Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23, 2017

A Thanksgiving Sermon

Thanksgiving Day – Luke 17 – November 25th, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trinity 23 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Trinity 22 Sermon

Trinity 22 – Matthew 18:21-35 – November 11th and 12th, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We Christians just have to put up with so many things, sometimes. I mean, think of all that we have to do for God. We could all be home nice and comfy right now, or out there making some good cash, or watching [high school football/NFL pre-game shows], but no, we just have to give up our [Saturday night/Sunday morning] for Jesus. And then there’s all the things that we don’t do as good little Christian boys and girls – we don’t cheat, we don’t rob, we don’t have all that wild fun that other people do – no waking up in the gutter for us. We have to give that all up. Why, we poor Christians even have to be nice to people, even to people who are lousy. Look at all that we have to do for God – man, if we aren’t just the best people in the World!

Now, we aren't normally that brazen about it, but don't we sometimes lament what we are supposed to do as Christians? Poor, poor me – that mean old God just keeps on making me do more and more. . . but, oh well, since I’m a good person – I guess I’ll just do what I have to do. And God rolls His eyes. This is a trap that all Christians may fall into – where we begin to focus on all that we do for God, how much we put up with for him. This is where St. Peter is when he asks of our Lord, Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Alright Jesus, I get this whole thing that You’re the Messiah and that I should be following you – but just how much are you going to expect of. . . me. . . just how good do I have to be? How much love do I have to show – if I don’t take revenge on a person seven times – well, that’s pretty good isn’t it? If I forgave my brother 7 times, I’d be a pretty good person, wouldn’t I?
We know Jesus’ response. 70 times 7. Many, many times more. But when we hear Jesus instruct Peter this way – what we are we thinking? Are we thinking, “Boy, I better do more and more?” Are we thinking, “Boy, my work as a Christian is never done”? Are we still thinking like Peter, wondering what I have to do to get in good with God? If so – we miss the point. Because Jesus tells a story to get our focus on the right thing. Listen.

Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. To explain, Jesus starts to tell a story. Alright, there’s a king, and this king is going to settle accounts with you. Or put it this way – say you owe the government money – the IRS people are at your door, and it’s time to pay. You want to talk about what you have to do, what you owe, what is incumbent upon you – go look at taxes. You pay, or at best we garnish your wages – at worst, into the graybar motel with you. And the fellow in our story – well, he is up the creek without a paddle. 10,000 talents is an insane amount of money. A typical person might make a talent in 20 years. This is sort of the equivalent of saying, “and this guy owed the king 10 Billion dollars.” A ridiculous amount of money.

And what does the king do? He first appeals to the letter of the law. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. If you want to go by what the law says, this is what happens. If you owe the government, let’s even take a smaller number – let’s say you owe the government a mere 10 million dollars in back taxes – what happens to you? Bad, bad things! And the King says, “alright, bad things are coming to you.”

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” Now, this is great. Did you notice – the “servant” falls on his knees. He’s already owned by the master – he has no freedom – he’s toast. He’s not a free man anymore – and yet, he falls on his knees, and what does he say? I’ll pay you back. Oh, come on – really? You’ll pay everything? This is utterly ridiculous – it’s like the 3 year old asking her dad to buy a pony and promising her dad that she’ll pay him back. It’s not going to happen. . . and the king should just laugh this guy off.

But the king doesn’t. And out of pity for him, the master of the servant released him and forgave him the debt. No, you can’t pay me back. . . so I’m not even going to demand that you pay me back – don’t even bother trying. Just go, get on your way. Now, we know this wouldn’t happen today – the IRS would never say, “Ah, let’s just forget the audit, and don’t bother about filing next year, it’s all good.” Isn’t going to happen. But don’t you understand – this parable is describing you and God. You owe a debt to God that you can’t pay. God is the Creator – and with your sin you destroy His creation – and you can’t fix that. Can you make up for it, can you restore the earth? It's unpayable – you can’t do it. And yet, what does God do – don’t worry about your debt, your mistakes – I will take care of it Myself – I’ll send my Son Christ Jesus to the Cross, and He will take up your debt, He will clean up your mistakes. Now, go on your way and live your life.

This is how we relate to God. We ought never, never have the attitude of, “look at all I do for God”. All you do – you are sinner! In sin your mother bore you – what are you doing to do to change that! What in you will bribe God? Don’t even try. Make no vain boasts. Rather this – remember who you are – you are a person who falls before God and receives mercy. That is what a Christian is. A Christian is a sinner like everyone else, but a Christian is simply a sinner who is forgiven. And the damnable thing is we can forget this – we start thinking of ourselves as good people, look at how well we pay back God – we’ll cut a deal with You. And do you know what happens to people who forget that they are sinners who receive God’s mercy? Let’s hear what Jesus says.

But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him saying, “Pay what you owe.” Now, sometimes we can diminish what this second servant owed – oh, it’s nothing, a 100 denarii is nothing compared to 10,000 talents. That’s not what Jesus is saying. 100 Denarii would be around $12,000 dollars. That’s a goodly chunk of change. I don’t think any of us would bithely shrug off 12 grand – so no, it’s something serious – but the servant goes nuts. Chokes the fellow! And the other servant pleads: So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” Sound familiar? And it’s a lot more realistic. . . but this servant will have none of it. He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. No mercy, no love. Now, by the letter of the law, he doesn’t have to show mercy, to show love. No, the guy owes him cash, let him pay. Isn’t that what we often think when someone sins against us – Hey – he has hurt us, he’s done real damage to me – so forget him. Make no mistake – sin is real, and it hurts. When someone does you wrong – it hurts. But how do we respond to this? Do we forget who we are – do we forget that we too are sinners who are not just as vile, but actually more vile, more worse, more guilty than this person who has sinned against us?

Well, the King finds out about this servant who is unforgiving. Then his master summoned him and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” And in his anger his master delivered him to the jailers until he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from you heart. Well, who feels good right now? I hear this and I don’t feel too hot. I know that I can lament all that gets done to me, I can feel good about my anger towards people – and what does God say of that? Nothing good.

It becomes, dear friends, a question of how you will relate to God. Are you going to be proud and demand what is owed you – well, if that’s who you want to be, God will play that game with you. And you will lose – you will lose hard. But you know, that’s not how God wants to treat you. This king in the parable, he didn’t want to put the guy in jail, if he had wanted to he would have done so to start. Instead, the king desires and delights in showing mercy.

Dear friends – God delights in showing you mercy. God desires to forgive you, He desires that His forgiveness overwhelm you and cover your whole life. That is who God is, that is how He desires to relate to you. And that is why He instructs you to forgive your neighbor. Do you realize that this is not a harsh burden, a dire command? No – forgive your brother so that your eyes are always upon forgiveness – because when you remember to forgive that fellow next to you, what else are you going to remember – that God is the God who forgives you.

Think on this – God wants everything in your life to point you back to Him, He wants His Word to dwell in you richly. How much so – so much that even when someone sins against you, when someone hurts you – your first thought should be, “Wow, I do worse to God and yet He loves me – how great is God's love and mercy to me!” At all times and in all places, our thoughts should be upon how God has shown us mercy, that He is full of great mercy and kindness. He is the One who heals those who are broken, who gives out forgiveness. God directs us to this constantly, so that we always remember it, so that we live lives full of His forgiveness. And so, my friends, I encourage you – hear God’s Word of forgiveness – know that He desires mercy for you, know that He gives You His Body, His Blood for the forgiveness of your sin – always have before your eyes and in your ears God’s love for you in Christ the Crucified – so that you may always remain in faith – that you may always remain a Christian – that is, a baptized and forgiven sinner who lives by grace, not by works of the law. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

When You Don't Want the Law to be Lethal Anymore

If we think about them, most major medical treatments are brutal.  Surgery involves cutting and bleeding and all that jazz.  Chemotherapy is poison.  Radiation treatments are... well, radiation.  And we acknowledge that these are done for the best and noble reasons, even necessary reasons - but they remain fundamentally violent actions that take their toll on your body - even if there is the hopes a greater good.  Let's cut you, but to really cut out the bad.  Let's poison and radiate you, but hope we get the bad stuff before we get you.

If you ever need a procedure done, or some sort of strong treatment, you can't go into it (or ought not) thinking that it is of no consequence.  If you are having open heart surgery on Monday you'll need to cancel your Tuesday tee time at the golf course.  Chemo and running a marathons.  Even though the procedures are good for you - they are hard on you.  Pretending otherwise would be utterly delusional.  And, of course, if your Doctor doing your full knee replacement were to say, "Oh, no, don't worry, this is no big deal! There's no recovery time at all," he'd be an utter charlatan.

Likewise the Law of God.  It kills.  Always.  It is given to show the depths of our sin and its wages.  Always.  And even as we acknowledge that this is good for us - that it curbs us and keeps us from falling into greater wickedness, that it shows us what is good and God pleasing - it still kills and accuses us.  Always.

Unless we are delusional. 

Consider the following verses - Romans 3:19 and 20:  "Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin."

If you think that the Law ever stops accusing, you've missed the point.  The Law has to accuse us as long as we are in this life, because we NEED the accusation.  The accusation of the Law constantly breaks down the sin that would make us ignore Christ Jesus.

So what happens, what are you saying when you want the law to not accuse, when you want the law to no longer show sin but rather just give nice advice? It would be like saying you want chemotherapy that doesn't attack the cancer.  It would be saying you don't want God to kill you and then raise you - you'd rather just a bit of a brush up now, have a more comfortable or virtuous life let that be that.

The Law has to be lethal.  Otherwise it's not the Law.  Otherwise it's pop self-help gussied up with religious language.  It becomes a cruel placebo that doesn't do its job, but might make the person feel better about themselves instead... while they get worse and worse.

Nope.  Preach a Lethal Law, then preach a Christ who raises the dead. 

All Saints' Day Sermon

All Saints' Observed – November 4th and 5th, 2017 – Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of Christ Jesus +
What does it mean to be blessed? If we are to understand the words of our Lord Jesus Christ this day, if we are to understand what He preaches to us today, we're going to have to focus, we're going top have to understand that word a bit. As He opens the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus uses that word “blessed” 9 times – but here's the thing. At first glance, none of these 9 situations, none of these 9 occasions where Jesus says that we are blessed seem to be any good at all. The reason why is we really don't understand, my friends, what the real and greatest blessings God gives us are. We don't understand that these true and eternal blessings in Christ can never be taken away.

Consider what our Lord says: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit.” The poor in Spirit. The people who are beat down in this world, who understand just how lousy things can get. You've been there – those times when you see the wickedness of the world, see your own wickedness and guilt in spades. That's not something we look forward to. I bet not a one of use woke up today and said, “Boy, I hope I get to become poor in Spirit today.” “Wouldn't it be great if today I got a bold reminder of how lousy life in this world can be!” And yet, what does Jesus say? “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Do you see the movement, the contrast? Okay – let us assume a lousy day where you are kicked in the teeth, either by what people have done to you and what you have done yourself. Does that change, even one bit, the fact that Christ Jesus has won you salvation and gives you heaven and eternal life in Himself? Nope – being poor in Spirit can't change that one bit. In Christ, yours is the Kingdom of heaven. Even when you are poor in spirit, in Christ you are blessed.

Then Jesus ratchets things up. Okay, let's not just talk about having a bad day. Let's talk about death. “Blessed are those who mourn.” Wow, that's a bold, blunt statement. Blessed are the people who look up and see death. Again, I don't think most of us have said, “I hope I get to go into mourning this week.” Death is a nasty, horrible thing. Here on All Saints' Day, we remember the folks who have died this past year – we certainly aren't cheering that fact. And yet, what does Christ Jesus our Lord say? “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Again, do you see the movement? Let us say that you see death. Does that change, even one bit, the fact that Christ Jesus Himself died and rose from the dead precisely so as to raise His blessed saints from the dead? In fact, this word for “comforted” is a Holy Spirit word – it's what Jesus calls the Holy Spirit in John 16 – I will send you the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper, the Paraclete. Does death change the fact that Christ Jesus has promised to raise all the dead, to breath one again the breath of life in to us? Nope. Death can't stop the resurrection that Christ brings. In Christ, you will comforted because nothing stops the Holy Spirit. Even when you mourn, the Holy Spirit still will pour out the life and salvation that Christ Jesus has won.

Do you see the point, my friends? The thing that Jesus is doing? So often when we think of blessings, we think first and foremost of temporal, earthly blessings in our life. If someone says, “I am blessed” they are probably talking about their family, their job, their money, their house. Maybe health or healing. These are all good things – these are all things that we pray for in the 4th Petition of the Lord's prayer. These are daily bread – think on the Catechism. “What is meant by daily bread? Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body...” and then the long list of things. These are all good things, but when Jesus taught us His prayer, He summed up all these things as “daily bread” for a reason. They are daily. They are temporary and for a time. They are here today, and often gone tomorrow. Here in this sinful, fallen world, things fade. Moth and rust destroy. Because we live in a world impacted by sin, so many of these earthly blessings fade away.

And this terrifies us. This freaks us out. And we react poorly. Sometimes we live in denial. We pretend everything is fine, when we know it's not. Sometimes we become stingy and horde the blessings we have, fighting so hard not to lose them that we never even really enjoy them. Sometimes we lust and crave more and more – thinking that if we just spent more, ate more, “lived it up” more that then, then these good things wouldn't go away, and we just burn through them all the more quickly. Sometimes we close up in on ourselves, curl up into a little ball to protect ourselves – so determined not to be hurt by losing anything else that we don't receive the things that God gives us. So many different ways we can react poorly. And then Satan really starts to attack us. The thoughts, the temptations come – see everyone else, see how blessed they are – they don't have your problems, they aren't treated this way by God; maybe you're just out of luck with the Lord. And so we put on a brave face, we tell everyone who asks we're fine, we post great and wonderful pictures on Snapchat or Facebook, hoping that no one knows how scared we are, wishing that we could be as happy as our friends are, so often not recognizing that they're just putting on the brave face too.

The crowd that stood there and listened to Jesus that day in Matthew was no different. Didn't have the same technology, but they had the same trials, the same temptations. The same devil was hounding them. And this is why Jesus starts off the Sermon on the Mount this way. Let's talk about blessing, about being blessed. Your blessings are not centered, are not based in these temporal things. They are temporary; why be surprised when they don't last? No, my friends, know where true blessing lies – it lies in God giving you forgiveness and salvation and everlasting life in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus Christ isn't temporary, He isn't here today but gone tomorrow – He is eternal. And you are in Him, so you have not just the stuff we normally think of as blessings, but you have everlasting blessings. Being poor in spirit, not even mourning death can stop these blessings of God to you in Christ Jesus. See the big picture in Christ!

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Alright, so you aren't the big, bold, and brash folks, the high and mighty making deals and power-plays. So what – in Christ you will inherit eternal life in a new heavens and a new earth. Christ gives you this as a gift.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Alright, so you see wickedness and injustice – indeed you see your own sin and you wish it weren't there. Guess what – in Christ you will be satisfied for He takes away your sin and pours His own righteousness into you in Holy Baptism – He calls you to His table and feeds you with His own righteousness.

These are things promised to you by Christ Jesus. These are the realities of who you are in Christ Jesus – you right now are a new creation. You are a new being, a holy child of God. Even in this sinful world, Christ has forgiven you now, called you out of darkness into His marvelous light, joined you to Himself in Baptism, and even fills you with His own love. Even over and against your sin, He has given you His Holy Spirit to work in you His life and salvation.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Jesus makes you to be merciful. He makes you to be focused upon His mercy and love. By His Word and Spirit He moves you beyond just the 4th petition, the daily bread concerns, and He takes you to the 5th petition – and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. You do realize that this isn't a demand upon you, but rather a gift that Jesus gives you. He makes you a forgiver, because He is the great Forgiver who wants to forgive you. He makes you merciful, because He is the merciful God who wants to mercy you.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Do you see where this is going? Jesus makes you to be pure in heart by His Word of forgiveness, because He wants to see you, to have you be with Him for all eternity. This pureness of heart, it isn't something you do. This is one of the eternal and everlasting blessings that Christ Jesus has won for you with His death and resurrection. His death upon the Cross was to purify your heart – His heart stopped and spilled forth in water and blood so that even come the day when you heart stops, Jesus would look at you and say, “Wait a second, this one is pure in me. Rise, get up – you're going to be seeing me forever.” That's why we do give thanks for those who have died in the faith – in Christ they are pure in heart, and they see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Jesus is the great Son of God, He is the great peacemaker – He is the One who appeared to the disciples in the upper room on Easter night and showed them His hands and side and said, “Peace be with you.” He's the One who comes and gives us His Body and Blood for forgiveness and life – The peace of the Lord be with you always. Jesus is the One who makes you to be peacemakers, to be forgivers. Of course you are – for you are sons of God in Christ, and all that is Christ's is yours – yours to give out. And He will use you to forgive, to make peace, to pour out His love, to give out His eternal and everlasting blessings – because that is simply who you are in Him.

We don't remember this all the time. There are times our own sinful flesh looms large. There are times when the world around us raves. Doesn't change anything. You are in Christ – therefore, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who went before you.” You are in Christ, so of course your reward is great – your reward isn't what you've earned but everything that Jesus has earned for you with His life, death, and resurrection. And the world will rant and rave – of course it does. It knows it's temporary, it's fading, it's bound to be replaced with a new heavens and a new earth. But you, my friends, you are not just blessed by God for a brief time, for a day or for a few decades – you are blessed in Christ with all the eternal blessings that He has won for you. You are part of His Church, His own Body – part of the people of God from all times and in all places. And now, we're going to close the sermon, and we'll pray, and then we'll join in our voices with the angels and archangels, with those we love who are now with the Lord – and we'll celebrate the Supper knowing that nothing can ever take away these eternal blessings of Christ. Blessed are you – for you are in Christ Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus – Amen.