Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve Sermon - 2011

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Dear friends in Christ, greetings to you this last evening of the Year of our Lord, 2011. Tonight, we celebrate the Eve of the Name of Jesus, a Church Holiday. It comes from the fact that it was on the 8th Day, one week after His birth, Jesus was circumcised and named. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson, short though it is. On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise Him, He was named Jesus, the name the angel had given Him before He had been conceived. This evening, let us spend some time meditating on the Name of Jesus as the year slowly ends.

Now, there is one thing to notice here that nowadays we don’t think too much about. The 8th day, which is now, is of profound importance in the Old Testament for a child. The 8th day is when everything becomes official. He’s been around a week, but Jesus is only named at His Circumcision. This was the custom of the day in the Old Testament times. The child received his name on the day of his circumcision. As an example of this, when King David has his affair with Bathsheeba, the child dies on the 7th day. That’s why we never get his name. . . he hadn’t been named yet. So, therefore, even Jesus isn’t technically named Jesus until the 8th day.

It was the custom for a long, long time in the Christian Church not to name a child until they are Baptized. We see this in the Baptism service. When I baptize a child, I ask, “How is this child to be named?” That wasn’t just a way for absent minded pastors to remember what the kid’s name is supposed to be, but it was the official act of publicly naming the Child. In fact, this is how Martin Luther got his name. The little Luther boy was baptized the day after his birth, which happens to be St. Martin’s Day, so his name is Martin. The first time I said Victor’s name to him outside of the womb was when I baptized him. There is an association of Baptism with naming. Evidence of this is that baptism is also called Christening. . . and rightfully so, Christ-in-ing, putting in Christ. In Baptism we are clothed with Christ. But now, when we think of Christening, we think of naming ships for navy, but that idea comes from the idea of giving a name at Baptism. Nowadays though, with legal birth certificates by the state, we don’t wait anymore. It’s something that has fallen away, no huge deal, we will make a big deal of it tonight – the giving of the name is our focus and our cause to rejoice. Tonight we celebrate the Name Jesus, because it was today that He took that Name upon Himself.

So let us look at the Name Jesus. One of the other things that we have lost in America is the fact that names have meaning. When you named someone, the name signified something. Our names do as well, but, most of our names aren’t from English, so we don’t know what they mean. Eric, for example, is a derivation of powerful from Swedish. Now, I know that because I’ve looked it up, but I don’t hear my name and think powerful. Neither did my parents. . . I got named Eric because my dad really liked Eric Soderholm, who was the 3rd baseman for the Chicago White Sox in 1977. Even with names that have meanings in English, we don’t think of their meaning. We see some named Butch, and it’s just a name, not a description. We see a guy named Dale, and we don’t think of a valley. Chip, we don’t think of something little. I say, “my son’s name is Victor” and you don’t ask, “Oh, what has he won?” In America, because we pull names from so many languages, we don’t often think of them having meaning. In Jesus day, in the Old Testament, it was different. Names had meanings that said something, that proclaimed something. Names were meant to be little sermons, little confessions of what is true and real. Like Daniel. Daniel means, “God is my Judge.” Dan is Judge, “i” is my, and el is an abbreviation of Elohim, or God. Abram – exalted father – gets his named changed by God to Abraham – father of a multitude. Ab is father – ram is exalted, raham is of a multitude. The names have meaning.

The Name Jesus works the same way. In Hebrew it would be pronounced Yeshua – Ye being short for the Jehovah, the LORD, and shua meaning “saves”. The name Jesus, and the name Joshua for that matter, means “The Lord saves.” Is this not wonderful? Everything about Jesus is Gospel, even His very Name itself. To simply say the Name “Jesus” is to confess that God is the Savior, that He is the One who saves. This is the significance of the Name of Jesus. It tells us exactly what is going on here. Why do we have this Jesus running around? Well, because Yeshua, because The LORD Saves.

And how does The LORD Save? We see this in the fact that Jesus was circumcised. So Jesus is circumcised, what’s the big deal? First, in being circumcised, we see Jesus fulfilling the law. In being circumcised, we see Jesus doing all the things that He needs to do to be completely righteous. If you look at all of the laws of the Old Testament, there is nothing which Jesus doesn’t not do that is required of Human beings. By being circumcised, Jesus is placed under the Law as all of us are, except with Jesus, there is one major difference. He can and does do the Law perfectly. No sin, no flaw in our Lord, simply perfection in Human flesh. We see Jesus fulfilling the law in our place.

But also, we see something else. I don’t know how many of you have seen a circumcision, but when you think about it, it’s a bloody thing. You are cutting flesh from a rather tender area, and it bleeds. Do you see what else we get in circumcision? Today we celebrate the first time in which our Lord shed His blood for us. It is at His circumcision that the very Blood which is poured out for us on the Cross is first poured out for us. And it is interesting to note that this blood shedding comes under the law. The Law says, on the 8th day, males are to be circumcised, and so Jesus is. It is because Jesus our Lord submits Himself to the law that He is wounded, that He bleeds. Is this not the same thing we see at the Crucifixion. Christ Jesus, the Lord of Creation, submitting Himself to the punishments of the law, our punishment, which we deserved, in our stead? Even from the beginning of His days on the earth, Christ Jesus takes His place with us and sheds His blood on your behalf, blood that is always given and shed for you for the remission of all of your sins.

Dear friends, the way we end the old and begin the new year in the Church is to look at Christ Jesus our Lord, the Lord Who Saves, and to give praise to Him for the fact that He is the God who becomes Man and suffers for our sake. In the year to come, may you remember richly the forgiveness that Jesus has won for you, may you hear it preached often, may you taste it often in His supper. Indeed, the Lord Saves, and let us give Him thanks and praise for that in all years to come, even until the end of time. Amen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Weakness of a Seminary Education

There is one major weakness of Seminary Education as we know in the LCMS. For 4 years those who are training to be a Pastor have no pastor of their own.

"Well, what do you mean? They are surrounded by pastors. The profs are pastors, the administrators are pastors, their field work supervisors and vicarage supervisors are pastors!"

Well, no, no, and sort of.

A Professor is not a pastor. When I showed up to Scaer's Christology class, I did not show up to have my sins forgiven. I did not show up for guidance. I showed up to learn Christology. And moreover, Dr. Scaer had a duty to test me, to quiz me, to examine me and find my flaws so that if I did not understand Christology, I would fail.

That's not being a pastor. But that's okay - that's being a Prof, and that's what Dr. Scaer is called to be.

An Administrator is not a pastor. Their job is to administrate - to determine if a person fits a moral standard for an office, to funnel money, to shuffle numbers and students around. To judge.

That's not being a pastor. I don't care if you've gotten an M. Div - I don't care if you on occasion speak the Gospel or preach in Chapel... that's not being a "pastor". Fundamentally, pastoral care isn't your job.

As for Field Work and Vicarage Supervisors -- I love Pastor Crown. He taught me much... but he wasn't "my pastor" or only my pastor. He was my Supervisor - he was there to grade me, to determine whether or not I pass.

I do not grade my members. I do not determine whether or not they pass classes or whether they should be fired from their jobs.

I preach. I administer the Sacraments. I forgive their sins. I visit them while they are sick. I pray with them and over them while they are dying. I comfort them in their loss. And even if they go astray, I correct them - not with threats, but with gentle urgings to what is good.

We spend four years without a pastor - we spend four years with theologians who sit in judgment over us. Is it any wonder, then, that so many pastors can tend towards becoming legalistic tyrants who try to shape or form "good little christians" by force?

It's just what we've spent the previous 4 years learning.

Seminaries - call a Campus Pastor. Let him run the Chapel. Let him tend to worship and be a pastor to your students. He can visit them and their families when they are ill. He can listen to their burdens and forgive their confessions. He can give counsel and advice and comfort... and all without any position of judgment.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Sermon

Christmas Day – 2011 – John 1:1-14

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
Let’s start where John starts His Gospel, the beginning. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It’s a good place to start, the beginning. . . but the Word is there before that – for the Word was God. Yes, the Word was of the Father’s Love Begotten, ere the worlds began to be. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life.” Pretty impressive – it is as we confess in the Nicene Creed – the Word is the Maker of all things, by whom all things were made – God Almighty, God Himself, the 2nd Person of the Trinity – this is the Word that John Speaks of this Christmas morning.

“And the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.” And here our jaw should drop – our surprise should be greater at this than at anything we saw under our tree this morning. The Word, God Almighty Himself, became Flesh, became Man, and dwelt among us, lived among us. Think on that. God became Man – God looks down from heaven and sees us sinful folks mucking it up, making a mess of our lives. He sees us earning nothing but His wrath and Damnation. . . and what does He do? Does He blot us from existence? Does He run away and leave us alone, deciding to just let us rotten in our own mess that we have made? No. He becomes Man. God sees us in our sinful state and says, “You know what, I will fix that. . . I’ll become one of them, I will live the perfect life, and win for them salvation by my own death.” God sees our sin, and how does He respond? By becoming Man, by being born, by being a helpless infant. God, in order to win our salvation, hungers until His mother decides to suckle Him, lies in dirty diapers until His mother changes Him, stays where He is put until He can learn to crawl, then to walk. We often get this sweet, neat picture of Christmas – but that sort of misses the point. Christmas is messy, babies are messy. Christmas means God becomes Man and dwells among us – He comes down to us because we can’t go up to Him. God chooses to participate in our lives, share in what we have. And He comes to share in all of it – not just the highs, but also the lows, the hardship, the weakness, the frailty. We see God tasting in all that we taste in our days. We see God for our salvation lying in a food trough.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Indeed, God came down to earth, down to the world to be among men, and by in large men reject Him. Wicked King Herod sought to kill Him, sent our Lord’s Adoptive father Joseph and His Virgin mother scurrying into flight into Egypt in order to protect their infant Child. Yes, a few wise men from afar would come and bow down, but those who were accounted wise among His own people – the Pharisees, the scribes, the priests – they mocked Him. They said He was possessed, they called him a Drunkard. They plotted His death. The crowds on Good Friday finished the job that Herod started as they shouted for His death. But we shouldn’t think it was only people way back then who reject Christ. Look at the very Holy-day of Christmas even in our own land. By in large, we’re more apt to be thinking about Santa than Jesus for most of December. If you tell people that Christmas is coming, they tend to be more worried about getting their shopping done than they are about giving thanks to Christ Jesus for His deigning to come to us. We’ve even taken the holy out of the holy day. Christmas day has become simply a day for eagerly opening presents and feasting – many of the largest Churches in the country have even cancelled service, so people can be at home with their families, instead of worshiping together with their real family, the Body of Christ, instead of gathering together for the great and true Christmas Feast – the Lord’s Supper.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. The presence of the Lord, God’s presence, is a scary thing when you are a sinner. It terrified the people of the Old Testament – Adam and Eve hid in the garden, the children of Israel demanded God keep His distance, Isaiah though He was going to die when He saw God in the temple. Sinful man is reminded of the wages of his sin when He beholds God’s holiness. It’s no surprise that the people of Christ’s day or the world today reject Christ. God with us reminds us that we need God to be with us, that we are not self-sufficient, that we of ourselves are condemned need rescuing from our sin. Instead we often crave better ways to delight in sin. And often enough, even we who know better cave and give into sin, we are tempted to want nothing to do with Christ. When we sin, we shout at the Christ child “Be away from me, I want no part of you. Let me live my life how I want to.” But God does come to us, in His great and wondrous mercy our Lord comes to us again and again – but He doesn’t come as we would expect. He doesn’t come yet as an angry judge to damn us for our sin – that’s what we feared. He doesn’t come yet as a mighty King to force us into bondage and servitude. In His mercy, God has held off that judgment of the last day, and instead devised a different coming, a coming that would give us hope to be able to stand on that last day. He comes to us simply as one of us.

“The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Boy born in the stable at Bethlehem would grow, He would run and play, He would learn His letters and how to work a saw, a hammer. He would learn from Joseph and Mary to go the temple and pray. They taught Him His prayers which He said at night before He went to bed. God dwelt among us – He lived a life with all the things that we see. Jesus got picked on growing up by the neighborhood bully and caught the colds the kids passed around. He grew into a young Man and had to work – He had friends who disappointed Him and abandoned Him when He needed them. He went hungry and suffered. He wept and mourned. He laughed and rejoiced and celebrated. He heard people complain about Him. Everything you can think of in your life, all the range of experiences, He too shared in them – all except sin, for this Christ Jesus is the spotless lamb, the One without Blemish. He lived how Adam would have lived had he not sinned, Christ lived how we would live if we didn’t sin. This is way in which Christ comes to us, dear friends. Jesus comes to us to share in our lives. Know that Christ Jesus knows our struggles in life well, personally. He too has shared them. Your ups and downs, He knows them. Your joys and sorrows, our Lord knows them. Even your temptations, our Lord knows them, why they would appeal, although He did not give in. Christ has dwelt among us, He has shared fully in our lives. He understands the trials you face, and as such in Compassion He was determined to win you salvation from them. That is the miracle of Christmas Day – that God would lower Himself to our level, simply to be with us, all in order that by His life and death and resurrection He might raise us up to the life everlasting.

Christ Jesus our Lord continues to come to us this day. Jesus still dwells with us, He is still here for our Salvation. Jesus still has the Body that was born in that manger, it is His. Satan tried to wrest it from Him, put Him to death upon the Cross, but on Good Friday Satan overstepped His bounds, and so the Father restored Jesus; the Father was pleased, saw all that His Son had done, and returned Him to life – and now Christ Jesus has risen and lives to die no more. Right now the Man Jesus, born of Mary, Jesus our Brother who shares in all that we are rules all of Creation in heaven. And Right now, Christ our Brother comes to us, comes to dwell with us here in His supper. This is Christmas. . . Christ Mass. . . the service of Holy Communion where we celebrate the fact that God became Man for us, that He gives Himself to us, even His own Body and Blood in His supper. It is the feast of His incarnation. As the manger held the infant Christ on the first Christmas morn, this Christmas morn we hold in our hands the Resurrected, life-giving Body of our Lord. Behold your King comes to you humble and lowly, His Body and Blood under Bread and Wine, and brings with Him your life and Salvation. God Almighty comes down from His throne, Christ Victorious over sin and death comes and gives us His own life! This is why we celebrate Christmas – we in fact celebrate it every time we have the Lord’s Supper. God has come and been our Savior – He has won for us full redemption by His death on the Cross, and He gives us His own life to share.

Dear friends in Christ, a most happy, joyous, and blessed Christmas to each of you. This day we remember and rejoice in a great and mighty wonder. Christmas comes again, as Christ shows us His own Body in His Supper and gives us His life. God has come to be with you, to give you life and salvation, to give you Peace with God and each other. God grant that we might ever more know and realize this, even until the day when we see Him face to face. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Handling Your Neighbor 5 - Don't go too long without asking for forgiveness.

Here is the last one (for the moment) - Don't go too long without asking for forgiveness.

Again, this is a simple idea, but in your relationships with your neighbors, be quick and ready to ask for forgiveness. When you have done wrong, apologize, confess your fault, and seek forgiveness and mercy.

I mean - why wouldn't you want to be forgiven by your neighbor? Seriously - think about the times you've been in a spat and you haven't wanted forgiveness. Have they ever been good reasons?

Were you being stubborn and refusing to see your faults? That's not good.

Were you scared of rejection? Well, that fear isn't good. And as for rejection... well, if you go and are rejected, I'm sorry. But at least that way you aren't worried and de facto rejected as well.

Were you just sort of glad to not have a reason to deal with the person - that their anger at you kept them away? That's certainly not healthy.

Seriously - why wouldn't you want forgiveness?

Ego. Pride. Fear. Sin. All of it. That's what our sinful flesh tells us to do - to run away and hide from mercy, to hide from a Word of forgiveness as assuredly as Adam and Eve hid in the garden.

No. You are forgiven. That is fact. When you have sinned, go to your brother, ask for forgiveness, so that you can both see this truth, that this truth of forgiveness can be what shapes and defines your life together.

Forgiveness is a great thing - and in this case it is as good to receive as it is to give.

+ + + + + + + + + + +

My big giant caveat. Don't become a "forgiveness junkie". What, pray tell, is a forgiveness junkie? Consider the following discussion.

Person A: Oh my dearest brother, please, please forgive me for the wrong I have done you, I'm terribly sorry.

Person B: What are you talking about?

A: I... I... sneezed while you were talking. It distracted people from your words. Please forgive me.

B: You sneezed?

A: Yes, and I'm terribly sorry - please forgive me!

B: Um... okay.

Forgiveness among friends can be casual. If you sneeze, say excuse me and go on with life. It doesn't have to turn into private confession and absolution. But don't turn into some Medieval style monk trying to find every little flaw so that you can hear it be forgiven... that's just annoying to your neighbor.

Let your seeking of forgiveness be to sooth your relationship, not give you an emotional high.

::shudder:: I still remember when the one group on was on caught this - it was like being spammed by some weird liturgical pietistical busybody moral exhibitionist club. Very scary.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Handling Your Neighbor Part 4 - Don't hesitate to forgive.

Part 4 is a simple idea - Don't hesitate to forgive.

Well, duh, that's obvious, isn't it? I mean, oh, forgive your neighbor, that's real original, isn't it? No, it's not original, but the problem is we rarely do it. Consider, in the Lord's Prayer, the only time we mention our neighbor it is in the context of forgiveness - forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Your primary relationship with every neighbor is to love and serve them - and this means to forgive them.

That's it. Simple as that.

But here is the rub. Often, we aren't content with simply being those who in love forgive our neighbor. We want to take on extra responsibilities - maybe to be the one to "teach them a lesson" and punish them, make them feel really bad about what they've done. Or maybe we want to be their watchdog, making sure they don't do bad things in the future. Or maybe we even simply are content to hold a grudge, until they show "enough" repentance, so that they never forget how terrible they are.

The above - that's probably not your job.

Well, okay, in some relationships it is. I'm a father - I do have the correction of my son as part of my vocation. But, even bearing that in mind, the greater duty I have is to speak to him forgiveness.

Seriously - think about it. What do you think is more important for your neighbor - correction or forgiveness? Which is the higher goal?

We cannot forget that correction is to lead to forgiveness, that the Law is to lead to the Gospel. And yet - we do. Because we can in our sinfulness really enjoy applying the Law to others.

Forgive your neighbor his trespasses.


Seriously - don't make him jump through hoops. Don't say, "I'll forgive you but you have to promise to never do it again" -- 70 times 7 blows that out of the water. Forgive your neighbor. Show care and concern.

Ah, but what if your neighbor doesn't repent? Hmmm, if your neighbor is unrepentant, shouldn't you bind his sin to him?

Unless you are a pastor dealing with one of your wayward sheep -- no.

Note what happens in Matthew 18 - once you've talked to the person who has sinned against you - it's out of your hands. The church, the clergy will deal with the spiritual aspects for them - the Church is the one that has that authority. But in so far as it relies upon you - turn a blind eye to their sin and remember it no more. Why should you judge your neighbor? Leave that to the Almighty Judge and His representatives. And even then, when they do it, it's not to punish, it's simply to drive to repentance.

Here's the thing - there are two ways in which we can look upon our neighbor - we can look upon them in love and mercy, or we can look upon them in anger and frustration. The first is the way of life, the second is the way of death. When we see and focus on our neighbor's sin, our own sinful flesh tempts us to start thinking in the second way.

Don't do it. Forgive them -- give their sins over. Let God deal with their sins. If they repent and they let those sins remain with Christ - wonderful. If they refuse to repent and cling to their sins, that's sad for them, but at least you aren't drawn down in the muck of hatred and anger with them. Give things over to God.

+ + + + + + + +

This hasn't been very organized. This hasn't been precise. So let me be brief. Your neighbor has done something against you. There will be many thoughts in your head - reasons for you "not" to forgive them. Guess what - 99% of the time, those are stupid and wicked and selfish reasons. Go forgive your neighbor. If we are to love our enemies, we certainly don't need to hold anything against our neighbor.


At all.

God grant me growth in the ways of mercy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Neighbor Handling 3 - Give your neighbor time to grow.

And now for the third installment on handling your neighbor - Give your neighbor time to grow.

Now, here I am going to touch upon growth. Here is a simple fact - people grow. We grow in wisdom, we grow in experience, etc. Now, I'm not going to go off on a progressive sanctification bent or a bunch of finger wagging about how you should be growing. I think my favorite observation I've ever made in a sermon is that you don't make the cluster of grapes grow by walking up to it and shouting "grow! I said you were supposed to be growing, grow faster!"

No, the simple fact is that those who are in Christ, who hear His Word, who receive His gifts will in fact grow. He is the vine, we are the branches, when we abide in Him, fruit will mature and be produced. This is just the way it is. Growth happens.

The problem comes in when we become... impatient with how quickly our neighbor is "growing". Then, instead of letting God give growth as He sees fit, we can want to jump on in and "make" them grow faster. Or we can become frustrated and write them off (because if they were "real" Christians they wouldn't be annoying me so much).

This is all flawed. The image I like for the third use of the Law is that of a trellis - it is something upon which a Christian grows, the branches cling to it as they grow. A trellis is not used properly to beat a plant into upward growth - nor is it used rightly if you rip the trellis (and branch) out of the ground in frustration.

People will not be as mature as you want them to be. That's the simple truth. Give them time to grow.

And if that becomes frustrating - think about you yourself 5 years ago, or 10 years ago, or 20. Now, hold that past you up to the standards you are applying to your neighbor. If you think you stand... just keep going back and back further into the past until you see, "ah, back then I was worse." Then chill out, and let God give growth to your neighbor as He has given growth to you.

If you never get to a point where "you" failed... well, quit lying to yourself you egotistical jerk and learn some humility before you even think about looking at your neighbor... jerk. Seriously - if you pulled that big old log out of your eye (or maybe its a self-righteous stick that needs to be pulled out of a slightly more creative place) you might learn to abandon that disdain you have for your neighbor.

Be patient with them, as God has been patient with you. Encourage - that is, speak a word of forgiveness to your neighbor often, praise when they do well. Focus them upon Christ again and again and again. And they will grow. It may take time, but God is patient.

Seriously - just remember how patient He's been with you.

Neighbor Handling 2 - 2. Understand that you neighbor has their own flaws.

Here is the second bit of advice for handling your neighbor. 2. Understand that you neighbor has their own flaws.

What does this mean? Well, sometimes your neighbor has flaws that seem very strange to you. Sometimes your neighbor will be tempted to do things that you yourself would never be tempted to do in a million years. Maybe it's a pettiness that you wouldn't engage in, or a lust that is strange and foreign to you, or coveting something that you'd never want in a million years.

The response when we can see things like this can be to say, "Well, I'd never." Sometimes when we say that, it's a bald faced lie -- but other times, it is true- our neighbor does things that we never would, that have no appeal to us. And the danger is this - when this truly happens, we can become disgusted.

Modern American culture loves to run on disgust - we love to take sins that we aren't tempted towards and put them on a wretched pedestal and be disgusted by them. There's only one problem - our disgust, our indignation hampers our ability to love and care and guide.

You were not put in your neighbor's life in order to be disgusted by them - you were placed there to serve them. When your neighbor does something that disgusts you, beat down that disgust. It's not that they are worse or more vile than you -- it's just that their flaws are different that yours. Same ballpark, just a different position.

When you beat down your disgust, you can empathize and guide. When you beat down your own feelings of shock, you will be able to guide. And you'll avoid condescension (which actually ends up pushing your neighbor away).

One of the things that is very useful in this regard is Matthew 5, where Christ explains the law. Are you disgusted by the murderer - well, if you hate someone, you too are a murderer. Are you disgusted by that friend and his "perversion" -- well, if you've looked with lust, you are just as guilty... doesn't matter whom you've looked on with lust.

As Jon Bon Jovi says - "It's all the same, only the names have change. Everyday it seems we're wasting away."

Sure, your neighbor has different flaws than you -- but you've got yours, and their flaws will try to eat at them just as yours will try to eat at you. Be not disgusted, but rather focus yourself and your neighbor upon Christ and His forgiveness, and pray for His strength for both of you that you both may stand in the face of your own trials.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A quick thought

I had a quick thought on the way over to Church this morning.

I like, when teaching on "the Law" to focus over and over upon the neighbor. This is the tact Luther takes in the Catechism - the meanings are not focused on specific actions, but rather treat your neighbor well.

If we focus our discussion on actions - as in, "is this act okay, can I do this, etc" - our focus is placed upon ourselves. Am *I* acting right?

It becomes a fundamentally egotistical approach to the Law, it focuses on personal... development, growth, holiness - whatever. It focuses upon me myself.

That's not my job. My job is to love my neighbor.

If your focus is not upon your neighbor, you are missing the point.

Advent 4 sermon

Advent 4 – December 18th, 2011 – John 1:19-28

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +
So who are you? Who do you think you are John, that you would be out here in the desert, causing all this ruckus and commotion? That’s the real question that gets asked of John today in our Gospel lesson. Who are you and why should we bother listening to you? John’s authority is attacked – he’s basically told to quiet down. Yet John doesn’t. Why? How? Where does he get this boldness from – how does he stand in the face of these attacks? John has this strength because he knew who he was, and more importantly, because he knew who Christ was. That was the key, that was the source of His strength, and it is also the source of our strength as we face life in this world.

The Apostle John uses interesting words speaking of John the Baptist here. These words set us up, prepare us for the rest of the text. Listen to the first two verses again. “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”” Two very important words there that should catch our attention. First, testimony. Witness. Martyr in the Greek. That’s the word that is used here. John is giving testimony. I almost shudder to use that word here in the Bible Belt, because when we hear the word “Testimony” we think of testimonials – some person in a leisure suit up at the front of the Church going on and on and on about how he used to be such a sinner but now he’s great and right with Jesus. That’s not what John is doing, and that’s not what testimony or witnessing is about. Not at all. Testimony isn’t about you, testimony is all about the truth. If you are called to be a witness in court, if you are called to give testimony, you’re not there to talk about yourself but about what you have seen. You are called to the stand and then you are sworn in. If you haven’t been in court, I’m sure you’ve seen the TV shows – Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? What John says here is the truth, he is speaking truly, he is giving the account of what really is. He’s not simply tooting his own horn, he’s not simply feeding people what they want to hear.

The second word is confess. The Gospel uses the word “confessed” twice to describe what John is doing. He’s admitting; he’s simply speaking the truth. He’s not going to make his part look bigger, he’s not going to try to weasel his way out – when they come from the priests and the Levites, John will say what he must say – the truth – even though it will end up with him in prison. John’s confession here is his death warrant, it means his head on a silver platter for a spoiled young girl.

So what is this testimony, this confession that John gives? I’m not the Christ. Well who are you? Are you someone important? Can we give you an important title? John says no. “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” [John] said “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ as the prophet Isaiah foretold.” What humility. What simple humility. Here John could have taken credit for himself. He could have claimed that he is a mighty preacher. He could have claimed that he is a prophet like Moses, turning the hearts of the fathers to their sons. He could even have called himself the promised Elijah – that’s what Jesus will call him, we heard that last week. But John’s not interested. Who are you, John? Eh, I’m just a voice – a voice foretold by the prophet Isaiah – I’m just a man pointing to one who greater. How wonderful is that? John minimizes himself – he doesn’t puff himself up. I mean, this is John the Baptist– John the Forerunner – John the Baptizer - - he’s so important that we’ve given him multiple titles – but he doesn’t claim one for himself. And why?

Hear what John says. “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” John looks at these bigwigs from Jerusalem and confesses that he is nothing – at least not compared to Christ. This is the heart of what John is all about – it’s not about me, it’s not about who I am and what I can do – this isn’t about my glory, my fame. There is One who is coming, and He is coming quickly. He is the One you should be looking for, He is the One you should be preparing for, for He is the Christ, He is the Messiah, He shall baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire, He will win Salvation for His people. For John, it all comes down to Christ. We hear the platitudes of how Jesus is my all in all – that’s what you see when you look at John in the desert – it’s all about Jesus for John.

John is the example for us in our lives. To be a Christian is to turn away from your own glory, your own praise, your own desires. To be a Christian is to repent. And I’m not saying this because I’m mean, because I’m cranky. Rather, Christ wants to free you from the burden of trying to prove yourself right, of trying to justify yourself. It’s hard work coming up with excuses. It’s hard work doing the song and dance, it’s hard work trying to convince your neighbor that you are wonderful. It’s hard work, because we are sinners. Each of us has dropped the ball on something this past week, we’ve hurt people by what we’ve done, by what we’ve left undone, and our initial response is to try and convince everyone that we really are good people. John shows us that we don’t have to. Our task in life isn’t to try and impress our neighbor – we are to love them. And those times when we don’t love our neighbor – we apologize to them, and we confess our sin to God. And then like John, we look to Christ. The Cross is where we see our sin covered, the cross is where our forgiveness is won. . . we look to Christ our Crucified Lord, the Holy, Righteous One who has died in our stead to win for us forgiveness. That’s where we take our hope from, that’s where we constantly look to, that’s where we get life. We come to the altar humbly confessing our sin, trusting in His Words take and eat, given for you, and delight in His forgiveness.

John is also the example for our witnessing, our sharing of the Gospel. It can be hard to talk to others about the faith, can’t it? I have a hard time doing it myself often enough. . . the nervous feeling in your stomach, the hesitation, should I say something, what if I upset them, is this the right time, what will they think of me, what do I say. Your mind races nervously while you stand there and don’t say anything. John’s our example. Simply point to Christ. Witnessing, sharing the Gospel is that. . . sharing the Gospel, the Good News, telling people what Jesus has done for them. And you know what Jesus has done for them, because Jesus has done it for you too. When you see someone in pain, someone grieving, someone feeling bad over something they’ve done – you’ve felt that too. Just as Christ comforts and forgives you, so too He wants to forgive and comfort that person. Be like John – simply point to Christ. Don’t worry about trying to convince the person how wonderful you are or how your life has gotten better because you’re a Christian – that’s not what they need – they don’t need you, they don’t need a pipe dream life. They need Jesus and His forgiveness and life – show them, point them to Christ. Sharing the Gospel isn’t about you. Our Lord has told us that it is the Holy Spirit working in us, speaking through us – let Him do His work.

And finally, John also is the example for this Congregation as a whole. Just like John, we are to point to Christ in everything we do. And that is such a comfort – because we know that Christ Jesus is the point of this place – and that Christ Jesus will tend it. I’ve been around plenty of congregations, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that there is a tendency to always try to paint a pretty picture, to pretend that there are no warts, to pretend that we are always just perfect and loving to each other. Ain’t the case. A congregation is a family, and there’s always warts and rumblings and grumblings in any family. And the temptation we face is to try to focus so much on putting on a well made-up face for the community, for our neighbors that we forget our purpose. This building wasn’t built in order to prove to our neighbors how wonderful we are, it wasn’t built to make us look all awesome – it was built to be a place of God. This is a place where God’s Word is read, where it is preached, where it is sung in our hymns. This is a place where God comes to us in His Own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sins. It is God’s house – the place where God deigns to come and give Himself to us. On this, let us be ever more and more eager to focus upon Christ – to admit our own unworthiness, and invite our unworthy friends here to behold Christ and His gifts to us. And as long as He wishes to come to people in this place, He will provide. When we remember this, when we remain humble and let God be God, it’s a great thing, for God always comes to save His people. The trouble comes in when we don’t see Him.

Thus, John told the people of his day that one stands among them whom they did not know. Thanks be to God, you do know Him – Christ Jesus the Lord has brought you here to His house. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He has washed you richly in His forgiveness, lavished His love upon you. He brings you every blessing of life and salvation, he frees you from your guilt, frees you from the burdens you place on yourself. And so, in response, we gather together and we praise Him, we point to Christ and Christ alone, waiting for Him to come and give us His blessings, both now and eternally. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Come quickly. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Friday, December 16, 2011

Neigbhor Handling 1 - Don't assume your neighbor has your flaws.

Let's face it, we all have flaws. We all have things that we just absolutely know that we just need to avoid, otherwise it will be trouble. We have those areas where moderation flies out the window. I don't know what it is for you... I have some guesses as towards mine.

When dealing with my neighbor, I need to remember that their flaws are not exactly mine. For example, I have a terrible, terrible temper. I do - my son has inherited this from me, and when I have the strong pair of lungs berating me early in the morning, my own temper is brought to mind.

I've adapted... a bit. There are things I avoid. While I have told the congregation that I don't watch the TV preachers because if I do I'll just get angry and possibly put a boot through my TV... well, they probably thought that was hyperbole. It wasn't as hyperbolistic as you might have thought.

So, I know that I must work around my temper - that because of it there are some things that I must do, some things that I should never do. Hey, some are alcoholics and can't take a drink -- you could say that I am an angeraholic. Oh, and if I can get some "righteous" indignation going too - well, boy howdy that's a treat.

But here's where the rub is. As the right Reverend Jay Hobson pointed out in the comments on the previous post, one of the things I think is vital for a good preacher is preaching your own flaws... simply assuming that you'll hit the things that are tempting the congregation.

The flaws of your neighbor, the temptations that they face will be similar, they will be enough for understanding... sometimes they may even be close enough to where you can give good advice on how to avoid them... but remember, be focused upon your flaws, not your short cuts around them.

It is one thing for me to talk about anger - I can speak to how it is destructive. I can speak how anger drives from our thoughts the very idea of love - instead of letting us be focused on loving and caring for our neighbor, anger makes us selfish and drives us to harm our neighbor. That's preaching about a flaw -- and people can connect to that, they can apply that truth to themselves. That is a universal truth about anger.

It is another thing to say, "You cannot watch Televangelists." I shouldn't. I know this. Is it a good thing to watch televangelists... well, I know lots of people do, I know you can garner examples of how theology goes awry. Some people like theological train-wrecks (hey, I like watching Ancient Aliens, that's sort of a train-wreck show). I can warn against the false doctrine, I can remind people that they need to judge what they hear (is it teaching Christ who has come to save you and give you forgiveness... if not, know that it is a lie). But not everyone will react as angrily as I. A lot of contemporary Christian pop music angers me - the false doctrine drives me nuts. I need to avoid it. But that doesn't mean that *you* have to... and I need to make sure that I don't assume that you are triggered by the same things that trigger me.

Think I am joking? How quickly do we have people move to the "oh, a Christian can't listen to *that* music"? How can you listen to that Eminem/Lady Gaga/Katy Perry song - it just glorifies sin? Well, actually it can be rather insightful, showing the impact of rage (Eminem is good at this) or how empty glamor is (there's a reason Fame is a Monster, even as Lady Gaga craves it) or how empty last Friday Night was. "But, but, it's wicked!" And... false doctrine isn't? Or the sexual overtones in classical music (yeah... the magic flute.... Yeah.) The thing is - we only tend to forbid or rage against the things that trigger us.

So, what does this all mean. When dealing with your neighbor, don't assume that they have the exact same flaws as you do, don't assume that they are triggered in the same way. This is the path of legalism -- legalism stops teaching about sins but rather begins to mandate man-made fences as ways of circumventing sin.

And you know what - that annoys the tar out of your neighbor. Really - think about when someone goes off on a moralistic tangent -- it gets annoying. Really, that's their short-cut, that's their "tradition of men" designed to avoid temptation... and it's not necessarily a bad thing... it's just that when you star applying your short cuts to your neighbor... well, how to put this?

Then you start acting like a jerk. Seriously - you literally jerk your neighbor around. You become bossy. You become a prophet of the false god "my brain and wisdom, which is so much bigger than yours".

Conversely - don't be afraid to know your own sin. Know it's dangers. Describe with clarity what disrespect, what a lack of honor, what hatred, what lust, what greed, what envy, what covetousness do, how they distort you. But don't think to try to "fix" your neighbor's problems... serve, ask, give insight - but don't boss. If you are bossing, it's ego, it's not service to the neighbor. The Gentiles lord things over one another - this is not for you.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Series on Handling the Neighbor

I am going to work over the next few days or weeks on a series concerning how one ought to treat ones neighbor. What are things to keep in mind when interacting with your neighbor to just help things to run more smoothly on your end.

Here are the posts currently planned.

1. Don't assume your neighbor has your flaws.

2. Understand that you neighbor has their own flaws.

3. Give your neighbor time to grow.

4. Don't hesitate to forgive.

5. Don't go too long without asking for forgiveness.

These are just a rough sketch of where I'm going to go, a bit of brain storming. Coming... well, maybe not soon, but perhaps coming in the relatively near future.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Herm Edwards on Tim Tebow -- Wisdom

So, I was listening to Colin Cowherd this morning whilest driving around to various appointments, and Herm Edwards was on talking about Tim Tebow, and the question came up about Tebow's faith. Edwards had I think the best and most accurate take on it that I've heard -- (maybe later I'll actually remember to link to the segment)

Paraphasing, it went along these lines: Tebow, as a person of faith, recognizes his talents as coming from God (something Edwards as a Roman Catholic also understands) - thus, he's a hard worker who is determined to not let his God given talent go to waste, and this in turn helps to motivate his teams to work has as well. This hard work is manifesting itself in games -- people might call it luck or something like that, but it's not. Hard work and conditioning pay off - especially in the fourth quarter when people are tired and can lose focus and make more mistakes.

Fantastic stuff.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Too much death?

While preaching my sermon this morning, a thought, a memory stirred across my mind. I remember in college an older friend (much more liberal than I) remarked to me, "Eric, you see too much death." This was not a statement about how I had witnessed mass slaughter in a village or anything like that... but simply that I saw so many things in this life and made the tie to death.

My friend purported himself to be very wise.

I thought all he was doing was denying reality.

This is really what the world and its wisdom tries to do - it tries to deny death. But death is all around us -- that ache, that pain -- that's death. That bitterness, that anger -- that's death. I look at my son, and even as he is healthy and growing... I see his temper. That's death. I see his stomach that is quite urpy and the discomfort it causes him. That's death.

Death is everywhere in this fallen world. Sometimes it's pretty -- I miss the changing of the leaves up north... but really, that's death. Sometimes we don't think about it -- but harsh words often kill a friendship. That's death. And then there is the grosser, more obvious stuff - poverty, hunger, addictions. All death. all just the wages of sin creeping closer and closer, a camel sliding its deadly nose under the tent flap.

Christ came to give life, to defeat death.

In your life, receive Christ, and then go forth and counter death. Counter it with love, with mercy, with compassion, with peace.

I see death all the time. And as a new creation in Christ, I rightfully despise it and fight against it.

Not well, but ultimately, I'm not the one who defeats it.

Advent 3 sermon

Matthew 11:2-10

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
A lot of times we Christians will talk about our old foes – Sin, death, and the Devil. And we are quite used to talking about sin – about the various struggles and temptations we have to face down, about the times we fail and how we have received forgiveness on account of Christ. And we are still somewhat used to talking about the Devil – though in some circles it’s not as popular to talk about him anymore – but when we see the world around us, trials and problems, and we know that Satan desires our anguish and pain, and we delight in the fact that Christ Jesus came to destroy Satan’s power and that He will come again to deliver us for good on the Last Day. But this week, today, the Pink Sunday, the Sunday of refreshment and joy, or initial focus will be on that third foe, the one we don’t want to talk about. Death.

That’s what was on John the Baptist’s mind as we see him in prison to start our Gospel lesson. “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” This is one of the most poignant, most honest passages of Scripture. I mean, this is John here. This is the bold and brash preacher that I could only dream of being. This is the guy who stared down the mighty and powerful and told them off – You brood of vipers, who told you to flee the wrath that is to come. This is the guy who pointed to Christ and shouted – Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is stuff any preacher would give his eye-teeth for – John is such a good preacher we sing part of his preaching in our Communion liturgy. And Jesus confirms how awesome John is – among those born of women, you aren’t going to top John.

And I suppose if I were writing the story, or maybe Hollywood had scripted it, we’d see nothing but a bold and brash John, totally defiant. Taunting Herod as he’s being taken to the headsman’s axe – Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of Elderberries! And your daughter’s a lousy dancer to boot. That’s not what the Holy Spirit records for us, though. Instead, we hear of John in prison, John staring death in the face. He knows he’s not getting out of that cell. He knows this is the end – and as he sees death staring at him, sees death in the pacing of the guards outside his cell, hears death in the raucous debauched parties from upstairs – he becomes scared. And so he sends his disciples, his friends, the people who had been following and learning from him – who were the ones who brought him food, because in that day if you were in jail you had better have friends who brought you food otherwise you starved, and he says to them – go talk to Jesus, and just double check that He actually is the One, that he is the Messiah.

So these disciples come to Jesus, and they ask Him, they relay John’s question. And what is Christ’s response? Does He chide John – oh ye of little faith; silly, silly cousin, you know who I Am. Nope – Jesus came to face down death Himself – He can sympathize. Our Lord who would be bound and scourged, our Lord who Himself would weep bitter, bloody tears – He isn’t going to belittle John at this moment. So what does Jesus do? Does Christ point John to John Himself? Come on John, you’re bold and brash, you’ve been a great preacher, a might prophet – shoot, even Isaiah prophesized about you – you’ve surely got nothing to worry about. Nope – Jesus doesn’t soft sell John here, He doesn’t point John to his own works or deeds, doesn’t tell him that he’s been such a good person. John being a prophet isn’t going to stop the axe from falling. What is Christ’s response?

“And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’" That’s what Jesus says. He instructs John’s disciples on how they ought to go preach to John – He instructs them in what to tell John. John – do you see death? Well, yes, there is death, but what else is there? The blind receive their sight – there maybe death but I, Christ Jesus, have come, and those who saw nothing but only darkness now see everything clearly – and to you who sees only death in front of you, you shall see life everlasting. The lame walk, and you who soon won’t be able to walk anymore, whose limbs will truly hang lifeless – I will call you forth and you will stride out of your tomb. Lepers are cleansed – yes, your skin will be destroyed, yet you will see Me, Your God and Lord, in your own flesh, just as your fellow prophet Job had said. Those ears of yours which are going to be closed off in death – the swipe of the ax won’t be the last thing they hear – you will hear the trumpets of God and the Cry of Command on the last day, for I am indeed the Lamb of God who is slain but shall reign. Indeed, let’s just get directly to the point John. You are going to die – but so am I, and I will be raised from the dead, and because of that, so will you, for you are Mine and I will bring you with me. Yes, you are poor and lowly now, you are in one of the worst spots in life – but here is good news – He who believes in Me shall never die, and even though he dies, yet shall he live. Go tell John what you see and hear – go preach the good news of Christ Jesus to him.

That’s it, right there. That’s the counter that we have to death. When death looms large in front of us, when it comes stalking after us in all its terror and might – we look at Christ. We see and hear what our Lord has done, and we know that not even death can top us, not really. We belong to Christ. And all the old hymns used to emphasize this – they end with us dying but rising on the last day because of Christ. Just the exact same thing we see in our Gospel Lesson. We are pointed to Christ Jesus, the Crucified One, the One who faced and defeated death for us. John’s story is our story. Unless Christ’s second coming hurries up, well, chances are we’ll end up having to face down death. Where to cling, where to reside in that moment? Not in trying to tell ourselves that it’s not so bad, not in pointing to how good we were and all we did, but simply by looking at Christ, by hearing who He is – He is the Messiah who has suffered and died and rose again – He is the One who has claimed you by Holy Baptism so that even if you are suffering, even should you die, you will rise again.

And so John’s disciples go off to preach this truth to him, to comfort him – and then Jesus turns to the crowd. And Jesus asks them a question that He would rightly ask of Christians, especially American Christians today. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see?” Why did you people go and listen to John’s preaching? What were you hoping to hear, what was the point? Were you looking to see a reed shaken by the wind? You know, something neat, some entertainment but nothing really important. Were you thinking just to have a pious time killer? Not what John was. Or were you looking to see a man of wealth and taste – someone refined who could give you the secrets so that you too could have all this wonderful wealth blessings and riches as he tells you with a big smile about all the junk God wants you have? Not what John was.

So what about it for you here today? Are not these the things that we Americans tend to crave when we think of church? Are not many churches filled with preachers who are nothing but reeds shaking in the wind – hucksters giving a pious song and dance to entertain the crowds who then can go home feeling all good about themselves because they were nice and went to Church? Are not many churches filled with the slick and smooth preachers of power and wealth and how you can have your best life now? Not the point. Yet these are the things we in our sinful flesh crave and desire – we want ego boosts, we want money and wealth. We never want to have to deal with death – and so many places will offer us happy sounding ways of ignoring the harsh realities of this life.

“What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, "'Behold, I send my messenger before your face,who will prepare your way before you.'” What did you see when you saw John? You saw someone who constantly pointed to Christ. You heard one who preached repentance and forgiveness because Christ is coming. No song and dance, no promises of a new Mercedes Benz or a big house in the suburbs – no gladhanding, nothing like that. Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand. Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. You know – the things that will give you life, that will give you victory over death. John preached Christ.

I will let you in on a secret about pastors, at least those who would be faithful. Every sermon I preach here, every lesson I teach, every thing I do – in reality, it is me preparing you for death. The first thing a pastor ends up doing for a child is baptizing him – “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” That’s why I baptized my son – because some day he’s going to die – but now he’s not going to face death alone, He is with Christ and Christ is with him. That’s why you were baptized as well. And preaching, and teaching? St. Paul says that he is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him – crucified. Paul preaches a Christ who faced down death for you, so that you need not fear death. The Lord’s Supper – it’s no accident that it first happened on the night when He was betrayed – it’s no accident that it is His Body, given over to death upon the Cross for you, His blood shed upon the Cross for the forgiveness of your sins. It’s no accident that I say, “depart in peace”, it’s no accident that we sing “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.” Because of Christ you will. As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup you show forth the Lord’s death until He comes. Everything in this place is nothing less than Christ giving us His victory over our foes, giving us victory over sin by forgiveness, giving us victory over Satan by the strengthening of our faith, and even giving us victory over death by His own death and resurrection.

So – I’ll ask. Did this seem like a dourish sort of sermon? Did it seem too heavy a topic? We’re getting closer to Christmas after all, shouldn’t the sermon have been a bit more holly jolly than this – at least a little reed shaking Pastor Brown? Our Candle today is pink – you know why? This is the Sunday known as “Gaudete” – Rejoice. The refreshment Sunday. Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice. Always. And that’s the point today. Even in that moment when death stares you in the face, even if you are like John in prison and death is trying to make itself the only thing you see – rejoice. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and even the dead are raised, and why? Because God would not simply hand you over death and let you stay there, because God would give you life. The Father sends His Son into the world, puts Him in the womb of the Virgin, and He is born come Christmas – born to face down death for you, born to rise again for you, born to sanctify all the waters of the world by His own baptism so that you might be joined to Him, born so that He might give you His own Body and Blood to be the medicine of immortality. The call to rejoice today isn’t simply because you’re going to get a really neat present this year that you will have forgotten by next – no. Rejoice – Christ Jesus has come, and not even death can hold you now. Rejoice - Christ Jesus shall come again, and you will have life everlasting in the world without end. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +

Friday, December 9, 2011

"The Context" is Different from "Your Perspective"

It was noted on a previous post in the comments that a strong emphasis on "context" might lead to situational ethics.

I have an observation about situational ethics. Situational ethics are by in large not based upon "situations" but upon "perspective". Folks tending to a situational mode of ethics approach issues of behavior and morality from personal or cultural angles - and a fear of insulting another culture or another person's personal choice hinders them from m. As an example, some folks today more "fixed" in the so-called situational ethics will end up saying that we cannot judge a foreign practice as barbaric or wrong... such as mutilation of a spouse or even the Holocaust... be cause we aren't in that culture and cannot presume to judge. Several articles, which I cannot find at the moment, are going around pointing at things like this.

But, let's move to the movies for this discussion. Consider the climax of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. You end up having this dialog at the end, when Anakin's new allegiance to the Sith is pondered:

Obi-wan: The Sith are evil.
Anakin: From my point of view the Jedi are evil.

Note, there was no appeal to right or wrong, or even to the context - rather, a personal point of view. What meshes with my own goals, desires, and wants? What would I rather have?

This is not *context* but rather personal desire run amuck, ignoring right and wrong, and refusing to apply morality.

Now, let us contrast this. Is it "good" to cut off your best friend's arms and legs?

Generally, we would say no. Mayhem is bad. However, if said friend has become a Sith Lord, then, in that context, yes, slice away. The context (not your personal point of view or personal desires) shows that this is good and proper.


Of course, let's consider this further. Let us say you have chopped off the arms and legs of the Sith Lord. By rights, as a Jedi, he is to be defeated and killed. That's part and parcel of the Jedi's duty - defeat the users of the dark side and make sure that they can cause no more terror. In fact, Obi-wan was sent to Mustafar precisely to kill Anakin.

And as Anakin is there, Obi-wan looks at him and says, "You were my brother, Anakin. I loved you." And then... he walks away. His perspective (I care about this man) uncuts his executing justice. And because of this... well, bad stuff happens.

And it happens as soon as Obi-wan starts to view things from his perspective, his own attachments and not from the objective realities of duty and justice.

To pay attention to "context" is not a call for self determination, but rather a call to apply objective truth to your own situation, even if it is distasteful.


Yes, I just wrote a blog post about situational ethics on a theological blog using Revenge of the Sith as the chief example. Oh well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

So now you see that SIN is...

I will admit it, I love Mel Brooks films. And I am a Star Wars fan. That didn't mean that, at first, I wasn't a bit dissappointed in "Spaceballs". I mean, it's no Young Frankenstein. However, with time, I have learned to appreciate it... but even at the very beginning, I knew there was on brilliant line in the movie. It is the final confrontation between the hero (Lone Star) and the villain (Dark Helmet), and it looks bad for the hero, and so Dark Helmet turns and says:

"Lone Star, now you see that evil will always triumph because good is dumb."

Actually, let's go to the clip.

It's fantastic. It's a wonderful line. It cuts to the point of what the villain is saying. Good is dumb.

Often people will take God's Law, and they will try to massage it, finesse it, shape it so that they can exhort, berate, force, and twist people into better behavior. There will be giant theories and books and ethical systems and the like.

Let us reason together, let us get to the point. What is the point of the Law?

Sin is dumb.

There it is - the lesson of the law, condensed down to three simple words. Sin is dumb.

Why is sin dumb? Well... it's death. It leads to bad things, and not just in terms of cosmic punishment, but even in the here and now. You steal something, and well, you're more likely to get killed in retaliation. Don't let the sun go down on your anger -- why? Because then your anger ruins tomorrow and not just your evening you jerkward! (Tissue?)

When we listen to our flesh, our desires, our wants, our self-justifying reason, we will think that the stupid, harmful things of this life are good. And they aren't.

Sin is dumb.


Yep. When you've been up for 90 minutes by 6:30 with the screaming kid before you've had your first cup of coffee, this is the exact sort of profundity that you get.

P.S. As a note, Spaceballs made the movie Independence Day totally unbelievable for me. Alien invasion... sure... but President Lone Star? No way!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tell Me When and Why

It's interesting when discussing hypotheticals. Which is right, A or B? I hate answering those questions -- because they ignore any context. Why are you doing A or why are you doing B.

Context determines everything. Consider, two people are having sex. Depending upon their context it is either good and God pleasing, or it is fornication. Consider, two men are having a beer. Depending upon their context it is either a fine exercise of freedom, or it is so-and-so deciding to abandon self-control for the evening. Consider two men shooting another. Depending upon their context it is either a man waging just war for his country or a bank robbery gone wrong.

I can't just speak to an action being good or bad - when is it done and why?

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent 2

Advent 2 – Luke 21:25-36 – December 4th, 2011

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +
When God does something, people take note. When God acts, it’s obvious that God is acting. When Jesus heals someone, everyone hears about it and knows that something is going on. In fact, people have to lie to themselves in order to pretend that it’s not God at work. When God shows up, it’s obvious. Our Lord teaches us today that we will always see, always know when He comes. When Jesus comes, it will not be an ordinary thing – it’ll be something wondrous. It shall stand out, it is loud and bold. God’s action booms forth throughout the world. Jesus teaches us about His coming today.

“And there will be signs in the sun and the moon and the stars.” Up there on our Advent banner, we have a giant star. At His first advent, at His first coming at Christmas, there were signs in the sun and the moon and the stars. The wise men in the East could see them, and they traveled a far. The shepherds who were keeping their watch by night – the Angels choirs they beheld weren’t typical, weren’t normal everyday things. The star, the Angels, these announced that the Lord had come. Christ’s coming is proclaimed – behold your Savior, oh people, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. People should have seen what was coming. Even King Herod was all in a fuss about it, even from far away the wise men saw. And yet, so many still unprepared, so many not ready for salvation to be at hand, or even fighting against it.

“And there will be signs in the sun and the moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Signs accompanied the climax of Christ’s first coming as well - Christ indeed came with power and might, although not as the world thinks of power and might. When Christ Jesus our Lord was lifted upon the Cross, the powers of the heavens were shaken – the sky darkened at midday. When our Lord cried it is finished the Earth shook, the temple curtain was torn in two, the dead rose from their tombs. Even the strong and mighty soldier at the foot of the Cross knelt and said, Truly this was the Son of God. Again, Christ comes, He comes to the Cross to tangle with Satan, to defeat sin and death – and the world is shook – creation itself trembles at the epic contest. And our Lord told them this was coming. “Truly, truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all this has taken place.” That generation saw it, Jesus speaks these words just after Palm Sunday, and yet, so soon, things go back to normal. For so many, life went on as it was before – simply put up a new curtain in the temple, simply go on living our lives. So many who were there to see God’s redemption played out turned a blind eye.

Dear friends, we know that Christ shall come again for the final judgment. This is our hope, and this is what our Lord tells us to look for today. The same signs that were present for the first coming will remind us and prepare us for the second. Are the nations of the earth distressed? Yes. Have the seas been wild and roaring? Yes. The earth shaking? Yes, we’ve even gotten that one here in Oklahoma. All these things remind us, point us forward to the fact that Christ Jesus shall come again, that the day is drawing ever nearer.

So, do we start a count down? Do we try to fix the date and get mocked when we are wrong? No, ours is not to try to out-guess God, but simply to be prepared. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” Can you see it all around you? Looking around the world we see death and sin all over. It’s a bleak winter world that we live in, full of sin and despair. We ourselves, we who know God, who love Him, we ourselves struggle against our base desires, against our anger, our hatred. But look and see, look and do not be afraid when you hear of wars and rumors of war, when you see destruction and chaos and terror. When the trees bloom again outside, we will know that summer is near. When the earth is filled with violence, when Satan though defeated gasps out his last petty struggles against our God and King, we know that Christ’s return is near – that this winter of sin shall pass away and forth will spring the eternal summer under the light of Christ Jesus our Lord.

Be ready for it, for it comes quickly. “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.” So many things can bog us down. Dissipation and drunkenness – a love of the things of this life. An attitude where our primary focus is on stuff, things to enjoy, life to be lived – where we work simply to have money to buy the latest toy, the newest car, the best gadget, the new clothes, where we judge our lives by whether we got good deals on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. An attitude where we ignore the things that are to come, and rather simply live in the day, like an ostrich with its head in the sand, ignoring the sin around us. So many things can bog us down. The cares of this life. The times we feel guilt and pretend it’s duty that motivates us. The times we feel lust and pretend it’s love. The times we feel fear and sit and cower, when we look around with apprehension and are frozen solid, refusing to do the good we ought. Sin so easily creeps up upon us, twists our focus off of where it is to be. We are to be loving God, we are to be loving our neighbor – but the false joys, the fears of this life strive to pull us away. All these say, “Pay no attention to the signs.”

That’s not what our Lord says. “Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Stay awake – don’t pull the wool over your eyes. Don’t become foolish, don’t turn a blind eye to world, don’t forget the log in your own eye. Jesus isn’t warning against sleeping and snoring here – but rather He warns against not paying attention to what is going on in your life. Dear friends, it’s not easy to be a Christian. Satan is always at work, temptations abound aplenty – it’s always easy to walk away from God’s House. Each of you knows that every day will bring a new excuse to walk out those doors and never look back. That’s easy. Sin unchecked, unrepented destroys faith. We all know the stories about how the little white lie grows and grows until it is huge and black. That’s the way it is with sin – our little sin that we slough off if unchecked grows and grows until it blots out faith. This is why God says that you are to pray – to pray for strength. Your God knows that your life here in the sinful world will be a struggle. He knows that your life is hard, that temptations abound. That’s why He came in the first place – to win you Salvation from your sin. That’s why He shall come again, to take you home to heaven.

But here we are – in the meantime, in the time between our Lord’s First coming and His Second. But know that your Lord doesn’t leave you alone. Rather, your Lord comes to you again and again through His Word, through His sacraments, to give you strength to stand in the trials of your life. Christ gives you two things here in His Church. First, “strength to escape all these things that are going to take place.” Sin takes place – that’s what goes on in the world – and God comes to you – you hear His Word and from it you draw strength. He provides you faith, He provides you trust in Him, which is the opposite of sin, which lets you stand. This is the purpose of preaching, this is the purpose of His Supper. Now may this true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen you in the one true faith until life ever lasting. We can’t stand alone – we of ourselves aren’t going to make it through this life – but God comes to us through His Word, through His Supper and gives us His own strength. Jesus comes to you now, here, in this place, at this time, to prepare you for your life. It is not you who live but Christ who lives in you. We are constantly told this in His Word – we are taught to rely on Him and His strength, and this is how we prevail.
Christ gives us a second thing here in His Church – “strength to stand before the Son of Man.” How do we stand before the Son of Man? How could we sinful men go and stand before God Almighty? Not by virtue of what we have done, for everything we do is tainted and tinged with sin, all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags. No, we can stand before Christ because we are forgiven. Because Christ Jesus Himself was born in a stable, because He was lifted up upon the Cross, because His suffering and death won for us pardon and peace from our sins. Because in His Church Christ Jesus takes what He won almost 2000 years ago on the cross and brings it to us here today. You hear the Word spoken, and Christ’s Crucifixion comes to you today and you are forgiven. You take and eat the Body that was crucified, Jesus comes to you today. All your sins have been forgiven by Christ the Crucified, depart in His Peace. This is what we are about here, this is why God has called each and every one of you to this place – that you might feed on His Word and Sacraments and be strengthened by faith for this life, and forgiven for the next.

Christ is coming dear friends – the world groans in travail, the world shakes in pain. The King sees His creation suffering, and He will not let that long stand. But we need not fear any news we hear, we need not tremble no matter what the morrow brings – all of it, just another reminder that our Lord shall return, and we who know Christ Jesus to be our King of mercy and forgiveness know that this is a good thing, and indeed, we look with expectation for His second coming. But until then, He still comes to us in His Church and brings us salvation through His Word. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Come quickly. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

As a Note

I normally like to be a kind and gracious host. I normally like to let spirited discussions take place on my blog. I normally enjoy crossing swords with folks to sharpen my own positions.

Note the use of the word normally.

Now, I have an infant son. Now I am not getting normal sleep, and most likely shant for a long time. Now advent brings its own demands.

If you wish to comment and add to a discussion - you are more then welcome. If you wish to counter a point or ask me to defend it - you are more than welcome.

However, if you wish to:

1. Engage in anything approaching ad homimen styles of argumentation
2. Try to dictate to me how discussions on my blog should go
3. Engage in a lack of civility towards me or other commentors
4. Assert that I am not "Lutheran" enough
5. Just generally be inconsiderate

Well, in that case I suggest that you go write on your own blog to your heart's content, but leave my comments section alone. This is for your own good. My patience at the moment is a bit more thin, and so I find that I will probably very comfortably slide into a situation where I will decide to answer and respond to the above with pointed and humorous mockery.

Why? Well, it would discourage bad behavior, and I'd at least find it funny. It's not what I like to do (if I did, I would not have posted this warning), but you may find yourself the victim of biting stress relief that you would not have otherwise.

Be ye warned.

Assume that this will be in effect at least through Epiphany.

That is all.

What People Don't Get about the 3 Uses

Here is what ends up frustrating me most about when people end up talking about the 3 uses of the Law. There is only 1 Law. That it. God's Law. The Holy Spirit uses that Law in three different ways - but it is the one and the same Law that is used in different ways.

You cannot preach 1st use, or 2nd use, or 3rd use. You preach the Law -- and the Holy Spirit uses it as He wills. What you think will guide... may curb or it may accuse. What you think will accuse may in fact guide. You are not in control of what the Word does, oh Preacher - you simply preach and the Holy Spirit does the rest.

Now before you get your dander up - let me make a comparison. In the catechism we confess that the Lord's Supper works the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

It's not three Suppers. It's not as though the Supper has three different "parts" that you get to micromanage and control. It's not as though you can say, "Today I will administer the Supper in such a way as to give only Salvation, but not forgiveness and life." No - there is 1 Supper, and it gives three things... or we can talk about what it gives from three different angles.

Likewise - there is only Law... there are not multiple "types" of Law anymore than there are multiple "types" of the Lord's Supper. Now, what does the Law do - well, the Spirit will use it in multiple ways. Just as we can speak of the Supper bringing us multiple things.

But you realize -- in both cases, either Law or Gospel - it's still the Holy Spirit doing everything, right?