Sunday, September 30, 2012

Trinity 17 sermon

Trinity 17 – September 30th, 2012 – Luke 14:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          I had said in last week’s sermon that if you wanted to understand why Jesus does what He does, why He heals, why He preaches how He preaches, that you should understand that everywhere He goes He sees sin, sees death – and that He wishes to fight against that sin, against that death.  If I preach something, it should hold true – so, what we will do today is consider this text, our Gospel lesson with this idea of Jesus facing down sin and death in the back of our minds, and we will see our Lord fighting for us in this text today.  Let’s dive in.

          “One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully.”  Now, here’s something that is interesting to note.  There you have Jesus, and He is a guest at a Sabbath diner.  Remember, if you are a good Jew, you don’t do work on the Sabbath, you don’t cook, everything had to be prepared before hand – so it was a fine and good thing to invite people to rest at your house and be served.  Don’t do work – yet, what’s going on?  What are the Pharisees doing?  They were “watching Him carefully” – this isn’t paying attention to see if He will teach, this isn’t gladly hearing preaching the Word of God and holding it sacred.  No – this is referring to examining Jesus, checking Him over for any mistakes that He might make, for any reason that they could then say, “A ha!  He is a fraud, ignore Him!”  So, ironically, the Pharisees themselves are working this Sabbath day – in their self-righteousness they are working hard, getting ready to kill Christ’s reputation, to put the worst construction on everything, to explain nothing in the kindest way.  Again, sin and death are at work – gone is simple love and service – in its place is scheming and contempt.

          This is further shown as the plan unfolds.  “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.”  And lookie here, there’s a sick man.  And here’s something to note about this man – there’s no reason for him to be there.  He’s not a Pharisee, he’s not a man of note.  He sticks out like a sore thumb – this sick man is nothing but a test.  Ah, those Pharisees are working hard with their plots and their traps – what will you do, Jesus?  Will you heal on the Sabbath – will you dare to do work on the Sabbath in front of us… because then we will go to work point the finger at You and shouting how horrible You are!  It’s a neat little trap.  Two deaths are laid before Christ – on the one hand, there is this ill man, who has a horrible, painful debilitating disease – that’s death.  And so the Pharisees set up another death – if you heal him, Jesus, we will kill your reputation!  We will slay Your popularity, we will turn the people against you!

          So now there are two problems, two pitfalls before Christ.  And He will deal with them both.  “And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’  But they remained silent.”  Jesus deals with the lesser death, the lesser threat first.  You Pharisees, you lawyers think to trap me, to slay my reputation – alright, with the measure you use, so it shall be measured back to you.  What should I do – how would you act in the trap you have set for Me?  And they cannot answer.  Why?  If someone says “heal the man” – then he would be open to attack and being lambasted for ignoring the Sabbath.  If someone says, “No, you cannot heal”, then again they would be open to attack and being lambasted for not loving the neighbor.  Jesus calls them on their little game – He says, ‘Your petty game is foolishness and harmful, and I am putting an end to it by turning it around upon you – now you will be silent, and none of you will kill anyone with your hurtful words.”  The attempted character assassination, the planned death is put to an end.  And with that out of the way, Jesus can move on.

          “Then He took him and healed him and sent him away.”  Again, seeing illness, seeing creeping death in this man – Jesus deals with it simply.  The man is healed and gets to go home.  You don’t need to hang out here where you aren’t really welcome, you don’t need to stay here with these accusing eyes all around.  Be healed, and go home, rejoice with your friends and family – rejoice with those who want to see life, rather than death.  And that’s what Jesus then points out to the Pharisees.  “And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?’ I’m in the business of life – if I see life threatened by death – if I see pain and suffering, I will fix it.  Indeed, the point of the Sabbath is so that you can rest from the weariness of fighting death, so that you might have life spoken to you once again in God’s Word and that you might be ready to show forth life and love in the coming week – the point is life, life over and against sin and death.  The point is care and service and fighting against sin and death.

          But these people are trapped in sin, trapped in self-righteousness, trapped in death.  And they could not reply to these things.”  They couldn’t reply to His question.  Jesus has taught them, shown them that the life and forgiveness and salvation is the key – and yet, they are so wrapped up in death – looking to kill another to elevate themselves, worried that someone else might kill their reputation to get ahead, than even when presented with life, they can say nothing.

          This is shown in the next part of our Gospel lesson – the musical chairs scene.  “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…”  Again, what is Christ seeing?  He’s seeing death.  Instead of people there simply to enjoy God’s good gifts of food and friends and community and joy – what do you have?  You have people striving and fighting after honor – after their own elevation at another’s expense.  That seat is too good for you, move down and let me take it – die a little bit in everyone’s eyes, scum, for I am better than you.  It’s cruelty, it’s domination, it’s terrible.  And so Jesus tells a parable – and really, it’s nothing new to these folks – Jesus is just playing off of what King Solomon had taught in Proverbs, in our Old Testament lesson. 

          “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”  You guys have it backwards.  If you seek to take honor for yourself, what good is that?  All you will do is step on another, all you will do is assert dominance in the middle of a terrible social scrap – and chances are you’ll be humiliated as well.  Death and pain is your way.  But no, instead, be humble, and then let someone else come to you and give you life – receive respect and honor as a gift – not as something you have to scramble and fight for – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  If you are playing the honor game, if you are exalting yourself… that’s just the way of death.  That’s the way that leaves you unfulfilled and empty, it’s the way of sin and death to where you don’t even recognize a good thing when it’s right in front of you.  There Jesus had healed a man of a terrible disease, and they weren’t sure how to react because they were worried about exalting themselves.  What a terrible life!  No joy, no real honor, no real respect – just simply waiting and hoping to knock someone else down a peg, all the while worrying that someone is going to knock you out.  No, against that Christ preaches humility – be a servant, be lowly, and then, when you are exulted by the host, then you will have joy, then you will enjoy the blessing and honor that is given you – then you will have life instead of death.

          So then, let’s consider what we should learn from what Christ teaches us today in this text.  Let us not think like the Pharisees – let us abandon the social dance of death where we try to place ourselves above our neighbor.  That’s just death – it robs us of our joy, our delight, our contentment.  It makes us miserable when we play that comparison game, when we nitpick each other and live in fear of being nitpicked in return.  No, that is not good for you, that’s death, that kills joy, kills blessings.  No – rather this.  Know that your God loves you.  Know that Christ Jesus has humble Himself for you, humbled Himself even to the point of death upon a cross – and why?  So that He would be raised from the dead, so that He would be exulted – and that as He is exulted, you are exulted as well.  His resurrection is your resurrection, His life is your life.  And so He calls to you today, He calls you away from death and worry and despair, and He says to you, I will give you forgiveness and joy and peace – I will give you life instead of a dog eat dog death.

          Sin, fear, this world of death – they call out to us, try to entrap us, make us miserable.  Sin and Satan will try to get you to elevate yourself, to try and make you place yourself above others, to fill your life with fretting and worrying.  Over and against that, Christ Jesus has said this – you are forgiven for His sake.  Even if the world sees you as dirty and wrinkled, He has declared you to be His bride without spot or wrinkle or blemish – you are clean and holy, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism – He has elevated you to His side, and there ain’t nothing that anyone can say to you or about you that will change that fact.  He has said that you don’t need to sit back in the corner, no, come to the head table, to His table – take and eat, this is My Body, take and drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, shed for you that you might have life, and have it abundantly.

          This week, my friends, you will see sin and death, and sin and death will be tugging at you, trying to make your life one of fear and worry and social scrambling.  And sometimes that sin will hit you hard.  But over and against the ravings of sin, its attempts to kill you and your  joy – remember this.  You belong to Christ, you are His, He is yours, and He has given you life, He has made you to know His life – He has given you His Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, and nothing this world throws at you can change that.  Be at peace in Christ and His love for you, for you are baptized into Christ and have His life always.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Admission Requirements as Pastoral Failure

A friend of mine asked if I would write on the topic of admission requirements to the Lord's Supper.  Here it goes.

Here is my assertion.  The idea of having admission "requirements" for the Supper is foolish.

WHAT!  How can that be!

Well, let's think about what sort of approach talking about "requirements" leads to.  It makes receiving the supper a reward where a person can say, "a ha, now that I have met the requirements, I get the Supper -- and woe to any Pastor who says otherwise".  Whatever "requirement" it is -- I was confirmed, I'm a member on paper, I can cite this -- if you have "requirements" and I meet them, then *I* should be in -- and any pastor who says no is suddenly a judge determining legal validity of various requirements.

Let's consider this question instead.  Why, ultimately, would we have anyone refrain from receiving the Supper?  Because we are told that improper reception can be harmful.  The question isn't who has jumped through the hoops to get the Supper - it's who can receive it without harm.

A-HA!  So you're an open communion unthinking jerk-face bad theologian!

No.  Rather this.  Everyone, ideally should be able to receive the Supper, but because improper reception can damage one's faith and soul - we hold people off.  We say no.

And we need to be serious about why we say no.  We need to acknowledge that false doctrine damages faith - so when you play around with that cool, hip church that teaches false doctrine - it's not safe for you now, because I don't want to confirm you in your putting up with stupid doctrine.  It means if you are just doing a touch and go for political reasons -- no.  It means if you are caught up in open shame and vice - no.

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Let me make an analogy.  A Driver's license.  This is a great way to describe communion, the "requirements" before we let someone commune.  Let someone show that they have learned how to handle the awesome gift (be it a car or the Supper) first, and then they may use.

However, if you come upon someone who is drunk and say, "You shouldn't drive now" - the response of "But I have a license" doesn't count much.  Or even if you come across someone who is sleepy and tired and say, "You shouldn't drive now" - again, a "requirement" approach doesn't deal with that.

We are about safety, safely receiving the Supper.  We should want people to have it -- but if they can't receive it safely, well -- the Pastor has the keys for that reason.

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Or in other words - this scene from Say Anything is what a Pastor doing closed communion should look like (metaphorically speaking - although I think there may be a time for a pastor to yell "Chill!  You must chill!")

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Some Thoughts on Authority

All earthly authority is given in order that those under the authority may be served.

My son is under my authority. Why? So that I may raise and care and instruct him.

A student is under a teacher's authority. Why? So that the teacher may teach the student.

A Policeman is given authority. Why? To protect and serve.

The Government is given authority. Why? To restrain evil and praise those who do good.

A husband is given authority. Why? To serve wife and family - women and children first isn't just for sinking ships.

A pastor is given authority over a congregation. Why? To serve them by fixing their eyes upon Christ and forgiving sins.

When we say that the fourth commandment has a promise attached to it, we are not saying that if you are a good little boy, then and only then will God bless you. No - the fourth commandment deals with authority, and authorities are sent by God to see that it is well with you, to see that you live long upon the earth. That's the promise, that's the Gospel. To ignore the authority is to harm yourself.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Nice vs. Niceties

I love doing things that are nice.  I love doing things that I know will give my neighbor a bit of pleasure.  I'm cooking for the Lions' Club tonight, and one of my members is a Lion.  She digs my deep dish pizza, so deep dish is on.  That's... nice.  She didn't expect it, she didn't demand it - but when she heard that I was doing it - she was excited.  There was joy - I was happy, she was happy, it's all good.

I disdain niceties.  What are niceties?  Well, that would be the extra work that one has to do because another expects them.  If I had someone who just absolutely insisted that if I have them over to diner the napkins would just have to be folded in a fan pattern.  Or else.  It's a nicety - and it annoys me.

Of course, if someone would get a kick out of that, and it would be a joy - then a little napkin folding could be fun.

You see, the difference is in the expectation.  Is the service freely given, so that there might be joy in giving and in receiving - or is the service a hoop to be jumped through, busy work that I expect of you in order to show me the respect I think I deserve - and there will be social hell to pay if you don't meet my expectations?

Don't demand niceties.  Don't make people jump through hoops.  That just burdens them.  Rather - let them be nice.  Let them freely serve, however much or little they do -- and that way there will be joy in what they do and what you receive - whether it is something wondrous or something small and seemingly insignificant.  You will know that it isn't insignificant - it is something nice done for you - and it will be a joy for you and a joy for them.

Likewise, strive to do things that are nice for others - bring them little bits of joy.  As for doing the niceties -- well... if you are under them, bear with them.  If you can teach them... maybe skip them, but only if you are willing to pay the hell that there will be to pay, for their sake.

But man, the niceties can get to me sometime.

Thinking about the words, about the heart

As Americans, we like to focus a lot upon the heart, upon what our innermost feelings are, upon what we actually think.  It's part of modern American culture -- but it's a part that makes some things in the church harder to understand.

We know that we can't judge each other's hearts -- I'm sure you've heard that phrase often.  But what we can and often do is look at a person's words.

I will go back to the wedding well one more time.  I was at a wedding - I officiated at a wedding.  Why did I do so?  Had I judged their hearts to make sure that they were really in love?  Nope.  Not at all.  In fact, that's not the point at all.  I didn't worry about the emotion of love or the truth of their hearts -- I paid attention to one thing.

What they said. 

And that's what I directed the folks to listen to as well -- as they have given their vows, I pronounce them to be husband and wife.  On the basis of what?  Their... vows.  Their words.

Or consider Confirmation -- what is that?  Words.  Or the installation of a pastor -- words.  Or even Confession and Absolution - on the basis of this... this what?  This, your confession.  This, your words.

Everything in the Church revolves around words - be that the Word of God which gives and creates life and faith, or be it the words of our response.  We see things through the lens of words.  So no, I cannot judge your heart - but I can hear your words, and I will speak God's Word of Law and Gospel, God's No and God's Yes, in accordance with what you have spoken.

Which is why we sing, "O Lord, open my lips" -- because without Him, all our words would be but horrible dross.

Weekly Meditation - Trinity 16

(I am going to start posting here my weekly meditation e-mail that I send out on Monday mornings)

Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord!

The Epistle reading for yesterday was the close of Ephesians 3 (13-21), and in particular, let's look at the end, which reads, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen."

For us fallen human beings, being in control is a terrible burden.  Oh, we tend to like - in fact, some of us may very well be "control freaks" - but being in control is a burden, a responsibility.  It's a heavy, wearying thing.  There are burdens, there are responsibilities, there is the need to plan, there is the need to see that things are just right.  We have choices laid before us, decisions to make, and we can worry and fret and fear -- "What if I make the wrong decision?"  Lots of burden.

Yet Paul cuts across that with these verses.  Did you note how He describes God?  God is the One who gives us far more abundance than... than we ask or think.

Consider this - the blessings you receive from God - they aren't about you, they aren't about your planning, your wisdom, your wits, the fact that you made the "right" decision, the fact that you thought things over or asked the right way.  No - as we learn in the Catechism, God gives us blessings simply out of His Divine Fatherly goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us.

Because in reality -- it's not about you being in control - God is in control for you, for your benefit.  And this is a comforting thing.

There are times when I see people going through making a decision, when I see people confronted with a choice, and they will say, "Oh, I just don't know what God's Will is for me, what God wants me to do," and my heart breaks.  Do we really think God is petty -- do we really think our life is nothing but God running the old game show "Let's Make a Deal" - that God is going to say, "Ooops, you picked the box, you get nothing from Me."

No, He does far more abundantly than we think or ask - He blesses even beyond the plans, the choices we come across in life.  Indeed, as Paul points out He is the power at work in us -- and is He going to abandon you because... you took the job in Stillwater and not the one is Ponca City?  You went to OU instead of OSU?  You chose Bass Hospital instead of St. Mary's?

No - God is God and He loves you.  He has purchased and redeemed you with the blood of Christ Jesus, His only Son.  He has given you His Holy Spirit to give you faith and to enliven you.  He has prepared a place for you in the world to come -- as St. Paul says elsewhere neither heights nor depths or width nor... nor that whole list of stuff... will be able to separate you from the love of God which is yours in Christ Jesus.

No, God is in charge, and He has given you the gift of freedom.  There will be options, choices in your life.  Make them - but make them with boldness, knowing that God loves you and will sustain you all the days of your life here, even unto the life of the world to come.  Even if they are serious choices -- whether we live or die, we live or die to the Lord, and thus it is all good.

Have a good day!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Trinity 16 Sermon

16th Sunday after Trinity – September 23rd, 2012 – Luke 7:11-17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          “Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him.  As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd was with her.”  Today’s sermon isn’t going to pull any punches.  Today we are going to pull the curtain back on life in this fallen world, we are going to wipe off the makeup and see what we really looks like.  Why?  Because in our text, in our Gospel lesson, the rubber meets the road.  This text is what Christ’s life is about, what this Church is about.  It is about life versus sin and death.

          Consider what our Lord sees when He approaches the town of Nain.  He sees death.  Unvarnished death and tragedy.  He sees a man who has died.  There’s death. He sees a widow wrapped in pain and sorrow – that’s death as well.  The death of joy, the death of blessings that He Himself had given to her.  The husband that Jesus had given her – gone.  What God has joined together, let not man put asunder – well, death has sundered them.  The son, the child that God had given her – Jesus sees that child snatched away by death.  When he sees the crowd, what does Jesus see?  He sees death.  He sees people who have lost a friend, a neighbor.  He sees people mourning, forced to confront the reality that they too are going to die, that someday it’s going to be them carried out of that city on the funeral bier.
          And in this situation, we see death clearly.  But here is the thing.  Death is always around us.  One of the old funeral hymns of the Church begins with the line “In the midst of life, we are in death.”  We don’t know it here, so we don’t sing it, but it’s printed up in my book that I use when I do the burial service – it’s words I see every time I bury someone.  And it speaks to a truth that we often avoid.  In this world, we are surrounded by death.  At all times.  The wages of sin is death.  We’ll try to cover it up, to pretend it isn’t there, but sin is death, sin always leads to death.  Think on our culture – how much goes on trying to deny death, pretend it isn’t there.  How much do we spend on diets or make-up.  Buy this cream and the wrinkles will go away, guys can take this pill and suddenly they’ll have the body of someone half their age.  Our popular music glorifies youth, when we tried to pretend that we would live forever.  All just trying to hide death.  Or think of all the drugs, the alcohol, even the legal drugs or prescription ones – all trying to mask, to hide the pain that keeps creeping in.  We need more medical coverage… because death continues its relentless crawl after us.  Or even in our own personal lives – the sin we see there – that’s death.  Our greed takes the blessings God has given us and kills them, turns them to ashes, and we are not satisfied.  Lust slays the blessings of family.  Anger and hatred and envy slay friendship, even slays families.  And all the niceities, all the self-righteous backslapping and makeup doesn’t fix it.

Well, boy Pastor, you’re kind of dour.  Remind us not to eat whatever you had for dinner last night.  No, I just want you to think for a moment, think on this life, this world.  You see, when God looks upon this world, when Jesus is running around in the Gospel lessons and comes across the sick, the lame, the Pharisees grasping on to their own righteousness, He sees death.  He sees the Fall, His perfect world torn asunder by pain and violence, and mankind doing it’s best to pretend that there’s nothing wrong, hiding from Him, trying to cover up everything with a fig leaf and pretend everything is normal and a-ok.  And if you remember this, that this is what Jesus sees, the Gospels make much more sense.  Jesus sees death, so of course He weeps over Jerusalem as He rides in on Palm Sunday – “And when He 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.’”  Of course Jesus will turn over the money changers’ tables in the temple, as His house of prayer is turned to a den of robbers and death.  There’s a reason He doesn’t beat around the bush, there’s a reason Jesus doesn’t mollycoddle sin.  There’s a reason He has to heal the sick, the suffering, there’s a reason He has to cast out demons.  Because He sees death all around, death messing with His world, and He can’t put up with it.

“As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd was with her.”  Death again.  Death open and obvious so that even we who like to live in denial, who like to pretend that everything is alright, situation normal, even we see it.  And what does Christ do?  “And when He saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”  Profound.  Christ Jesus, He who Himself weeps over Jerusalem, who weeps over the death of His friend Lazarus walks up to this woman, this woman in the obvious grasp of death, and He says do not weep.  Why would He say that?  When He sees death, even He weeps.  He has compassion – His own guts are wrenched… that’s literally the Greek for compassion, to have your guts wrenched.  Why would He tell her not to weep?  Very simple – Jesus has put up with all the death He can stand, and the Lord of Life is going to fix things.

“And then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.”  This is actually the most shocking part of the text.  A good Jewish Man wouldn’t touch the bier, the coffin.  It made you ritually unclean.  You don’t touch a dead body – and there is Jesus, this stranger, just walking up and touching the dead man’s bier, physically with His own Body walking up and stopping the procession of death in its tracks.  And then, “And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, ARISE.”  And it’s not just “arise” – it’s be GENESISed… be re-created.  I, Christ Jesus am the Word of God, I am the One by Whom all things were made, and I say to you young man, BE MADE AGAIN.  Enough of this sin, enough of this death, enough even of this Genesis chapter 3 stuff, we are going back to chapter 1 – let this young man be, be alive as I had created Him to be.  And when God speaks, what He says happens.  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”  Recreation, restoration, sin and death toppled, right then and there.

This is why we hear, “Fear seized them all, and they glorified God saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us,’ and ‘God has visited His people!’”  This is something divine.  This is God at work – this is a God thing, this is a God fixing His creation thing, and it is wondrous and amazing and amazing.  This is God taking on death for us.  But you know, my dear friends, that this is just one of the opening skirmishes of Christ’s assault on death. No, when our Lord looks upon this world, He had seen death.  And He was not going to be content with raising a few people here and there, curing a handful over three years.  No – if Jesus is going to stop death, by Himself He is going to STOP DEATH for good.  And so He does that which is unthinkable, that which those so used to covering up death, to ignoring death, would never have expected, indeed, cannot understand.  He goes Physically into death with His own Body.  He will not just touch this young man’s funeral bier – He will take one Himself.  He will go to the Cross, and there He will face down death for all of us, even as the mockers stare on and mock in stupidity.  “He saved others,” they mock, “but He cannot save Himself.”  Blind and caught in death, do you not see that with His death Christ Jesus is destroying death, destroying even your death.  Christ Jesus goes to the cross and He dies, He swallows up everything that death is – and then, He rises.  The third day comes, and the Lord of Life steps out of the grave and says, “That’s it death… you’re finished.  Kaput.  That’s all you wrote.  As I Myself have risen, so too will every man, woman, and child that you have ever gotten your hooks into.”  It’s what we confess in the Creed – and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.  Ain’t no grave gonna hold my body down, or your body down, or anybody’s body down – for Christ is risen.

Yes, you still live in a fallen world.  Yes, even in this life now you are in the midst of death – that reality is all around you to see.  But your Lord Christ Jesus does not leave you to sin and death.  When you were born into this world of death, Christ Jesus took you, claimed you as His own in the waters of Baptism, said, “You are mine, you are with me, you are forgiven, and not only will you live because I live, but your sins are forgiven and you will be with Me for all eternity.”  And as we live out our lives in this world, as we face the struggles of life in this world – as our own sinful flesh wars against the new man that dwells within us, Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word and says, “You are forgiven, for I have died and risen for you, and there is nothing that will bind you to death.  You are mine.”  He sees your struggles, and He calls you to His table and says, “the food and drink of this world only support you for a time – let Me give you True Food, True Drink, Food and Drink that will forgive you and make you ready for the never-ending feast in the life of the world to come – take and eat, this is My Body, take and Drink, this is My Blood that is shed for you,  My Blood that has already faced down death once – and it will face it down again for you and with you every moment of your time in this world.”

          There is a battle going on around us, all the time.  Sin and death creep along, waging their war against God’s creation, against you, seeking your corruption and downfall.  But while they try to pull the wool over our eyes, while they try to coax us into denial and hatred and sin and vice – Christ your Lord sees.  He sees death trying to do it’s worst, and He does what He always does – He jumps full bodied into death’s path, and He smacks death around and sends it to flight.  Thus we sing, “My dearest friend, I now commend, my soul into Your keeping; from sin and hell and death as well, by You the Vict’ry reaping.”  This is what Christ Jesus did upon the Cross, this is what He does and brings to you by His Word – He stops your death, and He gives you life, life that endures well beyond this world, all thanks and glory be to our Lord and Savior Christ Jesus.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Friday, September 21, 2012

An Apology via Analogy

Imagine a terrible battle, a horrible fight.  Men lying wounded and dying - and you are a battlefield doctor.  Your duty is to tend to the broken, the dying, to strive to save their life.  And those broken, dying men are all around you.  What do you do?  You tend to them, you strive to patch, to cover, to heal and stablize.  Because that is your position.

So, what would you make of a battlefield doctor, wearing the red cross on his forehead, who said, "This fight is going poorly!  Look at how many are being injured, I must take up arms and try to slay the enemy!"  I suppose one could try to justify it -- I mean, after all, isn't he trying to serve the folks under his care.  But you can't justify it.  That isn't his task, that isn't his duty.  He is to save the injured, not inflict injury upon the enemy.

I know some people find me highly lacking on moral vigor - they find that I lack zeal to go out there and help to impose order on the fallen, chaotic world.  But here is the thing -- I am not a politician, given to rule.  I am not in public policy, I am not in law enforcement, I am not in the military, I am not a judge.  I suppose I am a citizen -- but first and foremost I am a pastor.  I am called not to impose order upon the world, but to take those broken and beaten in this sinful place and to give them Christ and life.

I do spiritual triage.  And I appreciate those who fight the fight of society for me.  But when I see pastors become moralists, primarily teachers of the law - more concerned with defining sin for society than absolving sinners crushed by guilt... well, I see folks who have abandoned their post.

So, no.  I'm not going to be the morality police.  If you wish counsel, I will give it - good, Scriptural advice.  But I'm not going to abandon my post - the preaching of the Gospel - for the task God has laid upon others. 

My job is to preach Christ and forgiveness, not change society.  That is not a cop out - it is simply recongizing what office one has been given, and that is no mean thing.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Weddings and Pastors

(Part 1)This past weekend I had a wedding in my congregation, and it caused me to reflect a bit.  So Friday came, and it was the rehearsal, and as at every rehearsal, there was a bit of panic, chaos, where does this go, how does this work - the nervous flittering and floating around.  And there I was, in the middle of it, being the Pastor.  Relax, be calm.  You'll be here, you will walk here, I'll tell you what you need to do - relax.  Don't worry, you will get through this - don't stress out.

Says the pastor who had his 11 month old son on his arm as mommy had to work Friday night.

And then the next day before the wedding, there was of course more nerves, more panic, and more of me saying, "Don't worry, things will work out."  My favorite one was the bride coming to me before the service nervous, "Pastor, you didn't say when we were supposed to be looking at you and not at each other" - well, during the readings, the sermons, probably look my way.  "But, oh, you better go tell M, because what if he doesn't know!?!"  At which point, with a grin, I stamped my foot and with mock indignation said, "Well, he better know, because if you both don't spend 28% of the time looking at me, it won't count and we'll just have to do it again next week!"  The Bride laughed.  Relax.  Things will be fine.

The service came.  Everyone got in. Things went well - only one or two slight missteps -- the poor Groom was eyeballing me during the ring exchange -- I tried to whisper to him "look at her" -- except the new microphone caught the whisper and played it over the loud speakers.  Everyone laughed -- folks in the congregation said afterwards, "Yeah, he was eyeballing you pretty hard." 

And they were wed.  And then came the reception, and the joy, and the honeymoon, and life.  And all the while the main thing I had been doing was saying, "Relax, don't worry, you will be married -- I'll guide you through it.  Nothing is going to really ruin this - your marriage is a gift to you from God."

(Part 2)  Afterwards, driving home from the reception, I had a realization.  This is what the entirety of Pastoral Ministry is.  Our lives, this time in the world, is nothing but the rehearsal for the great wedding feast of the life of the world to come.  And here we are, running around frantic, worried about this or that, what if I mess things up.  And there's the Pastor, in the middle of it... calmly preaching peace.

There's some Law -- make sure you show up, don't be drunk, show some respect.  There's plenty of peace - relax, this is a good thing, it will happen.  Be at peace.  Because that's the main thing that a Pastor does -- he's not there to make just that the rehearsal looks "just so" -- he's there to get folks through things calmly.  Likewise, in this life, my job as a Pastor isn't to try to make you have the perfect life -- that will never happen.  There's going to be mess ups and snafus -- but what I am to do is to guide away from that which is drastic and destructive -- and then to forgive.  To say, "fear not - Christ will come, and we will be with Him for all eternity - you are forgiven".  A Pastor is fundamentally to be an agent, a speaker of Peace, so that we get through the rehearsal and are ready for the real thing in the life of the world to come.

(Part 3)  On Tuesday, there was the Pastor's Confession Study, and we were going over the 6th Commandment in the Large Catechism, and then we also read Luther's little Wedding Booklet - attached to the small catechism.  In it he writes:

"But should any one desire us to bless them before the church or in the church, to pray over them, or also to marry them, we are in duty bound to do this. For this reason I have desired to offer this advice and form to those who do not know anything better, in case some should desire to follow our custom in this matter. The others who know all about it, that is, who do not know anything about it but permit themselves to think that they do know all about it,-well, they do not need this service of mine – except that they may be overwise and conceited about it and should guard themselves very zealously lest perchance they do something that somebody else does! Otherwise one might think that they might learn something from somebody else, and that certainly would be a great pity.

Hearing this I was a bit sad -- because, let's face it - we have a lot of pastors who mock and be little Luther, especially when it comes to the liturgy.  They know how to do things better -- and I thought about their wedding rehearsals.  Mine had joy and laughter and peace -- for them, though -- maybe it is making sure the little details are all just right.  How stressful!

And then I thought about the pastors who think their primary job is to make sure the people live their lives here just so -- and I'm not talking about morally decency, but the micromanaging "this is how a Christian is to live" acting as though we have no freedom -- and how little comfort they would give.  But things would be "right"... 

 But that's not the point -- the point of being a Pastor isn't to make this world nice, to try to make this a new Eden.  I won't do that -- and instead we should be looking forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth.  I focus there -- you are forgiven by Christ, this is what you shall have - rejoice in His promise.

 Yet, so often the temptation for the Pastor is that instead of preaching peace, we will try to bring about an order after our own heart - to make the Church look like what we want it to look like - be that the right liturgy, the right "leadership", the right structure, the right this or that.  And we sweat the small, transitory things that are passing away rather than pointing to Christ the Crucified who is coming again.

Relax.  Be at Peace.  Christ has done it all already.  You don't need to reinvent the wheel - you aren't the perfector of your congregation (let us fix our eyes upon... Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith).  Relax, and simply point to Christ Jesus - for because of Him we know that we have forgiveness, salvation, and life -- the Bridegroom soon shall call us, and then we will have the real thing - the wedding, the feast that will last for all eternity. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Trinity 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 16th, 2012 – Matthew 6:23-34


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

          “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”  Whom do you love and whom do you serve?  What is the priority in your life?  Which is more important, growing your pocketbook or growing in knowledge and understanding of Christ Jesus and what He has done for you?  Jesus here lays things out rather bluntly.  You can’t do both – your focus will either be on Cash or on Christ – one or the other.  Your focus will be either or the things of this life or on the things of eternal life.  That’s just the way it works.  The things of the world – money, power, glory – they will grab more and more of your time – and God says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God.”  God doesn’t want to play second fiddle in your life.  That’s the setting.  That’s the situation.  This is the contrast and difficulty we face – there is a battle going on within us, a battle for supremacy between money and God.

          When we start looking at what Jesus says here – how He warns us that we can’t divide our love between Him and money, we need to remember one thing.  Jesus wants our love not for His benefit, but rather for ours.  Sometimes, when we see Scripture talking about God desiring our love – we can be tempted to think that God needs us – that the focus should be on what we do for God.  No.  The Christian faith isn’t about the praise you give God.  If God desires praise, He could make the stones sing out.  The heavens themselves declare His Glory.  The Christian faith isn’t about what we do.  But this comes up often in language used by many Christians.  For example, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “I’m going to give my heart to Jesus.”  That statement is about what you do for God.  I’m going to give. . . as though Jesus is some lonely teenager waiting for the phone to ring. Give Jesus your heart – why would that be a good thing to give Jesus – your heart is corrupted and filled with sin.  What good is that going to do God?  Talking about and focusing on what we do, what we give to God is sort of like a guy bragging that he gave his girlfriend a wonderful bouquet of dead flowers.  Whenever you “lift up your hearts” – you aren’t doing something for God – you are asking Him for forgiveness.  Create in me a clean heart, oh God, as mine is dirty.  The focus isn’t on what we do for God – and Jesus isn’t trying to guilt us into doing more things for Him – He’s not the moping relative saying, “How come you don’t come to visit anymore?”

          You cannot serve God and money.  No, Jesus says this for our benefit.  So that we grow, so that we may be at peace, so that we enjoy His blessings to us more.  Christ’s focus isn’t on what you can do for Him, God’s focus is always on what He can do for you – how He can show you love.  God created you – He knows how you should operate, what you should be doing, what is best for you.  And what is best for you?  To serve God.  That’s what we were designed for, that’s what we were created to be – to be people that show love to God, to be people that show love to our neighbors.  When that is who we are, that’s when we are at our best.  But when we listen to our old sinful flesh and shift our focus away God and onto money, onto wealth and earthly power, it’s bad for us.  It makes us unhappy and dissatisfied and just not how we are supposed to be.  Listen to how Jesus explains this.

          “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.  Is not life more than clothing?”  Do you see what Jesus does here?  Therefore.  Therefore is a great word.  Because your focus is to be on God and not on money – don’t worry about your life.  Don’t worry about how great your food is or if your clothing is the latest fashion.  Don’t get caught up in the rat race that this fallen world is.  Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses – don’t worry about trying to be more successful than your neighbor – don’t worry about how big the other guy’s farm is, don’t worry about whether or not the other folks in the office get paid better than you.  Why?  Because if you are worrying about those types of things – your focus is off.  Your focus is misplaced – and instead of being on God, it’s on money and the things of this earth.  And what happens then?

          When you start looking at money – and what you have and what you don’t have – you will always be dissatisfied.  Why?  Because you could always have more.  There’s always more money that could be made.  There’s always more land that could be bought.  There’s always more work that could be done.  There’s always newer cars.  There’s always better stuff.  And when we focus on these things – all we see is our lack.  All we end up seeing is what we don’t have.  And that’s the way of misery.  And even the world knows this.  You can hear this on the radio as the hugely wealthy musicians lament how more money means more problems, how the promises of fame and wealth don’t satisfy, so on and so forth.  What happens is it is easy for us to get caught up in stuff, in money, in mammon – and then we are not satisfied.  When we look to the things of the world all we will ever see is what we don’t have and be miserable. 

          That’s not what God wants for you.  God wants your focus to be on Him.  Why?  Not so that you can do things for God, but so you can see and focus on all the things that God has done for you.  The world shows us stuff and our lack – Christ shows us that He is our savior and that we are fulfilled in Him.  In Christ, you lack nothing.  Hence, Jesus instructs us, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Seek first the kingdom of God.  So what is the kingdom of God?  John the Baptist preached that the Kingdom is coming.  Jesus told the disciples, “The Kingdom of God is within your midst.”  We pray, “Thy Kingdom Come.”  What are we talking about?  We are talking about Jesus.  Wherever Jesus is, there is God’s Kingdom.  Seek ye first Jesus.  Seek not the power of the world, but seek the power of Christ.  And what is Christ’s power for us?  Christ’s power isn’t focused on wealth or stuff – but this.  His righteousness.  This is the power of God – that He takes us sinful men and women, and by the power of His righteousness – by His holy righteous precious blood which He shed upon the Cross we are made holy and righteous.  In Christ Jesus you lack nothing.  You have everything – for you have salvation and life and forgiveness – and nothing the world does can take that away.  Nothing your neighbor has robs you of Jesus.  No struggles, no hardship steals Jesus away.  Learn your Luther hymns and you will see this.  “And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife” – all the things of the world, everything, “Let these all be gone.  They yet have nothing won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.”  Satan wins nothing.  The world can do you no real harm.  Why?  Because Christ Jesus has come to you.  When you were baptized Christ Jesus gave Himself to you, bound Himself to you, tied Himself to you – and that trumps anything in the world.  Christ has fulfilled you, has filled you up with His righteousness, and you have all that you need.  You have Christ.

          You see, this is what happens, this is the danger of money and wealth and power.  They offer so much joy and happiness and glory – but they are powerless to deal with the real driving problems we face.  Money is powerless to deal with sin and its impact.  Oh, it can be a servant, I suppose – but to really fix sin, fix sin’s impact?  No, it can’t do that – the fact remains this.  The wages of sin is death, and all the money in the world, all the food and clothing in the world can’t change that, can’t fix that.  And yet, our old sinful flesh craves these things, and would have us ignore Christ – indeed, our old sinful flesh would have us miserable ignoring Christ rather than simply resting contentedly and trusting in Him.  Rather than being God’s servant, knowing that you have a Master who loves and cares for you because He is good, sin would call us out to join in the rat race, the hustle and bustle, to wear ourselves out all in vain, for fleeting wealth and riches.  No, my friends – Christ Jesus is your Lord, and He will provide for you all your days in this sinful fallen place, but even more wondrously, He has given you the life everlasting, life where moth and rust do not destroy.  Mammon cannot offer that.  

Dear friends in Christ – be not anxious in this life – don’t worry about stuff and things.  In fact, learn to give them away.  I do not say this in a finger waving way, I do not say this as cruel law.  No, Your Lord and Master, Christ Jesus has promised you that you need worry about nothing – that you are in His care, that He has given you what you need for both this life now and for the life of the world to come.  Let your focus be on Christ – let first and foremost be this fact and truth – that Christ Jesus has died for you.  You are forgiven, and with His forgiveness you have all that you need both now and eternally. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Trinity 14 sermon

Trinity 14 – Luke 17:11-17 – September 9th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          Ah yes, the “thankfulness” text.  The healing of the ten lepers.  The text we hear twice a year, both today and on Thanksgiving Day where we get the lecture, the waging of the finger – you little boys and girls need to be thankful, so you better go turn around right now and tell God Thank You!  And if the preacher is a bit unscrupulous… or maybe if the budget seems tight, you might even hear “and by thank you I mean put more money in the plate you ungrateful slobs.”  Too often this text is treated as an occasion to just hammer people for ungratefulness – to say “God wants you to be thankful… or he’ll be mad at you” – as though God is petty and only gives blessings simply to hear His praises.  No, God blesses us purely out of His Fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worth in us – and He doesn’t need our thanks.  So this becomes the question, the question our text will answer today – why, if God doesn’t need our thanks, why does He want us to give thanks?  Let’s dive into the text.

          “On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee.”  The very first thing to note is this – Luke tells us that Jesus was headed to Galilee.  In Luke’s Gospel, that’s not just a note, a factual snippet.  The second half of Luke’s Gospel over and over repeats that Jesus is headed to Jerusalem – and why?  Because it is in Jerusalem where Jesus wins salvation for us by His death and resurrection.  Luke 18:31-33 explains this focus – Jesus says: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.  For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.”  Over and over in Luke, we are reminded of Jesus being on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross to win salvation.  So – that is the background of this text, what we need to have in our heads – this text will be teaching us about Christ’s struggle against sin and death, it will be teaching us about His death and resurrection – He is on His way to Jerusalem.

          “And as he entered a village, He was met by 10 lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’”  And then He is approached by 10 lepers who cry out “Lord, have Mercy”.  The same thing we have already cried out today here in Worship today several times.  They are approaching Christ seeking mercy – and mercy He will show.  “When He saw them He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’  And as they went they were cleansed.”  Under the law of Moses, if you had leprosy, had a skin disease, you were exiled.  Had to be for the good of the community.  But, if you were healed, then you could go and show yourself to the priest, who would examine you and let you be restored to the community.  And Jesus says, “show yourselves to the priest” – but did you note?  They weren’t clean yet – it was only as they went that they were healed.  That, my friends, is faith.  Jesus says, “Go” – and even as they look at themselves they see their sores and wounds – yet they go, because Christ has said so.  And again, we too are often in this same position.  Christ has said to you, “Go, you are forgiven, your sins are no more.”  And yet, when we look at ourselves, so often we see more and more sin, more and more flaws.  Christ has said that we were washed clean in Baptism, that we are a new creation, that we will have the life everlasting – yet often, it doesn’t look this way.  I wrote the rough draft for this sermon on Monday morning, and even as I wrote it I knew that there would be countless way between Monday and Sunday where I would do stupid, foolish, hurtful, sinful things – wretch that I am.  Yet, over and above what I see, what we see in our lives, our regrets, our shame, our guilt – Christ Jesus has said that we are clean, that we are forgiven – that he has presented us as His own Bride without spot or blemish – and thus in faith we believe what Christ has said, we trust His forgiveness.

          And now we get to the turning point of our Gospel lesson.  “Then one of the 10, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving Him thanks.  Now he was a Samaritan.”  Literally, the turning point.  One of the lepers, seeing that he is healed, turns around, praises God and gives thanks.  And Jesus looks at this a bit wryly – “Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed?  Where are the other nine?  Was no one found to return and give thanks to God except this foreigner?’”  Now, here is the danger for us in reading this – we can read this and suddenly want to go and condemn the other 9, say “ah, those evil, wicked nine – bad bad bad!”  This isn’t our Lord angry – we don’t hear “And then Jesus cursed those other nine with leprosy nine times worse.”  No – they are still healed, they are forgiven, they are showing themselves to the priest just as Jesus had commanded.  But because they did not return to praise God and give Him thanks, they miss the most wonderful thing.  “And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.’”  Jesus explains everything to this leper, and only he understands fully because he returned for praise and thanksgiving.

Now, there are two very, very important things we need to notice to understand this.  Let’s work backwards – Your faith has made you well.  We don’t hear this rightly as Americans. We hear the phrase “your faith” and we think it’s talking about how strongly we believe, or how dedicated we are.  That’s not the point.  Jesus isn’t saying to this man “You are well because you really really really believed.”  This is the type of claptrap we hear today – oh, if only you really believed then X will happen, you’d get the new car you want, your kids would behave better, your life would be great… if only you believed more.  That’s not what Jesus is saying – Jesus is talking about the “object” of this man’s faith, talking about who this man believed in.  This man believed in Christ, and because of Christ he has been healed.  Consider – what if this leper had really really really believed that the Greek god Apollo would heal him?  He’d still be a leper.  No, it was faith *in Christ* that brought about this healing.
And what does the one who has faith in Christ hear?  “Rise and go”.  Now, we miss it because we don’t speak Greek – “rise” is a resurrection word.  Jesus isn’t just saying “stand up and get out of here” – He literally says “you are rising and going” – you are being raised, you are being given life.  Jesus isn’t simply saying, “Go away kid, you’re bothering me” – He’s giving the man life and salvation, so that the man sees and understands what it is that He has.  You, leper, you are receiving now what I am going to Jerusalem to win for you – you are receiving now the fruits of My death and resurrection as you are being raised and given new life now even as you will be totally raised and totally given everlasting life on the Last Day.  This is forgiveness of sins and life and salvation.

And that fact, dear friends, let’s us know what this text is about.  It’s not an admonition to be grateful – it’s not the wagging of the finger.  It’s a call to worship.  This text is telling us, teaching that we benefit from worship together.  Consider – what does the leper do, seeing God’s goodness to him?  He praises and gives thanks?  Now, where do we generally turn from our normal everyday lives, enjoying the blessings God has given us, and pause and praise and give thanks to God?  Worship – here, Sunday mornings.  We call upon the Name of the Lord, pray, praise, and give thanks.  And again, if we knew Greek, it would stand out more so.  Where do we generally gather for communion?  Here in Church – and what is one of the common names for the Lord’s Supper – the Eucharist.  And the word Eucharist means “He gave thanks” – it’s from the words of institution – and on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread, and when “He had given thanks”.  Again – in the Scripture “thanks” isn’t just personal thing, a feeling of gratitude – it was always tied to worship.  Thanks meant going to the temple, it meant prayer and praise, worshiping God and receiving His gifts.

And this is the point of this text – we are called here to this place for worship – to receive from Christ His good gifts of salvation.  And this isn’t because we have to prove anything to God by our diligence.  It isn’t as though if we miss too many Sundays suddenly we are off the salvation gravy train.  Rather this – Christ Jesus your Lord loves you, and He would have you constantly know and receive His love, His mercy – have it preached to you, have it fed to you in His Supper.  He knows what life in the sinful world is like.  He knows that you sin daily and often, so over and against that He would have you hear forgiveness proclaimed often, He would have you taste His forgiveness as often as you eat and drink the Supper.  He knows that life in the world beats us down, that if we listen to the world we forget the wonders of His blessings for us and instead become shaped by greed and lust and earthly power – so He calls us out of life in the rat race so that we can see and know what is going on.  Yes, you are still and sinner in a sinful world, but over and above that another more wondrous truth stands out.  Christ Jesus has died for you, He has risen for you, and He is raising you.  He raises you now so that you may face the trials of this life standing upon Him, resurrected by Him.  He shall raise you forever more on the last day.  Whatever you see this week, whatever happens, whatever the world looks like this week – Christ Jesus is still your Lord, He still has had mercy upon you, and He will still call you to this place so that you may hear, may receive His mercy and forgiveness and love over and over that you may stand fast and enjoy all of His blessings to you, come what may in this world.  And receiving, we praise, we thank, and we receive again, more and more, for Christ has so much to give us.  Christ Jesus has gone to Jerusalem, He has defeated sin and Satan and death, He has overcome the world – and we are raised and have life in Him.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


"I'm not going to Chemo today -- last week, that patient next to me was so rude, I'm not going back there."

"Well, I was going to take little Billy to Chemo today, but he just doesn't have much fun there, so we'll go to the lake instead."

"Well, I know I should go to my Chemo appointment, but you just know how busy we are today."

I highly doubt that anyone reading this has ever heard any of those lines before.  Why?  Because they are patently stupid.  If you need to go to Chemo... you go.  Your life is at stake.  It doesn't matter if the guy in the waiting room is mean, or if it isn't fun, or if you are busy -- you go, otherwise you are going to die.

I will bet that most folks reading this blog have, though heard things like, "Well, I'm not going to Church, so and so was so rude to me.  Besides, Billy doesn't have fun, and we are so busy the rest of the week."

Here is the problem with society, with the Church today.  We don't think we are sick, we don't realize that we are terminal.  We don't want to see the wages of sin in our life - and we deny the approach of death.  We don't see Church as that place where God comes and gives us life in the midst of a world of death.

No, instead we see Church not in terms of life or death, but in terms of... nicety.  It's a little finishing school where I, the good person, can learn to be a bit better.  It's the place to show just how good I am.  It's not even the icing on the cake, it's the sprinkles -- so, if something at Church isn't just so -- if someone isn't nice, or there's a bit of whining, or there's fun to be had elsewhere -- well, it's nice to go to the lake, or nice to spend time with the family - we might as well do that.

You don't go to Church because you are nice, because it's nice, or to help make you nicer.

You are dying.  The grave is not far off.  And Christ Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  You need that, you need that even moreso than the Chemo patient needs her treatment.  The Church doesn't give you a poison that it hopes will kill the cancer before the cancer kills you - it gives you Christ Jesus, the Bread of Life, the Medicine of Immortality.

John 1:4-5, 9-13 "In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.....  The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."

We all need Christ, we need Him desperately - and only the lies and delusions of Satan would have us think differently.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Trinity 13 Sermon

Trinity 13 – Luke 10:23-37 – September 2nd, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          There are two ways of trying to live, of trying to deal with God.  One can try to approach God via the Law and obedience, or one can live under the Gospel and Grace.  One can stand before God and point to one's works, or one can simply say, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner."  These are the two paths, the two ways of life that are present, and sadly, most people opt for the option of the Law.  Most people wish to stand before God with a laundry list of all that they have done for Him, how good they have been.  That's just how we want our relationships on earth to work - we like being able to say, "you owe me" - we like the idea of you wash my back, I'll wash yours.  We try to make our relationship with God work the same way.  We want to be in charge, and so, we flee to the Law.  We cling to our actions.

          This is the approach of the lawyer, the student of the Law, in our text today.  "And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'"  A few things to note about this question.  First, Luke notes for us that this question is a test.  Consider - the man is a lawyer, a student of the law.  He wants to see Jesus' bona fides, see if Jesus is really up to snuff.  It's the feeling out of another -- seeing if this other fellow will be able to talk shop with him.  He's not really seeking to learn - rather he's trying to find out of Jesus is his peer, is worth his time in talking to.  Do you get a sense of the pride and ego involved -- and that's part and parcel of how sinful man likes to operate.  We like to rank ourselves, rate ourselves compared to others, and if we are better, more knowledgeable, we can enjoy putting another in "their place".  That's just how human structures work - and that's all this lawyer is expecting.  Something Law based, something earthy, something like what he might see the rest of the time in this dog eat dog world.

          Second, the focus on the Law, on ego, on works comes out clearly in the question.  "What must *I* do to inherit eternal life."  Again, it's all about me, about my action.  And in a twisted way -- because it's asking what I must to to... inherit.  Let me ask a question - what must I, Eric Brown, only child of Gregory and June Brown, do to inherit my parent's stuff?  Seriously - what do I have to do?  I really don't have to do anything - it's not a competition or a game show.  I don't do anything.  Yet, what is this Lawyer's approach -- is eternal life a gift of a gracious God, the birthright of those He has called to be His children?  Is it even something that he thinks should be his as a child of Abraham... nope - what must I do?  Such a Law, such a works righteous focus.

          So Jesus decides to address these issues - Jesus shows who is boss by turning the question around, and He also shows the foolishness of the question by asking one of His own.  "What is written in the Law?  How do you read it?"  You say you are a master of the Law of Moses, well, tell me what's in the Law.  And the Lawyer responds, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."  Fair enough. Deuteronomy 6:5.  Good answer - this is what God commands, this is a fine summation of the Law... but was the promise of the Law "eternal life" and how one inherits it?  Moses introduced the commands saying, "Hear therefore, O Israel, and be careful to do them, that it may go well with you, and that you may multiply greatly, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, has promised you, in a land flowing with milk and honey."    This was the instruction to Israel on how to dwell in the promised land... but it says nothing of eternal life or forcing an inheritance.  In fact, the point is that God has promised you the land - if you want to enjoy it, here's how you enjoy it... but the land is promised to you by God because that is who God is.  This lawyer misses the point - he tries to point to his works as earning eternal life, when no, the passage isn't about eternal life.  And to seal the deal, Jesus responds to him saying, "You have answered correctly; do this and you will live."  Oh, you spoke correctly, straightly, said something true - something "orthos" in the Greek - something straight and correct -- like in the word "Orthodox" or "orthodontist".  Do this and you will live.  For this is the Law -- if you do the Law, you will live.  The only problem is this -- the cost of breaking the law is death.  Breaking the Law is sin, and sin is death.  And as you have sinned... guess what you aren't going to do.

          The Lawyer tries to recover.  "Be he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'and who is my neighbor?'"  Embarassment creeps in.  He basically got to give a simple Sunday School answer that any Jewish boy of 6 would be able to give -- love God, love your neighbor.  Simple.  And so this Lawyer tries to turn things around -- okay Jesus, tell me who my neighbor is.  This shows another one of the things that living under the Law does -- it drives people to hunt for loopholes.  Sinful man will treat God's Law the same way we do tax laws -- we will look for every deduction and write off that we can find, all to lessen the burden.  Alright, tell me just who my neighbor is that I have to love... and more to the point, who isn't my neighbor, whom can I ignore, whom can I hate?

          And so Jesus tells the familiar story - the story of the Good Samaritan.  There's the man, traveling along the rocky road between Jerusalem and Jericho.  It's a dangerous road, lots of hills and cliffs in which bandits could hide - and this man runs afoul of some - and they rob him and beat him near to death, leaving him for dead.  And there he lies.  A priest comes by - high, holy, respected... and the priest passes on by.  As does a Levite - another highly respected man, a good Jew.  And let us be fair - this is understandable.  I could take any of you here to parts of Dallas or Chicago where you'd lock the doors and just want me to drive on through as quickly as possible.  A man lying beaten and possibly dead means there's danger - hurry on your way.  But then a third man comes by - a Samaritan.  Someone who would have been despised and hated - looked down upon by Jesus' listeners, probably looked down upon even by that beaten man.  And what does the Samaritan do?  He rescues the man, treats his wounds, even puts the man on his own donkey -- which is incredibly brave.  If the robbers come again, the donkey might be able to flee to safety, carrying the beaten man... the Samaritan would be left at the mercy of the robbers.  And even when they both reach the safety of the inn, this Samaritan opens up his pocket book, drops down good solid cash to care for this stranger, with the promise of more.  Consider - this Samaritan is someone despised, he's far from home - that inn might be his only point of safety... and what if the next time that inn keeper says, "Ah, you owe me another 20 denarii"?  The Samaritan would have to pay, or again, his life would be in danger as he is forced outdoors at night amongst the robbers.  Incredibly bold love and care is shown.  And so, telling the story Jesus asks, "'Which of these, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?'  He said, 'The one who showed him mercy.'  And Jesus said to him, 'You go and do likewise.'"

          Jesus teaches us about love here - what love looks like.  And even as He instructs us to go and do likewise -- let's be honest.  That's not often what our love looks like, is it?  Or even if we muster up enough fortitude to go through the motions - how often is there grumbling or a bit of disdain, disquiet in the back of our minds?  And here is the thing - if we try to live by the Law, try to show our worth to God by the Law, what we end up doing is ignoring that disdain, or overlooking the times when we don't show love - whitewashing our own actions, puffing up the times where we do okay into something grandiose and sweeping the dirt of our lives under the rug and pretending it's not there.  Like the Priest and the Levite we simply skirt by uncomfortable truths, difficult tasks, and go on our merry way.   The only problem is this -- the Law says "Do this and you will live" -- not pretend that you've done this and you will live.  If we try to justify ourselves as the Lawyer did, God's perfect Law will only show us how far short we fall.  And even when we strive to go and do likewise, if we look honestly, we will see that we have not done what we ought - we will see that we do not deserve to live.

          There are two ways that man can try to live.  The first is the way of the Law, of works.  Christ our Lord shows us today that this is false, a pipe dream.  But do you remember what He had said to start off our Gospel reading?  "Then turning to the disciples He said privately, 'Blessed are the eyes that see what you see!  For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it.'"  That's kind of cryptic, isn't it?  But the point is this -- there is a second way to live -- and that is to live under grace, under mercy.  Consider the man beaten by robbers.  How was he to live?  Was he to pull himself up by his own bootstraps and live?  Was he to dust himself off and just do better next time he travelled?  Well, it would have been a bit late for that, wouldn't it have?  No, for him to live, another had to rescue him, had to show him mercy.  And that is what the prophets, that is what the kings had longed to see - the Messiah who would once and for all accomplish God's mercy, for even lawyer knew that God desires mercy.  The love that sinful man does not show, the Messiah would.  Man had fallen amongst sin and death, and so Christ Jesus would come and rescue us.  He would deliver us from the valley of the shadow of death - He would go to the Cross and there pour out mercy upon us all by the shedding of His blood.  He would rise from the dead so that we too would rise, not by our strength but by His. 

          My dear friends - you will not live, you will not have eternal life if you seek it on your own terms or by your own works.  You simply won't - you can't do enough to earn it.  But God knows that, and God is merciful, and so out of His love for you He has sent His Son to win you life and salvation and to give it to you freely by His grace, to preach it to you, to cover you with it in your baptism, to feed it to you in His Supper.  Live in His mercy, live a life of repentance and forgiveness, and Christ who has died to see that you inherit eternal life with the Will and Testament in His blood shall see that you have it in full.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.