Monday, December 30, 2013

Nomos and Phusis

I picked up a lovely little book entitled "The Ancient Guide to Modern Life" by Natalie Haynes.  Haynes is a British author who writes the book as a defense of the study of the Classics to a modern reader.  It's rather engaging, although somewhat simplistic - a nice little reminder of many of the joys and wonders I came across in even lower division Classics classes in college.

And she reminded me of something that I hadn't really remembered, or put words to.  She writes as follows: "An intellectual debate that raged in fifth-century Athens was the nomos-phusis question.  Nomos means a man-made law, or custom.  Phusis is natural law, the basic order of things.  So, a stop sign on a deserted coast road is an example of nomos.  You'll stop, but only because society's conventions say you should.  But if, two feet behind that sign, the road disappears over the end of a cliff, that would be an example of phusis. You'll stop, because otherwise you'll plunge to an early death.  So which should take priority, nomos or phusis?  Nomos tells us that we shouldn't kill, phusis says to go right ahead.  Just as a lion can bring down a wildebeest, why shouldn't we enslave, torture, or kill those weaker than ourselves?"

I love the example of the cliff - and what we have here is the old, classical (attic) distinction between Nomos (which we get in the Scriptures as "Law" normally... ah, normally... nomos... normal...) and Phusis... the rules, the laws of nature, the law of the jungle.

When modern Christians speak of "Natural Law"... I don't think they mean to be speaking of phusis... of the rules of the Physical world, per se.  "Kill or be killed" makes perfect sense in a fallen world.  Rather - by "natural law" they are referring to the "law written upon our hearts" - a "nomos" given by God to man, that all men intrinsically know.  A nomos that is self-evident, even when not written down.  A nomos that can only be avoided when conscience is quashed.

So, what does all this mean.

First, I think it explains (to me, at least) some of my gut reaction against a lot of "natural law" talk.  Phusis is physics, is cold and callous and amoral.  It cares not for right or wrong, but simply what the effect is - the ultimate "ends justify the means" or "might makes right".  I don't wonder if this old debate hasn't been rummaging around in my head.

Second, it codifies why I don't really... care for modern theological Natural Law talk.  Why?

It's nomos.  Why should I spend time trying to wonder about implied nomos, or the nomos upon my heart when God Himself has SPOKEN His nomos to me?  And also, which then it greater... the Nomos, or the Word of God Himself, Christ Jesus, who has died and risen for me?

Because I can't shake the feeling, no matter how pious and dutiful it sounds, that behind a lot of natural Law talk isn't God's nomos written on our hearts (we hold these truths to be self-evident...), but rather a cover for a pious recasting of Phusis into something theological.  Physics (or we would say biology) shows that homosexuality isn't productive.... of course, the law of the jungle says the top lion can have his run of the pride if he so chooses.  It's not a defense of the moral, even when it lines up.

Our Greek friends have a bit of liturgy when it comes to the reading of God's Word.  "Wisdom.  Let us attend."

When God speaks, whether it be through the prophets of old or now in these final days through His Son, our greatest attention ought be paid there.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sermon for Christmas 1

Christmas 1 – December 29th, 2013 – Luke 2:22-40

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Newborn King +
          Finally, the time for purification had come.  For 40 days, since Jesus was born, Mary had to stay at home.  That was the Law.  For the first 40 days after childbirth, women didn’t go out in public – probably a good and safe practice for health, but think of it this way.  Mary’s been cooped up.  And now you finally get to get out, you bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to make the appropriate offering for Him, which is appropriate as Jesus has come to fulfill the Law.  And then, old Simeon comes up, and he grabs little Jesus out of your arms and starts sinning – sinning a song that we ourselves sing after Communion to this very day.  Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace.  Lord, I can die a happy man!  Of course, think about what the past year has been like for Mary – Gabriel showing up both to you and to you husband – you had an angel tell your husband, “Yes, marry her.”  How’s that for a confidence builder?  And then there’s the birth, and even the Shepherds showing up and praising God.  It’s been a non-stop whirlwind of praise and joy and laughter.

          But then this old codger Simeon hands you back your son, and then he blesses you, but then he says something quite strange.  “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…”  Think about the shock of hearing that.  It’s been joy to the world, happy holidays, have a holly jolly Christma… what?  Talk about throwing cold water on the parade.  This Child is going to cause chaos because of who He is, Mary – and people are going to hate Him. The wicked of the world will rally and fight against Him.  And it’s true.  Think about Jesus’ crucifixion – you have Herod and Pilate and the Priests all conspiring together – that was something unheard of.  The priests hated anyone who was gentile, and Herod and Pilate hated each other until the events of Good Friday – they only became friends afterwards.  Christ Jesus ends up being one of if not the most hated people in all of history.  Do you doubt me?  His very name is a curse, a vulgarity.  Even 2000 years later people get killed for following Him – ask the Christians in Syria what it means to follow Christ.  He is a sign that is opposed.  Wow.

Again, we’re not used to thinking this way, especially not at Christmastime – and I’m guessing poor Mary wasn’t either.  Which is why Simeon especially notes that this will impact her – “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also….”  Yes, Mary – this hatred that your Son will bear, it will hit home for you as well.  It’s going to stab you.  How’s that for a change of pace – it’s been joy, joy, joy, oh how great it is that you are the Mother of Christ… then wham.  A sword is going to pierce your soul too, Mary.  The time is going to come when He won’t be the eager Messiah that you want Him to be.  The time is going to come when you will just be embarrassed by Him, when you and His siblings will beg Him to come in from preaching and teaching because He’s embarrassing you – and He will shrug you off.  My Mother and My brothers are calling for Me – Who are My Mother and my brothers?  These here who hear my teaching are My mother and My brothers.  Gut punch.  But even that will be topped, Mary.  One Friday it will come to a head as this little child, your Son, hangs on a cross.  Woman, behold your Son.  A sword will pierce through your own soul also.

Why all the pain, why all the angst?  “So that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.”  Christ Jesus comes, and He comes Holy and righteous and perfect and good.  And we, we are not.  We are sinful, fallen men.  When people saw Christ, this was something else that they remembered too.  And the question was how do you respond to this – when you see God Himself in flesh showing love perfectly, how do you react?  And we know what our sinful flesh wants to do.  The sinful flesh wants to tear down and destroy anything good that anyone else has.  The sinful flesh feels greed and jealousy and hatred and anger.  You know that feeling in your gut that when you see someone else who has something better than you?  Guys, that feeling when the other guy gets the job or has the car and you want to beat him, or gals when you see the other gal who has the looks, the whatever, and you want to get all catty.  Nothing gets ratings on the news shows like a good celebrity scandal – we love the rich and famous being taken down a peg. Now imagine what your sinful flesh would do when it sees not merely something better than you, but One who is perfect.  Anyone who looked at Christ while thinking well and highly of himself, as the old sinful flesh is wont to do, would hate Him, and that hate would boil up to the surface – it’s why He even gets killed.  And we see this pattern throughout the Bible.  Joseph’s brothers throw him in pit and sell him into slavery.  King Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, who is his most loyal and faithful servant.  The Pharisees, who prized their own holiness, stone Stephen to death.  It’s that same old sinful song and dance with Christ, but even more so – because He isn’t merely better, Christ Jesus is perfect.

          So why any singing, then, Simeon?  So why is there any rejoicing?  Here is the nuance, and it comes out from Anna, a very old widow lady.  Had her husband 7 years, so probably until she was around 20 – and then widowed for over 6 decades.  There’s a woman who knows suffering, knows that this world isn’t all its cracked up to be.  And she lived in the temple, fasting and praying, and when Christ comes, she gives thanks to God.  And note what she does.  Anna speaks “of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.”  And there’s the key.  There’s the difference.  For the folks who were waiting for redemption, for those who knew their own lack, who didn’t think that they were the best of the best, who knew that they were poor lowly sinners in a sinful world, then this Christ Jesus brings joy and gladness, because He brings redemption.  God had given Anna the gift of faith, and so she saw her need for a Savior, and then she saw Him, and it was good.

By faith, you have been made to see your own lack.  Do you see your sin, do you know it, do you understand that you are a poor, miserable sinner?  Then the coming of this Child will be a cause for you to sing, for He comes bringing your salvation.  He comes to be righteous for you, He comes to bear your own sin, your own weakness, your own frailty.  He comes to die, He comes to rise, all so that you might inherit Eternal Life, that you might spend eternity not in this fallen place, but in a New Heavens and a New Earth, that you might have Eden restored.  Life in this world is cold and harsh – but by faith we don’t deny this, we don’t pretend it isn’t this way.  Instead, we confess our sin, great as it is, and we look to Christ Jesus who is greater than our sin and triumphs over it.  We do not love this world, but we look to Christ who has overcome this world – we look forward to the life of the world to come.

Listen again to Simeon’s song, the song we too will sing in just a few moments after we have held in our own hands the Body of Christ, given for us.  “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.”  Lord, I can die, I can die in peace.  Death – where is thy sting, O Death?  Where is thy victory, O grave?  This Christ Child has risen from the tomb, and so even if I die – I will live.  Sod off, death!  Bite me, grave – you couldn’t keep Christ swallowed down, nor shall you keep me.  “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all people.”  God’s salvation is here – and it’s not something hidden, it’s not a secret.  I don’t have to spend 25 years teaching you how to operate the hidden divine decoder right.  No, right here, God become Man, who for us men and our salvation.  Here He is, here is salvation.  And you have made me to see it, God – you have given me the gift of faith, and thus these sinful, dead eyes have seen with joy their Savior, the Lord of Life.  There is salvation, there is forgiveness, there is rescue – and there it is – in Christ Jesus, open, proclaimed to all people.  Yes, all people, for He is “A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.”  Even the Gentiles, even stubborn headed Germans, even spoiled Americans millennia later will see this Child and know Him to be their God and Savior; the Holy Spirit will call folks from all nations.  And yes, this is the Glory of Israel – not that we Jews were more holy, not that some how not eating pork makes one morally superior (ugh, how’s that for the false pride of the sinful flesh), but that rather look, there is God come as Man, born from the people whom He told He would come.  And thus there is salvation for all, thus there is forgiveness and redemption and love.  And by faith, dear friends, you see it.

By faith, God has called you here.  By faith, you have been made to confess your sins, called to struggle against them and to strive to beat them down even though you daily faith.  By faith you have been brought here to this Temple, where Christ Jesus comes to you today, bringing You forgiveness and life.  Yes, He comes to you this day – He comes proclaimed in His Word – Christ Jesus lives, and you are forgiven.  He comes in His Supper – taste and know your forgiveness, drink and know your salvation.  Yes, this world is scary, yes, being a Christian means seeing your own sin and that is a terrifying and rough thing, but behold Your Savior, Christ Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you from all your sins, and lives so that you might live with Him forever. Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Friday, December 27, 2013

Ambrose Riley Showed Up

Well, at 11:56 Christmas night, my wife wakes me up with the phrase "my water just broke."

At 2:09 pm on the feast of Stephen Ambrose Riley was born. 

He was baptized at 2:10 when laid on his mom's chest.  The first time I spoke his name to him outside of the womb.  And there will never be a more important time I say his name to him.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Day Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
          Christmas morning is here, and from the manger shines forth Christ Jesus, whose birth we have been anticipating for weeks now.  And it’s here – the day has dawned, the presents have been opened, and now, we are gathered at Church, and we pause, and we behold this Christ – and now, let us ask the Lutheran question – what does this mean?  Peel back all the hoopla, the lights, the torn and tossed away wrapping paper and behold Christ Jesus, lying in a manger.  What does this mean?

          In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made.  Behold the Word of God, now in flesh appearing.  The joy and wonder of Christmas day isn’t just the joy of a new life being brought into this world – it isn’t just the joy parents have when they first hold their child in their arms.  No, this is God.  This is the Word, the Son, the 2nd person of the Trinity, God Himself.  When you behold Christ Jesus lying in the manger – you see your Creator.  You see the Word of God which called all of this, that spoke this entire world into being.  That Child is the Creator of all things – as we just confessed in the Nicene Creed “by whom all things were made.”  And of all the things this God could choose to do, of all the ways that an Almighty God might appear – there He is.  Not as some 10 foot tall powerful giant.  Not as the strongest of the strong.  A child, an infant.  God, unable to speak.  God, unable to feed or clothe Himself.  God coming not just as a Man, but as a Man at His weakest, at His lowliest.

          What do we see when we behold the manger?  We see God taking up Human flesh and becoming one of us.  But this becoming, it’s not just a matter of our God becoming some sort of idealized figure, strong and buff where everyone sees Him and their eyes get big and they say, “Boy howdy, that’s the sort of god that a fella could worship – why, he’s even tougher than Zeus or Mithras!”  No – when He comes as one of us, He comes as one of us.  Born, just like all of us were born.  Weak, where even opening His eyes is tiresome and difficult.  This is an experience you and God have in common now, because that is how He chose to come.  God comes down to your level, to be with you.  And why?

          In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  John drives right to the heart of the matter with these words.  Christ has life.  We didn’t.  Not since Adam, not since Eve.  Death was what we sinful men had – and our days on earth were just a brief flickering, a spark that flared up and then was snuffed out – grass that withers and fades away.  The life that was mankind’s we lost by sin, and we were thus stuck in death, in darkness.  And that’s where all of us men would have stayed, except for one thing.

          The Light of Light Eternal comes into the world of darkness, the world full of sin, He comes into our world of death in order to bring with Himself life.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  When you see that Child in the manger, you are seeing that you will live again.  When you see Christ Jesus held in His mother’s arms, you see and know that God the Father has not forgotten you, and that He will do whatever is necessary to hold you again as His own, do whatever is necessary to pull you out of the darkness which you have stumbled into, do whatever is necessary to have you restored to Him.

          And so, the Son comes down from heaven, Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.  He comes bringing life with Him.  When you see Christ Jesus, you see one who is truly Man, who is like us in every way except one – He is without sin.  He has no darkness, He has no death in Him.  When He comes, He comes bringing life, His life to contend against our death.  He comes to be mankind’s champion against the tyranny of death – this is the combat He wages throughout His ministry, this is the combat He fights most fiercely upon the cross – this is the combat He wins resoundingly on Easter day when He strides forth from the tomb alive, for in Him is life.

          This Child that you see shall grow in wisdom and stature, and He shall go to the Cross, because until He goes there – Satan has a string tied to you.  Until this newborn King goes to the Cross, He is not yet your King.  He has not yet won you for His own.  But see, He comes, and even when He cannot yet walk, He is striding towards Golgotha, ready to fight for your life, ready to win you salvation.  This One lain in the manger in the One who will lay down His life so that He might share His life with you for all eternity.  God will save you – that is what this Child means.

          And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.  But this Child who comes to save you, to give you life, He is not distant.  He is not standoffish, He will not brow beat you with how wonderful He is and how poor you are.  No, He comes lowly as you are, not so that He can save you and then dump you off on the side of the road, as though He’s just a nice fellow picking up a hitchhiker – no, He comes to dwell with you and to have you dwell with Him.

            When you see the Christ Child, know that your life is different, different from what it would have been.  Your life is now a life shared with God.  That is the present reality of your life even now.  When we speak of our life with God, it is true, we are speaking of life everlasting, life where we will be raised to Bodies like His incorruptible body, and bask in His presence and Glory – but we aren’t simply speaking of a being with God at some point down the road.  No – there is more than just that – it is a present reality.

          Christ is with us now, and what we need to remember is that this is more than just some sentimental feel good statement – it is a reality.  The Word who became flesh is present with us in His Word.  Christ has said that He is present in our midst whenever 2 or 3 are gathered in His Name for worship.  Christ is present in us, for He has claimed us as His own in Baptism.  But Christ is present for us in a way even more mind boggling than these.  There is a reason the day is called Christmas – Christ Mass – because it is in the Supper that we behold the very same thing which Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds beheld that first Christmas – God present for us, God in flesh appearing.  What is this Supper – it is the true Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord, given for you.  What is the special focus of Christmas – that Christ Jesus took on Body and Blood to win you life and salvation.  This is what we receive, what we participate in whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  This is the reality that we participate in.  The truth and wonder of Christmas is not a once a year occurrence – but it shines forth from this altar every time our Lord gathers us together around His Body and Blood.

          Christ Jesus, True God, has come as a True Man to be with us men, to win us life and salvation, and to be present with us, be it now in time or forever in eternity.  This is the wonder and joy of Christmas, this is the reason our voices are joined together this day, this is what this celebration means.  Our God has come to us to be with us – and thus our lives are changed.  We have life and salvation – because Jesus brings with Him life and salvation.  His victory is our victory, and so we remember Christmas – when Christ begins His march towards winning our Victory.  Thus we come and adore Him, thus we welcome Him, thus we sing and rejoice.  God is our Savior, and He is here with us.  Merry Christmas to all!  Amen.

The Last Quiet Christmas Morning

I was up before my son this morning.  I woke up just before five, quietly went around getting some prep work done for Christmas Dinner today (my parents are coming out after service in Woodward).  Things are brining well - it will be tasty.

And it's quiet.

Now, next year - well, Victor will be three by then, and he'll have a concept of Christmas Morning = presents (even though we aren't going to open until this afternoon when Grandma and Grandpa get here)... so I don't imagine I'll be having the quiet little morning then.

This could be my last quiet Christmas morning.

And even it I spent getting ready for dinner =o)

There is so much hoopla around Christmas, so many things that are going on.  So much this or that.  So many expectations - Sometimes they lead to a Sad and Lonely Christmas for many.  Rarely do we get a chance to sit and pause and wonder and think.  Over and over in Luke 2 we hear that Mary pondered these things.

Pause for just a moment.

God becomes Man.  The Creator of the Universe, the Word which called all things into being, became Man.  And why?  So He could spend eternity hanging out with you.

Okay - so quiet Christmases in the days of Google and You-tube aren't what they used to be. 

At any rate - wherever you may be this day, be it a day of busy joy, of sad reminiscing, of memories good or bad - Christ Jesus became Man to win you your salvation.  Have a blessed Christmas.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Why I'm Not Leaving Thrivent

Panic!  Panic in the halls of Lutherandom!


Well, because apparently Planned Parenthood of the Dakotas and Minnesota was made a possible recipient of Thrivent Choice dollars.  And this upset many, many people.  I've seen people pulling their funds with indignation.


Or maybe I should say "Why now?"

Have we not realized that Thrivent is pan-Lutheran (meaning they've got those Liberal ELCA folks in their fold)?  Actually, it's not even pan-Lutheran anymore -- we opened up to everyone.  Remember?

So why is anyone, ANYONE, surprised that some of the Liberal northern Lutherans would want to send some of their money to Planned Parenthood?

And remember - this isn't Thrivent sending corporate money - this is choice dollars -- your share of the profits set to go where you wish.  So, nothing from you goes there.

If you are freaked out by this, you haven't been paying attention for the past decade -- and to borrow the words of Colin Cowherd, "That's a you problem."

So... I really so no reason to leave.  They aren't doing anything different with me -- and do you think any other insurance place is going to be moral? 

How do you think abortions get paid for anyway?  This is life in a fallen world.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – December 22nd, 2013 – Luke 1:39-56
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

          Sometimes I feel sorry for Mary.  I mean, here you have a young girl, maybe 13, 14.  She’s engaged, she’s looking forward to her marriage to Joseph, and then she gets a visit from the Angel Gabriel, and suddenly, everything in her life is different.  Complete and total upheaval.  Oh yes, you are going to bear a child, Mary, and this child will be God.  How do you respond to that?  How do you get ready for that?  And oh, yes, your fiancée is thinking about calling off the wedding, we hear that from Matthew.  You’re an unwed teenager in a day and age when people didn’t simply shrug off things like this, you live in a day when prostitutes are dragged out and stoned, and if you aren’t married and are pregnant, guess what conclusion people are going to draw about you.

          And so, as our text begins, we hear: “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.”  Not a bad idea.  Get away from home a bit, visit some relatives.  Old Elizabeth, who is suddenly pregnant under strange circumstances herself, she’ll understand.  And what does Elizabeth say to Mary?  “And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Nothing is ever the same again for Mary, her life is so radically changed.  Even old Elizabeth, calm and solid, is treating her differently.  So how does Mary respond?  What does she do?  How does a little 13 year old girl react to this?  She speaks the words we next hear in our text.  These words are known as the Magnificat, words the Church has set to song since its earliest days, one of the oldest hymns of the New Testament.  They are amazing words, and they are most appropriate for us to ponder this last Sunday in Advent – as Mary marvels at what God becoming Man means, it is good for us to marvel along with her.  So let’s spend some time looking at Mary’s words, at Mary’s reaction, and see what we can learn. 


And Mary starts her song off with a bang.  “My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.  He has looked on the humble estate of His servant.  Think of how that is profound.  In the midst of massive upheaval, what is Mary’s reaction?  “Wow, God is really looking out for me.”  It’s amazing.  What does Mary do?  She simply trusts in God.  This is what you see from Mary in the first chapter of Luke.  When Gabriel announces that she is pregnant, she says, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be unto me according to your Word.” Complete and utter trust in God.  And I don’t know, maybe the fact that she is a pregnant virgin, pregnant when she hasn’t done anything to get herself pregnant, gives her perspective on things.  She sees clearly that God is in charge of her life, and she trusts God.

          This should be an example for us.  I don’t have to tell you all that there are things in our lives that cause us great fear.  Things happen, and we are afraid, we panic.  What ought we do in these moments of terror?  We ought to look to God.  Let me ask you a question.  Is God any less God when we are scared, when we have fear, when we have doubts?  Of course not.  In Psalm 55 David says, “Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me.”  David’s not pulling any punches there with that description.  But he ends the Psalm saying But I will trust in You.  The proper and Christian reaction to fear is precisely to trust in God.  This is one of the reasons why we come here week in and week out.  Church is sort of like a practice fire drill.  We come here, we learn about God, we receive His blessings, so that when things do go bad, we remember where to turn.  Don’t be afraid to trust in the Lord, because you know He loves, you are His Baptized child, and will see you through whatever struggle presents itself to you.

          So Mary responds trusting in God, that’s good.  How else does Mary respond?  Does she become prideful?  Does Mary say, “Yeah Elizabeth, you oughtta be happy that I show up here, cause I’m Mary, I’m the mother of God.”  I mean, that is a reaction she could have.  I don’t know, I start getting Angels visiting me and telling me that I’m most favored of God, I don’t know, that’s something that could put a bit of a spring in your step, keep your back a bit straighter, puff out your chest.  Does Mary react like that in the least?  Does she get a case of star-craze, celebrity-itis, whatever you want to call it?  Not in the slightest.  “For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me.”  It’s not that Mary doesn’t realize that some amazing things are happening to her, it’s not that she’s clueless.  She knows what is going on.  But she doesn’t take any credit for it.  She doesn’t say, “I’m so wonderful God couldn’t help but pick me.”  No, look at what God has done for me.  Mary doesn’t react with pride. She reacts with great humility.

          Again, let this be an example for us.  So often we can get caught up in ourselves, our accomplishments, our talents, that we can forget where all of these come from.  The explanation to the creed in the catechism hits the nail on the head.  I believe that God has made me and all creatures, that he has given me my body and soul, eyes, ear, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.  Our own sinful flesh likes to forget this – and isn’t this true especially at Christmas time?  Are the gifts there under the tree waiting for us because of God’s great generosity to us, or are they there because Santa checked his list twice and saw that I was on the nice list – what a good boy am I?  We are so used to talking about reward, and what I’ve earned, and what I deserved that we can overlook the wonders of what God gives us, completely undeservedly, without any merit or worth in us. 

          So how can Mary take such a trusting and humble course, such a wonderful approach to her life?  What is the key?  She lives her life looking towards the promises of God.  The whole Magnificat is chalk full of her recalling the promises God has made to her.  Hear her words again.  “And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.  He has show strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate, He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent empty away.  He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers , to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”  Over and over Mary recounts what God has already done, that He has been faithful and true in the past.  Over and over and over, God has delivered His people in mercy – that is what God does.  God keeps His word.  I can be confident and trust in Him.

          And what is the chief promise God made to Abraham?  Genesis 12.  In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.  How are all the families of the earth blessed through Abraham?  Because he is the great-great-great-many greats grandfather of a young girl named Mary, and more importantly, her Son Jesus.   Christ Jesus is the Offspring that the world has been waiting for, ever since Abraham, ever since Adam and Eve fell in the garden. Think of the wonders of this, the event which the whole world had been waiting for, that which God’s faithful had been seeking ever since the fall, is about to happen.  The Messiah is to be born.  Mary’s eyes are focused on the promise of Salvation, focused on the Tiny Child in her womb.  The promises of God are made real to her, shown to her to be true in that Child.

          Just as they are for us.  No, we aren’t walking around pregnant with Jesus, but we too see that the promise God made even back to Adam in the Garden right after the fall, the promise of a Savior who would crush Satan under His feet, has come true in Jesus of Nazareth.  This is what we are looking towards this day, this is why we celebrate the birth of Christ, for in His life and death, Christ Jesus fulfilled all the promises of the Old Testament.  What does Christ say in the last chapter of Luke after the resurrection?  These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.  God’s promised Salvation has been won already for us.  Christ has been raised triumphantly, the tomb is empty, death cannot contain Him!  His Victory over Satan has become our Victory, because He gives Himself completely to us.  He has joined Himself to us in the waters of Holy Baptism, taken us and made us to be His own, to participate in His own death and resurrection already, so that all things He does are indeed for us [for Hudson].  This is the truth that shapes our lives as God’s own baptized people.

We live our lives as people who constantly receive gifts from God, as people whom God constantly forgives, and people who are drawn to remember the promises which God has fulfilled in our lives.  This is nothing new, this is what all the Saints have always had happen in their lives.  So too, just like Mary we live our lives looking towards Christ Jesus and His Salvation, and seeing Him, we are filled with forgiveness and trust and humility and love.  This is why we look forward to His coming, this is why we are right to pray come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A Simple Game

Baseball is a simple game.  You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.

Likewise, preaching is a simple game.  You read the text, you preach the Law, you preach the Gospel.

Of course, baseball is a bit interesting.  Alright, throw a ball from 60 feet, 6 inches with topspin to make it break 8 inches down and 6 inches left and hit a target 2 inches square.  Ugh.

Or hit a round ball (traveling 90 mph no less) with a round bat into a 90 degree arc in front of you.  Oh, and hitting it over 400 feet would be best.

And catching - well, yeah, it's probably the simplest of these to do, but it's still easy to get a bit uncoordinated with it, and we do have to give you a special piece of equipment to help out with that.

If one wants to be a professional baseball player, one must constantly hone his craft.

Likewise, a preacher deals with three simple things - text, Law, and Gospel.  But if you want to be good at preaching, you need to pay attention to these things.

We have texts - so what actually is going on in the text?  What gets lost or obscured in the English translation?  What's the context of what happened before hand?  What comes next?  How does this text fit into the greater narrative of the book?  And then of course, how does it mesh with the other readings, the introit and collect?  There's a lot going on there.

We have the Law.  So, how is sin exposed in the text?  How is it addressed?  Its it warned against?  Is it shown for the trap that it is?  Is the futility of our own righteousness show?  Are we directed towards showing love?  What flavor does the Law take -- and then how is that Law translated to folks today?  (And yes, it is often a translation - I rarely have folks standing up in the middle of service and thanking God that they are not like the folks in the back row.)  How is it to be applied to these specific people?  How is it to be made broad enough to where people will not think "Chuck needs to hear this"?  How can it be said specifically enough to where everyone says, "I needed to hear this"?

And then we have the Gospel.  Where is Christ Jesus and is He doing things for you?  That's the Gospel.  Now, it needs to mesh with the Law, counter it, overcome and defeat and fulfill it.  One prof at the Sem said it needed to be like two fists, a Law fist and a Gospel fist coming together with the Gospel fist winning -- you have to line it up so they don't swing past each other (You are a sinned condemned to death but Jesus provides for your earthly needs - WHIFF!)

It's a simple task... but the art of learning to do it is rough - and nothing hurts it worse than complacency - than thinking, "eh, this is simple.  I don't need to pay attention."

Assume the batter's an easy out, and that's when you serve up a gopher ball.  Assume a simple fastball and that's when the backdoor curve freezes you.  Lollygag a fly ball and that's when it pops out of your mitt.

Like one of my old coaches used to say - keep your head in the game.  He also happened to be a Lutheran Pastor.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Job #1 is Preaching

(Yet again, another excellent oldie snippet from Gottesdienst - this time by Rev. Rick Stuckwisch, whom I have the utmost respect for! The original can be found here)

The first and foremost thing a pastor is called to do is preach Christ. Such preaching is faithful when it is a confession of the Word of Christ. This faithful preaching of Christ is catechetical, because it is the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His Name. This faithful preaching of repentance is always sacramental, because it is a preaching to and from the dying and rising of Holy Baptism, to and from the Body and Blood of Christ at His Altar. This sacramental preaching is likewise liturgical, not so much because it is "about the Liturgy," but because it is a fundamental and constitutive part of the Liturgy. As the Holy Communion is the heart of the Liturgy, so is faithful preaching the lungs of the Liturgy. Everything else the pastor does, in the Liturgy or otherwise, is (or ought to be) a continuation or an echo of his faithful preaching of Christ. Hence, everything the pastor says and does, as well as the way he says and does it, ought to be a faithful confession of Christ and His Word. The pastor also lives liturgically, that is, by repentant faith in the forgiveness of his sins, to and from his Baptism, to and from the Lord's Altar.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Things that Belong Unto Thy Peace

(Here is another good blog post, this time by Rev. Eckhardt.  The original can be found here )

While preparing and preaching the St. Luke 19 Gospel about Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem, I also happened, coincidentally, to have been reading through Jeremiah and Lamentations. When you get your fill of lachrymose prophecies in one week, it's kind of hard to escape the fact that divine sorrow (and anger) erupt not so much over those who have no religion as over those who do.

Jerusalem, the object of weeping in both Jeremiah's and Jesus' case, was for all intents and purposes the capital of religious life. "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord," was the refrain to which the prophet referred, and when our Lord dropped in on the holy place, he didn't find it empty. It was full of bustling commerce.

Religious life means nothing to God if it is not centered in the true religion, notwithstanding the fervor of those religious convictions. It was, after all, out of ostensibly religious convictions that the Jews insisted that Jesus be crucified.

And here we are a religious nation, and a people whom Gallup would tell us are among the more religious people on earth.

Well, so what? Jesus wept over the religion he saw, and soon his sadness turned to anger, when he lost his temper in the temple.

Isn't it all rather chilling?

It seems to me that sincerity and fervency mean little to him, if their object is not the things which belong unto our peace. Those are the things, we are reminded by the same evangelist, of which the angels sang in Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus.

Hence it behooves us not to be swayed by sincerity or fervency, but only by the truth of the Gospel.

Advent 3 Midweek

Advent Midweek 3 – December 18th, 2013 – Matthew 1:18-25

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
          Joseph was afraid.  Oh, he wasn’t afraid because an angel suddenly appeared to him out of the blue.  No, he was afraid.  “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.  When His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.”  So there is Joseph.  And his fiancée, his wife is pregnant.  Let me note something.  Marriage didn’t work the same way back then as it does today – if you were betrothed, you were as good as married… you are committed, you aren’t going to be able to just back out.  Joseph, even though he is only betrothed, is called Mary’s husband.  And suddenly… Mary is pregnant.  And Joseph didn’t have anything at all to do with it.  How do you like them apples?

          So, Joseph is afraid.  This isn’t just about some hopes and dreams falling flat… no, this is his betrothed, his wife… and she’s pregnant.  And he didn’t do it.  What does this mean?  Well, let me ask you the question.  What was the punishment in the Law for those caught in adultery?  They are to be stoned.  By rights, Joseph could decry Mary, announce that she is pregnant not by him, and she would be executed.  And Joseph’s honor would be maintained.  But if he does that – he condemns his wife to death.  Or even he could be merciful – he could publicly denounce her, but not call for her death.  Just terribly shame her, ruin her. Even this “other guy” she’s been with wouldn’t be able to marry her… she’d be damaged goods.  But this is his wife.  Whom he loves.  Or there is the option that Joseph is planning on.  Divorcing her quietly.  Just… letting her go.  And not explaining why to anyone.  When she’s pregnant.  So you know what that means – not only would Joseph’s dreams of a family fall apart and be destroyed… he’ll put her away quietly.  He won’t blame her.  So what will the story be?  Did you hear what happened to that poor Mary, why Joseph probably knocked her up before the wedding and then got rid of her – do you see what a vile and evil man he is?  This is what Joseph is submitting and resigning himself to.  He will embarrassed and reviled for the rest of his life, he will be poorly thought of, and he will lose wife.  He thinks he’s lost her already – she’s found someone else that she is… well… with.  But at least this way she will live, she can have a new life with whomever, her new guy can pick her up on the public rebound, and he will look like a hero, a paragon of virtue, while Joseph will be the mean, evil, scoundrel of the piece.  It is the move that shelters and protects her… and he is going to get it, he is going to be kicked in the teeth.  And so, Joseph is afraid.  He has chosen the righteous path – the hard path, the difficult and painful path.  And it weighs heavily on him.

          “But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”  God knew the struggles and fears that His servant was dealing with.  Joseph’s desire to act out of love, to shelter and care for his seemingly faithless wife was going to cause him pain and suffering.  And so, the angel appears to Joseph in a dream – these are the things Joseph is falling asleep thinking about.  And the angel says “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife.”  What were you afraid of – that you wouldn’t have your wife, that your dreams of a family were going to come crashing down.  She hasn’t been unfaithful, Joseph.  No, she is your wife and should be your wife – the Child conceived in her is not from some other fellow, He is conceived by the Holy Spirit.  You will have your wife, Joseph, and you will have your family – fear not.

          But this is not just good news for you.  “She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”  Mary’s Son is the Messiah, the promised Savior – He is “Jesus” – He is “The LORD Saves”.  He is the world’s redeemer.  And you, Joseph, are given the task to raise Him, to shelter Him.  You, Joseph, are a son of David… you will raise The SON of David.  And teach Him, and care for Him.  And raise Him as though He were your own flesh and blood – and He will save His people, including you, from your sins.

          Now, this doesn’t mean that suddenly everything is easy for Joseph.  There’s still the whole issue of Mary being pregnant.  There will still be awkwardness, the head shaking with people assuming the worst about Joseph.  But that is no longer the big thing, the great focus.  That – eh, small potatoes.  Joseph gets his Mary; she who was lost to him is found.  He will get his family, he will have it.  And that is a wondrous thing.

          So then, what are we to learn and see in this lesson this night?  Joseph was afraid, and why?  Because he was going to do the right thing, he was going to love his neighbor even though to all appearance she no longer loved him.  That’s some tough sledding.  Yet, let’s face it.  It is the same task we here are all called to.  Our Lord does not say, “Love your neighbor, unless it causes you some difficulties, in which case, eh, forget them.”  Love your neighbor.  Indeed, we hear over and over in the Scriptures about suffering and being a living sacrifice, being the shelter and shield for our neighbor.  And this is hard, this is painful.  Sometimes we do it, and we live with that pain and hardship.  Sometimes we bail, sometimes we don’t love the neighbor like we ought.  Whether we do or we don’t – in this world, it’s rough.

          God knows this.  He is no stranger to the impact of sin. He knows what a mess it has made of His creation.  And thus, a woman named Mary conceived, and in her womb was God Himself.  A man named Joseph named a son not his Jesus, because the Lord does save.  And this Jesus would grow, and He would be righteous.  Period.  Not some of the time, like us.  Always.  Perfectly righteous.  And thus, He suffered.  He suffered lack, He bore he attacks of the self-righteous who wanted to pull Him down a peg to elevate themselves.  He bore the whispers of condescension – this Man eats with sinners!  This Man talks to gentile women.  He even had all sorts of lies and vileness spoken about Him… indeed, He was even whipped, beaten, and scourged.  And why?

          It is no accident or coincidence that in Ephesians we hear the imagery of Husband and Bride for Christ and His People, His Church.  Christ Jesus is righteous, and when you, His people, were trapped in your own sins and your own unrighteousness – things that would merit and earn you death – Christ would not stand for it.  No, He would not denounce you.  No, He would not even divorce you quietly so as to maintain some semblance of dignity.  Instead, He would bear your shame, your sin, your iniquity – bear it to the cross and kill it, all so that He could have His Bride, His Church, His people, and present them to all as washed clean and pure and innocent – forgiven of all things, no blots, no blemish – for he takes it all upon Himself.

          This is what Christ comes to do.  Jesus will out do Joseph, He will exceed Him in righteousness and in scope.  It is good that Joseph was willing to bear the shame to treat Mary kindly, yet Jesus is far, far better.  And Jesus does so perfectly.  Do we see this now?  Only in part, for now we are still in this world, this life – where we deal with pain and shame for righteousness, where we do flee in terror from showing the love that we ought.  But Christ Jesus has come, and He has borne all things, and He has won forgiveness and He has risen – and just as He once came to win us salvation, He will come again so that we may see it in full.  Thus we are right to pray this and every Advent, come quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.

What Happens When Your Rival Falls?

If you were an American who grew up during the Cold War, you knew the score. We were good, the Commies were bad, and we were dedicated to stopping Commie aggression. And of course, we really meant stopping the Ruskies. And then, something interesting happened. Soviet Russia crumbled.


 Okay. Um... now what?

We hit a spell where we had to redefine ourselves as Americans. What does it mean to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way when there was no Soviet Union? What then does it mean to be the defender of the free world? See, this was part of the whole angst of the 90's grunge scene. Who are we? What makes us Americans the good guys? We stopped the Germans, then we stopped the Russians... and now... what? I mean, we couldn't even figure out if we should go over to the former Yugoslav republics and fight someone... because... well... what's an American anti-communist to do when there's no red commie to fight?

Well, now we have the War on Terror. Now we can talk about the Axis of Evil... we can worry that Iran might get a bomb, or look at North Korea with leery eyes. Of course, for a child of the Cold War... the War on Terror just doesn't have the same zing.

But I still think of my time in High School, in college when there wasn't really a good myth to follow. We were set adrift -- and even Rush Limbaugh didn't want us sending troops to the Balkans. What happens when your rival falls?

See, this is a theological problem. Too often, instead of being positive, instead of being mere confessors of the truth, theologians want to be heroes fighting for the "right" side. We want to have our theological rivals, and we want to crush them! We want to fight the "good fight" - which isn't about the daily struggle against sin and temptation in our own lives, it's about crushing theological problem or specter X.

 You know, like Seminex. Or the ELCA. Or Contemporary Worship. Or Keischnick.

But what happens when your rivals fall?

Seriously - what's a good Lutheran conservative fighter to do? What becomes our identity? All too often we will invent a new theological red scare. Did you see that article that prof wrote... sounds like Seminex to me! Or maybe all the pastors I don't like are being influenced by... the ELCA! Or there's not enough Natural Law! Or there are now a bunch of Antinomians floating around... okay, well, maybe not antinomians like there were in Luther's day, but they don't do the Law like I want them to!

 We create new villains. We establish new heavies for the piece. We find some new target to rail against on our soapbox. And what's sad is, our rhetoric changes. There's new dangers to fight off... and well, the old truths we proudly wove... eh. They don't mesh. There's new villains afoot that we have to meet and defeat. And there is a massive disconnect between the old and the new. Thus is the constant temptation when you want to be the hero of the piece.

Remember the good old days when we just wanted everything to be focused upon Christ and Him Crucified for sinners?

The Sermon as Love Song

(What follows is a part of some interesting and good thoughts by Rev. David Petersen, especially when considering the point of the Divine Service.  For the full article, please look here

The Service God provides (hence the German Gottesdienst and the English "Divine Service") to His people is the ultimate reconciliation, His re-communion with them, His entrance into their hearts by way of their mouths, which cleanses their lips and enables them once more to sing His praise and thereby expose what is now, by grace, by the Holy Communion, in their hearts. For it is what comes out of a man that renders him unclean or cleanses him. If we were to be crass (and since when has the Gottesdienst Crowd ever shied away from being crass?) we might say that the Holy Communion is make-up sex.

What then is the sermon? The sermon is the pledge reconciliation, the refusal to let the sun go down on one's anger. The Law is needed, for the beloved needs to know her crimes and how she has endangered Love. She needs to repent. But the conclusion is foregone. The sermon never serves divorce papers. The crimes are repeated, the beloved is exposed, but this not in malice but for edification, that she would learn, that she would grow. And what does she learn? Perhaps she learns something of what her behavior should be, of what her love for the Lover should look like, but mainly she learns how great, steadfast, and compassionate is the Love of Him who loves here perfectly and without end.

The Smalcald Articles

I love them.  I actually think they may be my favorite part of the Book of Concord - they are Luther, thinking he is dying, just laying everything out.

And I love the fact that the third section deals with the things we could discuss, if we actually found reasonable people.  Sometimes I understand that observation all to well.

At any rate - note the following from III,III

39] Of this repentance John preaches, and afterwards Christ in the Gospel, and we also. By this [preaching of] repentance we dash to the ground the Pope and everything that is built upon our good works. For all is built upon a rotten and vain foundation, which is called a good work or law, even though no good work is there, but only wicked works, and no one does the Law (as Christ, John 7:19, says), but all transgress it. Therefore the building [that is raised upon it] is nothing but falsehood and hypocrisy, even [in the part] where it is most holy and beautiful.

40] And in Christians this repentance continues until death, because, through the entire life it contends with sin remaining in the flesh, as Paul, Rom. 7:14-25, [shows] testifies that he wars with the law in his members, etc.; and that, not by his own powers, but by the gift of the Holy Ghost that follows the remission of sins. This gift daily cleanses and sweeps out the remaining sins, and works so as to render man truly pure and holy.

I love just how honest this is.  Nothing is built upon my work.  Rather it is all on God.  It is the Holy Spirit who works forgiveness and who renders me holy.  Just fantastic comfort.

Is it so bad or impious to wish to live with this great comfort?  Knowing that even my best works are but sin, and knowing that on account of Christ I am forgiven, given life, made pure and holy?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The War on the Holidays

Can I say something that might tick off the Fox News Crowd?  The whole "War on Christmas" thing - it's stupid.

No, I don't mean that the world out there is mean and stupid for not doing the whole Christmas thing whole hog (although often that is the case).  Rather, I mean that getting all bent out of shape over things is stupid.  And it is co-opting Christians in engage in stupid debates that we should be far, far above.

Why do I say this?  Well, consider:

1.  You aren't supposed to say "Happy Holidays" because it denies Christmas.  Isn't that the way it is now?  So are we Christians supposed to get riled up over this - or should we pause and think for a second.  Let's see... St. Nicholas' on December 6th, and the Midweek Advent services, and then Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Feast of Stephen (for all you good King Wenceslas fans), St. John on the 27th, Holy Innocents the 28th, New Year's Eve, New Year's/Circumcision and name of Jesus, and Epiphany.

You know what those all are?  Holy Days.  Happy Holy Days!  Happy Holidays. 

Happy Holidays was initially not a reference to all the various different religious ideas and days... it was a reference to our own slew of festivals. 

2.  What color is Santa?  That's the debate this year.  I mean... can we get more foolish?  Are we asserting the historicity of St. Nicholas of Myrna (and thus positing a Mediterranean complexion), or are we getting riled up and riling folks up because of a stinking Coca-Cola advert?

What does this have to do with anything about the Holidays, from a Christian perspective?  Nothing!

What other bits of agitation do you hear the drums for? Chances are - they are silly.  Enjoy your advent in Church - ponder the comings of our Lord.  And outside in the world... just let people do whatever silly wintery things they want.  It's really not worth the agitation.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Advent 3 Sermon

In the Name of Christ Jesus the Advent King +

          How do you know Who to look for?  When looking for the coming Messiah, how do you know who He is?  John – John knew.  John knew the Messiah before he was even born – For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  This is John.  John saw Christ and cried out Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – words which we will echo here in a few moments.  This is John, who when Jesus comes to him to be baptized boldly proclaims, I need to be baptized by you, and do You come to me?  This is who John is – of those born of women none greater than he.  This is John, Christ’s own messenger.  But now, John is in prison, never to get out again.  John is on his way to the chopping block, literally.   Was this the way it was supposed to go?  I mean, we are talking about John, the forerunner of the Messiah.  If there’s anyone that God should get out of nasty messes like this, it’s John.  And yet, there it is.  A dark prison cell.  Time slowly passing until an axeman with a silver platter will come.  This isn’t what the time of the Messiah was supposed to look like – this isn’t the Christian life I envisioned.  Locust and wild honey – sure.  Camel hair and wild clothing – sure.  Mighty preaching – sure.  But isolation in a prison, a preacher left with no one to preach to, and just looming despair and death.  Is this really what this was all about?

          So John calls for his disciples and he sets them on a task.  Now, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are you to the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  Did I mess up?  Was I wrong, was I mistaken?  Where’s the glorious revolution, where’s the time where everything is fixed?

          Jesus has a fantastic answer which He gives.  Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  A wonderful answer.  John baptized, John preached – Jesus does everything better.  Jesus heals – washes way even leprosy.  Jesus preaches even to the poor – they, the lowest people are even gladdened by the news they hear.  This is a wonderful thing – and it shows that Jesus is the right One.  See the signs that He is doing – He is indeed the Lamb of God, the One that we are to follow.  John’s discples learn that they themselves are to follow this Jesus and no other.  Yes, He is the One who was promised, the One who is here – He is the Messiah.

          Now, go and tell John.  Jesus remembers John, even in the midst of his suffering and trials and tribulations.  Is it dark in that prison John – remember that the blind receive their sight.  Are you bound and unable to leave – those crippled and bound now walk.  Is it dank and dirty – even the lepers are cleansed by me – those isolated by deafness hear – and yes John, even the dead are raised.  Yes, death is coming for you, a wicked little dance will do you in John, but it will not be the end – the dead are raised.  This is the good news that is preached to the poor – even to those rotting away in a prison cell.  Go and tell John – tell John that he might be supported in his time of trial by Christ’s own Word.  And so John, his disciples, everyone there is prepared for what is coming because they have been focused upon Christ, because Christ has shown Himself to them.

          So, what do we take and learn from this?  First thing, right off – even for Christians, even for the best of us, life in this world will be scary and terrifying sometimes.  This is what Satan wants to do – he wants us isolated and to make us see just how rotten and bad things are.  Because, it’s true, things are rotten and bad.  John’s story didn’t turn out like he probably hoped.  How many hope and dreams do we have that fall short?  And Satan will jump up and down and say, “look at this, look at these horrible things – is this what your life as a Christian amounts to?”  And there are many ways that we in our sin will try poorly to deal with this.  We can try denial, just pretending things aren’t bad, ignoring the elephant in the room.  We can just try to keep ourselves too busy to care, too drunk notice, we can close our selves off more and more to keep all that bad stuff away.  But it doesn’t fix it.  And then, Jesus speaks.  And does Jesus do?  He points us to Himself.  Yes, this world is messed up, but look at Me.  The blind are healed, the lame are made to walk.  I have come to fix things – not just now, not just for a day, not to make sure that your tomorrow is joyous – no, I come to suffer and die and rise so that your forever is fixed, so that your life is eternal and will last past the moments of this day.


           This is how Christ prepares us this day to face whatever we face in our lives; this is how we are prepared this Advent season for the celebration of Christmas.  We may not see so much the blind seeing or the lame walking – I make no claim to be a miracle worker.  But there is one thing from that list that Jesus gave that we here in this room see and hear and experience.  The poor have good news preached to them.  Does that not continue on unto this very day – do we not gather here, together in this house as the poor in spirit, as poor, miserable sinners and have the Good News preached to us?  Think on what we receive in preaching, in this service.  Is there a time you are sent out those doors left to wonder whether God actually loves you – or rather is Christ continually proclaimed to you – is not the Cross of our Crucified Lord continually held before you – See what Jesus has done for you with His death and resurrection – you are forgiven.  He is risen, and no matter what happens to you in your life here, you will rise to new life because of Him.  This is the good news given to poor, miserable sinners – this is your windfall, a windfall of mercy and grace.  And does this not color our lives – does not the Lord’s forgiveness shape us and how we see the world?  Thus we are prepared for the Lord’s Coming, be it the celebration of His first coming at Christmas or His second coming.

          But even more than that.  When he was Baptizing, John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  Do you not realize that you have this – that you have the very Baptism that even John the Baptist looked longingly towards.  Advent is the time of preparation for Christmas – and how are you prepared for Christ’s coming, how are to you keep your watch for Christmas?  Think on what a gift you have received in Your Baptism.  Not only were you washed clean of your sin, but you were joined to Christ – you were made part of His Body – Your Body became His temple.  If this is true, if God’s Word on the wonders of Baptism are right – do you see what this means?  You are baptized and joined to Christ – I would say that prepares you for Christ’s coming.  Think on whom He has made you to be – you are now God’s own child – this is real and true.  God prepares you by Baptism.  As Luther puts it, “Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man, and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.”  With this gift, you are prepared – remember it daily – this is why Luther recommends starting and ending each day with the Invocation and the sign of the Cross – the sign given to you as your own at your Baptism.

Again, we have another treasure for our preparation in the Lord’s own Supper.  Think on what the Lord does – He gives us His own Body and Blood – life and forgiveness and salvation.  Do you wish to be prepared, do you wish your watch for Christ to be right – then make use of the Supper!  Hear again what Luther says, “On this account it is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man. For by Baptism we are first born anew; but (as we said before) there still remains, besides, the old vicious nature of flesh and blood in man, and there are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes also stumble. Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger.”  Everything you need, everything that is required for your life in Christ is given to you here; you receive from Him all that you need.  Just as John and his disciples were pointed to Christ, we are pointed to Christ, indeed, we receive Him so that we are strengthened.

Cling to Christ, dear friends – trust in Him and His strength – receive the gifts He gives you and despise them not.  In this way, dear friends, you will be kept strong and prepared what whatever befalls you in this life – and you will be able to welcome Christ with gladness upon the last day.  You are not left alone, you are not forsaken, and even in the midst of your sorrows, Christ is with you, for you are Baptized, you are fed on His own Body and Blood.  In this world, Satan will show you sin and terror and troubles – but there is a greater truth, a more wondrous truth.  Christ Jesus came, was born, suffered, died, and was buried, and He rose again – and He did all this for you, for your salvation.  You belong to Christ, and He will defend you ever more – even until He comes again on the Last Day.  As His own Baptized who live in His Word and receive His Supper, we are right to pray, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +  Amen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Pastoral Fears

Pastoral Fears.  Every one of us has them.  We look around us, and what do we see?  Society is in a moral freefall.  Attendance is down.  Shoot, how many of us are now at churches where the ability to pay us is in question (or at least soon looks to be)?

It's all falling apart.  Just admit it. It's falling apart - and it scares the dickens out of you. 

It wasn't supposed to be this way on your watch.  You were going to go out there and make a difference.  People would love you, and you would be dynamic and powerful and your congregation would grow.

And in reality, it's all falling apart.  Even if your falling apart isn't as bad as the next guy's.

And you doubt.

You lament like Elijah - I'm the only one left.
You sit like John in prison - Are you to the One to come, or do we look for another?  Do we look for another, because things aren't going to the way they ought to be!

We sit, and we wonder "what do we do... what can we do?"

And that is where the real problem sets in.

It's all falling apart - that's not the problem.  We know our eschatology.  We know we are in the last days.  We know that we are those in the tribulation.  Ain't nothing that happens in the world that should surprise us.  Shoot, Luther knew that the Gospel was like a passing rain shower, that eventually Germany would appreciate it no longer.  Should it surprise us that the gentle rain of the Gospel is passing in America?

No.  The problem is we wonder "What do *WE* do".  We.  Us.  Me.  A Law question.

If you start asking a Law question, you are going to start thinking up Law answers.  And all that does is stir up a bunch of hot air that blows that shower of the Gospel further and further along.

So let me ask you a question.  Have you lost your focus?  We are told in Hebrews to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.  Because it's about what HE does for you.

You aren't alone in facing these fears.  The come all the time, they are the continual refrain of Satan attacking Christ and His Church... and especially pastors.

Sing a hymn or two.  Try A Mighty Fortress.  It's true.  Take they our lives, goods, fame, child or wife.  Though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won.  The Kingdom ours remaineth.

Sing Built on the Rock.  Here stands the font before our eyes
Telling how God did receive us;
The altar recalls Christ’s sacrifice
And what His table doth give us;
Here sounds the Word that doth proclaim
Christ yesterday, today, the same,
Yea, and for aye our Redeemer.

Or maybe you just want a poem.  Might I suggest a little Yeats.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Yes.  You have fears.  Of course you do.  What would you expect the Father of lies to stir up in you?  But this truth remains - Christ Jesus was born, Christ Jesus died, Christ Jesus has risen, and you are forgiven and redeemed, and there's not a fear or sorrow or junk in the world that can change that.  Jesus Lives... the Victory's won.  Really.  It is.  He has done it.

Peace? Ain't Nobody Got Time for That!

I have no problem speaking about New Obedience.  I have no problem talking about Vocation - I actually love talking about Vocation (because it speaks about our actions not trying to find some abstract idea of "holy" but in the concrete, directly in terms of what tasks God Himself has laid out before us).  These are all good things - they are in fact properly and best understood as gifts from God to us (rather than "what we do for Jesus") -- and is not part of our job as Christians to proclaim the great things He has done, the great gifts He has given?  The first article and daily bread is great!

But here's what I have very, very little time for.

Troublers of conscience.
Doubt about if what we are doing is good enough.
Guilt induced reflection.

You know why?

Let's do a little experiment with John 20.  The first Sunday after Easter, our reading is John 20:19-31. Our Risen Lord, in 10 sentences says the word "Peace" 3 times.  As in, three of the whole sentences are "Peace be with you."

Think about that rhetorically for a moment.  If you start each idea with a theme, if you repeat it multiple times - it's the point of everything.  As an example, what does our good Roman Catholic friend Coach Herm Edwards thinks the point of a football game is?

Did that leave any doubt?  You play to win the game.

Now, here we have Christ, and He is resurrected.  It is finished.  He has won for us salvation, and what does He say?  Peace be with you.  Shalom.  Peace.  It's all right, it's all good, I have fixed things.  Peace be with you.  In fact, you are going to be peacemakers - you are going to be going out and forgiving sins (and if you have to retain, well, retain, but even then the whole point is hopefully they will repent).

Oh, and again, Peace be with you.  Thomas, you doubt?  Hey - believe.  Peace. 

This is what Christ is about, this is what the Church is about - shoot, we are in Advent, we know what is coming Christmas Eve.  Peace, Goodwill to man!

So, here's my problem.  Sure, ponder vocation, ponder obedience, ponder exhortation -- but how are you viewing this?  From a standpoint of peace?  From the viewpoint of peace?  Or are you viewing it with fear?  Are you worried that not enough X is happening, that there's not enough virtue to stop moral decay, that Christians are becoming too lazy and terrible result Y is going to happen, have you not seen enough goodness or fruit Z in your folks.

Peace be with you.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.

We have the promise of peace from our Lord.  Now, who does your dis-peace come from?  Who would be the one troubling you, making you worried... accusing you?  Who makes you think, "Peace, ain't nobody got time for that!  We gots ta do sommting ourselfs!

No.  Christ Jesus has said it.  Peace be with you.  Peace be with you.  Sins are forgiven, really they are - be about the business of forgiving them.  Peace be with you.

Otherwise, we just run around with our heads cut off thinking we ain't got time for peace, that there's too much *we* need to do.  We become to opposite of the OT false prophets.  They cried peace, peace when there was no peace.  Are we to forsake declaring peace when the very Price of Peace, risen from the tomb, has declared Peace?

You Preach to declare the Peace!

(and just because -- this happened in Oklahoma )