Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Podcast

Just for those who might not know - I do have a podcast.  You can find it here at the Gospeled Boldly Podcast

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – July 22nd and 23rd, 2017 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Sin is pervasive. Sin creeps throughout this creation, creeps throughout our own sinful flesh and spreads its tentacles throughout the entirety of our lives. As fallen, human beings, we are sinful and wretched to the core. Period. Every action we take – tainted and sinful. How does that strike you? A little harsh? Were you thinking, “Oh Pastor Brown, you're too young to be such a grouchy old curmudgeon. Sure there's some sin around, but it's not that bad. Relax. Lighten up a bit”? What Christ Jesus our Lord is doing in our Gospel text, what He is doing in this part of the Sermon on the Mount, is showing and demonstrating just how far the disease of sin has spread in us; He is warning us how tricky and slippery sin is. Listen to Him again: “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Do you see the temptation Jesus is warning against – the temptation we have as human beings to limit God's commandments, to cut them short, to excuse ourselves from them, to water them down. To relax them, to shave off a bit. To justify our own breaking of them.

Jesus gives an example. “You have heard that it was said of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; that whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'you fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire.” Do you see how this works? What's the fifth commandment, folks? You shall not murder – Thou shalt not kill. This is where our prideful sinful flesh wants to pipe up - “Well, Jesus, I guess you can stop talking now, cause I haven't murdered anyone. Got that 5th commandment down pat – now let's move on.” But do you see what Jesus does? He makes us consider what this commandment to not murder actually means. What was God teaching when He instructed that we are not to kill, not to end our neighbor's life? As God has given life to your neighbor, you're not supposed to take away that gift that God has given, but more than that. You aren't supposed to mess with, denigrate, or insult the gift of life that God has given to your neighbor. Therefore, Jesus points out the depth of that commandment.

If you are angry with your brother, you're liable to judgment. Well, on the one hand, this does tell us about how murder happens. Pretty much every time there's a murder or killing, you see a bit of anger first. Cain gets angry with Able and then offs him. But it's a bit deeper than that. [E]veryone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. The first time we see anger in the Scriptures, my friends, is in the garden, right after the fall. Adam's words – the woman you gave me, she gave me the fruit and I ate. You get the anger, the disdain there? And Adam right there is liable to judgment, isn't he? Or whoever insults his brother, that's liable to the council. That's basically saying if you insult someone, talk about about them to their neighbors, it's not just a local offense, it is a federal case with the Supreme Court ready to throw the book at you. That's how serious it is. And then, if you call someone something to their face, call them a moron – just someone who cuts you off in traffic, or someone at a store and you flippantly denigrate them – well, on account of that, in reality, you deserve the hell of fire. Did you get that, did you hear that? The hell of fire. Jesus ain't playing around here – He is saying this is serious. Because sin is pervasive and spreads and it roams around and leads us into all sorts of trouble – and we are to be on guard against it. We aren't to be busy trying to excuse our actions, we aren't supposed to be going about trying to justify ourselves. That's a dead end game.

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” If you are going to try to muscle your way into God's presence, if you are going to try to say “I deserve heaven, I deserve eternal life, God” - you're going to be in for a world of hurt. Think of the best, the nicest folks you know of – unless your righteousness surpasses them – it ain't going to work. Because God's standards are high – His standards are perfection... and you of yourself are not perfect. And this is something that grates us – we think it is utterly unfair that God would demand perfection when it's not my fault that I wasn't born perfect so shouldn't I at least get some brownie point for being better than that guy over there? We get caught up in the comparison game – I'm better than them. And we see this play out today – a never ending cycle of self-justification, of saying “I'm better than this person.” This group is worse than that group. That's politics. Republicans are worse than Democrats, no the Democrats are worse than Republicans. You did more bad stuff with the Russians, no, you did more bad stuff with the Russians. You messed up the budget, no you messed up the budget. And all that hate and anger flows and it's always their fault – isn't that nice and convenient?

That's not how the law of God works. There is no proper “stick” use of the Law where it is the stick that you use to beat your neighbor – but we do hear of the Law being used as a mirror. Do you note how Jesus isn't calling us to evaluate our neighbor but ourselves? You! If you! Take this “everyone who does X” and apply it to yourself. And the point that we should see, that we would ponder is that... yes, for our own advantage we will relax, and skirt, and just flat out avoid the law when it suits our purposes and wants. Now, our text just deals with anger and murder – but in Matthew Jesus moves on to deal with lust and adultery, then pride and oaths, and retaliation and fighting with enemies, and hypocrisy in charity – it's a tour de force of showing sin. Our sin. Actually, closer than that – showing my sin.

How many of you, when you get into trouble try to talk your way out of it? I'd do that all the time growing up, and my mom would just stare at me and say, “Just keep digging, Eric, that hole's just getting deeper and deeper.” The fast-talking trying to explain away sin didn't work with my Mom, and it certainly won't work with God. “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” And it's not just a matter of skill in talking – even the scribes, the most well educated people around – they can't fast talk their way out of sin. Even the Pharisees, the most virtuous folks around, they can't do it either. Your righteousness needs to surpass, be beyond the sort of righteousness that sinful man can muster. Period.

Which is the point. I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength... I can't, I can't produce the righteousness that God demands. Now, Christ Jesus, the Righteous One – well, He has this righteousness – of course Jesus is going to have the Righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven – it's His kingdom after all. And here is the wondrous thing, what theologians often would call the blessed exchange or the great exchange. Simply out of His dumbfounding love for you, Jesus decides to take up your sin, your lack of righteousness and take up its punishment upon the cross, and instead of death, He gives you His righteousness so that you will be with Him eternally, so that you will possess the kingdom of heaven. That's the thing that is publicly demonstrated and sealed at your baptism – His righteousness was poured upon you, applied to you. And not in a “well, now you can work your way up to heaven” sort of way. You dig enough pits in your sin – when Jesus saves you He doesn't just give you a bigger shovel, He actually saves you. It's all about what He has done for you, not what you do to impress Him.

Which is why we hear Jesus say, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” The important thing isn't what you give to God – okay, it's important in so far as that's how I get paid and how we fix up the church, which is all good. But of even greater importance is the fact that God has given you forgiveness and mercy and righteousness – and that forgiveness should flow even between you and your brother. We are washed in Christ's righteousness, we are forgiven and made into forgiveness people. It's not about what we give to God, it's rather that God has given us forgiveness, and this forgiveness ought to permeate our lives.

And to be honest. There are times it doesn't. There are times where our old sinful flesh rears its ugly head, and we default back into those old sinful patterns – it's his fault, they're worse than me, she's an idiot – and when we catch ourselves – or more accurately when the Holy Spirit brings the Law to remembrance in our lives and uses it as a mirror to show us our sin – that's when once again we see the need for forgiveness. That's when once again our efforts are cast aside and instead we receive Christ's own righteousness and mercy and forgiveness again – and we go, and confess and repent and forgive what has been done to us. And it keeps on – this is the cycle of our lives. Every time you come into this Church for a service until you come here for your funeral, you're going to need forgiveness. But Christ's righteousness far exceeds anything we could imagine – and He keeps on pouring it upon you – so much so that you will rise to new and everlasting life in Him, perfect and holy and reflecting His righteousness forever. Not even death can stop that. In His love for you, He always will offer you His righteousness in His house, all your days. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

An "Error" or Obscuring Christ?

We LCMS Lutherans are known for our focus upon pure doctrine.  It's often considered our thing - that we want all our ducks to be in a row.  We know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump, a little bit of error ruins the whole thing!


I ask this not to denigrate pure doctrine or anything like that.  Rather, I wonder if we remember and *why* we fight for pure doctrine and what the limits of what we will fight over are.

It's not merely a desire to be right.
It's not a desire to do what is best.
It's not just a desire to separate ourselves from "them".

At least it shouldn't be.  Error isn't to be tolerated if and when it obscures Christ.  Specifically, when there is a teaching that obscures Christ Crucified for you, a sinner - then we must oppose it.  Anything that undercuts the teaching of the Gospel is opposed and shown to undercut the Gospel.

This is also why we admit that there is plenty of adiaphora - things that are indifferent - that are tangential to the message of the Gospel.  They might be wise or foolish - but we can let them be because they do not necessarily obscure Christ.

Of course, the exception to that is when someone insists that you *must* do a specific adiaphora to be a Christian, because by making something a requirement of salvation or a condition of being in the Church, you are in fact obscuring Christ.

So then - as we are now in the age where on social media platforms we will quickly point out every quibble we have with anything anyone else is doing, here is what I would suggest.  Instead of just saying, "This is wrong - I don't like this!" perhaps we ought to consider this question: Does what they say obscure Christ?

Does what this person over there teach obscure, cloud, get in the way of the Gospel?  Does it take the pure sweetness of Christ Crucified for sinners and add some man-made vinegar of our own desires or wants or whims into the message?

What does it say about Jesus?  And more to the point, what does it say WRONG about Jesus?

Don't just give me an argument about how something bad, or it will lead to this, or everything is terrible - tell me how it undercuts the Gospel.  Then I will know that it actually is a true error and not just something you happen to not like.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Duties, not Qualifications

I'm getting ready to go over the Table of Duties with my men's bible study class, and I find it interesting to note that the first set of duties given are from 1 Timothy 3, the section that so often we today will call the qualifications for the pastoral office.  However, consider them for a moment:

 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive... He must not be a recent convert
 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound[a] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)

Now, so often we will treat these as "qualities" - as though they are aspects of a man that make him worthy of the office, or eligible.  If I check off these boxes then I *can* become a pastor.  But I think that misses the point, a point that Luther nails.

The Office of the Ministry places an obligation upon a pastor.  He is to serve the people he has been called to shepherd.  And this list deals with his duties.

If you constantly embarrass them, you can't serve them very well.  Keep your nose clean for their sake. If you are constantly trying to sleep with the women, you aren't serving them well.  Keep it zipped for their sake. If you aren't serious, you can't serve them very well.  Be serious for their sake.
If you can't control yourself, you can't serve them well.  Be controlled for their sake.

So on and so forth.  These aren't just a set of standards for some fellow to meet in order to become a pastor - they are active descriptions of what a pastor does, how he relates to his congregation in the exercise of the office.

That's why it is necessary, why a pastor must be these things... because they are the duties that he carries out in the performance of his office.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Trinity 5 Sermon

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11 – July 15th and 16th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
I’m not sure if we understand just how foolish our Lord’s instructions to Simon Peter, the instructions to cast out his nets, must have sounded. We are used to the story, we know what happens, so it seems so clear, but pause for a moment, and consider what Simon Peter’s day had been. He had been up all night, working, toiling, for nothing. Empty net after empty net, doing nothing but hauling by hand wet, rough, net. All night long. A lousy day. And then, when he is tired – Jesus commandeers his boat, and then Jesus sits down and teaches from the boat. So after a long day of work, then you get a morning’s worth of teaching – a trip to Church as it were. And then, Jesus tells Simon Peter to cast out the nets. In the daylight, when the fish would be swimming deeper to avoid the heat – when it was foolish to try to fish – which is why the fishermen had been out all night. And you can almost hear the sigh that Simon Peter must have given. Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your Word I will let down the nets. Tired, worn, and weary, Peter casts out the nets again. Do you know what this would be like? Imagine that one of our farmers has just finished going over a field that was a complete loss. Nothing on it. And after the service I were to say to him, “Why don’t you go run your combine-thingy over that field again.” A completely stupid and foolish idea. I highly doubt that any farmer would humor me on that – and as well they shouldn’t – I’m not God. But Simon Peter does cast down the nets at our Lord’s Word, and we know what happens – the miraculous catch of fish – miraculous in terms of size, in terms of time and timing – a number of fish that is unbelievable.

What we see here is a perfect and wonderful demonstration of a truth that impacts everything. The wisdom of God seems utterly foolish to sinful man. Plain and simple. Quite often what God plans, what God says, seems to us like sheer stupidity. This is true of both God’s Law and Gospel. Consider God’s Law. What does God teach us to do? Love your enemy. Put your neighbor’s need ahead of your own. Turn the other check. Never take advantage of your neighbor in business deals. Always give of yourself. From the world’s perspective, from the perspective of our sinful flesh, these are all utterly foolish – these have absolutely nothing to do with looking out for number 1! And when we are tempted, every temptation is nothing more than Satan slithering on up to us and saying, “Look, this stuff that God wants you to do – doesn’t it just seem so foolish?” To sinful man, God’s law looks foolish.

Same thing with the Gospel. Same thing with the Cross. That God Almighty would come down from heaven and suffer for the very people who spurned Him and rebelled against Him, who constantly sin and flout His commands. And more than that – the fact that the benefits Christ wins are given freely, the fact that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake and that we don’t have to do anything, indeed, that we can’t do anything, that there is no way we could make it up to Him, and more over God doesn’t even want us to think about making things up to Him – that God would say, “No, I Myself will handle this, I will take your sin from you and Crucify it Myself and restore you unto Myself.” Do you see why St. Paul can say that the world views this as utter folly? It’s so opposite of what the world expects. And yet, by faith, we know God’s acting for what it is – the power of salvation.

Simon Peter, in that moment when he sees the nets full of fish, when he sees the wisdom of the world so utterly and completely throw upon its head, knows that he is in the presence of God. Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O LORD.” Simon Peter doesn’t call Jesus “Master” anymore; he doesn’t just humor a slightly nutty preacher – rather, this Jesus is LORD, is God Almighty, is Jehovah. And Simon Peter knows he is a sinner, and Simon Peter knows that he’s got no business being this close to a Holy God. . . by rights, by all earthly wisdom, there should be nothing for sinful man but punishment and wrath, condemnation and the curse of death, nothing but the wages of sin, the burden of the expulsion from the garden to come crashing down on Simon Peter right then and there. But again, Jesus in His utter and true wisdom decides to do something the world would see as foolish.

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. Put away your fear. Do not worry about any punishment, do not worry about any judgment coming from Me against you. Do you hear how foolish that sounds? Why, even to American Christians – we love our fire and brimstone sermons. The most famous sermon in American History, and a classic of literature, is “Sinners in the Hands of Angry God.” You can turn on the TV and hear preachers shouting until they are blue in the face about how there will be Judgment for this, for that, watch out, God’s gonna getcha! And right there is one of those sinners – right in front Christ – expecting the worst – thinking the best he can hope for is that God will go and leave him alone. Think about that – Peter’s only hope was that Jesus would go away. Depart from me! Yet what does our Lord say? “Do not be afraid. I’m not going anywhere – in fact, you will be coming with Me. I will be with you and you will be with Me, and I will forgive you and be with you always.”

Do you see, do you understand who God is? God is no longer out to get you. God is not seeking to punish you. Why? The Cross. Every sin ever was carried by Christ to that Cross and done away with, punished in full. God’s wrath was completely and fully poured out upon Christ – there’s no wrath left for you, there is no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. God really and truly isn’t out to get you – Christ stepped up to the Cross and took that bullet for us. And so He can say even to us today, “Do not be afraid. Know My forgiveness. Your sins can no longer condemn you, for I have borne them for you.” Do you realize that, do you understand that – there is no sin that you do that can condemn you – the only thing that condemns is unbelief, is spurning the Cross, is saying, “No thank you” to God and His mercy. In Christ there is life and salvation, and apart from Christ there is not. The question isn't how good or how bad you are, what you've done bad or what good you've done to make it up. That doesn't matter before God. The question is are you in Christ?

But here is the wonder and joy that we have. God has called us to faith by His Word, we have heard the message of Christ Crucified, and by the Grace and power of God we know it for what it is – our salvation, our hope, that to which we cling. And we know how God bolsters that faith, by the gift of Holy Baptism, by the repeated preaching of that same Word, by His repeatedly giving us His own Body and Blood to strengthen us. By the fact that Christ has created His Church, has over and over called men to be fishers of other men, to cast out the Net of God’s Word and Sacraments to catch and bring people into Church.

And again, this is a place where the wisdom of God is so much greater than the wisdom of men, and this is something we always need to bear in mind. I will be honest with you – there are a lot of worldly ideas out there about how to grow the church, how to “catch men” as it were. And they are creeping into the Missouri Synod – and the bureaucrats who simply sit in an office and see nothing but numbers and dollar signs, who think like worldly businessmen can take a strong, strong liking to them. Some of the stuff that comes down the pike is utter worldly, utterly stupid – treating people who don’t know Jesus like they are mere consumers ready to buy something. Let’s market this, let’s advertise this. I’ve been out in the parish for 13 years, and it seems like some new plan or model shows up every 2 years, but three years later it’s outdated and cliché. Utter foolishness of men. What is forgotten is that the Church of God is not a business of the world, and it doesn’t run by the world’s dog eat dog rules.

How does Simon Peter catch the fish? Is it because of his hard work? He’d been fishing all night and hadn’t caught anything. Is it because of his wonderful plans? They had fallen flat. Was it a neat 7 step plan, or 40 day commitment to fill in the blank? Nope. But at Your Word I will let down the nets. The catch comes simple and solely because Christ said so – because of God’s Word. If Simon Peter becomes a great fisher of fish by God’s Word, doesn’t it stand to follow that Simon Peter will be a fisher of men by. . . God’s Word? And what do we see Peter doing on Pentecost? He’s. . . preaching. He quotes, and then even later on ends up writing, Scripture. When he’s good he’s all about the Word of God. The same thing is upon us. The Church is always to be about the Word of God, Law and Gospel, and when we abandon that Word, we are no longer Church. We, as long as we desire to remain “Church”, must be devoted not to our plans, not to our goals, not to what we’d like to see, not to dreams of full pews and fuller offering plates, not to how many people show up at the latest pep talk or concert that pretends it’s Church – rather this. We are to be devoted solely and only to Christ and His Word, to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified – to be in the Word and to proclaim that same Word and nothing else to others. And then we will dwell in the House of the Lord all our days. As for others, the folks out there – hopefully through our lips God’s Word will work upon them – we can't force that though - the Holy Spirit works when and where He wills. However we remain in the Word, we continue to trust in His Wisdom while the world laughs at our folly – for we know God’s Word for what it is, we know the Cross for what it is – the power and wisdom of God for salvation. While others will demand signs in the pocketbook and nifty plans – we will preach Christ Crucified, that stumbling block and folly to the world, and we will rest securely and comfortably in His love, His forgiveness, His righteousness. He has told us that we need not be afraid – all that remains then is for us to receive the His gifts and give thanks. O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, and His mercy to us, in spite of the blustering of the world, endures forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – July 8th and 9th, 2017 – Luke 6:36-42

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Today's Gospel lesson has perhaps the single hardest teaching in the Scriptures in it. The hardest one. No, it's not “judge not, lest ye be judged” - that's easy for us to understand. Sinful human beings are all about judging, about evaluating, about complaining about others and we know that is bad. No, you know what is hard, hard for us to grasp and believe? “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” There is nothing harder for sinful folk to believe than to believe that God is in fact merciful.

Oh, Pastor we all know that God is merciful! Well, yes, but I didn't say it was hard to know that God is merciful – this is a simple verse – Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Say it 8 times and you'd have it memorized – you'd know it. But it is much harder for us in our sinful flesh to believe that God is merciful. Consider. Let's say you've done something wrong, get caught with your hand in the cookie jar – what is your reaction? Is it fear? Dread? Shame? Do you start to deny, do you try to fast talk? Do you try to make excuses? Do you get angry and turn it into a fight and blame the person who caught you? At that moment, mercy is the farthest thing from your mind, isn't it? Or what if you are the one who catches someone doing something wrong – and it's not actually just something cutesy wrong – but really wrong? Hurtful wrong. What is your reaction then? Anger? Rage? Disgust? Despising disbelief? Mockery? Again, at that moment, mercy often doesn't top the list. Our sinful flesh can't grasp, can't fathom that God would be merciful, because so often we'd want nothing to do with mercy.

The Scriptures, the Old Testament in particular, are full of stories of sin – of tales of the people of God who ought to know better sinning. And then tales of peoples' reactions to sin. There's every bad reaction possible. Even the “good” folks often don't react evenly or calmly. Which is part of the point. The Scriptures are given in part to show us how pervasive, how deeply and strongly sin has impacted us, warped us – to how we don't view, how we don't react as we should. Consider today's OT lesson. Joseph's brothers had sold him into slavery out of jealousy and spite, and when their dad Jacob dies, their gut reaction is terror. Joseph is now a ruler in Egypt, he has power now, surely he's going to get even, even though he's cared for them for years. They make up a statement that Jacob had never said to try to lever Joseph. Now, Joseph answers rightly and is merciful – he sees well now – of course a few chapters earlier when they didn't know it was him, Joseph had them convinced that he was going to have Benjamin executed. It's only at the end of the book, at the climax, where you finally have this idea of God meaning things for good coming out bluntly. No, at our core, as sinful human beings, we really don't operate on the idea that God is merciful.

And so there stands Christ Jesus our Lord in our Gospel – true God and true Man, and He assures us that our Father is in fact merciful. Over and against what your feel, over and against what you have done or what others have done to you, God is merciful. Or to put it this way – what does God want? What's His goal, His endgame? Is God seeking an opportunity to condemn you, or does He desire to show you mercy? Keep in mind, the same Jesus who is telling you this is the same Jesus who was born to go to the Cross and bear your sins, who came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, just so God can say, “Look, see – your sin is gone – really, it is. Really really – taken up by Jesus. And you don't need to fear punishment or death anymore – really you don't. See, He's risen from the dead, and He preaches peace.” Your risen Lord doesn't rise and say, “Oh, you jerks are in for it now” - no, it's all about forgiveness and mercy. God is eager to show mercy – any judgment that gets shown isn't what He wants, what He desires. Any judgment that happens is, well, that's on us, that's on sinful man determined to have things go by way of judgment. God will give someone judgment and condemnation if they insist – but that's not how God wants things – He is merciful. His mercy is shown in Christ's death to take away your sin, His mercy is shown in Christ's resurrection where He says that you are forgiven and you will rise.

And thus our Merciful Lord teaches us today, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” So, how did you hear that? Did you hear those verses as dire warning, and God setting the standards high and if you don't meet them, well then He's just going to kick your miserable backside all the way to hell? Because that would be a rather foolish and fearful and sin-dominated way to hear that, given that Jesus has just emphasized that your Father is in fact merciful, and we ought not call Jesus a liar and insist that God really wants to stomp us. Yet, so often we sinners will default to “oh, I better to this or else I'm going to get it.” That's not really the point.

God is merciful, and the reason He wants you to strive after mercy isn't because if you don't He'll smite you – it's that if you disdain mercy, you'll forget and ignore and not believe that He is merciful. If you become content to play the judging game – you will start to assume more and more that God wants to play the judging game. If you are content to condemn, you will simply fuel the fires of rage and anger in your belly, and you'll be consumed with the idea that God is all about condemnation. In your sin, you will start to think and view God not on the basis of what He has said, but on the basis of what you think, what you feel. If you Judge and Condemn, you stop looking at your Father who is Merciful, and instead you fashion a judging and condemning idol of your own devising, a false God that you can butter up and bribe with works and stuff to get out of judgment, a false God that you can weaponize against the people you don't like. If you give yourself over to judgment and condemnation, that's what you'll get, because you will ignore the God of steadfast mercy and sit and stew in your own judgment and condemnation.

No – God is merciful, and your merciful Father loves to give. And you know what? He loves to give richly – but you'll only see this when you yourself give. He pours good measure into you always, pressed down, shaken, over-flowing – but if you are consumed by sinful greed, if you horde your stuff, you'll never see Him giving you more. Now – should you give, should you be generous, you will see and understand God's continued generosity towards you – you will understand that God is a giver. I do need to note one thing about this – God will give, always, a good measure – He will fill your sack to the brim and overflow it. Jesus didn't say if you give that God will give you a bigger sack – this isn't some type of investment strategy where you can get more and more wealth. That's your greed talking and missing the point. No, when you give, you'll see how generous God is with you now already, not lust after more and more stuff.

In this passage, Jesus is really showing us how our attitudes shape how we view God, and how there is the danger that when we let our sin dominate how we view God, we get into trouble. Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they both not fall into a pit? When we lead with our sinful flesh, we're going to constantly miss the point. Instead, we are to listen to Christ and what He says. Why? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Do you see what Jesus is doing? He is your teacher, and He is teaching you, He is showing in fact with His life, death, and resurrection what God is like, who God, who Jesus Himself actually is, so that we learn to see things like Jesus, like the teacher. Yes, God is merciful – Mercy is plan number 1. And Jesus shows that to us over and over.

And like a good Jewish teacher, Jesus poses us a question. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? Do you see the normal assumption, the normal course of action? When we fall into judgmental patterns, when sin and judgment and condemnation start to run our lives, we end up ignoring our own sin and focusing on our neighbors. It's how we defend ourselves against our own judgment – they have to be worse than me, it has to be their fault and not mine – do it to them, punish them, it's the woman's fault, at least I'm not a whatever label I label them with – on and on and on – and Jesus says this is all blindness. This is all our own sin messing with the way we view things.

Jesus says, You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. You hypocrite, you fella who has an answer for everything – just cut out your fast talking and blame for a moment, and tend to your own log first. Then you can help your neighbor, that's fine – but before you can know how to deal with your neighbor's sin, how to react to them – you need to know how your own sin is dealt with.

So – how is your log dealt with, folks? Is it dealt with denial – with just squinting one eye really tightly and pretending everything is fine? Or by squity-eyed saying that those people over there are really messed up? No – your Father is merciful to you on account of Christ Jesus. And He gives you not just material blessings, but He gives you forgiveness, He takes your sin away, He pulls the log out of your eye. He opens your eyes and your mind and your heart to see Christ the Crucified who says peace be with you. He makes you to see that you are in fact a Baptized child of God, that you are nourished with Christ's own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sins – yes, it really is all about forgiveness – yes this place is a forgiveness place – no, Pastor Brown's not going to pound people you don't like into hell or pat you on the back and tell you how you are so much better than those folks because that's not the point. Your sins are great – and I hope that you see ever more and more just how great your sins are, you see just how perniciously sin tries to twist you – because that means you are starting to see clearly. And then, know that all that is forgiven because Christ died for you. And you know what else you will see then? That Jesus died for and forgives all the stupid, hurtful, sinful things that others have done to you – and that if these folks don't see that, don't realize that – if they live in their ignorance of God and their own judgment and condemnation – that's a horrid tragedy. And once you can see with that log out of your eye, your Father who is merciful will fill you with mercy – a good measure, pressed down, overflowing - even towards them. Because God the Father is merciful, He sent His Son to show you mercy. He sent His Spirit to fill you with mercy. God grant that He make us merciful, that we might actually be merciful to our enemies, that by His Word and Spirit our enemies would once again be our brothers and sisters in the blood of Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, July 1, 2017

HT Sectional 2017 - A Dissappointing Holy Week

A Disappointing Holy Week

Part 1 – Celebrities and Messiahs
Here's the question. How do we get from Palm Sunday with all the crowds wildly cheering to Good Friday with crowds shouting for Jesus to be crucified and others weeping with bitterness? This has been one of the often debated questions in Church History. Some folks like to say that there were radically different crowds, or Jesus' condemnation happened too early to notice. Whatever the case, by Good Friday Jesus is abandoned – even the disciples have left Him. How did this happen?

The best answer: Jesus disappoints everyone. If you look at the events of Holy Week, Jesus disappoints and upsets everyone, not because Jesus does anything “wrong” but because He isn't the sort of Messiah they wanted. We're going to look at 5 groups – the “Sign Seekers”, the Temple Community, the Pharisees and Saducees, the Disciples, and the Government. Every one of these groups end up being wildly disappointed in Jesus and turn on Him.

But before we look at the groups, and just so we don't get too self-righteous or think that we surely wouldn't fit in, think for a moment about Celebrity. Think about the people who have massive Instragram Followers, are the “hottest” musical groups. How quickly does their fame sour? Or maybe think of it this way – who were the people you thought were the coolest around 3 years ago? I'll see music I've bought and think, “why in the world did I ever buy this?” We can turn on celebrities – and the bigger they are, the more quickly they can fall.

You can think of Jesus in terms of celebrity. If people thought you were the Messiah (and there were plenty of false Messiahs that came before and after), you had all the trappings of celebrity. Fame, respect, people praising you – think of all the times folks try to butter up Jesus. But if you didn't deliver on what the people wanted then your fame would come crashing down. Same with celebrities today, but so many people had so many different hopes placed upon the Messiah – and most of them were lousy.

Part 2 – The Disappointed

Disappointed Group 1 – The Crowds

One of the things that we often assume as good little Christians is that there would have been a ton of people who wanted to be good little Christians too. We hear of all the crowds in the Scriptures and think that this is the great and awesome ideal – that they are all crowds of faithful folk. That's actually not quite the case. John actually points this out in his Gospel quite often: Consider the two following verses:

John 12:9 – When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of Him, but also to see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead.
John 12:36b-37 –
When Jesus had said these things, He departed and hid Himself from them. Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him.

The way John describes the crowd isn't as of a group of people who say, “ah, here is Jesus, my Savior from sin” - they are a group of people who just want to see cool miracles. They are like folks hanging around and saying, “Go on, show us another one!” This comes out in how John tells the feeding of the 5000.

John 6:14-15 –
When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him King, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.

John points out that Jesus basically crosses the sea of Galilee to get away from the crowd, but then the crowd follows Him, and He chews them out.

John 6:26 –
Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

They weren't looking for a Messiah, a Savior from sin. They wanted cool stuff. And so they miss the point – and when Jesus teaches them in the rest of John Six about faith and forgiveness and being the Bread of Life – the crowd gets upset and leaves.

John 6:66-68 –
After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

So think about the crowd of Palm Sunday. They are whipped into a frenzy because they've seen Lazarus raised from the dead. This is awesome and cool – and so they follow Jesus wanting to see what He will do. There's a slight problem, though. After Palm Sunday – no more healing. He heals in the temple that day – and then stops. And instead He just teaches about life and salvation and judgment and destruction... and at best many of them start to lose interest. At worst, they join in the calls to crucify Him.

Disappointed Group 2 – The Temple Bigwigs

Running the temple was a good gig. If you were a pious Jew, you had to come there, you had to do sacrifices. It had its own currency, so there were money exchanges. They had folks selling animals so you could do the sacrifices – and they bilked people. Prices were way high – sort of like food at an amusement park. But you HAD to pay, at least according to the Temple folks, otherwise you were a bad Jew and not fulfilling the Law. The Temple was their cash cow, and they bilked the faithful. So after Palm Sunday Jesus comes to His temple, and that's where He does most of His stuff... and He royally ticks off the Temple crowd.

Mark 11:15-18 –
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. (16) And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. (17) And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (18) And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching.

Now, the Temple folk were use to making a profit off of religion. A cool prophet ought to mean more people coming in and spending money – Prophets should lead to profit. But then Jesus comes and blows that all up. And then He calls them on it. And keep in mind, this is Passover Week – they should be making huge bank this week, and Jesus is dropping a wet blanket on it. So they try to chase Him out.

Mark 11:27-33 - And [Jesus and the disciples] came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, 28 and they said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” 29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30 Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Answer me.” 31 And they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 32 But shall we say, ‘From man’?”—they were afraid of the people, for they all held that John really was a prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”

Do you hear their fear of Jesus, how He's bad for business? And they can't answer Him, because the crowds (i.e. customers) had liked John, and if they knock John too much, it's bad for business. And to top it off, Jesus then gives the Parable of the Tenants, about the wicked and unfaithful people who were running the Master's affairs in His absence, which has the climax:

Parable of the Tenants – Mark 12:9 - “What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

Jesus is utterly bad for “Temple” business – and they want Him dead.

Disappointed Group 3 – The Religious Types

Just as there are different religious groups today, there were religious groups and parties in Jesus' day, and they didn't like each other one bit. The two biggest groups were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees were sort of like the liberals of the day – they were big city folks who prided themselves on being sophisiticated. The Pharisees were the conservative, moral folks, often living in the rural areas. And basically both of these groups wanted to use Jesus and His popularity against the other. Now, the Saducees knew that Jesus would give the Pharisees fits, so they wanted to see if He'd be on their side.

Matthew 22:23-28
The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, 24 saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. 26 So too the second and third, down to the seventh. 27 After them all, the woman died. 28 In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

Now, this question is an opportunity for Jesus to give an answer that would make their little liberal hearts all go aflutter – if He wanted to, He could just unload on the Pharisees. And yet, that's not what Jesus does.

Matthew 22:29-33 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.
They are expecting Jesus just to mock those bumpkin Pharisees, and instead He turns the tables on them and lays the lumber on them. This is a full fledged smack down – which highly annoys the Sadducees. But then the Pharisees think, “Well, maybe Jesus is actually on our side against those evil Sadducees!

Matthew 22:34-46 -  But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 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. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, 42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,
44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

So do you see what happens? Jesus doesn't play their game. He doesn't take the opportunity to give an answer that would blast the Sadducees. Instead, Jesus points out to the Pharisees their own problem – that they are more focused on how great they are instead of looking at the Messiah. Both of the “parties” get embarassed because Jesus isn't there to play their game, and so they too want Him dead.

Disappointed Group 4 – The Disciples

Even the disciples get disappointed in Jesus during Holy Week. We forget that the disciples were a mixed bag, and they had a lot of different motivations and expectations for Jesus, and He often upset them. This comes out in Holy Week as well.

Matthew 26:6-9 -  Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, 7 a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. 8 And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? 9 For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.”

The disciples often thought that following the Messiah would mean that they would get earthly power and glory – or influence and power and celebrity. So sometimes greed comes into play – in fact John points out that this event is what convinces Judas to betray Jesus. But not all the disciples were into peace and charity – many of them were Zealots, folks who wanted to violently overthrow the Romans and get power that way. So we hear in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Luke 22:49-51 - And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. 51 But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.

Some of the disciples were itching for a fight, they were expecting the glorious revolution. And Jesus stops it. He doesn't fight. Instead, He lets Himself get arrested, and all those thoughts of glory go down the drain, to where even all the disciples run away.

Disappointed Group 5 – The Government

The final folks that Jesus disappoints during Holy Week are the rulers, Herod and Pilate. Ruling the Holy Land was a pain. There were factions and fights and all that – and somehow Herod in Galilee and Pilate in Rome had to try to manage all this without riots and revolution. And when Jesus is arrested, they hoped that they could use Him to calm things down, but they too get disappointed.

Luke 23:8-10 - When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer.

This Herod (not the fellow who killed the babies, but his son) was interested in religious things. He had long talks with John the Baptist – granted, he ended up cutting his head off after his daughter-in-law danced for him, but Herod was “open” to discussion. Jesus could have buttered Herod up, put on a show, and Herod would have protected Him. Jesus could have been Herod's court prophet, could have done a lot to put people in their place – but Jesus isn't interested, so Herod lets him go.

Then there's Pilate, who has the roughest job. He knows Jesus is innocent, and he wants to rule justly, but then there's a riot ready to form. He's stuck in the middle – and Jesus doesn't help him get out of it.

John 19:5-11 - So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6 When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

Pilate wants to release Jesus – beats Him so that maybe the mob will have pity on Him, that their blood lust would be sated. But nothing. And Pilate starts to think that there is something divine going on, that he ought to get Jesus off the hook lest he tick off God/the gods – but Jesus isn't interested in that. Pilate is disappointed too.

Part 3 - The Real Messiah Thing

Lots of people had wanted lots of different things from Jesus. Some wanted signs, miracles, entertainment. Others wanted positions of wealth and power, earthly success. Some wanted Jesus to be on their side in political fights, or to have Jesus go smash their enemies. Yet, throughout Holy Week, even as folks who have all these varied wants get disappointed, and angry and more and more upset, Jesus stays focused on what His job as the Messiah actually is. And that is shown when He dies upon the Cross:

Matthew 27:50-53 - And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Jesus did not come for any of the various things that folks wanted. He came do destroy sin and death with His innocent suffering and death. He came to remove the sin that separated us from God, to undo the distance that had been required since the Garden and through the whole Old Testament. He came to bring life where there had been death. He came to be a real and everlasting Savior.

Now, what do we take from all this? When you hear people even today talking about Jesus – pay attention to their expectations. Are they talking about Jesus like He's merely a wonderworker, or a guy who will give you stuff, or a tool in fights to make other people do what they want? Because people still do that today – and in reality they are disappointed by the real Jesus.

The real Jesus is the one that we need – the Son of God who comes to be the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Jesus who comes to us today in preaching, who forgives us with His absolution, who gives Himself to us in His supper to give us forgiveness and life and salvation. That's the REAL Jesus – that's what His focus was on. He is the Jesus who comes to save you – and that's never a disappointment.

Visitation Sermon

The Visitation – July 1 and 2, 2017 – Luke 1

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Alright – so what's the deal with today. Here it is, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and we've got a Mary day stuck right here. Good night, Pastor Brown, what in tarnation is going on! Well, let me explain – July 2nd is the old, traditional date for the celebration of the Visitation – when young and newly pregnant Mary went and visited the quite old and surprisingly pregnant Elizabeth, and the old Lutherans kept this date on the calendar not as an attempt to praise Mary. No, Mary in the magnificat undercuts any idea that she herself is worthy of praise. Rather, this text is all about who Jesus is and what He does.

Before we look at the text, let's spend a moment or two thinking about how strange this whole meeting would be. First, you've got Elizabeth. She is, according to Zechariah her husband, “advanced in years.” She's old. Okay, some of you might think she's young, but her child bearing years are long behind her. Yet, she ends up pregnant with John the Baptist, and Zechariah is struck silent until John is born. Again, while some of you ladies might think your husband being unable to talk for a few months would be a good thing – let's think about Elizabeth's situation. It's utterly strange. And her husband is less of a help than normal. And being pregnant is uncomfortable enough when your a fit 20 year-old – now have all that kick in when you've got old joints and a creaky back. Yeah, it is a neat blessing and all, but practically speaking, it would be lousy.

And then you've got Mary. And here's how Mary gets introduced. In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. Now, there's a lot here in this simple verse. Mary arose and went with haste. Why? Think about Mary's situation for just a second. There she is, engaged, ready to get married, a nice, normal future set in front of her, and then BAM – Gabriel shows up and tells her that she is going to bear the Messiah as a Virgin. You do realize that Mary knew this would mess things up, right? When Gabriel comes she asks “how” - how is this going to work. And then, when she agrees she doesn't jump up and down and say “oh goody-goody gumdrops!” She says, Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” That's not a response of eagerness. That's resignation. That's saying, “Well, if this is what God is going to do... okay...eep.” Because Mary knows what this is going to look like. She's going to be a teen pregnant before marriage – and moreover pregnant when her fiancee Joseph had nothing to do with it. Think that would be a bit awkward? We hear in Matthew how Gabriel ends up going to Joseph to calm him down – he had been planning to divorce her quietly, which actually was the nicer thing. Joseph could have protected his honor and demanded that Mary be stoned to death as an adulteress. And you know tongues were wagging because they liked juicy gossip as much as we do today. So there's Mary's situation – where the nicest thing was that her fiancee was merely planning to have nothing to do with her ever again. Do you see why she high-tails it out of there, why she goes to her cousin's house with haste?

So think about it. We've got two women who are going through incredibly strange and difficult times, and they are meeting up, and the first thing we might expect would be the massive complaint session – oh, see how rough it is – commiseration, tears, all of that. And I don't say that negatively – I'd be freaked out if I were either Mary or Elizabeth – I'd want shoulders to cry on. Yet, what happens? And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me, for behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”

Okay, there's lots of angles people can take on this. John leaping here is often used as a text for the fact that there can be faith even in the womb, or you do get folks who want to hype up Mary focusing on the blessed are you. But do you see what happened here? Little John the Baptist just preached his first sermon – couldn't say “behold the Lamb of God” yet so he kicked his mom. And it was a good kicking based sermon – the Holy Spirit comes upon Elizabeth – and she speaks the higher and greater truth. Yeah, there's fear and weird stuff going on – but look at what is really going on. The Lord is here, the Lord God, the Savior – right there in your womb. Mary, this is incredibly cool right now. The Holy Spirit pulls their eyes off of any worries or fears they might have, and instead they are focused upon Jesus.

Elizabeth hits the point. Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord. Blessed is a big word – it's how Jesus starts out the Sermon on the Mount in the beatitudes. Blessed – happy – fortunate. But blessed in a way that the world might not see. Think on the Sermon on the Mount – blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the meek – things that don't look to be “good” – yet because God keeps His Word and fulfills His promises, yes, they are blessed. And so there's Mary and Elizabeth, and while almost everyone else in the world might have viewed them as freaks and hussies and with disdain – the Holy Spirit makes them to see the truth that they are in fact blessed by God, and in a completely awesome way.

And then Mary speaks – speaks words that are basically one of the four earliest hymns of the New Testament. Luke has four songs that got put into worship – Mary's here ends up being called the Magnificat – then later in Luke 1 we get Zechariah's song, the Benedictus – and then there's two more in Luke 2 that we sing today – the Gloria in Excelsis of the Angels and then the Nunc Dimitiss – Simeon's song in the temple. While we normally key in on the later two, Mary's is the first. And it is wondrous. Listen.

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of His servant. Mary actually means this. This isn't a “humble brag” on her part when she says that she's in a humble estate. She's an unwed pregnant teen who had to get out of her home because people were gossiping so much – she is low, she is in a lowly place. That word humble means “brought low” - and she's pretty low on the Jewish social totem pole right now. And yet, what is true? God is her Savior. Doesn't matter how low she is, how despised she is – God is her savior. Period. That's an awesome confession right there – one that we can sing out too. Doesn't matter how low things get for you – God is your Savior and He looks upon you with love even when you are at your lowest.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. Mary recognizes that she is going to get a lot of fame and praise – and she hasn't done anything. This isn't about Mary – it's about Jesus. Mary didn't do anything to be the Mother of Jesus – literally not a thing – she's still a virgin. This is all about how great Jesus is, and yet because Jesus is great, Mary is called great too. And you do realize, friends, that this is your song as well. You are those who have been baptized into Christ, you are fellow heirs with Him, you are called now children of God, you are princes and princesses of heaven – a Royal Priesthood – and not because of what you have done. No – He who is mighty has done great things for you when He poured His Spirit upon you by Water and the Word.

And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation. Yep, Mary knows you here are included in this – we're just a generation well on down the line – but the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord endures forever – and this Jesus in Mary's womb is bringing blessing and mercy not just for Mary! No, He's bringing it for you, and He pours it upon you today as He declares you forgiven for His sake.

He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate. So the world looks down upon you? Folks at school mock you, family gives you problems, even the government and the powerful give you a hard time? Oh well, for Christ Jesus is the Lord, and He exults you unto life everlasting, and He shall give you a new heaven and a new earth to enjoy and delight in without any of these hassles, for His arm is mighty – his arm bears the weight of all sin as it is nailed to the cross, His arm is mighty as risen from the dead He appears to the Apostles and lifts his arm to show them His wounds and says, “Peace be with you.” Troublemakers shall trouble you no more, for I bring peace!

He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. With good things – Jesus fills those who hunger and thirst for righteousness with His own life giving Body and Blood. If the rich and haughty ignore this, if they wish to skip the banquet – so be it, but it is still here for you, for He always gives Himself to you.

He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy, as He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and His offspring forever. And now it all comes to a point. All the promises of the Old Testament come boiling down and rushing to this point. There, in Mary's womb, is God Himself, Christ Jesus, come to fulfill all the promises made in the Old Testament, the promises of salvation made to Israel and Abraham and David and Isaiah and on and on – even on and on to you here this day. The promise of the mercy of the Lord. Mary's song is all about Jesus, all about what Jesus does for you.
And that, dear friends, is why we celebrate the Visitation today. The important thing isn't that Mary happened to visit Elizabeth – although that was good for them – Mary hangs around there for three months and I'm sure they were a blessing to each other in the midst of their odd pregnancies – but the great thing is that God Himself, Christ Jesus came and visited us, brought salvation for Mary and Elizabeth with His death and resurrection, and He still visits us today, comes to us in His Word, comes to us under bread and wine – pours His Spirit upon us even as His Spirit came upon Elizabeth. The troubles of this life – they may remain. Yet because Christ comes to you, you see the wonderful truth that you are well and truly blessed in Him. This is truth, no matter what awaits you this week outside those doors. Christ Jesus is mightier than all of them, and He is your Savior. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +