Thursday, August 30, 2012

National Politics and the Parish Life

I get frustrated when I watch national politics - the self congratulations, the spin, the rhetoric of doom aimed at the other party.  It all seems so... silly to me.  I'm amused at how every plan to balance the budget would take decades... as though any family that was spending much more than it brought in would have decades to get that under control.

Balancing the budget is simple -- do not spend more than you bring in.  The problem, though, is this: if you try to buy off voters with perks and promises, you can't do that and be re-elected.

So, in reality, the discussion doesn't become whether or not we should spend money for X or how we ought to pay for it -- we instead just have one series of promises coming after another -- and recriminations and perhaps even out right lies.

What ought we learn from this in the Church?

Once you start making outlandish promises for anything, the truth suffers.  It has to, because you have to twist and warp things to cover the outlandish promise you have made... and you never stop to consider whether that promise was a good thing.

And there are many outlandish promises we can be tempted to make.  If you come to Church X, you'll get health and wealth... and people and their faith are crushed when health fails and wealth is fleeting, and so the theology has to get coaxed more and more and twisted further and further way.

If you come to Church Y, your family will be so much better... and, well, little Johnny is still no angel, and the stresses from work are still there on dad, except now there's that additional stress to cover this all up, to hide it so we fit in... and the theological deficit grows and grows.

There are other things that are promised -- increased Spiritual "Gifts", tongues and prophecy, healing, acceptance, tolerance, a more holy life -- the same things promised by every sect in history, the same false dreams that people ran after in the monasteries.

No - the Church is best when it is balanced and simple.

We preach the Law -- and that means you die.  You die when you hear it, you know you will die eventually, and you see the sin of your past for what it is, namely little tremors of death killing you, killing friendships, killing blessings.

We preach the Gospel -- for Christ has died for you.  And when you hear that, you have life.  You have life now in the middle of the world of sin and death, you have life knowing you are forgiven, you have life that is free and made to serve the neighbor, and you have everlasting life now -- its yours, even if you won't see it in full until the last day.

All the other junk -- it just distracts from these truths, these wonderful truths.  The Lord tears you down so that He may build you up, not into your sinful flesh's image of what you should be, but He makes you His workmanship for life now, for life eternal. 

We don't need to try to sweeten the deal, we don't need to make promises -- as though we somehow control what blessings God gives and what challenges he allows.  No, those all try to put us in control and widen the theological deficit... things are only right and true when we see that it really is God in control.

It is God whose Word and Spirit pierces me and shows me my sin.  It is the Son who has died for me, and the Spirit who has made me to believe this without any reason, strength, merit, or worth in me.  Even the good that I do, this is nothing but God working through me - the Vine bringing forth fruit in His branch.

When there is this focus on God, there is confidence - not in ourselves, but in Him.  Without this, there is just posturing and cajoling and lies and hurt and death -- for without Christ and Him Crucified, the Law still stands, even if we ignore it.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Luther on Prayer

(From Citation 3436 in "What Luther Says")

For this reason Christ Himself also significantly adds the phrase “in My name.”  He wants to teach that without faith no real prayer can be offered and that apart from Christ no one is able to pray a single letter that is worth anything before God and acceptable to Him.  This is the nature of the prayers of all Turks, Jews, monks, and hypocrites. For all appear before God with the notion that He should take into consideration their own merit and holiness or those of another and commend and crown them because of that, as the hypocrite prayed (Luke 18:11): “God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,” as if to say: “I am not in need of Thy grace and mercy but have well merited a favorable hearing.”  He does not want to take from God; but he wants to give to Him, so that God must pay and be glad that He gets a man so holy as His friend.  But God says no to this.  He will neither hear nor heed the prayer of anybody unless he comes relying on His pure grace and mercy in Christ and says with the publican: “God, be merciful to me, a poor sinner.” - Luther

Few things are more dangerous to a Christian than a desire for God to behold their own works.  Seriously - few things end up being more dangerous because this shift to one's own works is as deadly as any wild and wicked, open and manifest sin -- but this shift, this is a grave sin, but hidden under a veneer of self-righteousness and delusion.  Why would I want God to look upon my works - why would I want God to behold me -- I have no life in and of myself, my life is Christ and Christ alone.  When God sees me, let Him behold His Son, for I am washed and covered in the blood of the Lamb, indeed, I am part of His own Body - not some independent agent of righteousness.  When the Father hears me pray, let Him not hear me, but hear His Son interceding for me, hear the Spirit praying for and through me.  Because if it is left to me, there is only death.  If it is left to Christ, there is salvation and mercy and life and forgiveness.

God save me from my own ego!

Monday, August 13, 2012

"The Righteousness of God" - An Example

The phrase "the Righteousness of God" has been one of those phrases which has caused much consternation within the History of the Church.  As Paul points out in Romans, people often flip it -- we think of it as the righteousness that God has that we ourselves must obtain to, that we must make manifest in ourselves in order to be worthy of Him -- thus turning everything into salvation by works.  On the contrary, the righteousness of God is His righteousness that drives Him to save us.  Let me give an example to explain.

Let us say that you are walking along the sidewalk, and you see a kid, maybe 4 or 5 years old, playing in the middle of the street not paying attention, and behold, a speeding car is careening towards him.  What do you do?

Do you say, "Well, that miserable sinner of a child obviously didn't listen to his parents, he deserves what is coming"?  Or do you say, "Well, if his parents paid more attention to their kid, they wouldn't be suffering in a few moments, now would they"?  Or do you say, "Oh, if only we had put speed bumps in this child wouldn't get pasted in around 5 seconds"?

No!  You run into the street and knock the kid out of the path of the car, even if you yourself get hit.  Why?  Because it is the right thing to do - you just do it.

That is what the Righteousness of God is.  When God beholds His creation stuck in the grasp of sin, consigned to death, when He sees your sin, He doesn't wipe His hands of you.  He doesn't blame Adam and Eve for your suffering. He doesn't try to make better law for you to try to live by -- no, Christ Jesus jumps between you and sin and death upon the Cross - He lets that speeding car of death, with Satan's foot jammed to the floor hit Him so that you might live.

That is His righteousness -- and it has nothing to do with your works, what you do.  It's all about Him and what He does for you.  Why?  Because He is righteous, and that's just what He is going to have to do.  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Trinity 10 Sermon

Trinity 10 – August 12th, 2012 – Luke 19:41-48

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          During this time in the Trinity season we are presented with some Gospel texts that call us to a bit of self-reflection, a bit of self-examination.  We have heard that we are often not wise, that we are lead astray by false prophets.  It is a period where the texts cause us to pause and take stock of ourselves, our own spiritual lives, and see whether or not all the things we talk about in Church, God’s Law, Christ’s love, whether or not these things are sinking in, whether or not they are impacting us, or whether we just let them fly in one ear and out the other.  Do we end up putting in our hour at Church on Sunday, but then just go and live the rest of the week as though nothing of interest or importance has happened here?

          And there is a reason that we have this time in the Church Year, a reason why there are such texts in the Gospels.  Our friends in other denominations who try to say that once a person is saved he is always saved and cannot fall away are wrong.  We see throughout Scripture countless examples of people who knew better falling away – chasing after vain ideas and dreams rather than being centered and focused upon the Word of God.  It happened in Jeremiah’s time, it happened in Christ’s time, it happens in ours.  So let us attend to what our Lord says and does in our Gospel lesson, so that we may not only examine ourselves, but also learn again of Christ’s determined love for us.

          And when [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, He wept over it saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.”’  From the perspective of the Roman Empire, Jerusalem was a bit of a problem city.  Throughout the Roman Empire, different cultures had been brought into the Empire and were glad to be a part of it – they joined the whole.  In fact, the reason the Roman Empire ends up falling is too many people want to get in – the Roman infrastructure can’t keep up.  The Jews of Jerusalem though, they didn’t like to play along.  And they kept rebelling.  Repeatedly.  Over and over.  Their dreams were ones of an independent Jewish state, a nation with a mighty leader, like what they had when David was there.  And so, all during the time that the Romans were there, the Jewish people kept rebelling.  That was even what many folks hoped Jesus would do – that He would lead the glorious revolution – which He doesn’t, obviously.  And then finally, in the year 66 AD, there was a major rebellion.  And Rome sends down her legions – and then after a few years of fighting Jerusalem is surrounded.  And the Romans lay siege to her.  And they methodically break in to each of the parts of the city – and then they lay waste.  To be a sign and a warning, they slaughter every man, woman, and child who was still in the city, even the dogs in the city – slaughtered.  Nothing left alive.  And the city is burned and utterly destroyed.  The temple is utterly destroyed, set fire to and literally exploded, where the only part that remains is a chunk of the outer wall – not even part of the temple really, it’s fence – what we call today the wailing wall.

          This is the event of which our Lord speaks, what our Lord sees as He approaches Jerusalem.  But note what He says – “Would that you, even you, had known the things that make for peace.”  The thing that makes the destruction of Jerusalem so bitter for Jesus is that it was so unnecessary.  The folks there kept looking for an political Messiah, an earthly king.  They overlooked the true Messiah, they overlooked the King of Kings.  They abandoned the spiritual and instead focused on the physical, the political.  Rather than delighting in the eternal Salvation of their God, they sought power and fame in the world, and they were slaughtered.  So thus, riding into the city on Palm Sunday, with the crowds hailing Him, our Lord weeps over Jerusalem’s folly.

          Now then, how does this apply to us?  What does our Lord see when He looks upon [us?] [Zion – for we are named after Jerusalem, after one of the hills in Jerusalem – that’s what Zion is].  Do we spend our time focused upon the things that make for peace, do we spend our time being focused upon Christ, where all that we do is centered on Him, or do we get bogged down in other things?  The answer to both of these questions is yes.  Yes, we are focused upon Christ Jesus and His love for us here – but we need to be aware of the ways in which Satan tries to pull our focus off of Christ and weigh us down with the cares of this life, weigh us down with vainglorious dreams of what was, what could be - so that we end up ignoring the present wonder of the fact that Christ Jesus comes to us and is present with us this very day, in this very place.

          As human beings, we are easily distracted; we are easily manipulated.  We are distracted by our hopes and by our fears.  That is how you twist people.  Someone plays off of our hopes and dreams – we get promised the moon, and so we run off and do something foolish.  Or, someone plays off our fears – if you don’t do this, terrible, terrible things will happen.  You see this in politics all the time – if you vote for me, everything in your life will be better and we’ll have cheap health care and you’ll get a better job and everything will be wonderful.  If you don’t vote for me, the economy will collapse and all the doctors will leave.  You see it in relationships, in the work place, in the home.  Hopes are used against us, fears are used against us.  And Satan does the same thing against us, against us as individuals and against us as a Church.  Satan can play off a Church’s dreams – if we only do X, Y, and Z we will grow and grow and everyone will want to come here – where X, Y, and Z have nothing to do with Christ – and we forget who we are and what we are to be about.  Satan can play off of a Church’s fears – money is tight, there are fewer people, whatever will we do?  And in both of these cases, Satan tries to wrest your eyes off of Christ.

          So consider your own life, consider your approach to this place.  Are there dreams you have that pull you away from God?  Are there times where you are more concerned with elevating your will above His, where you think your plans are greater or better than God’s?  And on the other hand, are there fears that weigh you down?  Are there fears that would paralyze you, or fears where you think you’ve just got to do something drastic and different, otherwise the worst will happen?  Satan tries to make us lose our heads in the clouds, Satan tries to make us cower in fear, run away in fear.  This is what our foe tries to do to us.  So what is to be our response?  What does our Lord say?

          Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace.”    Christ Jesus our Lord makes for peace – peace that is good and right for us.  This is true for us as individuals.  When we are focused on, when we see Christ’s love for us, we don’t need to go chasing off after pipe dreams or run blindly into danger.  When we are focused on, when we know Christ’s forgiveness, we don’t have to live with the fear that Satan tries so desperately to heap upon us.  Christ’s love and forgiveness is what makes for peace.  And what is true for us as individuals is true for us also as a Congregation.  Christ Jesus makes for peace.  We can forget that this Church is His Church, not ours.  He will grow it as He sees fit.  He will provide for it, as He has in the past, for as long as He wants His Word proclaimed in this place.  His will will be done.  He is the One who has built and established this place, and He is the One who comes here to give out forgiveness and peace.  There’s a reason why in the Communion Service, right after the Words of Institution, we behold our Lord’s Body and Blood and hear the words – “The Peace of the Lord be with you always”.  That’s the focus – Christ’s Church is about Christ giving us His peace through forgiveness, through His Body given for us and His Blood shed for us – and when we see that, when we are people who know and recognize the things that make for peace – we do indeed have peace in Christ Jesus.  Our Lord Jesus has suffered and died for us, our Lord has risen for us – what dream of ours is going to top eternal life – what fear can diminish our Lord’s love?  And so we are called here to hear the Word of our Lord – to receive His very Body, to receive the very Blood that was shed for us, so that we may not just be at peace here, but depart from this place in peace.

          This peace shapes our lives – it g ives us the strength to keep our eyes focused upon Christ when vain dreams would distract us, it gives us to strength to keep our eyes open and focused upon           Christ when fears would have us close them in terror.  Christ’s peace makes us to live by faith – where all the things we do are done trusting in Him and His love for us.  We don’t have to plot and scheme to get God’s blessing – He will bless us as He sees fit.  We don’t have to fret and fear – He will care for us as He always has.  And we are left to live lives of faith – where we strive to do what we ought – to show love where love to needed, to work where work is needed, to give support where support is needed, and always trusting that God the same God who loves us so much that He forgives us when we fail will assuredly continually care for us. 

          And so my friends, once again, I encourage you to be in God’s Word, to let Christ’s Word dwell richly in you, to come frequently and often to His Supper, because these are the things which He has provided to you to give you His peace.  And our Lord is diligent in giving these to you – He sees to it that His House is always to be a House of worship and prayer, a place where He is present for you in His Word, in His Supper.  We are built upon Christ, we live in Christ, we are preserved by Christ – and so thus, seeing this, knowing this, we have peace, whatever dreams float into our lives, whatever fears come crashing down.  We rest securely in Lord.  The Peace of the Lord be with you always.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sanctification vs. Vocation

I will admit it - I get tired when people talk about "sanctification".  I just do.  Not that I'm tired of sanctification, not that I disdain holiness... I just... tire of the talk about it.  Why?  Because I've come to expect the bait and switch.  I've come to expect the whole "a REAL Christian wouldn't _______" -- wouldn't smoke, wouldn't drink, wouldn't dance, wouldn't watch that show, wouldn't vote that way, wouldn't hold his hands that way... on and on the blank gets filled with commands about abstract behavior, most only tangentially touching upon the Scriptures.  "Sanctification" can too easily become the realm of self created piety - of self made hoops one easily steps through to show oneself to be a better "Christian" than others.  After all -- see how far you've grown in your sanctification -- you used to smoke, but now you don't, oh, what a good Christian are you!

That bores me at best and annoys me much more often.  Let's talk about vocation - let's talk about living out the tasks God Himself has set us to.  Consider the Small Catechism on Confession:

What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even of those which we do not know, as we do in the Lord's Prayer. But before the confessor we should confess those sins alone which we know and feel in our hearts.
Which are these?
Here consider your station according to the Ten Commandments, whether you are a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, a man-servant or maid-servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, slothful; whether you have grieved any one by words or deeds; whether you have stolen, neglected, or wasted aught, or done other injury.

See where we are taught to look?  To our vocations... to how we handle our neighbor.  Or consider the table of duties... all tied to vocation.  These end up being concrete ways of service, ways of service given me by God.  He has made me holy by His Spirit and He has made me a husband, a father, a son, a pastor, a neighbor, a citizen, etc. -- let that Holiness that God has given me be shown in these tasks, not by some man made litmus test of what a good Christian "looks" like.

Show me your sanctification by telling me what you don't do, and I will live the Sanctification God has worked in me through the vocations he has placed me in.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Trinity 9 sermon

Trinity 9 – August 5th, 2012 – Luke 16:1-9

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  With these words, Christ Jesus our Lord lays down the gauntlet, He really chides us.  We here, we who know Christ, we run around like fools, whereas the wicked, the evil act least act shrewdly, at least take stock of their situation and what is really going on.  This text today is a wake up call, a call for Christians to start thinking, pondering their life, their salvation – but Jesus does this in a backhanded way.  Instead of holding a positive example before our eyes, Jesus shows us a liar, a cheat, a thief – one who plays the game of the world well, and we are supposed to draw the parallel to our own lives.  This we will do this morning God willing.  Let us begin first by examining the shrewdness of this manager.

          “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.”  Now, this is the first sign, the first inkling that the manager was shrewd.  This manager has a cushy job – he’s basically in charge of buying and selling possessions for a rich man, he’s in charge of the business.  And what’s he doing – he’s skimming a bit off the top.  He’s been sweetening his deals with other people and living the good life.  He’s like the businessman today who uses the company card for “business” – because of course he needed to take that potential customer out to the finest restaurant in town, take him out for a nice round of golf on the company expense account.  He needed to take that expensive business “trip” all on the company dime.  Maybe even just a little extra old fashion skimming as well.  Again, this seems like a pretty sweet deal – but here is the problem.  He’s dipped a little too deeply, enjoyed a bit too much of the high life with the company footing the bill – and he got called out.  “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”  And the shoe drops.  You’ve been wasting my possessions – you’re fired.  Go collect your books and bring them to me tomorrow. 

          So now the situation has changed.  Instead of being able to live this life of luxury, he’s losing his job.  The tables are turned.  So, what will this man do?  Weep?  Rant?  Complain?  No – he takes stock of his situation.  And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”  Let’s see what we can do, shall we?  I’ve had a nice, cushy job – but that’s going away.  I can’t dig – I’m a soft, indoor worker, that type of job would kill me.  I’m too proud to beg.  Now, consider – this isn’t really admirable… we value strength, we know you shouldn’t let pride get in the way – but this manager is a wicked lout.  He’s a weakling, he’s sleezy – but he is at least honest about himself.  When troubles come, there are no vain boasts about what he’s going to do, no bluster.  He knows his limitations, great as they are.  And so, he hatches a plan.  “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’  You know what – I haven’t turned the books in yet.  It’s time to cut a deal, it’s time to get in good with other folks, so that way I can sponge off of them and land on my feet.  “So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”  And the plan goes into effect.  He is going to give people a discount.  One man owes 100 measures of olive oil – now because of the manager he only owes 50.  A measure of olive oil was 875 gallons – so, what – fourty-some-thousand gallons of olive oil discount.  That’s a pretty penny.  Or the wheat – a measure was 1200 bushels or so – here fellow, take 24,000 bushels of wheat on me.  If someone gave you 24,000 bushels of wheat and then knocked on your door and said, “Well, I got fired, I don’t have a place to stay, do you mind if I crash here for a bit” of course you are going to let him in and stay.

          And with things all set up, things all prepared, the accounts get turned in.  And it’s all technically legal – the manager was still an authorized agent, he had authority to deal.  “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”  And the master had to hand it to him – the guy was sharp – a liar, a cheat and needed to be fired, but he was sharp.  This is shrewdness according to the ways of the world, where it is expected that you are supposed to lie, cheat, and steal all in order to get ahead, all in order to live it up now.  And this manager is shrewd for a son of this world. 

          But now, what of you, what of the sons of light?  What is shrewdness, what is true wisdom for us?  Well, let’s go through the story again, but we are going to flip it and think of it in terms of a child of light.  So to begin, we had a manager who was wasting his master’s possessions.  How does that apply, how does that describe the Christian?  Well, consider what we as Christians are.  We are stewards of God’s wisdom and God’s blessings.  We know God’s truth, we know the Law, we know the commandments, we know what is good and God pleasing.  We have blessing after blessing from God – all the first article gifts that we talk about in the explanation to the Creed – body and soul, house and home, family and friends.  And what do we do?  We waste them.  We ignore the commandments and sin.  We engage in wickedness and vice.  We abuse our blessings – instead of seeing them as gifts we vainly boast that we have earned them.  Instead of being content and trusting in God, we covet and fret about making more and more.  We know the Good things of God, and yet we sin in thought, word, and deed.  And in this we see that we aren’t as shrewd as the manager.  He at least lived what he thought was the good life – and we, we know what it is that is good.  We know what is God pleasing.  We know how to live, we know how to have peace and contentment and security.  And what do we do?  We blow it.  We waste it.  We worry when told not to worry, we hate our enemies when told to pray for them.  We fill our lives with sin that wastes and destroys and taints the blessings we have received, and everything turns to dust and ashes in our hands.  We give over to sin.

          And then we get called on it.  Even as the manager was brought before the rich man, so the Law of God, when preached, lays us bare, shows us our sin.  Give an account of your actions – have you been perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?  Or have you wasted what He has given you?  And just as the manager had to turn in his account – well, the wages of sin is death.  So the Law comes crashing down – you have sinned, and you will die.  That’s what’s going to happen.  So what becomes the reaction?  Often the reactions are unwise.  How many people who know better still live as though they will never die?  How many Christians live in denial, pretending that they aren’t sinners, pretend that they haven’t offended God with their sin.  How many think that they will just be able to work out things with God by their own strength, by their own powers?  There’s a lot of ego, there’s a lot of pride, there’s a lot of people who think God owes them.  That’s utter foolishness – the manager knew that he was up a creek… you would be wise to recognize this as well.  By your own powers, by your own strength, you cannot make things up to God, you cannot find a way out of your own sin, you cannot save yourself.  It’s only vain human pride and folly that would say otherwise, but yet so many Christians end up falling to folly, end up falling to pride.

          No, often we are not shrewd, often we are not wise.  We must see ourselves, our sin, our lack truly, and then we must realize that we are weak.  We are weak, but God is strong.  In the story, the manager lives not by his own strength, but he lives off of the master – he makes his living by living off of the master’s stuff.  Likewise – you will not have salvation or redemption by your own efforts or power – you only have salvation in Christ.  It is not your hard work that will redeem you – it is Christ’s work.  It is Christ’s death and resurrection which wins you life and salvation – anything else is a waste.  If we trust in ourselves, we will die – if we trust in Christ Jesus, if we delight in the salvation which He earned for us, we will be received into the life everlasting.  And this is the wondrous truth that we cling to – that the Holy Spirit who has given us faith points us to over and over.   We are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, apart from the works of the Law.  And so over and over Christ comes to us, sends us His Word to drive us to repentance, repentance away from our sin and foolishness – and instead He holds before us His Cross, He says to us, “Behold, I have paid the full penalty for your sin – I have swallowed up your death, and because I live, you too shall live and have life in My Name.”

          Christ our Lord warns us, warns us that sin and Satan will try to shift our focus away from Christ Jesus, away from His Cross.  He calls out to you today to be wise, to be shrewd.  He calls out to you today so that you would keep your focus upon Him and the salvation He has won for you.  He brings His forgiveness and mercy, His Spirit to you in His Word proclaimed, in His Holy Supper.  Be wise, be shrewd – cling to Christ and His salvation, and you will have life abundantly. God grant that He continually fix our eyes upon Christ!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +