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.

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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 +

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Trinity 4 Sermon

Trinity 4 – July 13th and 14th, 2019 – Luke 6:36-42

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit +
“You have every right to be angry.” I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before, it’s probably been said to you. You may have even told it to a person – I have. You have every right to be angry, to be upset. Actually, we don’t; not the way we can think of it. Anger happens, it’s the response that we sinful folks have when we or the people we love are wronged. But St. Paul says, Be angry, and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” Yep, we on occasion get angry, get upset – occasionally we will be angry, but we have no right to stay angry, no right to let anger influence our actions. This is what Jesus teaches us in the Gospel lesson; He shows us why our anger is something we should avoid and beat down when it flares up. Let us listen to our Lord this morning.

Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. This is what you are to be – merciful. When you think about it, mercy is as about as far from anger as you can get. I know when I am feeling angry, when I am upset, mercy is the farthest thing from my mind. When I’m angry, I want vengeance, I want someone to get what they deserve, I want them to suffer humiliations galore. That’s not what I’m supposed to do, that’s not who I’m supposed to be. I am to be a merciful, loving person. The problem is my Old Adam, my sinful flesh doesn’t crave mercy. It craves power and control and respect, it wants to teach people a lesson. That’s not who we are to be. We are to be like God, God who is merciful – and not just merciful in general, but merciful to us. God has His way; His way is forgiveness. That’s how God likes, that’s how God prefers to handle sin. That is God’s plan – sin should be forgiven.

But if we refuse God, if we demand our own way and demand that sin be punished, if that’s how we want to be, God will do things our way. You want people’s sin to be on their heads, you want them to suffer for their wrongs – okay. Have it your way – but that’s how it will work for you as well. God says, “You don’t like forgiveness, you want judgment and punishment and condemnation to be the way things work, so be it.” Jesus warns us of this. Judge not and you will not be judged, condemn not and you will not be condemned. It’s really quite simple. How do you want it to be? Do you want to keep a record of sins done against you? Hear the Psalmist – If You, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O LORD, who could stand? If you want to demand that vengeance be taken against another for their sins, if you want to abandon mercy – guess what comes to you. And this makes sense. I remember playing basketball on the play ground growing up – and most of the time, we wouldn’t foul each other, we’d pull off, we’re just having fun. But then, someone fouls, drops the hammer on a guy. And you know what happens? Next time, that guy gets fouled. And soon we’re all knocking each other around. Same thing here – God wants our lives to be ones of mercy – but if we want them to be full of judgment and condemnation – God will play that way too. And you know what? That’s not good for us. Growing up, I was small. I could never give as good as I got when we started fouling – it was bad for me. Trying to play the judging game is bad for us. Blame game, condemnation game, bad for us. Ends up with us in hell.

You see, that’s what we deserve. That’s what it means when we say that we are sinners. Sinners deserve hell. By rights, sinners ought to be damned. Period. But see what your merciful God gives you. Christ Jesus goes to the cross and bears the punishment of sin in your place, takes it all, takes it fully – and in return He gives you forgiveness – and forgiveness not just for yourself, but forgiveness for you to give out freely to all who have wronged you. Do you know why – because that person who has gotten you upset, the person you want to beat with a stick – it’s already happened. Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God was already beaten with a stick for them – in fact, He was whipped, had a crown of thorns put on His head, and crucified. And so Christ gives us forgiveness, fills us with it so we do not have to bear any grudge or anger. Any wrong that has been done you, Christ has made full atonement, born the full punishment for it already. This is why He says, forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over will be put into your lap.” This is how richly He has forgiven you. This is what Jesus has done for you. And on this, on His forgiveness, is where your focus is to be – and do you know why? Because when you are angry, when you are upset with someone and want them punished, when you condemn – you are denying Christ, or at least ignoring Him. You are saying that the punishment Christ suffered wasn’t enough, not enough for this person. “Surely, when Christ died for sinners, He wasn’t dying for this person who offended me.” Yes, He was. Be merciful, and show the same mercy that you have been given. Because the mercy you show isn’t your own mercy – it’s just the mercy that you’ve received from God, and you are simply passing it on.

You see, this is what Jesus is doing. He is training us and teaching us to be like Him. A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher. Jesus trains us with His Word, with His forgiveness, to be forgivers, to be people who gladly speak His Word to all, even to those who have wronged us. He is teaching us to be like Him. Christ Jesus, who died for you even as you sinned against Him, is training you to show love and give forgiveness like He does. And this is hard. It’s not what our sinful nature wants. In fact, this side of heaven we never will be fully trained. We have to wait until the last day, until we rise ourselves and share bodily in our Lord’s Resurrection to be fully trained, to be fully like our Teacher. But we are to strive to be like Him. We are to struggle, to work on this, to show more and more forgiveness.

So Jesus gives us an image to help us, to keep us in check and move us the way we should go. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” Tend to yourself and your own sin. That’s what Jesus says here. Quit your yapping and complaining about what the fellow next to you is doing. Why? Because your own sin is bigger – because you ought to be able to see your own sin so much more than you can see your neighbor’s sin. Because your own sin is great. It is big. However much that person has done to you – you’ve wronged God more. Plain and simple. That’s what we are to remember. When someone wrongs you, don’t think “Oh, I can’t believe what they’ve done. . . how could they. Well, I never.” Yes you have! In fact, when you are wronged, it should call you to repentance. Oh look, I’m still in the sinful world, surrounded by sin. Let me check myself and my own sin - oh yeah, I’m still a sinner, I still have my own problems to deal with, good night look at the size of this log in my own eye. When someone wrongs you, take a good look at yourself, and see your own sin. When that shoe of “he’s a sinner” is on the other foot, on your foot, you won’t be so quick to want to bash heads in.

Instead, God's Word and Spirit will focus you upon Christ. And this is where we give thanks and rejoice. None of us gets rid of the logs in our eyes. None of us get it cleared up enough in this life. But Christ Jesus has become our brother, the spotless lamb, without blemish or defect, without any log or speck in His eye – and Jesus comes to us, and He says, “Brother, I see that log in your eye. Let me handle that. I see your sin, and I forgive you and take it from you.” That’s what forgiveness is. It is Christ removing our sin. This is what Christ does to us freely and over and over again. That’s what He gives us – and what we give to others. When we have been forgiven, we see our neighbor’s sin, we see their struggles, we see the problems that they have, even the things they’ve done to us – and when we dwell, when we live in Christ’s forgiveness, we see clearly and say, “Let me get that for you brother – your sin is forgiven by Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s the way we are to be. And it’s a struggle. This is why we daily ask for forgiveness – Lord, forgive us our trespasses – because we need that forgiveness, and we nee d His strength over and over again so that we forgive the people He places into our lives. And so our Lord comes to us again and again – He speaks His Word of life to us and makes us whole.

Dear friends – God has not condemned you. Instead, He gives you forgiveness, and He spills this forgiveness up and over and through you into the people in your lives. He calls us here to His house to rejoice in His forgiveness, to receive it anew, and to give thanks to Him. To God our Father in heaven, all praise and glory be given for the abundant mercy He shows us through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

A Pity-full God

Many of us are familiar with Luke 6:36, which reads: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."  That's the standard word that we use in translation - "merciful".  It has been since the days of Wycliffe.

But it's a fascinating word in Greek.  It's not "elaison" or any of it's variants - it's οἰκτίρμων - oiktirmon, which is the classic word for pitiful or miserable.  Be someone takes pity on others, just as your Father takes pity on people.

It's an interesting way to think about it.  Sometimes we can treat the idea of "mercy" as a matter of us "being the bigger person" - where we approach the mercy that we show as a sign of how great we are, how mature we are.  We're going to be the better person here, and hence we will show mercy instead of giving them the smack down that they need.

That undersells the point.  When God sees you trapped in sin, it's not just that He spares you, or that He holds back and doesn't crush you - it's that He actually feels bad for you.  He pities you. 

Sin makes us pathetic.  It does. Sin makes us stupid and hurt and just all messed up - and God sees how just messed up we are.  And so He has compassion.  He goes "you poor thing" towards us even as we rage against Him in our sin.

We forget how terrible sin is, how it traps people, how they get caught in sin's web.  We so often think of sin as "bad choices" so that person who sins gets what they "deserve".  God doesn't view your sin as your bad choices - it's a trap that you are stuck in, that you cannot get out of.  Or as Luther would have us sing, "Fast bound in Satan's chains I lay; Death brooded darkly o'er me."

Maybe we should remember to pity those trapped in sin, even sins that hurt and threaten us.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Trinity 3 Sermon

Trinity 3 – Luke 15:11-32 – July 6th and 7th, 2019

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
Oh, you missed it – you picked the wrong day to be out of town on business. So, you know Ben, right? Oh, what a Maroon, what an imbecile. Yeah, Ben who lives on the south side of town, has that big farm just south. Yeah, loaded Ben. Two kids – older one seems alright, hard working. The younger one - meh. Yeah, that Ben – yeah, that was his kid last year, you remember that – walking on up to his dad - “Give me the share of the property that is coming to me.” Oh no, I couldn't believe either – I mean, the gall. I can't wait for you to die to inherit my share of stuff, so why don't you just either hurry up and die or give it to me now! Oh, if that were one of my kids, I'd have given it to him alright – I'd have given him the back of my hand and told him that was all he ever was going to get from me. I tell you what, you can't tolerate that sort of behavior.

Well, Ben, that sap, did. Last summer, gave the kid a fortune and off he went down the road – and Ben actually seemed sad about it. I think his life was better for the brat being gone – I mean, I would just kicked him out with nothing, but hey, oh well. Well, yesterday, I'm just minding my own business, sitting in the gate, chatting – and Ben goes streaking by. Yes, I mean streaking – tunic hiked up over the hips, barreling down the road for all the world to see. Oh, it was a sight – so I look on down the road, and what do I see? Way on down there, there's that no good brat come crawling back home – and let me tell you, he looked all the worse for the wear. I mean, not just some hard living worse for the wear – I'm guessing there was some of that – but down in the gutter, just crawled out of the pig sty hard living. Oh, gross – I wouldn't have touched him with a ten foot pole, I'd not want to catch anything from the boy.

But not Ben – oh no, he runs on up, big giant bear hug, kissing the brat. You would have thought a war hero came home or something. And at least the kid had the decency to look embarrassed, but Ben is just whooping and hollering – it was really embarassing. Has servants running around, has them bring robes, big old ring – then Ben parades his son through town – “We are going to celebrate, my son was dead and now he is alive. Come and celebrate with me.” Well, frankly I'm surprised he didn't die, but yep, the brat is back home.

Well, yeah, of course I went to the party – Ben might be a bit crazy, but he knows how to set up a table. And yeah, let me tell you, he knows how to fatten a calf. That was some good eating. Oh, but I'm not done. Ben wasn't done yet acting the fool. I don't know how many people saw it, because, with the music and the wine and the meat, it was a good party, and people were enjoying themselves, but I'd been sort of hanging out by Ben – I wanted to hear how he was going introduce this lout back to his neighbors – and Ben is just laughing, celebrating – when a servant comes up, whispers something in his ear. And Ben gets all concerned. Yeah, yeah – that look, you know it, that deep, pensive look – I can't even do it. So he excuses himself and slips on out. Yeah, from his own party. Up and left. Didn't even take a glass of wine with him. And of course, the servants start chit chattering – must have be something serious.

You know what it was? The old boy, yeah, him, good worker. Well, apparently he's out in the back 40 pitching an utter fit. So I move on down to the edge of the pavilion, and out there in the field is the older boy, just pacing around, arms crossed... and there goes Ben just walking on out to him Yeah, I know – I certainly wouldn't be doing that – when I need to have a talking with one of my boys I say, “Come here,” and they had better come. Oh, but it doesn't stop there – I couldn't hear it, but when Ben gets out there, his older boy starts yelling and screaming, full on pitching a fit and cussin' him out. And you know what Ben does? He stretches out his hand, and puts it gently on that boy's shoulder and leans on in and starts placating him. I would have put two hands on any of my boys who talked to me that way, and probably around their neck. I just shook my head and went back on in. Don't remember much after that – like I said, it was a GOOD party. But that Ben, making a fool of himself over his kids. Well, at least he knows how to throw a party.

Of course, there's another way to tell the same story.

So, uh, you've heard about what's gone on, right? Yeah, it literally all has gone to hell in a handbasket. Everything in the LORD's good creation is messed up now. Why? Those numbnutzes Adam and Eve. Here the LORD puts them as the pinnacle of His creation, and they blow it. How? They ate it. Yeah, the one thing the LORD told them not to do, and they did it. And you know what's worse? Creation is falling apart, Death is unleashed, that blow hard Satan is cackling, and what does the LORD do? He goes to check up on Adam and Eve. Oh, no, He didn't just blot them out and call a do over. It was ridiculous – they were hiding behind the bushes – oh, brilliant job there caretaker of the planet, go hide behind some bushes, surely the Almighty God will get fooled by that. No, He doesn't even yell – the LORD is patient with them. Talks them through it, and the kicker? He promises to defeat Satan for them, promises that He Himself will become man and do it Himself. Yeah, you heard that right, LORD, the Creator, would become man. Yeah, talk about humiliating.

You'd have thought that they would have minded their Ps & Qs after that, wouldn't you have? They don't. It just gets worse and worse. Cain kills his brother Abel, and instead of smiting Cain, the LORD puts a mark on him warning everyone away from killing Cain. It gets worse and worse – sends a flood but rescues Noah and his family, and you know what the first thing Noah does? Plants a vineyard and gets utter toasted. I know, these humans have no a lick of decency or common sense. On and on – The LORD will visit these people, bless them, make promises to them – and they just keep on being some sort of pieces of work. And still the LORD keeps being patient with them, still keeps His promises to them.

Until you get the Big One. He actually becomes man. And He doesn't just snap His fingers and show up as a mighty king. No, He's born. And to a poor family. Born in a barn – and there He is – the LORD, the Creator of all things, just laying there, waiting on His mom to change Him after He messed Himself. Yeah, that's what He meant when He said He'd be one of them and fix the problem. And He grows up, and He is fantastic. Teaches wisdom, love, mercy, starts healing people, fulfilling every promise – it should be clear as day that this is the LORD – and you know what they do? They complain. They grumble. They yell at Him. Oh, no He didn't smack them down – He lets it go on and on. And they arrest Him, and mock Him, and beat Him, and they kill Him. And He rises, and He blesses them again, says, “Peace” - says that He Himself destroyed death and bore the weight of sin for them. Utterly astonishing.

Of course, there's yet another way to tell the story.

So there you were. Conceived in iniquity as the Scriptures say. Born sinful, at emnity, at war with God. Hell bent, literally, hell bent on trashing creation and as many of the people around you as you could until you die. And yet, even before you were born, while you were still along way off, indeed, before the creation of the world, God planned out your salvation. The LORD would become man, and suffer, and die – and though it was all before you were born, it was done for you. For you good.

And then, He came to you with His Word and Spirit, and He washed you clean in Holy Baptism, declared you not merely a servant, not merely a laborer or slave, but His child. Once again an heir of all of His House, one who is to be a master of all of His good gifts, who will be a lord and master of the new creation, set above even the angels. And what happens? You still sin. Over and over and over. And sometimes it's brazen and bold and ends up with you in a gutter, and sometimes it ends up with you grouchy and pouty and condescending towards your neighbor. Either way, it's embarrassing. Our sin always is, even though we so often try to justify it. We so often try to work our way out of it – oh, I'll make it up to you God, treat me like a servant. We so often blame God - Oh, you lousy God, see all that I've done for you, why don't I have a pony, blah blah blah blah blah.

And yet, what does the LORD do? He keeps on coming to you, over and over again. Here – receive a Word of forgiveness. Here, take and eat, take and drink – be strengthened against that sin and temptation. And over and over He comes, He offers Himself to you and for you. And He keeps on doing this – no matter now long you were off blowing the gifts He gave you or pouting in wretched jerkitude. I'm sure somewhere there's a Church today where someone has walked back on in after 20, 30, 50 years of being away – and there's the Word and Spirit, doing their thing, bringing forgiveness and life and salvation.

Because that's who your God is. That's who Jesus is – pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression, showing steadfast love even at cost to Himself. And sometimes we take this for granted, we forget just how utterly insane this love looks to the world, how utterly astonishing it actually it. Doesn't bother God at all. For you, his child, were dead in sin and tresspasses, and now you are alive in Christ. And indeed, because Christ died and rose, you will rise to new and everlasting life, life once again sinless as God intended you to be. His party will go on for all eternity, and it will be for you. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Trinity 1 Sermon

Trinity 1 – June 22nd and 23rd, 2019 – Luke 16:19-31

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
No, father Abraham.” You may not realize it, but those are some of the most shocking words in the Bible right there. Jesus is telling a story, the tale of Lazarus and the wicked Rich Man, and from torment in Hades, the Rich Man gives Abraham some sass. That would be unthinkable – I can't think of something as shocking today. We're Americans, we're used to complaining and backtalking to anyone – but this was just not done. It would be like me trying to teach Michael Jordan how to really dunk a basket ball, but that's not even close. If you didn't backtalk your grandma, you certainly didn't backtalk Father Abraham!

So, how we did get here? What was the idea that was so offensive to this Rich Man in hell that he figured he needed to run his mouth? Abraham had just said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” The question of salvation has been raised, the question of how one avoids hell, how one is saved. And Abraham's answer is simple – listen to the Word of God. It's actually a profound answer on Abraham's part – the Bible was written after Abraham's day – Moses lived over 5 Centuries later. Abraham sees what a fantastic gift the Scriptures are – one he would have given his eye teeth for. But the Rich Man, he couldn't care less about the Bible. “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Eh - the bible is worthless – who cares about that? Send them something flashy. Lazarus back from the dead, that will grab attention, right? To which Abraham gives the answer: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” And it's true. Jesus did plenty of Miracles, and the crowds went wild... but most of them soon fell away. Miracles are like fads – always need something new to keep your interest. And even when Jesus was raised from the dead Himself, and appeared to folks over and over – so many just went “meh.” Why? Father Abraham would suggest that it is because they didn't hear the Word of God in the Scriptures.

As Jesus had told the story, it was pretty clear that the Rich Man hadn't paid much attention to the Scriptures, just from the set up. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table.” Dude is rich and doesn't even give the beggar at his door his table scraps. He's a grade A jerk, right? Well not just that. Let's think about what this means from what the Scriptures teach. The Old Testament was filled with things instructing the rich to care for the poor. First of all, that whole idea of “love your neighbor” is all throughout the Old Testament. Or think on the 2nd table of the Ten Commandments, or the meanings from the Catechism. 5th Commandment – help your neighbor in his body and life - 7th Commandment – help your neighbor protect and improve his possessions and income. But more than that – the scraps language. The scraps always were to go to the poor. When you harvested a field, you were forbidden from picking up the grain that fell on the ground – that was for the poor. That's what Ruth is doing in the book of Ruth – she's gleaning. Or the Passover meal – if you had too much, you would invite your poorer neighbors. The Rich Man is utterly ignoring the Word. And why? Well – that Word of God would tell him that He is wrong. It would show him his sin. And he doesn't want that.

My friends, we are tempted to not want that either. We're tempted to avoid the Word of God because it shows us our sin. And we fight against that – we have developed this nasty habit in modern religious culture where we read the Bible to show other people their sins while nicely skating past our own. “Well, see here – this fella is being a jerk.” “That's nice, and the bible says to love your enemies, so how are you loving him?” “The bible says that homosexuality is a sin.” “You're right, it does – and you're straight and it says looking at someone of the opposite sex with lust is a sin too – how's that working out for you?” God's law isn't meant to be a hammer to bash your neighbor over the head with and justify your ill treatment of them – it's a hammer God uses to crush our own pride and arrogance, to drive us to repentance. And we don't like that. So we try to apply the Scriptures to others instead of us.

As an example of this – how many of you heard of this rich man and thought, “You know, I'm awfully rich”? Because you are. How many of you are wearing decent clothes? A rich man in Jesus' day would have had maybe 10-20 changes of clothes. How many of you have more than that in your closet? Or feasting sumptuously – how many of you have plans for a tasty meal after service? Americans on average eat 220 pounds of meat a year – that's more than the typical person in Jesus' day would eat in 20 or 30 years. And that's just comparing with the past – Currently, if you pull in more than $32K a year, you are in the top 1% of earners in the world. So, hearing about the Rich Man in the text, did you hear about some jerk over there, or did you hear a warning about temptations you yourself face? “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

Of course, even Lazarus shows us another reason why we fear to hear the Word of God. He's the “good guy” in the text. The believer – ends up in heaven. Yea! But... what's his life like? “Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.” It seems as though the Christian faith isn't a magic bullet to get out of pain and suffering. Being a Christian doesn't mean that suddenly everything will go great in terms of health. We've had a lot of names on our prayer list who have been there for quite some time. But more than that, the scriptures actually teach that as a Christian you will suffer more. What do you think loving your neighbor actually entails – it means hardship to you for their benefit. And being a Christian means people will reject you. Being a Christian means you'll be given crosses to bear, to bear for the sake of your family and friends and neighbors. And again, this is something in the Scriptures that we don't like to hear.

And thus the Rich Man looks at Abraham and says, “No, Father Abraham!” The Scriptures show us the harsh and brutal realities of our lives as sinners in a sinful world – that there are things that we fail to do, that we are stuck in a world that will always be rife with suffering. That we will eat bread by the sweat of our brow and die, that the poor we will always have with us, that death will always hound us here. And these are things that our old sinful flesh cannot stand, cannot bear. But, my friends, you are no longer just a sinner – oh, a sinner you are with faults, grievous faults even – but you are also a saint, a holy one of God, redeemed by Christ Jesus. Because while the Scriptures do show you your sin, the most wondrous thing is that the Scriptures are also the story of Christ Jesus, the Messiah. They are the story of the One who was promised to Adam and Eve even while they were still naked and ashamed in the garden having just fallen. They are the story of the One who was promised to Father Abraham as His descendant in whom all nations would be blessed. They are the story of the One who would sit on David's throne, they are the story of the Job's Redeemer, they are the story of Emmanuel – God with Us.

And then Jesus comes. And what happens? Well, He fulfills the law. He does what we can't. He actually loves His neighbor, over and over and over again. He takes all that He has and gives and gives. And as for sin, well, He who knew no sin became sin for us – He takes our sin upon Himself and He goes to the Cross. And does the Christian life mean you'll face suffering for the good of your neighbor, even to the point of death? Well, it did for Jesus – and He does it. For you. That's what's in the Scriptures, that is what Moses and the Prophets teach – that is what the Gospels and the Epistles teach, over and over again – that while our sin is great, actually and truly great no matter how we like to dance around it – Christ Jesus our Savior is actually greater.

And then the comfort. And then the consolation. Because Christ Jesus does not and will not ever fail you; He never fails to be merciful and gracious to you, to forgive you, to strengthen you to see you through the trials of your life until He delivers you from them – that is why He taught us to pray “But deliver us from evil.” He redeems you, forgives you, and uses you for His good. And that is where we live by faith.

And that is why He brings us together here. So that we all hear the Word of God from each other, so that we don't stop up our ears and wander off, but so that we hear His Word and are brought to repentance and forgiveness again. So that we are gathered here as the Baptized around His table and get not scraps but His own Body and Blood to forgive us, to strengthen us both in faith towards God and love toward our neighbor. This is a Word place, a hearing the Word place. And it's not always pretty. Of course its not – the Scriptures speak about us, and we are not always pretty. In fact, sometimes our lives are just down right messy. That's no surprise to Jesus – He took that all in hand even before the Creation of the world and planned out your salvation. And His Spirit calls you here to keep you and preserve you in His Word. He has given us Moses and the Prophets, the Gospels and the Epistles – let us hear them and thus always see Jesus our Savior. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Thursday, June 20, 2019

To Pull, Not Push

In the 12 years or so that I've been doing this blog, I've noticed people swing all over the place.  Some folks who were staunchly in one camp are now over in another.  Some who were mild are not hot.  This isn't just a religious observation - politically, we are going more and more to the extremes.

Theologically, this is a bad thing, especially for Lutherans.  We are the lonely way, threading the theological needle between often opposing, lousy ideas.  We are neither Calvinist nor Decision theologians - we are neither Roman nor Protestant.  Reformed, but not Radically so.  Keeps traditions but not worshiping them.

This all requires balance.

The problem is this - we all shuffled off away from that nice balanced center of Christ on occasion.  We all end up tossing out our own ideas rather than the clear words of Scripture.  So what is needed then?  We need to be pulled back - a friend, a colleague reaches that hand out and pulls us back into the middle.

That's gentle.  Quiet.  Simple.

We do not live in gentle, quiet times.  Our simple goal today to is show how we are right and they are WRONG.  And so, we push.

Consider the past decade or so.  Think about the discussions you've seen.  See if this theory doesn't play out.  How often has someone been slightly messed up on something - and then they get hammered - get "pushed".  They are declared wretched... and then there's no where for them to go but more and more extreme.

I think it happens quite often.

"But what about doctrinal purity?  What about the truth?"  Yes, the truth is important - but the point is to center people upon Christ Jesus the Truth, not see how quickly we can kick them off the island to prove how right we are.  I've done it too.

I think for us amongst the relatively conservative Christian crowd, some of this is because toleration became such a dirty word.  The left kept clamoring for tolerance, and that "tolerance" became more and more demanding and now tyrannical.  Therefore, we determined we would tolerate less and less.

But in so doing I think we may have jettisoned patience.  Long-suffering.  Bearing with one another.  Tolerance and acceptance are not our ideals, but patience and kindness are fruits of the Spirit.  Pulling fruits.  Restoring fruits.

Go be kind to someone.  Especially if they are wrong.  That is what Christ Jesus did for you.  He did not seek to push you away - He did not come to condemn the world.  Rather, He pulled all its sin upon itself and crucified it.  He saved us.

Pull, don't push.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Trinity Sunday Sermon

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Gospels, there are two phrases, two introductions that Jesus uses that let us know that something very important is coming up. One of those is “Behold” - and that was just a common technique of the day. If you hear behold, you better start beholding because something important is going to happy. Jesus uses another phrase today, three times in fact, a phrase that says you need to be quiet with your jibber-jabber and listen - “Truly, truly, I say to you.” Amen, amen, lego humin! Whenever you hear Jesus say, “Truly, truly, I say to you,” this means He is going to speak a profound, deep truth – one that you'll never understand on your own, one that can only be revealed by Him. So, let's listen to Jesus.

Here's the setting. Nicodemus, a Pharisee big wig, had come to Jesus at night, when no one was around, and Nicodemus starts blowing smoke up Jesus' skirt. It's all an ancient political feeling out flattery thing – the beginnings of a dance to see if they could be allies. And Jesus just cuts him off: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Understand how blunt this statement is. Nicodemus is feeling out an alliance, he's wanting to make his own power plays – and Jesus flat out tells him that what is going on is above his pay grade – that Nicodemus can't even begin to see the kingdom of God at work right now. This is as brutal a shoot down as has ever been seen. “Mind if I buy you a” - “I don't date short people.” You're out of your league, Nicodemus.

So, what is going on? Why the bluntness. Lesson 1 – unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. In the world, we are used to wheedling, whining, begging, and seducing people in order to get our way. From the time we are infants crying for milk or a change to the time we are the old folks putting a guilt trip on the youngins, that's just how we do things. We think in terms of manipulation – and that's not always bad. I mean, if you are a month old, how else are you going to get out of a wet diaper? But it is built into us – we manipulate, we build power bases, we build up support for our ideas and then try to get everyone on board – by hook or by crook we try to convince people to jump to our side and do what we want.

That is not how the Kingdom of God works. Period. That's not how you relate to God. The Church isn't just a political party where we've convinced people to see things our way. The plan of salvation wasn't thought up in some committee somewhere. We don't twist God's arm to make Him do things our way. No – the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – He is in charge. He has created us, He has redeemed us, He is the One who is going to do everything required for your life and salvation. And unless He Himself gives you faith – unless He gives you eyes to see, unless He gives you the new birth, you will not understand. You won't be able to see it. The Christian faith is utterly incomprehensible apart from the Holy Spirit, my friends. I mean, an unbeliever can say what we believe, but they won't see it, they wouldn't get it. Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It is a work of the Spirit.

This is third article of the creed stuff from the Small Catechism – I believe I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. Or – Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. And this means that you will never be able to nag, or arm twist, or bat your eyes at someone to faith. It has to be the Holy Spirit doing the job – not our machinations.

And we don't like that. We want to be in control of things, and we hear that we aren't in control, and we get mad and say, “What, so I'm useless here – utterly uninvolved?” Not quite. Nicodemus is flummoxed by Jesus' answer, and so Jesus speaks again. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus starts talking about baptism. While the Spirit alone grants faith, the Spirit doesn't just wander along and randomly zap people out of the blue. He works through means – He uses tools to accomplish His tasks. Not because He has to, but for our good. The Holy Spirit can do what He wants – but in His wisdom and love, He has tied Himself to things, physical things, so that we can see and know what is going on. Such as Baptism. I don't control other people's faith – I don't control the Holy Spirit. But, I, we together, have the gift of Holy Baptism. We've been instructed by God to baptize people – Make disciples of all nations [by] baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Baptize people, and the Holy Spirit will work upon them. I can't make the people I love believe, but I can bring them to the font where the Holy Spirit has promised to work. And there God has promised to bring people into His Kingdom. And the baptized are – even if they don't see things yet and don't understand yet – at the font the Triune God claims them as His own – claimed you as His own. God is not uninterested in you – He is fully vested in you as His baptized child. He has a stake in you – you are part of His Kingdom and it is His job to care for you and redeem you – and that's His Job, and He'll be the one to do it.

Do you see how this works – it's not a matter of our control, but rather the control that we in our sin so desperately want to exercise is shown to belong to God. That's what Baptism is – it is the public declaration that this person is part of God's family, God's kingdom, under God's authority and control – and that God will work salvation for them, not they themselves. Baptism is the promise of God to be God for you, for your benefit – and the Holy Spirit is there assuredly working for your good.

One other place of focus – because Nicodemus balks at this (and let's be honest – we do too a bit). Jesus makes an analogy to the wind and weather – you don't control the wind. You can see it and know that it's at work – but you don't get to control it. Same way with the Spirit. You don't get to control the Spirit, but you know where He is working for your good. And in exasperation Nicodemus says, “how can these things be?” How, how can all this be? So Jesus responds – Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Dude, have you not read the Old Testament – this is precisely how I worked throughout all of Moses and the Prophets! “Truly, truly, I say to you, We speak of what We know, and bear witness to what We have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things.” Now, this sounds very odd to our modern ears – we don't talk this way anymore. The point is this – the Triune God is revealed in the Scriptures, in the Word. It is in the Bible that God reveals Himself – where that “We speak of what We know” happens. The Scriptures are God giving Himself to us in a way that we can understand. But that doesn't mean that God is suddenly an object to study – no, God is utterly above and beyond us and there are things we cannot fathom nor wrap our heads around. The Trinity for example – we have named our congregation Trinity, but not a one of us can figure out how that works – We get that there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet these Three are One – because that's what the Scriptures say and teach, but how in the world that works – that's beyond me. That's beyond any of us.

When it comes to this church, when it comes to the Christian faith – we don't get to be in charge. We don't get to throw around our own ideas or what we would like – we must remain with what God has said in His Word – and we believe and go with that by the power of His Spirit, even if it is beyond us, even if it is something we cannot explain. Even if it is a mystery. The Scriptures teach that Jesus is both at the same time true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary. How that gets pulled off – beyond any of us. But that is what God reveals and has said, and so we believe, teach, and confess it. And that this Jesus dies – God Himself dies and rises – and because of this our sins are forgiven and atoned for and we are rescued from Satan – theologians have spent 2 millennia trying to sort that out, and we can scratch the surface of what happened, but it's still too wondrous for us to comprehend. In a few minutes, we will celebrate the Lord's Supper – It is the true Body and Blood of our LORD Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink. I can't tell you “how” that works, other than “Jesus says so,” and so we believe, teach, and confess it to be true. It's a mystery far above my pay grade.

And that's okay. You see, part of our sinful arrogance and pride is the idea that we need to know and understand everything – because if you know and understand something then you can manipulate it and make it the way you want it to be. That is part and parcel of the fall – that is our sinful, selfish pride wanting to be “like God”. And so there we are, sinful folks, just messing around and hurting each other and being utterly selfish jerks to everyone – and then God decides to act. He Himself sees that you are dead in your sin, and He gives you a new birth – a new life – makes you to be born again by His Spirit. He washes you in Holy Baptism and brings you back away from Satan's rebellion unto His own Kingdom. He gives you His Word and Spirit so that you can see and believe these wondrous things that are so far above you that you cannot understand them. That's okay – we see Jesus at work for us. And that's all we need.

This summer, as we move through the Trinity season, we will hear Jesus' teaching, we will get glimpses of great and wondrous mysteries. But through all of them, remember that you have been baptized, called into His kingdom, and that they are all for your good. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Ascension Observed

Ascension Observed – June 1st and 2nd, 2019 – Luke 24
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
In the Creed, we confess that Christ has not only risen, but that He has ascended, and is at this moment seated at the right hand of the Father, that He is exercising His divine power on our behalf. This past Thursday was ascension day, 40 days after Easter. This morning, we will look at our Lord’s Ascension, and in particular what Words He speaks to the Disciples in the Gospel of Luke just before He ascends, and we will see how He shapes His Church on earth until He returns again on the last day in Glory. Let us dive in.

Then He said to them, “These are My Words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. So, here we are today, almost 2000 years after the Ascension, and I want you to notice, dear friends, that what we end up doing here is exactly the same as what Christ Jesus our Lord and the disciples were doing right in our text. Our eyes are focused upon the Scriptures, and by the Holy Spirit, the Helper, God opens our eyes to understand them, to see Christ Jesus and His Gospel. We don’t simply look to the Scriptures for rules or advice; in the Scriptures we behold Christ Jesus our Lord. We are focused upon and shown Christ in God’s Word – be it the Word of the Old Testament which points forward to Christ, which declares what the Christ would do – or be it the Word of the New Testament, which declares what Christ has done. Whether the text is pointing to what the coming Messiah would do or whether it declares what Christ Jesus has done, what our Lord says is true – Thus it is written that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. There it is – the point, the entirety of Scripture summed up. What is the point of God’s Word? What is the point of our time spent together in that Word, be it here in worship, or be it in study, be it at home in private devotions? That Christ Jesus suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day rose again from the dead – and because of this, we have forgiveness.

This is what Christ gives the Apostles – this is what He tells them to preach and write as He sends them out into all the world. So, isn’t this what we proclaim even unto this day? You see dear friends, the Apostles went out and preached, they did come down off the mountain, they stopped staring at the sky, and Christ and Him Crucified was preached throughout the world. Indeed, because Christ and Him Crucified was preached, this congregation came into being, formed by people who wanted to see that Christ and Him Crucified would be rightly preached in Herscher. And this is and shall remain our focus here in this place.

But how to keep that focus? We live in a day and age of great distractions, of continual promises of the new and improved. And the temptation is even for folks in the Christian community to go off and find new and novel spiritual quests or programs or the like. Here we need to listen to Jesus, for He tells us how He is to be preached and proclaimed. And that repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in My Name to all nations. Repentance and Forgiveness. So, let us do that again today. Is repentance a part of your life, dear friends? For you, as an individual, is repentance a part of your life? Do you pause, do you think where you have erred, where you have sinned, and do you strive to turn away from that sin, to repent of that sin? Is repentance a part of your life?

Repentance isn’t popular. Well, actually, it is if we think the preacher is telling other people to repent. It’s quite popular if the preacher rails on the person next to us, or the people out there. But the message that each one of us needs to take a good hard look at our own lives, needs to see where we sin and beat that down. Daily. Continually. None of us really likes that. We don’t want to deal with sin – don’t tell me I have to struggle against sin – rather just give me a few easy, simple things to do that prove that I’m a good person. Thing is – scripture says that we are sinful, sinners through and through, sinners in need of forgiveness. Scripture says that we are to turn away from our sin. Luther says that Baptism is to lead to daily contrition and repentance – more thought should be given to your struggle against the sins and temptations that hound you other than just breezing through the general confession at the beginning of service. Our lives are to be ones of repentance.

And there is a reason for this. God isn’t just some meanie, He doesn’t like to brow beat you over the head – rather He wants to give you forgiveness, He wants you to cherish your forgiveness. Repentance and forgiveness are to be preached in the Name of Christ. We are people who need forgiveness, forgiveness is the cause and the source and the content of faith. But what happens if we ignore repentance? We stop wanting forgiveness, and if we stop wanting forgiveness – faith dies. Think about it – in your own life, think on the times when you have been the most smug, the most confident in how good you were and in your own works – the times when your own sin was something that you never thought about. Did you look to Christ Jesus? Did you ponder the wonders of the Cross, that God Almighty would die to give you life? The old Lutheran hymn proclaims “faith clings to Jesus Christ alone” – and when you were so sure that you were a good person, were you clinging to Christ, or were your hands busy patting yourself on the back?

This is why there is the need for repentance – for when we do not see our sin we see no need for a Savior. When we do not see our sin, we see no need for the Cross. Give us other things, God – just make things easy here – after all, I’m a good person, don’t I deserve it? We lie to ourselves and lie to God. Our focus is shifted away from Christ, and we forget who we are. We see no need for Church. But think on what we teach here. Although you are a sinful being, God gives you forgiveness and life and salvation here in His Word. He gives you His Body and Blood for the remission of your sin. God is active for you here. Could there be anything that we would see as more important? And yet, what is the temptation that arises? To push Christ and His forgiveness to the side, to treat it as something that we don’t need.

That is why Christ and Him Crucified is preached. We see our need for a Savior, and then our Savior is proclaimed to us. This is the pattern, this is what we have done as the Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. And they worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Why? Why the continual blessing? Why the continual thanksgiving? Because their eyes were focused on Christ and not only what He had done in the past, but what He continues to do, what He continued to give to them each day in His Word and Sacraments.

We must not think, as some Churches teach, that with the Ascension our Lord leaves us behind. He has said that He is with us until the end of the age. And He is. He is present in His Word. He is present in His Supper. He has bound Himself to you at your Baptism. The reality of the Christian faith is that God Himself is present. He wants this truth preached – but we are to remember another thing – and this is the particular joy of the Ascension. Christ desires that He be preached so that we know that He is with us – that He gives us forgiveness and salvation – that He is indeed Emmanuel – God with us. That is true. That is the truest thing in your life. Christ is with you – and you are with Christ. As Christ has ascended, as Christ has risen to heaven – where will you be, O Christian, you who are forgiven and attached to Him? You will be where He is. The fact that God is here for you now on earth in His Word and Sacraments is the proof that God desires you to be with Him for all eternity. And God desires that nothing distract you from this truth. Throughout our days on earth our eyes are pulled away from the earthly, the mundane, the nice worldly advice, and rather placed upon Christ Jesus who has died, risen, and ascended – so that we might be sure of our salvation, that we might be sure of our eternal home.

This is what we see Christ Jesus doing in our Gospel. He anchors the Church, He ties the Church to His Word, so that we might always know His forgiveness and be tied to Him – so that for eternity we might be with Him as well. This is why the disciples departed in joy, this is the same joy which we proclaim to this day as well. Christ has ascended to the Father, and so too shall you, for Christ has claimed you as His own and given you His forgiveness. Cling to Him, rejoice in His forgiveness, and know that as He is in Heaven so shall you be as well. Amen. Christ is Risen, He is Risen indeed – Alleluia.