Saturday, September 24, 2016

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 - September 24th and 25th - Matthew 22:34-46
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

One of the things that any sermon is supposed to do is to make each and every one of us in here take a good hard look at ourselves. Part of each sermon deals with looking long and hard at sin – and not just sin out there, not what other people do, but sin in here, my sin. That’s part of preaching. And it is important that we look at our sin so we don't become prideful, and in our pride and self-righteousness learn to hate Christ, as the Pharisees so often do. This is what we see this day in our Gospel lesson.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees they gathered together. The Pharisees are worried. Jesus has just silenced some of His critics – the Sadducees – and now the Pharisees are fearful that our Lord will show them to be sinners in need of repentance and destroy their self-righteous delusions. So they will try to trap Him, discredit him – a pre-emptive strike!

And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” Which is the greatest? Seems simple enough. But it’s a set up question. Depending on what Jesus chooses, people can complain. Whatever Jesus says, whatever He picks, people can complain and say that He doesn’t think some other commandment is important. We see this same tactic in politics – oh, you want to support good thing A, then you must hate good thing B!
But Jesus doesn’t play the game. Rather, hear His answer. And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. Jesus doesn’t just answer with a commandment – He also explains the commandment. What is the most important commandment – the First Commandment – and here is what it means. You are to love God – but with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. But then Jesus says another thing – oh yes, there is another command that is tied into this, tied into the first – you are to love your neighbor as yourself. That sums it all up. And so, Jesus leaves these Pharisees with nothing to complain about in His answer. There is nothing that this answer lacks.

Instead, the answer ought to make us think. All too often people can look at God’s Law, at His Commandments, and feel self-satisfied, as though they have done what God wishes them to do. Me, I’ve never killed anyone. I haven’t had an affair. Never been in court either to bear testimony. My entire life I’ve been Lutheran – so no false gods either. Right? Jesus says wrong. With all your heart. My heart is often torn. There are times when my heart isn’t in it – when I frankly don’t feel like singing the hymns – when I have to drag myself out of bed [from my afternoon nap/on Sunday morning]. And of course, there are times when my heart would like to do things that I definitely shouldn’t. With all your soul. There are times when I sit, and when I look, and I see that my soul can be rather black and bleak and mean. With all your mind. I’ve broken every commandment in my mind many-a-time; already this day we all have.

And then of course, Jesus keeps piling it on. Love your neighbor as yourself. So what does that mean? Who is more important in your life, you or the person next to you? Actually, not the person next to you, that might be family, a spouse, a child, where we with arrogant pride might say, “Oh yes, I love them so.” Who is more important in your life, you or the person three pews away – the one who never really talk to? Do you love them as you have loved yourself? Or let’s turn the screws even more. The person you don’t like – how have you loved them? What have you sacrificed of yourself for them? Because that’s the standard God sets. That’s what the Law demands – that you love, that you serve, that you give all that you are for the sake of your neighbor. Even the ones you don’t like.

Not a one of us here does that – and neither did any of those Pharisees. And so, they were left speechless. That’s what the Law does to us when we don't water it down. The Law is not our friend – it’s not our buddy that pats us on the back and tells us how wonderful we are. The Law kills. The Law looks at what we’ve done and shreds it – because it is harsh and strict and demanding. These Pharisees thought that they could live by the Law – and Jesus shows them that they can’t – that it is beyond their doing. And that's the Law's job. Whenever we become self-righteous or proud, whenever we look down on our neighbor instead of looking at them to serve them, God's Law smacks us with a clue-by-four. Listen to what God in His Law demands, and repent O sinner, for you too have fallen short of the Glory which God’s Law calls for.

Well, this would be a really depressing sermon if it ended here. Life under the Law is either delusional or depressing. But Jesus doesn’t simply leave things here. Now, think about this. For how long have the Pharisees been giving Jesus a hard time? Years. And at this very moment, they are testing Jesus, trying to toy with Him. How easy would it be for Jesus who has just demolished the Pharisees to just leave them – let them sit and stew for a while? But Jesus doesn’t. Here is what He does.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls Him LORD saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet’?” If David calls Him Lord, how is He His Son? Now. Now while the Pharisees were gathered. Jesus doesn’t leave them stewing on the Law. What does He do? Jesus changes the focus of the discussion. The Law has done it’s work, now let’s get to the good stuff. Let’s talk about the Christ. And the Pharisees had a slight misunderstanding – or maybe not the full picture when it came to the Christ. They knew that the Christ would be the Son of David. In fact, they were looking for someone like David, who would rise up and be King, who would lead Israel to glory here on Earth. But the Christ would be more than some mere mortal. Even David knew that – see, David calls the Christ “my Lord”. If the Christ is just a man, David wouldn’t call the Christ my Lord.

Do you see what Jesus does? He is changing the way that these Pharisees are to think – He is redirecting, repenting their thoughts. You missed the point– not only about the Law, but about the Christ. You thought you would just get a man – but you will get One who is Man and Lord. You will get one who is both Man, son of David, and also True God, Emmanuel, God with us. And this leaves the Pharisees speechless. And it isn’t that they don’t know what He is saying, what Jesus is claiming. When Scripture says, And no one was able to answer Him a word it means they couldn’t talk back anymore. That they had no snappy, smart-alec answer. They couldn’t twist His words – rather they were forced to sit and think and ponder the Word of God.

Christ showed them Himself. This is who I am, oh Pharisees. I am true God and true Man – and do you know what? That Law that you love but that you can’t fulfill, I do. Christ fulfills the Law. Does Jesus love God with His whole heart and mind and soul? Yes! And does Jesus love His neighbor as Himself? What do we say in the Creed? Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. How’s that for loving your neighbor? How much does Jesus love His neighbor – He leaves heaven and becomes one of us. Look at these poor humans – I love them, in fact, I will take human flesh to Myself and become Man Myself. And when Jesus becomes Man, it is to go to the Cross – to suffer and die, to give all that He has for your sake – to literally value your life above His own. What we fail to do for our neighbor is precisely what Christ does for us. What we lack, Christ gives to us. You’ve heard the adage of someone jumping on a grenade – Jesus jumps on the Cross. When you see Christ on the Cross you see Jesus jumping in front of Satan, His arms out wide shouting, “You shall not have them, Satan.” That’s what Christ on the Cross means. That’s His love for you. That’s Him taking your punishment for your breaking the Law, and pleading to the Father to give you forgiveness and eternal life. That is His love for you.

And that is what Jesus’ focus is on – making people know and recognize His love for them. And He still does this for you today. As your sinful flesh loves to stray – He speaks His Word of Law to bring you humility. But He will not let your sinful attitudes get in the way of your knowing His love. Having spoken His Law, He speaks His Word of Life. Jesus turns our attention to Him; He makes us to repent, for Christ Jesus Himself comes here to us to show us His love. He is here in His Word – Jesus has seen to it that you hear His Word NOW, at this very Hour. And Jesus comes to you today in His own Body and Blood. Come, see the miracle that Christ indeed did come down from heaven to take on flesh, to suffer and die. Take and eat, take and drink, taste and see that the Lord is good. This is why Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” Here it is, and in His Supper nothing in lacking, and receiving the forgiveness and life He gives in His own Body and Blood you lack nothing. You are covered completely. This is what Christ does for you, this is His focus.

Just as our Lord went to these Pharisees, He comes to us today in His Church. And just like the Pharisees, when we fall into tomfoolery, when we shift our eyes off of Him and rather onto how “good” we think we are, He speaks His Law. And having spoken His Law, He speaks His Word of life to us; He in fact gives us His own life – and we are forgiven, we are redeemed. All praise to Christ for His steadfast love and mercy for us! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Spirit of Gentleness

We live in a day and age of immediate blame.  There is a police shooting, and instantaneously there is a divide between those who say the cop is at fault and those who blame the fellow shot.  There is a bombing or a stabbing in a mall, and immediately the same political lines are toed.  There is report of something scandalous somewhere in the church, and the complaints and knee-jerk defense both flash across walls and pages and blogs.  And where do you stand on these issues?  Answer now, with the barest of information!  The decision is to be made in a second, as soon as the report comes in - or you yourself will be judged as lacking, a traitor, a sell-out, a dupe.

   But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.  6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Consider the fruits of the Spirit (alas, so often displaced these days by "virtue" in a vain attempt to reassert our own strength, our own manliness).  How do the snap judgments play in with these?

Love: whom or what are you loving?  You are to love your neighbor.  That means both the black life and the blue life.  You are to have compassion even upon the terrorist or the errorist alike.  Yet are our snap judgments actions of love for them, or are they love of our own agendas, political opinions, theological institutions, etc?  Are they not in fact self love - where everything becomes a chance for "I told you so" posturing? 

Joy:  Joy?  In these sorts of discussions?  Ha! Our Lord said in John 16 "
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."  We have joy in Christ.  No matter how messed up the world is, Christ is Risen!  No failures of order (domestic or governmental), no tomfoolery in the Church will change that.  If Israel for centuries ignored the Passover and instead had asherahs in the temple, yet the Messiah still came, then certainly the mild strangeness of our days will not hinder our Lord's return!  And yet, where is the joy?  Instead of joy, how often do we run on fear and anger and disdain and rage?

Peace:  What use is peace in a time of outrage?  What use is peace when the answer is to put up a hashtag to show the appropriate and righteous anger (though it's the same one you used last time, and the sun has long since gone down)?  We do not appear to those in fear and say "Peace be with you" as our Risen Lord does - instead we are quick to tell people what they should fear.

Patience:  Do we let things play out?  Do we let the story unfold?  Do we let those who have been given by God the authority to handle and judge these things do their God given duty - or do we make our snap decisions and proclaim what should be done.  Fire or Exonerate, condemn, excommunicate and remove!  We who have no office to judge or condemn or to declare innocent and exonerate speak so quickly - running when not told to run, speaking in a manner outside what we were called to speak.  We forget what Luther says in the Large Catechism:
Therefore, to avoid this vice we should note that 265] no one is allowed publicly to judge and reprove his neighbor, although he may see him sin, unless he have a command to judge and to reprove. 266] For there is a great difference between these two things, judging sin and knowing sin. You may indeed know it, but you are not to judge it. I can indeed see and hear that my neighbor sins, but I have no command to report it to others. Now, if I rush in, judging and passing sentence, I fall into a sin which is greater than his.

But what of the other part of that Large Catechism, Brown!?  For does it not say:

All this has been said regarding secret sins. But where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it, you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him. For when a matter is public in the light of day, there can be no slandering or false judging or testifying; as, when we now reprove the Pope with his doctrine, which is publicly set forth in books and proclaimed in all the world. For where the sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it.

Yep, but the very next words are:

Thus we have now the sum and general understanding of this commandment, to wit, that no one do any injury with the tongue to his neighbor, whether friend or foe, nor speak evil of him, no matter whether it be true or false, unless it be done by commandment or for his reformation, but that every one employ his tongue and make it serve for the best of every one else, to cover up his neighbor's sins and infirmities, excuse them, palliate and garnish them with his own reputation. 286] The chief reason for this should be the one which Christ alleges in the Gospel, in which He comprehends all commandments respecting our neighbor, Matt. 7:12: Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.

Are you quick to speak so as to reform a person?  If not, let there be patience!  Would that we were patient and not so quick to condemn in our discussions, and rather have patient love! 

But they are wrong, and they harm me!  So be it - or do you not remember that "patient" is actually, literally "long suffering".  Better for me to suffer under my neighbor than to cause my neighbor to suffer.  This is the fruit of the Spirit Whom Christ gave forth from the Cross.

Kindness:  Are your words kind?  Are they full of collegiality?  If you need to admonish or reprove, is there kindness towards the very one you are reproving?  Are you doing so because you love them and thus treating them kindly, or do you fear them and what they represent, and want them destroyed?  Are you more worried about the power and politics involved, the greater agendas at play, than you about the person?  Who cares whether or not they are focused on power, politics, or agendas!?  We are called to love the neighbor, not our hobby horses.  Let power be the way of the world - we are of Christ - kindness is what wells up in us by the power of the Spirit, a power the world will never understand.  One need never be a "Jerk for Jesus" - otherwise one has missed the point.

Goodness: This is not moral rectitude.  This is not "See how right and good I am."  This is from agathos - good, useful.  Utility.  By the Spirit of God we are useful to our neighbor; we are an aid and a help to them, rather than a hindrance and a foil.   Our are actions for their benefit, for their good - for if we are full of goodness then we are a good for our neighbor.

Faithfulness:  This is not "I will demonstrate how orthodox I am" - be it politically or theologically or what have you.  Be faithful to your neighbor.  Break not faith with them!  Don't betray them!  Don't throw them under the bus - but be good and faithful to your neighbor.  For you realize that we are to love our neighbor, right?

Gentleness:  Meekness.  To act as though the other person, the person whom you are addressing or speaking about is of more importance than you yourself, is greater than you yourself.

Self Control:  Our Roman Catholic brother in the faith Herm Edwards sums this one up nicely:

And St. Paul goes on.  Let's not be conceited, jealous of the attention others get.  Let's not try to provoke others -- let's not try to stir the pot and get folks riled up and angry (for the anger of man most certainly does not produce the righteousness of God).

In fact, if you are bound to speak, compelled to speak on anything - if you are spiritual, then restore the erring in a spirit of gentleness.  Meekness.  They are more important than you.  Their life is more than your life.  Thus Christ on the Cross, who valued your life more than His own.

Are you made uncomfortable - so be it.  Show love nonetheless.
Are things you value being mocked or tarnished - so be it.  Show joy nonetheless.
Are things raging violently - so be it.  Show peace nonetheless.
Are things changing so quickly and frighteningly - so be it.  Show patience nonetheless.
Are they cruel and harsh to you - so be it.  Show kindness nonetheless.
Are they hurting and harming you - so be it.  Show goodness nonetheless.
Are they faithless and full of betrayal - so be it.  Show faithfulness nonetheless.
Are they arrogant and self-important - so be it.  Show gentleness nonetheless.
Are they stopping at nothing to have their way - so be it.  Control yourself nonetheless.

For they are not your head, they are not your lord, they are not your master.  You are not rooted or grounded in them.  They do not determine your life.  You are baptized, and Christ Jesus is your Lord and Master.  He has poured out His Spirit upon you, forgiven you and given you life.  That is truth - and no blurb across some screen can change that.

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

You are a new creation in Christ - don't let the craziness of the world make you forget that =o)

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Clarence Outsen Funeral

Clarence Outsen – September 20th, 2016 – John 14:1-6

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Cindy, Sienna, Melinda, and Guyneth, friends and family of our beloved brother in Christ Clarence – Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Age and illness can do terrible things to us, and yet in the midst of these struggles, God still provides us with great and loving care. Clarence's life was an example of this. We here at Trinity only got to know him for a few short years, and even then, that was only when age and illness had already started to do a number on Clarence, when it was best for him to be over there at Harvest View. Of course, by the time I showed up here, even more of his spryness was gone, and in this past year Clarence would become more and more frail, and yet I myself would marvel and rejoice inside whenever I saw him, his cheerfulness, his smile, but also his dogged determination to come to Church, to hear preaching, to take the Lord's Supper even with hands that were more and more becoming unsteady. It was a wondrous and faithful and beautiful thing to see. And so even though we at Trinity only got to see him towards the end of his earthly days, even though we didn't get to know him in the days of his youth and strength, I would like to thank you, family, for letting him stay with us in Herscher for a time. And I think I can safely say that Harvest View was a place that God had prepared for Clarence, a safe place of support and care; and that God also prepared us at Trinity to be a home for Clarence for a time. It is a wondrous gift of God and His love.

Yet not nearly as wondrous as what our brother in Christ Clarence now sees. Listen, for Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Clarence, at this moment, is with His Lord, Christ Jesus. At this moment Clarence dwells with Christ in joy and peace in Heaven, and when Christ comes again on the Last Day, Clarence will come with Him and be raised from the dead and on that day our joy will indeed be full. But right now, Clarence has it better than He had it a week ago, or a decade ago, or even 50 years ago. Even as so many of the trials and pains and hardships that are far too common in this sinful world clawed at him, Christ Jesus our Lord called Clarence to His own side, called him unto peace and joy.

Clarence sees this now, knows this now. Of course He does, for He knew His Savior Christ Jesus all his earthly days, walked by faith all his days. Clarence knew the One who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” - and thus Clarence knew the way to heaven and life everlasting; Clarence knew the truth of the forgiveness of sins that Christ Jesus had won for Him with His own death upon the Cross, and Clarence knew the life everlasting that Christ's resurrection had won for him. All this Clarence sees now – he sees his Redeemer now, which is a wondrous thing of which we can only imagine.

As for us here, we still walk by faith. The same good news of salvation in Christ Jesus that gave Clarence hope and joy in his days is the same message of salvation that is proclaimed to us. Because Christ Jesus has died and been raised, like Clarence your sins are forgiven for His sake, and you have life in His Name, so that even should, indeed even when this world does its worst to you, you too belong to Christ, just as Clarence does. You too have been baptized, washed clean of your sin and claimed by the Father. You too have heard the Gospel of Christ Jesus which gives Christ's own forgiveness and life to you. And this shapes how we see today, how we see the days to come.

Saint Paul reminds us, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen.” Yes, we mourn. Of course we do – Clarence was a tangible gift from God to us. If even I can see that he was a such a gift towards the end of his life, I can barely imagine what sort of gift he must have been when he was full of vim and vigor. And yes, our mourning is a weight, it is a burden. But St. Paul reminds us that it is a light and momentary affliction, at least when we compare it to what is to come. For we have not lost Clarence – we know precisely where He is; Clarence is at home with the Lord. And we have not lost Clarence, for in Christ Jesus and His love for each of you, it is your home as well. While still here, you all have things on your plate, tasks given to you by God to do so that through you He may care for your neighbor, for you too are meant to be gifts from God unto your neighbors, even as Clarence was a gift to you. But until such time as Christ calls you home, be at peace. Rest secure in Christ, knowing that in Him you are forgiven, in Him you have life, and that our brother in Christ Clarence is well taken care of. God grant us that we would hear His Word and remain in the faith, even until we see Clarence again in the Presence of Christ Jesus our Lord. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What Drives the Church?

When my dad was first called to Trinity, Woodward (Oklahoma) a bit over 10 years ago, I had an easy time finding his place.  Come in to town from the main highway to the west, and when you got to the big former grocery store turned into random Evangelical Church, turn left. 

I can't remember the name of the grocery store church, but it had a big sign: "Changing a Culture for Christ."  My dad and I would chuckle at that - as though the point of the Church is to change a culture, or for that matter even to be focused on individual moral improvement!  He and I were pastors; we were preachers of the Gospel - not life coaches or counselors - if we did that, it was an alien work, a side thing, not the primary.  And even then, not as the world did these things.  We did not try to improve; rather God by His Word killed and made alive - killed with the law and enlivened with the Gospel.  Preachers were sent by God to proclaim the Word that people might obtain faith - where there is faith, works will follow.  Where folks abide in Christ, fruit will come - for indeed, apart from Him we can do nothing.  Sure, there may be some civil righteousness that comes from reason - but before God, that matters not.  While we were to praise civil righteousness, we were preachers - we were to be about the Word and Sacraments so as to deal with the eternal things.

Sin and Grace.  Law and Gospel.  Acknowledging that both would always be needed for in this life we would never obtain perfection.  Indeed, in this life all our works would be tainted with sin, yet approved by God solely on account of Christ.

Of course, that was back in the day.  That was before the rise of all the terrible social issues of the day, I am told.  Surely now the Church must be first and foremost a bulwark for morality and decency, now that such terrors have arisen!  That was before we had terrible liberal presidents and social agendas and the like!


Here's the thing.  I started college in 1995, Seminary in 2000.  We had all of this back then.  Tolerance was the talk on campus back in the 1990s - all the same sorts of PC stuff was going on there.  And when I was in the Sem, gay marriage was legalized in various states.  Nothing new under the sun.

And yet - even after and through that - there is my dad and I, over and against all that junk, sitting in the 2000s, determined to be centered on Christ Crucified for sinners, and letting the chips fall where the Holy Spirit wills. 

So I will ask.  What drives the church?  What drives your theology?  What gets you fired up?  Is it the thought that folks do not know the Gospel of Christ - that they are trapped in the chains of legalism and self-justification; or is it fixing society?  Better ethics and morality?  The primacy of Christianity in our Country?

Because, those are the old silly saws of American Protestantism - the balliwick of Schmucker and Welch and their ilk. 

Does the Gospel still drive the Church?  Does it still drive you?  Or do you need something naughty and salacious to get to fired up?

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ Crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jew and Greek, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

What drives the church?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Ready for another Blow Up

I know I don't blog much anymore.  Sometimes I miss it.  I enjoy writing, but frankly, meh.

So, there's another blow up in the Lutheran social media world.  Is it surprising or shocking?

...  Not really.  Megachurches will do megachurch things.   Folks who want attention will strive for attention.  The self-justifying will justify their own actions.

Have we not realized its the same thing?  And yet, so often we will want to match pride for pride, ego for ego.  "I'm right" will be answered with "No, I'm right."

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” - Luke 13:1-5

 Signs of the times, folks. Signs of the times always around us - always reminding not that we are more righteous (or less righteous) than others - but that we are sinners in a sinful world, and we ourselves should repent.  We should take heed lest we ourselves fall. 

God grant that we keep our eyes focused upon Jesus, even when there are so many more salacious things to talk about.

Trinity 17 Sermon

Trinity 17 – September 17th and 18th, 2016 – Luke 14:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Of all the healings that our Lord does, this one seems the most disturbing. It’s bothersome. There is just something about this healing that doesn’t sit right here. With the other that healings we see in Scripture, there’s rejoicing and merriment. They are in a setting of love and devotion – a Centurion pleading for his servant, a mother for her child, friends carrying a paralyzed man. And there’s even the rejoicing of the healed, the shouts of praise to God that go up even when He asks them to be quiet. But not with this healing. No, this one is different, it feels off. Listen again.

One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him closely. I hope you can hear the tension in that verse. So there Jesus is, and He has been invited over to some important fellow’s house for the Sabbath meal – a meal that was to be a time of rest, of relaxation, of pondering God’s Word and God’s love for us. It should be Jesus in His element – He loves eating with people and teaching and preaching to them, proclaiming the love of God to them. He’ll even make the food if there’s no food there – that’s how much Jesus loves these teaching dinners. But that’s not what we see today. No, instead of people like Zaccheus or Mary hanging on His Words and paying attention to Him, we have the Pharisees watching Him closely. Observing Him. Looking to judge and critique and find something to complain about. Instead of eating with sinners who wish to see their Savior, Jesus is eating with the smug and self-righteous who want to find fault with Him. That would have to be slightly awkward to say the least.

And it gets more so. “And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.” And suddenly, there’s a sick man there, someone with a horrible, swelling disease. That “and behold” is Luke’s way of laying this on thick. There is no reason for this man to be there – he doesn’t belong. The Pharisees would never dine with his kind – it’s like walking into the Country Club and seeing a dirty, smelly bum. He doesn’t belong… but then, there he is. And note, Jesus doesn’t address the man first. Instead we hear, “And Jesus responded to the Pharisees, saying, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?’” I know what you Pharisees are doing – you are just using this poor man and his misery to set a trap for Me. You’ll complain no matter what. If I heal, I break Sabbath; if I do nothing, what a pathetic, lousy healer I am. Think about how sick and twisted this is – people are setting a trap to complain about Jesus using a sick and suffering man as the bait. And Jesus calls the Pharisees on it – puts the ball into their court. So, Pharisees, you think you should sit in judgment of Me, you think you should tell Me what to do – alright, do it. Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? “But they remained silent.” They can’t say anything in response to Jesus. Their ham-fisted ploy has been exposed, and now they are in a no win situation.

Now, a confession. Whenever I read this text, I get really, really annoyed with the Pharisees, and I want Jesus to just lambaste them here – lay into them. Read them the riot act and peel the paint off of them. And that's a problem. See, just as the Pharisees were watching Jesus closely to complain about him, the temptation for me is to watch the Pharisees closely to complain about them. And then I can feel smug and secure because, I’m better than these wicked Pharisees. *I* would never do something like that – while I’m doing the exact same thing in my mind that they did. And I doubt I am alone in this. Now, maybe not everyone here gets agitated with folks in the Bible, but let me ask. How many of you spent some time this week looking at your neighbor with a critical eye – not to help them, not to care for them, but to be ready to complain, to pounce, to tear down, to destroy? The temptation for us is to fall into the rat race, to go all dog eat dog. Maybe it’s a co-worker who makes life harder for us, a neighbor who annoys us, that family member who’s a bit of a black sheep and an embarrassment. Whomever – there is that temptation to watch through a sneer and to look down upon them and just wait with baited breath for them to get their comeuppance.

And so back to the text, where Jesus turns around and just levels the Pharisees, right? Goes on a long spiel about how terrible they are! No. “Then He took him and healed him and sent him away.” The very first thing Jesus does is tend to that poor man with dropsy. You are hurt, you are in pain, you don’t even want to be here. Be healed. Go home. See your family and rejoice. Jesus’ first thought is compassion. But then, surely, He’ll turn and lay into the Pharisees and read them the riot act now! No. “And He said to them, ‘Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out?’” How gentle. There’s no recrimination. Jesus doesn’t even mention their plotting and planning, their cruelty. He ignores that – and instead explains His actions. Fellas, you know that in an emergency, you act on the Sabbath. You rescue, you care for people. Now, if you will do that, how can God not care for His people, for those who are hurting? Yes, I will rescue people. That is how God shows love. Even as they plot against Him, even as they conspire to do Him harm, Christ Jesus points to His love for these Pharisees. “And they could not reply to these things.” And their plotting stops. It’s cut off in its tracks.
You realize this is the depiction of how Christ treats you? Consider. When you are deep in your sins, when you are feeling the aches and pains of guilt and remorse or swollen with pride – Jesus heals you. He forgives you. Doesn’t make a big deal of it – first things first, you are forgiven, now go your way. Head back to your home, rejoice, delight in forgiveness. Or even when there are those times where you are going stubbornly astray, when you are acting like the Pharisees, where you are doing that familiar, self-justifying sin that you do repeatedly, what does Christ do? He doesn’t seek to lambaste you – no, He will once again give yo His own love and His own mercy. He is gentle and lowly, and full of love.
Our text continues with Jesus demonstrating more love. “Now He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noticed how they chose the places of honor…” Here’s the set up. Yes, Jesus is going to comment on what the Pharisees are doing, but did you hear the difference? The Pharisees, they were watching Him closely, looking for flaws and faults whereby to criticize him. Jesus, He just notices something. He’s there, but something just stands out, and then he’ll bring it to their attention for their own good. Do you get the difference there, how much more gentle Christ is? And so Jesus speaks. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.” So what – does Jesus suddenly turn into Miss Manners or Dear Abby? Is this just practical advice or party tips time? No, Jesus is making a point, and a familiar one. Do not seek your own glory, don’t elevate yourselves, avoid the temptation of pride. Jesus isn’t saying anything new – He had first had it spoken long ago in His Word through Solomon in Proverbs. No, Christ sees their actions, and he warns them against pride, because pride does bad things to you. It makes you focused on elevating yourself, stepping over and upon your neighbors, rather than being a servant who shows love and care. It makes you forget the lessons and truths that you learned from the Scriptures.

And Jesus ties this up with a nice little bow – “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exulted.” So what, is Jesus just going to end with a moral platitude, some finger wagging? No, not our Lord, full of compassion. He teaches with patience and gentleness. He reminds us that all of us, all sinful folks exalt themselves, strive to elevate themselves. We’ll even hear this verse and say, “Oh, well, maybe if I just act lowly, I’ll get exulted”. No, we sinners who have exulted ourselves will be laid low. The wages of sin is death. Simple as that. But there is one who humbles himself – and He who humbles Himself will be exulted. And that is what Christ Jesus did. There is Jesus – He is God, He is holy, He is righteous, He is above and beyond us. Yet what does He do? He humbles Himself to be born of a Virgin. He humbles Himself to hunger and thirst and to be beaten and mocked and scorned. He humbles Himself upon the Cross and dies. He takes up our humiliation, the humbling that we deserve for our false exultation. And then He is raised, and now He is exulted over all things. Jesus points us to Himself here again, He is proclaiming that He is the suffering servant who will save His people. But not just that. He is also the Master of the great feast, the master of the eternal wedding feast of the life of the world to come… and as He has been exulted, so too He looks to you, and He invites you to life everlasting, and He does not expect you to exalt yourself. He doesn’t expect you to earn a place of honor – in fact, He warns you against all those vainglorious attempts. Instead, He sees you in laid low by sin and temptation and death, and He reaches out His hand of love and forgiveness to you, and He says friend, move up higher, come, be with Me for all eternity.

Today’s text, dear friends, may sit odd. It’s not your typical healing – and it’s not meant to be. Today Christ reminds us of His gentle and kind love that He has for you… love that is not based on how great or wonderful you are, love that is not stopped even by your pride and disdain. No, Christ has humbled Himself, He has suffered and died and risen again, all so that you might be with Him in His exultation for all eternity. This is His great and gentle love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Trinity 15 Sermon

Trinity 15 – Matthew 6:24ff – September 3rd and 4th

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” You cannot serve God and “Mammon,” (as the old King James puts it) - the stuff of this life, earthly power and wealth. Why? Because the Lord your God is a jealous God, and He does not want to share your affections with another, and He knows that your eye will wander if He lets you. Because mammon and money is a greedy and tyrannical god, always demanding more and more of you, more of your time, more of your efforts. As often happens in the Scriptures two paths, two ways of living, are set before us. There is the way of life – the life lived in simple joy at being one of God’s redeemed servants, knowing that your Master well provides for you. Then there is the way of death – where your days are spent ever filled with toil and effort to get more and more, days ever filled with worry and doubt and despair.

I’m sure you recognize both of these. I’m sure that there isn’t a one of us in this room who hasn’t had sleepless nights worrying about what tomorrow will bring. I’m sure there’s not a one of us who hasn’t been worried about how small the number in the bank account was, or hasn’t just been sure that if we didn’t get the newest and latest and greatest doo-hickey or doo-dad that we just wouldn’t be happy. We live in America, and the god that our country truly worships is Mammon, is money, is worldly power and might – where our heroes are all multi-millionaires, where “reality” tv shows lives that none of us have; where every form of entertainment is interrupted with commercials telling us what we need to buy to make our life complete. Satan, our old evil foe, is constantly stirring up discontent and dissatisfaction with what we have – using money and wealth and stuff to rob us of our joy, of our contentment, of our peace. We are not immune to this.

Dear friends in Christ, while you are not immune to these temptations, these temptations do not define you. Even as the world calls out to you, even as money and wealth and power seek to dominate your life, may I remind you of a truth? Money is not your master, for you are baptized. When you were baptized, when God claimed you by water and the Word, He said that you are His and He is yours. This is important to remember at all times – while as a Christian you are in the world, you are not of this world. While you live your life here surrounded by all the trappings of wealth and power, they do not define you, they do not control you. You are rather one of God’s own children, you are part of His family, He is your Lord - and because you are His servant – wealth, money, earthly power – these things are not your masters, but rather they are simply tools which God gives to you to use in His service as He wills. Whether the bank account is full or empty – you belong to Christ – and you use what He gives you in love for your neighbor, for you know that your true home is not of this world, for Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. Indeed, remembering that you belong to Christ is the key to understanding the rest of our Gospel lesson.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life….” There are two ways in which one might hear these next words of Christ. One might hear them as utterly crushing law – Jesus said I shouldn’t worry, but I do, oh I’m lousy – oh, see how enslaved I am to money and wealth, I am terrible, I stink on ice. Well, probably – if you see your sin, I’m not going to argue against you. I see my own sin quite often, and I know I’m only scratching the surface thereof – we are sinful to the core. But Christ Jesus is not trying to drop the hammer on you with these words. It is true, you cannot serve two masters… and then Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you”. If Jesus is speaking to you, if He is the one who tells you how things are, if you are listening to Him… that means He is your Master. The rest of this passage, the rest of the Gospel Lesson is simply your Lord telling you, promising you that He will care for you – it is a tour de force of His love and compassion. Your Master speaks to you now, and He tells you how He Himself cares for you.

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” Christ Jesus your Lord knows how Satan works, knows how the devil tries to stir up fear and doubt – Satan was fool enough to try these very temptations upon Christ – here, Jesus, turn stone to bread; here Jesus, if you just worship me You’ll get all the glory and wondrous clothing you could wish for. Jesus knows how Satan attacks you, how the Devil loves to make you fret about this life, about having enough. Your Master tells you that you need not worry about this – that when Satan comes around and whispers worry in your ear, you have God’s own authority to tell him to be gone. For your life is more than food, and your body is more than clothing. Today, our Lord provides for you His holy Supper. Is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper simply to give you a snack to strengthen your body? Far from it – it is the True Body and Blood of your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given and shed for you for the remission of your sins, for eternal life and salvation. Your life is more than just these brief days upon this earth – you are joined to Christ Jesus, part of His Body, and thus you will be with Him forever in the New Heavens and the New Earth. And as you approach your Master’s table today – how do you come? You come as one who is baptized, clothed in Christ's righteousness - your clothes now might fall apart and fade – what of that – for you have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and even should you die, should your body be placed in the ground, your Master will call you forth on the Last day and clothe your risen and perfected body for all eternity.

With these words, Christ Jesus your Lord is telling you that you have life and salvation in Him – that this is the highest reality of your existence – and so when Satan comes around with his temptations – Satan can go stick it, he has nothing to do with you, for you belong to Christ. That’s the point of the rest of the passage. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you of not more value than they?” Of course you are – you are one for whom Christ Jesus came down from heaven to redeem and save. If God cares for the birds for their time on earth, will He not care for you and give you what you need for your days – and more than that, will He not bring you unto His everlasting kingdom? “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” Quite the opposite – stress and worry harm us – so Jesus reminds you to be calm, to rest secure in Him. He is your God and you are His child – He has already promised you ever lasting life, and you can’t get longer than that. “And why are you anxious about clothing. Consider the lilies of the field, how they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Again, the promise is shown by comparison. You are valuable to God – He has paid the price of His dear Son for you – do you think that He, having purchased you, would then not care for you? Hardly – He provides you what you need for this life and the life of the world to come.

This is your reality – that you are cared for by God. So what does this mean, how does this shape your life now? “Therefore do not be anxious, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” The world is full of fear, for that terrible and cruel master of this world, money, Mammon, power, desires and delights in terror and fear and worry. Your Lord here pulls you away from that. Examine your thoughts – and when they are worldly focused, when Satan’s fears and temptations start influencing your thoughts, pause and say, “This is not who I am – I am Christ’s own Child – He cares for me.” As a Christian, you see this life differently than the rest of the world – and Christ reminds you of this. This is a tool for you, a self-diagnostic if you will. When you start thinking too much like the rest of the world, pause, repent, and be focused again upon the promises of Christ.

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Again – be wary here. Do not fall into a false prosperity gospel – don’t fall into what the TV preachers sell you here. This isn’t the secret Christian way of becoming rich and powerful – who cares about Mammon? You aren’t a Christian in order to sucker God out of more stuff. Besides, our Lord then says, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” In this life, as long as you are in this sinful world – there will be struggles and trials and difficulties. As a Christian, you are opposed to Satan and power, and thus Satan and power will hound you. Because of this, because the world will give you no rest – Christ calls you here to this place, to seek out His Kingdom, to seek the place where He rules, to seek out His righteousness and forgiveness. He is your Lord, you will have what you need – and when you are focused upon Christ, you will realize this, you will see this, you will know that the Lord does provide. Not “wealth” and “mammon” as the world craves, not more and more than your neighbors so you can show them how great you are and to bring them to heel – those are the promises of the false god of money. No, God will provide for you what you need – and what you truly, truly need is His righteousness and His kingdom. And because you are His own Baptized Child, because you have been called out of the world unto His Kingdom, unto His House, because you are forgiven and His beloved, life everlasting is yours in His Name. Remember this, especially as the world and wealth try to rob you of your peace – Christ Jesus is your Master, and He gives you His peace. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +