Monday, April 30, 2012

Overlooked Examples of Submission

No one gets Ephesians 5:21 ("submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.").  It's the description of what the Christian life is... the Christian life is to submit to one another.

Submitting is simple.  It is putting someone else's needs above your own.  It is stopping what you are doing to do what another needs.

I started this simple little post 25 minutes ago.  Then I got a phone call... and I submitted.  I stepped away from my task and answered the phone.  And I talked and served my neighbor who called -- even though it meant my task that I wanted to do... didn't get done when I wanted it done.

Then my son started crying.  He's tired.  He refuses to go to sleep, so I went to tend to him.  I submitted to him.  When he wakes up at 3 in the morning and is hungry - I submit to him... I change my schedule for his sake.

Submitting isn't some big, it's the normal, simple everyday things that you do for others.  

We all could lament the sudden schedule changes we have to make, the things we give up, how we couldn't do X because so and so needed Y... on and on.

That's submission.  That's what you have been called to do.  

And yes, there are times it stinks -- but that's your old, sinful flesh talking, that's your old sinful flesh that wants its own way talking.  

You have neighbors who need you -- and that is a wonderful blessing.  Enjoy it.  Even if they need you to change a diaper that they have made overflow with something so foul you wonder how it was ever something they ate.

Hero or Servant?

Consider your own life.  Consider how it flows, how it moves.  Consider what it would look like if it were a story, a movie -- what part would you play?  Would you be the hero, would everything center around you and your struggles to find... love... defeat the main foil in your life?

Or, if there was a movie that you were in... would you be simply a servant?  One who aids others in their lives, one who runs around and make sure things happen?  Would you be R2-D2, always there, always getting things fixed?

You know... Luke Skywalker was a hero -- but he also had Darth Vader.  You don't have a Darth Vader in your life... unless you've had someone try to kill you, you don't even have a Greedo to your Han Solo.  And you know what -- that's fine.  You don't have to be the hero of your own story -- God didn't necessarily put to here to have you be the hero, the focus of everyone's attention.

He put you here to serve.  But that's okay - R2D2 is awesome.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Easter 4 – John 16:16-22 – April 29th, 2012

Easter 4 – John 16:16-22 – April 29th, 2012

Christ is Arisen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia)
          With this week in the Easter season, we reach a transition.  For the next few weeks, our Gospel lessons will be from John 15 and 16, they will be parts of the discussion that Jesus had with His disciples on the night when He was betrayed, on Maundy Thursday evening.  So, why these Gospel lessons now?  Why things that address sorrow and pain - it’s the Easter Season – that’s what it says on the cover of the bulletin!  Shouldn’t everything be happy?  Why do we have such blunt and dour Gospel lessons here in the middle of the Easter season?  Because Christ Jesus is going to be teaching us what life will be like for us, for us who know Christ’s resurrection and yet for a while remain in a sinful, hard world. 

          A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me.  Christ speaks these words on Maundy Thursday evening, after the foot washing, after the last supper, before He goes to the garden of Gethsemane.  And right here He is laying out the Crucifixion.  Guys, you aren’t going to see me – I’m going to buried in the ground, I will be dead.  And this will be rough and harsh on you, you will flee in terror and dread.  But don’t worry, in a little while, on the Third Day, you will see me again.  But Jesus doesn’t even pretend to think that this won’t be painful, that this won’t be difficult.  Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  Isn’t that something that is great about God?  How well He knows us, how well He understands?  Jesus doesn’t feed the disciples a line – he doesn’t simply say, “Lief will be a bowlful of cherries.”  I think sometimes we get this idea that if we are a Christian that everything in life will be wonderful.  I’m a Christian, I’ll be happy all the time, always a smile on my face.  You will weep, and you will lament.  Jesus understands.  We are sinners in a sinful world.  Bad things happen.  There is no constant bliss here on Earth.  We even have a book of the Bible called “Lamentations.”  And this isn’t a sign of a weak faith.  You guys should all know the shortest verse of the bible – Jesus wept.  At the death of Lazarus, His friend, Christ Jesus Himself weeps. It’s a simple fact, there are things that will come that will bring us sorrow, it’s part and parcel of this fallen world.

          But Jesus understands that, and even as He is getting ready to go to the Cross, even as He is preparing to engage in His epic struggle against Sin and Death and the Devil, He looks at His Disciples, and He sees what will happen.  You guys are going to be so scared, so upset, so frightened.  And note, Jesus doesn’t give any of the empty words we do.  Jesus doesn’t say “buck up.”  Jesus doesn’t say “be strong.”  Jesus doesn’t say, “Oh, it’s not that bad.”  Note what He does say.  You will see me again.  Jesus points to the Resurrection.  Jesus takes the Disciples, and in preparing them to handle their grief, points their eyes towards the Resurrection, points them towards something they have no way of comprehending.  And why?  Because the resurrection is where it all happens.  The Resurrection is where the World is set right again.  Behold, Christ Jesus lives, having risen triumphantly from the grave.  This is where we flee from our sorrow.  This world isn’t right, it’s filled with sin and anger and hatred and death – we cannot deny this, we cannot pretend it isn’t this way, we cannot expect it to be otherwise.  Yet you know another more wondrous truth.  Christ lives to die no more.  Your sin, done away with, gone, forgiven.  You have been made right with God.  No matter what comes here in this life, no matter what people say or do, no matter what victories they win over you, Christ has won the final victory.  You know the end of the story, whatever pain comes in the mean time.  Christ is teaching you to look to Him whenever there is sorrow in your life.  That’s what He does here, that’s what He’s telling the disciples that evening, that’s what He telling us this morning.  You will be sad, but look to my Resurrection for strength and joy.

          But Jesus isn’t simply preparing the Disciples for His death and Resurrection.  He is also pointing the Disciples towards His Ascension.  Hear again the Gospel.  So some of His Disciples said to one another, “What is this that He says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see Me’; and ‘because I am going to the Father’?”  Because I am going to the Father.  You see what that is saying, right?  Think on the Creed.  And He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father, From thence He Shall Come to Judge the living and the dead.  Jesus is also preparing the Disciples for the life after the Ascension.  Yes, indeed, Christ is with us always, but think of the situation which the Disciples will be placed in.  After the Ascension, if they have a question, they don’t get to just ask Jesus for the answer anymore – rather they have His teachings, they have prayer.  The time is coming when the Disciples will have to take up responsibility, take up their own crosses, and serve in the Church.  And it will be hard work for the Disciples.  Jesus compares what they will go through to a woman giving birth.  It will be painful and full of toil – but through these people Jesus will serve His Church.  That is the joy they are to focus on and see – to ignore the pain of persecution, to ignore the pain of the mockers and their own torture and death – and rather to focus on the joy of sharing the Gospel, of bringing the joy of the resurrection to people who need it.

          But really, this is the same situation we are in.  We toil in this world awaiting the joy of Christ’s return, the final giving of joy ever lasting.  Again, our faith, our love of God doesn’t mean that there won’t be pain in our lives.  Coming to Church doesn’t mean the kids suddenly will stop arguing, reading your Bible in the morning doesn’t mean everything will go smoothly in the field.  Even really praying hard doesn’t mean that your relationships will be peaceful and joyful all the time.  Why?  Because we are all still sinners in a sinful world – and sinners we will remain as long as we draw breath.  Jesus knows that when He speaks these words.  He says this to Peter knowing that in a few moments Peter will draw his sword in anger and cut off the servant’s ear, that in just a few hours Peter in fear will deny Him 3 times.  Jesus speaks these words knowing us, knowing that we will sin.  But He calls us to the struggle, He calls us to the fight – to battle temptation, to lament and confess our sin – and to look towards the joy that only His forgiveness can give.  While we wait for Christ’s return – this is what our lives will consist of – our struggle to follow His Word, to actually love God and our Neighbor in thought, word, and deed.  And make no mistake, it is a struggle.  If you think that you’ve got this being a Christian thing down, you are fooling yourself.  Our lives are ones where we constantly seek to grow and improve – and that is painful, because we will always see how we fail, we will always see our sin in front of us.  And in response to this we are to confess our sin to God, and to receive His forgiveness given out to us by His Absolution and by His Supper.  This is where we receive again His joy, which gives us the strength to endure in this life.

          And finally, Jesus does here also describe how we are to deal with mourning the loss of our loved ones who have died in the faith.  There is indeed a time for mourning, for weeping, for sorrow.  We must never delude ourselves by thinking that death is just a part of life – just a phase of life.  Death is a tragedy, our great foe, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be this way.  But this is why we give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord – because He takes on death.  That’s what His crucifixion is – Christ entering into the struggle against death, Christ taking its pain – and Christ defeating death resoundingly on Easter.  That is how we view death, dear friends, by looking at the Resurrection.  We see in Christ’s resurrection the defeat of death, we see our own future resurrection which Christ has promised to us.  We look at the death of our loved ones through the Ascension – we see and remember that Christ our Lord now rules from Heaven, that He is there with all the saints who have gone on before us.  In spite of our sorrow, we see the joy that they have right now this moment, and know that they await the resurrection on the last day, their’s and ours.

          Again, this is what we celebrate whenever we have the Lord’s Supper here.  With angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven.  When we have the Supper here, we publicly confess and bear witness to many things.  We confess that our Lord is here, His Body and Blood in Bread and Wine.  We confess that He is here for our forgiveness.  But we also confess that we with all of God’s Saints participate in Christ’s Body, that we share in His life that He has given us.  The Lord’s Supper is not simply a matter of individuality – it’s not a time for just me to hang out with God.  At His Supper God brings to us a taste of heaven, we join in the Heavenly Feast with all of His Saints – the Communion of Saints.  In this Supper we celebrate the Truth that Christ Jesus lives – today we partake of His Body.  Death cannot hold Him, Christ has not decayed away, but now, in His Body reigns in heaven in the Presence of all the Saints – and through His Supper rejoice in His presence here on Earth.  Because we know that our Lord lives, we know that we too have Eternal life, right now, it is ours.  Right now, God has blessed His saints, and we all simply wait for the last day when we shall see our Lord in our own flesh.  We are joined to our Lord and all of His Saints.  This is the joy and peace that we see here on Earth.

          Dear friends – your life will have struggles – there will be trials and pains and sorrow.  But let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, for the grave could not hold Him, for He reigns from Heaven this moment, for He gives us His gifts of life and forgiveness here in His Church.  Because of this, we endure the sorrows of the moment, we endure them by looking to the eternal joy which He has won for us with His death and resurrection, which He has promised us.  This is the peace we have as Christians, this is the joy we have as Christians, one that no one can take away.  In spite of it all, we have God’s love lavished upon us in His Word and Sacraments.  Thanks be to Christ Jesus our Lord that He blesses us so.  Amen.  Christ is Risen.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Assuming "Evil" - Just a Miss

A lot of times when people do things which we don't like, the natural (and note, natural often means "sinful" in my book) response is to assign them an ill intent, to think about how evil they are.  And I suppose if you wanted to approach things from a hard and strict theological standpoint... well, yes, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and what they have done is evil and wicked and vile.

However, the problem with me taking that approach is that my own sinful flesh will run with that and use that as an excuse to vilify and berate and hate and tear down and destroy.  Which is not good either.

So, yes, let us say that in God's sight what that person has done is Evil... we will let God, who is quite adept at handling evil and forgiving it deal with that.

Now, from my perspective, from my point of view, how should I view things?  Instead of adopting an approach of "they are evil", it's probably better to think of them as well intentioned but misguided.

Yes, yes, sometimes people are just acting in a bald-faced evil way with nothing good at all going on.  But most of the time, well, there's a reason for the old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  Most of the time people do have some sort of "good" intentions.  Doesn't mean they are wise, or do things that are good... but if think of them as those who are trying to do something good and just failing... they become a bit more sympathetic, even when their failings end up dumping on us.

Have some compassion on those who do you ill.  Don't assume them to be "evil" -- just assume that they wanted to do something good but just missed the mark completely.  It won't make things hurt less... but it will leave you in a better position to still show them love.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Bakers or Cake Decorators

I do find it entertaining that I am often called an antinomian, that I am looked down upon and told that I don't encourage enough works in my sermons, that I don't preach enough sanctification (sigh: as though you "preach" sanctification... you proclaim God's Word, both Law and Gospel, and the Holy Spirit will use it as He wills).

I have come to realize the complaint isn't really that I don't encourage works. Or even good works. Or that I don't exhort. It's that I'm a baker who gets yelled at by cake decorators.

Think about a wedding cake -- everyone will ooh and aah at the frosting, the decoration - the stuff that everyone sees. But you know what makes up the cake... the cake. The stuff you bake. The things that are hidden that no one sees, but when you eat the cake, that's the main thing.

You know what I exhort folks towards. Loving their neighbor. When no one can see. To be the wonderful treat that gives life and joy and "body" to the lives of your neighbor. Too many folks want frosting preachers, preachers who will add the nice finishing touch the decorations, who will make a pretty flower or add a lovely splash of color.

 My wife likes cake decorating. I got her a kit for her birthday -- it came with a practice pad, a silicon sheet where you could work on your designs. That's what I find many of these rabble rousers to be... nicely decorated, but no cake. And empty piece of plastic with sugar on it to appeal to the world. Piety but no compassion, appearances that are well kept but lacking love, fingers more apt to wag than to be about making peace. Patience and kindness are absent, but there is a covering of self-righteousness for all to see and praise. Gentleness and goodness are not even thought of, unless it is the neighbor's lack of goodness.

 Like Whitewashed tombs.

 It is simple. We are sinners. We are forgiven. The Holy Spirit stirs up in us good works. He will point us that way through the Law. And you know what -- those works are directed at your neighbor. Anything else... well, show me your frosting and I'll show you my cake.

So Many Fake Pressures

Christians place so many false pressures upon themselves. Now, I think of this from my perspective as a pastor, where I think I am supposed to be all things to all people, "grow" my congregation, be everyone's favorite person, be the best preacher and teacher in the world, be the best presider in service, be the most cheerful and friendly person... okay, I know I don't have to be that, but there still is that nagging feeling that creeps in that I ought... that if only I were.... Anyone can fill in the pressures they have, especially the pressure to fit some "Christian" ideal of outward perfection... not just is morals (yes, strive to act morally), but in results. To have the perfect looking family, the perfect looking job, the perfect looking _________. It's all fake. That drive to look, that drive to appear perfect. Who is it for? Serve your neighbor. Strive to show love. Seek to grow... but don't worry about impressing anyone. It's fake.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Teaching by example

I remember taking one of those pyschological/pastoral practice tests they give at the Seminary, and noting that I scored very low on the idea of being an example. Questions like, "As a Pastor, I should be an example to my congregation" horrified me... and to a certain extent they still do. Why are you looking at me... look to Christ! However, the simple truth is this - you will teach by example. And you know what - this is good, and it something we ought to do a bit more. I've been contemplating how folks interact with each other - especially pastors on line, and there is a ton of browbeating, a ton of just ripping people to shreds. Very destructive. Granted, there are times that a bit of destruction is necessary... but this isn't surgery to remove a tumor or cyst, this is carpet bombing an entire neighborhood to get to that cyst. You know - maybe we should be a little bit more content teaching by example. Maybe we should think about being examples of proper behavior... patience, kindness, self-control, putting the best construction on things. That's what we ought to do publicly. And if we need to correct, well, maybe we should be a bit more content with admonishing and giving advice one on one, in private, where no one can see to either praise our wonderful wisdom (or orthodoxy) and where no one is going to have attention drawn to their errors or shame. Just some thoughts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hot and Cold

Well, warmer weather has come... today, we should be into the 90s. With very little wind, and what wind there is, from the south, so it won't cool that much. But we aren't going to stay hot -- by the weekend, we will be stormy with highs only in the mid or low 60s. Then, we'll be warmer. It seems we've spent the last two weeks doing this. I've never liked weather patterns like this - there's too much variance. Granted, that is one of the things that comes with living in Oklahoma - it just makes it hard to get adjusted, hard to get comfortable. But, that's spring - several premature attempts to jump to summer. I was talking with a member last night about God's "Immutability" - His changelessness... and so often I'll come across people who want to use this as a way of saying things God can't do -- God couldn't become Man because that would be a change... blah blah blah. That's not what saying God is immutable is about. It's saying He's constant and consistent. God is not like the Oklahoma weather. With weather here, I don't know what I'm going to get from one day to the next. God is consistent... you know what you are going to get with God -- there will always be forgiveness for those who repent. Everyday - mercy and love - it's 75 and mild, just like it always has been. I know there are some people who look at this and say, "Poppycock and balderdash! Sometimes God is wonderful to me and gives me tons of stuff, and sometimes He just lets horrible things come to me." First - why do you think that would be a measure of His love -- and second, if He keeps and preserves you through worse things, that's actually more love. I have to work much harder to keep a garden alive when it's 110 degrees outside... consider that He supports you more when it is harsh... or perhaps more accurately, that He continues to support you with what you need as He has always done? This is the Psalms. His steadfast love endures forever. That's Who God is... the One with constant, enduring Steadfast Love.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Does Sanctification Look Like

So what does the Sanctification look like? I'm awake and have been since 6. It was my wife's morning to look after Victor. He woke up, and my wife was sleeping. So, I crawled out of bed and took care of my son, letting my wife sleep. Is this a mighty thing? Is it something that anyone would have known about (and you ought not know about it, but I'm giving an example)? Is it something that some table thumper would list on his scrawl of all the things you have to do to be a Christian? No. If anything, it's despised. Changing diapers. Waking up a bit early. Meh. But it's care for your neighbor, the ones God has placed in my life. You want to show forth sanctification - go do simple care for your neighbor, the stuff that no one will see or notice, that no one will praise, the stuff that no one will say, "My, what a mighty Christian witness" about... just go love the folks God has placed into your life... even if it means changing a few diapers. Oh, and don't talk about it... that becomes self serving. Bear in mind that I also was the jerk who went to bed early and let my tired wife deal with the whiney boy then =o)

Every Heresy

Thoughts for the morning. 1. Every heresy derives from not trusting the Word of God. 2. Every heresy flows from not fearing or loving the Word of God. Now, you may have noticed that this is nothing but looking at heresy in light of the meaning of the first commandment - "You should fear, love, and trust in God above all things" -- and tying this to the Word, to placing our knowledge of God as coming from His revealed Word. Consider this -- is there any error in the Church which doesn't stem from a lack of trust in the Word of God? Isn't that how all this sin stuff started? Did God really say? And from there everything goes down hill. And isn't this caused because we don't rightly fear what God has said... (oh, you will not die) -- isn't it because we do not love (oh, I'll be like God... well, I'll be a better one than Him!). First Commandment - it sets up everything.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – April 22nd, 2012 – John 10:11-16 Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen Well, Jesus gives us quite the contrast here, doesn’t He? The Good Shepherd, and then, the hired hands. The ones who fail. The ones who flee. There is the Good Shepherd who is willing to die for the sake of the sheep, and the hired hands who flee. Who run. Who shirk their duty and would rather save their own skins. So, which are you more like? The Shepherd or the hired hand? I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. This text gives me, and it gives most Pastors a long moment of pause. Why? The word in Latin for Shepherd is “Pastor”. That’s where we get the term pastor from – the shepherd of a congregation. An under-shepherd of the Good shepherd. And so it gives me pause. But it ought to give you pause in your own life as well. Although you aren’t pastors, you don’t have a congregation to look after and tend to in the same way that I do – you all have responsibilities to other people. To your children. To your friends. To your parents. To your neighbors and co-workers. So come and ponder, share my moment of pause. Do you look more like the Good Shepherd, or do you look more like just another hired hand? The temptation we face, the struggle we always have is to look much more like the hired hand. How often do we shirk our duty, the hard part of it, the rough part, simply to win ourselves a bit of comfort or ease. Parents, do you discipline your children – do you let them hate you and yell at you and scream at you for your sternness and how unfair you are in order to raise them properly? Or do you let the wolf come and scatter your children – do you let them run wild and happy, do as they will, and let them fall into all sorts of sin? Sometimes its easy to flee. Do you step up and correct your friends when they are in danger, when the wolf of some vice or evil has them do you rush in to save, or do you remain coy and shy – do you let your friends fall deeper and deeper just so they won’t be upset with you? Sometimes its easy to flee. When the teasing starts, when the griping begins – do you defend your neighbor, do you put the best construction on everything – or do you not just flee and abandon them, but become a wolf yourself. Do you run with the pack and heap on insult and abuse to fit in? When push comes to shove, do you look like the shepherd or the hired hand? We look too much like the hired hand here, all of us. We blow the second table of the commandments out of the water. The 4th? Do we give honor to those in authority, do we love and serve or do we despise them, make their lives hard, provoke them, and try to manipulate them? The 5th? Do we seek to support our neighbor in every physical need, or do we bear their hurts as none of our concern? The 6th? Do we encourage chastity? Do we teach people to lead a chaste life? Do we encourage spouses to love each other – or do go with the flow of a culture that tells us to live for ourselves? Boys will be boys and girls just want to have fun. The 7th? Do we look to the benefit of our neighbor, his financial well being, or do we only worry about ours? Do we tithe, or if not 10% at least budget our offering to the Church and see that it gets here, or simply give to God what happens to be convenient? Or perhaps more dangerously, do we give what we give, and then grumble about how our neighbor is selfish and isn’t doing his part? The 8th? When talking about our neighbors, do we put the best construction on things, or do we gladly shout how someone else is horrid and terrible? Do we build up our friends’ reputations, do we support our neighbors with our words, or do we gossip behind their backs, undercut them and break them down? The 9th and 10th? Do we look on what others have – their stuff, their friendships, and do we rejoice for them, or do we undermine them, do we get jealous and complain? Do we look like the Shepherd who will suffer all for the sake of His sheep, or do we flee from righteousness like the hired hands, and worry more about ourselves? The most dangerous thought a Christian can have is “I’m pretty good.” I’m doing okay. God doesn’t say, “Be pretty good as your Father in heaven is pretty good.” At creation God doesn’t say, “And behold, it was okay.” We were created to be not pretty good, not mostly good, but Good. God doesn’t want us to behave okay – Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. That’s our standard, and we forget that, and we become lax, we shrug off our duties to each other, and flee. We let the wolves come into our midst and scatter us, scatter us as families, scatter us as a congregation. When Satan rears his ugly head, all too often we back away quietly and let him have his way. This is what sin is. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things – and too often we fear Satan, fear our neighbor’s disdain, fear not having the latest and greatest gadget more than we fear God. And we live in fear of Satan, fear of the world, and we are scattered. I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Christ doesn’t back away. Christ doesn’t back away from sin, death, or the devil. Rather, Christ fights. Christ stays and takes on the wolf with his bare hands so that His sheep might live. Jesus will not let you be taken by Satan without a fight. And so, your Good Shepherd goes to the Cross – He goes to the cross seeing all the wolves you flee, seeing all the ways in which Satan has snatched you, seeing the ways in which you fail, and our Lord says, “I will fix that. I lay down my life for the sheep.” And your sin is forgiven. This is the beauty that we celebrate as Christians. Where we fail to fight sin as we ought, Christ succeeds. Where we lack in courage and boldness, Christ abounds, and He strides forth and He fights the Good Fight and wins for us salvation. This is why our Lord rises from the dead. This is why our Lord lives – so that He Himself might give us life, that He might give us Himself, clothe us in His own righteousness and strength, so that we might stand up and face down temptation. Jesus is always at work for us. And He doesn’t abandon us. When our Lord sees temptation brewing in our life, when He sees Satan stalking around this congregation like a hungry wolf, He doesn’t leave us. Hear again His Word. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. . . they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd. When has Christ ever stopped bringing His voice to you? When has He ever held back His Word, when has He ever stopped His preaching, stopped His teaching? When has He ever taken His Word from you? Never. Christ Jesus has established His Church, He has chosen to build up His flock here, and to call us and gather us here – and why? To listen to His voice. To be fed upon His Word. To spend our time in His Word, being forgiven, growing in faith, growing in strength so that we might look more and more like the Shepherd. And in that regards, in that respect, we have a long, long way to go. But Christ is doing it. He is building up His Church, He is teaching us, He is making us grow. This is what it means to be part of Christ’s Church, to be part of His flock. This is our focus – this is why we are in the Word, why we hear sermons and have bible studies. This is why we have this service – this is why our liturgy is about what God does, how He gathers us and forgives and us grows us. This is why our hymns are about what God has done. This is why our songs are about what Jesus does, not me. Me and my love – that flickers, that fails. There are times when I am down right nasty, and just cause I show up to Church for an hour on Sunday doesn’t give me the right to pretend otherwise. But Christ doesn’t fail. His love for you never wavers. It is always full and strong, and as such He gives you what you need. He continues to come to you by His Word, by His Supper, over and over. Always and forever He calls out to His Flock, He gathers us and shelters us, gives us His strength. That’s what this congregation is, this is what it is to be – a place where we who fail hear the life-giving Word of the Good Shepherd. Where we delight that He leads us to green pastures and makes us lie down where we ought. This is a place where we confess our faults, where we despair of any goodness or holiness or righteousness that comes from ourselves, but rather cling solely to Christ. And He gives us what we need, and we rejoice and give thanks. We don’t look like we ought. Throughout the week, we get scattered, we flee, we fail, we run away. But Christ Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and He calls and gathers us here by His Word, and here He richly gives us forgiveness, gives us His strength, fills us with Himself so that we might look a bit more like Him, so that we might stand and fight the battles in our lives that our friends and loved ones need us to fight. But Christ knows that battle is hard, for it is one He has fought Himself – so over and over He calls us here to His Church to be forgiven and filled again, until that day when He calls us to our eternal home. All thanks be to Christ Jesus, who defends us always from Satan our foe. Amen. Christ is Risen…

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Self-Focused Man Will Never Understand God's Law

Hi there. Yes, you. You who look at your faith as a journey, the story of your coming to Christ. That great and wonderful play...

You will never understand God's Law.

Why do I say that? Why am I so brazen and bold?

Because it's true.

You see, the Law... it's not about making you a better person. It's not a guide to how you can improve yourself. It's not the secret decoder ring that lets you show God how much you really, really love Him.

See, all those things -- those are focused upon yourself.

Now, hear the Word of the Lord.

"“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” -- Matthew 22:37-40

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." - John 13:34

The Law is this -- Love. Love God, love your neighbor. Oh, and by the by - the way that you love God is you love your neighbor - "Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’" - Matthew 25:45

The Law always points you towards serving and caring for your neighbor. If you are not shown your neighbor when you consider the Law... you aren't looking at God's Law. If you have something you think is a precept... and it doesn't instruct you to or guide you in caring for your neighhbor... it's not God's Law... or if it is, you're missing the point.

We were created to be servants. Love your neighbor.

You tell me that X is right or Y is wrong... tell me how it loves my neighbor, tell me how it harms them. Otherwise, I don't care about your quest for self perfection - it doesn't interest me in the slightest.

Love your neighbor -- that's where it is all at, that's where everything rests. And if you aren't talking about the neighbor, your law talk is... well... it isn't God's Law as He would have it applied.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Confessions of an Accused Antinomian

I know that in many circles, I'm disliked. I am viewed as a terrible, horrid theologian, a danger. I am told that I am an Antinomian - one who despises the Law of God.

This is an unfounded accusation (as I think will be clear in a moment).

Consider the following. I was pondering life, the universe, and everything, as I am want to do, and I was considering romance novels, or romantic comedies. Now, the table pounders will pound angry fists against many things, especially in the realm of entertainment... but the romance novel, the romantic comedy tend to be low on the list (unless they are rather racy).

And I was pondering our culture, and divorce, and how it seems there are more and more middle aged folks getting divorced, the 40-somethings wanting to strike off and find a new adventure, a new romance... who want their lives to look like the pages of that novel about the girl who finds a new love.

It can be a harmful thing. I've seen families this year broken up by... well... a desire to become the star of their own romantic comedy. There was a disdain of the blessings of family, a disdain of reality all in favor of the whimisical what could be. And this is an actual danger - it's something that we should be wary of.

But here is where the rubber meets the road. I see in these stories a potential danger. So what now. Shall I thus say, "If you are a Christian you cannot watch these things!"? Or perhaps, "A good Christian abstains from things like this!"?


Well, why not. Because I recognize one simple thing - in this fallen world anything and everything can and will be abused. Everything. Even blessings from God. Children are a blessing from God - yet children can be turned into idols. Church is a blessing from God - yet I've known men who have so thrown themselves into their parishes that they have ruined their families.

The key is not to try and find the magical list of what you can do or what you cannot do - the key is not to make the list that says, "These things are morally safe and if I do only things from this list then I am a good, Christian boy" or to have a list of "these are the bad things that only the bad people do."

Those are lies. They are false dreams.

The fact is this. Everything we do is sin, is tainted and twisted and torn with sin.

I preach. I write sermons, I show people their sin and then give them Christ and His forgiveness. What could be more holy that that? Yet, every time I have preached at this Church, before I have entered the pulpit I have prayed wise words given to me by Luther - "Then if Thou art pleased to accomplish anything through me, to Thy glory, and not to mine or to the praise of men, grant me, out of Thy pure grace and mercy a right understanding of Thy Word and that I may also, diligently perform it."

Even as I prepare to preach, Luther points out that preaching itself can and will be the occasion for sin - where I will become self focused, worried about what praise or glory I will garner from the beauty of my words.

There is no list I can follow to avoid this. I am a selfish, sinful man, and all that I do is corrupt, for I am sinful to the core. Do I show love? Sure - but even now, even as I see Christ at work in me and through me, as long as I am in this sinful flesh, yea until the day of the resurrection and the life of the world to come, everything will be tainted with sin. Just the way it is.

And then I hear someone say, "A Christian cannot do X."

To what end is this statement? If I do not do X, am I better? Is my sinful heart thus constrained and made righteous? No. If I do not do X, am I thus made to live a holy life? No. If I do not do X, am I thereby thrust back upon the Scriptures, so that the Spirit might work upon and that by God's grace I might be made to perform it? Well, given that often that X isn't a command in Scripture... no.

Your plans, your lists, your rules that you devise out of your head that you think will keep you free from sin... they all neglect the simple truth. It is out of your sinful heart that sin springs from... and you cannot avoid that. Even if you devise your list, even if you do all things outwardly so well and are always above reproach... you remain a sinner. And if you have not love from Christ - you are nothing.

So I see and hear someone go off on the rant - oh, a Christian can't do X. All I hear is someone subsitituting their own reason for Scripture to put forth an artificial standard of righteousness that ignores sin, that doesn't get to the heart.

It is as though the Health Inspector goes to the restaraunt and harps about how there is a drip of ketchup on the counter beneath the ketchup dispenser - and how this is vile and terrible and good night think about the children who use this dispenser (what about the children) -- and yet in his rantings never checks the kitchen, which is replete with Cockroaches and raw meat left lying about. You lament the small, the trivial -- you ignore that which will actually kill.

No, I am not an Antinomian. I know God's Law, and moreover I know what it says of me, and I know that it is true - that all my righteousness is nothing, is filthy rags. It doesn't matter how much I try to dress them up, or even how nice people say they are -- they remain what they are.

I am left totally and utterly dependent upon Christ. And He gives me mercy. He forgives me. He even makes me to do good works - which are not displays of outward righteousness, but rather He uses me to accomplish His good for my neighbor. I am a flawed tool, but a flawed tool in the Hands of the Master still accomplishes much due to His skill and greatness... and I know that one day I will no longer be broken.

Oh - but if I don't smoke, you say I'll be a better Christian? Where in the Word does it say that?

Oh - but if I don't swear, then I'm a better Christian? So is my anger and disgust towards my neighbor thereby better if I only "darn" them instead of damn then? I see my heart - and I still see anger and hatred towards my neighbor instead of love.

No - it's not that I despise the Law... it's that I hate the way you try to water it down into something that is accomplishable.

"So, should you just go and swear then" -- no, no more than I think someone should go out and smoke 5 packs a day. It's foolish and rarely helpful... but, well... it's not the main thing.

I have a cold. If I work really hard and focus on not coughing loudly... that changes nothing. I am still ill. And if because I focus hard on not coughing I delude myself into thinking that I am healthy... well, that cold may turn into something much worse.

I am not an antinomian because I don't focus on that thing that annoys you, no more than a doctor ceases to be a doctor because he worries less about the cough than he does about what causes it. In fact, because he's a doctor he probably is less worried about the symptom than the disease.

Thus it is. I am a sinner - and I see it constantly. I know the thoughts that have been racing around my head even as I write this -- the unkind ones, the uncharitable ones, the vainglorious ones. Even if by discipline I have kept some of them from shining forth... so be it... they are still there. I remain what I will be until I am raised - a sinner in need of forgiveness.

And thus my focus will always be on Christ and Him Crucified.

God grant that it remain always so.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Easter 2 Sermon

2nd Sunday of Easter – John 20:19-31 – April 15th, 2012

Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
Pastors often refer to this Sunday as “Low Sunday”. Some will piously say that it is called this because it is a bit of a lower, less festive celebration than Easter Sunday last week, some will say it reflects the fact that most Churches around the country will have their lowest, non-weather impacted attendance of the year today. Which is a shame, because I do not know if there is a set of readings that I enjoy more than today’s readings. We had that wonderful Introit – as Newborn babes crave pure spiritual milk – fantastic description of life of faith. The newborn cannot go fix food for himself, but when that food is brought to him, there is joy, and he lives. And then we had our Old Testament – Dry Bones – can these bones live? Of course they can – when the Word of God is spoken to them and when the Word of God speaks life into them. Again, another image of our faith. We were dead in our sins and trespasses, but then God spoke His Word of life and Spirit to us, and we were given new life in Him. And how does this Word give us life? As John teaches in his Epistle, the Spirit is truth, and it testifies of Christ Jesus, and we believe. We receive Water and Spirit in Baptism, and we believe. We receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper, and we believe. We hear the Word and Spirit proclaimed in Christ’s Word, and we believe. Fantastic stuff. You add to this the fact that when Jesus dies, He gives up His Spirit, and from His pierced side flow water and blood – you get some great stuff.

And then there is our Gospel lesson. Again, another fantastic text, almost two texts in one, again teaching us about Christ Jesus and His forgiveness and what faith is. Let’s just dive in. “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”” So, it’s that Sunday night, the night after the resurrection, and where are the disciples? They are holed up, in hiding. Sure, Peter and John have seen the empty tomb, sure Mary Magdalene has said that she has seen the Lord, but the disciples aren’t sure what is going on. So they sit there, huddled in a locked room. And what happens? Jesus comes to them – doesn’t matter that the door is locked. He is risen – if the tomb and grave can’t hold His resurrected, glorified body, no door lock is going to stop Him – and Christ Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.”

Peace. In English we don’t get how central, how wonderful a word peace is. Peace isn’t just the ending of hostilities, it isn’t just calmness – in Hebrew, in Aramaic, peace encorporates everything that is good and right and proper. In modern Hebrew, if you are asking someone how they are, you say “Ma Scholmka?” – literally “how is your peace”? Is everything settled and good and proper to where you can live and enjoy life – or is there terror and guilt and trouble and sorrow? How is your peace?

Christ Jesus enters the room, and he sees those disciples huddled in fear, those disciples who most certainly had no peace, but rather had doubt and fear and sorrow and guilt and shame over what had happened in the previous days, and He looks at them, and He says to them, “Peace be with you.” He comes into that room, and He speaks peace – and where there had been no peace, there is peace. Doubt is removed, fear is overcome, sorrow is lifted, guilt is forgiven, shame is covered – there stands Christ Jesus, and He says “peace be with you.” That’s a forgiveness thing, that’s the Word of the Lord coming to the broken and dried out people and making them live again. And John notes something interesting – “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” It is when they see that it is the Lord who was crucified, Christ Jesus in His own Body – not just a ghost or something like that, then they rejoice. Why? Jesus has every right to declare peace – because He has defeated and overcome death, overcome the wages of sin, overcome man’s rebellion against God which consigned man to the grave. He’s done away with all that, and He says peace.

That’s fantastic, that’s wonderful stuff. But then Jesus goes a step further. “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”” And now the world as we know it is different. Look at what Jesus does – He declares His peace again, but then He adds this – as the Father has sent Him, so He is sending out these men. The Greek word there is “apostle” – the word Apostle means one who is sent. And Christ breathes His Spirit upon them and gives them instructions to go and forgive sins. And that’s what the Apostles do – they go, they preach Christ, they forgive sins – and this Church here stands because Christ sent those Apostles who preached and baptized and taught and forgave, and who ordained men who would preach and baptize and teach and forgive, on and on through the generations even to this day. This is why we say we believe in the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church – we are part of the John 20 text, it flows down even to us today. Consider – how often this day will a man sent here to you by God look at you and say “peace” to you? It’s all part of the same stream, the same Church spread throughout the world that you and I are part of, called here and given life by the Spirit, and in this Christian Church the Spirit daily and richly forgives my sins and the sins of all believers. This is who we are, this is what this place is to be – a place where the Peace of God is declared and proclaimed and given to sinners who need it – where the Word of God breathes life into the dead and dying so that they might live now in love to their neighbors and live forever in the life of the world to come. This is what God’s Church is about – Peace from the Risen Christ.

And then we have a transition in the text. One of the 12, Thomas, he wasn’t with them. And what happens? Thomas doesn’t buy it. I feel bad for Thomas – if I mentioned Thomas, how many of you just added a “doubting” in front of it. Here you are, an Apostle, and what do you get remembered as – Doubting Thomas. Kind of lousy – but note what he doubts. “But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”” He doesn’t disbelieve that they saw Jesus – oh, that could happen. But a risen Jesus, Jesus in His Own Body – that, that’s too much for Thomas. Fair enough. We should understand that – we all know people who refuse to believe that the Lord’s Supper is Christ’s Body and Blood – it’s just too big, too wondrous, too amazing. Same thing with Thomas here – the idea is just too shocking, he can’t wrap his head around it.

And then, we move ahead to the next Sunday, and Thomas is there with the Apostles this time, and Christ Jesus appears. And once again, the first thing Jesus does is pronounce peace, give out forgiveness. He doesn’t walk up and smack Thomas for being a lousy doubter – nope – first things first. Peace be with you. And then Christ goes to Thomas… and then He SMACKS him… well no, of course not, Jesus didn’t rise to smack foolish people around, which is good for us because we’d be worthy of plenty of smackage. No, Christ goes to Thomas and says, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” See, Thomas, I am not just some disembodied spirit, I’m not just some vision of joy and happiness, I’m not all the stupid things that people 2000 years later will hear from so-called theologians hanging out on the History Channel – I am risen in My own Body, and I carry with Me the signs of My victory over death and the grave that I won for you.

And then Thomas makes the good confession, the confession of faith that stands out over and against every heresy and falsehood and lie the Church has seen and heard since then – “Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”” Who is it who stands there, who is risen, who declares peace to Thomas? Christ Jesus, True God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and True Man, born of the Virgin Mary, who for us men and for our salvation was born, suffered, died, and rose. When we are speaking of Jesus, friends, we are speaking of God. And this is the buffer, the defense against falsehood and heresy – if you hear people talking about how Jesus can’t be God – toss it out – heresy. If you hear people talking about how Jesus can’t be doing something – toss it out – heresy. We don’t go telling God what He can and cannot do, especially when He has promised us in His Word that He would do something. Christ Jesus, our Lord and God, lives and gives peace – and this is everything in the Church.

And then, there is just one other little golden nugget in this text – John’s summation of the whole kit and kaboddle – “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John’s not trying to write the complete biography of Jesus, He’s not trying to give you every single detail of His life – not the point. The point is this – that we hear that Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, has lived and died for us, and that in Him we have life, we have life in His Name. This is what Christ sent John out to proclaim, this is what Christ’s Church has been proclaiming since then, this is what we have received. We are those who receive from God His Word, and we receive in that Word the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection, whether it’s that Word attached to Water in Baptism, whether it’s that Word attached to bread and wine giving us Christ’s True Body and Blood in the Supper, or whether it’s that Word of peace spoken by another one of the long line of preachers God has sent to His people. That is the purpose of this place, that is why we live, why we shall live for all eternity, why we know our peace with God is secure. Our Lord has done it all, and He brings it to us today. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Post on Sanctification

Let me be utterly brief. I'll admit it - I hate talking about "sanctification" or "holy living" -- not that I dislike sanctification or holy living -- it's just that conversations "about" these things tend to be sterile and lifeless... which is the exact opposite of what Christian living and Sanctification is supposed to be. Why? Because Sanctification is summed up not in us, but in our living for our neighbor.

Speaking of Sanctification or holy living without the neighbor in mind is... pointless. What is love without an object. What is gentleness without the one whom you are being gentle towards? Even self-control - what is that if not controlling the self so as to serve and not hate the neighbor?

When we are trying to discuss Christian living or Sanctification, or whatever you wish to call it, it is folly to discuss it in terms of what we do not do, or what we as Christians cannot do. A Christian is to be an active agent of love... and true Christian love always acts for the benefit of the neighbor. False piety abstains from acts and feigns this to be holiness.

Don't talk to me about your life, your holiness or the level there of, of how you are progressing on your faith journey or holiness. Don't tell me what you don't do, all the things you give up. Even if you have given up your body to be burden but have no love -- nothing.

Tell me about your neighbor and how you are helping them, how God is using you to serve them and provide them what they need. Then we see that God has given you life.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Sermon

Easter Day – April 8th, 2012 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia – Amen
As Mary trudged to the tomb that Easter morning, she was miserable. Her Lord, her friend was dead. Finished. Caput, that’s all she wrote. The best she could hope for was to mourn – the best. Maybe she could treat the remains with some care, but it had been quite some time since He died, and He was sorely abused as He was put to death. Do you see what this means? As she approached the tomb that Sunday morning, the most she was hoping for was a dreary and disgusting one-sided farewell. She was miserable. And then, she gets to the tomb, and confusion is added to her misery. The tomb has been unsealed. Has it been robbed, has it been vandalized, have those who hated Jesus in life hated him so vigorously that they would desecrate Him in death? What is going on? And so she runs to Peter, to John, tells them what has happened – maybe they will help. They run, John runs faster and looks, Peter runs slower and charges in – and they are left in wonder. The tomb is empty, the burial cloths are simply laying there, the head cloth folded neatly. And what do they do? Do they help and comfort poor Mary? Nope. In their confusion, they head back home… and simply leave Mary there. The friends she had run to for help have no answer, and off they go, and there stands Mary in misery and sorrow and confusion and despair.

This is the morning that Mary is having. “But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.’” Is it any wonder, with the morning that Mary has had that she would be so distraught, so upset, so hopeless that she wouldn’t even recognize or understand two angels talking to her? Not at all. And so in utter despair and despondency, she cries out her lament and then she turns to trudge out of the tomb. “Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’” So wounded, so hurt, so torn that the best she can hope for that morning is to drag a corpse around by herself – that’s all that she thinks is left to her, that is the best she thinks she can look for.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned and said to Him in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means teacher).” And this is where it all changes for Mary. What had been a morning of nothing but death and sorrow and sadness and doom and despair is swept away and in its place is nothing but joy and peace and love and gentleness and goodness. And why? Because Christ Jesus, risen from the tomb, risen victorious over sin and death and the power of the Devil, stands before her, and He calls her by Name. Mary had been right to weep that morning – when one sees the cruelty of life in this sinful, fallen world, one is right to weep. And if one assumes that Jesus is gone, dead, destroyed, what would left be but weeping? But behold, there stands Christ Jesus her Lord, and He knows Mary, and He loves Mary, and He calls out to her with His own voice. Do you see what this means? It doesn’t mean that the horrors of Good Friday never happened, it doesn’t mean that the sorrows Mary faced weren’t real – oh no, they were real, and they were strong and they were horrible, too strong and horrible for Mary to bear. But they were not too strong for Christ, for He strides victoriously from the tomb, He strides victorious over sin, over death, over hatred and chaos. They were strong foes, but Christ Jesus is the Stronger Man, and He is the Victor. And His victory was not just for Himself – it was for Mary. See, He is risen, and He calls her by name – and she knows at that moment, as He calls her by name, that even in the midst of a world full of sorrows and terrors and fears, His victory is her victory, and at the last when this world has done it’s worst, she too will stride forth from her tomb. Jesus is Risen and calls her by name.

Now, dear fiends, understand the ploy that Satan uses. He used it on Mary; he uses it upon us today. He tries to make the sin and ruin and vileness of this world that we see all around us overwhelm us, tries to use this to rob us of hope and joy. But over and against the assaults of Satan, one thing remains true. Christ Jesus is Risen, and this Risen Jesus has called you by Name out of the kingdom of Satan in unto His own family. You are forgiven by your Risen Lord, and Satan can harm you none, he’s judged, the deed is done – but Christ’s Kingdom remains your forever.

Does Satan show you misery in this world? He probably does, but this does not change the fact that Christ is risen, and He has called you by name. Does Satan show you suffering in this world? He probably does, but Christ is still risen, and He has called you by name, and so you will rise past suffering. Does Satan try to terrify you? So be it, Christ is still risen, and He has called you by name, and there is no fear that is stronger than Him. Does Satan try to make you overwhelmed with guilt and despair? He probably does, but Christ is risen, and He has declared you to be forgiven, and He still calls you by your Name to His church precisely to forgive those sins that weigh heavy on your mind.. Does Satan try to rob you of hope? I’m sure he does, but Christ is risen, and He has called you by name, and there is nothing Satan can do to rob you of Christ and the hope of life everlasting that He has said is yours. Does Satan throw anything and everything he can at you? Of course, for he was a liar and a murderer from the beginning, but Christ is Risen, and He has called you by name and He has said, see, although Satan has bruised my heel, I have crushed his head and freed you from him. Over and against any sorrow or pain or wretchedness we may encounter in our days in this fallen world, this truth stands out. Christ is risen, and He has called you by name.

What we are gathered here this morning to celebrate and rejoice in is the most important event in the history of the world, the point at which everything changes. Christ has risen from the dead, and the power of Satan is snapped, is destroyed. Death has lost its sting, it has no more victory. Death could not hold Christ – and because of Christ it cannot and will not hold you. Sin rears up its ugly head in your life – your risen Lord Christ Jesus says, Enough of that, I am your risen Head, and in Me you have forgiveness and life and salvation. I have called you by Name in the waters of Holy Baptism, and because of Me you are clean and forgiven and have true life, life that sin and this world cannot destroy. The world tries to beat and break you down, to whittle you away – your Risen Lord Christ Jesus says, “Enough of that – all that I have is yours for you are Mine, and I give you My strength, My life, My love – here, take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.” Although the world will try to cloud your vision, to encumber you with pain and sorrow so that you forget this, Christ Jesus calls out to you once again this morning, He says to you, “I have risen for you, and you shall live now in this life and you shall rise and you shall be with me for all eternity, and there is nothing that Satan can do about it.” This is His love for you, a love stronger than death and the grave, a love stronger than sin and Satan, a love that is steadfast and sure. He is risen, and He is risen for you.

My dear Christian friends, indeed, more than mere friends, my brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom I will in Christ’s presence share the joys of everlasting life both now in part and in the life of the world to come, what more needs to be said? Christ Jesus is Risen from the Grave, and He has called you by Name. His life is now your life, His resurrection is now your resurrection, His victory is now your victory, and so it shall ever be. Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia, Amen. +

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday Sermon

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

I Am the bread of life, he who comes to Me will never go hungry.
I Am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.
I Am the door; if anyone enters through Me will be saved.
I Am the Good Shepherd.
I Am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.
I Am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.
I Am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.

These are the words that our Lord came preaching, these are the truths which He declared about Himself. He has come to give life and light and salvation to His people whom He loves. And yet, there He hangs, upon a cross. There He suffers. There He thirsts. There He bows His head and gives up His Spirit.

I Am is dead.

This is what John records for us in all its gory detail. “So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth.” John is adamant – Jesus has died… the Roman Soldiers, the profession killers, they knew He was dead. They stabbed Him just to make sure and out seeped water and blood – already separating out. John saw. The soldiers saw. He is dead.

What to make of this then? What is to be our response to this? I Am, Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, who told us so much about Himself, who made so many great promises to us, He has died. Shall we thus despair? Shall we treat this as though it was just a fleeting dream, nice while it lasted? No, no, not at all. Listen to John again – “He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”” What we have here today in Good Friday is for you. John bears witness to it, tells you that Jesus died and fulfilled the Scriptures, the promises of the Old Testament, so that you might indeed know that His promises to you are indeed true.

Christ Jesus told you that He is the bread of life, that whoever believes in Him will never go hungry. Hunger is a sinful, fallen world sort of thing. It’s something that comes because sin has ravaged the world and left it broken, it’s something that comes because death destroys the harvest, blights come and wipe things out. Christ Jesus, I Am, had seen that – and so He came to destroy death, to destroy wickedness and lack… He Himself hungered and died so that by His death death might be undone. In chewing on Christ, death had a meal it couldn’t handle, and it is destroyed. I Am has died for you.

Christ Jesus told you that He is the light of the world, that we need not walk in darkness but have life. As He is put upon the cross, darkness comes – the sun is blotted out as Satan tries to blot out the Son of God. Know this for what it is – Christ Jesus draws all evil, all sin, all vice unto Himself, and upon the Cross in those hours of darkness, He destroys darkness. He closes His eyes in death so that when our eyes are opened in the Last day we will see only His light. His death secures that promise. I Am has died for you.

Christ Jesus has said that He is the door, that if we enter through Him we will be saved. Know what He is doing upon the Cross. Death had staked its claim on us, said we belonged to it. And we had, but Christ Jesus would not stand for it. And so, Christ Jesus took over death. He swallowed up death, robbed it over its victory. And we are attached to Christ, joined to Him in Holy Baptism. St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 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.” He is the door – and by His death not even death can separate us from Him, indeed, we have already died, we have already gone through death with Him. I Am dies so that we might live.

Christ Jesus has said that He is the Good Shepherd. Did He not tell you that the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep? This is what He is doing, this is what He has done. Satan came pouncing for you, to snatch you away – and the Good Shepherd jumped in Satan’s way. I Am lays down His life for you; He lays it down so that He may take it up again and give you life.

Christ Jesus has said that He is resurrection and the life. He will prove it. Does Death still frighten you, terrify you? Then look to Christ Jesus. See, He dies… and He rises. He is the resurrection, and thus you know that the power of death is shattered, and that He is all in all. His promise to you remains – even though you die, like Christ you shall live, for He too has died and risen for you.

Christ Jesus has said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. This is the way we are restored to the Father – the truth, the harsh weight of sin, it’s burden, death, all of it comes crashing down upon Christ Jesus, it nails Him to the tree, it scourges Him. Yet He Himself is life… and so when He has taken up death, yes, He will live again, live again for your sake, live so that you might live with Him, live so that you might dwell in the mansion of the Father to which He brings you.

Christ Jesus has said that He is the Vine, that you are His branches. We heard last night that a branch that is pruned bears much fruit. Christ Jesus takes up in Himself the full brunt of that pruning, so that He might bear fruit in you, so that you might blossom and grow to life everlasting. He suffers all so that you might grow and have life, that your joy may be complete.

John saw it. He heard our Lord cry out “It is finished.” All the work needed to be done to win you salvation, all the righteousness that needed to be fulfilled, all the struggle against Satan and his kingdom – it is done. Finished. Put to an end by Christ. And having done what is needed, Christ dies, so that His promises to you might take effect. This is for your good, your good now, your good even unto life everlasting. And this is why John is so adamant that he saw Jesus die. I Am has died for you, has given His own life for you – what more would be needed? What could possibly have been left undone? What burden would be left to you? None – your salvation is won by this Christ the Crucified – and in Him you have life. He has died, but His promises hold true – and all that remains is for the day of joy to break forth where we see this in full. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Death the Terrible Infant

When Christ was Crucified, He paved the way for the destruction of death. Death is... not what it is used to be. It used to be a giant, dire monster with large gaping jaws... there lies death with sharp, pointy teeth.

My 5 month old is fussing. He has no teeth, but he will grab things and gum them, and fuss and complain. Death is more like my son now... he will gum you, he will make you messy, but he isn't going to devour you, no matter how terrible he shouts, no matter how loud he gets.


I have no idea if this is a good analogy, but it resonates to a me right now.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maundy Thursday Sermon

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
This Lent, we have pondered the I AM sayings of our Lord, the teachings He gives us to understand who exactly He is, what He does for us, what He gives us. And tonight we hear these words from our Lord: “I am the vine; you are the branches.” Tonight, as we ponder not only our Lord’s Passion, but also His gift of His most blessed Holy Supper, it is most appropriate to hear these words, for tonight our Lord not only says who He is, but He teaches us who we are and how we are who were are. It is a wonderful text, so let us consider it this night.

To begin, our Lord says something that can sound chilling. “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” I have done a bit of pruning this year on my fruit trees, and I probably should have done more. It’s a stark contrast to see – the branches on the trees now are starting to flower and blossom and show forth beauty, but on the other hand, those branches that I’ve cut off… they are dead, and waiting simply to be burned in the fire pit come some spring evening. This is part of the image to explain what our lives in this fallen world actually are. Whenever we consider sin, we are actually seeing death and destruction. It’s as simple as that. We see emptiness and ruin. We see worthlessness. And what is more terrifying is that we see this often in ourselves. How often are we filled with regret over things we have done, how often do we lament opportunities missed, how often do we take pains not to think about certain things, not to bring up certain topics because they show us our failures, our disappointments? That is why we flee from the full preaching of the Law, preaching that shows us the depth of our sin, shows us how worthless and futile our works are. We see this, and when we consider the pain that comes, the suffering that comes, we can be tempted to wonder if all this means that God is rejecting us, if He is simply going to cast us off forever.

When we think that, we miss the point. Yes, there will be those in hell, but not you. You belong to Christ. You remain in Him. You, the Father is pruning. When you hear God’s Word of Law, that is simply God coming and driving you to repentance, breaking you of sin, shaping and guiding you so that you might bring forth much fruit. Hear what Christ says of you – “Already you are clean because of the Word that I have spoken to you.” You are washed clean in Holy Baptism, you have heard the Word of forgiveness spoken to you, you receive Christ’s own Body and Blood in His Supper. “Abide in Me, and I in you.” Why? Because in Christ, in His Word that makes you clean, you have life. “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” Your works could never earn you a connection to God, if you are not joined to Christ you can do nothing, no more than the branch in the brush pile is going to produce apples.

But you are in Christ, and what does He promise you? “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” Listen carefully – our Lord did not say, “You had better bear much fruit!” This is not a command to work and work and do more and more. This is a promise – when you are in Christ you will bear much fruit… it simply will happen. We are so tempted to hear this verse and want to make things about ourselves, what we do, look at my actions, see the fruits of my labors… that’s not the point. When you are attached to Christ, cleansed by Him, fruit will come. But what is that fruit? So often we want to jump first to action, to things we do. That’s not how it is – earlier in John, in chapter six, we hear our Lord this: “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So often we want to look to our actions, to see, to judge everything by that. But this misses the point. Fruitfulness is this – believing in Christ and seeing not your own actions, but seeing Him. Fruit is receiving forgiveness, receiving God’s love. As water and nutrients flow from the roots and trunk into the branches and from there comes fruit, so too forgiveness and love flow from Christ into you, so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and that believing you might have life in His name. That’s how John ends the Gospel. Or as Jesus puts it in our text tonight: “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” We come before God, we confess that we are sinful human beings and ask for forgiveness, and it is done for us for the sake of Christ to the Glory of the Father. Everything is centered in forgiveness, everything in our lives stems from the fact that we poor, fallen people have received love from God – and that this love is sure and certain and will not go away. As the Father loves Christ and will always love Him, so you are loved by God. That is where you live, in His love, hearing, receiving His love, over and over – so that all the sin and death and chaos in the world does not lie to you and tell you that God doesn’t love you. You are Christ’s, you are loved, you are forgiven. This is what Christ wishes you to see.

Consider this, on the night when He was betrayed, our Lord establishes and institutes His Supper. The Lord’s Supper is the centerpiece of our worship life, the point of this congregation. Look at this room – where is your eye drawn to? It’s drawn to the altar – for that is where we celebrate our Lord’s meal. And what is this meal but Christ Jesus giving us Himself, His own Body and Blood – and what for? For the forgiveness of sins. So that we would abide in Him, abide in His love. So that we would receive the benefits and blessings of His most blessed suffering and death over and over – so that we would see that our sin is done away with, that we will not die eternally because He has died for us. He is the vine, you are the branches, you are attached to Him – that is precisely what His supper is – it is Vine giving Himself to you so that you might always believe, so that you might have the truth that Christ is your Lord always stand first and foremost in your mind, over and against all the plagues of doubt and remorse that Satan sends your way. You belong to Christ – you abide in Him – and here is the proof. Take and Eat, this is My Body – take and drink, this is My Blood shed for you for the remission of your sin. You are cared for by Christ.

“If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” One of the worst things about the English language, one of the worst English words in the bible today is that word – “keep”. We hear it and think “obey”, think about things we must do. “Keep” in the Scriptures means to hold fast to, to trust, to remain centered upon – and Christ our Lord has told you to take and eat, to take and drink, so that you abide in Christ love. This is not a burden, this is not about trying to prove yourself righteous or holy. Of yourself you aren’t – but Christ is righteous and holy, and He pours His righteousness, He pours himself into you. And why? So that your joy may be full. So that you might stand in the midst of this fallen, dying world as those attached to Christ, as those who cling to Him, those who trust in His love, indeed, those who show His love even without thinking about it. You live in Christ and He in you – by His Word He prunes you, He cleanses you, He makes you to grow in faith towards God and in love toward your neighbor – and it simply happens because that is who you are in Christ.

He is the vine, and as a vine nourishes its branches that it might grow, so too Christ nourishes you this night with Himself. Christ gives you life, gives you joy, gives you assurance that as He rose, so too shall you. This is a truth that stands out in total defiance of all sin, of all death, of all the powers of Satan. Let sin and despair dither with guilt and fear, let all Satan and his ilk be cast into the fires of Hell – let death and grave molder by their lonesomes – that has nothing to do with you any longer. You are Christ’s – He is the vine and you are His branches. In Him there is nothing but life and joy and salvation, fruit that endures even to the life of the world to come. In the Name of Christ the Crucified +