Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost 2012 - May 27th, 2012 - Genesis 11, Acts 2, John 14

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit +
        One of the great, great flaws that American culture has, in general, is the idea that God is a really big and powerful being – who does absolutely nothing with His power anymore.  That’s the way it’s been as long as there’s been an America.  The folks who wrote the Constitution – most of them were Deists – they believed that some god made everything, but then he just sat back and let things take their course.  Even today, how often will we hear that some problem is surely too small for God, as though God doesn’t care or wouldn’t act?  Or that God merely watches us from distance, watching us play like a grandfather watching His grandkids?  Nonsense – all of it.  Our God is a Living, active God – and we actually see this in each of our lessons today. . . so what we will do this morning is look briefly at our Old Testament, our Epistle, and our Gospel, and observe the action of God.

        To begin, our Old Testament Lesson.  The Tower of Babel.  This probably is one of the most familiar stories of the Old Testament.  You have the people gathering together, and in pride and in arrogance, they decide that if they all work together they can do anything they set their mind to – including building such a wonderful city and tower that they will never be disbursed over the face of the earth and their city will never die.  What pride, what arrogance.  As though anything that sinful man does really lasts.  As though our accomplishments really shake the heavens.  We can have such an overblown idea of self-importance – we today can be far too worried about making a name for ourselves.  The desire for fame and renown overwhelm the desire for service – we would rather be recognized as someone great than someone who simply loved the neighbors God has placed into our lives.  Let’s make a name for ourselves and wait for everyone to pat us on the back and tell us how great we are.  And of course, in the people of Babel, we see that common human attempt to escape death – well, if I can’t live forever, at least people will always remember me.  No.  Things fade.  We don’t have the name of the guy who was in charge at Babel, or who the architect was.  But we can do the same thing – we want to live beyond the grave – people to remember us and the things we did.  But that shouldn’t be our concern in life.  Our concern shouldn’t be if people will remember me and cheer my memory, my concern should be for caring for my neighbor, for doing my duties faithfully.

        These are the sins that are floating around Babel, around their tower.  And we all know what happens – God says, “Oh, you’re going to make a name for yourself – well let’s see.”  And then we have the confusion of languages.  God intervenes, and in a most ironic way.  You wanted a name - well, now there will be countless languages, and many of them will forget you and your folly.  One thing to remember is that God doesn’t like sin, and He will step in to frustrate it, to spoil it.  All these peoples’ wicked, selfish hopes and dreams were brought to naught.  What does this warn us?  Don’t tempt God with your sinful thoughts and plans, because God may choose to take you down a peg.  Just because your neighbor gets away with something doesn’t mean you will.  Now, granted, I highly doubt that God is going to confuse the languages in Lahoma, but God can and will frustrate your plans that are self-serving rather than ones that are of love.  Check what you do, what you plan.  See if your motives are right, if they are to serve and love your neighbor, and then ask God’s blessing for what you do.  That is the safe way.

        And then we see God active in our Epistle, the familiar account of the Disciples at Pentecost, where they receive the Holy Spirit and start speaking in tongues.  Now, Pentecost was an old testament feast, 50 days after Passover.  It was a big deal, and there would be visitors from all over in Jerusalem to celebrate and worship and pray – and suddenly, the Disciples are filled with the Holy Spirit, and they speak.  And they [the people] were amazed and astonished, saying “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native tongue.”  Now, at the moment, I simply want to look at the fact of speaking in tongues.  Do you see what it shows?  God has established the different languages as a consequence, an effect of sin.  We saw that at Babel.  But what does God do here?  He counters that effect.  Out of His great mercy, God lessens the impact of Babel.  You wouldn’t be able to understand this preaching normally people, alright, here’s what I will do.  Go Spirit, gift My Disciples and let them speak to each one there.  Rather than let the people there in Jerusalem flounder, God acts and brings to them the Gospel – God doesn’t let the full weight of sin come crashing down on them, but is gentle and seeks not man’s destruction, but rather repentance and mercy.

        One thing we need to remember is that God will lessen or counter the effects of sin on a small scale.  This happens so often in our lives, and most of the times we don’t see it.  Now, grant it, I don’t think any of you have had a foreigner suddenly start speaking your language, or gotten a warning from your donkey like Balaam did. . . but think on this.  How many times has God sent someone or something into your life that helped you out, that kept you safe, that prevented you from doing something that you shouldn’t have, something that would be harmful?  God is active, and He does things for our benefit.  How many disasters has God saved us from that we don’t even know about?

    But then of course, the great disaster that God saves us from is the disaster of unbelief.  God comes into our lives by the Gospel – God doesn’t just let us wallow in our sin.  Remember that we have no ability to win for ourselves salvation in any way, shape, or form.  As Paul says we were dead in sin – and God sends His Spirit, and by the Word the Spirit breathes into us faith.  There should be no bigger reminder that God is active for us than the fact that we believe, the fact that God calls us to this place that He might announce His Grace and Mercy to us.  That’s the same thing that’s done on Pentecost.  These people didn’t know, and then God acts and then they know.  God draws them to faith.  3000 Baptized, that’s what we hear at the end of the Chapter.  That’s the same thing that God has done in our lives, whether God came to us through a friend who spoke the Gospel to us, faithful parents who brought us as squirming infants to the font to be Baptized.  God works in our lives to bring us to faith, which is the great wonder – that’s what should be amazing about Pentecost – not that a bunch of fishermen were talking in languages they hadn’t know – but that God Almighty brought His Word to people who in no way, shape, or form deserved it.

        Now let’s move to the Gospel lesson.  Again, Jesus is letting the Disciples know that He will be ascending, that He will send the Spirit.  But did you catch this.  Peace I leave with you, My Peace I give to you.  Peace.  The result, the end of all the things that God does is the creation, the restoration of Peace.  What does the Son leave us. . . Peace.  By His death on the Cross, Christ Jesus destroyed sin, destroyed the barrier that separated us from God.  It is finished, hear Him cry.  By His resurrection, Christ Jesus gives us Life Everlasting, He triumphs over the grave, and we see our future, eternity with God.  As Job says so too we say I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the Earth, and after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.  This is the peace that Christ wins for us.  And it is not a matter of some hard, laborous search for peace.  Hear what Christ has said.  If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.  When we cling to the Word of God, when we place ourselves under it, when we hear it, God comes to us, and He gives us peace.  This is the Peace we receive when we hear HisWord.  This is the Peace we depart in after the supper.  When God acts, we are changed.  We are no longer enemies of God, but sons and heirs of the kingdom who rejoice and delight in all of God’s riches.

        And now we are people who are led by the Spirit to share that Word of Peace with others.  That is the point of Pentecost.  Christ Jesus our Lord does not wish His peace to remain a secret, some hidden knowledge only meant for the worthy few.  No, He sends His Spirit to guide and lead His Church on earth, to call more and ever more people into that Church, to give them the Spirit through the waters of Baptism.  What we see on Pentecost is the same thing that has run through generation after generation – God speaking His Word and so to be among His people, God sending His Spirit upon His people so that more and ever more might be brought to know this Peace that Christ has won.  We are sharers of God’s peace – that which God gives us we do not horde but freely share, freely proclaim to any and all, for any and all desperately need it.  This is how God is active in and through us. . . He causes us to be spreaders of His peace – we are indeed the peacemakers who are blessed, we are called God’s sons, we pray our Father.  This is the life that God has called us to.  This is the path for the Church that God created on Pentecost – that led by the Spirit the Church would continually speak forth the Gosepl even to the ends of the Earth.  God grant us strength by His Spirit that we might be spreaders of His Word in all that we do.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Choosing Shame over the Gospel and Reconciliation

(First, I am sick, with a sick child and a sick wife -- if this is less than coherent, be gentle)

What changes behavior?  What makes a person new, what makes them to show forth love?  I would hope that anyone reading this blog would be quick to say, "The Gospel" -- that when we receive forgiveness from Christ we are given new life, that He creates in us a clean heart and provides a right spirit, that being filled with His love we then become conduits for that love... just as a branch is a conduit from the vine to the fruit.

Yet what happens so often when we see someone doing something we do not approve of?  We do not seek the end of the Gospel, we do not speak a direct word of repentance so that they might be restored.  Instead, we rely on shame.  We whisper cruel words about them to others and hope that the rising tide of disdain might trickle it's way back to them and that the weight of disapproval might coerce them into a different behavior.

That's not life.  That's just murder.

Seriously.  What life is given by shaming another?  What growth?  What creation?

No, all that happens (at best) is that a person is crushed even more, isolated even more.  That's what sin does -- it isolates, it kills.  At worst, they may be hardened, they may fall into even worse shame and vice simply to be defiant against your petty cruelty -- if you will complain, I'll give you something to complain about!

Christ our Lord does not say, "Blessed are the shame-inducers, for they have made the kingdom a bit nicer a place."  It's blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Shame does not make for peace.  Distant disdain does not make for peace.  Tarnishing a reputation does not make for peace.  Only words of peace and forgiveness make for peace, restore, give life, drive out fear.  Let us remember this.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sermon for Easter 6

Easter 6 – May 13th, 2012 – John 16:23-30

Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
          We have in these past few weeks heard that our Lord would send us the Holy Spirit, the Helper, to be with us during our days here on earth, to be our aid and companion until our Lord’s Return.  We have heard how the Spirit will take the Word of God and make us to understand it, how He will use Law and Gospel in our lives, how He will make us to stand in the face of Satan and His temptations.  Today we get one more tool, one more blessing from our Lord.  Today our Lord speaks to the gift of prayer – so today we will ponder for a bit this gift of prayer.

          Now, before we look at our Gospel lesson in detail, I want to make one thing abundantly clear.  This text, even though it doesn’t mention the Holy Ghost directly, still is about the working of the Holy Spirit within us.  Why do I say this?  Consider Romans 8:26, which reads: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”  When we talk about prayer, again, this isn’t just a matter of what we do, our own efforts, but God Himself works in us and through us in His gift of prayer.  And when we do not pray as we ought, when we are at a loss for words, the Holy Spirit, who is all about speaking the Word of God, prays for us.  This also ties into one of my favorite Luther quotes – Luther says that often the best prayer of a Christian is just that deep sigh, because God knows precisely what it means.  Prayer is not meant to be a burden, a hoop you jump through, an artistic endeavor whereby you impress your neighbor with your long and flowing prayer with plenty of flare.  Prayer is for your aid and comfort.  Let’s look at our Gospel text.

          “In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”  Now, this is something very important to think about.  While they were disciples, if the Apostles had wanted something, they asked Jesus, who was standing right next to them.  Jesus was the one who did all the stuff.  But what of when Christ has ascended?  Are the Apostles, are we cut off from the Father?  Hardly – whatever we ask of the Father in Christ’s Name, He will give it.  Now, let’s make sure we understand this text – and to do so we must understand the phrase “in My Name.”  As Christians we are to pray in the Name of Christ – this is why so many of our prayers will end “in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord” or “in the name of Jesus we pray”.  However, praying in the Name of Jesus doesn’t just mean slapping a phrase at the end of a prayer.  Praying in the Name of Jesus means that we pray at His command and with His authority.  It means that when we pray, we are acting in His Name.  Consider – all the old movies where the hero is chasing the villain, and the hero yells out, “Stop in the Name of the Law.”  The thrust of that phrase is to show that it’s not just the hero who is trying to stop the villain – the hero is acting with the weight of the Law behind him – that he is acting as an agent of the state.  With the gift of prayer, Christ has made you His own agent; you pray in Christ’s Name – Christ has given to you the blessing, the gift to pray with His own authority. 

          This is why Luther brings up prayer in the explanation to the 2nd commandment.  What is the 2nd Commandment?  You shall not take the Name of the Lord our God in vain.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not curse, swear, use satanic arts, lie, or deceive by His name, but call upon it in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.  The fact that we are given the gift of prayer means that we may go before God and call upon Him in every trouble, that we may offer our concerns up and lay them before Him, that we may praise and give thanks to God in the midst of all things, even the trials of life.  However, as you might have guessed, this can be abused.  Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  Ah, so often people will take this verse and run with it, run with it away from God.  We will hear the phrase “whatever you ask” and think that it’s carte blanche to just start bossing God around – you said whatever I asked God, well I’m praying for more wealth, pony it up!  I’m praying for healing, I’m even shaking my hand on this person’s forehead and smacking them, You had better heal them quickly or you’re being a bad, naughty god!”  This idea, this idea that we can use prayer to force God, to bind Him to our will – that’s what Luther was referring to with the phrase “satanic arts” or “witchcraft” as the older translation said.  The idea that we become the master of God and use magic words to bind Him to our will… that’s not good.  That’s basically the old fashioned definition of witchcraft.

          No, this isn’t about us binding God to our wills, but rather, with prayer Christ binds us to the Father and His good will for us.  Again, it is whatever we ask in Christ’s name.  If the police officer turns on the flashing lights and says, “Stop in the name of the Law” – we are bound by Law to stop.  What if the cop walks up, knocks on your door and says, “You will bake me a cake in the name of the Law”?  That’s a total abuse, there’s nothing in the Law that would let a cop force you to bake a cake.  And you may, as a good citizen, want to ignore that cake demanding cop and report him.  Likewise, we pray in the Name of Jesus, we pray for the things which He has commanded us to pray, the things that He has promised us.  This is why we often will introduce the Lord’s prayer as the prayer our Lord has taught us to pray – that we are rightfully praying in His name.

          Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”  And here Christ Jesus makes a wonderful point.  According to our sinful flesh, we want, we crave stupid things.  Consider this week – how many times have you craved or desired things that were bad or harmful for you?  How often have you wanted things that didn’t really fulfill you, didn’t really satisfy you?  According to our sinful flesh, we act outside of and contrary to God’s will, we want things that are foolish.  But you, dear friends, have been given the gift of faith, you have been made to know Christ Jesus and His salvation by the Word and Spirit, and you have been Baptized into His name, brought into His kingdom, and you now know the gifts that He gives you.  He has given you forgiveness. He has given you life and life in full so that you might show love to your neighbor.  He has given you courage and strength so that you might endure in the face of trials.  He has given you the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  These are the things He has promised you, these are the things He has won for us by His death and resurrection, these are the things that give us true joy in the midst of our lives here on earth.  Ask for these things in His Name, so that your joy may be full.

          You see, prayer isn’t a creative act on our part.  We don’t have to come up with new things, new petitions, new spiffy things.  People will sometimes despise the simple repeated prayers, and when they do that they just show they don’t understand what prayer is.  Prayer is simply speaking back to God the Word which He has spoken to us.  Prayer is going before God and saying, “This is what You Yourself have given me in Your Son, Heavenly Father.  I am sore oppressed in this world, and the foe would blind me to Your love – be with me, give me Your Spirit that I might see these promises again.”  That’s why the Holy Spirit is involved with prayer – it’s tied to the Word of God, and wherever the Word of God is involved, the Holy Spirit will be there.  Our prayers are shaped by the Word of God.  It’s just like breathing – you breath in, you breath out, inhale and exhale.  As a Christian you receive the Word of God, you hear it, you receive the Supper, it comes into you – and then it will flow out of you in prayer.  That’s why we say Amen at the end of prayers – Amen means “truth”.  We know it’s truth because we speak back to God His own Word which we know is true.

          Our Gospel concludes with a few more words to bring this all into focus.  “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father.  In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf;   for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”  We too, this day are children of God.  We are loved by the Father – and indeed, part of the love He has shown us are our mothers, are the other kind women He has given into our life to care for us – we are loved by the Father, and the Father will hear our prayers that we raise before Him in Christ’s Name.  We have been made to know Christ, to know His forgiveness and love and strength – and God has promised that He will give these things to us through His Word.  And so that we might never forget this, so that we might not ever be overwhelmed, Christ Jesus has given us the gift of prayer.  Go, pray to the Father, remember that He loves you and delights when you pray.  Remember the promises that God has made to you, and delight in His love.  God does not abandon you, but He has promised you truly good things, not the desires of your flesh, but the things that bring true joy and peace and eternal life.  All thanks be to God that we who have been baptized into the name of God have a gracious God who calls us unto Him in the gift of prayer.  Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, Alleluia +

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

We Never Grow Up

We never grow up.

My son has convinced me of this.

I see his delight in simple things.  I see his pointless anger and temper tantrums.  I see him reach out for things that are bad for him, I see him fight off things that are good for him (especially come bedtime).

Okay "adults" - are you any different?  When you are at your best, your "cutest" - isn't it when you are delighting in the simple joys of life, the simple wonders and blessings that God has given you?  How about anger and tantrums, when you fuss and complain and hold on to anger over little things?  How about when you keep striving after things that you know are bad for you?  How about when you fuss and whine about things that are good?

The thing is... we know better as adults.  And we behave just as poorly.

I just looked at my son.  He smiled and coo'ed in his bouncer.  He delighted.  Soon he will fuss and I will have to tend to him.

This is life in the fallen world.  And what my son does... I know I myself do as well.  Lord have mercy on me, and be a better Father to me than I am to my son!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Easter 5 Sermon

Easter 5 – John 16:5-15 – May 6th, 2012

Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia +
          So often human beings want to tell God what to do, how God should go about Him business.  Ever since the fall we have wanted to be in charge, to be the ones in control.  And one of those thoughts, those sinful based ideas that pops in my head often enough is this one – why can’t Jesus be running around today like He was back then.  Oh, that would be great, and man, if He wouldn’t make all those mockers be silent.  Because, of course, Jesus was never mocked or hated during His earthly ministry… yeah.  My ideas aren’t always the greatest.  But this is a common one, I think.  So often we think how neat it would be to have Jesus be hanging out here, but Jesus tells us better this morning, tells us not to be jealous, not to even think for a moment that things would have been better if He had just stayed here on Earth after His resurrection.  Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away.”  Jesus here is speaking of His ascension, speaking of what He is doing now, interceding for us before the Father.  This is for our benefit – and there are other texts that deal specifically with what Jesus is doing – you know, in My Father’s house there are many mansions – verses like that.  But today, Jesus tells us that it is for our immediate, direct advantage, here and now, that He ascend.  And why?  “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.”  Jesus gives us something good, He gives us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, and this is our great benefit now.

          See, it’s not just the world, the mean people out there that disdained Jesus in His ministry.  Think if you will, for just a few moments, on the disciples in Scripture.  How often do they just not understand?  How often do Jesus’ words slide by them?  How often do they run off in the wrong direction?  We can forget that fact on occasion, and we can romanticize the idea of being there with Jesus like the disciples were.  We can forget that we would have been just as clueless as they were, that we would have probably made the same mistakes they did, and probably made more.  Jesus’ teachings don’t make sense to our human mind.  Love your neighbor – bah says the sinful human mind.  I will take what is coming to me, come hell or highwater – or if I do show “love”, its love that seeks a reward, an “I’ll wash your back if you wash mine” sort of love – not the purely sacrificial love that demands nothing, not the love that Christ teaches.  Or when Christ teaches that the power of God is shown in this sacrificial love – bah, I’ll show you the power of God, Lord, shall we call down fire from heaven on these unbelievers?  The Son of Man must be crucified – bah, Lord, you don’t need to do that, you should just beat your enemies up, give them a good pounding, call out the angels and give them a good smack down.

          We have it better than the disciples did – better than they had it until Pentecost.  Whereas they saw but did not understand, from our birth as God’s Children, from our Baptism, we have had the Helper with us, we have had the Holy Spirit in us giving us guidance and understanding.  Now, this isn’t to say that we are infallible – this isn’t to say that we don’t make mistakes.  In fact, quite often our old sinful nature will put hands over our ears and not listen to the Spirit, and we will rather bound off into stupidity and follow our own plans – this is why we have Scripture, this is why we have the examples of the folly of the Disciples recorded for us – so the Spirit can convict us concerning sin, can point to the Word and say, “See, you’ve got the wrong idea there, already been done.”  But this is our benefit – that God has given us the Holy Ghost, that Jesus has sent His Spirit to His Church to guide and lead her, so that by the Holy Spirit we might understand the Word, that by the Holy Spirit we might pray, so that by the Holy Spirit we might confess that Jesus is Lord.

          Jesus spends the rest of this passage describing how the Holy Spirit works, what He does.  Listen to Jesus’ Words about the Spirit.  “He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin because they do not believe in me, concerning righteousness because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer, concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  Here we see what the Spirit does, He we see how the Holy Spirit uses and comes to us by the Word.  He comes to convict – the Spirit uses God’s Law to show us our sin.  When we sin, when we stray, when those little bits of unbelief pop up in our life, that’s when the Spirit works using the law.  When you read scripture and feel your sin, when you hear the sermon and say, “Yes, that’s me, and I am a sinner” – that’s not my doing, that’s the Holy Spirit speaking to you.  But the Spirit speaks not just law, He also speaks of righteousness, He speaks the Gospel.  Christ Jesus is before the Father – right now Jesus Christ, true Man, our Brother, stands in heaven as the proof that our sin has been done away with, the proof that our sin is forgiven – for He has died, and He has risen.  Jesus has defeated Satan and won for us salvation – and this the Holy Spirit speaks.  When you read the Word and see Christ’s righteousness and thus see your forgiveness, when you hear me speak the Absolution, when you hear me preach Christ, that isn’t my doing, but again, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  And then also, the Spirit speaks concerning judgment, for the ruler of this world is judged.  The Spirit speaks in you and through you, and the Devil himself quakes with fear.  The Spirit dwells in you, and when Satan comes sniffing around your doorstep, it is the Spirit who drives him off, it is the Spirit who says, “Be gone with you Satan, for you are judged.  The Son of God has defeated you, and God has claimed this one as His own child.”  This is what the Spirit does – He preaches His Law and Gospel to us, and He defends us from the wiles of Satan.

          Jesus describes the work of the Spirit another way, so that our understanding might be deeper, might be more complete.  Jesus says, “When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”  It is important to note that Jesus calls the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth.  This doesn’t just mean that the Spirit is truthful, that the Spirit doesn’t lie.  That’s right, but that’s not the point.  What does Jesus say earlier in the John’s Gospel?  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no man cometh to the Father but by me.”  The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, and when the Spirit speaks, He speaks the things of Jesus, He speaks of Christ.  He declares to us the riches of Christ – He gives us Christ’s life, Christ’s love, Christ’s forgiveness, Christ’s righteousness.  All that Jesus is, all that the Father is, we receive through the Spirit’s work.  That’s what the Holy Spirit is about – speaking Christ and His forgiveness to us.  And man, if sometimes we don’t want to have the Spirit do other things, especially in America.  You listen to people, especially around here in the Bible Belt, and they will tell you all different things the Spirit is supposedly doing.  They’ll tell you that the Holy Spirit told them to build this, tell you that that Holy Spirit says that you need to X, Y, and Z.  They’ll tell you that this disaster or that thing is coming.  Or they’ll tell you that the Spirit has said you’ll be rich if you just put more in the plate.  Shoot, you can probably find folks preaching that the Spirit will wash your car or mow your lawn for you – if you pony up the cash.  Jesus says that’s not the point.  Jesus is the point.  What is to come?  The Spirit’s not going to pick out a winning lottery ticket for you – The Holy Spirit points to Christ and His coming – look to Jesus, for He shall return.  The Spirit of Truth points to the coming One, and points to the gifts that Christ gives His Church through His Church here and now.

          This is the particular trial that we as Americans have to face – that our sinful flesh is given over to the greed and wealth of our culture, and we always want more and more stuff – and we want to turn the Church in a treasure house of temporal blessing.  What does that have to do with Christ?  What does stuff have to do with forgiveness?  I mean, if anything we in the Church should be more concerned with giving our stuff away to the poor and needy and caring for them than we are about getting more.  Because we think about earthly riches, we neglect the eternal riches that we receive here from Christ through the Holy Spirit here in this Church.  Everything that is Christ’s – it is declared and given to us here.  The world and our flesh will try to tell us that this isn’t enough, that we should have more – and the Spirit will call us away from that, and rather once again place our eyes squarely upon Christ the Crucified so that we see Him, so that we receive Him, so that we have life in Him.

          Dear friends, it is wonderful to be a Christian, to live in these times after the resurrection, to live in the times where from our birth in God’s Church we have been blessed with the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit, who works tirelessly through the Word and Sacraments of God to show us Christ and His salvation.  We have been given new birth and made the children of God, and thus we rejoice and sing and give thanks to our Father in heaven, with all His Children throughout the world, speaking back to Him the glory of His Son that He has proclaimed to us by the Spirit.  This is the life we lead here in His Church, until the day we sing eternally in His Presence, until the day we join Christ Jesus our Brother in the heavenly places He is preparing for us.  Amen.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Joys of Congregations that Call Seminarians

Right now there are 5 active pastors in the Enid Circuit -- and this week our congregations were assigned two candidates from the Seminary.  By the end of this summer we should have 7 pastors active in this circuit (and several faithful retired guys who help out, thanks be to God!). 

5 of them will be on what is often sadly referred as their "first call" - myself included.

Now, those of a more bureaucratic bent might look at that stat and say, "Ah, this must be a circuit full of _______ congregations" -- where that blank might be filled with "small" or "poor" or "trouble" -- because that's the normal, hoity toity reaction.  If you call a Seminarian... well, that probably just means you couldn't call someone from the field... and maybe you'll be lucky to have someone for a few years before you have to try again.

Nothing annoys me more than this attitude.  Nothing.  It despises these wonderful, faithful congregations.  There is nothing wrong with my congregation.  Are we smallish -- I suppose... but we're in a town of 500 people, in the middle of Oklahoma, with 5 to 7 other Lutheran congregations within 30 minutes drive.  We are what we are - and that is a place where the Gospel is preached and the sacraments are administered.  We are a place that helps to feed the hungry in our community, and have done other things as well -- and that is no mean thing.

And the thing I love most about this circuit... the small congregations aren't disdained.  And Seminarians aren't disdained either.

This July, I'll have been here 8 years out of the Seminary.  Oh, I'm also serving a vacancy of a very small congregation... but the fellow who was here -- that was his call out of the Seminary, and he was there 20+ years.

And last year's new grads -- yeah, their predecessors from the Seminary had been there 8 and 15 years... and one died in office.

And the two guys who are coming in - yeah, their predecessors came from the Sem and had been there 10 years a piece... and each retired.

It is wonderful to be in a place where the young pastors are not disdained... and where congregations that are willing to call young pastors are not disdained either.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Sad, Shallow Understanding

Christ Jesus says: "“When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth, for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak, and He will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, for He will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Nothing is sadder than when people hear that the Spirit is the Spirit of Truth and think that this just means the Spirit is "accurate" - that He happens to be right.

He is the Spirit of Truth -- and our Lord Christ Jesus says that He Himself is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life.  The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ - Who always points to Christ, gives Christ, takes Christ's Righteousness and declares it unto you.

The Spirit always drives to Christ.  If your sermons aren't driving to Christ, no matter how "true" they are, no matter how nice they are from a moral perspective or in terms of practical wisdom, if they are not giving the good things of Christ, if they do not give Christ's own life to enliven folks... they are... sad and shallow.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Not Just a Great Title

Thomas Lemke writes an awesome post touching upon many things -- Gay Marriage, Natural Law, Arugmentation.

One thing he does is... go against my normal stand, but for a totally awesome reason.  One thing I normally say is that when debating policy, etc in the public square, you can't really use Scripture as that isn't accepted by all.  Saying "the bible says _______" isn't viewed as convincing data for a non-believer.

Thomas turns that on it's head properly.  Why in the world are we worried about making secular arguments when we should be proclaiming the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit work through the Word and create faith when are where He wills?  Are we more worried about getting our way in a political debate than we are about proclaiming the Word?

And if we are... how messed up is that?

It's a really good point - one I shall have to ponder for a while.