Monday, December 29, 2008

No calls are good calls

So, I sit down in my friend's house in Houston watching Mike and Mike in the morning. I am on vacation. I do have a sermon to write - and Monday is normally my sermon writing morning, but no, not today. All I have to do is write -- I may do that later - maybe even as we are driving home.

Yesterday, my Seminarian (note how possessive I am) handled services. As he has not called me in tears and no one else from the congregation has called me enraged - so I assume that things went well.

Vacation is nice.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Day Sermon

Here is the sermon for Christmas Day. Tonight is our children's program.

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Christmas morning is here, and from the manger shines forth Christ Jesus, whose birth we have been anticipating for weeks now. And it’s here – the day has dawned, the presents have been opened, and now, we are gathered at Church, and we pause, and we behold this Christ – and now, let us ask the Lutheran question – what does this mean? Peel back all the hoopla, the lights, the torn and tossed away wrapping paper and behold Christ Jesus, lying in a manger. What does this mean?

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made. Behold the Word of God, now in flesh appearing. The joy and wonder of Christmas day isn’t just the joy of a new life being brought into this world – it isn’t just the joy you parents had when you first held your child in your arms. No, this is God. This is the Word, the Son, the 2nd person of the Trinity, God Himself. When you behold Christ Jesus lying in the manger – you see your Creator. You see the Word of God which called all of this, this entire world into being. That Child is the creator of all things – as we just confessed in the Nicene Creed “by whom all things were made.” And of all the things this God could choose to do, of all the things that an Almighty God might appear as – there He is. As a child, an infant. God, unable to speak. God, unable to feed or clothe Himself. God coming not just as a Man, but as a Man at His weakest, at His lowliest.

What do we see when we behold the manger? We see God taking up Human flesh and becoming one of us. But this becoming, it’s not just a matter of our God becoming some sort of idealized figure, strong and buff where everyone sees Him and their eyes get big. No – when He comes as one of us, He comes as one of us. Born, just like all of us were born. Weak, where even opening His eyes is tiresome and difficult. This is an experience you and God have in common now, because that is how He chose to come. God comes down to your level, to be with you. And why?

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John drives right to the heart of the matter with these words. Christ has life. We didn’t. Not since Adam, not since Eve. Death was what man had – and our days on earth were just a brief flickering, a spark that flared up and then was snuffed out – grass that withers and fades away. The life that was mankind’s we lost by sin, and we were thus stuck in death, in darkness. And that’s where all of us men would have stayed, except for one thing.

The Light of Light Eternal comes into the world of darkness, the world full of sin, He comes into our world of death in order to bring with Himself life. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. When you see that Child in the manger, you are seeing that you will live again. When you see Christ Jesus held in His mother’s arms, you see and know that God the Father has not forgotten you, and that He will do whatever is necessary to hold you again as His own, do whatever is necessary to pull you out of the darkness which you have stumbled into, do whatever is necessary to have you restored to Him.

And so, the Son comes down from heaven, Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven. He comes with Him bringing life. When you see Christ Jesus, you see one who is truly Man, who is like us in every way except one – He is without sin. He has no darkness, He has no death in Him. When He comes, He comes bringing life, His life to contend against our death. He comes to be mankind’s champion against the tyranny of death – this is the combat He wages throughout His ministry, this is the combat He fights most fiercely upon the cross – this is the combat He wins resoundingly on Easter day when He strides forth from the tomb alive, for in Him is life.

This Child that you see shall grow in wisdom and stature, and He shall go to the Cross, because until He goes there – Satan has a string tied to you. Until this newborn King goes to the Cross, He is not yet your King. He has not yet won you for His own. But see, He comes, and even when He cannot yet walk, He is striding towards Golgotha, ready to fight for your life, ready to win you salvation. This One lain in the manger in the One who will lay down His life so that He might share His life with you for all eternity. God will save you – that is what this Child means.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. But this Child who comes to save you, to give you life, He is not distant. He is not standoffish, He will not brow beat you with how wonderful He is and how poor you are. No, He comes lowly as you are, not so that He can save you and then dump you off on the side of the road, as though He’s just a nice fellow picking up a hitchhiker – no, He comes to dwell with you and to have you dwell with Him.

When you see the Christ Child, know that your life is different, different from what it would have been. Your life is now a life shared with God. That is the present reality of your life even now. When we speak of our life with God, it is true, we are speaking of life everlasting, life where we will be raised to Bodies like His incorruptible body, and bask in His presence and Glory – but we aren’t simply speaking of a being with God at some point down the road. No – there is more than just that – it is a present reality.

Christ is with us now, and what we need to remember is that this is more than just some sentimental feel good statement – it is a reality. The Word who became flesh is present with us in His Word. Christ has said that He is present in our midst whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His Name for worship. Christ is present in us, for He has claimed us as His own in Baptism. But Christ is present for us in a way even more mind boggling than these. There is a reason the day is called Christmas – Christ Mass – because it is in the Supper that we behold the very same thing which Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds beheld that first Christmas – God present for us, God in flesh appearing. What is this Supper – it is the true Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord, given for you. What is the special focus of Christmas – that Christ Jesus took on Body and Blood to win you life and salvation. This is what we receive, what we participate in whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. This is the reality that we participate in. The truth and wonder of Christmas is not a once a year occurrence – but it shines forth from this altar every time our Lord gathers us together around His Body and Blood.

Christ Jesus, True God, has come as a True Man to be with us men, to win us life and salvation, and to be present with us, be it now in time or forever in eternity. This is the wonder and joy of Christmas, this is the reason our voices are joined together this day, this is what this celebration means. Our God has come to us to be with us – and thus our lives are changed. We have life and salvation – because Jesus brings with Him life and salvation. His victory is our victory, and so we remember Christmas – when Christ begins His march towards winning our Victory. Thus we come and adore Him, thus we welcome Him, thus we sing and rejoice. God is our Savior, and He is here with us. Merry Christmas to all! Amen.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Pastor's Temptation

"I thought I could train him as well as Yoda. I was wrong." - Obi Wan Kenobi.

So, what is the Pastor's temptation? No, it's not being deluded into thinking that we are Jedi (although I did take to asking folks at the Seminary when we would be getting our lightsabers whenever I saw someone in a cassock - respectful as always) - it's a tendency to believe that we could do a better job than ___________ whenever we hear about something another Pastor does.

It doesn't matter whether we are right or not - the simple fact that so often this is the idea we have is what is disturbing and wrong. And partially this comes up because if you are a theologian you are trained to do analysis - to observe and pick apart people's actions on the basis of the Word of God. That's what preaching direct Law is - according to the Word of God, this is bad. Period. Or then there is even the giving of advice - putting the Law into practice. You might want to consider doing _________. That can be good and fine too. Hopefully, if you are a pastor you have given good advice, and if you are of the laity you have received good advice from your Pastor.

That is fine. . . the danger comes in when the analysis is done and Ego kicks in. When instead of simply saying, "This should not be done, rather one should do that" - we think, "We'll, I'd never have done it that way. . . ." Even if the thought it completely true. . . why should I be involved in an attempt to elevate myself over another?

Pastors need to learn humility, to break down their ego, to not elevate themselves. That way, when they are bold, it is bluntly clear and obvious that they aren't being bold because they are offended, because they are arrogant, because they are "Lording it over people" (which all too often is just an excuse given when a pastor says that you are wrong - but if you show ego other times, it becomes more believable) - rather, the boldness is when the Word of God is drawn into question.

I'm not adamant about Closed Communion because I'm a control freak. It's in God's Word.
I'm not adamant about the Liturgy because I am awesome. It's about the Word.
I'm not adamant on issues X because you've been rude to me in the past. It's about the Word.

People will try to circumvent the Word we say. If we act with arrogance, they will be able to slough off the Word. If we don't control everything, when we step in and say, "No, this cannot be done that way, it must be done this way instead" - the Word shines forth instead of us.

God grant that I learn to be humble - to be silent where the Word is silent and a clarion call where the Word is clear - to ignore those flippant attacks on me and to be instead quick to defend my neighbor! Lord have mercy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Relaxed thoughts on Christmas Time

So, I sit here this morning with nothing to do at the moment. I almost feel bad, but there is a reason.

I am going on vacation after Christmas for a week. My Seminarian is going to be handling service this Sunday whilest I am on Vacation. My dad is covering for me on New Year's Eve. Now, this had a two-fold effect. First, I had to get everything for when I was going to be gone ready. . . last week. . . as I am a nervous wreck if I am not well prepared before hand. Second, the schedule had to be clear so as to work with my Seminarian on Sunday's service and his sermon, and a few things for Christmas Eve.

However, his girlfriend (oooOOOOoooo) flew in yesterday. And was well delayed. As in, I think she got in last night. So, Seminarian isn't here yet - and I'm not going to call in case she didn't get into Tulsa until late last night and they got here really late. Let the poor boy sleep. But that leaves me with pert near everything that could be done. . . done. I've gotten all the prep done that I can - even have gone over Christmas sermon twice.

So, why do I post this other than to make those poor beraggled pastors who have taken a quick blog-reading break just absolutely livid? Because this provides me an opportunity I am not often afforded -- a calm pause before Christmas.

See, I find Christmas to be much busier and much more stressful than Lent. You have just as many services (especially when you factor in Thanksgiving and Epiphany) - plus, there tend to be all the additional stresses of Christmas, and the desire for sentimentality. Thus, this becomes a great time of stress for me.

There is so much baggage that comes with Christmas - so many expectations, so many desires for things to be just right -- it's the time of the year where everyone suddenly tries to become Susie Homemaker or a superhero dad.

Oh, the Seminarian is here. Now, I suppose the hectic chaos of Christmas will return! Darn you, Seminarian, bane of my life! Oh, and thanks for covering the 28th. >=o)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – Dec 21st, 2008 – John 1:19-28

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This morning, we conclude our Advent preparations for Christmas. We have seen how Jesus how Jesus comes into this world humbly, born of a Virgin, for our sake. We have seen how Christ comes to bring Hope, to take our eyes off the falseness of the world and place it squarely upon Himself. We have seen that Christ comes to bring healing, to bind up the wounds of our sin and to give us life. And now, we are approaching the end of Advent. How do we respond? Knowing that Christ comes in humility, knowing that He brings hope and healing, what is our reaction? To know this, we need look simply to the preaching of John the Baptist. John is the forerunner of Christ, John preaches what people needed to hear, and still need – so let us ponder John’s preaching today.

When we see John in this morning’s Gospel, he is being questioned by the good folk of Jerusalem, the hoity-toity. John’s been out in the wilderness preaching and causing a stir. John is getting things riled up – things arne’t going smoothly. We can’t have that, so the Jerusalem folk send people out – who are you John, that you are stirring up the people so? And again, John is difficult. They come asking John who he is, and he doesn’t tell them at first. Oh, he gives answers – but he just tells them who he isn’t. John says – I’m not the Christ, I’m not Elijah, I’m not the prophet. It’s not about me – don’t try to make it about me. Finally, they keep pressing and annoying him, so John finally gives an answer. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said. It’s a strange answer. It’s not a very bold answer. The Jews are expecting some credentials, some proof that he should be out there, some mighty title. John doesn’t give one. Nope, I’m just a voice, pointing to the One who is to come.

John is humble. John doesn’t puff himself up. He could have. Isaiah never made a direct prophesy about any of us – but John doesn’t. Eh, I’m just a voice. Jesus said in last week’s Gospel that of all the people born of women, you can’t find one greater than John. But he’s still humble. This is because John recognizes what His job is – He is to prepare people for the coming of Christ – His job is to point others to Christ and to make them ready for Him to come. And how is this done? John preached and John baptized.

When we think of John’s preaching, when we think of John’s baptizing, what is the one word that should come to the fore, that should dominate what we think of when we think of John? That word is “repent”. In Matthew’s Gospel, the first thing we hear John say is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Luke tells us that John was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” When we see John, when we hear of things about John, we must think about repentance. The Gospel lesson today expects you to make this connection – John’s preaching to prepare people is all about repentance.

I don’t know if repentance is all that popular of an idea today. In fact, what does it mean to repent? To repent means to turn away from something, to change your mind about something. Now the world has sort of a watered down version of repentance – just change what you are doing a bit – find something that you aren’t doing well and work on it a bit – sort of like a moral tune up. Maybe go buy a self-help book or make a New Years’ resolution. We all know how well those tend to work out. But is that all there is to repentance? Is repentance simply my attempt to change what I am doing? No, once again Satan and the world toss back to us a watered down form of repentance. The goal of repentance isn’t making your life run smoother or giving you your best life now. Rather this – repentance is about being honest and turning away from sin.

You cannot talk about repentance without coming face to face with the nasty, hairy reality of sin. We want to skip this step and just turn to something positive, just think happy thoughts. That’s not repentance, that’s just deluding yourself. No – to repent means to take the good long hard look in the mirror and see your sin for what it is – vile and nasty and mean. We all have them – those nasty sins that keep popping up, that keep tempting us, that keep calling out to us over and over again, and that we end up giving into again and again and again. And normally we like to pretend this doesn’t happen – or minimize our sin. Eh, it’s not that bad – I’m a pretty good person. I just need a little tune up. Not gonna fly today, not with John here. He’s preaching repentance. Repent. Take a good, long, hard look at yourself and your sin, and see it for what it is – nasty and vile. Don’t play pretend, admit your sin, and admit that it is horrid, admit like Paul says that you are the chief of sinners – and flee from it, ask God for help in fleeing. In order to repent, in order to turn away, you have to know what you are turning away from, and that means you have to admit your sin. You need to admit that you need a complete overhaul. That’s what repentance is.

And it’s never a popular thing, not really. I don’t like taking these hard looks at myself – I’m sure you don’t either. The folks in Jerusalem didn’t like John calling out repentance in His day either – that’s why they question him, try to silence him. But John will have none of it. I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. John can’t have any of it – for John knows that Christ is coming – and people have to be made ready – they need to be made ready by repentance.

We’ve spent weeks upon weeks getting stuff ready for Christmas. Lists have been made, travel plans, probably a lot has been done, probably more is left to be done. But how many of our plans for Christmas have included repentance? How many of us have said that in the middle of all the rushing around that we do, in the middle of all the parties and celebration, we should take time to repent? How often in the middle of all our Christmas stuff have we not even noticed Christ. John brings out a simple and blunt truth. If you do not repent – if you don’t know your own sin, if you don’t see how horrid it is – you’ll never be ready for Christmas. Not really. You might be ready for parties and dinners. You might be ready to unwrap presents. Unless you repent you won’t be ready for Christmas. You’ll not understand it. Unless you know your own sin, you’ll never understand the Christ child who comes to redeem you from that sin.

That’s why the world’s celebration of Christmas fades away so quickly. That’s why all this good cheer and joy we see will be gone by January, why things will just go back to the hum-drum way they normally are. The world doesn’t get repentance, and so it is never truly prepared for Christmas. Without repentance, you don’t realize that you need Christmas, and not in terms of needing a break, needing socks or a new drill or that wonderful toy or whatever it is that you’ll open on the 25th. Without repentance you don’t realize that you need a Savior – and so the coming the Savior just passes by.

We are called to repentance once again, dear friends, called to forgo the ways of the world and remember who we are as Christians. We are sinners in a sinful world – we are sinners who repent and turn our eyes in humility towards God, seeking His mercy. And when we look out this Christmas, when we look to the manger not with jaded eyes, but with eyes of repentance, we will see something more astonishing than the glitter of the world could ever show us. We will see that God turns His face towards us and grants us His favor, even though we have done nothing, nothing to deserve it. We will see God Almighty coming down to have mercy upon us, coming down to share in our woes, and not only share in them, but be the cure to them. We will behold the lengths to which God will go to redeem us.

And we only will see if it we understand that we are sinners. If you don’t know that you are a sinner, you won’t know that you need a savior. If you think that you aren’t really that big of a sinner, you won’t need that big of a savior, and your joy, your “Christmas Spirit” will be gone before the Christmas dinner leftover are. But God with His Word keeps us from this. His Word constantly calls us to repentance – when we gather here we begin our worship with repentance, confessing our sins – so that we at all times see the wondrous love our Savior has for us. We confess our sins, and marvel at the fact that God would die for us. We confess our sins, and marvel that God would come to us, give us His own Body and Blood under bread and wine – think about that – God gives us His very own Body and Blood – that holiness and righteousness is given to us here – that’s what’ we are going to get in just a few minutes. This is the wonder we see on Christmas – this is the wonder we see whenever we are called to God’s house for the Supper – or as it used to be called. . . mass. . . like “Christ-mass”. God prepares us for His coming to us and for us through repentance, and having repented and confessed our sins, we receive from God forgiveness and joy that goes beyond anything we see in this world, a joy that lasts and lasts. God grant that we never abandon repentance, but always are prepared for His coming to us for the forgiveness of our sins. Amen.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Weirded out by the "Followers" title

It is weird to have "followers" - yes, they are just the folks who have my blog show up in their reader or what have you, but still. . . it sounds odd, especially when I am a follower to many others as well.

What Good Old Days?

I am a Historical Theologian. That's simply the way it is. Of all the avenues and approaches to theology, approaching through the lens of History has always been the most fascinating to me. Of course, I also find a perverse sort of comfort in having this historical perspective.

The Systemetician will desire the perfect form and system of doctrine. . . and then doesn't see it being confessed.

The Exegete will desire the perfect understanding of Scripture. . . and then see people butcher the text.

The Liturgist will desire the perfect form of worship. . . and then gag when he hears what "neat" thing his neighbor did last Sunday.

The Preacher will craft the perfect sermon. . . and then. . . yeah.

The Historian does not have these problems. Why? What ends up interesting the Historian, what keeps him interested through all those years of History. Seeing the amazing amount of "feces" (let the reader understand) the Church survives through.

The Historian is one who realizes there is no golden Age. Ah, to be around when Ireneaus was! You mean when you had all those stinking Gnostics around? Oh, to be around when Athanasius was? Which part, when he was in Alexandria or during one of his exiles (a total of 17 years). Oh, to be around in the time of Luther? What, with Rome trying to kill you and all sorts of new enthusiasts popping up all over the place? Oh, to be in the time of Chemnitz and the unity of Concord! Um, that came from people being at each other's throats for 25+ years.

There is no Golden Age of the Church. There are no good old days - not when we look clearly at the past. Satan always stirs up "feces" against the Church, and that's the way it will be until Christ returns.

And because I, as a Historical Theologian, am well aware not only of the flaming bags. . . um. . . darts (don't want to set the Exegete off by ignoring that it was flaming darts in Ephesians). . . Satan throws against the Church, but also that God sees His Church through trial and errors and all those things.

So, what happens when I look out and see today - and see horrid and lazy doctrine, and sloppy exegesis, and a preaching of entertainment, and chancel tomfoolery? I say, "ah, what lovely history this will make some day, once we all get through it. Mayhaps it will be as interesting to future generations, and as confounding, as the walkout or the Predestinarian Controversy was to me."

And then I move on. When people want X - I say, ah, X - well, that's just like Y from long ago and we rejected Y then because of this, this, and this. And I live my life as a Historian - grinding my teeth at stupidity, but at least remembering that the trials of my day may make for a paper for another historian down the road.

Thus is life in the Church Militant.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Theological Speculation

So there is some discussion going around. . . sort of. . . about how much theological speculation is being done by Lutherans. When it comes to speculation, there are a few things that one must keep in mind.

1 - If you discuss it, be up front that it is speculation. Example, Luther thought Melchizedek was Shem, but he was also honest that this couldn't be proven. Was it traditional - sure, but we are not bound the same way by tradition as we are by Scripture.

2 - When you discuss it, discuss the other side of the matter as well. If there is a matter of speculation, there are usually going to be more than one side. If you bring up your pet side, also bring up the other sides and the arguments for them - especially if you are dealing with folks who are new to the matter of speculation. I don't care whether you think John 6 is Sacramental or not, but if you are going to discuss it make sure you present the idea that it is a debate where decent Lutherans have fallen on both sides of the issue. That way you don't undermine the next guy who may be a fine pastor but happen to disagree with you on a matter of opinion.

3 - Be careful how much you do discuss. I'm a theologian. I like studying scripture and discussing theology. Quirky points are fun - but, they are also open for debate. There are many things that as Pastors that we say on the basis of Scripture that is not open for debate. If you continually bring up things that are debatable, the things that are beyond debate may be less clear. Pick your speculation with caution.

4 - Be kind to others in their speculation. Yes, you might think the person who argues that Polygamy (for those outside the office) should be legal is dumb, but they probably think you are dumb for suggesting the John the Baptist was conceived without original sin (where did that come from?). Let your discussion be cordial, your mocking good natured (I mean, good night, what's with trying to have Christian Superheroes, enough already), and be prepared to have your position not win the day (yeah, and I suppose you are going to argue that the Angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate Walther too. . . sheesh!).

5. Don't be surprised by these speculations. Everyone's a bit of a heretic in some way. You are too.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Preaching the Cross in Advent/Christmastime

One of the interesting things I've noticed is that society seems to have pushed Christians a bit too far with the whole "Happy Holidays" thing. . . where it's no longer just a nice song from the 50s, but what you have to say - and woe to anyone who says Merry Christmas! And so now it seems we have people clamoring for the use of the Word Christmas - and this clamor has accelerated in the past decade or so.

I hope we recognize as Pastors what a wonderful opportunity this is to preach not just the birth, but also the death and resurrection of our Lord. One of the things that has happened in the recent past is that Christmas has seemed to be a time where even in the Church, sentimentality reigned as champ - where if you pealed back the layer of commercialism, you found that Christmas was primarily a day for family, for hopes of a white Christmas. It was the day to sit back, see the little kids (Christmas is for kids, after all), and think back on your youth. . . ah.

And woe, in the atmosphere of rampant sentimentality, to that pastor who focused on the Incarnation -- and certainly not that this Child came into the flesh to go to the Cross. And this is the way it had been for decades - Linus' reading of Luke 2 was somewhat counter-cultural even when it first came out.

But now we have an opportunity. Christians are clamoring to have Christ in Christmas. The world has pushed too far. . . probably because in threatening "Christmas" the world is attacking the sentimentality people love. Now, people want Christ in Christmas - so be bold, preach Christ and Him Crucified. The time is ripe.

Granted, we should as pastors always be preaching Christ and Him Crucified - but now you might have less people roll their eyes in December when you do.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matt 11:2-10 – December 14th, 2008

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Advent is the time of the year where we get to hear a bit about John the Baptist. It sort of is His season. If we are going to have a season where we get ready for our Lord’s Coming, it makes sense that we are going to get to hear about John, the Forerunner of Christ, the messenger who goes before Christ preparing His way. And when we think of John, we tend to think of a powerful, bold preacher. We think of a rugged man, blunt and to the point, preaching repentance and pointing to Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. In fact, we will get some of John’s bold preaching next week, and then also some a few weeks after Christmas. But this morning – we see something different. John is in prison. John has been arrested by Herod, and John isn’t going to be getting out of prison. His prison stay will end with his head on a silver platter. Well there’s a cheery thought. And John knows how things work in this world – John knows that he is in trouble. And then John sends word by his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Now, there are a couple of ways that John sending the messengers is dealt with. Some people see this and say, “Wait, this John – the bold one – the one who declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Of course He knows Jesus is the Christ! John must be up to something, he must simply be teaching his disciples where to go after he is gone, yes that is it.” We as Christians do have a streak where we like to pretend that the folks in the bible didn’t struggle with fear and doubt, when Scripture tries so hard to show us that they do. No – John doesn’t need to trick his disciples into following Jesus – if the master says, “you are going to follow this other guy now” – you do. John could have just sent them. No, reading our Gospel – what we see is John sitting in a prison. It’s dark. It’s dank. He’s going to die. And even as he is still bold, even as he continually stands up to Herod and refuse to placate him – those thoughts creep in, those doubts arise – the whispers of Satan when John is alone in the dark – “Is this the right guy – you are going to die John – surely none of this is the right way – after all, you are a prophet of God, shouldn’t God be taking better care of you.” That’s the way the serpent works, always has been. And when John is tempted, he wants to hear, he wants to hear God’s Word himself. He wants to be preached to. Go, my disciples, ask Christ – and bring His Word back to me, for I am in trial, and I am tempted.

John does right. When he is pressed by Satan, when he is tempted, John flees to Christ. He can’t do so physically – he’s in jail – but he does so through his disciples. Preach to me, Christ – preach to me for I need it. Likewise, dear friends, we too, when tempted, when oppressed, when burdened, we are to flee to the Word as well. God’s Word is the tool that God uses for strengthening and encouraging us and supporting us through the trials of this life. Indeed, when Satan comes to you, when Satan tries to convince that none of this is worth it, not this Church stuff, not this being nice and loving to your neighbor who is an utter jerk, not this caring for people who could care less about you – you too are to follow John’s example and flee to the Word – and in God’s Word you will be pointed to Christ Jesus and His love for you – love that overwhelms your trials, Light that banishes the shadows of this life. Christ enlightens even John’s dark prison cell, so that John is confident to face whatever comes.

But what is interesting, and what we will ponder this week, is what God speaks to John, what Jesus uses to answer John’s question of whether He actually is the One. Jesus tends to give good answers. And so, Jesus is asked by John’s disciples, are you the right one? And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” It’s a yes or no question, but Jesus doesn’t just give an answer of “yes.” He doesn’t tease John a bit and say, “Duh – come on John, you know who I am.” Rather this – tell John what you see and what you hear.

They have seen a lot. Blind people get to see. We have many accounts of that. Deaf people hearing, the lame walking, lepers cleansed – even the dead are raised. All of this can be summed up in one world – healing. Go tell John what you see and hear – I am bringing healing with me. And that’s the answer that John needs – yes John, this is the right One – see, Jesus comes and brings healing.

As we prepare for Christmas, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, we remember that Christ comes to bring healing. I don’t know if healing is one of the typical themes we often think about in December – but it really is a fantastic image that gets to the heart of what Jesus is here to do. In the Old Testament, the prophets often would do miracles – but over and over they would point to the Messiah, the One who is to come, and the prophets would say, “Listen, these few miracles are as nothing compared to what the Messiah will do. When He comes, there will be healing.” You even get the prophets describing the earth itself being healed – Isaiah today – the valleys will be exulted – everything will be healed, everything will be fixed. The reason for this focus is that the prophets knew that sin was a disease – that it was a sickness unto death. That the aches and pains and suffering we have – all effects of sin. Even the world, even all the ragged, jaggedness it has – just a side effect of sin – the whole of creation groans because of sin. A vile illness. Tell John what you see – tell Him I bring healing. By pointing to the healing, Jesus reminds John of what He is doing – Jesus is healing sin, Jesus is preparing to do the ultimate healing with His death and resurrection. When Jesus dies, when He is wrapped in His burial cloth, your sin is wrapped and bandaged, and when He rises, those burial cloths fall off and your sin is healed and is no more. That’s what Christ is here to do, and that is what John is pointed to.

As part of our preparations for Christmas, we are directed to the healing that Christ brings. He deals with the root cause of our ills – he deals with sin. The Child that comes on Christmas morning, the babe that Mary holds in her arms comes in order to be taken to Golgotha and nailed to the Cross, so that John, so that Mary, so that you and I might be redeemed and forgiven – that we might be healed. Doctors don’t do it anymore, but Christmas is the ultimate in-home visit by the Great Physician, as He comes to heal us.

But Jesus gives such good answers. In addition to the obvious healings, the physical things, Jesus added one more to the list. “The poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus tells us what preaching is – it is the healing of spiritual ills. Take John for example. He’s being tempted, he’s facing trials – and by the Word, John is healed. Same thing with us – the Word heals us when we are tempted again, when we are bruised and battered with guilt. The greatest healing that Jesus does is heal sin, and that is given by the Word, the Word which takes Christ’s forgiveness and applies it to us. This is what we see and understand, this is what we are to expect in this life – to hear the preaching of God’s Word so that we are prepared for whatever this world throws at us – even if it is death.

And note one thing about this Word – it is about what Christ does. You don’t need to think that salvation is about the hurdles your clear, the strength you have. No – you will have your doubts. Even John does – and “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John.” Christianity isn’t a contest of boasting or bragging – it isn’t a matter where we throw all our good works out on the table and try to trump each other. Rather, we remember that we are raised by Christ – Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” When we are covered in Christ, when we are forgiven, when we are united to Him, we are made great, we are made whole and healed by Christ. He is our confidence and our hope – He is the One that we learn to trust more and more by the power of the Word all our days.

This is the Word that has been proclaimed – it is the Word that the prophets proclaimed, it is the Word that John proclaimed, it is the Word that has been proclaimed even unto this day. God comes to us and heals us from the troubles and problems of sin through His death and resurrection. And this is what we all need to be pointed to – this is what brings us into the Kingdom of Heaven – where we are joined by John and the prophets and all the saints as those who have been redeemed by Christ. As you prepare for Christmas this year – remember the healing that Christ brings to you – for He came as a little child so that You might be healed and made God’s little child once again. Keep this focus, and be prepared for our Lord’s Coming. Amen.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

5th Time Round

Well, I am officially on to my 5th time preaching on these texts which we have - and I have come to an even greater appreciation of the 1 year series. We switched to the 1 year my first Advent here. I had admired the 1-year series simply from a pedagogical point of view - repetition is the mother of learning.

It is also the mother of learning for pastors as well. This benefits me as well, just as a person. I myself see the comfort of these texts, they are with me at all time. Now, the congregation benefits because what I know and see I preach - but when I think about it, the familiarity of these texts are a wonderful thing.

Monday, December 8, 2008

When life gives you lemons

. . . start writing sermons! And that is what I did, when the church alarm went off at 4 this morning, and I had to trudge over and make sure that, yes, in fact, it was just a gust of wind blowing a door open.

But here I was, up (and awakened by the brisk air) at 4 in the morning. And even as I woke up, I had the. . . urge. I get it on occasion. The urge to write. This is the same urge that would have me pull all nighters 3 weeks before a paper was due - the time to write had come, and so I would write. And I'll end up being focused and writing very clearly and quickly on things I have been thinking about.

The past few days I had been thinking about the Sunday Advent sermons would tie together and also about how to tie up the Advent midweek. Thus, I have now finished rough drafts of three sermons this morning - some 4700+ words of sermonage. Oh, and I did my weekly e-mail devotional as well.

And now, as expected - I'm a drained. Drained, but productive. I have a feeling the rest of the day will be a bit. . . blurred though. Oh well, thus is life!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advent 2 – December 7th, 2008 – Luke 21:25-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This morning we continue our preparations for the ancient Christian celebration of Christmas, the celebration of our Lord's incarnation, the day we celebrate the fact that God becomes Man for our sake. And today, in our preparations, we are directed to the Gospel of Luke. Here our Lord Jesus speaks not of His birth, but of His second coming. Well, why is that? If we are getting ready for Christmas, why are looking forward to the Last Day? The reason is this – whenever God comes, His coming isn't understood by the World. Whenever God comes to you – you as a Christian will have a fundamentally different reaction than the rest of the world will. And we have to remember that. We as Christians are in the world – but we are not of the world, and we must be careful lest the wanton ways of the world shape us more than Christ and His Word shapes us. So let us look at our Gospel lesson, and see how we are prepared.

And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. A simple look at the world should let you know that God is coming, that God is going to act. We all know the famous example of signs in the stars that let people know that Christ came at Christmas – the Wise Men follow the Star. Or think back on the Old Testament. What did the children of Israel see in Egypt when God came to rescue them and deliver them from bondage? The Nile turned to blood, the sky blackened, the very nation of Egypt, the most powerful in the world, shaken to its knees with the death of its firstborn. Or before that? When God came to rescue and deliver Noah, there was most definitely the roaring of the seas and the waves. And what Christ points to with this is a simple truth – when God comes, things happen in the world. In fact, when we just look at the world - when we see things not working right, when we see nations in distress, when we see horrid weather, when we see people being fearful of what will come, hear people watch the stock market or listen to Christmas sale numbers with baited breath or say the dreaded word, “recession” – all of this should serve to remind us that this world isn't working right, and that it will not endure as it is.

But how do we react to this? When we see the world is rough and harsh, when the weather is wretched, when the economy tanks, when illness and sickness come – how do we respond? Now the world will go into denial. The world will shout out - “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” The way of this world is to be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life – the world will dissipate – that is to just live wildly trying to ignore the writing on the wall, or the world will try to forget its troubles through drugs and alcohol, or the world will get so bogged down in the hub-bub of this life that people become overwhelmed and despondent. That's the way the world reacts when it sees strife. And are not these the ways in which we are tempted? How are you tempted to react to stress? Do you end up stress eating or shopping, or even have a bottle start to look nice and good? Do you throw yourself into your work so you don't have to worry about other things? Do you live vicariously through your kids, focusing on them so you don't have to deal with your own problems? Are you determined to have just the perfect celebration, the perfect holiday season, and woe to anyone who keeps it from being picture perfect! Do you sit and fret and worry, weighed down with anxiety? Are you overwhelmed, and simply think about how you can't do anything? None of this is new – this is all the stuff that Christ warns us about, the things that Christ tells us that Satan and the World will try to drag us down with.

Christ tells us to avoid these things, to fight against them, to struggle against them. In fact, when we see the trials and struggles and terrors of life, when we as Christians see the things that cause perplexity among the nations and the things that cause distress to everyone else – what does Christ tell us we are to do? Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Straighten up and raise your heads. When you see the trials and struggles of life, do not be cowered, do not bury yourself in denial. Rather, O Christian, lift up your heads – because all of this reminds you of one simple thing. Your redemption is drawing near. If the world is messed up, if things aren't right, if things are falling apart – you as a Christian know one simple truth. God will fix it. God will come and He will act and He will win for you salvation and forgiveness and deliverance. When we see these terrors we are to know that God is drawing near to us, that God is coming closer to us to be God for us and for our benefit.

This, dear friends, is the truth that shapes our approach to Christmas as well. There's a lot of fear around now. Think on the news that we see around Christmastime. Are the stores gonna make enough money to turn around our economy? Will holiday travel plans work out? Will I get all the things done that I need to get done done, or will all my plans come crashing down? And then there is all the false hope associated with Christmas. Think on the Christmas specials – how many of them are just about how Christmas is just that wonderful time where even broken families all come together – and then we look at what's going on in our families, and the fights and the ugliness and nastiness are still there. We love the heartwarming, touching stories about how at Christmastime things just work on out wonderfully – and then we wake up on the 26th, and our problems are still there – and hurriedly the decorations get pulled down. See this for what it is. This all revolves around the focus of the world – on ignoring problems or just trying to live a fun life – all of that.

But what is Christmas actually about? What is the point? “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." When we pause as Christians, when we look at Christmas, what are we seeing? Not just a holiday season, not just a time of escapism from the troubles of life. What do we see? We see our redemption. We see God Almighty having mercy and pity upon us and coming to us to save us. Christmas isn't about what we do to celebrate, Christmas is about God doing the most astounding thing in History – God Almighty becoming Man, being born in a stable, and all to bring to you redemption. That is what our focus is on as Christians – and with our focus on Christ, with our ears attuned to His Word, with our eyes trained upon the Cross – what is the result for us? But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man." Christ sees all the things that are taking place in this fallen world, and on Christmas day He strides forth into it, ready to take on Satan, ready to take on the world, ready to take on sin – ready to bring your redemption. And when we see this, when our focus is upon Christ's redemption, when we are not lulled to sleep by the world or bashed into drunkenness by the world – this is what we see, we are Christians who are awake and behold Christ and what He has done for us and we stand – on Christ the solid rock we stand – and because of Christ we have strength to escape, to endure, to live and thrive in spite of all the things we see in this fallen world.

That is what we see when we see the Christ child in the manager. We see our hope – and not hope as the world thinks of it – not hopes of more cash or hopes of a few days more – but hope of redemption, hope of heaven, hope of life everlasting. This advent, as we prepare for our Lord's coming, we not only ponder our Lord's humility, but we ponder the fact that our Lord brings with Him true hope – but the thing is, we will only see our Lord's hope when we turn away from the vain and false hopes of the world. His hope not the hope to simply exist, or to have a better time now, but the hope of heaven, the hope of perfection, the hope of being more than any of us is now, a hope that goes beyond having a better house or success here – a hope that proclaims that because of Christ's redemption, one day, you will be without sin, one day your body will have no aches and pains, for it will be perfected, a hope that one day when Christ returns you will be beyond all pain and suffering, all because Christ Jesus comes to us, born as a Child in a manager, comes to win us heaven and salvation. That is our hope, dear friends.

This is the hope that we are focused on by our Lord whenever we gather around His Word. This is the hope that His Gospel continually points us to. This is the hope that is ours whenever we receive our Lord's Body and Blood in His Supper – given for the forgiveness of sins and also the strengthening of your faith. What God does for you is continually prepare you through His Word, through His Supper – so that in spite of the trials of this life, in spite of how this world seeks to wear you down – especially during the Christmas season, in spite of this, God gives you hope – hope in Christ. Keep your eyes upon Christ and His hope, so that by God's strength you are prepared for all things, until Christ our Lord comes again. Amen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Waiting for Advent

So now I am waiting for Advent. Sermons are prepared, bulletins are done. . . now I am waiting for the hectic chaos of the day.

I find one of the utter ironies of Advent is how much busier it seems - extra services in midweek, and children's programs and everyone wanting parties, and other organizations I am in ramping things up. I do think the Thanksgiving to Epiphany season is by far busier than Lent.

Which is just odd. Advent is a season of hopeful expectation - and so often it is so frantic. Advent is a time of pondering. . . and yet so often it's one task done and on to the next.

Right now is a nice calm before the storm. I'll teach two classes this morning, host a lunch, do an opening for our afterschool program, teach confirmation, and then run and do service. It's a full day. And I'm ready for it - and now, having just finished morning devotions in the TDP - I can pause.

Pastors need more time to pause and ponder the word. This I firmly believe!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – November 30th, 2008 – Matt 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Advent is here, the time where we begin our preparations for Christmas, the time where we as a Church pause and actually take time away from the hustle and bustle of the season in the world, take time to think about what Christmas means, what our celebrations December 24th and 25th and afterwards are really about. And we need this pause, we need this time of reflection. We know that Christ our King comes to us – but how, and why. These are the questions we will consider today – how does Christ come, and why does Christ come, why is there a Christmas in the first place. Meditating on these, we will be ready to celebrate Christmas as more than just a time for presents, more than just a time for holiday memories, but be able to celebrate it as Christians. To begin our advent journey, we are directed to the events of Palm Sunday, an event near the end of Jesus’ Earthly ministry, the end of His journeying to Jerusalem. If we want to know how Christ comes, if we want to know why He comes, the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday provides a fantastic place to go. It’s all wrapped up right here. So, let’s start looking at the text.

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” We are so familiar with the story of Palm Sunday that we forget how odd, how striking it would be. Behold, your King is coming to you! And how? Humble. Humble. As we make our preparations for the celebration of Christmas, we are pointed to the fact that Christ Jesus our coming King is humble. That’s not normally a word we associate with a King. In this world we expect kings to be haughty and proud and boisterous. Not so Christ. Christ comes humbly – even on Palm Sunday, on the day where more people cheer Christ than on any other day except for the Last Day – Christ comes humbly.

So, what do we learn from this? How does this shape and prepare us to celebrate our Lord’s birth? If you want to understand the meaning of Christmas, you need to understand that our God and LORD, Christ Jesus, isn’t afraid to be humble, and that is something you will never learn from this world. Today, we don’t necessarily associate “humility” with the Christmas season. Look around at the stores and in the mall – are the decorations humble? No, they are loud and brash, blinking lights and all that jazz. There’s nothing wrong with that, I even keep my Christmas tree up year round because I rather enjoy seeing the ornaments, but we as Christians ought to remember that society’s approach to Christmas tends to completely avoid discussions of humility. In fact, in general our society today doesn’t prize humility. The TV channels are full of boisterous stars; you watch a football game and everyone is talking trash with each other. America is a land full of brash folks – but in Advent we remember that Christ Jesus our King comes in humility. He isn’t self-serving like we can be. When Jesus enters Jerusalem, He doesn’t come on a big white steed, the head of a conquering army. He doesn’t organize a big band or toot His own horn. No, He enters humbly, on a lowly donkey.

As Christians, we are to strive to be like our Lord. Christians are to be humble – we are in humility to go about our tasks, not seeking praise, not seeking glory and honor, but seeking to serve those whom we are to serve, seeking to show love to those people whom God has commanded us to love. Christian Humility always seeks the benefit of someone else – always seeks to aid another. Behold, your king is coming to you, humble. . . Christ comes in His humility to serve us, to be our king for our benefit, to do good to us. Likewise, as Christians we are to cast aside self-serving thoughts and seek to give of ourselves to others, to aid them, to serve them. When we see our king coming to us, lowly and humble, that is what we see.

But an image of humility far greater than Christ riding a lowly donkey is the one which we are preparing for this advent – our Lord’s Birth in a stable. Often, when we think of how humble that is, we think of the stall, being surrounded by animals and hay, not even able to get room at the inn. But that’s not the chief humility. Christ comes in a humble fashion on Christmas – think on this. Jesus is God almighty, the Son of God, the Word by Whom all things were made. And what will we see on Christmas? God – now a human child. Almighty God – unable to lift His neck. God who made all things – having to wait on Mary to be fed. Christ is humble, and He isn’t afraid to get down off His high horse to help you – in fact, He doesn’t even ride a high horse, not this Christ, who doesn’t bat an eye at being born in a stable.

But why? Why all this – why in our text does our Lord enter Jerusalem – why does He even come to this world, why does He let Himself be made so low, so lowly? The most beautiful words of the Nicene Creed answer that for us – who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven – that is the answer to the why. Why does Christ come in such humility? Because we were made low by sin. It was Adam’s FALL, mankind fell, we dropped, we were lowered, we were made less because of sin than what we were created to be. God didn’t create us for pain, God didn’t create us for suffering, and God certainly didn’t create us for death. But that is where sin led us. And as Christ Jesus wants to reclaim you from pain, from suffering, from death – that’s where He is going to have to go. And there will be no hesitation on Christ’s part. If I were to drop my wedding ring into a big old steaming pile of manure, do any of you think I’d hesitate to reach down and grab it? No, sure, it’s yucky and gross, but it needs to be done. Do you not think that Christ’s love for you is far, far greater than the value I place on this ring? If Christ is going to save you from the effects of sin, from pain, from suffering, from death – He is going to have to reach on down into pain, into suffering, into death, and pull you out.

And that’s what He’s doing as He rides into Jerusalem. He’s riding to the cross, riding unto death to win you salvation. Now, on that day, crowds gather along the way, and they cry out familiar words – Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Do you know what they are saying? Hosanna means, “Save us now” – they are crying out to Christ for salvation and praising Him. Now, I don’t know if the people there knew what Christ would do, if they knew to the lengths to which He would go to save them – I don’t know if those folks on Palm Sunday realized just how right they got it. Christ does come to save, He comes to Jerusalem in humility to save us from our sin and from the power of the devil, and He never hesitates to do so.

As we approach Christmas, we remember and we focus on Christ’s humility, that we might remember that He does whatever is required to win for us salvation. He comes in humility, ready to fend of Satan, ready to beat down the power of death. And dear friends, this is not just something that Christ did only on Christmas, not something that He did only on Palm Sunday, or only on Good Friday – no, Christ our Lord is still humble in how He comes to you to save you. He is not afraid to have His Word applied to a lowly child in baptism, He is not afraid to make you His dwelling place and temple. And perhaps, most wondrously – Christ comes to us Humbly today, in, with, and under the simple, humble elements of bread and wine. Think on what the Supper is – it is the True Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you. See, your King comes to you – humble and for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. And every time we celebrate the Lord’s own Supper here what do we sing right before hand? Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest, blessed is He that cometh In the name of the LORD. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest! Sound familiar, doesn’t it? We cry out to God for salvation, and He places forgiveness on our tongues, His life giving Body that conquered death and the grave so that we to might share in His triumph and live eternally, gives us His precious blood that is the proof that He has purchased and won us from all sin and washed us white and clean and pure. This, O Zion, is how your Lord comes to you – Humble and eager to save.

So thus, dear friends, as we begin in earner our Spiritual preparations for Christmas, I encourage you in the midst of the hustle and bustle and rigmarole of society’s celebration, to pause and remember our Lord’s Humility. Our Lord’s humble love for you shines forth in all that He does – and it shines forth most clearly when we consider that He took on human flesh to come into this world and save us from our sin. This is the mystery and the joy and the wonder which we are preparing to celebrate here on the Morning of the 25th. Remember in the face of all things, God’s love for you – for He comes to save you. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest! Amen.