Saturday, August 26, 2017

Trinity 11 - Pharisee and Tax Collector Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 26th and 27th, 2017 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Alright, I know the last few weeks have been a bit heavy – this stretch of the Trinity season has a lot of texts that call for introspection, that call for us to examine ourselves. And they all drive us to the point where we will confess before God, “I am a sinner.” It's not an accident that in today's Gospel lesson the emotional high point of the text is the tax collector beating his breast and saying, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” The point is that when the Law of God hits us, shows us our sin, we learn that there is nothing that we can bring to the table in our relationship with God; that there's nothing in us that lets us have leverage or manipulate God into liking us, blessing us, giving us more. Several weeks ago the Epistle had this great line from Romans - Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repaid? We aren't in control, and instead we are at His mercy. But friends, being at God's mercy is precisely the best and safest place in all the universe to be. Being at God's mercy means, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified”. It's great to be at God's mercy because God is merciful.

So today we get the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And the ultimate point of the parable is that we need mercy, we need forgiveness; and that God gives that mercy and forgiveness to us in Christ Jesus. And we know this parable, we know the point – I often will call this the Lutheran Parable. But we can know it so well that we do it a disservice. We hear it and go “Pharisee bad, tax collector humble and good – let's go.” Well, no – the tax collector viewed himself as bad, as a sinner. Before we can get to the happy ending, we likewise need to learn to see and know our own sin. This is another one of those introspection texts, that call us to examine ourselves. What is it that can hit you, O Christian, that can make you forget your need for Jesus and His mercy? Jesus tells us with the set up- “[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt.”

Two things there. First there is self-trust. I'm righteous enough already. This is nothing but spiritual delusion, it's utterly ignoring reality. And if we think of stupid, vain self-trust in the regular world, it can be almost comical. Imagine watching someone who doesn't know how to bake but decides that they are going to make a fancy cake for their kids' birthday, or if I were to try to go and build a tree house because the neighbors built one. Seriously, I am mechanically inept, I can't assemble flat pack furniture. And if we sat around sharing stories I'm sure we could all tell tales of where we went and did something where we were completely in over our head. Most of the time they are funny – but that's because baking a cake or wood working projects aren't normally life or death. If I was woodworking, you could laugh at me. If I said, “Well, I think I've got appendicitis, so I'll just remove that myself with his kitchen knife” - that wouldn't be funny. That would be bad. Very bad. And yet, even more so it is worse to approach God this way, to deal with not just something that could kill you physically but deals with your eternal salvation. You don't saunter up to God when salvation is on the line and say, “Hold my beer, Jesus, I've got this.” And yet, whenever we start thinking along the lines of how we are good Christians, how we're better than those folks over there – that's exactly what we are doing.

You see, the sign of this pride, the warning, the canary in the coal mine if you will, is treating others with contempt. How do you know, how do you spot when your self-trust is rearing its ugly head? When you start treating others with contempt. When you look at them and say, “I could do that better.” Or even worse, when you look at them and say flat out, “I am better.” That's the sign that you are all out of whack spiritually, that you are no longer focused on receiving from God His good gifts by faith but are way off on a sinful ego trip. Where you are no longer seeing the world, seeing yourself rightly.

Consider the Pharisee. Hear again his egotistical, sinful “prayer” - “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” You can just hear the condescension rolling off of the guy. But here's the sad thing, the bitter irony. Not a single one of those things that the Pharisee mentioned was bad in and of itself. They actually were all good things. It is good not to be an extortioner. Really, it is. It's good not to be a mobster and get involved in all of that. It's a messy, dangerous, violent life that isn't good or enjoyable at all and is prone to paranoia. Frankly, I'm glad I'm not a mobster. Or consider adultery. It's a terrible thing to get stuck in an affair – they are messy and painful and they break things. Affairs devastate families – y'all know this. It's a wonderful thing not to get caught up in affairs – it makes life much better. Or tithing. It's a great thing to tithe – to be generous with your wealth and to take care of the church. I'm never going to preach against tithing. The Pharisee had a good life, he was in a good spot.

But here's the problem. Because the Pharisee was so concerned with proving his own worth, because he wanted to demonstrate his self-trust, he missed the point entirely. The Pharisee would be right to thank God because every thing on that list was a gift to him from God. Every single thing. And even though he knows he should thank God – the Pharisee doesn't get it. He doesn't understand. He thinks this is all about who he himself is, not what God has given him. God had richly blessed him with what we normally think of as blessings – health, wealth. But more than that – God had kept him safe and out of trouble – this is a major theme of the Scriptures, where God prevents people from getting into trouble; Balaam's donkey, Abigal stopping David's rage, Namaan's servant keeping him from leaving Elisha angrily. That's a great blessing. I've messed up enough in my life, my sin has brought me and others enough pain to where I'm glad when I see something that God has kept me away from. But that's about what God does, His blessing, His mercy – it doesn't say anything about me and my virtue. And that's the danger – when we think we have good things because we are good. When we think that way, we forget that it is God who is good.

Then there's the Tax Collector. We know nothing about his life. He could have been a lout – as tax collectors were often assumed to be. He could have been a pious and devoted family man. We don't know. The Pharisee assumes the tax collector is a jerk, but let's be honest; we've all made plenty of assumptions about people that were flat out wrong. But it doesn't matter either way – we don't need to know about the quality of his life, the quality of his moral status because the Tax Collector isn't there on the basis of his quality, of how good he is. The Tax Collector could have been vastly more generous and kind than the Pharisee, but that's not the point. Whether he's better or even if he's worse - meh. The tax collector knows that he is a sinner. No point in comparing. But more than that, he knows something else. He knows that God is a giver, and especially a giver of mercy.

When the Tax Collector walks into the temple, he isn't presenting anything of use to God. There's no bargain, no bribery, no deal making. Simply a request – be merciful, give me mercy, give me mercy God because I need it because my sin is great. I don't care whether it looks bigger or smaller than someone else's sin – it's my sin, and it's horrid, and I need it to be mercied. And I know that you are the God who is steadfast and faithful and abounding in mercy. And He received mercy from God. Went home justified. Because that is what God does. He gives mercy.

When you come here, when you come to this place, to this house – don't come here trying to impress anyone. Don't come with airs trying to show what a nice little person you are. This is God's house – He's not interested in you trying to impress Him. Not in the slightest. He's not expecting you to come here to make a deal, He doesn't need you to make vain promises or swear oaths about this or that. He simply wants to take everything that Jesus did, everything he won by going to that cross and pour it upon you – He wants to richly mercy you, cover you with mercy, dare I even say baptize you with it, feed you with it, make His mercy be the largest thing you see in your life. Why? Well, for one, because that is who your God is – not some angry, petty tyrant but the merciful Lord who sees to your salvation. And He gives you His mercy both for now and for eternity. He gives you mercy now so that you would be forgiven and see all the other blessings He has given you so that you can enjoy them now over and against your sinful, egotistical flesh that wants to and often does abuse them. God says, “Here, receive mercy from Me, and thus be ready to enjoy all the other blessings and good things I give you.” But also God gives you mercy for all eternity. Here, receive mercy from Me, and thus be ready to rise from the dead and enjoy rightly forever all the blessings I will give you in the life of the world to come.

This is Jesus' goal. This is what He's focused on in the text by preaching this parable, it's what He's doing by going to the cross. It's what He's doing by having His font right here to wash people in His Baptism, it's what He's doing by having some fellow stand in His stead and preach His Word of mercy and forgiveness, hand out His Body and Blood to forgive sinners. You are at His mercy, which is precisely where life and salvation are present for you, now and fo rever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Trinity 10 Sermon

Trinity 10 – August 19th and 20th, 2017 – Luke 19:41-48

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
It should have been the high point of Jesus' earthly ministry. What we see in our Gospel text today my friends is, once again, Palm Sunday. Every 4 months or so our readings throw us back to Palm Sunday – because it's a great day. We love Palm Sunday – so we don't just get it on Palm Sunday – we get it at the start of Advent where we talk about our King coming to us humbly. And we also get it today, in the dog days of summer – but we get Palm Sunday with a twist. There is Jesus, on the donkey, the crowds calling out Hosanna... and he rounds a bend and there is Jerusalem standing before Him. Jerusalem – the city of God's own chosen people. Jerusalem is so wondrous that at the end of Revelation we hear: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” This should be the high point... and what is Jesus doing? He's weeping. Not tears of joy, not tears of just how absolutely beautiful all this is, but tears of sorrow.

Our Gospel lesson gives us wondrous insight into Christ Jesus – a look at how He thinks, how He approaches life. Even at the height of His earthly glory – He weeps. Why? “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes.” Jesus looks upon Jerusalem, and He is heart broken. There He is, the Prince of Peace, coming to win salvation for His people – and they don't see, they don't understand. Things are hidden from them. That is Scriptural talk for idolatry – they are so caught up in idolatry, in fearing and loving and trusting in something other than God that they don't recognize what a wondrous thing is going on. Jesus is right there – the Scriptures pointing to the salvation of the world are being fulfilled – but that's not what they see. That's hidden from them. What do they see, what is their idolatry?

Well, Jesus points to it with what He says next. “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” Jersualem's idolatry was this: they worshipped false dreams of their own political glory. They wanted power and might and independence from Rome – they wanted a son of David who wouldn't be a Prince of Peace but a mighty man of war who would drive the Romans out. And so, they end up ignoring Christ. Kill Him and wish to be done with Him before the week's out. And instead they keep looking for great political leaders who would lead the glorious revolution. And in 66AD, around 30 someodd years down the road – they rebel against Rome. And it is horrific. Rome besieges the city, starves her out for years, and the people become weaker and weaker... and then in 70 AD Rome finally attacks and utterly destroys Jerusalem. Obliterates it. They blow up the temple – it was made of limestone so they set fires all around it, superheated the water in the stone and blew it up. It is one of the more horrific sieges of the ancient world – all because Jerusalem wanted power, not peace.

As He rides around the bend and sees Jerusalem – that is what Jesus sees. And He weeps. Not for Himself, not because of His upcoming crucifixion – those tears will be on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday – but Jesus weeps because these people whom He loves just are hell-bent on stupidity and folly, and it will wreck them. It will wreck them because they didn't see, didn't want to see a loving and merciful Savior who came to visit them, to be with them – they wanted their own glory and other people to get the shaft. If you live by the sword... you die by the sword. He even had to tell that to the disciples on Maundy Thursday.

It gets worse. Jesus enters Jerusalem, and He does what you would expect Him to. He goes to the temple. Earlier in Luke was the story of boy Jesus in the temple, where all the old guys are discussing Scripture with Jesus – and they love it. Of course Jesus is going to be found in His Father's house! But that was after the feast, after Passover. Jesus comes in before Passover this time, and what He sees – well: And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, “It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers.” Jesus weeps over Jersualem; the abuse in the temple makes Him angry. This isn't a calm kicking people out. Other Gospels note that He overturns tables, that he makes a whip out of cords of rope and whips people out – drives them like cattle. Why this righteous anger?

Remember who Jesus is. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is Passover week, the preparation for celebrating the greatest feast of them all, where God delivered Israel from Egypt – where blood of the Lamb upon the wooden lintel ensured that the angel of death would passover – where there was the holy meal done every year so that the children of God would remember not only that delieverance – but more importantly that one day God would send the Messiah to be the true Passover Lamb, whose blood would be shed to eternally deliver all mankind from death. And that day is here – behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Indeed, at Sundown Friday He would be sacrificed, His blood would be upon the wooden beams of the Cross and death would be destroyed forever! And yet – what's going on in the temple, the place that should be most focused on God. The lambs there aren't so that people would remember their coming salvation – they are there with giant mark ups so folks can profit off of people's piety. The Temple was no longer pointing folks to God, no longer a place of prayer and God's Word – it was all about money. Here is part of the reason why the day of Jerusalem's visitation is hidden! And Jesus is ticked off royally. And He drives them out.

Two incredibly strong emotions from Jesus in our text – the weeping sorrow, the righteous anger. But did you notice, these have nothing to do with with what's happening to Him. He's not sorrowful over what will happen to Him, He's not angry because of what will happen to Him come Good Friday. He's sorrowful, He's angry because of what is being done to the people He loves, the very people He is going to die for. He sees them trapped, sees them messed with – and He can't stand it. His focus, this thoughts are upon them, and that is what drives Jesus.

Now, the hard questions. If Jesus were to round the corner and see Trinity here, what would be the things that would make Him weep? What are the idols that we are so focused on that we don't pay the attention to the things that make for peace like we ought? I don't think any of you are wanting a glorious revolution to over throw the country – but what gets in the way of peace in your life? Are you focused on personal respect? Are you more worried about what your neighbor thinks of you than of how you can serve them and show them love? Does a lust for wealth drive you; or even just simple lust? Are there people that you'd rather just keep hating, keep grousing about and complaining about instead of forgiving? Or maybe even just being too busy to be bothered with love and peace when you go out those doors – I put my hour in of being a good little Christian for this week and that is enough. Those and so many more, too many to count – all things that undercut peace. All things that take the good gifts of life and body and neighbors and house and home and mess with them, make them places of dischord rather than peace. Those are the things Jesus would weep over.

And as for what would make Jesus angry if he were to walk in here – well, that would be whenever we would shift the focus of this place off of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and make the focus ourselves – money driving the discussion would be one way, or if the preaching going off on my personal hobby horses instead of being Christ and Him Crucified. Treating this place as though it's where the good people of town gather rather than a place where sinners come to receive Jesus. Because this place is to be a place where our eyes and all the eyes of this community are focused upon Jesus – not to be a place where we tell folks out there that they aren't good enough, aren't rich enough, aren't “us” enough. That's the sort of stuff that makes Jesus angry.

Like I said, hard questions. And ones that we should ponder for ourselves, routinely – throughout the week. What is it this week that is popping up in me that is trying to make me not see Jesus and His love – His love for me, His love for my neighbor. But even as we ponder these questions – we can't stop just there – because Jesus doesn't just stop there. When Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, He don't say, “that's it, there's no point in going on” and turn the donkey around. When Jesus drives folks out of the temple, He doesn't say, “Forget this, I'm going back to Nazareth and making tables and chairs.” No – He doesn't give into sin, He doesn't let His ego run wild, He doesn't pout or take His ball and go home. He spends the rest of Holy Week preaching in the temple, pointing to God's plan of salvation – and then He very simply goes to the Cross and wins salvation. For the people of Jerusalem. For the folks in the temple. For you. Jesus' response to your sin isn't perpetual disdain; His response is to deal with it. It is to go to the Cross and die for it and to rise from the dead so as to pull you through it by giving you His own life. This is why we ask ourselves these hard questions, why the Word of God shows us our sin – not so that we try to make it up to God – but so that we would see Jesus all the more clearly – so that we would know what sins He is forgiving, so that we wouldn't be lulled away from Him but rather see just how diligently and determinedly He loves us. Yeah, your heart often doesn't want to be about peace – so over and over Jesus comes to you and says Peace be with you – I am giving you My peace and forgiveness right now; because you are Mine I'll see to it that you know the things that make for peace, that you know that you are baptized into Me and are dead to sin and alive in Me – that you live not by bread alone but by My Word, indeed by My own Body and Blood given for you for the forgiveness of all, all of your sin – even those difficult hard ones that keep sticking around and are so hard to fight. Yes, those sins – those are precisely the ones Jesus died for. And He pours his Word and Spirit upon us, so that as His forgiven children we would live with Him forever. The Jesus who weeps over Jerusalem has promised to wipe every tear from your eye and to bring you unto Himself with joy and peace even forever. So, even after our text, after the week we've just had – He goes to the Cross for you, He rises for you, and He will come again for you. Because that is just who Jesus is, He is the God is will let nothing – not sin, not Satan, not death – Jesus will let nothing stop Him from loving you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Trinity 9 Sermon

Trinity 9 – August 12th and 13th, 2017 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
          “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  With these words, Christ Jesus our Lord lays down the gauntlet, He really chides us.  We here, we who know Christ, we run around like fools, whereas the wicked, the evil at least act shrewdly, at least take stock of their situation and what is really going on.  This text today is a wake up call, a call for Christians to start thinking, pondering their life, their salvation – but Jesus does this in a backhanded way.  Instead of holding a positive example before our eyes, Jesus shows us a liar, a cheat, a thief – someone who plays the game of the world well, and we are supposed to draw the parallel to our own lives.  This we will do today God willing.  Let us begin first by examining the shrewdness of the dishonest manager.

          “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions.”  Now, this is the first sign, the first inkling that the manager was shrewd.  This manager has a cushy job – he’s basically in charge of buying and selling possessions for a rich man, he’s in charge of the business.  And what’s he doing – he’s skimming a bit off the top.  He’s been sweetening his deals with other people and living the good life.  He’s like the businessman today who uses the company card for “business” – because of course he needed to take that potential customer out to the finest restaurant in town, take him out for a nice round of golf on the company expense account.  He needed to take that expensive business “trip” all on the company dime.  Maybe even just a little extra old fashion skimming as well.  Again, this seems like a pretty sweet deal – but here is the problem.  He’s dipped a little too deeply, enjoyed a bit too much of the high life with the company footing the bill – and he got called out.  “And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’”  And the shoe drops.  You’ve been wasting my possessions – you’re fired.  Go collect your books and bring them to me tomorrow. 

          So now the situation has changed.  Instead of being able to live this life of luxury, he’s losing his job.  The tables are turned.  So, what will this man do?  Weep?  Rant?  Complain?  No – he takes stock of his situation.  “And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.”  Let’s see what we can do, shall we?  I’ve had a nice, cushy job – but that’s going away.  I can’t dig – I’m a soft, indoor worker, that type of job would kill me.  I’m too proud to beg.  Now, consider – this isn’t really admirable… we value strength, we know you shouldn’t let pride get in the way – but this manager is a wicked lout.  He’s a weakling, he’s sleezy – but he is at least honest about himself.  When troubles come, there are no vain boasts about what he’s going to do, no bluster.  He knows his limitations, great as they are.  And so, he hatches a plan.  “I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’”  You know what – I haven’t turned the books in yet.  It’s time to cut a deal, it’s time to get in good with other folks, so that way I can sponge off of them and land on my feet.  “So, summoning his master's debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’”  And the plan goes into effect.  He is going to give people a discount.  One man owes 100 measures of olive oil – now because of the manager he only owes 50.  A measure of olive oil was 875 gallons – so, what – fourty-some-thousand gallons of olive oil discount.  That’s a pretty penny.  Or the wheat – a measure was 1200 bushels or so – here fellow, take 24,000 bushels of wheat on me.  If someone gave you 24,000 bushels of wheat and then knocked on your door and said, “Well, I got fired, I don’t have a place to stay, do you mind if I crash here for a bit” of course you are going to let him in and stay.

          And with things all set up, things all prepared, the accounts get turned in.  And under Roman Law it’s all technically legal – the manager was s till an authorized agent, he had authority to deal.  “The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.”  And the master had to hand it to him – the guy was sharp – a liar, a cheat and needed to be fired, but he was sharp.  This is shrewdness according to the ways of the world, where it is expected that you are supposed to lie, cheat, and steal all in order to get ahead, all in order to live it up now.  And this manager is shrewd for a son of this world. 

          But now, what of you, what of the sons of light?  What is shrewdness, what is true wisdom for us?  Well, let’s go through the story again, but we are going to flip it and think of it in terms of a child of light.  So to begin, we had a manager who was wasting his master’s possessions.  How does that apply, how does that describe the Christian?  Well, consider what we as Christians are.  We are stewards, managers of God’s wisdom and God’s blessings.  We know God’s truth, we know the Law, we know the commandments, we know what is good and God pleasing.  We have blessing after blessing from God – all the first article gifts that we talk about in the explanation to the Creed – body and soul, house and home, family and friends.  And what do we do?  We waste them.  We ignore the commandments and sin.  We engage in wickedness and vice.  We abuse God's blessings – instead of seeing them as gifts we vainly boast that we have earned them.  Instead of being content and trusting in God, we covet and fret about making more and more.  We know the Good things of God, and yet we sin in thought, word, and deed.  And in this we see that we aren’t as shrewd as the manager.  He at least lived what he thought was the good life – and we, we know what it is that is good.  We know what is God pleasing.  We know how to live, we know how to have peace and contentment and security.  And what do we do?  We blow it.  We waste it.  We worry when told not to worry, we hate our enemies when told to pray for them.  We fill our lives with sin that wastes and destroys and taints the blessings we have received, and everything turns to dust and ashes in our hands.  We give over to sin.

          And then we get called on it.  Even as the manager was brought before the rich man, so the Law of God, when preached, lays us bare, shows us our sin.  Give an account of your actions – have you been perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect?  Or have you wasted what He has given you?  And just as the manager had to turn in his account – well, the wages of sin is death.  So the Law comes crashing down – you have sinned, and you will die.  That’s what’s going to happen.  So what becomes the reaction?  Often the reactions are unwise.  How many people who know better still live as though they will never die?  How many Christians live in denial, pretending that they aren’t sinners, pretending that they haven’t offended God with their sin.  Or how many think that they will just be able to work out things with God by their own strength, by their own powers? I'll be good! Or worse, I AM good. There’s a lot of ego, there’s a lot of pride, there’s a lot of people who think God owes them.  That’s utter foolishness – the manager knew that he was up a creek… you would be wise to recognize this as well.  By your own powers, by your own strength, you cannot make things up to God, you cannot find a way out of your own sin, you cannot save yourself.  It’s only vain human pride and folly that would say otherwise, but yet so many Christians end up falling to folly, end up falling to pride.

          No, often we are not shrewd, often we are not wise.  We must see ourselves, our sin, our lack truly, and then we must realize that we are weak.  We are weak, but God is strong.  In the story, the manager lives not by his own strength, but he lives off of the master – he makes his living by living off of the master’s stuff.  Likewise – you will not have salvation or redemption by your own efforts or power – you only have salvation in Christ.  It is not your hard work that will redeem you – it is Christ’s work.  It is Christ’s death and resurrection which wins you life and salvation – anything else is a waste.  If we trust in ourselves, we will die – if we trust in Christ Jesus, if we delight in the salvation which He earned for us, even should we die we will be received into the life everlasting.  And this is the wondrous truth that we cling to – the truth that the Holy Spirit who has given us faith points us to over and over.   We are saved by faith in Christ Jesus, apart from the works of the Law.  And so over and over Christ comes to us, sends us His Word to drive us to repentance, repentance away from our sin and foolishness – and instead He holds before us His Cross, He says to us, “Behold, I have paid the full penalty for your sin – I have swallowed up your death, and because I live, you too shall live and have life in My Name. Cross out your sin, for I have written the sign of My Holy Cross upon your forehead and upon your heart.”

          Christ our Lord warns us, warns us that sin and Satan will try to shift our focus away from Christ Jesus, away from His Cross.  So He calls out to you today to be wise, to be shrewd.  He calls out to you today so that you would keep your focus upon Him and the salvation He has won for you.  He brings His forgiveness and mercy, His Spirit to you in His Word proclaimed, in His Holy Supper.  Be wise, be shrewd – cling to Christ and His salvation, for in Him you have life eternal. God grant that He continually fix our eyes upon Christ!  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Trinity 8 Sermon

Trinity 8 - August 5th and 6th, 2017 - Matthew 7:15-23

There are some sermons that are quite easy to write – where the words just flow, where it's fun to write it. And then there are some sermons that are hard to write, where it is a struggle, and if you happened upon me while I was working on it, you would find me quite grumpy. And then, then today, this sermon is one I wish I didn’t have to write. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” I wish I didn’t have to preach a sermon on this topic – I wish as your pastor that I didn’t have to worry about false prophets, that I never had to contend with false teachers – I wish I could send you out those doors into the world without a thought about what vile, faith destroying junk you will hear out there, because I know that you all have enough on your plate. But my wishes, my desires, do not create reality – and our old Satanic foe still, even now, means deadly woe. I'd guess even you yourselves have seen him at work – have seen people fall, seduced away by false preachers who leave them shattered and broken. So this text must be preached – beware of false prophets.

So, how do we know a false prophet? Would that it would be easy – that we could simply listen to see if the name of Jesus is mentioned – but our Lord says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. Just because someone claims to be teaching or preaching Christ doesn’t mean he is. There are false prophets out there who blaspheme our Lord’s holy name and lead people astray. So, how are we to know? Hear what our Lord says. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? We will know them by their fruits – we will see, we will hear what they produce, and that is how we will know if they are false or not.

So what does this mean? Do we listen to the people who seem nice, do nice things? Do we listen to the preacher who has the biggest smile, who has the best handshake? No, for hear how our Lord describes what He will say to these accursed false prophets on the final day! On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your Name, and cast out demons in Your Name, and do many mighty works in Your Name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” When our Lord talks about knowing a tree by its fruit, He isn’t just talking about things that look nice. Jesus isn’t talking about things that seem impressive to the eye. Look at the wonders we’ve done, we’ve even cast out demons in Your name – still a false prophet. How are we to know then, by what fruit will we tell a false teacher? How do we discern?

Did you hear the last phrase of our Lord? “you workers of lawlessness.Lawlessness. Working against the Law. Lawlessness – those who are not justified. And now, dear friends, we see what it is that we need to be wary of. Now we can see and understand what it is we are to watch for. Simply looking to works, that doesn't cut it. Being nice doesn’t cut it. What makes a Christian a Christian is that as Christians we never pretend that we are hunky dory– instead we are sinners who have been Justified by Christ Jesus, we have been declared righteous by God, and we delight in the fact that Jesus Christ is the one who fulfilled the Law in our place. And so now dear friends, listen, and hear how you mark out false prophets, how to know if their tongues are forked or not. Listen, dear friends, to how they preach the Law and how they preach the Gospel – and if either is erring or lacking, stop up your ears and flee from them.

False prophets misuse the Law of God. When we speak about the Law, dear friends, this refers to anything that has to do with what we do. If it’s about what you do, what you ought to do, what you should do – it’s Law. The Law deals with our behavior, what humans do. And the Law always, always condemns us. There is never a time when we can say, “Finally, I have done what God commands in His Law – finally I am a good Christian.” We cannot be like the young man in Scripture who looks at the commandments and boasts, “All these I have done from my youth.” No! We know that we are sinful, that we fall short, that even our best deeds are as filthy rags. The Christian life is one of constant and continual repentance, where we constantly and repeatedly confess our sins and also struggle against our sinful nature which desires more and more to sin.

Dear friends, if you hear preaching or teaching in the world, if you hear the radio or tv preacher, if you read the so-called Christian book that doesn’t treat God’s law in this way – avoid it. The point of the Law isn’t that you are better than your neighbor. The point of the Law isn’t that if you follow these 8 easy steps you can ensure God’s blessings. The point of the Law isn’t advice on how to have your best life now. Now, Is the Law of God good and wise? Yes – I even have been known to make you sing the old hymn with that title. If we live our life in accord with God’s law, will our lives be smoother? To a certain extent, yes – if I don’t lie, I don’t have to clean up the messes that come from lying. But Christianity is not simply a set of rules to follow, not a moral code to a good time on earth – because the point of the law isn't how to live right, but rather to reveal the truth that you don't and can't live right because you are sinful. Thus the Christian faith is about life and salvation – understanding that we of our own strength have no life and salvation. The Law, when it is preached, always hits you, hits you right here (on the chest, on the heart) – the Law convicts you of your own sin. Otherwise it is not being preached rightly. It's being watered down, relaxed. And if it’s not being preached rightly, it is being preached falsely in order to sell you something, to make God simply a giant goodie dispenser in the sky, to make you confident in yourself and what you do because you're not 'them' – not those wicked people. Listen to how people preach the Law – and if their preaching doesn't show you your own sin, doesn't pin the tail on the donkey right here, be wary of what they will be preaching.

Also, dear friends, false prophets misuse the Gospel. Actually, they fail to preach the Gospel, that’s a more accurate way to say it – and instead of preaching Christ and Him Crucified, they give something else, they say Lord, Lord, but give nothing of Christ. The Gospel is this – Christ died for you. Given and shed, for you. The Gospel is this – that Christ Jesus does what is necessary for your salvation, and then gives this salvation to you freely, freely forgiving your sins, freely gifting you with faith, freely giving you all that you need to be with Him for eternity in heaven. Anything, any teaching which undermines this Gospel, is of Satan. If that sounds harsh, let me read what Paul writes to the Galatians, who had been listening to false prophets: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel, not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” Let him be accursed. Anathema in the Greek. Let him be consigned to hell, let him be damned. This is serious, a serious matter – for Satan seeks to lead you astray. Listen to what is preached, and if it is not Christ and Him Crucified for you, then have nothing to do with it – for false doctrine kills, and is not to be tolerated.

And this is why, dear friends, why the Lutheran Church has put such a focus on teaching. This is why we have confirmation class starting again this fall – it’s not just a hoop to jump through before communing but that we might learn what true doctrine is so that we can avoid the bad. That’s why I harp on the Small Catechism, so that when you are out in the world and hear false prophets, you will know and remember the truth instead. That’s why you are to teach your children. That's why we have a Sunday School – we need some more teachers to teach kids Christ and Him Crucified. That’s why we confess the Apostles or Nicene Creed each week – so we are reminded of what we are to be listening for – if the preaching doesn't mesh with the Creed, kick the preacher out! That's why thankfully Dan was so stubborn and picky about the music here and why we'll continue to be so. If it isn't proclaiming Christ and Him c rucified, what good is it? This is important – that you here learn to evaluate things in the Church not on how pretty something is or how dynamic someone is, but rather, are they proclaiming Christ and Him Crucified. Because workers do come and go. Volunteers volunteer for a time and then new ones stand up. And that's fine – all who serve are utterly replaceable – if I get hit buy a bus tomorrow go call another preacher to take my place – but a preacher who will preach Christ. Because it's never about the individual, never “see what I did” but rather Christ Crucified for you, Jesus who loves you and gives you forgiveness and life and is the same always, yesterday, today, and forever. It must always be Christ Jesus for us poor sinners because that's where life and salvation is.
Why can I say that? Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” This is the will of Your Father who is heaven – that you repent of your sin and receive Christ’s forgiveness. Or as the Catechism puts it in the meaning of the third petition - God's Will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.And so God your Father will send you people to show you your sin, to break down your sinful nature - but also to show you Jesus, give you Christ. He will even use you to do this for others. Now, Satan will try to distract you, will throw up smoke screens, all that stuff. He'll even dangle out false preachers to try to lure you away. But you know the truth, you know what any one who preachers or teaches is to proclaim, you know what lyrics our hymns are to echo forth. Christ and Him crucified for y ou. You are forgiven and rescued from your sin by Him. Period. The End. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.