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 +

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Trinity 17 Sermon

Trinity 17 – October 12th and 13th, 2019 – Luke 14:1-11

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

Why do you do the things that you do? What causes you to make the decisions you make, to choose the choices in your life? When it boils down to it, why do you do the things that you do? For the Christian, the why of something, the reasoning why something is done is just as if not more important than the act itself. As Christians, we are to be focused on acting for the right reason, the right motivation – acting with the right intentions. So why do you do the things that you do? Our Lord is invited to a Pharisee’s house in our Gospel text – and there is a man there, sick with dropsy. And it was a Sabbath – and all these Pharisees are there watching Him, watching to see what Jesus would do. But they were already lost – what is much more important is why Jesus does what He does. And that is what Jesus tries to teach these Pharisees – this is why He asks them questions and then gives them advice – for the reasons why one acts are just as or more important than what is done.

You see, when it boils down to it – there are basically only two reasons why a person does something – greed or love. A person may act out of greed – act because he expects something to benefit himself. This is the way of the world – where decisions are made on the basis of what is best for me. This is the way of the world, where one holds a finger up to the air before acting, where one spends one’s time wondering what other people will say – and acting only if you will garner their praise. On the other hand, a person may act out of love – may act not thinking about himself or his own benefit – but act simply for the good and benefit of the neighbor. Now, this may require deliberation, it may require thought on how best to aid the neighbor – but there is no worry about what people will think, or even if they will notice. This love brings about acts that are done even when no one knows, no one sees, no one praises. This is the way in which a Christian is to approach his life – seeking to act out of love.

Jesus shows us today how foolish it is to act selfishly, to act worrying what the world will think of you. One Sabbath, when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching Him carefully. And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy. And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not? But they remained silent.” Here is the set up. The Pharisees have set a test for Jesus. Their traditions say that in order to make sure one Remembers the Sabbath Day, one simply cannot do any work on the Sabbath – and they watch Jesus to see if He would have the audacity to do work right in front of them. Now, Jesus could have been cowered, He could have thought, “Oh, I better just not do anything, these Pharisees might think poorly of me – they might even not like me, not invite me to dinner anymore.” Jesus could have thought how best to use the situation to His advantage – what can I do that will make these people like me more? But He doesn’t. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Simple. Jesus heals the guy. Why? Because he needed to be healed. . . and besides, living your life constantly worrying about what others think of you – bearing that burden of constantly trying to bribe people into liking you is folly.

You can’t keep it up – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you dance the little dances you think they want you to – because human opinion is such a fleeting thing. Listen to the parable Jesus tells these Pharisees. When you are invited to a feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give your place to this person,” and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. If you live your life always trying and striving to have other people think better of you – to puff up yourself, to claim honor – you’ll not have it. It won’t last. That’s the thing about the world – it loves knocking heroes off of their pedestals, it loves scandal, it loves tearing people down. And that’s what you get whenever you live your life playing by the world’s rules – because it doesn’t matter how popular you are now, how many people like you now – someone “better” will always come along – and all of your striving and working will be for naught. Heartache and worry – all for nothing, only to be reduced to the seat of shame.

This is not how or why Christ acts, dear friends. Then He took him and healed him and sent him away. Simple. Decisive. This man is suffering – Christ will stop his suffering, and if the Pharisees don’t like it, they can go rot. Jesus acts with no regard for what the Pharisees will think of Him – He simply acts out of love for this man. But then, Jesus also acts out of love for these Pharisees, these Pharisees who are so prepared to look down on Him. After the man whom He has healed has left, Jesus says to the Pharisees Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day will not immediately pull him out? Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He isn’t trying to justify His actions – He’s teaching. He’s showing love to the Pharisees, He’s trying to show them the right way. Of course you pull your son out of the well – for you love your son and that love will compel you to act. The purpose of the Sabbath day wasn’t to demonstrate how good and holy you are to everyone – it was to provide rest and a time to hear God’s Word, a time to receive God's good gifts. Being a gift to a neighbor in need – acting in love is no violation of that – it would only violate false, self-promoting standards that you establish for yourself. Even as the Pharisees try to trap Him so they can look down on Him, Jesus calls out to them, reaches out to them, tries to pull them out of their funk and mire.
And there was no praise for Him in this. No praise for healing the man, no praise for His patience in how He deals with the Pharisees. But Christ Jesus acts out of love – not out of the desire to be praised. Likewise, dear Christians – when you act, your actions ought come out of love, and not from the desire for your own vain glory. And showing love as a Christian ought – many times it isn’t very popular. It’s not popular to show kindness to those who are looked down upon – it’s not popular to say no to the wrong doing that everyone else is doing – it’s not popular to hold fast to what God says rather than the crazy and popular ideas of the day. But it shows love. It shows love by caring for those who need to be cared for no matter what anyone thinks. It shows love by not standing by idly while your friends harm themselves. It shows love because by defending the true faith of Christ Crucified you defend life and salvation for all people. This is to be your task oh Christian – to show love in all things – every act, every decision – how do I best show love here? That is how you are to live – that is how you are to treat your neighbor.

But you are not defined, my friends, by how well you show love. You don't show love as well as you ought, otherwise we'd never have to bring it up. Rather, dear friends – you are who you are because this is the love Christ has shown you. Everything Jesus does, He does for you and for your sake. Every action Jesus takes He does to win you life and salvation – no matter what the cost to Himself. Jesus must die, must be whipped and left to die on a cross – so be it, if that is what is required for you to be saved, for you to have forgiveness – to the cross He goes. Christ Jesus always acts so that you might know and receive His love. Shall we ponder the wonder of Church itself – that God has preserved this congregation for so long – simply so that today there is a place where you may hear His Word and receive His Sacraments? Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder the mystery of God’s Word – that God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, chooses to have His Word written and preserved so that you might learn it, might have it placed upon your heart and mind, so that you might never be away from His Word that declares His love for you. Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder Baptism – that God joins Himself to you – washes away all your sins and declares you His own child, His own heir, the beneficiary of all that is His – and that He does this freely, indeed, for most of us when we were too young to even say thank you? Jesus always acts for you. Shall we ponder the Supper – that Christ Jesus, as a sign and token of what He did upon the Cross, gives you His own crucified and resurrected flesh in a way that you can receive and handle so that your sin is forgiven and your faith strengthened. I have been asked by those who deny that the Lord’s Supper actually does anything why Jesus would have to let Himself come to us in this way. Simple. Given and shed for you. Jesus always acts for you. In everything He does – Christ always seeks your benefit. He is the One who comes to you when you are weak and lowly, a sinner brought low by sin and sorrow, and He says to you, “Friend, move up higher” that is, come and be with Me, be My companion for all eternity, join Me through the trials of this life on earth and then on join mMe for all eternity in Heaven.
That’s what every sermon here boils down to, isn’t it? It’s what everything we say as Christians drives at. Jesus Christ died. . . for you. He rose from the dead . . . for you. Behold His Body and Blood, given. . . for you. The sheer and utter wonder is that Christ acts in the complete opposition fashion of the world – that He craves not His own glory, but rather that God’s priority is showing love to you. This is the wonder of the Christian faith. This is the truth we try to emulate in our daily lives – living our own lives for the benefit of our neighbors. This is the saving truth that is proclaimed to the world – that Jesus always acts for you. And He has done it, everything that you need – all thanks be to God for His great love for us. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Trinity 16 Sermon

Trinity 16 – October 5th and 6th, 2019 – Luke 7:11-17

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Let's start by talking a bit about being clean or unclean. Oh, great Pastor – what, did you become my mother – is this going to be a sermon about how it's important to wash behind my ears? See, this is the thing – we hear these terms from the Old Testament – Clean and Unclean – and being 21st Century people we think in terms of sanitation and health. In fact, the standard move for the past 150 years or so has been to read modern ideas of cleanliness back into the bible. “You see, when God set up these cleanliness laws, He was just trying to keep things sanitary.” And there's a point to that, an aspect of truth to that, but it's not the whole picture.

The idea of being unclean has been running through many of our readings this last month. We had the story of the Good Samaritan, and the priest and the levite don't stop to help the half-dead guy, in part because if he actually were already dead, they would be ritually unclean – meaning they wouldn't be able to enter the temple and perform their duties there. Or two weeks ago, with the healing of the 10 Lepers – they were instructed to show themselves to the priests, who would declare them clean and fit to enter back into society and into the temple as well. Did you note how the temple plays part in both of these? Because here's how it worked – the goal, the point, the plan was to be joined together with all the people in the LORD's house, sharing His blessings together – but to be able to enter that holy place safely, to be fit and prepared for holy things – one had to be clean. Or one could be unclean, that is, unfit for God's presence. Sin that was unconfessed would do that – which is why there were the sacrifices, which cleansed the people of their sins. There was disease – which had to be cleansed. Fighting and killing and blood would make one unclean for a time. And what tied up all these unclean things together wasn't merely that they were things that were unsanitary – they really were things that we part and parcel of having to deal with a messy life in a fallen world. They were all times when a person was strongly and harshly impacted by sin.

If you've fallen into some great shame and vice, we get how that's being impacted by sin. But what about the others? Remember why there is disease – not necessarily the specific illness that Aunt Bertha has, but disease in general. It's because we are sinful folks, and our bodies now after the fall break down and don't work right. And that's why there's fighting and war – and even if you are fighting a just war – that's still kicked up by sin. And death itself, touching a dead body was touching the very sign, the wage, the reality of sin thrown upon the world. And if you touched and dealt with sin, you were unclean, and it wasn't safe to be in the presence of the holy God, or on holy ground.

Because sin separates. I'm going to say that again – sin separates. Adam and Eve sin – they are separated from God and each other. Someone does something mean to you, and that relationship you had with them is torn apart a bit. You act the fool, and the respect that people ought to show you is ripped apart a bit. Sin separates and separates and separates some more until it finally separates body and breath. And the Laws of the Old Testament were designed not just to promote sanitation – they weren't just the farm wife saying to her husband, “If you bring those field boots into my house, so help me...” No, over and against our downplaying of sin, these laws were a constant reminder and teaching of the truth that sin causes separation – a separation we can't bridge. This is why the lepers couldn't touch anyone, this is why the priest wouldn't touch a dead body.

Then [Jesus] came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. Now, now do you understand how thunderous an act this is that Jesus does today in our Gospel lesson? For 1500 years every good Jew knew that you didn't just touch a body. It wasn't done willy-nilly. Those who did it – it was a sacrifice, it made them unclean, it cut them off from contact. And there's this funeral, and it's a wretched funeral at that. A widow is burying her son, her only son. She's buried her husband, now her son – and she's probably going to be impoverished for the rest of her life. Utterly tragic. And she's probably the one who has taken care of the body, prepared it for burial – so she's alone and untouchable in the midst of grief and anguish. And so they are going out to the tombs, and there would be four men carrying the bier – the platform, the open casket carried on two long poles – you know the phrase “I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole” - that's what they are carrying this funeral bier with. They are with her – and then a large crowd of mourners. It's a sad story.

And another crowd is approaching the town of Nain as they are leaving – this one lead by Jesus. And you all know what is expected, what polite society would do. If you see a funeral procession coming down the road – you pull over. You take off your hats, gentlemen. You show respect – you don't just amble on, and you honk your horn and giving them thumbs up. But Jesus doesn't pull over. And they cross – Jesus looks at the widow and says, “Do not weep.” You don't tell people not to cry at a funeral. Jesus knows that – even Jesus cries at funerals. You only say that if you are Jesus and You're figuring to put and end to the funeral.

And He walks on over – hand on the bier – blowing apart 1500 years of custom, “And He said, 'Young man, I say to you, arise.' And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother.” Did you see it – did you see it through Old Testament eyes? It's not just a healing, it's not just even a resurrection – sin separates. Sin breaks things apart – and when we get caught up in sin we get separated from each other and from the ones that we love and even from ourselves to where we can look in the mirror and not know who we are anymore.

And then comes Jesus. True God and True Man, bound together. The true Temple and the True Priest. The One who is David's Son and David's LORD. And what sin had torn asunder, He joins together. The spirit left the body – not any more. See, the boy is talking again. Mother had lost her son – not any more. Go see your mother, boy. The separation that is brought by sin and death, the separation that was the underpinning and shape of all of the Old Testament Laws and rituals – well, now the Messiah is here, and He's going to undo the separation of sin, and put things back together.

Of course, it wasn't just that easy for Jesus. The time would come where an only Son would have to die. Come Good Friday, Jesus Himself would be the one to die. And while His mother looked on – When Jesus saw His mother and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, 'Woman, behold your son.' Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. Take care of her John. Even in the separation of sin and death, there's Jesus – putting things together. And then when He dies – listen: He said, “It is finished,” and bowed His head and gave up His Spirit.” Breath and body torn apart – but what happens in reality? It is finished, it is completed, it is put together again the way it should be – because Christ's death defeated and destroyed sin and death. All sin, ever, atoned for, All death, ever – now destined to be undone, because Christ is raised from the dead. Because Jesus came to charge right on in to the midst of the separation caused by sin and death and to stop it in its tracks, and to put things back together.

And this is what He does to you in His Church. This is why He has had you baptized, this is why He forgives your sins. First, to restore you yourself, to make you whole, to shake you loose of the sin and dreck that clings to you and tries to ensnare you. But more than just that. You have been washed clean by Christ, and now you are His holy instruments that He uses to bring and spread and give His blessings and His love and His holiness to the people He places in your life. He has you show love and care in the simple jobs and tasks that you do – and in this Jesus Christ works goodness and healing in our homes and communities. He has you show mercy and forgiveness, and through you He binds up the wounds that sin and Satan unleash upon the world. He lives in you and He lives through you and thus He makes other people to live as well – live now and also live eternally.

Sometimes we preachers can act as though the sum total of a Christian's witness to the world is getting people to come to church – butts in the pews as it were. And that's a good thing – invite your friends to church. But that's not the fullness of what goes on in your life. Your life in Christ this week is more than just this hour here – and this is a grand and wondrous hour, no doubt – but Tuesday morning you are a holy Christian doing holy things and loving and serving your neighbor and caring for them to. As you go about your life this week, you bring the love, the joy, the goodness of Christ Jesus and His gifts to the people in your life. And note, I didn't say “you can do this” or “you need to do this”. No – this is what God does through you. Period. Because that's what Jesus does. And sometimes we might see it more – it's probably good that often we don't in the moment because we are still sinful people and if we start thinking about how great we are we can easily slide into being arrogant jerks again – and maybe by increased discipline we can keep our egos in check better – but know that Christ Jesus your LORD works in you and through to accomplish His good for the people in your life – and that is a mighty, holy, wondrous thing. As the catechism says, where there is forgiveness there is salvation and LIFE. The life that Christ gives to you, He uses to give life to others. Let us then receive, and be made ready to give. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Needed: Men Willing to Live and Make Alive

I love the movie Patton.  Fantastic film, and the scene with George C. Scott walking in front of the flag is fantastic.  And there is a beautiful line in his speech that is utterly wise.  " Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."  It's a beautiful inversion on the typical trope of the soldier dying, giving his life for the country.  Actually, that's not the goal - the goal is to live and make some other sap give his life for his country.  That's how you win.

I fear that in the Church in these days we have adapted a rather militaristic fatalistic approach.  And it's understandable - we are part of the Church militant - we know the fight.  But there is this attitude that we are losing, society is falling apart (as though the Church's job was to fix or perfect society in the first place).  And as the fear and the chaos ramp up, the point is made - you need to be willing to die for Jesus!  Especially if you are a pastor - you need to be willing to die!

I propose something much more difficult.  You need to be willing to live and make alive for Jesus.

When we sinful folk get wrapped up in the world, its easy to see sin and death around us, and our flesh longs to play the sin and death games.  A good fight makes sense to us - it gives us the sense of something that we can do, that we can accomplish.  We can measure the enemies defeated and cast down.

But crushing your enemies isn't the goal of Jesus.  He's not Conan the Barbarian.  He's not the thief. 
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."  And as Jesus was sent by the Father to give life, so too were the apostles sent: "As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world."  "This is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent."

Do you want to be a pastor?  You don't need to be prepared for a fight.  You need to be prepared to be always merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful.  Even to the people who hate you. You need to be prepared to actually live, and to do good to those who hate you, not repaying evil for evil.  You need to patiently endure evil - endure, put up with it and suffer under it.

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned..."  Live!  Live a godly life - and don't let the evil or wicked stop you from living!

We have been given the words of eternal life.  We proclaim Christ Jesus, who came into the world not to condemn it but that it would be saved.  And if your approach is that of a fight, a battle to the death - you'll miss that. 

You don't need to die - Jesus already died for you.  And even if you do die, even if they take your life, goods, fame, child and wife - they have nothing won.  The kingdom is yours now and forever. 

And the world tries to make you forget that.  But God will raise up preachers to proclaim His forgiveness and life, in season and out of season, to people who like it or like it not.  And that is the thing - when they don't like it - still show love.  Still proclaim mercy and forgiveness. 

Still live, because you have been made alive in Christ - and you speak a life giving word.  Jesus doesn't need you to fight for Him.  Instead, He will open your lips so that your mouth will declare His praise.  That's what the world needs now - to hear the praises of Christ. 

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Trinity 14 Sermon

Trinity 14 – September 21st and 22nd, 2019 – Luke 17:11-19

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
So, how do we take the story of Jesus healing the Ten Lepers? What do we learn from it – because there is a lot to learn in this short little lesson. This is the lesson for Thanksgiving Day, so come November we'll look at it through the lens of thankfulness. And I know I have often taken this primarily as a text on worship – because the story ends with a guy coming back and worshiping Jesus. And of course, this is a healing, so you could easily focus on the fact that Jesus is true God who heals – there are lots of ways to take this text – I could write four vastly different sermons here with ease. But today, if you will bear with me, I want to go through this text with the idea of seeing, of seeing and understanding what is going on. So, let's dive into the text.

On the way to Jerusalem He was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as He entered a village, He was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” Alright – so remember how Leprosy was dealt with in the ancient world. It was the catch-all term for all sorts of skin diseases, and they knew that these diseases could spread. Quickly. So, if you were a leper, you were banished from town, and you couldn't approach anyone (well, other than other lepers) – and if your family liked you they'd leave out meals for you – but you always had to keep your distance. And so as Jesus enters this town, these lepers call out for Jesus. Why? They want Him to see them and take note of them. This is something that is a big thrust in society today – seeing people. Not just overlooking them, but seeing them. I have friends who will often write out, “I see you and I hear you” as a response to anyone's comment – which is perhaps a bit over the top – but when we are having a hardship or a difficulty, it's nice to be noticed. And these lepers are in a bad spot, and they call out to Jesus to notice them, to see them – and Jesus does.

When He saw them He said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Two seeing words – Jesus saw them, and they are instructed to show themselves to the priests, let the priests look you over. Why? It was the priests who would declare them clean and fit to enter society – the pastor dealing with the sick and praying is nothing new, folks. So Jesus tells them to walk on ahead to Jerusalem. Except, did you notice what we don't see in the text? We don't see Jesus praying loudly for healing, or rubbing dirt all over them – nothing technicolor and amazing to see. In fact, when Jesus tells them to go, they can still see their sores. And as they went they were cleansed. I love this – marvel at it every time it comes up. They start heading to Jerusalem still sick, still unclean – but at Jesus' Word, they go. Puts me to shame every time I read it – that's faith right there. Go, cause Jesus says so.

Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice... Then, while they are walking, they see. They walk by faith, and then they see, they understand. And one of those who saw, turned and ran back to Jesus praising God. The others, we presume head on off to Jerusalem – good for them, all the quicker to get back home with family and friends, but the one fellow, when he sees, “... fell on his face at Jesus' feet, giving Him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan.” One praises God and thanks Jesus – and Jesus sees this, and He asks a question. “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” So many who saw a miracle still didn't see the big picture – didn't see that the Messiah was there. So many who saw didn't see the full picture, and so they missed being in Jesus' presence, hearing Him say, “Rise and go your way, your faith has made you well.” Rise and Go – your faith was in the right place, your faith was in Me, and you have more blessings than you can comprehend – you are well and things are well and it is well, because Jesus.

That's the story, and there's a lot of seeing in it. And a lot of not seeing. A lot of fear about not being seen. So let me ask the question – what do you see? What do you see when you look around at the world, at your life, your things? What do you see? It's easy sometimes to see a lot of nasty, wretched stuff – because there is sin all over the place – in here in my heart and also out there in the hearts of everyone. But there still is utter blessing, overwhelming blessing. Fantastic gifts from God that we have around us all the time with nary a thought. Fantastic gifts from God that we grouse and complain about. Let me give an example. Every September and probably around April too, I will grouse in my head about the air conditioning in this room. It's a big room, and it's really hard to get the temperature right in here in fall and spring – don't turn the AC low enough and it becomes stuffy and muggy, but if you get it too high, it's an ice box, and frankly because of the size of the room it can be both too cold over here and too muggy over there at the same time. And I'll grumble and fret as I try to get things set up for service... and at that moment, am I seeing what a fantastic blessing our Air Conditioner is? Seriously – one of the greatest luxuries ever in the history of mankind... and I'm tempted to grouse about being a degree or two off one way or the other. This is a silly example, but that's what sin does. It keeps us from seeing the blessings around us, it makes us silly about them. It's so easy for us to take the wonderful blessings from God that He has given us and not even see them, not notice them – or if we do notice them it's to complain about them.

In fact, if you will allow me a moment of speculation to make a point – we look forward to the New Heavens and the New Earth – the life of the world to come. And often we talk about how it will be so much better then than it is now – and to a point that's right. It will be better – you won't have sin, you won't have things falling apart – but more than just stuff being better – we'll see things rightly. We will see everything for the blessing it is and rejoice rightly. As 1 John notes, “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared, but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” The life of the world to come is about seeing rightly – we'll see rightly then, we will see and understand all that is rightly going on around us – all the right gifts of God.

Of course, you do realize I'm not just talking about physical blessings – what we call “first article” blessings – house and home, clothing and shoes, etc. I'm not talking just about daily bread stuff – there are the spiritual blessings, the blessings of life and salvation. Let's be honest – how many of you groaned about about getting to Church today? Again, more honesty time – there are times I groan about coming here especially [if there's a good college football game on/ if I'm tired, because even morning people don't always like getting up early.] And we in that moment don't see, we don't think about what a wondrous blessing this is. Go to Jersualem and show yourselves to the priests – go walk 60 miles. How many of you had to walk 60 miles to get here? So wondrously accessible – and then what goes on here – with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, join in and sing with heaven... meh. Even we the faithful don't see rightly, even we overlook what is going on. If we had a Time Machine and went and talked to Moses in the wilderness about this service, he'd be gobsmacked about how safe and easy and wondrous it is. Christ Jesus gives us Himself, over and over again – and that is wondrous.

Of course Jesus does – because Jesus doesn't overlook people, and Jesus doesn't overlook you, and He does what is needed to bring His salvation to you this day, even knowing that you don't get the full picture yet. That doesn't surprise or put off Jesus. Because Jesus is completely focused on your salvation – He is. And we are taught that in this text – did you hear it? Did you see it? On the way to Jerusalem Jesus.... This is actually a major theme in Luke's Gospel – over and over Luke points out that Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem – from Luke 10 on that is repeated over and over again, and even here today. Why? Because Jesus is going to Jerusalem to go to the Cross. Because Jesus will get to Jerusalem, and those very priests that He sent the lepers to see will conspire to have Jesus killed, will rouse the crowds to shout “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” And Jesus still goes. He'll heal and teach along the way, but He still goes to Jerusalem, His focus is there. And why?

You. For your good. He knows how sin has hounded you, hounded His creation, how sin has settled on your eyes, like a cataract of shame and vice, keeping you from rightly delighting in all His gifts to you. And so He will go to Jerusalem and die and rise to fix it. He will see you baptized, so that you are part of His family. He will see to it that you have a preacher here, proclaiming forgiveness. He will see you to His Supper to be forgiven and strengthened. Because Jesus loves you and will let nothing stop Him from showing you love. He sees clearly, and He is going to make you see clearly. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully know.” This is Christ's love for you, love that is overwhelmingly present at all times. Love He gives to you and makes you to know and see – in part now but in full come the last day and all eternity. Christ Jesus has done it for you. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Trinity 11 Sermon

Trinity 11 – August 31st and September 1st, 2019 – Luke 18:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
The Pharisee didn't know who he was. Oh, to be sure, the Pharisee was confident in himself, and he was smug, but the Pharisee didn't actually know who he was. We have the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, so familiar to us that we can want to speed through it, pass on by it, but listen again and note – the Pharisee doesn't know who he actually is. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” Well, you know Pastor, it seems like the Pharisee had a pretty good idea of who he was to me. No he didn't.

Consider, first he thanks God that he is not like other men – but then he doesn't give attributes of people – short, dumb, rotund. He doesn't even list bad or wicked attitudes – greedy, selfish. He just goes to specific sins. I have never extorted – I've never made anyone pay protection money, nor have I blackmailed anyone. I'm not unjust – I've never started a ponzi scheme or a phone scam (by the by, never pay anything over the phone on an incoming call, people). I've never slept around. Those are certainly good things to avoid – I'll grant the Pharisee that, but none of that says anything about who the Pharisee IS. Well, I'm not a tax collector – well, that's nice, and I'm not the second baseman for the Pawtucket Red Sox – that doesn't say anything about who we are. And then the Pharisee lists off nice, pious things that he does. He fasts twice a week, and he gives tithes. Good. Seriously – these are good things. If you fasted as a Pharisee in the ancient world, you not only didn't eat, but you took the money you would have spent on food and gave it to the poor. That's good. And tithing – well, frankly you will never hear a pastor gainsay tithing – and frankly our general operating budget would be a bit nicer if there was some more of that around here. These are all good actions, things he does – but they still don't say who the Pharisee actually IS. Because there the Pharisee is – he's come into the presence of God and is praying, and is supposedly laying himself bare before God Almighty – but he hasn't actually said anything about who he is.

Now, the Tax Collector – he knows who he is. A quick word on Tax Collectors in the ancient world. While we might complain that the State of Illinois is a thief when it come to taxation, it had nothing on the ancient world. If you were a tax collector, you would be assigned an area and told you had to collect so much money. Then you walked around and charged taxes – the collectors set the rate. And if they over collected, they didn't do refunds in April – they kept it for themselves. So do you see how someone who was a tax collector would be shorthand for a sleezeball, the emblem of the lousy, bad dude? Jesus tosses a tax collector into this story – but this tax collector actually knows who he is. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This tax collector knows who he is. And I don't mean his humble actions that we still mirror today – you realize that this is the reason we bow our heads. The classic posture of prayer was this [hands open and wide, eyes up, ready to receive good things from God]. Give us, give us this day our daily bread. And the beating his breast – well, in Lent when we do the “my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault” I'll beat my breast three times. That can all be for show. But this tax collector – did you hear him? He knows who he is. A sinner. Actually, I'd translate it “The Sinner” - for as far as this fellow is concerned he is the biggest sinner in the world. And this isn't a statement about the quality of his actions – he's in the temple praying, he might have just been the best tax collector in Jerusalem. It's not a statement about his job. It's about him – who he is and how he relates to God. God, be merciful to me – God forgive me, God atone for me - because what am I? I am a sinner.

Luke notes that Jesus tells this parable to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and treated others with contempt.” That they were “righteous.” Ah, there's the key word. To be righteous is to be right with another. It is to be all square with them, or if things get out of line able to fix things – let me make this right. And all too often people think that they themselves are righteous. See, that's what the Pharisee was actually saying – see how righteous I am, see what a capital fellow I am. I am here chatting with You, God, because I am just that good of a fellow. You and I, God, we're alike – two peas in a pod, two righteous dudes. Not like those jerks. Oh, ew, and then the disdain comes out. The casual hatred and dismissal of another of God's beloved children. Ew.

See, the point that the tax collector understood and that the Pharisee didn't get is that we of ourselves are not righteous. We are sinners. Period. In fact, each of us is the biggest sinner we know, and that is what we are. And sin isn't just a matter of doing bad things – it isn't measured by how many naughty things get put on your list. To be a sinner is to be unrighteous – to not be right with God. To be in a state of rebellion against God – and by our sinful nature, that's what we and every person in the planet are. Unrighteous. Sinners. Sinful – full of it. However individual sins manifest and pop out in your life – whether they are big and technicolor and out in the open where folks see, or whether they dwell mainly in your heart (at the moment) – still sin. Still vile, still ready to destroy you and your neighbor. Cain's sin was just in his heart – pouting at God... and then that burst forth in murder.

And we can't fix this. We can't make ourselves, our hearts, righteous. We might discipline ourselves – which is certainly a good thing and a benefit to your neighbor – so work on those good habits – but they still don't fix ourselves. We remain sinners, sinners who fall apart and die. You realize that's the proof – the wages of sin is death, and there's not a one of us in this room that is going to get our act in gear so much so that we don't die eventually. See that's the temptation – we are unrighteous, but we think to make ourselves righteous by what we avoid and by what we do. I'm not that Epstein fellow and I showed up to church today – I'm a good person. That's as stupid as saying, “I stopped eating bacon and now I eat kale – I'll live forever!” It doesn't fix the problem.

There is only One who is righteous, and that is the LORD. There is only One who can justify, who can take things that are out of whack and not righteous and make them righteous and whole and together and at peace – and that is Christ Jesus, God Himself become man to take your sin away from you, killing it and destroying it on the Cross, and rising again and making you to rise, sharing with you all His own righteousness – giving it to you so it is yours both today and forever and ever, even beyond the end of the world. This is what God's mercy is – what it looks like. God acting for your benefit without you doing a single thing to cause or earn it. Because you can't – you are unrighteous and a sinner – you've got nothing to generate righteousness with. But Jesus Christ comes, and He forgives the sinner and justifies him, sends him home forgiven.

This is what Christ Jesus does today in His Church, right here, right now. He forgives you. He gives you His own righteousness – fills you with it. Take and Eat, take and drink. And sure, you'll do plenty of wonderful, capital things this week – of course you will, because even your good works are a gift from God that He gives you to – For we are His workmanship, created IN CHRIST JESUS for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Don't go thinking that you do things for God – those are gifts that God gave to you. “See how nice and generous I was, God” - “Yeah, I know, that's why I gave that stuff to you and why My Spirit moved you to do that. I had that set up for you even before you were born.” And it's good – because I don't need to be the source of righteousness, I don't need to get myself right with God, or butter Him up, or impress Him. Not my job, not your job. That's Jesus' job. He is the righteous One who by His death and resurrection makes you to be righteous. Jesus is both Just and your Justifier.

You are the sinner, but Jesus is true God and true Man come to redeem and rescue and justify sinners. And the danger is we don't like to simply be sinners – we want to spin the story out so that we are anything but sinners – we're good and the other folks are the bad guys. Or we used to be bad but now we're better. Well, the Son man came to seek and save the lost, and the healthy have no need of a physician – so you can strut in here all proud of your own righteousness and contemptuous of others – but then you don't get get Jesus' righteousness. You'll just not want it, won't think you need it. You'll dare I say it, not get anything out of service. And that's bad. So no, know who you are. You are a sinner – but this is the place where Jesus comes to meet sinners with His Word of forgiveness and life, where He comes to give sinners His own Body and Blood for the forgiveness of their sins. For the forgiveness of your sins, so that you have eternal life in Him. God is merciful to you in Christ Jesus. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Faith is the “Yes” of the Heart

1376 – Faith is the “Yes” of the Heart – Faith is the yes of the heart, a convinction on which one stakes one's life. On what does faith rest? On Christ, born of a woman, made under the Law, who died, etc., as the children pray. To this confession I say yes with the full confidence of my heart. Christ came for my sake, in order to free me from the Law, not only from the guilt of sin but also from the power of the Law. If you are able to say yes to this, you have what is called faith; and this faith does everything.... But this faith does not grow by our own powers. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is present and writes it in the heart.

+ + + + + +
The above is cited from the wondrous "What Luther Says" book, and it comes from a sermon on Galatians 4:1-5 in 1540.  It's just beautiful.

Faith frees us from the Law.  "But doesn't that mean that we will be wicked without the law to bash us!?"

No... because this faith does everything.  Faith fulfills all the things that God would have us do.  And God uses us to accomplish His good, freely and without threat or manipulated by reward.

It's all good in Christ - it really is.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Once, Twice, Three Times Palm Sunday

I wonder if we in the Church don't underplay the importance of Palm Sunday.  That seems an odd statement - I mean, everyone loves Palm Sunday.  But the day itself, the hinge that it forms is fantastic.  And as I'm preparing for the Trinity 10 Sermon from Luke 19, it strikes me that in the One Year Series you get Palm Sunday three times.

One of the odd features (at least to Three Year folk) about the One Year series is that the Church Year itself starts off with Palm Sunday - that's the Gospel reading for Advent 1.  So, early December - there's Palm Sunday.

Then, of course, there's the Calendar day of Palm Sunday in either late March or April - so roughly four months later.  And while the Gospel reading for that day is the Passion, you generally also hear one of the Entrance Gospels at the beginning of service as well.

And then jump head a bit over another 4 months, and you have Trinity 10 - and this really is a Palm Sunday text.  Jesus is weeping over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

So you have these three Sundays, spread almost equidistantly around the year, all centering us on Palm Sunday.  And not for the hoopla, not for the shouts of praise - on each of these Sundays the praise of Palm Sunday is secondary.  In Advent the focus isn't praise, but rather, "Behold, your King is coming to you."  On Palm Sunday, the focus isn't the praise so much as it is our Lord's Passion.  And then on Trinity 10 we have Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and turning over the money changers' tables.

I think this is so informative for the Church.  So often we want to make the focus of things our actions, our praise, our response - and if there ever was a text that would seem to lend itself to the idea of focusing upon our own praise, it would seem to be Palm Sunday.  And yet, Palm Sunday shows up three times in the Church Year, and three times our focus is ripped off of our praise and thrust upon Christ Jesus, who comes to make peace for those who knew not the things that make for peace by His own death and resurrection.

What an elegant way to teach, to remind us that the Church is to be focused upon Christ Jesus and what He does so much more than upon our own action and power and might.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Trinity 9 Sermon

Trinity 9 – August 18th, 2019 – Luke 16:1-13

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Americans love to cut deals. Think of shows like Let's Make a Deal, The Price is Right, American Pickers, Pawn Stars. Think of the preponderance of small businesses like Scentsy or Mary Kay, or even the auctions for 4H – we love deals. I myself love the hot stove league and hearing the free agent deals in Baseball. We even have a president who wrote a book entitled “The Art of the Deal.” Americans love to cut deals.

And as such, we are pretty well attuned to bad deals. We know lousy business when we see it – and we don't like it. And that's what we have in our parable today – told right after the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin and the prodigal sons. And it sounds like there's bad dealings going all around - “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, 'What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.'” Seems straight forward enough – if your operation gets big enough, you hire help. You look at the big picture, they handle the details as you want them to handle them, and if they don't – you're fired! The rich man hears of waste and, “boom,” the manager is told to clear out.

And this manager is despondent. And he says he isn't strong enough to dig, and he's too proud to beg, so he comes up with a plan. It's too late to actually cook the books, but he still has the books. And this is a note of ancient world law – until he actually turns in the books, he still has legal authority to cut a deal. So he goes on a spree of making deals. And note something – these aren't small amounts. It's not fifty jars of oil – these are measures – these are the big industrial units of measure. That 20 measures of wheat – that was 24,000 bushels of wheat. And thus you can see his plan. If I basically give you 24,000 bushels of wheat, and the next week I knock on your door and say, “Hey, I'm now down on my luck, can you help a fellow out,” - what are you going to do? And thus we hear, “The Master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness.” That idea of “commending” doesn't mean that he was happy about it – think of this as grudging approval or the tip of the cap – this manager played hardball and pulled it off – and the rich man is rich enough to where a slightly down year wouldn't hurt him all that much – he can shrug it off.

So... what does this all mean? This is one of those parables that seems to be utterly odd. What, are we supposed to lie, cheat, and steal? Well, Jesus gives commentary, and so we ought to listen to Him. First, Jesus says, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” Jesus tells this story not because we ought to be involved in bilking our bosses or anything like that – but in the story the manager was out to play the game and play it well. He was actually looking out for number 1 – looking, paying attention. Thinking. Pondering, meditating. His mind was on his money and his money was on his mind. And that's the way that the “sons of this world” are – they actually pay attention to worldly things, and they think about how to get them and all that jazz.

But what of the sons of light? How is your game played, oh Christian? The Church isn't about the art of the deal, it's not about politicking and amassing power – at least it shouldn't be. Our primary focus isn't the art of the deal, it's the art of the what? Jesus points to it next - “And I tell you, make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.” The Church is to be about the art of Salvation. The Church is focused upon the “eternal dwellings.” So, O Christian, how do you get to heaven? Are you going to bribe your way in? It sounds funny to say that, doesn't it? That's part of Jesus' point – that it would be silly to think that you can cut a worldly deal to enter eternal life – but if we're honest, we try to do that, don't we? Plenty of money has been donated to the Church throughout the course of history in an attempt to make up for sin; guilty consciences built the cathedrals of Europe. Or maybe we're not that crass – maybe we'll try to bribe God with our works – see what good little Christian boys and girls we are. As though salvation were by works. But that's where we default to, that's what we feel in our guts – because we are sinners living in a sinful world and so we fall back to wanting to make a deal. You wash my back, I'll wash Yours' God.

But that's not how salvation works, o sons of Light. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?” There's a word that popped up over and over again there – faithful. Of course it should – we ought to know how the art of salvation works – we are saved by grace through... faith. Faith is the means, the way in which we receive the benefits of Christ Jesus' death and resurrection. When we receive from Christ – we have everything. When we try to give to God or bribe our way into salvation – we have nothing.

See, these are two radically different ways of living. One can try to live by works, money, deals – or one can live by faith. One can try to always be in control and manipulating the situation and being in charge, or one can live by simply receiving the good gifts of life and salvation that God gives. And these two ways are diametrically opposed. The service of God and the service of money are utterly distinct. And as sinful people we crave power, control, tools of leverage – of which money is the simplest – I use my money and I get my way. But that is not God's way. God's way is this – Christ Jesus Himself goes to the Cross for you, and simply and solely because of what God Himself does, you are rescued from sin and death and your murderous desire to cut someone else apart in your dealings, and you are freely given forgiveness, life, and salvation.

You do realize that when we say that salvation is free, that grace is free, what we are really saying is that we don't get to manipulate God? Christ Jesus saves you simply because He wants to, because He loves you – and you can't manipulate Him into loving you more or less. Jesus' love is free of your control – and that terrifies our old sinful flesh. It ought to – because Jesus' love and His plan is to put your sinful flesh to death – to drown it in baptism and to daily submerge it with confession so that a new man daily rises until that final day when we fully die and then fully rise completely free of sin. That's what your baptism is – Christ Jesus calling you way from the darkness of powerplays and manipulations and instead giving you life, life freely given. It is Jesus saying, “You cannot serve two masters, but I am speaking to you in My Word, and I forgive you, and you are Mine – I will be your master for all eternity.”

And you know what? “With the merciful You show Yourself merciful; with the blameless You show Yourself blameless; with the purified You deal purely, and with the crooked You make Yourself seem tortuous.” When you let your old sinful flesh run wild, the things of God seem utterly terrible and wrong and unfair – and you will grumble and complain. You will think things are tortuous. That's your crooked sinful flesh talking. But this is what Jesus does. He comes to you as the Baptized, and He speaks His Word of Mercy to make you merciful, and then you see His mercy again and again and again in so many things. He forgives you your sin – take and eat, take and drink, given and shed for you for the remission of all of your sin – and being made blameless by Christ, you see that this forgiveness and salvation thing really is good. He purifies you with His Word and Spirit – and then you speak that same Word of forgiveness, give that same Spirit of life to the people in your own life, forgiving and purifying them.

Oh, but how our flesh fights against this! Oh, but we so often want our way! Oh, but we want revenge and people to get their just deserts and so on and so forth and then there's fighting and arguments and tribalism and division and chaos. And so over and over again, Christ speaks His mercy, His peace, His forgiveness to us. He shows us that the problem is really the log in our own eye, and then He removes it, and we see Him as He actually is. And in His Word Jesus makes us to be shrewd in the way of salvation, to focus us upon Himself, His Cross, His death and resurrection, so that we always see and remember Him. Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, who takes our sin away and writes the sign of His Cross upon our foreheads, for He is the author and finisher of our faith. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Trinity 6 Sermon

Trinity 6 – July 27th and 28th, 2019 – Matthew 5:17-26

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. This is how Jesus starts a long stretch of the sermon on the Mount, the next 31 verses. For the rest of the chapter, Jesus focuses on the depth of God's Law, how serious it is – and how we sinful human beings here, have broken it, and how we continue to break it and violate it. You, you right there, under the law, judged by its standards, are a sinner. Period.

We don't like that. We don't like being told that we are wrong, even when we know we are wrong. And we certainly don't like finding out we were actually wrong when we thought we were right. And the Good and Perfect Law of God comes sweeping in, and in our sinfulness, we panic. And sometimes that panic results in an attempt to abolish the Law. This is a quite popular tact today. Think about how many people try to write out, fuzz out things in the law that they don't like. I mean, the obvious ones to us that come to mind quickly are those dirty, rotten liberal churches that are going on lax on sexuality and so on and so forth. Of course we think of that – because as we heard a few weeks ago, it's a lot easier to spot the speck in the neighbor's eye rather than the log in our own.

How about it – how do you try to relax the law, abolish it – justify your own ignoring of it? Because really what Jesus does the rest of this chapter is point out how people have justified their own weakening or abolishing of the law. He starts with the 5th commandment and He builds on it. Let's think about the fifth commandment for a bit – You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need. Every. Physical. Need. So, did past week did you think of a reason why you couldn't or didn't really need to help someone? That's abolishing the law of God. And let's consider the 8th Commandment as well, since Jesus ties it to the fifth, because Jesus warns against speaking ill of your neighbor. - You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. So, did you defend everyone this week. Did you explain everything kindly – put the best construction on everything? Then you were abolishing the law.

Okay, if you are squirming a bit right now – I was squirming as I wrote this Monday morning, because I knew what would happen. I'd write this down, go about my week, and the time to preach it would come, and while I'm preaching so many of the things I will have done in the mean time will pop into my head and smack me upside the back of my head. Because we here in this room are sinners. We abolish, we destroy, we come up with every excuse in our own self-righteous book to ignore the law of God. To find loopholes and work arounds – that's our default approach as sinners. And it's lousy.

But wait! There's more! There's a second way we utterly trash God's Law. We hear what Jesus says – I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them – and we think, “That's it, that's the ticket! Instead of doing bad, how about I just start doing good.” Easy peasy – I'll just do better. I will start fulfilling the law, I'll make myself a nice righteous person. And we start playing this holy one-upsmanship game – we start signaling virtue, showing everyone what a good little Christian we are. Or maybe, maybe if we are really, really good – we remember things like the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector, and we remember to be humble and not brag about all of the good we do, and we do it quietly and in secret – and we think, oh, yeah, it is totally and completely the way I am to do stuff.

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. It doesn't work. I mean, you can try – and yes, I'm going to encourage you to strive to do good, and to be humble about it – I mean that is really good for your neighbor. But for you, well, in terms of the law, it doesn't really fix things. Doing the law, breaking it less, doesn't fill anything. It doesn't fulfill the law. This is the verse from Salvation Unto Us Has Come, which I'd be happy singing every week, but I know y'all would get sick of it, so we don't – but this is that third verse that we should all have memorized - “It was a false, misleading dream, that God His Law had given, that sinners could themselves redeem, and by their works gain heaven. The Law is but a mirror bright, to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature.” We hear this idea of fulfilling the law, and our sinful flesh jumps – there's my way out. I can work my way to heaven – that's what the Law says! No it doesn't. The Law must be fulfilled – and fulfilling the law doesn't simply mean “doing” the law. The Law is an if-then sort of statement. Suppose mom says, “If you don't take out the trash, then you don't get to play video games tomorrow” - and it's tomorrow and the trash has not been taken out... how is that law fulfilled? It's not fulfilled by me whining at my mom and promising to take the trash out all the better next week – the law is fulfilled by its designated punishment being executed. If you get a ticket for speeding, the law is fulfilled not by you promising the officer to drive more slowly, but by paying the fine. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

And what is the if-then for God's law? But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to the hell of fire. Oh. Or perhaps we should be a bit more blunt. For in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die. - The wages of sin is death. You see, God's Law is not something we can casually avoid or change on our whim. God's Law isn't something that we can placate or bargain with. You know what God's Law is like? It's like a Bounty Hunter – it's like Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. The hunter has found the 4 villains and they ask,
“What are your intentions.” And Rooster says, “
I mean to kill you in one minute, Ned. Or see you hanged in Fort Smith at Judge Parker's convenience. Which'll it be?” If you understand that – then you understand what the Law of God says to sinners. You have transgressed, and you are going to die, and you aren't talking your way out of it. The wages of sin is death.

Now hear Jesus again – Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. Jesus comes because the sinner needs to die. And He isn't going to change that fact – the sinner needs to die. That law's not going to be abolished or annulled or lessened in any single way – not a by an iota or a dot. So Jesus comes to fulfill the law. He comes to die. You do realize that Jesus here is announcing His death, that He will be the One to die on account of sin? That is the entirety of the Law and the Prophets – that is what the entire Old Testament points towards and drives towards – that the Christ would come, that God Himself would come and be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, that it was necessary that the Christ be Crucified – that His heel must be bruised to crush the head of the serpent. And what Jesus does is He takes up the sin of the world – your sin, and He carries it to the cross and He is killed. The law is fulfilled. It is finished, it is completed. The sentence is carried out, now and for all time. This is why we confess that all people, believer and unbeliever alike will be raised again on the last day – Christ died for all.

But there is a second aspect to this that we need note. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. This is another if-then sort of statement, a barrier statement. If your righteousness isn't beyond that of the Scribes and Pharisees, then you don't get to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again, this is something you cannot do yourself. And again, this is something that Christ comes to fulfill for you. He gives you His righteousness. He declares, He officially states that His righteousness is yours. Your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and the Pharisees because your righteousness is Christ's righteousness. You are not and will not be judged on the basis of your own works – your works were judged upon the Cross when Christ was put to death. No – you are baptized into Christ Jesus, you have been declared righteous by Him – and so you are judged on the basis of Christ Jesus. When the Father sees you, O Baptized Christian, O Baptized “little Christ”, He sees Jesus. And this is in reality what your life is. Even as your sinful flesh fights tooth and nail against the Law of God and against your neighbor – you are a new creation in Christ, and He dwells in you, and His righteousness covers you, and He works in you and through you, and the Father sees you and sees Jesus at the exact same time, for your righteousness is Christ's righteousness now – you are united to Christ – For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. And this is all what Christ has done. This is Christ coming to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, and do to so for you, to rescue you from sin and death, to see you forgiven, to give you life now and forever. And it is what He has done for you, and what He pours out upon you again today in His Word and in His Supper. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +