Saturday, November 3, 2018

All Saints Observed

All Saints' Observed – Matthew 5:1-11 – November 3rd and 4th, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
We live in desperate times. There is desperation all over the place - it's in the air, on the political signs and the telephone calls, in the way we look at our families and friends, the way we look at ourselves in the mirror. Desperation. We see change around us, and often not for the better. We feel anxiety over money or race relations or the health of our state or the violence all around us, and that fear and anxiety boils up into desperation, and we want something to fix it. And we get more agitated and short with each other, we villainize each other, we self medicate ourselves – all because we are desperate.

Now, the part of me that is a historian wants to brush this desperation off, sort of poo-poo it. I want to run to cold hard stats about rates of violence, or run to narratives of the past – see, all this desperation is just silly, why you've been through worse times before. We have more wealth and more technology and less violence and less global poverty than ever before, blah, blah blah, blah blah. That's just how I self-medicate and deal with fear and anxiety – I pretend to be above the fray... just like a duck, looking all nice and calm while my own desperations paddle away just under the surface. While I feel superior because my desperations aren't as bad as other people's desperations.

Instead, we ought to consider the truth. That there is some wisdom and sense to the fear and anxiety we feel. There is plenty of wild and crazy stuff going on out there, and frankly, a lot of it just is not under our control. And the prevailing myth that has run our country and western society for the past 200 years is that if we just keep working and growing and improving, we will get a grip on this thing called life, and we will control things, we will tame and fix the world. And there's been great progress – progress we should be thankful for. Just think for a second on medical advances – how many of us in this room right now would have been dead if not for medical technologies developed in the past 100 years? I'd have been. We should be grateful to the moon over the advances in medicine... but there's still an awful lot of fear and anxiety about it. That's because, even with all this progress, we know it's not enough. That sooner or later the doctor's going to say, “There's nothing more we can do.” Or in other words, I can't control it.

And that's just medicine. Every field of human study plays out the same way. Governance, technology, agriculture, computing – so on and so forth – we hit a point where the problems are still there and there's nothing we can do. Where we can do everything right (at least according to worldly standards), and things just go wrong. This hits theology – how many hucksters are out there preaching wealth and prosperity – “I declare this will be a good day” or however the latest flavor of Name it and Claim It theology likes to babble. It doesn't work. We are powerless. And we hate that. And it rips us apart. And so we are desperate for something to fix the problem, desperate for someone to blame, desperate for something to numb the pain.

The crowds Jesus saw in Matthew chapter 5 were desperate too. They were a conquered people, oppressed by the Romans, facing terrible poverty. Less power than we have, less prospects than us. And Jesus looks over this crowd, and He does something that is so bizarre to us. Jesus doesn't tell them how to fix things. He doesn't Dave Ramsey them into better economic advice (fine as that is), nor does He tell them to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like Rush Limbaugh might. Jesus doesn't take the liberal tact either – Jesus doesn't start a community organization project or blame the 1 percent or the Colonizing powers of Rome. He doesn't even do my historical thing of comparing them to other time periods in the OT and telling them to buck up. Jesus doesn't tell these desperate people how to fix anything.

Instead, Jesus says something utterly profound. You are blessed. 9 times. Blessed are the fill in the blank. Do you realize how utterly insane that sounds to the desperate world? Blessed are the poor in spirit – think on that, if you are beat down and crushed by life in this world, if you are downtrodden and spit upon and at the end of your rope – Jesus says that you are blessed. Why? Not because he's got the three easy steps to turn things around, not because the bad people are going to be punished, not because the new rulers will finally be the right rulers. No – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Is. Right now. Right now the Kingdom of heaven is yours... and it's still yours if next year goes better or if it goes worse. It is yours if there is sickness or health, richer or poorer, all those variations. None of them change the fact that the Kingdom of Heaven is yours. You belong to Christ Jesus, and He has given you the Kingdom of Heaven – He has baptized you. You are an heir of heaven, it is yours – and there's not a thing in this world that can take that away from you. Christ Jesus has given Himself to you, He has shed His blood for you to rescue you from sin and from death and the devil, and His Kingdom is yours. Now.

How often do we think on the fact that we are the Baptized? That we are brothers and sisters of Christ the King, that heaven is ours come hell or high water, because Christ Jesus has broken open the gates of hell with His death and resurrection and has turned water into a lavish washing away of sin in Holy Baptism? I went to my grandmother's funeral (at a church of a denomination that will remain nameless), and the pastor had done a lovely job of pointing out how kind my grandmother had been, how even 6 years after she had moved to Florida she was still loved and remembered up in Toledo, little plastic canvas things she had made all over the place. It was a nice start... but it just stopped. A wistful sigh of the past. Never mentioned that she was Baptized. Never mentioned that even though sin and death had ripped away her mind – I would have even taken Alzheimer's as the villain – never mentioned that even though Emily couldn't remember much towards the end and that while there was nothing we could do – Christ Jesus remembered her, and the Kingdom of heaven is hers. Instead, oh, she was good to us here and to her family, why don't you be good too. A little holy homework, something you can do.

Something you can do. That's our old sinful flesh talking, thinking, running things. Our old sinful flesh is desperate, desperate to have power and control. That's really what sin is – it's me wanting to be in control of everything. I will determine what is good and what is bad, and I will by my own actions take the bull by the horns and wrest of life what I can get out of it. And we try, until we push ourselves to our wits ends – until we are finally poor in Spirit and ready to listen again to God. Hi there, O baptized child of God – Heaven is yours. Already. Always has been. You are blessed.

Hi there mourner. You are blessed, because Christ Jesus has defeated and destroyed death, and in the resurrection you will receive a comfort far beyond anything you could try to cobble together. Jesus has this all under His control for you.

Hi there you who are meek, who are just tired of all the fighting and want to lay down your arms. You are blessed, because you're going to inherit the new heavens and the new earth. Jesus has done it – it's His will and testament, sealed by His death upon the Cross, by His blood shed there. He gives the proof, His very Body and Blood to you in His Supper. You don't need to be the fighter – Jesus has this all under His control for you.

Hi there you who thirst and hunger for righteousness. You see that this world is messed up – well, you'll never fix it to your satisfaction. You'll never even progress yourself to your own satisfaction. But, you are blessed, because Christ Jesus is righteous, and He has poured His righteousness upon you, declared His righteousness to be your righteousness. When it comes to righteousness – Jesus has it all under His control for you.

Hi there pure in heart. Yes, I'm talking to you – because you've been baptized, you've been declared righteous. You've had your sin forgiven over and over by Christ Jesus through His Word. You're blessed, because no matter what you see come down the pike, Christ Jesus your Lord will return and you will be raised to perfection, and you will see God in your own flesh, your own eyes and not another's. Jesus has it all under His control for you.

Hi there peacemaker, you who proclaim Christ's peace and forgiveness to others. They may not like it that much. They may blow you off and run back to their own desperate plans. You understand that well enough – you often run back to your own desperate plans. But that's why God has sent people into your life to speak peace to you, and why He has you speak peace to people as well. The peace of Christ that He has won, the peace that He pours out through His Spirit is what makes us sons of God. Again, Jesus has it all under His control for you.

Oh, and by the by peacemaker – proclaiming Christ Crucified for sinners won't make you popular in the world. See, people in the world don't want a God who makes for peace – people would much rather come up with their own political or social or military solutions. People are desperate to find the next greatest thing to fix the world... while the world keeps on spinning. And when you point to Christ, when you proclaim His peace and His righteousness – as opposed to the violence and “rightness” of the latest cause or movement, you will be persecuted. You will be ignored, or written off, or called a traitor to the cause. You will be mocked, and reviled, and you will have wicked, jealous things said of you. It doesn't change a thing about who Jesus is and what He has done, nor does it change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and risen for you and that He will return for you to raise you from the dead and give you a new heaven and a new earth, and so yes, rejoice, because you are blessed. Jesus has it all under control for you.

My dear friends, you who have been called out of darkness, even the darkness of your own thoughts and whims and wishes, you who have been called out of darkness into His marvelous light, blessed are you, because Christ Jesus truly is your Lord and Savior, and nothing can make Him waver in that. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Monday, October 22, 2018

A New and "Better" Beattitudes

If Jesus had known what 2018 would look like, if he had known the struggles we would be facing today, he would have given us a new and better beatitudes.

Blessed are the poor in spirit?  Bah!  Now is the time to fight, and fight strongly and harshly.  Rage against the dying of the light, do not go quietly into that night of sin and deviancy!

Blessed are those who mourn?  Mourners need to get up off their duff and carry on, because the battle for everything good in our country rages around us.  We need to make more of those other saps mourn, that's what we need!

Blessed are the meek? Poppycock!  We don't need folks to be meek and mild, we need them to use every ounce of their strength to wrest control and power back into our wise and knowledgeable hands!

And I know I can fight this holy fight, because I hunger and thirst for righteousness and right living and good morals, I know that I am pure in heart unlike the evil, contemptible hordes! 

And I will be merciful after I have broken their political power and overturned their laws, and then I will have made peace and justice flow.


Or so we are tempted to think. 

So we are told to think.

But not by Jesus.  Jesus knew what He was doing when He spoke the beatitudes, and they apply to us today.  We need to hear them more than ever, because we don't think we are blessed when we are poor in spirit, or mourning, or meek.  We want to fight, to crush our enemies, to knock them down a peg.

The world around us has riled up sin and flesh - I will concede that.  But we are tempted to meet that and fight that with our own riled up sinful flesh.

That is not how it is to be.

When you see this world, remember that you are redeemed and forgiven by Christ.
When you see sin and death, remember that because of Christ you have the resurrection and the life.
When you are tempted to fight, remember that you can afford to lay down your arms because all thta you have is a gift from Christ, and He shall give you a new heavens and a new earth where all this junk will be remembered no more.
When you see your own sin and know that you aren't as righteous as your indignation would tell you, be satisfied in the fact that Christ has declared you righteous.
When you see sinners sinning, forgive as you have been forgiven.
When your heart becomes riled with anger and hatred, be purified by Christ and His mercy.
When they want to fight, declare the peace of the risen Christ - even if they still hate you.

Because they will.  Even in the Church there are those who are sick and tired of the Gospel.  They think the Gospel just means the bad people get away with it.  And when you proclaim Christ's righteousness, a righteousness that is yours by gift, you will be hated.  And you will be told that you need to fight.  You will be told that you are a traitor.  So be it - take heart, for blessed are you because Christ Jesus is your righteousness and therefore His Kingdom is yours, for He gives it freely.

And He will work in you, He will cause good fruits to flourish in you.  Not the works the world wants, but fruit.  Like love, and joy (oh, my friends, there still is joy in Christ), and peace, and patience (we can afford to be patient with the erring), and kindness and goodness, faithfulness and gentleness, and even self-control.

These are yours... but not in your zeal, not in your anger, not in your fear or rage against the culture.  They are not yours in a social gospel, be it the old liberal one or the new conservative one.  They are yours in Christ.

Christ Jesus has died for the sins of the whole world, even the ones that anger and hurt you.  He has died for your sins, and you are forgiven in Him.

Therefore, as He said, you truly are blessed no matter what. 

The peace of Christ be with you always.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 – September 29th and 30th, 2018 – Matthew 22:36-44

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible and read, what are you hoping to see? When you come here to this place and hear the Scriptures read, hear a sermon preached, what are you hoping to see? What do you want to get out of all of this? What are you expecting and hoping to get out of all this religious stuff that you are here for? I ask, I bring this up because that is really the setting and context for our Gospel lesson. It is Holy Week – just days before Jesus is crucified, and Jesus has been in the temple preaching. And we hear this: “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him.”

Why had the Pharisees come to the temple that day? Apparently it was for political power and posturing, networking and social gain. That's why Matthew notes that they came after the Sadducees had been silenced. Think of the Sadducees as the crazy liberals of the day and the Pharisees as the stalwart conservatives. There's blood in the water, as it were – and maybe we should see what is going on. So they have one of their heavy hitters, a laywer, a master of Jewish custom, ask Jesus a question... not to learn, but to test Him. Is this enemy of my enemy going to be my friend, or is He going to fail the test?

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” You learn a lot from the questions a person asks – it says a lot about them. It shows what their priority is. The disciples kept asking Jesus when the kingdom was going to be restored to Jerusalem – that was because they wanted power. James and John even jockeyed to be seated at His right hand. If you go travel anywhere interesting, I'll probably ask you about the food. Food's a priority for me. But as for our Pharisees in the text, they asked a question about the law – what is the greatest, most important thing that I am supposed to do? It shows their priority – their own action. How well they acted was everything to them – it gave them status and prestige – it was their source of pride. Knowing the Law and doing the Law, that was where it was at, and the Scriptures were simply a tool towards that goal.

So, which is the great commandment in the Law? Matthew lets us know that this is more than a question, it is also a test. It's not just a question of interest, but it is a weapon. It is a question asked not to get an answer, but a question this lawyer asks to get a weapon to use against Jesus, to elevate himself above Him. And it's a classic trap – ask for a person to pick one thing out of a list, and lambaste them for not picking something else. But Jesus doesn't play that game. He is a teacher, and so He teaches.

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment, but a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and Prophets. Well, since you asked, I can't really just answer that with one – because while the commandment is that you should love God, in reality that means you love your neighbor. That's the reality. The way in which we should and do demonstrate our love for God isn't anything abstract, it isn't going through certain rituals or going through some pious motions – we love God by loving the neighbors that God has placed into our lives. Loving the neighbor is like it, it's tied up with it – the old King James says “like unto it.” To love God is to love your neighbor – or as John puts it in his epistle - “If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

This leads to a pretty big question. So, laywer – did you ask this question out of love for your neighbor, or to put him in his place? Oh, it was to test your neighbor, to embarrass Him and wreck Him. Oh, and you thought that this was going to impress God? Oh. Well, you were wrong. As Jesus told Satan at the beginning of His ministry during the temptation, Thou shall not put the Lord Thy God to the test. And this is where we here must examine ourselves. We have to consider Jesus' answer – who are the neighbors that we disdain, the ones we get annoyed with, the ones we'd rather be angry and annoyed with instead of love and serve? That's danger, that's sin crouching at the door like a lion ready to devour you. But even bigger than just that – when we read the Scriptures, when we look at God's Word, is it so that we can put Him to the test? Is it so that we can saunter up to God and say, “See, I've done X, Y, and Z, and so now you owe me.” Well, maybe we're not as brazen as that – maybe just the thoughts of I don't deserve this, why do bad things happen to good people like me, how can I make sure God blesses me. The temptation is this – we want to use God's Law as a lever against Him. That's what sinful man does, that's how this world operates. And we can get caught up in that too.

Back to the text. Jesus' answer dumbfounded the Pharisees. They we all a flutter over it – Now while the Pharisees were gathered together – do you see them, gathering together, going back and forth over what Jesus said, trying to figure out how it would impact their own personal power dynamics? While they are busy doing that, Jesus decides to ask them a question. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” Now, this is very skillful on Christ's part. There are the Pharisees, all stuck in the Law, all focused on what they do and what they don't do and who is better than who – that's what they thought was the point. But Jesus asks a question – not about what you or I do, but about the Christ. The Messiah. Let's talk about Him. “They said to Him, 'The son of David.' He said to them, 'How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying – The LORD said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet. - If then David calls Him Lord, how is He his Son?” Now, this is some heavy duty sledding for us today who aren't Pharisees. The Pharisees noted that the promised Messiah, the Christ, would be the son of David, a descendant of David. And then Jesus quotes for them Psalm 110 – one of the great Messianic Psalms. And He points out something – the Messiah will be David's Son, but also David's Lord. That's not the way it works, normally – you honor your father and your mother – you don't get to out rank them. My dad will be my dad as long as we both shall live. And yet, with the Messiah, there's something else. Now, we know what that something else – Jesus is not just the son of David but He is also the Son of God, He is Christ the LORD. And this is something that David pointed forward to – it is part of the great mystery of Salvation, that God Himself would come down to be the Messiah.

Why, O Pharisees, are you so focused on trying to elevate yourselves, when the Scriptures tell the mystery of God becoming Man for your salvation? That's the point, that's where your focus should be. The Bible is not just a mere handbook for right living, it isn't “basic instructions before leaving earth” - even though that's a witty acronym. It is the story of God's salvation – it is the story of Christ Jesus who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven. The Old Testament all points forward to this and promises it; the New points back to it and proclaims it. That is where our focus should be – upon the mystery of the ages, Christ Jesus becoming man to win you eternal life.

So, I will ask again. What are you hoping to see? When you open up your bible,when you come here to this place, what are you hoping to see? Sometimes we are focused upon the Law – maybe for our good and improvement, or maybe to use it as a weapon against our enemy. The thing is, when we get a full dose of the law, we get reminded that we do not follow it as we ought and are driven to confess our sin. But there is One who does, who actually fulfilled the Law. And actually, in truth, the Bible is His story. It is the story of Christ Jesus, who demonstrated His love for the Father through His love for you, and His love for you by His obedience to the Father. It is the story of Christ, who in the Garden before His crucifixion prayed, “Not My will, but Thine be done” - and went to the Cross and died to rescue you. That is how He loved you, His neighbor. Of course, it's not just a past love – that is how Christ Jesus loves you now. Over and against this rat race of a world, He loves you now. He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that He is with you now and you are His and nothing, not heights nor depths can separate you from His love. He has His love proclaimed to you in His Word, He pours His Spirit upon you so that you see Him in the Scriptures, so that you are continually renewed. He comes to you in Bread and Wine with His Body and Blood, to forgive you, to strength your faith and make your love towards neighbor more fervent. This is His delight – to have you know that you are loved by God, redeemed and forgiven and holy in His sight on account of Christ Jesus.

And should the time come when we get a bit uppity with the Word, when we start to want to put on airs about how we are such good Christians, He comes to us again and makes us to see Him again. He reminded the Pharisees that He was the promised Messiah even as they were planning on killing Him; how much more so will proclaim His salvation and victory to you who are joined to Him in Baptism, you who are His beloved bride whom He could never forsake. Sometimes we wander, sometimes we get proud. Our flesh tries to drive us there always, but Christ Jesus is always faithful to you. You are forgiven and redeemed in Him. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Trinity 14 Sermon

(Back after some technical problems with the blog)

Trinity 14 – September 1st and 2nd, 2018 – Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
This lesson should be quite familiar to you, since you hear it twice a year. You hear it right around the Labor Day (give or take a few weeks), and then you hear it again at Thanksgiving. It is the story of the 10 lepers. Isn’t that how we normally think of it – 10 are healed, but only 1 is thankful. And yes, on Thanksgiving Day that will probably be the angle we look at this text from. However, really, this text isn’t primarily about the lepers, and it isn’t first and foremost about thankfulness or our lack thereof – it’s about Jesus – who Jesus is, what He does. So, let’s look at this text and watch with care our Lord and see what we learn about Him here today.

On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. This is actually important – when Luke in his Gospel says that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, this means Jesus is getting ready for Palm Sunday and Holy Week, that our Lord’s passion is coming closer and closer. This happens but days before Palm Sunday – and so Christ’s focus would be on winning us salvation – He’s on that task, on target and focused – He is on His way to Jerusalem. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.’” So, Jesus is focused on salvation. He’s journeying, He’s probably tired and worn out from the road – He’s just entering a village to get some rest – and what happens? Lepers show up – lepers. Dirty, filthy, unclean, nasty looking lepers. And they cry out for mercy. Have mercy on us.

Now, consider for a moment your own life. It is the end of a long day, and you have things to do tomorrow, you have big, important things on your mind – and then, just as you are ready to rest, someone comes up and wants something. What is your reaction? How quick and ready to love the neighbor in that situation are you? The old sinful flesh likes to rise up then and there, doesn’t it, to grumble and complain? But, what does Christ do? These people are calling out to Him when He most certainly is tired and has other things on His mind. Does He brush them off? Does He say come back tomorrow? No – He cares for them.

Now, we learn from this. Of course, we learn that Christ’s attitude is to be our attitude as well. We learn what we ought to do – and in reality, we see how often we fail. Whenever we compare ourselves to Jesus we are simply going to see how we don’t measure up. If anything, when we compare ourselves to Christ we realize we look more like those scrubby lepers, disgusting and wretched. So, consider this. Have you felt worn and weary? Have you looked at your life and been disgusted by what you see? Do you know that you are unclean – an utter mess? You are – if you aren’t sure if you are, compare yourself to Jesus. Are you as holy and good and righteous as He is? Then you’re a mess – and don’t try denying it, ain’t none of us here going to buy it. Each of those 10 lepers knew every other one was a leper, and every one of us knows we all are sinners right along with all the other sinners. And we know that we need Christ, that we need His healing, His forgiveness, His mercy.

But here is where Satan can creep in. Do you ever feel as though – well, you know, you really shouldn’t bother Jesus with that. Well, ought you really pray about this AGAIN, I mean, come on, Jesus has to have other things on His mind? Are you going to bring yet another problem and burden to God – sheesh! We can be so ashamed of our problems, of our sin, that Satan tries to isolate us, tries to separate us from God. The Devil is a liar and a murderer, and when he stirs up these thoughts, he is lying to you so he can try to murder you. In our text, does Jesus ever hesitate in helping these lepers? Does our Lord cop an attitude? Does He throw up His arms, make a big sigh, come on people I was just getting ready to have dinner and wash my feet, why are you bugging me now? No. Simple as that. There’s no bad reaction from Christ – He’s not bothered or annoyed by this in the slightest – having mercy is what He came to do, so He delights in getting to deal with these lepers. Learn this, know this – Christ delights in dealing with you. Christ Jesus delights in having you pray to Him and bring your burdens to Him. Christ Jesus delights in having His Word proclaimed to you, enjoys having you receive His Body and Blood in His Supper for your forgiveness, for the strengthening of your weary faith, for your healing. That’s why He had the Apostles and prophets write down the Scriptures, why He has sent you a called and ordained Pastor, and has had one here for over 100 years. This is what He delights in.

And as our Lord delights in mercy, He heals these lepers. “When He saw them, He said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’” When you were a leper, you were banished from the community until your disease cleared up – and when it cleared up, you could present yourself to the priests, who would then declare you fit for returning to the community. So when Jesus says, “Go show yourselves to the priests”, He is making them a promise that they will be healed. And so, they go. And the wondrous thing is, they aren’t healed yet when they start walking, but they start heading to the priests anyway, and then what happens? “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Simple as that. As they are going, they get healed. No big production – simply Jesus says it, promises it, and it happens.

Now, consider how our Lord deals with you. He has promised you forgiveness. He has washed you in Holy Baptism, so you are clean. He has spoken life and salvation unto you in His Word, He has given you His Body and Blood as the promise and token that you will rise again on the last day and have eternal life. Now, note two things. First – none of this is showy. God works through simple means. When He healed the Lepers there was no song and dance – when He heals you, it’s not that spectacular to look at. In baptism, you are joined to Christ, adopted by the Father to be His own redeemed child, made an heir of heaven and eternal life – and what do we see? Eh, a splash of water. In the Supper, Christ Jesus gives you His own Body and Blood, joins you together with all the saints of all ages, we participate for a moment in the joys of heaven and are prepared for eternal life – and what do we see? Eh, a small wafer, a sip of wine. In preaching, in absolution, I as your pastor get to declare to you that you sin is forgiven, that Satan’s power and hold over you is completely broken because of Christ’s death and resurrection, that you are now holy and blameless in God’s sight on account of Christ, that you will rise to life everlasting – and what do we see? Eh, a short half-bald guy with a lisp. Jesus doesn’t make a big production of things. Why? Because that way they are repeatable. Is there someone new to the faith, does a baptism need to be done – we don’t need some weird, precious substance – look, here is water, what hinders us from baptism now? Nothing. Simple. Or do we need to be refreshed by Christ, forgiven and prepared for life now and for all eternity, could we use His supper? Eh, look here, Pastor’s got some bread and wine – let’s have the Supper. I even have a portable kit for it. Or even with a pastor preaching – God keeps raising up new ones – so that if something happens to me, God will send you someone else – simple things. God gives His mercy to you in simple things. He doesn’t make stupid demands of you – He didn’t tell the lepers to do 100 pushups first, or to go travel 1000s of miles – simply go, and I will heal you. Likewise, in your life, simply come, hear His Word, receive His Supper, and you have God’s forgiveness in full.

Which leads to the second thing. When those lepers started walking, they looked down at themselves, and they saw their scabs, their sores, their illness. Yet their Lord Christ Jesus had told them to walk, and so they walked to go see the priest, and on the way they were healed. Likewise, dear Christians, when you look at your life now, when you see the problems and temptations that you face – they seem to stick around. You know, I expect that the burdens and trials you faced yesterday are still going to be there tomorrow. If you are struggling against a temptation now, probably you will still be struggling with it tomorrow. This healing of Christ’s, the forgiveness we receive – we don’t always see it right away. We don’t always see the life we have in Christ – and Satan wants to have us see our sin and say, “Eh, guess it didn’t take for you – give up, despair, curse God and die.” In contrast to Satan, I say to you – when service is done, head on out those doors and live your life – but live your life remembering the promises of God to you. Christ Jesus has given you His promise of life and salvation, and you shall have it. You have forgiveness now, and you will grow, you will see that life creep out in part now, but you will have it in full for all eternity. Now, you’re in your sinful flesh, and one burden, one temptation gets licked, well, another one pops up. That’s the burden of life in this sinful world – the problems of a decade ago, well, they might be gone, eh, then you'll have new ones. Or even if these old burdens linger on – yes it’s horrid, it’s difficult, it’s annoying. And we are called to struggle against these desires of the flesh, but Christ’s promise to you still stands. You are forgiven. You have life in Him. He works in you now, and He will on the last day call you forth to new life, and then you will see yourself healed, fully clean, fully redeemed and ready and prepared to spend eternity with Him and the family of God, an eternity where your praises will not be lacking, where you will be joined with all the saints of all ages in rejoicing before God and delighting in whatever it is that you’ll be doing in the new heavens and new earth, putting your restored and sanctified talents to good work there.

Christ Jesus is good. He is never too busy for you, for He is eager to save, eager to forgive. His promise of life and salvation is yours, and He wants you to know this always, to remember it always, to receive it often so that you might be always confident in Him. Satan will do his damnedest to make you forget this, but the love of Christ for you is more powerful than Satan, and His promises hold true now and forever more. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit+

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Trinity 12 Sermon

Trinity 12 – August 18th and 19th, 2018 – Mark 7:31-37

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
There's so much crazy talk in the world today about what love is. And I know intellectually as a historian and a theologian that folks in this sinful world have always been messed up on what love is; this is why Paul and John in their epistles constantly have to spell out for us what love actually is. But it seems today our society and culture uses “love” to describe every sort of weird desire or lust folks might have. Over and against that, over and against what you might hear from the world about love, in our Gospel lesson today Jesus gives a tour de force demonstration of what love actually is. Let us listen to what Jesus does, and learn of love.

“Then He returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on him.” First, the set up. This is the point in Mark's Gospel where the scribes and pharisees were so hounding Jesus that He ended up wandering around the gentile lands. Right before this lesson you have the Syrophoenician woman - “yes, LORD, but even little dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table.” And then right after today's Gospel lesson you have the feeding of the 4000, because everyone hears about this miracle even though Jesus tried to keep them quiet. So Jesus is there, surrounded by strangers, foreigners, non-jews. You know – folks that He'd be expected not to like, the sort of people that the good Jerusalem folks wouldn't dare associate with. And these people have heard rumors about Jesus, so they bring up a fellow – and they want to see a miracle. Go on, lay a hand on him and show us something cool!

I have great sympathy for this deaf fellow, not just because he had a speech impediment and I don't exactly have the cleanest speaking voice myself, but because he must have been utterly confused. What Mark describes here is not a calm, polite scene. The word here for “brought” is literally “carry”. It's not that they coaxed a shy volunteer forward, they wanted to see a miracle, so they grabbed some guy who was messed up. Hey everybody, whose the most messed up person in town – oh, it's that deaf guy – oh yea, quick, go grab him. And so a crowd rushes up and grabs the fellow – and he's deaf, he can't hear. If you can't hear, you don't understand what's going on around you as well as you might – like as some of you are finding out more than you'd like. So boom – they dump this guy in front of Jesus and say “lay hands on him.” Come on Jesus – we brought you someone, now go do that thingy with your hands and the waving and power and might.

Jesus doesn't give the crowd what they want. Instead, Jesus decides to love the poor deaf man. Listen. And taking him aside from the crowd privately.... Did you note that? Before there's any healing, Jesus gently pulls him away from the crowd, gets him out of that mass of confusion. And then, when the guy is calmed down a bit and things are less chaotic, Jesus moves into action. “He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue.” But that action isn't healing yet. The guy is deaf, so Jesus acts out for him what He's going to do. Your ears, I'm going to pop them open. Can't get stuff out of your mouth because your tongue is tied – well, I'm going to shake that tongue loose. Then one more pantomime - “And looking up to heaven, He sighed...” See, I'm praying here – and then, only then, does the healing take place. [Jesus] said to him, 'Ephphatha,' that is, 'Be opened.' And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

There's a lot of hay we could make out of this. This is indeed creation restored – the Word of God who spoke all creation into existence restores creation by speaking. All things are done well, they are good again because of Jesus. And this also is a great depiction of how faith itself works – we who were deaf to God, dead in sin and trespasses have our ears opened by the Word and Spirit and we are given life.
But for today, let's focus on this. This is what love is, this is how love operates. This miracle stands out like a sore thumb in Mark's Gospel. See, Mark's Gospel has this incredible pace to it. The word “immediately” gets used over and over. It's the shortest Gospel, everything happens quickly. And then you get this miracle described – and everything just slows down. Everything becomes slow and deliberate. And that's what love is. When Jesus comes across this fellow, He shows Him deliberate care and service. He doesn't just lay a hand on him while the crowd goes wild, but instead Jesus takes the time to care for him individually as He knows is best.

This is Christ's love for you. To be in the Church is to be one whom Jesus has called, whom Jesus has pulled away from the rush and sin and chaos of the world, called out of darkness into His marvelous life. And over and over in His Church, Jesus deals with you gently and directly. You were baptized by name, you yourself were. God claimed you and washed away your sins. He places His own Body and Blood upon your tongue in the Supper. And yes, we do many things together, for we together are the body of Christ, yet there still remains that individual care for you. While we do confess our sins together and receive forgiveness together – if there is some fear or doubt or guilt that messes with you – I'll forgive you individually and specifically, because Jesus doesn't want you miserable and afraid and guilty. And if you want and need the Lord's Supper, give me a call, I'll bring it. Because Jesus wants you, yes you, to know His love and forgiveness and mercy is for you. Jesus doesn't lose you in the crowd – I might, I'm a sinful human being, so please do let me know when you need something – but Jesus wants you forgiven and cared for.

This is also how all our vocations work. Vocations are those special relationships we are given by God in which we are to love and serve people. Our vocations set up and show us people for whom we are specifically to care. And each of us have many of these that God has given us. I will use myself as an example. I'm not the pastor for every church in the world; I'm preaching here at Trinity because God has called me away from every other place and to this specific congregation and to you here. I don't supervise every single vicar in the vicarage program; I supervise vicar Weideman. God did not call me to be everyone's husband, He gave me to and joined me to Celia. I'm not everyone's dad – just two people. And so on and so forth. And this is not accidental – this is deliberate on God's part, shaping and forming the ways in which I am to show love – these are the good works which God prepared before hand for me to walk in. And likewise you – in order to see that His love and care for His creation is shown, God places you into relationships with other people – husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, employer and worker, neighbor, citizens, all these things – so that you may care for these specific people, and also be cared for by them in return. These are your vocations – and if you want to consider them, I'd recommend finding the Table of Duties in the Catechism, because it goes over specific Scripture passages dealing with all sorts of vocations. But remember, these relationships are gifts to you from God, opportunities for you to care for and serve others.

Yet we know how things so often work. We are attacked by sin and Satan – and do you know what sin does? It deafens us; it binds up our tongues. All too often we don't listen to the people God has placed in our lives, all too often instead of speaking words of love and care for them we say nothing or shout nonsense. And often we are on the receiving end, where folks don't listen to us, where they don't speak rightly to us. That's really what Satan is trying to accomplish with sin – Satan is trying to wreck and ruin the relationships of love and service that God gives us. And this is why, over and over, again and again, Christ Jesus comes to you with His Word of life. This is why He opens your ears with His Word and gives you faith. This is why He fills you with His love. This is why He opens your lips so that you mouth may declare His praise. Because He is a giver, because He loves you and wants you to enjoy your gifts that He has given to you. And so, He arms you with forgiveness and mercy to fight against sin – your own sin and the sin that is done to you. Satan would isolate you; Christ is with you and gives Himself to you and centers all your relationships and vocations in Him, in His love.

And the world doesn't understand this. The world keeps rushing on in its chaotic mess, the world keeps on rolling along in its selfish conceit, looking out for number one. But Christ Jesus is your Lord, and He has given you ears to hear. He frees you to love generously because you know with certainty how much He loves you. And should you ever forget it, should your own love ever flag – come here and hear again His love for you, for you are God's own baptized child, and He will never forsake you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Back from Vacation

I just wanted to note that I am back from Vacation and ready to get back into the grind!

Monday, July 9, 2018

HT Breakout Outline

(Here's the outline for my sectional for the 2018 HT conferences - posted here just in case I lose handouts)

Granny's Getting Older

While we often think of “raising a family” in terms of care for the young (parents for children), there is also the other side – care for parents and grandparents – David sending parents to Moab, Jesus saying, “Woman Behold Your Son” on the Cross. The Orphan and the Widow are both to cared for.

I – Understanding the Aging Process (The Elderly Are Like Backwards Teenagers)
1 – Everyone ages – that's just the reality of life – but sin and death twist this. The aging curve (beware the freshman 15, the thirties – my need for readers)
2 – Imagine growing towards what you were two years ago, or three years ago.
3 – The Body Weakens and the Mind Slow (The talents you hone now, imagine them withering)
4 – Finances Get tighter.
5 – Independence is valued, but they become less capable.

II – Simple Ways of Serving
1 – Companionship – Be “present” with them. Youth presence can have a profound impact. (babies are the future, you are their past – I get to start to commiserate)
2 – Subtly Lending a Hand – from you better than from others.
3 – Listening and Learning to their Experience
4 – Helping the primary caregivers (like your parents)

III – Things Going Bad
1 – Mourning and Loss (Not just death, but losing abilities)
2 - Doctors and Disease
Scary Sounding names – like “congestive heart failure”
3 – Dementia
Don't correct, just roll, like you would with a toddler.

IV – Transitions
1 – Assisted Living/Moving in with the Kids
2 – Nursing Home
3 – Skilled Nursing Care
4 – Hospice
5 – Hospitals and the end of care. DNRs, Palliative care, the “plug” - but not euthanasia.

V – The Resurrection of the Body

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – July 7th and 8th, 2018 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
As Christians, as those who pay attention to our Lord’s Words, we ought to pay attention to that which He commands. That’s not an earth shattering statement – all of us here know that we ought to try to behave, to strive to show love to our neighbor. And yet, what is the reality? So often, we just don’t even bother. And more than that, we justify our bad behavior – we start playing fast and loose with the Word of God – we ignore it, we twist it to serve our ends, rather than learning to love and serve God and neighbor. Jesus will not let that stand. And our Lord Jesus today teaches and demonstrates the two major errors, the two major ways in which a Christian can ignore, can twist God’s Word of Law in a harmful way.

First, our Lord says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” God in His Word has told us many things about how we are to live, what we are to do, how we are to behave. He has given us the 10 Commandments, and there’s a very good reason why even 3500 years after Moses we still sit down with our children and teach them the Commandments to this day. God’s desire that we lead decent lives has not changed. However – that doesn’t mean that Christians aren’t tempted to. . . pretend that the Law doesn’t really matter any more. Note what Christ warns against – Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. There is a temptation amongst Christians to. . . relax God’s Law. To shrug off what He has commanded, to just. . . ignore the Word of God where it becomes uncomfortable. This is often thought of as the classic “liberal” error when it comes to God’s Word – to just ignore what you don’t like. A place where this is obvious today comes up with the 6th Commandment. A lot of discussions in a lot of places on Homosexuality relax, to use Christ’s Word, what God has said about Homosexuality. A lot of places are relaxing on the issue of premarital sex. There is a whole facet, a whole wing of the Christian Church that is systematically chipping away at Scriptural ideas of morality.

However, this is not just a time for me to lambaste all those liberal Churches out there. They might do this openly and publicly, but consider in your own life the times where you yourself are tempted to. . . relax God’s Law. God says, “Love your enemy” – but we can… not apply that to this particular enemy who has us really upset right now. Or how often do we ignore or forget that we are to be patient and kind and instead justify and defend our anger because *they* were just messing things up. The temptation remains for us to cut ourselves some slack when it comes to right and wrong – and that is dangerous, because when we do that, it’s not just a small thing, it’s going directly against the wishes and will of God. Thus, as Christians, we are to be on our guard against ignoring the parts of God’s Word that say things about us and our behavior that we don’t like.

But there is another error that Christ warns us against – and this is the opposite error of what we just discussed. Our Lord says, “You have heard it said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.’” Our Lord here is attacking the stereotypical Conservative error, the error of legalism. The Pharisees were by in large rather conservative folks – and the big danger that they had was while they took Scripture seriously, they didn’t see its fullness, they didn’t understand and apply it to themselves, and so they became smug. They would hear the 5th Commandment and say, “Well, I haven’t murdered anyone, therefore I’m doing all right.” And they became legalists, they became focused on how they DID the Law so well. The thing was – they really hadn’t. In their arrogance they assumed that they were righteous, when in reality their righteousness was lacking. Note what Christ does here – He ties murder to anger. Anger leads to murder, and so if God tells us not to murder, clearly He would want us to avoid the anger which could lead us to murder. And this is clear from the Scriptures. Consider the first murder – Cain slaying Abel. Before Cain murders Abel, God says to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?” Be wary of anger and where it leads. Jesus isn’t teaching anything new – He’s teaching what had been taught from the beginning – but the problem was that when too many folks looked at God’s commandments, instead seeing God’s Law as showing them their sin, showing them what they needed to struggle against – too many folks simply viewed God’s instructions as a mere checklist. And pride and arrogance crept in. In fact, they would add extra things to their checklists that weren’t in Scripture, like a good Jew would wash his hands a certain way. Does this not happen today? Don't we today too have our own traditions, in our families or town or church, that we think just have to be done, where we just know that we are better because we do it the “right” way? Rather than focusing on what the Scriptures say, people can go off on their own smug self-righteous ego trips, pointing out how good they are.

Again, this is a danger for us today. We here strive to take God’s Word and His Law seriously. And the danger is that we can assume that we know what we need to know – we hear the commandment and we think we’ve got it down – but we forget to think about the implications of the commandment. This is one of the beauties of the Catechism. Luther would keep us from falling into this trap – because in the explanation he states not only what we are to avoid, but what the commandment implies what we are to do. Take the 5th Commandment. “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” If we aren’t to kill, then we aren’t to harm, and if we aren’t to harm, then that implies that we are to help. In every physical need.

When it all boils down, the danger is that we misuse God’s Word, especially when it comes to the Law. We can act as though God’s Law doesn’t matter on a certain issue and flat out ignore what God says; or we can become prideful in how we are good Christians and stop thinking, stop mediating on God’s Word, becoming unrepentant and arrogant. But the truth is this – God’s Law is deep, it is profound, and whenever we hear a commandment from God, we should search ourselves to find out how we fall short of that commandment – for each of us has sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and there is not one who is righteous, no, not one. Whenever you hear a command of God, it should be obvious to you that you haven’t done it like you ought - and if you don’t think that, then you aren’t hearing God’s Word rightly, you aren’t listening. Our Lord says, “Be ye perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That’s the standard, that’s always the standard of God’s Law. We dare not relax it, we dare not ignore it.

And we, dear friends, are by no means perfect. That should be obvious to all of us. And the consequences of the Law still hold – the wages of sin is death. What Christ says here is true – Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. In and of ourselves, our righteousness is never that high. Whenever we hear God’s Law, we see our lack and our need to repent – every time. However, we also hear something else in God’s Word – our Lord speaks and says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” There is One who is truly righteous, whose righteousness has exceeded that of any of us, who lived the perfect life, doing all that was pleasing in His Father’s eyes, and that is Christ Jesus our Lord. And what Jesus does is that when He goes to the Cross, He is making a trade. There at the Cross, Christ Jesus takes up all of your sin, all of your lack of righteousness, and there He receives its wages in full and dies – but He does this so that in exchange for your sin, He can give to you all of His Righteousness. Consider this – you are Baptized, you are joined to Christ. Your sins have been washed away from you, and Christ has given you His righteousness. When God sees you, He sees Christ. Every good, every wonder that Christ has done, that’s what God beholds when He sees you. When God looks at you, He sees the life of Christ Jesus – and it shouldn’t be a surprise that it is this way. What happens when we commune – we receive Christ, we receive His Body and Blood, His very life, so that our sins are forgiven, removed from us, and so that we are filled with all that He is. We see and understand the depths and the wonders of Christ’s forgiveness for us, His great love for us – that He has indeed made us to be righteous with His Righteousness – a righteousness that we will finally see in full on the last day. May we see this ever more fully as well!

And so dear friends, I warn you not to ignore God’s Law, but rather I encourage you to examine yourself in light of God’s Law – knowing full well that the light of God’s Law will always shine on many-a-nasty spot. But when you see these flaws and errors, in humility and faith repent of them, for God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we see our sins, we learn to not trust in ourselves (which can only lead to disaster), but rather to cling to Christ Jesus, who in great joy and gladness freely gives to us His righteousness. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Trinity 5 Sermon

Trinity 5 – Luke 5:1-11 – June 30th and July 1st, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
When we come across Simon Peter, he is at a low point. We see him and his partners cleaning up the nets after a long night of fishing, a long night that yielded nothing. Peter had spent the night throwing net after net over into the water, hauling wet rope up by hand, and gotten nothing. No fish. Nothing to sell. And after that back breaking but fruitless night, they are on the shore cleaning out the nets – because the seaweed and the junk has to get off of them and maybe when we are done we can just go home. You all have had rough days, you know how it is at the end of the day, you just want to be done and be done and be done. That's where Peter is – and I know when I'm there I'm tired and cranky and dour.

Then Jesus walks on up and drafts Peter for a bit more work. Push off from the shore, I'll preach from your boat. It makes wonderful acoustic sense – sound bouncing off the water, the shore forming a bit of a natural amphitheater... but it also means that instead of going home and getting rest, Peter is stuck there. Maybe he enjoyed listening to Jesus preach, maybe he didn't. I'm not going to pretend that all of you here are always just thrilled to be here and super-attentive to the sermon, especially if your week has been hard, or you're coming off of a night shift or something like that. Yet the preaching goes on – probably hours of it, and tired and sore Peter still waits, and waits... and then Jesus turns to Peter. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. This is stupidity. This is folly. You don't catch fish in the middle of the day, that was why they'd been fishing all night. And if they let down the nets, they'll just have to clean them up – but Peter resignedly says, “At your word I will let down the nets.” And then an unexpected victory – a catch so massive that the nets break, so big that they have to summon the other boat and they both begin to sink because they are just so full of fish. Peter's day has gone from lousy to unimaginably prosperous! You might think Peter would be overjoyed. But he's not.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.' Pause there and think about that. Depart from me, for I am a sinful man. Peter isn't a fool. Peter knows something divine, something miraculous when He sees it. This is a sign of God's presence and activity and this is Messianic – and he's afraid. He knows that he's a sinful man and God is here – so he begs Jesus to go. Does that seem strange to you? Why would anyone be scared of God showing up – oh, I don't know, do people even today get all happy dappy about Judgment Day or the End of the World? Because that is what Peter is seeing – the end point of all things. Don't think of this as “oh, Jesus my friend is here” - Peter would have viewed this as apocalyptic and fearful. The Messiah has come, the great and awesome day of the Lord has come... and there Peter is. A sinful man. And he had been looking God square in the face; he had been sassy and saucy (we toiled all night and caught nothing) with God Himself.

That got people killed in the Old Testament. Even Elijah, the greatest prophet, had to wrap his face and cover himself before talking to God – even Elijah wouldn't dare to enter the cave where God appeared but remained at a distance. Of course he did – sinful man doesn't do well in the presence of God! And there's Simon-Peter – and he'd been sassing the Messiah. And so he asks Jesus to go. And this isn't a sign of disbelief or no faith – no, Peter is a faithful man. But he is sinful, and he knows that sin and God don't mix, so the best he can hope for, the mercy he seeks from Jesus is this: Go away, and just don't smite me. That's what Peter thought mercy would be – God, just leave me alone.

Do you know what the real difference, the real impact of Jesus is in practical terms? We new testament folks have a hard time even conceiving of how anyone could possibly want God to depart from him. Oh, we still get mad at God when lousy stuff happens – Elijah grumbled in the Old Testament and we grouse at God about how things aren't fair today too... but when we grouse at God we just go ahead and grouse. We don't wait patiently on a mountain top and then humbly cover our faces – we look up to heaven and grouse. Kind of presumptuous, isn't it? That's how comfortable we are with God – because we are New Testament people – we are people who have been born and raised in the last days of the world. We see everything through the lens of Christ Jesus, God come to be with us in a way that we can handle, God come to redeem and forgive.

This is what it meant when Jesus said to Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not be afraid – whenever you hear that phrase in the bible that means that God is about ready to do something good for the sake of His people – He is going to show mercy and forgive and make things right. The punishments for sin will be taken away and sinful man is going to be forgiven instead of blown to smithereens. And we are the baptized, we live, we have our identity established in the fact that we have been forgiven by God. We are the people who live viewing God as their dear Father whom they can approach in prayer with confidence as dear children ask their dear father. We are those who have been given faith and are those who have been invited to Christ's table this day for strengthening of that faith. As St. Paul says, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God.” We are caught men and women, we are those who have been caught and rescued from the world and brought into God's house by the power of the Word and Spirit.

And sometimes we can forget just how strange and wondrous it is to have faith. Many of us are just simply used to it – we can't remember a time when we didn't have faith. We can forget just how foolish our faith is. From our Epistle lesson, Paul is not wrong when He says that the Gospel, this forgiveness in Christ without any works on our part, it foolish and folly. We live in the world, we know how that works. If someone wrongs us, does something to hurt us, don't we EXPECT them to make it up to us? You messed up, how about a little “restitution”? In this world we live in “I'll make it up to you” - that's the wisdom of the world. And yet that's not how you relate to God – well, okay, sometimes in your sin that is how you try to relate to God – we will want to cut a deal, maybe at least I'll wash your back God and you can wash my back in this way sort of thing. But that's not how it works with God. God's approach to you is utterly foolish. He gives and gives without demanding anything back. Here you go Peter, have some fish, and no, I don't need a cut of the profits, no I don't need “free” advertising on the side of you boat. Here you go. Utterly free. And that is what God does for you – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Oh, the foolishness of the Cross, to die for sinners! Jesus cries out for mercy for those who are crucifying Him, He cries out for mercy for you and me – a mercy that takes dead, dying, sinful people – people full of sin where everything is tainted and wrecked by selfishness and greed and hatred and lust and envy – mercy that takes people like you and me and dies for us. Dies to forgive and give live and save. Jesus going to the cross, according to the wisdom and logic and dog eat dog sense of the world, is the dumbest thing in history.

But that's who Jesus is. That's what your God is like. Just when Peter has a chance to corner the Galilean market on fish, Jesus calls him away from that. No, Peter, we're not going to be rolling in dough, that's not my goal. We're going to wander around and proclaim mercy and forgiveness, and even to people who will reject it and kill me – but as go, some of them will be caught up into faith. And even after Easter, as you go on your way you'll end up making disciples of all nations (even the races you don't like) by baptizing them and teaching them. And over the many generations, that's where we come in. We have been caught up in all this Jesus stuff. We have received His love and mercy – and we are even entitled to speak it forth. Foolishly. Stupidly. We have a boldness to forgive others who don't deserve it in the slightest. We have a boldness to love our enemies, and let them know that God Himself died to forgive them. We have the boldness to confront our own sin – because let's not pretend that we are perfect. No, we are bold to face down our sin and fight it down – that sin gets in the way of loving our neighbor or forgiving them so for their sake we need to fight it, and we do so boldly because we know that God is faithful and just to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That fight against our own sin will be the theme for the next few weeks, in fact. But all of this is seen and viewed through the astonishing love that God has for us in Christ.

Peter's day had gone from lousy to wondrous in a way he couldn't imagine. Didn't mean things were suddenly easy – but they were good. Christ saw to that. And this Jesus promises to make all things work for your good with His foolish love for you. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – Luke 6:36-42 – June 23rd and 24th, 2018

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Who is God? What's He like? Seems like a fairly basic question – and kind of an important one. If someone were to ask you who your God was, what He was like, what sort of answer would you give? I think sometimes we're tempted to jump first and foremost to things like “powerful, almighty, omnipotent” or things like that. God is awesome and powerful... and while that's true, that doesn't tell us what He is like. Even saying that God is the Creator doesn't say much – I know plenty of people who are angry at the world, angry at the universe for how things have turned out. We might move on to saying that God is love – but that's still a bit abstract, at least in this present day and age where we really don't know what love is. Who is God, and what is He like?

Jesus tells us. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. That's who God is. You want to know who God is, what makes Him tick? He is merciful. He isn't defined primarily by His attributes, by being “Almighty”. God is merciful, and He uses His power, His might, His Wisdom all in order to show mercy to His creation that had and has rebelled against Him. And I think one of the things that is problematic about the Church today is that when we think to describe God, to proclaim God – we don't think first and foremost of “merciful.” And because of that, we miss the point. We might say things that are accurate, facts that are factual, but we miss the point. Listen to Jesus in our text, how He centers everything on God's mercy.

Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap, for with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. What kind of God do you have? Because really, how you view, how you think of God is going to shape the way that you view everything in life, the way you think about all the people in your life. And here's the thing: if you think of God as a judgy sort, a nit-picky sort of God whose primary way of looking at you in a sort of harsh looking over, checking for all the flaws... well, that's probably how you're going to view all the people in your life. And that's how you'll worry that they will look at you, and your life will be run and organized on the basis of being all judgy, and you'll even think you're impressing God so He'd judge you less. Except it's all a lie, it's messed up, and it is miserable.

Or maybe you go beyond just judging and griping and nitpicking – maybe you are out to condemn. Oh, the blame game, so many people's favorite today – find the right people to blame, to be angry about. The thing is, the finger pointing keeps going, the condemnations get thrown around more harshly and harshly and the circle of “good” people gets smaller and smaller and you worry more and more when your “friends” are going to condemn you and write you off... and that too is all a lie, all messed up, and all miserable.

In opposition to what our flesh wants, what our world craves – God is merciful. His primary focus, His plan, His desire is to forgive. To give good things. To be merciful. God actually wants to forgive you. That's the whole point of Jesus; God becomes man and goes to the cross and dies Himself so as to save your bacon, so as to be merciful to you. And God's not sitting up in Heaven looking for nitpicking reasons to condemn you; He knew you couldn't save yourself so Jesus Christ did it for you... and your Father is glad of that. He is glad and eager and willing to forgive because He is merciful. And His mercy is full, rich, and grand. He's not miserly with His mercy, waging a finger and saying, “You better not need any more forgiveness bub” - no, His forgiveness is full, thick, shaken down, pressed down, overflowing. That is who your merciful God is; the One rich and abounding in actual love and true mercy – forgiveness and life won by Christ Jesus for you.

But if you don't see this mercy, if you want to run things by judgment or condemnation, if you want God to be the big boss man so you can boss other people around, well, you'll be of no use to anyone. Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? If you forget who God is, if you forget His mercy, you'll never lead anyone to God. You've never give anyone the love and mercy of Christ – instead you'll just drag them into some judgy, condemny, bitter grousy pit. You'll just end up playing all the same old sinful games the old Adam loves to play. And that will not only harm them, but it will harm you as well. You both will fall into a pit. When you grouse and complain about your neighbor, it doesn't fix anything – it just makes both your lives worse.

This is why in the church we are continually focused upon God's mercy. This is why that word “mercy” show up at least 10 times in today's service. This is why we are focused week in and week out on forgiveness. Because we need to have our eyes placed upon the forgiveness won for us by Christ, the mercy He shows – otherwise we'll stop. We'll abandon forgiveness. The Lord's Prayer is right – we forgive others only because He has forgiven us, and when we no longer want to forgive others we'll flee and run away from God's forgiveness for us! By your God is merciful, and He loves to forgive, and that's what He does to you. He forgives you and teaches you to forgive. “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” The purpose and point is that we who are forgiven much learn to forgive our neighbor much. That we learn to remember that God is merciful, and so we show that same mercy we have received to our neighbor.

Consider the final illustration from our lesson. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, “Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,” when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. Why do we see our brother's speck – because by nature we are “hypocrites” - we are people who live “under-judgment” - that's what the word hypocrite means, that crit part means “judge” - like critic or critical. And our sinful flesh has a reflexive, self-defensive move... to make sure no one notices our flaws, we shout about everyone's elses. We get on their case instead of cleaning up our own mess. And when we act that way, we aren't really acting for our neighbor's good but rather to give ourselves a false sense of superiority. And Jesus calls us away from that. No, our first job is to tend to our own log – to see our own sins and faults as serious sins, serious faults. And we are to see that they are forgiven, that we receive forgiveness again and again for them, that we strive against them – and only when that is the case, only when we live in forgiveness will we start to see our neighbor rightly. We will see their flaws, their weaknesses, their faults – not to elevate ourselves above them, but to show them mercy. To give them the same care that God has given us. To speak the same comfort to them that God has give us. To be patient with them as God has surely been patient with us. We will use the strength that God has given us not to crush and destroy, but be to merciful.

And that's it. That's the lesson. Simple and sweet as that. God is merciful. And there's a part of us that thinks this is too easy... that surely we have to DO something more – we have to work it out and butter up God. There's a part of us that is annoyed with this, because it lets the other guy off the hook too easy – that they ought to suffer for what they've done, that they ought to jump through hoops to make things up to us. And all that is is our sinful flesh rearing its ugly head, fighting against God's mercy – God's mercy to us and God's mercy to our neighbor. But here's the thing – your flesh doesn't get to change God. He is merciful, whether or not you want Him to be, and if your sinful flesh throws a tantrum, that's not going to change God one bit. Instead, what He does out of His love and mercy for you is He crushes your sinful flesh, pulls that log away. In His mercy He takes away your heart of stone and gives you a true heart. He drowns your Old Adam in the waters of Baptism and calls forth a new man to live forth in mercy and love and righteousness. This is what God is doing to you and for you and in you and through you by the power of His Word. And sometimes we miss it, we forget this, we love our logs and try to blind ourselves. But God remains who He is – not merely the Almighty, but your merciful and loving Father, and He continues to show you mercy. Hence, we always say “Lord Have Mercy” even until that day when we rise to new and perfect life in full, in His presence forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.