Saturday, July 30, 2016

Trinity 10 sermon

Trinity 10 – July 30th and 31st, 2016 – Luke 19:41-48

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I want you, for a moment, to picture in your mind all the things you normally think of on Palm Sunday – Jesus on a donkey, surrounded by crowds calling out Hosanna. Children smiling and laughing, waving palms. And then, to that picture, add the opening words of our Gospel lesson. “And when He drew near and saw the city, He wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!’” This Gospel lesson takes place on Palm Sunday. There Christ Jesus is, and He is weeping. Weeping because Jerusalem doesn’t know the things that make for peace. And this is so horrid, so ironic, because the name “Jerusalem” means “Abode of Peace” – that “Salem” or “Shalom” is the Hebrew word for peace. You, Jerusalem, you are the place where peace should dwell, for you are where the Temple is, where Mt. Zion is, where God Himself is present to forgive the sins of His people, to undo and destroy sin and death and to give life and peace… and yet you do not know the things that make for peace. The Prince of Peace rides into the Abode of Peace, and He laments, for the people there do not desire peace – not real peace. “But now they are hidden from your eyes.” There you have God Himself, come to save His people from their sin – and even the crowds praising Him, who among them understands, who desires true peace? They want freedom from Rome, kick the bums out. They want more wealth, more stuff, more carnal security. They want things of this world – but the things of peace – not wanted. And they will follow a path of violence instead.

Our Lord says, “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Many in Christ’s day hoped that He would lead the glorious revolution against Rome. But He doesn’t – and thus He is rejected. Instead of simply clinging to Christ and His Kingdom, so many would try to make their own kingdom in this world, and so over and over the Jewish folks in Jerusalem would rebel. In 66 AD, they drive the Roman legions out… but Rome comes back and surrounds the city, blockades it for 4 years, and then lays waste to it. Destroys the Temple – blows up the Holy of Holies. While the temple isn’t rebuilt, Jerusalem was, yet it gets destroyed again. Around 130, there is another revolt, and this time the city is utterly destroyed, and all the Jewish folks living there are forced to move – are scattered to the winds. And Jerusalem has been fought over since then – a history of blood and violence and pain and suffering – all because people do not know the things that make for peace.

We see this truth further demonstrated when Jesus reaches the temple. “And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written My House shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’” Christ Jesus steps into the temple, steps upon Mt. Zion, and His sorrow turns to righteous anger as He sees these people who are profiteering off of the temple sacrifices, who are engaged in commerce with nary a thought to what is actually happening in that Temple. Casts them out. Same word used when Jesus casts out a demon. Again, a focus on money, on wealth, on “mammon”. Not upon the things that make for peace.

That's the contrast here in this text – Christ and His peace versus the power and wealth of the world. So then, I will ask - what it is that we crave? Do we desire the things of this world, or do we desire the things that make for peace? As Americans, what do we want? Turn on a TV, and what do you see? In the papers, on-line – what are they showing you? Or consider the campaign speeches of the politicians – what do they promise? All the talking heads, what are they selling us, what are we wanting? It's all pretty much promises of money and power, isn't it? They aren't selling, they aren't offering peace. See, here's the thing. Even though we are Christians, we are not immune to the pull of the world. We all have different things, different desires, different idols about which we think, “If only this, then life would be better.” We are not immune, we get caught up in the rat race, I have to do this, I have to buy that, if I just get X, Y, and Z, then things will be better. And on and on, we run around chasing after our passions, our lusts, our desires – whatever they are. And so rarely are we at peace. So often we are driven by fear, by worry, by angst. So often we trust in earthly power and might.

I know that what I’ve been talking about isn’t very specific. I know that I’m not lambasting specific things, specific items as “this is bad” – because I can’t do that thinking for you. I can think about what calls to me, what tempts me to become an idol in my life, what I desire. But I don’t know your thoughts, your hearts – so I ask you to ponder. What do you crave, what do you want, what makes you act like the tantrum throwing 5 year old, just determined that you won’t be happy or satisfied until you get “fill in the blank”. It might be respect or a raise or a new this or that, or lust or just a desire to not have any more responsibilities so you can just live for yourself – there’s too many options for me to address or guess. But you, pause and consider. What tempts you? What is it that isn’t healthy, isn’t good for you and you know it, yet it continually calls out to you? Or in other words, “how does Satan attack you?”

Because, that's really what this is. Satan wants you bound to the things of sin. Satan wants the things of this fallen world, money, power, busy-ness, lust, greed, prestige – whatever – Satan wants these things to more and more dominate and shape your life, so that you get caught up in them and forget what makes for true peace. So what does make for true peace? “And He was teaching daily in the temple. The chief priests and the scribes and the principal men of the people were seeking to destroy Him, but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were hanging on His Words.” Do you see the two camps, the distinction that is made? On the one hand, you have those who are craving after power and wealth and might – and they want to destroy Christ. To be done with Him. To put Him in the ground and never have to hear His Name again, to be utterly separated from Him. Is this not what Satan tries to accomplish in your life with sin and its distractions? But on the other hand – here are the things that make for peace – Christ Jesus and His Word. It is the Prince of Peace Himself who brings peace with Him.

The temptations of the world offer us so many things that seem appealing, things that they tell us they will bring us joy when they only bring strife and pain and suffering. But what does Christ Jesus bring with His Word? He brings to you forgiveness, so that you are free from guilt and are given peace. He brings with Him life everlasting, so that even as the world shouts, “you need this, you need that” – you know that you have life that lasts beyond just this chaotic life. He brings you joy – not mere pleasure but a peaceful contentful joy, where you know that no matter what you see in this wild world, you are loved by God, forgiven on account of Christ, that God is Your God who cares for you and that there is nothing the world can do to change that. In His Word, Christ Jesus gives you Himself – He Himself is with you, and because of Him you have peace. When you hear Christ, when you dwell in Him and He in You, when you meditate upon His Word of forgiveness, His love for you – you have peace. It’s not that this place and the Word of God here makes all the troubles of this world go away. That will have to wait for the life of the world to come. But Christ Jesus gives you peace – gives you strength to stand on His firm and sound foundation, and so the world can swirl around you – it may rage like a hurricane, but you are in the center with Christ, you are with Him. And Satan will try again and again to distract you, try to suck you up into the tumbling vortex of this world – and in response Christ will speak His Word to you – He will warn you of Satan’s ploys, and then He will say, “Peace be with you.” Be at peace – know that you are forgiven, know that with my death upon the Cross I have defeated Satan, that I have defeated the world – know that with My resurrection I have ensured that even should you die, yet you shall live. This cruel and mean and jealous world can in reality do nothing lasting to you – for the Prince of Peace has come to you, He has made You to be His own temple when He baptized you, washed you clean, drove out your sin and promised to forgive you continually. He has made you His own dwelling place – and He makes you to know peace. He makes you to be focused upon Him, to hear His Word of peace over and over again.

My dear Christian friends – you are in a world that will try to buffet you, that will try to twist you, that will try play on your fears and hurts. A world so harsh even Christ was driven to tears. And all this world will do is leave you empty and hurt and wanting more. But over and against this world, Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, speaks His Word of life and peace to you. You are filled with Christ and His spirit. Your sins are forgiven. You have true life in Christ. You do not need whatever the world is selling – for you are His, and all of the life of the world to come is your inheritance. You don't need to buy what the world is selling, for Christ Jesus has given you forgiveness and life and salvation already. This is His peace for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Trinity 9 sermon

Trinity 9 – July 23rd and 24th, 2016 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The parable which we heard today is one that causes no end of consternation to folks. If you want the bible just to be a book with nice information on how to be a good, moral person, how you can impress God and make Him give you blessings – well, this one will put you into a tizzy. Because frankly, everyone in the parable is scum – is a liar or a cheat or a jerk. If you want the bible to be a how to book on earthly riches – well, this parable doesn't work either. Which makes sense; Jesus tells it right after the parable of the prodigal Son, and frankly, giving half your estate to a son so that he can blow it isn't exactly great financial wisdom. So then, why does Jesus tell us this story, what is His point? For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. There's the point – it's about being shrewd. 
So what is shrewdness? From a worldly perspective shrewdness abounds in this story. Consider: There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.' Remember, with the parable of the prodigal son, the Elder son was indignant that the younger son wasted his share of the estate. So alright, let's get a story where that sort of thing isn't just tolerated. No fatted-calf for this manager – when someone spills the beans, when someone complains about how this manager had been “wasting” stuff – maybe skimming a bit, maybe using the expense account a bit too freely – that's it. You're fired. The rich man calls this manager into the office and says, “turn in the books, cause you ain't got a job here no more.” The big dog is going to eat the little dog. Think about it – you had the manager who was shrewdly taking advantage of his position, even if it was a bit wasteful. You've got the complainers who shrewdly see opportunity to get their competition fired. You know, if the guy above me gets canned, and I'm the one who blew the whistle, guess who is in line for that nice corner office! And the rich man, he just tries to stop the wasting ASAP. All very shrewd according to the world – everyone looking after his own interests, making sure his own bread is buttered.

Except now, this manager – he's up the creek without a paddle. And the manager said to himself, “What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.” Again, this is shrwedness on this manager's part. You could listen to any business guru or a TED talk speaker talk about this – you have to be realistic, you have to set reachable goals. Denial isn't healthy. This fellow's life has taken a turn for the worse – but he doesn't lie to himself. He doesn't walk out, strutting saying, “meh, who cares, I'll just get a better job from some other rich man.” Nope. He recognizes his situation. His reputation as a manager is toast. And he isn't strong enough to dig, and he isn't going to go begging. He shrewdly takes stock of his situation and does not lie to himself. Instead, he improvises. “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.” So summoning his masters debtors one by one, he said to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?' He said, '100 measures of oil.' He said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'” You get the picture. 100 measures of wheat – now it's 80. And by the by, a “measure” was basically 1000 bushels. This is big time stuff. What he does is utterly shrewd – and under the law of the time, perfectly legal. Books aren't in yet. He's still the authorized agent – he can give discounts. And you know what – if you are going to get fired for wasting the master's stuff, you might as well WASTE it... and build up quite a bit of good-will. Because it's not begging if you walk up to someone and say, “remember how I saved you 20,000 bushels of wheat – say, I need a place to stay and a bit of spending cash – think you can hook me up?” That's “I washed your back, how about you wash mine.” And that's why even the master has to commend the dishonest manager – got to hand it to him, it was some slick dealing there, got himself out of a tight spot.

Everyone in the parable is playing the angles. They are all after the money, and they all work and scrap and fight for it. Money dominates their thoughts. And they are shrewd. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. So then, what about you, O Christian, you who have been called out of darkness into Christ's marvelous light? Jesus is making a blunt statement here – you Christians, you disciples, you don't act very shrewdly when it comes to your faith, to the things of God. I mean, the folks in the story do whatever they can for the Almighty Dollar. So, what about you Christian? How about it – are you shrewd, not in terms of your dealing with money, but shrewd in how you deal with mercy? Do you fight and scratch and claw – to forgive your neighbor? Do you do whatever it takes to show them love, do you care for them by hook or by crook? How zealous are you in showing love and mercy, how eager are you to make peace with your neighbor? Or to put in Catechism terms, when you put the best construction on things, are you really thinking about how to put the best construction – are you working at it – or just kind of shrugging along? And then, seeing your sin, knowing your lack, are you shrewd about receiving forgiveness? Do you crave it, do you prioritize hearing God's Word and receiving mercy? Or do you just putter on?

You see, when Jesus tells this parable – He had just finished the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son – because the Pharisees had been grumbling about forgiveness. Jesus had been eating with sinners – and they grumbled. “That's not how it should work. Why waste your time with scum – you should deal with us, we're the big wigs, we're the important people!” Big time important people, like the dishonest manager, or the rich man, or folks who rack up giant bills. And they should have known better – the Pharisees prided themselves on how they were good Believers... and yet, they disdained their neighbor. In reality they were really striving after wealth, after earthly success and fame. They didn't see their sin – they cared nothing for mercy, they gave no mercy to their neighbor and didn't think they needed any themselves. And so Jesus calls them on it – calls us on it. “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” If you don't care about God's Word of forgiveness, if you want to be about money, if you want to be focused on earthly power – well, you better do it really well, because there's always a bigger dog coming in this dog eat dog world. Death comes. How will you deal with eternity? Maybe you can make so much money that when you die you'll, oh, I don't know, somehow bribe your way into heaven... do you hear the sarcasm here? You want to live chasing after money, well, good luck... you're gonna need it. Because when it boils down to it, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” You can't do both. You can either spend your life living to earn and make and take and gather everything into yourself, or you can show love to your neighbor, and give of all that you have. When you get worried about the money, you'll just step on your neighbor. And we know this. It's a story that plays out too often in our own lives.
Of course it plays out. That's what the fall was. Of course in our sinfulness we act cutthroat and shrewd – Satan is shrewd and tricksy, and in the fall he was all shrewd and trapped us into sin and death. Satan thought he was pulling the biggest fast one of all time in the fall. Trapped mankind in sin and death, using God's own law to separate us from God. What better way was there for Satan to show his hatred of God than orchestrating the fall? But here's the thing. Satan forgot something, misjudged something. He forgot just how shrewd Jesus is. You don't hustle a hustler, Satan. While the sons of the world are shrewd – they've got nothing on how shrewd Jesus is. Jesus knows what He wants, and He will get it. He wants you, wants you forgiven. And so Jesus will be utterly shrewd when it comes to showing you mercy, to winning you salvation. Here's how it goes. Jesus says - alright, Satan – you want to play it all cutthroat – tell you what. You can cut my throat. Tell you what, Satan, I'll even throw in humiliation and degradation for free – you can have Me whipped, and mocked – you can even crucify Me. And Satan, in his hatred of God, in His wicked desire to hurt God, took the bait. Crucified Jesus. Went to town on Him. The thing is – that death on that cross undid everything Satan has done to you. The wages of sin is death – well, the spotless Lamb of God just took care of that upon the cross, didn't He? Oh, and look at that – that spotless Lamb rises from the dead – we get to as well now. And Satan's left holding an empty bag of hot nothing, because Jesus is shrewder than Satan. Now Satan will still cause trouble – he doesn't give in. He's not wise enough to figure out that he'll never top Jesus, so Satan will still hound you, mess with you, tempt you. And Jesus just shrugs – knock yourself out Satan – I'll just keep on forgiving them. They are mine, purchased and won with my blood. I'll keep on forgiving them, showing them mercy – doesn't matter how foolish or incomprehensible you think it is.

And so while Satan does his worst to you, Jesus still calls you to His house, calls you way from that. He is wise and zealous and shrewd – and He keeps on giving you forgiveness – keeps on calling you His own baptized child, keeps on giving you His own Body and Blood. And you know why? “No servant can serve two masters.” Can't serve two masters – and Jesus is your Lord, and He calls you here to His House and He reminds you over and over that you are His and that you are forgiven. Doesn't matter what you've done – it doesn't trump what He did for you upon the Cross. It doesn't matter what guilt you feel – He took up that guilt long before you were born. Doesn't matter the temptations that you face – He faced temptation down for you already. You belong to Him. Jesus loves you – it's as simple as that. And while the world will never get that, never understand or accept it – you are loved by Christ, now and forever. If thou, O Lord, kept a record of sin – who could stand? No one, so Christ says to you, “take your bill, and write zero – you owe nothing, for I have paid it all.” Because Jesus is shrewd, He is zealous and strives for what He wants – and He wants you to be saved, redeemed, forgiven, and with Him for all eternity. Jesus is all about giving you mercy – and His mercy endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Trinity 8 Sermon

Trinity 8 - July 16th and 17th, 2016 - Matthew 7:15-23

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

I guess that we are going to talk about false prophets today. That seems to be the theme given in our texts this evening/morning. Beware of false prophets. Sadly, we are in a fallen world. Sadly, we are surrounded by sin and death. Sadly, the devil is always around trying to shatter our faith. And how is this done, how does Satan try to bring us down? Often it is through our ears, through what we hear, through his lies that try to make us forget Christ Jesus. Let us this day, though, listen to the true Word, God’s Word, and see what we learn about false prophets.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” That’s the problem with false prophets. At first glance, they look nice. Them seem like great people, they look exactly like what we would want to be. Well off, well liked, charming and good-looking. They seek to have fame and power and success – and who wouldn’t want that. But they are wolves in sheep’s clothing, ready to devour, ready to destroy you. Satan is cunning, Satan is tricky. Yes, sometimes his servants are gross and evil and crazy looking, but quite often, they seem fair, they seem lovely – but bring with them death. This means you can’t evaluate on simple appearances. Just because someone looks nice; that doesn’t mean he’s from God. Just because he has a great life; that doesn’t mean He speaks the truth. Just because people flock to and listen to someone doesn’t mean he’s preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus. We can’t simply skim the surface. Rather, here is what we must do.

You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” This is how we tell who a false prophet is, by their fruit. Fruit? Well, what fruit are we talking about here? There is a lot of fruit in our lives. How we show love. Or peace. Or faith. These are all fruits, all things that flow from our lives in Christ. And remember what our Lord teaches us about our fruit - I am the vine; you are the branches – whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” When we are in Christ, when our lives are centered in Him, fruits will flow. It simply will happen. So what then, do these fruits look like? What should we expect fruits to look like? The fruit should point to where it came from. If I take a piece of fruit, say a grape – I should be able to figure out that it came from a grape vine. If I get a fig, I should be able to tell that it came from a fig tree. With our fruit, our works, it should be obvious that they come not from ourselves, but from Christ. Good fruit, good works always point not to ourselves, but to Christ and to Him alone.

And that’s how you spot a false prophet – that’s how you can tell if someone is truly preaching Christ and His Word, or if they are false. Do their works and deeds point to Christ Crucified, or do they point somewhere else? When you see them, do they draw attention to themselves, or is their focus and the focus of what they do on Christ and what Christ has done? A lot of times when we do things, we do them to draw attention to ourselves. We like honor, we like recognition, we can want our work to bring us a bit of fame and respect. That’s not what our actions are meant to do. When people look at us, they shouldn’t see us – they should be pointed to Christ. That’s the classic reason why pastors wear an alb, why infants used to wear white at their baptism. It’s not about the person, the individual and what they do, but rather the Gospel of Christ. The white gown hides servant, shows that they are clothed in Christ by virtue of their baptism. What is important isn’t how wonderful or how lousy the person is, but rather the greatness of Christ and His salvation. Thus, when it comes to spotting a false prophet, the question is are the sermons of the Pastor focusing on Christ Jesus and His salvation, or something else? Is the fact that we are clothed in the robes of Christ's righteousness being proclaimed, or is it the “look at me” show? All too often Pastors will preach themselves – point to how great they are, how much you should want to be like them, or even give their own thoughts and opinions about the world. That’s never the point – the point of every sermon must always be Christ Jesus and Him Crucified.

This is a high, high standard. How do you separate a false prophet from a true one? Is their focus on Christ and Him Crucified? It’s not just if they talk about the bible, because even Satan can do that. It’s not just if they mention Christ in passing – not do they happen to say the name Jesus – but is Jesus Christ and what He does to win salvation their focus in their preaching? Is what they say ultimately about Christ? Sadly to say, this often isn’t the case. When we look at the bookstores, the TV shows, there often isn’t much about Jesus. There’s a lot about what I can do, how I can be successful and happy– but there isn’t a lot of talk about what Jesus does or what Jesus makes me to be. The focus is wrong – the focus isn’t on Christ – and therefore it isn't really Christian. Just because something claims to be Christian doesn’t mean it benefits your faith. To be Christian is to be about Christ. Paul says that he is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – that’s what it is to be Christian. However, lots of people who claim to be preachers will focus on anything and everything but Christ.

Jesus warns us of this. “Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”” That’s pretty strong stuff there, isn’t it? Here you have Jesus addressing folks who looked to be the best – they did wonders and seemed powerful… but they are cast out. They are workers of lawlessness. They oppose and disdain the will of the Father. God’s Will is not that you be amazed at how good a preacher is, but rather this: For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” That sums up the Father’s will – that people believe in Christ. That people trust in Christ. That people be baptized and taught the faith. That we show people Christ so that they trust in Him. And there are false prophets today – people who say “Lord, Lord” – but then would wrest your eyes off of Jesus and place it elsewhere. Our focus is to be on Christ – Come, Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Everything that is Christian should be able to be boiled down to this, every preaching, every teaching should revolve around this truth – I am the sinner, but Christ has died for me and gives me all that He is. And if it can’t be boiled down to that – then it’s not truly Christian, it doesn’t matter how much it claims to talk about Jesus or the Bible. It might be wise, it might be good, practical advice – but it isn’t what the Church is to be about. The Church teaches faith in Christ Jesus, and faith looks to Jesus Christ alone.

This is the standard for what goes on in this Church. This is the bar that Christ sets. The preaching, it’s to be about Christ and Him crucified, and clearly so – not just a dash of Jesus tossed in. The service – it’s all about what Christ has done for us. The songs – they aren’t primarily about what we do – but about what Jesus does for us. Our hymnal is full of examples, but consider what we just sang. “O Jesus Christ my Lord, so meek in deed and word, Thou once didst die to save us, Because Thy love would have us be heirs of heavenly gladness when ends this life of sadness.” It’s about what Jesus does for you – that’s the focus – that is why we sing His praises forever more. And note I said “we” - because one of the things that is a hallmark of how we as Lutherans approach worship is that you folks end up spending quite a bit of the service speaking God's Word and proclaiming Christ to each other and to me. Faith comes by hearing, and the part of the service where I as the pastor get nourished is when I hear you speak the Word of God to me in the liturgy, or when you sing and I hear what Christ has done for me. In many ways this service is a conversation, a time where we proclaim Christ Jesus back and forth to each other so that we all would be forgiven and grow in the faith together.

Because this is the case, if our preaching, our worship, our hymns don’t point to Christ – what good are they? They might be fun, or enjoyable, or even moral – and there is a time for fun and merry conversations - but when it comes time to talk about Jesus, which is what worship is, if it doesn't proclaim Christ Crucified, it misses the point. And the danger is this, we can like a lot of things that don’t really point to Christ. People love being “religious” – love feeling that they are being spiritual – but having a feeling or being able to pat yourself on the back for all the things you do for God isn’t the point. Christ Crucified is the point and always has to remain the point. Paul tells the Galatians, But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Our focus here in this house is always to be on the Gospel, that Christ Jesus died for our sins, and it is never to stray.

And this is what God is doing for you here in His House. He calls you here, out of the world where there are so many distractions and temptations and difficulties and says, “now, see what I have done for you. Look to me.” Why does Jesus tell us to beware of false prophets? Because we tend to wander. We tend to like to follow after the foolish desires of our hearts – and Satan knows that, and Satan tries to draw us away and distract us. Over and against this, God calls us to His House, gives us His Word, His Supper, forgives our sin, opens our lips so that our mouth declare His praise – so that we are not only focused on Christ, but that we are made by Him to be people who proclaim Christ and Him Crucified not just in this hour, but throughout the week. To counteract and fight Satan in this World, God continually places His Word and Spirit in us – the Spirit who bears witness in us and through us to the world concerning the love of Christ Jesus and His salvation. God grant that He ever defend us from all false prophets and ever open our lips to proclaim the glories of His salvation. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Trinity 7 Sermon

Trinity 7 – Mark 8:1-9 – July 9th and 10th, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Again. This is a word we ought to associate with these miraculous feedings. Again. “In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat…” Didn’t we just have this situation? Wasn’t it back in Lent where the Gospel reading was the feeding of the 5000? Yep. And here today, we have a feeding… again. And you know what – it’s appropriate, because if you look at Mark 6 you will see the feeding of the 5000 – now this is Jesus feeding people in chapter 8… again.

When you look at the Scriptures, things are often repetitive. They happen over and over and over again. Once again this week in our Gospel we see a great crowd gathered with nothing to eat. People running off in their excitement about that miracle worker Jesus who had just healed a deaf man (again), but this time right on their door step. And I suppose we can understand the people doing this, I mean, they would have been excited, this would have been new and thrilling, we can get that. But think about Jesus’ disciples for a moment. Jesus sees the crowd, and He announces that He wants to feed them, and then what do we hear from the disciples? “And His disciples answered Him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread in this desolate place?’” Really? Really disciples – just two chapters ago you saw Him turn the five loaves and 2 fish into enough food for well over 5000 people, and you ask that question? I mean, I could see if folks in the crowd would think it, but you’ve been with Jesus all this time? How come you haven’t gotten it yet?

Now to be fair, to the Jewish mindset, seeing wasn’t believing – it was seeing two or three times that was believing. Everything had to be proved by two or three witnesses, so maybe that has something to do with it – but still, wouldn’t we expect the disciples of all people to know what is going to happen? That Jesus will break bread and feed the people there? And yet, for some reason, it just hasn’t set in yet – and the same questioning, the same dumb doubting of Christ’s power kicks in. Again though, to be fair, the entire Scriptures are really a history of people falling into the same traps multiple times, over and over again. Abraham passes off Sarah as his sister and not his wife, twice. The Israelites grumble about water, twice – in fact the second time upsets Moses so much that he smacks the rock instead of just speaking to it like God had said. Guys end up having multiple wives again and again, and it always goes poorly. The book of Judges – over and over the people forget God and get themselves into trouble. The prophets – they all lament Israel and Judah falling into idol worship and worse. Over and over, people falling into the same sins, over and over again.

But, of course, let’s be honest. The Scriptures are a brutally honest book, and they don’t hide warts. What if there was a book of the Scriptures based upon your life, or what if you were reading “1st Eric” – how long would it take before you put your face in your hands and said, “I can’t believe he’s doing that… again!” Because that is the vile nature of sin. It is repetitive, it is pervasive. It is habitual, and bad habits are hard to break, and they don’t like to stay broken. It's what we see in the world, and sadly, it's what we see when we look back upon our lives. Whether it’s the end of the day, or thinking back upon the last week because the preacher is carrying on, or an anniversary, or even on the death bed with regrets flying in front of us, over and over, so often we see the same old stupid things, the same weaknesses, the same faults, the same sins. Over and over again.

“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, He called His disciples to Him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’” So what is Jesus’ response when He sees the crowd starving again? Disdain? Mockery? I can’t believe these people came to listen to me unprepared again? Nope. None of that. He has compassion. There is no belittling, no complaining about the crowd. No, these people are with me, I have compassion upon them. The Greek there means that His guts were wrenched – I feel what they feel, I have compassion because I am with them and they are with Me. And if I do not act, they won't make it home, and I will not have that. I have compassion upon them. Again.

This is the reality of what it means when we confess that Jesus Christ is both true God and true Man. This is what Christmas means, this is what the incarnation means. Jesus has compassion – Jesus came down from heaven, took on a body like yours, like mine, and He experienced life in this world. All the sorts of things that impact us – whether it is hunger and being faint, as in this text – or being mocked, or hurting, or mourning, being forsaken by friends. All of those things, He experienced, He has compassion. And the beautiful difference – whereas as we will use the things that happen to us to justify our bad behavior – eh, I yelled, but I had had a bad day – not so Christ. With Him, always perfect love. Even to us. Even to the disciples who just utterly drop the ball and can’t even guess that He is going to feed the crowd. Instead, Jesus just does what He needs to do to show care and compassion – And He directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And He took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, He broke them and gave them to His disciples to set before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. There is no berating, no handwringing. Just another miraculous feeding – here you go, take this bread that I have blessed and be filled.

And here we are in this congregation. Gathered once again. A liturgy we've prayed before. Hymns we’ve sung before. Readings we’ve heard before. All of this, appropriate. Because we here are what we’ve been; poor miserable sinners who struggle with the same sort of junk we’ve been struggling with for the past month, for the past year, for decades, for our entire life. And yet, here is the wonder – week in, week out, again and again, Christ Jesus has compassion upon you. He doesn’t get sick of you, He doesn’t get tired of you. Once again, over and over, He speaks His Word of forgiveness to you. Once again, He takes a flawed disciple and bread is broken, and it is given to you – take and eat, this is My Body, given for you, take and drink, this is My Blood, shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. Without fail, the forgiveness and mercy and life that Christ Jesus won for you upon the Cross is given to you here in this place.

Why? Because you are the Baptized. Because in your Baptism, you were joined to Christ Jesus – that was the Epistle last week – you have been baptized into Christ Jesus. And what precisely does that mean? In terms of our Gospel lesson – “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with Me now three days.” That’s you – you’ve been with Jesus “three days”, baptized into His death, and of course joined with Him in a resurrection like His. He cannot but have compassion upon you, for He loves you as He loves Himself. And He knows your limitations, knows the war that sin wages upon you, He knows how sin plays upon you and messes with you – but over and over again He comes to you here in this place and says to you that you are no longer, in fact, a slave to sin, but you are bound to Him, that you are a slave to righteousness, that you are forgiven. Your baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, that you are bound to Christ, a slave to righteousness and now sanctified and given eternal life – these are the realities that Christ sees and remembers at all times – and so, when we are worn and weak and weary, He will present them to us again, He will make them present realities again – He will preach them again, He will place forgiveness upon our lips by giving us His own Body and Blood again and again and again. Because He has compassion upon you; because you are His and He will not let you go on your way faint from sin, but always, always forgiven.

“And He sent them away.” Off they went – back to their lives, but having been cared for by Christ, and indeed, still under His continual care. Likewise, you will be sent from here – depart in peace, the Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace. Sent back to your life out there, your homes, your jobs, your family. Sent back to face the same difficulties and struggles – but sent in peace, as God’s own baptized children, washed and forgiven. Sent, but ready to be welcomed here again next week, to be fed and forgiven again. Because Christ Jesus never becomes bored of forgiving you, of strengthening you – it is His delight and joy and purpose of His Church. God be with you all this week, and God see you safely here again next week as well, even until He sees you safely to the life everlasting. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – Matthew 5:17-26 – July 2nd and 3rd, 2016

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” That's the gauntlet that Jesus lays down for us, the standard He puts before us. If you are going to get into heaven, your righteousness needs to top, needs to surpass, needs to be well beyond the sort of righteousness the Pharisees and the Scribes show. Which ought to make us ask a question – what is righteousness, what does it look like? It's a word we hear often enough in the Scriptures – righteousness, being just. What does that actually look like?

The Scribes and the Pharisees, they thought that they had righteousness all figured out. They thought that they had this righteousness thing down pat. After all, hadn't God given them the Holy and Sacred Law? Didn't we just hear the Commandments given by God at Sinai? And all the rest given by Moses? Well, just do those, and then you'll be righteous, you will have great righteousness, easy-peasy! Simple as pie. And that was the attitude of many – the scribes and the Pharisees thought that they were righteous. There's another episode in the Gospels where the young man comes up to Jesus and proudly proclaims that all these commandments he had done since his youth. So, see – there is the checklist for the chosen, the holy handout from God with the 10 easy steps for making yourself righteous. Or maybe not.

Jesus continues: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.'” You know the old basic part of the law... but did you think this was merely a simple checklist? Let's see, I haven't strangled or beaten someone to death, so therefore I'm good. Is that what you thought righteousness was? Really? Did you not think that God almighty was trying to teach and show you something more wondrous than that? Jesus then says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.” So you think everything is hunky dory just as long as you don't murder – well, let's think about this. Come on, scribes, remember Genesis 4 – Cain and Abel, the first murder. How does it start – Cain gets mad. That's where murder starts – from anger, from wrath, from looking down at someone because they “deserve it.” Jesus says that this is bringing judgment onto yourself. Moreover, if you insult your brother – if you go tell other folks, “Man, this fellow over here is a jerk” - you're liable to the council. This isn't a simple judge that you'd get tossed in front of – insulting someone makes it a Supreme Court case. And if you say, “you fool” – call someone something mean to his face – that's the sort of thing that will get you tossed into the lake of fire.

What's going on here? Why so strict, Jesus? You see, the righteousness that God is seeking isn't what we call “civic” righteousness. You murder someone, the cops will get called – but in town, well, if you just complain about folks, or even tell off someone at the gas pump or checkout... you probably won't end up in jail. Society will just sort of let that slide... in society we don't demand perfection. The thing is, before God – in terms of righteousness before God – perfection is the demand. And so, let us say God places someone into your life, someone whom you are to love and serve – that's the summation of the law, right? Love God, love your neighbor. And there's your neighbor, whom you are supposed to love and serve. Who do you think you are to go and get mad at the person God has put into your life for you to love? That's not love – that's breaking the law. Do you see how that works from God's perspective? And then, if you don't just get mad at your neighbor, but then bad mouth him – you're trying to go get other people riled up at him – that's hateful to even more folks, that's all sorts of bad. And if you tell the fellow off – call him a moron to his face – Katie bar the door, that is wretched. Well, now, Pastor – isn't that taking things a bit too far? No, not really. Let me give an example. Think if you went to a restaurant, and instead of asking to take your order, the waiter walks up and says, “Your momma must be stupid because she sure dresses you funny.” What would your reaction be? Would you be pleased? Would you say, “eh, it's okay, at least he didn't walk up and stab me with a steak knife – let me leave a nice tip”? No – it would be horrible. And yet, what of you? Do you not realize that God has placed you in your neighbor's life to serve them – so who are you to be angry at them, or to insult them, or to yell at them?

Do you get the point? To be in God's presence, to deal with God's standards, you need a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees. And guess what? Ain't not a one of us who can come close to that sort righteousness. Seriously. Let's think about that rude waiter again – if that's how you were treated, how many of you would have just let that slide? Or how many of you might have had a good, choice, angry retort. I don't think I can say in this pulpit what sort of things I might have said back to that waiter. And the thing is – if I chewed him out, complained to the manager, got him fired, no one here would blame me – because according to the simple and cheap righteousness of the world, “Well, he started it” is a valid excuse. Meh, he deserved it. But that's not God's righteousness. That's a watering down of the Law, that's selling it short. The law isn't “love your neighbor unless he's a meanie first.” While we might be content with that sort of thing, that's not what righteousness looks like.

You know what God's righteousness looks like – what the righteousness that you need looks like? A few chapters down the line in Matthew, we hear: “ And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”  And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head.” When Jesus was reviled, He did not revile in return. Instead, He suffered and died for those who reviled Him and mocked Him and cursed Him. The only One ever who was righteous is Christ Jesus... and He gives His righteousness to you. That is what happens at the crucifixion. That is what He is doing. As He dies, He suffers all the judgment your unrighteousness deserves – and as He is pierced righteousness flows like water and blood from His side – the water of the font, the blood of His Holy Supper. That was the point of that nice reading from Romans 6 which we just heard – Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? You were joined to Christ's righteous death, and in that death a wondrous exchange took place – He took up your wickedness, indeed, took up the wickedness of the entire world – and in exchange He gave you His own righteousness, so that God the Father looks at you, He sees you washed clean in the blood of the Lamb, sees utter perfect righteousness – the righteousness of Christ Jesus. Christ's love has reconciled, has joined and restored you unto Himself for all eternity – that's the reality of what Christ and His righteousness does for you.

This is why Jesus says, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift.” This isn't some divine checklist for what hoops you have to jump through before you can come into God's House – it's dealing with reality. Here we are, standing in God's House – and we all know that we are standing here not because of how great we are, but because of how great and loving He is to us, because of the redemption won for us by Christ Jesus. That's the greatest, highest reality in the world. So, therefore, because of that, go make peace with your brother. Go forgive and be forgiven. Be reconciled. Because we all know how fights and disagreements go – you get mad at them, they get mad and you, and you start thinking how at least you're not as big of a jerk as they are, and they think the same about you. Did you note what Jesus said, though – He didn't say, “If you did something to wrong your brother” - He said if you remember “that your brother has something against you.” It might be silly. It might be inaccurate. It might be foolish – your brother might very well be a moron. So what? You're both sinners; and you don't need to try to prove a thing to anyone about how you're right and he's wrong – because that's not what your righteousness is. Your righteousness is Christ and Him crucified, and that's the only shot at righteousness that your brother's going to have as well. You're both just sinners who need Christ – so go and be reconciled, go and speak Christ's mercy and peace and forgiveness – and then come before the altar, before the mercy seat of God, and hear that mercy, receive that mercy placed upon your lips from that altar in His Supper.

Because that's the only way we get through this life, folks. There's two paths – that path of trying to prove yourself righteous, or the path of receiving Christ's righteousness. Trying to prove yourself righteous – well - “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put into prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” You can try to have your life be the great contest of “I'm right, he's wrong.” You can if you want, you can let God's righteous Law be the judge – the thing is, that ends up with you in hell. No, Christ doesn't want you trying to put your life on trial – cause you'll lose, even if you're not as wretched as your neighbor. The Law will get you both. Instead – come to terms quickly – there's a famous part of Isaiah 1. “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” That phrase in Hebrew “let us reason together” - that's Hebraic Legal language for coming to terms, that's settling out of court. Jesus doesn't want you to go to trial – He was tried and crucified for you, so let's work out a deal, you and I – though your sins are like scarlet, I have suffered and died and clothed you in the white, spotless robes of My own righteousness. You are forgiven.
Because that is what Jesus does. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. He has come to fulfill them for you,, in your place. He has come to give you a righteousness that far surpasses any human tit-for-tat that we deal with in this life, a righteousness that is so righteous and strong that it will call you forth from the grave and give you ever lasting life, will pull you into the Kingdom of heaven. This is who you are in Christ, for you are Baptized and joined to Christ's death and resurrection. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +