Sunday, October 30, 2011

Reformation Sermon

Reformation Day (Observed) – October 30th, 2011 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
One thing has remained true throughout the life of the Church, be it in the Old Testament, the New, 500 years ago, or even today. The Church is always in need of Reform. The Church of God, full of sinners as she is, has a tendency to wander away from the clear Word of God, and in the place of God’s Law and Gospel, she can set up all sorts of Idols to follow after. Whether it be a golden calf at the foot of Mount Sinai as it was in Moses day, or following Ba’al and his false prophets as it was in Elijah’s day, or false doctrine as it was in Paul’s day, or being rife with superstition and ignorance as it was in Luther’s day, God’s Sheep will wander if left to their own ways, and will ever be in need of being returned to God’s Truth. Today we celebrate Reformation Day, a day where we remember all the times in the past where God has restored His Church from error, a day where we pray that we may be kept from error ourselves.

Our Gospel lesson today shows Jesus confronting people who had fallen into error in His day. Jesus is talking with several Jews who had believed, who were part of the Church. Yet, they were close to a fall, close to slipping away, because things Jesus said seemed too hard for them to believe, and so their faith was endangered. They were beginning to put their trust in their own wisdom rather than simply listening to Christ. They were falling into error, error that could end up destroying their faith utterly. Thus, they were in need of reform. In our Gospel text, Jesus shows us how He is always at work in His Church, preaching and admonishing, and bringing about reform. Let us look at the text.

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” It is no mystery what the Church of God is to preach, what we as Christ’s disciples are to do. We are to preach the Word of God, to proclaim Christ Crucified for sinners like us. This seems straightforward enough. If we follow Christ, we should give heed to His Word. It is as simple as that. Hold to the Word of God, then you are a disciple. Christ is so plain, so clear here. Hear my Word, and you are my disciple. Or as we hear in a few chapters later in John, “My Sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow Me.”

That isn’t what so many people focus on, though, is it? Simply holding to Christ’s teaching. So many people want to put the focus on our actions. If you follow Christ, you will do X, Y, and Z. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, give so much money to the Church, and then you’ll really be good little Christian boys and girls. Christianity becomes all about me and what I do, how I live my life, about proving to every one else that I know how to jump through the right holy hoops - see what a good boy am I. We hear this today, do we not? How much preaching at “Christian” churches tell you next to nothing about Christ and what He did, but much about what your life is to look like. And the sad part is, we like that. We like the story to be about us. We like to be able to pat ourselves on the back about what good people we are. We like to point to what we have done. But that, is not being a disciple. That’s not holding fast to what Christ teaches.

Hear again His Word. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Wonderful words. In God’s Word, we see the truth. In God’s Word we hear the full truth of the Law, that we are sinners, that all of our works amount to nothing before God, that in and of ourselves we are lost and condemned creatures. This we know from God. But in God’s Word, we also hear the full truth of the Gospel, that Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, died to save the lost, to take away their sins; Indeed, that He rose again so as to give us new life, His life. This is what we know from scripture, this is what we read when we diligently search out the scriptures, this is what we yearn to hear preached, that though we have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God, Christ Jesus our Lord has redeemed us from our sin, and Justified us before God. Indeed, our Lord even says that He Himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life – and that in hearing the Word of God we are made to know the Truth, made to know Christ and Him Crucified, and we are forgiven.

That there is freedom. Your sin is forgiven by God. And this we know, why? For the bible tells us so. This verse isn’t about social reform, or race relations, or why you need to do well in school, but about God’s Truth, the Gospel Truth, Christ Jesus who has died and risen for you. The weight of sin that hangs over your head, it is gone, removed, taken away. Christ has borne it Himself upon the cross. This is what we are to hold fast to as His Disciples, this is what we are always to defend. Whenever people move away from this, whenever something other than Christ the Crucified one takes center stage, be it our own works, the pope, a golden calf, whatever it may be, the Church lies in need of reform. The Church is in need of the clear Word of God to be preached, the Law in its full effect, and the Gospel in its full sweetness, and then by the Holy Spirit that pure Word of Truth will make us disciples once gain, then that Word will give us freedom.

“They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” And here we see one of the great dangers to Christians. Pride and arrogance. We, the Children of Abraham, have never been enslaved? Do you hear realize how stupid of a statement it is for these people to claim this? First of all, read the book of Exodus. The children of Abraham were slaves in Egypt. . . God is the one who delivered them from slavery. The idea of God setting them free should be quite familiar. In fact, that’s how God often addressed them – I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of bondage in the land of Egypt. But not only in the past with Egypt, but consider the situation in Jesus’ day with Rome. The Jews were a conquered people. All the time, every 20-30 years there would be a new revolt against the Roman oppressors. Most of the people were hoping for a Messiah that would kick Rome out and reestablish a strong Jewish nation. And yet, these people say that they have never been slaves of anyone. Out of their pride and arrogance, they fight God’s Word.

Dear friends, when we approach God’s Word with pride, with arrogance, we fail to hear it, we stop up our ears and throw tantrums against God. There are only two options - we can in sin hold onto our pride, or we can cling to God’s Word; it cannot be both ways. The fact that there is a Lutheran Church and a Roman Catholic Church is proof of that fact. When Martin Luther preached the Gospel with clarity unseen in over 300 years, it was simply out of pride and arrogance that the Pope refused to listen. It was simply out of pride and arrogance that so many of the bishops refused to allow the Gospel and Christ’s free forgiveness to be preached. What would this preaching do to their power and station, let it be silenced! And so the Church was torn asunder. But pride and arrogance wasn’t just the trap that caught Rome. It was simply pride and arrogance in human reason that formed the rest of the Protestant Churches. Zwingli, Calvin, Meno Simmons, all of them victims of pride. What, the Scriptures declare that the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s Body and Blood, how can that be, it doesn’t make sense to my vast human intellect, I’ll come up with something else. No, what you will do is deny God’s Word! And thus we have all the little different denominations that we have, all holding on to stubborn pride and denying God’s clear Word.

Let this be a warning and a reminder to us, lest we fall into the trap which has snared so many in the Church. We must remain diligent, keeping our sinful nature in check, so that we hold fast to God’s Word and God’s Word alone. Those of you who were alive in the 70’s saw this in our own Church Body first hand, as we fought those teachers of false doctrine who denied God’s Word. But this isn’t just a danger of the past, for Satan stirs up the hearts of sinful man in all generations. Today as well we must take care to see that what is preached is simply the Word of God, that we remain true to His Word. Greater Churches than ours have fallen, mightier men of God than us have given in to temptation, and so we must always strive to spurn our pride, and trust solely in Christ Jesus our Lord.

“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the Son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’” This, dear friends, is why we are here. This is what we celebrate and receive every Sunday, every time we gather around our Lord’s Word and His Sacraments. That we are sinners who have been set free by Christ Jesus. By virtue of our Baptism, we have been made the sons of God, brought into God’s family by being united to Christ Jesus our Lord. We are made part of His Body, and where He is there we too are. We have been set free by the Son, so we are truly free indeed. We are welcomed as members of the family. We share in the family meal of the Lord’s Supper, where we receive Christ’s true Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our Sin. We hear the voice of our Father as we relish the reading of His Word. We rejoice as God strengthens our faith so that we might hold fast to His teaching.

And this, dear friends, is what we preach, what we share with the world. This truth of God, His Word, is not simply for us. It is for all. We are inviters, calling others to the Lord’s Service, bringing them to His house so that God might give to them the blessings He gives us. We are agents of reform, proclaiming God’s reforming truth all the time, being the clarion bell that rings out to the world the beauty of the Gospel. Just as God has always raised up men in the past to clearly proclaim His Word in the midst of error and false doctrine, we pray that God would grant us strength to proclaim His Salvation in the midst of the errors of our day. We are the Church of the Reformation, we are the Church that is aware that we exist only by God’s Grace, not out of any worth of ourselves. We are the Church that constantly sees her own sin, and repents of it. We are the Church that God constantly feeds on His Word and Sacraments too, so that our sins are forgiven on account of Christ Jesus our Lord. God grant to us that he ever reform our hearts away from sin and unto His marvelous truth so that we might enjoy His freedom for all eternity. Amen.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Preference Does Not Mitigate Freedom

So, I've been surprised by some of the sort-of negative response I've gotten to my post about baptizing Victor William in the Hospital. I'm not surprised that there are people who wouldn't want to baptize in the hospital and would rather just maintain the custom of Sunday morning baptisms. I'm surprised at the... it's not an assertion, but the way as though people seem to think that as I prefer baptizing in the hospital that I must be condemning waiting for Baptism until a Sunday morning service.

Here's my question. What do the Scriptures say?

Now, I know that Baptism is good, that it works life and salvation, that it forgives sins and joins to Christ. That's all Scriptural. I know that many were baptized on Pentecost, and I know that 1 was baptized out in the middle of nowhere by Phillip in Acts 8. I know whole households were baptized together.

If this is what the Scriptures say... how would I be able to say that baptizing in Church is "wrong"? Seriously, why would anyone even think I'd say that? Of course, I think it would be (and is) silly if anyone chides me for baptizing my kid in the hospital -- show me the Scripture, don't just tell me about your customs or traditions.

So, what's the problem? What's the disconnect where suddenly because I say, "I do Y" people start thinking that I am condemning "x" or burdening the consciences of those who do x? It's because we have forgotten something:

Preference Does Not Mitigate Freedom

I have a preference for baptizing as soon as possible. I'd rather baptize in the hospital. If not that, as soon as the kid gets discharged, swing by the Church and I'll be there (a la Luther's dad on St. Martin's day). If not that, as soon as the kid makes it to church on a Sunday.

Now, if you start pushing it off longer than that - I'll get on your case a bit (I don't care if Aunt Betty ain't there - baptism is for your kid's benefit, not Aunt Betty's sentimental entertainment -- she'll still ooo and ahh when she shows up).

But there are multiple options -- my preference for one does not fundamentally mean you can't have a different preference. Seriously - because my congregation just does DS III does that mean any of you would think that you stand condemned or less in my eyes because you use DS IV? Or still have LW instead of LSB?


Actually, some of you might. Might feel that way because that's what you are used to people doing to you, or you yourself might even condemn those who don't follow your own preference.

This is because we let our Egos run unabated today. We are so often not content to merely exercise our own freedom, but rather we want to dominate others and make them do what we in our freedom do.

That's just foolish.

What do the Scriptures say? That's where we live. That's where we dwell. Where the Scriptures speak, we speak - where they are silent, we are silent. Simple as that. And my preference to act in one way (in which I am free to act) doesn't do away with your freedom to act in another way in which you are free to act.

Or in other words - there are times where someone can do something different than you, and that's okay.

+ + + + + + + + + + +

But, but, but what about Contemporary Worship? Guess what - Scripturally, they *can* do that. Now, in the LCMS we've agreed to use Synodically approved worship materials, so I'd say we shouldn't here... and I'd argue that it's foolish so to do.

But you know what - you guys are free to be foolish.

Consider Luther being asked how often a person *had* to commune. He wouldn't answer, he wouldn't say how often someone *had* to commune -- finally he said, "If you don't commune at least 4 times a year, you ought ask yourself whether or not you are still a Christian."

I'm not saying when you have to baptize... but if you keep putting off your kid's baptism for weeks and weeks, perhaps you ought to consider whether or not you believe what the Scriptures say Baptism gives.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Egoism of Numbers

I just saw a little ad advertising new ways to grow and be more influential -- and just imagine, you could have a congregation of over 3000+, or at least the social equivalent.

I would hate that. Let me explain why.

My Junior Year at OU, I was highly involved socially. I lived in the dorms and was active there - I was in two departments, I ran a student organization. I estimate that I knew by name around 10% of the population - right around 2000 people.

Or I should say I knew them superficially. I could nod when they walked by on the south oval - I could do the small talk and all that. But did I actually *know* them, for all my involvement? Not overly well. But it's cool to say you know that people, to say that you are that important - to be accounted among the big men on campus.

3000 people. In a Church. Let's say I as a pastor dedicate 12 minutes a year, one minute a month, to each member. That's 36000 minutes... or 600 hours. Think about that - that is giving a pittance of time... for 10 weeks of 60 hours a week work. How would I know them, how would I interact.

Of course, I think the appeal of the mega-congregation is the dissassociated egoism -- if you have a massive congregation you can talk about all the things that "we" do, even if you aren't involved with it. We have this awesome program, we do X, we do Y. Really, how do you help with X or Y -- oh, I don't, but we do...

We can be part of something popular, big, and active -- and we don't have to do a thing. We don't even have to know anyone who does it -- but look at all the good works that I do. We can go about forming our holy clique and be content.


Of course, what this post really explains is why I should never look at the "church" ads at 4:45 in the morning when up with my newborn son. =o)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Brown's Guide to Christian Living

Alright - it's time for Brown's Guide to Christian Living.

Ready? Here it is.

Don't be a jerk.


Um - I know that I probably need to expand this and turn it into a trendy book or something before anyone will listen, but seriously... you want to know what the Christian life looks like? It is this. It is recognizing that by your nature you are a sinful, selfish, whiney jerk. Fight against that - beat down your inner jerk (oh, that could be a book title). And instead of being a jerk... you know... care for people. Offer to help them.

Seriously. Don't be a jerk. Simple as that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon for St. James

James the Brother of Jesus – October 23, 2011 – Matthew 13:54-58

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Familiarity breeds contempt. That is the old phrase that is often true. Someone might seem great or wonderful, but the more you know him, the more you see his warts, or you realize he doesn’t do everything you want him do how you want him to do it, and then the sheen comes off, and eventually they are despised. Of course, the word familiarity is related to the word family – because if anyone knows our warts, it is those closest to us, our family. Today is the feast of St. James, the brother of Jesus – so it is appropriate for us to consider a bit about family, about the dangers of familiarity breeding contempt, and above all the wonders of Christ Jesus, the God who comes to be in our family.

“And when Jesus had finished these parables, He went away from there, and coming to His hometown He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us? Where did this man get all these things?” When Jesus returns to Nazareth and preaches, He is met with confusion. Why? He’s too familiar. Where does that Jesus get off preaching here – I mean, we know where He lives. We know His family, we remember Him when He was a little boy! They are familiar with Him, and what happens? “And they took offense at Him.” They couldn’t bear to listen to Him, or consider Him – and instead they got offended. The one who brings the wisdom and might and power of God should be far off, should be lofty, should be mysterious… not my buddy James’ brother. It didn’t seem right, it didn’t fit their expectations of how God should act – and so, they disbelieved. “But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.’ And He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.’” Familiarity breeds contempt. And it’s true – when Jay Hobson preached here [at Zion] as a student, it was nice, it was neat, a son of the congregation preaching, we [they] learned and heard and that was nice. It would be a different thing entirely if it wasn’t Jay preaching… but Pastor Hobson, who was called by God to lay down the law when needed… be honest – it’s hard enough for you [Zion] to listen to if I have to say something harsh… if Pastor Hobson had to say it, “Bah, I remember when you were the little brat running around here, and now you think you can tell me something, pshaw!” It’s why you don’t call pastors back to where they came from. Familiarity breeds contempt.

But here’s the problem. It’s not just the people of Nazareth who build up contempt for Christ – it’s everyone. Why? Because sinful man likes to keep God in a nice little box up there up, away from us, safely up there in Heaven where He can send up some blessings but otherwise leave us alone. We don’t want God to walk among us, to walk with us in the Garden in the cool of the day, we’d much rather go hide, thank you very much. The claim that Jesus is God, God come to us, Emmanuel, God with us - is audacious – and people couldn’t bear it. When Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM” – they took up stones to kill Him. When He said that He was the true temple that would be rebuilt after 3 days, they killed Him. When He said that He was the Stone upon which the Church is built, they rejected Him. When Christ shows that He is God, people are offended.

And the thing is – the same thing goes on today. Even in Christianity today, there’s a lot of talk about Jesus – but it tends to want to keep Jesus at a safe distance. Talk about the Lord’s Supper to people – say that this is Christ Jesus Himself, giving us His true Body and Blood for forgiveness… and watch people go pale and become indignant. Or tell them that yes, at Church on Sunday, we walk in as sinful human beings and our Pastor says, “in the stead and by the command of Christ Jesus, I forgive you all your sins” – the idea that Christ Jesus uses some other sinful sap to forgive your sins – shocking. The idea of Christ Jesus being present, being active in His Word, in His Supper still offends today. This is because sinful man in reality wants nothing to do with Christ, wants God far, far away. But Christ Jesus is not content to remain far off from you. You were bound and captive in sin, and so He comes to you, preaches, proclaims wisdom and His mighty works of salvation and life to you, says to you, “I am the God who has become Man and suffered and died for your sins, who has risen to give you life, you have forgiveness and life in Me.” This is the Gospel, and it up close to us, it is personal, it is in our face – and by the grace of God we have come to rejoice in it.

St. James grew to understand this. From the Gospels we learn that James wasn’t too impressed with his brother Jesus. Jesus in our text notes that a prophet is without honor in his own home – the same held true for Jesus. James got embarrassed by the preaching, in fact, it’s so bad that on the Cross Jesus has to tell John to care for Mary – that’s how put out James was by Jesus – James couldn’t be counted on to care for Mary. James had been offended that God would dare to come to close to him. And yet, by Acts Chapter 15, we see that James is a pastor in Jerusalem, and well respected at that. We have even the letter James writes to the Church, admonishing us towards faith in Jesus and true love and works that flow from there. By the grace of God James stopped fearing that up close and personal aspect of the Christian faith. Our faith is not built on our own terms, it’s not our going to God, but rather it is built on the fact that God Himself comes to us, that Christ Jesus brings us His own life and salvation that let us endure this world – indeed, this is what shapes our lives as Christians.

Christ confronts sin in our lives. This is what He does. When you have sinned, when you have that anger, that hurt, that pain, that jealousy – Christ Jesus comes to you by His Word and takes that sin away, says that you are forgiven. And He does this to you through what we end up calling the means of grace, the way in which Christ’s own mercy and love come to you. It gets spoken to you – that’s my job as pastor in particular, to speak Christ Jesus and His mercy to you publicly and privately. It is poured upon your head in Baptism, it is placed upon your tongue in the Supper. This is what you have received, this is what you continue to receive – it is by receiving this forgiveness, by receiving Christ that you have life. But here is the thing – God also uses you to be His agent, His tool, His workmanship to bring His grace and mercy and love into other peoples’ lives. The love that Christ has given to you, the forgiveness that He has give you – you give to others.

Consider this for a moment – someone wrongs you. Hates you, reviles you, mocks you. As a Christian, what are you called to do? To show love, to serve, to pray for the one who persecutes you. Why? Because that is what Christ does, because that is what Christ does to you, and that is what Christ makes you to be. Christ makes you to be His own agent of love – you speak, you show, you give Christ and His love to the people you come across in your life. When you care for another, that is giving them the care that God would have them receive. That’s the point of the Commandments in the Small Catechism – that we recognize that we are to be a blessing to our neighbor. This is why James teaches, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed or lacking in daily food, and one of you says, ‘go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” Faith recognizes that God intervenes in our lives, that Christ Jesus comes barging in and gives us forgiveness, provides for us, gives us all that we need for this life and the life of the world to come. If we see this, if we know this – then we will also see and understand the times when Jesus gives these same things to our neighbors through us. Do you not know that God is at work in you and through you, that You are His servant – that by your actions God provides for your neighbor, that in your words of comfort and encouragement God builds up your neighbor, that through your mercy God shows mercy to your neighbor? God uses you, uses your actions to accomplish His good. Our works do not create our faith, but where there is faith, there will be works, because faith comes from God getting involved in your life, and works are just God getting involved in your neighbor’s life through you. This is what Paul teaches as well in Ephesians – “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Jesus bursts into your life, gives you grace and mercy, and you are saved, not by what you have done, but alone and only by what He has done. And Paul continues, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And the same Christ Jesus who comes to you, who gives you life, then uses that life He has given you to serve and care for and give life to others.

Of course, our sinful flesh rebels against this. Our sinful flesh wants nothing to do with God and nothing to do with our neighbor, for sin loves neither God nor neighbor. But you are not bound to sin – Christ Jesus has not only come into this world to suffer and die for the sins of the world, but He has come to you, washed and forgiven you, and declared you to be His own – indeed He has proclaimed you to be His brother, indeed, His own body. He has made you to be His own workmanship, created you anew and given you new life. Satan and sin and the world try to make you forget this, ignore this – but Christ Jesus is your Lord. He sends His Word to you – even His Word spoken by His earthly brother James, even His Word spoken by the people He has placed into your life, all so that this truth, this reality that you are forgiven would ever be before you. His Word draws you away from selfishness and sin and places your focus ever more upon Christ Jesus and His love for you. God grant that we be ever more focused upon Christ, so that by the power of Christ Jesus, here and present in our lives, we might grow in faith towards God and love towards one another. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Baptized in the Hospital

Well, this afternoon, at 1:52, my son Victor was born. Then, at 1:57, I baptized him. Indeed, the first time I spoke his name to him when he was outside of the womb was when I baptized him.

I know people talk about how Baptism in the Church is a wonderful teaching opportunity - how the rite being a public thing on Sunday morning teaches its importance. No. You know what teaches how important Baptism is? When tomorrow morning I show up and say, "Yeah, my kid was born yesterday, and guess what, now he's a member of this congregation because he was baptized -- baptized before I even let anyone know he was born."

Things we are willing to push off and delay are things that we subconsciously think aren't that important. It doesn't matter how big a production we make about it -- if we can push it off, it has a lower priority.

Consider it this way. If I can't be bothered to actually show up on your birthday, sure, I can try to make a big production 3 weeks later when it's convenient for me. But I still missed the actual day... and why? Oh, yeah... um... that episode of that TV show was on. See how important you are? Or how unimportant you are?

So, which is more important - your son being cleansed of his sin... or aunt Bertha getting to show on up? I'll choose forgiveness every time.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Preventative Use of the Law

There is a traditional, protestant way of speaking about the Law - that the Holy Spirit puts it to three uses:

1st - A Curb - whereby God curbs outward evil, even in society, by the threat of punishment. (This is generally thought of the use that hit unbelievers).
2nd - A mirror - whereby God reveals to us our sin and our need for repentance and forgiveness.
3rd - A Guide (or Trellis) - whereby God reveals and teaches what is good, so that believers might grow in the right fashion.

Now, the handful of readers of this blog know that often 3rd use talk annoys the tar out of me because most 3rd use talk gets twisted. It's not how I as a preacher use the law --- I can't change my tone and make something 3rd use... the 3rd use is a Holy Spirit thing.

But today I have a qualm with the 1st. As it is generally taught the assumption is that the first use of the law doesn't really apply to Christians (after all... we are good people, we don't need to be curbed).

I will tell tales on myself. I was a bit anxious today. I was getting ready to tell off someone who had been messing me with. I was even visualizing it - I knew how I would take him down a peg, I knew how the conversation would go and it would end with me being victorious and this person a smoking ruin. And then I came to Church - and last week I had written up next Sunday's sermon (who knows when my first born will come, and there is a pastors' conference this week), and in the sermon draft is the following:

"Consider this for a moment – someone wrongs you. Hates you, reviles you, mocks you. As a Christian, what are you called to do? To show love, to serve, to pray for the one who persecutes you. Why? Because that is what Christ does, because that is what Christ does to you, and that is what Christ makes you to be. Christ makes you to be His own agent of love – you speak, you show, you give Christ and His love to the people you come across in your life. When you care for another, that is giving them the care that God would have them receive."

Bam. Is this just then applied to me as a mirror, to show me that my thoughts were wrong? No... it showed me that what I was planning to do was wrong - it prevented me from sin - it got in my way, it led me not into temptation and delivered me from the evil that I myself was planning on doing.

You know -- it acted like a curb. Not with threats of punishment, mind you - but still a curb.

I think sometimes we get this daft idea that as Christians, since we know the law, since we know right from wrong, we don't need a "curb" function - we don't need the Law to get in our way and keep us from sinning -- it can just be the kindly guide, because after all as Christians all the time we are thinking about what we ought to do.

That above chunk of law -- it hit me 1st use - might hit others that way this Sunday as well. Some on Sunday, it will hit 2nd use, and the Holy Spirit reminds them of how they have been cruel. Some on Sunday it will hit in a 3rd use fashion - it will guide and prepare them for the unexpected anger they encounter in the week to come.

I don't have to know how it will. That's the Holy Spirit's job -- and He does His job even on the pastors who write the sermons.

Don't be afraid to let God act as your curb - don't think that you've outgrown that need. Or do you not realize that "Thy will be done", and "lead us not into temptation and deliver us from Evil", or the Psalms where you are asking God to go before you are all... preventative pleas to God?

How to be a Jerk.

The more you compare yourselves to others, the more you "see" that you are better, wiser, smarter, more holy than others, the bigger a jerk you will be. That's part of our sinful nature - we like comparing, we like elevating ourselves over others and ranking ourselves. And here is the danger - we think growth means that we *ought* to be able to see that growth in view of our neighbor (and his lack of growth).

I care nothing for comparing how well a Christian "performs". Growth in faith is not to be see by outside examination. Consider an analogy.

There are two athletes on your favorite sports team. One is a "star" - has brilliant talent... but sloughs off. He knows he's good -- and compared to many he is good. But he doesn't struggle and strive as much, doesn't practice hard - he knows how good he is. After all, he did _____ last season. The other athlete is also a star - an excellent player. But he realizes that while he may be a fine player, he's a little weak on _________, so he practices and practices, and strives to improve.

If you compare your actions with those around you, you will become morally lazy and spoiled. You will be like the overpaid "Star" athlete. You can always compare yourself to someone else who is lousy to feel good about yourself -- or even compare yourself to what you were a while ago.

On the other hand, if your focus is upon your own lack, your own need to improve, you will remain humble. It doesn't matter how much "better" you are now -- as you have grown, so have your standards. You see the areas in which you have to improve - and you work on those. Allen Iverson was willing to blow of practice - Michael Jordan spent hours upon hours improving things (he couldn't hit a jump shot to save his life when he first got in the NBA).

But there is another danger - you don't even have to compare yourselves to others to become a jerk. You can simply compare yourself to who you used to be, and be content with that. What do I mean? Well, let me tell you about my golf game.

When I started on the High School golf team my freshman year I would have thought shooting 50 for 9 holes was great (54 was more likely). By the time I was a senior, I wanted to be below 45. Was there improvement - sure. But, if I had said, "Ah, see, I have grown" -- what would happen? There would be no more improvement. Instead, as I improved I became more critical of my game. A shot that I would have been quite happy with as a freshman was by my senior year a horrible shot and unacceptable.

In fact, even now, when I only golf a couple of times a year, I'm still picky. On Friday I golfed for the second time this year -- the group in front of me was slow, so I played best ball with myself - hit each shot twice and took the best one. I shot par... which, viewed from the perspective of not golfing much isn't bad. But that's a rank amateur and indifferent view... if I were serious about golf, I'd be horrified at how many poor shots I hit.

The thing is - when we speak about living our lives as Christians... that's not a 2 or three times a summer thing if the weather is nice and not too windy -- that's every day. We aren't amateur Christians, or at least we aren't supposed to be.

So what does this mean? A Christian who grows in the faith learns to see his own sin more sharply, strives to do better. Yet at the same time, this clarity of vision and self-examination makes the love that Christ Jesus has for him all the more wonderful -- he understands just precisely how great Christ's love is, how much Christ actually did die for. He is freed from the self-justifying rat race and freed to simply strive after showing love to his neighbor and delighting in Christ's love.

Any focus on how much better you are than your neighbor, any smug satisfaction about how much wiser or better you are now than before destroys this. And that should be obvious -- those sorts of attitudes are all summed up under pride. Repent of pride, confess your sin, and receive Christ's forgiveness.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Trinity 17 Sermon

Trinity 17 – Luke 14:1-11 – October 14th, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Who do you love? When you show love, is it primarily directed at your neighbor, or is your love directed at yourself? When you act, is your first thought how you can be of care and compassion to your neighbor, or are your thoughts focus upon yourself, making yourself look good, covering your own backside, and keeping up appearances? As a sinner, you will tend towards the later, for your sinful flesh will always seek to serve itself first and foremost. In our Gospel Lesson today our Lord contrasts this vain, sinful self-love that is in reality empty and heartless, with the true love that cares for the neighbor, the love that He freely shows.

“One Sabbath, when [Jesus] went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” So, here is the situation. Jesus has been invited to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees – and this would be a great honor. This is the best person in town inviting you to his house for a nice, fancy meal. This is hoity-toity, this is just too cha-cha-cha. High Society! The High Life. And these Pharisees, these muckity-mucks are watching Jesus carefully. How will He behave – will He make sure that He looks good, will He jump though all the proper social hoops to be one of them? Will He care first and foremost about protecting His own reputation? And to fully test this – oh, look, there just happens to be a fellow here who is sick with dropsy – a nasty disease full or swelling and discomfort and nastiness. There’s no reason for this sick man to be there – he’s not one of the Pharisees. He’s just a test – okay Jesus, you like to heal, are you going to dare mess around with our party and heal right in front of us on a Sabbath – You know how we would disapprove of this? Which will it be Jesus, protect Your reputation, or heal this man?

“And Jesus responded to lawyers and the Pharisees saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ But they remained silent.” Jesus knows what is going on. Note – He “responded” to them. He knows the trap – and so He asks them – what do you think, is it lawful, is it okay to heal on the Sabbath. And they remain silent – they don’t answer. Well, in reality, that is their answer. If they thought it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath they would have begged Jesus to heal the man. Nope, the Lawyers and the Pharisees think it is better to remain cold and silent to the sick man, better to protect their own status, rather than show love. Now here is the question that we must ask ourselves. How often does making ourselves look good, seem good, seem proper – take precedent in our lives over showing love? How often do we cave to peer pressure or what society thinks? How often do we worry more about what people will think than what our neighbor needs? We must recognize this for what it is – sin. Gross, vile, wicked, selfish sin. To remain silent in the face of another’s need – that is hatred of the neighbor, and it is wrong.

So Jesus acts. “Then [Jesus] took him and healed him and sent him away.” This is fantastic care. Jesus just heals the man – no fuss – here you go, here is your help. And then Jesus sends him away, sends him back home. This guy didn’t belong there – they didn’t want him, they were just gawking at him, using him. Go home to your family, rejoice with them, I’ll deal with the Pharisees and the lawyers. And so having cared for this man, Jesus turns to the Lawyers and asks, “’Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ And they could not reply to these things.” It’s a simple question – if you have one of your possessions in danger, you act to defend it, to save it. If your son falls in a well, you don’t say, “Tough, shouldn’t have happened on the Sabbath.” You act, you defend, you protect. This is obvious – and they know it. So, why would Jesus then even think about hesitating to heal this man on the Sabbath? And what Jesus is throwing in their faces is Cain’s old question. Cain the murderer asked flippantly, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Do I really bear any responsibility for my neighbor? Cain thought not, and he was a murderer. You, when you disdain your neighbor, when you disdain this man – you are thinking like Cain.

Jesus knows what the problem is, what the heart of the matter is. Sinful man always wants to serve, always wants to promote himself. Sinful man wants to deny his own sin, deny his own sinfulness, wants to pretend that everything is hunky-dory, and that if there is some bad, well, that’s not that big of a problem, I’ll work it out on my own. Sinful man wants to do things his own way, wants to saunter on up to God and say, “See, I should be Your favorite because I’m the best one, certainly better than those people.” This is the attitude here behind what these Pharisees are doing. And be honest – you know this attitude. Satan whispers these sorts of thoughts, these sorts of temptations in your ears all the time. It’s a common way he likes to attack Christians – to turn a desire to be righteous into gross self-righteousness, to turn a desire to please God into vain and futile attempts to impress God and claim honors and glory for the self. After all, we’re “good Christians” aren’t we, and of course we do “nice” things, don’t we? And we think less and less about our sin, we struggle less and less against it, we confess it less and less… and we can slowly fall away. Instead of being those who receive Christ and His love, we become those who think that we are “giving ourselves” to God, as though God needed us. We are the ones that need God.

The Lawyers, the Pharisees, they had forgotten that. They figured that Jesus needed their approval, more than they needed to learn and be forgiven by Jesus. And so, Jesus teaches them again an old lesson, one first taught in Proverbs. “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come to you and say, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will with shame begin to take the lowest place.’” Simple enough idea. If you show up at a wedding reception, you don’t go and sit down at the head table – because they are going to kick you out. And that’s embarrassing, it’s stupid. If you try to elevate yourself, to draw attention and focus to yourself – if you spend all your time trying to prove how wonderful you are, you will get knocked down a peg. On the other hand, “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” It’s much better to be called forward, to be greeted gladly and with joy, than to be met with disdain and mocking. And that springs from humility, that springs from keeping oneself humble. And by this, I mean truly humble. What’s the point of getting praise if you “expect” praise? Then it’s not praise, it’s what you think is your just deserts. But when you maintain humility, when you keep yourself humble, when you aren’t so busy patting yourself on the back, the pats on the back that others give you will actually mean something.

Of course, there is a spiritual, a theological point to this. This isn’t simply a teaching on how to be gracious in accepting praise, or keeping humility so you can not win an honor with a straight face. No, there is a point here. If you are worried, first and foremost about honoring yourself, showing yourself to be a good little Christian, then in your pride and arrogance you will fall, you will fall into sin and disbelief. That’s just the danger we face as sinner – we want to elevate ourselves, we want to be the ones that bring ourselves into God’s House, into God’s Kingdom and say, “Well, I’m here, now everything can go on.” It doesn’t work that way. As Christians we acknowledge one thing – that we are poor miserable sinners, that we sin constantly. Not that we used to but now we are better – to the contrary – as you grow in the faith, as you learn God’s Law more and more, you should see more and more sin in your life – you should see your own wickedness more clearly. Things that you would have done without thought years ago should stand out to you as sinful temptations now. The Law always shows us our sin – and so growing in the faith will also mean growing in awareness of sin – of recognizing how high the standards are… and this brings forth humility. But here is the thing – this humility is not bad, because the Christian faith is not about our righteousness, about how good we are. The Christian life – yes, there we strive to show love to our neighbor, to learn to show love more and more – but the Christian faith, that faith which gives life – that is all about Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is the One who sees you in your humility, in your continual struggle in sin, that ever more difficult struggle, and He comes to you and says, “welcome friend. See, I have baptized you, and Your sin is forgiven, your home is here. Welcome friend, come, the feast is prepared, and for now I give you My own Body and Blood for the remission of your sin, for its forgiveness and defeat – I strengthen you with My Word so that you may continue your struggle against sin now – and I will raise you from the dead on the last day, and you will have rest and enjoy perfection and true life with Me for all eternity.” You don’t have to elevate yourself, you don’t have to worry about proving yourself, or saving yourself. Why? Because you are in truth the neighbor upon whom Christ Jesus has compassion. Christ Jesus sees your lack – you needed try to hide it from Him, you needn’t try to put on some happy mask – He sees your sin, your illness. And He heals you. You are forgiven. You have life in Him. He has suffered and died for you, your sin is destroyed and done away with – and having healed you He sends you back to your homes, to your friends, your family, your neighbors until that day where He calls you to His side for all eternity. Rejoice with them over the truth that you are forgiven, enjoy this blessing. God grant to each of us here hearts that are continually humble, so that we would never grow to despise this gift of forgiveness, but rather would with joy receive it whenever we hear the Gospel of Christ proclaimed, whenever we are called forward to His own Table in His Supper. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Like a Battering Ram

Christ Jesus hits you like a battering ram. He shows all your works to be but filth and wretchedness. There is no safety from Christ - He comes boldly to sinners -- and thus, when He comes to you, you are shown to be a Sinner. Yet this is for your good, for He comes to rescue you and pull you out of the bondage of sin.

Legalism seeks to prevent this by putting up a barrier of rules that one can hold to, that one can hide behind. See how good I am, Jesus?

Antinomianism seeks to prevent this by pretending that there is no sin -- didn't you free me from the Law - therefore I can do what I want? See how free I am Jesus.

Both Legalism and Antinomianism play up the self - my rules, my freedom, how I act. Both Legalism and Antinomianism take something from myself, my rules, my desire to act how I want to, and claim that they are actually from God - my law gets called "God's Law", my selfish gets called "Freedom in Christ." Christ Jesus and His true Law crushes all of that, shows it all to be vanity of vanities and vapor or vapors.

You are a sinner. Period. Yet for you, Christ Jesus has died, and He now in His Word gives you forgiveness and life - calls you away from this futile worrying about your own righteousness, your own actions, your own freedom -- and batters it aside, shows its ridiculousness whenever you show it. Then He wrests your eyes back upon Him, so that you might delight that His death and resurrection is in fact your death and resurrection, and that you have life in Him.

Jesus is not polite. As C.S. Lewis points out, He is not a tame God. But He is good for you, better for you, in fact, than your own pipe dreams of what your best life now should be. He comes and brings you mercy and forgiveness, even when you would disdain those things. God grant that I ever more be broken upon Christ, that I may ever more live with Him!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Novelty's Tyrany.

Novelty is a tyrant. A cruel and harsh tyrant who desires to enslave and entrap you. When first you bow knee to novelty, there is excitement, joy, hope. Ah, something new - this new thing will save you. But this joy and excitement is not enough. Novelty will demand more - a new new thing. Then another, and another. And money sacrificed to Novelty 2009 is long gone by the time Novelty 2010 rolls around and demands its own expensive homage. And of course, Novelty 2012 will be raising your tax burdens once again.

But then, there is that other aspect. Novelty was much more fun when you were young -- these new Novelties don't quite shine as bright. That old glory isn't quite reached... or worse, everyone around you thinks this new, lousy novelty is just wonderful, and you have to add you voice to the cheering throngs... lest they doubt your sincerity, lest they think you aren't rightly lauding our new and wonderful thing.

Of course, as you've seen more and more novelties come down the pike, you realize that each new novelty is less and less aimed at being... your thing. Novelty doesn't love you anymore. You were fun back then, but now, Novelty's moved on to someone else... and the best you can hope for is to live vicariously though them - or see the numbers swell... and even though you are a lost and lonely stranger, at least you're in a crowd.

Until the new Novelty comes along, and people flee looking for something better.

And it's a vicious cycle, a trap, as we bow to our Novel lord and his ever changing demands.

+ + + + + + +

Or you don't mind that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and don't think you need to reinvent the wheel every Sunday.

Monday, October 10, 2011

What's Your Thing?

Everybody has their thing. You know - that theological axe they like to grind, that point they take, the thing that everything comes back around to. I know guys who have Lutheran Hymnody as their thing, or the liturgy, or rubrics, or being missional, or being relevant, or justification -- some of these are excellent, some don't impress me as much.

So - what's your thing? What is the thing that in your approach to theology that you keep coming back to - the angle you want to take, the thing you tend to harp on?

And what's mine?

It's hard to identify your own thing -- it doesn't stand out to you because... well, it's your thing. It's normal to you.

If I had to guess it would be one of three things:

1. Pointing out assumptions that aren't Scriptural. I tend to like to harp on what the Scriptures say, not what we assume them to say. But I don't know if that is quite it.

2. Finding the third option. I hate either/or statements that are false. I hate the swing from one heresy into another, so I guess I like breaking false dichtomies.

3. Why, not what. I don't care about what you say or do, I want to know why you do it -- I view why as the heart of the law, not what. It's out of the heart that wickedness comes - so why are you acting, what's your heart suckering you into doing.

I don't know - what's my thing?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trinity 16 sermon

Trinity 16 – October 9th, 2011 – Luke 7:11-17

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
It’s almost like one of those old-time Westerns. The man come wandering into town, comes across the damsel in distress, rescues her, and then just wanders off into the sunset, off on his way to help out other people elsewhere. Our Gospel is indeed most interesting, isn’t it? It’s a feel good Gospel, it makes us smile, but sometimes we can overlook some of the things that make our Gospel really interesting. Let’s slow on down, not rush to the sunset and closing credits, and take a few moments and see what is happening in our Gospel this morning.

“Soon afterward He went to a town called Nain, and His Disciples and a great crowd went with Him.” Right away we need to ask a question. Soon after what? In the verses just before this, Luke recounts Jesus’ encounter with the Roman Centurion. You know the story – the Centurion comes to Jesus and begs Him to heal his servant. Jesus agrees to go, and the Centurion says, “You don’t need to go, simply speak and my servant will be healed.” And it is so. And this causes quite the stir. We see the results of that here. Jesus wanders off towards this little town called Nain, but now there’s a crowd following Him. Something interesting is going on, so everyone ups and follows after this Man Jesus to see what wonder He is going to do next.

“As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” That’s a horrible fate for this woman. When my grandmother was widowed while my dad was still a schoolboy back in the 60s. . . she could get a job. Worked at a Fire Extinguisher company in Toledo, Ohio. There were no fire extinguishers back in Jesus’ day. No Public Schools needing teachers. No hospitals with nurses. No Social Security either. If you didn’t have a family, a guy in your family to support you, you were in trouble. This woman in our text wasn’t just leaving town to bury her son, but to bury her own life. She had no means of support. There would be no work for her, and she would be reduced to basically one of two things: begging or whoring. That was it. No starting over, no hope for this woman.

And she, like Jesus has a crowd following her. These are two very different crowds, aren’t they? Following Jesus you have those wanting a show, expecting fireworks and grand events. Following the widow you have mourners, those who see nothing but death – the death of this man that has already happened, and the slow, sure, lingering death which this woman’s life had become. There was sympathy now for her loss, but soon, this woman would be nothing but a burden on the town, or even worse a scandal, an occasion for the town to talk and gossip, wonder what sins she did that brought around this terrible fate.

“And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion upon her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” Did you note what is so beautiful about this verse, what stands out in radiant colors both beautiful and mind-boggling. The woman doesn’t ask anything of Jesus. She doesn’t fall before Him and beg His mercy. Luke doesn’t even say anything about her even noticing Jesus until He speaks to her. Rather, we simply see Jesus walk on up and get involved. That’s the first comfort of this Gospel lesson. God gets involved in our lives. Now generally, we don’t like to get involved in other people’s lives, at least not in a real way. Actually helping out another, actually showing love, showing compassion, well, that’s hard work. It’s rough to bear another’s burdens, especially if you do it right, especially if it is done quietly without anyone knowing the better, with no echoes of people saying how great you are, with no praise to cheer you on. No, to honestly have compassion and help our neighbor, there’s nothing that we humans in our sinfulness despise more. Oh, we’ll talk about the sorrows of another person’s life and be entertained by them. If it’s a noble and seemly cause, we’ll donate time and money, especially if other people are doing it – we must keep up appearance, don’t you know? But simply showing love without any thought of what you will get in return, any thought of how this will affect your reputation, your standing in society – well, we just don’t do that all too often.

But Jesus does. Jesus simply has love and compassion upon this woman, Jesus acts for her benefit out of love and mercy towards her. He’s not going to get anything out of this. Well, what do you mean Pastor, all these people will witness what He does? Yes, and now there will be hassles and complaints – no one will be content with learning the teachings of Jesus – the focus will all be on trying to get Him to do something that’s even more amazing. The people will turn Jesus into a side show – a mere wonderworker or sideshow pony. It’s the same way Jesus gets treated today, as a money box, a simple source of blessing. Thanks a lot Jesus for my stuff, just You keep it coming, and maybe I’ll see you next week. No, Jesus doesn’t benefit from what He’s about to do. Here we simply see another example of Jesus’ completely selfless love which He gives out freely. This is the same love that He shows us. When Christ Jesus comes to us, when He enters our lives, when He forgives us our sin, it’s not because of what we do. It’s not because deep down we are decent people, because we aren’t. It’s not because of all the thanks and glory we will give Him. Jesus is our Savior because that’s who He is, He is the One who sees those in need, who sees us in our need, and has compassion upon us. And do you see why this is so wonderful, so comforting? God’s love for you doesn’t rely upon your actions, your strength, so you don’t have to worry or fear that suddenly Jesus isn’t going to like you anymore – that if you step wrongly around Him He will turn His back on you. His love is something He gives freely because of who He is. This same Jesus who comes up to this woman in our text unasked for and unexpected is the same Jesus who comes into your life and gives you His life and His strength simply because it’s His good pleasure to do so. It’s all about Jesus, this place, everything that goes on here, and because it’s about Jesus and who He is, we know Jesus isn’t going to abandon us, isn’t going to stop coming into our lives. Here, in these verses we see Jesus, we see Him show this woman the same love He shows us, free and undeserved, and that is a wonderful comfort.

“Then He came up and touched the bier and the bearers stood still. And He said, “Young Man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” I would hope, dear friends, that what happens here doesn’t seem strange to you. That this episode, this scene wouldn’t be in the least bit confusing. Jesus raises the man back to life. Jesus restores Him. Of course this is what Jesus does, this is what He always does. You, like this man, are a child of the Resurrection, you are those who have been given new life by Christ Jesus our Lord. He is always raising the dead. Here on earth, we see this new life brought forth in the life of Faith. At your Baptism Christ Jesus called you out of the death of sin to walk in His Light, to share His love. There at the font He joined you to Himself, gave you His own life, gave you His righteousness to prepare you for the all the days of your life, your life of service here on earth. Just as Jesus gave this man back to his mother, to care for her, Jesus has given you to your family, your friends, your neighbors, to love and care for them. Living your life as a Christian is nothing other than living the new life Christ gave you at your baptism, and growing in the faith is nothing more than ever more delighting in Christ’s forgiveness and then showing forth His love. That’s why God would see your faith strengthened by His Word, by His Supper – that knowing the fullness of the life that Christ has given you, you would rejoice as His life spills out over and through you into your neighbor’s life. The life we lead here now on Earth as Christians, as Christ’s own chosen people is a miracle as great as the one we see in the text.

But we also recognize that this miracle in this text, this young man being raised from the dead, this too is our fate. That’s where we are going. Unless Jesus comes back first, every one of us here is going to have a funeral procession of our own, each one of us is going to meet death head on. Simple fact, simple truth. Death takes on us all. Some of us see that truth pretty clearly now as we feel the aches of our bones – some of us are still all too often foolish, take life as a matter of course – probably that young man from the text did too, yet death came for him. But while we should know that death is coming, we should also always remember that from death we have not a thing to fear. Death is done for. Upon the Cross Death tangled with Jesus, took on the Son of God, and on the morning of Easter Sunday death was defeated, destroyed, and conquered. Sure, death might be coming for us, but it’s lost its teeth, it’s lost its sting. We see the resurrection. We know what comes after death – Christ Jesus our Lord has looked upon us with compassion, and after our time on this earth full of sin is done, He will raise us unto the life of the world to come, give unto us New Heavens and a New Earth – because that is simply who He is. God is the Lord of Life, who sets things right, who goes to any length for those who He has compassion on. And we see in this Gospel lesson our future resurrection, where we will be raised not just like this young man, but raised like Christ Jesus our Lord, living to die no more, living eternally with Jesus in the presence of the Father.

Dear friends in Christ, is not our Gospel lesson beautiful? In it we see simply an example of Christ’s freely given love – a reminder and foreshadowing of how He comes into our lives and simply gives blessings without our having to ask, how He fills us up with life, true life during our days on Earth and also for all eternity. This is the life that He has called us to, this is the life He gave us in Baptism, this is the life that is ours always and forever, so that we with all boldness can join with Christ’s saints of every day and every place and say, “I look forward to the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Where We Can All Know Our Parts

Being ill has given me a new appreciation for the Liturgy.

Today, for the first time since I have been a pastor, I missed a Sunday due to illness. I have caught the bug that is going around, and it has laid me and my wife low. It hit me on Friday morning -- and I was feeling a bit better on Saturday, I thought I would be able to hack it today.

I was wrong.

So in doing the normal morning run around, I got completely worn out. In fact, the elders at the vacancy I cover sent me home -- I probably looked something fierce. So I head home and called the elders here to let them know they were going to have lead the service - the sermon's in the pulpit for you to read.

I went home and slept. I needed it -- didn't like it, but I slept. I will need more sleep in a bit.

But a few minutes ago I wandered over to the Church - just to make sure everything was closed up right - and I ran into Thomas Lemke - so I asked him how the service went - and he said something brilliant, which I will paraphrase yet attribute to him. He said that the service went well, but then the key was he noted this -- if this had been a baptist service and the pastor was sick at the last moment - it would have been ruined. It would have been totally different. But with our service -- it was the same. No communion, but the service still flowed.

+ + + + + + + + + + + +

This is the beauty of the liturgy. We all know our parts. We have our rolls, we come, we speak and sing and listen. And if something goes wrong, if someone can't make it - we can adapt and go.

A few weeks ago the organist was ill. A member went up to the organ and one-noted the liturgy and hymns. The service went on.

Or that time a few winters ago when the heat went out in the Sanctuary, and we meet in the parish hall. We carried in hymnals and used the piano. The service went on.

Now, consider for a moment. What if I am doing some sort of "hip" service where my carefully crafted message is just in my head for me to share while I wander up front? If I am sick this morning... service is... well, ruined?

Or what if the lead singer for the praise team gets the flu -- who is going to sing that new special song that they whipped up for the theme of the day? Or if the drummer goes out - who fills in?

But with the Liturgy, we all know our parts. And you know what - if we don't have them down memorized we have a book. Or if someone has to sub in for me, hey, here are my parts in the book - and here are the readings.

And that's fitting - because it's corporate worship, worship that is for the Body of Christ. It's not reliant upon any one person, and in fact, every person in that worship has been replaced (not a single person from my congregation's first worship was in attendance today) -- but it goes on because it is the worship that belongs to the Church.

It's nice to go to a Church where we all know our parts - where we all belong.

Sermon for Trintiy 15

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” You cannot serve God and Mammon, the stuff of this life, earthly power and wealth. Why? Because the Lord your God is a jealous God, and He does not want to share your affections with another, for He knows that your eye will wander if He lets you. Because mammon and money is a greedy and tyrannical god, always demanding more and more of you, more of your time, more of your efforts. As often happens in the Scriptures, once again two paths, two ways of living are set before us. There is the way of life – the life lived in simple joy at being one of God’s redeemed servants, knowing that your Master well provides for you. Then there is the way of death – where your days are spent ever filled with toil and effort to get more and more, days ever filled with worry and doubt and despair.

I’m sure you recognize both of there. I’m sure that there isn’t a one of us in this room who hasn’t had the sleepless night worried about what the morrow will bring. I’m sure there’s not a one of us who hasn’t been worried about how small the number in the bank account was, or hasn’t just been sure that if we didn’t get the newest and latest and greatest doo-hickey or doo-dad that we just wouldn’t be happy. We live in America, and the god that our country truly worships is Mammon, is money, is worldly power and might – where our heroes are all multi-millionaires and glamorous, where every form of entertainment is interrupted with commercials telling us what we need to buy to make our life complete. Satan, our old evil foe, is constantly stirring up discontent and dissatisfaction with what we have – using money and wealth and stuff to rob us of our joy, of our contentment, of our peace. We are not immune to this.

Dear friends in Christ, it may be true that you are not immune to these temptations, but unlike for unbelievers, these temptations do not define you. Even as the world calls out to you, even as money and wealth and power seek to dominate your life, I remind you of a truth. Money is not your master, for you are baptized. When you were baptized, when God claimed you by water and the Word, He said that your are His and He is yours. This is important to remember at all times – while as a Christian you are in the world, you are not of this world. While you live your life here surrounded by all the trappings of wealth, they do not define you, they do not control you. You are rather one of God’s own children, you are part of His family, He is your Lord - and because you are His servant - wealth, money, earthly power – these things are not your masters, but rather they are simply tools which God gives to you to use in His service as He wills. Whether the account is full or empty – you belong to Christ – use what He gives you in love for your neighbor, but know that your true home is not of this world, for Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Indeed, remembering that you belong to Christ is the key to understanding the rest of our Gospel lesson.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life….” There are two ways in which one might hear these next words of Christ. One might hear them as utterly crushing law – Jesus said I shouldn’t worry, but I do, oh I’m a lousy Christian – oh, see how enslaved I am to money and wealth, I am terrible, I stink on ice. Well, probably – if you see your sin, I’m not going to argue against you. I see my sin, and I know I’m only scratching the surface thereof – we are sinful to the core. But Christ Jesus is not trying to drop the hammer on you with these words. It is true, you cannot serve two masters… and then Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you”. If Jesus is speaking to you, if He is the one who tells you how things are, if you are listening to Him… that means He is your Master. The rest of this passage, the rest of the Gospel Lesson is simply your Lord telling you, promising you that He will care for you – it is a tour de force of His love and compassion. Your Master speaks to you now, and He tells you how He Himself cares for you.
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Christ Jesus your Lord knows how Satan works, knows how the devil tries to stir up fear and doubt – Satan was fool enough to try these very temptations upon Christ – here, Jesus, turn stone to bread; here Jesus, if you just worship me You’ll get all the glory and wondrous clothing you could wish for. Jesus knows how Satan attacks you, how the Devil loves to make you fret about this life, about having enough. Your Master tells you that you need not worry about this – that when Satan comes around and whispers worry in your ear, you have God’s own authority to tell him to be gone. Why? Your life is more than food, and your body is more than clothing. Today, our Lord provides for you His holy Supper. Is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper simply to give you a snack to strengthen your body? Far from it – it is the True Body and Blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given and shed for you for the remission of your sins, for eternal life and salvation. Your life is more than just these brief days upon this earth – you are joined to Christ Jesus, part of His Body, and thus you will be with Him forever in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And as you approach your Master’s table today – how do you come? You come as one who is baptized – in a few weeks when we celebrate All Saints’ Day in November, we will sing “Behold a Host Arrayed in White” – your clothes now might fall apart and fade – what of that – for you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and even should you die, should your body be placed in the ground, your Master will call you forth on the Last day and clothe your risen and perfected body for all eternity.

With these words, Christ Jesus your Lord is telling you that you have life and salvation in Him – that this is the highest reality of your existence – and so when Satan comes around with his temptations – Satan can go stick it, he has nothing to do with you, for you belong to Christ. That’s the point of the rest of the passage. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you of not more value than they?” Of course you are – you are one for whom Christ Jesus came down from heaven to redeem and save. If God cares for the birds for their time on earth, will He not care for you and give you what you need for your days – and more than that, will He not bring you unto His everlasting kingdom? “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Quite the opposite – stress and worry harm us – so Jesus tells you to be calm, to rest secure in Him. He is your God and you are His people – He has already promised you ever lasting life, and you can’t get longer than that. “And why are you anxious about clothing. Consider the lilies of the field, how they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Again, the promise is shown by comparison. You are valuable to God – He has paid the price of His dear Son for you – do you think that He, having purchased you, would then not care for you? Hardly – He provides you what you need for this life and the life of the world to come.
This is your reality – that you are cared for by God. So what does this mean, how does this shape your life now? “Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” The world is full of fear, for that terrible and cruel master of this world, money, Mammon, desires and delights in terror and fear and worry. Your Lord here reminds you that you need not think that way. Examine your thoughts – and if they are worldly focused, if Satan’s fears and temptations start influencing your thoughts, pause and say, “This is not who I am – I am Christ’s own Child – He cares for me.” As a Christian, you see this life differently than the rest of the world – and Christ reminds you of this. This is a tool for you, a self-diagnostic if you will. When you start thinking too much like the rest of the world, pause, repent, and be focused again upon the promises of Christ.

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Again – be wary here. Do not fall into a false prosperity gospel – don’t fall into what the TV preachers sell you here. This isn’t the secret Christian way of becoming rich and powerful – who cares about Mammon? You aren’t a Christian in order to sucker God out of more stuff. Besides, our Lord then says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” In this life, as long as you are in this sinful world – there will be struggles and trials and difficulties. As a Christian, you are opposed to Satan and power, and thus Satan and power will hound you. Because of this, because the world will give you no rest – Christ calls you here to this place, to seek out His Kingdom, seek the place where He rules, seek out His righteousness and forgiveness. He is your Lord, you will have what you need – and when you are focused upon Christ, you will realize this, you will see this, you will know that the Lord does provide. Not “wealth” and “mammon” as the world craves, not more and more than your neighbors so you can show them how awesome you are – those are the promises of the false god of money. No, God will provide for you what you need – and what you truly, truly need is His righteousness and His kingdom. And because you are His own Baptized Child, because you have been called out of the world unto His Kingdom, unto His House, because you are forgiven and His beloved, life everlasting is yours in His Name. Remember this, especially as the world and wealth try to rob you of your peace – Christ Jesus is your Master, and He gives you His peace. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Walking in Two Ways - and That Could Be OK If We Just Admit It

People who pay attention to the Synod and it's politics will have long noted that there are two major streams in the LCMS. To call them liberal and conservative isn't quite accurate, but rather the question becomes how best to serve our Congregations, our Communities, and the world with our Church.

On the one hand, there are those who long to simply be what we have always (or so we say) been - a liturgical, confessional Church body, sharing in the great liturgical history of the Church, proclaiming the truth of God's love.

On the other hand, there are those who wish to take a more flexible approach, trying to bring the Gospel to people in ways that might be more familiar or easily digestible to them.

It's probably clear that I belong to the former. I think there are some very large problems that come up with the "flexible" approach. However, I don't doubt the sincerity the folks who take that approach. I don't think that they are trying to be evil -- and I would hope they would give me that same benefit. Sadly this is often less than the case on both sides.

And this comes to the point. Maybe it's time to admit that we aren't "a" Synod -- maybe its time to admit that we are two.

If you have two opposing styles of thoughts, there's three options:

1. Theological duke out until one side wins.
2. Political fights trying to wipe out the other side.
3. Peaceful Split.

Option 1 doesn't seem to be happening. The majority of folks on both sides seem rather entrenched. Option 2 is what has been happening for far too long - which is why we have all sorts of political tomfoolery that happens over and over again.

Maybe it's just time for a split. Let's divy things up. We've got two Seminaries - we can split them. We've got several universities - let's see what each side needs and split them. We can go in peace - and let each group, instead of burning energy against their own theological opponents simply go and live.

It may just be pride messing with both of us now - arrogance and egoism. We could just each... go.