Friday, July 31, 2009

In San Francisco

Well, I am sitting here in the hotel room while my wife talks to her grandmother (whom we will see Sunday afternoon and spend near a week with) while we wake up. We hit San Francisco yesterday afternoon - are right off of Union Square, hit Chinatown for dinner yesterday.

San Francisco is a fascinatingly diverse city. You can see so many different cultures of the world here - even though I mainly was jumping back and forth between Asian and the European-posh cultures with where we have hit.

On the one hand, we can overlook the wide expanse of different customs and cultures.
On the other hand, we often forget the unifying power of the Gospel.

Oklahoma is a relatively straightforward place, culturally. At least northwest Oklahoma. Running into Mexican immigrants is "exotic". And it is easy to slip into an idea that "Everyone" does the same thing.

San Francisco can lead one to the opposite idea. There is so much going on the idea becomes that everyone is so vastly different and we are so utterly isolated. There cannot be any common ground.

Yet the Church cuts through that - the Church is the Church of 1. One God, One Faith, One Baptism. It is the Church that cuts through cultures - how is it that we who are Parthians and Medes and folks from Cyrene hear the Gospel preached in our own tongues?

There is unity, and there is specification. This is the tragedy of when people abandon the liturgy. The liturgy is the unity - the diversity is the tongue which is used. You don't try to mesh the diversity by abandoning the unity of the Church and what she says and sings in order to try to reach folks.

Yeah, San Francisco is diverse, but they still think that they are San Franciscan. Why can we understand this?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Every 500 years or so

Every 500 years or so there seems to be something big happen in the Church, some big divide.

Around 1500 years ago (okay, 1550) you had the first great split in the Church - the one we ignore. Plenty of Alexandria and Egypt didn't go along with the council of Chalcedon. There's a massive divide in the Church there.

Then around 950 years ago you get the Great Schism, the divide between the West and the remainder of the East. Things get torn apart.

Then around 500 years ago, you get the Reformation.

I think we are getting into one of those big things now, and I think it is about worship. The Church is going to split along lines of what it means to worship - is it entertainment and fun time, or is it the time where sinners receive forgiveness of sins? This is something that is popping up almost everywhere, across the board - and it's going to bring about a divide - in many ways it already has.

Thus is life in the fallen world.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Going or Being

My mind got to thinking this morning. I recall seeing some former members of our congregation here for a funeral, and afterwards they were talking to folks (guests from out of town), and they said, "Oh, we go to __________ Baptist Church." This got me to thinking.

A lot of times we speak of Church in terms of going - I go here, where do you go, things like that. However, that is really an non-Lutheran, non-catholic way of speaking. The question was never to be where you are going, but rather where you belong. I belong to ________ Lutheran Church. I am a member of _________ Lutheran Church. And often it would come out with the firm declaration - "I am Lutheran".

I remember really upsetting one of my friends in college when I would say, "I'm a Lutheran." It would really upset her - I was such a vibrant and complex person, how could I put myself in a box like that. The fact that I saw *being* Lutheran as part of my own identity, part of who I am, was in many ways intimidating and frightening to her.

But, it needs to be being, it really does. If one's relationship is just an active verb, is just "I go to", you aren't really in it. It's that being - it needs that concrete description of what you are.

Think back to high school or college days - there was a vast difference between, "Oh, I just hang out with ________" and "________ is my girlfriend." If you are just "doing" something, it's incidental, it can change, it can flit away at your whim. If you are something - well, that's something else entirely.

Be not afraid to be "Lutheran" (and don't give me that "well, I prefer to say Christian instead of Lutheran" stuff - Lutherans have the correct beliefs, be not ashamed of knowing just what Christ's redemption actually entails for you) - to have that be your identity - because the Christian life is not about what we do, not about our decisions or works - but rather it is about who we are - forgiven sinners made into new creations in Christ Jesus.

Christianity isn't a doing thing - it's a being thing.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Trniy 7 sermon

Trinity 7 – Mark 8:1-9 – July 26th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Three days. For three days, you’ve been listening to the teachings of Christ – it has been three days since you left what you were doing and followed after Him, merely to hear, to delight in His Word. And now, you are faint, you are tired. While the preaching has been wonderful, the food has run out. Your belly is empty – not just a rumble, not just what happens when you skip a meal, but empty. Your strength is flagging – and here you are, out in a desolate place, far from home.

You see up front. There is movement by Christ. You catch a glimpse of a bit of bread – it turns out to be 7 loaves – 7 large rolls. The ache in your belly tells you that you might be able to eat them all yourself. And then a few, small fish, you catch a glimpse of those as well. A meal fit for 2, maybe three. And Jesus prays, and then, the disciples begin to pass out food, to pass out loaves and fish – and you eat, and the food still keeps coming. And you eat and are satisfied. Then the disciples come around with baskets – with big bushels, and they ask for the leftovers – and you look down, and you see that there is more there, more than you could eat – and so you place your leftovers in the basket – and there they are, hundreds and hundreds of pounds of leftovers, gathered together. And as you wonder at this, as you hear the murmurs of the people next to you, Jesus and His disciples get up and into a boat and head across the sea. It becomes time for you to head home, but now you have the strength to do so. And so you do.

This is what happens in our Gospel text, in the feeding of the 4000 thousand – actually, it was probably higher than that, it was 4000 men, we don’t know how many women and children are included. We are familiar with this – there is barely any food, and then our Lord intervenes, and then there is an abundance of food, 7 baskets left over. This event, this feeding, teaches us about our Lord, how He works, what He gives and why – and the impact it has upon our lives.

As our Lord gazed out upon the crowd, upon those who sought to hear His teaching – our Lord notes their condition. He sees that they are weak and weary. Likewise, dear friends, I would remind you that the Lord sees your condition, knows your pains and sorrows. He knows when your body aches and is weak. He knows when events in your life beat you down. He knows even the things that you are fearful of, worried about, things that you wouldn’t breath a breath of to anyone else. He sees this – and not with shock, not with horror, not with revulsion. Rather this – I have compassion upon the crowd, because they have been with me three days and have nothing to eat. We have had a recent president who was somewhat famous for saying, “I feel your pain”. Christ our Lord did on that day in Dalmanutha – literally. While they have been listening for 3 days, He had been teaching three days – He was in the same boat as them. He felt compassion – He felt what they were feeling – and so He is moved to act. He takes a few loaves and a few fish, and giving thanks to God He distributes and satisfies the physical hunger of all who are there at that place – Himself included.

Likewise, do not think for a moment that our Lord lacks compassion when it comes to you. The Lord who knows your hurts and wounds, who knows your needs is the same Lord who provides for you. God Almighty has given you many blessings of body – your eyes and ears and all your members, clothing, food and drink, house and home, friends and neighbors. Even as He provided bread for those people, He gives to you your daily bread. He gives to you shelter and care. He gives you the friends who support and sustain you, who stand by you even when they don’t know all that is wrong. All these blessings in this life, Christ Jesus gives to you.

And it is good to think about why Christ gives. When our Lord feeds in the parable, He doesn’t feed merely the strong. He doesn’t look out over the crowd and say, “Alright, who is the strongest, who paid the best attention, who is the most worthy of my love, my blessing?” He doesn’t look for strength. Rather, our Lord sees weakness, sees that the people are on the verge of fainting, and so then He is moved to compassion and acts. Likewise, when God provides for you, it is not because you are strong, it isn’t because you are a good Christian. It is because you are weak, it is because you are in need, it is because you are frail, but He is strong and loving. Those weaknesses which you fear, which you are ashamed of, God is not ashamed of them. Rather, He sees your suffering and loves you all the more, and gives you strength to endure, works healing and comfort, builds your strength again. You need not try to earn your blessings from Him – Christians need not behave like greedy children who kiss up to their parents so they can have a bigger chunk of the will. Rather God provides, especially to the weak, especially to those who depend on Him.

But when we speak of God providing, we shouldn’t think merely of the physical, merely of food and drink or house and home. Rather this – our God is the God who gives out blessings of both Body and Soul. There indeed are many times when your life, your body is weak – and God provides for you in those times. But are there not times when your spirit is weak? Are there not times when your life, your deeds, your actions, your goodness – is weak, is failing, is lacking? Are there not times when you yourself fall into sin – be it the quick temper, the careless word, the shrugging off of a duty because you simply don’t want to? Are there not times when you lack compassion, when your responsibility of showing love to God and Neighbor is left undone? Are there not times when your spirit is weak?

Are there not times when you try to hide this fact – when you try to pretend that you haven’t done wrong, when you hide your sin from others, when you even hide your sin from yourself? Your Lord is not so easily deluded. He sees your sin, He sees your weakness, He sees that of you yourself there is no good in you. He even speaks His Word of law to you, so that you can’t deny your own sin, so that you can’t pretend that you are perfectly fine. And this is not because He’s mean, not because He wants to pick on you – but rather, simply because He sees that you are weak, and He does not want you to hurt yourself, indeed, does not want you to kill your faith in your own weakness. Rather, He calls you to repentance by His Word, and then, when you see your sin, He lifts your eyes and shows you something else.

Your Lord has compassion upon you. He lifts up your eyes, lifts up your hearts as the communion liturgy would put it – and what do you see? You see Christ with you. Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, the One who knew no sin – you see Him standing there among the sinners, come down from heaven into this sinful fallen world. You see Him having taken on a body, a body like yours, and though He has done no wrong, no ill, you see Him suffer all the trials and tribulations of this world. You see Him hunger, you see Him tired, you see Him battered and bruised. All the ravages of sin in this world, you see Him patiently bear. You see Him walk into the river Jordan to be baptized, just as He has brought you to His own font to baptize you, and you see Him take upon Himself your sin. The sin which you are ashamed of He is bold to take up upon Himself – to lay it upon His own shoulders. And He carries it to the Cross, and He looks upon you from that Cross with utter love and compassion, cries out for forgiveness for you, and pours His life upon you – the water of Holy Baptism and the Blood of His Supper pour from His side towards you, so that you might live, that you might be provided for. Christ Jesus cares not just for your body in this fallen world, but He provides for your Body and Soul, provides for you rich forgiveness, so that you are cleansed.

And then, after three days, He rises. He strides forth from the tomb alive, and you see that His care for you is not just about this body, this body where sin ravages, but His care for you extends beyond this life into all eternity, where His compassion and love for you will call you forth from the tomb, and you shall have a new and perfected body. When you see Christ our Lord risen, you see your future, you see the future He has won and assured for you by His own death and resurrection, by His own victory over death and the grave. It is done – it is finished, you have forgiveness, you have life. This is accomplished – your name is written in the book of life and heaven is yours, eternal life is yours.

But Christ still has compassion upon you. He sees and understands that in your life in this world, Satan will continually attack you. Sin and a sinful world will take their toil upon your body – and He yet sustains you. Sin will batter your Spirit, and so He still has His Word proclaimed, still points you to your Baptism so that you might at all times remember you are already united to Him, still gives you His Body and Blood in a feeding much more miraculous and wondrous that mere bread and fish in the desert, so that you might receive and know your forgiveness, that you might be given strength to go through those doors and return to your homes, your lives, the struggles that await you out there and not only endure them, but let Christ’s own life which He has given you shine forth in the midst of them.

And all of this, all of this is free. It does not depend upon on how good you are, how wonderful. Indeed, Christ gives it to you because He has had compassion upon you, because He loves you, because He knows your weaknesses are too much to bear. This is who your God is – the God who has compassion upon the weak, who cares for you both physically and spiritually, both in this life and in the life to come. All thanks and praise be unto Christ Jesus our Lord, who does not abandon us in this desert of life, but provides over abundant love and compassion for us.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Humble in yourself - Bold in the Office

Humility is a trait to be prized as a Christian, especially if you are a Pastor. If you are not humble, you can so easily look down upon people and become callow and cruel. Our Lord is humble, and He is the Chief Servant - any servant who is placed in the Office of the Public Ministry and speaks in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ must be humble about himself, humble about desiring his own way when issues of preference are bought forth, humble in his own personal conduct.

But gentlemen, for the love of that same Christ Jesus, never be "humble" in the Office - rather be as Bold as Bold can be! You yourself are a humble man, are a sinner, indeed, and unworthy of the Office which you hold. But guess what - God put you in it, so step up and speak God's Word (for that is what your Office is - the Office of Publicly speaking the Word of God) with all boldness and vigor.

There needs to be a balance (sweeping generalization alert::sweeping generalization alert). It seems as though on the one hand we have arrogant schmucks who aren't humble and think that being a Pastor means if they want a red carpet, by God the church is going to have a red carpet and it is going to have the mesh they want, come hell and high water, as God is my witness I will never walk on orange carpet again! And then, it seems on the other hand there are those who are just utter push overs - well, whatever you want, I'm just here to serve, tell me how I can serve, why yes, of course we can sing this, it is very cute, and why if you dog is well trained of course he can be your ring bearer and everyone just be nice and we can all get along, it's okay if your aunt Sally believes in reincarnation, of course she can commune.

And I am left wanting to vomit.

Be humble in who you are - being a pastor is not license for you as a person to be a jerk. Indeed, it is an injunction for you to be humble. However, be BOLD in the Office.

Are you the Head Pastor of your congregation? Then you are a Bishop. Period. You have been tasked by God with Spiritual oversight and ordered to be the Steward of the Mysteries of God at that place. Don't ho and hum about it - do it. God is the one who has placed you in the pulpit - now speak with His authority. Speak God's Word plainly and bluntly -- and if you aren't sure if something is God's Word, do not speak it (or if pressed, then humbly express that it is merely your opinion, and your very conduct will show that you are not speaking with authority).

Step up to the plate pastors, and proclaim God's Word as though you actually believe God has sent you to!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remember your own errors, but remember that they are your errors

I would present two opposed but equally dangerous traps for the Christian (and especially the Pastor) to fall into. They are:

1. A Christian can ignore his own sin.
2. A Christian can assume that his temptations are others' temptations.

I think the first trap is one that we are quite familiar with - the idea that Satan will tempt us into overlooking our own flaws or weaknesses. I will not go much into this idea (although if you don't think you have any flaws, open your eyes!). Rather, let's consider for a moment the second flaw - we can end up defaulting or assuming that the things that tempt us are the things that tempt other people.

To a certain extent it is true that our temptations are just like other people - Satan keeps throwing the same slate of temptations at folks. However, there are certain ones that are appealing to me, that I am weak towards - and then there are some temptations which carry little weight. When I focus on my own struggles, of course I will be focused in on the things that give me a hard time.

The danger becomes this - just because a specific temptation isn't a burden for me doesn't mean I should diminish that temptation or struggle in another. Also, just because something is a trial for me, I shouldn't treat others as though my trial is their trial.

We must remember the situation of the person we are caring for - because if we only and always see things through our own lens, our care ceases to focus upon our neighbor and in reality becomes an exercise in selfishness. If MY struggles are so strong that I assume that you just have to have the same ones as ME - I'm really aggrandizing myself.

When speaking God's Word, we must always take care to understand whom we are talking to and what they need to hear - we must decrease, even if this means getting our own weaknesses out of the way, so that we can speak the Word rightly.

Just some thoughts.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Trinity 6 Sermon

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
God’s Law is a serious thing, and one of the greatest problems we can face in this life is that we don’t take God’s Word, and especially His Law, His commandments, His instructions seriously. And note, I’m talking about us, we Christians here in this room. Of course it’s bad when someone robs you, or a murderer runs around on the loose – those are obvious times when someone ignores God’s Word – but rather the danger remains for Christians to abuse and ignore God’s Law. And our Lord Jesus today teaches and demonstrates the two major errors, the two major ways in which a Christian can ignore, can twist God’s Word of Law in a harmful way.
First, our Lord says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” God in His Word has told us many things about how we are to live, what we are to do, how we are to behave. He has given us the 10 Commandments, and there’s a very good reason why even 3500 years after Moses we still sit down with our children and teach them the Commandments to this day. God’s desire that we lead good, moral, and decent lives has not changed. However – that doesn’t mean that Christians aren’t tempted to. . . pretend that the Law doesn’t really matter any more. Note what Christ warns against – Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. There is the temptation amongst Christians to. . . relax God’s Law. To shrug off what He has commandment, to just. . . ignore the Word of God where it becomes uncomfortable. This is the classic “liberal” error when it comes to God’s Word – to just ignore what you don’t like. A place where this is obvious today comes up with the 6th Commandment. A lot of discussions in a lot of places on Homosexuality relax, to use Christ’s Word, what God has said about Homosexuality. A lot of places are relaxing on the issue of premarital sex. There is a whole facet, a whole wing of the Christian Church that is systematically chipping away at Scriptural ideas of morality.
However, this is not just a time for me to lambaste all those liberal Churches out there – although having just spent a week with my family back home and seeing how insidious teaching has harmed them, I’m tempted to. But consider in your own life the times where you yourself are tempted to. . . relax God’s Law. God says, “Love your enemy” – but we can… not apply that to this particular enemy who has us really upset right now. Last week we had as our Children’s lesson the 4th Commandment, Honor your Father and your Mother – and we know that this idea applies to all in authority – and yet, have any of you groused or complained about the authorities in the past week? The temptation remains for us to cut ourselves some slack when it comes to right and wrong – and that is dangerous, because when we do that, it’s not just a small thing, it’s going directly against the wishes and will of God. Thus, as Christians, we are to be on our guard against ignoring the parts of God’s Word that we don’t like.
There is another error that Christ warns us against – and this is the opposite error of what we just discussed. Our Lord says, “You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’” Our Lord here is attacking the Conservative, legalistic error. The Pharisees were by in large rather conservative folks – and the big danger that they had was while they took Scripture seriously, they didn’t see its fullness, they didn’t understand and apply it to themselves, and so they became smug. They would hear the 5th Commandment and say, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone, therefore I’m doing all right.” And they became legalists, they became focused on how they DID the Law so well. The thing was – they really hadn’t. In their arrogance they assumed that they were righteous, when in reality their righteousness was lacking. Note what Christ does here – He ties murder to anger. Anger leads to murder, and so if God tells us not to murder, clearly He would want us to avoid the anger which could lead us to murder. And this is clear from the Scriptures. Consider the first murder – Cain slaying Abel. Before Cain murders Abel, God says to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” Be wary of anger and where it leads. Jesus isn’t teaching anything new – He’s teaching what had been taught from the beginning – but the problem was that when too many folks looked at God’s commandments, instead of using God’s Law as a tool of self-examination, a tool where they would sit and ponder and strive to seek where and how they themselves needed to repent, needed to improve – too many folks simply viewed God’s instructions as a mere checklist. And pride and arrogance crept in. In fact, they would add extra things to their checklists that weren’t in Scripture, like a good Jew will wash his hands a certain way. Does this not happen today? Are there not churches out there that have this same pride and arrogance with how they keep the Law, are there not churches out there that add their own little rules and say, “you aren’t a good Christian if you smoke, or if you drink, or if you do this or that”? Rather than focusing on what the Scriptures mean, people can go off on their own smug self-righteous ego trips, pointing out how good they are, and that isn’t good.
But again, this is a danger for us today. We here strive to take God’s Word and His Law seriously. And the danger is that we can assume that we know what we need to know – we hear the commandment and we think we’ve got it down – but we forget to think about the implications of the commandment. This is one of the beauties of the Catechism. Luther would keep us from falling into this trap – because in the explanation he states not only what we are to avoid, but what the commandment implies what we are to do. “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” If we aren’t to kill, then we aren’t to harm, and if we aren’t to harm, then that implies that we are to help. In every physical need.
When it all boils down, the danger is that we misuse God’s Word, especially when it comes to the Law. We can act as though God’s Law doesn’t matter and flat out ignore what God says; we can become prideful in how we are good Christians, and stop thinking, stop mediating on God’s Word, and become unrepentant and arrogant. But the truth is this – God’s Law is deep, it is profound, and whenever we hear a commandment from God, we should search ourselves out to find out how we fall short of that commandment – for each of us has sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and there is not one who is righteous, no, not one. Whenever you hear a command of God, it should be obvious to you that you haven’t done it like you ought – and if you don’t think that, then you aren’t reading God’s Word rightly, you aren’t listening. Our Lord says, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That’s the standard, that’s always the standard of God’s Law.
And we, dear friends, are by no means perfect. That should be obvious to all of us. And the consequences of the Law still hold – the wages of sin is death. What Christ says here is true – Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. In and of ourselves, our righteousness is never that high. Whenever we hear God’s Law, we see our lack and our need to repent – every time. However, we also hear something else in God’s Word – our Lord speaks and says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” There is One who is truly righteous, whose righteousness has exceeded that of any of us, who lived the perfect life, doing all that was pleasing in His father’s eyes, and that is Christ Jesus our Lord. And what Jesus does is that when He goes to the Cross, He is making a trade. There at the Cross, Christ Jesus takes up all of your sin, all of your lack of righteousness, and there He receives it’s wages in full and dies – but He does this so that in exchange for your sin, He can give to you all of His Righteousness. Consider this – you are Baptized, you are joined to Christ. Your sins have been washed away from you, and Christ has given you His righteousness. When God sees you, He sees Christ. Every good, every wonder that Christ has done, that’s what God beholds when He sees you. When God looks at you, He sees the life of Christ Jesus – and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is this way. What happens when we commune – we receive Christ, we receive His Body and Blood, His very life, so that our sins are forgiven, removed from us, and so that we are filled with all that He is. We see and understand the depths and the wonders of Christ’s forgiveness for us, His great love for us – that He has indeed made us to be righteous – a righteousness that we will finally see in full on the last day.
And so dear friends, I warn you not to ignore God’s Law, but rather I encourage you to examine yourself in light of God’s Law – knowing that the light of God’s Law will shine on many-a-nasty spot. But when you see these flaws and errors, in humility and faith repent of them, for God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we see our sins, we learn to not trust in ourselves (which can only lead to disaster), but rather to cling to Christ Jesus, who in great joy and gladness freely gives to us His forgiveness. And thus, we sing:
“Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Your death is now my life indeed,
For You have paid my ransom.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Something very odd

I am going to do something that is odd and unfamiliar to me. My friend Anna (sister to the best man at my wedding) died Sunday night, aged 29, after a 5 and a half year battle against ovarian cancer. Her funeral is this morning at the cathedral in OKC. I have been asked to give the Eulogy before the service proper begins by the family (I think I am becoming the designated public speaker by my friends from college).

I know what I will say - but it won't be a sermon. It will be a Euology as asked (and is a fitting - it is not my place there to preach the Gospel). And I will speak words of praise and thanksgiving - but it highlights why I don't like Eulogies.

It will ultimately be nothing but law. No matter now much I praise Anna, no matter how eloquently I point out how she was a blessing to us from God - she is still dead. And thus it all becomes law, it all highlights the wages of sin.

Now, hopefully, the service will follow with some Gospel (the priest is an excellent fellow whom I do like quite a bit) - but it won't be me proclaiming it. At least not until afterwards, face to face to my friends.

I'll end with just a touch of escatelogical hope, a sentence or two at the end on the hopes we have for the resurrection on account of Christ (I cannot speak nothing but law - that is simply not who I am). . . but it's not the full comfort that should be there, that I would then give if I doing the service to follow myself, but it's not my place or task to speak as such there. This is completely reinforcing why there is such wisdom in Liturgical Lutheranism for eschewing eulogies. I will do this well -- and hopefully the priest will knock down the pins which I have shown to be set up -- but I can also see how clearly these things could be done horribly.

Ah well.

All praise to God for Anna
A fighter brave and kind
whose care for friend and family
was foremost in her mind
May we when faced with struggles
like her have love to share
and strength to be God's blessing
To those for whom we care.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Trinity 5 Sermon

5th Sunday after Trinity – July 12th, 2009 – Luke 5:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
I’m not sure if we understand just how foolish our Lord’s instructions to Simon Peter, the instructions to cast out his nets, must have sounded. We are used to the story, we know what happens, so it seems so clear, but pause for a moment, and consider what Simon Peter’s day had been. He had been up all night, working, toiling, for nothing. Empty net after empty net, doing nothing but hauling by hand wet, rough, net. All night long. A lousy day. And then, when he is tired – Jesus commandeers his boat, and then Jesus sits down and teaches from the boat. So after a long night of work, then you get a morning’s worth of teaching – a trip to Church as it were. And then, Jesus tells Simon Peter to cast out the nets. In the daylight, when the fish would be swimming deeper to avoid the heat – when it was foolish to try to fish – which is why the fishermen had been out all night. And you can almost hear the sigh that Simon Peter must have given. Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your Word I will let down the nets. Tired, worn, and weary, Peter casts out the nets again. Do you know what this would be like? Imagine that we had an evening service here during the middle of harvest, and one of our farmers has just finished going over a field that was a complete loss. Nothing on it. And after the sermon I were to say to him, “Why don’t you go run your combine-thingy over that field again.” A completely stupid and foolish idea. I highly doubt that any farmer would humor me on that – and as well they shouldn’t – I’m not God. But Simon Peter does cast down the nets at our Lord’s Word, and we know what happens – the miraculous catch of fish – miraculous in terms of size, in terms of time and timing – a catch that is unbelievable.

What we see here is a perfect and wonderful demonstration of a truth that impacts everything. The wisdom of God seems utterly foolish to sinful man. Plain and simple. Quite often what God plans, what God says, seems to us like sheer stupidity. This is true of both God’s Law and Gospel. Consider God’s Law. What does God teach us to do? Love your enemy. Put your neighbor’s need ahead of your own. Turn the other check. Never take advantage of your neighbor in business deals. Always give of yourself. From the world’s perspective, from the perspective of our sinful flesh, these are all utterly foolish – these have absolutely nothing to do with looking out for number 1! And when we are tempted, every temptation is nothing more than Satan slithering on up to us and saying, “Look, this stuff that God wants you to do – doesn’t it just seem so foolish?” To sinful man, God’s law looks foolish.

Same thing with the Gospel. Same thing with the Cross. That God Almighty would come down from heaven and suffer for the very people who spurned Him and rebelled against Him, who constantly sin and flout His commands. And more than that – the fact that this is given freely, the fact that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake and that we don’t have to do anything, indeed, that we can’t do anything, that there is no way we could make it up, and more over God doesn’t even want us to think about making things up to Him – that God would say, “No, I Myself will handle this, I will take your sin from you and Crucify in Myself and restore you unto Myself.” Do you see why St. Paul can say that the world views this as utter folly? It’s so opposite of what the world expects. And yet, by faith, we know God’s acting for what it is – the power of salvation.

Simon Peter, in that moment when he sees the nets full of fish, when he sees the wisdom of the world so utterly and completely thrown upon its head, knows that he is in the presence of God. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.” Simon Peter doesn’t call Jesus “Master” anymore; he doesn’t just humor a slightly nutty preacher – rather, this Jesus is LORD, is God Almighty, is Jehovah. And Simon Peter knows he is a sinner, and Simon Peter knows that he’s got no business being this close to a Holy God. . . by rights, by all earthly wisdom, there should be nothing for sinful man but punishment and wrath, condemnation and the curse of death, nothing but the wages of sin, the burden of the expulsion from the garden to come crashing down on Simon Peter right then and there. But again, Jesus in His utter and true wisdom decides to do something the world would see as foolish.

Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Put away your fear. Do not worry about any punishment, do not worry about any judgment coming from Me against you. Do you hear how foolish that sounds? Why, even to American Christians – we love our fire and brimstone sermons. The most famous sermon in American History, and a classic of literature, is “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God.” You turn on the TV and you hear preachers shouting until they are blue in the face about how there will be Judgment for this, for that, watch out, God’s gonna getcha because He’s Holy and Hot to Trot to put the smack down upon your sinful backside! And there is Simon Peter, one of those sinners – right in front Christ – expecting the worst – thinking the best he can hope for is that God will go and leave him alone. And what does our Lord say? “Do not be afraid. I’m not going anywhere – in fact, you will be coming with Me. I will be with you and you will be with Me, and I will forgive you and make you My servant.”

Do you see, do you understand who God is? God is no longer out to get you. God is not seeking to punish you. Why? The Cross. Every sin ever was carried by Christ to that Cross and done away with. God’s wrath was completely and fully poured out upon Christ – there’s no wrath left for you, there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God really and truly isn’t out to get you – Christ stepped up to the Cross and took that bullet for you. And so He can say even to you today, “Do not be afraid. Know my forgiveness. Your sins can no longer condemn you, for I have borne them for you.” Do you realize that, do you understand that – there is no sin that you do that can condemn you – the only thing that condemns is unbelief, is spurning the Cross, is saying, “No, I don’t want that” to God and His mercy. Believe, trust in God by the gift of faith, and there is salvation. No belief – and there is damnation. That’s it. The only thing that gets anyone to hell is rejecting God, not believing Him, spurning the cross – the only thing that can condemn is someone’s own damn and unbelief.

But here is the wonder and joy that we have. God has called us to faith by His Word, we have heard the message of Christ Crucified, and by the Grace and power of God we know it for what it is – our salvation, our hope, that to which we cling. And we know how God bolsters that faith, by the gift of Holy Baptism, by the repeated preaching of that same Word, by His repeatedly giving us His own Body and Blood to strengthen us. By the fact that Christ has created His Church, has over and over called men to be fishers of other men, to cast out the Net of God’s Word and Sacraments to catch and bring people into Church.

And again, this is a place where the wisdom of God is so much greater than the wisdom of men, and this is something we always need to bear in mind. I will be honest with you – there are a lot of worldly ideas out there about how to grow the church, how to “catch men” as it were. And they are creeping into the Missouri Synod – and the bureaucrats who simply sit in an office and see nothing but numbers and dollar signs, who think like worldly businessmen are taking a strong, strong liking to them. Some of the stuff that comes down the pike is utterly worldly, utterly stupid – treating people who don’t know Jesus like they are mere consumers ready to buy something. Let’s market this, let’s advertise that. There are people who want to change the name Missouri Synod so that way we can be more marketable – that will pack people in. Utter stupidity. That might work if you owned a business – changing the name of a restaurant can be a fine thing – but the Church of God is not a business of the world, and it doesn’t run by the world’s dog eat dog rules.

Rather, consider this. How does Simon Peter catch the fish? Is it because of his hard work? He’d been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything. Is it because of his wonderful plans? They had fallen flat. Was it a neat 7 step plan, or 40 day commitment to fill in the blank? Nope. But at Your Word I will let down the nets. The catch comes simple and solely because Christ said so – because of God’s Word. If Simon Peter becomes a great fisher of fish by God’s Word, doesn’t it stand to follow that Simon Peter will be a fisher of men by. . . God’s Word? And what do we see Peter doing on Pentecost? He’s. . . preaching. He even writes Scripture. When he’s good he’s all about the Word of God. The same thing is upon us. The Church has always been about the Word of God, Law and Gospel, and when anything abandons that Word, it is no longer Church. We, as long as we desire to remain “Church”, must be devoted not to our plans, not to our goals, not to what we’d like to see, not to dreams of full pews and fuller offering plates, not to how many people show up at the latest pep talk or concert that pretends it’s Church – rather this. We must be devoted solely and only to Christ and His Word, to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – to be in the Word and to proclaim that same Word and nothing else to others. And then we will dwell in the House of the Lord all our days. As for others, the folks out there – hopefully through our lips God’s Word will work upon them – if not, the Holy Spirit works when and where He wills. So be it, but we remain in the Word, we continue to trust in His Wisdom while the world laughs at our folly – for we know God’s Word for what it is, we know the Cross for what it is – the power and wisdom of God for salvation. While others will demand signs in the pocketbook and nifty plans – we will preach Christ Crucified, that stumbling block and folly to the world, and we rest securely and comfortably in His love, His forgiveness, His righteousness. He has told us that we need not be afraid – all that remains then is for us to receive the Supper and give thanks. O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy to us, in spite of the blustering of the world, endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Trinity 4 Sermon

Pastor Brown’s Sermon – Read by Elder Matt Cue
July 5th, 2009 – Trinity 4

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Today we hear our Lord Jesus speak to us about how we are to live, how we are to approach our life here on earth. We all should be well aware of the fact that life here is full of dangers and traps and people seeking to do us harm. But today Christ warns us of the most dangerous person in our lives – ourselves. The person who can do each of us the most harm is the one we see when we look in the mirror each morning when we wake up – and our Lord is showing us what we need to avoid in order not to harm ourselves. Let us look at the text.

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned. This is perhaps the most misused and misinterpreted verse in the entire bible. Today, if you hear a person quoting this verse, they are probably using it to tell another person off. This verse is used to defend every type of behavior imaginable, and if you dare to say that what someone is doing is wrong, this is the verse that will be thrown in your face. The verse is used as though people think it says, “live and let live” or “mind your own business”. But that is not the lesson our Lord is teaching us today – the lesson we are to learn is not merely to keep to ourselves. This verse does not mean that we aren’t to judge between what is right and what is wrong – but rather this. This verse speaks to our own attitudes and how when our attitudes are wrong, everything comes crashing down upon us.

For a moment, imagine a courtroom with two people in it. On the one hand there is the judge, sitting in his seat, wearing stark black robes, a gavel in his hand, ready to hand down a sentence. On the other, there is someone standing before the bench, someone who is guilty and knows, someone whose only hope is to throw himself before the mercy of the court. The judge and the guilty. The one with power and authority, and the one who has no defense for his actions. Which one are you? Which one of these two people are you more like? Which attitude is yours – that of the judge who has the power to condemn, or that of the guilty person hoping for mercy?

As a Christian, you are to be like the one seeking mercy. Every week here we confess our sins, we begin our worship with an admission of our own guilt. Every week, many times, we cry out to God “Lord, have mercy upon us.” This is part of what our worship does, it trains us to remember that we are people who are always in need of God’s mercy. But here is the problem. Our sinful flesh likes to be in control, likes to be the one with power, likes to be able to hold something over our neighbor – and so we like to be the judge. We like to think of ourselves as better than the next guy – of being such a good Christian while clearly they are just horrid people. It makes us feel good, it makes us feel superior. We lower them and then we feel high and mighty and “see what a good person I am.” And that is the attitude that Christ is warning us against this morning – the attitude where we place ourselves over another – the attitude where we forget or ignore our own faults and magnify theirs. There may not be an attitude that is more dangerous to a Christian because it goes exactly against who a Christ is to be.

Consider this. As a Christian, is it your duty to judge and condemn your neighbor – to assign them punishment, or is your duty as a Christian to show them love and point them to Christ Jesus, the same Christ Jesus who has forgiven you? We are to be people of mercy, we are to be people of forgiveness, we are to be those who confess our sins and receive forgiveness and then also forgive those who have sinned against us – and if there is any punishment to be handed out, we let God do that, He is the judge, not us. And the danger is this – when we stop being people of mercy, people focused on receiving and giving out Christ’s mercy, we can forget Christ. We lose who we are, and we abandon Christ, we become lost.

And Christ spells this out in the next parable. Can a blind man lead a blind man? With they both not fall into a pit? Do you hear what Jesus says to us? Each of us here is just as blind and messed up and as bad a sinner as the person next to us. We are in and of ourselves just as bad as the worst person out there, and if we were left on our own, we’d fall into the same pits as everyone else. The old phrase is true – There but for the Grace of God go I. That is what Christ is teaching. Our pride and arrogance can make us think that we are such wonderful people – but the simple truth is we aren’t, and when we think we are wonderful, we are only going to run into problems. When we think in our arrogance that we are better than others, we have become lost. Our eyes are no longer focused upon Christ but upon ourselves, and so we are as good as blind – our vision is clouded.

Our Lord continues, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” We can be so quick to try and fix our neighbor’s life, tell them what they need to be doing, while we ourselves are messes. Pride can make us ignore our own faults and rather focus on the neighbor’s faults – and that is an ugly thing. Do you see the attitude that Christ is teaching us to avoid? Stop looking at your neighbor – rather “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your neighbor’s eye.” A Christian’s life of repentance always begins by looking at his own sin, by self-examination and confession, an acknowledgement of his own lack.

Christ is eager for this, Christ is eager for us to examine ourselves because He is eager to forgive, because Christ Jesus our Lord wants to forgive us, wants so much to forgive us and wash us that He is willing to go to the Cross so that we can be forgiven. And He wants us to see this, to have the truth of His forgiveness be the biggest thing in our lives. And when this is, when Christ’s forgiveness and mercy is central, this impacts our life. Did you hear what Christ said – after the log is out of our own eye, after we have forgiveness – then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your neighbor’s eye. When we know Christ’s forgiveness, we will be people who give out, who proclaim that same forgiveness. When we see our neighbor caught in sin, our instinct won’t be to judge, won’t be to condemn, won’t be to say how horrible they are – but we will see clearly. They are just another sinner like me who needs Christ’s forgiveness just like me. And then, knowing Christ’s forgiveness for us, we will be prepared to speak forth that same forgiveness to them – to correct and instruct in love and with mercy.

And you know Who does this for you? Christ Jesus does. This is what Christ does with His Word. Consider how God uses His Word. Does God just wantonly blast you with His Word, or rather, when His Word has brought you to repentance is not God quick to give you forgiveness? Christ, the One who had no sin, takes us and pulls the dirt out of our own eyes and washes us clean with the tears He shed upon the Cross, so that we might rejoice in forgiveness, that we might speak it out – that we who are his disciples might grow and become more and more like Him, agents of mercy and love to a world full of people who need so desperately need love and mercy, even and especially those people who are most hurtful and cruel to us, especially to the people who we would want to judge.

Dear friends in Christ, let us be on our guard, lest we become prideful and arrogant, lest we think ourselves better than others and then become blinded by our own sin. Rather, remember that this truth reigns over all – that while we were yet sinners Christ Jesus died for us – and that He is the One who washes us clean, who focuses our eyes upon Him. God grant us strength by His forgiveness, so that His love and mercy might be central in our lives, both now and forever more. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen
[Please rise] Now may the peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep our hearts and minds upon Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Getting ready to head north. . . northeast. . . thataway!

This afternoon after bible study Celia and I will be in the car and headed north to Ohio for my family reunion. We also, on Sunday, hope to see (then) Vicar Jay Hobson at his new digs.

I'm sure Vicar-elect Hobson, when he sees this post, would be glad to put a schedule of Sunday events in the comments, so any readership could know when and where to be this festive Sunday.

(Let's see if Jay has picked up on how to read subtle subtexts in a post, shall we?)