Monday, December 31, 2007

Eve of the Name of Jesus

Tonight's sermon is as follows:

December 31st, 2007 – Luke 2:21

In the Name of Christ the Newborn King +

While tonight the world celebrates the last day of 2007 and prepares to look forward to 2008 – indeed, while we ourselves in a few moments will be doing the same, our worship service is focused on something far more monumental and profound than any turning of a calendar, than any change of date. Tonight, we address something so utterly profound and wondrous, that our Gospel need only be a single verse – that is how deep this simple verse is. All the insight or wonder of a long parable, all the profoundness of a much longer passage contained in one simple verse – and even tonight, dear friends, we won’t come close to fully devling its depths. That verse again is as follows: And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the Name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

There are many traditions that come up around names. I’m sure some of you have names that are traditional in your family, ones that get handed on and on throughout the generations – being named after a grandfather or an aunt. That was one they did have in Jesus’ day – remember, everyone looks at Elizabeth strangely when she says that her boy will be named John because None of your relatives is called by this name. But there are two traditions dealing with names back in the days of Christ that we really don’t have any more, but tonight we will use these as our insight into this wondrous text. For the first tradition, did you note, dear friends, when Jesus is given His name? And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus. Even though Mary knew that she was going to name her child Jesus, even before He was conceived, Jesus did not receive this name until He was circumcised.

There was a reason for this. For a young boy, it was the 8th day where you were circumcised, where you officially joined the family of God, where you officially were. And only then do you get your name. This even used to be the practice up until the last century with Baptism – until a child was Baptized they would simply be known as the Brown baby or the Beck baby – they would be given their name at their baptism. Another word for Baptism is Christening – literally “Christ –in-ing” or “putting into Christ” – but we still use the term Christening for giving something a name, like a ship or a building. Your first name was known as your “Christian Name” Another example – Martin Luther was born November 10th, and his father took him to church on the 11th to be baptized. The 11th was St. Martin’s day – in honor of St. Martin of Tours – so the Luther baby was named Martin.

Your name is your identity, it is who you are – and for a Jewish baby in Jesus’ day, you only had an identity in light of God’s covenant – you were one of the males of Israel, and of your number one day God would produce the Messiah. That was who you are – and when and only when you were circumcised, when you were physically marked as being of Israel, did you receive your name, your identity. And so it was with Jesus. And on the 8th day, He was circumcised. But for Jesus, He was not just one of the race that could be the Messiah, He was the Messiah Himself. And on that day, there was a bit of foreshadowing. The Baby Jesus shed His blood. The Law demanded Blood and Jesus gives it. This event is the first time that the Son of God sheds His Blood – God Almighty, Maker of the Universe becomes Man – we have been celebrating that all this Christmas – but here we see what that literally means. He is born under the law – and being born under the Law – He bears its consequences. His Blood is shed. Just a little right now – but you dear friends know where this Child will be when He grows, you know where He willingly goes – to the Cross to win you salvation. The blood that is but a trickle on the 8th day pours down His whipped and beaten back on Good Friday – it spills from His pierced side – all for our salvation. Indeed, it is poured from every Chalice in Christendom whenever and wherever the Lord’s Supper is celebrated, that we might receive salvation, that the Blood which was shed for us might be applied to us, given to us.

And to make it most clear that it was indeed this Child, shedding His Blood, that would indeed more fully shed His Blood to save the world – when He was circumcised He was given the name Jesus. Nowadays we don’t think too much about what our names mean. In America we pull from so many heritages and languages that we forget that names have meaning. For example – my name is Eric. It’s Swedish for powerful – but you look at me and don’t think “powerful”. My dad’s name is Gregory – that’s a Greek Word – when you get the instruction to be watchful – to keep awake – that’s be Gregore-o. My mom’s name is June – and we even know that’s a month – but the name doesn’t really have anything to do with the month because she was born in April. Nowadays we pick out names because they are pretty, we like how they sound – but back in Jesus’ day, more importance was given to what a name means. Think about it – Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter – Rock, Petros, after he makes a solid confession. Daniel, great name – Dan-I-el – God is my Judge. El at the end of a name refers to God. Abram, exalted father, is changed to Abraham – father of a multitude. Micah – Mi-ca-yah – Who is like The LORD, who is like Yahweh. The names all have meaning, have importance.

And then we get the name Jesus. In the Hebrew, the name is Yeshua. We say Jesus, because Yeshua in Greek is Iesous, which got put into Latin as Jesu – into English as Jesus. There is another way of doing this name in English – the name Joshua is the exact same name, it’s just Yeshua going straight from Hebrew to Latin and then English – same name. But what does this name mean, Pastor, since you said names are so important? Ye is a form, a short form of Yahweh, or Jehovah – the Divine Name – the LORD. Shua is a verb meaning to save. So literally the name Jesus, the name Joshua, the name Yeshua – they all mean one thing. The Lord Saves.

His name tells you what you are seeing. The child is cut, He bleeds, He is placed under the law. Though He is not sinful He takes up His place with sinful man – and why? Because Yeshua, because Jesus, because the LORD saves. This is how the Lord brings about Salvation – by becoming Man, and by taking up in our stead the punishment for sin, and by giving us His own Life, so that we are made whole and spotless and without blemish by His divine power. Behold the Lord’s Salvation – behold what God does to give you life.

In all things, God points us to His Son, so that we might remember that we have life in His Name – that Christ Jesus came into the World to be our Champion, to be our savior from sin. And even from His youngest days, this is what He does. This is His identity, it is who He is known as – He is Jesus, the one who becomes Man and sheds His Blood for us. Let us ever give thanks to God the Father that He does not abandon us poor sinners unto everlasting death, but freely sends His Son to be our Savior. Amen.

As a year comes to a close. . .

Just a few thoughts as a year comes to a close.

1. You will only see improvement (in yourself, in your congregation) when you despair of there being improvement and simply preach.
2. Sometimes the best growth is seen when attendance numbers dwindle.
3. It is a wonderful thing when the people in your congregation like your new wife more than they like you.
4. A little hardship is good for your parishioners' souls.
5. You are never in the same place you were a year ago, so the 1 year series will always be fresh.

Now, to discuss. First, if you have major hopes, design major thrusts to improve some aspect of life - these generally fail in the Christian. Why? Well, socially one might say that having a focus puts too much pressure on and builds stress - or theologically one might say this can easily turn into a focus on yourself and your efforts, which tend to fail. The best way to see improvement in X is to worry less about X and preach the whole counsel of God. As one grows, one improves - even on the hard, stubborn patches. And when you focus on the whole Word, everything gets covered - and it doesn't seem like you are hammering an already sore thumb.

Second, numbers have been dropping here - well, since before I came. Brief spike of interest in my predecessor's last half year (he was retiring, we must be polite) and my first half (oooo, see the new guy) - but that blip has gone away. Attendance is in a downward trend. Many might note this as a great failure. It's not good in the abstract - but why it is downward? Well, quite a few have died or gotten older so they don't get out as much (night services, slightly bad weather - that whole discretion being the better part of valor). A few people have stopped coming for silly reasons. One could see a negative. However, with those who do come, I see great growth - I see a fuller understanding of the Christian faith - I see more love and gentleness being shown. Because the "numbers" might be viewed as depressing, I am forced to look at the people, and with that, I am pleased. Maybe dwindling numbers actually makes you pay more attention.

Third, they like my wife. They really do. That is so, so, so nice. It relaxes me - and it protects me, because no one wants to upset her, and wontonly annoying me probably would do so. Although heaven help me if I ever upset my wife and it got out - my little old ladies would beat me with sticks! (although, that is part of the reason why I love our little old ladies)

Fourth, it was a rough, rough year for the farmers. Bad Weather. It was an expensive year for most folks - gas and inflation and the like. And you know what - it was good for us. It made us focus on what is actually important, and it also reemphasized our reliance upon God - something that is all to easily an idea that can become sheer lip service to Americans. Dr. Fickensher would speak of one aspect of the Law being the mirror of existence - look around and see the world in chaos - that is law. Man, when the world is pumping in the Law, people sure are primed to hear the Gospel, even from a poor sack like me!

Finally, one of the complaints that I will hear about the 1 year series is how hard it is to preach the same text over and over and over again. Really? Are you the same as you were a year ago? I know I'm not. Are your people facing the same fears and difficulties as they were a year ago? Mine aren't. So then, I have different experiences whereby to write a sermon to people who are in need of different things than a year ago. Why should a text be hard - I'm not going to emphasize the same things as I did a year ago. The problem isn't that the text is repetative, it is that you are and you don't put the actually effort into thinking about what your people need to hear from the text, what makes it apply to them.

I think that is the part of preaching that the Seminaries skirt over the most - what do your people need to hear. Of course, this is because when we all work on Hom classes at the Sem, they are abstract, they are in a classroom with no real congregation. But our congregations are really, and they are the ones you are called to preach to, they are the ones who need the Word - and so your sermon ought to be tailored to their needs. Yes, preach the text, but preach the text to your people.

More over, if you find no new insights in a text that you probably haven't looked at in a year, your study of scripture is shoddy, and your personal reflection on life is lacking. We are to take out the old and make it new - that is a Pastor's task - and given the depths of the riches of the wisdom of God, it ain't impossible.

So there they are, a few thoughts to close the year. Okay, they were thoughts so I could kill time until Colin Cowherd comes on ESPN Radio so I can listen to the start of his show when I shower, but still, even though brought around for the silliest of reasons, they still are valid.

Blessed Eve of the Circumcision and Name of Jesus to you all.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

This morning's sermon

1st Sunday After Christmas – Luke 2:28-40, December 30, 2007

In the Name of Christ the New Born King +

For this Boy Jesus, for this little Child to be our Savior, there are some things that must be done. You see, this infant, while indeed True God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God – is also true Man – born to a Jewish mother – indeed born under the law. And as a Man under the law, He is obligated to fulfill it. You and I, we fail at fulfilling the Law, so this child Jesus must and will succeed at fulfilling God’s Law, fulfilling it perfectly in our stead. And moreover, as He was born a Jew, He must fulfill the Ceremonial Law of the Old Testament. And so, 40 days after His birth, which is the time given in the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph take little Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to offer up the appropriate sacrifice for a first born son – a pair of turtledoves – the poor man’s offering. And already Jesus is on the way to fulfilling His duty and mission to be our savior.

But there in the temple, something happens – a beautiful, wonderful event – so wonderful and beautiful that we will sing it again today in just a few moments. There was an old man named Simeon, an old fellow who lived in Jerusalem. And somehow the Holy Spirit had revealed to this pious old man that he would not die, he would not see death until he saw the promised Messiah – the Messiah who would be the consolation of Israel. Can you think what it would be like? Oh, there is old, faithful Simeon, just waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the Messiah. Would that we believed the Word as he did and show such diligence as he! But at any rate, as Jesus and Mary and Joseph are at the temple, Simeon comes up, and he sees Jesus, he sees this Child – and he takes Him up in his old aged arms, takes Him out of Mary’s hands into his own and starts giving thanks to God, blesses God, extols God and sings His praises – uses words which are familiar to us all – Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. We know these words – they are the Nunc Dimittis – Latin for “Now Let Depart” the first phrase of this in Latin. We sing them, even to this day after communion.

Let’s ponder them this morning, for they teach us much, and we learn much from them. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. Such an interesting reaction. I can die now. That’s what he’s saying – when he uses the phrase “depart in peace” he’s not talking about short lines at the airport for his trip to Vegas – Simeon is saying, “Alright Lord, I can die now – you can take me.” Is that not a marvelous faith, a wonder to think on and behold. To be that confident, to be that sure – I can die now. That is a wonderful gift – Simeon has no more fear. Now, the world likes to keep us full of doubt, full of fear – oh no, what will the future hold. The world thrives on fear – we see that especially as the Presidential race gears up. Apparently it doesn’t matter who we vote for because according to each other they all with ruin everything. If you elect so and so, the US will crumble – so and so will make the sky fall. I remember seeing on the news a newscaster saying in serious, somber tones, “And coming up next, could your Christmas tree be a death trap for your family”. Fear sells. Fear keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fear keeps in bondage. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. For Simeon, there is no fear – and why? According to Your Word. Simeon has heard the Word, and Simeon believes. Because Simeon believes the Word, trusts that God will be true and will provide Salvation, indeed, Simeon now holds salvation in his hands – what is there for Simeon to fear? Eh, I can die now, the grave holds no more fear for me – I behold the One who will call me forth from the grave. This is the peace that Christ gives, this is the peace and release from fear that is ours – that we know we have and receive every time we receive our Lord’s Supper. Think on this – you have communed – Christ Jesus has given you His own Body and Blood for your forgiveness – what else is there to fear? What tops that, what is bigger or more daunting than that? Like Simeon, we too see and hold and indeed even taste our salvation, and as such we are bold like him, we are right to sing his words, make them our own as well – because we have what he had – for we likewise trust in the Word. This is the peace of the Lord that is with us always, because we understand that in Him we have an eternal peace, and peace that nothing in this world can take away.

Simeon’s song continues – For my eyes have seen Your salvation, that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples. We know the old adage – seeing is believing. We can hear things, even from good, reliable sources – and we can even know that something is true – but until we see it for ourselves it doesn’t quite hit home. Our eyes are a useful tool – a wonderful gift given to us by God, even if now a days our eyes can all too often be wondering eyes, looking where they ought not, casting covetous glances all around. Old Simeon knew that the Lord’s Word was true – that when the Lord spoke it was as good as done, you can take it to the bank. And Simeon believed – and yet, when this old man sees the Christ Child, he breaks forth into joyous song. He has seen it – He has held the Christ Child in his own hands – he knows it to be true.

Simeon’s response doesn’t surprise God – because God knows how Simeon, how we, how our minds work. We like having tangible things to hold on to – and God deals with us in this way. Think on the Old Testament. God would give the children of Abraham, the children of Israel signs of His covenant. There was the sign of Circumcision – you’ll hear more about this New Year’s Eve – but for the moment and for this sermon – think on how tangible a sign that was – proof that you were part of God’s salvation. You had Passover – you had the glory of the Lord in the pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire. God gave the people of the Old Testament things to hold onto, things to grasp.

And now, even today, He prepares salvation in the face of all people in a way that we can grasp. Consider your baptism. We know what it is – it is not plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word – and if you didn’t recognize that as being from the Small Catechism, you need to make a good new year’s resolution to review the catechism – and even if you did recognize it, reviewing your catechism wouldn’t hurt. But that being said, have you ever though how kind and loving God is just in how Baptism works. God takes His Word and attaches it, combines it with something that we can see and touch – water. And when those waters of Holy Baptism are applied to us, we know that God’s Word is well and truly applied to us. Let doubt be done away with, and as for Satan with his accusations that God wouldn’t love one as you, he can take a long walk off of a short pier, for you are baptized, and you have the physical proof that God loves you.

Same wonder with the Supper. It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink. Just as Simeon held in his hands the Body of his Savior and the Body of his God made flesh – so shall you in the gift of Holy Communion. What David prophesied in the 34th Psalm you will receive today – Taste and see that the Lord is God! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Christ Jesus Himself will give you salvation, the highest refuge, in His Supper. Again, something tangible, something that we can wrap not just our minds but our hands around – something that we can taste, can smell, can see – God overwhelms us with His love and forgiveness through all our senses – so that we see and taste and smell and believe.

Simeon’s song concludes A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. And with Christ, the old testament came to a close. Israel’s job would be done, they had produced the Messiah. No longer would they need to be separated off from the other peoples of the world – God tells Peter he can eat pig now, Paul shows that the ceremonies of the law aren’t required. The whole reason for all these things – the dietary laws, the sacrifices, was so that the people of Israel would be separate and distinct from the rest of the world – they would be God’s reminder to all people that He would send a Messiah, a Savior. The people of Nineveh knew this – they repented of their sin and looked to God. The wise men from the East knew that God was sending a king – but they didn’t quite know how or who. God fearing Gentiles from all over knew that God was going to act in and through the people of Israel – and now that is fully revealed. Behold Christ, the Savior of the Nations. Behold Jesus, the Lord is Salvation for all. And Israel is glorified in Him. Luther in the 1520s writes a book entitled “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew” – and in this he points out that God did not choose to be born of pigheaded, crude, drunken Germans – but He deigned to be born of a Jewish mother – indeed, a glory for that line and heritage and race that no other can claim. Behold, this little Jewish Boy is the God and Creator of all things – the God and Creator who restores His Creation and brings the gifts of heaven to earth.

This is the Child the Simeon holds in his arms, this is the child who grows and goes to the Cross and suffers and dies and rises again to win us salvation. This is the very Body that our Lord gives to us this day for forgiveness. With this in mind, seeing this, we can rejoice with Simeon, and with this in mind, in the Name of our Lord Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, my dear friends, and true and hearty Merry Christmas once again to you all. Amen.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A New Woe!

At the risk of being slightly blashphemous. . .

You have heard many woes said - but I say unto all y'all pastors. . .

Woe unto you who wore Superman pajamas or played around as Batman when you were little, for you will always be disappointed as a Pastor!

Alright Brown - it wasn't that witty or funny. Get to the point quickly please. Alright, here it goes. We like to be heroes. While my wife and I got the game Rock Band, we could have easily purchased Guitar Hero. Either way - imagine you are a star and the focus is on you. Or, with the Superhero idea - imagine you sweep in and save the day.

Pastors are not heroes.

"What are you saying, I should be a hero to my people, they should emulate me!" Why should they do that, you arrogant cad? Are you to be the focus of your church? Shall they sing to you, "Then sings my Church, the cult that follows me, how great I am, how great I am"? The focus of all that you do is to be upon Christ the Crucified - draw not attention to yourself!

"But, I have heroic fights, I can save my congregation from careening off into (false doctrine/ contemporary worship/ bitter feuding/ just being general schmucks/ being tacky dressers/ not knowing the difference between a patten and a pyx/ thing of the day)" Don't classify everything as a massive battle or struggle - well, at least not against your parishioners. We do battle the forces of darkness --- even if they don't pay or treat you well, this does not refer to your people. You are to lead them, calmly and gentlily.

Pastor is not the word for hero - it is the word for Shepherd - one who quietly leads his sheep where they need to be, and that's it. And if we have dreams of fighting the dream fight - we will only be disappointed - and we probably won't be doing our jobs.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Now, I'm guessing that most people reading this, most likely coming from a nice, religious background, do indeed understand the idea that the ends do NOT justify the means. Stealing for a "good cause" is still stealing - the nice end doesn't make a wrong any less wrong.

However, I think that because we have this part of our thinking, sometimes we can neglect the importance of answering the question of "why" - why is something done. What are the ends? While the ends do not justify the means, the ends do determine whether or not we actually do something - all things may be permissible, but not all things are profitable.

On a friend's blog, there was a discussion that revolved around liturgy and the like (it's dropping the Ball over to the left, scroll down, long post on Lutheran Spirituality with lots of comments) - and I was arguing towards freedom, as is my custom, and I was asked, that since my reasoning sounds almost exactly like how a CW fellow might defend his practice (or lack there of), what makes me different.

The answer is why. Why does one do what one does. For beings with freedom, that is of the utmost importance. If there are a range of options which we are free do choose from among, the law (in terms of do this, don't do this) doesn't apply - we are in the realm of you may. And when you may - the question becomes why.

For example - why do I think that Contemporary Worship is a bad idea? Not because it is "wrong" and the bible says you can't use guitars and a backbeat. . . but rather, why are you doing it. Think on the rationale people give for why Contemporary Worship is used - are they Christ-centered? If not - I believe they fall short. The rationale - the why - isn't to better teach Christ - but it is to invoke a response (let's call that what it is - manipulation), or perhaps to attract more people, but then you'll give them good stuff (let's call that what it is - seduction, or at best acting like a used car salesman).

Why is important. In fact, for those who have freedom, the why is all important. We are called upon to show love to our neighbors. So why do you do something? It had better be in order to show love to your neighbor - for just as Christ now lives in you, your live is to be lived in service for your neighbor - that is your reason d'existance, as it were. And it should guide all your actions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Sermon

The Feast of the Nativity – 2007 – John 1:1-14

In the Name of Christ the Newborn King +

Consider the manger in Bethlehem. Think on it for a moment. Last night we heard the familiar tale from Luke, the Inn with no room, the Shepherds, the Angels singing – and the highlight – the Child in the manger. Who is this Child, what does it truly mean that this child is there? Luke tells us the story of Jesus' birth, Matthew tells us of how Joseph, how the Wise Men, how Herod all reacted to Jesus' birth – but John, John with the elegance and bluntness that is so common to His Gospel, John tells us what this story means, tells us who this Child is. That is why this morning, Christmas day, the feast of the Nativity, we pause and ponder the introduction to John's Gospel. We know the story, now what does it mean?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. Who is it lying in the manger? It is God Himself – the Creator of all things, God almighty. Ponder the simple wonder of this – what is weaker than a newborn child, who has not even the strength to hold up His head, and yet this is God, God Almighty, who takes on the flesh of a newborn infant, the weakest of all ages of mankind. A new born is a tiny thing – we marvel when one weighs 9 pounds – and yet this is God, the Omnipresent God who is everywhere, covers all things, who takes as His own such a tiny body. We speak of a new born, and yet this new born is the Eternal God – who was before time, before creation. When you see this child, you see God. We can't comprehend God in His abstract description. We can't fathom what it means to be all-powerful, or eternal, or omnipresent, or all knowing – we can't grasp what it must be like to be God – and yet, look there in the manger, and what do you see? You see God become Man, God in the flesh, God in a way that we can see and understand and comprehend. God comes to us in a way that we can understand, He comes as one of us.

That is who comes – but what does this mean, what does this mystery of God made flesh entail? In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. This Child in the manger – this is the Creator of all things, the very source of life, the source of the life that we know. And there He is, lying in a manger. Why? Think on this, dear friends, ponder this. Adam and Eve were created alive – then God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. A living creature – a creature who has life as his own possession, a creature who has received from God the gift of life as his own, as something intrinsic to him, something that cannot be taken away.

Yet man does not hold on to life – man doesn't view this life as precious, the most precious gift he is given. He tosses it away. He is warned that if he should eat of the tree of the knowledge of God and Evil, in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. And even with this warning, even knowing that they are putting this gift of life at risk, Adam and Eve eat of the tree – and they die. Well, wait, pastor, they don't die right there. True, God in mercy gives them some days – but they lost life and garnered death. Life was our own, life was what we had. Now that is gone. Think on how hard we must struggle to maintain life – have you seen how frantically the doctors will rush to save a life? All an effect of sin. The wages of sin is death. By sinning, we traded death for life, that was our lot. It's not surprising that right after the fall we hear of Cain murdering Able. Sometimes we think, “Wow, things got really bad quickly” - but all sin, all sin is murder, all sin is choosing death and it's kingdom over life – all sin is murder and death to us, to our neighbor – it is darkness and doom.

But what does John remind us of? In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Man's sin was devastating, and it ruined a lot of things. Wrecked Adam and Eve themselves. Wrecked creation – the whole of creation groans. And yet – even with this – God is not defeated. Man loses life – God doesn't. In Him was life – and life remained with Him – what the Lord had given to man the Lord of Life still had – and man's darkness and wickedness didn't triumph over it, didn't conquer God. Even as Adam and Eve fell, God was still the living God – the God of life – and Adam and Eve couldn't overturn that, couldn't change that fact. Now behold the new born Child in the manger. There is life – and not just in some sentimental, oh look, a new life has come into the world sort of way – but there is Life, the One who is Life, the One who gives Life. There He is, in a way that we can see and understand. What man had lost in the garden, what Satan had convinced us to carelessly toss away, there it lies – once again a living Man, a Man who has life as His own, a Man who is truly alive. That is what you see when you see Jesus – Man as Man was meant to be. What does the birth of Christ mean – The true Light, which enlightens the world, was coming into the world. When you see that Christ Child, you see life, you see light return, you see God in His fullness, there in a manger, in a food trough.

But why all this – we see Who this is in the manger – but why is He, why is God there? The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His Glory. We in our sin had lost life, we had lost what it meant to be human, to be the living creature we were made to be. We had lost our union, our connection with God – the walks with God in the cool of the day there in Paradise were gone – we had tossed them away. And we were powerless to restore them, powerless to fix them. What man threw away, sinful man could not fix. We could not raise ourselves up to God, for we were lost, diminished, less than what we were. Dead men don't raise themselves, don't give themselves back the life they lost. We were lost, unable to help ourselves, unable to return to God of our own strength and power – and so – God comes to us. The Word became flesh and DWELT among us- came to us to be with us, to dwell, to live with us. Whereas we could not go to God, we could not of our own accord be what we were – God comes to us, God becomes Man, a Living Man, what Mankind was created like – and He comes to us to give us life.

That is the wonder of this day – that God enters the fallen world in flesh in order to restore sinful, fallen man to life. Jesus Christ takes up our flesh, a human body, to redeem and win us creatures of sinful flesh, to restore our own Bodies with His own life. - to make us again what we were in the garden – But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name (that is by His Power, by His authority, in His Name) He gave the power to become children of God (that is, to be restored, to be what we were made, to be like Jesus Christ Himself, human beings with life of their own, human beings who though they might die, yet shall they live eternally), who were born not of blood or of the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God. What we could not do – what our watered down, weakened blood couldn't accomplish, what our sinful flesh couldn't do, what our wills had not the strength to accomplish – God does. Through Christ Jesus, man is given life. Christ Jesus lives perfectly, and with complete innocence takes up man's sins, takes up man's punishment – even goes to the cross and tastes of our death, the death that we deserve – and then, He rises, He lives – His Body gives us life.

That is what you see when you see the Christ child – God become Man to make Man live with God eternally through Christ's death and resurrection. This is what God does – for since in our sin we could not go to Him, He takes on Human Flesh and comes to us, and by His own power and strength, He makes us to be children of God. And dear friends, does God not still to this day come to you? We are frail sinners, and yet, God comes to us. God came to you at your Baptism. We hear in John the phrase “believed in His Name” - I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost – His Name, given and applied to you, and you are now a child of God. And on this day, the Feast of the Nativity, we especially recognize and remember yet another way in which God continues to come to us.

In a few moments, we will celebrate the highest mystery of Christianity, our greatest gift – our own Christmas that we have all the time. God came in Human flesh on Christmas day – that is the specific celebration of this day. Behold Christ's own Supper, where He comes to us – how? With His Body and Blood. Dear friends, marvel at the mystery you receive this day – the mystery which you participate in. The blessings of Christmas day are yours – for this Child who is God, who is life incarnate gives Himself, gives His own Life giving Body to you for the forgiveness of your sins – to do away with your death, to give you immortality and eternity with Him in heaven. A wonder as great as any – that God comes to us. And we in no way deserve this gift, we cannot earn it, we can in no way say that we ought to have it – and yet God in His mercy says “Take and Eat, this is My Body” - indeed, the very Body born of Mary, the very Body lying in the manger – the Body that is “given for you.” Christ Jesus says to us, “Take and Drink, this is My Blood which is shed for you for the remission of all your sins.” This is the mystery of this day, this is the feast to which we all are invited, this is the wonder and miracle by which God makes us to be alive again and returns us to union – to communion with Him and with each other.

What do you see when you see the manger? You see God Himself, the author and creator of life, who takes up Human Flesh to restore us Humans to the life we had lost – who gives His Holy, prefect Body to us to make our sinful, lowly Bodies into Holy, forgiven, and righteous bodies fit for eternity in heaven. You see Christ entering the world as one of us, dwelling among us, so that we might enter into heaven with Him and there dwell with Him for ever and ever. This is what Christmas means – this is why we rejoice and sing, this is why we gladly come and receive and confess to the World the Body of Christ in His Supper. May the Lord keep us with Him always and forever, Amen.

Monday, December 24, 2007

In Defense of Children's Sermons

When I started this blog, I claimed that I would push the buttons of Confessional Lutherans like myself - challenge them on places where they have become intellectually lazy and unthinking, where they have not given the study and thought that their office deserves. I have not done this in a while. I shall do it now, with a bold statement.

Children Sermons can be a useful and appropriate tool in a liturgical service.

I remember many of my professors, whom I respect greatly, speaking of how a Children's sermon will break up the flow of the liturgy, and should be avoided as they do this. I will be blunt. They were wrong. Children Sermons do not of necessity break up the flow of the service - any more than a sermon breaks up the flow of the service.

The sermon is the pinnacle of the Service of the Word - and I don't think any of us would say that it disrupts the service. Now, if instead of a sermon you chose to do some sort of tomfoolery - a chancel drama, a skit - that would break up the flow of the service because of its tenor and conduct.

Likewise, a children's sermon should be that - a sermon, a matter of teaching God's Word. There are ample places where this can be done without disrupting the service or destroying it's solemnity.

What has brought this out to me is that for the past few months we have been doing children sermons every Sunday (I did this because the custom had been children sermons on non-communion sundays - now when every Sunday communion is introduces, there will be no false complaint that there wouldn't be any more children sermons) - and the practice is after the Creed I will summon the children forth - and then they and the entire congregation will go over a part of the Catechism - which I will then sit and discuss with the children for a few minutes, teaching them. And then, they head back to their seat while the intro of the sermon hymn begins. There is no disruption, just another pause for teaching.

(of a note - some might say that using the Catechism is schismatic - in jest perhaps, but still it is said. I say, "Balderdash! The Catechism is simply pure teaching of the Word, and that can never be schishmatic, no more than the preaching of the Word.")

The bigger problem with children sermons is not that they exist - but rather what people expect. If you make them a cutesy object lesson time - they do disrupt the service. If you make them a time to watch all the cute little kids - they do disrupt the service. If you make them what people generally want them to be rather than a time of simple and direct teaching - they disrupt the service. But if they are simple, short moments of teaching, then they can be done.

I think after the creed and right before the Sermon Hymn (or after the Gospel and right before the Sermon Hymn) is a fine place - it is a time of transition (hymns are for transition), so adding something there works. I also think you could do so before the opening hymn (although if I did something there, instead of being a catecatical lesson I would probably do a service preview - this is what we are going to learn today and I want you to be listening for x, y, and z) with fine and great reverence - and benefit to the children.

But be wary - do not give into schmaltz! You are to teach - if you do a children's sermon, then let it be a sermon! It is not cutesy play time - it is not object lesson time - you are teaching and training them to listen to the Word preached (I do ask them questions and listen for their answers, but I ask questions, albeit unanswered by the congregation, in my sermons all the time - it mirrors how I preach). And that does not disrupt the service - provided it is part of the service of the Word.

So thus my advice - children sermons can be okay if the following is remembered.
1 - Place them before a hymn - either the opening or the sermon hymn - because those are times of transition anyway - where the "action" moves from the Pastor to the Congregation.
2 - Let them be matters of teaching - which are fitting for the service of the Word. We like and value the teaching of the Word.
3 - Do not give in to the idea of trying to make things cute - make them simple, but do the same type of things you would do when teaching adults - because that is what they will grow into.

It's interesting - at first a few people didn't like that I was doing stuff with the Catechism for the children's sermon. . . I was actually asked if that wasn't too advanced for kids (boy, doesn't that demonstrate that we've forgotten what the Catechism was designed for) - but now the congregation has gotten used to it, and I think the parents see and understand what I am doing and how this is a benefit.

If you do a children's sermon, do it with care and and with the thought of teaching - and then it can be a fine practice. . . by no means a required one - but a fine, Confessional practice.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Advent 4 Sermon

In which I am a mean, cruel pastor who tells people to show up to church on Tuesday.

Advent 4 – John 1:19-28 – December 23rd, 2007

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Why are bothering us, John? Here you are, out in the wilderness, preaching and baptizing – causing a fuss that even we back in Jerusalem get pestered about. Why are you bothering us, John? What’s the big deal? We know that we are creatures of habit – that we like our things the way we like them, and we generally like them to stay that way. The people in Jesus’ day were no different. They had their routines, the things that they were comfortable with – and then in comes John. John looks like a wildman, camel skin clothing, lives out in the desert – doesn’t quite fit in the established sensibilities of the day – he is the proverbial sore thumb. And John preaches repentance – repent, turn away from what you’ve been doing – repent and prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

So, the folks in Jerusalem send some people out to check out this John. He’s making waves – go see why He’s making them. These folk ask John, “Who are you?” That’s the question. Who are you that you think you need to make such a ruckus, that you need to disturb our comfortable lives? John says straight off – Oh, I’m not the Christ. No, I’m not Him, that’s not who I am. And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Think on how frustrated these people from Jerusalem would have been by now – John’s being difficult – and more over, he’s a nobody – and even claims it. Remember, there were false prophets all the time – people who would claim to be Elijah returned, or even claim to be the Messiah. Those people were easy to deal with – you can discredit a guy who claims to be Elijah, you can topple a false Messiah – but when the guy doesn’t claim to be anything – how do you knock him down? So finally, these people ask, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” They press him hard – if John makes a claim about himself, if he claims to be someone big and important – he can be knocked down. John doesn’t though – he doesn’t claim to be anyone important – he’s just a voice – “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John’s just the voice – the voice of one, of somebody – could be anyone, just happens to be John – the voice preparing and making straight the way of the Lord. Well then, John, if you are a nobody, why do you baptize – why the commotion? I baptize you with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He Who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” It’s not about me – it’s about the one who is coming – the Messiah, and you need to get ready.

We know the story. This is familiar. So let me ask a question. Why did the people of Israel need to get ready? Not how, not what should they do in order to get ready – but why would they need to be told to get ready in the first place? These are the people of Israel – God’s covenanted people. They have the Law, the Prophets, the Temple – all the things pointing to the coming Messiah – of all the people in the world they should have been ready – they should have been prepared to meet the Messiah with open arms! And they weren’t. They weren’t even ready to deal with someone preaching that the Messiah would be coming. Why weren’t the people of Israel already prepared for the Messiah’s coming?

You see, what John does, and this is what is so annoying to the folks in Jerusalem, is he breaks up their routine. He shakes things up – he says that the way in which you’ve been doing stuff – it’s not perfect. It’s not right. It needs work. That’s what repentance means – it means to turn, to re – pent, or re –orient, re-direct yourself. You were going this way, now you need to be going that way. There needs to be a change because something you were doing wasn’t right. You are stuck in a rut, and it’s a bad one – get out of it. Your habits have become bad – and so you don’t even see what is going on – Repent, for the Lord is coming. Your daily lives are filled with wickedness, and you don’t bat an eye. Repent. You live your life day after day, not even acknowledging that the Messiah will come – Repent. Get ready, for He is coming. John breaks up their routine because their routine was misfocused, looking at the wrong things.

So, as we hear this text this morning, we too are preparing for the coming of the Lord, so let us think – how does John’s preaching apply to us? Let us think about our routines – are they good or bad? Now, don’t fear, I’m not going to go off on some we need to change everything, throw out the baby with the bathwater, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is new rant. That’s not the point. Many habits, many routines are good. I would hope that you routinely say please and thank you. I would hope that you routinely come to Church, hear God’s Word, receive His Supper. I would hope that you would routinely show love to your friends and neighbors – where they aren’t surprised when you show an act of kindness. No, there are good routines – they help shape our lives. But there are also bad routines, bad habits.

This morning, I’d like you to think for a bit, think about what your bad habits are. We all have them – things that we know we shouldn’t do, but we do anyway, and oh well. Have you ever thought about how horrible and unchristian a way of thinking that is? Oh, that’s just a bad habit I have. If it’s bad, why do we put up with it in our lives? If it’s bad, why do we just shrug it off? You see, it is easy to fall into ruts, into bad habits. We make excuses for ourselves, and we just mire and mire deeper and deeper. We fall into bad routines – oh, well I just won’t do this anymore. Oh, they don’t mind if I’m a bit coarse or rude. Oh, well, you know, there are other things to do. And suddenly, you’re stuck. Suddenly, instead of being kind, you are rude. Instead of being diligent in your study of God’s Word – you never crack open a bible during the week. And things just sort of slide away.

Now, this is a danger all the time – we always can fall into bad habits and bad routines. So why do we hear this this week – right before Christmas time? Probably because it is highly appropriate. You know, the Jews that John was so upsetting – they above all people should have been ready for the Messiah. Likewise, you, dear friends, above all people in the world should be ready to celebrate Christmas properly. You may even have signs or shirts that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Let me ask the hard question. When I say the word “Christmas” – what do you think of? Family? Presents under a tree? Parties and Caroling? Or maybe you even think of a little manger somewhere? Christmas is the time where we gather together, where the Church has a service which focuses on and celebrates the fact, the mystery that God becomes Man for our salvation. That’s what we should think of, first and foremost – hearing the Word, coming to His House for His Supper. And most of the time, that isn’t what we think of – there is so much else to do, there are so many other things going on – so many other routines – that even while wearing our “Jesus is the Reason” shirts we can push worship off into a corner. Hits even me. This is a busy time – lots of services and sermons to write – and I’ve sick and slow, haven’t gotten things done ahead of time like I like to. It’s sad, but I thought about it, and the fact that my shopping wasn’t done was a bit more stressful than the idea that I still had sermons and services to prepare – and that’s sad. But that is what can happen to all of us this time of year – there are so many things, so many routines that we have, things that we just know that we need to get done – and our focus isn’t where it should be – and we are stuck in the mire of all the things going on.

Dear friends – pause and repent – turn and look and ponder Christ Jesus and what He has done for you – for He is indeed the cure for our woes, the way to get out of our ruts. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. As Christians, our strength comes not from ourselves, but from Christ Jesus – and when He draw us to Himself – not only are we forgiven, but we are made anew – by His strength those rough patches are beaten down. We see our sin and turn away from it. We see things spiraling off – and the look to Christ and regain a right focus. The Chief place this is done in the worship service. Paul says prayer, supplication with thanksgiving. How does our communion liturgy go? Prayer – Supper – and then the thanksgiving. That’s the way it’s been done since the beginning of the Church, and there’s a reason for that. We need to repent – and we need the strength to repent. We need God to be with us, so that we are enabled to fend off Satan and show love like we ought. In fact, this is why Jesus became Man, why there was the first Christmas. Jesus in His Body wins the victory over Satan for us. In fact, this is why Jesus comes to us even to this day in His Supper – for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith towards God and to give us love for one another. This is the gift that God gives us.

The people of Israel had developed some bad routines, got into bad habits – and John calls them on it. Get ready, for the Lord is coming. Repent. Dear friends, I encourage you likewise – examine yourselves and repent of your sin – for the mystery of Christmas is a reality – Christ is coming – He shall come again on the Last Day – but in the meantime – He comes to you Here in His Word, in His Supper. Make diligent use of His gifts to you, and join us Tuesday morning, or if you are traveling, join in with the faithful at one of our sister congregations, because that is indeed joining us here as well, that is what Communion does, angels, archangels, all the company of heaven – and the whole Church on earth, but wherever you are join in on the true celebration of our Lord’s Birth by worshipping Him, and receiving His very Body for your forgiveness. This is what you need to be prepared for Him. This is what He offers you. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Come quickly. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Tomorrow's sermon

Does John need comfort, or is he primarily sending his disciples to Jesus? I answer - "You fool, it is no either or question! It's both! And we do both - point others to Christ and recieve the nourishment He gives us!"

Although not that bluntly because I don't note the interest discussion over the text that had been going on.

Advent 3 – December 16th, 2007 – Matthew 11:2-11

In the Name of Christ Jesus the Advent King +

How do you know Who to look for? When looking for the coming Messiah, how do you know who He is? John – John knew. John knew the Messiah before he was even born – For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. This is John. John saw Christ and cried out Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – words which we will echo here in a few moments. This is John, who when Jesus comes to him to be baptized boldly proclaims, I need to be baptized by you, and do You come to me? This is who John is – of those born of women none greater than he. This is John, Christ’s own messenger. But now, John is in prison, never to get out again. John is on his way to the chopping block, literally. So what does John do? Remember, John has followers, John has disciples – people who follow him, who want him to be their teacher – and his time of teaching is nearing an end. What will be done for them? They aren’t John – they never jumped around in the womb, they weren’t in the Jordan with Christ. Where will they go when John is gone?

John knows, John hopes – John will send them to Christ – John will have them go to Jesus – show them, Jesus, that You are the Christ. Show me again, Jesus, show me that You are the Christ, for it is dark in this prison, and I am sorely tested. John sends His disciples to Jesus – hear His Word, and then, my friends, bring it back to me, for even I am in need of it.

So John’s disciples head out to meet Jesus, and they ask Him a question. Are you to the One who is to come, or shall we look for another? John’s disciples were worried too – who do WE look for, where do we go when John is gone? He is suffering, he is fading, he will be gone. Where do we go then – John had said it was You – but do we look for another, Jesus? Think on the fear and anxiety that John’s disciples would have had – they had dedicated their lives to following John, and John was soon to be gone – where would they be? Will You take us Jesus, are You the One we are to follow.

Jesus has a fantastic answer which He gives. Jesus answered them, “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 to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. A wonderful answer. Think on what it would be like for John’s disciples to hear this answer. John baptized, John preached – Jesus does everything better. Jesus heals – washes way even leprosy. Jesus preaches even to the poor – they, the lowest people are even gladdened by the news they hear. This is a wonderful thing – and it shows that Jesus is the right One. See the signs that He is doing – He is indeed the Lamb of God, the One that we are to follow. They learn that they themselves are to follow this Jesus and no other. Yes, He is the One who was promised, the One who is here – He is the Messiah.

But did you note what Jesus has them do? Go and tell John. He doesn’t forget that John is there in prison preparing to be slaughtered. Is it dark in that prison John – remember that the blind receive their sight. Are you bound and unable to leave – those crippled and bound now walk. Is it dank and dirty – even the lepers are cleansed by me – those isolated by deafness hear – and yes John, even the dead are raised. Yes, death is coming for you, a wicked little dance will do you in John, but it will not be the end – the dead are raised. This is the good news that is preached to the poor – even to those rotting away in a prison cell. Go and tell John – tell John that he might be supported in his time of trial by Christ’s own Word. And they go.

So what is the result of this? Everyone was prepared, well and thoroughly prepared, for what was to come. John was strengthened, renewed, could meet his martyrdom with boldness – trusting in Christ. John’s disciples, they could face their master’s fate knowing that there was a place for them – that they could continue in John’s footsteps by looking to Christ and no other – by pointing others to the Messiah just as John had done. They were made ready for what was to come, what they were about to face – Christ’s Word had prepared them.

So, what do we learn from this reading this morning? What instructions are meant for us? Well, for one, it is a fantastic demonstration of love, how love works. John’s in prison, but he doesn’t just think of himself. John doesn’t just send one messenger, he doesn’t demand a personal audience with Jesus – he sends his disciples – all of them – he sends them to Christ. John’s focus, even in prison, is on showing love and care for his friends. Likewise, Jesus shows love as well – make sure you go tell John, go refresh him. Jesus cares not just for the disciples but for John – all the actions taken are done to maximize the love that is shown – and that is a wonderful reminder, a wonderful bit of teaching for us.

However, we are in the season of Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas – so there is another focus that is brought out here, another thing which we are to see and learn over and above the example of love. Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another? Look. Advent is the season of looking, the season of watching – the season of preparation. You and I are in the same shoes as John’s disciples – we are on the watch and preparing for the Messiah – to celebrate His first coming and to participate in His second. Jesus gives John’s disciples what they need to be prepared, to have their watch done right. So, let us ponder this – what does Christ give to us this Advent so that we are prepared for His coming – so that we rightly look for Him? To John’s disciples, a long list was given – blind folks and lame – things that they could see and touch, that showed them that Christ was active. What about you, O Christian – what is there that lets you see that Christ is active – what has He given to you so that You know that He is coming, so that you are prepared?

While I can’t say that I personally have seen the lame walk – we do have one thing on that list that is here today directly. The poor have good news preached to them. Does that not continue on unto this very day – do we not gather here, together in this house as the poor in spirit, as poor, miserable sinners and have the Good News preached to us? Think on what we receive in preaching, in this service. Is there a time you are sent out those doors left to wonder whether God actually loves you – or rather is Christ continually proclaimed to you – is not the Cross of our Crucified Lord continually held before you – See what Jesus has done for you with His death and resurrection – you are forgiven. This is the good news given to poor, miserable sinners – this is your windfall, a windfall of mercy and grace. And does this not color our lives – does not the Lord’s forgiveness shape us and how we see the world? Thus we are prepared for the Lord’s Coming.

But even more than that. When he was Baptizing, John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Do you not realize that you have this – that you have the very Baptism that even John the Baptist looked longingly towards. How are you prepared for Christ’s coming, how are to you keep your watch for Christmas? Think on what a gift you have received in Your Baptism. Not only were you washed clean of your sin, but you were joined to Christ – you were made part of His Body – Your Body became His temple. If this is true, if God’s Word on the wonders of Baptism are right – do you see what this means? You are baptized and joined to Christ – I would say that prepares you for Christ’s coming. Think on whom He has made you to be – you are now God’s own child – this is real and true. God prepares you by Baptism. As Luther puts it, “Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man, and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.” With this gift, you are prepared – remember it daily – this is why Luther recommends starting and ending each day with the Invocation and the sign of the Cross – the sign given to you as your own at your Baptism.

Again, we have another treasure for our preparation in the Lord’s own Supper. Think on what the Lord does – He gives us His own Body and Blood – life and forgiveness and salvation. Do you wish to be prepared, do you wish your watch for Christ to be right – then make use of the Supper! Hear again what Luther says, “On this account it is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man. For by Baptism we are first born anew; but (as we said before) there still remains, besides, the old vicious nature of flesh and blood in man, and there are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes also stumble. Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger.” Everything you need, everything that is required for your life in Christ is given to you here – and so long as in folly and sin you don’t abandon it, you receive from Him all that you need. Just as John’s disciples were pointed to Christ, we are pointed to Christ, indeed, we receive Him so that we are strengthened.

Cling to Christ, dear friends – trust in Him and His strength – receive the gifts He gives you and despise them not. In this way, dear friends, you will be kept strong and prepared what whatever befalls you in this life – and you will be able to welcome Christ with gladness upon the last day. As His own Baptized who live in His Word and receive His Supper, we are right to pray, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Burden of Freedom

To the sinful man, Christian Freedom is a terrible burden. It means that I have to actively show love as best I can - rather than just doing a pro forma act and meeting some divine guideline. It is Freedom - there is freedom of action - oftentimes there is no one "right" thing that God wants you to do - rather a plethora of ways in which to act in a God pleasing way.

A Christian is to operate with the following idea - How do I best show love to my neighbor. One idea is constant there - love. You must love - that is constant. But I and my neighbor change. If I am worn out and stressed, maybe having the difficult conversation that instant isn't the best way to show love given my current fraility - to show love may be to ask to speak about it later. Where am I at, what can I do. What are my strengths and how can I use them to show love? If I am artistic, a neat, hand made card would be great - my mother does that. I wouldn't - because that isn't something that is well done by me - could I do so - certainly, but it isn't the best for me.

Your neighbor changes. Different people need different things - and so how you show them love must change. Different people have different relationships with you, so the love you show them must change. You have different duties to different people - so they deserve differing things. There is no hard and fast rule - no guide book. A person is upset - some I would hug, others I would pat on the back, others I might even yell at to snap them out of it. It depends on the person - my actions have to be tailored towards the person.

This is why people find Christian freedom burdensome. It requires not just love, not just action (hey, I can do an act to prove I'm a good little boy) but knowledge of self (one's own strengths and weaknesses) and knowledge of the neighbor (how they best receive love) - plus knowledge of the situation - and then thinking on how to balance all these.

Quite often this will happen without thinking - just like a baseball player will field a ground ball as simple reaction. But that comes with practice. Likewise showing love - you only get better by practice, by thinking, by being guided and enlivened by the Word of God, by looking at Christ's example. We talk about things becoming second nature - and using your Christian freedom will be - as you learn to beat the old, sinful nature down and use your sanctified reason in the way in which God intended it to be used.

Monday, December 10, 2007

But it's pretty there!

It is an old phrase, but it is true - familiarity breeds contempt. I find this to be true when dealing with Eastern Orthodoxy from a Lutheran perspective. I think we can romanticize how wonderful things were in the East back in the day - after all, we know all of Rome's dirty laundry.

I've been reading a history of Byzantium - and there has been a revelation - a bit of understanding that I have had. I had known that there were problems with some Eastern theology, and I had an idea that there were surely some political junk going on in the east. . .

The simple fact is this - the Patriarchs of Constantinople could be just as sleazy and worldly as the Pope (with perhaps the exception of the 10th Century Popes) - they were just as much involved in King (or Emperor) making as Rome. It's just that we in the west don't know that History. We know the story of the popes - but we don't know the East's Laundry - and so we look at the East as a bit of. . . over idealized never-never land where things are just like they used to. . . no, not really. Same old same old. Scarred hard by Monothelitism - frozen by political infighting - just like our home in the west.

The East has the same problems as the West does - historically speaking. We shouldn't expect anything less in the Church militant.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Yes, Virginia, there is Church today.

Yes, we had freezing drizzle all last night. Yes, there is a nice, thin yet slick layer of ice on the ground. Yes, we are supposed to get more all day. Yes, we live in Oklahoma, where the ice removal sort of doesn't have that "removal" thing down.

But no, we are not canceling Church. You see, I have a parsonage. I live next door. I can walk to Church - and I will be there. Now, will you? Well, use your sanctified common sense. If you are frail and will fall - stay at home. If you must drive great distances, perhaps you should remain at home (that's why our organist, who lives 45 miles away, isn't going to make it). But if you can - I will be here.

Why would we ever think about "canceling" Church? If the building burns down (Lord forbid) on a Saturday night, I will be preaching in the parking lot on Sunday, even if it is winter. The Word of God is to be proclaimed, come sleet or snow, come hail or thunder, come mono or plague -- as long as I can haul my carcass over there, there will be service.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Advent 2 sermon

Forever saved as "advetn 2 07" on my computer. . .

Advent 2 – December 9th, 2007 – Luke 21:25-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

I was going to start this sermon by saying that it is hard to think of Christ’s first coming without thinking of His second – but in reality, we do so all the time. We know, we are sure, that Christmas is coming. Do we even give pause and think that Christ’s second coming might happen first? Do we even consider the possibility? You see, we are creatures of habit – and we all have seen Christmas roll around – for most of us many times – and we know what to expect with Christmas. But ultimately, which is more important – which is the bigger day – when we celebrate Christ’s first coming, when we remember that first Christmas – or when we celebrate and participate in, when we are part of, are involved in Christ’s second coming? But thankfully for us, the two are related – in fact, we know and understand and prepare for Christ’s second coming in light of His first. So that is what we will do this morning – we will compare what we know, what we understand about Christ’s first coming at Christmas with what Christ tells us about His second, and so we will better understand.

At His first coming, we know that Christ came humbly to save. I’m sure all of you could recount to me the ways in which it was humble. In a little stable. No room in the Inn. Born of a virgin, meek and mild. There was no great earthly celebration, no parades down the streets of Jerusalem. Even the Angelic Choir which we all love – heard simply by a few lowly shepherds – folks doing a job that no one really wanted. And all of this, all this humility Christ takes up in order to save us. This is His humility, that Christ Jesus, God Himself – would let Himself lay in straw, in animal feed – that He would let Himself suffer, that He would let Himself go to the Cross and be put to death – and all of this to win salvation. That is the first coming – He comes in humility to save.

Christ’s second coming – slightly different. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption draws near. Christ’s second coming will be for the exact same reason – to save His people. Your redemption draws near. When He comes again, Christ will bring in His train salvation for His people – if we are dead on that day, we shall be raised and stride forth from our tombs in joy – if we are alive, our bodies will be changed and we will shed, we will slough off all our sin, like an old, dirty piece of clothing. Christ still comes to save – but His coming will be different. On the day of His second coming, all of us, whether it is tomorrow or in a thousand years, all of us will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Christ’s second coming will not be humble – He will not come as a defenseless little child, but as the Lord of Glory. He will come as the conqueror, the one who stands victorious over death and the grave, the one who is our victory over death and the grave – and what Job prophesies will be true – For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me. That shall be the difference – Christ shall not come in humility as He did the first time, but He shall come as Christ the Crucified, He who has conquered, He who has been raised, He who raises all to life.

There is another point to ponder. At His first coming, Christ came to a world wrecked by sin. Cold, poverty, the wealthy feasting lavishly while the poor on their doorstep die. Selfishness – that no one would give up their room for a woman 9 months pregnant. Right after Christ’s birth we see Wicked Herod work his slaughter of the innocents of Bethlehem, we throughout the Gospels see corrupt leaders, both in the civil world and even in the Church, plotting and conspirering. Christ comes to a world wrecked by sin – a world that was a paradise, but which was thrown into chaos and confusion by sin. And in this world, Christ endures, He suffers, He takes up all the pain and consequences of sin – even death, so that He might bear up our punishment in our place.

Now ponder Christ’s second coming. 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 all these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. There are always signs of what is coming. When the trees start to leaf out again, you know it is getting warmer. When turkeys go on sale, thanksgiving is coming. When red and green lights go up and sales start happening, the Christmas shopping season is coming. While driving, you see a stop sign, and you know an intersection is coming. Signs let us know what is coming. So also, when you see all these things – distress of nations, roarings in the sea, signs in the sky – you know that Christ is coming. Let me ask a question. When are the nations not in distress? This congregation’s been around a little over a hundred years, and our veteran’s plaque has what, 6 different wars listed on it? When is the weather, the sea, not rising up? There’s always something going on somewhere. And all of this – simple effect of sin. When we look at the world, and we see sin – we know what is coming. We know that Christ is coming – but this time, when He comes, Christ shall come to wreck sin in the world. After that day, no more of these signs. No more distress among the nations, for He shall wipe every tear from their eye. The waves of the earth shall not rise, and the heavens will show forth no more signs – for He shall make a new heaven and new earth for us. This is the reason why He came at the first – to defeat sin, so that it could and would be finally done away with on the Last Day.

There is one more thought that our text leads us to this morning. When Christ first came – it was quiet, it was witnessed by just a few. We will sing “Silent Night” – for it was a quiet night. When we sing “Angels We Have Heard on High” – we forget that this is the report of just a few, a few lowly shepherds. Christ’s first coming – was silent, was quiet – went largely unnoticed. No one in Jerusalem heard it – hadn’t taken any notice until the Wise Men say something. How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given.

Not so with Christ’s second coming. But watch yourselves lest your hearts be 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 earth. It won’t be a quiet event, it won’t be one that goes unnoticed. As Christ was born in the stable of an inn – there were probably those at that very inn who were feasting and drinking without a second thought. Won’t be that way at the second coming – Christ’s return will not go unnoticed, it will not be overlooked, it won’t be something that will be able to be shuffled off onto your things to do tomorrow list. When He comes, He comes – and that is it. And so we are to be ready – But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. How are we as Christians supposed to live? Are we to be beaten down by the cares of this life? No – that isn’t what God wants for us. Rather – in the midst of this chaotic, wild life, we pause and pray – we gather together and hear God’s Word, we receive His Blessed Supper that we might be strengthened, that we might be prepared for His coming – that we might not live as though He weren’t coming again. We rest – and by rest I don’t necessarily mean kick our feet up on the couch, but we pause and hear and receive from God His strength. Because of what He has done, because Christ has conquered and won us the victory, we can easily and gladly be prepared for His second coming.

And so dear friends – just as we anticipate and celebrate Christ’s first coming at Christmas, just as our preparations are going strong for it – we ought to anticipate Christ’s second coming – not fearing what it will be like, not looking with trepidation towards the end of the world – but rather simply looking forward to the Resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. In preparing for one, we prepare for the second as well – because in all things our focus is upon Christ and what He has done for us – whether it is what He has done for us in coming humbly to the manger, or what He will do when He comes again in glory. Look forward to the Last Day in the same way and with the same confidence with which you prepare for the next Christmas Day – for you are God’s own child, and the coming of Christ our Brother should never cause us distress – rather it should cause us the greatest joy. Thus we are right to pray, come quickly Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Constantly on the move

There are many strengths that America has - many wonderful opportunities given Christians here. But we Americans are just so, so busy - always have so many things going on. I think this has had a drastic impact upon our understanding of Religion and the Christian Faith - where America tends to a quick, hurried, I rub Your back, you bless mine type of attitude.

Be still and know that I am the Lord.

There will be advent service tonight. I wonder how many people will just be too busy for it.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Here is the Advent 1 Sermon

It will be a busy week - a funeral monday - another parishoner died this morning, and the father of a close friend died in tulsa as well. Oigh.

Advent 1 – December 2nd, 2007 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Boy, God just doesn’t get it sometimes. I mean, He just doesn’t do things right. Did you hear the text – and this is to say nothing of the fact that we have a Palm Sunday reading in December (what’s the Church thinking on that) – but did you hear the text? “Your king is coming to you humble, and mounted on a donkey, and a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. A king – a king is coming – on a donkey. That’s not how kings ought to come! Humble? What good is a humble king? And it’s almost Christmas time – this text isn’t cutesy enough – why don’t we have something cute – a baby or something – it’s almost Christmastime – get in the spirit of Christmas, God!

St. Paul tells us that God’s plan of salvation is “a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles,” and at no time is this statement more clear, more understandable than when December, than when Advent roles around. It is almost heart rending, all the paraphanalia of Christ’s birth floating around, but not really observed. We talk of the Christmas spirit – which means buy more stuff to help the economy. Angels are here already – leading us to great sales and huge savings. . . oh money. Actually, we are to the point where we are only supposed to say “Happy Holidays” – which I actually am grateful for – I’d rather the world ignore Christ than simply use Him as an excuse for commerce and greed. No, it isn’t God who is mistaken – the Church isn’t foolish talking about Palm Sunday here on the second day of December – it is the world that doesn’t understand. The season of Advent which we enter today is the time the Church takes to make sure she understands – Advent is the season where we focus on the coming of Christ – the approach of our celebration of Christmas – to remember what it really means amid all the pomp and stress that comes along with the holidays.

What does Advent – what does Christ’s coming mean? First, let’s consider what it is not – for we easily get mixed up on this today. There are many platitudes and heartwarming ideas that float around every Decemeber. Christmas time is for family. Well, that’s nice – I hope you have a great time with your family – but I hope you don’t ignore them the rest of the year. Christmas time is for giving. That great – as Christians we are to be ready to be generous at all times. . . you aren’t using generosity now to excuse being a cold, heartless scrooge the rest of the year, are you? Christmas time is for kids – so that they can have fun and enjoy life. And spring isn’t for your kids, and the fun you have watching things bloom, to say nothing of summer or fall? Christmas is the time for that perfect, hallmark card moment where everything goes just perfect and it is so beautiful and wonderful. . .

Those are the ideals that we toss out – the hopes, the expectations. How does it really end up working out? Hurried, rushed shopping at over crowded stores, demands upon demands for more and better stuff leading to stress upon stress – is there enough cash to do everything we want to do, or will we disappoint this person or that – and then rushing around getting all the gatherings right - we have to have everything just so or aunt so and so will pitch a fit – and oh great, here comes your sister, no don’t argue with her now, not here, but we have to be happy, happy, happy, tis the season to be jolly – on and on to a chaotic, stress inducing mess.

Now, I enjoy all the pomp, all the hokey stuff of Christmas as much as the next guy – watching a Christmas Carol or the Charlie Brown Christmas – I enjoy shopping, I like cooking – don’t really like decorating all that much, it’s too much like cleaning in my book – but all of it is stressful, is it not? There’s a lot more expectations, a lot more things to do that don’t happen in a normal month. All these reasons to get high strung and stressed out, more and more things to complain about. And all this stuff, when it boils down to it – really isn’t about what Christmas is truly about. It isn’t about Christ and His coming. We get so busy, we get so caught up in things, in “the season” that we can sort of push Christ off into a corner – the focus on Christ can be centered on “did we remember to put up the nativity scene this year” – and that’s about it. The trappings of the season don’t really focus on Christ.

This Advent season though our services are going to provide us a pause, a brief calm in the frenzied storm that December can be, a time to look past all the blinking lights and symbols whose meaning the world has long since forgotten – and we will pause and look at and remember what it is about Christ’s coming that we ought to celebrate.

Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden. The reason we have events of Palm Sunday start off the Church year is because it is the perfect reminder of how and why Christ comes. Do you see how Christ comes? On a lowly beast of burden. There is no white steed, there is no magisterial procession. Even all the hoopla of Palm Sunday – we think of it as a huge spectacle. It wasn’t. People cut branches off of trees, people threw the coats they happened to be wearing on the ground – there was no massive planning effort, no huge production, no ticker-tape parade or celebratory feast. Simple response – see Christ, respond to His coming. Simple and lowly and humble. That is how Christ comes. Does that not describe perfectly how He comes into Human Flesh – does that not remind and prepare us for the celebration of Christmas – where God almighty comes, joins with mankind – not in a huge palace to a rich family, enjoying all the splendors of life – but to a typical family – born in humble conditions, born in a barn. Christ comes in humility, not seeking the best that this life can offer – not seeking Hallmark moments and everything being just so – but He comes in humility, He comes to the poor and lowly who have to cut off branches of a tree to laud Him – He is humble – that is how He comes.

And our text today points us to why Christ comes. Just as we can take Christ out of Christmas time, we can so easily take the Cross out of Christmas time as well. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, He enters it to go to the Cross. When Christ comes as a King, He does so to engage in battle with our old foes of sin and death – and He does this battle by striding to the Cross, by suffering and dying. That is why He comes – who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary. Christ comes to go to the Cross and win salvation for you. When Jesus comes, He doesn’t come to crawl down your chimney and give you stuff under the tree – instead He is nailed to His tree so that you will be welcomed eternally to Your Heavenly Father’s House. When Jesus comes, He doesn’t show up like Scrooge on Christmas day bringing the prize turkey to enhance your feast – but He comes to you in His Supper, His feast to enhance your faith, to give you His own forgiveness and rightouesness. Christ is always working for your salvation – and when we focus on Christ’s coming, our focus always has to center on what He does for your salvation – otherwise we miss the point, and we get bogged down on things that really don’t last – things that don’t endure.

Advent is a season of preparation. Christ’s birth is a momentous thing – a mystery which gave wonder and pause to even the angels. Christ’s birth is that which the prophets looked forward to, what every human looked forward to since God made the promise of a coming Savior to Adam and Eve in the garden. The wonder of the ages – the mystery of all time – that Emmanuel – God is with us. And we can just shoot on by it – most likely not even worry about heading to Church on Christmas – on Christ Mass – the day you go to Church and have a service, a mass, because Christ was born. Thus the hectic pace of life in America today. Thus it is most fitting to have a season, a time of preparation, where we pause from what we are doing the rest of the time in the week, and we sit and look at, not ads, fliers, or recipe books, but at God’s Word, and we prepare for our celebration of Christmas – indeed, prepare for Christ’s second coming as well, in the diligent study of God’s Word, in prayer, in the reception of the Sacrament.

Remember, dear friends, Christ and His love for you endures, long after the ornaments are put away and the tree has died – long after the final leftovers are tossed and the last of the now stale cookies hit the bin. That is why we take time to ponder His coming, this is why we even spend a month preparing in the Church to celebrate His birth – and to celebrate it the right way – by learning from His humble example to be humble and meek ourselves, by always remembering that He comes to win us salvation and restore us to God and to paradise through His death and resurrection, and by remembering that He shall come again to take us to heaven. Thus we are right to pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.