Saturday, December 7, 2019

Advent 2 Sermon

Advent 2 – December 7th and 8th, 2019 – Luke 21:25-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +
I tend to like a lot of heroic movies, the classics, stories where you have the damsel in distress trapped, hidden away by the evil villain, but then the hero comes and storms the castle and rescues her. Just fun types of stories – and there’s always a moment that stands out in each – where the villain is threatening the damsel in distress – but then they both hear noise. And at that moment, there is joy and wonderment upon the damsel – she knows the hero has come. The fear and terror melt away from her face, and she looks up with hope and gladness. This same set up is precisely what Christ Jesus our Lord is describing in our Gospel lesson today. We were captives, fast bound in Satan’s chains, we were spiritual damsels in distress, as it were. But what happens? Christ Jesus, our King, our hero comes, and He comes to rescue us. Just as He came to win us salvation with His first advent, so too He shall come again to bring us unto His own side for all eternity. Listen.

“And there will be signs in the sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” The world should have known what was coming. Whenever Jesus does something awesome, the world is shaken. Consider Christ’s birth – what do we see? Signs in the stars – behold the Wise men have seen it. Distress of nations – you have Herod freaking out, and all Jerusalem terrified with him. Jesus is coming – the signs are clear. And then, when our Lord was crucified, what do you have? Signs in the heavens – the sun is blotted out and the day turns to darkness. You have fear and foreboding – the mighty Centurion falls to his knees and confesses “Surely this was the Son of God.” Christ once came, and He was crucified, He destroyed sin and death. And He shall come again. This season of Advent is not just a time looking forward to our celebrations of His first coming, but it is the time where we also focus on His second coming – “And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” Christ the Crucified, God become Man for us men and for our salvation, shall return. And what is our response? “Now, when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

We Christians just don’t act or think like the rest of the world. We see signs in the world, reminders that this is a fallen place, that it will not go on forever. Perplexities, violence, terror, weather run amuck – and while we sorrow and grieve for those impacted, we do not give into to utter terror and fear. Why? When you see the news, when you scroll through your feeds – straighten up and raise your head – it’s all just a reminder that your redemption is drawing near. It’s all just a reminder that while this world is a fallen, sinful place, Christ Jesus your Lord and King has promised to return and to rescue you.

And no, I’m not exaggerating, I’m not blowing things out of proportion. Listen. “And He told them a parable; ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’” It is obvious, as obvious as the coming of the summer. There are leaves on the trees again, I guess it is going to be getting warmer. There is still trouble and chaos in the world – I guess Christ Jesus will be coming. As Christians, everything we see in the world, all the tragedy, all the sorrow, all the pain – it all should be a reminder, it should all point us and drive us to remember that Christ Jesus, our Redeemer, shall come again. You see, this is how and why we rejoice in our suffering, as we are told over and over again in the New Testament. This is why those who mourn are called blessed. Not because suffering is fun, not because we like mourning – but because Christ Jesus has come to you, made you His own in Holy Baptism, given you life in Him – and all this trouble, all this sorrow, all this pain… it reminds you that this life isn’t all there is – that this world isn’t as good as it gets. You have more – not more now, not some secret bible code to double your income in 2020 – no, because of Christ you have life in the world to come where there is no sorrow, you have a resurrection that will undo all mourning. When you see the suffering and sorrow in your life, it is a reminder that Christ shall come and put an end to that suffering and sorrow and bring you to His side. When you hear of wars, that is a reminder that the Prince of Peace shall come and put an end to all strife. When you hear of the earth falling apart, that is a reminder that He shall come again and make a new heavens and a new earth. When you feel your own body falling apart, breaking down – that is a reminder that when He comes you will be raised and have a new and glorious Body that is like His. This is how we see the world.

Before we move on to the end of a passage, a brief note in passing. Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.” Sometimes this verse can cause some consternation – Jesus said that that generation would not pass – well they are gone and where is the second coming! Part of this is because our text jumps in the middle of the speech. Christ has talked about many things, about the destruction of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple – indeed, things that many there lived to see. But what it really boils down to is this – everything gets done and wrapped up when our Lord is Crucified. What does our Lord proclaim – IT IS FINISHED. It’s all accomplished, it all has taken place. The sin of the world is atoned for, death is swallowed up in death. Everything is done – now we are just waiting for the passing away of heaven and earth so that we can get the new one, the new one promised by His Words which do not pass away. It is all finished.

But Satan tries hard to make us forget this. Satan tries hard to rob us of the comfort we have in Christ. Instead of seeing all these things as signs and reminders of Christ Jesus and His promises to you, Satan will try to use this world to distract and terrorize you, to rob you of your comfort in Christ. Listen. “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with the dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you like a trap.” This actually is one of my favorite verses – it is just dense and drives to things. Satan will try to trip you up, he will try to mess you up, he will attack you in three ways. He will attack you with dissipation. Well great Pastor, if we knew what in tarnation “dissipation” was we would take the warning to heart. It is the running around after stuff, after things, after riches and spreading yourself thin and dissipating like a mist in the morning. It’s the frantic worrying of trying to do everything and trying to get everything just right and keep up with the Jones’s. So yes – this Advent season, do not be frantic trying to do everything, to make the gifts and dinners and such be just so perfect and wonderful. Why? They won’t be – we live in a fallen world, things will go wrong. And this isn’t me being a Bah Humbug Scrooge – no, simply this. Don’t dissipate, don’t run around so frantic worrying about everything and spread yourself so thin that you are robbed of joy and comfort. You are blessed, and when you see things get messed up, remember that in Christ you have more blessing to come – even if you burn the cookies or so and so doesn’t really like their gift. Life is more than this.

And then there is the warning against drunkenness – another temptation that we can face when confronted with the world. Instead of trying to perfect everything, we can just want to tune everything out – be it getting blottoed or be it what ever other forms of escapism that we might like – diving into work, into drugs, into hobbies or whatever. We can be tempted to flee from the trials of life. No, that’s not the way – because again, those trials remind us of what is to come, point us forward to Christ and His return – and we still have neighbors to love, that need us.

And then of course, the cares of this life – where we see trial and trouble and we get so focused on how they aren’t going to be fixed now that we despair. The simple, blunt, honest truth is that in this life, some things are never going to be fixed. Just the way it is. That sorrow – a piece of it will still hang with you, even as you get used to it. The body that’s failing – well, even medicine only goes so far. Heartache, pain, suffering – they are going to be around us always. Fears and troubles and tribulations – Satan will send those your way in spades, because you are a Christian, and he will attack you. He wants these to overwhelm you – do not let him, do not listen to the prince of lies – rather remember what Christ Jesus has promised you. He is with you, and you will endure in Him, even until He comes again. That is His promise to you – don’t let Satan lead you astray.
“But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” Again, one final bit of comfort. Pray that you may have strength to escape – let me ask you one thing? Where does your strength come from? Where does your escape come from? Is this a matter of you having to become spiritually buff and clawing your way out? Do you have to take the spoon of super-holy good works and dig your way to freedom? No, the Son of Man will come with… power and great glory. He is your strength, He is your hope, He is your escape. That’s why you pray – because it’s God’s strength that He gives to you. The simple fact is that one day, you will stand before the Son of Man – and how will you stand? Not on the merit or basis of what you are and have done – but you will stand as His own beloved whom He has come to rescue, whom He has sacrificed all for, whom He has come to give the new heavens and the new earth to. You will stand because He will raise you. Your King, your Champion is coming – keep your eyes open, be awake, do not worry about the rantings and the ravings of that villainous snake – do you hear the sounds of trouble and strife in this world, do you see the toil and fighting? Satan’s kingdom is crashing down around Him, and your Lord and Savior is coming to you, to pull you out of Satan’s kingdom unto His own. Straighten up, lift up your head – lift up your hearts – your redemption is drawing nigh. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Advent 1 Sermon

Advent 1 – November 30th and December 1st, 2019 – Matthew 21:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
So I'm guessing that most of you have your Christmas list ready – especially the kiddos among us. It's [basically] December, so you've got to have the list of everything you want all set up and ready to go. That's part of the expectation of Christmas time – we say what we want and then we wait for Christmas and come rushing to the tree to see if it is there. And if it is there, there is much rejoicing. And if it's not... maybe a lecture on not pouting. Because that's what's running around our minds, especially with Black Friday just behind us and Cyber Monday coming soon – what do you want? That's a great American question – what do you want?

And this is part of the reason why more and more Americans are having a problem with Christianity. With our modern American sensibilities, where we get to customize everything and have stuff be just the way we like it – well, Christianity doesn't appeal. Christianity isn't a pick and choose sort of thing – and we see this in how the Church Year starts. The Triumphal Entry – Palm Sunday – who doesn't love Palm Sunday? Hosanna, Hossanna! What could possibly be bad and annoying and unappealing with Palm Sunday? This: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble.” This sentence, this half sentence, fulfilled by Christ is utterly offensive and shocking to us when we ponder it – it was in actuality shocking and offensive even then, which is why by Friday the crowds were willing to shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Palm Sunday is utterly offensive to the selfish and self-determining person.

To start – consider the simple word “Behold.” Behold is an important word in the Scriptures. When you come across that word “behold” it means something important is happening – that God is going to do something good and big and important. And you know what? It's God's plan, God's working – not ours. God doesn't check with us, He doesn't run the menu by us before He starts cooking – you mind if we have green beans for dinner tonight, sweetie. Nope – not how God operates. Just – behold. Here it is. I said I was going to do this by the Prophets – and bam – here it is. It's done. There's Jesus doing it. And here we are, thousands of years later, and we certainly don't get a say in how it gets done. We can't revise the history or spin it... we can't even look away or ignore it. Behold! Look here! See this! Here is the plan of Salvation – here's how it works and here is the only way it will work, because God has said so and God has done so. Period. End of story. His way or no way. This is Psalm 118:23-24 - “This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It's already done – you don't get a vote. You get to marvel and rejoice... or tough.

If you think I am being a bit harsh or blunt – listen. Behold, your King... wait, our what? Our King? We're Americans – we don't like Kings. We will fight wars to be free of Kings. We dislike the idea of kings so much that we only will have a leader if we elect him, and make sure a congress passes laws instead of him, and make sure that he doesn't control the courts, and even then most of the time half of the country will grumble and complain about what the president does. Oh, and by the by, we have freedom of speech and freedom of the press so we reserve the right to complain and grouse. That's how we have our leaders – we don't stand for this King nonsense. Well, tough – you have a King. And you know what that means? What the King says goes. You are not in charge – you don't get a vote. He's the King. He's going to do what He knows is good for you – and that's just how it is. Jesus is in charge, not you.

Well, okay, fine, but at least I can grease the wheels a bit – because we all know how to play the game – we all know how to butter folks up, come on up to them and sweet talk them to get them to do things our way. We'll come to this King and we'll bring our gifts and offer our services and then he'll start to see things our way. Nope – not how it works. Didn't you hear? Behold, your King is coming to you. That phrase – is coming to you – should put a chill down the spine of your old sinful flesh. You don't get to set the stage for how you interact with the king. He comes to you. With His power. As the One in charge. And you don't get to put it off, you don't get to back peddle – He comes to you. It is an awesome thing when we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will be Done”. It leaves us with no place to hide, no place to run.

Well, at least if this strong and powerful King is coming, He'll at least beat the tar out of my enemies! Surely He'll do that. Behold, your king is coming to you, humble. Humble? On a donkey? Really? So You aren't going to go smite the people on my naughty list? You aren't going to give them a bunch of coal and rub their noses in it? Who wants a humble king? Even in the US – folks on the right love Trump's Bravado and folks on the left loved Obama's confident swagger. If we have to have someone as our leader we want someone who is going to not let the people we don't like get of the hook. We want our enemies destroyed – and what good is a humble king for that? And even when people start messing with Him – this Jesus doesn't even fight back. Could call down heavenly armies and doesn't. And instead, is nailed to the cross and dies. That's His humility – that's what it is for Him to be humble.

So, let's be honest – what was on your “God” wishlist – the things that you'd want your God to be like? A Santa-God giving you all that you could dream of? A well tamed and well trained God, who will leave you alone until you want Him for something? A Vengeful-God who will crush your enemies? How many of you were hoping for a Dead-God on a Tree sort of God? Oh well – that's the way it is. Behold, your King is coming to you, humble.

See, the thing we forget is that so often the things we want, our “desires” or “passions” as the Scriptures put it, are so often dumb. Wicked. Twisted. That's the reality of sin. We want foolish things, we want things that don't satisfy. Oh, there will be plenty of people disappointed because they don't get what they want this Christmas, but there will be plenty of disappointed people who got exactly what they wanted... and then... meh. Wah-wah-wah. Not all it's cracked up to be. Our sinful flesh wants to be in charge of things, and it does nothing but mess things up to where we end up not enjoying anything. And it's a sad and pathetic and miserable state – and we think that we are going to be the ones to get it right – and that if we just do this or follow this recipe suddenly everything will be perfect this Christmas. No, it won't. And even if it were, you'd still not be content with it. That's what sin is, that's what sin does – that stress and fear and worry you feel this month as we get ready to have the celebration of the year – that's sin at work in you and upon you.

And for your sake, Jesus is tired of it, and so He does what is needed. Not what we might want, but what is needed. And in order to rescue you from sin – He takes charge, and He comes, and He takes up the weight and burden of your sin and He crucifies it upon the Cross. Sin – done. Guilt – gone. Death – confronted and blown apart with the Resurrection. And before any of us were even around to think to ask Him to do so. He's in charge; He doesn't need to wait on our opinion or vote – He'll just go ahead and do it for us, for our good. The big threat and burden of sin is done away with.

But more than that – He comes to you. He comes to you in your Baptism – joins Himself to you. And to what end? But put on the LORD Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Your King comes to you, in water and His Word, gentle enough for an infant – and He teaches and makes you to fight against your sin, the desires of your flesh. He comes to you and make you realize that your life, your existence is more than just your wants. You aren't merely defined by your desires and claimed identities – despite how the world tries to define and categorize everyone. You aren't just your stuff, your class, your history. Nope. You are who the King says you are – and you are one who is Saved by Christ Jesus – called out of darkness into His marvelous light. One who is rescued away from the rat race of sin and death, away from the works of darkness. One who is clothed in the armor of light so as to withstand the assaults of the Devil. That is who you are – for you are Baptized, your King has come to you. He has done it all for you.

This is what the story of Jesus is – it is the story of God coming to be your King and your LORD – and not as the world might expect, and not as the world would like. He comes to save you. And we will ponder His first coming this month and in the months to come – and we will wait for Him to come again where we will see this Salvation face to face – “For salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Jesus is in charge of all of this – and He is better at being in charge than you are – and He actually does what is truly good for you. A Jesus crucified on a tree might not have been the gift you put on the top of your list – but it is really the best gift. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Trinity 22 Sermon

Trinity 22 – November 16th and 17th – Matthew 18:21-35

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
How often. How many times. That's the question that Peter brings forth to Jesus to start our Gospel text. How many times do I have to forgive my brother when he sins against me. Now, to be upfront – I have a tendency to want to treat Peter's question here very negatively – and it's gotten worse since becoming a parent. That is because a “how often” question is really asking, “when can I stop?” When can I stop doing this – and I'm not saying but I'm just saying, parents hear this sort of question a ton. How often do I have to brush my teeth, how many pieces of broccoli do I have to eat?

And the smug reaction I often have to this is to lambaste Peter – how dare you treat forgiveness as a chore Peter – how dare you treat forgiveness like broccoli! We're Christians, and Christians forgive because that's just what we do, harumph harumph harumph. But Peter, Peter is actually on to something here, and he's bluntly honest without a lick of posturing. Then Peter came up and said to [Jesus], “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus had just outlined what you do when your brother sins against you – you talk to him, you seek to forgive, and if they don't get it, you bring it before other people they trust and respect – you try to get things hashed out. And in the end, if they just don't get it – you think of them like a Gentile or a Tax Collector – that is, someone who just doesn't it get it and you let it be. But the goal is to have the brother restored – and the joy of the Church is that it is the place where that brother-restoring forgiveness is to be proclaimed.

So, alright Jesus – that's a wonderful, beautiful pattern of forgiveness and reconciliation that you've brought up. But how many times do we go through it? Because “forgiveness” isn't something abstract, it isn't pie in the sky. Forgiveness deals with sin – hard, painful sin – sin where this piece of... brother... kicked me in the teeth. And I get the turn the other cheek and I get that love your enemy – but how many times to put up with it? As many as seven? And this actually is a wonderful suggestion from Peter – our phrase is once bitten, twice shy. Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me. Our wisdom is “everyone gets one” - then we cut them off. So Peter's seven is a great suggestion – Seven days of creation, it's a Godly number. God rested on the seventh day so maybe after forgiving this Jerk-face McJerky seven times I can just give it all a rest and be done with him. By the world's standards, that would seem to be quite gracious.

Jesus says no – not just seven. Seven times seventy. 490 times. So many times that you can't even count and keep track of things. And I mean that – you can't keep track. I've been here 4 and a half years, and I average right around 120 services a year – this could be the 490th sermon I've preached... but I'm not going to go count. Ain't nobody got time for that. And Jesus says that when it comes to forgiveness there's no room for counting, for keeping track.

Oh, but Jesus, don't You know that my sinful flesh likes to keep track of what other people have done? Don't You know that remembering what other people have done is such a great and useful tool for when you're in a fight, or there's something that you want to have them do and you can pull it out and whack them with it? Well, yes, Jesus actually does know how we can use other people's sins against them, and He knows that it is foolish and that's there's no room for it. There's no room for counting or remembering when it comes to forgiveness.

Jesus tells a story to drive the point home. Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared with a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. Do you want to count how many times you need to forgive Peter – alright, there was a king who wished to look at the counts – the accounting of who owed him what. Here's what counting and settling the scores looks like. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. Pause – we don't get how ridiculous this is – because frankly, we don't know ancient currency and weights and measures. A talent was basically 100 pounds of gold or silver. So, let's say this guy owes one million pounds of gold – at the current price of Gold that is $24 Billion. It's a stupid amount – as in there'd be no way that a sane person could ever rack up that much debt – especially a servant. This is a ridiculous debt. And we hear, “Since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had.” Default and bankruptcy in the ancient world was bad – not just your stuff gets seized and sold – you did too. And that's not bringing in $24 Billion. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' Be patient – I can pay. No he can't. This is a terrible idea, it's impossible. But it's sad and pathetic – and the master is moved to pity. And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. What generosity! And why? Why was this master able to be so generous?

Pity. Compassion. The master sees this fellow who has made a mess of things, and he is moved to compassion for him. Even though the master was wronged – he sees just how lousy of a state this fellow is in and is sympathetic towards him. So often when we as Christians approach the idea of forgiving our neighbor, we think of it as a matter of obligation – you better forgive your neighbor. That puts the cart before the horse – forgiveness isn't a “fine, I guess I'll forgive him” sort of thing. What comes first is compassion. When your brother sins against you, what do you see? When we are sinned against, its easy to look at how the sin impacts me, how it affects me. Of course it is, because it's against me! But really as Christians we are called to look beyond ourselves, to look beyond just what's in it for me, and to look at our neighbor – and to see them with compassion. Do you see the person who sins against you rightly – do you see them as someone trapped in sin?

While we understand the impact that someone else's sin can have upon us, as sinners we tend to downplay the impact, the power that sin has over people – over us and over them. Sin isn't a trifle. Satan isn't a weakling. Death isn't impotent. These are strong foes. Did you hear what we sang in our opening hymn? “Through all our powers corruption creeps, and us in dreadful bondage keeps.” Or “From hearts depraved, to evil prone, flow thoughts and deeds of sin alone.” That's not just whistling Dixie. We can't but sin, it's all around us all the time, it's all in us, all the time. And maybe with discipline we can keep ourselves in check – which is a great thing for our neighbor. But did you note that language – keep ourselves in check. Restraint. That is because your sinful flesh is a wild and powerful thing – and your old sinful flesh is always driving you to sin. Sometimes it breaks loose and hits your neighbor – the rest of the time it just (just) struggles against you, trying to wear you down and break you down and make you loose control. That's who you are. That's your struggle.

So then what do you see when your brother sins against you? You actually see someone who is pitiful, who has been so kicked in the teeth by sin, ridden and hounded by Satan, that they lash out, and that lash hit you. And although our flesh thinks it should drive us to lash back, that ought to drive us to pity them. So over and against your Flesh, Christ Jesus creates in you a new heart – a big heart, a patience heart with compassion – and from there flows forgiveness. From understanding the depths and power of sin, sin that both they and you have, sin that only Christ Jesus can truly confront and defeat and rescue us from – that's where compassion and forgiveness come from.

But what happens when compassion is abandoned? But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denarii [about $10,000], and seizing him, he began to choke him, syaing, “Pay what you owe.” You can pay back ten grand. Set up a payment plan – few hundred bucks a month. But this guy's not interested. He lashes out without pity. Even when the guy asks for pity – no dice. Into jail. Get out of here. If you sometimes wonder why I keep bringing up sin, our own sin, in sermons – it's to prevent this. It's to keep this from happening. Because if we forget our own sinfulness, if we forget how great our own sin is – we lose all perspective and compassion for our neighbor. Again – Chief of Sinners – that's not whistling dixie. That person who angers you – when you look at them remember, understand, know that whatever they have done you yourself have done and fought and struggled against sin just as bad, if not worse, and all the time. And knowing that, you won't want punishments to start getting leveled. You don't turn someone in for a $25 fine knowing that you've got a felony warrant out on you... but when sin and anger drives us instead of Christ's love and forgiveness, that's what we do.

And the story ends badly. The master hears it, and he unloads on that wicked servant. And it's meant to put a chill down our spine – it's meant to be a warning. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart. That's a chilling sentence. Because I know my heart, I'm well acquainted with it. And if left to its own devices, my heart would gladly not forgive anyone a lick, and I'd feel good about it – and I'd even signal my virtue and puff out my sinful chest about how I'm so much better than them. And that's how you're tempted too. That's what sin is. “But Christ, the second Adam, came To bear our sin and woe and shame, To be our life, our light, our way, Our only hope, our only stay.” Christ Jesus knows the strength and power of your old Adam, your old sinful flesh. He knew that you would not forgive from your heart on your own, and so He came to do it for you and in you and through you. He came and took on flesh, and took up your sin, took up the sin of your heart, and He crucified it upon the cross. And in exchange, He gives you Himself. And He keeps on giving you Himself, over and over and over again – His Word, His forgiveness to make you a forgiver, His love to make you to show love. His Body to beat down your sinful body, His blood to cleanse and create in you a new and clean heart.

That's what Jesus loves to do. That's His goal. To be your life, to be your Savior. And He has compassion upon you, and He forgives you over and over again – and if you get persnickety, if you want to start keep score and track of stuff, He nudges you off of that with His Word. No more counting, for I have paid all. No more scores to settle, for I have settled Sin and Death once and for all. It is finished. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Trinity 21 Sermon

Trinity 21 – November 9th and 10th, 2019 – John 4:46-54

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Last week, I had been cranky – just had had one of those weeks where everything seemed sour, and I was just in a nail spitting mood. And so after service last week, I look at this Gospel lesson, and I thought, “Boy, it sure seems as though Jesus is in a cranky mood, too.” Well, I think the “cranky” observation was more me than Jesus – but it is odd what Jesus says in the Gospel today, isn't it? So, what's the set up? So [Jesus] came again to Cana in Galilee, where He had made water wine. Jesus had been down in Samaria, had dealt with the woman at the well – all that stuff. And He comes home – and it should be peace, quiet, folks who understand Him. Family, cousins (because He had been invited to the wedding and mom was running the back room) so nice and relaxing. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to Him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. And this seems like it should be fantastic – an official, a big wig from the capital city hears that Jesus is back in the area, and this man walks miles and miles to ask Jesus to heal his son. Well, isn't this great?

And then we hear this. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you [people] see signs and wonders, you [people] will not believe.” You might have noticed that I added “people” to this, because Jesus is using the plural you – it's not just you individual, but you all, y'all. And again, I don't know if it's accurate to say that Jesus is cranky here – but that's sort of an exasperated tone to it. There's not the rejoicing that someone sees and believes, there's not a praise of the man's faith. Just – man, unless I keep tossing out signs and wonders, y'all just don't get with it. There's a frustration – there is a connection that Jesus expects people to get and they aren't getting it.

Now the dad – he doesn't care about connections or bigger thoughts or anything – his boy is sick. So he sticks with it – The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” I don't really care what's bugging You or what signs or wonders other folks want to see, but my son is going to die so can we get a move on it? Well, no – we aren't going to get a move on it. Jesus said to him, “Go, your son will live.” So often, when we picture Jesus saying something in our mind, we think of these great actors with fantastic voices saying things with epic resonance – GO, YOUR SON... WILL LIVE!! And there's a swell of music and the sun comes out to shine – awwwwww. Well, no, that's not what Jesus says. That word for “Go” isn't the epic, grand word for go – it's get a move on, scram. It's WC Field saying, “Go away kid, you're bothering me.” And even that “your son will live” - it's not epic. It's ὁ υἱός σου ζῇ. Your son lives. Go on, he's fine. It's like when you've got one parent freaking out because their kid got a scrape and going all, “Oh my baby” and the other parent saying, “relax, he's fine.” This is completely low key and unimpressive. This is even less impressive than water in the jars being turned to wine while no one was looking.

But the dad – he's good with this. The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. Oh. Well – if You say that I can get going, well, I'll get going. This man takes Jesus simply at His Word, even Jesus' most simple word. And we know what's going to happen. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. The father knew that this was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” Okay – this is cooler than we think. Oh, it's nice that the servants meet him. But did you note when? The next day. He had met Jesus at 1 pm. The seventh hour – and then the guy starts walking home – and it's the next day, and that's when the servants came, who would have come running as soon as it happened to inform the guy that the son was improving. Do you get the time table? The guy had walked for two days to get to Jesus – to beg Jesus to come with him. Eh, scram, the kid is fine.

And yet, there's no anger, no disdain, No 'I thought the prophet would come and wave his hand over the kid' – nope. Just faith. And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when He had come from Judea to Galille. The sign is given, and the folks believe. They recognize that this Jesus is the Messiah. He is God incarnate. And yet, why was Jesus so... if not cranky exasperated and short with people? It has to do with this word “sign.”

See, in John's Gospel the word “miracle” isn't used. The wedding at Cana isn't Jesus' first “miracle” - it's His first sign that He does. And this healing is the second sign. So then, what's a sign? A sign is something that tells you what is going on. A sign points you to the real deal. When you've seen the sign, you know where you are, you know what's going on. It should be the giant clue by four that puts everything into place. And in Jewish culture – once you had two signs – things were solid. Add a third on top, and everyone should know what is going on.

And the signs were clear. Jesus is the Messiah. He is God come down, not just to Capernaum, but come down to earth. The hills drip sweet wine – and He speaks and it is just like at creation – this is God with us, this is Immanuel. God Himself is Present! This is great!

So then – now what? Now that God is here with us, now that the Messiah has come – now what? What's the response, how do you approach life, how do you live now that you have had this wondrous sign revealed you? Now that the mystery of the ages is present – what do you say? Well... I heard You were back, and I know You are good with the healing, so You think You might heal my son? Yeah, yeah, prophecy fulfilled, mystery of the ages, that's nice, but his fever is sort of high, so You mind if we start walking?

I'm not saying that it's bad that this father wants his son healed – I mean we pray for people all the time. That's fine. But there's Jesus. There's the Word of God by Whom all things were made – and here's just another humdrum problem. It would be like having Van Gogh or Monet show up at your house and saying, “Oh, wow – you're a great painter – you know, the spare bedroom could use an extra coat, would you mind?” Unless you [people] see signs and wonders you [people] will not believe. Don't you people get it? Don't you see the bigger picture? Don't you realize why I have come? Go, your son will live. Scram, your kid lives. Of course he lives – don't you know that's why I've come. Oh, he'll die eventually, and you'll die, and your servants will die – but I've come so that you all will live. When Isaiah talks about the hills dripping sweet wine, it wasn't just for a wedding one weekend – it's going to be forever. This creation that I had made – that I spoke, and it was good – I've come to destroy and eradicate sin and death so that I can and will make it good again – and not just what you folks think of as good – maybe 80 or 90 years of health – but good good. Living, never to die living – that's that Good that I'm here to set up. Get with the big picture, people!

One of my favorite stories was one my college economics prof told – Dr. Will Clark. Not the first basemen for the Giants, but I did take his class because of the name – and Dr. Clark told this story. The famous economist John Keynes was having a debate with some folks who didn't like his economic theories, and they said, “You know, in the long run, our theories work just as well.” And Keynes' response was, “in the long run, we're all dead.” And frankly, if left to our own devices, in the long run, we're all dead. And that would be the end of the story. Think of the drama and spats that you've had this week – how many of them are you going to really remember 5 years from now – much less feel? Or 10 years from now? I took that class with Dr. Clark 24 years ago – it was a wonderful class and I loved the man – he had a tremendous impact upon me as a student and scholar. I might think of him two or three times a year. That's 24 years for you. And who of us is even going to be around 100 years from now? And now think of the anger, the hurt, the pain that we get so wrapped up in – the fears, the sorrows, the hurts. Half the time when I get in a bad mood I can't even remember what set me off thirty minutes later – but I'll still get my mood on. And in the long run, we're all dead. And that should be it, end of the story, that's all she wrote – to where 150 years from now we're nothing more than a note in someone's family tree, maybe a plaque on a wall with our name now faded.

And that's what it would be – except for this. So He came. So Jesus came. The Word of God, by whom all things were made, who had made all things good, came down into the midst of His creation, a creation torn apart and wrecked by sin to such an extent that instead of enjoying blessings we nurse our hurts and our grudges and we abuse the gifts He gives and we grouse and complain and we ache and suffer... and into the middle of this Jesus came. And He takes all of it up upon Himself, He goes to the Cross, He dies – wretchedly – probably more wretchedly than any of us will. And why? Not to heal you for a moment, not to buy you a pony or help you pass a test you didn't study for. He just might do that – He doesn't mind doing that – but that's not WHY He came. He came for this reason. So that He could look at you and say, “Go on, you'll live. Forever. Resurrected, perfected, with Me. Free from sin and pain. This life now – this is like childbirth – it hurts and is confusing – but the fullness comes after.

Two weeks ago – ugh, that was wretched. This past week – meh? As for this week to come – who knows? I hope I have a good one and I hope you all have even better ones. And I hope in a few weeks your Thanksgiving Turkey as moist and as flavorful as you've ever had. If so, enjoy it. But that's not the most important thing. Nor will be the things that get you upset, the things that go sideways, because something always does go sideways eventually. The important thing is this. Jesus has died, and Jesus has risen – and He has claimed you as His own Baptized child – and so no matter what happens to you, you will rise. You live. Happily. Even after the end and then onto the Ever After. That's actually how your story goes – because Christ Jesus is your Savior. God grant that we see this and believe this and delight in this and all the other gifts that He gives us, whether big or small, for we are His baptized children! In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, November 2, 2019

All Saints' Sermon

All Saints' Day Observed – November 2nd and 3rd, 2019 – Matthew 5:1-12

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Sometimes we as people can be very near sighted. And I’m not talking about the fact that I am wearing contact lenses that I’m basically blind without – I’m talking about our perspective. We can get so focused upon ourselves, our immediate surroundings, that we don’t see the big picture – we can miss the forest for the trees, as it were. All Saints’ Day is a day where we are brought back to the larger picture – where we are made to remember that Christ’s Church is more than just this place right now. The Church of God consists not just of we few who bothered to show up on a Saturday night/Sunday morning – but it is the full company of heaven, the countless throng from so many nations. It is not just us here – but the Church is full of countless millions of Christians all around the globe. It is not just us here – but the Church is made up of saints from all times, those who lived hundreds, thousands of years ago on earth yet live in the presence of God right now – and even those who are yet to be born and will be brought to faith before the Lord returns. Christ’s Church, His Body, spans all times and all places, and as we are united to Him, we are united together, bound up in His Holy Communion, in a way we so seldom pause to comprehend. All Saints’ Day is a day that we do this – where we remember all the saints – many times we will focus more so on those from our own congregation who have recently been given rest from their earthly labors and now see God face to face, but it is truly a day where we see beyond just the here and the now.

We must remember, dear friends, that the Church is not defined by us. The Church is not created by us, it is not made by us, it is not run by us. The Church is the Body of Christ – and yet, we can be so bogged down in the every day concerns of life, of attendance and offerings and bills and upkeep that we can forget this. We don’t define the Church. Rather, the Church is the Body of Christ, is those who are gathered around Christ’s Word, are washed into Christ’s Body by Baptism, who receive Christ’s Body for forgiveness and strength – and also those in eternity who are with Christ now, the Lamb of God, face to face. The Church is those who struggle now on earth, and those who have received heavenly joy. So, what does this look like – our Lord tells us.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Christians are going to be poor in Spirit. Christians in this world will see so much sin and violence and filth that our spirits must ache, must feel poor and lowly. Consider this past week. How much pain, how much disappointment did you see? In a sinful world, this is what we see, and rather than delighting in this like the world does – it causes us sorrow. It caused Christ Jesus sorrow as well, and for this reason He came down from heaven to win salvation – He Himself bore up our infirmities – so that He might win for us by His death and resurrection –the kingdom of God. Because Christ came and was poor in spirit, those who are of the Church have the kingdom of God. The Saints who have gone before us, they see this now fully. We, we see this in part, but then we too shall see it in full.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. There’s much to mourn in life – not just death as a whole, but all the little, bitty bits of death we experience before hand. How many of us have dying ears, dying eyes? How many of us have dying friends, dying relationships, dying hopes and dreams? There is much to mourn. And what does Christ Jesus do – He comes down from heaven, and He mourns, He encounters all the loss and suffering that we do – He even tastes death. And why? So that He would rise, and that in rising He would bring us with Him, so that He would comfort us with heaven, the resurrection, and life everlasting. We know this by faith, and the Saints in heaven, they see, they receive the comfort of our crucified and risen Lord right now – they behold Him in His risen Body upon the Throne and they therefore know that on the Last Day they too shall rise.

Are you seeing the pattern here? The beatitudes aren’t just pretty words – they describe the Church and Christ. The first part describes what we see here in this sinful world – the second part describes what all the saints who from their labors rest now see – and all of this, whether we are the Church militant here on earth or the Church triumphant is ours because of Christ – because He is the poor Man who inherits the kingdom of God, but makes it ours – because He is the One who mourns His fallen creation but is comforted by redeeming it. The Church has it’s existence in Christ. Let’s see more.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. As Christians, we are called to be meek. To keep our sword in its sheath. When wronged, we are not to wrong in return. We are not to focus upon ourselves, but our focus is to be upon our neighbor. And in this, we simply follow Christ. Christ Jesus is the Meek One, who went quietly and meekly to the Cross to win us forgiveness for those times when we are not meek, when we are brash and sinful. But our Lord was meek, and He has inherited the Earth, and He has promised this, and not only this, but a new heaven and a new earth to all His Saints.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Does this not describe us here? We hunger, we thirst for righteousness. We confessed our sin, we said we lack, we need righteousness, we need forgiveness, we don’t have enough of it on our own. Christ saw the world’s lack, and so He became Man, became our righteousness for us – lived perfectly in our stead and said to us, “Here, I long for you to be righteous, take My righteousness.” Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness – Our Lord says, “Take and eat, this is My Body – take and drink, this is My Blood.” And this is the same feast that the Saints in Heaven are celebrating eternally – they are most well and truly satisfied by our Lord.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. We do not show mercy like we ought – often we are mean and cruel and self-centered. But Christ our Lord is merciful, and He has called us unto Himself, has bound us to Himself in the waters of Holy Baptism, applied His Name to us, and He gladly gives us mercy for His Name’s sake. We see this now – but we also often forget. We struggle with sin, we wander – our Lord must call us back over and over again. But consider the Saints of heaven – they see this mercy, they have received it in full, never to wander, never to stray. The Love of Christ has been made complete in them.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. In and of ourselves, our hearts are not pure. So what do we do? We cry out to God – Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right Spirit within me! And Christ our Lord does – He gives us forgiveness over and over all our days, until our last day, and then what? The Saints see God face to face, they dwell with Him. God desires you to dwell with Him as well, and so He forgives you, makes your heart to be pure.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Christ Jesus is the true peacemaker – He made peace when He went to the Cross, when He suffered and died – when He cried out, “It is finished.” And it was finished – our war, our rebellion against God, begun by Adam and Eve in the garden – our Lord put an end to it – He made peace. That was 2000 years ago. But then, in the here and now, in our own lifetime, Christ took water and His Word, and He baptized you into His own death, made you to be a partaker in all that He has done – you share in Christ’s death, you share in His peace which He won for you, you speak this same peace out, and now God is your Father. The Saints see this clearly.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God. To be a Christian is to struggle, is to be reviled and thought poorly of, to be mocked by the world. Indeed, in many places, to be a Christian is a death sentence, to mean the government, the angry mob, will come for you. Just as the world did to Christ, so too happens to Christians today. But what does our Lord teach us – yes, Christ suffered, but His is the Kingdom of God. Likewise, should we suffer – so be it – the Kingdom ours remaineth. We have this promise – the Saints in heaven see this promise in full now.

And finally, Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are part of the Church, and despite what we like to tell ourselves – the Church is never popular, we never live in a nice, clean world. This sinful, fallen place is always sinful and fallen, and if you strive to follow Christ, you will be mocked and reviled. For so the prophets were treated, for so was our Lord Himself treated. But what is the reality – the reality of eternity that stretches beyond the here and now, beyond our present suffering? That being united to Christ, we will face difficulties in this life, but Christ will see us through them until we too are brought unto the joys of heaven and life everlasting – joys far surpassing what we see here.

Do you see, dear Christian, the larger picture? Do you see from the Words of our Lord that you are part of something much greater than just your own little life? Your Lord Jesus Christ has had compassion upon you, beheld you in your sinfulness, in your struggles in this life, and He has had compassion to you. And He has gathered you by His Word, joined you to Himself through the gift of Holy Baptism, and He has said, “I will suffer all for your sake, so that you might have everything for My sake.” He has promised us new heavens and a new earth – told us that this fallen one shall pass away and we will get that which is better. Right now though, we are here on earth – we don’t see this fully. The Saints in heaven do, they behold Christ face to face right now. And our Lord knows that we left on earth don’t see this perfectly, that we only see dimly and in a mirror now, not yet face to face. So He calls us here to His Church, invites us to join in for a few moments with the song of Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven – gives us His own Body and Blood, so that we would be sustained until the day when we do get to see Him face to face. Christ Jesus blesses all His saints, and thanks be to God, by the power of His forgiving Word and the wonders of His blessed Sacraments – you are numbered with those saints. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Monday, October 28, 2019

Preaching the False, Misleading Dream

You cannot fulfill the Law by your actions or strength.  There is only One who has - and that is Christ Jesus - and He has done so for you.

Therefore, when one preaches "Law" it has to be a law that is beyond fulfilling for the listeners.  Otherwise it's not the Law in it's full sternness - it is watered down to manipulation and (potentially naggy) advice giving by the Pastor.

Because if the Law is reduced to something that I can do or accomplish, I no longer need Jesus.  This holds true even if some sort of "you do this because of Jesus" line is added.

Consider:  Saying, "you need to love your neighbor more" - while true, isn't the full extent of the law.  Why?  It is utterly possible for me to love my neighbor more - I can look and see a tangible change in my own efforts and actions and thus have accomplished the instruction.  Of course, the virtuous pagan can do so as well. 

However, in this case, the preaching leads to smug, confident and secure hypocrites, trusting in their works. 

This is because the primary theological job of the Law is not to modify behavior.  The primary, fullest function of the Law is to reveal the utter depths of sin.

As long as we live, we remain sinners. 

Thus, the Law preached in its full sternness cannot be preached in a way so as to provide room for the old false, misleading dream - that by works men effect a change in themselves which moves them beyond sin and gains for themselves heaven.


Saturday, October 26, 2019

Reformation Observed Sermon

Reformation Sunday – October 26th and 27th, 2019 – John 8:31-36

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior +
We human beings do not reform the Church. We are reformed by God, and often we are reformed, reshaped, renewed by Him kicking and screaming. And this reform is not primarily a matter of moral reform; it's not primarily a matter of going home and rethinking our life and then we are better. Pagans and atheists can get their ducks in a row – might be nice, but that's not what reform is. God's reformation is this: He Gospels you – He takes you in the midst of your stubborness and your passionate stupid love affair with sin and death, and He rescues you. That is what Reformation is.

Consider our Gospel text. Note to whom Jesus is talking. He's talking to Jews who had believed in Him – they were people who thought, “Yep, this is the Messiah.” And Jesus proclaims the Gospel, the Good News of Salvation! If you abide in My Word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. This is a great promise! This is fantastic Gospel! We can miss it because we don't understand the word “if” anymore – we think of if simply and only as a word of doubt, a word of maybe. If it's nice today, I might go golfing, but I don't know. That's not what Jesus is saying here – He's setting the stage for a promise most fantastic. If you abide in My Word, whenever you abide in My Word, whenever, wherever, whatever the situation where you are in My Word – the result will be that you are My disciples and you will know Me, the Truth, and I will set you free. That's a promise. 100% guaranteed. Want freedom – it's always here with Me in My Word, and you can take it to the bank! What a fantastic promise! Seek the LORD while He makes Himself to be found, and now He will be found wherever the Word of Christ is proclaimed!

And then the kicking and screaming starts. “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone!” People say a lot of dumb things in the Scriptures – a lot of stupid excuses are given. But this one, I think this one might just take the cake. This may be the most brazen, stupid thing said in the entire bible. Because you know what story of the Children of Israel, the sons of Abraham is? Its the story of slavery and God rescuing them from slavery. Seriously. What is the second book of the Bible? Exodus – where God rescues the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. And you know what is interesting? That rescue – that was done all the while the Israelites were kicking and screaming. Moses and Aaron show up to rescue them, and Pharaoh commands bricks to be made without straw, and the Israelites grumble: “The LORD look on you and judge you, because you've made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants.” Don't try to rescue us from slavery, you'll make us look bad. And then there are the plagues, and the children of Israel are delivered – and there they are, at the edge of the Red Sea, and suddenly Pharoah comes upon them, and what do they say? “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done in bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not what we said to you in Egypt: Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? Kicking and screaming – and then the crossing of the Red Sea.

And then what happens? Immediately they start complaining about food and water. “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” How dare you free us from slavery, why you're just trying to kill us! And then comes the Manna from heaven.

It goes on and on. So God gives His commands to them reminding them of His deliverance – I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” This is who I am – I'm the God who rescues you. And still the grumbling and complaining, the idolatry and rebellion continues. My favorite – God brings them to the doorstep of the promised land – and He has fought for them, and defeated army after army for them – took out the army of Egypt – any Caananite army would be small potatoes. 12 spies go into the land – and two of them, Joshua and Caleb say, “It's great, God's giving us a great place” - but the other ten all whine. They're too big, they're too powerful – it's great but we'd get killed. And the people rebel again – they refuse to enter the promise land - “Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” Kicking and Screaming against the promises and good gifts of God.

And this is just the first year of the Exodus. There's another 1500 years of this throughout the Old Testament – constant whining and complaining against God, fighting against His good gifts, grousing, grumbling. You've never been enslaved? The Old Testament is the story of your desperate attempts to run back into slavery. Jesus isn't surprised by this reaction in John – He's dealt with it for Centuries from His people. And still the promise is proclaimed – I will come to you in My Word and I will set you free. Even over and against you, I will set you free.

And the story continued into the New Testament. The disciples grumbled against Jesus – especially whenever He talked about how He would have to go to the Cross. Or Paul – Paul the persecutor struck blind and led by the hand unto one who would speak the Word to him. Or any of the Epistles – people who have heard the Gospel, yet go fleeing on back to folly and stupidity. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” And on and on throughout the course of Church History – it is the story of people who hear the Gospel coming up with stupid reasons to ignore the Gospel and run back to slavery – a slavery to sin, a slavery to works, a slavery where we want to do for ourselves rather than receive what God would give to us. Even Luther – we call him “the Reformer” as though he wanted a glorious revolution. No he didn't. He had agreed in 1518 to stop writing – provided his enemies stopped taking pot shots at him. They didn't, and being as he was a stubborn German, he fired back, so on and so forth until he's declared an outlaw and basically forced into keeping on writing. Luther went into the Reformation kicking and screaming against it.

And we know why. Jesus said why. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” And excepting Jesus, who gladly prays “not My will but Thine be done” every person you come across in the bible, or in history, or in this room commits sin. Every person is a slave to sin. That means you and me.

So let's ponder our lives for a bit, shall we? If we can spend a few minutes looking at the tomfoolery of the the Israelites in their exodus, we can certainly take a moment to ponder the many and various ways our own idiotic rebellions against God show up in our own lives. So, think about it – what angers you about the gifts God gives you? God gives us stuff – we grumble about stuff. The Israelites complained about the manna in the wilderness (we hate this worthless food), and yet we Americans have wealth and luxury that they couldn't even imagine and still we grumble about the stuff God has given us. God gives us our families and neighbors – we grumble about them, don't we? Or we can grumble about Church – both pastors and congregations – and I'm the Circuit Visitor, so if and when the neighboring Churches grumble too much, I'm the one that gets called in, and when that happens I'll probably grumble more too – even though it's a fantastic opportunity to comfort people by showing them the blessings of body and soul that God has given them.

But it gets worse. We all have our pet sins, the things that are wrong but we like them. A friend of mine tells a story about one of his classes at Seminary – and a nice, pious student asked, “Professor, why do we sin?” And the prof turned around and with an impish grin said, “Because we like it.” And we do. You have stupid sins that you like, that you enjoy, even as you fight against them. Maybe you enjoy it with a side of shame and regret, or maybe you enjoy it with a side of self-rightous indignation – but this is the problem. We are slaves to sin, and we like it – and our old sinful flesh says to God, “Why can't you just let us say in the Egypt of our sin and let us die there?”

Why not? Because Jesus won't have that. Not for you. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Just as the grousing of the children of Israel, both in the Exodus and in our Gospel lesson was no surprise to Jesus, your sin doesn't surprise Him. It might surprise you sometimes, especially when you are given eyes to see it in full detail, but it doesn't surprise Jesus. No – it doesn't surprise Jesus, because He already took up the full weight and burden of that sin from you upon the Cross to rescue and redeem you and deliver you from sin and death. And By Himself, He is going to set you free from sin and death. You are not a slave – you are a son, a daughter. See – He has baptized you. You're His – you don't belong to your sin, you aren't a part of the house of Satan. You are a child of God. Period. And even when you are tempted to run away and whine – you remain a child of God. He has called you His own, and so you are. And He speaks His Word to you again today – makes you to abide in it – right now, that's what's going on. Jesus' Word, Jesus' House – and this is the truth. You are forgiven. You are freed from your sin – even those sins that still call out to you.

And a part of you will always fight against this. You are and remain a sinner, and the Old Adam clings to your flesh like white on rice. And there will be times when his struggling against God will be more obvious, and times when the struggle might be a bit more back burner on the QT – but still the Old Adam will work against God and against you. But you are a child of God. What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and rise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. And this is what God does to you by His Word proclaimed and His Word attached to water in your baptism – daily He beats down your sin. Daily He makes you to arise a new creation, enjoying His gifts. And then will come your last day – when He will finally and fully beat down your sinful flesh through your death, and then the Last Day when He will call you forth and you will rise, your body clean and holy, and you will live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This is how He reforms you, and it is a marvelous thing, for which we now and ever more shall give Christ Jesus thanks and praise. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior +

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Looking at Love

If I give away all that I have, and if I give up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

We are familiar with the idea of “love” being a fruit of the Spirit, and love as a term gets tossed around all the time in society. In fact, today people will justify and defend anything under the guise of “love”. But what precisely is the Scripture talking about when it speaks of “love”.

Love in the Scripture is not an emotion. It's not a feeling. In fact the feelings that we associate with love would be summed up under the idea of “eros” (from which we get “erotic”) and was considered to be a form of madness or insanity in the ancient world. When you run on your emotions, you tend to do silly or crazy things. When the Scriptures speak about love, that's not what they mean.

Most often when the Scriptures speak of love, they are referring to a selfless act done for the benefit of another. This is wrapped up in the idea of “agape” - it is to give without thought of repayment. It is to wash the back of one who fundamentally cannot wash your back. But even focusing on love as my work or the ideal way that I ought to work fall short. Paul can speak of works of generosity in 1 Corinthians but still speak of us not having “love”.

The answer is this: John says in his 1st epistle that “God is Love.” When we speak of love as a fruit of the Spirit, we aren't talking about a quality in us or a description of how we act: Love is a description of God. Christ Jesus your Lord loves you completely and freely – not on the basis of what you do for Him, but simply because He delights in you and caring for you.

And this is what the Holy Spirit does – He gives you Christ Jesus. And as a forgiven and redeemed child of God, Christ Jesus dwells within you – Love Himself dwells within you and then wells up and springs forth from you (see John 4 and the idea of springs of living water for more on this). God's own love comes forth through you for the good of others. Indeed, this is why Paul will say in Galatians 2:20 “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” This is what the fruit of the Spirit is – God's own works springing up in you so that you are a Christian – a “little Christ”. A part of His own Body – doing what His Body does and being who He Himself is: Love.

As a Christian, you will love. It will happen. Why? Because Christ Jesus has loved you, and forgiven you, and redeemed you, and sanctified you. You love because you have Love Himself – Christ Jesus.

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Fruit of the Spirit (Newsletter Article)

The Fruit of the Spirit: Introduction

In Galatians 5 St. Paul sets up a contrast. On the one hand he gives the “works of the flesh” - a laundry list of wickedness. On the other hand he says, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

In the coming months we will spend some time looking at each of those things that Paul named off, but before we jump into each of these individual topics, I want to actually look at that phase “fruit of the Spirit.”

The first thing to note is something that we so often over-look. Paul does not call them the “fruits” of the Spirit, as though there's a whole laundry list. It is the fruit of the Spirit. One, singular fruit that flows forth, that shows up as a bunch of different things. This isn't a set where you pick and choose – it's a whole package deal that is above any of the individual components or aspects that Paul gets into later.

And it's important to remember that this isn't a list that we choose from ourselves. This is about “fruit”. These 9 things aren't 9 holy works we strive after, nor are they necessarily things we decide to do – they are fruit. They are the end product of growth and maturation. The point of the fruit of the Spirit isn't that you sit and decide to do something, but rather the Holy Spirit works upon you by the power of the Word, and this fruit comes forth and blossoms in you. Because God is at work in you, this fruit will show forth. And whenever it does show forth, it's because of the Holy Spirit, not because of you yourself. God is the One who gives the growth.

So when we look at each of these ideas – love, joy, peace, etc – it's not going to be a pep talk about how you should be more _____, but rather we will look and see what God is doing to us with His Word, how He is shaping us and using us to accomplish His good will and plans through us and for us and in us. This is the fruit the Spirit brings forth in us, and it is a wonderful thing. Next time, we will consider the love that the Holy Spirit brings forth in us.

(written for the August 2019 Newsletter)

Trinity 18 Sermon

Trinity 18 – October 19th and 20th, 2019 – Matthew 22:34-46

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Jesus doesn't care about your “side”. He doesn't care about your “tribe”, your “party”, your sophisticated position on the latest issue of the day. And He certainly has no interest in being used as a pawn in your maneuvering against the “other” side. Okay, yes, I know that's sort of a blunt start for the sermon, but that's part of what's going on in our Gospel text. That nice little drama dust up you're having, the one you've spun to where you're the hero and they're the villain, or where they are the mean jerks and you're the innocent victim – Jesus doesn't want to play that game. No interest what so ever. Listen.

But when the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. This is during holy week – and Jesus has come to the temple. And suddenly He's popular, and there are crowds listening to Him preach and all that. However, Jesus has walked into a social political hot bed. You see, in Jewish society there were three main groups that were vying for power – you had the priests in the Temple, and you had the Sadducees, and you had the Pharisees. The priests liked things nice and calm and worshippers coming in and paying for all the wonderful stuff in the temple – and Jesus has already ticked them off royally by flipping over the money changers' tables – My Father's house is to be a house of prayer. And the priests and elders had opposed Him, and He basically made them look silly. But people didn't want the temple to be a house of prayer – no, it's supposed to be a feather in their political caps. So the Sadducees come up – think of these as the worldly educated liberal elite. And they figure if Jesus is poking at the conservative religious elite, maybe He'll be on their side and bring the crowds over to their side. And Jesus levels them – they ask their question and Jesus says in Matthew 22:29 - “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” That is a takedown as harsh as any could be. Of course, Jesus was teaching there that God is the God of the Living and that there will be a resurrection – but people ignore that. No, the politics is the thing!

And so in jump the Pharisees. They normally allied themselves with they priests, because the Pharisees were conservative – but they were the pious laity – your salt of the earth conservatives who were concerned with doing things the right way. Surely Jesus would side with them, right? Well, let's see. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test Him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” A lot of times I have viewed this question utterly negatively – as though it's a horrible thing to even ask. But I'm a pastor, and I ask these sorts of questions all the time. I probably drop 9 or 10 of these a week in Confirmation Class – questions that are open but I want to hear the way the person answers so I can evaluate them. And actually, it's a generous question, if asked of a potential political ally. Jesus could weaponize the answer against the Priests – Jesus could talk about the great laws concerning the temple and how the priests have ruined it. Or Jesus could lambaste the Sadducees again. Think of it this way – if I ask you what the biggest problem in American society is today, you could use that as a springboard for a fantastic rant against whomever you want to rant about. It's open ended, and it's a soft-ball question, and Jesus could just hammer whomever He wants to.

But He doesn't. Because Jesus didn't care about their political games. “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. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” So you want to hammer the priests, Jesus? Want to beat up on the Sadducees? Or maybe hit the Democrats, or grouse about Trump. No. How about instead of focusing on complaining about the other guy we get focused upon loving God and loving, serving, doing good for our neighbor? I didn't turn over the tables in the temple because I hated the priests – I did it because the Temple is good and good for people and I don't want that gift from God messed up. I didn't confront the Sadducees because they annoyed Me – I did it because they were rejecting the idea of the Resurrection of the Dead, and I am going to raise them from the dead and I want them to enjoy that – because I serve My Father and I actually love My neighbor, even the priests and the Saducees and the Romans, and even you Pharisees. Here – let Me show you, let Me get your focus right, O Pharisees.

Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question. Can you see it? They're in their little huddle, trying to work out the spin of what Jesus had said, conspiring together and trying to figure out how to win the day – when Jesus cuts them off. No more politicking. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is He?” Instead of focusing on what we do, or what our neighbor does so poorly and how we can use that to bash them over their heads, let's focus on something better. The Christ. The Messiah. The Savior. Whose son is He? And that's an easy question – He's the Son of David. Ah – very good. So let's talk some politics, since you love it – but not this lousy, stupid politics of the day – let's go back to the glory days – to the Kingdom of David – those were the days when Israel was great. So David, the great king – How is it 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? And the Pharisees are silenced – in fact, everyone is silenced on the day's politics. Why? Well, let's talk about the Messiah – the Son of David – and David calls Him LORD. He is “great David's GREATER Son” as the hymn puts it. And you know what happens to the enemies of the Messiah – utter defeat.

And they all should know by now who Jesus is. He's the Messiah – He's done all sorts of Messianic things. And here they all are, playing their political games and focusing on their own power and ignoring Jesus, or even worse trying to use Him as a tool in their power plays – all setting themselves in opposition to Him, all trying their hardest to become His enemy. And you know what will happen if you want to be Jesus' enemy? Defeat and destruction and chaos. Is that the game you want to play, O Pharisees? Is that the game you want to play, O people of Herscher?

See, this is the thing, and this is actually what got Jesus killed, because after He has silenced the priests and the Sadducees and the Pharisees they all conspire together to kill Jesus – probably the only thing they ever agreed on. And why? Jesus doesn't care about your “side”. He doesn't care about your “tribe”, your “party”, your sophisticated position on the latest issue of the day. And He certainly has no interest in being used as a pawn in your maneuvering against the “other” side. Jesus cares about one thing – serving the Father by winning you salvation. That's how He loves you, and that's what He's going to do. Period. All these little distinctions we like to make, that we make mountains out of – they are going to come to an end. “I lay down My life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Yeah, humanity got busted apart – because sin separates, but I'm not here to tell you your slice of separation is the best – I'm putting things back together. “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” The problem isn't the priests, or the Saducees, or JB or Guiliani or whoever you want to complain about. The problem is Satan, and sin, and death – and they've got you and your enemies alike in the palm of their hand – but I'm going to destroy Sin and Satan and Death. I'm going to destroy it when I'm lifted upon upon the Cross and Crucified – and I will bring you to Me, I will rescue you from sin and death. And it was so. Christ has died, and Christ has risen, Alleluia.

And so Jesus draws you to Himself, now, this moment - “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The important thing isn't all these distinctions and identities that we make and craft for ourselves. The important thing isn't our opinions or ideas or even how we vote. This is what is important – you are Baptized, and Christ Jesus has forgiven you. He has claimed you as His own, and you belong to Him. And even though the world and sin and Satan keep trying to get their hooks into you – you are His. And He forgives you again today.

There's an important thing to note – when I said that Jesus doesn't care about your side, or your politics, or opinion – I did not, did not say that He doesn't care about you. You aren't just the sum of your thoughts and ideas, you aren't just your usefulness to whatever social political powers that be. Who are you? You are a baptized child of God. You are an heir of life everlasting. You are a lord of creation, and when Jesus comes again and the heavens and the earth are made a new and are good and cleansed of sin and death, it will be yours because Christ Jesus gives it to you. And so you delight in His gifts now, and you will delight in them all the more in the life of the world to come. Because Jesus has come to rescue you, to free you from the power of sin and death – from the pettiness of the world. And He has. You are forgiven and free in Him, no matter what the crackpots of any of the silly sides in the world say. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +