Sunday, October 26, 2014

Reformation Day Sermon

Reformation Day Observed – October 26th, 2014 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus +
          What defines a Lutheran?  Here we are on Reformation Sunday, remembering how almost 500 years ago Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg – it’s a time for reflection, so what defines you?  What makes a Lutheran a Lutheran?  What makes this congregation different from all those other ones out there?  Is it merely that this is where your grandma and grandpa went?  Is it merely that you’ve got a lot of German blood in your veins and they used to do things here auf deutsch?  Or do you even think sometimes that you are a Lutheran because we Lutherans got it right, unlike all those other folks?  No.  None of that is what defines a Lutheran.  What shapes a Lutheran, what shapes you is this: you not only can be, but often are wrong, and you know it.  What shapes a Lutheran is the knowledge that we need to repent, that we need to be reformed and reshaped by God.

          Consider our text.  Here in the Gospel of John we have Jesus having a discussion with some pious Jews who believe in Him – and yet, there comes a hiccup.  So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him, “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  A great statement, a famous one – the truth will set you free.  And yet, the reaction of these folks is… off.  They answered Him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.  How is it that you say, ’You will become free’?”  And here the trouble comes in.  As a question – how did you define a Jew?  What made a Jew a Jew?  Too often they viewed things in terms of their birth – we are children of Abraham.  Sort of like saying “we’re good Germans”.  They viewed their family lineage with pride – same thing can happen today.  But they missed the point, they forgot who they were.  In fact, what they say here is utterly foolish.  What’s their complaint?  “We have never been enslaved to anyone!”  They forgot who they were.

          Think back to Exodus 20, where God gives the Ten Commandments at Sinai.  He doesn’t just start with the first commandment – rather this is what God says to the Jewish people: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  You shall have no other gods before Me.”  Who are you, Jewish people?  You’re the people that God rescued from slavery in Egypt – that’s how you are defined.  That’s your identity, that’s why you celebrate Passover.  You are the people whom God rescued… rescued from slavery in Egypt, rescued from the Philistines by the hand of judges and finally by David the King, rescued from exile in Babylon.  The Jewish people were constantly getting enslaved – in fact, even as they speak these defiant words to Jesus, they were basically conquered and enslaved to the Romans.  And they should have had no problem admitting they were enslaved – because they were the people of the God who frees the slaves, who rescues them.

          When Jesus brings up the idea of being set free, this isn’t anything new.  It’s all over the place in the scriptures, it’s one of the major themes of the Old Testament.  To “redeem” someone in the old testament was to buy them out of slavery and set them free.  For a Jew to say “we’ve never been slaves to anyone” is as idiotic and bizarre as an American on the 4th of July saying, “Independence?  Bah, we’ve never been under anyone’s thumb.”  It is utterly stupid – I would say it makes no sense… but it does.  Just a very sad sense.  The Jews there who were talking to Jesus forgot who they were in relation to God.  Rather than seeing themselves as poor people who often get into trouble but are rescued by God, they puffed themselves up, they elevated themselves.  We don’t need God, we don’t need this truth to set us free, because we are great and good and wonderful and don’t need any help from anyone, thank you very much.

          Jesus responds to them.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  No, you are slaves, you are slaves to sin.  And the same can be said of us.  I used to think when I was little that if I just tried hard enough, maybe I could go a whole day without sinning.  Yeah.  No, not going to happen.  Especially when you don’t define sin as just the big, gross bad stuff.  No, when we consider sin the way the Scriptures do, when we consider that we are to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect – and not just perfect in what we do, but perfect in thought, in word, as well as in deed.  No, every moment of every day, we are sinful, we are full of sin.  Even this morning, sitting here in Church – have we done this perfectly?  No, wondering minds, callous and cruel thoughts flittering in and out, distraction and disdain.  We see our sin.  We know that we are sinful.  And we know that this sin is something we will have to struggle and fight against our entire lives – that’s Thesis number 1 of the 95 – “When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said "Repent", He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

          That’s where we start.  The acknowledgement not just that we have happened to do some bad things (but we’re better now), not just that we sometimes sin; rather, we are sinful, full of it, and that as long as we live, every minute of every day, our entire lives, we need to repent.  That we, left to our own devices, are wrong.  We take sin, our sin seriously.  And that’s what shapes and defines Lutherans.  Our Roman friends – The Church is never wrong, when the Pope makes the official decree from the seat of Peter it cannot be wrong.  Or our Eastern Orthodox friends – when the bishops gather in council and agree, they can never be wrong.  Or the folks in the various protestant denominations who think that if they just keep growing in the Spirit they’ll stop sinning – It’s sad how often I’ll hear people say that they don’t sin anymore.  All a denial of reality, all a denial of the fundamental problem.  We poor, miserable sinners.  And we can’t fix it.

          “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”  We can’t fix it, but Christ Jesus can and does.  This too is part of your identity as a Lutheran – you are a sinner, but you are one who hears the Word of God, who strives to remain in the Word.  Why?  Because that Word makes us to know the Truth – and when we hear Jesus say “the Truth”, He’s not just talking about facts that are correct and accurate.  He’s not just talking about being able to win at bible trivia or what have you.  Just a few chapters later, Jesus says, “I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.”  Do you want, O Christian, to be set free from sin, do you want your sin forgiven, do you want everlasting life?  Then there is only One who can do that – and that is Christ the Crucified.  Christ Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, who sheds His Blood for you upon the Cross – He alone, Christ alone can set you free and free indeed.  But How does Christ set you free?  He, Christ Jesus, is the Truth - “If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”  The Holy Spirit takes the Word, the proclamation of Christ Jesus and His death and resurrection for you, and with that Word He makes you to know Christ, and He sets you free from sin.  It all happens by the Word of God.  Just as in the beginning all things are created by the Word of God, so too, in your life now, forgiveness and salvation and eternal life are given to you by the proclamation of Christ and Him Crucified, and we look no place else.  As Hebrews proclaims,  Let us fix our eyes upon Christ Jesus, “the founder and perfector of our faith.”  Christ Jesus, who starts it and finishes it, the Alpha and Omega as Revelation puts it, the beginning and the end, the all in all.  Everything drives to Christ.  The Word points us to Christ.

          And yet, again, so many care little for the Word of God, for the Word that points to Christ.  It’s what we just sang, “The Word they still shall let remain, nor any thanks have for it.”  People will ignore the Word, they will ignore Christ.  They will look to their traditions, or to their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own hearts – and sadly they often blame the Holy Spirit for the junk they spew forth.  So be it.  That’s the way things have gone since the fall – since we were first tempted away from the Word… “did God really say”?  But here is the reality for you.  God has come to you by His Word.  That Word has been preached and is being preached to you right now.  God took water and tied it to His Word of Truth and Life and washed you in it in His baptism.  He will take His Word and tie it to Bread and Wine and give you His own Body that was crucified and His own blood that was shed for you – and why?  Because He knows your sin, He knows your struggle, and He will not abandon you to sin and death.  Luther’s hymn continues, “He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit.”  He is with us now in this battle plain of life, this constant struggle against sin, with us by His Word, by His Sacraments, by the Spirit that makes us to hear and believe-  I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him – of course not, for everyone who sins is a slave to sin… but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened with His gifts of baptism and preaching and absolution and the Supper, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.  He is by our side, now, even in the midst of this fallen world.  And you know what – this world is hard and ugly, and we ourselves often act hard and ugly too.  We need not deny it, or pretend otherwise.  Why?  And take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife – though these all be gone – though everything in this life fall to pot, though we be shown to be the poorest and miserable of sinners – our victory has been won, been won by Christ Jesus.  The Kingdom ours remaineth.  When you abide, remain in Christ’s Word – there is nothing that can be done to you or by you or against you which changes this truth.  Christ Jesus is King, His Word is truth, He is Truth, and He says you are free and forgiven in Him.  The world, the devil, our sinful flesh always strive to distract us, to tempt us, to lead us away from this truth, but God in His mercy and the power of His Word and Spirit continually calls us to repentance, makes us to repent, dare I say reforms us.  That is what we celebrate this Reformation Day – that though we often are wrong, Christ Jesus is always right and pure and holy for us, and He is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  All glory be to God alone – in the Name of Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Trinity 18 sermon

Trinity 18 – Matthew 22:34-46 – October 19th, 2014

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord +
          Arrogance is one of the most dangerous things in the world.  Think on what you yourself have done when you've been arrogant, when you've been over confident.  Think on the times when you've been sure you were right, only to find out you were wrong – when you knew that you were better than the other person, only to have to eat humble pie.  One of my favorite lines from a movie deals with this – Your mouth's writing checks your body can’t cash.  Arrogance can leave a person in a world of hurt.

          The Pharisees approach Jesus with a spirit of arrogance today.  But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.  And one of them, a lawyer, asked a question to test Him.  The Pharisees and Sadducees didn't get along well – they were almost like two opposing political parties, two rival factions.  And so the Pharisees in Jerusalem hear that Jesus has just smacked down the Sadducees – and with arrogance they think, “Ah, well, where they've failed, we'll do better!  And we'll put this Jesus in His place!”  And so, they decide to test Jesus.  They ask a question – Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?  Trap question.  Trap question.  When you are asked to pull out one item, you are simply opening yourself up to criticism.  For example – if I were to ask which is more important, Baptism or the Lord's Supper – if I were to be mean and cruel, I could criticize you no matter what you said – by defending what you didn't pick.  Or if you are asked which of your children you love most – you can't answer that safely.  No answer will be a good one.  So this is the question that Jesus is asked.  The only thing is – He was addressed as Teacher.  If He's the Teacher, if He is this wise Rabbi, He should know the answer to such a simple question – so Jesus isn't allowed to not answer either.  It is such a delicate trap.

          So Jesus doesn't let them spring it.  He doesn't answer the question.  Which commandment?  He doesn't give a commandment – rather He explains what all the commandments mean.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love Your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”  Brilliant.  Alright – first I'll explain the great commandment – Love God.  Completely.  And just in case you might complain about ignoring the neighbor – the second one is like, is tied into it.  Love your neighbor.  And that's everything in the Law – everything else written in God's Law is just an expansion, and explanation of these two ideas.

          Love God, Love your neighbor.  Jesus kind of boils it down rather simply there, doesn't He?  Yet, we make it hard, quite often, don't we?  Love God, Love your neighbor.  There's one thing not on there that we wish were – Jesus doesn't say “Love your neighbor, if you want to.”  He doesn’t say, “What does your heart tell you?”  Love God, Love your neighbor.  And that, dear friends, is where the rubber meets the road in our lives.  Love God – but what about then times when God doesn't let everything in your life go as you planned?  Love God – but what about when you don't like the way things turn out?  Sometimes we don't want to love God because things didn't go our way.  Same thing with the neighbor.  Love your neighbor.  Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if it is easy.  Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor if they are nice and will love you back.  Jesus doesn't say love your neighbor after you've taken good care of everything you want.  Love your neighbor.

          Love God, Love your neighbor.  Simple.  Covers everything – every question of what you should or shouldn't do – all of those times you aren't sure what to do – ask yourself – how do I best show love to God and to my neighbor – and you'll see what you ought to do.  What you ought to do.  But the doing is hard.  The doing, doesn't get done.  The best laid plans of mice and men both wither away and crumble.  We are frail people – frail mentally and emotionally and spiritually and physically – and the simple fact is we don't always do what we know, what we know we ought.  Think on the times you've given advice – how often has it been the case where the person asking for your help knew what they needed to do – just didn't want to do it and were hoping you would give them an excuse not to?  That's the way we work.  We don't fulfill the Law – and while we are still in this life on earth – we're not going to.  Oh we are to strive to do so – we are to try to show love – in fact we are to support and encourage each other in showing love.  And there are times we do actually do this, but there's always more to do – and it's always more than I want to do.  And the Law always demands more and more – and we are left broken and beaten, tired and spent.

          Then, Jesus decides that He should ask the Pharisees a question.  It's not a trap – but rather, He's going to make them realize something.  Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ?  Whose son is he?”  They said to him, “The Son of David.”  He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him LORD saying, 'The LORD said to my Lord, sit here at my right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.'  If then David calls Him Lord, how is he his son?”  This is the question that Jesus asks of the Pharisees.  And we know the answer – He is David's Son according to the flesh, for He was born of the line and house of David – but He is David's Lord because He is God – the Messiah would be Emmanuel, God with Us – God in Human Flesh – so He is both David's Son and David's Lord.  We know and see that Christ is claiming to be both True God and True Man right here.

          Here's the thing, dear friends.  The Pharisees knew it too!  And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions.   The Pharisees knew their scripture.  The Pharisees knew the bible – and the idea that the Messiah would be God is no mystery.  Even Eve knew it!  When Cain is born – most translations drop the ball here – but when Cain is born Eve says - “I have gotten a man – the LORD”  Eve thinks she's given birth to God Himself – and well, we all know that Cain wasn't the messiah.  But Eve knew that God would be born from among her descendants, for that was the promise made in the garden of Eden.  That was the promise made to Abraham to bless all the world through His Seed – through the Messiah that would be a descendant of him.  All the prophets in pointing to the Messiah proclaim that He would be God visiting His people.

          And this is what Jesus points out to these Pharisees.  Who is the Messiah going to be?  He is going to be True God and True Man.  And the Pharisees knew it – and they knew that they were behaving horribly towards Jesus – they weren't loving their neighbor – and more than that – if this Jesus were truly the Messiah – then they were directly treating God Himself horribly!  And they are shocked into silence.  Some repent – Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimethea. Some conspire to put Him to death before He might do them any more embarrassment.  In fact, they even charge Jesus with blasphemy.

          So what do we learn from this all?  What is the difference between the Pharisees and Jesus?  Well, let's see.  Where is the Pharisees' focus?  The Law.  What I do.  What do I have to do, what about me, me, me?  Now, what is Christ's focus?  Let's look at the promises of God about the Messiah – let's focus on what God is going to do for you and how God is going to bless you.  That's the difference, that's what makes all the difference in the world.  You see, the Pharisees had a backwards approach.  Their focus was upon who they were, what they did, how they could impress God with all that they do.  You know, God is awfully hard to impress.  If I walk outside and throw a 70 mile an hour fastball I'm not going to impress a major league baseball player.  If I shoot 90 on a round of golf, that's not going to impress any professional golfer.  If I can't impress other people - how in the world is anything that I do going to impress God?  God says, “Let there be light” and there is!  Well, just You wait God until You see what I can do!  Yet that was the Pharisees' approach – they sought to impress God with their holiness.

          That's not the way that it works, dear friends.  Rather this – God comes to you, out of His great love and mercy He comes to you and gives you every blessing of both body and soul – indeed He gives you the forgiveness won by Christ Jesus upon the Cross in order to cover every lack that you have.  And then, in response – we show forth love.  Oh, we don't do so perfectly, we don't do so completely – we still sin – But God comes to us in love and fills us with His love, and that can't but help to spill out.  He is the vine and we are the branches – when He has drawn us to Himself we cannot help but bear good fruit.  Which is why Christ always seeks to draw your eyes to Him – why Jesus wants our focus to be upon His love for us and what He does for us.  When Peter sees Jesus – he walks on water.  When Peter looks elsewhere, he starts to sink.  Seeing Christ, seeing what He has done for us and freely given to us is to shape every aspect of our lives – from our earliest moments where we are but little children who have been brought to His house to the very moment of our death – where like St. Stephen we look up to heaven and behold the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God.  God's love predominates everything in our lives and shapes and molds our lives to where we are His instruments of love and service.  And when we err – when we become arrogant and proud in our sinful actions, when we become stubborn or cruel or lazy – what does God do?  He calls us to repentance and gives us forgiveness again and again – reshaping us – just like a chef sharpening a dull knife or the farmer fixing a busted piece of equipment – God makes us to be new people through His forgiveness.

          This is what Paul says to the Corinthians – I give thanks to my God always for you because of the Grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus. . . as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The same I say to you – for God has given you Grace and Mercy through Christ Jesus, and by the power of His Word and His Sacraments He sustains you – and so you wait, you wait for Christ to return, and in the mean time you be whom He has made you to be – His servants who live not to impress God, but simply to reflect His love to any and all who need it, as best you can, and who receive and rejoice in God's forgiveness for those moments where you fail.  God preserve and keep us in the One True Faith all of our days.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Trinity 17 sermon

Trinity 17 – Luke 14:1-11 – October 12th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          Think of the cruelest high school prank that you can think of.  I’m thinking of the stories you’ll hear about where the mean high school girls get the unpopular girl to run for Homecoming queen and mock her, or where the nerdy guy gets tricked into thinking the good looking girl is going to go on a date with him and it’s all a set up.  You know, one of those just crushing things that teens will do to each other, where hopes are raised and then dashed.  Our Gospel text shows us the 1st Century equivalent of that.  Both Jesus and this man with dropsy, which is a nasty, swelling disease, are invited to this party, this feast given by one of the top Pharisees, not so that they can rejoice in it, but to be the butt of the jokes and the chit chat and the accusations. 

          “One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him closely.  And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.”  Again, just a bit of culture to get the context here.  The Sabbath Diner was really the social event of the week – it was the time to network, to show that you were one of the good people.  Your status in society was defined by where you ate on the Sabbath.  And Jesus gets invited, but you know the fix is in, because they are “watching Him closely.”  What does it mean if the group of kids stop talking amongst themselves and start eyeballing you with wicked grins?  It means something is up.  And then – boom, there’s this fellow with dropsy there.  And this reads as being incredibly awkward.  That phrase “behold, there was” is the Greek way of saying that he shows up out of no where, that there’s no good reason for him to be there.  He sticks out like a sore thumb.  There they are – the two losers, Jesus and the guy with Dropsy, and the cool kid Pharisees are watching like vultures, ready to mock and deride.  This really is a nasty set up.

          So, what will Jesus do?  Will he come out guns blazing and just rip the Pharisees a new one?  Will He yell and shout?  Will He just shake His head and walk away?  No, He will show love and mercy, even to these despicable Pharisees.  “And Jesus responded to the Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?’  But they remained silent.  Then He healed him and sent him away.”  Jesus calls them on their trap.  You guys were all ready to start tittering and wagging your tongues, weren’t you?  If I healed the guy, you’d complain that I was breaking the Sabbath, if I didn’t, you’d mock what a terrible healer I was.  So, what do you want to see, how do you want your complaining to go.  Sort of deflates the mocking mood a bit.  And then Jesus heals the fellow and sends him away.  Go on, head home, be with people who will actually rejoice with you instead of these holier-than-thou jerks.  But Jesus, He doesn’t walk out.  He doesn’t just write off the Pharisees – instead He stays and teaches.

          “And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having an son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out?’  And they could not reply to these things.”  Sorry guys, I know you thought you had this cool catch-22 set up where you could make me stumble, but it’s simple.  If there is an emergency, you do stuff on Sabbath.  If it’s life or death, you act on Sabbath.  If your wife goes into labor on the Sabbath, you deliver the child.  We all know this – so why did you even think this was going to be a set up, why would you even think that Me healing would be something to mock when you yourselves would work for something much less dire?  Jesus deflates them, undercuts them.  They can’t answer; Jesus has left them speechless.

          So what happens next?  Do they decide that maybe they should seek to learn from Jesus, to gain more wisdom from Him?  No – they do what all the cool kids do when their plans mess up – they start to ignore Jesus.  Just pretend that He isn’t there, go back to business as usual.  “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…”  Do you see what is going on – the main event of the day fizzled, the prank on Jesus fell flat.  So, back to normal – let’s work on asserting our authority, seeing where we stand in the pecking order.  And you did that, your status within the party, that was shown by where you sat.  And suddenly, they are ignoring Jesus and just go back to jockeying for position at the table.  And so Jesus decides it is time to teach.

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.  But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’  Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.”   Understand what Jesus is doing here.  He’s not making up anything new – this is basically what we heard in Proverbs 25.  This is a lesson that every single one of these Pharisees would have known already.  The parable isn’t really giving new information, but reminding the Pharisees to remember the Scriptures.  You Pharisees pride yourself on being the best little Jews, but you don’t even remember the Scriptures!  You puff yourself up – no, don’t do that.  Be humble.  Not only be humble, but be humble students of the Scriptures, be learners – stop pretending that you are masters of anything.  Why?  “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  Pride goeth before a fall, you should know that.  And you know what – I don’t want you to be humbled, I don’t want you broken down – I don’t want to be sitting watching you get mocked.  I want you saved, redeemed, and forgiven.

There is an amazing theological point to this.  Yes, what Jesus describes here is the nature of sin.  Sin makes us want to exalt ourselves.  That was the temptation that suckered in Adam and Eve – you will be like God.  If that isn’t self exultation I don’t know what is.  And this is a temptation we all fight against.  We love to make ourselves look good, we love to make excuses when we’ve done something wrong and stupid so we don’t look as bad, we love to put on airs.  In other words, we love to lie, we love to lie about ourselves.  We are constantly tempted to live in pious denial of our sin, our failings, our weakness.  And that is the path of destruction.  No, Christ Jesus calls us away from that – be honest, be truthful.  You and I – when it boils down to it, what are we?  Poor, miserable sinners.  Worthy of punishment, temporal and eternal.  When Christ says that you are to humble yourself, He’s not telling you to take on false modesty – He is calling you to be honest about your own sinfulness.  We have already been brought low, we are humble – we need to just be truthful about it.

Now, there actually is only One who rightly humbles Himself – and that is Christ Jesus.  The old Te Deum from Matins has us sing “When You took upon Yourself to deliver man, You humbled Yourself to be born of a virgin.”  Christ humbles Himself.  Instead of sinners trying to elevate themselves to God, He comes down and sits with the sinners, joins in with us, even joins with us in death, and why?  So that He will be raised from the dead, so that He can raise us and say to us, “Friend, move up higher, be with Me for all eternity.”  This passage is driving at the wonders, the depths of Christ’s redemption, a truth that is proclaimed over and over throughout the Scriptures.  Christ Jesus comes to redeem sinners.

And the beauty of this text?  Jesus takes His time and proclaims this truth, this Gospel, even to those wretched, miserable Pharisees.  Even as they are plotting to mock Him, even as they want to toy with Him, even as they are going off on an ego trip, Jesus comes to them.  Of course He does; they’ve fallen into the well of sin, and He’s going to pull them out.  He sees them in their fallen state, and He wishes to call them up higher! The utter patience that Christ shows here is astonishing and marvelous.  And it is something you should take comfort in.

Let’s face it – if we are here in this Church, we are well and thoroughly tempted to act like the Pharisees.  We are tempted to pretend that our lives are going well, that everything is peaches and cream.  Put on our brave face, act like a “Good little Christian”.  That’s simply the reality.  American Christianity is awash in these Pharisacial attitudes – we Americans expect Christians to be the best people in society, the richest, the wealthiest, the best of the best with all our ducks in a row.  And we here get caught up in that, we play that game too.  We play it to our detriment, our pain, our suffering, our isolation.  We live with so much fear over what other people would think, what they would say.  As though sin should ever surprise any of us – we know better.  Yet, we keep falling into the same egotistical traps over and over, we keep trying to pretend that everything is hunky dory when it’s not.  But you know what – Christ Jesus is still patient with you, and He still deals with your gently and patiently.  And He forgives you all your sins.  He gently pulls you away from all this pride and arrogance and holier than thou BS, and He says to you, “Yes, you are sinner, we both know that, but I have died for you, I have washed you clean in the waters of Holy Baptism – you are mine, without blemish or spot or wrinkle, and I will have you with Me for eternity.” 

Dear friends in Christ – there is no one you need to impress, no one you need to be dominant over, no one you need to put in their place.  You don’t need to try to be one of the cool kids of the Christian world.  All these stresses the world puts upon you, that your sinful flesh puts upon you – they are all empty and shallow and aren’t worth anything.  You aren’t defined by how many people you can con into thinking you are awesome.  Rather, Christ Jesus defines you – Christ Jesus loves you and is patient with you, even when you get all high and mighty – and He will remind you with the Scriptures of who you are, He will show you your sin, but always so that He can then show you and remind you of His great love and salvation that He has won for you with His death and resurrection, because you are His, His own, His beloved.  God grant us strength to see and remember His great love for us!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Self-Improvement and Self-Acceptance vs. Forgiveness

In the popular psychology/spiritual world, it seems like there is a small battle or contest between two ideals, two approaches to handling and dealing with one's own self.  Self-improvement and self-acceptance.

I feel I really ought to back that statement up with cited evidence, but walk into your local bookstore (or browses the Kindle store) and look at the "self-help" section.  What do you see?  You'll see all sorts of books on ways to improve this or that aspect of your life, and then you'll see all sorts of books on ways just accept who you are.  This is the larger struggle we see culturally and politically - are we to be focus upon morals or tolerance?  Is the key to a better you, a better school, a better society making sure you behave better or making sure you simply accept who people are for what they are?

And this debate, this distinction has spilled on over into the Church at large.  Do I need to point to the folks who think that morality, self-improvement, progression in sanctification is the only way that the individual and the church will be saved?  Do I need to give examples of the Churches that play the "acceptance" card - where the only great sin is not being tolerant and welcoming, because tolerance and open arms is what will save the individual and the church?

Except both of these miss the point.

Neither Self-improvement nor self-acceptance is enough.  Even together in balance they don't fix things.  We need forgiveness.

Consider - if the "solution" is self-improvement... when is it done?  When is it over?  When have you improved enough?  And the answer is never - because it's a lie.  While we might be more outwardly disciplined, that doesn't mean there's been improvement.  Often it means we just hide our sin better - or even if we do objectively "improve" - sin is still there.  Go talk to an addict who has been sober for a while - sure, they are behaving better - but nothing is fixed.  No, this is a path of self-justification by works.. I'll just do better and more and everything will be alright.

Or consider acceptance.  It sounds like - but what good is it to accept something that is bad, that is harmful?  What good is it to pretend that everything is hunky-dory when everything is crashing around you.  This becomes another path of self-justification -- I am what God made me to be... it was the woman (um, I mean the body/mind/desires) You gave me God. 

There must be forgiveness.  There must be redemption won by Christ's death and resurrection, because neither improvement nor acceptance solves the problem of sin and death.  The wages of sin is death - you can't improve your way out of it, and if you merely accept it, you still die. 

And this shows us how the old Serpent works.  There is a grain of truth in the self-improvement game.  We ought to strive and struggle against our sin.  A Christian will.  There is a grain of truth in the acceptance game.  A Christian will accept the fact that he is a poor, miserable sinner, and not try to soft sell or deny that truth.  But we are tempted to stop there, to leave the focus there - to delight in our struggle, to delight in our tolerance and patience.  To keep the focus upon ourselves.

No, it is all about Christ - He is the One who struggled and suffered for us upon the Cross; He is the One who with His blood wins us forgiveness and makes us acceptable; He is the One who with His death destroys death and with His resurrection wins us life.  It always, ALWAYS has to drive to Christ.

Otherwise, what are you left with?  Just death, just the wages of sin, but a smugger, polished version.  Sinners in a sinful world that is messed up, but holier-than-thou and sanctimonious because we are "better" than you or because we are "more loving" than you.

I don't need to show that I am better or more loving... I need a Christ who is Perfect and who is Love for me; I need a Redeemer.

Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith!

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Trinity 16 Sermon

Trinity 16 – Luke 7:11-17 – October 5th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
          So what is the point of the Christian Church?  What’s the reason we here at Trinity/Zion exist – what are we all about?  When it boils down to it, what makes this place different from the rest of the world, what makes us stand out from every club or group, every philosophy, every aid organization on the planet?  Our text today.  Our text today, Jesus raising the Widow’s Son, shows clearly and precisely what this Church is about, what we are focused on, why we exist.  If you want to understand what it is to be a Christian, you ought to look and learn and understand this text.  So let us look.

          “Soon afterward [Jesus] went to a town called Nain, and His disciples and a great crowd went with Him.”  First off, this verse is the very description of what the Church is.  There you have Jesus – He is the center and focus.  And who is with Him?  The disciples, the ones He is training to be Apostles, training to be pastors.  Who else – the great crowds, the hearers, the laity.  That’s the Church.  The classic idea of what a Church was had nothing to do with property or constitutions – it was simply this.  Do you have someone preaching Christ, and do you have people hearing the preaching of Christ?  And what do we in the Church today do?  Whether you’ve been charged with teaching and preaching Christ as I have, or whether you’re one of the hearers, either way, we follow Christ – we go where He goes, we study His Word and listen to Him.

          But why do we listen to Christ?  What are we hoping to hear, what are we hoping to see our Lord do?  You’ll get a lot of different answers – especially if you watch the TV commercials for Churches, if you look at the billboards.  Some places offer acceptance and welcome – which is good, or at least can be good, I suppose.  There are some things we aren’t supposed to accept because they are bad for us, please don’t accept poison this week, physical or spiritual poison, but acceptance is something that other places offer.  Some places offer fun and excitement – again, not necessarily a bad thing.  But sometimes fun isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and sometimes we get more excitement than we want.  And of course, sometimes you hear that you ought to go to a specific Church because it is the big, important church, the rich church, the one where you can meet the best people, make the best connections.  Again, networking isn’t bad. . . it just isn’t the point.  Nor are the groups and programs a parish can offer – good things, but not the main point.  No, if you want to know why the Church follows Christ, listen.

          “As He drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.”  As Jesus and the Church approach Nain, what do they see?  A funeral procession.  Death.  A man lying cold and unbreathing upon a funeral bier.  A mother burying her only son.  A mother who is going to be condemned to a lifetime of begging because her son was the person who took care of her, the only one left in her life.  It’s a horrible scene, a tragedy, heartbreaking.  There are fewer things that they could have come across that would have been more sad, more pity-inspiring than this.  Not only is there death, but even then the normal order of things in this fallen world is reversed – the parent buries the child – it’s backwards.

          This funeral procession is the picture of sin.  Do you want to know what sin is – what sin means, what your sin means?  Look at this funeral procession.  Your sin turns everything upside down.  You were created to live loving your neighbor, yet you sin, and you hate, you harm, you hurt, you ignore your neighbor.  Instead of being a blessing to them, you curse and swear at and about them when they annoy you.  You curse them with your words, with your thoughts, with what you do and what you leave undone.  Utterly backwards from what God had created His world to be.  And sin unleashes havoc and chaos upon creation, and nothing holds together.  God had created man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. . . now things are backwards because of sin.  Of course they are – sin turns everything on its head.  Now, the breath of life leaves our bodies, and then they fall apart into dust again.  Sin turns everything upside down.  And please understand – I’m not simply talking about “big” sins.  Get rid of any sort of comparison, any sort of “well, I’m not perfect, but so and so is really bad.”  Yeah – so what?  Even if it is true, and it probably isn’t, the wages of both of your sin is still death.  It makes no difference to you – sin is sin is sin.  It kills you, destroys you, turns your life inside out, and if someone else’s sin is more spectacular than yours, that doesn’t mean your sin is good.  Don’t let Satan trick you into minimizing the impact of sin – the wages of sin is death.
          “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’”  Think how bold our Lord is here.  Walks up to a woman at a funeral who doesn’t know Him from Adam and says to her, “Do not weep.”  Of all the people there, she would have the reason to weep!  Her life is in shambles.  But Jesus can walk up to her and say, “Do not weep,” because He has compassion upon her.  Now then – this is what the Church is looking for.  This is why we follow Jesus.  Because He has compassion upon those whose lives are in shambles.  So, what about your life?  Everything going perfectly well?  And don’t think in terms of “Oh, how are you – oh, I’m fine, what about you”.  How about it?  See any shambles in your life lately?  If not it’s simply because you’ve got your head in the sand.  We in the Church are honest about the problems we face in life – and while programs and networking might alleviate some of the problems – they don’t fix them. While fun can help us forget our troubles, while acceptance can help us pretend they don’t exist – they don’t fix them.  But here we see Jesus, and He has compassion, and because He has compassion, He is bound to help – and He, He is the one who can fix things, fix things for this shattered family in Nain, fix things for us gathered around Him in the Church.

          “Then He came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still.  And He said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.”  Jesus does the unthinkable.  He gets in the way of death.  He walks up and touches the bier – and again, for a moment, think like a 1st Century Jew.  To touch the bier, the open-air casket, was the height of uncleanliness.  You basically wouldn’t be able to hang out around anyone for a few days after this.  You didn’t do it – if you were a good Jew, you didn’t mess with dead bodies.  And yet Jesus just strides on up – touches this man’s bier – speaks a Word of life to him, and this young man rises.  And that’s what the Church wanted, needed to see.  Christ Jesus raises this man to life.

          You realize that this miracle, this raising of this one specific son, points forward to the greater miracle, do you not?  Our Lord Jesus Christ isn’t astonishing in that He merely touches caskets – but when He wants to stop death, stop the funeral procession of the entire world in its tracks, He does so fully and completely.  He goes to the Cross – and by dying there it is as though He tackles death, drives death to the ground as He is carried Himself on His own bier to His own tomb.  The crucifixion is where Christ Jesus takes death on and drives it down into the ground with His own death.  And then, on the third day, on Easter Morning – Christ stands up, and Death remains defeated and broken, lying in the dust, never more to arise.

          This, dear friends, is what the Church is.  This is why we exist, why we are gathered here this morning instead of sleeping in our beds or hanging out reading the paper.  Because we know our own sin, and we know that this sin turns everything upset down, and we know that our sin brings death.  But we are gathered here around Christ Jesus, who was crucified so that He might take on death for you, that He might slay and defeat death for you, and who rises to life victorious for you.  This is what the Church offers.  Life.  And not just a better life now, not just the trappings of wealth – that’s not life.  Your life isn’t your stuff, your job, your brief span here in this fallen world – you were created to live eternally.  Adam was made to live forever. . . and sin, his sin, our sin, would thwart that, would ruin that.  But Christ Jesus steps in, and He dies to defeat death, and He rises to life to give you life.  Because Jesus is raised from the dead, you will live forever.  Everyone, every man, woman, and child on this planet, that ever has been or ever will be will be raised on the last day – some to paradise, some to judgment.  And the wondrous thing is that Christ has called you to follow Him, to be gathered around His Word, to be joined to Him by Baptism, to be strengthened and kept a part of His Body by receiving His own Body and Blood in the Supper – and why?  So that your life everlasting will be with Him, in the joys of the new heavens and the new earth – so that you will be with Him forever more.  So that you will always have life, and have life in abundance – a glimpse, a taste of it now, but forever in fullness with Christ, at His side in the New Heavens and the New Earth.

          This, dear friends, is why we are here.  We are those who are gathered around Christ Jesus, and we are focused on the life that He gives to us with His death and resurrection.  He has forgiven your sins, shed His blood for you and risen from the dead for you, and He brings you with Him to the joys of eternal life.  Here in His Church, we look at Christ, we receive His gifts of His Word and His most precious and Holy Body and Blood, and because of this, we confess with the Church of all time – I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  This is yours in Christ.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +