Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Name of Jesus Sermon

Dear friends in Christ, greetings to you this very cold first day of 2018. It's not just New Year's Day, but it's also in fact a Church Holiday, the Name of Jesus. This comes from the fact that it was on the 8th Day, one week after His birth, Jesus was circumcised and named. This is what we see in our Gospel lesson, short though it is. And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb. Today, let us spend some time meditating on the Name of Jesus as the year slowly ends.

There is one thing to notice here that nowadays we don’t think too much about. The 8th day, which is now, is of profound importance in the Old Testament for a child. The 8th day is when everything becomes official. He’s been around a week, but Jesus is only named at His Circumcision. This was the custom of the day in the Old Testament times. The child received his name on the day of his circumcision. As an example of this, when King David has his affair with Bathsheeba, the child dies on the 7th day. That’s why we never get his name. . . he hadn’t been officially named yet. So, therefore, even Jesus isn’t technically named Jesus until the 8th day.

It was the custom for a long, long time in the Christian Church not to name a child until they are Baptized. We see this in the Baptism service. When I baptize a child, I ask, “How is this child to be named?” That wasn’t just a way for absent minded pastors to remember what the kid’s name is supposed to be, but it was the official act of publicly naming the Child. In fact, this is how Martin Luther got his name. The little Luther boy was baptized the day after his birth, which happens to be St. Martin’s Day, so his name is Martin. The first time I said Victor and Ambrose's names to them outside of the womb was when I baptized them. There is an association of Baptism with naming. Evidence of this is that baptism is also called Christening. . . and rightfully so, Christ-in-ing, putting in Christ. In Baptism we are clothed with Christ. But now, when we think of Christening, we think of naming ships for navy, but that idea comes from the idea of giving a name at Baptism. However today, with legal birth certificates done by the state, we don’t wait to name the kid until Baptism. It’s something that has fallen away, no huge deal, though we will make a big deal of it today – the giving of the name is our focus and our cause to rejoice. Today we celebrate the Name Jesus, because it was today that He took that Name upon Himself.

So let us look at the Name Jesus. One of the other things that we have lost in America is the fact that names have meaning. When you named someone, the name signified something. Our names do as well, but, most of our names aren’t from English, so we don’t know what they mean. Eric, for example, is a derivation of powerful from Swedish. Now, I know that because I’ve looked it up, but I don’t hear my name and think powerful. Neither did my parents. . . I got named Eric because my dad really liked Eric Soderholm, who was the 3rd baseman for the Chicago White Sox in 1977. Even with names that have meanings in English, we don’t think of their meaning. We see some named Butch, and it’s just a name, not a description. We see a guy named Dale, and we don’t think of a valley. Chip, we don’t think of something little. Victor? Oh, what has he won? In America, because we pull names from so many languages, we don’t often think of them having meaning. In Jesus day, in the Old Testament, it was different. Names had meanings that said something, that proclaimed something. Names were meant to be little sermons, little confessions of what is true and real. Like Daniel. Daniel means, “God is my Judge.” Dan is Judge, “i” is my, and el is an abbreviation of Elohim, or God. Abram – exalted father – gets his named changed by God to Abraham – father of a multitude. Ab is father – ram is exalted, raham is of a multitude. The names have meaning.

The Name Jesus works the same way. In Hebrew it would be pronounced Yeshua – Ye being short for Jehovah, the LORD, and shua meaning “saves”. The name Jesus, and the name Joshua for that matter, means “The Lord saves.” Is this not wonderful? Everything about Jesus is Gospel, even His very Name itself. To simply say the Name “Jesus” is to confess that God is the Savior, that He is the One who saves. This is the significance of the Name of Jesus. It tells us exactly what is going on here. Why do we have this Jesus running around? Well, because Yeshua, because The LORD Saves.

And how does The LORD Save? We see this in the fact that Jesus was circumcised. So Jesus is circumcised, what’s the big deal? First, in being circumcised, we see Jesus fulfilling the law. In being circumcised, we see Jesus doing all the things that He needs to do to be completely righteous. If you look at all of the laws of the Old Testament, Jesus does everything that is required of Human beings. By being circumcised, Jesus is placed under the Law as all of us are, except with Jesus, there is one major difference. He can and does do the Law perfectly. No sin, no flaw in our Lord, simply perfection in Human flesh. We see Jesus fulfilling the law in our place.

But also, we see something else. I don’t know how many of you have seen a circumcision, but when you think about it, it’s a bloody thing. You are cutting flesh from a rather tender area, and it bleeds. Do you see what else we get in circumcision? Today we celebrate the first time in which our Lord shed His blood for us. It is at His circumcision that the very Blood which is poured out for us on the Cross is first poured out for us. And it is interesting to note that this blood shedding comes under the law. The Law says on the 8th day males are to be circumcised, and so Jesus is. It is because Jesus our Lord submits Himself to the law that He is wounded, that He bleeds. Is this not the same thing we see at the Crucifixion? Christ Jesus, the Lord of Creation, submitting Himself to the punishments of the law, our punishment, which we deserved, in our stead? Even from the beginning of His days on the earth, Christ Jesus takes His place with us and sheds His blood on your behalf, blood that is always given and shed for you for the remission of all of your sins.

Dear friends, the way we end the old and begin the new year in the Church is to look at Christ Jesus our Lord, the Lord Who Saves, and to give praise to Him for the fact that He is the God who becomes Man and suffers for our sake. In the year to come, may you remember richly the forgiveness that Jesus has won for you, may you hear it preached often, may you taste it often in His supper. Indeed, the Lord Saves, and let us give Him thanks and praise for that in all years to come, even until the end of time. Amen.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Sermon for 1st Sunday after Christmas

1st Sunday after Christmas – Luke 2:22-40 – December 30th and 31st, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Newborn King +

          Finally, the time for purification had come. For 40 days, since Jesus was born, Mary had to stay at home. That was the Law. For the first 40 days after childbirth, women didn’t go out in public – probably a good and safe practice for health, but think of it this way. Mary’s been cooped up. And now you finally get to get out, you bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to make the appropriate offering for Him, which is appropriate as Jesus has come to fulfill the Law. And then, old Simeon comes up, and he grabs little Jesus out of your arms and starts singing – singing a song that we ourselves sing after Communion to this very day. Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. Lord, I can die a happy man! Of course, think about what the past year has been like for Mary – Gabriel showing up both to you and to you husband – you had an angel tell your husband, “Yes, marry her.” How’s that for a confidence builder? And then there’s the birth, and even the Shepherds showing up and praising God. It’s been a non-stop whirlwind of praise and joy.

           And then this old codger Simeon hands you back your son, and then he blesses you, but then he says something quite strange. “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…” Think about the shock of hearing that. It’s been joy to the world, happy holidays, have a holly jolly Christma… what? Talk about throwing cold water on the parade. This Child is going to cause chaos because of who He is, Mary – and people are going to hate Him. The wicked of the world will rally and fight against Him. And it’s true. Think about Jesus’ crucifixion – you have Herod and Pilate and the Priests all conspiring together – that was something unheard of. The priests hated anyone who was gentile, and Herod and Pilate hated each other until the events of Good Friday – they only became friends afterwards. Christ Jesus ends up being one of if not the most hated person in all of history. Do you doubt me? His very name is a curse, a vulgarity. Even 2000 years later people get killed for following Him – ask the Christians in Muslim countries what it means to follow Christ. He is a sign that is opposed. Wow.

Again, we’re not used to thinking this way, especially not at Christmastime – and I’m guessing poor Mary wasn’t either. Which is why Simeon especially notes that this will impact her – “And a sword will pierce through your own soul also….” Yes, Mary – this hatred that your Son will bear, it will hit home for you as well. It’s going to stab you. How’s that for a change of pace – it’s been joy, joy, joy, oh how great it is that you are the Mother of Christ… then wham. A sword is going to pierce your soul too, Mary. The time is going to come when He won’t be the eager Messiah that you want Him to be. The time is going to come when you will just be embarrassed by Him, when you and His siblings will beg Him to come in from preaching and teaching because He’s embarrassing you – and He will shrug you off. My Mother and My brothers are calling for Me – Who are My Mother and my brothers? These here who hear my teaching are My mother and My brothers. Gut punch. But even that will be topped, Mary. One Friday it will come to a head as this little child, your Son, hangs on a cross. Woman, behold your Son. A sword will pierce through your own soul also.

Why all the pain, why all the angst? “So that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.” Christ Jesus comes, and He comes Holy and righteous and perfect and good. And we, we are not. We are sinful, fallen men. When people saw Christ, this was something else that they remembered too. And the question was how do you respond to this – when you see God Himself in flesh showing love perfectly, how do you react? And we know what our sinful flesh wants to do. The sinful flesh wants to tear down and destroy anything good that anyone else has. The sinful flesh feels greed and jealousy and hatred and anger. You know that feeling in your gut when you see someone else who has something better than you? That feeling when the other guy gets the job or has the car and you want to beat him? When you see the other gal who has the looks, the whatever, and you want to get all catty? Nothing gets ratings on the news shows like a good celebrity scandal – we love the rich and famous being taken down a peg. Now imagine what your sinful flesh would want to do when it sees not merely something better than you, but One who is perfect. Anyone who looked at Christ while thinking well and highly of himself, as the old sinful flesh is wont to do, would hate Him, and that hate would boil up to the surface – it’s why He even gets killed. And we see this pattern throughout the Bible. Joseph’s brothers throw him in pit and sell him into slavery. King Saul repeatedly tries to kill David, who is his most loyal and faithful servant. The Pharisees, who prized their own holiness, stone Stephen to death. It’s that same old sinful song and dance with Christ, but even more so – because He isn’t merely better than us; Christ Jesus is perfect.

So why any singing, then, Simeon? So why is there any rejoicing? Here is the nuance, and it comes out from Anna, a very old widow lady. Had her husband 7 years, so probably until she was around 20 – and then widowed for over 6 decades. There’s a woman who knows suffering, knows that this world isn’t all its cracked up to be. And she lived in the temple, fasting and praying, and when Christ comes, she gives thanks to God. And note what she does. Anna speaks “of Him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Israel.” And there’s the key. There’s the difference. For the folks who were waiting for redemption, for those who knew their own lack, who didn’t think that they were the best of the best, who knew that they were poor lowly sinners in a sinful world, for these folks this Christ Jesus brings joy and gladness, because He brings redemption. God had given Anna the gift of faith, and so she saw her need for a Savior, and then she saw Him, and it was good.

By faith, you have been made to see your own lack. Do you see your sin, do you know it, do you understand that you are a poor, miserable sinner? Then the coming of this Child will be a cause for you to sing, for He comes bringing your salvation. He comes to be righteous for you, He comes to bear your own sin, your own weakness, your own frailty. He comes to die, He comes to rise, all so that you would inherit Eternal Life, that you would spend eternity not in this fallen place, but in a New Heavens and a New Earth, that you would have Eden restored. Life in this world is cold and harsh – but by faith we don’t deny this, we don’t pretend it isn’t this way. Instead, we confess our sin, great as it is, and we look to Christ Jesus who is greater than our sin and triumphs over it. We do not love this world, but we look to Christ who has overcome this world – we look forward to the life of the world to come.

Listen again to Simeon’s song, the song we too will sing in just a few moments after we have held in our own hands the Body of Christ, given for us. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” Lord, I can die, I can die in peace. Death – where is thy sting, O Death? Where is thy victory, O grave? This Christ Child has risen from the tomb, and so even if I die – I will live. Sod off, death! Bite me, grave – you couldn’t keep Christ swallowed down, nor shall you keep me. “For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all people.” God’s salvation is here – and it’s not something hidden, it’s not a secret. I don’t have to spend 25 years teaching you how to operate the hidden divine decoder ring. No, right here, God become Man, who for us men and our salvation. Here He is, here is salvation. And you have made me to see it, God – you have given me the gift of faith, and thus these sinful, dead eyes have seen with joy their Savior, the Lord of Life. There is salvation, there is forgiveness, there is rescue – and there it is – in Christ Jesus, open, proclaimed to all people. Yes, all people, for He is “A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” Even the Gentiles, even stubborn headed Germans, even spoiled Americans millennia later will see this Child and know Him to be their God and Savior; the Holy Spirit will call folks from all nations. And yes, this is the Glory of Israel – not that we Jews were more holy, not that some how not eating pork makes one morally superior (ugh, how’s that for the false pride of the sinful flesh), but that rather look, there is God come as Man, born from the people whom He told He would come. And thus there is salvation for all, thus there is forgiveness and redemption and love. And by faith, dear friends, you see it.

By faith, God has called you here. By faith, you have been made to confess your sins, called to struggle against them and to strive to beat them down even daily by faith. By faith you have been brought here to this Temple, where Christ Jesus comes to you today, bringing You forgiveness and life. Yes, He comes to you this day – He comes proclaimed in His Word – Christ Jesus lives, and you are forgiven. He comes in His Supper – taste and know your forgiveness, drink and know your salvation. Yes, this world is scary, yes, being a Christian means seeing your own sin and that is a terrifying and rough thing, but behold Your Savior, Christ Jesus, who has redeemed you, purchased and won you from all your sins, and lives so that you might live with Him both now and forever. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon for Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve - 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +
So many stories, so many songs, all driving together towards this one simple and beautiful truth; when mankind was at its worst and in trouble, God came down to help. God comes, and He comes to help, to rescue, to save. When we stupid humans get messed up with sin, when the world goes sideways, when everything is messed up – God Himself comes down to save us.

He didn't have to, or so we think. Adam and Eve hid in the bushes because they were sure, absolutely sure, that God was not coming for them in love, but rather that He was coming to smite, to punish, to destroy. That it would be easier to just scrap the whole thing and just start over – too bad for Adam and Eve, too bad for you and me. That's the way our sinful minds tend to work – add up the costs, subtract the current value – and sorry, total the car, cut your losses, it's just cheaper to tear this all down and build something different from scratch. But that's not the way God thinks, that's not who God is. He is the creator, the very Word by which Adam and Eve were made – and when the LORD comes down and sees Adam and Eve pathetically hiding in the bushes, He actually has pity upon them. And the LORD makes them a promise, even as they shiver in terror. He looks at the old serpent and says, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.” You don't get to keep them, Satan. The day is going come when I myself will be born, and I will crush you Satan – that is a promise.

And the LORD held to His promise. That's what the entire Old Testament is – God continuing to repeat His promise to His people, even as they run around like tom fools most of the time. God continuing to pour out love even on lousy sinners who just make things worse – but fear not! Your son will live, Abraham, because I myself will be the sacrifice! Fear not the darkness, for I am the light of the world, and I come to free you from sin! Fear not, for even though the kingdom of Israel has dried up, I myself will come to be the King of Kings, and you shall dwell in my house forever, and the old serpent will bother you no more! Through generation after generation – the promise still was proclaimed – and still it was ignored, disdained, brushed aside by so many. So few were grateful, so few were thankful. Most actively fought against it. And again, if the sinful world could have seen, they would have guessed that this indifference would have just caused God to call the whole thing off! Not going to thank me, well, no more presents for you next time! Harrumph! But that's not who the LORD is – God is love, persistent, full, strong, burning love – love that has to show real and true love, love that has to keep His promises because there is no way on earth that He would break His promise to you.

So finally, when the time was right, the LORD sent one of His messengers to a young woman named Mary. And Mary was told, much to her surprise and awe that she would be the mother of the Messiah. That even though no man had yet to touch her, God Himself would be born of her womb. It will be clear, Mary, that this is not just mankind fixing itself, but no, this is God Himself becoming man, the LORD coming down to be with us, to step into the breech against sin for us, to fight for us, to love for us, to obey for us, to die for us, and to rise for us. God with us – Immanuel. The LORD saves – Jesus. That is what this child – true God and true Man - would be.

And you know how the story plays out. We sing beautiful songs about it, pretty Christmas cards have it illustrated, generations of kids acting as Joseph and Mary and Shepherds and Angels. Joy to the world! Joy and Hope and Peace! Yet do we pause to ponder how astonishing that Joy is, that Hope is, that Peace is – or do we take it for granted? “...because there was no place for them in the inn.” Long, weary travels with no good place to rest – that's not typical of joy. “There were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Stuck at the bottom of the social rung, shuffled off to third shift and left there to stay – that's not typical of hope. And telling King Herod that another King has been born – that's not the most peaceful sort of thing either. Confusion and weariness and isolation and hardship – that's what's going on in all these texts – and yet, when we hear them, when we sing them – Joy and Hope and Peace.

Not just because it's a cute story. It's really not. Go ask a farmer how “cute” their barn is right now. Go ask a mom how “cute” child-birth is. Or dealing with a wicked king or oppressive taxes. No, everything that is swirling around in this old familiar story is really sort of lousy – and yet, we are right to look at this story and see joy and peace and hope. Because God has fulfilled His Word and come down to rescue us.

When the Lord sent that angel to Mary, He was thinking of you. He was. Because no matter how messed up or strange or frighting or dull and tiresome things would get here in this world because of sin and sinners, Jesus was determined to save you. To do everything required to win salvation for you, to give this salvation to you. And this will be what we hear the next several months – how this child grew for you. How He was baptized for you, so that your baptism would join you to Him. How He fought off disease and demons for you. How He instituted the Lord's Supper to give Himself to you over and over. How He died for you, how He rose for you. All of this for you, seeing and knowing you, you right here, sitting on a pew here in Herscher, Illinois. The first Christmas happened because Christ Jesus saw you – and yes, saw you even with all your flaws and warts, even the ones you hide from everyone else, even the ones that are hidden from you – the first Christmas happened because Christ Jesus looked upon you with love and was determined to do everything required to win you salvation, to win you eternal life, to see that you would be by His side forever.

And that is why we see this story as joy. It's joy that conquers over the strife and hardship of this world. That is why we see this story as Hope – it is a Hope that is solid and sure because God has said so, and He Himself gets things done. That is why we see this story as peace – a peace that surpasses all human understanding, that goes beyond anything that sinful man could expect. Christ Jesus your Lord comes down from heaven to win you salvation. And we see it again for the first time this Christmas Eve, God in man made manifest, the wonder of the ages that causes angelic armies to sheath their burning swords and instead sing hymns of praise. Behold, my brothers and sisters in Christ – you Lord comes to save you, as He had promised He would. A joyous and blessed Christmas to you all! In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Newborn King +

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11 – December 16th and 17th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Not to spoil the story, but John is going to die there in prison. Our Gospel lesson begins with John the Baptist in prison, in a dungeon, and he's going to die there. Herod will lop of his head; John is not getting out of this one. When we see John this evening/morning, we don't hear the lessons where he is brashly and bluntly preaching repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We don't see him point to Jesus and exclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” - although we will sing that today. We don't even get the cantankerous and blunt John telling off Pharisees – you brood of vipers! Who told you to flee the wrath that is to come? John's not out in the wilderness by the Jordan baptizing right now – no, he's down in a dungeon waiting to die. And any dreams he might have had about reforming all of Jerusalem, standing by the Messiah's side as He fixed things, well, those are dying as well.

When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another.” John's disciples, his students, hadn't abandoned him after his arrest, and they would come and visit, bring him updates about the world, and John heard what Christ was doing. But wait, what? Wasn't I supposed to be there? Wasn't I supposed to be part of the Jesus and John tag team? And so, there in that prison, the contrast is stark. And doubts and fears come rolling in. This isn't how it was supposed to be, this didn't go how I thought it would. Was I wrong? Was I wrong to believe, was I wrong to point people to You, is there another Messiah coming, because I'm going to die in here, and I need to know.

And so John's disciples go, and they talk to Jesus, and Jesus responds. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” So the disciples get to take a message to John, and Jesus gives a list of things. The blind see, the lame walk. Lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have good news preached to them. Now, first things first – this is the laundry list of what the Messiah would do. Giving sight to the blind, the deaf hearing – that is literally textbook Messianic activity. Later on in the year we will have Gospel lessons where Jesus will restore sight or fix some fellow's ears – and chances are the Old Testament lesson for that day will be a prophecy pointing out how the Messiah would do these sorts of things. Same thing with the lepers and the lame being cured – they'll get to enter into the temple and worship, it will be a wonderful thing. And then there are the big miracles – the dead being raised. All things that point to Jesus, that establish His bona fides as the Messiah. Go tell John that you have heard and seen all these things – they ought to identify who I am – oh, but there's one more on that list. The poor have good news preached to them, so blessed is the one who isn't offended by Me.

The poor have good news preached to them. Doesn't that seem a bit... odd for this list? A bit, humdrum? I mean, it's just preaching. Nothing special there – John himself had been a preacher. I mean, we proclaim the word – not just me; you yourselves have told the good news about Jesus to family, friends, your kids, what have you. Doesn't seem that big of a deal. I mean, how many of you are going to run out of here saying, “Wow, did you hear, there was a sermon, I can't believe it!” Now, if I had held my hand up like this and went <> and suddenly all of your hearing aids were to blast out of your ears and your glasses and contacts flew off because you didn't need them anymore, well, that would be something cool to hear and see, right?

Except where is John? He's a poor man stuck in prison, stuck away from out there where Jesus is running around. There's all those miracles and I'm stuck in this prison and there's no miracle coming for me and I am going to die, what about me Jesus, have you forgotten me, Jesus! My life isn't going the way I thought it would, and I was a prophet for crying out loud, I should have seen this coming but I didn't and what does this all mean? It means, John, that even the poor in prison have the good news preached to them. It means that dead are raised, even you John, even after the headsman's ax comes for you. Your eyes will see even after they have been closed in death because of Me. You'll walk again, you'll hear again, you will be clean again, in fact cleaner and purer than you've even been because I will raise you to new and holy and perfect life John. And the fact that you are in that prison cell, that things didn't go the way YOU expected, doesn't change a thing. I knew this was coming, and I came to be your Messiah, your Savior, and I will raise you and you will be at My side for all eternity. All of this is for you John, even as you are there stuck in prison just waiting to die. I came to be your Lord and Savior, and I still am even this day.

And as those disciples head on back to go preach to John in prison, Jesus turns to the crowd that is with Him, and He starts to talk about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” What were you expectations, O crowd – what were you expecting? “A reed shaken by the wind?” Something thin and wispy and weak that just went with the flow? No! “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.” What did you go to see – someone rich dandy who was going to make your life all rich and dandy? No. “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.'” No, you went to see a prophet. Someone who would speak the Word of God bluntly and clearly, come what may – oh, and by the by, how do things end up for prophets? Well, they end up in exile, or stoned, or beaten, or dead in kings palaces. And John prepares the way for Me – He preaches ahead of Me, and He gets to die ahead of Me too – but still, all that He preached was true – I am the Messiah, and I will defeat sin and death.

Lots and lots of misguided expectations are addressed in today's text. John's slid off, which is easy enough to understand. And then Jesus plays off of some expectations that we often like to have. A reed shaken by the wind? Well, to be honest, we can sort of like that. We can like people who will just tell us what we want to hear, we can like them to sing our tune. In fact, if we have any clarinet or oboe players in here – how do clarinets and oboes and bassoons work? A reed shaken, vibrating by your breath. And there are times where we will go and listen to people who let us call the tune, who tell us what we want them to tell us. “Confirmation Bias” is the trendy term for that – where we are more apt to listen to the folks who simply tell us what we already think, who agree with how we want things to be. Or there's the fine clothes crowd – you know, rich, powerful, successful. I hate to harp on it again, but aren't prosperity preachers popular? They are for a reason. Wouldn't you like it if I could say, “you will get stuff out the wazoo all throughout 2018”? But here's the thing – Scripture doesn't promise that. And the Scriptures sometimes tell us things about ourselves that we don't like. And sometimes reality sets in, and there are times things in your life will stink on ice. I hope it's not, but maybe 2018 will be a terrible year, where your eyesight or hearing just gets worse. Maybe because of the family drama Christmas will seem like being stuck in prison this year. It happens. Every single one of us in here has hurts and pains, physical, mental, emotional, social – and there are times those pains will flare up – and while I wish I could go “zap” and fix them, I can't. I have been given a job, though, and that is to preach good news to the poor.

This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday. It is the Sunday of refreshment, of rejoicing, of comfort. So then why, do you think, do we have such a dour and dark Gospel lesson? Why do we have John in prison today? Can't we have something a bit more cheery, can't we at least fake it for a hour here? No, because Jesus doesn't give fake comfort to fake sinners – He comes to give real comfort to real sinners who really hurt and are even in really dark places. And I hope your holidays are good, I hope 2018 is fabulous for you, but what I want you to know and remember is whenever things turn south, however disappointing and however painful things might be – be it next year or even 40 years down the line – Jesus doesn't abandon you. He doesn't leave you alone in muck, in whatever prison this world throws you into. He is with you, for you are Baptized and joined to Him. He has not promised that you will never see sorrow or hardship in this life, but He has promised to forgive your sin and raise you to everlasting life – that's what your Baptism is. That's what the Supper is. That is precisely the good news that is preached to you over and over again whenever you see how poor you are. The way you know that God loves you has nothing to do with how rich or successful you are, or whether your dreams are coming true or your plans are working out. Those things, great as they are, all come and go – but what remains constant and steadfast for you? Oh give thanks unto the LORD for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever. You are and remain His baptized and redeemed child. He has forgiven you. And this remains true whether you see good times or bad – for better or worse, in sickeness and in health – He remains faithful to you. He has promised to be your Savior, and so He is. Your life may take strange and bizarre turns that none of us could guess, but not to spoil the story, you end up risen from the dead and living with Christ in joy and bliss forever. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – Luke 21:25-38 – December 9th and 10th, 2017

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
If you are going to be a Christian, you simply have to accept the fact that you will be strange. You will be weird. You will be different. If one is a Christian, then one will have a fundamentally different way of approaching everything in life as compared to the rest of the world. And that is the background, the underlying truth that will let us understand what our Lord is talking about in our Gospel lesson. Today we hear our Lord in the Temple during Holy Week, warning of the end times. Warning the folks then, warning the world, warning us here today. However, my friends, I would have you remember that you hear this warning, this preaching of Jesus not as the world does, but you hear it as the Baptized. You hear it as those who are joined to Christ Jesus, as those who are forgiven. As such, since you are in Christ, what you hear today is different from what the world hears. Listen.

There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the seas and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming upon the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Here Christ Jesus describes the world as the end approaches, and He describes a mess. Things will just go utterly sideways. There will be natural disasters and the nations will be freaked out. It will seem as though the earth itself is trying to destroy us. And the leaders, the powers that be, will be helpless and bumbling and threatening each other. Everything will be all caddywampus, nothing will be working right at all. Sounds scary, right? Actually, if we are honest, it sounds typical. We are approaching the end of the year 2017, and so of course there will be all sorts of “year in review” shows that come on. So, what do you think? In those year in review shows will we see stories recounting distress and chaos in the the world this past year, with roaring waves and all sorts of troubles and inept rulers and all that sort of stuff? Of course, just like we did in 2007 or 1997 or pick any year. Because this is the thing – Jesus is not describing anything too bizarre – He is describing situation normal for the fallen world. And while the world will wring its hands and come up with desperate plans or utterly foolhardy denials – you know this for what this is. It is simply sin messing with world.

As a Christian, you know this to be true. You know sin and its impacts for what they are. You know it, you see it in the world. You know it and you see it in yourself. Let us be honest about this, shall we? How often when we see sin and its impacts come crashing down upon our lives do we not let our sinful flesh run a bit wild and panicked? How often can we make stupid plans all full of bragadoccio and ignore reality, how often can we retreat to la-la land in denial, ignoring the decay, the shame, the guilt right in front of us. That is how the world and your sinful flesh think to handle sin and its consequences – to panic, to fear, to try to pretend it away.

But you are not just a sinner. You are not like those in the world left to their own devices, left to try to sort all this out on your own. You are different. You are baptized into Christ Jesus. So, you do know your sin for what it is, but even more wondrously you know Christ Jesus for who He is. And this is what He promises you – that even as the world rages in fear and panic, and even as they mock you, O Christian, “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” You know something that the world doesn't. Jesus will return, and He will put an end to sin. And therefore, your reaction, O Christian, in view of Christ, your reaction as a baptized child of God is radically different than the rest of the world. “Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Do you see? Do you see how wondrously different you life is because of Christ Jesus? When the world sees wretchedness and a cause to panic, you straighten up, shoulders out, broad and bold and ready to go, because you know what? It's just sin, and Christ Jesus your Lord came once into this world already to deal with sin and death. He dealt with it by going to the cross and crucifying it down. And He will come again and when He does redemption – your redemption, your being set free from sin and its impact – be it sin in this fallen world where nature is a disaster and countries are crazy and people are wicked... or be it your own sin, the stupid and vain and wicked desires of your flesh that keep popping up, the age and decay that are creeping up. When you see these things, straighten up O Baptized. Christ Jesus is coming to rescue you. That's what all this really means – it means that Christ your Lord and Savior is coming to rescue you.

Patriotic Americans should understand this straightening up, this attitude of defiance, more than anyone – it's part of our national anthem. Consider: Generally speaking, if I said, “hey, we're under attack and they are shooting at us,” we'd think that would be bad. But how does our national anthem go? “And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.” Bring it on Brits – as long as you keep shooting that's just proof that we're not done yet and are going to win. Bring it on, Satan – you and the world and my flesh keep hounding all you want – I am baptized in to Christ Jesus and He has won the victory already, so tthhhpppt. In Christ Jesus you live defiantly – defying Satan, defying the world, even defying your own flesh – because you belong to Christ Jesus your Redeemer, and you stand tall and safe in Him.

So Christian, you're different than the world. You see beyond just the surface, beyond just the here and now. And He told them a parable: Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourself and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Oh look, it's spring! Well, actually, the summer's about here, it's coming. Not just the surface, but the implications – that's what we see. And so when we see tragedy and trial and hardship and sin, you know what that reminds us of? That the kingdom of God is... did you hear what Jesus did? He didn't say “coming” - he said near. When you look at the world, when you see all this stuff, it's not just that one day, someday down the road, Jesus will return and things will be good then, but until that point... maybe we ought to panic. Nope. Even as you look and see sin in the world, sin in your flesh – you know, O Christian, that the kingdom of God is near – near, right here, right now. That Christ Jesus is not distant, He is not absent from you until the Last Day, but that He is present. He is here in His Word. He is truly and bodily present for you in His Supper to forgive you your sins and to give you life and salvation even over and against sin and death and your flesh. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away. Everything around you can go to pot – doesn't change the fact that Christ Jesus has died and risen for you. Doesn't change the truth of His Word of forgiveness. Doesn't change the fact that He has claimed you as His own in Baptism. The world can do nothing to you at all. You, when you see all this junk – that's when you repent, confess your own sin, and receive Christ's love and mercy and forgiveness, that is when the Kingdom is near, again and again.

Note that – repent and confess and receive Christ's love again. There is a danger that we should be wary of – not the dangers of earthquakes or super-volcanoes or political strife and war or any of that. That's not fun, but that all ought to drive us to Jesus. Listen to Jesus' warning – But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkeness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. Remember, O Christian, your Baptism! Remember that you are in Christ and therefore different from the world. How does the world handle seeing sin and its impacts? Well – they can dissipate: spread themselves so thin trying to get their best life now that they are too busy for anything. OR they can get blottoed. Or they can spend all their time in fretting and worry. And these are the ways our flesh attacks us – how our flesh tells us to handle our sin – but that is not who you are in Christ. No – as for you – But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man. No, as Christians we pray. We pray even as the world mocks prayer. We pray for strength to escape, we pray “deliver us from evil”. You realize that the strength by which you live, by which you will stand before Christ isn't your own strength, but rather it is a strength that is given to you, it is Christ's own strength that is spoken into you in His Forgiveness, that is poured upon you in Baptism. It is the strength that comes from His Supper as He Himself gives you Himself so that you may rise from this rail and go in peace about your life out in the world, not matter how weird or scary Tuesday will end up being. Because you are in Christ.

Do you see? As a child of God you prepare for the end by coming to where Christ Jesus comes near to prepare you, to come to where Jesus Himself has promised to come near to you with forgiveness and mercy and redemption. Jesus came to win you salvation, and He comes here to bring that salvation to you now, to strengthen you and keep you in it all of your days, so that in Him you will endure well beyond anything this world or your flesh throws at you. You're in Christ. And He comes to you today in His word, in His Supper so that you would never forget that He is your Lord and Savior, that you would never be distracted or scared away from this truth. So straighten up, raise up your heads, and rise for prayer – come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – December 2nd and 3rd, 2017 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Christ Jesus, your Lord and Savior, is coming. And by this I do not simply mean that our Christmastime preparations this Advent are now in full swing; I do not simply mean that once a long, long time ago Jesus came. While that is true, the season of Advent is bigger than just that. Advent is the time when we meditate upon our Lord’s Coming – we see how our Lord prepared people for His Birth, for His death and resurrection – and from this we see how He prepares us for His Second coming. In the Old Testament they waited for the Messiah to be born, and even while we prepare to celebrate the Messiah’s birth, His first coming, we await His second coming. And it is true, Christ Jesus your Lord and Savior is coming.

Our text for this morning is the triumphal entry, is Palm Sunday. There, of course, is a wonderful example of our Lord coming – it is Christ Jesus coming into Jerusalem in order to win us salvation with His death and resurrection upon the Cross. However, there are two main things that I would like to draw out of the text this day, one that should be very familiar, and one that we don't always think about. So let’s begin. Before Jesus enters the city, He takes two disciples and says, Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” Why all this? “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’’” This is of course a very familiar passage – when we see our Lord enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He enters the city humbly. That’s the first thing, that’s what we should all know – Christ Jesus comes humbly. In fact, we are going to see humility modeled for us all throughout the next two months. When He is born – humbly, in a manger. And whom is His mother? Mary, a lowly, humble virgin. Who proclaims His coming? John, a humble man. Jesus will humbly go into the water to be Baptized. There is humility all over the place the next two months. So why, why does Jesus come so humbly?

Jesus comes humbly for one simple reason. If Jesus hadn’t come humbly, hadn’t come in humility, none of the disciples, none of the sinful people there could have withstood being in His presence. Consider the Old Testament – after the fall can any sinful man bear to look at God? Adam and Eve, they hide. Moses on the mountain – just a flash of God’s backside. Elijah, can’t bear it. Or if they do see God, they are like Isaiah, who only sees a vision of God and yet cries out woe is me, I am going to die. Even the disciples, Peter, James, and John, at the transfiguration, when the voice of the Father echoes from the cloud, they all hit the dirt. Sinful man cannot be in the unbridled presence of God – it’s too much for us. And so, Christ Jesus comes humbly – He comes humbly to be with man, to come down to our level, to live with us, to teach us, and ultimately, to enter Jerusalem humbly, to ride on unto his own death and resurrection for our sake. This is what your Lord does – out of His love for you, He came humbly, so that He could accomplish your Salvation by taking up your sin and destroying it with His death and resurrection. He is always focused upon your Salvation.

But there is something else, in addition to our Lord’s Humility, that I would like to point out. We often can skim over the fact that Jesus sends the disciples on to get the donkey and colt, that Jesus does this to fulfill scriptures. We kind of want to get to the scenes with the crowds and the palms – on Palm Sunday morning we’ll have our kids waving palm branches, that’s the part we like. We aren’t going to have them lead two donkeys around – and no, this is not me trying to give you ideas, we are not going to have them lead two donkeys around the Church. But think about this section – Jesus sends the disciples, get the animals you find there, here’s what you say to anyone who asks you what you are doing. And so, our Lord fulfills Scripture. This lesson teaches us a simple truth that we all know but can often forget or over look. Jesus knows what He is doing. It’s not as though Jesus just randomly says, “Boy, my feet are tired, go find me a donkey or something.” No – this is no accident, Jesus does what He does in order to fulfill the Scriptures, in order to make clear and plain that He comes to save us, to win us salvation. This really is a great, wonderful comfort for us. So often our lives are filled with doubt and insecurity – so often we don’t know what is going on. In fact, isn’t this really the source of much of our fear? When a loved one is having surgery, and the procedure is taking a bit longer than you expected, what’s the question in your mind? What’s going on? And not knowing what is happening can terrify us. The simple fact is that often we do not know what is going on, what is happening, and we simply have to make our best guesses, make decisions and hope for the best. Christ Jesus does know what is going on, and He always acts for your good, even if you do not see it or understand it. Jesus isn’t just groping in the dark blindly – He is the Lord God, and He knows what He is doing. His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey wasn’t an accident; it was intentional, to fulfill Scriptures, so you would recognize that He is the promised Savior.

Now, just as Christ Jesus came humbly and intentionally, knowing what He was doing then, so too, Christ Jesus your Lord comes to you humbly and intentionally today. So let’s consider these two ideas – first, that Jesus comes to us quite humbly. We confess, we know, we teach that God Himself is present here for us – that in the preaching of His Word, Jesus is with us and gives us life, that in His Supper Christ Jesus comes to be with us physically in a most wondrous and mind-boggling way. Do you ever just think about that for a bit? Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, all the folks of the Old Testament, they would have given their eye teeth to be in the presence of God like we are – they couldn’t before the Crucifixion – that was all behind the curtain stuff. Once a year one priest could enter the holy of holies – that was it. But for us, what does our Lord say? Wherever two or three of you are gathered in My name, wherever two or three of the Baptized worship together, there I will be. I will be in the Word that is preached and taught in your midst. I will be in the Supper whenever you celebrate it. He comes to us in such humble, simple, common ways. We aren’t required to go on pilgrimages to see God, we don’t have to jump through hoops, lay down lavish amounts of money. Nope, God comes to us through simple means – whenever His Word is proclaimed, wherever we can find simple bread and wine.

He set this up this intentionally, you know. This plan, this idea of gathering you, gathering His baptized brothers and sisters together around the preaching of the Word and around His Supper, this wasn’t an accident. This isn’t just something we here thought up; it is what He gave to us. And why? Because He knows you and loves you. Jesus knows your life, He knows what struggles you face, what sins tempt you, what sins you’ve given into. You never have to play pretend with Jesus, you never have to pretend that your life is perfect with Him – He knows it's not. And nevertheless, He loves you, so He gives you a place where He gathers you together with other people who are struggling and slugging it out in this world, and together you receive His forgiveness, His strength, His love. You hear it preached to you, have it poured into you, over and over and over again. Christ Jesus doesn’t want it to be hard for you to receive forgiveness, hard for you to hear His love for you shouted unto you again. And so, He Himself comes to His own house, and He calls you here to be with Him, and this He shall do until the Last Day.

And then, on the Last day, we will see our Lord come. Now, what will that day be? Well, when Jesus comes, it will be done intentionally. The Last Day isn’t going to be an accident, it’s not as though Jesus will be walking around in heaven, trip, start falling from the sky and say, “Oh, um, yeah, um, I meant to do that, behold, I come again.” No, when the time is right, when through His Word He has called all our brothers and sisters to faith, when the time is right, our Lord will come again. That is the plan, always has been and always will be until that day. That’s in God's hands – let us simply leave the when for that to Him. However, we should note a contrast. When Christ Jesus comes again, when Your Lord returns, it will not be “humbly”. It will not be on a donkey, but it will be accompanied with all the hosts of heaven. It will not be hidden away in a lowly manger, but it will be brilliant and obvious for all to see. So why, why will Christ Jesus be able to come in glory, why will He no longer need to come humbly? In the past and even now, Christ Jesus comes humbly to us who are humbled, who are laid low by our sin. On the Last Day, Christ Jesus comes in Glory to glorify you, to perfect you. On the Last Day, when Christ Jesus comes in Glory He will make you to be Glorious, He will give you your own resurrection, and you will be like Him, without sin and righteous and perfect. There won’t be any need for anything but glory and wonder on that day.

We aren’t there yet. God in His wisdom and in His love has held off that day for our sake, for the sake of all those whom He loves. So, in the meantime, until then, we are focused upon how our Lord once came and indeed how He even comes to us today. He comes humbly, He comes to be with us, to forgive us, to strengthen us so that we might share in, that we might participate in all the benefits of His death and resurrection now, even until the day we see them fully shine forth. This Advent, our eyes are focused once again on the goodness and love of our Lord God, who came for us, who comes unto us this day in His Word and Sacraments, and who will come again. Thus our prayer until that day is and will remain, Thy Kingdom Come. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday – November 25th and 26th, 2017 – Matthew 25:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Who doesn’t like a wedding? At least a wedding of people you like and where there's going to be a great reception. A good wedding is really a good party, a good chance to rejoice and enjoy God's blessings. In the Scriptures, weddings are always a good thing, they are the biblical image of joy and celebration and love and hope. And what do we see in today Gospel lesson? We see the return of Christ Jesus, we see the Last Day compared to a wedding.

With this comparison, our Lord reminds us of something simple. His return, His 2nd Coming is a good thing, it is something that we should with all eagerness look forward to – it something we should view like high school girls getting ready to go to prom, or kids on Christmas morning. And yet, so often the thoughts of Christ’s Return, of the “end of the world” treat it like a day of dread. For you who are here, right now, for you who come to this place to hear the Word of God proclaimed, to have your sins forgiven, to partake of our Lord’s Body and Blood in His Supper – the end will not be a day of dread, but rather a day of joy and wonderment. That is what our Lord teaches you with this parable today.

“Then the Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.” So, our Lord describes for us an old fashioned, 1st Century Fancy Jewish wedding. And the people, besides the bride and groom, who would be most eager for the wedding would be the virgins – the young women who were now considered old enough to go to an adult function, who were now grown up, and perhaps ready for a wedding of their own, and would be in a place where they might draw the eye of a nice single man. And what would happen is as the wedding began, the young women would flank the groom, because the groom is the one who did the processing back in the day, and they would carry the lamps, the lights, and all eyes would turn to the groom, and the single guys would see the young gals all decked out and pretty. Do you see why this would be something to look forward to?

“Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish ones took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.” However, our ten virgins do not all prepare for the wedding and festivity properly. While they all know that they are going to carry lamps, that they are going to be providing light, alas, only 5 are wise and prepared. The other 5 are “foolish”. I laugh every time I read this in Greek, because the Greek word for foolish here is “moron”. And wherever you see “foolish” or “foolish ones” – it reads, “the morons.” Sometimes I think we should have used that word. What they do is utterly foolish, is utterly moronic. It would be like planning to go on a road trip, but not having any gas. It would be like hosting a dinner but not buying any food. If your job, your reason to come to the wedding is to bring light, you need fuel for your lamp. It’s almost like asking someone to borrow a flashlight and they bring you one without any batteries – what are you thinking! But, that’s the point, they aren’t really. And it’s going to come back to bite them.

“As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.” Now, we aren’t making a comparison here between the foolish and the perfect – they all fall asleep. Wise and foolish alike – they are brimming with teen-aged nervous energy, bouncing all over the place – and then, things slow down a bit, and they all fall asleep. Completely understandable. But then we hear this: “But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps.” And then it is go time – the groom is coming, he’s on his way, we are going to get this show on the road – and so the gals all wake up and get their lamps ready. But – “the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’” So, are the wise virgins just being mean here? No – they are being wise. This is a party that will last through the night, and I have to have enough oil to last through the night. If I give you oil, we’ll both cut out early, and that will be highly embarrassing for both of us. Go get your oil like you were supposed to in the first place. So the moronic virgins run off in a huff, and then – “And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” And while the moronic virgins are off running to buy, the groom shows up, the party starts, and they are locked out. They miss the boat. And they don’t get in.

So, what does this mean? In this parable, there is really only one point of separation between the wise and the foolish. They both have lamps – they both know that there is a bridegroom coming. They both fall asleep, wise and foolish alike. They both know how lamps work – the foolish know that they need oil, they even ask for some at the end. But the thing that really separates the wise from the foolish here is one thing and one thing only – the wise make sure that they have oil, and the foolish don’t care until it is too late.

Now, consider yourself. You know who the Bridegroom is – You know Christ Jesus. You know the salvation that He has won, you can all tell me what happened on Good Friday, what happened on Easter. You’ve got your lamp. You even have a tendency to be drowsy, to not always be as eager for doing good as you ought. This really becomes a question of preparation – of your oil.

What is it that keeps you as a Christian focused upon Christ, ready for His return, prepared to face Judgment Day and the life of the world to come? What is this oil that fuels your faith, that keeps your eyes upon Christ Jesus? It is the Word of God, it is the preaching of God’s Word, it is our Lord’s Most Holy Supper, it is being given Christ’s own forgiveness over and over and over so that you are always full, always ready for His return. As Lutherans we have a few catch phrases for this – “Word and Sacrament” - or “means of grace” – that these are the means by which you receive Grace, receive forgiveness, by which you are constantly forgiven and renewed and kept strong in your faith, so that it is a living faith, overflowing with Christ’s love, so that it is vibrant and shines even in the darkness night. You enter heaven by virtue of forgiveness, won by Christ upon the Cross.

And what can happen? In our foolish, moronic love of the world, we can be tempted to say, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about that Jesus stuff,” and blow Christ off. Put Him and His forgiveness to the side. And we dry up, and our faith dissipates. Faith isn’t simply knowing of Jesus, faith isn’t book knowledge, but it is a trust and love of Him, a trust in His salvation. And if you ignore Him, if you constantly blow off Church or Bible study, blow off our Lord Himself by ignoring Him when He physically comes to you in His Supper – what do you think is going to happen to your faith? If you stop eating and drinking, you die. If you put no gas in your car, it runs out. If you cut yourself off from the Word of God, from the Communion of Saints, what do you think will happen to you?

Here I would like to remind you of all the opportunities Trinity provides you to be in the Word. We have service both on Saturday and Sunday – and there's bible study on both of those days too. If you're going to be traveling for vacation, let me know and I'll help find a church in the area for you – chances are I might even know the pastor. There's plenty of time to be at worship. And then there are other studies during the week – Monday morning I send out an e-mail devotional. If you want to be added to the list, shoot me an e-mail. Tuesday we have a study at 2pm that goes over the readings – it's a lot of fun. The first and third Tuesday nights we have a men's study – the women have the Hannah Circle the 3rd Monday of the month and Martha circle as well. We have bells and choir on Wendesday, which is a great time of fellowship, a great time of music and the Word. I even record a podcast for Higher Things that is basically 40 minute bible study, and if you want more on-line resources I can point you to them. You have every opportunity to be in the Word of God, to let the Word of God dwell in you richly. And you have – but I'm reminding you today to be intentional about it, to be focused upon it. Because the danger we have is to take things for granted, to skip opportunities and push them off – I'll do that later. And that's when we wither. That's when we act the fool, act the moron. That's when we ignore the reality that we are sinners who need Christ Jesus' forgiveness – ignore that Jesus brings His forgiveness to us again and again.

My friends, see all that Christ has done. See how richly He forgives you, see how often He comes to you in His Word, in His Supper, over and and over so that you are ready for when He comes again. Because it will be a good thing; not just the party to end all parties, but the eternal party, the feast that will have no end. Christ prepares you for this with His Word of forgiveness and life. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Thanksgiving Sermon

Thanksgiving Day – Luke 17 – November 25th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
On Thanksgiving day it tends to be customary to have a sermon which involves a recounting, a listing of all of God's gifts to us. And then the Pastor can wag the finger and say, “See now, shouldn't you be so thankful for all that God has done” and we are all solemn and quiet and thoughtful until we leave and then go eat tons of turkey and fall asleep. Instead, this morning, I have what I think is a much more interesting and insightful question to ponder: what is thanks? We hear the Word bantered around all the time, but what does it mean to give God thanks? What is involved, what does thanks look like?

To give thanks to God is nothing less than to praise Him. To give thanks to God is nothing less than the right and salutary worship of God. We don't generally think of things this way. We often put thanks and praise into two separate categories – but you cannot thank God without praising Him. We see this again in this morning's lesson. One of the 10 lepers returns to give thanks to Christ: Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice, and he fell on his feet at Jesus' feet, giving thanks. Thanks and praise, the two ideas are linked. Think on that scene, envision it in your head. The leper falls to Jesus' feet, and scripture says that he gives thanks. What is he saying? What would his thanks sound like? When we give thanks, we give thanks for something. Thank You for healing me, Jesus. It is that second part that shows the praise – to praise is to declare what one has done. Jesus has healed me – that is praise. Thank you Jesus, the leper cries, for You have healed me. And hearing this, Jesus says, “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Thanks and praise go hand in hand. They accompany one
another – they form the basis of the worship of God – It is truly meet, right and salutary to give thanks to You. . . and join in with the angels and archangels
evermore praising You and saying – Holy, Holy, Holy.

And so dear friends, let us pause and see what this means for our lives. When our thankfulness to God suffers, when it is lax, when we slough off thanks –
our praise of God suffers. When we overlook and ignore the things which He has done for us – our worship will be lacking – and we will treat God as sort of ho-hum. When we are not thankful, we forget all that He has done for us simply out of divine, fatherly goodness and mercy. To give thanks is to praise – to not give thanks is fundamentally to not praise. To not give thanks is to remain silent and distant, enjoying your blessings while ignoring the One who gave them to you.
Isn't this sometimes a problem? Don't we often take the blessings we receive in this life for granted, say we are in a rush, in a hurry, and we do not pause to marvel at how richly God has provided for us? We have places to go and people to see, busy busy busy – and a gift from Him to us is overlooked. Or perhaps one of these gifts is now commonplace, and we forget to give thanks for it anew – the house we live in is the same one we've lived in for years – do we give daily thanks for it – for it is indeed part of our daily bread. It is easy to be less than thankful, it is easy to be more like the 9 that wander about their merry way. And as such, it is easy for us to treat God as a distant, small entity, having only a minor influence on our life – to treat God not as the sole source of every blessing in our life, but more like our divine, eternal retirement plan – salt away a little praise now and then and reap rewards in the end – or maybe we treat God like a holy, Almighty insurance agent, whom we don't worry about when things are well, but can safely run to when things get bad – like a good neighbor, Jesus is there (but only when something goes wrong and I want Him to fix it). When we stop looking with thanksgiving at the blessings God has given us, we put Him off in a corner as though He is small and unimportant, our praise becomes lax, and we blunder on in indifference – a pathetic and miserable band, overlooking the blessings of God.

Now, when we talk about Jesus and what He does in His Earthly ministry – one of the things we remember is that He fulfills what we call Active Righteousness – that Jesus actively does all those things which we ought to do but fail in – that the thankfulness which we fail to show, Jesus shows perfectly. Think on it. Before the feeding miracles, what does Jesus do? John records for us that “Jesus then took the loaves, and when He had given thanks, He distributed them to those who were seated.” He is thankful for us. Indeed, whenever we celebrate Communion, we hear that on the night when He was betrayed, He took bread, and when He had given thanks… Christ Jesus gives perfect and right thanks to the Father, He gives that thanks which we ought to have – and indeed, we are justified and forgiven of our thanklessness because He is thankful for us. Our praise may lack, but Christ never fails to show proper praise to the Father, and again, this is done for us, that our sin would be covered.

And Christ Jesus also teaches us how to be thankful, how to give proper praise to God. Chief of those ways is prayer. Christ Jesus is always praying – pretty much every miracle He does is proceeded by prayer. That is indeed our thanks and praise to God. Think on the Lord's Prayer – the prayer He teaches us to pray. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be done. Give to us our daily bread. Forgive us, keep us from temptation, deliver us from evil. When we pray the Lord's prayer, these are not just things we are asking for and expecting in the future, but these are all things that we have already received and are giving thanks to God for. Has not God placed His holy name upon you at your Baptism? Has not Christ Jesus brought His Kingdom to you in His Word – indeed, that's the only way know that He will come again. Has not God's Will been done – for Christ prays “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.” God's will has been done, for Christ Jesus goes to the Cross. Has not God given you daily bread each day of your life? Has not God richly forgiven your sin? Has not God kept you safe from a multitude of temptations, and has not God delivered you from all sorts of evil, defended against and thwarted plan after plan of Satan's? Every prayer about what God has done is praising Him, and in our praise we also give Him thanks for what He has done.

And He has done it all. Every good thing in our life is nothing but a gift from God. Every opportunity to show love – a gift from God. Our forgiveness and salvation, a gift from God. This fact, this truth, is what shapes our worship and gives it focus. Here in God's House, where we receive the blessings of His Word and Supper, the forgiveness He gives to us again and again – we do speak, we do sing words of thankfulness and praise – all that we say or do in this house is to be thanking God and declaring His praise. But, this continues after worship proper – for when you praise God to your neighbor, when you declare what God has done for you, that too is true thankfulness. What God has done for us completely shapes our lives, and our thankfulness is simply the recognition of this fact. Heavenly Father, keep our eyes focused upon Christ Jesus our Lord, so that our thankfulness may be full, not only on this day, but every day. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trinity 23 Sermon

Trinity 23 – Matthew 22:15-22 – November 18th and 19th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Oh no, what do you want? There's that moment, that thought that runs across your mind whenever someone comes up to you and starts sweet talking, starts buttering you up, and you think, “Oh no – you are laying this on thick – what do you want? Just get to the point and tell me.” That's the sort of situation Jesus finds Himself in this evening/ morning in our Gospel lesson. This is during holy week while Jesus is teaching in the temple, and we hear this: “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, 'Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” Can you hear it getting a bit deep in here? If our farmers could spread a bit of that on their fields this winter they'd double their harvest next fall, that is rich!

So here's the situation – you have the Pharisees, the muckity-mucks of Jewish religious society, and Jesus has been annoying them – so much so that they want him ruined or dead. And they do get Him dead by the end of the week – keep that in mind. And so to make things awkward for Jesus, they start talking to Him in front of a bunch of Herodians – these are Herod's people. Political movers and shakers. Herod's allies – you know, Herod, very worldly guy, chopped off John the Baptist's head. So, you've got the hyper religious and the hyper worldly – and Jesus, You don't care what anyone thinks, You speak your mind. Okay, if your thanksgiving dinner can get a bit awkward because you have that one crazy super conservative relative and that other crazy liberal one, and they'll be sitting together at dinner and you'll be there thinking, “Just no one bring up politics or the president...” - well, that's the setting here. And they're buttering Jesus up to boot – see where this is going?

So Jesus, since you don't care about folks opinions and are just such a straight shooter, “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” Oh, this is a 1st Century sticky-wicket. See, because the Romans conquered Jerusalem, the Jewish people were forced to pay a tax, which was a sore and bitter topic. Now, the Herodians didn't mind, because this paid them, but it's a touchy subject. And Jesus is in the temple, surrounded by run of the mill Jewish folks who hate the Romans and hate the tax – and then there's the money changers tables that He just overturned – do you get how this is meant to be a trap? Hey, you're honest – pass the turkey and then tell us, what do you think of the new Tax plan – while Uncle Foxnews and Aunt MSNBC just glare waiting to jump down your throat? My this, turkey is good this year...

Well, they were setting Jesus up, they were mocking Him a bit when they said it, but they were right. Jesus doesn't pay attention to appearance and He doesn't care about people's opinion, so He lays out a blunt answer. “But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, 'Why put me to the test you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” Okay, you guys are being jerks, and I'll prove it. Ready for me to prove that you're a hypocrite? Well, you know, the Son of Man has no place to rest His head, and Judas is the group treasurer, so I don't have any money on me – can you can show Me the coin that you use to pay the tax? “And they brought Him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, 'Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Hey guys, there's a graven image on this – funny that, we are in the temple and all, where we you know, have our own temple currency with those money changers, and they would bilk and rob people blind in money transactions because we weren't going to use money with a fellow's graven image on it here in the temple – oh, but you brought some of this idol-money into the temple. Well then, what idol is that there on this money? Whose word is written on this here idol-money? “They said, 'Caesar's.' Then He said to them, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's.” Well, it's his money – I suppose if you want to have this money and use it to buy all the stuff that you Pharisees like, I guess you'll have to pay your taxes. However, what you should be focused on isn't just Caesar's stuff – but here we are, in the Temple of God. Perhaps you ought to be thinking a bit more about what you owe God. Because you know, it is written that you shall not put the Lord your God to the test, and you just walked on up here to put Me, the Messiah, to the test.

So what now? Well, the Pharisees are left with their jaws dropped and they walk away and start to plot to kill Jesus – the Herodians are satisfied because Jesus said to pay taxes, but what of us? Where do we go from here? Let me ask you a question – so we are to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's. So, what is God's stuff – what is this thing that belongs to God that is to be rendered unto him? How do we take this? Well, it is November, a traditional time of stewardship drives, so we could turn this into a render unto God more in the offering plate sermon. Ut-oh – better – check the bulletin and see if Pastor's going to make us sing “We give Thee but Thine Own”! Fear not, it is true that all that you have, including your money, is a gift from God, and that when you manage these gifts, when you designate some of them to be used in the Church for the preaching of the Word here and for our congregation's mission work, you are simply giving back to God things that already belonged to God in the first place. But relax, that's not really the fullness or point here. Be generous, but relax, I'm not going to harp on you.

No, if you want to know what belongs to God – how did Jesus determine that the denarius belonged to Caesar? “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” When I look at this coin, what is it that I see, what words are these that I see? Oh, they are Caesar's likeness and Caesar's word – well, I guess this belongs to Caesar. Now, how about it – where is the likeness of God and the Word of God – what's the thing that has God's likeness and Word upon it that is to be rendered back unto God? You. You guys. Think back to creation: “Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” That's you. And you know what else? What has the Word of God inscribed upon it? I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Do you see and understand what is going on here? Jesus isn't trying to shake out your pockets for loose change – He's pointing to a greater and more wondrous truth – you belong to Him. You are His.

Now, the simple fact is that we do not like to act as though we belong to God. We often forget that we bear His image and likeness, and we sin. That's what sin is – it is forgetting who you are in Christ Jesus, it is acting as though you do not belong to Him, it is not fearing, not loving, and not trusting Him above all things, but rather running after something else. And then there are times when we are brought to our senses, when we sit and look and we say, “What have I done? I can't believe I did that – why did I do that again?” We need that – we need those wake up calls otherwise we just keep carrying on in the dumbest of sin. We forget who we are sometimes, and then we see what we have done, and we feel shame and remorse and guilt and sorrow and we hang our heads – the fancy theological word is that we feel “contrition”.

Here's the thing. Even in that moment, when you see your sin before you – remember, you belong to God. Now, if you will recall, the Pharisees had buttered up Jesus to start – and they didn't really mean it, but you know what – they were right. Listen again. “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” They were right, more than they knew. Jesus is true and teaches the way of God – in fact, Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the life. And Jesus doesn't care about anyone's opinion – you know what? He doesn't care about your opinion. He doesn't care about your opinion of yourself – so if you are thinking you're all that and a bag of chips, He'll remind you that you need a Savior. And when you see your sin, and your opinion of yourself is this [an inch] high – again, He doesn't care about that. He's not swayed by appearances – He's not impressed if you are the best, most upstanding member of the Church nor shocked if you are the lowest of the low, the guiltiest of the guilty. He's not swayed by appearances. Nope. He sees the proper likeness and inscription. You are a baptized child of God; you belong to Him. Period. And He will render you back unto Himself – He will call you back unto Himself with His Word and Spirit. It's what He's doing right now. The whole reason Jesus came was to make sure that you would be His forever – that the image and likeness of God would be restored and that you would dwell in the House of the Lord forever. He Himself came and to cleanse you of your sin took it upon Himself and crucified it upon the Cross. He Himself calls you to His table and feeds you His own Body and Blood so that you would be forgiven and conformed again to His image, that you would live remembering this – because you were created to be the image and likeness of Jesus, and Jesus isn't going to let Satan and sin mess that up. And so He goes to the Temple and speaks the truth, and He lets them kill Him and He rises again so that He can say, “Yep, you there bearing My likeness, bearing My Name, bearing My Word – know now that it is a Word of life and salvation.” We see that now in part in receiving forgiveness, in being filled with His Spirit and with His love; we shall see it in full when He raises us from the dead and we see Him face to face, and we live as He lives. Indeed, as Paul says, Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself.” Come quickly, Lord Jesus, to us, your Baptized children, that we would bear your likeness forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +