Monday, October 28, 2019

Preaching the False, Misleading Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

As long as we live, we remain sinners. 

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

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Reformation Observed Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Looking at Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Fruit of the Spirit (Newsletter Article)

The Fruit of the Spirit: Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

(written for the August 2019 Newsletter)

Trinity 18 Sermon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.