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.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Trinity 2 sermon

Trinity 2 – June 9th and 10th, 2018 – Luke 14:15-24

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
They lied. They lied. When they said why they “couldn't” come, they were lying. Oh, some of them used the proper, polite language – animals, fields, please have me excused. Others hid behind loopholes – in the 1st Century a Jewish newlywed was excused from all social obligations. But none of these were reasons they couldn't come – they just didn't want to come. Oxen and fields could wait, and even a newly wed wife knows that there are just some parties her husband ought to be at. The simple truth is that they just did not want to come.

When Jesus tells this parable, He is at a dinner that He had been invited to. It was a Sabbath Dinner at the house of a “ruler of the Pharisees”. And it had been a lousy dinner for Jesus – it's the one where there was the fellow who had dropsy, and they were all eye balling Jesus to see if He'd heal the poor schlub. And once Jesus actually heals the guy and tells them why it's fine that He healed the guy, the Pharisees try to ignore Jesus and carry on as though he weren't there. If there would have been a dinner to skip out on, that would have been the one to skip! But no, Jesus is there, and He teaches these obstinate, proud Pharisees. And He gives this parable. And note – in the story, the feast would have been fantastic – a “great” banquet. We aren't talking cold cuts and deli trays (not that there's anything wrong with that). We aren't even talking a pork chop pot luck, as lovely as that is. We are talking cruise line catering, prime rib, Michelin Stars the top of the top sort of dinner party. One that no person in their right mind would skip.
And the three people who were invited, they just didn't want to go to the party. In reality, they just didn't like the host that much, didn't trust him. Figured his idea of a feast wouldn't be up to their standards – and they played the utter fool. So they miss it. And here's where the parable turns. Their foolishness doesn't stop the master of the feast – he orders his servants, “Go out quickly to the streets and the lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.” Alright, if the “good” people don't want to come – just bring in the people they'd spit upon. Dinner's ready, and by George we are going eat and celebrate. But then the servant says, “Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.” And the master said, “Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled.”

Now, think like a Pharisee for a moment. The main reason why you didn't like Jesus was He kept preaching and teaching and dining with the poor and sinful and scummy, the ones not worthy of your high society. Do you see what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees? If you don't want to be with Me, be with the Messiah, if you don't want a Savior – I'm not going to sit on a block of ice crying because you are stupid – I'll gladly save the poor and lame and the nastiest of the nasty – the highwaymen and bandits and even robbers crucified on a cross next to me. But as for you, if you want to keep on with your stubborness, well - “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” Pout all you want, Pharisees, about how your prestige and “goodness” aren't appreciated, how you're losing your privilege and respect. God's plan of salvation still carries on... and if you are determined to have it carry on without you, well, too bad for you.

Now, the question that remains for us today, my dear friends in Christ, is how do we folks gathered here today “hear” this parable? Because there is a great danger, a terrible way to misunderstand this parable. In this parable Christ does give a dire warning to the Pharisees – if you blow off the feast, if you blow off Christ Jesus, then you are lost. As the Apostle says: And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. That's just the way it is. But here's the problem. Here we are at Church – at the feast - and instead of hearing this as a warning to us, as a reminder to us that we ought not get proud and smug like the Pharisees, a warning that we ought not get all high and mighty and think that we just wonderful people unlike the rest... we can hear this parable through a filter of pride and smugness. We can look around and say, “Hmmm... lots of people not here. Not like it used to be in the old days.” And we can nurture little fires of condescension towards our neighbor. That's not what this parable is for. Jesus doesn't tell it to its first hearers to increase their pride but to break it.

And that's how we must hear it too. One of the dangers of our sinful flesh is that it loves to compare, and it especially loves to compare in a way that places ME above someone else. I'm better than them. The problem is this runs completely against the message of salvation in Christ Jesus. It trashes the Gospel. Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Whenever I think I'm better than other people, I'm no longer looking for my own Savior – and I certainly don't want them treated as well I'm treated – I deserve to be treated better than them! That's why the Pharisees couldn't see, couldn't understand Jesus. They couldn't figure out why He would waste His time with scum. They couldn't conceive that He actually loves those people. The Pharisees couldn't even see that that Jesus loved the Pharisees. The Pharisees were so caught up in fighting for position and prestige, that they didn't see Jesus' love when He was sitting with them at dinner. They missed the feast and wouldn't come when the feast was right in front of them! Therefore we ought to repent, and we ought to fight against and beat down and put to death any thought or desire in us that would make us smug and ignore Christ Jesus.

Because there is no smugness in Christ. Instead, He shows love, over and over again to the unworthy. Love to us. The great feast of eternal life is indeed prepared because Jesus Christ, in perfect love, went to the cross for you and died for your sins, for your smugness and pride, for the disdain you show. And He went to the Cross and died for those who suffer in this world, for those who are caught up in sin, for those who have fallen into Spiritual blindness. He died for all. He prepared salvation for all. Honestly, truly. In full. Every sin ever done, He took it up and put it to death upon the Cross.

Here is another danger, another way we can botch this parable. We can mishear the last sentence, where the master says, “for I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.” We can hear that and start viewing it in terms of “well, this person doesn't qualify anymore because they did X.” No, this isn't about figuring out who out there “qualifies” for the Gospel, who out there is “good enough” to be saved because we aren't saved by our works – rather we are saved by grace that is given freely to us, while we are dead in trespasses. The Master isn't forbidding the excuse makers from showing up – if one of them came running up and sheepishly said, “the fields can wait” - he would have come in. But that just wasn't going to happen. He doesn't say they can't come, just that they shall not. It isn't going to happen, not because of the master, but because of them.

And he can say that because he's the master. God Himself knows who won't come in the end – but you and I are not God, and we have absolutely no business trying to figure out or even worse presuming that the Holy Spirit won't work faith in some person and bring them to the feast. We aren't the master, we are the servants. And so when we see someone who isn't here and should be (which frankly is everyone who isn't here), we don't condemn them, we don't consign them to hell, we don't cross them off the list. We view them as blind and lame and crippled – we view them as poor miserable sinners who need to be forgiven – so we proclaim the Gospel. Jesus has died for you: come to the feast where there is forgiveness, where there is baptism and preaching and absolution and the Lord's Supper – come, and receive life from Christ. And we treat them that way even if they are “bad” - even if they have hurt us. So what if they are bad – I'm the foremost sinner, I'm the biggest sinner I know, and if Christ died for even an evil jerk like me, covering those sins (even those sins that hurt me) is small potatoes. Go out to the highways and hedges – that's where the really bad people are – the robbers and muggers and murderers. There is forgiveness, even for them. And Christ would have His house full. Call them to His house as you come across them – because you can tell them with absolute Gospel certainty that Christ has died for them and loves them and wants them to receive forgiveness and life in His name – and that He will pour it upon them abundantly at Trinity.

And some won't listen. And some will put up excuse after excuse – maybe old excuses and maybe new ones. We have our own sinful flesh to fight against – we know how those temptations work. But Christ Jesus has poured His Spirit upon you, making you new, giving you strength to put your sinful flesh to death: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” And when that is scary, when your sin looms large as you fight against it, remember, that even today the call goes out – come to the feast. Come, for all things are ready, for Christ has died and has risen, and He has done this for you, so that you are indeed forgiven. And He shall come again, and you will be raised to life in His name. This is His sure and certain promise to you, out of His great love for you. In the Name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +