, you forget the LORD your God, you continue in idolatry, in fact, you want to run back to Egypt, back to the people who enslaved you. And so Jeremiah preaches. He says that Babylon will win, and they do. But in our text he also says the day is coming when they will call God “The LORD who brought us up and led the offspring of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where He had driven them.” 586, Judah is conquered. 538, King Cyrus sends them back home. Jeremiah was right.

But Jeremiah points forward to a greater truth, a greater prophecy. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” No, Egypt won’t be the solution. A stronger military or just paying tribute won’t be the solution. Nor will the troubles of this day endure; Babylon won’t vex us forever. Instead, here is the truth – the Messiah will come, and He Himself will fix the problems. He will be the Righteous One for us, and His day is what we should be looking for, more than just any military victory now.

And then we come to our Gospel Text. The triumphal entry. Palm Sunday. And once again we can look at this in terms of a “who is” question. Okay, Israel, who is your King? What does your King look like, what does He do? Jeremiah had prophesied a righteous Branch for David – that is, someone Righteous from the line of David who would be King, and there hadn’t been a king since Babylon conquered them – but then here comes Jesus. And Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey, just like King Solomon had when he was enthroned. And everyone gets the symbolism; this is why they cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Son of David! The Guy who should be King! The fervor and the excitement are astonishing – so high that come Palm Sunday in a few months, we’ll get in on it with little kids waving palms. But again, there was a problem. Who did they really think this King was, and what did they really think He was going to do? Immediately after our text, we hear this: “And when He entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.’” Wait… just a prophet? Just a guy from Galilee? Why don’t they call Him the King? That’s because for the people, He wasn’t really viewed as their King – that's why in a few days on Friday morning they will cry out that they have no king but Caesar. He ended up not being what they wanted. The King they expected wasn't the King that was promised. Sure, a king was wanted, but you don’t call him the king until he’s driven out the Romans! Once he’s made the nation glorious again, then we can give the fellow the throne – you only get the throne after you’ve beaten the bad guys! That’s the way it still is in stories and movies today. But here’s the problem. That wasn’t what was promised to them. They were promised a king who would be wise, who would execute justice and righteousness. But that wasn’t what they wanted. Power was they wanted. Earthly glory was they wanted. Revenge against the Romans was they wanted. And Jesus doesn’t do that. That’s not wisdom. That’s not justice, that’s not righteousness. Jesus is more interested in driving out the money changers in the temple and reforming worship than He is in driving out the Romans and reforming an Empire. And by the end of the week, Pilate orders his death to prevent a riot. Think on that. It’s not that there would be a riot because they are *killing* our king and we will rise up to rescue him. No, the riot would come if you don’t do Him in.

So. What of us today? Let’s ask ourselves the same questions. Who is God? Who is our King? What does He do? What are the expectations, what do we look for from God? If I turn on the religious tv channels, I get horrified. If I look on-line at facebook, I get horrified. I’ll see tons of stuff about God giving money and wealth and affirmation and validiation and making your dreams come true if you just trust in Him. Is that what we want from our God? We are in the Advent season, where we focus on the fact that Jesus came down from heaven. Is that what we think He came to do? In Advent we focus also on the second coming of Christ. What do we want? Do we want a Jesus that is going to reform American society and make us a better land (whether that's the liberal definition or the conservative one) if only we obey Him? Is Jesus the guy who brings the better rules that will make sure your family keeps its nose clean? And, of course, if you don’t send in money, if you don’t click “like” Jesus will be mad at you and punish you.

What does your God look like? Does He look like a Man coming humbly, seated on a donkey? Does He look like a Man who is beaten and whipped and scourged? Does He look like a man hanged upon a cross and left to die? Because this is what Jesus comes to do. Jesus is the LORD, our Righteousness. And He is our righteousness by going to the cross and suffering and dying, by being buried, by rising again. This is the point, the point of contention, the reason why so many people forsake Christ Jesus even to this day. Jesus deals with what we need, not what we want. Jesus isn’t Santa Claus; we don’t get to just tell Jesus what we want and know that if we are good little boys and girls that we’ll get it. Because the simple fact is this – a lot of times what we want is foolish. What we think is important isn’t. Judah wanting Egypt to deliver them was foolish – that would be even worse than Babylon in the long run – at least Babylon respected the Jewish culture. Wanting to take down the Roman Empire was foolish – if you aren’t certain of that, when Rome falls, we call what comes next “the Dark Ages” – it’s the fall of Rome that allows Islam to conquer and destroy Christianity in the middle east and in Egypt and in Babylon. And that’s just immediate problems – that’s just current events turning to history. Where was the thought given to sin – where was the thought given to the fact that I am a sinful human being and I am going to die in my sin unless God intervenes and saves me? Meh, they didn’t think that was important. Who wants a spiritual solution – we want a better war machine, we want “justice” that looks like our enemies crushed and bleeding and destroyed.

That’s not what Jesus comes to do. Oh, He could have come with legions of angels brandishing flaming swords – in fact, He will come that way on the last day. But first, He had a job to do. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as King and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’” His job is to be your righteousness. His job is to win you life and salvation and the forgiveness of your sins. His job is to execute justice, by taking up from you all the weight and wrath of your sin and crucifying it upon the Cross. His job is to fulfill all righteousness, to live the perfect holy life, and then to cover you with that righteousness in Holy Baptism so that He may say to the Father, “See these, My brothers and sisters, they are righteous and holy and without blemish in My name.” His job is to see that you dwell securely, not just for a day, not just for a season, not just until the next election, but for eternity. This is His wisdom. And He still comes to you, brings this righteousness, this forgiveness and salvation here in this place, preached, proclaimed to you, comes to you humbly riding in, with, and under bread and wine, for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith.

So, who is this Jesus, our God? He is the One who pays no attention to human expectations. Rather, He comes to fulfill the Scriptures, to fulfill the Word of God that has proclaimed your redemption and your salvation. And in His great wisdom, He does whatever must be done to accomplish this – and it means coming down from heaven, and being incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and being born in a manager, and suffering and dying. He is determined to be wise for your sake; He is determined to execute justice for you, to be the LORD our Righteousness. And so He is. This we have heard in the Word, this we have received in Baptism and the Supper, and this we shall see face to face when He comes again. Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, November 3, 2018

All Saints Observed

All Saints' Observed – Matthew 5:1-11 – November 3rd and 4th, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We live in desperate times. There is desperation all over the place - it's in the air, on the political signs and the telephone calls, in the way we look at our families and friends, the way we look at ourselves in the mirror. Desperation. We see change around us, and often not for the better. We feel anxiety over money or race relations or the health of our state or the violence all around us, and that fear and anxiety boils up into desperation, and we want something to fix it. And we get more agitated and short with each other, we villainize each other, we self medicate ourselves – all because we are desperate.

Now, the part of me that is a historian wants to brush this desperation off, sort of poo-poo it. I want to run to cold hard stats about rates of violence, or run to narratives of the past – see, all this desperation is just silly, why you've been through worse times before. We have more wealth and more technology and less violence and less global poverty than ever before, blah, blah blah, blah blah. That's just how I self-medicate and deal with fear and anxiety – I pretend to be above the fray... just like a duck, looking all nice and calm while my own desperations paddle away just under the surface. While I feel superior because my desperations aren't as bad as other people's desperations.

Instead, we ought to consider the truth. That there is some wisdom and sense to the fear and anxiety we feel. There is plenty of wild and crazy stuff going on out there, and frankly, a lot of it just is not under our control. And the prevailing myth that has run our country and western society for the past 200 years is that if we just keep working and growing and improving, we will get a grip on this thing called life, and we will control things, we will tame and fix the world. And there's been great progress – progress we should be thankful for. Just think for a second on medical advances – how many of us in this room right now would have been dead if not for medical technologies developed in the past 100 years? I'd have been. We should be grateful to the moon over the advances in medicine... but there's still an awful lot of fear and anxiety about it. That's because, even with all this progress, we know it's not enough. That sooner or later the doctor's going to say, “There's nothing more we can do.” Or in other words, I can't control it.

And that's just medicine. Every field of human study plays out the same way. Governance, technology, agriculture, computing – so on and so forth – we hit a point where the problems are still there and there's nothing we can do. Where we can do everything right (at least according to worldly standards), and things just go wrong. This hits theology – how many hucksters are out there preaching wealth and prosperity – “I declare this will be a good day” or however the latest flavor of Name it and Claim It theology likes to babble. It doesn't work. We are powerless. And we hate that. And it rips us apart. And so we are desperate for something to fix the problem, desperate for someone to blame, desperate for something to numb the pain.

The crowds Jesus saw in Matthew chapter 5 were desperate too. They were a conquered people, oppressed by the Romans, facing terrible poverty. Less power than we have, less prospects than us. And Jesus looks over this crowd, and He does something that is so bizarre to us. Jesus doesn't tell them how to fix things. He doesn't Dave Ramsey them into better economic advice (fine as that is), nor does He tell them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like Rush Limbaugh might. Jesus doesn't take the liberal tact either – Jesus doesn't start a community organization project or blame the 1 percent or the Colonizing powers of Rome. He doesn't even do my historical thing of comparing them to other time periods in the OT and telling them to buck up. Jesus doesn't tell these desperate people how to fix anything.

Instead, Jesus says something utterly profound. You are blessed. 9 times. Blessed are the fill in the blank. Do you realize how utterly insane that sounds to the desperate world? Blessed are the poor in spirit – think on that, if you are beat down and crushed by life in this world, if you are downtrodden and spit upon and at the end of your rope – Jesus says that you are blessed. Why? Not because he's got the three easy steps to turn things around, not because the bad people are going to be punished, not because the new rulers will finally be the right rulers. No – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Is. Right now. Right now the Kingdom of heaven is yours... and it's still yours if next year goes better or if it goes worse. It is yours if there is sickness or health, richer or poorer, all those variations. None of them change the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven is yours. You belong to Christ Jesus, and He has given you the Kingdom of Heaven – He has baptized you. You are an heir of heaven, it is yours – and there's not a thing in this world that can take that away from you. Christ Jesus has given Himself to you, He has shed His blood for you to rescue you from sin and from death and the devil, and His Kingdom is yours. Now.

How often do we think on the fact that we are the Baptized? That we are brothers and sisters of Christ the King, that heaven is ours come hell or high water, because Christ Jesus has broken open the gates of hell with His death and resurrection and has turned water into a lavish washing away of sin in Holy Baptism? I went to my grandmother's funeral (at a church of a denomination that will remain nameless), and the pastor had done a lovely job of pointing out how kind my grandmother had been, how even 6 years after she had moved to Florida she was still loved and remembered up in Toledo, little plastic canvas things she had made all over the place. It was a nice start... but it just stopped. A wistful sigh of the past. Never mentioned that she was Baptized. Never mentioned that even though sin and death had ripped away her mind – I would have even taken Alzheimer's as the villain – never mentioned that even though Emily couldn't remember much towards the end and that while there was nothing we could do – Christ Jesus remembered her, and the Kingdom of heaven is hers. Instead, oh, she was good to us here and to her family, why don't you be good too. A little holy homework, something you can do.

Something you can do. That's our old sinful flesh talking, thinking, running things. Our old sinful flesh is desperate, desperate to have power and control. That's really what sin is – it's me wanting to be in control of everything. I will determine what is good and what is bad, and I will by my own actions take the bull by the horns and wrest of life what I can get out of it. And we try, until we push ourselves to our wits ends – until we are finally poor in Spirit and ready to listen again to God. Hi there, O baptized child of God – Heaven is yours. Already. Always has been. You are blessed.

Hi there mourner. You are blessed, because Christ Jesus has defeated and destroyed death, and in the resurrection you will receive a comfort far beyond anything you could try to cobble together. Jesus has this all under His control for you.

Hi there you who are meek, who are just tired of all the fighting and want to lay down your arms. You are blessed, because you're going to inherit the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus has done it – it's His will and testament, sealed by His death upon the Cross, by His blood shed there. He gives the proof, His very Body and Blood to you in His Supper. You don't need to be the fighter – Jesus has this all under His control for you.

Hi there you who thirst and hunger for righteousness. You see that this world is messed up – well, you'll never fix it to your satisfaction. You'll never even progress yourself to your own satisfaction. But, you are blessed, because Christ Jesus is righteous, and He has poured His righteousness upon you, declared His righteousness to be your righteousness. When it comes to righteousness – Jesus has it all under His control for you.

Hi there pure in heart. Yes, I'm talking to you – because you've been baptized, you've been declared righteous. You've had your sin forgiven over and over by Christ Jesus through His Word. You're blessed, because no matter what you see come down the pike, Christ Jesus your Lord will return and you will be raised to perfection, and you will see God in your own flesh, your own eyes and not another's. Jesus has it all under His control for you.

Hi there peacemaker, you who proclaim Christ's peace and forgiveness to others. They may not like it that much. They may blow you off and run back to their own desperate plans. You understand that well enough – you often run back to your own desperate plans. But that's why God has sent people into your life to speak peace to you, and why He has you speak peace to people as well. The peace of Christ that He has won, the peace that He pours out through His Spirit is what makes us sons of God. Again, Jesus has it all under His control for you.

Oh, and by the by peacemaker – proclaiming Christ Crucified for sinners won't make you popular in the world. See, people in the world don't want a God who makes for peace – people would much rather come up with their own political or social or military solutions. People are desperate to find the next greatest thing to fix the world... while the world keeps on spinning. And when you point to Christ, when you proclaim His peace and His righteousness – as opposed to the violence and “rightness” of the latest cause or movement, you will be persecuted. You will be ignored, or written off, or called a traitor to the cause. You will be mocked, and reviled, and you will have wicked, jealous things said of you. It doesn't change a thing about who Jesus is and what He has done, nor does it change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and risen for you and that He will return for you to raise you from the dead and give you a new heaven and a new earth, and so yes, rejoice, because you are blessed. Jesus has it all under control for you.

My dear friends, you who have been called out of darkness, even the darkness of your own thoughts and whims and wishes, you who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, blessed are you, because Christ Jesus truly is your Lord and Savior, and nothing can make Him waver in that. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Monday, October 22, 2018

A New and "Better" Beattitudes

If Jesus had known what 2018 would look like, if he had known the struggles we would be facing today, he would have given us a new and better beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit?  Bah!  Now is the time to fight, and fight strongly and harshly.  Rage against the dying of the light, do not go quietly into that night of sin and deviancy!

Blessed are those who mourn?  Mourners need to get up off their duff and carry on, because the battle for everything good in our country rages around us.  We need to make more of those other saps mourn, that's what we need!

Blessed are the meek? Poppycock!  We don't need folks to be meek and mild, we need them to use every ounce of their strength to wrest control and power back into our wise and knowledgeable hands!

And I know I can fight this holy fight, because I hunger and thirst for righteousness and right living and good morals, I know that I am pure in heart unlike the evil, contemptible hordes! 

And I will be merciful after I have broken their political power and overturned their laws, and then I will have made peace and justice flow.

...

Or so we are tempted to think. 

So we are told to think.

But not by Jesus.  Jesus knew what He was doing when He spoke the beatitudes, and they apply to us today.  We need to hear them more than ever, because we don't think we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, or mourning, or meek.  We want to fight, to crush our enemies, to knock them down a peg.

The world around us has riled up sin and flesh - I will concede that.  But we are tempted to meet that and fight that with our own riled up sinful flesh.

That is not how it is to be.

When you see this world, remember that you are redeemed and forgiven by Christ.
When you see sin and death, remember that because of Christ you have the resurrection and the life.
When you are tempted to fight, remember that you can afford to lay down your arms because all thta you have is a gift from Christ, and He shall give you a new heavens and a new earth where all this junk will be remembered no more.
When you see your own sin and know that you aren't as righteous as your indignation would tell you, be satisfied in the fact that Christ has declared you righteous.
When you see sinners sinning, forgive as you have been forgiven.
When your heart becomes riled with anger and hatred, be purified by Christ and His mercy.
When they want to fight, declare the peace of the risen Christ - even if they still hate you.

Because they will.  Even in the Church there are those who are sick and tired of the Gospel.  They think the Gospel just means the bad people get away with it.  And when you proclaim Christ's righteousness, a righteousness that is yours by gift, you will be hated.  And you will be told that you need to fight.  You will be told that you are a traitor.  So be it - take heart, for blessed are you because Christ Jesus is your righteousness and therefore His Kingdom is yours, for He gives it freely.

And He will work in you, He will cause good fruits to flourish in you.  Not the works the world wants, but fruit.  Like love, and joy (oh, my friends, there still is joy in Christ), and peace, and patience (we can afford to be patient with the erring), and kindness and goodness, faithfulness and gentleness, and even self-control.

These are yours... but not in your zeal, not in your anger, not in your fear or rage against the culture.  They are not yours in a social gospel, be it the old liberal one or the new conservative one.  They are yours in Christ.

Christ Jesus has died for the sins of the whole world, even the ones that anger and hurt you.  He has died for your sins, and you are forgiven in Him.

Therefore, as He said, you truly are blessed no matter what. 

The peace of Christ be with you always.


Saturday, September 29, 2018

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 – September 29th and 30th, 2018 – Matthew 22:36-44

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible and read, what are you hoping to see? When you come here to this place and hear the Scriptures read, hear a sermon preached, what are you hoping to see? What do you want to get out of all of this? What are you expecting and hoping to get out of all this religious stuff that you are here for? I ask, I bring this up because that is really the setting and context for our Gospel lesson. It is Holy Week – just days before Jesus is crucified, and Jesus has been in the temple preaching. And we hear this: “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him.”

Why had the Pharisees come to the temple that day? Apparently it was for political power and posturing, networking and social gain. That's why Matthew notes that they came after the Sadducees had been silenced. Think of the Sadducees as the crazy liberals of the day and the Pharisees as the stalwart conservatives. There's blood in the water, as it were – and maybe we should see what is going on. So they have one of their heavy hitters, a laywer, a master of Jewish custom, ask Jesus a question... not to learn, but to test Him. Is this enemy of my enemy going to be my friend, or is He going to fail the test?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” You learn a lot from the questions a person asks – it says a lot about them. It shows what their priority is. The disciples kept asking Jesus when the kingdom was going to be restored to Jerusalem – that was because they wanted power. James and John even jockeyed to be seated at His right hand. If you go travel anywhere interesting, I'll probably ask you about the food. Food's a priority for me. But as for our Pharisees in the text, they asked a question about the law – what is the greatest, most important thing that I am supposed to do? It shows their priority – their own action. How well they acted was everything to them – it gave them status and prestige – it was their source of pride. Knowing the Law and doing the Law, that was where it was at, and the Scriptures were simply a tool towards that goal.

So, which is the great commandment in the Law? Matthew lets us know that this is more than a question, it is also a test. It's not just a question of interest, but it is a weapon. It is a question asked not to get an answer, but a question this lawyer asks to get a weapon to use against Jesus, to elevate himself above Him. And it's a classic trap – ask for a person to pick one thing out of a list, and lambaste them for not picking something else. But Jesus doesn't play that game. He is a teacher, and so He teaches.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment, but a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets. Well, since you asked, I can't really just answer that with one – because while the commandment is that you should love God, in reality that means you love your neighbor. That's the reality. The way in which we should and do demonstrate our love for God isn't anything abstract, it isn't going through certain rituals or going through some pious motions – we love God by loving the neighbors that God has placed into our lives. Loving the neighbor is like it, it's tied up with it – the old King James says “like unto it.” To love God is to love your neighbor – or as John puts it in his epistle - “If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

This leads to a pretty big question. So, laywer – did you ask this question out of love for your neighbor, or to put him in his place? Oh, it was to test your neighbor, to embarrass Him and wreck Him. Oh, and you thought that this was going to impress God? Oh. Well, you were wrong. As Jesus told Satan at the beginning of His ministry during the temptation, Thou shall not put the Lord Thy God to the test. And this is where we here must examine ourselves. We have to consider Jesus' answer – who are the neighbors that we disdain, the ones we get annoyed with, the ones we'd rather be angry and annoyed with instead of love and serve? That's danger, that's sin crouching at the door like a lion ready to devour you. But even bigger than just that – when we read the Scriptures, when we look at God's Word, is it so that we can put Him to the test? Is it so that we can saunter up to God and say, “See, I've done X, Y, and Z, and so now you owe me.” Well, maybe we're not as brazen as that – maybe just the thoughts of I don't deserve this, why do bad things happen to good people like me, how can I make sure God blesses me. The temptation is this – we want to use God's Law as a lever against Him. That's what sinful man does, that's how this world operates. And we can get caught up in that too.

Back to the text. Jesus' answer dumbfounded the Pharisees. They we all a flutter over it – Now while the Pharisees were gathered together – do you see them, gathering together, going back and forth over what Jesus said, trying to figure out how it would impact their own personal power dynamics? While they are busy doing that, Jesus decides to ask them a question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” Now, this is very skillful on Christ's part. There are the Pharisees, all stuck in the Law, all focused on what they do and what they don't do and who is better than who – that's what they thought was the point. But Jesus asks a question – not about what you or I do, but about the Christ. The Messiah. Let's talk about Him. “They said to Him, 'The son of David.' He said to them, 'How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying – The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet. - If then David calls Him Lord, how is He his Son?” Now, this is some heavy duty sledding for us today who aren't Pharisees. The Pharisees noted that the promised Messiah, the Christ, would be the son of David, a descendant of David. And then Jesus quotes for them Psalm 110 – one of the great Messianic Psalms. And He points out something – the Messiah will be David's Son, but also David's Lord. That's not the way it works, normally – you honor your father and your mother – you don't get to out rank them. My dad will be my dad as long as we both shall live. And yet, with the Messiah, there's something else. Now, we know what that something else – Jesus is not just the son of David but He is also the Son of God, He is Christ the LORD. And this is something that David pointed forward to – it is part of the great mystery of Salvation, that God Himself would come down to be the Messiah.

Why, O Pharisees, are you so focused on trying to elevate yourselves, when the Scriptures tell the mystery of God becoming Man for your salvation? That's the point, that's where your focus should be. The Bible is not just a mere handbook for right living, it isn't “basic instructions before leaving earth” - even though that's a witty acronym. It is the story of God's salvation – it is the story of Christ Jesus who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. The Old Testament all points forward to this and promises it; the New points back to it and proclaims it. That is where our focus should be – upon the mystery of the ages, Christ Jesus becoming man to win you eternal life.

So, I will ask again. What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible,when you come here to this place, what are you hoping to see? Sometimes we are focused upon the Law – maybe for our good and improvement, or maybe to use it as a weapon against our enemy. The thing is, when we get a full dose of the law, we get reminded that we do not follow it as we ought and are driven to confess our sin. But there is One who does, who actually fulfilled the Law. And actually, in truth, the Bible is His story. It is the story of Christ Jesus, who demonstrated His love for the Father through His love for you, and His love for you by His obedience to the Father. It is the story of Christ, who in the Garden before His crucifixion prayed, “Not My will, but Thine be done” - and went to the Cross and died to rescue you. That is how He loved you, His neighbor. Of course, it's not just a past love – that is how Christ Jesus loves you now. Over and against this rat race of a world, He loves you now. He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that He is with you now and you are His and nothing, not heights nor depths can separate you from His love. He has His love proclaimed to you in His Word, He pours His Spirit upon you so that you see Him in the Scriptures, so that you are continually renewed. He comes to you in Bread and Wine with His Body and Blood, to forgive you, to strength your faith and make your love towards neighbor more fervent. This is His delight – to have you know that you are loved by God, redeemed and forgiven and holy in His sight on account of Christ Jesus.

And should the time come when we get a bit uppity with the Word, when we start to want to put on airs about how we are such good Christians, He comes to us again and makes us to see Him again. He reminded the Pharisees that He was the promised Messiah even as they were planning on killing Him; how much more so will proclaim His salvation and victory to you who are joined to Him in Baptism, you who are His beloved bride whom He could never forsake. Sometimes we wander, sometimes we get proud. Our flesh tries to drive us there always, but Christ Jesus is always faithful to you. You are forgiven and redeemed in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

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+