Saturday, August 29, 2009

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – August 30th, 2009 - Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So, what is Jesus’ job? What does He do? That is one of the great questions of history. Many religions will call Jesus a prophet – that’s what the Muslims call Him. Many people will call Him a great teacher – that’s the respect He’s generally accorded by many non-Christians around the world. And these are both true. Jesus is a prophet – two weeks ago we heard him speak to the destruction of Jerusalem – that is prophetic. Last week we heard Him teach on self-righteousness and His desire to show mercy. But neither of these titles, prophet, teacher, really hit to the heart of what Christ Jesus is all about. No, our Lord is a healer, as we see in our lesson today.

Then He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him. The Decapolis was a gentile region, it was off far away from Jerusalem. And note here what the people’s approach is to Jesus. They don’t approach Him as a teacher, simply asking for wisdom. They don’t approach Him like He’s merely a prophet. No. They bring a deaf mute, one who can’t hear, who can’t speak. Now, bear in mind for a moment how horrid it would be to be a deaf mute 2000 years ago. Today, we have an active deaf community. There’s sign language – there’s an understanding that a mere disability like being deaf should be no hindrance to one participating fully in society. Wasn’t like that in Jesus’ day. To be deaf meant you could not hear, meant that people couldn’t communicate with you. And only 10 percent of the population could read, so it’s not like people could simply write things out for you – even if you could read (and if you can’t hear, who would have taught you), most people couldn’t communicate with you that way. And then you cannot speak – it’s not even as though you have lost your hearing but you still remember words, can still talk yourself – you would have been all but cut off from society.

This is the person they bring to Jesus. Behold this deaf mute, Jesus. He’s in a sorry state. Do something for Him. We know who you are – you are the One who heals. Heal Him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. This may actually be one of the most beautiful verses in all of scripture. The poor guy probably doesn’t know what’s going on – he can’t hear, he can’t talk. He’d be utterly confused. It doesn’t even say that it was his friends that took him to Jesus, it may have simply been people saying, “Oh, look, it’s Jesus, quick, grab that deaf guy, maybe Jesus can do something for him.” And Jesus pulls him aside, privately. And Jesus puts His fingers in the guy’s ears – feel this, we are here to deal with your ears. He spits, and then he grabs the guy’s tongue – see, we are here to deal with your tongue, with your ability to speak. This is just such a wonderful demonstration of Christ’s personal care. Our Lord deals with this man gently and lovingly, sees to it that he understands.

And then our Lord heals him. And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha”, that is “be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Again, the pantomime so the fellow could understand – ah, Jesus is looking to heaven and sighing a big sigh, He must be praying – and then – Jesus opens His mouth and speaks – and something wondrous happens. The man hears. The Word of Christ our Lord bores through the man’s deafness, and suddenly he can hear. The Lord’s Word blasts through the block on this man’s tongue – freeing it, releasing it. And the man can both hear and speak, and he is healed.

Yes, indeed, our Lord is a great healer. But why? Why does our Lord come healing? It’s not to garner praise and recognition – indeed, Jesus instructs them to not brag about the healing. No, there is a reason why Jesus is a healer – and that is because He is God Almighty, because He is the very Word of God which created all things – and He has to heal things. That’s who He is. Consider this – why was that man deaf? Ultimately, what was the reason that man was deaf? He was a sinner in a sinful world, and in a sinful world things get broken, things don’t work right. Stuff happens here. And so, consider what Christ sees when He looks at this deaf man. We would see someone who has gotten a rough break in life. We would see something sad, maybe even tragic. Christ sees sin messing with His world, with His creation. And so, as the Word by Whom all things were made, He goes about fixing His creation. He created the world, and when it gets messed up, by George He is going to fix it. And how does He fix it? Same way He made it – by the Word. The Word of God goes forth, and suddenly there is something new. First, there is deafness – which really isn’t a “thing”, but it’s a lack. If you are deaf it means you cannot hear, it means the stuff that should be there to let you hear isn’t, or isn’t working. First, there is a lack. Then Christ speaks, and everything is full. The exact same thing as what happened in Creation. No light – Let there be light – oh look, there is light. No hearing – be opened – oh look, there is hearing. When we see Christ healing, when we see Christ restoring, we see Him doing the same thing that He has always done – create and preserve.

But even then, we shouldn’t think of Christ’s healing as being limited just to things physical – for when our Lord made us, He made us to be both body and soul. Indeed, calling Jesus a healer doesn’t always get the full picture, because when we think of healers we often think only of the Body – but Christ heals both body and soul – He saves us, He is our Savior. Indeed – rather than just dealing with deafness, with the result of life in a sinful world, our Lord drives to the heart of the matter and deals with sin itself. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; Who, seeing that the world is plagued by sin, enters into that world, takes on a Human Body and becomes Man, so that He can handle sin, so that He can deal with it. And He takes up sin, all sin, every sin, ours, your neighbor’s, everyone’s – and He carries it upon His shoulders to the Cross, and there upon the Cross He dies for it. He swallows it up – that’s how Scripture describes it – does away with it. Christ gets involved in the world to rescue it from the sin that has attacked and messed with it – sometimes in specific points like healing this deaf man, but ultimately in winning forgiveness for sins.

So then, what does this mean for us? Each and every one of us here is impacted by sin – and there’s many different ways we can talk about this, but let’s use the image of being deaf and mute. Now, some of us have these actual physical issues – many of you have hearing aids, and even then, not so good. Some of us here have speech impediments, myself included. We see even in our own physical life the impacts of sin – and we look forward, as we say in the Creed, to the resurrection from the dead, when we are raised, when we are in perfected and glorified bodies – and we won’t need hearing aids anymore, I won’t have to worry about my “S”s getting sloppy, or my Rs turning into Ws. There will be a restoration of Creation, our bodies recreated into what they should have been.

But more than that, Christ our Lord is working healing, is working a new creation in us right now – and no, I’m not going to go all televangelist on you and call you down front and smack you upside the head and say, “Hey, you’re healed.” No, I am talking here spiritually – Christ has already begun His work of recreation in you. Spiritually, sin makes us deaf, sin makes us mute. When we think according to sin, we don’t hear like we ought – we turn a deaf ear to the needs of our neighbor, we turn a deaf ear to their apologies and instead remain bound in anger. When we think according to sin, we don’t speak like we ought – we do not speak words of love, we speak words of hatred and anger. But Christ does not leave us in our sin, leave us in our spiritual deafness and muteness – rather this. Just as He healed the deaf mute by His Word, so too Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word, and He says “I forgive you.” And this really is the parallel, the connection we are supposed to make here. Just as Christ heals the body, He also heals the soul through forgiveness – and if we all spoke Greek, this would be plain as day. The word for “Be opened” is a word that deals with your mind being opened, with coming to understanding, with realizing, with thoughts through your thick skull. When Christ speaks His Word, it sinks in, we are opened, we understand – we understand that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, we understand that He is our Savior who loves us. When it the deaf man’s tongue is released – that is the same word for being forgiven. Think on Matthew 18 – Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. The word for “released” and “loose” is the same word in Greek, exactly the same. We are forgiven by Christ’s word, we are released from the bondage of sin, it isn’t tied to us anymore. We are set free, we are forgiven.

This is what God has done for you, this is what Christ Jesus has won. We are hounded by sin, we are hounded by the effects of sin. Christ has dealt with it. Our sin is paid for – behold, Christ has died. Sin wrecks our bodies and we die – yet Christ has risen from the dead, and so we know that we shall too. But this is not just a future promise, a future thing. This very moment, Christ Jesus has forgiven you, He has opened your ears, opened your mind to His Word, so you can know God’s Will, can strive for it. He has loosed you from sin, so you are free to love your neighbor, free to grow in love. And when your sin pops up and gets in the way, as it does so often in this life, He forgives it, does away with it – says, “Here, take and eat, take and drink, receive my Body and Blood, the very medicine of immortality, the cure that gives Eternal life” – and receiving His Body and Blood we grow in love and faith – grow more and more like Him, until the day of the resurrection of the dead, when we will be like Him in full. This is the love that Christ Jesus has shown, this is His healing that He is working upon you. Now may Christ Jesus, who has begun this good work in you, keep and preserve you until He completes it upon the last day. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

3rd Law of Theology

"For every error there is an equal and opposite error" - Brown's third law of Theology

This is something that seems to be true - that for every error that pops up in the Church, something opposite comes. You have people who deny that Christ is God, you have folks who deny that He was really a man. You have folks who say that the Lord's Supper is nothing but our Lord's Body and Blood, you have those who say it is nothing but Bread and Wine. There is a pendulous motion to error and heresy in the Church.

We have seen one error demonstrated this past week in the ELCA - the error of gross antinomianism, where the clear Word of God is ignored and written off so that people can do whatever they want (and feel good about how enlightened and open minded they are). When we see this error happen, we who recognize this for the error it is must not fall into the equal and opposite error in response - the error of legalism - where we go beyond the Word of God (which is ignoring it just as much) and mandate things which are not mandated by God (and feel good about how righteous and moral and dedicated we are).

It is the error of legalism that is more common in the LCMS - where we will place the traditions of man above the Word of God - and not merely place the traditions as something to follow because they are a good idea, because they are beneficial, because they ensure good order among us - but because they are "right".

I once heard a pastor who I like and respect (although disagree with on occasion - as we shall see) say that if we do not see God give permission for something in Scripture, we cannot do it. In somethings I can see this - if God is telling the priests how they are to do something. . . that's how you do it. Period. Unless God says, do this this way.

However, the vast majority of commandments are not descriptive (Do things this way), but prohibitive (Thou shall not). When a command is descriptive, we dare not go beyond it. However, when it comes to things that are forbidden, we cannot *add* to these either.

Thus, I will say this - Unless God has forbidden something, we dare not forbid it.

There is a reason for this. We have the great and wonderful gift of freedom - that we are free as Christians to go and love our neighbor is pleasing to us as God's new creations. However, when we see people eschew this freedom and return to the yoke of sin (often in the name of "freedom"), our reaction can be to flee to the law ourselves and make new lines in the sand so that we not abuse our freedom in the same way. We will abandon freedom for fear of sin - and that is not Godly, for freedom is His gift to us.

I would say that same thing happens politically - when there is fear because people break the law, our response is often to make more laws - it makes us feel better. Oh, someone shot someone else with an illegal gun -- well, how would making more guns illegal have fixed that? Sadly, in the Church we will do the same thing, create new laws of our own devising that do nothing but curtail freedom.

Hold on to your freedom - live it out. And when you fail, confess your sins and delight in Christ's forgiveness. But neither and antinomian nor a legalist be!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Women Voters and Homosexual Clergy

This past Sunday we ended up discussing the ELCA's decision to allow open, practicing homosexuals into the clergy - and in the discussions the rather tumultuous decision by this congregation (before my time) around 8-9 years ago to allow women voters. Here is how this developed.

I read a quote from an article where an ELCA female pastor, in response to those in the ELCA who complained about allowing Homosexual clergy, noted that these were the same warnings about the flouting of Scripture that came about with past changes, like the ordination of women.

The topic then moved to how we allowed women voters - is that decision a flouting of Scripture and the like. There are places that say that it is, like the ELS (a very fine, synod, by in large).

I have been thinking about this - and the answer I gave on Sunday is the one I like. Scriptures at no point speak to the idea of having Voters' Assemblies - voting over Church property doesn't correlate to the Scriptural use of "authority" - that speaks to the Office of the Holy Ministry.

Here is how the ELS makes the move - "We believe that no one should publicly preach or administer the Sacraments without a proper call. When God's Word says that women are not to teach or "exercise authority" over men in the church, this means that the pastoral office cannot be conferred upon women, and that it is God's will that only properly qualified men be called to this office. According to this same principle women should not exercise authority over men in the congregational decision-making process, such as by holding voting membership in an assembly which makes the final decisions for a church. (Because Christian men and women are all members of the Body of Christ and share in the privileges and duties of the "priesthood of all believers," the views of women should be taken into account when such decisions are made.) See John 21:15-18, Acts 20:28, Rom. 10:14-15, Eph. 4:11, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Titus 1:5, 1 Cor. 14:34, 1 Tim. 2:12, 1 Pet. 2:9, Gal. 3:28."

What I would note here is that there is a switch - between the preaching of the Gospel and its regulations, and then also the running of Church affairs. If one principal is the same, should we not allow a person vote if they are not apt to teach, for that is a requirement for Pastors. Rather this, the two responsibilities - one of preaching, the other of seeing to the business affairs of a congregation would have differing requirements.

Here is my point - we can see two equal and opposite errors and abuses of Scripture. On the one hand, Scripture can be flaunted (as the ELCA has) and completely ignored when it speaks directly to a topic at hand. On the other hand, Scripture can be used to "forbid" what Scripture does not forbid (note, this isn't to say that it is "wrong" to not have women voters -- rather, it doesn't matter either way, for Scripture doesn't mandate one way or the other).

That's the line to follow here, to pay attention - Does Scripture speak to the issue at hand. If it does, you must listen. If it doesn't, you cannot bind and command folks (at least as a criteria for salvation - a body could say that we ourselves are going to operate, as long as that isn't stated as something that is mandatory to be part of the Church. . . again, supporting freedom means either way - to have women voters or to not have - must be within the pall).

I pay attention to this as my family (excepting my parents) is all ELCA - I come from an old ALC family. The ALC's critique of many things in the LCMS is that they bind things that cannot be bound. . . and I am wary of that. But you also have to be wary of running fast and loose with Scripture either.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Time for a Remnant?

I think sometimes we neglect to notice just how much the Church has been influenced by evolutionary ideas (and my scientist friends would yell and complain about this - but I am speak of it in popular terms and understanding). As Western culture moved into the 20th Century, there was a wave of positive hope and expectation - we are improving, we are "evolving" - things will get better and better.

This idea has impacted the Church. Think of the popular expectations. That we will always grow - if your Church isn't bigger (and better, that's assumed too), then there is something wrong and we need to do something different to meet those expectations. The assumption is that the Church normally grows.

The only thing is - that's not what we see in Scripture. We don't see constant growth - we see a falling away and a restoration - we see the people wander off while only a remnant remains.

That is a dirty word to many folks - a remnant. A remainder - but a portion of what once was. But, that is what happens and has happened over the course of history. Popular Cultures are appealing, and people fall away. Preachers give into popular demands. Churches fall away en toto.

Does that not describe what we see happening today? Would not even the most liberal among us in the Missouri Synod admit that culture is becoming far more open and indifferent to traditional morality (now, they might not agree that this is a bad thing, but still, it's happening)? As such, if we remain faithful, we will stand out more and more, we will appeal less and less to general public, for we cannot offer what the world does, and even the illusion of doing so will fade away (no more folks joining the Church to keep up appearances, when that appearance no longer matters).

This is the way things work. I think it may be a time like that into which we are entering. I hope it's not. No one is who in it likes it when it is that way (Elijah certainly didn't). But I see it within my own congregation - a small, graying Church in a shrinking rural town. 50 is much more likely than 150. And 10 years down the line - who knows then.

But perhaps we just need to change our perspective and abandon those ideas of expected growth that we cling to. Maybe our focus should be on being faithful, of preaching Christ and Him Crucified, in season and. . . as it looks to be. . . out of season as well. And then let the chips fall where they may.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Today's Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 23rd, 2009 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Two men head up to church to pray. One is well respected, the other, not so much. One is welcomed joyfully and takes his typical seat, the other slinks in somewhere off in a corner. One is full of confidence, the other full of remorse. One looks around and sees just how much better and his friends are than the rest of the world, the other confesses his guilt and shame. The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector lays before us two men – the well-respected Pharisee and the despised Tax collector. Both are in Church, both acknowledge that there is a God, both even pray – but there is a dramatic difference between the two of them. It is the humbled tax collector who receives forgiveness, who is justified, who is declared righteous by God. The Pharisee receives nothing but the sound of his own prideful words echoing back into his ears.

This is a familiar parable – I almost think of it as the Lutheran parable – it strikes to the heart of so many of the themes and ideas that we focus on, that we cherish here as Lutherans. The fact that forgiveness is a free gift, not based upon works. The fact that confession of sin always leads to God being merciful, that he never hesitates to be merciful to us. Even our worship service sounds more like the tax collector’s – we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We will say, “I, a poor, miserable sinner.” Our hymns are all about what Christ has done – because we know that when we come here this place is all about what Christ has done. Everything seems so clear in this parable, so familiar. It’s one we know, it’s one we nod our heads at and smile. Don’t be proud and boastful like the Pharisee, be humble and confess your sin like the tax collector.

So why do we hear it again today? Listen to what Luke says, how Luke introduces this parable. He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. Now, I’m sure most of us here wouldn’t have the audacity to say that we trust in ourselves. We’ve been trained better than that, we wouldn’t have the gall to just come out and say “I’m going to heaven because I’m so awesome.” But just because we don’t say it doesn’t me we don’t think it on occasion. As evidence of this – let me ask you a question. How many of you, if asked, would say that you are a pretty good person? Eh, I’m a pretty good person. I go to church, try to be nice. And I’m certainly not a criminal. I take care of my responsibilities, unlike some people. I pay my taxes, I don’t cheat the system, put in a good day of work – I’m a pretty good person.

Listen to the Pharisee here in the parable. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I get.” We hear these words today, and we can think, “What a braggart! Look at that Pharisee just boasting of all the stuff he does for God.” And we miss it, we miss it because we don’t think like a 1st Century Jew. What the Pharisee says of himself, what he “brags” about is merely stuff that is typical. The Pharisee tithes – well, so did most everyone else, it was what the law required. He fasted twice a week – we so did most of the Jewish folks, that was the custom, to fast twice a week. It was the custom with Early Christians as well – the Christians fasted on Wednesday (the day we have Lenten services) and Fridays – and they fasted on those days because the Jewish fasts were typically on Monday and Thursday – we put our fasts on separate days, that’s all. Even going off and standing by himself – that isn’t boastful. You’ve seen video or pictures of Jewish folks today at the wailing wall in Jerusalem – that’s how you prayed – you picked a spot and you went and you prayed. The Pharisee isn’t bragging about all the things he does over and above everyone else – he isn’t saying that he’s a super Jew – rather this – the Pharisee is just thinking, “Well, I’m a good little Jewish boy.”

Now, let’s consider ourselves again. How many of you, when asked if you are a good person, would say, “Well, yeah, I’m a good little Christian. I do the typical Christian things, I love my spouse and kids, I go to Church, I put some money in the plate, I try to be nice”? Those thoughts, those words, are the exact modern equivalent of what the Pharisee in this parable said and did. You see, this is the heart of Christ’s warning to us today – it isn’t that the proud people out there need to be wary, it’s that you, O Christian, need to be wary of becoming proud! Our Lord is telling us that this attitude, that the attitude of self-righteousness is something that is common, that each and everyone of us must face.

If you don’t believe it, if you don’t think that you need to worry about self-righteousness, let me read a verse again and ask you another question. He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt. Here’s the question. Have you treated anyone with contempt this past week? And be honest. Have you looked down upon anyone, thought, “I just can’t believe that they would do that”? That should show you that self-righteousness is trying to creep in and dominate your life. The two are linked by our Lord – self-righteousness and contempt. There is no room, no place, for contempt in a Christian’s life. Why should you ever have contempt for anyone? If you see someone doing something foolish, shouldn’t you rather wish that they become wise and learn, perhaps even instruct and guide them yourself? If you see someone sin, shouldn’t you rather hope that they repent and be brought to forgiveness, perhaps even speak God’s Word to them? After all, isn’t being made wise in Christ, isn’t receiving the forgiveness won by Christ upon the Cross the heart of what Christianity is? Why would we have contempt when we should see an opportunity to share the Word of God? But we end up thinking about ourselves rather than our neighbor, about how we are good and they are bad, and things get all messed up.

This, dear friends, is the danger, this is the temptation that Satan and our sinful flesh throw at us constantly. To think that we aren’t all that bad. To think that we are pretty okay. That we are decent Christians. When we think this, where is our focus? Who are we looking at and saying, “Eh, that’s pretty good?” We look at ourselves. And one of the easiest ways for Satan to make us look at ourselves and think we are okay is to have us look at our neighbor with scorn and contempt. And when we’ve done that, when we think like this, when our focus is upon ourselves. . . it’s no longer upon Christ. Our focus shifts away from Jesus, and rather on to how nice, how okay we are. And we end up justifying ourselves, we defend ourselves and say, “Yep, I’m alright.”

The Pharisee thought this way – and he left the temple with nothing but the arrogance and pride and contempt that he had walked in with. But our Lord contrasts the Pharisee with a Tax Collector. Doesn’t say a corrupt tax collector, just a tax collector. Someone who wasn’t overly popular, was looked down upon. And what approach does the Tax Collector have? But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” The tax collector doesn’t talk about what he does that is good, he doesn’t act as though he’s okay. Rather this – he is a sinner. He isn’t in the temple to tell God how wonderful he is – he isn’t in the temple because he’s a good little Jewish boy and Jewish boys just end up going to temple. He is in the temple for one reason – he is a sinner, and he needs God’s mercy. He needs God to be merciful to him. And what does our Lord say – I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. The tax collector saw his sin, confessed it and sought mercy – and that is precisely what he got. He left the temple clean and forgiven, justified, declared righteous by God. The tax collector’s relationship with God wasn’t focused on what that tax collector gives, what he does for God – but rather what he needed from God, forgiveness. And that’s what He got.

So why are you here today? Are you doing your hour of Christian chore work that you must do to be a good Christian boy, to be a nice Christian girl? That’s not why you should be here. We come to this place for worship because we are sinners who need to be here. We are sinners who need God’s forgiveness, we need to hear His Word preached, we need His Body and Blood given to us in the supper, we need it. And Satan does everything in his power to try to make us forget this, Satan does everything he can to make us think that we are okay, that we are better than this person, that at least we aren’t as bad as that person. And all the while, Satan tries to make us forget that we are sinners who need Christ’s mercy. And when that happens, we forgo this place, we even misuse it – we smile, nod our heads, think, “Boy, so and so really needed to hear that sermon.” No, my friends, each and everyone one of us is a sinner in need of God’s mercy.

And so God calls us here to this place, and He speaks His Word to us. His Law calls us unto repentance, so that we might realize that we are indeed sinners, that we are indeed just like everyone else out there, and that we are in need of His mercy. And then out of His great love for us, without any worth or merit in us, Our Lord gives us gladly the forgiveness which He won for us when He died upon the Cross and rose from the dead. And our Lord would have us keep this mercy, this love foremost in our minds, so that we are not led into damnable pride and vanity, but rather remained focus on Him. We see our sins and are made humble, but our Lord exalts us, raises us up with His Word of forgiveness, indeed, has promised to raise us to life everlasting. He speaks His Word of forgiveness, and we leave this place justified, assured of His forgiveness and love to us. Lord, keep us from all sins of pride, and richly forgive us all our days. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Trinity 10 sermon

Trinity 10 – Luke 19:41-48 – August 16th, 2009

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
During this time in the Trinity season we are presented with some Gospel texts that call us to a bit of self-reflection, a bit of self-examination. It is a period where we are to pause and take stock of ourselves, our own spiritual lives, and see whether or not all the things we talk about in Church, God’s Law, Christ’s love, whether or not these things are sinking in, whether or not they are impacting us, or whether we just let them fly in one ear and out the other. Do we end up putting in our hour at Church on Sunday, but then just go and live the rest of the week as though nothing of interest or importance has happened here?

And there is a reason that we have this time in the Church Year, a reason why there are such texts in the Gospel. Our friends in other denominations who try to say that once a person is saved he is always saved and cannot fall away are wrong. We see throughout Scripture countless examples of people who knew better falling away – chasing after vain ideas and dreams rather than being centered and focused upon the Word of God. It happened in Jeremiah’s time, it happened in Christ’s time, it happens in ours. So let us attend to what our Lord says and does in our Gospel lesson, so that we may not only examine ourselves, but also learn again of Christ’s determined love for us.

And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, He wept over it saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.” From the perspective of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem was a bit of a problem city. Throughout the Roman Empire, different cultures had been brought into the Empire and were glad to be a part of it – they joined the whole. The Jews of Jerusalem though, they didn’t like to play along. And they kept rebelling. Their dreams were ones of an independent Jewish state, a nation with a mighty leader, like what they had when David was there. And so, all during the time that the Romans were there, the Jewish people kept rebelling. That was even what many folks hoped Jesus would do – that He would lead the glorious revolution – which He doesn’t, obviously. And then finally, in the year 66 AD, there was a major rebellion. And Rome sends down her legions – and then after a few years of fighting Jerusalem is surrounded. And the Romans lay siege to her. And they methodically break in to each of the parts of the city – and then they lay waste. To be a sign and a warning, they slaughter every man, woman, and child who was still in the city, even the dogs in the city – slaughtered. Nothing left alive. And the city is burned and the walls are knocked down and Jerusalem is utterly destroyed.

This is the event of which our Lord speaks, what our Lord sees as He approaches Jerusalem. But note what He says – Would that you, even you, had known the things that make for peace. The thing that makes the destruction of Jerusalem so bitter for Jesus is that it was so unnecessary. The folks there kept looking for an earthly Messiah, an earthly king. They overlooked the true Messiah, they overlooked the King of Kings. They abandoned the spiritual and instead focused on the physical, the political. Rather than delighting in the Salvation of their God, they sought power and fame in the world, and they were slaughtered. So thus, riding into the city on Palm Sunday, even with the crowds hailing Him, our Lord weeps over Jerusalem’s folly.

Now then, how does this apply to us? What does our Lord see when He looks upon Zion – for we are named after Jerusalem, after one of the hills in Jerusalem – that’s what Zion is. Do we spend our time focused upon the things that make for peace, do we spend our time being focused upon Christ, where all that we do is centered on Him, or do we get bogged down in other things? The answer to both of these questions is yes. Yes, we are focused upon Christ Jesus and His love for us here – but we need to be aware of the ways in which Satan tries to pull our focus off of Christ and weigh us down with the cares of this life, weigh us down with vainglorious dreams of what was, what could be - so that we end up ignoring the present wonder of the fact that Christ Jesus Himself comes to us and is present with us this very day, in this very place.

As human beings, we are easily distracted; we are easily manipulated. We are distracted by our hopes and by our fears. That is how you twist people. Someone plays off of our hopes and dreams – we get promised the moon, and so we run off and do something foolish. Or, someone plays off our fears – if you don’t do this, terrible, terrible things will happen. You see this in politics all the time – if you vote for me, everything in your life will be better and we’ll have cheap health care and you’ll get a better job and everything will be wonderful. If you don’t vote for me, the terrorists will win and all the doctors will leave. You see it in relationships, in the work place, in the home. Hopes are used against us, fears are used against us. That’s how Satan moves against us as individuals and against us as a Church. Satan can play off a Church’s dreams – if we only do X, Y, and Z we will grow and grow and everyone will want to come here – where X, Y, and Z have nothing to do with Christ – and we forget who we are and what we are to be about. Satan can play off of a Church’s fears – money is tight, there are fewer people, whatever will we do? We do. . . and we can scramble away from Christ And in both of these cases, Satan tries to wrest our eyes off of Christ.

So consider your own life, consider your approach to this place. Are there dreams you have that pull you away from God? Are there places where you are more concerned with elevating your will above His, where you think your plans are greater or better than God’s? And on the other hand, are there fears that weigh you down? Are there fears that would paralyze you, where you think you can’t show love like you ought right now? Are there fears that scare you into flight and make you think that you’ve just got to do something drastic and different, otherwise the worst will happen? Satan tries to make us lose our heads in the clouds, Satan tries to make us cower in fear. This is what our foe tries to do to us. So what is to be our response? What does our Lord say?

Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace. Christ Jesus our Lord makes for peace – peace that is good and right for us. This is true for us as individuals. When we are focused on, when we see Christ’s love for us, we don’t need to go chasing off after pipe dreams and run blindly into danger. When we are focused on, when we know Christ’s forgiveness, we don’t have to live with the fear that Satan tries so desperately to heap upon us. Christ’s love and forgiveness is what makes for peace. And what is true for us as individuals is true for us also as a Congregation. Christ Jesus makes for peace. We can forget that this Church is His Church, not ours. He will grow it as He sees fit. He will provide for it, as He has in the past, for as long as He wants His Word proclaimed in this place. He is the One who has built and established this place, He is its foundation, and He is the One who comes here to give out forgiveness and peace. There’s a reason why in the Communion Service, right after the Words of Institution, we behold our Lord’s Body and Blood and hear the words – “The Peace of the Lord be with you always”. That’s the focus – Christ’s Church is about Christ giving us His peace through forgiveness, through His Body given for us and His Blood shed for us – and when we see that, when we are people who know and recognize the things that make for peace – we do indeed have peace in Christ Jesus. Our Lord Jesus has suffered and died for us, our Lord has risen for us – what dream of ours is going to top eternal life – what fear can diminish our Lord’s love for us? And so we are called here to hear the Word of our Lord – to receive His very Body, to receive the very Blood that was shed for us, so that we may not just be at peace here, but depart from this place in peace.

This peace shapes our lives – it gives us the strength to keep our eyes focused upon Christ when vain dreams would distract us, it gives us to strength to keep our eyes open and focused upon Christ when fears would have us close them in terror. Christ’s peace makes us to live by faith – where all the things we do are done trusting in Him and His love for us. We don’t have to plot and scheme to get God’s blessing – He will bless us as He sees fit. We don’t have to fret and fear – He will care for us as He always has. And we are left to live simple lives of faith – where we strive to do what we ought – to show love where love is needed, to work where work is needed, to give support where support is needed, and always trusting that God the same God who loves us so much that He forgives us when we fail, will assuredly continually care for us.

And so my friends, once again, I encourage you to be in God’s Word, to let Christ’s Word dwell richly in you, to come frequently and often to His Supper, because these are the things which He has provided to you to give you His peace. And our Lord is diligent in giving these to you – He sees to it that His House is always to be a House of worship and prayer, a place where He is present for you in His Word, in His Supper. We are built upon Christ, we live in Christ, we are preserved by Christ – and so thus, seeing this, knowing this, we have peace in Christ, whatever dreams float into our lives, whatever fears come crashing down. We rest securely in Lord. The Peace of the Lord be with you always. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Trinity 9

(Celia and I got safely back from fun and family in California last night at 11:30 - which only felt like 9:30 - and I was up and getting stuff ready this morning at 6:30 - which felt like 4:30. The joys of time changes. If there are more typos in here and I missed them in my perusal this morning, I apologize)

Trinity 9 – August 9th, 2009 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
What do you value? What is important to you? I mean, really, what is vital, what do you just have to have, what can you not do with out? What’s important to you? What would you fight, tooth and nail, get down in the mud and slug it out in order to protect, to keep safe? What is your priority? These are the questions that our Lord raises in speaking the Parable of the Dishonest Manager to us this morning, a question of what our own priorities are. When we hear the Parable, we see clearly what the manager’s priorities are, and so we are led by our Lord to consider our own. To consider what really is important to us.

It’s clear what is important to the manager. When the dishonest manager is told that he is going to be fired because he has been wasting the master’s possessions, he says, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management people may receive me into their houses.” So, what’s important to the manager? It’s not his reputation – he doesn’t seek to clear his name, either honestly or dishonestly. He could have fought the charges, sought to clear his name. He doesn’t. His pride in his work isn’t what is important to him. No, what is important is his life style, his stuff – money. He wants to be well taken care of financially, and this fellow makes no bones about it. And so, he fights, fights dirty to get what he wants, to see that he is taken care of.

He walks up to one person who owes the master 100 measures of oil – olive oil most likely, and he says to him, “now, you only owe him 50.” Each measure was around 875 gallons, so we are talking a big sum here. The manager can do that, he’s the manager, he can give discounts legally, and the master will have to legally respect that. He cuts the measures of wheat from 100 to 80. Each measure of wheat was around 1200 bushels – so 20 measures is, what – 24,000 bushels? That’s quite a bit. So this manager basically steals from the master to buy future favors from these people.

And then we get a line that has confused people – the master hears what the manager does and then – The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. We have a villain being commended. Seems rather odd for Scripture, doesn’t it? But consider what the master sees – a man who knows his priorities and does whatever is necessary to see that those priorities are realized. He gets what he values by hook or by crook – and as the master is a wealthy businessman, is one who himself probably greatly values wealth and money, the master figures he has to hand it to this manager – because that was some pretty slick thinking. He got what he wanted, and he didn’t care who got in his way.

So, what in the world could this story have to do with us as Christians, with our lives as Christians. Our Lord clearly is not advocating theft, we aren’t to go breaking the 7th commandment which we just learned about again this morning. Rather this – listen to what Christ says – “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their generation than the sons of light.” They are more shrewd in their generation. When they play by their rules, with their priorities, they get things done. Money is important to this manager, to the master, and they work hard to get the money, they do what they need to do. They are shrewd. In fact, they are more shrewd than the sons of light.

So, let me ask the question to you, sons of light. What is your priority? What do you view as most important? Was it faith? Was your highest priority being faithful to God and letting the chips in this world fall where they may – if it means you have less stuff, if it means your friends and family despise, forsake you? Is your faith, is hearing the Gospel of Christ Jesus proclaimed to you and to others, is receiving His Body and Blood for your forgiveness your highest priority? Or do other things take precedence?

It’s a hard question, a blunt question, one we don’t like to hear. We don’t like being told that we aren’t just wonderful little Christians. But what Christ says is true – the sons of this world are more shrewd, care more about the things of this world than we Christians care about the things of Christ. We will let things slide – attendance in Church, in bible study, private devotions, care for the neighbor and showing the love that God has shown us, simple compassion for others, striving to live according to God’s will – these things all can slip slide away from us. And Jesus lays it out bluntly – No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love to other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. I like the old “mammon” word better – because the point is really you cannot serve God and the things, the pleasure, the stuff of this world. The two are opposed – for Satan will use the fleeting pleasures and pressures of this life to try and pull your eyes off of Christ.

And this has been something that has plagued Christianity since the beginning, and plagued all Christians. Think on Solomon, wisest man ever, yet he gets distracted by wealth and women and song. Think on Elijah – we heard a few weeks ago his despondency over the fact that he was the only person left – even though the chapter before God had just defeated all the priest of Baal. Luther understood this well too, and he wrote a beautiful prayer for pastors, one which I pray before every sermon because this plagues me too. The prayer says – “Then if Thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Thy glory and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may also, diligently keep it.” We can chase after so many things, glory, power, wealth, respect. So many things that keep the Gospel, keep faith, keep maintaining this place and all the Churches of God throughout the world from being our highest priority. And let’s be blunt since we are being blunt this morning – that’s just sin, sin taking our eyes off of God and His will and focusing our eyes on our own wants and desires.

Christ our Lord, though, knows how to handle sin. And our Lord Christ Jesus is shrewd when it comes to how he handles sin. While we struggle, while we are not as faithful as we ought to be, Christ Jesus our Lord is faithful. Consider this. What is Christ’s priority? What is Christ’s focus? It is upon doing His Father’s will, and the Father’s will is that Christ Jesus go to the Cross and be crucified in order to save you. And our Lord Jesus does so, does the Father’s will. And Christ Jesus fights hard for you, is diligent, does whatever could be required. To be arrested, done. To be abandoned by friends, done. To be whipped and beaten, done. To be mocked, done. To be put to death, even death on a cross, done. Our Lord leaves nothing left undone, fights Satan thorn and nail to win you forgiveness and salvation. This is the task the Father set Him to, and it is the task which He accomplished upon Calvary.

And Christ Jesus our Lord is also diligent in handing out this forgiveness unto you. Think about the means of grace, the ways in which Christ gives us forgiveness. Word and Sacrament. Christ is so thorough in seeing that we are forgiven. He uses His Word. Jesus brings us forgiveness through His Word, be that the Word read, be that the Word spoken here in Church, be that the Word of comfort and forgiveness that He places upon our lips that we speak to each other during the week. He makes His Word to dwell in you to keep pulling your eyes off of the world and on to His forgiveness. That’s shrewd on His part, that’s diligent. Or consider Baptism. Our Lord washed you at your baptism, made you to be a new creation, decided to make you His temple so that He would be with you always, poured out His Holy Spirit upon you so that wherever you go, whenever you are tempted by Satan, He is with you to give you strength to resist and fight against Satan. Or consider His Supper. Our Lord takes simple bread and wine and through them He gives us His Body and Blood, gives us Himself, pledges Himself to be with us so that whenever we desire forgiveness, whenever we desire strength, it is readily available to us. Christ is still diligent, still cunning and shrewd in His efforts to bring us salvation.

And so, dear friends, keep watchful and wary in your own life about your priorities. Keep your focus upon Christ, upon the faith, but do so confidently, knowing that our Lord Jesus has won you forgiveness, that He is eager to forgive you, and that He has done all that is necessary to give you life everlasting. Our Lord is shrewd for you, and His love for you leaves no stone unturned – including the stone which was placed in front of His tomb. He overturned that stone and rose, and account of His love and mercy, so shall you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +