Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Must vs. Can

All too often see seek to find out whether or not we *can* speak, whether or not we *can* admonish.  Can I rightly complain about what that person over there has done.  Is it "public" enough for me to complain about it publicly?  Can I unload on *him* because he is teaching false doctrine.  Can I speak, and still maintain a clean conscience?

That isn't the question we should be asking.  We should consider this: "Must I speak?"  That's the standard Paul sets in 1 Corinthians 9 - "For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!"  Am I compelled by God and my office to speak.

I am compelled to preach Christ and Him Crucified.
I am compelled to warn my flock and family of false doctrine.

I am also compelled by Christ to love my neighbor, to pray for my enemies, even the ones who persecute me.  I am compelled to strive to restore the erring in a spirit of gentleness.

These are all things I *must* do.  Can has nothing to do with it.

So, when you are going to speak, consider this.  Is it merely something you have found a "reason" that says that you can - or is it something you must, something that you have to speak upon.

The latter is the way of kindness and gentleness and love.  The former will let you cover-up and justify all sorts of sin. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Trinty 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – September 28th, 2014 – Matthew 6:24-34

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
Two masters, two powers contend for you, for you attention, for your life.  On the one hand, you have the world, with all its stuff.  You have power and might and money and fame – all of which are wrapped up into that wondrous Greek Word – Mammon.  That is one potential master – and mammon is a hard master.  If you have power – there’s always someone else who is gathering power and undercutting yours – so Mammon would have you strive more and more.  Or if your master is your might – if you enjoy being the big dog. . . age comes, and some young pup comes into his might, and your might is shattered.  Money – ah, yes, strive after more and more, work harder and harder – that’s what you must do for this master, that’s what must happen to serve money.  And what happens?  You work, you slave, and it is never enough.  There’s always more to be made, and even then what you have made slips through your fingers.  And fame, fame is fleeting – the famous folks of today become the jokes of tomorrow and are forgotten by next year.  Mammon will make you work, sweat, and toil, and give you nothing in return. 

There is another master – Your Lord Christ Jesus.  He is the One speaking to you today, calling out to you, teaching you with His most precious Word.  And He warns you away from the dangers of Mammon – do not serve mammon – for No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.  If you follow after mammon – if you lust and crave after power and wealth and strength – those thoughts will dominate your life, they will overwhelm you, they will control you, and they will fill you with emptiness.  Christ Jesus warns you against this – Mammon is a cruel master. 

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  So what is our Lord doing today, what is He teaching us?   Is this some sort of Law guilt trip – is Jesus standing there, wagging the finger, “You had better not be anxious, I don’t like anxious people?”  You know – I’m anxious more than I like to admit.  There are times when I do worry about money, or fame, or power or might, or any of these worldly things.  I see what I don’t have, I see what others have, I see doubt and fear in the future, and I become anxious.  Is Christ our Lord telling me that because I think, I feel these things I’m not really a Christian?  Is He going to say to me on the last day, “You were too anxious – get out of here you bum!”?  No.  Listen again to what our Lord says.

 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  Therefore – Jesus says you can’t have the two masters, therefore - I tell you.  Jesus tells you – and if Jesus is speaking to you, who is your master?  Christ Jesus is.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God is your master – and He tells you not to worry – not as a harsh command, but as a warning against the wiles and tricks of Mammon and the world, and as a comforting promise.  You see, the world loves to trick you, to tempt you, to drag your eyes off of God and onto itself.  Hear what our Lord says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”  Aren’t you more than just stuff, more than just Mammon?  Isn’t your life, your existence, more than just your next meal?  Of course it is – that’s a blessing meant to serve you, not rule over you.  Your body is more than just clothing.  Yet Mammon, yet stuff will try to draw your attention – and how will it do this?  By making you anxious.  Think about it – when you are anxious, what are you focused on?  Stuff.  Things.  Cash.  Fame.  What so and so thinks of me, what so and so said to what’s-his-face.  Isn’t your life more than that?  Of course it is, for you are a child of God, purchased and won by Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection – God Himself has said that you are so valuable that He Himself will suffer for your sake simply so you can be and exist forever – long after all this Mammon around us is broken and decayed and burned away in the fires of the last day you will live on eternally with Christ.  That’s your importance, that’s what you are really worth – that is how Your master Christ Jesus loves you.  

Yet when you are anxious, your fears try to tell you that Stuff is more important.  That’s what worry is – it’s simply Mammon trying to weasel itself back into a position of importance – anxiety is just an attention grab by the junk of this world to try and enslave you to misery and fear and hard labor in Mammon’s service.  So when Christ Jesus tells you not to be anxious, He is warning you that anxiousness is a sign that the world is trying to twist you, trying to enslave you – and you aren’t the world’s slave – you belong to Christ Jesus, He is your Master.

And He is a good Master.  “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.”  This is a beautiful promise from your Master.  He is good and kind and loving, and He will provide you with what you need now and what you need for eternity.  And then we get this long passage explaining this – “Look at the birds of the air: they neither reap nor sow nor put into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?”  Or the grass of the field, adorned most beautifully.  God cares for them – and you know that He cares for you much more, for you are of more value than them.  How do you know?  Did the Father say, “Jesus, we need to win salvation for the ducks – therefore, go, become a duck, born of a virgin duck.”  No – who for us men and for our salvation – God does this all for you – that is your value, your value to Him.  And He will care for you – This is a promise – God will provide for you now, and He will see you through your days of this life and see you safely unto Your heavenly home – and you can take it to the bank.  No fear, not worry, no lack, no illness, no sign of age, no struggle, no hardship you face in this life can change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, and that He gives you eternal life.

And this is why your Lord says to you, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  We know this verse – we probably could sing a little song right now where it uses the old fashioned ye – seek ye first.  Familiar verse.  But what is our Lord saying to us here?  Well first, let’s consider what our Lord means by the Kingdom of God.  We shouldn’t merely think of a kingdom as a place – that’s how we in English tend to think – the Kingdom of Denmark is a place, a country.  But the Greek Word here has a different focus – a Kingdom is Greek isn’t primarily lines on a map – a kingdom is wherever the King reigns.  Wherever the King is and rules, there His Kingdom is.  And so, our Lord says to you –seek the Kingdom of God - look for where I, Christ Jesus, am reigning.  Why?  Well, where Christ is reigning, where He is ruling – there He is your Master, and you are free from the fears and anxieties of Mammon.  So you are to seek the place where Christ reigns – you are to seek Christ’s righteousness.

Where does Christ Jesus demonstrate His power – where does Christ Jesus take His righteousness, His perfect and holy life and blood, and pour it upon you?  In His Word and in His Sacraments.  Wherever the Word of God, wherever His Gospel is proclaimed – there Christ Jesus is present to be your righteous and powerful king, declaring you forgiven.  Wherever there is one who has been baptized, wherever one has been washed in the Blood of the Lamb, there Christ Jesus dwells, filling with forgiveness and life.  Wherever Christians are gathered around the life giving Body and Blood of Christ Jesus, there our Lord shakes the powers and very gates of Hell itself with His forgiveness, with His life, and with His salvation.  Whenever you seek Christ’s righteousness, His forgiveness for you – the powers of sin, of death, of the Devil, of the world, of Mammon are broken, and you are freed from them.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  Of course all things will be added unto you, for Christ Jesus, Your Lord and Master, has risen from the dead, and you shall follow your Master and be raised to everlasting life.  This is your promise, your inheritance, your possession – all the joys of heaven, all the joys of the new earth, the new creation that is to come, all these are yours right now.  They have been added unto you.  Again, this promise, this truth cannot be shaken, cannot be destroyed by the world.  It’s as Luther would have us sing in a Mighty Fortress – and take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife – though these all be gone, our victory has been won. . . the Kingdom ours remaineth.  Christ Jesus is your Lord and Master, and He loves you, and whatever you see in this sinful, messy and messed up world, He still reigns, reigns not only in heaven, not only in the world to come, but right now, reigns in your life by forgiving you, wiping away your sin, giving you strength and courage to endure in the face of all the junk in this world.  God His children ne’er forsaketh.

And so my dear friends in Christ Jesus, when you are oppressed by the world, this desert drear, and Mammon comes creeping around your door, trying to stir up covetousness and then anxiety – remember the promises our Lord Christ Jesus has made for you.  You need not worry about these things, you need not run after them.  Your care is in His hands now – and He will preserve you throughout your days in this fallen, broken world until the last day when you shall rise to new life and enjoy the fullness of the new heavens and the new earth, with joys added unto you that you cannot even conceive of or understand.  And why can you be sure of this – because Christ Jesus has risen from the dead, won your forgiveness, reigns and rules from the right hand of God the Father right now, grants you His mercy in His Word, in Baptism, in His Supper, and He shall come again to give you the gift of the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting – this is His Kingdom, and of His Kingdom there is no end.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Read the Law

How do you read the Law?  When you look at the Law, are you looking for good advice?  For the list of things that God wants you to do so that if you do these you know that they are okay?  Well - that's one way... the Pharasaical way of reading the Law.  It has a long history and is always popular with the Old Adam -- it makes the law doable and keeps it some what safe.

But that's not how we as Lutherans have been taught to read the Law.  This goes back to Confirmation Lesson number 1:

What is the first commandment?
You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?
We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Have you thought on the implications of the "what does this mean" actually entails?  That pattern of "we should fear and love God..." plays out through the rest of the commandments - and this is something that ought to consider.  It is Luther teaching us how to read the Law.  When we come across a simple command (or even statement of truth), our first thought should not be whether or not we *do* it, but rather... what things do we fear that would hinder us from this?  What things do we have a twisted "love" for that would lead us away from this?  What do we put our "trust" in rather than God and His love and mercy for us?

This is what Luther does the rest of the commandments.  They are all viewed not through a lens of "how do I accomplish this" or "why is this a good" or "what is the virtue here" - but rather fear and love.  What fears, what false loves pull me away from what God has created me to be.

The assumption for Luther is not that if we study the Law enough we will obtain virtue.  The assumption for Luther is not to see whether or not we will improve in our living.  The assumption for Luther is not that if we just exercise enough discipline we will overcome these base struggles.

No, the assumption for Luther is that Satan will always be attacking you - attacking you with twisted fear and with a twisted love that seek to distract you from God.  Always.  That's not something you no longer ponder once you have mastered virtue; that's not something you out grow; that's not something you beat out of yourself (because Luther tried).  That is the struggle you face until Christ Himself rescues you from this vale of tears, from this body of death.

How do you read the Law?  You read it remembering that it shows you what you'd rather fear, or love, or trust in rather than.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

St. Matthew's Day Sermon (and 1500th Post)

The Feast of St. Matthew – September 21st, 2014 – Matthew 9:9-13

 In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          So, here in our Gospel text we get to see the call of Matthew.  It’s one verse – As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow me.”  And he rose and followed Him.  Seems quite simple – Jesus walks by and summons Matthew to follow Him.  But do we really pause and see what is going on?  Matthew is there – he’s working a tax booth.  He’s got a good, well paying job.  He’s probably got everything that a person could want in this life – a big house, wealth, good food.  Luke records for us that this dinner that takes up the rest of the text is actually hosted by Matthew.  And yet – when Christ calls him, Matthew simply and willingly leaves that behind.  There would be no more wealth coming from the cushy government job.  The house would be abandoned in order to follow Jesus around wherever he went, and Matthew is given over to a life of teaching and proclaiming Christ, whatever the cost to himself.

          When we look at Matthew, we should be impressed and humbled.  When Christ commanded Matthew to follow Him, it meant that Matthew had to give up all that he had, all that he was.  And Matthew goes.  No fuss, no bluster – simply, “he rose and followed Him.  Now, ponder this.  We too, have been called to follow Jesus – all Christians are to take up their cross and follow their Lord.  Our lives are not our own – rather we live as God’s servants until He calls us home.  We all indeed have things that we give up or forgo as Christians – but don’t they pale in comparison to what Matthew is called to, the burden the Lord places upon him?  How many of you here have had to leave everything to follow Christ – how many have had to give up family and friends, leave your job, your home to serve Christ?  Tradition even holds that Matthew died a martyr’s death – that following Christ for Matthew meant torture and death.  Do any of us reasonably expect to face that in our following of Christ? Yet how often do we grouse and grumble about the simple things that we as Christians who follow our Lord are to do?  Daily devotions and study of Scripture seem a burden.  Coming to Church is often less appealing than finding something more entertaining – to say nothing of coming to bible study.  Our Lord’s command to love the neighbor can fly out the window when that neighbor is difficult.  Whereas Christ demands of Matthew that he give up all, Christ lets you serve, lets you follow Him right where you are – and yet – how often do we ignore or push aside or complain about the simple things we are given to do?  The call of Matthew, the fact that he willingly gets up and goes, leaves his home and a life of luxury behind should humble us – and encourage us pay attention to how we are supposed to be serving Christ even in our own life.
          However, on that day when our Lord called Matthew – the Pharisees were not impressed – not impressed with Matthew, and not impressed with our Lord’s decision to have Matthew follow Him.  And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples.  And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  So, not only does Jesus end up calling Matthew, but He sits down and eats with sinners and other tax collectors.  You have to remember that there was a rather large hatred towards tax collectors – I’m sure we’d give someone who worked for the IRS today a bit of grief over their job, especially every April.  But it was worse in Jesus’ day than just taxes.  Imagine the US was conquered by a foreign government, and then that government, Russia, China, whoever, sent tax collectors who would take your stuff, often demand bribes, and just all around bilk you.  That’s what the situation was in Jesus’ day – and that’s who this Matthew is that Jesus calls – even if Matthew were an honest tax collector, he was a sell out to the Romans, taking good, hard earned money away from Jews and giving it to Pagans.  And then, to eat with sinners?  To actually talk to “bad” people.  Jesus must be out of His mind!

          But note what the Pharisees do.  They don’t talk to Jesus – they bad mouth Him to His disciples.  Eh, your “teacher” seems pretty dumb to us – look at what He’s doing.  It’s sneaky, it’s rude, it’s tricksy.  They are definitely not putting the best construction on things or explaining things in the kindest way – rather, they complain behind Jesus’ back.  Nasty business, that.
But, at any rate, their snide comments get around to Jesus.  So. . . what will Jesus do?  How will He respond to these complaints about Himself?  Will He defend Himself?  “I’ve done nothing wrong here!”  Will He defend Matthew?  “Hey, this Matthew is a fine, up-standing citizen, don’t besmirch him.”  Will He chastise the Pharisees – “if you have a problem with Me, come to Me, don’t pick on my students!”  No, what Jesus says is something that is interesting and wonderful.  But when He heard it, He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”  Why am I here – why would I eat with sinners?  Precisely because they are sinners and need Me, need My teaching, need My preaching, and most of all, need My forgiveness.  And note how blunt Jesus is – yeah, these folks are sinners, they need help, and they were humble enough to know it.  Even virtuous Matthew, who by rights could make us blush – just another sinner in need of Christ’s healing.  And Matthew even writes it down – how do we meet Matthew?  We meet him as a sinner – but Matthew isn’t ashamed of that – for Matthew is a sinner whom has been healed by the Great Physician, Christ Jesus.  Do you see what Jesus is teaching with this – that while your sin may be great – the God who cures you and heals you of that sin by His death upon the Cross is greater.

In fact, Jesus spells it out in more detail.  He says to the Pharisees, Go and learn what this means – ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’  Jesus quotes Hosea at them.  You Pharisees should have known what I’d be doing here – because what does God desire – God desires to show mercy, to show love.  God is more pleased showing mercy to a sinner than listening to you bleat on about how wonderful you are and all the sacrifices you offer up, how hard you work for God.  And this is something we need to remember.  God desires to be a merciful God.  God loves mercy, God loves showing mercy – so the fact that you have sinned, God handles that – He gladly shows mercy.  If anything, what upsets God more than sinning is when you downplay forgiveness, when you brush off His mercy – when you would rather toot your own horn than focus on His mercy.  As Christians, you are to do bad things, and you should always strive to do better – but the Christian faith isn’t about what you do – it is about the Mercy God shows you because of and through Christ’s death upon the Cross.  And this is what we are to learn – it is what Matthew learned as one of Christ’s disciples, and it is the heart of what we learn today – so that we don’t become like these backbiting Pharisees complaining about everyone else and puffing ourselves up with vain works.  God is merciful – and He desires to show you mercy.  Confess your sin and receive that mercy.

And friends – this isn’t an optional part of being a Christian.  To be a Christian, to be in relationship with God is nothing less than to receive His mercy.  Our Lord says, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Who does Christ call?  He calls sinners.  Matthew is called – and his sins are forgiven, and Matthew learns and grows in the faith, and even writes Scripture.  Who else is called?  All those sinners there, called to repentance – called to receive God’s mercy.  And who is left out – the Pharisees, the ones who think that they are righteous – the ones who think that they aren’t sinners.  Christ calls them to the carpet – when you’ve realized your need for mercy and forgiveness, then you too will be welcome at the feast– but until then – there’s nothing here.  If you are smug, if you are self-righteous – there is nothing here in this place for you.  If you trust in your own works, that you are just such a wonderful Christian – what good would preaching of the Cross, preaching of forgiveness do you?  Until you know that you are sinner – God will have nothing to say to you other than a word of Law to show you your sin.

But you are a sinner, and you know that.  The temptation that we face, though, is to soft sell this, to water down this truth – well, sure, we’re all sinners – but so-and-so did this, and man are they bad!  No, let’s not beat around the bush  We are sinners.  Period.  But now see and understand what Matthew so desperately teaches throughout His Gospel.  See what Christ invites you to, what He calls you to.  He has called you to His house, to hear His healing Word of forgiveness preached to you.  He has called you into His family in the waters of Holy Baptism – this is not just a once in a while social visit – but you are called into His family now.  You, sinner, are called even to His Table, to His meal, His Supper, to receive His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  This is what we all have in common – we are all sinners called to receive together Christ’s life giving and forgiveness giving Supper – called to be healed of our sin by the Supper of the Great Physician – called to be given His strength.  And this is what our Lord shall continue to do for you – whatever your station in life, your job, where you live – even if you don’t get to be an Apostle – Christ calls you to join in His holy feast with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
Dear friends in Christ – do not be afraid to strive against your sin – to strive every day to live as God has called you.  And when you fail – for when you set yourself to Christ’s standards, you will see your failures – remember that God desires mercy, and indeed He calls you, a sinner, to His house to shower that mercy upon you.  This is what God did for Matthew, it is what He does for each and every one of us.  God grant that we remember this all the days of our earthly life and remain faithful unto death.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified + Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Law isn't Pretty

I am a sinner.  Every moment.  Every day.  This is simple fact.

That means the Law isn't pretty.  It never is.  Because I am a sinner, and the Law will condemn me.  Every time.

This thought struck me this past Tuesday when listening to a Gerhard meditation upon the Holy Cross.  It was so visceral... and tied to me.  These wounds the Lord suffers - they are mine, they are what I deserve, what I by rights should have.

If you want to know what the Law looks like when it is unleashed upon a sinner, behold what the Law does to the One who took up upon Himself the sins of the world.  And died.

I need Christ the Crucified.  I need Christ Crucified for me.  And when I hear law, I need to hear real law.  Not some watered down "you-can-do-it" fake law.  I need the real law that drives me to Christ who suffered under that law in my place.  I need to be show my Savior, who fulfilled the Law in my place.

Don't try to make the Law pretty or palatable to me.  Let it be law... full, hard, strong law.  And then let the Gospel bring relief.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Paying Attention

So, I went to a meeting with other pastors today, and the day opened with Matins.  And there was a family with kids there.  And they sat right behind me.  And there were points, especially during the sermon, when they were loud.  Not just chatter and such - there were even bumps that made me wonder what super dense and tough material that kid's head must be made of.

So, what was this?  Turn around being fair play for my children who make their noise?  Cosmic Justice!  There, there you go Pastor Brown, don't you see what your kids are doing to everyone!

I noticed something.  I had to struggle a bit to pay attention.

Think on that.  I had to work in order to pay attention.  I was focused on paying attention.  My listening had to be active.

And you know what - what was a good thing.

See, so often when we go to Church, we don't have to really pay all that close attention.  It's easy.  The music is plenty loud, the microphone should make the voice loud and clear.  We can just kick back and relax... and not even really have to pay attention.

Is not really needing to pay attention in church a good thing?

I'll admit, my mind often wanders when I attend a service.  Or I'll fall into a critique of what is going on - hwo the sermon is crafted, how things are being done (I had even been doing that in the first 5 minutes of the service when the kids were quiet).  It's completely understandable - I am a professional, and when one professional sees another work, we look at the work.

And then the kids made noise.  And I couldn't sort of listen while going off into my own la-la land.  I had to work to pay attention.  I had to focus on the words my brother pastor was saying, or else I would miss them -- and know that I missed them.

I think I heard more of that sermon than I had heard in a long time.

So - what does this mean?

No, I'm not suggesting that we need more distractions or something like this.  But perhaps we should think about what it actually means to pay attention -- what effort we expect to (or ought to) put into paying attention. 

I was glad for the noisy kids today.  They were a blessing to me.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Holy Cross Day

Holy Cross Day – September 14th, 2014 – John 12:20-33

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          What do you expect to see?  When you look upon Christ Jesus, when you look at the Scriptures, what are your expectations?  This actually is one of the major themes of the Gospels – you have the famous passage in Matthew where Jesus, speaking of John the Baptist, asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?  What were you guys expecting when you went to hear John, what did you want to see?  And this comes up all the time with Jesus – do you want to see the prophet, the teacher, the preacher, the healer, maybe the glorious leader who will drive out the Romans and restore earthly power to Israel?  And so, in our Gospel text for today, we shouldn’t be surprised when we hear: “Now, among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  So these came to Phillip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’”  Greek converts, there in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, they want to see Jesus.  What are you hoping to see – and more importantly, what is Jesus going to show you?

          John 12 is a hinge chapter.  What we hear in this text from Jesus is His last public teaching before he is Crucified.  Once we get to chapter 13, we are in the upper room.  Chapters 13-17 are all conversations Jesus has with the disciples on Maundy Thursday, chapters 18-19 are our Lord’s Passion and death.  What we get in the Gospel lesson today is the last public teaching, the last public sermon Christ gives.  And these Greeks come, and they want to see Jesus.  And what does Jesus say?  “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.”  You are going to see the Son of Man in His glory – He will be glorified.  But even then, oh crowd, oh Greeks, oh people, what do you expect that to be?  Palm Sunday was just a few verses earlier, that was pretty spectacular – the Son of Man being glorified is going to top that?  It’s going to top the feeding of the 5000, it’s going to top the wedding at Cana and casting out demons?  It’s going to be an amazing show!

          No, not quite.  It’s going to be His death.  “Truly, truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  There’s the glory of Son of Man.  God Almighty, the very Word of God, becomes Man, takes on a human body, born of the Virgin Mary – and what is His glory?  To die.  To be buried.  Why?  Because He wants a harvest, a bountiful harvest, He wants to win salvation and redemption for the world – He wants win salvation for you – that is His glory, to redeem and restore you, and so He must die.  His glory is something beyond just this world with its pomp and circumstance and fleeting might – “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”  No, the here and now – the things you folks want to see the Son of Man do – that’s not the important thing.  The Son of Man is paving the way for everlasting and eternal life, and He will do so by dying.

          Indeed, it’s even how you and I prepare for glory.  “If anyone serves Me, He must follow Me; and where I am, there will My servant be also.  If anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”  You know, we will talk all the time about how we strive to follow Jesus – and then talk about all the things we do.  You heard what following Jesus here means?  It means dying.  I remember, when I first got to college the WWJD bracelets – the What Would Jesus Do bracelets were popular, and my roommate Tim gave the best response.  What would Jesus do?  He’d go to the Cross.  He’d suffer and die.  And we too are commanded to… take up our cross and follow Him.  And you know what?  This isn’t exactly the glory most people are expecting.  Frankly, it’s not the glory *we* expect often enough.  Slog on through this life and suffer and serve and then die – where’s the glory now?  Where’s the power and might now?  When do I get to rub the noses of my enemies in it, when do I get to prove how great I am?

          You don’t.  Is that disturbing?  Intimidating?  It ought to be – it was to Christ.  “Now My soul is troubled.  And what shall I say?  Father, save Me from this hour?  But for this purpose I have come to this hour.  Father, glorify Your Name.”  It’s hardship, it’s frightening, it’s difficult – especially if your expectations are sunshine and daisies.  Especially if you’ve been told that if you just work hard and do your best, everything will work out.  Ain’t none of us here who worked harder than Jesus; our best doesn’t come close to His, and yet what did He face?  Precisely what He had to in order to win your salvation.  The voice thunders from heaven, there is confusion.  What’s going on, people don’t get it.  We just wanted to see this Jesus fellow!  You wanted to see Jesus – you picked the right time, then!  “Now is the judgment of the world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”  What ought you expect to see when you look at Jesus?  Christ Jesus lifted up from the earth, hanging on a cross.

          When you were crucified, it was the most public of executions.  The most humiliating.  You became a billboard.  Think about it – you drive to Enid and you pass all those billboards – and why?  So you’ll see them, read them, learn from them.  When Rome crucified people, they were hung by the side of the road, up in the air, like a billboard, for everyone to see.  This is what you get when you mess with Rome.  This is what you get when you fight our authority.  It’s death for everyone to see.  And that is the way that Christ dies, and even now, 2000 years later our own eyes are drawn to the Cross to behold this wonder – Christ the Crucified.  God Himself, forsaking His power, not calling legions of angels to His side to smite His foes, but God Himself suffering.  Dying.  Taking most fully His place with you who are born sinful in a sinful world, you who were born to die.

          What do you expect to see?  To the thinking of the world, this death on the Cross seems foolish and unwise.  Paul calls it a stumbling block, an offense to the pious Jews – it’s an offense even to the Muslims today – to say that God would let a holy prophet die.  The Koran denies the Cross – says that Christ didn’t die there, but rather some look-a-like died in His place while Jesus looked on and laughed.  A stumbling block.  Paul calls it folly to the Greeks.  What good is it to give up on this world, with all his vaunted pleasures?  Live it up now!  What did you expect to see?  More signs, more wisdom and earthly advice, the secrets to gain more wealth and power and prosperity?  Nope.  None of that.  Rather this.  God’s power and might and glory, all wrapped up there upon the Cross.

          Think about this.  Death was punishment.  It was the wages of sin.  It was the terrible consequence of sin that separated man from God, that ruined God’s creation.  Death was not the way things were supposed to be.  After the fall, we could not follow the living God because we died.  That’s one of the major refrains of Genesis – And he died.  And he died.  And he died.  Death is what happens to sinners.  We are born, we suffer, we toil, and we die.  And yet, God does not want you to be separated from Him.  He doesn’t want you cut off from Him… and so what does He do?  Man can no long live as I live?  Alright, I will become Man, I will be born – and you will follow Me.  Behold, I am born, I suffer, and I die.  And I rise.  And you will follow Me.

          Because Christ Jesus goes to the Cross, because He suffers there and dies, He destroys death.  Rips death apart.  That’s what Easter is – death is undone, death isn’t what it used to be.  Jesus dies, Jesus rises – that’s the new pattern.  We die, we’re going to rise – that’s now just the way it is.  “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.”  Every single person, because of Christ, is going to be raised from the dead come the last day.  He will draw all people to Himself – some to the joys of salvation, some to judgment, but no, death is undone.  He will not abandon David to the grave, He will not leave His brothers and sisters in the ground… we will rise.  The old grey mare of death ain’t what she used to be, the sting of death is done away with. 

            But what does this mean for you?  How does this shape the way you see your own life?  The trials you face, the sorrow, the hardship?  Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.  And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people unto myself.”  Satan’s plan was simple.  Have people look anywhere and everywhere but at Christ the crucified.  Distractions, fears, torments, pleasures.  All of those.  But Christ Jesus breaks Satan’s power – He reshapes everything.  And more than that – Christ Jesus has taken you, and He has joined you unto Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism.  Do you not know that those of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death?  Receive the sign of the Cross upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you and one claimed by Christ the Crucified – and that is the reality of your life, of who you are.  You don’t belong to Satan.  You don’t belong to sin.  You don’t belong to the world.  You don’t belong to death.  Even as temptation and pleasures and passions and aches and pains tell you otherwise – you belong Christ.  He has claimed you.  And this is true not only for this hour on Sunday morning, but every moment of your life.  Christ has come, and now you follow Him, you can’t but help to – He has tied you unto Himself.

          What do you expect to see?  What our sinful flesh wanted to see isn’t important.  Through His Word and Spirit, God shows us something better, shows us what we need – and that is Christ and Him Crucified, lifted up upon the cross for our redemption and our rescue from sin, death, and the devil.  It is there, upon the Cross where everything happens, where you salvation is won.  Christ has suffered and died for you, so even the worst suffering and trials Satan throws your way, even death itself, now points you to Christ and His love for you.  God grant us His Holy Spirit so that we ever see Christ the Crucified for us!  In the Name of Christ the Crucified.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – September 7th, 2014 - Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          So, what is Jesus’ job?  What does He do?  That is one of the great questions of history.  Many religions will call Jesus a prophet – that’s what the Muslims call Him.  Many people will call Him a great teacher – that’s the respect He’s generally accorded by many non-Christians around the world.  And these are both true.  Jesus is a prophet – He predicts the destruction of Jerusalem, He speaks to the last day– that is prophetic.  Last week we heard Him teach on self-righteousness and His desire to show mercy.  But neither of these titles, prophet, teacher, really hit to the heart of what Christ Jesus is all about.  No, our Lord is a healer, as we see in our lesson today.

          Then He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.  And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.  The Decapolis was a gentile region, it was off far away from Jerusalem.  And note here what the people’s approach is to Jesus.  They don’t approach Him as a teacher, simply asking for wisdom.  They don’t approach Him like He’s merely a prophet and seek signs from Him.  No.  They bring a deaf mute, one who can’t hear, who can’t speak.  Now, bear in mind for a moment how horrid it would be to be a deaf mute 2000 years ago.  Today, we have an active deaf community.  There’s sign language – there’s an understanding that a mere disability like being deaf should be no hindrance to one participating fully in society.  Wasn’t like that in Jesus’ day.  To be deaf meant you could not hear, meant that people couldn’t communicate with you.  And only 10 percent of the population could read, so it’s not like people could simply write things out for you – even if you could read (and if you can’t hear, who would have taught you), most people couldn’t communicate with you that way.  And then you cannot speak – it’s not even as though you have lost your hearing but you still remember words, can still talk yourself – you would have been all but cut off from society.

          This is the person they bring to Jesus.  Behold this deaf mute, Jesus.  He’s in a sorry state.  Do something for Him.  We know who you are – you are the One who heals.  Heal Him.  And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.  This may actually be one of the most beautiful verses in all of scripture.  The poor guy probably doesn’t know what’s going on – he can’t hear, he can’t talk.  He’d be utterly confused.  It doesn’t even say that it was his friends that took him to Jesus, it may have simply been people saying, “Oh, look, it’s Jesus, quick, grab that deaf guy, maybe Jesus can do something for him.”  And Jesus pulls him aside, privately.  And Jesus puts His fingers in the guy’s ears – feel this, we are here to deal with your ears.  He spits, and then he grabs the guy’s tongue – see, we are here to deal with your tongue, with your ability to speak.  This is just such a wonderful demonstration of Christ’s personal care.  Our Lord deals with this man gently and lovingly, sees to it that he understands.

          And then our Lord heals him.  And looking up to heaven, He sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha”, that is “be opened.”  And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.  Again, the pantomime so the fellow could understand – ah, Jesus is looking to heaven and sighing a big sigh, He must be praying – and then – Jesus opens His mouth and speaks – and something wondrous happens.  The man hears.  The Word of Christ our Lord bores through the man’s deafness, and suddenly he can hear.  The Lord’s Word blasts through the block on this man’s tongue – freeing it, releasing it.  And the man can both hear and speak, and he is healed.

          Yes, indeed, our Lord is a great healer.  But why?  Why does our Lord come healing?  It’s not to garner praise and recognition – indeed, Jesus instructs them to not brag about the healing.  You see, there is a reason why Jesus is a healer – and that is because He is God Almighty, because He is the very Word of God Who created all things – and He has to heal things.  That’s who He is.  Consider this – why was that man deaf?  Ultimately, what was the reason that man was deaf?  He was a sinner in a sinful world, and in a sinful world things get broken, things don’t work right.  Bad stuff happens here.  And so, consider what Christ sees when He looks at this deaf man.  We would see someone who has gotten a rough break in life.  We would see something sad, maybe even tragic.  Christ sees sin messing with His world, with His creation.  And so, as the Word by Whom all things were made, He goes about fixing His creation.  He created the world, and when it gets messed up, by George He is going to fix it.  And how does He fix it?  Same way He made it – by the Word.  The Word of God goes forth, and suddenly there is something new.  First, there is deafness – which really isn’t a “thing”, but it’s a lack.  If you are deaf it means you cannot hear, it means the stuff that should be there to let you hear isn’t, or isn’t working.  First, there is a lack.  Then Christ speaks, and everything is full.  The exact same thing as what happened in Creation.  No light – Let there be light – oh look, there is light.  No hearing – be opened – oh look, there is hearing.  When we see Christ healing, when we see Christ restoring, we see Him doing the same thing that He has always done – create and preserve.

          But even then, we shouldn’t think of Christ’s healing as being limited just to things physical – for when our Lord made us, He made us to be both body and soul.  Indeed, calling Jesus a healer doesn’t always get the full picture, because when we think of healers we often think only of the Body – but Christ heals both body and soul – He saves us, He is our Savior.  Indeed – rather than just dealing with deafness, with the result of life in a sinful world, our Lord drives to the heart of the matter and deals with sin itself.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; Who, seeing that the world is plagued by sin, enters into that world, takes on a Human Body and becomes Man, so that He can handle sin, so that He can deal with it.  And He takes up sin, all sin, every sin, ours, your neighbor’s, everyone’s – and He carries it upon His shoulders to the Cross, and there upon the Cross He dies for it.  He swallows it up – that’s how Scripture describes it – does away with it.  Christ gets involved in the world to rescue it from the sin that has attacked and messed with it – sometimes in specific points like healing this deaf man, but ultimately in winning forgiveness for sins.

          So then, what does this mean for us?  Each and every one of us here is impacted by sin – and there’s many different ways we can talk about this, but let’s use the image of being deaf and mute.  Now, some of us have these actual physical issues – many of you have hearing aids, and even then, not so good.  Some [of us here] have speech impediments.  We see even in our own physical life the impacts of sin – and we look forward, as we say in the Creed, to the resurrection from the dead, when we are raised, when we are in perfected and glorified bodies – and we won’t need hearing aids anymore, we won’t have that blurred speech anymore.  There will be a restoration of Creation, our bodies recreated into what they should have been.

          But more than that, Christ our Lord is working healing, is working a new creation in us right now – and no, I’m not going to go all televangelist on you and call you down front and smack you upside the head and say, “Hey, you’re healed.”  No, I am talking here spiritually – Christ has already begun His work of recreation in you.  Spiritually, sin makes us deaf, sin makes us mute.  When we think according to sin, we don’t hear like we ought – we turn a deaf ear to the needs of our neighbor, we turn a deaf ear to their apologies and instead remain bound in anger.  When we think according to sin, we don’t speak like we ought – we do not speak words of love, we speak words of hatred and anger.  But Christ does not leave us in our sin, leave us in our spiritual deafness and muteness – rather this.  Just as He healed the deaf mute by His Word, so too Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word, and He says “I forgive you.”  And this really is the parallel, the connection we are supposed to make here.  Just as Christ heals the body, He also heals the soul through forgiveness – and if we all spoke Greek, this would be plain as day.  The word for “Be opened” is a word that deals with your mind being opened, with coming to understanding, with realizing, with thoughts through your thick skull.  When Christ speaks His Word, it sinks in, we are opened, we understand – we understand that we are sinners in need of forgiveness, we understand that He is our Savior who loves us.  When it the deaf man’s tongue is released – that is the same word for being forgiven.  Think on Matthew 18 – Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  The word for “released” and “loose” is the same word in Greek, exactly the same. We are forgiven by Christ’s Word, we are released from the bondage of sin, it isn’t tied to us anymore. We are set free, we are forgiven.

          This is what God has done for you, this is what Christ Jesus has won.  We are hounded by sin, we are hounded by the effects of sin.  Christ has dealt with it.  Our sin is paid for – behold, Christ has died.  Sin wrecks our bodies and we die – yet Christ has risen from the dead, and so we know that we shall too.  But this is not just a future promise, a future thing.  This very moment, Christ Jesus has forgiven you, He has opened your ears, opened your mind to His Word, so you can know God’s Will, can strive for it.  He has loosed you from sin, so you are free to love your neighbor, free to grow in love.  And when your sin pops up and gets in the way, as it does so often in this life, He forgives it, does away with it – says, “Here, take and eat, take and drink, receive my Body and Blood, the very medicine of immortality, the cure that gives Eternal life” – and receiving His Body and Blood we grow in love and faith – grow more and more like Him, until the day of the resurrection of the dead, when we will be like Him in full.  This is the love that Christ Jesus has shown, this is His healing that He is working upon you.  Now may Christ Jesus, who has begun this good work in you, keep and preserve you until He completes it upon the last day.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Gospel?

The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector always gives me a bit of mixed emotions.  On the one hand, it is my favorite of the parables.  It is the "Lutheran" Parable - it is Lutheranism in a nutshell.  It is "Salvation Unto Us Has Come" in parable form.  It's the first one I remember learning in Lutheran Day School - the simplest and most basic point of the Christian faith - we are forgiven by God on account of grace, not our works.

But on the other hand, it depresses me.  Why?  Because I see just how harshly it cuts across the grain of the church today (really, pretty much the church in all times, but hey, I live today).

The parable is such strong Gospel, but the problem is, we've become afraid of the Gospel.  We have to add caveats.  We want to add on extra stuff to keep us safe from the end - this man went down to his house justified.

But where were his obvious fruits of repentance!?
But where was his progress in sanctification!?
But how could the priest REALLY know he was sorry for his sins!?
But did he stop being a tax collector!?
But did he increase his giving to a tithe level!?

We are so afraid of the Gospel.  We are afraid of who might "accidentally" hear it when they aren't "supposed" to.  We want to see actions, we want to have something tangible to judge and compare (and line up our contempt) with... and the parable doesn't keep going - it doesn't leave us any latch to continue to judge or compare.  It just says that the tax collector is forgiven.

And the dude with all the works - he isn't.

The Gospel terrifies the Old Man because it leaves nothing for man, for the hearer to do.  It doesn't revolve around the hearer, it is not curved in upon man.  It simply forgives, freely, without any merit or worthiness in the one receiving.  And the Old Control Freak that would rather be God Himself is terrified of that.

But now, today - today is the day and age of the Old Adam.  The Liar has convinced us that in the face of the moral decline of society and the cultural abandonment of Christianity and the (re-)rise of militant Islam, the Gospel just won't cut it anymore.  We NEED to know who is good and who is bad and who is doing the stuff they are supposed to be doing - we need to know the villains of the piece... and the Gospel just gets rid of villains.  Shoot, it makes us love our enemies.

It makes us love those people destroying America, and possibly even ending up with them forgiven and with us for all eternity.

Eternity with a tax collector?  Surely you jest!  So let us thank God that we are not like all these crazy forces around us and talk about how we are growing and maturing and see all that we do, and did we not do great things in your name, Lord?

This man went down to his house justified rather than the other one.  God be merciful to me, the sinner!