Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Fine Art of Teaching

Last week I was at the PGA store in Frisco, TX, killing time while my wife was out with some friends. I decided I would try hitting a 1-iron or a 3-hybrid - something that for me should end up driving the ball around 230. Besides, they had one of those neat computer screens set up where it would give you all the data about your swing.

Eventually a sales person came over and tried to sell me on the club I was using. This means trying to get me to hit it better. I was pushing the ball off the tee and then drawing back to where it would land maybe 3-6 yards right of center (which I was pleased with) - but it was giving a distance of only around 190-205. The fellow watched me swing, watched the data - and then he started making suggestions. He said "With your clubhead speed (which was measured and he could see) you should be hitting that further. Try this. Okay. . . try this." And I improved.

Now, I ended up not picking up the club -- he and I both though it was one on sale, and for some reason the store hadn't put that particular one on sale (no sale on steel shafts - how sad!) - but it was an interesting example - and one that a pastor, or indeed any kind of teacher, would be well to take note of.

There are always root causes for a problem. I was getting a lack of distance with the club. Was it because I wasn't swinging hard enough? No. . . part of it was where the ball was in my stance, part of it was where my hands were at during impact, part of it was my swing path which, being a draw, closed the club face, dropping elevation. To have me hit the ball further is a complicated thing - and the most simple idea (i.e. "Swing harder") wasn't the answer. The problem wasn't that I wasn't hitting the ball 230, the problem was a root in my swing.

When Scripture says that Pastors are to teach, it's not just given a list to memorize. A teacher trains his students, cause them to grow. And when there is something wrong - the fact that something is wrong isn't necessarily the problem - there is a cause behind it.

Take for example - open communion. If a person believes that communion should be open - that's not the problem - that's the end result of the problem. The question is why does this person think this? Is it a lack of understanding what the Sacrament is? Could be. Is it a matter of his child is now X and he doesn't want to upset the child, so therefore. . . ? That's a different issue. Does the person think, "We'll, if they've made a personal confession and they are okay with it - what should it matter to me"? That's another issue entirely. Simply saying "Open Communion is wrong and not in accordance with Scripture" doesn't fix, it doesn't solve - it doesn't teach. The problem is deeper than the surface error - and simply fixing the error won't fix it.

Pastors are trained to the same level, the same style of degree as both Lawyers and Doctors. There is a reason for this. A doctor is not expected to know just how to tend to a symptom, but also how to determine the root cause of a problem and establish a treatment for it. A lawyer is not supposed to know simply what the law says, but how it may or may not apply to similar situation and how to use the law properly.

Likewise the Pastor. We cannot simply treat the problem. IF they like silly praise songs - the problem isn't that they like praise songs - and you could stop all praise songs and make them sing Gerhardt till you were blue in the face - and it wouldn't teach anything. What's the problem behind?

And this is where being a pastor is difficult. You actually have to talk to people and guide them. And not only people - but a whole congregation of them. It is a difficult task. We aren't simply worried about whether the answer is right or wrong - but why the answer is given. We have to teach people how to think, how to be in God's Word - and that is a long, long process and a difficult task.

Of course, this we should know. From our own study of the Word we too should see how much more we need to learn and understand. Study ought bring about in us humility which allows us to teach patiently, diligently, by searching out the root of the problem and patiently teaching and correcting it.

Even if they don't end up buying our golf club in the end.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A contrast in headlines

So, heading to CNN, there were two headlines right next to each other.

The first - Mormon Leader Gordon Hinckley dead at 97.
The second - Greek Orthodox Church Leader dies from cancer.

Now, I will admit, although I find I do respect the Greeks on many accounts, I tend to bang on them a bit, this headline I think is illustrative of what is wrong with mormonism and also American culture.

I love the fact that the reference is to the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church. Doesn't even give his name in the headlines. Now, the article goes into more detail - but the focus isn't placed on the man so much as it is upon the Church. He was their leader - that was the important thing - his relationship to the Church. And what comes next - they will pick a new leader.

Contrast this to Gordon Hinckley - His name is the centerpiece of the headline - his role is just a description of what he does. Rather, it is a personality who past, one who is charsimatic. Maybe there will be someone to fill his shoes.

So - which one do you think Americans would rather their pastor be like. The faithful holder of office who does his job well (even though he ruffles some feathers) - or the force of personality who is kind, weakens stances, but leads "5% a year" growth and massive building programs?

Which do we in American value more - service or personality? Which do we value more - faithfulness or numeric growth? Woe to us who desire to be simple faithful pastors serving in our Lord's Church here in America!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Today's Sermon

Sexagesima – January 27th, 2008 – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

The image of a sower is a common one in the US. The sower brings with him the spread and growth of that which is good. Growing up I would hear tales of Johnny Appleseed, who went over the Midwest scattering apple seeds. Or even here in Oklahoma – on my OU class ring there is the picture of a sower. We are familiar with the idea of the Sower – and I would wager that the idea of the Sower is so popular in our culture because of today’s Gospel lesson. The parable of the Sower – and it’s even a parable that has an explanation attached to it. But rather than rest on our laurels and just assume we know all about what God is teaching with this parable – because after all, who better than farmers to know about sowing – let us with all due diligence examine the Word of our Lord in this parable, bit by bit, and see what it is that we learn from Christ today.

A sower went out to sow his seed. That is how the parable starts – and Christ will tell us what this means. The seed is the Word of God. And here we get the first distinction, the first thing that sets things up. This is a farming community. We have lots of farmers. When you think of “farmers” – you think of farms. The word Farmer puts a focus on the importance of the land – the place. That’s not what Christ does with this parable. The key, the focus is the seed, that which the Sower sows. The focus is upon the Word of God. So why is this important to us? Because with everything else that happens in this parable, the focus on different soils and what happens to the young plants – the foundation, the basis is always the seed. It always ties to the Word. If the seed is not scattered, the soils don’t matter. If the Word is not proclaimed – there will be no growth – or as the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans – But how are they to call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have not heard? This is the key – the Word must be proclaimed, the Word is to be preached. Sometimes we can jump past this. This parable isn’t about “good” people and “bad” people. It is about what happens when the Word is proclaimed. So let us see what happens when the Word is proclaimed.

And as he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled underfoot, and the birds of the air devoured it. Christ explains this to us saying, The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Now, note here the distinction. The sower sows, and the birds take away. The Word goes out – and Satan steals it away. Let me ask you a question. When does this happen? When does Satan snatch away God’s Word from people? Luther in the explanation to the first petition about God’s Holy Name writes – “God’s name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it. Help us to do this, dear Father in heaven! But anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the Name of God among us. Protect us from this dear Father in heaven.” So when is the Word snatched away? When we hinder God’s Word. When we with our actions prevent people from hearing the Word of God. Just as I might ask the Sower of this parable, what good is it to toss your seed on the path, how often do we write people off as not being worthy of hearing God’s Word? How often does our contempt and scorn lead someone to say, “If that’s what those Christians are like – I don’t want to have anything to do with them”? This is what we are being warned of. Are we speakers and doers of the Word, or by our words and actions to we hinder others, do we snatch and steal away from them the Word of God? It is a heavy question, and I ask you to ponder it this week in your interaction with your friends and neighbors – especially the ones whom you might dislike, or have grudges against – the ones whom Satan can more easily tempt you to treat poorly. But let us continue.

And some fell on the rock, and as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. And Christ our Lord tells us, And the ones upon the rock are those who, when they hear the Word receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away. This dear friends is a warning to us. Times of testing come. Things will be rough off and on again. What will happen at those times? Will you live, or will you die? The question is – how are your roots? Are you firmly rooted in the Word of God – do you come here often to hear it preached, do you study it, both with us here at Church and at home? Or is God’s Word a passing thing with you – maybe an hour a week if I can spare it, and the rest of the time there is nothing but indifference? Be in the Word! Study it diligently, hear it preached, learn and grow – so that you can stand up to the trials and hardships of this life. Perhaps the most devastating lie that Satan has unleashed upon us in America is the idea that our lives ought to be a bowlful of cherries. We will be always healthy and wealthy – which is a lie. Bad times happen. Many of you remember the Depression and the Dust Bowl. It’s happened. Bad things probably will happen again – for we live in a sinful world. But what happens when bad times do come? Are you rooted in the Word and ready to withstand that day? Dear friends, be in the Word.

And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up with it and choked it. And Christ explains this to us – And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. And now the danger that hits home. We could dodge the whole “path” issue – we can look and say, “We are here, so we don’t have to worry about being rocky soil” – but this one – this one hits us. Those who hear, but go on their way and are choked by the things of this life. How often does that describe you, dear friends? How often is there just something better to do, something more important? Things are going well – and I don’t have time. I know the Word is important – but I have all this other stuff going on. We see the blessing we get from God, and we spend so much time focusing on those blessings that we can ignore God. Oh, we know that God and His Word are important – but we can find nice excuses. And it’s not that bad, we think, because *I* still believe. But note what Christ says – and their fruit does not mature. Their fruit. Their benefit to others. They don’t fruit out, they produce no seed of their own. Contrast this to that which falls in the good soil – And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundred fold. What does this mean? As for that in the good soil, they are those who hearing the Word hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. The plant should produce seed. If you plant wheat, you should get more wheat from it, more seed.

This is one of the places that we can trip up, that we can fall down on. We like to jump directly and only to how things impact us. What can I survive, what can my faith handle and deal with before it’s crushed. Can your faith live, survive, if you are lazy and lax in hearing the Word? You may live, you may die. But will you be fruitful – will you be a tool that God uses to give His Word to others? The concern in this parable is not just for the plant – but that the plant be fruitful – that from this plant the Word of God goes forth a hundred fold – that we as Christians see not just to our own faith, but that from us the Word of God is spread and shouted to the multitudes.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature. Now do you hear what Christ is warning us? We can get bogged down and busy and eventually – we stop making Church, we stop making God’s Word a priority in our lives. Can we survive? We can, we might, but we don’t grow, we don’t bear fruit. If you don’t hear the Word, if you don’t study it diligently – are you prepared to speak to others? If it doesn’t come in here (your ears) – it’s not going to come out of here (your mouth). But not just our words, but our actions. Do they point to Christ? If you don’t make going to Church, coming to hear God’s Word, studying His Word a priority – why would you expect the non-Church goer to suddenly start doing the very things you don’t? If we show indifference to the Church, why would the unchurched, why would those who have stopped coming, think they need to come? Our indifference hurts others. When they see that we don’t care about what goes on here, they see no reason why they should care either.

But the parable doesn’t end with our failures. It ends with us hearing that God’s Word causes growth – fruitful growth. God and His Word causes growth – that’s the key. Be in the Word, and growth is the result. First and foremost – it will be your growth. Be in the Word and God will grow you. Hear His Word, receive His forgiveness – have your eyes drawn to your Savior, know again and again that Christ died for your sins – and your sin is forgiven. You weaknesses of the past covered and done away with – and you are given growth. And when you continue to grow – you will be fruitful – you will speak the Word with your lips, your own actions will show forth Christ and Him Crucified. This is what Christ will cause to happen in you. Now, will this suddenly make dozens of people flock here – I don’t know. The sower casts the seed – and sometimes it hits rocky places. But we do see this – that growth only can come from God’s Word – so then let us rededicate ourselves to be in that Word ourselves, so that we might grow, that we might learn better and better to show forth Christ. Then the Holy Spirit will work when and where He wills. But as for you – Christ grows you with His Word, His Word of forgiveness and life – not only for your own sake, but also so that through you His Word might be proclaimed. Rejoice that the Lord desires such growth for you and promises to bring it about by His Word freely given. Amen.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Today's Special Sermon

And by Special, I guess I mean short. Today we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our Sanctuary. The service includes the blessing of the doors, sanctuary, font, lectern, pulpit, altar, and communion ware. Given this increase in length and the age of my folks - the sermon is short but ties into the service.

Jan 20th, 2008 – Septuagesima Sunday, 100th Anniversary of the Sanctuary

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Dear friends in Christ, today we celebrate the fact that for 100 years God has used this building to be a place of worship, to be a place where we could come and know that we would hear God’s Word preached, that we would receive His sacraments for forgiveness and the strengthening of our faith. It is a wonderful blessing, and one that we are right to remember this morning.

I find it interesting that the Old Testament given for this Sunday of the Church Year deals with the Israelites in the desert. We know of their 40 year wandering in the desert – and we know the pattern. They complain about something, and God provides. We look at the Israelites and think, “They are in the desert, and yet God preserves them – shouldn’t it be obvious to them that God loves them, and yet they complain.” Dear friends – look around. Not just for 40 years, but for a 100 God has housed you and cared for you here. That is a wondrous blessing. Frankly, the fact that any building stands in Oklahoma for 100 years, given our weather, heat then cold then heat, plus tornadoes and in-land hurricanes, is simply amazing. This is a wonderful place – a wonderful building, and God has used her to faithfully serve people here for a long, long time.

It is also interesting this day that the Gospel text is the parable of the workers in the field. The master calls people to work in His vineyard – some come early in the morning, some at noon, some even at the very end of the day. And they all receive the same reward, the same payment – they get a Denarius, the right and proper wage for a day’s labor. And when those who worked the full day get the same amount as those who worked but an hour – they grumble. Then the master says something to them that is profound – “But he replied to one of them, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? [14] Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. [15] Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?' Or do you begrudge my generosity. So often the temptation is to think on how long and hard we have labored, all that we have done for Jesus – and what do we get out of it? Quite often we begrudge God’s generosity, or at least over look it.

Let us instead look at what God has indeed promised us – our very building reminds us of this. God doesn’t promise us earthly power or wealth, but He promises us a heavenly home. God doesn’t promise you that your house will be the biggest and best on the block – but He has promised to always welcome you here, to His House. Those doors are always open for those who wish to confess their sins and receive forgiveness. God is merciful. God doesn’t promise us that our earthly families will be wealthy or powerful, but He promises to make us part of His family – and that He has faithfully done through the gift of baptism – think on all those He has called into His own family through the gift of Baptism right here, at this very font, in this very place. God is loving. God hasn’t promised that our lives will be free of struggle and hardship – but He has promised through His Word to light our way. For 100 years God’s Word has been spoken and read here in this place, and we have heard and been guided by it through all sorts of trials, difficulties which we couldn’t have imagined until they were upon us. God is faithful. God doesn’t promise that we always will be able to stand on our own two feet and always do for ourselves – but He has promised that we will have preaching, that we can hear and learn that while we may fail, Christ Jesus never fails in His love and forgiveness for us. For 100 years that is what has echoed from this pulpit. God raises up the sinner to salvation through Christ Jesus. And finally, God doesn’t promise us that in this life we will eat the finest foods and go the most popular parties. Instead – God calls us here to His Altar, where we receive from Him the life Giving Body and Blood of Christ Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Taste and see that the Lord is Good to you.

Dear friends – not only is this building a blessing because it is the place where God has given His blessings to us – but its very structure – the Lectern, the Pulpit, the Altar, the Font – these all direct us to remember what God has promised us. We are always pointed again and again to God’s generosity here – we are reminded to not with wandering eyes look elsewhere, but we are to remember that our Master is true. God has said that He will richly forgive our sins, and He does. He is faithful in His love and mercy to us – and we have received and we continue to receive all that He promises to us in His Word for the Sake of His Son right here in His House.

For 100 years, God has been faithful to us here in this place – He has done all that said He would – and He has shown us great love. Let us with gladness and thankfulness remember God’s mercy and love to us throughout all the days where this building stands – indeed throughout all ages while any Church still stands – until the day when Christ comes again, and this building is put to rest, and we with all of God’s saint join together in the eternal worship of God in Heaven. Amen.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A day off with Tiger Woods

Well, the Tiger Woods game has a feature where you can download two photos, one face on and one profile, to their website, and then you can upload them into the game, place spot markers on them, and it will place you in the game.

Mine is going now . . . it takes some time for the program to do the face work - says it can take 10 minutes or so. So while that works, I figured I would write something brief.

It is good to relax. I say this because I need to remind myself of this. You see, theologically, people tend to fall one way or another - either antinomian and don't worry about laws enough, or legalist and worry entirely too much about the law. If I have any tendencies, they tend to be antinomian.

What is odd is that in my own life, given the tendency towards being lazy or over working (both of which are harmful both to self and to neighbor) - I tend towards overworking and not taking time for myself. I would work until I was beat well before this _______ mono. Of course, I would look at myself, I'd be over weight, and I'd do a bit of the couch potato when resting (I do like movies, I like video games (although TW right now says that they are "recombinating nucleic acids" - which sort of frightens me). But it's amazing how quickly a long week will make me too tired to work out like I'd like - to take the time and cook healthily like I'd like.

I don't know - I guess sometimes our theological ideas don't translate directly over into our every day lives. Or perhaps we can over correct - I might tend towards leniency in theological and moral rigor. . . so therefore I simply assume that I must be lax as regards my work ethic and push myself to make up for the perceived flaw. Interesting.

At least I find it interesting. If you don't - oh well, it's my day off - I'll post what semi-theological ramblings I desire. >=o) (Now it's "vectorizing frown lines" - who wrote this, a Synodical mission planner?)

But I wonder - how many things do we end up assuming about ourselves - we are like *this* - but if we actually look and compare - we aren't. How many times do we overlook our actual flaws, the sins that actually do us the most harm, and all the while focus on the wrong thing. We never see ourselves that clearly, do we? Ah well, thus is life.

Now TW is "Antagonizing Pedestrians". Ohph, now "Making Mountains out of Molehills". This definitely came from St. Louis. I had better go before my XBOX 360 goes all ablaze.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Plans and Projects vs. Habits

As Americans we love the idea of plans and projects. They appeal to us - detail step by step plans to whatever goal it is you have. This is what the entire self-help industry is built upon. This even impacts the Church. If we want to "grow" as a congregation, we feel we need a plan, a program, something new and unique and different that will spur forth this new whatever it is that we want. After all, if you build it, they will come. That's the Gospel according to Field of Dreams.

Thing is - that's not how God works, or how God works for us. We will use the language of "God's plan of salvation" - but what does that plan involve? Is it like one of our plans - where there are stages and steps (dare I say. . . dispensations)? No. God will send the Messiah. If you live before the Messiah - pray, hear the Word, be circumcised and offer the sacrifices. If you live after the Messiah - receive forgiveness, pray, hear and study the Word.

These are habits. They are things that are repetitive - the same things, the same things that we need, given to us again and again to shape our lives, to make us grow. That is what our focus should be on - not on temporary plans du jour, but on the life long habits that we should be cultivating.

"But Pastor, that's about us as individuals - but what about the Church as a whole, our congregation?" Think on the parable of the sower. What does the Sower do. He casts seed. Always. Everywhere. Over and over. Habitually. He doesn't make a soil study, he doesn't plan out how to parcel the seed - he simply sows the seed.

No plan will grow the Church. "But what about these churches that have these plans and they grow?" Um, look at the town around them - it's growing. Um, if Lahoma suddenly got 200 more people to move in, some of them would end up here, simple as pie. If your town is growing, if your neigbhorhood is expanding, demographics will give you more folks. That's the luck of the draw.

But in terms of growth - in terms of more people coming to this Church, more of our friends and neighbors - no plan is going to do it - good habits. Speak the Word to your neighbors habitually. Be an example with your own habits. Show that the worship of God is part of your life, and invite them to make it part of their own. Sow the seed, habitually and repetitively - and let the Holy Spirit do His Work when and where it pleases Him. Just don't let your bad habits get in the way.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Two Pups

Well, it looks as though someone abandoned to Chocolate Lab puppies outside the Church over the weekend. We found them Sunday morning - around 6 weeks old, a boy and a girl (now dubbed Martin and Katie). Haven't found anyone who is missing puppies - hopefully we can find them a good home. My wife is now over at the church tending to them - she's run over there on average around 8 times a day to take them out and the like (Church last year forbade dogs in the parsonage last summer when I asked, so they are over there at a box in the kitchen).

I think we are going to be able to find good homes for the two via the preschool and our own congregation. Still - I tell you what, if I run across the person who dumped them, I'd probably give him a shiner, and I'm not talking about the beer.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Tomorrow's Sermon - Baptism of Jesus

Baptism of Jesus – January 13th, 2008 – Matt 3:13-18

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

There in the river Jordan stands John the Baptist, a preacher of repentance, a preacher who is bold and brash, and let’s face it, if we heard him preach, even we would be taken aback by the bluntness of his preaching. You brood of vipers,” he preaches just a few verses before our text, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come.” These are his words to the self-righteous, holier-than-thou folks of his day – one can only wonder how he would preach stern law to us today. But this is what you see, John in the water, preaching to the people on the banks, with all his force and vigor. Then – Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented Him, saying, “I need to be baptized by You, and do you come to me?” John, the bold preacher, is taken aback, you can almost hear him stammering these words in wonder and confusion. I need to be baptized by You, and yet here you are coming to me?

John’s confusion can mirror our own. Why would Jesus need to be Baptized? We can understand our need to be Baptized, our need to have our sin washed away – but Jesus has no sin. But if you wish to understand the Baptism of Jesus, you need only listen to what our Lord says. But Jesus answered him, “Let us do so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness. This is about righteousness. You and I, we have no righteousness. There is not one of us who is righteous, no, not one. Since the fall of Adam all of his descendents have been tainted and bound and wrapped up in sin – sinful the lot. We are all in need of forgiveness, of the purging of our sin. And then to the Jordan river walks Christ Jesus our Lord. He is no mere man, but He is True God and True Man. He did not get Adam’s heritage of sin, for He was conceived of the Holy Ghost. He is righteous, He is Holy, He is perfect. And yet, what does He do? He strides down to that water in which sinners were washed, and He says, “I will take my place here.” Do you see, do you understand what Christ is doing when He goes to be Baptized? He takes up your struggle. He takes up your sin. Whereas you are not righteous – God takes on Human Flesh and says, “I will be righteous for you.” Jesus seeks to be righteous – He steps into harm’s way as it were, so that He can be our savior from sin. Luther, in his baptismal prayer says that “Through the Baptism in the Jordan of Your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, You [that is, God] sanctified and instituted all waters to be a blessed flood and a lavish washing away of sin.” That is what Jesus is doing. I want my people to be righteous and holy – so I will be among them, I will take up their sin and give them instead my righteousness. And He is baptized by John.

And we know what happens next. The Holy Spirit in form of a dove descends, the voice from heaven says, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. This morning, for a few minutes now, let us ponder these words of God from heaven. It is quite rare where God speaks forth from heaven, where the skies echo with the sound of His voice, so we ought to take note of it. First, hear what He says – This is My beloved Son. The reason we celebrate the Baptism of our Lord in the Epiphany season is that Epiphany is the season where we look at the ways in which Christ reveals that He is true God. It doesn’t quite get more blunt than this, now does it. When God speaks and says, “Look, this is My Son” – that’s a pretty sure and solid revelation. And note when God does say this. He doesn’t boom forth like a proud papa the day of Christ’s birth – He lets the angels sing that one, He lets the star point out that one. When Jesus as a Child confounds the scholars in the temple, God doesn’t let forth from heaven a thunderous “Attaboy, Son.” No – it is when Christ steps into the Waters of the Jordan, when Jesus begins His public Ministry, when He starts His work of redemption in earnest, that is when the Father says, behold My Son. We know who Jesus is by what He does. If you want to see and understand God – you look to Christ. Jesus is the revelation of the God – when Jesus comes and preaches and heals, we can understand God and His love for us by looking at Him. Indeed, that is part of the reason why we hear the Gospels, why we have sermons, so we can understand God’s love for us through what Christ does. God spells that out for us here.

There is a second part to what the Father says here – with Whom I am well pleased. Jesus does what is right. It had been a while since God had been well pleased when He saw things on the earth. During creation – He looked and it was good. Fantastic. Then, the fall – then Adam, what in the world are you doing? And after that, all throughout the Old Testament – even the heroes of the faith doing the stupid and sinful, boneheaded folly. Everyone sins. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, the prophets, they all drop the ball. And then comes Christ Jesus – with Him the Father is well pleased. Christ is perfect – He is the perfect Lamb of God without spot or blemish – and suddenly, Man, the Man Jesus, does all that God desires. There is a perfect Man, a Man who is righteous – and God is pleased with Man again. God says, “It is good”; God says, “Well Done.”

Now dear friends – let us ponder how this applies to you, how this event ties into your life – for this is not just some dull story of ages past, but what Christ did in the Jordan impacts your life and describes who you are right now. Consider your own Baptism for a moment. Water and God’s Word applied to you – washed in the Name of the Triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That’s your identity. That’s how you approach God – not just as some person, but as one who is Baptized. How do we start our service – In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +. We approach God here in His house as the Baptized. That’s why the hymnal has that little red cross there – go ahead and make the sign of the cross if you wish – for it was the sign given to you at your Baptism and is nothing to be ashamed of – receive the sign of the holy cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified. This is how we approach God – not just as the sinners we are by nature – but as those Redeemed by Him.

In fact, dear friends, ponder this. Do you wish to know the effect of your Baptism? What it gives to you? When Christ is Baptized – the Father says This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. This applies to you. This is my beloved Son – hear Paul from Galatians – For in Christ you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You are now a child of God. Whereas in the garden Adam and Eve ran away from God – said, “We’d rather be part of Satan’s family” – in Baptism you were restored to God. You are right to call God your Father for He has adopted you in the waters of Baptism, you are His child now. That is the effect of your Baptism. When the Father looks at you – He now says, “I am well pleased” – on the last day He shall say unto you, “Well done, good and faithful servant” – not because you are perfect now – you know better than that, you don’t have to think hard to find places where you have sinned recently – but because in Baptism you are united to Christ – you have put on Christ. When God looks at you – He no longer sees your sin, He sees Christ Jesus and His righteousness, for you have put on Christ in Baptism.

Think of it this way. I do not have a washboard stomach. Kind of flabby. Not the ideal or perfect stomach. Yet when you look at me, you aren’t seeing my gut – for I am wearing clothing. In fact, we can even say to each other – “You look nice today”. What we referring to – our clothing. We are covered, our imperfections hidden, and we look nice. The worst body in the world can look nice when properly attired. The worst sinner in the World is holy and righteous in God’s sight, is pleasing in God’s sight, when he is clothed with Christ’s righteousness, when he wears the robes of salvation that have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. This is why Paul once again in today’s Epistle lesson reiterates Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord. Your salvation, not about what you do. Heaven, not about all the good that you’ve done –cause you can’t earn it. Consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. And yet, what does God give to you in your Baptism, where He indeed called you by the Gospel? You may not have been wise, but now you are washed in the Wisdom of God and know Him. You may not have been powerful, indeed, you may quite frail, but now you have the Power of God dwelling within you. You may not have belonged to any noble human family – but now you are a child of God – and there is nothing more noble than that.

This is the gift of your baptism – this is what you receive from it – this is who you are. And when we behold Christ Jesus step into the waters of the river Jordan, when we see Him enter those waters to fulfill all righteousness – know dear friends that it is for you that He does this. You see and understand that Jesus is indeed True God, because you see Him working for you and for your benefit – you see Him doing what is needed to win you forgiveness and give you His righteousness – to see that you are made His brother, His fellow heir of all that is God’s. Christ steps into the waters of Baptism to take His place at your side, so that He may take you with Him through the days of your life and on into eternity, having life in His Name – the very Name He gives you as your own in Baptism. Amen.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Misguided expectations?

One of the things that I have noticed is that the things that are most stressful to me as a pastor deal with misguided expectations. Yes, doing a funeral is busy, it requires work - but it isn't innately stressful. I find I get more stressed out when there are strange expectations upon me that I really have no way of expecting or accomplishing.

So I will ask a question (which will get few answers, but we will see). Pastors, what misguided expectation do you find to be most stressful to you? Lay-folk, what misguided expectation do you see most often placed upon your pastor?

I guess I should answer my own question. What stresses me out the most? For me - it is that I as pastor will grow the church. That somehow I will be the main force to invite new people into the place. And really - that doesn't make a lot of sense. Let's say every day of the week I invited six people to come to church, - that's what, 36 monday-saturday. Um. . . each family invites 1 over the course of the week, and that's more than what I've done. And if I am talking to 36 non-church goers a week (and let's face it, if a pastor starts talking to them, it's not going to be a casual, in passing, "I go to church here, how about you come on Sunday" 10 second invite, you will be talking about some depth) - when am I getting stuff done?

The reason I find this stressful is it can completely skew what I am to be doing (so it can devalue the work I do, or people simply don't even think about what I do) and put up expectations where people are disappointed, perhaps even upset. And I find I get stressed out by disappointing people.

Now, thankfully, 3 and a half years of teaching have helped with this - but it still pops up - the whole "the Church will grow because of what someone else does" attitude - but we are growing - hence, it is less stressful for me. That's the whole attitude/expectation that causes the most stress.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Plumbing and Sewage

Well. . . the sewage is backing up in the parsonage. The first plumber to come out sent 120 feet of snake to hit the clog - and couldn't get it. Well, 2nd plumber with bigger stuff is on the way. This gets slightly expensive. And it is a matter of things being inconvenient. Oigh.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Two thoughts for the day

First, today is a day of joy for me. While it wasn't at it's usual 8 am time, today I did Matins again for the first time since September. My usual custom is to get to the Church sometime before 8 - work for a bit, have an abbreviated Matins at 8 (everything up to the readings, then prayers and done), then return to work. Since I came down with Mono, I hadn't been doing that. Why? Well, who knew when I was going to get into Church, and two, I just wasn't getting everything done and had to pull back on things. As no one (typically) joins me for Matins, and it tends more for being for my benefit (and of course this does pass onto my parishioners) - it was cut, along with many things as I recovered.

I did Matins today.

Now, what I will do is on Mondays I will look at the texts for the upcoming Sunday - as I like to write a draft of a sermon on Monday (that way no matter what explodes during the week, I am ready to preach next Sunday) - or if I got here bright and early in the morning on Monday, I may do the daily reading from the LSB. Tues-Thurs is the LSB. I have missed it. I also remember why I had paused it - for it is intense - a period of intense reflection for me and tiring - but I think I have the oomph to do it.

I like Matins because it makes me think. Normally on Mondays I won't write a response to my thoughts in Matins, simply because Monday morning is for Sermon - but Psalm 103 made me think of something dealing with recent discussions here and elsewhere. At any rate, verse 4 reads "Who redeems your life from the pit."

I have heard people wish to approach the whole "redemption" language as nothing but a metaphor - after all, whom did God buy us from?

God speaks of redeeming His people out of Israel. This confuses people. It shouldn't. They were slaves. They were property - they belongs to Pharaoh. God buys them - there is an exchange. I will cease giving you plagues (note: God has every right to give plagues to whom He wishes) and you will set my people free. It is an exchange - freedom from plagues for freedom for my people. They are redeemed out of Egypt.

Likewise us. Who (or what) were we redeemed from? Think on how often Paul calls us by our nature slaves to sin. What we must remember is that since the fall, mankind by nature is not just neutral, or corrupted (and just needs to be fixed), but is in the camp of Satan, bound to sin and death. We, by sinning in the garden, had pledged ourselves to Satan and his cause against God. Christ Jesus redeems, or buys, or makes an exchange for us.

Now, Satan had tried to set the terms in bargaining with Christ - I'll restore to you all the kingdoms, all the people of the world - just worship me. Jesus doesn't do that. Jesus says instead, I will let death have it's way with me - in exchange for my people. I will take them out of your camp, you will get to have your way with me. And Satan bites. Ultimately an unsatisfying exchange for Satan (as most impulse buys are). Christ by going into death buys us freedom from death eternal. Christ by taking the consequences of sin buys us from away from sin.

The key to understanding this is understanding how utterly stuck man is without God's intervention. The people of Israel do not get freedom apart from God. We do not get freedom apart from God's action. It makes sense - it just shows how horrible we are by nature post fall, and also how utterly dependent we are upon God.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Epiphany Sermon 2008

You know, when talking about the One Year series - I like to point out how things are always different when the text comes around the next year, so there is always something new to write.

Well. . .

Last Year, I tried to introduce having a service on Epiphany - a new custom. There had been a snow storm, and a basketball game was rescheduled (so obviously, my head elder who is the head coach wasn't going to be there) for that night. It was late. It was cold. It was a Saturday, so there would be Church the next day. And one person showed. So, instead of the full service, we did a brief Vespers with more of a discussion on the text (which is what I do at Matins if there is anyone there, so it was natural for me to do so).

Jump to this year. Advent and Christmastide kicked me around. As in, since the week of Thanksgiving I have fought off two relapses of mono (thankfully when I started to go down hill, I cut myself off, slept a day, and got back on my feet in a reasonable amount of time) and one bout of what apparently was some type of stomach flu.

Needless to say, I was somewhat worn out. So I took it lightly this week - as much as is possible for a week where there is an additional service. And since I had not preached it - I pulled out last year's sermons, did a few modifications of slight note on the computer - and I shall, God willing, preach it tomorrow. It follows below.

And note, if this seems apt for any discussions which you might be having - I wrote it last year.

Epiphany – January 6th, 2008 – Matthew 2:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Today, dear friends, we celebrate Epiphany – the fact that indeed Christ Jesus is a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people Israel. Epiphany is the time of the Church year where we look at Christ Jesus and we see that this Child, this Man preaching and teaching is in fact true God. During the weeks of Epiphany, we see and behold the evidence that this is no simple person, but rather is True God and True Man, and that He has come into the world to win salvation for all people, for the whole world. To start off Epiphany, we hear the story of the wise men, of the Magi from the East – we see the first gentiles who worship Christ the King.

Now, to understand the significance of this event, of the wise men coming to worship Christ, you need to understand the mindset of Judea at the time of Christ’s birth. The people of Israel had lost their way. They had forgotten who they were and why they existed. Oh, they knew that they were God’s Chosen people, a people special to the One True God, but they forgot for what reason they were set apart. God had called Abraham, had called Israel apart from other people to be the lineage that would produce the Messiah. The Lord gave to the people of Israel the Law through Moses, not to make them better people, for the Law does not give life, but to hold them separate from the world. Circumcision, the Sabbath Day, the dietary laws, the purification laws – these were not about morality or right and wrong – rather, all these laws kept the people of Israel separate and distinct from all the other peoples of the world. And why? So that the people of Israel by their very existence, by their uniqueness would be a constant reminder to the rest of the world that the LORD God would send forth a Messiah, a savior to redeem not just the people of Israel, but the whole world.

Over the course of time, by in large the people of Israel had forgotten that. A few faithful men and women remembered that the promises of salvation were for all – Simeon knew that Jesus was a light to the gentiles, Mary knew that all generations, Jewish and Gentile alike would call her blessed. But most folks had forgotten. You see this in how they viewed the Messiah. The expectations were that the Messiah would chase off the Romans, restore the Kingdom of Israel on earth. The idea was that the nation of Israel was to rule and have power – that’s what it meant to be God’s special people. They forgot that their purpose was to serve others, that the Lord promised Abraham that all people would be blessed through him, not fall at his feet. Even in the early Church this was problematic – Peter has to be told directly by God that the dietary laws are no more – Paul has problems with the Judiazers wherever he goes. The idea that salvation was for the gentiles, for those outside the people of Israel went against false thoughts of power and glory that were ingrained hard and fast, and it took a while for people to get over their false dreams of power.

Let this be a warning to us here, dear friends. We too, like the people of Israel, are within the house of God. We have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light. But why? So that we might have power and glory? So that we might lord it over others? So that we might look at the people out there and feel smug and say, “I am so much better than them”? I don’t even have to answer that, you know these attitudes are wrong. But Satan’s tricks are old, and the same deception he worked on the people of Israel he tries to work on the Church today. Satan tries to get us to lose our focus, to forget why we exist. So why does this Congregation, why does Zion Lutheran Church stand today, why has God allowed this building to be here for 100 years? It is not meant to be a place where the “good people” go. It is not meant to be a place simply where our family gathers. It is not meant to be a private, holy club that others are too lowly to join. Yet sadly, sometimes, even unthinkingly and unintentionally, these are the attitudes we end up taking. We can unthinkingly establish an us versus them type of attitude – and we can be cold and indifferent to the stranger, to our neighbors who as of yet are not of the faith. We can unthinkingly become prideful in our own so-called righteousness, and become stilted and jaded, just like the people of Israel were of old.

So why does this congregation exist? The Wisemen show us. And going into the house they saw the Child with Mary His mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him. That’s what this house is for. This is a place where we are to come, and not just us, not just our family, not just our friends, not just the people we happen to like, but this is a place where all people are to come and worship Christ. This house is to be a place where Christ is proclaimed, where He is revealed to us in His Word and in His Sacraments, this house is to be a place where salvation and the forgiveness of sins shines forth to all people who need it. The wise men were strangers and foreigners, they were outsiders, and yet they are welcomed into Joseph’s house to worship Christ. This is an example and a reminder to us – that this congregation is to be a place of worship, a place where any and all people can come and receive salvation. In fact, we are to be a beacon, a lamp on a hill, we are to call all people here to behold the wonders of God and to delight in His salvation. When we see people who are not our members, we shouldn’t look at them and see people who don’t belong. We shouldn’t see people who are different. Rather this – we should see people who ought to be our members, we should see people whom we should help to see the Light of Christ and hope that they join us, learn of Christ, become part of our fellowship here. We should see them, and realize that they ought to be here and that God indeed wants them here.

Sadly, sometimes we get in the way of that. Our prejudices and dislikes can get in the way. We can be quite comfortable where we are at, and new folks, new blood as it were, might bring too many changes. We can desire this house to be our house – the way we want it to be - rather than God’s House where His Word which calls forth all people takes the day. Our sin, our sinful desires and jealousies and dislikes and grudges can cover the Light of Christ which shines here. Of this, we need to repent. This Church is to gladly let Christ shine forth, not cover Him up, not hide Him under a bushel, as the old song goes.

Thankfully for us, Christ Jesus knows well how to deal with us, how to handle our sin. The wise men again with their gifts remind us of this. Then opening their treasures, they offered Him gifts, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These gifts teach us about Jesus. Gold. That is a kingly gift. We see and remember from this gift that Jesus Christ is King, that He is the One in charge – that Jesus is the One who executes Justice. And so we are humbled, and so we are brought under the Law, under the King’s rule and reminded that we are to repent, that we are to flee and avoid sin – that we are to strive to live by the Word of the King. And although we often fail in this, although sin still clings to us – in the other two gifts, frankincense and myrrh, we see our hope. Those are gifts of spices, they are the spices which were placed upon a dead body. The wise men remind and point us with their gifts to the Cross. This is why they come to worship – not simply because Christ is King – but because Christ Jesus goes to the Cross and suffers and dies. It is there upon the Cross that Jesus shines forth most brightly, it is there upon the Cross as He cries out “It is Finished” that we see our Lord shine His brightest as He beats down and conquers and destroys sin. That, our Lord Crucified, is why we gather here and worship. Because Christ Jesus has shed His blood and won for us the forgiveness of our sin. St Paul says that He is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. That is what we here are to know and focus on, and we are to constantly receive the forgiveness that Christ wins by His crucifixion. We are to use the strength that His forgiveness gives us to beat down our sin so that He can shine forth. We are to delight in His forgiveness in our worship and praise, and we are to delight in the fact that this forgiveness was won for all people, Jew and Gentile alike – family and stranger alike. And so we are brought here, called here by the Word, so that we might repent of our sin and delight in the forgiveness which God has won for us. This is why Zion Lutheran Church still stands – so that your sin, and that the sin of all people who enter here, might be richly forgiven here in God’s House. God comes to us with His Word that our sinful flesh and sinful desires might be overpowered by His Word, that with His strength He might create in us new people by the power of His forgiveness.

Epiphany is the season where Christ Jesus shines forth – where we see more and more His Holiness and His Righteousness shine forth. Light and life have entered the world in Christ Jesus, and He calls all people to His House to bask in the Light of His forgiveness. Christ is here to bring salvation to all who need it. This is our hope and joy, and this is the truth we strive to ever know more and more, and this is the truth that God shows us ever more and more by the forgiveness of our sin daily and richly in His Word and Sacraments here in His House. Amen.

The Pinnacles of Lutheran Achievement?

Overwhelmed, I am, simply overwhelmed, to have in such a short time achieved the pinnacle of Lutheran chattering. Why?

1 - This blog was mentioned (okay, listed with everything else over at Aardvark's site, but still in there) in "The Christian News" - or the Christian Rag Sheet, if you prefer.

2 - I was awarded a Golden Aardvark, as can be seen here: http://aardvarkalley.blogspot.com/2007/12/many-ways.html for my Advent 4 and Christmas sermons. (Um, do you see the length of that list - it's not really that exclusive of a list - Silence! I am honored - what, honored enough to think that you are Luther at the Movies now? - Poppycock! I have a long history of dialog writings, even from my e-mail days over a decade ago, I can use if it I want to! - No, you are just trash and schlock. - (weeping) Oh, but your words of law have pricked me and my vain pride, I am horrible. . . wail, wail, gnash of teeth.)

Okay - they aren't earth shaking - but still - neat. At least I think so.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Modern Polygamy in the US

No, I'm not going to go talk about Mormonism or the like. I had an idea. Doorman-priest has responded to my previous post, talking about Scriptural things that we have abandonned - or at least things that appeared in Scripture that we no longer do - and he mentioned polygamy. It spurred a thought - and you know what - we in the US have polygamy - we just don't call it that.

One of the places where I tend to agree with Luther that most people don't is on the idea of Polygamy - Luther on rare occassion would allow for someone to be polygamous - instead of having your mistress on the side of your wife, oh ruler - just marry the mistress and have two wives. Now, when Luther suggested this, everyone went nuts. We like the idea of only one wife. . . period.

Now, here is the question. Why did Luther want this fellow to marry the second wife in addition, instead of divorcing the first and then marrying the second (which is a practice that is more easily, I didn't say rightly, but more easily argued for and customarily done in Western Culture)? Because when you divorce you abandon responsibility for the wife - which is cruel and wrong - polygamy would give you responsibilities towards the new wife - while you would still maintain your duties towards your first wife. That is why Luther approved, or at least preferred polygamy as the cure for human weakness - it still showed love for the first wife. Instead of kicking her out of the door, she is cared for.

Now, I think I will argue that we have polygamy today in the US. What do you mean!? There is no polygamy today!!!!! That is because we tend to think of marriage in romantic terms - love, joy, happiness, oh what a wonderful, lovely life. Poppycock I say! (Or to quote Londo from Bab 5 - "Love? What does love have to do with marriage?") Marriage is about mutual support.

Now, let us say, oh gents - that you divorce your wife. You are done with her and never have to deal with her again (like divorce in the old world), right? Oh, wait. . . alimony? Child support? You mean there still is a financial tie to the former wife? And this continues even if you have multiple divorces and remarriages?

To my (and I would say probably Luther's) way of thinking - if you are having to shell out the cash to keep her clothed and a roof over your head - she's your wife. If you are supporting her - she's still your wife - now, you might have gotten a few others after her - but still your wife.

Think about it - how do we talk about multiple (serial) marriages. You all probably have the relative who has been around the block more than once - oh, that is Grandpa's second wife - oh, that is Aunt Donna's third husband. That's a description of polygamy (or polyandry) right there. We have polygamy - people support multiple wives - we just say that you can only be sleeping with the one at a time.

Really - what's the difference?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Things I don't like

I find when I will talk to people about what they believe, or more importantly for this discussion, things they don't believe, something, quite often the reason given is because of "like". I've come across people who deny that Christ is physically present in the Supper because they don't like the idea - not because of any argument based on Scripture, but because they don't like the notion.

There are plenty of things in Scripture, plenty of doctrines that I don't like. I don't like, for one, the concept of hell. I don't like the idea that there will be those who are sent to hell - that God the Judge will say to some, "Depart from Me, I never knew you." This probably will apply to several family members, several friends - I don't like it. Now, I could try to avoid this teaching, I could try to sugar coat it - but if I do so I am avoiding something in Scripture. Consciously. There are those who do so. There are universalists, who believe all will eventually be saved. There are those who believe the wicked just cease to exist (there is no real hell). There are those who refuse to say that God would never send someone to hell or punish them (maybe God will let people punish themselves). But that doesn't mesh with Scripture.

Which gets me to thinking. How often is false doctrine based simply on the fact that we don't like something. We don't like having to rely on others, so instead of giving credit to Christ for our salvation, we look to and even create "good works" that we do that help out. We don't like the fact that in this life God would allow suffering, so we:
A: Deny that God would allow the righteous to suffer (a la Islam with Jesus not really being crucified).
B: Determine that if we just do the right things or pray the right pray our lives will be full of blessings (ah, the joys of American Protestantism)
C: Claim that perhaps God isn't involved, rather He is just watching us from a distance (Diests, or Bette Midler).
Yet we are told to take up our cross and follow Him, which implies suffering. But we don't like it.

So here is my question to you. It's not a perfect check, but are there things about your beliefs which you don't "like" - which you sort of wish were another way. If there aren't, you might want to think some things through again and examine yourself in light of Scripture. (Note: this isn't a perfect system - no one likes being a Calvinist, but there is false doctrine there too) All too often we want to be "like God" and be the boss, and we will even determine that our way of doing thigns is better than the one He revealed in Scripture. Oh well, thus is life.