Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Sermon

Easter Day – March 31st, 2013 – John 20:1-18

Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia + Amen
          We often think of how long, how agonizing Good Friday was.  I think we neglect to think how quick and rushed the end of it would have been.  Jesus was crucified on a Friday, and the Friday before a High, Festival Sabbath, and so He had to be taken off the cross and buried quickly.  And Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus do so, they had put the cloths and the spices on His Body and hurriedly laid Him in a near by tomb, because there was no time to do more.  And so, that Sunday morning, actually, we wouldn’t even think of it as the morning yet, it was well before the Sun was up, what my uncle would call “O’Dark Hundred”, Mary Magdalene and some of the other women head to the tomb to do things right.  You need to do things right, show the proper respect, make things nice and neat and respectful… and they hadn’t been able to, things were too rushed.  But now, after many long hours, they could put things right.

          And the stone is gone.  The tomb is open.  Broken into.  Defiled.  Robbed.  Desecrated!  And so Mary Magdalene does what she thinks is best – “So she rant and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.’”  She reports a robbery.  A break in.  And so, Peter and John go to check it out – John heads first, sees that the tomb is open, Peter barges in, sees the cloths lying there in a strange fashion.  They look, and they see, but they do not understand, for as John himself admits, “for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.”  And then, Peter and John, big help that they are, go home.  Yep, Mary, there’s something strange afoot… and they’ve been killing people, we’re headed back home.  Let’s just wait and see how this all sorts out.

          That’s when Mary decides to check things out.  Oh, she’s an emotional wreck, weeping like made.  And when she enters the tomb, there are angels there, and they ask her, “’Woman, why are you weeping?’  She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’”  Every year, this verse gets me – Mary is so distraught that she doesn’t think anything strange of two guys hanging out in the tomb – two guys that Peter and John hadn’t seen in there.  Something strange is going on – but Mary cannot see it, she is so caught up in fear and anger and sorrow that she is blind.  The full weight of just how lousy life is in this stinking, sinful, fallen, rotting world has come crashing down on her, and she’s overwhelmed.  So overwhelmed, that even when Jesus Christ Himself shows up to talk to her, when He asks her why she is weeping, when He asks Whom she is seeking – she still doesn’t get it.  “Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to Him, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.’”  And that right there is her best hope – maybe it wasn’t a break in, maybe it wasn’t a robbery, maybe this isn’t Jesus’ opponents come to desecrate Him and His tomb.  Maybe it’s just the cemetery caretaker who pulled a Body out of a tomb that it wasn’t supposed to be in, maybe Jesus’ Body is just being transferred.

          And then Jesus calls her by name, and she sees, and then there is nothing but joy.

          What commentary is there to give upon that?  In that moment, as Jesus calls her by her name, Mary sees that every wrong and ill in the world is undone, that things are all made right again.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.  Death itself is undone.  Sin has been totally forgiven.  Life has returned.  It’s all good once again.

          It’s interesting, because when Mary saw the open tomb at first, she thought the grave had been robbed.  And in many ways, she was right.  The grave has been robbed – since Adam and Eve the grave, Sheol, knew that it has as its right and bounty every last single human being.  We live, we die, we are buried and put in the grave.  Until Christ.  Until Easter day, when the Father raises Christ from death and the grave, and says, “No more, you will not have my people, O grave – you will not get to keep them, O death.  Behold, Jesus Christ is risen today.”  This resurrection which we celebrate today – this is your resurrection, I mean that literally.  Because of this day, no grave will hold you in, no vault will keep you sealed, because Christ Jesus has risen, and so shall you.  She thought that the tomb had been broken into, and again, she was sort of right.  Christ Jesus just broke into every tomb in existence and paved the way for every one of them to be broken open the Last Day.  Mary was worried about desecration and defilement – well Satan’s power, Satan’s domain, the fear that Satan had over us – Christ desecrated and defiled that – pulled the sting out of death, pulled the teeth out of the dogs of war, showed Satan just how weak and powerless he is compared to God Almighty – our Redeemer lives, and He stands upon the Earth, and so shall we and we shall see Him face to face – and there’s not a thing Satan can do to stop it.

          And Mary gets it when Christ calls her by Name.  And guess what – He has called you by your name.  That’s your baptism, your Christening, you “in-Christ-ing” to use an old term for it, where you received your “Christian Name”.  You have been called by name out of this world of darkness unto Christ Himself and His kingdom.  If you die before He returns, He’ll call you by name out of your tomb.  He has won you the victory, and there is nothing that sin, death, the devil can do to stop Him.  You are forgiven and you have life in His Name.  You are united to Him, joined to Him – He has given Himself to you, He gives you even His own lifegiving Body – take and eat, take and drink – here, receive forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Receive a reminder that you belong to Christ, receive a foretaste of the feast to come for all eternity.  That same risen Lord comes to you, proclaims forgiveness to you in His Word, comes to you in Supper, declares that you are forgiven and shall rise – and this is the great reality of your life.

          My dear friends in Christ Jesus, indeed, my brothers and sisters in Christ – the grave is broken, death is undone and will not last, and Christ Jesus lives.  He has won.  Your sin is done away with, atoned for, forgiven – and Christ lives and gives you everything, now and for eternity.  This is most certainly true.  Amen. Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia.  Amen

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday Sermon

Good Friday – March 29th, 2013 – John 18 and 19

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          He could have stopped it.  Over and over again, He could have stopped it, stopped His passion.  Reading through the Passion, we see so many times and places where Jesus could have escaped.  When Jesus had spoken these words, He went out with His disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which He and His disciples entered.  Now Judas, who betrayed Him, also knew the place.”  It would have been simple enough to put things off – pick a different garden, a different place to pray.  But no, since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden, Christ would go to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas knew He would be.

          Even there, He could have stopped it.  “Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’  They answered Him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am He.’  Judas, who betrayed Him, was standing with them.  When Jesus said to them, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.  So He asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek.’”  There’s no trickery, no denial.  Jesus doesn’t put on a fake nose and mustache, He doesn’t say you have the wrong man.  No, instead, He says “I AM!” – and the soldiers fall back in terror.  And yet, even then, Jesus doesn’t flee.  Of course He doesn’t.  He had not created man to live in terror and fear – that’s the effect of a sinful, fallen world, and Christ will relieve fear, even the fears of the soldiers who come to arrest Him.  I am the one you are looking for, I will go quietly, do not be afraid.

          And even then, He could have stopped it.  Peter drew his sword – Peter was ready to fight – and off came an ear.  And yet, what does Jesus do?  Give a war cry – up and at ‘em, boys?  No.  “So Jesus said to Peter, ‘Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given Me?’”  No, Jesus had enough of swords in gardens.  The flaming sword the angel held to keep man out of Eden was more than enough – no more swords in gardens, not this night Peter. 

          And so He goes.  They bind Him and drag Him off, and then the High Priest and his lackeys question Him.  And Jesus won’t debate them.  “Jesus answered him, ‘I have spoken openly to the world.  I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together.  I have said nothing in secret.’”  He could have stopped it.  When Jesus taught openly and in public, He repeatedly put the Scribes and the Pharisees to shame – showed them their foolishness.  He could have done the same here, He could have run circles around the High Priest.  But that is not why He is there – He isn’t there to show forth His intellectual and theological dominance.  And so it continues.

          He is taken to Pilate.  He could have stopped it there.  Pilate seemed to like Jesus well enough – Pilate found no guilt in Him, and that’s even without Jesus buttering Pilate up.  Pilate would have been a strong ally – I’m no threat to you, in fact, I could be a wedge you could use against the Chief Priests.  But Jesus did not come to drive wedges between Jew and Gentile, and so, even though He could have stopped it there, He did not.

          Pilate still tries to stop it for Jesus.  Pilate beats Jesus bloody, hoping that this will cause the crowds to pity Him.  How’s that for Your day – where the kindest thing anyone does for You is to lash You to within an inch of your life, just in the hopes that others might pity You.  But it doesn’t work.  Crucify Him, Crucify Him – that remains the cry.  And as for the crucifixion itself – John doesn’t spend much time focusing on the hours there, but we know it from other gospels.  The taunting, the mockery.  The cries that Jesus saved others but could not save Himself.  And it is ironic, because even there, even on the Cross, Jesus could have stopped it.  The angelic legions could have come, the wounds could have melted away and been healed, and Jesus could have come as the terrible avenging Judge, smiting all the mockers.  But He doesn’t.

          Instead, He thirsts.  The One who said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” hangs there on a tree, fulfilling the Scriptures, thirsting Himself.  Why?  Because He will be satisfied, He will fulfill all righteousness, even as He told His cousin John at His baptism.  He hangs upon the tree, He suffers.  And, there upon the tree, He utters the words of wonder and sorrow and joy.  It is finished.  And He dies.

          Jesus did put a stop to it.  He put an end to it.  The rebellion of mankind that started in the garden – it is finished.  The separation that caused Adam and Eve to hide from God because they were naked – that is finished, God Himself hang naked on a tree.  The sin that cast man out of the garden – it is finished.  The fear of condemnation – it is finished, for perfect love casts out fear, and on the Cross Christ shows forth perfect love.  The flaming sword is extinguished, look, as they pierce Him from His side flow water and blood mixed together – it is finished. The foolish theological speculation, the attempts to prove yourself holy and righteous because of your deeds – that too is finished – John doesn’t show forth wit, he rather says, “I was there, I saw Him die.”  The reason for Israel being called apart has been fulfilled, the Messiah has come, and thus now there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile – it is finished.  And of course, the threat of doom, the pall of death that is cast over us all – It is finished. The Passover had come, and the Firstborn had been slaughtered so that we might live – it is finished.  The Lamb has been slain, and Isaac will live, for it is Finished, and Abraham rejoices to see this Good Friday.

          There is a good reason why Christ Jesus doesn’t bring His passion to a stop.  With His passion He finishes off sin and death and Satan, and He breaks their power, their domain, their grip on you.  And all that remains, the true, highest reality is this – that from the Cross flow water and blood and Spirit to give you life in Christ – the waters of Holy Baptism whereby your sin is washed away and destroyed because of Christ, the blood of the New Testament, whereby your sin is atoned for and you are given new strength and life, the Spirit of Life, who accompanies Christ Word and makes you a new creation and gives you true life in Christ – these things ever end.  These things always come from Christ to you because of His Passion, because of His Good Friday.  He would never stop His passion, for His passion is for your good, and He will die so that you will live, He will drink the cup of wrath so you that will drink the fruit of the vine anew with Him eternally in His kingdom.  All that separates you from God, from you neighbor – dear friends in Christ – It is finished.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday Sermon

Maundy Thursday – March 28th, 2013 – John 13:1-15

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          The hour approaches – the hour approaches where our Lord will be betrayed, where He will be handed over to be beaten, and scourged, and crucified.  The hour is getting late, and He knows that His time of teaching His disciples is short.  There are all these things that they don’t understand.  Sin keeps popping up in them, and temptations will continue to hound them.  What teaching do they hear, now, when time is short?

          Jesus washes their feet.  Jesus shows Himself to be humble, to be a servant.  Why?  For I have given you an example.  Jesus knows, Jesus sees, Jesus understands.  Jesus gets what sin is.  To sin is fundamentally to love yourself and hate the neighbor.  To sin is to make demands of your neighbor, to expect them to serve you.  To paraphrase a former President, to sin is to ask what your neighbor can do for you, rather than asking what you can do for your neighbor.  And Jesus realizes that this will be a lingering problem, and so this is where He focuses a great deal of His teaching this day.

          He sums it up.  He gives us a nice little phrase that we can understand.  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.  It’s not really that new of a commandment.  Obey Your Parents.  Don’t kill.  Don’t steal.  That’s all covered in the commandments.  But Jesus knows how we can abuse those – how we can look simply at what we are supposed to not do, and build ourselves up as hypocrites.  I haven’t stolen, I’ve not robbed a bank, see how wonderful I am.  We try to find loopholes in the law, and Jesus slams them shut.  Love one another.  No, people, don’t think that you can deftly avoid the law, don’t think that you can use it to prove yourself to be a good person.  Here is the standard, here is the commandment.  Love one another.

          Think about that.  That’s a harsh law, that’s a harsh commandment.  When you are doing something, pause, stop and think, “How am I loving my neighbor by doing this?”  That is a high standard.  But this is nothing new.  The Law always has high demands – but Jesus isn’t going to let us fool ourselves into thinking otherwise.  He gives us in the Church our marching orders, and they are rough.  But even as He speaks this Law to us, even as He gives us this new commandment – He doesn’t just let us stew.  He doesn’t just let us fret.  Rather, hear what He says, “Just as I have loved you.”  Although our eyes are shown our own lack, they are also focused on Christ and His love for us.

          Christ’s focus is always upon the neighbor.  Christ’s concern is always shown for those around Him.  Think on the times where Jesus shows compassion upon people, where He heals, where He feeds, where He shows love and concern.  Indeed, involving the love of the neighbor, He is our highest example.  But think on this.  Jesus has loved you.  This is His great focus – showing love to you.  This is His great focus as this Thursday gives way to Good Friday.  Christ’s eyes are upon showing love to you as He goes to the garden; His love for you is shown as He is led like a lamb, silent to the slaughter, during the accusations and kangaroo court of the Night.  His love for you is shown as He allows Himself to be whipped, to be beaten, to be nailed to the tree.  All this is done because Jesus has loved you.  All this is done because Jesus would have your sins be forgiven, because He would rather pay the penalty for sin than let you bear it.  For Jesus, saying that He has loved us is not just some empty words, a trite phrase used to manipulate and seduce.  He puts His love into action as He strides towards the shame and suffering of the Cross.

          This is the very same love that Christ gives to you.  This is the very same love that Christ fills you with, this is the love that is the fruit of His Spirit, which He has given you.  As Christians, you do love each other just as Christ has loved you, for the love you bear and share and show forth to each other is in fact Christ’s love, Christ’s love welling up and in and through you.  Christ’s command this night is also a declaration of what He is doing with your lives.  Christ takes sinful men, and washing you clean He shapes you with His Word – the Potter remolds the clay into His Holy vessels, and now you are filled with Christ’s love, and He pours out that love upon your neighbor through you.  When you show love to your neighbor, that is Christ working through you.  It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  This is how Paul describes this miracle.   Christ fills you to bursting with His love, so that you can’t but help to show forth His love, in spite of yourself.  This is our lives as Christians, where Christ overwhelms our sinfulness with His forgiveness and with His love.

          This is what He does whenever He calls and invites you to His table.  It is no accident that our Lord, the night when He gives us this new command, the night when He was betrayed, takes simple Bread and Wine, and uses them to give us a gift beyond the ability of our mind or reason to comprehend.  Jesus knows and understands in full a truth that we are taught when we are young but can so often forget as we grow old – that we are weak, but He is strong.  So He calls us to His table and says, “Take and Eat, this is My Body.  Take and Drink, this is My Blood.”  Of course our Lord would do this, of course our Lord would give you all that He is, all His strength and love – for this is what love is – to give of one’s own self to the neighbor.  And this is what Christ does in His supper.  And why?  We have a great prayer after Communion which tells us the answer.  “and we beseech Thee that of Thy mercy Thou wouldst strengthen us through the same, through this supper, in faith towards Thee and in fervent love toward one another.”  Jesus sees His disciples that Maundy Thursday evening, He sees you – and He wants you to be strong and firm in the faith, to be filled with Him and His love, and so, He calls you to His table, this very day, this very hour God Himself says, “Come and receive me, take all that I am, so that I might be your strength, and that you might cling only to me.”  This is what our God does for you.  He washes you clean of all your sins and brings you unto Himself.  He gives you every good gift; He gives you Himself.

          The hour of our Lord’s Crucifixion was drawing closer and closer the first Maundy Thursday night – but as always, our Lord’s eyes are fixed on His neighbor – His eyes are fixed upon you.  And He takes you, and turns your focus away from selfish desires and foolish greed, and instead teaches you to love your neighbor.  He feeds you on His own Body and Blood that you will be strengthened in Him.  Behold what Christ Jesus our Lord does for you.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Did you not know...

One of the changes in the LSB that I did not like involved a hymn.  They changed one line, the very first one.  Now the hymn is "The Clouds of Judgment Gather" -- it used to be known as "The World is Very Evil."

I don't like that change.  I mean, I suppose it's true that the clouds of judgment gather... but there's a subtle shift in focus.  Oh, sure, the world is evil - but look, there's judgment coming.  We jump to quickly to that - we forget the simple truth.  The world is very evil.  Always has been, at least since the Fall.

I'm a always amazed when Christians get all riled up over the latest example of the world being evil.  I'm always befuddled when I see the hands get thrown up in the air that society in general would not only be immoral but... permit it as well!



Um, why is this shocking?  Why is this surprising?  Do you not read the Scriptures?  Do you not read Judges, and see what Israel does over and over again?  Do you not read Chronicles and see what happens to the Kings of Judah and Israel?

You vainly say that the US is a "Christian Nation" and think that this means that everything will be hunky dory -- well, historically that is just wrong (unless you want to reduce Christianity to a system of morals and view Jesus as just a new Lawgiver who helps us understand how awesome the Law is)... but look at the true CHOSEN NATION.  Israel.  And what happens to them?  Utter folly.

You say that Gay Marriage would be the utter flipping off of nature and example of idolatry... um, how about sacrificing babies to pagan gods.

Why are you surprised?  Have you not read the Scriptures, do not not know that man is fallen... and that separated from Christ he will be utterly wicked both outwardly and inwardly?

We forget that only the Gospel gives life.  We forget that we live in Christ.  Why do we expect anything even approximating life apart from Christ?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A quote from Reu on Preaching...

"The Church, indeed, consists of men, each of whom as a citizen of an earthly kingdom is called upon to do his political duties, as well as his other duties in the name of the Lord Jesus. For ordinary purposes in ordinary life, it may not be important, or even perhaps possible, for a man to distinguish that which is incumbent on him as a citizen of an earthly realm from that which is incumbent upon him as a child in the family of God.

But the distinction is of vast importance in regard to those who are called to office and ministry in Christ’s Church. The terms of their commission lay down the limits of what they are to do by Christ’s authority; they have no commission to put the affairs of society right, or to eradicate the evils in this present naughty world. In the Gospel of the grace of God, they have committed to them the supreme means of touching men personally and inspiring them with high but practical ideals. This is the grandest work to which any man can give himself; and it is a miserable thing if he fails to put his best energies into this task, and prefers instead to compete with journalists and politicians in guiding some project for social reform.

It is to forsake the fountain of life and to strain at accomplishing some apparent improvement by taking up implements that are less certain and less effective, even for securing human welfare, than the means of grace instituted by Christ Himself… Christ sent His apostles on evangelistic work and bade them administer the sacraments and exercise pastoral care; but He did not enjoin them to agitate for social reforms."

- Johann Michael Reu, Homiletics

Reu was a professor in the old ALC - his catecatical questions were the ones my dad was raised on, and I tend to respect him highly.  When I accepted a call to be a pastor, I gave up on changing the world.  I was given to proclaim Him who conquers over the world and gives life and salvation. 

I have my political opinions - and I enjoy them.  But I'm not going to, as a pastor, try to be an agent of social reform.  Not my highest calling, it simply isn't. 

So - what of social changes that are coming, what of this or that, or culture falling apart!?!?

Consider the end of John. 
"Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”"

You are a Christian.  You are called out of darkness into His marvelous light. Well, so the world does foolish and crazy things, and God allows it.  What is that to you?  Follow Christ.  Let us keep our eyes focused upon Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfector of (not our faith, not our nation) our faith.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday / Confirmation 2013

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          That first Palm Sunday, it would have been a sight to see, wouldn’t it?  The crowds all singing and hailing Jesus, the roadway covered with cloaks and coats so that even the donkey Christ was on wouldn’t have to get her feet dirty.  The Palm Branches waving, the cheers, the acclamation – it would have been something to see.  But what would we have been looking at?  What would we be marveling at?  The massive crowds?  Would we have been glorying in the throng of voices raised high – or seeing the waving palm branches and caught up in that?  John records for us “His disciples did not understand these things at first.”  Chances are we might have gotten caught up in the moment, not recognized what we were seeing either.  The triumphal entry was a time of excitement and joy – but what so few of those people there knew, in fact, what perhaps only Jesus realized, is that the procession of Palm Sunday leads directly to our Lord’s Passion, which we just heard.  The road into Jerusalem is the road unto the cross – and as He enters Jerusalem, that is where Christ’s focus is – upon the Cross and the salvation He will win there.

          The crowds, they didn’t see the cross.  They saw a miracle worker – who knew what else Jesus might do when He was in Jerusalem!  The miracle worker who had been working the small towns was making his way to the big time!  This fellow can even raise the dead – let’s make Him feel welcome and see what He can do.  The Pharisees, their thoughts were on their own authority and pull.  “Look, the whole world has gone after Him.  We’re finished – no one is going to listen to us anymore!  We won’t be the high and mighty of Israelite society anymore, what are we going to do?  Roman soldiers, they probably got a little nervous about a riot, things like that happen in Jerusalem.  And the Disciples – they still don’t get it.  Maybe they think that it’s just about time that their Lord gets the recognition that He deserves. 

          All of these, all these people focused on worldly things.  What cool trick is Jesus going to pull out of His hat?  What is this going to do to the social order?  We’ll it’s about time that people get a clue and start praising this Jesus that WE’VE been following all along.  Miracles, power, respect – but none of these are what’s on Jesus’ mind as He enters Jerusalem.  He sees not a throng that boosts His ego, He sees not conspirators or even clueless followers.  He sees sinful men, lost sheep, people trapped and bound in sin – people who will be lost to Him for all eternity unless He strides to the Cross and pays the penalty for sin in their place.  And so He does.  Christ strides to the Cross, ready to win salvation for His people.  His thoughts are not on Himself, but rather He desires to show love to others, show love to us, whatever the cost.

          With this in mind, dear friends, and especially you two, Weston and Maverick, with your confirmation and profession of the Christian faith just a few minutes away, listen again to what our Epistle lesson says.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  This dear friends, is to be our minds, this is to be how we are to think, how we are to strive to think, who we are to try to be.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.  In the waters of Holy Baptism God claimed as His own, washed away all your sins.  We know that, but not only that, He claimed you as His own, made you His own dwelling place, made you the temple of His Holy Spirit.  Christ dwells in you, and because of this, He desires to train you and teach you to be more like He is.  And what is Jesus like, what is this mind that we are to have, how are we to approach things?

          Though He was in the form of God, [He] did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.  Jesus didn’t try and take all that was by rights His.  Jesus wasn’t concerned first and foremost about getting His due.  He’s God, He created the World, by Him all things were made.  And He’s supposed to suffer and die?  Yet Jesus never protests, never says “I’m God, after all, why should this happen to Me?”  He doesn’t grasp on to rights or power or control.  Likewise with us – as Christians our first concern is not to be what we can get, not what is in it for us.  Our rights aren’t things to be grasped either – we turn the cheek, if 1 is demanded of us, we freely give 2 – because like Christ we don’t cling to what we think we deserve.  No, like Christ our focus is to be elsewhere.

          But [He] made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant.  Jesus didn’t seek to be a big deal – but rather He made Himself nothing – He served.  He was content to have His focus be on the other guy.  What can I do to serve, what can I do to show love?  This too is what our mind is to be like – this is what it means to be an adult, mature Christian – to seek not to please yourself, but to show love and care to your neighbor.  Think on Christ’s entry into Jerusalem – even as the crowds were lauding Him – on He goes, right to the Cross for the sake of those very people.  And it is hard for us to do this.  Our minds like to be self centered – we like to put ourselves first.
          Confirmands – in a few moments you will publicly confess the Christian faith.  The other adult members of this Congregation, they’ve done the same.  When you do so, you are swearing that you will strive to be like Jesus, that you will seek to put your neighbor first, that your first priority will be to show love to your neighbor.  That you will try to be the person God made you to be in the waters of Baptism when He claimed you as His own.  That, dear friends, is what we all swore at our own Confirmation.  We promised to strive and struggle, to always try to show love, to hold on to the Christian faith as we learned it from Scripture and the Small Catechism.  And yet we do know what happens.  You have learned the Ten Commandments, you know what they say about you – that you have failed.  That’s what we come here, why we start our service Confessing our sin, admitting to God “We haven’t done like we ought.”  But we also know what God has done for us.  And being found in Human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.  That which we struggle to do, Christ does perfectly for us.  And indeed, He goes to the Cross for us, pays the penalty for our sin – even shouts from the Cross “Father, forgive them.”

          And so, that is why we gather here.  We know that God will forgive us, that He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  We know that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  God will with His forgiveness preserve and nurture the life He gave you at your Baptism.  His focus is upon serving you, giving you what you need for life.  In fact, as we will see and study especially this upcoming Thursday night, He does so through His Holy Supper, where He not only gives you forgiveness for what you have done wrong, but He blesses you with His own strength and life so that you can be more like Him, that your mind can conform and be more and more like His mind – so that you can look and be more and more like Jesus.  Indeed, as you grow, you will see more and more that it is not you who live, but Christ who lives within you.  This is what He desires for you, this is what He gave you at your Baptism, and this is what He will bring about in you with His Word and with His Supper.

          Paul tells us in Philippians what our reaction to this is.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the Name that is above every Name, so that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  We just confessed this a few moments ago in the Nicene Creed.  It’s what the Church does – we receive God’s gifts of forgiveness and salvation, and then we confess, we proclaim what Christ has done.  Weston and Maverick – when are confirmed, you are publicly adding your voice to this congregation’s – you are saying that what we confess here about Christ is your confession, what you believe as well.  And that is good and God pleasing – and know that God will support and sustain you in that confession through the Word of life and forgiveness that He brings to you.  May God keep you steadfast in His Word, and may God keep all of us who like have made this confession as well, may God keep us all steadfast and united and forgiven in His Word – so that in all things and trials, we see Christ the Crucified as our Lord, and learn to show love to our neighbor.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Journalism, Reporting, Op-Eds, and Preaching

I was going to be a journalist.  A Sports Journalist, in fact.  That was the plan when I was entering High School.  Even took High School Journalism.  And it is something I love - ESPN is on often - sports radio on when I'm in the car or at the office.  Colin Cowherd is on in the background right now.

In journalism, properly speaking, there is a distinction made between reporting the news and producing editorials, giving opinions.  The anchors on Sportscenter report - the analyists give opinion and observation.  Bob and Kristine give the news updates, and Colin gives his thoughts.  The two tasks are different, are separate.

So - what are you, oh preacher?  Are you the reporter, the anchor, the one giving the news update, or are you the analyst, the flamboyant personality giving your opinion?

A voice says, “Cry!”
    And I said, “What shall I cry?”

You are not an opinion maker, preacher.  You are not a spin doctor.  You are not there to give your thoughts or opinings, you are not to dissect the possession they had in the 3rd quarter.

You are a crier - one who calls out the news.  Who who proclaims the facts, the realities.  You proclaim the Law, you proclaim the Gospel.  You don't talk about it, you don't break it down, you don't rant.

Who has believed our report?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

You have enough to do to simply proclaim what God has done. 

Leave your speculations behind.  Abandon your thoughts of glory.  Forget trying to find some neat insight that the other speculative folks hadn't yet see. 

No.  Cry out.  Proclaim the Word.  Give the facts.  Declare what the Lord has done.

You aren't the star editorialist for the New Jerusalem Times -- you are a beat reporter.  Be glad... you get to report Good... news.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lent 5 Sermon

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          Isaac was Abraham’s only son, the only son who had come to Abraham and his wife in extremely old age.  And now the Word of the Lord came to Abraham – “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you.”  Imagine, just for a moment, what must have been running through Abraham’s mind there.  God spells out in the request just how much Abraham loved Isaac, and now, offer him as a burnt offering.  And yet, Abraham goes.  He takes Isaac and a few servants and starts out to Moriah, doesn’t tell them what precisely is going on.  Eventually Abraham and Isaac leave the servants behind, and they head on their way by themselves, carrying all the supplies needed for a sacrifice.

          Young Isaac is not stupid – Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.  Abraham has raised his boy well.  Isaac knows how these offerings are done – he’s probably helped his father before.  Where is the lamb, dad?  And so, Abraham, walking to go and sacrifice his own son, hears this question from the son.  And he trudges onward.  God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.  And then they get to the place, and they build the altar – and then, the father grabs and binds his son – and Isaac is placed on the altar, and Abraham even has the knife in his hand to kill Isaac – and then something happens.  The Angel of the LORD called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”  And he said, “Here I am.”  He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him.”  Now, imagine what must be going through Abraham’s mind.  All the angst, all the tension, all the strain – gone.  Isaac will live – for there will be another sacrifice.  And then Abraham looks up, sees a ram caught in a thicket – and so Abraham sacrifices it – Isaac lives, Isaac who was going to die walks down from the mountain along with his father, knowing the God Himself preserved his life.

          Now, dear friends, do you see and understand why Jesus today could say, Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day, He saw it and was glad.”  Jesus had been in the middle of an interesting discussion with certain Jewish leaders – and these leaders were getting quite agitated.  They didn’t like what they were hearing from this Jesus.  He had been pointing out their flaws, their sins.  He had been making claims about who He was, He claimed that the one who kept His Word would never taste death.  The leaders thought this was ridiculous – everyone dies – what is this young foolish Jesus talking about?  And on top of this – Jesus ends up saying that they are liars, and that in reality, they don’t even know God.  You people today, you are nothing like your father Abraham – Abraham would have been rejoicing if He saw Me here – I know, because He rejoiced when He saw me in the past.  Abraham rejoiced when I, Christ Jesus, the Angel of the Lord spoke from heaven and told him to spare his son Isaac, also your father.  And the leaders don’t quite get it yet – they don’t quite piece it together.  So Jesus lays it all out – you don’t know God, because you don’t know Me – and Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.  I AM.  God’s name that He revealed to Moses from the burning bush – Jesus declares that He is true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity – and certainly before Abraham and Isaac were around.  And the people listening, they want nothing to do with this – they take up stones to put Jesus to death – but Jesus leaves – oh, Jesus will die, but not by a hail of stones.

          They should have known and seen, these Jewish leaders.  Abraham knew – and they all knew the story of Abraham and Isaac.  I bet every one of them could have quoted Genesis 22 backwards and forwards.  What do we see and learn from Genesis?  We learn the consequences of sin.  The wages of sin is death.  There is not a one of us here who is innocent, who is free from sin – from the oldest of us here even to the youngest.  And because of sin, we deserve death.
          We kind of skip over that fact sometimes, don’t we?  We think of sin in terms of not being nice, of making things a bit rougher here and if we only listened to God and did things his way, our neighbors would like us better.  Well, that gets part of it – but the wages of sin is death.  Each and every one of us here deserves death – we have sinned against God Almighty, we have rebelled against Him – and that means we deserve to die.  Isaac – he was a sinful human being, he deserved to die.  God was completely justified in demanding his death.  We don’t like thinking along those lines – we like to downplay the consequences of sin – but sin demands death.  Isaac’s death would have been his just deserts – just as ours would be.

          But then the amazing thing.  Christ intervenes.  Abraham is right when he says that God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.  God jumps in, says wait – wait Abraham.  I’m not going to require Isaac’s life of him – I’m not going to take your son.  Rather this – The Father will provide the Lamb – the Father will provide His Son, Christ Jesus, and He will with His death take up the death that every son and daughter of Adam ever, all of them, Christ Jesus with His death will take up the death they deserve.

          This is what Jesus is on His way to do when He has this discussion with these Jewish leaders.  He is on His way to the Cross, ready to suffer and die – ready to be put on a wooden altar of His own, but this time the Father would not stay His hand – and the Son would die – the Son would die that we might live.  Note something profound – Your father Abraham rejoiced that He would see my day.  Abraham knew that Christ would come, would be the one, true sacrifice for all sin.  Because of this, Abraham had what Christ said – Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps My Word, he will never see death.  This is our hope – for we know that for us who have been called by Christ Jesus into His Church, into His family – death isn’t our end, it isn’t where we end up.  Christ died for us – and so we know that we will have life – that all of this, all the trials and pains and sorrows we face in this life – they will yield unto not just the joys of heaven – but the joys of the last day when we all shall rise again, and in our bodies restored – as true human beings, living human beings, body and soul united again, we shall have eternity in the New Heavens and New Earth that we have been promised.

          This is the promise Christ Jesus has sworn to you – this is the vow He made to you at the moment of your Baptism.  Again, from Romans Chapter 6, and I cannot hear these verses often enough – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.  There it is, the entire hope of the Christian faith – that because Christ Jesus died in my stead and rose again – I too am forgiven for His sake, and I too shall rise again and live forever with God.  Promised, sign, sealed and delivered to each of you in the waters of Holy Baptism.

          The wonder of this is that all of this comes from what God does.  We aren’t defined, we aren’t made Christians by what we sacrifice.  Abraham wasn’t defined by what he sacrificed – rather, God intervenes and gives Abraham his son back as a simple, free gift.  We aren’t defined by what we do for God.  Now, do we do many things for God?  Indeed – whenever we show love to our neighbor, that is done for God.  That’s what Christians do – but that isn’t what makes us Christians.  What makes us Christians is this – that Jesus Christ does what is required – that God Himself has decided to be your Savior, that He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light – that He will win for you pardon and peace from all your sins.  And nothing will stop Him.  Throughout lent His march to the cross has been unstoppable – Satan will not tempt Him off course, whining disciples will not prevent Him from showing love, demons hinder Him not, crowds wanting only bread, leaders wanting to stone Him – none of this stops Jesus – He goes to the Cross to win you your salvation.  Because that is who He is – because He is the God who loves you, the God who would rather suffer in your place, be sacrificed Himself so that He can claim you for all eternity.

          Lent is drawing towards a close.  Next Sunday is Palm Sunday – we will see our Lord enter Jerusalem to start the service, and in the Gospel lesson we will hear His passion.  Know and learn and remember what this is.  God Almighty takes your place and goes to the cross in your stead, so that you might have life in His Name.  This is His gift to you, this is His love for you, this is the salvation He wins for you.  Amen.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Lent Midweek Service

Lent Midweek – Nebuchadnezzar – March 13th

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          Nebuchadnezzar was on top of the world.  There he was, king of the most powerful Empire the world had ever seen.  Even Egypt trembled before him.  And he knew that when he conquered Jerusalem, he had hit the jackpot.  Daniel, his servant, full of wisdom, able to interpret dreams had come from there.  The three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were from there – and their God was strong enough to preserve them even in the heart of the fiery furnace… and they all served and advised Nebuchadnezzar.  It was a fantastic situation, a wonderful set up.   We would say that King Nebuchadnezzar was truly blessed.

          The problem is, that isn’t what Nebuchadnezzar himself said.  Daniel had just interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar, where God had warned Nebuchadnezzar not to be prideful, to repent, to turn away from sins, including idolatry.  Stop making these idols – listen to Daniel, listen to the wise Israelites and worship the True God.  In fact, Daniel says to Nebuchadnezzar, “Therefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.”  There it is King – God is willing and content to use you as His own servant – but be a servant to God.  Repent, do what is good and righteous, show mercy, and be content and rejoice in the abundant bounty which God will provide for you – for you know His power.

          But Nebuchadnezzar didn’t listen.  ‘All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar.  At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”’  Well, not quite the proper lesson.  Kings walking on their rooftops seems to lead to bad things – it lead to David having an affair with Bathsheba, and it stokes Nebuchadnezzar’s pride.  Because there he is, literally on the top of the world – on the top of the tallest building in the great city, and his ego gets the best of him.  Is this not the great city that *I* have built by *my* mighty power to show forth *my* majesty.  Me, me, me.  Even as Daniel is warning him to repent, to simply be a glad and well provided for servant, Nebuchadnezzar goes in the exact opposite direction – he runs straight into pride.

          Now, let us pause for a bit and consider our own lives.  We may not be kings living in a palace, but consider. Nebuchadnezzar was certain that Babylon was the greatest city in the world – do we not gladly say that we live in the greatest country in the world?  While we are not kings, do we not have houses that would be the envy of billions, and not merely enough food on our tables but fantastic options for food and leisure and entertainment?  We have success in our jobs, respect, and power – not the power of a king, but still more than most people in the world. And can we not ourselves be tempted to think that this is because of our talents, our hard work, how good we are?  Are we not tempted to take pride in our homes, our authority, our power? 

          The Lord responds to Nebuchadnezzar’s pride in a dramatic fashion.   “While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.””  How do you like them apples?  Do you pride in your power and your plans – then I will make you unable to plan and I will cut off your power.  You don’t get to be a king when you are crazy and think that you are a cow.  “Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws.”  And it happens.  For quite some time.  His hair grows wild and his fingernails get on and untrimmed.  The man who thought that he was the best of men stops even acting like a man, becomes little more than a wild beast.

          The proud man is humbled.  And again, this is to be a warning to us.  God humbles the proud.  The mighty and arrogant He brings down.  This is a theme repeated over and over throughout the Old Testament, it is part of the Magnificat – the poor He has fed but the rich He has sent empty away.  And it is something that we ourselves should be mindful of.  How easily, how carelessly, how thoughtlessly can we here in America be tempted to be arrogant and dismissive of God – even us here, even we who attend Church and should know better?  How often have we seen people get their comeuppance, seen the powerful fall?  This is not reason for us to gloat – it is a reason for us to repent, lest the same befall us!

          Of course, Nebuchadnezzar’s story doesn’t end there.  While we don’t normally think of him as such – Nebuchadnezzer ends up contributing to the Scriptures, ends up being an author in part of the bible.  Listen.  
 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,  and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?”36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.  Nebuchadnezzar is restored by God. God gives his reason back to Him, and Nebuchadnezzar knows that he is established by God, and that God added more greatness to him.  Do you see now how in his repentance, Nebuchadnezzar is content to confess the greatness of God and simply receive from God the blessings that God deigns to give?  The praise he writes, if not as poetic as the Psalms, is as high as anything David writes.
          Martin Luther observed at the very start of the Reformation that our lives as Christians are to be ones of repentance – and Nebuchadnezzar here tells us what a life of repentance is.  We do not lift our eyes upon our own greatness – rather we look to the Lord.  We do not trust our own strength – we extol God’s strength.  We know above all things, we remember at all times that His works are right and that His ways are just.  But again, dear friends, remember that this confession says more than just that God is okay, God is good.  It says that God’s works are right – that is, they are righteous, they deal with righteousness.  His ways are just, they lead to justification.  We are to keep our eyes focused upon God because He is the One who provides righteousness for us by the saving work of Christ Jesus, He is the one who has baptized us and placed us in Christ Jesus, the very Way, the Truth, the Life – He who is our justification.  The same God who will humble the proud is the same God who will take the lowly and humble sinner, and by the power of the Word of the Gospel forgives them and elevates them, gives them heaven, makes them co-heirs of eternal life with Christ Jesus.  This is why God desires you to be repentant – for His delight is not in your condemnation or punishment, but His delight is in restoring you, in blessing you, in forgiving you and giving you all and every blessing.  His mercies endure forever – and He would not want anything, not even your pride, to keep you from seeing this mercy, to make you overlook this mercy.  God grant that by the power of His Word and Spirit we turn away from our pride and rather  always behold Christ Jesus and His great love for us.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +