Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How Long, O Lord?

Over at cyberbrethen there is a discussion on how long a sermon should be. Allow me to go on a bit of a thinking rant. It seems as though today we forget that the men serving in the Office of the Public Ministry are in fact -- men. Men with different talents and abilities, different backgrounds, different talents. There is no one size fits all approach to what a Pastor does or how he should do it.

How long should a sermon be? Depends upon the preacher - what are his abilities and talents. Depends upon the congregation - what is in the best interest and service to them? What aspects of the text do they need emphasis placed upon, and how long is needed to make that point of instruction?

There is no perfect sermon. A sermon which you preach at your church that may be wonderful could be horrid here - and vice versa. Asking how long a sermon should be is sort of like asking what the recipe for a Spaghetti sauce should be. My wife doesn't like onion - therefore my sauce will have no onion in it. Should your wife love onion, then there had better be onion in it. There is no one perfect spaghetti sauce.

Likewise there is no one perfect sermon - nor sermon length or structure or illustration. Rather, there are simply men in the Office preaching to their congregation. Do this thoughtfully and diligently, o Preacher, and to the best of your abilities. Repent of your lack and failures, and ask God for His blessings upon what you preach - and leave it at that.

I believe it was in the Didache (the old one, not Pless' study) where when there was a guest celebrant conducting the service - he was to do so as well as he could. Likewise with your preaching - do it as best as you can for the people God has given you to serve.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Trinity 12 - Mark 7

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Nowadays, when people speak about Jesus, especially here in America, they tend to quickly talk about Christ’s power, about Christ’s might – how Jesus could do anything He wanted. It’s almost as though they view Jesus as some sort of superhero – able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. But in scripture, dear friends, the focus isn’t really upon Christ’s power. Of course He has power – He’s God. What were you expecting? Of course God has power. No, in the Scriptures the thing about Jesus that has the larger focus is His humility – that this Almighty God would let Himself be born of a virgin, grow as a helpless infant – that God Almighty would let Himself be scourged and crucified. No, the fact that Jesus humbles Himself is much more astonishing. And then we have our Gospel this morning. And we see Jesus using the power, the authority He has – but note how Jesus uses it. Dear friends, even in His use of His power, Jesus is Humble. Watch and see His humility, as He doesn’t seek His own glory here, but rather as He shows love to this deaf man. Christ Jesus our Lord acts with humility and love, humility and love that we are to emulate, and humility and love that we benefit from.

Then [Jesus] returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tounge. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “ephphatha,” that is, “be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Such an interesting miracle. There Jesus is – and by this point in His earthly ministry He is well recognized as a great healer, a miracle worker. And Jesus comes into this area, and they bring Him a deaf man who can’t speak well, and they ask Him to heal this man. And here, Jesus does some things that are seemingly strange. He takes the man aside, and pokes the guy’s ears, and grabs his tongue. No, dear friends, these are not strange, but they are humility and love. Behold what Jesus does. He comes upon a man who is suffering – and the crowds wish to see a great miracle – wish for entertainment. But Jesus will not make a spectacle of this deaf man – Jesus deals with Him privately. The first thing which this deaf man hears will not be the roar of a crowd, but simply Christ. And note how carefully Jesus handles this man. Right here, your ears that don’t work – I will take care of them. This, your tongue which doesn’t work, I will take care of it. And then, the beautiful part – Jesus sighs. While the deaf man is watching Him, Jesus takes a big, deep breath, and looking up to heaven, He sighs. See, I am praying to God – see and understand what I am doing. And then, only when this deaf man can understand what is happening, does Jesus speak. And speak He does. Ephphatha! Be opened! And the man hears – hears this healing Word from Christ. And the man is healed.

Then we have something else that is interesting. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more He charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Jesus tells them not to talk about it, not to go and tell everyone about it. It seems strange, doesn’t it. Aren’t we supposed to talk about Christ? Well, yes. Indeed we are to speak about Christ. But let’s look at this miracle in particular for a moment. Christ’s concern throughout isn’t demonstrating that He is in fact God – He’s not trying to prove anything. Christ’s focus with this miracle isn’t upon the crowd, but rather is simply upon the deaf man. Everything Christ does, He does for this deaf man – indeed, that this deaf man may hear the Word of God. Christ here isn’t seeking adulation, Christ isn’t looking for pats on the back. He is humble, and He seeks at this moment only to show love – and so He lavishes care upon this deaf man, treats him with love and respect and dignity. The love that Christ shows – He shows it not for accolades or praise, but because He is Jesus Christ, the One who created all things, and the One who restores His creation – the humble Lamb of God.

In this, dear friends, let Christ Jesus be your example – for here He is the ultimate and most perfect example of love and humility. When you act, when you show love – show love as Christ shows love here. Do not draw attention to yourself, do not seek praise or pats on the back. Rather this – show love to people. Show love to them as individuals – as people who are in need of care and compassion. Handle them gently, in ways that they can understand – just as Christ dealt with this man in a way he could understand. Your ears, your tongue, that’s what I will heal. Likewise, when you show love, when you show care, deal with the person you are helping – and let that be that.

This is something that is hard for us humans to do – for we love praise, we love recognition – and we are tempted to act in ways where we draw attention to ourselves – where we pander to the crowd. We all too often want to bask in the praise of others – rather than doing the simple, quiet work that God gives us to do. No one praises the mother for changing the child’s diapers – blue ribbons don’t drop from the cab ceiling in the tractor – bells and whistles don’t sound at the kind words spoken to a friend. Yet these, dear friends – these simple acts of love – these simple tasks that fill our days – service to family, service to friends and neighbors, diligent studies, good hard work – these are what Christ lays before us – and these are what we are to do – in quiet humility out of love towards God, and love towards our neighbor.

And how often we fail in this. How often we seek praise. How often we shy from showing love to another – because what will people say if they see me talking to THAT person. How often our own ears are deaf to the pleas and cries of those in need How often our own lips are impeded, how often we fail to speak words of compassion and love like we ought When we see this, when we see our flaws, we remember something wonderful dear friends. Jesus Christ is not simply an example – He is not simply a guide that we follow. No – in addition Jesus Christ is our Savior – He is the One who in humility and love came down from heaven and went to the Cross to suffer and die for our sins. Whereas we lack humility – Christ humbles Himself unto death. Whereas we lack love – Christ demonstrates His love for us in this – that while we were yet sinners, He died for us. Christ Jesus works for your forgiveness, and He lavishes this upon you.

And note how Jesus gives you forgiveness. Just as Jesus took the deaf man aside and dealt with Him individually – Christ takes you and brings you His forgiveness individually. Think on your baptism. You were baptized by name, as a specific individual – God pulled you aside and dealt with you personally. Think on the Supper. Christ’s Body and Blood is placed upon Your lips, upon Your tongue, for the forgiveness of Your sin. Christ deals with you individually. You aren’t part of just some faceless mob, you aren’t name on a register – but God desires to come to you individually. Indeed, should you ever want it, knock on my door and I will, as part of my duties as pastor, give you Christ’s forgiveness to you personally as well. Christ is intimate in how He deals with you – He never wants you to be lost in the crowd, He never wants you to be isolated and alone – He never wants you to think as though you are not worth His time. He loves you in the same way in which He showed love to this deaf man – personally. He loves you, and He opens your ears so that you might hear His Word, that you might see clearly in the Scripture His love for you. All that Christ does, He does so that you yourself might know and understand that He is the God who has purchased and redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature – that He has done away with your sin and opened the gates of heaven unto you and that He is indeed with you, now and through eternity.

This is how Christ shows love. He shows love with great humility, with His focus being simply upon care and service. In our text, we see His care and service to a deaf man. In our lives, we see His care and service to each one of us – as He has claimed us as His own in Baptism, as He speaks His Word to each of us, as He gives His blessed Sacrament to each of us. Behold how God loves you, and rest secure in the salvation He has won for you. Amen.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Some thoughts on Excommunication

I believe that when we speak about Excommunication, we speak about it backwards. When we begin to speak of excommunication, we speak of the external acts - be it a pastor preventing one from communion or a congregation having a vote. In fact, lots of debate upon what Excommunication is centers on which of these two is the "real" excommunication. Reading Luther (AE 39) refreshed and confirmed an idea that's been floating around in my head. The answer - neither is.

Properly speaking - we announce that one is excommunicated. We bind the sins to a person - but only after they have refused to repent of them, only after they demonstrate their desire to remain in them. We do not bind that which the person does not desire bound anymore than we forgive sins that a person does not desire forgiveness for.

The person who excommunicates is in fact the person who is excommunicated. All excommunication is a matter of self-exclusion - whether it is the sin of forsaking the Supper (what we generally think of as self-exclusion) or whether it is any other sin by which the person choses the fellowship of demons over the fellowship of the Lord.

All too often there seems to be much angst and hand wringing over excommunication. It really is simple - we simply have to announce what a person has done to themselves. Pastors do this in barring people from the altar. A congregation does such by removing such a person from their roles. But in each case the action of either pastor or congregation is simply reactive - simply something that must be done. There is to be no debate, there is to be no hand wringing or politicking - rather, as theologians of the cross, simply calling a thing what it is, or a person who he is - outside the fellowship of Christ.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Some Thoughts on Irish Churches

So, in Ireland the two predominate kinds of Churches are Roman Catholic and the Church of Ireland (Anglican). It's a nasty history, with England forcing reformation as a way of subjegating the Irish - so there is some competition between them. But even the Irish Anglicans kept much of the surface of RC - I didn't see what looked to be like many low church Anglicans there.

So, in your wonderings, you will come upon a church. How do you tell which sort it is? If you see a statue of Mary outside, it is Roman Catholic. That's how you tell from the outside. From the inside, it's a bit different. Look around - if you don't see Jesus, it's Anglican. Seriously - no crucifixes - even in the art work. At the Anglican Cathedral in Cork I saw the signs of the Zodiac - but narry a corpus. There just didn't seem to be much Jesus.

The focus must always be on Christ and what He does for me - otherwise you have missed the boat. I saw that in many pretty Churches in Ireland. I heard it as I heard a Dominican say mass on St. Lawrence's Day - a fine liturgy until. . . we offer up this sacrifice back to You God - and everything crumbles. There is a very good reason why Paul says that he is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. We would do well to remember this ourselves, lest we fall into the traps that ensnared so many before us.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Trinity 11 Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 19th, 2007

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

This parable, dear friends, the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, might as well be called the Lutheran Parable. This parable contains the heart of what the Lutheran Reformation was about – the doctrine, the truth that Luther nailed to the door of the Church in Wittenberg, that He preached from the pulpit there, that lives on every page of the Small Catechism. I tell you, this man [the tax collector] went down to his house justified. Justified. Made right, made right with God, where things are all square between God and Man, where things are put to right – where sin and its consequences are paid and done away with. That is the heart of what the Lutheran Reformation was about – that we are Justified by Grace through faith in Christ Jesus – and in no parable does Jesus teach this truth more bluntly than this morning’s. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified. Let us examine this parable this morning, lest like many sincere, well intentioned Christians before us, we forget that justification, that God’s free forgiveness given to us, is the heart of the Christian life.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. Here we see the situation, the wrong thoughts and deeds which prompts our Lord to teach this parable, the ideas that Jesus wishes to correct. There are people who trust in themselves. So, do you trust in yourself? When it comes to your relationship with God, do you trust in yourself? If I were to ask you if you were a Christian, and you said yes, as I firmly hope that you would, and then I were to say, “prove, prove that you are a Christian” – how would you prove it? Prove that you are a Christian. What would you say? Well, I go to Church! I help out there! I give good offerings! I do daily devotions at home, I read my bible. I treat my neighbor kindly! All those answers, they are horrible and wretched. Why? I do this, I do that. They all focus on me and what I do. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Do you see how subtly Satan can shift our focus on to what we do? That’s not to be our focus, that’s not where our hope is to be placed. Prove that you are a Christian – Christ Died for Me. God claimed me in the waters of Baptism. God freely forgives my sin – that’s why I am a Christian, because God has had mercy upon me. This is what Satan wants you to forget – that everything in your life as a Christian is first and foremost about Christ and what He does for you. This is what we sing – Just as I am, without one plea – but what? But that Thy blood was shed for me. It’s about what Christ does, upon the Cross. Salvation unto us has come – how? By God’s free grace and favor. Good works cannot avert our doom, they help and save us never. This is the heart of what we preach and teach – that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works, lest any man should boast. And we need to keep our focus here, upon Christ and what He does, otherwise, Satan will lead us stray, pull the wool over our eyes, and our praise will no longer be thanks to God for His mercy, but rather we will worship that most unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. Keep your focus upon Christ – trust not in yourself and what you do, but trust in Christ and what He has done for you.

Our Lord gives us a wonderful tool to see where we have put our trust. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. And treated others with contempt. How do you know whether or not you are falling into the trap of self-righteousness? How do you know if you are forgetting Christ and starting to worship yourself? Look at how you treat others. Do you treat them with contempt? Do you look down upon your neighbor? Do you think ill of them, are you short with them? Then you are sinning, not only against them, but you are also sinning against God – because contempt for your neighbor is always accompanied with contempt for God. Let me say that again – contempt for your neighbor is always accompanied with contempt for God. Let me ask you a question. This neighbor that you look down upon – did God create them? If God created them, why do you look down upon them? This neighbor that you look down upon – did Christ Jesus die for them upon the Cross? If God loves them so much that He would suffer and die for them, why do you look down upon them? This is the sign, dear friends, that you have wandered from where you should be. If you look with contempt upon your neighbor, it means your focus is no longer on Christ, but upon you, and how you are a better person than the other. And then, you need to repent.

The Pharisee in the parable is the perfect example of what we are not to do. Listen to how the Pharisee acts. Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ So – there you have the Pharisee – and he strolls on into the temple, and he prays, if you wish to call it that, to God. But what’s the problem? Everything oozes with self-righteousness and contempt for his neighbor. Is it a bad thing to be grateful to God that He has kept you from getting into trouble? No. Is it a bad thing to take time to focus on the worship of God? No. Is it a bad thing to give your tithe? No. So what’s the Pharisee’s problem? His attitude. See Lord, all that I do! I have a right to be here! I deserve to be here! I deserve to be part of Your kingdom! And the Pharisee is lost. Jesus says that he walks back to his house not justified, not forgiven, not right with God. That should chill you to the bone. When you think that you deserve God’s favor because of what you do, you’ve lost it. When you look to what you do, you step away from Christ and step away from the forgiveness He won for you.

Rather, dear friends, you are to be like the tax collector, for he is the example for us. He is our example in how we approach God, in how we worship. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” There is no bragging about what he does. There is no focus on how good he is, on what he has done for God. Rather this – God, be merciful to me, a sinner. That dear friends, is true Christian worship. What is the first commandment? You shall have no other gods – or Thou Shalt have no other gods before me – if you prefer. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Behold the tax collector. Does he fear God – does He treat God with respect? Yes indeed, he wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven. That is humility; that is respect. Does he love God? Yes indeed, in humility he comes to God’s house, comes to be where God has said that He will be present for this tax collector. Does he trust God? Yes indeed, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. He trusts that God, who says over and over that He is merciful, will in fact be merciful, not because the tax collector deserves mercy, but because God is true to His own Word. This is how we are to approach God – not in pride, not in arrogance, but in humility seeking His mercy.

This is what our worship is about. We don’t brag about all the things we do for God – we don’t talk about what we do. Rather this – as sinners, we come before God, asking for His mercy – and then, by His Word, by His Supper, God shows mercy upon us. How did we begin worship today? Let us draw near with a true heart and confess our sins unto God our Father. I, a poor miserable sinner. We sang the Kyrie – Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. We sang the Gloria, where we cry for mercy twice more. What’s the first thing we’ll do after this sermon? Call upon God to create in us a clean heart. We’ll pray – and how? Always asking for mercy. How often do our prayers end – Lord in Your mercy, hear our prayer? When we pray the Litany, there’s a reason for that. Why? We call out for mercy 11 times. We ask God to help us, to deliver us, to spare us. And then, the highlight of the service – the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Word of God is spoken over Bread and Wine, and now Christ is present for us in His Body and Blood, and what is sung? The Agnus Dei – O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us. When we speak, when we sing here in this house, like the tax collector, we are calling out for mercy, over and over again.

And here is the wondrous thing. God gives it. God has mercy. His Word speaks forgiveness to us. His Word restores our wounded souls, His Word creates in us clean hearts. He speaks and we are justified. He places His Body and His Blood upon our tongues, and we are sent from His table forgiven. Just like the tax collector – we return to our houses Justified – we leave this place right with God – not because of what we do – but rather because God works through His Almighty Word and gives us forgiveness, because Christ Jesus gives us His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sin.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner. That is what our lives as Christians are all about. We are sinners who receive from God His mercy. We are sinners who receive from God forgiveness, who receive from God strength to show love to our neighbor, even when our old sinful flesh doesn’t want to. And so, this remains our focus – that we are determined never to have our focus, our worship be about us, but rather like Paul, like Luther, like Moses and Elijah, like all the company of heaven, we are determined to know nothing, to focus upon nothing but Christ and Him crucified. In Christ, we have life, for He gives us His own life, won for us upon the cross. Amen.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Back from the Honeymoon

I figured I would just put a few things here so that my loyal. . . occassional. . . sporadic readers would know what is up. I am now happily wed to the lovely Celia. We have gotten back from our honeymoon, although there was much trial with it. Let us mark the 4 trials of the honeymoon.

1. Tickets. We went through priceline to get our tickets. Priceline made an error - had us returning Sept 16th instead of August 16th. I didn't catch this until Aug 1 - so nothing could be changed. We had to buy one-way tickets to get home. Ouch. And this was after 3 hours on the phone that cancelled the previously mentioned game with the confessional cell group.

2. Vouchers. I went through a travel agent to set up the hotels - figured I'd pay a bit more to have everything set up. So, I get to my first hotel, and they ask me for my voucher - to which I say, "Huh?" The travel agent company in Ireland works through vouchers - where I pay them, they give me a voucher, and the hotel/B&B takes voucher and gets paid. They gave me no vouchers. So, first hotel faxes and gets confirmation. B&B lady in Kilkenny finds out, calls travel agent company, tells them to e-mail every other place I am staying and fix this so I don't have to handle anything more on my honeymoon. A good gal - she will be getting a card from me.

3. Bruisage. This past Tuesday I missed a step in Cobh (by Cork) - brusing the ball of my big toe on my right foot and jamming the ankle. Hobbling is fun - especially when on Thursday you get to run through Heathrow to make your flight.

4. Baggage. One of my wife's bags didn't make it back from London (we flew Dublin -> London -> Chicago -> OKC). They have found it, they should be sending it (we got it sorted this morning, finally). However, my wife doesn't like to shop - especially clothe shopping. This means the vast majority of her summer time clothes were in that bag. She starts school up here on Monday. We had to go clothes shopping yesterday - she wasn't overly thrilled - but she got nice stuff.

Now, even with all that, fantastic trip. Good times with good wife. And Guinness. And Murphy's. And Kilkenny Ale. And fantastic wheat bread. And Rashers. Every time I go overseas I find I dislike the FDA and preservatives (and corn syrup as a sweetener) less and less. So now I go to sleep to be awake for service tomorrow - but we are back, mostly in good health - and ready to begin our lives together here (which seems to be mailing a matter of unpacking stuff - oh well, thus is life). Thank you all for your prayers, and do continue them. Witty things and sermons shall return starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

I am a sick man

So, tonight, Jay, my festive Seminarian (enters this fall) and his brother Craig are coming over to enjoy the Star Wars role playing game I made up (yes, I made up a Star Wars Roleplaying game - I didn't like the "official" one - and no, I don't think this is too wierd - it's just pretend like when we were kids, but we rolled a few dice to find out who shot who).

At any rate - I needed to design a secret Rebel cel that the characters would run into. I had made up the contact last time - I needed a name. . . and I picked out, for some strange reason, Miles Schultz - a good solid pastor here in Oklahoma (the contact was a bartender, and he'd actually probably be a very nice, jolly bartender).

So, the Rebel cell consists of four people - Petersen, Cwirla, Weedon, and Ball. Snicker. Snicker. It will be fun when Jay gets to Fort Wayne and starts figuring out who some of these fellows are. And the fact that I made them be "Rebels against the Empire". And the fact that I put them in a "Cell Group."

I am a sick, sick man.

(oh, by the by - Petersen is the leader, does the social things. Cwirla is the techie. Weedon does tactics - and Ball is the brawny, two-fisted medic. I am a sick, sick man)