Monday, June 29, 2015

Why Are You So Afraid?

I hear it.  I read it.  I sense it. 


I don't think I've ever seen in my lifetime such fear grip so many Christian folks in my own land.  Fear of what the world is coming to.  Fear of losing the culture war.  Fear that looks for the magical point in the past where society went wrong.

I've seen Gay marriage blamed on Abortion... wait... no, it's the hippies... wait, no, it's the pill.  If only we could fix this social ill then....  Then what?  The Culture War would still be lost... as it was in the Roaring Twenties, as it was in the Gay (other usage) 90s.  Just as it has been time and time again.  Just as it was in the time of the judges.

There is no quick fix.  The world is very evil.  Children forsake the ways of their fathers, hearts grow cold.

So.  Why are you so afraid?

It's actually the great question that Jesus asks of the Disciples in Mark 4.  The Disciples had seen the fallen state of the world - they saw it in giant waves and rushing winds (which frankly were much more immediately perilous to them than... what, Bob and Steve maybe possibly suing a church, or maybe losing our tax exemption.  I mean, neither of those involve drowning).  And they freaked out.

And Jesus takes care of things, and He asks them why they were so afraid.  Have you yet no faith?

When we see chaos and disorder, what do we turn to?  Do we start bailing water more quickly on the floundering society?  Do we craft better laws, thinking that we can thrive where the Pharisees fell?  Do we think that we will somehow be shrewder than the sons of this world (here's a hint - we need pithy and feel-good hashtags like "lovewins")?

Or do we look to Christ?  Do we see that in this boat, in this ark of the Church stands God Almighty Himself, the Ruler of wind and wave?  Do we see Christ the Crucified, who has declared that it is finished, that we are redeemed?  Do we see the Risen One, in Whom we know we will rise?

Or do we see fear, and our own vain efforts to cope the with the world, to make it more docile, more tame - to make the wild hordes ladies and gentlemen again (as though that would save any of them from death!)?

Why are we so afraid?

I'm reminded of Revelation 2, the letter to Ephesus, where Jesus says, " But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first."  What must we be doing to be doing the works of God?  Not winning elections, not winning a culture for Christ - we believe in the One whom God the Father sent.

Remember when we Lutherans were the church that focused on Justification?  When we thought that AC IV was the article upon which the Church stood or fell - not society?  Remember when we were bold and determined to know nothing among the world except Christ and Him Crucified and could boldly sing, "And take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife?  Though these all be gone, they yet have nothing won - the Kingdom ours remaineth."

And now we quiver because we might, MIGHT, lose a tax exemption down the road.  God be merciful to us in our weak faith and unbelief!

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

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Two Approaches to Friday

There are two responses to Friday's Supreme Court Ruling that I would like to discuss here on my blog.  Those two responses (which are both pretty good and worth your time and consideration) are as follows:

1.  President Harrison's Response (the LCMS response)
2.  Archbishop Tikhon of the Orthodox Church in America's Repsonse

Both of these responses are faithful responses.  It is good that most of the LCMS folks (who probably make up the majority of readers here) have probably come across President Harrison's post.  However, there is something about it that is lacking, which I think the OCA response compensates for.

President Harrison lays out very clearly the idea that things in this country could get worse.  The culture is becoming less friendly to Christianity, and as such, who knows what might come (the silver lining - if society does come down upon us, maybe that will be at least one area of privilege I won't have to hear about again).  However, I do think President Harrison's warning goes too dire too quickly and ends up playing up and upon our fears.

He quote Herman Sasse writing in Germany in 1932 about the realities of the need to obey God rather than men.  And that is true -- however, we aren't Germany in 1932 yet.  Not by a long shot.  We are not a Church dominated or dictated to by the state - our existence and finances are not run by the government.  We are not civil servants of a corrupt government.

And part of the reason why this sits poorly with me is simply that amongst my friends, introducing the "argumentum ad nazium" - the "you're like the nazis" argument ends up meaning you lose the debate.  It becomes the ad homimen attack of the last ditch effort.  When we start having people taken to camps - then we can talk.  But here - it's just seems a bit... early.  And frankly, playing the Nazi Germany card isn't going to give me comfort and peace... if anything it's going to make me nervous.

Which is why I really appreciated the OCA's response.  Just as a note, consider the following quote - the opening paragraph: "The recent ruling by the US Supreme Court on the legality of “same-sex marriages” has received much press coverage and has already caused some consternation about its implications and ramifications. But we Orthodox Christians must rest assured that the teaching of our Holy Church on the Mystery of Marriage remains the same as it has been for millennia."

Yes - strange things are afoot, but the Church is not moved.  The Church still remains.  Period.

And then everything else comes from there.  We remain steadfast in Christ and in the faith.  And we will continue to show love to our neighbor. 

Or, in other words, "Keep Calm and Carry On."

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I will admit, I love the latter approach.  President Harrison does a good job of marshaling the troops for the next round of political battle, of calling us to our kingdom of the left civil duties.  But... that's not the primary job of the Church.  It may be the duty of our Synod, the LCMS, which is primarily a left-hand business/money/legal sorting house... it may be the duty of our members... but it's not the primary job of the Church.

The Church's job is to proclaim Christ and Him crucified for sinners... in season and out of season.  And if it is out of season... so be it.  We proclaim peace.  We proclaim, "Do not fear, only believe."

It's okay.  The Church has been through plenty of stuff, much of it worse than what we see here in America right now.  In fact, the Church in other parts of the world has it much worse than we do.  And you know what - Christ's Church still stands.  It may get scary, but Jesus wins.  Period.

So... yeah, last Friday doesn't trump Good Friday.  It is still finished.  Satan is judged... and take they our life, goods, fame, child or wife; though these things all be gone, our victory has been won.  The kingdom ours remaineth.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pentecost 5

June 27th and 28th - Mark 5:21-43
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
As we move through Mark, we end up seeing Jesus face more and more opposition, more and more complaints. Even as the crowds grow bigger, the complaints grow louder and louder still. And today, in Mark 5, we hear two healings, two examples of Jesus' care for folks all with crowds and complaints. As there's a lot in this text, let's just dive in with no further ado.
"When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about Him, and He was beside the sea." Jesus has been zig zagging across the sea of Galilee - that's the only time He's getting any rest. And He lands, and before He can even get onto the shore there's a giant crowd. And someone "important" shows up in that crowd. "Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing [Jesus], he fell at His feet and implored Him earnestly, saying, 'My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay Your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live." A big wig - one of the most respected folks in the community. That's who Jairus is. Well respected. The hoitiest of the toitiest. And Jesus goes - He agrees to go heal this man's daughter.
Now, at first, this would be expected. Of course Jesus would go out of His way to help Jairus - Jairus is a good man. A big name. And this is that point where in Jewish society there would have been that sad resignation. Ah yeah, Jesus is making it big time. His fame is spread - He's too big for little people like us. Soon He'll be spending His time with the well to do - why, in fact, He might make it all the way to Jerusalem and hang out with the chief priests in the temple. And so there would have been resignation in the crowd - Jesus is moving beyond us - but also excitement. So the crowd follows Jesus.
And in that crowd, there was a woman. This is what we hear about her. "[She] had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and [she] had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse." A discharge of blood - what we might simply today call "lady problems" and skip the details. But here's the thing - in Jewish society, under the rules of the Old Testament, any woman with a discharge of blood was unclean - so you were to stay home, not do anything socially. No man could touch you, either. That was verbotten. So understand this woman's situation. She's in a horrible spot - and Jesus was her last hope. And what happens? He comes back! Today is the day, she will be healed... and, oh. Off He goes. To Jairus' house. And then surely He'll be wined and dined there... and He won't be around the little people like her anymore. She thinks her chance was missed. But she takes one last shot at getting healing. "She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment. For she said, 'If I touch even His garments, I will be made well.'" He's walking away, He's off to bigger and better things, I'm not worth His time - I know, I don't even have to bother Him. Even if I touch His robe, His cloak, I'll be better. And you know what - she was right. "And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease." And that could have been the end of the story for her - just a nice little footnote as Jesus is on His way to bigger and better things. But no - we hear that Jesus turns around and looks for her. It's funny, He asks who touched him, and the disciples don't get that anything has happened - "You see the crowd pressing around You, and yet You say, 'Who touched Me?'" Jesus, You are being thronged, hundreds of people have touched and bumped into You!
But Jesus stops, and He looks, and He finds this woman. He stops going towards Jairus' house... and as He pauses, we hear, "But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth." She hadn't listened to last week's sermon - you don't tug on Superman's cape. And Jesus noticed. And she thinks she's been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. And there's not just fear, not just that acknowledgment that Jesus is God, but there's trembling. She didn't ask. What if He takes the healing back? There Jesus is, on His way to the good people, and now He's stopped, He's paused, He's looking at her. She's gone and made a scene, and now the punishment should come.
"And He said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.'" Oh, that is a loaded sentence. So - who is this woman kneeling before Jesus? Is she a nobody? Is she beneath His notice? An annoyance? No. She is "daughter". As much as Jairus loves his daughter, so too Jesus loves this woman, and He will pause and spend time with her. And does she tremble? Go in peace - that's forgiveness language. That's the same language we hear in John 20 in the upper room - "Peace be with you, see My hands and side". Do not tremble before Me, for I am here to forgive you. Oh, and your disease - it's taken care of.
Such a heart warming scene... but then, we hear this. "While He was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, 'Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?'" Do you get the tragedy - Jesus is walking to heal Jarius' daughter, but then He stops. He pauses - and He deals with this other woman instead... and the little girl dies while he's dealing with her. Jesus, even talking to one He calls daughter, hears Jairus told about his daughter. Once again, the thought is "don't bug Jesus" - but death will not get the final word. Here He now stops the crowd - okay, Peter, James, John - you three with Me and Jairus, everyone else, stay here. And they go to the house, and the mourning is going on full force. The folks who thought that Jairus was stupid to spend his daughter's last moments looking for that crackpot healer are all there, and then Jesus walks in and says, "Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping." - And they laughed at Him. Their weeping is cut short by laughter, harsh, bitter laughter. But Jesus just sends them out, takes Jairus and his wife and goes to where the gal is. Little girl, arise. Wake up. And she does. And then we get the last line - "And He strictly told them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat." Alright - those scoffers - they'll see your daughter, see her alive. They don't need explanations - mockers don't get explanations. Now, go, take care of your daughter, enjoy your time with her.
So then - did you note the contrast in the text? The contrast that folks would have expected in Jesus day would be a contrast between rich and poor, between powerful and lowly. Surely Jairus is worth Jesus' time, but not that broke icky woman. That's the worldly distinction. But that's not the distinction Jesus makes. No, Jesus will spend time and deal with the both the woman and Jairus. He will listen to them, He will deal with them. Of course He will - they are both believers, they are His mother and brother and sister and daughter and son by faith - that's what we heard a few weeks ago. No, the contrast in the text is between these two faithful folks and the mockers. Jesus will tend to the woman, will tend to Jairus and his daughter - but the mockers? Eh, not even going to waste the explanation. This is what Paul spells out in Galatians - "for there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." That's the point of unity, of true equality - It's in Christ, in faith, in Baptism, heirs of the promise and completely worth Jesus' time. And they get to hear Jesus' words. That woman, she hears directly that she is forgiven and healed. Jairus is restored to his family - the daughter who was dead is now alive. The mockers can mock; but they miss out.
So, what of you here? Think on how often, here in this place, you are told, "peace be with you." Think of how often you are told that you are forgiven, that you will rise to life everlasting. Think of how often Jesus gives you something to eat so that you will rise again to new life? The whole point of this place is that here, this service, this liturgy, Christ comes to us in His Word and Sacraments and proclaims peace and life to us here. That's the whole point. Now, might a pastor in a sermon give some practical advice, or say something entertaining? Might the music be grand, the building beautiful, friends and family here with us? Maybe, or maybe not. But that's not the focus, the goal. Jesus is here for you. He doesn't go "big-time" on you, Jesus isn't too big for Herscher. He's not hurrying up to Chicago or something like that - no, He's here for you, the Baptized, His brothers and sisters, His sons and daughters - the Word is proclaimed, the Sacrament is administered. Think on that - Jesus has seen this place built so that you may hear Him preached, so that you may come to this rail and receive His Body and Blood from this altar. He's not too busy. I was going to say, "no skin off His back" - but that's not quite true - He was whipped and beaten and crucified, the skin was taken off His back to see this place built - but He has done it for you, all so that you would know His forgiveness.
And still even today the mockers mock, especially this week. Still even today folks still deride Christ and His Church... and they miss what happens here. Here we gladly hear preaching and His Word, holding it sacred - Here we are declared to be sacred and holy by Christ, His forgiven children. Rise, go in peace. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Let a man examine himself...

Let a man examine himself.

It's a familiar phrase in Lutheran circles - from 1 Corinthians 11, dealing with proper reception of the Lord's Supper - but also how we end up viewing confession and absolution.  Examine yourself.  The Greek is "δοκιμαζέτω" - Let one test one's self, approve after scrutiny as fit for an office -- Liddel and Scott have lots of things on it which you can find here.  But there is that idea of self-examination.

There are few things more dangerous than the simple assumption that you yourself are right because your outward actions are right.  This is a major theme of the Jesus' preaching in the Gospels.

"You cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness."
"Woe to you, for you build the tombs of the prophets your fathers killed."
"You did not enter yourself, but you hindered those who were entering."
"I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other."

So on and so forth.

As Christians we are to examine our motivations, so that we do not hide behind a veneer of righteousness - to see that we do not act in a way that only appears or seems to be right.  We know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, that the outward wickedness first starts in the heart and proceeds from there... that great shame and vice is an outgrowth of the unchecked wickedness of the heart.

So we are called to examine.  Examine our own motives.  To test ourselves, to prove ourselves.  Are we righteous, moral agents, or are we those who must ride constant herd not merely upon outward actions, but upon a guileful heart?

And yet - how quickly I will become defensive when someone questions my motives.  Why should I, for I know that I am sinful and wretched.  God be merciful to me, the sinner!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wanting Them to Be Silent

The sin was vile, and everyone knew about it.  A trust betrayed.  And there was behind the scenes wrangling... and finally, he was called on it.

And so Nathan looked at David, told him that he was the man who deserved death.  Temporal consequences would come - even a son would die (how do you like those apples).  And then Nathan told David that he would now need to be silent and fade into obscurity... wait. 

No.  That's not what happened.

Then David went and wrote, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Psalm 51.  One of the most beautiful Psalms ever.  An offertory, part of Matins.  Oh Lord, open my lips.  Create in me a clean heart, O God!

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I don't know this Tullian fellow from Adam.  Frankly - I'm not his Pastor, and I'm not even in his denomimation - so I've got no business really commenting on what he did.  (BUT THE SIN WAS PUBLIC!!  No, the sin was revealed publicly... and unless we have a bunch of people saying, "Well, now we can go sleep around" there's nothing much really to teach on or warn folks about with that sin... is there?)

But I can comment on what I have seen from Lutherans - the idea that now that he has fallen and resigned, he must be silent.

Think on that.  He must be silent.

Jesus rebukes the winds and waves, orders them to be silent, orders them to be muzzled.

Why do we want this for Tullian?

If he's preaching false doctrine, by all means, let him be silent.  For his own health and well being - grow, tend to your family, work stuff out.  But... be silent?  Forever?

Oh Lord, open my lips.  Create in me a clean heart.  Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me!

I just don't know what folks are thinking - I don't understand what we Lutherans think is our end game, our goal.  Is it not forgiveness?  Is it not restoration?  Be merciful as Your Heavenly Father is merciful -- and check the Greek on that, folks... it's not just normal mercy, but it's the full compassionate mercy.

Are you showing compassion -- is your call for him to be silent out of love for him and his wife... or are you with glee glad that someone who said things you didn't like can be forced to be shut up by shame?

Are you happily wringing your hands over how terrible this, or do you pray for mercy and forgiveness?  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart O God, You will not despise.

Do you want him to be silent because you despise him?

I don't know him from Adam - I hope he and his wife heal.  God grant peace to them.  And if the Lord opens his mouth, and he can speak with hard earned wisdom about the dangers of sin and power of God's love and mercy in Christ Jesus - well, that will be a happy day.

Unless you think Psalm 51 was just a horrid mistake on God's part.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Weekly Meditation - Pentecost 4

Greetings in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord!  This morning let's consider yesterday's Epistle lesson, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, and in particular 8b-10, which reads, "We are treated as imposters, yet are true; as unknown, yet well known; as dying; and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything."

What do you see when you see a Christian?  What do you see when you look at yourself, in fact?  St. Paul here drives to the heart of what faith in Jesus "looks" like... and what it really is.  As Christians, we go beyond merely what the world sees - we trust what God has said, knowing it to be true.  And this contrast shows up all over the place in the Scriptures, this is Isaiah 53 and Good Friday - the world see in Jesus' crucifixion the death of a haggard fellow, but by God's Word and Spirit we know it is God's own sacrifice for us and our victory.

Just as the world out there didn't understand Jesus, they don't understand the Christian life, they don't understand you.

Are you treated as an imposter - that is, someone who isn't really ________ - isn't really a part of this clique, or family, or group, or social club?  Do you not fit the (often wicked) standards of society?  So be it - you are of the family of God, the royal priesthood, heirs of the Kingdom.  Or, in other words, "true".

Are you treated as an unknown, a nobody?  Someone of less than importance, not worth taking note of?  So be it - before the world was created Christ Jesus determined to come down from heaven and win you salvation by Name, calling you in the waters of Holy Baptism.  That's pretty well known.

Are you dying?  Is your own body falling apart?  So be it - behold, you live in Christ, and even if you die, yet you will rise and live forever.

Are you punished?  Legally, socially, at work, at school?  Are you sins always tossed out at you again and again?  So be it - you are not killed for them, for Christ Jesus took up your death for these things.  He has borne your punishment - and for you who is in Christ Jesus there is no more condemnation.

Are you sorrowful?  Often there's enough reason to be sorrowful in this life.  Yet the truth is this - you are redeemed by Christ, and He shall wipe away every tear from your eyes.  Sometimes we see this now, sometimes we forget - but it is true.

Are you poor?  Are you not as successful as you would wish, do you lack?  So be it - but even if of silver and gold you have but little, you possess the life giving Word of God, the Gospel of Christ Jesus, which makes people heirs of eternal life -- not only are you rich, you have eternal riches to share with others!

Are you, finally, having nothing?  Are you in fact, nothing?  Do you amount to nothing in the world's book?  So be it.  Christ Jesus has died for you, He has risen for you. He has take away your sin, and in return He has given to you all that He is, His love, His righteousness, His holiness, His mercy -- I could go on and on.  All of it, yours.  In Him, you possess everything.

All of this is the tension we come across in our lives - where in this world, in this life things seem bad.  But God has declared you forgiven on account of Christ, so things are not what they seem.  This week, when the things of the world seem dark and dim, remember who you are in Christ, and be at peace in Him.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Lost Lamb

So, what do you do?

A lost lamb is found.  Tired, bruised, battered.  It's time in the wilderness has been rough on it, but the Shepherd has found it, brought it home?

What do you do?

Do you rejoice... or do you sharpen your knives to finish what cruel nature started?  Do you see the open and exposed wounds now public and then drive in your own cruel barbs... or do you rejoice that the sinner has repented and pray for healing and peace?

When the younger brother has returned, do you rejoice, or pout in the fields?

The Church I'm now at is on the 3 year, so I didn't get to preach on Luke 15 today... but this time of year I'm reminded of how often we could stand to be a bit more gracious when we hear of those who have been caught in sin and have repented.

Just my thoughts.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

4th Sunday after Pentecost

4th Sunday after Pentecost - June 20th/21st, 2015 - Mark 4:35-41
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Luther's explanations to the Commandments always begin, "We should fear and love God so that." On commandments 2 through 10, if I ask, "what does this mean," you should all be able to get the first seven words right, they always stay the same. And yet, for us today, that third word, "fear", stands out as strange. We tend not to think in terms of fearing God - and yet, that's a common Scriptural way of speaking; it is, in fact, the climax of our Gospel text today, "And they were filled with great fear..." That's the point, and a good point. And one that we today often do not get - so let us listen again to our text and see what it teaches us about the fear of God.
"On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, 'Let us go across to the other side.'" Jesus has spent a long day preaching, a long day preaching parables. The sower and the seed was that morning. The parables we heard last week as well - the parable of the ground, the parable of the mustard seed. And finally, Jesus is just plain tuckered out. He wants to rest, so He calls for the disciples to take Him across the sea of Galilee. Which makes sense - at the beginning of the chapter we hear that Jesus was teaching from the boat - it was acting like a natural amphitheater. Which is why Mark notes the following - "And leaving the crowd, they took Him with them in the boat, just as He was." Jesus is tired with a capital T. They don't go back on shore to freshen up, they don't run to town for a nice dinner - it is just, "I'm done teaching, get the boat going." Think for a moment just how tired and ragged Jesus would have looked on that boat. He had been in the sun, on the lake, constantly talking and teaching. You guys have been to the lake enough, a good day on the lake tires you out. Especially if you've gotten a lot of sun. He's a mess - and they take him "just as He was" - and off they go. And this is why Jesus promptly falls asleep. Deeply.
And that's where the rub comes in. "And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling." A duster kicks up. The sea of Galilee would often have these squalls that would stir up - and the fishermen and boaters had learned to fear them. They could swamp a boat like that - so if you hit one, you rowed to shore (and hoped the winds weren't pushing you further out to sea) and everyone else started bailing water as quickly as possible. And this storm was apparently a bad one, because they aren't bailing fast enough. And if the boat goes under in a windstorm, with wild, heavy waves, you aren't swimming out of that very easily. In other words, it is bad.
And yet, there is Jesus, still asleep. "But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion." This is one of the things we miss - we hear that word "cushion" - some translations put it as "pillow". It's not a nice, fluffy comfortable thing. In the back and bottom of the fishing boats of the time there was a nice big rock to provide ballast - and it was called the pillow. While that sounds really strange to us - it made sense. Think on Jacob in Genesis chapter 28 - "Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep." Then follows the dream of Jacob's ladder. But the point is this - a "pillow" wasn't that soft fluffy thing we have - it was a smooth, rounded stone. And what did the giant ballast stones look like - like a big, smooth, rounded stone. Jesus isn't asleep in some comfy bed. He is lying down on a rock. In the bottom of a boat that is starting to fill with water... so the sea water would be starting to lap up on Him - and there He is, still asleep.
Which is why the disciples are surprised and wake Him up and say, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Dude, wake up, we are dying here! How in the world do you sleep through this?!? So get the picture in your head - there is a worn out Jesus, probably now covered not only with the grime of the day, but sea water and kelp and flotsam. Doesn't look like much, does He? Not at His freshest. And the disciples are in full panic mode - you don't tell your teacher, "You don't care" unless you are freaking out. It is a wild and woolly scene.
And then, Jesus wakes up. This isn't even the word for getting up and standing up from sleep, it's just that one where He just opens up His eyes, and then He "rebuked the wind and the said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm." Peace is too gentle a translation in my opinion - it's "silence", it's "shut it", "quit your gabbin' sea." And "be still" is a weak translation - it's "Be muzzled" -- it's when you got your hands wrapped around the dog's snout with it's mouth clamped shut. He's "rebuking" - Jesus is laying some verbal smack down upon the wind and the sea... having just woken up, looking worn and groggy and tired. You know what Jesus looks like - you know when the little kid comes bounding into the parents' room all excited and bouncing, and mom rolls over and croaks out, "Go back to bed." That's what Jesus looked like here... except it worked. The winds died down, the sea became still.
And Jesus gets to the point. After the wind and sea are taken care of, He looks to the disciples and says, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" Why were you afraid of the sea, why were you afraid of the wind... don't you realize Whom you have with you in this boat right now? And that's when we hear of the disciples, "And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, 'Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey Him?'" That is a rhetorical question - that is wonderment, that is amazement. Who is it? It's God Almighty, the very maker of heaven and earth, the maker of the Sea and the Wind. And if you wonder who is more powerful - the sea or God Almighty, the One with "Almighty" in His title is going to win. There's the old pop song with the line, "You don't tug on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind." Well, what happened with the disciples? The wind was scary... and so they decide to basically tug on Jesus' clothes and tell Him to start bailing water. Hey Jesus, get up, get to work. And then they see Who Jesus is - the One who controls the wind and sea.
This is one of the common themes of the Old Testament - where people lament to God, start to tell God what He should or shouldn't be doing, and God comes and puts them in their place. That's what we had in our Old Testament Lesson. Job had been complaining to God, telling God that He was being unfair. And God decides to speak back. "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge. Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" Alright hot stuff, you think you know how things should work - Gird your loins - dress for battle, because you are going to tangle with God. So - creation, what were you doing then? Oh, you weren't doing Jack because *I* hadn't created you yet... so "shh". And of course, the reason that this is our OT lesson today: "Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made clouds its garments and thick darkness its swaddling bands, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed'?" For the Jew, God was the ruler of wind and wave - the waters were His thing to control... and in fact, when we were all really lousy, He controlled those waters to send a flood. And then, there is Jesus. Looking almost like a drowned rat, worn, tired. And He just casually controls the wind and the sea, He shows Himself to be God.
And the disciples fear Him. Now, when we say "fear" we often think of terror, of trembling. That's not the fullness of what this idea is - to rightly fear is to rightly recognize who has power and control. You've got to know who has the most power and who can do the most harm to you. If you are up on the top of a 20 foot ladder, and a bee comes by, and you panic and flail your arms... yes, you feared the bee... but you should have feared the heights - you should have prioritized the situation, because unless you are deathly allergic, a 20 foot fall is worse than a bee sting. This is why we aren't supposed to text and drive - while you might be afraid of what Ethan told Jenny last night, you really ought to be more afraid of swerving into the oncoming traffic or into the ditch.
We fear so many things - we often call them worries. We worry about what we will eat or wear, we worry about what people will think of us. We worry about declining health, or family problems. That's all fear. Those are all things that can cause us harm, things we don't enjoy, things that could hurt us. All fear. And they can all make us go and do stupid, foolish things. In the face of these worries, our fear ought to be a fear of the Lord - we should be more concerned with what God thinks of us than what the folks across town think of us - because while we might say that our neighbor "gives us hell", they don't, not really, not like God can. We ought to be more concerned with our spiritual health than just our physical health - because while temporal death ain't pleasant, it's eternal death and hell that is really bad. And so to "fear God" is to have your priorities put in order - where instead of you waking up God and having Him dance to your tune, God gives you the wake-up call, saying that yes, He is the One in charge.
And that's a good thing. You think Jesus looks ragged and haggard in the stern of that boat? It ain't nothing compared to what He looks like upon the cross - and while the world with it's pride and arrogance and misplaced fear sees nothing but a beaten and dying man - behold there is Christ Jesus, God Almighty - just letting the world do its worst to Him, because He is bigger and stronger than the world, bigger and stronger than sin, bigger and stronger than you sin, bigger and strong than death, bigger and stronger than you death. And He dies and rises, and He says, "I, the Lord God, Maker of Heaven and Earth, Ruler of all things, the One who casts Satan and His legions into Hell, into the unquenchable fire - I forgive you all your sins. I tie Myself to you in Baptism, so that no ploy, no plot of Satan or the world can separate you from Me, for My Word and Promise is stronger than them. I give you My own Body and Blood, so that Your Body will rise, and you will enter eternal life washed in the blood of the Lamb." Dear friends, It is good to fear God, to remember who is in control - for He is in control for you. Don't let the world distract you from this great and wondrous truth. Be still and know that I am the Lord. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In the Word

One of the things that tends to surprise me when I look at so many "churchy" things - be they sermons or studies or what have you is how... lacking they are in the Word.

Yes, yes, yes - I know, I'm not citing Scripture here; behold the irony!  Physician, heal thyself!  (I see what I did there... wait...)  But I'm thinking more about preaching, or classes or books.  And one of the things I have noticed is that often they seem not to *begin* with the Word and flow from there... it's almost as though there is a point that is driven at, and then (maybe) there might be some cherry picked verses to sort of support the point you want to make (regardless of whether or not they are in context).

One of the things that I picked up, and I can't even remember where I picked it up from, was the idea that you should include the scripture texts that you quote in your sermon in a different text - I like to bold and italicize - that way by simply glancing at the text you can see how often you are bringing in the Scriptures.  And how it works.  Are the Scriptures the source from which your ideas flow, or are they just bits of evidence for your particular whim.  Are you teaching a text and seeing its ramifications, or are you just having people willy nilly look up bible verses to give them something to do in class in the midst of your pontifications?

We are to be in the Word.

The Word of God itself should shape our preaching and teaching.  It's own flows - it's own rhetoric - it's own movement.

When dealing with the liberals and the higher critics, we complained that they placed themselves above the Word of God with their criticism.  Do we fall into the same trap by our cherry picking and shoe-horning the Scriptures to deal with our pet issues of the day?

Maybe it would be good to just place ourselves under the Word, be in the Word - and let the Word of God give commentary about us and who we are.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Third Sunday after Pentecost - Mark 4:26-34

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
There are few things we sinful human beings like less than not being in control of things. That's just the way it is - we like to be in charge, we like to make our own decisions. How quickly even little kids learn to say, "I can do it myself," and how stubbornly even adults will cling to that same attitude. Of course we do - we like to be in control. And the problem comes in when we start to see and understand just how many things in life are beyond our control. Can't control the weather. Can't control what our neighbor does. Or try controlling society - that doesn't happen. Instead we sit and watch as the world around us calls right wrong and wrong right. Can't control this or that - until with age even the control of our own bodies shakes away, leaks away. "For in this tent we groan" as St. Paul puts it. And all of this, this is just the reality of life in a sinful world - things are beyond our control... and often enough even our desire for control is selfish and twisted, where we seek to dominate and rule rather than serve and love.

And this predicament that we find ourselves in is nothing new. To the hearer in Jesus' day, the lament of a lack of control would have been common. In fact, they had it worse then we do. We at least are citizens, we can vote - the Jewish folks of Jesus day were by-in-large second class citizens, who didn't have full rights. We feel the effects of age, but at least we have some modern medicines to help - they didn't. And in terms of wealth, we have more of it. They too were a people who didn't have much control over their lives... and to them as well as to us, Jesus preaches. Listen. "The Kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear." If you want an example of someone who doesn't have a lot of control - consider a farmer. Oh, sure, we've got modern agricultural techniques and equipment, and we've got a good understanding of the crop biology and the like; but once that seed is in the ground, well. Time to check the weather and pray, right? Even with all we can do to help, to improve the odds, the crop ends up being out of our hands - so you get insurance and hope and pray. And maybe grumble at the coffee shop. Or as Jesus puts it here, the farmer "sleeps and rises night and day." You do what you can, and then you let go, it's out of your hands.

Then the crops grow. Jesus says that the earth produces by itself - the word in Greek is "automatically" - by itself produces the crop. Even as our hands come off, the Lord gives growth, and we receive the bounty. "But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come." When the crop is ready, into the fields you go, asap. So then - what, pray tell Pastor Brown, is the point of all this? Well, it's not ag class, and I certainly don't need to go and try and tell farmers how to farm. The point is this. The Kingdom of God - it acts like this. The Kingdom of God is out of our control. We go, we plant the seed; that is we proclaim the Gospel of Christ Jesus - we proclaim that sins are forgiven because Jesus has died and that because He has risen so too we all shall rise to new life... and then... it's out of our hands.

It's out of our hands. That's a scary thought, isn't it? The Church - its out of our hands. The future of our congregation - its out of our hands. We here, we are given to be faithful, to faithfully proclaim God's Word and to faithfully pray. And what's going to happen, not a single one of us knows. Not a one of us knows what Trinity Lutheran will look like in 2020, or 2050. And that can be utterly scary to us sinful folks. Because we want to be in control, we want to be the ones upon whom things hinge, and when we just do things my way, well then everything will come out great. And let me tell you, pastors can succumb to this temptation too. It's easy enough for a pastor to turn a church into a cult of personality, to do "whatever it takes" to get people in the door. But that's not your job nor is it my job. Jesus tells the story, and as we have ears we ought to hear - the man puts the seed in the ground... and then the growth comes not from him, but from the seed in the ground. Likewise, in the kingdom of God, we do not focus on trying to make or create growth -- we tend to the seed, we tend to the Word of God - we preach it, we proclaim it to our neighbor, we scatter and sow it, we plant it home. Then, if God wills, then there will be a harvest, then there will be growth. Then repentant sinners come and we welcome them and delight in God's forgiveness together with them. But we cannot make that happen - it is beyond our control.

I'm going to cite two bits of the catechism, lest you think I'm barking up the wrong tree here. Consider the second petition: "Thy kingdom come. What does this mean? The Kingdom of God certainly comes with or without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also." Did you hear that? The Kingdom comes with or without our prayer - not under our control - and we are left to pray that God's Kingdom comes, pray that "our heavenly Father [give] us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His Holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity." Just as in the story the ground produces the plant, so in the Church the Holy Spirit causes faith to sprout and grow - and not just in the folks out there, but right here, in you, in me. That's the working of the Holy Spirit - not our working. Which, of course, points us to the third article of the creed - "I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength" - see my lack of control! - "believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith." See our lack of control. We are not the ones in charge, the Holy Spirit is.

And this is where the rub comes in. As sinful human beings, we hate this. This is what caused the Fall -- Adam and Eve were not content to let God be God. Instead the serpent says, "eat the fruit, then you'll get to be like God." Eat the fruit and you'll have control, Adam. And they ate, and everything went to pot. Our sinful flesh wants to be in control of everything, even the things that God Himself is in control over, because when it boils down to it, our sinful flesh thinks it knows better than God.
And so Jesus speaks another parable. "With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown on the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth, yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and puts out large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade." To all appearances, a mustard seed is a weak, pathetic seed. It's tiny. You wouldn't think it would amount to anything if you simply judged it by its size or color. Yet, when it grows, it's bigger than any of the other herbs you had running around in the middle east. So what is the point of this parable? We judge things by appearances, by what things look like - by how they appear. And according to the standards of the world, the mustard seed would be worthless - yet God gives abundance through it. Because He is in control, and He likes to do things like that. Over and over in the Scriptures, you get examples of God making things that appear worthless to be of great value. Ezekiel, can these dry bones live? Can David, the youngest son of Jesse, defeat the giant, the mightiest warrior of the Philistines? Can Joseph, sold into slavery and thrown into prison, rescue Egypt from famine and save lives? Of course - because that's what God does. And the highest example is Jesus Christ Himself - born in a backwater - despised by many - as Isaiah says He had no form or majesty that we should think He was wonderful, and indeed, He is stricken, smitten, and afflicted - put to death upon a cross. By any standard or judgment of the world, a man whipped bloody and hung upon a cross to die is no where close to what victory looks like. But the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, and with the death of Christ Jesus death is undone and sins are forgiven and God Himself wins for us the victory.

But none of it is what our own sinful flesh would want, would plan. And so, once again, God in His Word calls us away from our desires for control, our desires for being in charge of things. And yes, He reminds us that we are in fact, not in control. But He also reminds us that this is a good thing, because while we are not in control, and even if we were in control we would do foolish, sinful things - He is in control for us. God Almighty is the Lord of the harvest, and He will provide the harvest for His Church throughout the world that He wills. What will we see of that here - we don't know. That's His purview. As for us, we remain here, being gathered together by the Holy Spirit, called away from the hustle and bustle of the world, to hear the Word of God, to be reminded over and over that He is in control for us, to hear again the Salvation and forgiveness that is ours in Christ, to have our sins daily and richly forgiven, so that we face life, even a life where things slide out of our control, confident in Christ Jesus and the love He has for us. We are in God's hands, and that is truly a good place to be, both now and for all eternity. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 6, 2015

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

2nd Sunday after Pentecost - June 6th and 7th - Mark 3:20-35

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So, what has Jesus been doing that has everyone so upset? I mean, He comes home, and we hear that His family, "went out to seize Him, for they were saying, 'He is out of His mind.'" Yep, Jesus' family thinks He's lost His mind, thinks He's gone loco. And then we hear the scribes from Jerusalem - the professional church people, the scholars - "He is possessed by Beelzebul." We, in our scholarly opinion, conclude that He must be possessed. So what has Jesus been doing that is so "crazy" as to get this reaction? Well, in the previous 19 verses in Mark, Jesus has (1) healed a man - but it was on the Sabbath. He has (2) healed many of their diseases. He has (3) cast out demons who declared that He is the Son of God. And then finally (4) He appointed the 12 disciples. A busy day, but nothing that we would think would bring out the reaction of "He's crazy - He's possessed!" He's healing folks and casting out demons - typical Jesus things, hardly shocking.

But to those who do not believe, who at this time includes Jesus' own family and includes the Scribes and hoity toity folks in Jerusalem, it is shocking. Befuddlingly. Just not the way things are done around here - harumph! And so the excuses are given - "by the prince of demons He casts out demons." There, we don't have to listen to Him anymore. But listen you will, because Jesus teaches and explains what is happening. First thing he does is call the folks on their foolish excuse - "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end." So basically, scribes, your argument is that suddenly Satan has become stupid and is self-destructing. That the old evil foe, who lured mankind into the fall, who has continually vexed and scowled and hounded us... is now an utter idiot and falling to pieces. Really? That's really what you think is going on?
And here we do get a lesson, a reminder for today. When folks want to reject Christ Jesus, they will come up with every stupid excuse in the book. It's never just bluntly that they don't like Jesus - it's always something else. I'm just so busy with this and that. Well, people were just mean to me. I don't like color of the carpet. I'm embarrassed because they aren't cool enough. They didn't eat all of the pie I brought, and it was my Aunt Betty's recipe. You know, those Christians are just lousy people and hypocrites. On and on they come (and if I hit any that you have used yourself - well, it wasn't intentional - it just means your old excuses were typical ones) - and the thing is, they have nothing to do with Christ Jesus defeating sin and Satan - they all are about something else. Something foolish. And just as Jesus calls the scribes on it, you know what? Every excuse you make, every excuse you are temped towards - they're just as foolish, just as dumb. That's the plain and simple truth - the excuses people make... the excuses *we* make regarding church, at their core, are all dumb.

All those excuses ignore the reality of what Christ Jesus is doing. Do you want to know what I'm doing scribes, do you want to know what is so embarrassing to you, family? "No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods unless He first binds the strong man. Then indeed He may plunder his house." This world, since the fall, has been Satan's domain, Satan's playground. Satan's house, as Jesus puts it. Or as Luther puts it, Satan is this world's price, or that line, "fast bound in Satan's chains I lay, death brooded darkly o'er me." We are those who need a Redeemer, for we are bound and captured by Satan and sin and death. That's the reality, that's the set up - and man, if people, if we don't like to duck and dodge the truth of our sin. Well, we're not that bad. Maybe I used to be bad, but now I'm a good little Christian. Poppycock. Saint Paul says that he is... not was, but is the chief of sinners, and there isn't one of us in this room who's better than Paul. We are sinners. Period. This is true, even when like Jesus' family we find that to be embarrassing, or when like the scribes we just want to pretend it away.

Jesus doesn't bother playing pretend. He comes to deal with Satan. He knows that Satan's kingdom won't just fall apart on its own... and so He comes crashing into this world in order to bring about Satan's destruction and work your rescue, your redemption. And He points out something simple - if I am going to defeat Satan and take you guys out of His Kingdom, rescue you folks - I've got to bind Satan, I've got to smack him down first. And yes, I do that now in part by casting out demons - messing with the Satan's guard dogs as it were - and I will do it in full upon the cross when that old viper bruises My heel in death but I crush his head and break his power for eternity. That is what is going on now, that is what is happening. The utter defeat of Satan, and the preparation of men to go and proclaim the good news of Satan's defeat.

But they didn't like that. And so Jesus gives a warning. "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." In English we end up calling this idea of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit "the Unforgivable sin" -- which is really unfortunate. When we say "unforgivable" we tend to think, "It's so big it cannot be forgiven." Not the point. The point is this - Jesus comes to win forgiveness, forgiveness for all sins - even the family members calling Jesus crazy, or the scribes saying He's possessed. Jesus died for that - no problem. The problem comes in here -- we receive forgiveness, this forgiveness that Jesus has won for us is given to us by the Holy Spirit working through God's Word - whether that is the Word spoken, or tied to water in Baptism, or tied to Bread and Wine in the Lord's Supper. The Holy Spirit takes the Word of God and brings forgiveness to us. But when you blaspheme the Holy Spirit, when you call Him a liar and don't listen to the Word, when you refuse to receive the Word... you never get forgiveness. It's not that it's so terrible that it can't be forgiven, it's that it rejects forgiveness. If there is a feast with food a plenty, but someone refuses to come and eat... it's not that there wasn't enough food, it's that they didn't eat. The sin against the Holy Spirit is the rejection of the blessings and gifts that the Holy Spirit brings - it is "unforgivable" because it is in and of itself the rejection of forgiveness. Jesus says, "I'm here to defeat Satan, I'm here to forgive the sins of the world -- but if you want to be stubborn and reject forgiveness, reject the life the Spirit brings... then you can cling to your sin eternally and see where that gets you."

Which leads to the next little section of our Gospel. "And His mother and His brothers came, and standing outside they sent to Him and called Him." Come back home Jesus - you're just upsetting the nice big wigs from Jerusalem. It's not good showing them up, and You're still embarrassing us. Think on that for a moment. The two groups that reject Jesus right now - His family and the best of the Kingdom of Israel. Instead of clinging to Him, they separate themselves off from Him. A house divided, a kingdom divided. Divided and cut off from Christ. And as the disdain of the scribes is there, as the echoes of the messages from His family to just quit with the preaching echo in His ears, what does Jesus say? "Who are My mother and My brothers?" And looking about at those who sat around Him, He said, "Here are My mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of God, He is my brother and sister and mother." Did you catch it? This is one of those verses that gets abused by the law preachers. Got to do God's Will -- so you folks better do what I tell you... whether that's more money in the plate or don't vote for this person, or do this social program... blah, blah-blah, blah-blah. What is God's will for you? That you be saved. And how does that salvation come to you? The Holy Spirit brings the Good News of what Christ has done to you. Jesus is looking at those sitting around Him... and what are they "doing" right then and there? They are doing the will of God - that is, they are listening to Jesus! They are believing Him. This is Mary and Martha again - quit running around trying to boast about what you do Martha - Mary has chosen the better thing in listening to My Word.
And likewise, my dear friends - I know you all have plenty on your plate. There are things that we have to do, business to conduct, our God given vocations to fulfill and live out. But even the pagans do stuff. Even rank unbelievers can do social acts of kindness. Some of the kindest folks I know are rank heathens. Your works are not what define you as a Christian. No, you are a Christian, you are part of the family of God because the Holy Spirit declares to you what Christ Jesus has done for you. This place is God's House -- do not let things divide you away from here! This is where Christ and His Kingdom comes to you - where the life giving Gospel is proclaimed, where His own Body and Blood is given to you so that just as He rose you too shall rise -- this is where the Kingdom is, even until that day it comes in full on the last day. Don't divide yourself away from here... because then you will not stand. Rather, dear friends, always remember that Christ has come to defeat Satan, and to defeat Satan for you. He has come to forgive all sins, especially your sins -- and it is here where He gathers us around His Word, here where He pours His Spirit upon us, here where He gives Himself to us, so that we would be part of His family, His House, His kingdom for all eternity. God defend us against any thought that would make us embarrassed of Christ, and bring us to repentance so that we would receive His love and mercy again and again. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +