Monday, December 31, 2012

Reacting to Sin

One of the great dangers that Christians have is their reaction to sin.  As Christians, we have been trained to recognize and know what is good... and to see and know what is evil, to want to avoid it.  This, in and of itself is good... but as we are still in this life, we still deal with our old sinful flesh, and our old sinful flesh loves to twist our reactions to sin.

When your neighbor sins -- how do you react? 

If your neighbor sins, should that justify a lack of love on our part towards them?
If your neighbor sins, should your frustrations let you act cruelly or harshly towards them?
If your neighbor sins, should you loudly bad mouth them, giving no heed to the fact that we are called upon to protect our neighbor's reputation... even if they are wrong?

I think perhaps it would be better if instead of anger (which will not remain righteous anger in a sinful man) or frustration, it might be good to try to cultivate a different reaction.


We all remember Jesus turning over the money changers' tables in the temple, we remember John calling out the brood of vipers.  But those are the exceptions to the normal reaction we see to sin in the Gospels.

Lo, they are like sheep without a shepherd.
Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who stone the prophets and kill those who are sent to you...
He had compassion upon her.

We see our Lord weep more often than we see Him yell.

We see our Lord remain silent and take in abuse and slander... even when He could have yelled back and been "right".

We hear Him call out for them to be forgiven... even before they repent, even while they are crucifying Him.

Yes, zeal for His father's house consumed Him, but He is also the Man of Sorrows.  And it is in taking up that sorrow that He wins redemption for us all.  Mayhaps we should seek to emulate that more often.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas 1 Sermon

Christmas 1 – Luke 2 – December 30th, 2012

In the Name of Christ the New Born King +

          For this Boy Jesus, for this little Child to be our Savior, there are some things that must be done.  You see, this infant, while indeed True God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God – is also true Man – born to a Jewish mother – indeed born under the law.  And as a Man under the law, He is obligated to fulfill it.  You and I, we fail at fulfilling the Law, so this child Jesus must and will succeed at fulfilling God’s Law, fulfilling it perfectly in our stead.  And moreover, as He was born a Jew, He must fulfill the Ceremonial Law of the Old Testament.  And so, 40 days after His birth, which is the time given in the Law of Moses, Mary and Joseph take little Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to offer up the appropriate sacrifice for a first born son – a pair of turtledoves – the poor man’s offering.  And already Jesus is on the way to fulfilling His duty and mission to be our Savior.

          But there in the temple, something happens – a beautiful, wonderful event – so wonderful and beautiful that we will sing it again today in just a few moments.  There was an old man named Simeon, an old fellow who lived in Jerusalem.  And somehow the Holy Spirit had revealed to this pious old man that he would not die, he would not see death until he saw the promised Messiah – the Messiah who would be the consolation of Israel.  Can you think what it would be like?  Oh, there is old, faithful Simeon, just waiting, and waiting, and waiting for the Messiah.  Would that we believed the Word as he did and show such diligence as he!  But at any rate, as Jesus and Mary and Joseph are at the temple, Simeon comes up, and he sees Jesus, he sees this Child – and he takes Him up in his old aged arms, takes Him out of Mary’s hands into his own and starts giving thanks to God, blesses God, extols God and sings His praises – uses words which are familiar to us all – Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.  We know these words – they are the Nunc Dimittis – Latin for “Now Let Depart” the first phrase of this in Latin.  We sing them, even to this day, after communion.

          Let’s ponder them this morning, for they teach us much, and we learn much from them.  Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word.  Such an interesting reaction.  I can die now.  That’s what he’s saying – when he uses the phrase “depart in peace” he’s not asking that he not get too rough a pat down at the airport when he takes trip to Hawaii – Simeon is saying, “Alright Lord, I can die now – you can take me, I can depart this life in peace.”  Is that not a marvelous faith, a wonder to think on and behold.  To be that confident, to be that sure – I can die now.  That is a wonderful gift – Simeon has no more fear.  Now, the world likes to keep us full of doubt, full of fear – oh no, what will the future hold!?  The world thrives on fear – 2012 was the year of fear.  Fear of the end of the world, fear of guns, fear of one political party over another, fear of this and that.  Every night on the news there was something new that we needed to be afraid of.  Fear sells.  Fear keeps you on the edge of your seat so you don’t flip away during the commercials.  But even more important than that – fear controls you.  Fear keeps in bondage.  Fear makes you dance to the world’s tune.  Troubled and terrified, that’s how the world wants you.  Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word.  For Simeon, there is no fear – and why?  According to Your Word.  Simeon has heard the Word, and Simeon believes.  Because Simeon believes the Word, trusts that God will be true and will provide Salvation, indeed, Simeon now holds salvation in his hands – what is there for Simeon to fear?  Eh, I can die now, the grave holds no more fear for me – I behold the One who will call me forth from the grave.  This is the peace that Christ gives, this is the peace and release from fear that is ours – that we know we have and receive every time we hear the Word, every time we receive our Lord’s Supper.  Think on this – you have communed – Christ Jesus has given you His own Body and Blood for your forgiveness – what else is there to fear?  What tops that, what is bigger or more impressive than that?  Like Simeon, we too see and hold and indeed even taste our salvation, and as such we are bold like him, we are right to sing his words, make them our own as well – because we have what he had – for we likewise trust in the Word.  This is the peace of the Lord that is with us always, because we understand that in Him we have an eternal peace, and peace that nothing in this world can take away.

          Simeon’s song continues – For my eyes have seen Your salvation, that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples.  We know the old adage – seeing is believing.  We can hear things, even from good, reliable sources – and we can even know that something is true – but until we see it for ourselves it doesn’t quite hit home.  Our eyes are a useful tool – a wonderful gift given to us by God, even if now a days our eyes can all too often be wandering eyes, looking where they ought not, casting covetous glances all around.  Old Simeon knew that the Lord’s Word was true – that when the Lord spoke it was as good as done, you can take it to the bank.  And Simeon believed – and yet, when this old man sees the Christ Child, he breaks forth into joyous song.  He has seen it – He has held the Christ Child in his own hands – he knows it to be true.

          Simeon’s response doesn’t surprise God – because God knows how Simeon, how we, how our minds work.  We like having tangible things to hold on to – and God deals with us in this way.  Think on the Old Testament.  God would give the children of Abraham, the children of Israel signs of His covenant.  There was the sign of Circumcision– think on how tangible a sign that was – it was proof that you were part of God’s salvation.  You had Passover –  in the wilderness you had the glory of the Lord in the pillar of Cloud and Pillar of Fire.  God gave the people of the Old Testament things to hold onto, things to grasp.

          And now, even today, He prepares salvation in the face of all people in a way that we humans can grasp.  Consider your baptism.  We know what it is – it is not plain water, but it is the water included in God’s command and combined with God’s Word – and if you didn’t recognize that as being from the Small Catechism, you need to make a good new year’s resolution to review the catechism – and even if you did recognize it, reviewing your catechism wouldn’t hurt.  But that being said, have you ever though how kind and loving God is just in how Baptism works.  God takes His Word and attaches it, combines it with something that we can see and touch – water.  And when those waters of Holy Baptism are applied to us, we know that God’s Word is well and truly applied to us.  Let doubt be done away with, and as for Satan with his accusations that God wouldn’t love one as you, he can take a long walk off of a short pier, for you are baptized, and you have the physical proof that God loves you.

          Same wonder with the Supper.  It is the true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and the wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and drink.  Just as Simeon held in his hands the Body of his Savior and the Body of his God made flesh – so shall you in the gift of Holy Communion.  What David prophesied in the 34th Psalm you will receive today – Taste and see that the Lord is God!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. Christ Jesus Himself will give you salvation, the highest refuge, in His Supper.  Again, something tangible, something that we can wrap not just our minds but our hands around – something that we can taste, can smell, can see – God overwhelms us with His love and forgiveness through all our senses – so that we see and taste and smell and believe.

          Simeon’s song concludes A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.  And with Christ, the Old Testament came to a close.  Israel’s job would be done, they had produced the Messiah.  No longer would they need to be separated off from the other peoples of the world – God tells Peter he can eat pig now, Paul shows that the ceremonies of the law aren’t required.  The whole reason for all these things – the dietary laws, the sacrifices - was so that the people of Israel would be separate and distinct from the rest of the world – they would be God’s reminder to all people that He would send a Messiah, a Savior.  The people of Nineveh knew this – they repented of their sin and looked to God.  The wise men from the East knew that God was sending a king – but they didn’t quite know how or who.  God fearing Gentiles from all over knew that God was going to act in and through the people of Israel – and now that is fully revealed.  Behold Christ, the Savior of the Nations.  Behold Jesus, the Lord is Salvation for all.  And Israel is glorified in Him.  Luther in the 1520s writes a book entitled “That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew” – and in this he points out that God did not choose to be born of “pigheaded, crude, drunken Germans” – but He deigned to be born of a Jewish mother – indeed, a glory for that line and heritage and race that no other can claim.  Behold, this little Jewish Boy is the God and Creator of all things – the God and Creator who restores His Creation and brings the gifts of heaven to earth, the One who is God of both Jew and Gentile alike.

          This is the Child the Simeon holds in his arms, this is the child who grows and goes to the Cross and suffers and dies and rises again to win us salvation.  This is the very Body that our Lord gives to us this day for forgiveness.  With this in mind, seeing this, we can rejoice with Simeon, and with this in mind, in the Name of our Lord Christ Jesus and His forgiveness, my dear friends, and true and hearty Merry Christmas once again to you all.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newbon King.  Amen.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Day Sermon

In the Name of Christ the New Born King +

          In the beginning there was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not any thing made that was made.  This is what John writes to us this morning, but we have heard it before.  It is the story of Genesis.  In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  God speaks – the Word of God Himself goes forth, and everything is called into existence.  The Word goes forth, and there is light, there is land and sea, there are plants and animals, and then at the last, there is man.  In the beginning God made Adam and placed him in the garden.  In the beginning, it was good.
          So why Pastor, are we going back to the beginning?  It’s Christmas day!  Get to the point.  This is the point.  When we talk about Christmas, when we speak of the birth of Jesus, we aren’t just talking about the miracle of child-birth, or an excuse to give gifts or have a big dinner.  John gets to the point.  “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and yet the world did not know Him.  These words describe Christmas, they describe what Christmas is, and sadly, they describe how the world views this most blessed and holy day.  Christmas is God Himself coming into the world, and yet the world misses it.  The world sees Christmas for presents and Santa and dinners.  We see those things as well, but we see Christmas for what it is, what it truly is.  We see and know that Christmas is God taking on human flesh and dwelling among us.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory.  This is the wonder of Christmas.
          Let us go back to the beginning.  It was good.  Everything was perfect and fine and wonderful.  And then man fell.  Adam sinned.  Adam was lost.  He listened not to the Word of God, but rather followed Satan’s temptation.  Adam turned His back upon the Word, the very Word of God which created him and gave him life.  And so Adam was doomed to sweat and toil, cast out from paradise.  Rejecting the Word of life, Adam was doomed to die.  And his children with him, they too were doomed to the same fate.  And Adam saw this – saw his son Cain slaughter Abel.  Saw his body begin to ache, begin to whither, saw the same in Eve his wife.  Adam saw and understood, better than any of us, the strength with which we were trapped in sin – for he had seen paradise, had known it.  As for us, Adam’s children, we have known nothing but sin in this life.  We look to the Scriptures, and all through the Old Testament we see sin having it’s deadly coils rapped around man – even the most righteous of us, even the most “holy.”  Abraham, who talked with God, pimps out his wife, twice.  Moses, who talked with God upon the mountain, strikes the rock in anger and sins.  King David, righteous king David, sins again and again – is a murderer and an adulterer.  We see over and over in Scripture that we sinful, that we fallen man have not the power to stand before sin, have not the power to face it down.  We are trapped, and the false dream that Satan held before us has become a snare to us, a snare around our neck.
          Do you see this – do you see the darkness?  Do you see the darkness which we were stuck in?  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome Him.  This is the joy of Christmas, this is why we have all these candles lit, these lights upon the tree, why our songs are bright and bouncy.  The light shines forth!  Hear the Words of Luther, for he writes it better than I could:
But God had seen my wretched state, before the world’s foundation, and mindful of His mercies great, He planned for my salvation.  He turned to me a father’s heart; He did not choose the easy part but gave His dearest treasure.  God said to His beloved Son; “It’s time to have compassion.  Then go bright jewel of my crown, and bring to all salvation.  From sin and sorrow set them free, slay bitter death for them that they May live with me forever.”  The Son obeyed His Father’s Will, Was born of Virgin mother; and God’s good pleasure to fulfill, He came to be my brother.  His royal power disguised He bore, a servant’s form like mine He wore, to lead the Devil Captive.

This is what Christmas is.  We were languishing in sin, we were stuck and mired in sin – and suddenly Christmas shines forth, and there He lies in a manger. . . Jesus Christ, true God, God Himself is born.  And everything is different.  What we could not do, what sinful fallen man could not do – this child can and will, for this child is no simple boy but is God Himself.  Christmas is the opening salvo of God’s offensive against Satan.  Christmas is the start of our rescue.
          The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  God sees us in trouble, and so what does God do?  He comes to us, He comes among us, He becomes One of us, so that He can be our champion, so that He can win us freedom, so that He can live the life that we ought to have.  When we look at Christ in the Gospels, we see what we ought to be, what Adam was created to be.  We see Man without sin.  He is righteous and holy for us, He is our righteousness and holiness.  And then, what does this holy and righteous Man do – He who knew no sin became sin for us.  The Christ Child grows and goes to the cross, picks up our sin and takes it to the cross and crucifies it in His own Body.  This is why He became Man, this is why He was born on Christmas day.  The infant Christ was laid upon the wood of a Manger so that one day He could be nailed to the wood of the Cross.  He took up life so that in our place He could taste death, our death – and then conquer over it on the third day rising to life again.  This is what Christmas is – it is God shouting out with the voice of His Angels I will not abandon my people.  Adam has died, but he will not linger in his tomb forever.  His children live and die – but My Son, My Word, He will live and die and then live again, restoring Adam and the sons and daughters of Adam to life.  The Babe lying in the Virgin’s arms is the sign, is the warning to Satan that he will be defeated along with sin and death.  That is what Christmas is.  That is what we celebrate.  That God becomes Man in order to win for us our salvation.  That God Himself takes on human flesh, takes on a body, and with that Body, by its death and resurrection, He wins us salvation.
          This is what we celebrate this Christmas.  This is in fact what we celebrate every time we have Holy Communion.  What do we say of the Supper?  “It is the True Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.”  And why?  “These words, ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,’ show us that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these word.’”  Do you see what we confess every time we commune?  We proclaim Christmas – we say that “yes, God has indeed become a Man, He has become one of us, the Word has become flesh and dwelt among us.”  Our confession of what the Lord’s Supper is also is an affirmation of the reality of Christmas.  That God becomes Man – that right now, this very instant Jesus Christ is both True God and True Man – that Satan tried to wrest His Body away from Him, to snatch it in death, but that Jesus conquered over the devil.  Jesus has life – He is life – and He gives Himself to us.  Literally, He shares His own life with us.  But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.  Christ Jesus comes to us through the Word, through Baptism, and indeed we confess that He comes to us in His Body and Blood under bread and wine, and we are made not just children of Adam but Children of God, heirs to eternal life.  No longer do we look just like the dying Adam, but Christ dwells among us – and now we look like Him.  It is truly Immanuel – God with us – God with us for our salvation.
          And so dear friends, we rejoice this day, we see it for what it is.  It is the sign of our salvation – it is God marching forth to war against Satan to win us back to Him.  And so we are right to give praise to God, to extol His glory. . . Glory to God in the Highest – and why?  Because He brings peace to His people on earth.  This is what the Angels sing.  This is why there is joy this day.  This is why we come to His House to hear His Word and to receive His Body and Blood.  This is why Christ Jesus came from heaven above – that by His life He might give us life.  When we see the Christ child we see our salvation.  My dear friends in Christ – and not just friends, but my brothers and sisters, my fellow redeemed, a true and hearty merry Christmas to you this day.  Now let us today together celebrate the feast of the Nativity in the Sacrament which He has given to us.  Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent 4 sermon

Advent 4 – December 23rd, 2012 – Luke 1

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          For the 4th Sunday in Advent, the Sunday immediately preceding Christmas, a pastor as two options in the lectionary for what Gospel lesson he can read.  He can read Luke and the account of Mary and the Magnificat, or he can read from John chapter 1, John pointing forward the Messiah – which is the one we’ve done more often these past few years.  It’s an interesting choice.  You have Mary, whom all women will call blessed, and you have John, who is by Jesus’ own words one of the greatest of men – and yet, in both readings there is a wonderful point of connection – both Mary and John don’t focus on themselves and how wonderful they are, they both point forward to Jesus and what He does.  We know John – he points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – we sing this whenever we celebrate communion.  But, as we have fallen out of the practice of having Matins, we don’t sing Mary’s song – the Magnificat – all the much here – so that will be our focus, our final preparation for Christmas.  We will look at Mary, and then let her point us to her Son.  Let’s dive in.

          In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.  And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb.  Well, I guess John shows up in this text too, but he’s not talking, he’s just leaping for joy when Mary brings Jesus by.  And it’s not just John who gets excited, even Elizabeth joins in.  And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  What the angel told Zechariah was all coming true – Elizabeth was pregnant despite her age, and indeed, it looks like her son will be preparing the way for the Messiah who has just showed up.  And there’s Mary – standing there.  Probably around 13 years old.  Easily she could have been overwhelmed, easily she could have let this all go to her head.  Easily she could have bragged about herself – because let’s face it, if for some stupid reason ever we are sitting down and bragging about who we are and what’ve done for the Lord, being able to say, “Yeah, I gave birth to Him” would be a fantastic trump statement.  So what does Mary do?  She stops talking about herself, and instead she points to God.

Mary says, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.  We don’t often use the word “magnify” this way, but it means to make great, to make a big deal of, to focus upon.  Your magnifying glass lets you focus upon something and see it clearly – and praise does this – it focuses us upon God and what He has done.  This serves as a reminder of what all Christian praise must do if it is to be called praise – it has to focus upon God – it has to be about what God does.  It has to rejoice in God and in His salvation.  Christian praise is always tied, always points to the fact that God Himself acts on our behalf and saves us.  This is what we praise God for – and Mary will continue to expand aspects of this in her song.

          “for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.  For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed, for He who is mighty has done great things for me.”  Mary recognizes something about herself that we in America can forget.  She sees that she is but that she deserves to be humble – that she is lowly, that there is nothing in her that demands success or praise or glory.  It’s not about her.  And yet, God has beheld her, God has seen her, and God is the One who has elevated her – in fact, all generations, even our to day, learn of the Blessed Virgin Mary – her words will echo throughout churches, children will want to be her in Christmas programs – and why?  Not because she herself is wonderful, but because God, the Mighty One, has done great things for her.  If she were not the mother of our Lord, not a one of us would have even heard of her.  Mary is acutely aware of God’s blessings given to her, precisely because she knows that she does not deserve them.  She is humble.

          Sometimes it can be hard for us as Americans to remember that we too are humble people, and that any good, any blessing we have comes simply from God’s blessing and favor upon us.  That’s not the way we think as Americans.  We don’t tell our children that they are humble and lowly – we say, “Someday you could be president.”  We don’t say that God will use them and the talents He has given to them as He sees fit; we tell them that they can grow up into whatever they want to be.  And sometimes we can forget that our talents, our blessings are all things that come from God, that the opportunities that we see, these are gifts from God.  Our talents don’t say much about us – they rather proclaim how good God is.  Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify, not you, but glorify your Father in heaven.  This is what Mary understands, she understands because she sees she praises God for the great things that He has done for her.  And likewise, consider the wonderful gifts that God has given to you – your talents, your abilities, your opportunities.  These are things He has given to you freely and wondrously, and for this we ought give praise to God.

          “and Holy is His Name.  And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”  But it gets even better.  God’s Name, the God who does all this for you, His Name is holy, and He is full of mercy.  Mary sees that – and her name will ever be associated with God’s Name.  She will forever be remembered as Mary, the Mother of God.  And she sees the great mercy that she has received, that she, a sinful being, receives such wonderful things from God.

          Now, dear friends, consider the fact that you are Baptized.  You have been joined into God’s own Name, His own holiness has been applied to you.  You are made to be part of God’s Family as assuredly as Mary, Jesus’ own mother is part of His family – for you have been Baptized, you have been adopted as sons and daughters of the Father, you now have Christ for your brother, you are His family – and as such, you receive His Mercy.  The greatest and mightiest thing that God has done for you has nothing to do with the presents under the tree, or the size of your home or your bank account, or how talented you are – those are wonderful, but they aren’t the greatest.  You have been forgiven on account of Christ – you have been given the gift of faith and welcomed into the family of God.  God in His great mercy and love for you has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, and this is something that is for eternity – and it’s not dependent upon you, but flows totally from Him.  God is rightly praised for this.

          He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.  Mary brings out another thing that God does that we know yet often forget.  We do not need to look very hard to see the mighty and powerful abuse and harm others, indeed, even harm us.  But Mary’s words remind us of a truth that we can forget when we see the wickedness and oppression in this world – there is so much more that God prevents, there is so much that God brings to an end.  The proud are scattered, their plans fall apart and so often do not come to fruition.  The tyrants on their thrones fall, the powers crumble – evil doesn’t endure because God brings an end to it.  And this is a comfort to us, it gives us a new perspective – for even when evil is done to us, even when we are getting it heaped upon us – we know that God does not let it last, that it will crumble and fail sooner or later, and that He will deliver us. 

          Indeed, the great example of that is the very fact that Mary is pregnant with the Christ Child as she says this.  No more will God be content to have fallen king after fallen king come and rule on this earth – no more will He let this world’s prince have His sway – no, God Himself comes to be our king, to be our Lord, to defeat Satan – and because He has come we have victory assured.  The brief battles we face now in this life will give way and yield to the eternal victory celebration of heaven, because God’s strong arm wins the victory by being nailed to the cross and rising again on the third day.

          He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.  He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His offspring forever.  The coming of Christ changes things; things will be different because of Christ.  Wickedness will be overcome, the powerful will be cast down.  The failings and the disappointments that we face in this life eventually will go away.  And instead, God fills us with all joy and blessedness.  And as those of the New Testament, we see these words of Mary and the promises they point all gathered in to the Lord’s Supper.  If you believe that you are spiritually rich, that you need no forgiveness, that you have no need for God’s mercy – you will remain as empty and shallow as you were.  But for you, dear friends, you who see and know your own sin, who know your own struggles, who feel the pressures of life in this world and who are burdened – you who are hungry for righteousness – behold what God does for you.  He calls you to His own table, and here He fills you with not merely good things, but the very best thing – He fills you with Himself – Christ Jesus gives Himself unto you, in a way most wondrous and amazing – He forgives your sins in His Supper, He gives you His own strength – He helps you face down the fears of the past and helps you to face the trials of the future, because in His Supper we see the proof that He is with us, indeed, in His Supper He is with us.

          Dear friends, Christ Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, is here, and because He is Here, because He has called us unto His family through the waters of Baptism, because He gives Himself to us in His Supper, we see and understand His great love for us – we see and understand all that He has done and accomplished for us.  For indeed, while we were humble and lowly, while we were weak – He is the one who is strong for us, strong to save – who comes to rescue us and free us, not merely for the brief span of our lives, but for all ages and ages, even unto life everlasting.  This, dear friends, is why we magnify the Lord, this is why we focus our eyes upon Him and in thanksgiving sing His praise – because we see all that He has done for us, freely and without worth or merit in us.  Christ Jesus came to be our Savior, and He shall come again to bring us unto heaven, and so we say again, Come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Julie Burnett Funeral Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          Jerry, Renia, Dennis, and Jereamy, family and friends of our sister in Christ Julie – Grace, mercy, and peace be unto from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Our Lord said, “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  Well, here we are, on the verge of Christmas, which as we all know was on Julie’s favorite times of year.  In fact, just for me, myself, my memories of Julie will always be tied to this time of year, actually to the parish hall, chit-chatting with her whenever one of her grandkids would be in the old Pre-school Christmas programs.  And so it’s bitter sweet today, being so close to Christmas.  But Christmas itself gives us a bit of perspective on Julie’s life, Julie’s love for us, and where Julie is right now.
          A lot of things get talked about come Christmas time.  There’s a lot of talk about family and such – but as you all know, family wasn’t just a Christmas-time thing for Julie.  She gave love and care to her family all the time.  And while I know that she loved the family getting together, the celebrations and all that, there was more to her for the season than just that.  Christmas was always centered right here, in the evening, singing Christmas carols.  And those songs we’ve sung so many times, those songs we will sing again have a wonderful purpose.  The real focus, the real wonder, the thing that is the center and heart of all those carols that Julie loves is this – Christ Jesus comes down from heaven and is born – and why?  So that He can give life to the world.  What we sing, it all points to this truth, that Jesus Christ is true God, come down from heaven to be our Brother, to give us life in Him.
          Christ Jesus gave His sister Julie His own life.  He supported her, He held her in His care all of her days.  And I don’t mean just in the times that were rough, the times that were hard and scary.  All of her days.  God gave her a husband, and God gave her strength to love and share her life with that husband.  God gave her children, and He gave her life to care for those children.  And when God gave her grandchildren, she lived the life that God had given her for them with great joy.  But do not think for a moment that Jesus gave Julie life only for a few years.  No, when Jesus came down from heaven that first Christmas, it wasn’t just to improve our lives now – He came so that He might suffer and die for us all, so that He might rise for us, so that He might win us life everlasting – even as He has won Julie life everlasting.
          This is what Jesus Himself says.  “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”  Right here, Jesus is speaking of Julie.  She belongs to Christ, was given to Him in Holy Baptism, united to Him, is part of His own Body.  And His promise to Julie stands – she is with Him now, and come the last day, He will raise her from the dead, and we will be united again in Christ for all eternity.  She is not lost – she is in Christ’s care.  And as much as I know she enjoyed our Christmas Eve services here – well, the hosts of heaven are better carolers than us.  We’ll sing about the angels, she’s hearing and singing with the angels sing right now.  While we mourn, while we have sorrow, and we’re still going to have sorrow and mixed emotions in the days to come, she’s not.  She’s getting ready for the Christmas of her everlasting life.  Christ’s promises to her still stand.
          The same Christ Jesus who came down from heaven to win salvation for Julie, He has won it for you.  You are His, He has claimed you.  “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”  God the Father has shown you His Son – He has made you to know that Jesus came down from heaven to win you salvation, and the same promises given to Julie are given to you.  What we will be singing these next few days – they aren’t just pretty songs.  They tell the story, the truth, the fact that Christ Jesus came for all of us here, that He came so that we might know Him for all eternity, that we might be with Him and His servant Julie for all eternity.  We mourn now.  There’s nothing wrong with that.  We right now are suffering a loss.  But what we also remember is this – it’s not a permanent loss.  And why?  Because Christ Jesus would not let it be, because He would not sit by and let His creation be tarnished by sin and death, and so He came down from heaven.  The Christmas songs we sing – these are really songs of promise, God’s promise to us that He would give us life just beyond our days here, life eternal with Him.  Julie sees the promise of those songs now – we, we have to wait a bit longer.  But the promises are true – God’s love for Julie is true, the love He showed you through her is true, and the love He has for you in Christ Jesus is still true.  The peace that the angels proclaimed that first Christmas night is the same peace that means you will see Julie again, because the Prince of peace has come to be her God and to be your God.  Because of that, we too are free in Christ to give thanks and praise to God, even in the midst of our mourning, for the great love He has shown to Julie, and the love that He has shown us through Julie.
All praise dear Lord for Julie/  who was so quick to care
For all her friends and family/ that you gave to her here
May we with like devotion/ be bold to show forth love
Until we join the angels/ in praising You above
Now, may that same peace, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds upon Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen +

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Midweek 3

Advent Midweek 3 – December 19th, 2012

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          For the final night of our Advent series on rediscovering Christmas, we will rediscover feasting.  Feasting is always associated with Christmas – I’m sure many of us are already planning out our family Christmas dinners, or even shifting them if they can’t be on the day of Christmas itself.  When my mom heard that Celia had to work Christmas Day so we couldn’t come out on the day itself, she didn’t ask when we were coming, she asked what day we should have Christmas dinner.  As a Church, we are making food baskets so that poorer families can have Christmas dinner.  Even Ebenezeer Scrooge waking up on Christmas day knows enough to send a boy to go by the prize goose, all so that the Crachetts can have a nice Christmas dinner.  So we all know all about feasting, right?

          Well, there’s a problem with our feasting, isn’t there?  Our feasting is a lot of hard work, often a lot of worry, sometimes even filled with panicked rushes to the kitchen when the smell of something burning starts to drift through the house.  And that is to say nothing of what goes on at the feasting.  I’m sure that none of us have ever had harsh words break out around the table, especially when some of the family that doesn’t get along all that well show up – oh surely, that would never happen.  And of course, feasting would never get out of hand, never a bit too much libations or imbibing – never happens.  No, it’s just mere coincidence that there will be extra police out on New Years’ Eve – has nothing to do with feasting gone wrong then.  No, no, we never would feast to excess – it’s sheer coincidence that just last week I saw the article that said that obesity was now the number one health problem, health danger in this country.  We all know how to handle our feasting, surely we do.

          Enough sarcasm, the point has been made.  This is one of the problems we sinners in a sinful world have.  We don’t handle blessings rightly, we don’t handle celebrations rightly.  We fall prey to the sin that the folks in the middle ages would call “gluttony” – that is, we enjoy and strive after blessings to an excess, where instead of being joy, they twist back upon us, cause us pain and sorry and suffering.  And again, this is nothing new.  Consider our Epistle reading tonight – what do we hear?  When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. [21] For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. [22] What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”   In Corinth, even the Lord’s Feast, the Lord’s Supper had gotten messed up.  You see, there’s a reason why when we have the Supper today we only get a small morsel of our Lord’s Body, a mere sip of His blood.  It didn’t used to be that way 1900 years ago.  When Jesus instituted the Supper – it was in the middle of a full meal.  And likewise, in the very Early Church, the Supper would be basically a meal.  And problems arose.  Feasting went awry.  Folks would bring their own bread to the Church – it would be brought forward during the offertory – the “Create in Me a Clean Heart” part of the service.  Even today that’s still when I prepare the elements for the Lord’s Supper.  But, in Corinth, things were messed up.  The rich would not share their bread with the poor.  Some would have far too many swigs from the chalice.  People were using the Lord’s Supper itself not primarily as a means of receiving forgiveness, but of debauchery.  Total misuse of God’s blessings.  And eventually the custom, the tradition that developed to prevent this abuse is what we have today – a small piece, and little sip, and that’s it.

          It’s ironic, because this really drives to what sin and the fall did, what the ruined.  We can’t handle our blessings anymore.  We can’t handle the good things that God gives us, without us misusing them.  Whether it’s the gift of food, whether it’s the greed that comes along with the gifts under the tree, whether it’s even our very lives, the constant temptation of sin is to take these good, first article of the creed gifts from God, given to us simply out of Fatherly goodness and mercy, and just to ruin them in selfish stupidity.

          God, though, was not content to let us mess up things forever.  God wants you to be able to feast properly, and indeed, feast for all eternity.  Listen.    On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples             a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.  And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations.  [8] He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.”  This is the image of salvation.  This is why the first sign that Jesus does is bring good wine to the wedding at Cana – because our Lord wants us to have true and good and right celebrations.  The life of the world to come will be a life full of rejoicing, full of celebration, full of feasting, and feasting well.  Why will we be able to feast well?  Because Christ Jesus will have had a feast of His own.  He will have swallowed up death – indeed, Good Friday was a feast for our Lord – on Mount Calvary He swallowed up death – again, later in 1 Corinthians we hear that Death is swallowed up in Victory.  That is the point.  That we will rise from the dead because of Christ on the Last Day, and when we do – we will feast, but not feast as we do now, we will feast in perfection and simply enjoy God’s gifts rightly and properly.

          But, we are not there yet.  We are not at the feast to come.  We are still in this sinful world, and we still are plagued by sin.  And so our Lord comes to us, He comes to us in His Supper – and why?  For the forgiveness of our sins.  To give us a foretaste of the feast to come.  To give us strength to endure in the face of our earthly feasts and all the problems that can come with them.  What Paul says is true – “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”  When we have the Supper, we are publicly declaring that Christ has died to forgive us our sins, and that He shall come again and take us to the feast that will never end.  But this is what we wait for this Advent season.  Just as our forefathers in the faith waited for our Lord’s first coming, the His first advent, so we stand here waiting for Christ to return with them and with all the saints who have gone on before us, so that we can get to the real feasting.  The Christmas Goose or Ham or Beef or whatever you have having will be lovely, I’m sure – but the true feast, the great feast is coming.  And because of Christ Jesus, who came down from heaven and was born of the Virgin Mary, we are all called to it, we are forgiven and clothed in the white party robes of salvation.  That’s why this Advent, as all others, we pray, “Come Quickly, Lord Jesus.”  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

The Church's Job

It's interesting, because I will hear over and over people talking about different things that the "Church" needs to do.  It needs become a moral force in society, it needs to feed the poor, it needs to do X, Y, and Z.  And then of course, there are the Church bureaucrats who will come in and make up new rules for how the Church can make all these things happen.

The Church has one job.  It is to listen.  It is to listen to the voice of Christ Jesus, her Husband. 

The problem is too often the folks in the Church are not content to let the Church simply listen.  Instead of just living out their own vocations, they want to make their own vocation the roll or duty of "The Church".  They want to use the Church as a tool - perhaps to enforce their own ideals of right or wrong, creating rules for others to live by and saying, "Ah, but the Church says."  Misses the point -- what does Christ say?  Some want the Church imprimatur for their own works of love and mercy -- but again, why is that needs?  Why do you think the rest of the body must do the work of the hand, or the foot - be whom Christ has made you to be and walk in the works He has prepared for you.

The Church's focus is to be this - to hear the life giving Word of Christ.  To receive His gifts.  To delight in the fact that He has washed her.

Now, do individual Christians from within the Church have things to do?  Of course, we are in the world, and thus we are given to love our neighbors.  But again - that's you, that's me, that's our own thing.  I am not the Church -- and it's folly when I try to act as though I am.

Have a sad and lonely Christmas...

The beauty of Christian freedom is that your reactions, your emotional response to a time or season doesn't have to be the same as everyone else's.  This is something that we can forget, especially as we start to think that our job as the Church is to make people happy.

Christmastime (known in the Church as "Advent" - but let's face it, it's Christmas Holiday Time to everyone else) is one of those times of the year where there is a big push to be cheery, happy, joyous.  Again, that's a good thing - go have a holly, jolly Christmas!

But you know what?  For some -- eh, it's not so holly-jolly this year.  Maybe someone's gone.  Maybe some family is coming back.  Maybe it's sad and lonely.  And no, I'm not just talking about Connecticut - I;m talking about for your friends, your neighbors.

One of my favorite songs is called "Another Lonely Christmas" by Prince.  It's a wonderfully sad love song... and a fine reminder that there are reasons why the canned, packaged emotions that are being sold this time of year... well... they aren't the only emotions in play.

If life has turned that way - let people taste the bittersweet, and don't try to pretend it away.  Rather, give comfort... because sometimes the deep joy (not happiness... joy is not happiness - joy is knowing security and love even in the face of the junk of this life) stands out mainly in contrast to the sorrows of this life.  There are times we don't want a sappy sweet bouncy Christmas... we want to see Jesus stepping into this world of sorrow, even the very real sorrows we have.  We want to see the first coming of Christ and remember the second coming when we will be delivered from these sorrows.

And that is good too.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What's the Biggest Myth?

So what's the biggest myth in American Christianity?  What is the biggest myth, lie, story, line of whatever, that American Christianity as a whole (and to some extent Lutheranism) has swallowed?  Is it that Christians will be wealth?  Is it that the Church will always grow, if only we do things rightly?  Is it that if I am raising a stink I must be doing the work of God?

I will toss mine out, and I'd invite yours.  Mine is the myth of the orderly life.  I think the underlying myth that we tend to buy into is the idea that if we are Christian that our lives will be... more orderly.  We might not necessarily be so crass as to think that we will be rich (because mammon is bad...), but there's that expectation that things will be... orderly.   That the problems that confront people in the world will be kept at arm's length and away from us.

I'm a Christian - weird stuff shouldn't happen to me -- and it certainly shouldn't stick around in my life.

And it's an utter myth.  You're in the sinful world - and a sinner in the sinful world to boot.  Know what that means?  WEIRD STUFF ALWAYS.

The Christian faith doesn't prevent the weirdness, but it gives perspective.  Endurance.  Things like that.

So - any other myths?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent 3 Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
            Advent is the time of the year where we get to hear a bit about John the Baptist.  It sort of is His season.  If we are going to have a season where we get ready for our Lord’s Coming, it makes sense that we are going to get to hear about John, the Forerunner of Christ, the messenger who goes before Christ preparing His way.  And when we think of John, we tend to think of a powerful, bold preacher.  We think of a rugged man, blunt and to the point, preaching repentance and pointing to Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  In fact, we will get some of John’s bold preaching next week, and then also some a few weeks after Christmas.  But this morning – we see something different.  John is in prison.  John has been arrested by Herod, and John isn’t going to be getting out of prison.  His prison stay will end with his head on a silver platter.  Well there’s a cheery thought.  And John knows how things work in this world – John knows that he is in trouble.  And then John sends word by his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

            Now, there are a couple of ways that John sending the messengers is dealt with.  Some people see this and say, “Wait, this John – the bold one – the one who declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Of course He knows Jesus is the Christ!  John must be up to something, he must simply be teaching his disciples where to go after he is gone, yes that is it.”  We as Christians do have a streak where we like to pretend that the folks in the bible didn’t struggle with fear and doubt, when Scripture tries so hard to show us that they do.  No – John doesn’t need to trick his disciples into following Jesus – if the master says, “you are going to follow this other guy now” – you do.  John could have just sent them.  No, reading our Gospel – what we see is John sitting in a prison.  It’s dark.  It’s dank.  He’s going to die.  And even as he is still bold, even as he continually stands up to Herod and refuse to placate him – those thoughts creep in, those doubts arise – the whispers of Satan when John is alone in the dark – “Is this the right guy – you are going to die John – surely none of this is the right way – after all, you are a prophet of God, shouldn’t God be taking better care of you.”  That’s the way the serpent works, always has been.  And when John is tempted, he wants to hear, he wants to hear God’s Word himself. He wants to be preached to.  Go, my disciples, ask Christ – and bring His Word back to me, for I am in trial, and I am tempted.

            John does right.  When he is pressed by Satan, when he is tempted, John flees to Christ.  He can’t do so physically – he’s in jail – but he does so through his disciples.  Preach to me, Christ – preach to me for I need it.  Likewise, dear friends, we too, when tempted, when oppressed, when burdened, when we see the horrors on the news that happen all too frequently, we are to flee to the Word as well.  God’s Word is the tool that God uses for strengthening and encouraging us and supporting us through the trials of this life.  Indeed, when Satan comes to you, when Satan tries to convince that none of this is worth it, not this Church stuff, not this being nice and loving to your neighbor who is an utter jerk, not this caring for people who could care less about you – you too are to follow John’s example and flee to the Word – and in God’s Word you will be given Christ Jesus and His love for you – love that overwhelms your trials, Light that banishes the shadows of this life.  Christ enlightens even John’s dark prison cell, so that John is confident to face whatever comes.

            But what is interesting, and what we will ponder this week, is what God speaks to John, what Jesus uses to answer John’s question of whether He actually is the One.  Jesus tends to give good answers.  And so, Jesus is asked by John’s disciples, are you the right one?  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.  It’s a yes or no question, but Jesus doesn’t just give an answer of “yes.”  He doesn’t tease John a bit and say, “Duh – come on John, you know who I am.”  Rather this – tell John what you see and what you hear.

            They have seen a lot.  Blind people get to see.  We have many accounts of that.  Deaf people hearing, the lame walking, lepers cleansed – even the dead are raised.  All of this can be summed up in one world – healing.  Go tell John what you see and hear – I am bringing healing with me.  And that’s the answer that John needs – yes John, this is the right One – see, Jesus comes and brings healing.

            As we prepare for Christmas, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, we remember that Christ comes to bring healing.  I don’t know if healing is one of the typical themes we often think about in December – but it really is a fantastic image that gets to the heart of what Jesus is here to do.  In the Old Testament, the prophets often would do miracles – but over and over they would point to the Messiah, the One who is to come, and the prophets would say, “Listen, these few miracles are as nothing compared to what the Messiah will do.  When He comes, there will be healing.”  You even get the prophets describing the earth itself being healed – Isaiah today – the valleys will be exulted – everything will be healed, everything will be fixed.  The reason for this focus is that the prophets knew that sin was a disease – that it was a sickness unto death.  That the aches and pains and suffering we have – all effects of sin.  Even the world, even all the ragged, jaggedness it has – just a side effect of sin – the whole of creation groans because of sin.  A vile illness.  Tell John what you see – tell Him I bring healing.  By pointing to the healing, Jesus reminds John of what He is doing – Jesus is healing sin, Jesus is preparing to do the ultimate healing with His death and resurrection. When Jesus dies, when He is wrapped in His burial cloth, your sin is wrapped and bandaged, and when He rises, those burial cloths fall off and your sin is healed and is no more.  That’s what Christ is here to do, and that is what John is pointed to.

            As part of our preparations for Christmas, we are directed to the healing that Christ brings.  He deals with the root cause of our ills – he deals with sin.  The Child that comes on Christmas morning, the babe that Mary holds in her arms comes in order to be taken to Golgotha and nailed to the Cross, so that John, so that Mary, so that you and I might be redeemed and forgiven – that we might be healed.  He comes into this world full of suffering and pain and takes that suffering and pain upon Himself to win us forgiveness and life.

            But Jesus gives such good answers.  In addition to the obvious healings, the physical things, Jesus added one more to the list.  The poor have good news preached to them.  Jesus tells us what preaching is – it is the healing of spiritual ills.  Take John for example.  He’s being tempted, he’s facing trials – and by the Word, John is healed.  Same thing with us – the Word heals us when we are tempted again, when we are bruised and battered with guilt.  The greatest healing that Jesus does is heal sin, and that is given by the Word, the Word which takes Christ’s forgiveness and applies it to us.  This is what we see and understand, this is what we are to expect in this life – to hear the preaching of God’s Word so that we are prepared for whatever this world throws at us – even if it is death.

            And note one thing about this Word – it is about what Christ does.  You don’t need to think that salvation is about the hurdles your clear, the strength you have.  No – you will have your doubts.  Even John does – and “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John.  Christianity isn’t a contest of boasting or bragging – it isn’t a matter where we throw all our good works out on the table and try to trump each other.  Rather, we remember that we are raised by Christ – Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  When we are covered in Christ, when we are forgiven, when we are united to Him, we are made great, we are made whole and healed by Christ.  He is our confidence and our hope – He is the One that we learn to trust more and more by the power of the Word all our days.

            This is the Word that has been proclaimed – it is the Word that the prophets proclaimed, it is the Word that John proclaimed, it is the Word that has been proclaimed even unto this day.  God comes to us and heals us from the troubles and problems of sin through His death and resurrection.  And this is what we all need to be pointed to – this I s what brings us into the Kingdom of Heaven – where we are joined by John and the prophets and all the saints as those who have been redeemed by Christ.  As you prepare for Christmas this year – remember the healing that Christ brings to you – for He came as a little child so that You might be healed and made God’s little child once again.  Keep this focus, and be prepared for our Lord’s Coming.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.