Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sermon for the Nativity of St. John

Nativity of John the Baptist – June 24th, 2012 – Luke 1:57-80


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

          We are told in the Scriptures that John the Baptist was conceived right around 6 months before Jesus, so for many, many centuries, the Church has observed today, June 24th, right around 6 months before Christmas, as the day to celebrate and observe the Nativity of John the Baptist.  And it is an insightful day.  While John’s birth isn’t as important as the birth of Jesus, we see and learn much about the Christian faith from the words that are spoken at John’s birth, the song of Zechariah known as the Benedictus.  Let us see what we learn from Zechariah’s song this day.

          When John is born, his father Zechariah is silent.  He isn’t silent because he is speechless with wonderment at the beauty of childbirth.  No, no, Zechariah is silent and has been silent for 9 months because 9 months ago he had run his mouth.  An Angel of the Lord had come to him in the temple and told him, that even though he was old, as was his barren wife Elizabeth, that Elizabeth would conceive and give birth to the promised forerunner of the Messiah.  And Zechariah drops the ball.  Zechariah says, How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.  How shall I know this – that’s an old way of saying, “how can this possibly happen?”  Angel, you are out of your mind.  Zechariah disbelieves, he rejects the word that was spoken to him – and it was even a good word, it was good news.  Zechariah, God is going to bless you!  Yeah, right, and just how is God supposed to be able to pull that one off?  Do you see and understand the disrespect that Zechariah has?  He’s not amazed; he’s snide and cynical and disbelieving.  And God’s angel calls him on it.  I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and bring to you this good news.  And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”  A punishment that fits the crime.  Zechariah doesn’t believe the Word which was spoken to him, and so Zechariah loses the ability to speak.

          So, let me ask the question.  How often do we act like Zechariah here?  How often do we become snide and cynical towards God’s Word?  Are we tempted to disbelieve the promises of God?  He will support us, but then bad weather, rough spots in life come, and we doubt and grumble about God.  Or perhaps we are more commonly tempted to disbelieve the promises of God as they apply to our neighbor.  As my old Pastor in Norman would point out, forgiveness is a great idea until you’re the one supposed to be doing the forgiving.  Forgiving your neighbor is hard, we prefer grousing and hating.  Whenever you hate your neighbor, whenever you bear grudges against them, you are in reality saying that Christ didn’t die for them, that their sin wasn’t taken up by Christ.  John the Baptist will say, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the World” – and we are tempted to say, “Well, who takes away everything except what she did to me.”  That’s really bad.  Sin is nothing less than rejecting the Word of God – and when we sin, we become silent, we cease speaking rightly of God, we cease telling the good news.

          But for Zechariah the day of John’s birth comes.  For 9 long months Zechariah has been silent, saying nothing.  And the boy is born, and everyone wants the little kiddo to be named Zechariah.  And when Elizabeth says, no, no, his name is John – the name given by Gabriel, they ignored her.  You name a kid after someone in your family – they’ve got no relatives of this name.  Elizabeth must be getting batty.  And so Zechariah comes and he gets a writing tablet and writes “His name is John.”  And at that moment, Zechariah can speak.  Zechariah believes what was spoken to him, believes the Word of God, and his tongue is loosened, and Zechariah may speak once again.

          And what does Zechariah say?  Listen to his words.  Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath that He swore to our Father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.  Zechariah’s words are all about what God does.  The one who disbelieved that God could give him a child now proclaims what God has done.  God visits, God redeems, God raises up salvation, God speaks by the prophets, God saves from the enemy, God shows mercy, God remembers His Covenant – in fact, it’s the Covenant that God swore - God delivers us.  And what do we do?  Um, we are saved.  We serve after God has done all this stuff that lets us serve Him.  What Zechariah speaks is completely about what God has done.

          Dear friends, Zechariah speaks the Gospel.  When we use the term Gospel, when we use the term good news, we are referring to those things that God has done for us.  If it’s about what you do, it’s not Gospel, it’s not good news.  If you are doing it, it’s not news at all, it’s your actions.  But we are a church of the Gospel – our focus, like Zechariah’s, is not upon what we do, but upon what God has done.  Our focus is declaring what God has done for His people.  Now, there is a terrible desire to abandon the Gospel even by well meaning Christians.  The Gospel doesn’t seem to have all that much flash.  It doesn’t seem to have all that much snazz sometimes.  And so, we want to shift the focus onto ourselves.  We want to turn Church into the place where you get practical advice, where you learn how to be a better person, how to have a happier life.  We want to turn Church into a giant self-help club or a little social club of do-gooders.  But Zechariah had 9 months of silence to think about it – he understands what’s going on.  The focus is upon God and His Word.  Don’t name the kid after me – it’s not about me.  It’s about God – hear what He has done.  Our words, our focus – it is to be on God.  God is the one who redeems His people.  That’s what Zechariah shouts out – look, God indeed remembers His promises, look, God is showing us mercy.  If we only listened to Him we would see this, we would understand this.  Therefore I will speak and proclaim God’s Word so that you might hear and understand.

          And then Zechariah addresses his son John.  You can almost see old Zechariah holding up his son and saying these words to him – “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His was, to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”  Is this not amazing?  Even when Zechariah turns to his son, looks upon his son with that pride that only a father can have – what’s Zechariah’s focus?  Is Zechariah’s focus upon John?  Nope – John, you’ll be called a prophet – but here’s what you will do.  You will prepare the way of the Lord.  You will preach about the messiah and forgiveness to God’s people – in fact, your whole life will be nothing but pointing to the coming one, the Messiah who comes after you.  And this is in fact what John does: When all the world was cursed by Moses’ condemnation Saint John the Baptist came with words of consolation – with true forerunner’s zeal the greater One he named.  John’s focus would be upon Christ.

          Likewise, dear friends, we are to point to Christ.  All our actions are to be ones that point to Christ.  Paul when He preaches, preaches about what Jesus does.  We here, the same thing.  When you teach your kids, your grandkids – you teach them what Jesus has done.  When you tell your friends and neighbors, you tell them what Jesus has done.  In all things we point to the Cross – see, the promised Savior has come, and He has suffered and died for your sins – you are forgiveness, your sin is no longer held against you, it is destroyed and done away with.  Christ Jesus has put it to death.  There is salvation, salvation that comes from the forgiveness of sin.

          Now, there are times in this life when Satan tries to pull us away from this.  There are times when we sin, when we stumble and err.  In response to this, God calls you to His house, where He remembers the oath He swore at your Baptism to be your heavenly Father.  This is where God remembers that His Son has indeed won your salvation – and so the Father gladly gives you the forgiveness of sin.  Indeed, He raises up for you not a horn of salvation, but a chalice full of it, full of the life giving blood of His Son.  Everything that Zechariah speaks of here is given to us in God’s House – every promise of life and salvation which we share is dispersed here in God’s House – and indeed we are guided into the way of peace.

          At first, Zechariah responded to God with disbelief and was struck silent.  This ought to remind us of our own disbelief and our own struggles with sin.  However, seeing God’s promise come to fruition, Zechariah with his restored voice gladly proclaims what God has done.  Likewise, we join in with Zechariah and his son John and all the prophets, we join in with Paul and all the apostles, we join in with the Church at all times and in all places declaring with Joy the salvation that God has won for us by His Son upon the Cross.  God keep our voices strong.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Shame is Destruction

"I do not like the cone of shame" - Dug

Shame is a horrible, horrible thing.  It is utterly destructive.  We don't normally think of shame as being destructive... but it is.  Shame cuts off activity -- good that would have been done is squashed because of shame.  Shame makes people cower, be isolated and alone -- it destroys everything that creation is supposed to be.

That has been one reason why I've never been too fond of the whole "shame on you" sort of approach.  I mean... shame is an excellent way to curtail bad behavior, I suppose... but it never creates, it never puts something else that is good back in its place.  And what's sad is shame is pervasive... the shame in one area or aspect of your life can creep and petrify you in areas totally unrelated.

"Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
    and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
     reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction[b] to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
    teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning."

See that there... where's the casting of shame?  Now, there is correction.. .there is reproof.  There is the giving of instruction and teaching.  And see... correction seeks to make something... correct.  It tears but to build again.  Reproving... wants to proof, to make something test worthy again.  Instruction and teaching bring something positive.

The Law kills.  That's its job.  But it kills so that the New Man might arise forth.  We are to speak the Law, not to shame, not to leave in condemnation, but so that there might be repentance and life.

You have sin.  Christ has atoned for your sin and you are forgiven.  Your sins are on Christ; they are not yours anymore.  Go on and live... not in shame but in forgiveness.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Love Of

The phrase is not "money is the root of all evil" - it's "the love of money..."

Again, consider the meaning of the 1st Commandment -- we should fear, LOVE, and trust in God above all things.  What do you love?

This is what sinful man does - he turns God's blessings against Him.  God gives wealth, and man turns to greed.  God gives food, and many turns to gluttony.  God gives beauty, and man turns to lust.  God gives any gift, and man turns to pride.

Because we love the thing given more than we love the Giver of the good gift.  We think the blessings we have received show us to be better, to be superior than our neighbor - and thus we love ourselves more than God.

A thing to ponder.  What do you elevate above God, what do you love more than God?  Repent - and put God's gifts in their proper place, where they may be enjoyed but not worshiped.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"To" versus "For"

If you've gone through any good Lutheran training, you should be familiar with the question "What does this mean?"  In the Lutheran Tradition, this question leads to a definite answer on the basis of Scripture.  Well, yes, we *do* know what the implications of this is... see, the Scriptures teach us.

There is a danger today, though.  We have the temptation to add two additional words that completely gut the old Lutheran question.  "To me."  Whereas the Lutheran approach was that the Scriptures teach something that is completely true, the phrase "to me" ends up making everything an exploration of the individual's insight.  What does this mean to me -- that's a question that really tries to undercut truth.  Who are you to say what is right... this is what it means "to me".

This has become the method of how we apply the Word of God to ourselves... we run it through our own interpretive filters - we become the masters of the Word, those who define it.  This is not the classic way... classically we used a different word, a different phrase.  It wasn't "to me" -- it was "for you."

Rather than trying to determine meaning, the old Lutheran approach was to determine benefit.  The meaning is clear -- we know what Christ's death upon the Cross means.  That's truth.  But the key to applying this truth isn't to reinterpret it-- it is to apply it.  Christ Jesus has died... for you.  He has risen ... for you.  Given and shed ... for you.  These things of absolute truth that we proclaim and teach -- we proclaim that they are for you, that you benefit from them.  Christ has fulfilled the Law for you, He has ascended to prepare a place for you.

As Christians, our goal isn't to be witty or creative.  We don't need to reinvent the wheel.  We are receptive... we receive the blessings God has for us.  We even view our own works receptively... it's not a matter of "Jesus died for you... now what are you going to do?"  Rather -- you are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which He has prepared beforehand for you to walk in.

Yeah... even your works... God for you.

You don't need the navel gazing.  Rather this - hear, listen, behold - Christ Jesus does it all for you.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Trinity 2 Sermon

Trinity 2 – Luke 14:15-21 – July 17th, 2012

 In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

          When wisdom puts forth her call, will you come and learn?  When wisdom cries out, will you be instructed and learn?  Or when wisdom asks you to come and join with the company of the wise, will you instead demand to remain on your own, doing things your way, isolated and foolish?  Wisdom or your own sinful and foolish flesh – which will you listen to?  This is the question from the book of Proverbs which we heard read this morning, a question which the Pharisees with whom Jesus Christ is dining are familiar with.  Jesus and the Pharisees have been gathered together, and He has already been teaching, and in response one person says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the Kingdom of God!”  Well, this is true.  Those who are at, who participate in the heavenly feast, well blessed are they! And yet, Christ decides there is more to point out.  He shows forth wisdom again – so let us not be accounted among the foolish, but give heed to our Lord’s Words today about what true blessing, true wisdom is.

          But [Jesus] said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many.  And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.  So there’s the set up.  There are plans for a banquet, for a great and wonderful feast.  Everything is prepared, everything is ready, it is time to feast, it is time to celebrate, it is time simply to rejoice in this wonderful blessing.  How kind this man who hosts this banquet is!  He makes no demands of those he invites.  This is not BYOB, he doesn’t say, “You bring desert if you want it, cause I’m not making any.”  No, all is ready, all is provided by this man.  It is not merely a free lunch, but a free feast, one long expected, given simply out of the generosity and love of the host.

          And yet – something horrible happens.  But they all alike began to make excuses.  The first said to him, “I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it.  Please have me excused.”  And another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them.  Please have me excused.”  And another said, “I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.”  All these people who were invited, all these people who had nothing asked of them, who had nothing demanded of them, they decline.  They won’t make it.  They have excuses – and weak ones at that.  I bought a field – well, won’t the field be there tomorrow?  Come and feast today, and we will rejoice over your field together!  I bought 5 oxen – put them in the pasture, let them rest, and you yourself, rest and rejoice at the feast.  I have a wife – well, bring her along, there is food enough aplenty!  All weak excuses.  This is not a matter of “my wife is sick and I must show love to tend to her.”  This is not “my ox has fallen into a well, and I must rescue it.”  No, all of these excuses that are given, they are things that could have been done later.

          The master’s reaction is understandable.  So the servant came and reported these things to his master.  Then the master of the house became angry.  Understandable that.  You’ve prepared a feast.  You have gone to great expense, you have labored and worked – and then, you are blown off.  For no good reason.  In fact, out of simple disdain.  It is understandable that this master would be a bit miffed, a bit put out.  But this master does not pout, he does not whine – he rather does something creative.  And [he] said to his servant, “Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.”  And the servant said, “Sir, what you commanded has already been done, and still there is room.”  And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filed.  For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.”  Alright, if that’s how you people want to be – fine, we’ll feast and celebrate without you.  You want to be cold and alone – I’ll feast with others.  You know what, it doesn’t have to be the hoity-toity that I feast with – in fact, I’m sick of you and your proud ilk.  No, let the poor and the blind come, the weak and the lame – the people you snubbers probably snub all the time.  In fact, let the strangers, those weary from travel, those who are foreigners and passer-bys, wanderers and vagabonds – let them come, they will rejoice and eat, and we are going to have one fantastic bash.  And in your stubbornness, in your folly, you will miss it.

          So, this is what Jesus teaches – and we know that there is more to it than this.  Jesus did not just suddenly turn into Better Homes and Gardens or the Food Network – this is more than advice for throwing the perfect party, even when things don’t work right to begin with.  No, we know what this means.  The master is God Almighty, who has invited us into His House, His Church, invited us to the great and heavenly feast that shall last all eternity.  And this is all His doing.  What must you bring with you, what must you do to earn an invite? Nothing.  All has been prepared.  The great servant Christ Jesus has done all the work that is required, indeed, He Himself invites you to come, join in the joys of heaven.

          And people don’t come.  People hear of the free gift and don’t come.  Life and forgiveness and salvation are yours!  Eh, why bother?  We can be shocked at this – at this disdain for the Gospel – and note, that is what it is, a disdain for the Gospel.  The people here aren’t rejecting the “Law” – this isn’t about Law, what must any of these people who are invited do?  What work is left for them?  Nothing, it has all been done – it’s all Gospel.  And we can think and wonder, how can people ignore this – how can they just blow it off?

          Easy enough.  Now, let me read from Proverbs again for a moment.  Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.  How can people reject the Gospel, how can they just blow it off?  We do it, do we not?  Is not today the day where we gather and eat the bread of Heaven, Christ Jesus our Lord, in His own supper?  How many aren’t here today?  And lest we become smug because we are here and someone else isn’t, how many of us blew off one of the Sunday’s last month, or in April?  Or had to drag ourselves out of bed really not wanting to be here… but what would people say?  And of course, what about our own family devotions and study during the week – is that done eagerly, or perhaps not at all?  How many of us take advantage of times of teaching?  I’ve never taught a class where I had to say, “Sorry, we don’t have any more room, you can’t come today.”  Do we, we who have the invitation of the Lord to come to His House – to learn His Word, to receive His forgiveness – do we ourselves value it and treasure it like we ought? 

          This is the thing.  Jesus speaks this word of warning to Pharisees, to educated, wise men who knew their scripture.  They knew the promises of the Messiah.  And when He came, some would hearken to Him, but many would scoff, would ignore, would have better things to do than to follow this Jesus – in fact, many would not only reject our Lord’s invitation, but instead demand His death.  They were the people who should have known better.

          We dear friends, we are the people of today who should know better.  Have you not been taught and trained?  Did you not learn the 3rd commandment and it’s meaning – or is that all forgotten?  Does your catechism lie ignored in a box or dusty on a shelf?  What is the 3rd commandment?  Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  What does this mean?  We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching or His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.  Hold the Word sacred.  Learn it, be in it, study it, grow in it.  Remember that the depths of the wisdom of God are deep, and that there is much to learn there, always more to study and learn there, always more to understand.

          And not because God is mean and petty.  Not because God wants you to jump through hoops, do little dances to entertain Him.  No.  Because God loves you, because the Father has sent Christ into the World to go to the Cross and die for your sins, to rise to give you new life.  This is what Christ brings you in His Word.  And God never wants your separated from that, never wants you to fall away – and God knows how Satan works, how he stalks and preys upon Christians – destroying so many not with loud and brash sins, but with the simple sin of indifference to the Word.  Satan wants you to think that you have better things, more important things than to study the Word, than to join together with your fellow Christians in the reception of God’s Word of Forgiveness and His Holy Supper.  But God wants to shower His forgiveness upon you.  There are many chances you have not to simply study on your own – but to join with others, to have that 2 or 3 or many more gathered in Christ’s name where you will be built up.  Be in the Word, because God’s Word is wisdom and life and salvation. Indeed, this is all for our good, for our benefit.  We don’t prove anything to God by our diligence in attending, we don’t earn brownie points with God by what we do – rather, this place is about God serving us.  God invites us to His house, calls to us in His Word, so that we might be prepared for the eternal feast in heaven.  This Supper today, which we will receive – what is it for?  Now may this true Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, strengthen and preserve you in the One True Faith.  Strengthen, preserve – go now and face the trials of life ready for heaven, ready to spit in Satan’s eye when temptation comes, ready to go gladly when the Angels come to gather you to Abraham’s bosom – Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace!

          God wants you to be strong and prepared.  God wants you to have peace.  God wants you to rest secure in the His love for you, to dwell in His forgiveness, to know the wisdom of God – that is, to know that God has mercy and love for you and sees to your salvation, does all that is required.  Know this, be in it, live it in – so that you may have for all eternity the free life given you in Christ.  Amen.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Made to Grow

One of the things I get told over and over by people is that I am to cherish these moments while my son is an infant.  It seems as if I talk to folks at any length of time - oh, this is such a good time, love every moment of it.

And I do... but... well.  This time isn't the point.

I was at my parents' house a few days ago, and my mom had a picture of Victor from around 7 months ago, right after he was born, and seeing it, I was struck at how much he had grown.  This didn't make me nostalgic... it made me pleased.

I mean, I loved my son 7 months ago... but now, he's much more active and responsive.  We have our own little customs and games that we like to play (he likes to try to eat my arm while I change his diaper... I said it was a game, I didn't say it was chess).  His personality is so much more developed; I know who he is and what he is like so much more.

But even this -- this isn't the point.  Soon, he will talk.  And then there will be even better communication.  And he will grow in wisdom and stature.  First there will be toddling, and then wiffle ball, then playing catch -- then even more.

We were made to grow.  We were made to mature and develop.  Parents have a job -- it's to guide their kids into adulthood -- where they are functioning, responsible adults.  And that's what I'm eager for.  It's something I've tended to think is what parents should be eager for...but hopefully the day will come when he doesn't *need* me anymore.  And that will be a good day. 

We were made to grow.  This is a good thing.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A few thoughts on Fear

"What is the First Commandment?"  "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."
"What does this mean?"  "We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things."

I have had a slight change in how I teach the 10 commandments.  And it deals with fear.  That "we should fear and love God" can be problematic seeming on occasion -- we don't want to tell folks that they should "fear" God.  It makes God sound scary and mean.

Now, on one hand... well, if you mess with God, He IS scary.  This is C.S. Lewis' whole "not a tame lion" idea -- God is not tame, and if you mess with Him... that's bad.

On the other hand, I tended to emphasize more the idea of "fear" as respecting the power of God - of being aware of God's power and acting accordingly.  Like one might fear a gun -- not that you hide in terror from it, but rather that you treat it properly and don't play around with it.

I think I have come upon a new angle... one that I like even more.  And it does key off of the first commandment.  We are to fear God above all things.

So, what else do you fear?

Do you fear your friends mocking you, so you join in on their wicked reindeer games?  Fear God more than your friends' disdain.

Do you fear a lack and so horde your goods instead of serving your neighbor?  Fear God more than your future.

Do you fear being alone, and so engage in debauchery?  Fear God more than this.

And what's nice about this is that there is a strong Law reason and a strong Gospel reason for this.

1.  Law - you think your friends are rough, or poverty, or a long lonely night -- try God's wrath.  Fear God.

2.  Gospel - you think your friends are rough, or poverty, or the long lonely night -- Your Heavenly Father, who is stronger than all these, has promised to provide for you simply out of His Fatherly goodness.  Christ Jesus your Lord has defeated this fallen world, and in His name life everlasting with all the company of heaven is yours, even if the world tries to tell you otherwise.  The Holy Spirit has called you away from these things and brought you into God's Kingdom -- do you think disdain or poverty or isolation will be so strong as to dislodge out of the Spirit's care?

Why worry, why fear the small things.  There is One to fear above all others -- and He is for you, He is the Stronger man who rescues you, and He holds the field forever.  Fear Him above all things - that is, don't pretend that Satan's petty ploys are actually stronger than God.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

You've lost your LA Privileges

Sweeping generalization number 74: "Pastors can be socially naive."  Let's face it, many of us pastors tend to be bookworms and nerds, and often not the most socially adept.  I see many times where a pastor will make a pronouncement -- let's call it "X".  And then people will become upset with X, view X as a personal attack against them, all while the pastor backs up with his hands in the air, honestly confused saying, "I wasn't talking about you, I was just thinking about X", while the hurt people think, "Yeah, right... jerk."

Pastors acquire what I like to call "Political Capital".  When you do things that are good and kind, you build up political capital... think of it as goodwill, or a token of credit.  It is the sign that you as an individual care for a person, that you love them.  People enjoy being loved.  Different things build up this capital at different rates with different people.  It's the pastoral equivalent of kissing babies for a politician.  And it can be silly or odd things - the things that help you connect with various folks.

And that capital is lost.  Whenever you speak somewhat controversially, or against a beloved or enjoyed practice, you burn that capital.  Indeed, speaking the Law will often burn that capital.  And as a Pastor, there are times where you must burn that capital - there are hills and battles you must fight. That's part and parcel of the territory - there are times that you need to have that hard, difficult conversation with a person.

So, what's the problem?  Well... if you keep making pronouncements about how things should be, or harping on things, or start coming across as a know-it-all who thinks he's so great... or are perceived as such - you complete lose your political capital... and then people will jump on your case and assume the worst about what you say.

"But it's just God's Word - that's all I'm saying!

Again, see, here's the thing.  That might be true -- but remember, the Law kills.  The Law smacks people around.  The Law is an attack on the Christian... which you seem to be forgetting.  Of course the Law is going to wound folks to which is applies -- that's its job.  It is to wound them -- to kill them in fact so that the new man might emerge.  But the Gospel must be applied quickly... and if it's not at all... in fact you just keep killing people.  Needlessly -- because if you don't give them life, you're just pissing off people to death.

"Well, but I'll preach the Gospel, and that should earn me this goodwill, right?

See, here's the thing.  Preaching the Gospel doesn't earn *you* that much capital, because, well, the Gospel you preach isn't about *you* and *your* care for the people.  It's about Jesus and His love and care.  The fact that you preach the Gospel doesn't say anything, really, about you, or what you are like outside of the pulpit.  Oh, and here's the other rub -- if you've lost your capital... well, people are going to focus more and more on your jerky law and quite possibly be fuming when you get to your one or two lines of law you legalist jerk...

See how the thought process turns against you?  If you burn the political capital, you lose the benefit of the doubt.  Sure, you might help someone out, but you've still lost your LA privileges.  Add to this interactions where people don't hear you preach the Gospel... think about folks who don't show up to Church that often, or on-line discussions with people who live far away and never hear you preach.

"But this is God's truth - why should any of this matter?"  Because God uses means -- and for better or worse, you are a means by which His Word is proclaimed... and if you've put your foot in the way, get the foot out of the way.  It's what needs to be done. 

It's the nature of the beast.  Even this post, there are probably folks who never get this far into the post because they view me as a moralizing, pandering jerky poopy-face McDumbie.  Where there is no relationship, where there is no trust, where there is no assurance of goodwill... well, folks will just assume that you are a jerk.

And let's be honest... they are probably right.  I'm a jerk, he's a jerk, she's a jerk.... wouldn't you like to be a Dr. Pepper too?

So what is to be done?  Well, show concern.  Show humility.  Accentuate the positive things.  Mark when people have done well.  These all build up balance, help to disarm the hearer's sinful flesh when it say, "Don't listen - he's just being mean!"  Care and humility and love undercut that complaint.

And, as we learn from Pr. Fisk's videos just include cute kitten videos.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What does "Christian" mean

I was recently asked about what happens to those people who "lead a Christian life but don't believe."  This points out what is a common thought -- being a Christian means you lead a good and decent life -- and what that good and decent life looks like might vary.  In some places it means you don't drink or smoke.  In some places it means you help out with the right charities and organizations.  In some places it means you support "family values" or it means you support "liberty for the oppressed".  Right or left, public or private - people can insert the adjective "Christian" in front of almost any sort of activity they think is "good"... in opposition to the bad people who... smoke or drink or dance or aren't socially active or are heartless Republicans or wicked Democrats.

Christian seems to mean "good" or "better than the people I don't like" - that's the common way it's used.

Except that has nothing to do with what "Christian" means.

Let's review, everyone.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12  I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Well, there you go.  Which of these was "Christian"?  Was it the good man who was better than everyone else?  Because note -- there's no reason to think that the Pharisee was lying in his boasting... he probably wasn't like other men.  He probably was a pillar of his community, and even generous - the type of fellow you'd like to have as your neighbor.

No - what does "Christian" mean?  It means you rely not upon yourself but upon Christ.  It means you confess your sins and receive forgiveness.  It means you go to Church not to show how wondrous you are but in order to receive forgiveness.

Will Christians do "nice" things -- well, sure.  Hopefully they will do many nice things -- your neighbor needs you to show them love; go show love!  But that doesn't make the Christian, that doesn't define a Christian.  A Christian is defined, is created by receiving grace and mercy from God.  A Christian is defined by... Christ.

See... CHRISTian... it's in the name.  It should be a clue.  If you talk about Christians but aren't talking about Christ and His forgiveness, you've missed the point.  In all things, Christ is the point.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Thought from Sleep

So, I woke up at 3 this morning and couldn't get back to sleep.  Even though my body is tired... couldn't do it.  And checking facebook at that time I saw friends who couldn't sleep, or lamented how they didn't want to have to take the sleep aid.  While I normally can sleep well, I'm used to waking up in the middle of the night - I have a 7 month old son, and while he sleeps through the night, he often wiggles out from under the covers and gets cold.  And as for my wife - well, she works 3 12 hour night shifts a week, so her sleep schedule is all over the place.

Sleep is a natural thing.  It's something we do often.  Almost a third of our life we are asleep.  And yet - how often do we just flat out mess it up.  I can't sleep.  Oh, I fell asleep when I wanted to be awake.  Even in this, the most natural of functions, indeed, about the most natural of functions -- we are all over the place.

The impacts of sin are wide and pervase.  They spread to all things.  And the next time you think you have your body under control, that you have learned all the discipline of your flesh that you need... well, ponder your ego in the middle of the night and repent.   

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sermon - Trinity 1

Trinity 1 – June 10th, 2012 – Luke 16:19-31

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          All sin is nothing but telling God you know better than He does.  All sin involves arrogance and disdain of God, all sin involves sinful man saying “No” to God.  The example par excellence of this is the Rich Man in our Gospel lesson today.  Our Lord gives us a story – it’s interesting, we don’t have any statement to the effect of “then he told them a parable” – no, Jesus just starts telling a story.  Of course, a few verses earlier we hear, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him.”  Then Jesus starts talking… and just as Nathan launched into a story to show David David’s wickedness, Christ does the same with these greedy Pharisees.  Let us listen and learn.

          “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.  And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table.  Moreover even the dogs came and licked his sores.”  Two men appear in contrast – the Rich man and Lazarus.  We will focus on Lazarus later, but first, consider this Rich Man.  He is well off.  You didn’t wear purple in the ancient world if you weren’t well off.  Today, in the Church we can think of purple as perhaps a humble, penitential color – the color of Lent.  The LWML wasn’t engaging in braggadocio when they picked out Purple as their color – we associate purple with service and even suffering today.  Wasn’t that way in Christ’s day.  Purple was the most expensive of all the dyes – the only source of purple dye in Christ’s day was from a small, rare snail that lived off the coast of Turkey.  That’s it.  You had to be rich to wear purple, filthy stinking rich.  This Rich Man had more than enough and how – and He was flaunting it.

          And then, there’s a beggar who is laid at his door.  Now, think for a moment like a good Israelite.  There is no government agency or social program to hide behind.  Behold, there’s a poor man on your doorstep.  What are to you do?  God has told you, God has said that you are to care for the poor and needy.  Over and over in the Torah, God commands that provision be made for the poor.  If you were in harvest, and grain fell onto the ground, you were not to pick it up – that was to go to the poor, who could come and glean it. ““And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” You couldn’t charge interest on a loan, because that is taking advantage of the poor.  Or consider this one - “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.”  That’s the reason why we have “Redeemer” language in bible – it first referred to the relative who bought and restored land to the poor who had fallen on hard times – and this wasn’t optional.  You are to love your neighbor, especially the poor.

          The Rich Man knew the Law.  He knew that He was to love to poor.  And yet, what does He do?  Nothing.  God has given Him blessings, and instead of using those blessings as God had instructed, this Rich Man shows disdain.  How great is his disdain – forget the edges of his field, he won’t even give his scraps, his trash to the poor beggar on his door step.  This isn’t a case of the Rich Man not wanting to be suckered by a scheme, or having a lack… this is just choosing to ignore God and ignore the neighbor.  The two things go hand in hand – ignoring God and ignoring the neighbor.  God has created your neighbor and put your neighbor into your life for you to care for them, and when you do not, you sin not only against your neighbor, but against God.

          “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.  The rich also died and was buried”.  And they die.  Both of them.  The poor beggar dies, and so does the Rich Man.  His wealth and earthly power, for all things it could bring him, couldn’t stop death.  And what happens to the Rich Man who constantly ignored and disdained God?  “…and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.  And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’”  One of the things to note, to consider about the Scriptures, is that when the faithful see Christ and they call out for mercy – they don’t just tell Him what do to.  They don’t instruct Christ – they ask for mercy, and if He asks them what they want, well, then they tell Him, but they don’t instruct God on what He is and isn’t to do.  Not so the rich man – here he is, burning in the fires of hell, and he still things he is in charge, thinks he can tell Abraham what to do, thinks he can order Lazarus to descend down into hell to give him a touch of water.  What arrogance!  Again, the sinful flesh is chalk full of arrogance and pride, the sinful flesh loves to instruct God.  When you feel that urge, that desire to tell God “God, this is what you should be doing” – that is simply your own sinful flesh rearing up.  Beat it down.

          Abraham’s reply to the rich man is interesting.  “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things; but now he is comforted here and you are in anguish.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none my cross from there to us.”  Isn’t going to happen.  You are receiving your just desserts, your punishment for your sin, for your unbelief of God.  There is nothing to be done now.  But the Rich Man doesn’t stop giving orders.  “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, to send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’”  Again, while it seems nice, the Rich Man commands.  He is arrogant.  He continues, even burning in hell, to think he knows best.  “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’”  No, Father Abraham.  No, I think you are wrong.  The Word of God isn’t enough, there needs to be something more.  Do you hear the arrogance?  Do you hear the disdain of God’s Word?  I mean, this is just blowing through the first table of the Law – this is shattering the first, second, and third commandments.  Talk about disdaining, misusing the Name and power of God.  Talk about absolutely not holding God’s Word sacred.  And Abraham gives to the rich man the sad rejoinder – “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”  No – if you disdain God’s Word, if you say, “No, I know better than you God” – if you persist in your unbelief, there is nothing that will top that, not even a man rising from the dead.

          Consider the warning in this, because your sinful flesh, the world, and your old foe Satan, will try to slowly but surely twist you into behaving and becoming like the rich man.  The Rich Man knew all this stuff, he knew his bible… but he began to ignore it, to not care.  He twisted and fell away.  He began to care more about the things of this world and used God’s blessings against him. He began to think more and more about what he was doing and to ignore God and how God had blessed him – see how used to being in charge, how used to being in command he was?  Love and serve the neighbor, hardly!  I’ll command Abraham from the pits of hell.  This is the twisting that had happened.  And of course, the utter disdain of God’s Word.  Eh – I don’t need it anymore, it’s pointless – I’ve read it, I’ve heard it, that’s all old hat – it doesn’t do anything for me any more, it’s not entertaining enough, it doesn’t suit my sophisticated palate.  This is the ploy of Satan and your flesh – to twist you to where your life is all about you, all about what you do, all about what you deign is best.  Sin tries to make your activity, your self-determined course of actions the center of your life.

            Now, consider the other main character in the story.  Lazarus. Lazarus is the model of the Christian, is your example.  And what does Lazarus do?  What are his actions?  He doesn’t have any – he is passive.  Listen.  “was laid a poor man, covered with sore, desired to be fed with what fell, he died and was carried to Abraham’s side.”  They are all passive, they are all receptive.  Dear friends, your life as Christians are not determined, not shaped by what you do.  It is just the vain egoism of this age, the false and shallow spirituality of spoiled, rich Americans that talks about our actions and works incessantly.  No – you are a Christian because of this – you are poor, a poor miserable sinner.  You know that you are covered with sin, with festering boils of wickedness that disgust even you.  And you do not try to hide this fact – no, you rejoice because you have a Redeemer in Christ Jesus.  You have a God who comes and cares for you, who caries you to His bosom – a God who is active for you.  When you see your poverty, when you see that you are poor in Spirit and doomed to die, you know as well that He buys back your life by taking up your death upon the Cross and rising from the dead to give you back your life.  When you see your sores and wounds, you have a Redeemer who Himself takes up those wounds upon Himself and instead washes you clean in the waters of Holy Baptism.  When you feel the ache and bite of sin, when you feel your lack, when you hunger for righteousness, you have a Redeemer who gives you good things from His Table – not just the scraps, but His own Holy Body and Blood so that you might have life in His name.  Indeed, even should you die, you shall be carried to His side, lifted to heaven not by the merits of your own works, but by the power of the Word of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit who has focused your eyes upon Christ, who by Moses and the Prophets and the Gospels and Epistles made you to believe that Christ has indeed risen from the dead for you.

          My dear Christian friends, be on guard against your sinful flesh, your flesh which would try to tell you that you know better than God.  That you know better how to live, that you know better how to save yourself.  Do not rely upon your own works, do not value them.  Do not even delight in the times you love your neighbor, for what great feat is it to do what you are simply given to do?  Rather this – be receptive.  Hear the Word of God, by which you are brought all of what Christ has done for you, all His righteousness and love and mercy – receive these gifts.  That is what makes you a Christian, that is what gives you life, life in Christ, that is what puts your sinful flesh to death and mortifies it so that a new man in Christ might emerge.  We are poor beggars who are redeemed by God, this is good.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Retaining - the Alien Work of the Pastor

A Preacher's job is to forgive sins.  That's what he does.  That's my job.  I forgive sins.  When I preach - I absolve people.  That's what forgiveness does.  When I conduct the liturgy, I absolve people.  This is true of the general absolution, this is true of the times I proclaim God's grace and favor.  "The Peace of the Lord be with you always" - and the Word of God is living and active and there is peace.  When I speak to people, when I counsel and visit or commune someone - I absolve them, I forgive them.  I am to be a herald of God, absolving sin.

"Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

My job is to forgive sins.  The Son of Man did not come to condemn the world but to redeem it.  Likewise, a Pastor is not sent to be a retainer of sins -- he may have to, but that is not his job.

I am not an inspector.  I am not to sit in judgment over my congregation or my parishioners retaining their sins until they have proven they are enough.... holy.... repentant... sorry... whatever... and then and only then forgive them.  I do not have to some how protect Jesus from accidentally letting His Word of forgiveness being spoken to someone who is hiddenly unrepentant.  He has already taken all the sins of the world upon Him -- even the sins of those who do not repent, even the sins of the unfaithful.  All sins He has born for us.

Now, I do have an alien work.  When one of mine has fallen, I will retain their sins -- that is, I will say to them, "You have denied your Lord, you are acting in open gross disbelieve, you have taken your sins back from Christ and they are placed upon you."

That is a fearful and terrible thing.  And it's only done when I'm damn well sure that it's true.

I am glad I do not have to do my alien work often.  I am glad I normally simply get to preach and proclaim forgiveness.  

But what of the faithless who hear that forgiveness?  What of the impenitent who have hidden hypocrisy -- how can I speak that forgiveness to them?  Well, of them it is spoken "hearing they do not hear and seeing they do not see."  So be it.  They follow their idols.  God grant them repentance.  But I preach Christ and Him Crucified for the forgiveness of sins -- and the fear of the impenitent will not hinder that.  A lack of trust in the Law to do it's work will not alter that.  An assumption of being the "Congregational Watch" seeking to keep everyone in line will not supplant my duty.

I forgive.  I preach.  I absolve.  I commune.  I forgive.   

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Where Your Perfection Is, there Your Heart Will Be Also

I have noticed a trend that I think can be slightly disturbing.  I'll see a quote posted by a theologian, and it will be a good quote.  But then someone will complain and point out some error or problem that the quoted theologian has in some other part of his theology and say, "I don't know why we bother dealing with this person."

This annoys me greatly.

Why?  Well... name me a theologian who doesn't have errors somewhere.  Seriously - name me one.  Name me someone with whom you can't find a quibble.  I'd say possibly Ignatius of Antioch, but if all you've got are 7 short letters written whilest on your way to be martyred... that's not a lot of room to mess up in.  Luther wrote things that many folks with quibble with (ironically many of the "Die-hard Lutheran" folks I know would quibble with more of Luther than I would). 

Are we seeking perfect theologians... or even theologians who only perfectly express what I think?  If we are, that is just ego and sin talking.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.  Are you seeking theological perfection (or even think that you possess it)... or do you acknowledge that Christ Jesus alone is perfect... and even if the blind squirrel of a theologian finds an acorn you will rejoice in it? 

Theologians who are quite wrong on many topics can have good insights elsewhere.  And if you think that this can't be true -- remember, we keep you around even though you are often a dolt.  Show others the same charity you receive... or perhaps the problem that you think you don't need any theological charity?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Faith and the Dangers of Misfocused "Sanctification"

Faith is receptive.

Seriously.  That is what faith does.  It receives from God.  Faith hears.  Faith clings to Christ - that is faith grasps the gifts of God, it receives them.  The Christian faith is all about what Christ Jesus has done for you - He has died for you, He has risen for you, He lives for you.  You are forgiven.

"But" comes the call, "Now you must preach sanctification - you must preach about what the Christian is to do!"

That's not sanctification.

Nope.  If it is about what I do, it's not sanctification.  Sanctification is this - that God has made me Holy.  By the power of His Word, He has given me life, and He has given me my vocations -- He has pulled me out of all the things in the world that I might have been doing, and He has said, "Ah, here - I put you here".  He makes me holy, and in those vocations, in those callings which He has given me, He even works through me.  The love that He has given me, poured into to me overflows out of me and unto others.  And this is not my doing - it is His.

Note that.  If it is to be Sanctification, it must be about what God does... for God alone makes holy.

The danger is this.  We hear the Gospel, we hear what God has done... and then our old sinful flesh comes up, and under a veil of false holiness, false "niceness", we want to start talking all about what we do again.  Our sinful flesh wants to shift the focus off of Christ and back onto ourselves. 

That's the way of sin and death.  What do I do?  Well, I sin.  And even the "good" that I do... it's tainted with sin and selfishness.  And it all leads to death.  In me, of myself there is nothing good.

But in Christ, there is nothing but goodness and life.  And indeed, He is my righteousness and my life - indeed, as St. Paul says in Galatians 2:18-20: "For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me."

If I focus on what I go and in my wickedness call this "sanctification" I steal God's glory and am shown to be a transgressor.  No, the truth is this.  I have died, I have been crucified - and if there is anything good you think you see in me, you are actually seeing Christ who lives in me.  Indeed, on the last day, that will be all that there is to see.

Your life is Christ - it isn't yourself.  Do not be swayed by your flesh to make it about you again -- rather, receive the life that Christ gives.  You are forgiven, and you have life in Him. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Trinity Sunday Sermon

Trinity Sunday – June 3rd, 2012 – John 3:1-17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          All sin, when it boils down to is, is nothing but idolatry – indeed, it’s nothing but self idolatry.  All sin is nothing but having your eyes focused not upon the Triune God and His Will, but rather the fleeting and vain whims and wishes of your own heart.  This is the problem.  Has been since the Garden, has been since we listened to Satan and starting thinking that things would be so much better if we were the ones who were like God, if we were the ones who were in charge.  So, what is God to do?  His creation has been tarnished, wrecked, bound for destruction.  His Adam, His Eve, His you, His me… lost and condemned.  Shall He just shrug?  Shall He just let us get the punishment we deserve, shall He let us remain in our self-destructive self-idolatrous ways?  No.  The Father, out of His love, sends His Son to win us salvation, sends His Spirit to turn our eyes off of ourselves and rather onto His salvation.  With this Sunday, we are entering the Trinity season, the season of teaching, the season where week in and week out God’s Truth, over and against our self-created idolatry, will be shown.  For the rest of the Church year, week in and week out we will see the impact, the implications of what having the Triune God get involved in our life means.

          And we begin this task with our Gospel lesson from John.  “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do the signs that you do unless God is with him.’”  At first blush, one might look at Nicodemus and say, “Eh, that’s not bad.  That’s a pretty good answer.”  Jesus gives him no praise.  In fact, Jesus smacks him down hard.  “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  That’s a smack down.  When Jesus begins by saying, “truly, truly I say unto you” – that’s the way of saying, “buddy, you are wrong, and let me tell you how.”  And Nicodemus was off.  Jesus knew that at that moment that Nicodemus was full of fluff, knew that Nicodemus was blind.  Nicodemus’ approach to Christ was terrible.  First, Nicodemus comes at night – when it’s hidden.  He says, “Oh, we know” – but he slinks in at night, doesn’t want any of his good friends to know that he’s daring to talk to this Jesus fellow.  And what does Nicodemus know – that Jesus is what?  A Teacher?  A teacher Nicodemus is embarrassed to be seen with.  And also, while being a teacher is a highly respectable thing – teachers don’t do signs … they don’t perform miracles.  That is at least a “Prophet” thing.  But do you know what the difference in Jesus’ day would have been between a teacher and a prophet?  A teacher would have been answerable to the rulers of the Jews… a prophet answers to God.  So what you have Nicodemus really saying is, “Okay, I don’t want other folks to know, but You are just a teacher, and you should be working for us, because we are the ones in charge… and if I get control of you first, it will be good for me.”

          “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  You are blind, Nicodemus.  You are caught in self idolatry.  You are stuck elevating yourself – you try to elevate yourself over Me even as you hide from your peers and fear their disdain.  At best you think I might give you some insight that you can use in your powerplays.  No.  You don’t see who I am, Nicodemus.  Unless you are born again, unless you are born from on High by God, you will not recognize the Kingdom of God, you will not see that it is no longer about you and your petty desires – I am God, and I have come to establish My kingdom of love and mercy and forgiveness.  And without the Spirit, you won’t be able to see it.

          And Jesus is right.  “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old?  Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’”  That’s a swing and a miss.  Nicodemus has no clue.  Christ Jesus has spoken to him of that which is wondrous and Spiritual… and Nicodemus, I don’t want to even think where his head is at.  Christ alludes to the Kingdom of God – but Nicodemus isn’t interested in that.  No, tell about this born thing… does it involve women?  It’s utterly disgusting and self-serving.  Of course, what we too must admit, we who have been given eyes to see by God, that our sin, even the thing we try to brush off as small and minor are just as disgusting and self-serving.  All sin is disgusting and wicked… even the sins we in our old sinful flesh enjoy.

          But Christ, in His wondrous love and patience, answers Nicodemus.  “Truly, truly I say unto you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, He cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  Let’s look at this part first.  Christ here points to Baptism, where you were washed of water and the Spirit.  And what were you given at your baptism?  You were brought into God’s Kingdom, you were restored once again to His rule, to where His love and mercy and forgiveness reigns over you.  You are no longer bound to Satan, but you are bound by Baptism to Christ.  You are in His kingdom.  And this is a wonderful and radical thing.  How radical?  “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”  You had been nothing but flesh – flesh is that word for creation under the impact of sin, creation doomed to die.  That’s all you were – but you have been born again, called by God out of the darkness of this fallen world and into His marvelous light.  You have been made a new creation in Christ – you are spirit.  Again, it’s a small part of the Nicene Creed that we often overlook – the Holy Spirit is the Giver of Life.  Spirit is always tied to life – Spirit in both Greek and Hebrew refer to a movement of air, of breath, of breathing, of life.  Which is why Christ continues, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’  The Wind [or Spirit] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”  The word there for Wind and Spirit – the exact same.  The two ideas are tied together – this is why in last week’s Epistle when the Holy Spirit descends upon the Apostles there is a sound like a mighty wind.  And the contrast is set up.  It’s not about you being in control, Nicodemus.  You do not get to control God, you don’t get to control God any more than you get to control the wind, the breeze.  God works when and where He wills.  And here is the thing – those who are born again, they realize that it is not about their will, not about their wishes.  The Spirit gives life and rescues from sin, rescues from that self-idolatry.  What does such baptizing with water indicate?  It indicates that the Old Adam (the flesh) in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man (who is spirit) should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

          And then Nicodemus asks the kicker.  “Nicodemus said to Him, ‘How can these things be?’”  How.  How is a terrible question of doubt.  It implies that what you have heard is impossible.  How is *that* supposed to happen?  And sinful man loves to doubt God.  Just How is God supposed to do all this, Jesus?  “Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?  Truly, truly I say to you, we speak of what we know and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.  If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?  No one has ascended into heaven except He who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”  How?  How?  Maybe because I’m the Son of God, brainiac.  Do you not confess that God is almighty, teacher of Israel?  Then why do you keep telling God what He can or cannot do?  No, I have come from heaven, come from the Father, come to bring the Kingdom of God to this world, and by My Spirit working through My Word, to bring people into that Kingdom.  And what does this look like – let me give you an example, a parallel that you should be familiar with, Nicodemus.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.”  When the people rebelled and grumbled against God, the fiery serpents came.  But when they looked at the bronze snake on a pole as God had commanded them, they lived.  This was all foreshadowing, Nicodemus.  The serpent has you – not the fiery one, but the old, evil serpent - Satan.  And to destroy the kingdom of Satan, I will be lifted up upon the Cross, I will enter into death’s domain and I will rip it asunder, and all who believe in Me will live forever.

          That, dear friends, is what the Kingdom of God looks like.  It is Christ crucified for your sake.  As you suffer the agony of sin, as you deal with guilt and sorrow and pain and anger and hatred and all the other consequences of sin, Christ calls your eyes to behold Him crucified for you.  See, your sin is no more, it is done away with – now lift up your hearts and rejoice, for the Kingdom of God has come, and you have been brought into it.  Your sins are forgiven, your eyes behold Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit you have been given eyes to see and ears to hear, and you are now restored to the Father, you now even may approach Him in prayer.  This is how God loves the world – not with petty baubles or riches that fade, the Triune God loves the world in this way – the Father sends the Son to the cross, and the Spirit makes us to behold the Son so that we might not perish but have eternal life.  And that is where we live, that is who we are.  That is whom God has made you to be – for you are a new creation in Christ, born again by water and the Spirit.  Christ Jesus comes, and He blasts apart sin, blasts apart your sin, and He draws you unto Himself, gives Himself to you, even His very Body and Blood, so that you might have eternal life.  This is the Triune God’s love for you, this is how He rescues you from sin and Satan and even from yourself.  All thanks and praise be to our God now and forever.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +