Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two kinds of work

The Parable of the Prodigal Son, which some of us had this past Sunday, teaches and demonstrates the difference between vain works of the law and the good works of faith. Consider the wayward younger son, sitting in a pig farm, coming to himself. He says, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called you son. Treat me as one of your hired hands." This son has a specific idea of what works ought to be - they are the things that we do in order to get back in good with God (or with dad, as the parable goes), to make up for our own errors, to atone for ourselves.

Of course, in the parable, the father has none of this. When the father welcomes back the son, all he can say is the first two lines - "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called you son." Nothing more than that is said - the father cuts him off before he can make misguided promises of work and the like. Rather, the father shows love and declares this miserable man to be his son, dresses him in robes and puts a ring on his finger. He is not a servant, he is a son - and not only is he going to look like a son in his robes, but he will have the authority that a son has -- see, he has a ring.

The younger son will work, will do stuff - but he will not be as a hired hand, he will not be a mercenary trying to make things up to his father. He will work as a son, work out of love and joy that his father still calls him his child.

Likewise, as a Christian, our works have nothing to do with making God like or accept us - they have no benefit to our standing with God. Rather, they flow and follow from the relationship He has declared us to be in with Him through the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus. He has called us His children, and so we are - and we do the things proper to children, we learn more and more to behave like our Father, to do Fatherly things - because that is who He has made us to be.

The sinful human thinks works are needed to make our relationship with God different. A Christian knows that works happen because God has made our relationship to Him different. The two are as different as can be.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Weekly Meditation

What follows is the weekly meditation that I e-mail out every Sunday night or Monday morning (provided human fraility and distraction doesn't zap it from my mind)

Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord!

Yesterday's Epistle lesson was 1 Timothy 1:12-17, which contains the famous verse 15 - "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost." This verse is also the basis for the famous hymn "Chief of Sinners Though I Be". Let us spend a few moments considering this verse.

Now, when Paul writes this verse, there are many things which people can point to demonstrating that he is the foremost sinner. He put Christians to death in the day - that's pretty big. And most of the time, when this verse in mentioned, folks jump to Paul's past. But note something - Paul isn't talking about the past. He doesn't say "of whom I WAS foremost" - rather - "of whom I *am* foremost." Paul isn't saying, "I used to be so bad, but now I am just awesome" - rather this. Paul is confessing that at this moment, right now, when he writes, he is a sinner, and a big one at that.

The wonder isn't that Paul is a sinner, but rather the wonder and amazing thing is that God loves Paul and Christ Jesus came to save even a wretch, present tense like Paul.

But this verse isn't about Paul. It's about you and I - and we can tell this by the introduction - "The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance". This isn't just Paul talking about himself - this is a "saying" - something all Christians can and ought say about themselves - a saying worthy of full acceptance by all of us, that each of us should be able to say the same about ourselves.

A Christian, when he reads Scripture, when he sees God's law, will see his sin, will understand how wicked he actually is. And we will see it more in ourselves -- because we will see more and more of the little things in ourselves, while at the same time putting the best construction on the deeds of our neighbor - and so our sin will loom larger.

And so we confess it and flee to Christ Jesus who came into this world precisely to save sinners. And that is why the saying is trustworthy - for it points us again to Christ.

This week, be not afraid to examine yourself on the basis of Scripture - and know that when you do you will find sin, sin which you are to confess and struggle against. But again, know that even though you will find yourself to be the chief of sinners, Christ Jesus came to save you.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trinity 3 2009

Trinity 3 – June 28th, 2009 – Luke 15:11-32

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today we heard the parable of the Prodigal Son – and really, that’s a horrible title – because really, it’s not just about the one son. Rather, our Lord tells us who the parable is actually about – There was a man who had two sons. It’s about a father and his two very different children. That’s who this parable is about – and specifically this parable is about how this father deals with each of his sons – and from this we see and learn how God deals with us. So we are going to look at how the father deals with both his sons, and learn how this applies in our lives.

To begin, the younger son. The son whom we know well, who walks up to his rich father and says, “Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.” Think about this for a moment. Father, since you won’t hurry up and die, I’d like to have my share of the inheritance right now. Is there anything that would be more harsh and cruel to say to a father? This younger son is thinking only of stuff, of material things, of his wants and desires. Greedy and selfish. But here is the astonishing thing. The father actually gives the son what he wants. The father shrugs his shoulders and gives this no good son half of his property, half of what he had spent his life working hard to earn. Do you see the contrast here – the son who is full of greed, and the father who is over brimming with generosity.

Now, let us be honest for a moment. Are there not times where we can treat our Heavenly Father just as this younger son treated his father? Where we end up thinking about God only when we want something, only when our eye lights upon the neatest and newest do-hickey that we want? Of course there are. And even then, when we don’t appreciate God, does our God turn a cold shoulder to us? Does He treat us harshly? No, He still acts in love, He still gives us our daily bread, still does all that stuff that Luther talked about in the first article of the creed – and why? Because God’s blessings to us have never depended on whether or not we were good, or the merits of our desires, or even if we are asking for the right reason. No, He will take care of us as He sees fit, give us the blessings He desires for us – and all of this without any merit or worthiness in us – but rather simply out of His fatherly divine goodness and mercy. We see an example of this in this parable.

So the younger son gets the money and absolutely blows it. Squanders and is wasteful. He is utterly foolish. Wicked even. And everything comes crashing down upon him – he sees the error of his ways, although he has to wait until he’s sitting on a mound of pig slop wishing he could eat what the pigs are getting – and keep in mind, Jesus is speaking this parable to Jewish folks –being a pig slopper is pretty low. And so then the young son gets it in his head that he should head back to his father’s house and hire himself out as a servant – he even practices his speech – Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called you son.” So far, so good. What he says is accurate and true – and it sounds quite similar to what we confess. But then. . . he goes just a bit too far. Treat me as one of your hired hands. Do you see what he does? He makes plans to tell his father what to do, how to deal with him. The young man makes up his own plan of how he will get back in his father’s good graces, his own plan of salvation, as it were.

Now, again, does this not seem to describe the way our own lives can go? There’s not a one of us who hasn’t has that moment of looking back upon something we have done with utter disgust and shame – and rightfully so – because each of us is a sinner and we mess up big time. However, do we sometimes want to try to . . . fix things ourselves – to wave our hands around and try to come up with ways of “making it up”? Do we not sometimes take the attitude of “Well, I got into this mess, I guess I better get out of it.” We can end up trusting in our works, hoping in our plans, trying to rely upon ourselves – and when we do this, we forget two things. First, it’s silly. It was our own stupid plans that got us in trouble in the first place, why in the world would a new stupid plan of ours get us out of trouble. But when we are wracked with guilt and shame, we don’t always think straight. The second problem is much bigger. When we look to our works, our plans about how we are going to fix ourselves, bring ourselves back up to snuff with God, we forget something incredibly important. That’s not what God wants.

The example is in the parable. The young man starts to head home, and then we hear this: But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Now, I want you to think like a first century Jewish man for a second. What are you wearing? It’s not blue jeans and boots, it’s not running shoes. You’d be wearing a tunic, you’d be basically be wearing something like my alb. If I want to run in this, I’d have to hike up the alb to run. High. And they didn’t wear pants – get the idea? And then you’d be tearing off over dirty ground. In sandal-style shoes. In front of your neighbors. In front of your servants. And why? To hug and kiss the miserable brat who basically had just wished you dead. What a spectacle! Do you see what the father does here? He utterly humiliates himself in his effort and desire to have his son back. And the son ignores the father, gives out his speech. The father brushes the son’s plans off and tells his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” I don’t want you to be my servant, you are my son. Wear the robes that a son should wear. Wear a ring – a sign of power and authority, because my son will have authority. And we will celebrate your return.

Now, consider friends, what God does for you. God utterly humiliates Himself – He humbles Himself to be born of a virgin in a stall, to hunger, to thirst, to suffer all, even to be hung exposed and naked upon a cross – and not so that He can hear your plans of how you can make things up to Him, but simply so that He might redeem you, restore you, take you back as His holy and forgiven child. God wants nothing to do with your plans of self-justification; rather, His plan is nothing but goodness and mercy for you. God is the one who does the work, who suffers all for you – and this is the wonder of His mercy and love.

But sometimes we don’t behave like the younger son – sometimes we end up behaving like the older son. You’ve got the older son, and he hears the feasting, and he asks what is going on, and he finds out his brother is home and that the father has welcomed him back. But he was angry and refused to go in. The older brother gets upset. Why should his lazy, worthless brother be welcomed in? In fact, when the father leaves the party to talk to the older son, the older son has harsh words – Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him! The older brother is quite apt to point the finger. Yet consider him for a moment, consider his words. He’s not just attacking his brother. He’s harsh towards his father. He’s disrespectful. He says that the father doesn’t treat him with kindness. Says that the father isn’t good to him. I’ve worked so hard and you’ve treated me so poorly. The older son seems to think a lot of himself.

Likewise – sometimes when Christians fall into sin, it isn’t a matter of gross, open, public sin – sometimes it is more just a sin of pride, of arrogance. A sin where we think that we deserve things from God. Well, I’ve been a good Christian! So what? You do what you are supposed to do – whoopty-do. And yet we can become proud and arrogant in our works, and we can even become resentful against God – especially if someone else, if our neighbor gets a bit more than us, seems to do a bit better than us. We start comparing and contrasting – and we become vile.

But note how the father acts. First of all, did you note that the father left the party to head out to the older son? Such love and compassion. Even as the son rails against him, it is only because the Father had thought to seek the son out. And then the father both comforts and instructs the angry son – Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead and is alive; he was lost and is found.” You miss the point – you forget what blessings you have, for your eye has wondered. Remember again my love for you. And more over, this celebration for your brother isn’t about you – it’s about your brother, and we are right to rejoice over his return.

Likewise, consider how God treats you. What your neighbor has is no reflection upon you. The things the worlds tries to get you to focus on, they do not matter. Rather this – God is with you always, for you have been purchased and won by the Blood of Christ Jesus, and all that is His, life, salvation, forgiveness, He gives to you freely. Do you see how eager God is to provide these blessings to you – and again, not because of what you do or anything like that, but simply because that is who God is – the God who is quick to show love and mercy.

Dear friends, take time to ponder your own life, to consider the ways in which you might stray, like either of these two sons. But remember most of all that God your Father is quick to welcome, quick to forgive, quick to restore you to His House. He is eager to have a feast for you, be it His Holy Supper here in time, or to have you at the Heavenly Feast for all eternity. God is quick to love you, and His love for you endures. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Leg Up

I am getting ready for a week off - traveling towards Ohio on the 1st to celebrate the 4th at a family reunion, going to hit St. Joesph, Michigan for Vicar-Elect Jay Hobson's first Sunday as "Vicar Hobson" - then back to Toledo to see my grandma, and then wending our way back here. And so, I wanted to have things set up through the 12th before I leave. My goal was to get the bulletins done today (the sermon for the 12th was going to wait. . . I had started the prep but figured I'd write it next week).

The bugs, apparently, had other ideas.

We have a security system here at Church. It has motion detectors. In a bit of irony, perhaps intended to make me sympathize with the farmers, at harvest time for the wheat the bugs migrate away from the fields, and we get them all over in the Church. Including in the back hallway. Where there is a motion detector. Which is sort of shiny. OoooOOOoooo - shiny.

So this morning the alarm went off (for the 5th time in the past week), but today it went off at 3:30. I actually had the company set the hall motion detector off for the next two weeks. Then, at 3:40 or so the security guy called me back and asked me if I wanted all of the motion detectors off in case they move to another part (which I actually am grateful for), but by then. . . well, my body decided it was awake. And so I got over here well early. . . and worked. And I have the bulletins done. . . as in I finished two weeks and did a third. . . and it's 5:30.

The main goal I had to accomplish for the day in the office. . . and it's done before I even normally wake up. Oh, I even did some devotion too.

Now, this is nice. I will get more done in a bit - probably start on the sermon draft for the 12th - but this is nice. I like getting into the study a few hours before anyone is calling. . . but man, 4 full hours before anyone would come by is going to be really productive.

Because, as we all know, blogging about absolutely nothing of import is the hallmark of productivity.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


"You have to learn to pace yourself - you're just like everybody else" - Billy Joel

Human beings can be placed under a lot of pressure. There are friends and family with expectations, there are things looming at work - and these all bear down upon us. But that's not the bad pressure - the bad pressure is when you place an artificial standard upon yourself.

Consider the pressure you place upon yourself where you:
1. Set an unrealistic expectation of what you will do.
2. Think that if you only get X done for Y, they will love you, when Y isn't going to change.
3. Think that if you disappoint Y, Y will hate you forever and ever - even though that is not the case.

Spiritually speaking, the pressure in a Christian's life comes in when Y=God. What is the stress of the Christian life other than thinking, "Boy, I'm gonna impress God and He's gonna like me if I do ______" or "I better do ________ otherwise God isn't gonna love me"? Now, we don't often think these specific words, we don't say this (sometimes we do, but not often) - but it can be what we feel.

This is horrid. Our reaction to this kind of thinking/feeling is horrid, and it is a horrid way to think about God. It's an abuse of the Law, to where we end up mired in the muck of loss and failure.

I would contend that Christian freedom is precisely freedom from this self-placed pressure. So often we want to view ourselves as the lynchpin upon which the whole world turns - but what are we constantly told in Scripture. To behold Christ, to see Him. He is the true lynch pin - the pressure was on Him and He excelled where we would have failed. And risen and victorious, He gives us forgiveness, life, salvation, and freedom in Him. And if the Son sets you free. . . you are free indeed.

Flee from pressure that you place upon yourself. That is not what God deigns for you. It isn't about you, it's about Christ - and you will decrease (it will be less and less about you) and Christ will increase.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Luther Quote

The last part of #3786 in "What Luther Says"

Therefore the only thing we need to do in this matter is to believe [that God will do what is needed] and in strong confidence pray in the Name of Jesus Christ that, since God has established His kingdom and it is His work, He would strengthen it. For He has certainly raised it up without any cooperation, advice, thought, and intention of ours; and hitherto He has also ruled, conducted, and preserved it. Nor do I doubt that at He will certainly complete it without our advice and cooperation. “For I know,” says St. Paul (1 Tim 1:12) “whom I have believed” and am also certain that He is able to give more, to do and help superabundantly more, than we ask or understand. He is called “Lord,” a Lord who is able and willing to help wonderfully, gloriously, and mightily – and just when the need is the greatest. We should be men and not God; we should be comforted by His Word; and because of His assurance we should confidently call upon Him for help in trouble. Then He will come to our aid. This is the gist of the matter. Nothing else will come of it. Otherwise our reward would be everlasting unrest. May God keep us from this for the sake of His dear Son, our Savior and eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ. Amen

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Trinity 2 sermon

Trinity 2 – June 21st, 2009 – Luke 14:15-24

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Our Lord Jesus has been invited to a dinner at the house of one of the Pharisees when He speaks these words this morning. It was the meal where they brought a man with epilepsy to see whether or not Jesus would heal the man on a Sabbath – it is where Jesus taught that the humble will be exulted and the proud will be humbled. These are the things which Jesus has said, which has brought forth one person there to say, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!” And the man is right – everyone who gets to the heavenly feast will indeed be most highly blessed, but who are those people who get invited? Jesus tells us a parable to teach us.

A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' So here is the set up. There is going to be a party, and it's going to be a big one – a great banquet, a huge shindig. And this has been planned well in advance – it's not like one of us here suddenly all deciding to go to a restaurant after church today and asking people – this has been planned for a long time – people had been invited. And the time for the banquet comes – the appointed date, the appointed time is here. But there is a problem.

But they all alike bean to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.” And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.” The excuses start rolling in. I have a field. I bought 10 head of oxen. I got hitched. Do you hear how empty these excuses are? If there is a set date, an event that is important to you – you plan around it. You wait until tomorrow to look at your field – or you go look at it well before you buy it. Same thing with the oxen, and beside, it won't hurt them to have a day of rest. And I'm guessing the wife was invited too by virtue of being the married to a guest. None of these people are being honest – these are just excuses – in reality they do not want to come. Simple as that.

And the master knows this. So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master became angry and said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and the crippled, and the blind and the lame.” The master has prepared his banquet. The food is ready, and someone is going to eat it, someone is going to enjoy it. So the poor, the downtrodden of society are invited. If people are too hoity-toity and busy to come, fine, I'll invite the poor. But there is still room. And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and there is still room.” And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Go get people I don't even know – get the travelers, the strangers, even the thieves and highwaymen – bring them all in – because the people I invited – they won't come. I invited, but they will not come – so be it – I will have my celebration anyway.

So what does this parable mean? Well, let's consider what the Pharisees who were at the dinner where Jesus is speaking would be hearing. The Pharisees were the best of the best of Jewish society. They were the top of the top of God's chosen people – they knew that God was their Father and loved them. Yet many of them has become proud, and viewed themselves as high and mighty because they themselves were just so good, such good Jewish men. And as such, many of them ignored or mistreated God's messengers. They had ignored Moses and the Prophets and instead created new laws to follow. They had spurned God's messengers – John the Baptist was mocked, and even Jesus was put to the test. And why did they treat John and Jesus so poorly? Well, just look who they dealt with! They dealt with the poor and the blind – the lousy Jews. They would talk even to gentiles and foreigners! Obviously, many Pharisees thought, Jesus wasn't worth their time – maybe they could teach Him a lesson, but surely they had nothing to learn from Him. And so Jesus lays it out for them – Guess what oh Pharisees – you are rejecting God. God has told you about the Messiah, and now that I'm here, you get cold feet, you make excuses, you don't want to come. Don't think God will wait for you – the rest of the world will be invited. Don't be an excuse maker, or all your vaunted status will mean nothing and you will miss the kingdom of God, you won't be one of those eating bread in the kingdom of God, and all the people you look down upon will be there instead.

So then, what do we learn from this parable? Well, it does serve as a warning to us here. We here today, we who have grown up in the Church, who have been here forever and a day – we are the ones who are the modern equivalents of the Pharisees. When Jesus warns the Pharisees of something, the people who especially should perk up their ears are those who have been going to church. Here is the danger for us. We who go to Church can start to rest on our laurels, we can think, “Eh, we know all that Church stuff, we're pretty good Christians – we don't need it right now.” And slowly, out of pride and arrogance, we begin to spurn God, we begin to make excuses when our Master invites us to His House to hear His Word, indeed, to partake of the Lord's Supper. And we can fall away – and then, when the time comes for the great feast of heaven – we've fallen, and we aren't there. Christians can fall away – and even “good” Christians. This is what Christ warns us of today.

So, how do we learn from this warning – how do we take it to heart? How do we know if this warning is apt for us? Consider the attitude of those who skipped the feast had towards the master. How did they view the master, how did they view the feast? Oh man, I don't want to go to this. I don't have the time. I would rather being doing something else. Now, consider yourself and your approach to Scripture and Worship. Does it seem as though you don't want to go sometimes? Does it seem as though you have something better to do? That is how Satan tempts. That is how Satan tries to turn you away from God and unto the things of this world. Satan tries to make us weary of God and His Word. Pastor Hall from Redeemer had a great observation some time ago – he asked why it is easy to watch an hour long show on TV or a two hour movie, but if he sits to read the Psalms for 10 minutes, it seems like a burden. This is the way things work in this fallen world. If I broke out with a 35 minute sermon, how many here would be tapping their watches? If portals of prayer were 10 minutes long instead of 3, would they be nearly as popular? Does coming to a bible study often seem like just so much more time at Church? Here is the fact – Scripture is true when it says that the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Know that, be aware of that – so that when Satan tempts your flesh to ignore the word, you can recognize that temptation, you can resist, you can by the power of the Holy Spirit keep your focus where it ought to be.

Another way to look at this is to consider your attitude towards God. The three people who make excuses in the parable, they thought that the master was placing such an undue burden upon them – who was going to try and make them do something they didn't want to do. Do you see how skewed their view was? They were thinking the master was a burden, that the great banquet was a horrid thing instead of. . . a great banquet. Their view had gotten twisted – to where the master is sort of a taskmaster, a killjoy. But look at the master from the parable. He is kind and loving, he provides for them a free and wonderful feast, he has told them, he has planned to provide for them. And the master is so kind – he even starts to invite those who have no way of repaying, the poor, the blind, the folks just passing through. Do you see how kind the master is – and sadly how skewed the people had been viewing him?

Consider friends, how you view God. Satan wants you to think of God as a killjoy. Satan wants you to think of God's law as being arbitrary and mean, where God just doesn't want you to have fun. Satan wants you to look at coming to receive God's gifts as burdensome. But dear friends, know who God is. Christ Jesus comes down and suffers all, even the Cross, so that you might be blessed, and He is eager to have you receive the forgiveness He has won. Consider how eager, how inviting God is to you. God in reality doesn't make you jump through hoops – you don't have to climb some sacred mountain, make some long pilgrimage – God will come to you, here in His house. God calls you into His presence – says that whenever you gather around His word, gather in His Name, that He will be there with you. And He doesn't even make you wait – okay, okay, you aren't in heaven yet – but here, let's have a Supper to get ready for heaven, here, let Me give you My own Body and Blood so that you can participate in the heavenly feast even now, so that you can now, still in this world, join your voices with angels and archangels, with all the company of heaven – even now, get a little foretaste of the feast to come. Do you see what God is truly like?

Dear friends in Christ, our Lord Jesus is inviting you unto His feast, He is calling you to His House now so that you might be prepared to enter the heavenly feast for all eternity. And this is not a harsh burden for you – do not let Satan or your sinful flesh tell you otherwise. Rather this – remember God's great love for you, love which means He invites you, He calls to you, He offers you freely the forgiveness won upon the cross. Enjoy these blessings and often, so that you will be prepared when the invitation to heaven finally comes, and you join in the great banquet of all eternity, for all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – Luke 16:19-31 – June 14th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
It seems like the rich man in the parable had such a wonderful life. He was clothed in purple and fine linen – he feasted sumptuously every day. His house, well, it was big enough to have a gate. A pretty good life, eh? Isn’t what the rich man had basically the American dream? Two car garage – the best of the best from United or Jumbo’s on the table (if you aren’t actually just eating out and having your food cooked for you), nice clothes that you know you aren’t going to wear out because you’ve got a closet full of other things to wear as well. It seems like the Rich Man had things going his way, it seems like he had everything that he could possibly want. And how blessed the rich man was stands out in stark contrast to Lazarus, the beggar on his doorstep. Lazarus is poor, starving, no home, probably wearing worn out rags. Horrid health, a body covered with sores. So weak that he can’t even fend off the dogs who come and lick his wounds. It seems like Lazarus had in his life everything we fear will happen to us – every trial, every terror. Job – gone. Land – gone. House – gone. Health – gone. Family – gone. From the perspective of the world – it is clear that the rich man is better off than Lazarus – that we would much rather be in the rich man’s shoes than Lazarus’ – except for one crucial fact, one crucial concern.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried and in Hades. For all the pomp of the rich man’s life, for all the grittiness of Lazarus’ life, for all the worldly splendor contrasted against the muck and mire – we see that in reality, Lazarus had the better life, had that which was truly needful. Our Lord teaches a stern lesson, gives us a stern warning this morning about what this life, this time on this earth really ought to be about. The ways in which we judge our life, the ways in which we evaluate our neighbor, the ways in which we think are so often wrong, so often at odds with God and His priorities for us. Too often our focus is upon stuff and things – and not the God who is the Maker of that stuff – upon earthly blessings and not the Giver of blessings both earthly and eternal. And so, with this parable, Christ paints a picture of what we are to avoid, what we are to not be like – so we can learn what temptations to avoid.

Consider the rich man in life. Now, clearly he was a man of means. He had more than enough for himself. And yet, what does he does with his stuff, whom does his stuff serve? The rich man cares only for himself. The evidence of that lies upon his doorstep. How callous, how cruel do you have to be to let a beggar with nothing, with sores, lay upon your own doorstep and die? And I’m not talking about a panhandler, a scam artist – but someone with an honest, legit need, which the rich man knew to be needed (because he knows Lazarus by name) – and nothing is done. How callous! And yet, dear friends – that is just the most extreme end of the spectrum – but what of you? How is your generosity? How do you view your stuff, your blessings, the things God has given to you? Do you think first and foremost of what you want with them – or do you think of how you will be able to serve your neighbor? Do you think first and foremost of what you can consume for yourself, or what you can give to others? If you are thinking of yourself, you are thinking like the rich man – maybe not as vilely, or as grossly – because surely pastor I would help the dying man! I would certainly hope so – but still, the rich man is a warning against selfishness, selfishness that can pop up in us all – and the danger is that as we become focused more and more upon what is ours, we forget to focus on the neighbor. God, unsurprisingly, had a bit of wisdom in assigning the Tithe in the Old Testament – the first thing you did with what you got, was you gave part of it away. The first fruits – gone, given away. A fantastic training about not letting possessions rule, not letting possessions possess you. And so I admonish you, consider your own life and take stake of how you relate to God’s blessings. Is the stuff of your life your idol which you seek and crave – or is it simply a tool that you use to serve others?

This is important, because selfishness becomes pervasive, selfishness when left unchecked, greed growing unchecked ends up dominating your whole life. This is shown by the rich man’s words from hell – Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in the flame. Father Abraham, I am in anguish – so I’ll tell you what – here’s my idea of mercy – send Lazarus to hell so that he can care for me. How about it – he’s just a beggar, why let him be in heaven, he ought to be making my existence easier instead of just being a lay-a-bout. Even the rich man’s cry for mercy is corrupted. No thoughts of what he had done wrong, no thoughts of how what he was getting was his just deserts. Simply serve me, serve me. No sense of responsibility for his own actions – rather, let others suffer to serve me. Do you see the selfishness? Again – be wary, lest this same selfishness take root in you, and gradually grow up like a weed and choke you out.

One final warning we see from the rich man – who I am incredibly harsh on, but, well, he is burning in hell, afterall, he’s meant to be an example of how things ought not be done. We get this exchange after Abraham tells the rich man that he is stuck in hell. And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Seems good so far, right? Not so fast, my friends! But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Did you catch it? No! No, Father Abraham! He’s in hell, and yet he’s trying to correct Abraham. Do you see how arrogant, how self-centered this man is? And it keys on what the rich man brushes aside as worthless. Abraham points to the Word of God – Moses and the Prophets – the Holy Scriptures. The rich man says, “Eh, that Word of God stuff is no good, it’s worthless.” And we see why the rich man is in the predicament he is in. And Abraham says something which is of great note – “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” Even your plans, rich man, they won’t work. If you ignore Scripture, someone could rise from the dead and it still wouldn’t matter. Or as St. Paul would put it – faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.

You see, that is the thing that Lazarus had, that he is the example of. One who is faithful and waits patiently upon God. We will, it seems, often rant and rail against God – God, how you could let this happen – on and on. And then there is Lazarus – who is in a more sorry state than any of us – and he has heard the Word, and he waits patiently on God – and when he closes his eyes in death, he sees that the faith he held to, the God in whom He trusted is good and right and true, and he is carried to heaven. This is an example, an ideal to which we are to strive. A full and utter contrast, a reminder of the contentment we should have – that even if we are completely weak and frail – God is strong for us – and we see and understand God’s love for us, and trust in that above all.

And here is the irony – what does the rich man want? Lazarus to go to earth, return from the grave, and preach to his brothers. My dear Christian friends, do you not understand that God plans blessings beyond what our sinful flesh could conceive of. God does not send Lazarus – rather this. Christ Jesus our Lord comes down from heaven unto earth – and how does He come? He comes lowly and humble, meek, poor. Our Lord was basically homeless, a drifter – He says in Luke “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” God the Father sends a Beggar down, sends Christ Jesus, who in completely unselfish love takes upon Himself all the torment and trials that we can face in this sinful world – all the suffering that any of us will face and more on top of that – and Christ Jesus takes this all upon Himself – and He goes to the Cross and dies. And then the wonder. He rises from the dead – just as the Scriptures said He would, and He proclaims peace – He proclaims that He has overcome the world – and that all who believe in Him, all who have heard the Word and been given the gift of faith, who have been given ears to hear and eyes to see the world, no longer merely through the eyes of selfish greed like the rich man, but through the trusting eyes of faith like Lazarus – to these Christ Jesus has proclaimed that just as He has conquered the world, so too shall those who believe, that just as He has risen, so too shall those who trust in Him.

This is the gift of faith that Christ Jesus has given to you – for He has opened your ears to hear His Word – He has sent His Son and His Spirit unto you – making you His dwelling place in Baptism, giving you again and again His Son’s Body to strengthen your frail body by His Holy Supper, and all so that God’s saving truth might be yours at all times and in all places, so that you might understand your blessings in this life for the gifts they are – gifts given to you to give unto others – and more over that you might realize that this life’s blessings are temporary and transient and fleeting – that they are as nothing compared to the true and wondrous gift that is yours, salvation in the Name of Christ Jesus, who has died for your sins and risen to give you life. Beware your selfishness which would make you forget this faith to which you cling, and rather hold fast to the God who has been revealed to you in Moses and the Prophets and the writings of the Apostles – so that you may endure both the blessings and trials of this life and enjoy the blessings of heaven alongside all the faithful in the presence of God for all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Think with the Scriptures, Jimmy!

I think this ad - the "Think with your dipstick, Jimmy" ad, has to be one of my favorite ones in a long time.

Now, I want to run up to people, smack them with the bible and say, "Think with the Scriptures, Jimmy!"

Three Dirty Words

The next time I hear someone say these three dirty words, I think I will wash their mouth out with soap. "I'm too busy". Seriously, next time I hear them, I am going to go grab a bar of Irish Spring and go after someone.

How often do people actually mean it when they say that they are too busy? If they actually are too busy they will say how they are busy - "I'm sorry, I've got ______ going on, I can't then." They might even make another suggestion - "Can we do it ______".

No - "I'm too busy" is a lie. What it really means is "I don't want to, I'm not interested, but I don't want to tell you that I think your idea is dumb."

We had a wonderful free Conference on death and dying out at Camp Lutherhaven - and apparently many pastors had said that they were too busy. Really? In the summer? When things that happen all year round slow down? No Confirmation - no Advent or Lent - no special services - perhaps even some other classes slowing down - and you are too busy?

Our circuit hadn't been meeting for winkels in the summer because people were "too busy." Now that I am the circuit counselor, we are again. They are available. If you cannot make it - vacation or VBS or whatever - that is fine. If you don't want to make it - it's summer, you want to relax and spend time with the family - that too is fine (go chill with my blessing - summertime is more relaxing and we won't do too much business).

If you don't want to come to an evening bible study - so be it. If you are blowing of Church - admit that you are blowing off Church. If you don't want to do X with person Y - say you aren't interested. But don't just use the random "I'm too busy" - that is so vague as to not mean anything.

We are Christians. We are to call a thing what it is. We are to let our yes be yes and our no be no. And we are never too busy. . . we might have a scheduling conflict, we might be unable to do something because of prior commitments, we may even be simply tired and in need of rest (or even just flat out uninterested in your crackpot plans) - but let us be honest and truthful.

Or I might be tempted to wash your mouth out with soap.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sermon

Trinity Sunday – June 7th, 2009 – John 3:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Today, on Trinity Sunday, we celebrate and examine the mystery of Who God is and our wondrous relationship to Him. As we just confessed in the Athanasian Creed, “we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity” – our God is Three in One – Father, Son, and Spirit, yet only One God – a God beyond our understanding, beyond our comprehension. “The Father eternal, the Son, eternal, the Holy Spirit eternal, and yet there are not three Eternals, but one Eternal”. This is a mystery, a wonder, something far beyond what we are used to dealing with. But this is our God – in all His awe inspiring majesty – Three persons, yet One God.

God is so beyond what we as Christians are used to. God is so beyond the everyday, normal things of life – and yet sometimes today the world, and even we Christians, can take such a ho-hum, such a cavalier attitude towards God. But when we pause, when we consider the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity, we see once again that God is beyond us, above us, more than us – and once again we are taught humility and wonder. Too often we can think of God merely as a tool of our convenience. If I need something, I’ll ask You, God – if not, well. . . don’t call me, I’ll call You. And because of this attitude, because we can just fall into this unthinking, unappreciative attitude towards God – we miss out, we overlook the truly wondrous nature of God’s relationship with us.

This is shown clearly in the discussion between our Lord Jesus and Nicodemus in our Gospel lesson. Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with Him.” Here we have Nicodemus – a ruler of the Jews – a silver spoon, a muckity muck – one of the hoitey toitey. And He comes to Jesus by night and tells Jesus that He is a great teacher, sent by God. Well, sounds good so far, right? No! Not at all. First of all, Nicodemus comes by night. Why by night? So no one will see him, so it will be merely a private thing and not public knowledge. Nicodemus doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s talking to Jesus. Jesus had been out publicly teaching – plenty of time in daylight – but instead, Nicodemus hides in the shadow. And even then, he wiffs on who Jesus is. We know you are a teacher. A teacher. A Rabbi. That’s it? Nicodemus doesn’t even think of Jesus as a Prophet, much less the Son of God, the Messiah. Teacher is low on the totem pole – I’m basically a Rabbi, Jay’s learning to be one – that’s a hum-drum every day thing that we expect all the time. Nicodemus doesn’t understand who he is dealing with yet, and even so he’s ashamed.

This explains why Jesus’ reply to Nicodemus is so curt, so blunt. Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus, Nicodemus, until you have been born again, until you have been brought to faith by God, you aren’t going to get it. Your life will be one where you simply run around in the shadows and really know nothing of God know nothing of Me, although you think you do. Now you and I know God, we have relationship with God only by faith, only by the gifts we receive from God, freely given. Nicodemus doesn’t get that yet. He probably thinks he doing Jesus a favor by talking to him, after all, Nicodemus is a leader of the Jews. Nicodemus’ confusion shows. “How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Nicodemus again is thinking simply earthly things – simply coarse, and probably vile things. This is a flippant answer, a dismissive answer. Apparently Nicodemus doesn’t even think Jesus is that great of a teacher, for he blows Jesus’ teaching off.

And then Jesus lays it out. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” Here we see our Lord speak of the wonders of Baptism, that wonderful gift of God whereby God takes us sinful humans and washes us in Water and Spirit (because remember, wherever the Word of God is present, as it is at Baptism, there the Spirit is as well) – where God washes us in Water and Spirit and makes us to be part of His kingdom, part of His family. There is a change that must come – you cannot remain simply something of the world – something merely of the flesh. When you hear “flesh” in John’s Gospel, it’s not just body, it’s the coarseness and grittiness and wickedness of life in this world. That’s where we all start, in the gritty, dog eat dog world – and unless God makes us to be born of the Spirit, that’s where we will always remain. But consider what happened to you at your baptism. When you were born, you were born sinful, you were born a fleshly being, given and prone to the sins of the flesh. You came into this world a greedy, selfish thing. Sinful like your parents before you, and theirs before them, and so on and so forth, all the way back to Adam and Eve. You were, as Isaiah would say, a person of unclean lips who dwells amongst a people of unclean lips. A sinful being, with no right to be in the presence of God, no ability to come to Him, no hope but wrath and woe.

And then the wonder – God comes to you, God comes to you in Water and the Spirit, takes you and claims you as His own, makes you to be born of Spirit by the power of His Spirit at your Baptism, and you are born again, a new creation, created in Christ Jesus for life and salvation. The Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit, comes to you, applies His very own name to you – I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – and brings you into relationship with Himself, makes you holy and righteous and forgiven, cleans your flesh into something spotless, and makes you part of God’s family, for all eternity. It is no small thing that you are baptized. It is no small wonder – but rather a miracle of earth shaking proportions – for indeed, even after this earth has melted away in the fires of the last day, you in your Resurrected and perfected Flesh, sinful no more, by virtue of being one of God’s baptized children, will dwell with God for all eternity. A wondrous thing that God freely gives.

But Nicodemus still doesn’t get it – Jesus’ words are just like whispers on the breeze – they make no sense to him. Like so many people today who hear the promise of Baptism and disbelieve, Nicodemus merely mutters, “How can these things be?” How can this be? How can this possibly work – how can God do this great thing for me? Don’t I have to do it myself, don’t I have to work my way up to God, don’t I have to give my heart to Him, don’t’ I have to do the work? Don’t I, don’t I, don’t I? And Jesus responds, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” You think you have to do it, Nicodemus? Don’t you know what your sinful flesh is like? Don’t you know that you are incapable of working your way up to God? God has preached His law, over and over, all throughout Scripture, Old and New, God has shown ypi that sinful man can do nothing – that Adam and his children are fallen, that all your works are as filthy rags, that even the patriarchs and the pious women of the Old Testament were sinful and fallen and could not earn their way to heaven. If you do not know this – if you don’t know that you are a sinner, you will not understand salvation – because our salvation rests not in yourself, but in Christ Jesus. How can these things be – because Christ acts.

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” Jesus refers to the Old Testament lesson of a few weeks ago. When the fiery serpents came and bit the children of Israel, they were dying – and unless they repented, unless they despaired of their own strength to survive, or their own cures and solutions – unless they beheld the bronze serpent in faith, they died. Likewise – God lifts up His Son, Christ Jesus upon the Cross, so that we who have been Baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit, might behold His righteous and perfect sacrifice for our sins and have life. How can these things be, how can Baptism do such great things, How can I have a relationship with God, a relationship which isn’t just an attempt to get stuff for this life but rather a relationship which is a participation in God’s own eternal life? How can all this be? Because Christ Jesus, the Son of God, took up a human body, and though He committed no sin, suffered and died, taking upon Himself the guilt of your sin. Because Christ Jesus strode forth from His tomb, His Body alive, guaranteeing eternal life and perfect to us. That is how it happens.

For God So loved the World – We can miss the point of this verse – God loves the world? Really, how so? God so loves, God loves the world in this way – if you want to understand God’s love for the world the way in which you will see it is this – He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. This, the Cross, is how God’s love works, is how He loves us. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and gave His Son to be the propitiation [the atoning sacrifice] for our sins. And the benefits, the gift that this is, is what we receive in Baptism, it is at Baptism where we have proof positive that everything that Christ has done is ours, given to us – see, we are in His Name – we have the Name of the Triune God applied to us – signed and sealed unto us, a truth that is proclaimed whenever the sign of the Cross is made. And we are part of God’s family now, not just in pretty picture language, but in reality. This is the wonder that we rejoice in this Trinity Sunday. Not just that God is Triune, but that now, wherever you go, God Almighty, Three in One and One in Three, God so far beyond your comprehension as to be mind boggling – wherever you go God is with you, for He loves you in Christ and has redeemed you, claimed you as His own. This is the relationship you have with God that He has created in You, this is the relationship He sustains by the preaching of His Word, His gift of forgiveness, and His most Holy Supper. This is the relationship you shall dwell in face to face for all eternity. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, June 4, 2009

What Law Focused Christianity Actually Is

I find that few things on television annoy me more than the floppy bible TV preacher who will preach nothing but law, law, law. This says something. There is a lot of filth and smut on TV - and yet it's the televangelists that get - that feel even more dirty than that scene with the sultry sax music coming in.

And I figured out not only why - but a good analogy to explain why a Law focused Christianity feels so dirty. Let's get some Scripture down first.

1. "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." 1 Corinthians 2:2

This is the ideal, the right approach. Everything, every jot and tittle of what we find in Scripture can only be understood in the context of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Everything points to or flows from Christ the Crucified.

2. "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Ephesians 5:32

When Paul talks of marriage, the higher reality of what we see in earthly marriage, all the things that happen therein, are but a reflection of the union with Christ that we have by faith and the results of being justified by Him. Christ makes us clean and without any blemish because He loves us and has died for us - who we are flows from this.

3. "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing." John 15:5

Our works, our deeds, that which we do come solely and simply as a result of being forgiven sinners joined to Christ - our works flow from our relationship with Christ - a relationship that is defined by what He does for us in going to the Cross for our salvation.

With these in mind - literally, what is someone doing when they start talking about works - the things that we as Christians do - and ignore or brush off the forgiveness of sins (or heaven forbid, demand works prior to forgiveness)? They are basically encouraging the spiritual equivalent of pre-marital sex.

Quite literally. Go do the deed (or deeds) without having the relationship established. Sometimes, go do the deed so that in doing the deed you can force the relationship. Is that not both what pre-marital sex and works righteousness amount to - the actions that are part of a relationship outside of the context of the relationship? (Makes you wonder again about that whole "your best life now" sort of talk, doesn't it!)

We've talked about televangelists being sleezy - and you know what? They spiritually are.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

FC 4

So yesterday, in preparation for my History Class (which is up to the Formula of Concord), I reread Epitome, 4 - on Good Works. It has got me thinking. When we look at faith, we can speak of faith on maybe two planes.

1. We are justified by faith. Faith works on the plane of salvation - and there is nothing at all involved with works here.
2. Faith which is living produces works. Simply happens. Feel free to encourage.

Here is a simple observation. There are two contrasting approaches that seem to be arising in our Synod - or maybe emphases...

1. Christ Jesus has died for us, and thus we have forgiveness and life and salvation.
2. The modern idea infesting the LCMS that churches need to have mission statements - which generally focus on. . . for lack of a better phrase. . . getting people to do good works - be it service, or witnessing, or making Gospel contacts, or some other such thing.

What is the Church to be about - what is it's primary focus to be on? Do we focus on Christ and Him Crucified? Or do we have a bit of Jesus, and then focus on to good works? Which idea is primary, and which is secondary?

Now, the way I ordered them should give you a clue to the way I line up on this (and given the fact that Righteousness and Justification always show up before Works in the Confessions, I would argue this is the Lutheran approach). And this ends being what is so frustrating. . . so much of what I hear might have a place - but it's a skewed focus. It would be like listening someone talk over and over about how catching fly balls is the most important, defining part of a baseball game. Well. . . it's a part. . . and some players need to work on it. . . but catching fly balls isn't the heart, isn't the essence of baseball.

Likewise - Christians do works. There are times and places to focus on works, what and how we ought to do thinks (indeed, what we *must* do) - but this isn't the focus of the Christian faith - and if it becomes the focus, things become skewed.