Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent 1 Sermon

Lent 1 – February 22nd, 2015 – Matthew 4

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

          It sounds really strange to say, but I love Lent.  No, this isn’t because I love fasting or self-denial or any of the things that we may end up doing in Lent.  I love what Lent is right there in that Lectern, what Lent is in this pulpit.  While so often we think of the season of Lent as the season of *our* repentance, *our* giving something up – something else takes the focus on Sunday mornings.  Lent is the season where Jesus Christ, your Lord and Savior, takes the battle to Satan.  Throughout these next six weeks we will see Jesus systematically destroy and break Satan’s power and authority.  There’s a reason why a Mighty Fortress is the Hymn of the Day for the first Sunday in Lent – because what we see this whole season is “But for us fights the Valiant One, Whom God Himself elected.”  It’s why in a few weeks we’ll end the 5th Sunday in Lent singing “Sing My Tongue the Glorious Battle.”  In Lent we see that war is declared, and battle come down, that as the head of the Serpent was prophesized to be crushed, so it is.

          And it begins in a desert.  “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.”  Given how little rain and snow we’ve gotten, we don’t like any mention of desert.  But for the Jewish folks, the desert, the wilderness beyond the Jordan – that was a place they hated, they feared.  That was the place they suffered for 40 years when they disobeyed God and Moses.  It was the reminder of the fall – The Garden in which God had put Adam and Eve was off yonder east – now become a desert with scorching heat and wild, feral beasts.  The wilderness was the place of sin and punishment and death.  The Wilderness was the emblem of all of Satan’s power – it was Satan’s domain.  And Jesus, in the previous verses, has just been Baptized, has just taken His place with us fallen men.  And so, there He goes – right away.  God sends His army of One off into the wilderness, the place where so many men and women had fallen dead, where even Moses died – off to do battle against Satan.  And Jesus fasts, and is weakened.

          “And the Tempter came and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”  Of course the Tempter comes – that is what Satan does.  He tempted Adam and Eve – of course he will tempt Christ Jesus, the New Adam.  And in the Garden, the temptation was to get Adam and Eve to try to usurp God’s place.  Eat this fruit and you will be “like God”.  Don’t be content to be God’s creation, don’t be content to receive blessings from God – take charge, take over!  And it worked then.  The Garden crumbled, the flood swept its remains away, and now – wilderness, and men and women who die.  And so Satan recycles – he whips out the same sort of temptation.  When Satan says, “if you are the Son of God” it’s not a statement of doubt that Jesus is the Son of God… it’s a statement of disbelief that Jesus would suffer so.  You are the Son of God, you can make bread, good grief, go feed yourself.  It would almost be like me seeing one of you standing hungry with a fridge full of food, “If you’ve got a fridge filled with T-bones and Barbecue, don’t stand there hungry, fix something.” 

          Fix yourself bread, Jesus.  Did you note the insult Satan throws there?  Adam and Eve weren’t created to eat bread.  They had all of the trees of the garden but one to eat.  No, bread comes after the fall.  Bread is the food that Adam will wrest from the ground after working the crops, that Eve will have to grind and mill and kneed and cook.  No more just plucking the low hanging fruit – now you’re going to work for your supper, for your bread.  Go on Jesus, since You’re taking your place with the sinners – satisfy Your stomach with the sinners’ food – turn this stone to bread. 

          “But He answered, ‘It is written – Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”  No, Satan, let’s get one thing straight.  I’m not here to serve Myself, to serve My Belly.  I am here to see that Man, that My Adam and My Eve and My Abraham and My Jacob and My Moses and all of My Saints live – and they will live because of Me, because I am the Word of God, come to fulfill that Word spoken to you in the Garden about your own defeat.  I am going to suffer and die, I will have my heel bruised – and you will be crushed, and they will live.

          So Satan changes tactics a bit.  “Then the Devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to Him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written – He will command His angels concerning you – and – On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”  Okay, Jesus – I get that you don’t want to eat bread from a stone.  Fine.  You’re the Messiah; I can accept that.  But if you’ve got it, flaunt it.  Why be revealed to just a bunch of poor miserable scum out by the river Jordan when You could hop right this roof, and everyone would see the Angels coming to rescue You, and You’d be lauded and welcomed and recognized for who You are.  There’s the temptation.  Think on how often the Scriptures describe the Messiah as the Suffering Servant, the One who is abused by His own people.  That’s now Jesus saves us – by going to the Cross, by His Suffering and Death.  And Satan is offering another path – and Jesus smacks Him down.  “Jesus said to him, ‘Again, it is written – You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  No, I’m not here to make My Father or the angels jump through hoops.  If I wanted, I could summon forth legions of angels right now, even without jumping.  But I’m not, because the point isn’t getting My way, or making My life easy, it is to save My people.  That’s what My Father has commanded, and that’s what I’m going to do.

          And now, Satan begins to panic a bit.  This is strange.  Temptations given by the Tempter tend to work.  And so Satan acts in desperation.  “Again, the Devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to Him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’”  Satan knows defeat is coming, knows that a foe he can’t beat is coming.  And so he tries to cut a deal.  Alright Jesus, you can destroy my kingdom, I can accept that.  Let’s deal.  I will let You have all this world, all these people – but just let it be on my terms, let me be the top dog – and You can do with them whatever You want.  It’s so much easier my way, and it basically gets You everything thing You want.  And Jesus will have none of it.  “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written – You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve.”  And with those words something happens that had never, ever happened before in the history of mankind.  A man, a human being, of flesh and blood – stood up to every single one of Satan’s temptations.  Adam, Eve.  They didn’t.  Nor did Cain or Abraham or Moses or David or any of them.  Satan had always been able to get them to mess up, to dance to his own tune.  Whether it was anger or slipping wickedness in under the best of intentions or corrupting with power – something had always worked.  And now, there stands Christ Jesus, True God but also True Man – a Man Satan can’t lure into sin.  And then, Satan does the only thing he can.  He flees in terror.  It will be war, and Satan will regroup, he will marshal his demons, he will send his false prophets, he will stir up hatred.  He will fight.  But for us stands, unmoved, the Valiant One – Christ Jesus.  In our place.  For just as Adam and Eve and Abraham and Moses and all the others gave into temptation, so too do we.  We are frail, miserable sinners.  With might of ours could naught be done.  And so there stands Christ, in our place, fighting the battle we couldn’t.

          And so now, what does Christ do for us today?  He knows.  He knows how Satan still hounds you, He knows that the Serpent is bound and bruised – but still has his little season until the Last Day when he will finally be thrown into the lake of fire will all his demons.  So what does Christ do for you today?

          “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Do you see?  This verse isn’t just a bit of pious chit chat – this verse describes the reality of this place, of the Church, of worship, of the Divine Service.  We don’t live just by bread alone, by our toils out there in the world, by the sweat of our brow.  No, to live, and live forever, we are gathered here, where Christ Jesus comes to us in His Word.  Indeed, here, at this altar where He takes bread, the reminder of our sin, and makes it to be His own Body, given for you, to take away your sin.  The food of our shame is become the very medicine of immortality.  Do you see?

          What does Christ do for you today?  “Again, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”  Do you see?  We sin, we seek and crave glory, we put God to the test over and over – and so Christ Jesus calls us here to this place, to His House which will be a House of Prayer.  And He bids us pray “Lead us not into temptation.”  He knows our struggles, He knows what life is like out there in the world, with Sin and Satan bugging and tempting us all the time – and so He gathers us, and He has us pray.  We pray over and over in this service – Lord have mercy.  Hear our pray.  Lead us not into temptation.  Think on all the times in the Gospel where Jesus has the disciples pray – because He knows we need prayer, that we need God to strengthen us – so He gathers us and prays for us and prays with us; Indeed, He intercedes for us constantly before the Father.  They are not putting You to the test, Father – for they are Mine, and I am with them and forgiven them, and the Spirit intercedes for them with groanings too deep for words.  Do you see?

          What does Christ do for you today?  “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.’”  Do you see?  You are the baptized.  You belong to God, not to Satan.  In fact, every one of you has undergone an exorcism – that is what Baptism is.  In fact, in Luther’s baptismal rite, Luther has us spell it out – “Depart, o unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit.”  Be gone, Satan.  You no longer belong to Satan.  You no longer belong to sin.  You no longer belong to death.  They may pester you, they may hound you.  But you aren’t theirs.  You belong to Christ Jesus, and You will worship the Lord your God for all eternity, and you will serve Him alone for all eternity – for you belong to Christ.  He has died and risen for you, He has fought all the battles that need be fought for you, and even though you die, yet shall you live, Risen again unto life everlasting.  God make us ever to see and know this more and more, even unto everlasting life.  In the Name of Christ… +

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ash Wednesday Sermon

Ash Wednesday, 2015 – “The Lamb: A Faithful Offering” – Genesis 4:1-5

In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
          Our Lenten theme this year is “Behold the Lamb of God” – those words of John we sing every communion service.  But John wasn’t just making up a cute term, he wasn’t spinning out something new.  No, this idea, this theme of the Savior being the Lamb of God was old, as old as the Scriptures, as old as mankind, indeed, laid out before the foundations of the world.  And so this Lent, we will get to look at various times in the Old Testament that we began to behold the Lamb of God, and tonight we will start at the beginning.  Our text is going to really center around Cain and Abel’s various sacrifices, but I want to start just a touch before that – Genesis 3:21 – immediately after the fall:  And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.  I want you to think on this for just a few moments.  The fall has just happened.  God has confronted Adam and Eve – he’s warned Satan that he will be crushed, he’s told Adam and Eve the consequences of their sin.  Pain in childbirth.  Friction between husband and wife.  Toil and labor, and then finally, a return to the dust.  And immediately after God says this… God clothes Adam and Eve.  Remember, they were hiding in the garden because they knew that they were naked.  Being naked, seeing their nakedness, was the sign, the emblem, the proof of their sin.  The reminder of the fact that they deserved every thing that God said was coming to them.  And while they are still standing there with shame and fear and regret – God clothes them.

          But did you note how God clothed them?  He didn’t whip up a nice cotton, he didn’t summon forth a spiffy polyester blend.  “Garments of skin.”  God kills an animal, and with the death of that animal, He makes clothes for Adam and Eve, He covers their shame.  This is lesson number 1 for sacrifice, for worship, for how things are going to be now between man and God.  The response for sin will be sacrifice made by God, a sacrifice that will cover and clothe and eventually, remove man’s sin and shame.  But right away – this is how it works.  Sacrifice to cover sin, to let us go about our day to day life until the Promised One comes and defeats Satan and Sin and Death for good.

          And now we move into Genesis 4, to Adam and Eve’s children engaging in Sacrifice.  In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, [4] and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, [5] but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.”  Often I will hear people try to make excuses for Cain.  Well, why should he have known that his sacrifice wouldn’t have been deemed good?  Because God had already taught mankind what Sacrifice was to look like – indeed, Sacrifice was a holy thing, because not only did it cover our sin, but it echoed and mirrored what God had done for Adam and Eve after the fall; it sounded forth and proclaimed what God would do when He would send Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  And what does Cain do?  He just doesn’t care.  He goes through the motions – here, take something, take this, it ought to be good enough.  Sort of lackadaisical.  Do you see what Cain with his sacrifice is declaring?  His indifference to his sacrifice proclaims his indifference to God – indifference to what God had done and what God would do in sending the Messiah.  And Cain knew better – to sacrifice, to worship, all this is to confess the faith in God, to confess that God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  To confess the sure and certain hopes of the Messiah, forgiveness, resurrection of the body, the life of the world to come.  Meh – here, have some of the low quality stuff, have some of the lousy produce that we have to suffer with because *Your* world doesn’t work right anymore God and I have to work by the sweat of my brow.  Of course God will have no regard for Cain’s disdainful sacrifice.

          Not so with Abel.  Abel makes a sacrifice in faith that confesses his faith.  He doesn’t just bring something.  The firstborn, that’s what Abel brings.  The fat portions – that’s the Hebrew way of saying the best of the best.  He doesn’t break out the cheapest stew meat on sale, he breaks out the Grade A Prime.  Why?  Because that is what His Heavenly Father would give in sending Christ Jesus.  This lamb that Abel sacrificed was a confession of faith, it was Abel declaring that God would indeed be merciful to Abel by giving His own Son, His most precious, His best for our sake.  And this becomes the issue, this is what all the sacrifices, the offerings, the ways in which the tabernacle and temple were decorated and endowed pointed to.  It’s not that God was greedy or needed sacrifice, it wasn’t a matter of trying to placate Him.  Abel wasn’t buttering up God - but rather his offering confessed his faith.  Likewise, the care of the tabernacle and temple was a confession of faith – The Ark of the Covenant was covered in gold, and why?  You don’t put tinfoil on the Ark because the Mercy Seat of God ain’t a tinfoil chair.  You don’t give God junk, because the Messiah whom God gives to us, Christ Jesus, isn’t junk.  Our actions, our approach to worship and reverence ought to declare and reflect who God is and what He has done.

          This holds through even into the New Testament.  There is a great example of this in Acts 5 that is informative for us.  But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, [2] and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. [3] But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? [4] While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."   It’s not that God *needed* the money.  No, there was freedom – God had given Ananias and Sapphira that land, they were the stewards of it, they could use it as they saw fit.  Sell it or keep it – they were free.  Give part to the Church or give all – they were free.  But the problem comes in when they claim to give it all (like others were doing), but only give a part.  Is that how God treats us – Did you really mean to declare that God doesn’t really fulfill His Word, that the Lamb of God doesn’t really take away all the sins of the world but just a part?  And they both end up dying.  Rather than pointing to the glory of God, they were indifferent.

          It holds true even to this day.  I love the lintel beams around our door there in the back – fantastic wood.  When they built this church, it didn’t have to be like that, the ceiling didn’t have to be this high – it could have been done on the cheap… but instead it was a confession of faith that this place was to be set apart to declare the riches of God’s grace and mercy in Christ Jesus, and you don’t cut corners there.  And it still holds true.  When we were still doing the after school program here, I’d every once in a while bring the kids in here for opening devotion – and the ones who hadn’t been here before – their eyes would get big.  The building confesses the faith.  In fact, Pastor Nehrenz from down in Norman – the other week when I talked to him, when he had done Larry Gilchrist’s burial, he got driven by here, driven by Trinity, and he saw from the outside the stained glass, and he wants to come up one of these days just to look around, to see inside these churches, to see the confession of the greatness of God and His mercy that they make.

          This is precisely what is going on with Cain and Abel and their sacrifices.  While Cain really could care less, Abel is declaring what God would do for Him and for all mankind – that is what Abel’s sacrifice, what His worship does.  It points to Christ Jesus and no where else.  And now here we are tonight.  And all that we do here in this place, from the beginning to the end, from the opening address to the ashes to the hymns to the readings to the sermon (hopefully) to the Supper to the benediction – all of this is a confession of our faith that God Himself gives us full and rich salvation in Christ Jesus; that God holds nothing back and that He has covered all our guilt and shame and sin in Christ.  And let’s be honest – the world tries to run us down and make us forget God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus.  Satan tempts us away from this.  Our own sinful flesh wars against us.  Which is why we are gathered here in repentance tonight, gathered in repentance whenever there is service here, and we receive from God his mercy and declare the riches of what Christ Jesus, the very Lamb of God, has done for us.  Because of Christ and His death upon the Cross, God is well pleased with you, God has great regard for You, for Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and with His Sacrifice for you, God is well pleased.  Amen.  In the Name of Christ the Crucified +

What's the Real Focus of Lent?

So, now we are coming to Lent - so what is it's point, what is its purpose?  Is it about suffering?  Is it about self-denial?  Is it about making sure we hear the Word more often (yea midweek services!)?

I hear a lot of things about Lent, and most of the time I think they hit on tangential issues.  Here is what I would submit - our seasons in the Church have themes.  Advent is about Christ's coming.  Christmas is about the incarnation, that God becomes Man for us.  Epiphany is about Christ revealing that He is True God.

And Lent - Lent is about Jesus.  Lent is the season where we focus most clearly on Jesus taking the battle to Satan - Jesus fighting against sin and death and the Devil.

Think on the upcoming readings - His temptation, He heals, He casts out demons, He takes on false doctrine, He fights against hunger and hardship... and He dies.  This is all saying, "Look at Jesus take the battle to Satan."  This is, as Luther would have us sing, "But for us fights the valiant one."

Lent is the battle season - it is the Son of God going forth to war for you.  That's the real focus of Lent.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Weekly Meditation - Transfiguration

Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus, our Lord!

The epistle reading for Transfiguration is 2 Peter 1:16-21, and this morning let's ponder verse 19a, which reads, "And we have something more sure; the prophetic word."

Peter had just been recounting his own experiences at the Transfiguration.  He was there - he saw Christ transfigured, he heard the voice of God echo from the clouds.  And you and I - we weren't there.  We have not (yet) see Christ shining forth in glory, we have not (yet) heard with our own ears the voice of the Father.  So then, does Peter get to hold this over our head?  Does Peter point to his experiences and talk about how much better he is than us because of them?

No.  And **WE** have something more sure.  No, even with his mountaintop experience, Peter stays with us, remains with us - and we, Peter and you and I, have something even more wondrous that seeing the transfiguration in person.  We have the prophetic Word, the Holy Scriptures.  And I would have you ponder this - Peter values the Scriptures more than he values his own personal experience.

So often today, even in the Church, we will get all this experiential language, all this encounter language.  Exciting programs will even be called "mountain top experiences" to echo the transfiguration.  I think we would do well to listen to Peter - because he is right.  Our faith is never going to be built or remain steady because of encounters or experiences -- but the Word of God, the Spirit breathed Word of God which points to Christ - that is how the Holy Spirit works and gives and builds faith.  As we confess in the Small Catechism, "I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel..."  It's not my own reason, or strength, or even my own experiences.  Rather, it is the Holy Spirit who builds faith, and this He does working through the Word.

This week - don't bother looking for some sort of mystical encounter.  Don't' judge your faith on the basis of what you experience - I hope you have a good week, but it could be lousy.  That doesn't change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and that you are forgiven.  Rather, above all, be in His Word, cling to the love and mercy that He has declared for you, for that is something more sure than anything we face in this life.

Have a blessed week.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Transfiguration Sermon

(Note:  In the 1 year series, which we follow here, normally Transfiguration is four Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday, not the Sunday prior.  However, with the way saints days fell this year, I elected to omit pre-lent and continue with Epiphany readings, as we hadn't had any normal Epiphany Sundays)

Transfiguration Sunday – February 15th, 2015 -

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          We can be so busy.  It seems as though we always have something to do, somewhere to go, full calendars, schedules packed.  In fact, it seems as though work dominates our life, our identity.  When you meet someone, you generally get asked, “So, what do you do?”  We define ourselves by action.  Now, this isn’t a completely bad thing – work is good, being productive is good.  As Christians we are called to show love to our neighbor, and that means doing things for our neighbor.  We have been given the various vocations in our life by God – so indeed, going and working is a good thing… but what we must remember is that it is not the only thing, or even the most important thing.  Our life, our existence, when it boils down to it, isn’t defined by our work, by what we do.  We are defined by Christ Jesus and what He does, by the fact that we have been Baptized into His Name and redeemed by His Blood shed upon the Cross.  What truly shapes you and me is the fact that we are those who have received salvation from Christ through the gift of faith which He gave and worked in us through His Word.

          We can forget this.  And when I say “we”, I’m not talking about the crass person who just stops going to church, who even basically stops believing.  No, I am referring to us here today – we who would be diligent and sincere Christians, who would be faithful – we can let our desire for busyness overshadow the simple reception of God’s gifts that truly shapes and defines our lives and faith.  We get an example of this trap in our Gospel lesson.  “And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.  And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light.  And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him.”  This is what we call the transfiguration – where the figure, the appearance of Christ Jesus is transformed – where the Light of the World begins to shine forth with His own light.  What this is, dear friends, is a picture of the life of the world to come.  What are things going to be like for eternity?  Well, Christ Jesus, shining forth perfection from His own Body, and the people of God gathered around Him and His Word.  We see a picture of salvation, of eternal life – this is Jesus revealing Himself as God almighty, perfect and holy – the Savior whom Moses and Elijah and all the patriarchs and prophets foretold, the God whom they worship.  Really awesome and profound stuff.

          And Peter understands that this is a wondrous thing – “Lord, it is good that we are here.”  Great observation – it is good, it is a wondrous thing – to see the glory of the Lord be revealed – this is what every pious Jew in the world had been waiting to see.  Peter’s words here even inspire hymns – Tis good Lord to be here – great hymn!  But, there is a problem.  Peter doesn’t just stop there, Peter isn’t content simply to be there, to behold Christ in His glory, to listen to Jesus and Moses and Elijah chatting back and forth.  Nope, like so many of us, Peter starts worrying about getting to work.  “If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You and one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  Peter doesn’t want to just sit and listen, Peter wants to get to work.  And what Peter suggests is very reasonable – they were around Sukkoth – the festival of booths where the Children of Israel would basically go camp out in order to remember their time in the wilderness – so Peter asks a very reasonable thing – shall I fix up a couple of tents so Moses and Elijah can observe this festival with us?  There’s only one problem – by offering to work, by wanting to snap to it and get to work, what would Peter miss?  Oh, yeah Jesus, You are shining forth in glory, and Moses and Elijah are there with you… um, how about I go over there and pitch a few tents.  Jesus, Moses, Elijah… I could listen to their conversation… nah, I’ll go get some work done.  When Christ Jesus is talking, when Moses and the Prophets are there speaking to and about Christ, that’s not the time to go get the chores done!

          But the point here is not that Peter is lousy, but we are so much better. We’re just as bad.  Here we are, gathered together in Trinity/Zion, gathered around the Word of God, we heard from Exodus, written by Moses, we hear the Spirit Inspired words of Peter recorded for us in His epistle, we hear the Gospel of Christ Jesus – yet I’m willing to bet that every one of us has had our thoughts drift off this morning onto worrying about getting something or other done.  And this isn’t Pastor Brown picking on you either, I’ll catch myself at least a dozen times a service worrying about what comes next, do I have this or that set up; I’ll let you in on a secret – when I mess up what I’m supposed to say or read, it’s normally because I’m worried about something else to come in the service.  We can get so focused on doing stuff that simply coming here, being here, simply hearing the Word of God can be so hard for us.  Americans are a hyper-active people, we value hard work, that is what we train ourselves to do… and sadly, we don’t really train ourselves to be simple hearers of the Word, not as much. 

          Well, Peter doesn’t get to build his tents.  “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.’”  The Father cuts Peter off.  It’s not about putting up a tent, Peter.  It’s not about what you are going to do for Jesus – it’s about Jesus and what He does for you.  Jesus is the One who pleases the Father by living the perfect life, by going to the Cross, by wining salvation for all mankind.  Likewise, dear friends, whenever we want the focus in Church to shift on to what we do, how wonderful we are – we need to pause and listen to Christ, listen to His Word, hear what He has to say to us.

          Now, hearing the voice of the Father utter freaks out the disciples.  “When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified.”  And you would be too.  Why?  Because as much as we like to hide behind our works, as much as we like to tell ourselves that we are good people and focus on all the nice things we do… not all of our works are good.  In fact, when it boils down to it, none of them are, not really.  All are tainted with sin.  We are sinners through and through, and everything, even the nicest, most wonderful thing you’ve ever done – tainted with sin.  Not one of us is perfect, not one of us is righteous – Peter, James, and John know that.  And there is the voice of the Father, there is the presence of God Almighty – and sinners in the presence of God die.  Get blotted out.  Bad things.  And so they hit the deck – and you know what, if the voice of the Father suddenly thundered forth in here, we all would be hitting the deck too.  Sinners do not stand brashly in the presence of God almighty.

          We do not stand, but there is One who stands for us.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’”  Beautiful, absolutely beautiful and profound.  Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, the One whom pleases the Father comes to you, and He touches you, He joins Himself to you in the Waters of Baptism, gives Himself to You in His Holy Supper and says to you, “Rise, have no fear.”  This is forgiveness talk.  This is last day, the trumpet of God sounding forth and the Lord calling us forth from our graves saying, “Rise, have no fear” sort of talk.  Of our own strength, we cannot stand before the Father… and so the Father says listen to Jesus.  And what does Jesus say, what do we hear our Lord proclaim to us – the same thing we always hear from Him whenever we stop running around like chickens with our heads cut off, worrying about getting this or that done.  We hear Christ say, “You are forgiven.  I have done it all for you, I have even faced down death, and I have risen.  Now, you too rise, you too live, you too have life everlasting that the world and death and sin cannot take away from you.”

          “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”  The Christian life isn’t defined by what you do, by what you give.  Do you do things – well, sure, of course, Christ Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, we’re gonna end up bearing good fruit.  When its time to work, let us strive to work well.  But that’s not the heart, that’s not the center, that’s not what defines you as a Christian.  Rather this – Christ Jesus comes to you through His Word, physically touches you in Baptism, in His Supper, calls you away from sin, away from vain delight in your own action, and fixes your eyes upon Himself, so that you might pause, that you might be still and know the Lord, Christ Jesus; that you might know and see that because of Him your sin is forgiven, that because of Him Hell and death are overthrown and have no more hold upon you, that because of Him and His righteousness you are rescued from Satan.  This is what He does to you in your life through His Word, this is what He   makes you to see and understand and remember once again whenever He pulls you away from the troubles and burdens and busyness of the world here in His Church.  And here He always speaks to you, for you are His beloved for whom He died and rose again – Your sin is forgiven, rise and have no fear.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Proclamation vs. Education vs Motivation/Manipulation

Yesterday at our Circuit Greek study, we had a nice discussion about preaching, about what it is.  And one of the things we noted and lamented is how rarely people think of preaching in terms of proclamation.

Think on what the word "proclamation" actually means.  It means you are proclaiming - speaking out - a truth, a great and glorious truth (or even a sad and horrific truth).  It's V-E and V-J Day announcing the end of World War II, it's "The British are coming!"  To proclaim is to announce and declare what has happened.

And that's what the sermon is meant to do.  A sermon declares reality - all have sinned.  X is wrong.  Satan attacks you this way.  A sermon is to declare what Christ Jesus has done for you.  He has died for your sins, He has forgiven you, He comes to you in His Word, He has baptized you and made you an heir of salvation, He has defeated sin, death, and the Devil for you.  He comes to you today in His Supper and brings you life and salvation.  These are all declarations of REALITY - of what is true.  It is a proclamation of Law and Gospel.

Now, some folks will think of sermons as being primarily educational - that is providing information and explaining it.  And there is some of that in a sermon -- but any explanation is in a sermon designed to assist the proclamation of Law and Gospel - to help us understand the immediate, current proclamation.  But a sermon will never be a Bible Study, it will never have the depth, the back and forth, the exploration of tangents that a Bible Study will have.  Education is good -- but it's necessarily not declaring the Gospel, it's not giving people Christ Crucified.

And then there are those who think the sermon should be motivation.  You know, manipulation.  Where I speak to make you do X, Y, and Z.  We'll have pastor preach and make that guy in the pew next to me stop being such a jerk.  We'll have pastor preach and those other cheap folks will give more in the offering.  Manipulating people into engaging in certain behaviors.  The only problem is this may harp on the Law... but never gets to Jesus... at least not a Jesus Crucified and Risen for you.

I proclaim the Good News, the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  And that's what every sermon I preach needs to do if it is to rightly be called a sermon.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Epiphany 5

Epiphany 5 – February 8th, 2015 – Matthew 13

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Epiphany is the season of Light – the season where we focus on and marvel at the fact that God loved poor, miserable sinners such as us, and so He came down Himself, became Man, in order to win us salvation with His death upon the Cross.  When Christ comes to earth, He comes to shed His blood and die so that we who are condemned to death by reason of our sin might be forgiven; He comes to rise again on the third day in order to burst open the doors of death so that we too will rise.  And all through Epiphany we’ve seen how this is something that Christ does for all men – that Jesus is indeed the Light to Lighten the Gentiles.  The Wise Men – Jesus came for them.  The poor and miserable sinners who were baptized by John – Jesus came for them.  Peter, who confesses and then messes up; Paul the persecutor – Jesus came for them.  Even those of little faith, the weak, those who find life to be a struggle - Jesus came for them.  Or in other words, He came for us.  This is the wonder and joy that we see in the Church – that we are gathered here together and that in this Church our sins are richly and daily forgiven.

          But it seems to be that there still is a problem.  Evil remains in the world.  Listen to our parable for today.  The Kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.  So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also.”  So, here’s the situation – what do you do when what you thought was wheat turns out to be a weed instead?  And the way this works is that when they were young, this specific type of weed looked a lot like wheat, but it was only in their ripening that you could tell the difference.  Now, our Lord tells us what is going on – “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.  This field is the world, and the good seed is the children of the kingdom.  The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.”  I think this is an apt description of the world – you’ve got some wheat, and you’ve got some weeds.  You’ve got those who are focused upon Christ – the children of the kingdom – those who are baptized and live out their baptismal lives, by daily repentance struggling against sin and seeking Christ’s forgiveness – and then you’ve got the weeds… who don’t.  Who brush off the idea of repentance, who don’t care a whit about forgiveness.

          People who care nothing for Christ and His Church often cause us great pain and sorrow.  Think of all the persecutions in the middle east, in Africa that we hear about – our Christian brothers and sisters slain by wicked men – it seems the weeds are growing up around them ever stronger.  Or even closer to home, there are those who reject Christ or ignore Him or even hate Jesus, and as such they can reject us, or ignore us, or even hate us.  And the bitter, bitter irony of this is that Christ Jesus came for all – we know that Jesus came and died for the sins of the whole world – their sin too – those people who are the fiercest and most bitter opponents, the most hateful and hurtful people we know, Christ died for them too.  And yet, they reject, deny, and ignore.  And it’s sad.  And then, often, they cause troubles for us, annoyances for us – and then we don’t just feel sorrow – we can feel anger, indignation, we can want to “do something” about them… and what sort of things?

          When the servants see the weeds in the field, and the master tells them that an enemy has sowed them there, the servants ask a question.  “Then do you want us to go out and gather them?”  Sounds sort of nice – gather.  Let’s be a bit more colorful – do you want us to rip them out of the ground, bundle them up, and burn them, burn them with fire!  That’s what they would be gathered for – indeed, on the Last Day, the day of harvest, that is what will happen.  But do you see the difference in approach?  The servants are eager to dive into the field and start ripping and pulling and tearing, all in order to “fix” things.  This, likewise, can be the way we are tempted to respond as well.  When we see wickedness, when we see people who anger, hurt, and annoy us, our first response can be to want to reap vengeance, to dive on in, both fists swinging, and pummel the tar out of those evil people.  Our first thoughts can be on trying to make sure that the wicked get what they have coming to them.  We can want to be destroyers.

          But the master stops his servants, doesn’t let them go traipsing through the fields to go on their weed hunt.  Why?  “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”  The master is worried about what today gets called “collateral damage.”  Sure, you might get the weeds, but how many plants of wheat will you dislodge, displace, hurt, and even destroy in the process?  What are the unintended consequences of your actions?  Who else will it hurt?  And this, dear friends, is what we ourselves need to remember whenever we want vengeance, whenever we want to “take it to” someone, whenever we want to be the instrument of punishment.  This always ends up hurting extra people - especially when they see you, a Christian, rampaging through the field like the proverbial bull in a china shop.  In our zeal to fix, to punish, we can often bruise and batter people we didn’t intend to.  And why?  Because in seeking revenge, we stop focusing on loving our neighbors and stop focusing on serving them as we have been called by God to do, and rather seeking revenge, we don’t see the full extent of the damage we are doing, damage to them, to ourselves, to the people around who say, “If that’s what those Lutherans are like, well, then I don’t want to be one!”

          This isn’t to say that the wicked get off scot free.  Hardly.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”  Gathered to be burned – but just not by you.  Not your job.  Our Lord explains that on the last day, that’s when things will get sorted – not until then.  And this really drives home a point that we need to remember.  Even with all the times where our Lord gives warnings of the end, of how the wicked will be thrown into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth – that’s not His focus.  That’s not why Jesus comes, at least not primarily.  The reason He comes is to rescue people from sin, to save them from everlasting torment.  The reason He warns us of the fires of the last day isn’t so that we can look up at the sky and say, “I hope Jesus comes today so so-and-so will finally get it.”  He teaches this so that people might understand the consequences of evil, repent of it, and receive life.  In other words, Jesus is much more interested in mercy.

          So now I will call upon you to examine yourself.  Are your thoughts more thoughts of mercy or thoughts of vengeance?  Are your thoughts more towards delighting in the wonders of forgiveness that Christ has won for all, that all people should benefit from, or are your thoughts more focused on how someone else did you wrong?  When you see your neighbor, do you see someone for whom Christ Jesus has died, or do you see someone who is an annoyance, making your life more difficult?  Do you love your enemies and desire mercy for them, or do you hate them back and desire their destruction, desire that they get theirs?  It’s easy to view people as difficulties, as burdens – because to be honest, sometimes they are.  But that’s not all they are – they are people for whom Christ Jesus has died, they are people God has put into our lives so that they might receive from us love and mercy.

          In this, we fail.  I don’t see any way around it, I don’t see how I can claim anything else.  I doubt any one of us would have to think too hard to come up with times when, even quite recently, we’ve been angry, annoyed, put out, and as a result have let that anger, and maybe even a desire for vengeance, come to the fore and overshadow love and patience and mercy.  And so this text today calls us to repentance – warns us of our sinful desires for vengeance, calls us to the carpet for the sin of neglecting to show mercy and love.

          But why does our Lord give us this parable?  Not because He hates us, not because He wants to hurry up and get to His vengeance against us for our miserable and pathetic failures – but because He is God Almighty who has come to earth to win forgiveness for precisely this sin and all the other sins which swirl around us.  He calls us to His House, His table, not in order to condemn us, but in order to forgive us and give us life in His name.  Hear the last verse, the closing word of this parable – “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.  He who has ears, let Him hear.”  Forgiveness and restoration is Christ’s goal, Christ’s focus – and He doesn’t want your eyes to be taken off of this – He doesn’t want you to waste your time worrying about punishment and condemnation – He will see to that sad duty when it is needed; but that is not for you and I.  Jesus has something better for us – we are children of the Kingdom, washed clean of our sin by the gift of Baptism, and we are being prepared for the everlasting Kingdom where we will shine forth in holiness and righteousness.  This is what Christ’s mercy brings about in you and me.  Yes, now we often see our sin to our own shame and regret, but Christ Jesus is your Lord and Savior, and He has forgiven you.  The day will come, the Last Day, when, on account of Him, you will rise and shine, even as He is risen and shines in glory now.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Christians Are To Be Lousy Tacticians

When it comes to fighting, Christians are to be lousy tacticians.

I mean, let's say I have an enemy.  My old sinful flesh knows how to handle this.  If you can, simple overwhelming force is the best - just force them into submission, where they acknowledge your superiority.  Mental, Professional, Superior Office - whatever.  Just silence them.

And if that option isn't available, my old sinful flesh knows the next option.  Outflank them.  Attack obliquely.  Don't deal with them directly, but attack the sides.  Tar them a bit.  Insult them to the people who know them, or even those who they might come across.  Wear down their power base, their support structure.

And of course, tactics are all about deception.  So my old sinful flesh knows what to do.  Make mountains out of molehills (all in the name of the "truth").  Pull things out of context and harp on them.  Even, if it will hold, outright lie.

That is how one wins a fight, at least according to the ways of the world.

Yet that is not what we are instructed to do in the Scriptures.

Christ tells us to love our enemies and do good to them.
We get the same thing from Paul.
We see David doing the same thing to Saul when God gives Saul over unto David's hand.

No, when it comes to "fighting" - to dealing with one's enemies, Christians are to serve them, endure up under them, show mercy, forgive them.  Yes - be resolute.  Yes - maintain the truth.  But still... show kindness and gentleness and self-control and all those other fruits of the Spirit unto them.

But - then again... what would I know?  I'm an antinomian disdainer of virtue and sanctification, don't you know =o)

Never dehumanize your opponent - for to do so is a denial of Christ Jesus, the God who doesn't dehumanize but instead becomes Man to win forgiveness even for them by taking their sins up upon the Cross.  There really are no enemies - there are only those who tragically are still trapped in their sins.  God be merciful to me, the sinner!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Ephiphany 4 Sermon

Epiphany 4 – Matthew 8 – February 1st, 2015

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          Well, having had our special days three Sundays in a row, we finally get to a full Epiphany text.  And remember what the season of Epiphany is – it’s the time of the year where we focus on the ways in which this man Jesus reveals that He is indeed God Almighty.  And what’s fun about this text, is that it all starts with Jesus taking a nap.  Jesus has had a busy day; prior to our text He’s done some healings, the Leper and Centurion Servant, also Peter’s mother-in-law, he’s been casting out demons, preaching to large crowds.  The first 22 verses of Matthew 8 has Jesus working His tail off, so some rest, a nap during a little cruise is probably in order.  Any one of us would be tired with the day Jesus had, but what a time to take a nap.  The storm has been raised, waves are crashing higher and higher, actually up over the sides of boat.  To get a sense of how bad this is, remember this.  Quite a few of the disciples were fishermen.  They knew how to handle a boat.  They knew the weather and currents of the Sea of Galilee.  And these men of experience and knowledge, these are the ones who begin to freak out, to panic. Now, if I’m in a boat, I have no clue what’s going on.  You’d expect me to freak out over little things, but when the veteran sailors start panicking, that’s a sign that things are really in a bad shape.

          And so they figure they better wake Jesus up, who is quite calmly sleeping through the storm.  “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!”  Up goes their cry.  Jesus, wake up, do something!  And, well, He does.  First thing Jesus says is, “’Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?’  Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” Did you catch how Jesus does this?  The disciples wake Jesus up, and still lying down, Jesus looks at them as says, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?”  And after Jesus has let the disciples know that there was no reason for them to wake Him up, only then does Jesus get up.  He rebukes the disciples from His bed, His couch where He was lying.  Guys, why did you have to wake me up for this?  But still, Jesus does get up out of bed, and He speaks to the wind and the wave, and the storm is still.

          And the Disciples are amazed.  Now, this is something that has always stood out to me in this text.  Here they wake Jesus up, “Save us”, and then He does... and the disciples are confused.  “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey Him?” What were you expecting?  Isn’t this what you were looking for when you woke Him up?  What, did you think Jesus was just going to pick up a bucket and help you bail water?  You’ve just seen Him heal the sick and cast out demons, and you thought He’d simply be pitching water over the side?  But as they ask the question, let us answer it.  What kind of man is this Jesus?

          For a great big hint, let us look back at our Old Testament lesson.  Here too we see the seas in an uproar, here too we see experienced sailors in great concern and fear.  However, the situation is a bit different with Jonah.  Jonah has been called by God to go to Ninevah and preach, and Jonah doesn’t want to go.  And Jonah flees, there is the storm, and to still it Jonah gets pitched overboard and swallowed by a fish.  Before we go on, let us take a warning from this.  All of us here have been called by God into various positions, into various tasks, into various duties.  Some have been called by God to be faithful spouses and parents, some to be workers, some to be students and children who serve their parents. Many times we don’t like the responsibilities given to us by God.  Many times they seem difficult and hard, and we wish to run away, to shirk our duty.  Jonah does remind us of one thing. If the Lord calls you to a task, don’t run away, because who knows what type of fish He will send after you.  But, with that bit of warning, back to the question at hand.  Who is this Jesus who has control over wind and the waves?  So Jonah’s on the boat, and the sailors ask Jonah what’s going on, and what does Jonah say?  I am a Hebrew and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.  Oh, you mean that’s who you are running away from?  Well, that would explain the waves.  And Jonah sees it, and has them toss him into the water, and the waves calm down.

          So, who is this Jesus who has control over wind and wave?  He is the very LORD God Himself who made the winds, made the waves.  That is the main point of our Gospel text.  This is the lesson we see here painted out again in detail, that Jesus Christ, that this Man the disciples are looking at wide eyed and slack jawed is God Himself.  When we talk about Jesus, we are always talking about God, and this is something we must remember.  Why?  Because more and more this truth, that Jesus is God, is being denied more and more often, by the world out there, and worse than that, even by those who claim to be in the Church!  Of course, there have always been series of people denying that Jesus is God in the Church.  As proof of that, I present the Nicene Creed.  What did we just say of Jesus?  That He is God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God.  We say this precisely because 1700 years ago there were a lot of people supposedly in the Church who were claiming that Jesus wasn’t really God.  And it is vitally important that Jesus is God.  Why?  Because otherwise that, the Cross, doesn’t do any of us one bit of good.  If Jesus isn’t God, there’s no reason for any of us to be here, because only God can save us from our sin.  Who is this Man who has control over wind and wave, who is this Man who goes to the Cross and suffers and dies?  Thanks be to God that Jesus is indeed True God, whom we rightly worship and praise as our Redeemer from sin!

          We do see some other implications in this text that are useful to us.  One thing to remember is that we probably shouldn’t be too hard on the disciples here for asking the question, who is this Man?  They were pretty scared, pretty freaked out, and I’m sure that if they sat down rationally and calmly, that they would say, “Oh, yeah, well, duh, this is Jesus.  He is God, after all.” But this is illustrative for us in our lives.  Think about it this way.  When things come up in life that distress us, when we are discombobulated, caught off guard, do we tend to think calmly about things?  Most certainly not!  We get caught up in the moment, the situation, and we get so focused on things at hand that we forget God.  Even among sincere, devout Christians, and even among Pastors, myself included, there are just times when we all spazz out and forget God.  Part of this is simply the fact that in many ways we fail to fully understand God’s Control over our lives.  We forget all that first article stuff from the catechism, that God made me and all creatures, provides me with house, home, eyes, ears, all my members, and still provides for them.  We forget that “my stuff” isn’t really mine. . . it’s God’s Stuff that He is giving me to use.  And this is something that we all need to be reminded of often.  Luther himself, the guy who wrote the catechism, went over the catechism every day as part of his daily devotions simply to constantly remind himself that God was in Control.  [This is why we go over it in the service all the time, and] I would hope you study it yourself at home.  This is what provides that solid base so that the times where we are shaken and become forgetful become less and less frequent.

          When trouble does come, when we are surrounded by storm and trial, what are we to do?  Did you catch what the disciples did?  They cried “Save us, Lord”.  This is a great comfort to us.  Even we with our little faith, even when we don’t make the connections that we ought, even when we are afraid needlessly and worried without cause, what do we have?  We are still the temple of God, the Holy Spirit still dwells in us, and He guides us and gives us the Words to say, the Spirit directs us to call out to Christ.  Isn’t this a comfort?  Did you see what Jesus did?  He didn’t say, “Well, you have little faith, I guess I’m just going to have to let you drown.”  No, again, the strength of faith isn’t what moves God to action.  Strength of faith, confidence of faith, understanding of the faith, these are benefits for us, they help to keep up from needless fear. . . but even with the lightest faith, God Himself still dwells with the Christian, and gives us the Words to say.  And by God’s guidance we call out to Him for rescue and salvation. 

          And Jesus does.  And note what Jesus does.  Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea.  He rebuked them.  Here we see Jesus speaking, we see the Word go forth and make things right.  Dear friends, we are people of the Word, we are those who live in and delight in the Word of God.  We are those who trust in that Word.  It is God’s Word, His promises to us of life and salvation on account of Christ Jesus our Lord that calms the storms in our lives.  It is with God’s Word that we can rebuke the Tempter when he threatens us.  It is with God’s Word that we find solace and comfort in whatever situation in which we are in.  It is by God’s Word that we are forgiven, whether we hear that Word spoken to us, or whether we receive that Word in with and under bread and wine when we receive the Very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord in His Supper, the very same Supper which we will celebrate in just a few moments.  Where there is God’s Word, the distressed sinner will find relief, for to the repentant sinner, there is no rebuke, but rather God speaks nothing but sweet Words of comfort, the Words of the Gospel.  What will we hear at the Words of Institution?  Given and Shed for you for the remission of your sin.  What can be sweeter to hear than those Words?  By His Word, Jesus is constantly telling us, reminding us of who He is and what He does, that He is the God who dies to take away our sin, and rises again with New Life that He shares freely with us.  Thanks be to Christ Jesus our Lord, that He richly showers us with His Word, that He always seeks to strengthen our little faiths by His Word, that by His Word He protects and carries us through whatever trials we face in this life, even until life everlasting.  God grant that His Word dwell richly in our midsts.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World + Amen.