Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My sacrastic summation

I am doing adult instruction with the spouse of one of my members. They live a few hours away, couldn't work out a time for adult instruction with their pastor (he has X fixed time which does not coincide with the spouses' boss's time frame) - so we go in large chunks when they come home to visit her family. And I really enjoy the class - basically using Pless's Didache with ample commentary from me.

In discussing the Holy Spirit and the 3rd article, we noted how the fact that the Holy Spirit is the cause of faith doesn't jive with most Americans. Everyone wants to take credit for their faith instead of actually believing that it is a gift from God. And so I pulled out my old sarcastic summation of Lutheranism which I think is accurate - and which I will present here.

To be Lutheran is to be "Humble" and "Lazy".

Lutherans are humble. Not just in a kind, social sense - but in a spiritual sense. God's Law says, "Hey, you, you stink on ice!" A Lutheran makes no protestations against this, a Lutheran doesn't point to so called works. . . a Lutheran simply agrees, "Yeah, I stink. Big time."

Lutherans are lazy. When asked what he is going to do to get himself to heaven, a Lutheran says, "Um. . . nothing. It's what Christ does for me and gives to me. It's about what He does." No thoughts on all the burdensome spiritual chores I must do - not even thoughts on how well I must decide on Christ - just Jesus does what needs to be done and the Holy Spirit brings this to me by Word and Baptism and Supper - just as He does for everyone else.

So what do you say, O Lutheran? Have you been humble lately - freely recognizing your own vile stench? Have you be lazy lately - letting Christ be the one who cleans up your messes after you? Or have you been becoming an Evangelical and deciding on all the things you must do for Jesus to make yourself worthy of Him? Or have you become a Roman Catholic determined to clean up for yourself (lest Jesus yell at you)?

It's not "about" you - o Christian - you are not the hero of the story. It's about Christ. Now, thankfully, it is "for" you - what He does is all for you. Be humble - see your need. Be lazy - and let Christ do the work. Rejoice and be glad in this - and you will be a Lutheran.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Tomrrow's Sermon

And fittingly enough, the 100th post is. . . a sermon.

Last Sunday of the Church Year – Matt 25:1-13 – November 25th, 2007

In the Name of Christ Jesus +

We have reached the end of the Church Year. Next week we will begin Advent and all our joyous preparations for Christmastime – but this week it is the end of the Church Year, and we look forward to the end of Time, when Christ Jesus will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. And so it is fitting that we look to this parable where Christ describes what the end will be like – the parable of the wise and foolish virgins – for this parable tells us how we are to be prepared for Christ’s return, how we are to be prepared for heaven. Let us examine our Lord’s Words, and from them be prepared.

Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish ones took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. Note, dear friends, that this is a parable to Christians. This parable is not talking about the good, nice Christians as opposed to the bad, bad pagan hordes out there. There are ten virgins, and all know that the Bridegroom is coming, all are going out to meet him. This describes the Church – we who know that Christ is coming, we who know that He shall return. Even the foolish virgins know that the bridegroom is coming. The foolish ones here are not gross pagan unbelievers, but those who claim to be Christian themselves. Let us see what happens.

As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. This parable isn’t about what you do to be a good Christian or a bad Christian – it isn’t about how hard you look out for Jesus, it isn’t about how you work really hard and make yourself ready for Jesus. They all sleep, they all become drowsy. When Christ returns, none of us will expect it, we will not know the time or the hour – when He comes again our heads will be jerked up to look at the sky along with everyone else’s. What separates the wise and the foolish isn’t that the wise are stronger and remember to stay awake – all fall asleep. They all drop the ball. Or, as Paul says, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You won’t be ready for Christ’s return because you are somehow a better person than the person next to you, your own strength isn’t what prepares you. No, what distinguishes the wise from the foolish is something else.

But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourself.’ The difference between the wise and foolish is the oil. That’s what separates them – that’s the only thing. Both were sleeping, both knew what was coming – but when it comes – the foolish aren’t prepared. And they miss out. And so they hurriedly seek out oil, but then – And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’ They are left out – they had ignored the oil, and they were unable to put it to use when they needed to, and they are left out in the cold, they miss the feast.

So, what is the oil? That’s the key, that’s the point of differentiation. What is the oil, what is that which makes us prepared for Christ’s return? The oil is the Word of God and God’s own Sacraments. Think on this. What powers you, what gives you strength as a Christian? It’s nothing of yourself – but it comes from God. And how does God give you strength, how does He come to you? Does He just zap you? No, He comes to you through His Word, He comes to you in the Waters of Holy Baptism, He comes to you in Holy Communion, and by these means He forgives your sin and strengthens you and prepares you for this life and the life to come. Just as oil lets a lamp burn, so Christ’s Word causes our faith to shine.

What happens to a lamp that has no oil? It goes out, it goes dark, it becomes useless and vain. Likewise, what happens to a Christian’s faith when it stops receiving the Word, when a person decides they have no more use for their Baptism, when the Supper is despised? It flickers and dies. We don’t like talking about that. We don’t like talking about faith dying, about being able to abandon and lose our faith. But that is what Christ is warning us of. On the last day there will be those who knew better, who had known Christ, who had delighted in His salvation, but then. . . fell away. There will be those who cry Lord, Lord – but whose faith has died. . . but it will be too late.

It’s a scary thought – and one we don’t like to deal with. People even come up with false doctrine to avoid it. Once saved, always saved – that’s one way of trying to avoid this. But it isn’t true. People can fall away. Or do you not realize that is what Satan tries to do at all times – to make you fall away – to lure you away with sin so that your faith is shattered and destroyed. Satan desires to make you a fool, to let you do the most foolish thing possible – to lead you away from Christ and have you abandon your salvation.

Christ warns us here of how subtle Satan can be. His attacks are not always open and obvious, are not always loud and brash. The foolish virgins don’t say, “Forget the Bridefroom, I’m getting drunk and heading to Vegas, woo-hoo!” Satan’s attacks can be quiet. Satan can lead to your downfall with the sin of indifference. Oh, you know about Christ – but you just slowly stop hearing the Word, you stop being fed. . . and your faith dies. The Word that feeds it. . . you foolishly see no more use for it. . . and faith wastes away, just as a lamp runs out of oil, just as you or I, if we stopped eating, would starve to death. Many of you probably even know what I’m talking about – where you had fallen away – had felt as you fell away your own faith flicker – perhaps even gutter out. And then you were restored, by a friend, by a loved one speaking God’s Word to you again and restoring you, where the Spirit revives you again through the Word proclaimed and relights, rekindles your faith. It happened to King David – Create in me a clean heart O God, renew – make new again a right Spirit within me – for I had in my folly snuffed it out! We can lose faith – God does not desire this for us – but our stubborn indifference can damage, can wound, can kill our faith. If we cut ourselves off from Christ, if we shut out His Word – we remove ourselves from Him, and we die.

Christ reminds us today why we go to Church, why we come here and hear His Word, why we receive our Lord’s Sacraments. There are many false reasons why one might come to Church. One might come to church to put on a good show – see, I go to Church, I’m a nice person. One might go to Church to make connections – to hob nob, to find people to do some business with. Happens quite often. One might even come to Church to convince God to give them blessings – see all that I do for You. All these – hypocrites. Why does God call us to His House? So that we might be forgiven and kept strong in the One true faith, that on the last day our lamps, our faith might have oil to burn, that they might be real and true – so that we might enter with Christ into the eternal feast in heaven.

God knows that this world can beat you down. God knows that Satan will constantly tempt and hound you. God knows the frailty of your flesh – and so He calls you to His house for your sake. When God calls you here it is not because He needs your praise, or He demands part of our time so that you can earn brownie points – it isn’t a matter of you having to kowtow to Him or He’ll cut you out of the will. Church isn’t a hoop to jump through to curry favor with God. It is a gift to you for your benefit – it is where God Himself comes to you and restores you. It is where your sin is forgiven and you are given strength to endure in the world. It is where your faith is bolstered and kept strong.

Dear friends, do not despise the preaching of the Word but gladly hear and learn it. As Hebrews says, do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourag[e] one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. We need Church, we need to hear the Word, we need our faith strengthened, and it is only Satan and his work that convinces us otherwise, it is only the acts of the Devil himself that whisper to us that what happens here is something we can do without. Think on how merciful God is. Before that last day, before the great feast – Christ continually comes to you here, calls you to the feast of His Supper so that you are ready for the last day. If you persist in rejecting His service here, if you are content to ignore Him when He comes to you now – why would you think you would be ready to meet Him on the last day?

Yet in His mercy, He still calls you. As the clouds of judgment gather, as this world groans ever more in travail and pain, and sin mounts and grow and the end draws near – Christ still calls to you here – He is the Shepherd who seeks you out and gathers you here. Make diligent use of what He offers here to you, lest you fall away and your faith dwindle and die, and at the last day you are found to be counted among the foolish. May God grant that we not fall prey to Satan, that we not starve ourselves of God’s Word, but that we hold His Word sacred, and that we remain faithful, being fed by His Word and His Supper. Amen.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Sermon

Due to an unforseen error, this post will be lacking for a bit.

Alright - here is the Thanksgiving sermon - almost. A few minor changes were added but are not included here.

In the Name of Christ Jesus +
On thanks giving day it tends to be customary to have a sermon which involves a recounting, a listing of all of God's gifts to us. I'm not going to do that this morning, as the last two sundays have been dealing directly with the blessings God has given to us – both in our individual lives that we are to be stewards over and also in terms of the State of Oklahoma. Instead, this morning, let us pause for a moment and think about what thanks actually is. We hear the Word bantered around all the time, but what does it mean to give God thanks? What is involved, what does thanks look like?
To give thanks to God is nothing less than to praise Him. To give thanks to God is nothing less than the right and salutary worship of God. We don't generally think of things this way. We often put thanks and praise into two separate categories – but you cannot thank God without praising Him. We see this again in this morning's parable. One of the 10 lepers returns to give thanks to Christ – Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice with a God voice, and he fell on his feet at Jesus' feet, giving thanks. Thanks and praise, the two ideas linked. Think on that scene, envision it in your head. The leper falls to Jesus' feet, and scripture says that he gives thanks. What is he saying? What would his thanks sound like? When we give thanks, we give thanks for something. Thanks for healing me Jesus. It is that second part that shows the praise – to praise is to declare what one has done. Jesus has healed me – that is praise. Thank you Jesus, the leper cries, for You have healed me. And hearing this, Jesus says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Thanks and praise go hand in hand. They accompany one another – they form the basis of the worship of God – It is truly meet, right and salutary to give thanks to You. . . and join in with the angels and archangels evermore praising You and singing – Holy, Holy, Holy.
And so dear friends, let us pause and see what this means for our lives. When our thankfulness to God suffers, when it is lax, when we slough off thanks – our praise of God suffers. When we overlook and ignore the things which He has done for us – our worship is lacking – and we treat God as something less than He is. When we are not thankful, we forget all that He has done for us simply out of divine, fatherly goodness and mercy. To give thanks is to praise – to not give thanks is fundamentally to not praise. To not give thanks is remain silent and distant, enjoying your blessings while ignoring the One who gave them to you.
Is this not sometimes a problem? Do we not often take the blessings we receive in this life for granted, say we are in a rush, in a hurry, and we do not pause to marvel at how richly God has blessed us. We have places to go and people to see, busy busy busy – and a blessing is overlooked. Or perhaps something is commonplace, and we forget to give thanks for it anew – the house we live in is the same one we've lived in for years – do we give daily thanks for it – for it is indeed part of our daily bread. It is easy to be less than thankful, it is easy to be more like the 9 that wander about their merry way. And as such, it is easy for us to treat God as a distant, small entity, having only a minor influence on our life – to treat God not as the sole source of every blessing in our life, but as our divine, eternal retirement plan – salt a little praise now and then and reap rewards in the end – or maybe a holy, Almighty insurance agent, whom we don't worry about when things are well, but can safely run to when things get bad. When we stop looking with thanksgiving at the blessings God has given us, we put Him off in a corner as though He is small and unimportant, our praise is lax, and we blunder on in indifference – a pathetic and miserable band, overlooking the blessings of God.
When we talk about Jesus and what He does in His Earthly ministry – one of the things we remember is that He performs what we call Active Righteousness – that Jesus actively does all those things which we fail in – that the thankfulness which we fail to show, Jesus shows perfectly. Think on it. Before the feeding miracles, what does Jesus do? John records for us that “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.” He is thankful for us. Indeed, whenever we celebrate Communion, we hear that on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread, and when He had given thanks. Christ Jesus gives perfect and right thanks to the Father, He gives that thanks which we ought to have – and indeed, we are justified and forgiven of our thanklessness because He is thankful for us. Our praise may lack, but Christ never fails to show proper praise to the Father, and again, this is done for us, that our sin might be covered.
And Christ Jesus also teaches us how to be thankful, how to give proper praise to God. One of those ways is prayer. Christ Jesus is always praying – pretty much every miracle He does is proceeded by prayer. That is indeed our thank and praise to God. Think on the Lord's prayer – the prayer He teaches us to pray. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be done. Give to us our daily bread. Forgive us, keep us from temptation, deliver us from evil. When we pray the Lord's prayer, these are not just things we are asking for and expecting in the future, but these are all things that we have already received and are giving thanks to God for. Has not God placed His holy name upon you at your Baptism? Has not Christ Jesus brought His Kingdom to you in His Word – indeed, that's the only way know that He will come again. Has not God's Will been done – for Christ prays “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” God's will has been done, for Christ Jesus goes to the Cross. Has not God given you daily bread each day of your life? Has not God richly forgiven your sin? Has not God kept you safe from a multitude of temptations, and has not God delivered you from all sorts of evil, defended and thwarted plan after plan of Satan's? Every prayer about what God has done is praising Him, and in our praise we also give Him thanks for what He has done.
And He has done it all. Every good thing in our life is nothing but a gift from God. Every opportunity to show love – a gift from God. Our forgiveness and salvation, a gift from God. This fact, this truth is what shapes our worship and gives it focus. Here in God's House, where we receive the blessings of His Word, the forgiveness He gives to us again and again – we do speak, we we do sing words of thankfulness and praise – all that we say or do in this house is to be thanking God and declaring His praise. Indeed, this continues after worship proper – for when you praise God to your neighbor, when you declare what God has done for you, that too is true thankfulness. What God has done for us completely shapes our lives, and our thankfulness is simply the recognition of this fact. God keep our eyes focused upon Christ Jesus our Lord, so that our thankfulness may be full, not only on this day, but on every day. Amen.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tomorrow's sermon

Tomorrow we are having our Centennial Celebration for the State of Oklahoma.

Centennial Sunday – November 18th, 2007 – Luke 19:1-10

In the Name of Christ Jesus +

We all know the phrase – Christians are to be in the world, but not of the world. We generally use this phrase to describe how we approach this world, knowing that it is not the end all, be all of things – knowing that there is a life to come, knowing that we are to store up treasures in heaven. We are in the world, but not of the world, and so we strive not to play all the sick little games of the world, to avoid the rat race, to not lie, cheat, and steal in order to win, to live our lives focused on the love of Christ rather than the love of mammon. There is a second part to that phrase though – actually, it’s the first part. Christians are IN the world. Each one of us here is a human being living here in this world, in a specific time, in a specific place. And so, today as we give thanks to God for 100 years of Statehood for Oklahoma, it is worthwhile to think on what a blessing God has given to us here in the world in this state.

First, this morning, I would like you to ponder with me the first and most obvious blessing that we over look so often – that God has simply preserved our lives here. In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Oklahoma is a place where the fact that we rely on God for daily bread is a bit more obvious. In the 19th Century, when the first English speaking explorers came out this way, do you know what they called Oklahoma? They called it the great American desert. And compared to pretty much everything east of here – it was. We don’t get much water – most years. Even this year with all it’s rain, record setting rain – would just be a typical year in most places east of the Mississippi. You don’t have nearly as many trees, certainly not out this way – and the soil tends to be poorer. Lot of parts of the state are rather rugged and rocky – and then there’s the weather. Incredibly hot in the summer, artic fronts cutting in from the north in the winter, winds, hail, tornadoes. When the dustbowl hits the entire country, it hits here the hardest. It’s a harsh, rugged place.

And yet God has preserved His people here. Now yes, we all enjoy the benefits of technology today – air conditioning and central heating make the weather extremes a bit less worrisome – advances in farming and crop design have helped – but this isn’t necessarily the easiest place to live. And yet we do. With a love of the place. Think on how many years God has preserved people here in Oklahoma. . . from earlier Native Americans to later land-runners. It’s a hard land, and yet for the last 175 years human communities have been preserved here. God has been quite gracious to the people living here, providing for them. The simple ruggedness of our state should be a constant reminder to us that we are in God’s hands and that He is generous with His care and support for us.

In addition, there is another blessing which we should give thanks for – and it is the one that is most proper to the Centennial celebration – that God has preserved for us freedoms and opportunities through the blessing that is the State of Oklahoma. Good government and peaceful living conditions are a great blessing, and one that we can often take for granted. Ponder if you will, the ample amount of peace and security we have had here in Oklahoma. Today we are dedicating a plaque listing off all the various members of this congregation who have served their nation’s military, most often in times of war. Not one of those wars has been fought on Oklahoma soil. For over a hundred years Oklahoma itself has known peace – Germany can’t say that – England can’t say that – Russia can’t say that – indeed, how many families here hail from Germans persecuted out of Russia? Oklahoma has had peace, and that is indeed an extraordinary blessing – that God has provided to us a safe harbor from the troubles and trials which so often beset other places – we’ve not had to worry about pillaging armies or carpet bombing or any of the like.

And safety from military action is just a start –think on the freedoms which have been guaranteed us here in this state. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, right to bear arms – and by in large our government hasn’t interfered. We’ve been blessed with a wonderful infrastructure – many of you remember as that was being built. Modern highways make it a lot easier to get around. Think of the growth and improvement that you yourself have seen in your lifetime. These are things that a good and peaceful government allows. For 100 years the State of Oklahoma has safeguarded its people and provided a place for prosperity and growth, which is a blessing not to be overlooked.

But there is one final blessing that we should above all give thanks for. It is almost somewhat odd to celebrate it today, as this congregation is older than the State – but for 100 years Oklahoma has provided a place where God’s Word can be openly preached – where we can gladly gather to hear the Word and receive the Lord’s Supper without fear. Even back in the days of World War I when we were speaking German, which wasn’t quite popular – this congregation was preserved. Preserved through dust bowls and oil busts – as hard as it is to imagine an oil bust right now – God has preserved His Word. And not just here, but throughout the State. That is such a blessing – a blessing that is absent in so many places. You aren’t in danger of being killed for being a Christian – we don’t have to hide where we meet. A fantastic blessing – because the greatest blessing we can have is God’s Word – and Oklahoma is a place where we can hear and receive that Word without fear.

Sometimes this is a blessing that we over look. Most of the best ones are blessings that we overlook. Our Gospel lesson sort of brings this out. Zacchaeus was a man with many of the earthly blessings that we all too often crave. He was a chief tax collector – a high official with power and respect. He was a rich man – plenty of wealth and all that money can buy. Power and cash – what could be better? You know the story, perhaps while growing up you even sang the song “Zacchaeus was a wee little man”. Jesus sees him, calls out to him, tells Zacchaeus that He is going to Zacchaeus’ house. And so Jesus walks into that lavish house all adorned with the blessings of the world – and what does Zacchaeus do? Does he try to impress Jesus with His collections? Does he try to get Jesus to marvel at how good the food is? Nope – Zacchaeus instead marvels at Christ, at the wonder that Jesus, the Messiah has come to him. Today salvation has come to this house – and Zacchaeus sees and realizes that this is a wonder far greater than any that he had, a blessing that surpasses all others.

Today, Salvation has come to this house, Zion Lutheran Church in Lahoma – as it has with regularity for as long as there’s been an Oklahoma. In many ways we are like Zacchaeus – we are surrounded by blessings and bounty – we’ve got a feast waiting for us in the kitchen – all good things. But the greatest, the most important thing is that Christ Jesus is here, that He has come to be here in this place to give us the forgiveness of our sins. The greatest feast isn’t the one at noon – it’s the one here on the altar – where under simple bread and wine Christ Jesus will give you His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins – and more over, it’s not even a surprise. Zacchaeus must have been shocked when Jesus said – I’m coming to your house. We take this for granted – of course God will be here for us. Do you see how richly blessed we are? And we can do this without fear. Are any of you worried about an angry mob breaking down the doors and beating us to death – because it’s happened to many a church in the past, and it happens to many churches even today. We have some strange religious crackpots here in Oklahoma, but we don’t have to worry about mobs. Or do you fear that the government will send troops to break this service up, or that I’ll get arrested for preaching the Gospel – because there are places where that is the case. No, Christ Jesus continues to come to us here in this place and has done so unmolested for longer than any of us have been alive. And that, dear friends, is a blessing that is almost beyond our ability to comprehend.

So, dear friends in Christ, we are right to give thanks to God this day for the 100 years of Statehood He has granted unto Oklahoma – for in fact He has blessed us through this State. We have seen growth unimaginable here, and we have experienced safety and security that is rare and unique throughout the world. But most importantly, and that which we should never forget, God has preserved this congregation, indeed, even using the State of Oklahoma to be a harbor of safety so that His Word might be preached – so that He might come to us sinners and share with us the meal of immortality in His supper. God grant that He continue to bless us, and may He continue to preserve the freedoms we have known through the State of Oklahoma. Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The lynchpin of theology

So last night in the History Study we talked about the Augsburg Confession - and what was the unique twist was it was the end of the chapter - and I had be thinking about where I would go next. The next chapter will deal with the other branches of the reformation - the anabaptists, the reformed, the English, Calvin. . .

And so it was with a direct eye on other wacky religions that we discussed Article IV. We say that Article IV, that Justification, is the article upon which the Church stands or falls. The image I got was this - Justification - Justification by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is the Lynchpin of Lutheranism (and I would argue the point that Scripture makes itself).

Every point of doctrine ought to tie into this lynchpin. What is the Supper? Christ's Body and Blood given to us for the forgiveness of sins. What is Baptism. A Washing of regeneration, uniting us to Christ and His death and resurrection, so that we are forgiven. Eschatology - what will happen when Christ comes back? Um. . . take those who believe to heaven because they are forgiven.

Now, let's substitute. What if you think the point of being a Christian is to show your devotion to God by following His Law (you know, you're Reformed). What is the Supper? A meal where we remember Jesus and do His command to remember Him. What is Baptism? A rite of dedication where we sumbit to Christ's command to be baptized. What will happen at the end - Christ will return, but there will be a 1000 year reign where He shows everyone on earth that you really did obey Him.

Everything ties, everything in good theology would rest on Justification. If you don't rest there - you miss the point. Rome misses the point by substituting our works (hence the whole purgatory thing - plenty of time to do more works if you need to). The Reformed miss the point by making it about our obedience. Calvin misses the point by making it about how God is powerful (O God, You are so big, really, really big. . .) Even the East misses the point by focusing on Union with Christ - the effect rather than the cause.

One thing to note - all these other lynchpins are true. We ought to do works and obey God. We are united to Christ. But these are all results of Justification. Focusing on an effect rather than the cause gives wonky theology. Calvin's focus is something that is true - God is powerful - but that doesn't say anything about who God is. Muslims say Allah is powerful - but that statement doesn't lead to good, accurate theology. In fact, having that be your overarching focus leads to bad theology.

You have to have a focus on Justification, or you slide on off into strange places.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Wanting to get back to business

If you are flagging as a Pastor, if you are feeling run down and don't quite find the joy in your office, I have a suggestion - get mono. I tell you, after 9 weeks of this and still not being able to do a good, full, 8 hours without being completely worn out - I am so eager to get back to all the little things that being a Pastor brings. Of course, with Thanksgiving and Advent coming up, the extra strength I should be getting will probably be going that way.

But I suppose that is the way of it in human life. When you are able you are rarely willing - and when you can't things seemed so much sweeter when you could. Wherever we are at, we can find a reason for discontentment - whether it's too much on the plate, or only a liquid diet and can't even get to the plate.

I'm betting this is one of the reasons why Paul keeps being determined to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified. He deals with a lot of things that might get one down, thorns in the flesh, Judiazers, Corinthians, and the like. Of course when we look to our sitz en lieben we will be dour and know that we can think of ways this life could be better. But when we look to Christ - things are a bit better, rain or shine.

My inner European

Hey, I did enjoy my honeymoon. It's not theological, but I got it from Hall, so I figured I should post it here so he can see it.

Your Inner European is Irish!

Sprited and boisterous!
You drink everyone under the table.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today's Sermon

Trinity 23 – November 11th, 2007

In the Name of Christ Jesus +

Once again, another trap for Jesus. That is what we see in our Gospel lesson, another trap set for Jesus in order to make Him look bad, to make people dislike Him. And the would-be trap setters lay it on thick – Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for You are not swayed by appearances. That’s probably the nicest thing they’ve said about Jesus – but they are setting Him up. You don’t care what people think, do you – then let us make You answer an question with an unpopular answer. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? That doesn’t seem like that hard of a question, does it? But remember where Jesus is. He is a Jew is Jerusalem, and Israel is a conquered nation. The people in Jerusalem would look on the Romans roughly the way you would have looked upon the Russians 25 years ago if they had somehow conquered the US – hatred might be too strong of a word but only just slightly. Besides, the children of Abraham were God’s own chosen people – they shouldn’t be a victim of conquest – God surely wouldn’t want that. So what are you going to do, Jesus – incite rebellion and tell people not to pay taxes – or are you going to say, yes, we must pay taxes to these cruel occupiers and alienate all the people?

Jesus’ answer is familiar. “Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus answers the question justly – you pay tax. Sorry, that is the duty of a person living in a country – to pay the taxes that country has established, whether you like it or not. But Jesus also defuses any complaints He might hear about this – look at the coin – it has an image of Caesar on it! It’s his money – you’re living with his coinage and his laws – that means you live with his taxes. You don’t want to pay taxes, give up the cash.

But Jesus adds another part to this – He doesn’t make it just about paying taxes. Render unto God the things that are God’s. The things that are God’s. So, what in your life, is God’s? What in your life belongs to God? An hour on Sunday morning if you aren’t too busy, maybe a few prayers before meals and before bedtime. 2, 3 hours out of the 168 in a week? Is that what you should rightly give God? Or maybe Jesus is talking about giving money to God – talking about what you put in the plate. How much do you give to God, how much goes to the support and maintenance of this congregation? Is Jesus here cracking the whip, smacking it down upon your heads – you people need to do more! Shall this be a fire and brimstone sermon where we sit here and squirm for 15 minutes while we list all the ways in which we fall short?

No. It’s easy to look at this phrase – render unto God the things that are God’s with such a harsh, law focused lens. What do I have to give to God? What kickback does the big guy in the sky demand before blessings stop coming my way – what’s the tax on Christians that we have pony up? That’s a common way of thinking – that’s why we like the concept of tithing – 10%, nice and simple, concrete, easy to use. It’s like a Divine Flat Tax. . . what do I have to give, just spell it out in black and white so I can do it and forget about it. That’s not the most amazing thing in the passage, though. It’s not about “you give.” Render unto God the things that are. . . whose? It doesn’t say render unto God the things that are yours. . . it says render unto God the things that are God’s.

Caesar minted those coins – let him have his tax that pays for the roads you like. Those coins are Caesar’s ballpark, let him play there. Now, what is God’s. What is it that God has provided for you? How about we sum it up in a simple phrase – daily bread. Pastor, what do you mean precisely by daily bread? Let us let Luther answer us from the catechism – Daily Bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like. My favorite part of that list is the last part – “and the like.” And the like? What did he leave out of the list? I think he pretty much nailed everything there – everything that there is. He listed off my stuff, my family, my health, the world around me. What has God provided for you – everything.

And I bring up daily bread because we all know where that phrase comes from. What do we pray in the Lord’s Prayer? Do we pray, “I thank you God that I have earned my daily bread today”? Do we vow, “Lord, I’ll give you a slice of my daily bread that I worked for”? No, it is much simpler, much more accurate. Give, give us this day our daily bread. Render unto God what is God’s – everything that you have, all that you are, that is what is God’s. When you pray the Lord’s Prayer you aren’t simply asking God for blessings, but you are declaring, you are saying that all that you have indeed comes from God, that all the blessings you have – and indeed, not just the blessings, but your life, your life itself belongs to God.

This is the truth that should shape your entire life. This is what Paul means when he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. What is God’s? A few hours a week? What you happen to put in the plate or donate to the Church? No – as you are entirely God’s you are entirely His. Too often we get this view of Stewardship that is limited – that is confined to what do in these four walls and what we give to see that they stand and Word is preached within them. That’s part, but hat’s not it. You are living sacrifices – and everything that you do, everywhere you go is to be a sacrifice, is to be rendered unto God. But dear friends, realize the truth – that this is not a burden, oh, I have to do everything for God – but rather a description of who you are. This is not demanding more service to God but reminding you that everything that you do in faith is in fact a service to God. Do you work? Did not God give you the talents that you use to work, and did He not provide you an employer, or fields to work? Then render your service to God and work. Do you show love to your neighbor? Did not God put that neighbor into your life? Then render your service to God and show love. Do you care for your family? Did not God give you that family – then render your service to God. Everything in your life, everything that you do in faith is an act of service to God. That is your stewardship – that you with your life do that which He has given you to do. That’s different for each and every one of us – what God has given us to do, whom we are called to care for and love and in what way. The blessings He has given each of us are different – and so we live out our lives recognizing this truth and rendering our lives in His service – by living them in faith and showing love.

Now, there is a particular blessing that we here all have in common – that we are part of this congregation, that this is where we gather to hear God’s Word and to study that Word, that this is where God calls us together before His altar to receive His Body and Blood. Next week in your bulletin will be the pledge card – and I’d like you to think this week about what you think is right and proper for you to do regarding this congregation – not just in terms of offering, although that tends to be the focus of the pledge – but also in terms of Church services, and bible studies – there are plenty of times to be in God’s Word, these are available to you – and if these times aren’t good, there can be more. There are opportunities to serve here on boards or to volunteer with activities – if you wish to let your name stand for an office, let Matt [Cue] know ASAP because we are having elections next week. But think and pray about what is the right way for you and your family, not only on how you should best see to the financial support of this place, but also how to use the blessings God has given you here.

Render unto God what is God’s. That dear friends should not be a burden – that should not fill you with thoughts of all the hard things you have to do. No – that is a reminder of who you are, and to whom you belong. And indeed, this is not just a matter of stuff, things for this world – but again, in the Catechism what do we say of Christ Jesus – that he has “redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.” You are God’s – for He has created you and given you all blessings and Christ Jesus has redeemed you from all of your sins. This is the truth that we see everything in our lives through – that life is more than simply what we have to do but rather it is nothing but delighting in and using rightly God’s own blessings which He has given us. God grant that we be faithful stewards of His blessings. Amen.

Last Week's All Saint's Sermon

Better Nate than Lever. . .

All Saints’ Day – November 4th, 2007 – Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

When you look at the world, what do you see? Do you see the end all, be all of life? Do you see money to be made, people to be influenced? Do you see all your hopes and dreams and desires there in the world? Christ Jesus our Lord, when He is brought before Pilate, says, “My kingdom is not of this world. Christ sees a fallen world with fallen people who must be redeemed. Christ looks forward to a new heavens and a new earth – for He sees through the glittering lights of this life and sees the hurt, the pain, the sin that infests this world. So on this All Saints’ Day, on this day where we give thanks for those of our congregation who have successfully endured the trials of this life, we are right to, with Christ, remember the challenges we will face on this earth, and also look forward to the joys which we shall receive. We shall do this today by looking at what our Lord teaches us in the Beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. What do you see when you look at the world? Do you see a world that is everything that it should be, or a place that is lacking? Indeed, when we as Christians look at the world, we see a place that can be cold and cruel, and where the love of God is altogether lacking. Indeed, we even see this in ourselves, for we know that the same sin which infests the world infests us – that we are miserable sinners. We know that we are poor in Spirit – that we sin and are not as we ought to be – that in this life we will struggle – that it won’t just be those bad, bad people out there who do us harm, but often our own sin will do us harm. By faith, we see that we are poor in Spirit, and we lament it, we cry out to God “Renew a right Spirit within me.” Yours, oh repentant sinner, is the kingdom of God – yours now, seen dimly – but soon seen face to face, soon seen face to face with all the saints. This is what we look forward to – seeing fully what we have now – joining in the eternal and everlasting feast in the Kingdom of God of which we have a taste of in the Supper. Rejoice, oh repentant sinner, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. What do you see when you look at the world? When I wake in the morning, I look at the news on my computer, and I am confronted with new death tolls every day. Indeed, when you get your paper, how many of you turn to the obituary, just to see if someone you know is dead? In this world we are surrounded not only by sin, but by its wages as well – and we humans, whom the Holy Spirit was breathed into at Creation, by sin have lost that life and chosen the way of death. You, dear friends who know what death is and what it means, you shall be comforted. No, not by vain comforts, but by death undone – for Christ Jesus our Lord strode into death and burst its chains on the third day, rising from the tomb – and so on the last day shall all – and on that day, when all of God’s saints are gathered together before Him in their resurrected and perfected body, there shall be no more mourning, for the Lord will have wiped away every tear from our eyes. Rejoice, you who have life in Christ, for you shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. What do you see when you look at the world? A dog-eat dog place, where the poor are stepped upon by the powerful, where you must struggle to be the early bird to get your daily worm, where you must fight and strive for everything, no matter who you step upon. That is the way of the world – and it is wrong. We are told that in this world we are to look out for number 1 – look out for ourselves. Christ tells us to love our neighbor – and so, as Christians, we are meek. We do not rush to the prize ourselves, we do not fight and tear at one another as others do – or when we slip and fail and fall into the fray, we feel guilty about it, and repent it, for we know we are not to be like that. You, who the world views as meek and weak, you shall inherit the earth. No, not this sinful, torn one. This is no promise for wealth for a Christian business plan – but you shall, shall, receive the new heavens and the new earth, that our Lord is preparing – that indeed, in His kingdom we will see truly and fully that His gifts are given to us out of His goodness, not wrested from our neighbor – not pulled from the earth by the sweat of our brow as in this sinful world. Rejoice, you who forgo the baubles of this world for the love of your neighbor – for yours is a mansion prepared by Christ.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. What do you see when you look at the world? One injustice after another? Innocents slaughtered while wicked men prosper? Murder and theft unpunished? This indeed, but also, what of yourself? Do you see your own lack of righteousness, do you at night think of the unkind words you have said during the day, see the lack of righteousness in what you have done and what you have left undone? Do you see you own life and say, “I ought to be a better Christian, I know better”? You, who hungers for a righteousness that you know you don’t have, you shall be satisfied. This is what Christ gives you, for He is righteous, and He is righteous in abundance. Ponder this, my friends – all that we see Christ do, all His righteous and mighty works – these He does for you, that He might stand before the Father and say, “Behold, while they lack righteousness, I am righteous enough for every man, woman, and child here.” And He gives that righteousness to you. The Host arrayed in White – those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb, who have been cleansed from sin and given Christ’s righteousness. In heaven, we see this in full – here a down-payment given at your Baptism. It is the custom in many places, indeed, most of the world, for a child to be baptize while wearing a white gown, a white robe – for in the Waters of Holy Baptism Christ’s own righteousness, the righteousness you wear and live in – is given to you – and although the trials and sins of this life obscure it, this is what you will see perfectly in heaven. Rejoice, you who hunger to be righteous, for Christ will see you perfected in heaven.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. What do you see when you look at the world? A world full of wrongs, a world full of times when you are wronged? You only have to show mercy when someone does you wrong, you only need to be merciful when someone hurts you. In this world – we are told to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful. And so, we struggle and strive to show mercy, to look past the wrongs done us – for we remember the wrongs we have done – we remember that we too have cried out for mercy. You who recognize the need for mercy and forgiveness in this life, you shall receive mercy. God comes to us not as the angry judge seeking to condemn, but the Lord of life who seeks pardon and peace for the penitent guilty, the God who redeems, buys back His children. God’s mercy is limitless – there is no sin too large for Him – nothing that is done by man is larger or more powerful than when Christ Jesus, True God and True Man goes to the Cross and thereupon shouts to heaven, “Father, forgive them!” And so there is mercy enough for you. Rejoice, you who strive to show God’s mercy, for He indeed shows it to you.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. What do you see when you look at the world? Have you ever seen a pure heart, someone without mixed motives? We don’t see pure hearts – rather, we know that out of the heart proceeds all sorts of wickedness. And we not only see this in our neighbor, but we see it in ourselves. And so, we cry out to God, create in me a clean heart, a pure heart, one that is what it should be and not this rotten, sin infested thing I have now. You, who desire a clean, pure heart, you shall see God. When God deals with “purity”, making things pure – He does so to bring them into His presence. As God is pure, so too He makes His children whom He loves to be pure by purging them of their sin, by washing it away. That’s why He forgives us over and over, why His Word of forgiveness is always to be preached here – and why when we leave this sinful body behind we know that we will see Him face to face, that we shall be in His presence always – and indeed, at the resurrection of the dead on the last day we will literally have a pure heart. Rejoice, you who desire God’s pureness for your heart, for you shall be before the throne of God forever.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. What do you see when you look at the world? Do you see peace? We see wars and rumors of war – we see cease-fires where people take a brief respite from their combat, we see families not speaking to each other and thinking that’s at least better than shouting at one another. We see hurt feelings and angry acceptance of lousy situations. But this is not peace. No, for what peace is, we look to John 20 – Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you – receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven. That is what we know peace to be – not a pause in the battle, not just all getting along, but forgiveness. Forgiveness makes peace. You, who forgive each other as God has forgiven you, you shall be called sons of God. A child grows, a child learns and matures – and in this life we are always growing, growing to be more like God. And so we are always, as His children, learning to be more like Him, learning to forgive more and more. In this life, in this world, we will always be learning more. Now hear again John from his first epistle – Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He [that is, Jesus] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies Himself as He is pure. Rejoice, you who love forgiveness, for just as Christ is raised from the dead and holy, you shall be like Him, and indeed called one of God’s sons as well.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. What do you see when you look at the world? Do you see the wagging tongues, the people who hate, who revile, who prophesy your downfall and doom? Do you see the people who despise you because you cling to Christ? Jesus knows this – it is no surprise to Him. The prophets were hounded to death. Our Lord was crucified. The apostles slaughtered. Persecutions occur all the time – some only amounting to social pressure and disdain, like what we face here, and in some places leading to death. Rejoice and be glad – because if the world hates you it is only because it knows that like Christ Jesus, this isn’t your kingdom, this isn’t your hope. Your hope is in heaven – your desire is to endure through this life and join in with the Watchers and the Holy Ones, to join all the saints at rest in heaven who wear the crown of life given them by Christ. This is what Christ has promised you – for He has won the battle so that He might give it to you, that He might claim you as His own for all eternity.

Blessed are you, dear friends, for Christ Jesus is your God, your light and your life, indeed, He is your righteousness and salvation – both in this life where you struggle against sin, and in the next life when all this chaff and waste of sinfulness has been done away with, and we simply see Him face to face, and do nothing other than rejoice in His love for eternity. Amen.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

History and Repristination

I love history. I love being a historian and learning from the lives of those who have gone on before me. I love quotes, and one of the things I enjoy doing is dropping a Luther quote in the bulletin each week - his words on the Gospel text.

But I am not a repristinator. I do not think that my duty as a theologian is simply to repeat the old things. Granted - the old things need to be repeated - we still read the same Gospel, we still confess the same Creeds, we still subscribe to the same Confessions - but that isn't the end all. As theologians we are called to interact and engage with our day and age - the problems that we face.

Which is why I love history - because if you look long enough at history you know that indeed there is nothing new under the sun - that all those things you face today, people have faced already. And you can see how those in the past responded, and you can learn from it - and this can shape and hone how you teach and apply things to today.

We are supposed to bring out both the old and the new. I find that seeing how folks in the past handled my task gives me good ideas on how I ought to. But I don't want to live in the past - I don't Romanticize the past - but simply wish to learn from it. Maybe someday someone will learn from me sometime down the road.