Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 19 (October 5-10, 2015)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: Psalm 90:12 - “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #688 ““Come, Follow Me,” the Savior Spake”
Hymns for Sunday: 573, 688, 618, 701, 703, 664

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Psalm 90:12-17
What is the psalmist asking for here? Why? When might this prayer be a good one for you to pray?

Tuesday:  Deuteronomy 10:12-21
God loves, and so we love. Why is the order important? How do we love? What happens when we love the wrong things?

Wednesday:  1 Corinthians 1:4-9
What good news in there for you in these verses?

Thursday:  Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Is worldly wealth a sign of God’s approval? What is a better pursuit?

Friday:  Hebrews 3:12-19
How does sin harden us toward God? How do the Church and our fellow Christians help us and we them?

Saturday:  Mark 10:17-22
How unforgiving is the Law? How many things did the rich young man lack? How is the Gospel therefore better?

The Catechism: Holy Baptism: How can water do such great things? [Part 1] Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit . . .

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ safety and relief for all effected by the storms this week, and strength for those helping.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational vice president, Scott Killian.
+ the China Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for our Synod’s Board for International Mission.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Pentecost 19 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Safe in Jesus”
Text: Mark 10:2-16; Genesis 2:18-25; Hebrews 2:1-18

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

For a little while this week, there was a flurry of concern over Hurricane Joaquin - whether it would hit the United States mainland, and where. Including potentially here. Warnings started going out so that people could make preparations and be safe. Safe from the flooding, safe from the winds, safe from the potential power outages.

Also this week we heard of another shooting on a college campus, this one in a small, quiet town in Oregon. What was supposed to be a safe place, and a safe place for learning, turned out not to be so safe. But we’ve seen it before - evil bursting into a place we thought was safe.

We want to be safe. So we lock our doors at night. We teach our children not to trust strangers. We buy cars with the latest and greatest safety features. We put our money in the bank or what we think are safe investments. We build a strong national defense. And we make laws - laws to protect us; laws so that we can protect ourselves. And we keep making laws and changing laws, strengthening some, weakening others, all so that we can be safe. Safe from evil.

But it hasn’t worked. Evil still comes upon us, and it doesn’t care who you are. The evil one simply wants to devour, consume, and destroy you and everything and everyone you have and hold dear. Last week we considered how much worse it would be if the angels were not protecting us. And yet while they defend us from evil, they cannot deliver us from evil. There is only one who can: our Saviour Jesus Christ. 

The readings today continue that theme, applying it to the most intimate relationship God has established: marriage. The one flesh union of a man and a woman. Every person is a self-contained living being, eating, digesting, breathing, and moving on your own, capable by yourself of everything . . . except for one thing: procreation. You cannot do that by yourself. Men and women were each given half of what is needed, and marriage then given to bring them together as one flesh, to produce and raise children. To be fruitful and multiply, is how the Scriptures put it. 

And so we heard of the first marriage in the world today; how God formed a woman from the flesh and bone of Adam’s side and then brought her to him in the first marriage ceremony. And what joy there was for them that day as God gave them to one another. A joy we see on wedding days still today.

And God desired to protect that union and the families it produces, that it be a safe place. Safe from division, safe from evil. What God has joined together, let not man separate.

But separate is exactly what has happened. This first gift of God after the creation of all that exists, is and has been under attack. It didn’t take long for satan to divide what God had joined together, as Adam blamed his wife for all the trouble they had gotten into, and even blamed God for giving him such a helper. Their joy and unity was gone in a puff of satan-breathed smoke. It didn’t take long after that for their children to follow in the footsteps of their parents, for brother to turn against brother as Cain murdered his brother Abel, and then also in those first chapters of Genesis we read of rape, incest, multiple wives, and divorce. In a world infected and affected by evil, even marriages and families were not safe places anymore.

And we see it today. And it didn’t take a Supreme Court ruling to do it. As I just outlined, the erosion of marriage and family has been going on for a very long time. You know the litany: the wide-spread acceptance of sexual activity outside of marriage has made marriage, to many, an unnecessary option - except to get desired tax breaks and rights afforded by the government. No fault, easy-to-get divorce has made marriage more like a temporary partnership than a lifelong, one flesh, union. Children are affected as many are raised without their biological moms and dads, if they are lucky enough not to have been ripped from their mother’s wombs - the place that should be the safest place of all. And that doesn’t even mention spousal and child abuse, cheating websites, fights, harsh words, cold shoulders, blame, lack of affection, and families divided even while living under the same roof. Marriages, families, relationships, can be a mess. Even Christian ones. Even maybe yours.

As it was in the beginning, is now . . . and also was at the time of Jesus. They, too, turned to the law just as we often turn to the law to fix the problems of sin. The Pharisees came up to Jesus and asked Him: Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? Well, Moses allowed it, Jesus replies, but that was not part of God’s plan.

Take note of that answer. Usually we think of the Law, and especially the Old Testament laws, as harsh, unyielding, and hopelessly rigid. But here the Law was relaxed a bit, softened. God did not just bring His giant foot down from heaven and bellow: NO! An allowance was made. For the truth is, it’s not the Law that is unyielding and hopelessly rigid, it is man’s heart that is. Man’s heart that won’t yield. Man’s heart that won’t forgive. Man’s heart hardened to pursue it’s own, selfish path at the expense of any that would get in its way. And so God, in mercy, made an allowance. Because God knew what we so often forget: that the Law is not the answer. The Law cannot make us better. The Law cannot create that safe place we desire and need. The Law is good, but sometimes the Law can be an idol, too, if we look to it instead of to Jesus for the good, for the refuge, we need.

And so when asked about marriage and divorce, Jesus doesn’t go back to Moses, back to the Law, He goes back to the beginning, to the Gospel, to marriage as the joyful, one flesh gift God created and gave. And then He protects the children too, taking them in His arms and blessing them. Because if there is going to be a safe place for our marriages, our families, and our friendships, it is in Jesus.

In Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels.
In Jesus, who came to be our brother and shared our flesh and blood.
In Jesus, who suffered when we turned against our brother, and He suffered the division of our world and the hardness of our hearts by being hung on the cross and forsaken by His Father for our sins that He bore.
In Jesus, who became like us and was tempted like us in every way.
In Jesus, who came to provide the forgiveness of our sins.
For how can we expect any place to be safe if our own hearts aren’t even safe? If our own hearts are hard, still spewing evil, still pursuing our own selfish paths?

So Jesus came and took us as His Bride - as hard, sinful, and unclean as we are - that we first have a safe place in Him and His love and forgiveness. He came to give us new and clean hearts (Psalm 51); to give us hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36). He does that in Baptism, washing us not outwardly but inwardly, through water and the Word. 

And then from within that love and forgiveness and safety, we begin to live a new life - not because of the Law, but because of the Gospel. Because Jesus has restored the life that we lost and given us a place of safety and refuge. So that we be no longer afraid to love and forgive, but be free to. For His answer to our sin is not to divorce us, but to forgive us. Forgiveness which will never run out, and for which you can never be too sinful. He puts His forgiveness into your ears in the Absolution; He puts it into your mouths in the Supper. He wants to fill you with it, for it is His love for you. That you know that no matter what you have done, how sinful you have been, how hard, how shameful, here, in Him, is a safe place for you.

And thus filled, thus safe and secure, you now take that love and forgiveness into a world of sin; a world perhaps hostile to us and the life that we proclaim. That’s okay. Don’t be afraid to be counter-cultural. For it’s not us against them, it’s us for them. The Church is here, we are here, for the world. To benefit others; to help them. For Jesus is not against them, but for them, too. For all need a safe place from the sin without and from the sin within. A place where we can again live in joy, not fear, in the relationships that God has so graciously given to us - be they marriage, family, or friendship. Without Him, no place is safe. Without Him, silence does not make us safe; going along does not make us safe; separation does not make us safe. Evil will find you wherever you go. 

But with Him, you are safe wherever you are, wherever you go, even if a hard and hateful world strings you up like it crucified Him. Even then and there, in death, you are safe. For He is the one who has conquered death and the grave.

So the laws today may allow a lot of things, from divorce to same-sex marriage to who knows what else in the next few years. Don’t despair, don’t hide, and don’t remain silent. We have a better way to show the world and give to the world. Not the way of the Law, but the way of the Gospel, the way of Jesus. The answer is not to divorce ourselves from the world, but to live in this world with the truth and forgiveness we have been given. To risk it all, for really, we have nothing to lose. We are safe in Jesus. Children safe in His arms. For in Him, the Shattered Bliss of Eden (LSB #572) is healed and recreated, our shame covered, and our safe place restored. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

St. Michael and All Angels Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Jesus Does What Angels Cannot”
Text: Matthew 18:1-11;
Revelation 12:7-12; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Angels, like so much else in this life, we tend to take for granted. Our God gives us life and breath, the sun and rain, parents, spouse, and family, friends and neighbors, job and leisure, health and intellect, pastor and church, freedom and liberty, and so very much more. Everyday. But we really don’t think so much about these things. They’re just there. Until they’re not. And then we miss them. Then we realize what gifts these things are, each day, each moment.

And it is the same with angels, I think. We don’t realize how important they are, what a gift they are to us, protecting us. They’re just there. But if they weren’t, we would surely know it, and miss them very much. For if satan had free reign, if God’s servants were not protecting us, how horrible things would surely be. Luther once said that if God were to withdraw His hand, even for just a moment from this world and life, satan would have it all quickly destroyed. For if satan can instigate a war in heaven, as we heard today, just imagine what he would be able to do here. 

Actually, we don’t have to imagine it; we see glimpses of it. For as we also heard today: But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short! Not short enough, we would say! For we see the damage satan is doing, even as the angels do indeed protect us from evil. The Scriptures are filled with accounts of the angels providing such protection, from protecting Lot in Sodom and Gomorrah, to Elijah seeing angels on the mountains, surrounding the Assyrian army with chariots and horses of fire, to the angels coming to minister to Jesus after His temptation in the wilderness. The angels are active and serving, fierce warriors, sent by God on our behalf. And we need them. 

So why still the evil in the world? Why still so many wars, the breakdown of family and morals, the anger and hatred dividing people, and even families, if the angels are protecting us? Well, I would simply put it this way: That while the angels can keep evil from us, they cannot keep us from evil. How it must grieve them to fight for us and protect us, and then see us expose ourselves to danger as we follow the enticements and temptations to sin and evil. To hate instead of love. To fight instead of forgive. To divide instead of make peace. To hurt instead of help. To tear down instead of build up. To be proud instead of humble. To lust instead of exercsing self control. To doubt instead of believe. Sinful thoughts and desires bursting out of us in evil words and deeds. Or keeping us silent and inactive when we should be confessing and acting in love toward others. And while the angels grieve such things, satan rejoices. 

But again we ask why? Why do we do such things? Why do we so easily ally ourselves with the great dragon and ancient serpent, as Revelation calls him, who is seeking only to destroy and devour us? Well because also as Revelation calls him, he is a deceiver. We do not see him as he is, as God sees him. He makes sin look sweet and evil look good. You know the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit and how he did that then, but you know it from your own life as well, and the lives of those around you. How we chase after pleasures but get only regrets. When we do or say something one moment and then wish we could take it back the next. How we doubt and disbelieve, and then later realize it was the truth all along. And sometimes it happens quickly, impulsively, and sometimes we do those things after long periods of temptation and deliberation. But the results are the same. 

And lest you think your sin doesn’t really matter, the words of Jesus we heard from Matthew today should sober us up pretty quickly. Instead of falling into sin, it would be better to slice and dice your body. And then this too: whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. And think there not only of children in the physical sense, but the children of God sitting in the chairs next to you now, the desk next to you at school, the cubicle next to you at work, or living in the house next door. Satan and his angels were thrown down, out of heaven, for their sin, and we deserve to be thrown down too, with a cement necklace, into the depth of the sea. 

Yet here we are. Neither in the depth of the sea, nor with cement necklaces, and last I checked, you all have two hands, two feet, and two eyes. And this because satan was not the only one who came down from heaven - He was followed by the very Son of God Himself. The Son of God who came not unwillingly but willingly; who came not in rage but in love; who came not to fight against us but to fight for us; who came not to deceive but in truth; who came not to take your life but to lay down His life for you. Who came to do what the angels cannot do - to save us from ourselves; to save us from our sin; to deliver us from evil. 

And so He came, the Son of God, and took the name Jesus - in Hebrew that’s Yeshua, which means: God saves. And that’s what He did. Giving His hands and feet and eyes and everything else He had, in your place. Taking your cement necklace and hanging it around His neck. And then being plunged not into the sea, but something far worse - into the depth of God’s righteous wrath against the sin of the world. That everything you deserve be given to Him, and you receive the gift that is far above and beyond any other: the forgiveness of your sins. And with that forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, for Jesus also then rose from the dead, that you live too.

And so we heard in those verses from Revelation: our accuser has been conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the Word. The blood of the Lamb that washes away our sin, and the Word of truth that gives that washing to us. The Word of His victory preached; the Word in baptism, the water in which the sinful you is drowned and yet you are saved; the Word of Absolution, and the Word in the Supper, making bread and wine much more than that, but the very Body and Blood that hung on the cross for you. These are the words that speak the truth, that here is your Lord, your Saviour, come to you with His gifts. Here are the weapons more powerful than the dragon, and the truth not spoken with the forked-tongue of the serpent. For with the Word comes the Spirit of God, to work and live in your heart, bringing you the gifts, leading you into the truth, and strengthening you against the assaults and deceptions of the evil one. 

Yet do we, perhaps, take these for granted, too? Not appreciating what we have been given, neglecting these gifts, absenting ourselves from them, and so exposing ourselves to danger? Maybe of this we need to repent, too.

And when we do, when we repent, there is a great reversal - it is no longer satan rejoicing, there is rejoicing in heaven. Rejoicing not only over the victory of Jesus in His death and resurrection, conquering our sin and death and so winning the victory over the evil one, there is rejoicing over every sinner who repents (Luke 15). There is rejoicing every time the Word of God reaches a sinner’s heart - your heart and mine - and turns it from evil to God; from sin to repentance; from self-destruction to life. So when you stood and confessed your sin at the beginning of the service, or when you confess and repent to one another, satan is now the one grieved, and the angels - here and in heaven - are rejoicing. When they hear this Word of forgiveness preached, or when you forgive one another, millstones are being cut free, satan is grieved, and the angels - here and in heaven - are rejoicing. And when you come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, satan is grieved, and the angels - here and in heaven - are rejoicing. For the victory is being given to you, and the accuser, the deceiver, the evil one, is once again being thrown down from his throne and thrown out of your life.

And then on the Last Day, God is going to send His angels one last time, for the final victory, the final harvest. When finally the wheat will be separated from the weeds, and what was done in heaven will also be done on earth, just as we so often pray. And the kingdom will come. What now is promised will then be fulfilled. What now is our hope will then be our reality. The reality of no more war and strife; only peace and rest.

That, of course, is not our reality now. There is trouble today, perhaps even as Daniel said: as has never been before. Satan never rests and his time is short. And so we remember today and thank God for his angels, for sending them to guard and protect us. But even more, we thank Him for Jesus, for sending Him to save and forgive us. Our God has done all things well. And in the end, we’ll see; we’ll see as never before. We’ll see what was hidden to us here, finally revealed. We’ll see this: that those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pentecost 17 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Greatness of the Liturgy Is Jesus”
Text: Mark 9:30-37 (Jeremiah 11:18-20; James 3:13-4:10)

Note: Today we did our annual Narrative Divine Service in which we explain what we do and why we do what we do in the liturgy. This sermon ties into that theme.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we are taking a look at the liturgy - what it is we do and why we do it; what the liturgy is all about. Which is good, because many people are confused about the Church and her liturgy, her worship. Some think that what we’re doing here we’re doing for God, serving Him. Others think what we do in church is merely sociological, that each of us receives a benefit from what we do together. Like a club. And still others think it should be entertainment, like so much else in this world and life. But as you heard earlier, it is none of those things. The liturgy is all about Jesus. Jesus forgiving sins. Jesus speaking His Word. Jesus feeding us with His Body and Blood. Jesus serving sinners, giving us exactly what we need the most.

But folks are confused about Jesus too, thinking that Jesus is all about making our lives better, happier, and more productive. That we have more satisfying relationships and better friends. That Jesus is all about social justice, liberation, or positive thinking. That we feel good about ourselves. It’s not wrong to want those things, Jesus can do those things, and many Christians work for those things as part of loving and serving their neighbor. But again, as you heard, that’s not first and foremost why Jesus came. Not first and foremost what Jesus is all about. Jesus is all about the cross and the tomb; about death and resurrection. As Jesus taught his disciples: The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise

And Jesus came not only knowing that would happen to Him, but so that it would happen to Him. Unlike Jeremiah, who, as we heard, did not know the schemes his opponents were devising against him, Jesus knew what was happening and why it was happening. That the religious leaders of His day thought they were serving God by cutting Him down and out of the religious life of Israel. And in much the same way, those today who cut out from the Church any mention of sin and forgiveness, of cross and death, of what Jesus is really all about, think they too are serving God; attracting people and making things better. But not so. What they are preaching cannot help and what they are offering cannot save.

But it’s not only “them,” it’s us too. The twelve who were Jesus’ most intimate friends and followers were arguing about who was the greatest. How often do we make the same mistake and focus on the wrong things - focusing too much on the things of this world, the greatness of this world, the life of this world; wanting to be great in treasure, great in position, great in power, rather than great in Jesus and the life He has come to bring? And when we do, those things we heard from James sprout up in our lives: bitter jealousy, selfish ambition, pride, coveting, and fighting. For if we want the greatness of this world, we will not like it when others get what we want.

So Jesus takes a child and puts him right in the middle of them. He hugs him, and then says: Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.

In contrast to that, please take note that what is happening in our country - and in some ways in our world - today. Children are not being received and served, but sacrificed. It used to be almost a given that parents gave up much and laid down their lives for their children, sacrificing for them - sacrificing time, sacrificing treasure, sacrificing sleep - to give them a better life. And that still happens. But also today, in many ways, the tables have turned, and children are being sacrificed to give adults a better life. Sacrificed at the altar of sinful pleasures. Sacrificed at the altar of selfish ambitions. Sacrificed at the altar of medical research and technology. Sacrificed at the altar of political correctness and social progress.

Very different than that is the tradition about a man named Lawrence who lived in the time of the early church. He was a deacon in the church and in charge of the treasury. The emperor at the time thought it a good idea for himself to have the money that church had, and so he commanded Lawrence to bring all the church’s treasure to him the next day. So Lawrence gathered all the poor and all the children together and brought them to the emperor, proclaiming: here are all the treasures of the church. And for that he got killed; placed over a fire and slowly roasted alive. Lawrence got the Jesus treatment. But Lawrence got it right. 

And us too. We need to get it right. Not just life or iturgy, what we do or what we teach, but both. For they go together. Always. And if they don’t, something’s wrong.

And so Jesus said: if anyone would be first, if anyone would be the greatest, he must be last of all and servant of all; he must be the least. That’s what Jesus taught and that’s what He did, all the way to the shame and humiliation of the cross. There serving us, His children, and His children of all time. Regarding us as great and worth sacrificing everything for. Taking our sin upon Himself that we be forgiven. Sacrificing His life to reverse our death. Becoming an outcast, forsaken by men and His own Father, that we be adopted into His family and have a home. That we be great in His kingdom, not this one. That we live forever, not just 70, 80, or 90 years.

And for that Jesus not only came and went to the cross some 2,000 years ago, He comes to us here and now with the fruits of that cross, with all that He earned and won for us on that cross: with the forgiveness and life we need. And where He has promised to come and be is here, where two or three are gathered in His name (Matthew 18:20). Where His Word is proclaimed, baptism given, absolution pronounced, His Body placed into hungry mouths and His Blood poured over sin-parched lips. Surely this is not the only place Jesus is, but we have His promise that He is here. We don’t have to hope He’ll show up, or make sure He will by doing everything exactly right. We know that He is; that He’s here with His Word, His gifts, His presence.

And as we have been hearing, the liturgy provides for that and confesses that. The liturgy is all about Jesus and His gifts for His children of all ages. So it matters what we do here. It matters. There’s no one right way, but there are many wrong ways. But in the end, what matters is not that we leave here feeling good, pumped up, or filled with positive thinking. But that we leave here knowing that we have been in the presence of Jesus and have received His gifts. That my many and horrible sins are forgiven, and should I die today or tomorrow or the next day, my life is safe in Him. For He who died and rose will raise me too. He, the greatest, became the least, so that I, the least, may be great.

And then filled with those gifts and that confidence, it really doesn’t matter which one of us is the greatest, does it? We’ve been in the presence of the greatest, and He has served us. Now we can go and serve others in the same way, and love one another as He has loved us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pentecost 16 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Light in the Darkness; Peace in the Chaos”
Text: Mark 9:14-29 (Isaiah 50:4-10; James 3:1-12)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

It was chaos. Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down the mountain, fresh from Jesus’ transfiguration, to this. Chaos. Jesus’ other nine disciples are arguing with the scribes and there’s a great crowd around them, perhaps listening, perhaps yelling themselves and taking sides. When someone finally looks up and notices that Jesus is there, they all run over to Him. And, oh yeah, there’s this boy rolling around on the ground, convulsing and foaming at the mouth. You couldn’t blame Peter, James, and John had they tugged on Jesus sleeve and asked: Uh, can we go back? Peter’s suggestion of setting up three tents and staying is looking pretty good now!

But no, they can’t go back. This is why Jesus came. This is life. This is your life. 

Is it not? Oh, maybe the details are a bit different, but is your life all neat and tidy, or more like chaos? Is your life all going according to plan, or more filled with interruptions, unexpected problems, arguments, troubles at home, problems at work or school, issues with family, betrayal by friends, and people convulsing and foaming at the mouth? Yeah, this is it, isn’t it? Life in a world of sin, filled with sinners, with the devil conducting his minions to turn God’s well-ordered, harmoniously-orchestrated creation, into chaos. Each of us playing our own tune, blowing our own horn, and making a mess of it all.

And then into this mess steps Jesus. And with Him disorder becomes order, chaos becomes harmony, fear becomes peace, death becomes life. He who rebuked creation when it was convulsing and rebuked the sickness and disease that had taken hold on people, now rebukes this unclean spirit, this mute and deaf spirit - which can hear Him! - and drives it out. And when His disciples ask Him about it later, He tells them: “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

Uh, we’d like to know more, Jesus! What does that mean? Are there different kinds of unclean spirits? Are some more powerful than others? What makes this one different? Why could this one not be driven out by anything but prayer? Tell us more, Jesus. Tell us more.

But not just with this, we ask that about a lot of things. About things that are happening in our lives, in our country, in the world. Why did I lose my job? Why is my family so divided? Why did my loved one die? Why so much evil in the world? Why are Christians being persecuted? Why am I suffering so? Tell us more, Jesus. Tell me more.

Why is the question the disciples asked. Why couldn’t we do it? And Jesus’ answer seem to be not an explanation, but, if I may paraphrase here, simply this: Why weren’t you praying?

The prophet Isaiah said today: Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Walking in darkness and having no light is our situation when things happen and we do not know why. In the darkness, you don’t know where things are coming from. In the darkness, you can’t see where you are going. In the darkness, it’s frightening. And we can use our tongues, as James said, to curse the darkness, to curse those who bump into us in the darkness . . . but that doesn’t do any good. In fact, that usually just makes things worse. Agitating us, agitating them, and making the darkness darker, the chaos worse, and turning us against each other. 

Instead, Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. Isaiah didn’t say those words lightly. Israel in his day had a whole heap of trouble and darkness. From wrong belief and idolatry within, and from enemies threatening them from without. No amount of fighting and cursing could change that. They tried! It just got worse. And so, Isaiah said, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on [your] God. Or, if I may paraphrase here, Isaiah is saying: Pray. Why aren’t you praying?

For to pray is to call on the name of the Lord and rely on Him. It is to entrust all your “whys?” to Him. It is not to know all the answers, but trust that He will do what is needed and what is right and what is good. For it’s not that prayer itself does anything - it’s that the one that we pray to can. And He wants us to pray, and has promised to hear our prayers, and has promised to answer.

So, why aren’t you praying? Oh, we do, right? Or, are we arguing? Or, are we fretting? Or, are we looking to our elected leaders or the courts to solve our problems? Or, are we trying to do it? Or, have we given up? Resigned to the fact that this is just the way things are and prayer doesn’t do any good? 

Now, there is a time to argue and fight for the truth. Governments and authorities have been established by God to preserve and protect us and for our good and we should expect that from them. And God does use us in our many and various callings to be His blessing to others. That’s all true and I don’t want to diminish that in any way and become spiritual separatists or hermits. No. But these good gifts of God can also become gods themselves, and what we look to and trust for what we need, rather than the one who uses them as His masks; who works through them. And so we pray to the one who breaks the darkness (LSB #849) - the only one who can. The one who is our light in the darkness. The one who came to bring order into our disorder, harmony to our chaos, peace to calm our fears, and life to overcome our death. The one who came to forgive, to release us from the grip of our death-causing sin.

And it is the son in the story today who gives us a picture of this, of what Jesus has come to do for us. For this is what satan wants to do to us - convulse us and our world, make us foam at the mouth at each other, cast us into fire and water, and destroy us. And so Jesus came and stepped in it with us. And He became the son who wasn’t like a corpse, but was the corpse; the one of whom they said “He is dead” and He really was. And at His death, not He but all of creation convulsing terribly - the sun stopping its light, the earth quaking and trembling, the dead leaving their graves. 

Now, you know the story doesn’t end there, because the light of God’s Word and His Spirit has revealed to you that Jesus then rose from the dead. That just as Jesus lifted up that boy, so He Himself was lifted up from the dead. But until that third day, that was a pretty dark time for the disciples. The time for a lot of “whys?” The time when it seemed as if their worst fears came true and all their prayers went unanswered. And maybe you’ve been there. You prayed, or still are praying, like the father, going to Jesus and asking for help, and the answer? Your son is no longer possessed or convulsing, he’s dead. Great. Thanks a lot, Jesus.

Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. You know how it turned out for that father, you know how it turned out with Jesus’ resurrection . . . do you think it will be any different for you, O you of little faith? Even if things get pretty dark for a while, all things are possible for one who believes, for all things are possible for the one we believe in. For He was dead, but now is alive. Risen. Victorious. 

So is the evil one throwing you into the fire and water to try to destroy you? Don’t worry - Jesus beat him to it! John the Baptist said it: He who is coming after me is mightier than I . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (water) and fire (John 3:11). And He has! You were baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection to destroy the sin in you and give you a new life (Romans 6). His life. A forgiven life. A life that neither sin, death, nor devil can end. That when your body becomes a corpse, maybe for a long time, Jesus will then come and take you by the hand and lift you up, too. To a life where no evil, no darkness, can ever enter again.

But until that day, what darkness are you in? Who is foaming at the mouth or convulsing against you or what you believe? Pray. Pray for them. Pray for your enemies, for those who persecute you, for those who disagree with you, for those in fear, for those who have been mislead, for those who wish you dead and would like nothing better than to stamp out you and your beliefs. Pray for them. Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God. This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.

And until that day, come and be fed and strengthened by our Lord at the Table He has prepared before us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23:5). Not apart from our enemies, but before them, in the midst of them and their raging. Here is a place of peace and forgiveness, of strength and confidence, of our Lord with us still with His Body and Blood, for us to run to and receive His life. And to praise the one who breaks the darkness, who frees the prisoners, who preached the Gospel, who calmed storms and fed thousands, who blessed the children, who drove out demons, who brings cool and living water, who suffered in our place. The Word incarnate, who died and rose victorious, the One who makes us one (LSB #849).

Why aren’t you praying?
Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Pentecost 15 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Hearing and Speaking”
Text: Mark 7:31-37 (Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-10, 14-18)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

There were two miracles that happened that day we heard about in the Holy Gospel; two gifts given - the gift of hearing and the gift of speaking. I think we often overlook that second one, but Mark makes it clear: the man was deaf and couldn’t speak; he had a speech impediment. Jesus touched both his ears and his tongue. And the people marveled because Jesus makes the deaf hear and the mute speak, fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah.

Two gifts given. Two gifts that always go together in fact. For you learn to speak by hearing, by repeating the sounds and words you hear from your parents. When you’re little, when you’re a baby, they speak to you and you try to speak back, copying them. And it takes a while; you don’t talk straight out of the womb! Children first learn to make sounds, then try to form them into words. For it isn’t easy for tongue and lips, breath and vocal cords to all work together and bring forth not just sounds, but words. That’s part of the reason why the people were so amazed that day. This man began speaking plainly right away. And so not just his hearing but also his speaking were clearly the work of God. Gifts.

So it is with you as well. Already as early as the fourth or fifth century, the Church in some places added that Aramaic word ephphatha to its baptismal liturgy to indicate that in those waters, Jesus is touching you, performing a miracle in you, giving you gifts, just as he did for that man. That now, you hear God’s Word and speak God’s Word too. And a few years later, when Luther came along and was doing some reforming - including of some clutter than had gotten into the baptismal rite and was obscuring what was happening there - the ephphatha he kept. It wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t an essential part of the sacrament. But it was a good witness, a good testimony, to what was happening.

For still today, we speak what we hear. God speaks, and we listen and learn to speak back. God gives us His Word of Law which says you are a sinner; and we learn to speak back: yes, Lord, I am a sinner. This is the truth. I confess that I am a poor miserable sinner. But that’s not all. God also gives us His Word to reveal to us who He is - the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He tells us that He is our creator, redeemer, and sanctifier; and we learn to speak the Creed: yes, Lord. I believe in God the Father Almighty . . . and in Jesus Christ, Your only Son, our Lord . . . and I believe in the Holy Spirit. This is the truth. Jesus speaks to us His Word of absolution: You are forgiven all your sins. And hearing, we learn to speak back: Amen. Yes, yes, this is the truth. Gift received. Jesus also teaches us to pray, how? By giving us the words, His Word; and hearing we speak back: Our Father, who art in heaven. And we have His promise that His ears are always open to hear our prayers; to all prayers prayed in the name of Jesus. Hearing and speaking is also the pattern of the Catechism, and it is what you sang last week in the beginning of Matins: O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise (Psalm 51:15).

That’s what happened that day in the region of Tyre and Sidon. The Lord opened his lips.

And once he started speaking, there was no shutting him up! That sometimes happens with children too. Once they get this speaking thing figured out, they often want to talk to everybody. Now Mark doesn’t tell us exactly who it was who Jesus charged to tell no one - Mark just says “them,” indicating perhaps both the man who received these gifts, and those who witnessed them given. But they just couldn’t stop talking about it.

Interestingly, we today tend to have the opposite problem - we don’t talk too much, we tend to talk too little about Jesus and all that He has done for us. Whether it’s from shame or fear or worry, because Christians have increasingly become targets of abuse and ridicule, or because of rules about what can or cannot be said at work or school, there seems now to be a tendency to be hesitant and reluctant to speak of Jesus in public. To speak of sin and forgiveness. To speak of creation and re-creation. To speak of evil and the need for redemption. To confess the one and only true God in the face of so many false gods. It’s as if the devil has stuck his finger into our ears and spat and touched our tongues and said: be closed! 

Or if our ears and mouths aren’t closed, then to fill them with words and thoughts and truths that are not truths at all; words that aren’t worth repeating, though we do. Teaching us not the wisdom of God but the wisdom of the world. Words that do not praise and confess God, but which praise and confess ourselves. Words that do not help but hurt; that do not build up but drag down; that do not forgive but ridicule, condemn, and belittle. Perhaps we should expect that from the world, from unbelievers, from those who know not their Saviour and His gifts. But from Christians? From us? That should not be. But how often is it? Sinning, as we confess, not only by our deeds, but with our thoughts and in our words.

And with that our faith is shown, isn’t it? As James said. Words and deeds confess what the heart believes. It’s not that we’re unbelievers - it’s that we are weak at times and strong at times. Timid at times and bold at times. Active at times and stagnant at times. Trusting at times and fearful at times. Truth is, we’re all over the place. Up and down, sinners and saints both. That, too, is what God has told us in His Word, and what we confess: sinners by birth, saints by the new birth from above. Sons and daughters of men and sons of God. One foot in the grave and one foot in eternity. Caught in the tensions between the now and the not yet - children of God now, but not yet delivered from this body and world of sin.

We’re inconsistent and unreliable. And so we sang just before the sermon today words from Psalm 146 (LSB #797 v.3): Trust not in rulers; they are but mortal; Earthborn they are and soon decay. Trust not in yourself either, what you can do. Don’t rely on yourself and on your changing and doing better. You’re earthborn and decaying too. Instead, Place all your trust in Christ, our Lord, the hymn, the psalm, said. 

Place all your trust in the one who spoke the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth of God. The one whose thoughts, words, and deeds were all in accord and perfect. The one you can rely on always, even when who He was and what He said got Him nailed to a cross. He did not waver or shrink back. He said He would do it and He did. He said He would die for your sins and He did. He said He would then rise from the dead and He did. He said He would ascend for you and He did. He said He will not leave you and He hasn’t. He said He will be with you always and He is. And He said He will come back for you and He will. These are the words He has spoken and fulfilled. These are the words He has spoken to you, to hear and believe. To hear and to speak. To say: Amen. Yes, Lord. Truth. Lord I believe; help my unbelief (Mark 9:24).

And He does. For that gift He keeps on giving, here, in His Word, in His Supper. The gift of faith, strengthening us as we struggle in this world and life. The gift of forgiveness for all the times we fail and fall. The gift of life in the midst of a world of people seeking only their own lives. The gift of salvation, a promised future that will last far beyond just what there is here and now. All in Jesus, who here says: I am giving you My Body and Blood as My pledge, to sustain you now, and to strengthen you in the confidence, in the faith, that you are mine and I am yours. All these gifts are yours for I not only give them to you - I give you Myself

And hearing that, such promises, we speak, we confess, and we rejoice. All that we need we have, and all that we have is gift from Him. Gifts that you now can also give. Speaking forgiveness, speaking the faith, speaking in love. Not because God needs you to, but because your neighbor needs you to. Maybe to believe. Maybe so that they too can speak because they are afraid, maybe they are reluctant as well, and so just need your encouragement; to know there’s another Christian around; they’re not the only one. You never know what these gifts can do. Far more abundantly than we think or imagine.

That day in the region of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus gave gifts. Here, too, the same. So speak, O Lord! And help us to speak in praise and love. Or as we sang:

Praise, all you people, the name so holy
Of Him who does such wondrous things!
All that has being, to praise Him solely,
With happy heart its amen sings.
Children of God, with angel host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Alleluia, alleluia (LSB #797, v. 5)!

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Pentecost 13 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“A Tradition to Live By”
Text: Mark 7:1-13; Ephesians 5:22-33; Isaiah 29:11-19

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ah, the good ol’ days, when “Wives submit to your husbands” was the controversial thing about marriage! Nowadays, marriage has been twisted and distorted by some, kicked aside by others, and thrown into the scrap heap by many. What God instituted in the beginning as a good and holy institution, for a man and a woman to create a family and find delight in one another, has been relegated to a tradition of man which can be disregarded or changed at will. Or at least, by the stroke of a single Supreme Court pen. 

We should not be surprised. It is what happens whenever the Word of God is removed as the foundation of truth. The traditions of men, the wisdom of men, the current tide of societal thinking will come rushing in to fill the vacuum - and always to the detriment of man. For nothing we can come up with can ever take the place of the Word of God. It will always be inferior, and make us inferior to how God created us to be.

Exhibit 1-A for Jesus was the Pharisaical tradition of “Corban.” The Pharisees, Mark tell us, had many such traditions, but this one seems particularly egregious to Jesus. For besides God, the only other persons to get their own commandment were father and mother. For father and mother, a man and a woman joined in marriage and through the one flesh union bringing forth children, are deserving of special honor and love. The family, as such, is the building block of society. And so God protects it as of first importance. Even before protecting life in the fifth commandment, protecting the gift of sexuality in the sixth, the gift of possessions in the seventh, the gift of a good reputation in the eight, and the gift of contentment in the ninth and tenth -before all these He protects father and mother. They are first after Him, and not only are we not to despise or anger them, but we are to honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them (Small Catechism, Explanation to the Fourth Commandment). And that, Luther would go on to say, no matter how weird you think your parents are - and who doesn’t, at some point in their lives, think their parents are a bit odd and embarrassing. No matter, God said, honor them.

But instead of doing that, the Pharisees created a tradition which effectively did away with the Fourth Commandment - the tradition of Corban, a word meaning “gift to God.” A tradition that probably started out well, but had deteriorated and become corrupt. It was a pretty neat trick, actually. The Pharisees (or anyone really) would pronounce their possessions as “Corban” - that is, dedicated to God. Which sounds good, right? Except that what was so dedicated didn’t actually have to be imediately given to God. For example, your land could be dedicated as Corban, and yet you could continue to live on it. It was a designation of intent, voluntarily made, and whether or not you ever actually followed through and fulfilled your vow, you were from that time on prohibited from using that property for the support of your parents. And so what was happening here was not only was the Fourth Commandment out the window, but it cost you nothing, and you got to look super holy at the same time!

So Jesus was not pleased. Instead of caring for their parents, and instead of helping and serving their closest neighbor, they come to Jesus and wonder why aren’t His disciples doing what they’re doing; how come they don’t keep the tradition of the elders; why they were eating with hands unwashed, and therefore “defiled.”

Traditions. The words literally means that which is handed down, or handed over. Every culture and society has them. They are neither good or bad in and of themselves - they are just what we do because it’s what our parents did, what our culture does. Certain ways handed down, or handed over. We put our hand over our heart during the national anthem. We sing “Happy Birthday.” We eat traditional foods on holidays, and use traditional decorations. All good things. Things that have meaning for us and make us who we are. Another way of speaking of those things is that they are the folk culture of our society. There are different kinds of culture. High culture is the best stuff that transcends cultures and is shared by cultures - the best music, the best art, the best literature. Pop culture is the stuff that is popular at the moment but is here today and gone tomorrow. Folk culture is what is handed down from generation to generation. Traditions that bind us together and inform who we are.

But when that culture or tradition comes into conflict with the Word of God, something has to give. Because who are we? Are we who the culture, the tradition says we are, or are we who God says we are? Those who have lost the foundation of the Word of God have only one choice - the culture, tradition, society, dictates. And we see it happening in our world today, with marriage, with the value of life, with gender. And again, we shouldn’t be surprised that this is happening; that sinful men do sinful things. But when these things come into the Church, then something has gone very wrong.

For as Christians, we dare not allow the traditions of men, the culture of man, the opinions of society, to replace the Word of God. Marriage as the union of a man and a woman is the way God established it. The value of life is non-negotiable. Gender is not whatever we say it is, but what God created. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, is how we say it in the liturgy. The Word of the Lord endures forever.

This is a battle that is not new. Jesus today quoted from the prophet Isaiah whose prophetic career was some 700 years before Jesus and the Pharisees walked the earth. Satan has been attacking the Word of God from the very beginning. Sinful men do sinful things. 

Traditions. In the Bible, there are two very significant times when something was traditioned, or handed over. Not the only two times, but two significant, important, times. The first was when Eve handed over the forbidden fruit to Adam and he ate. That “tradition,” that handing over, plunged the world into sin and is the reason why we are born sinful and unclean. Eve handed over and Adam received a “tradition” not of God but of man. 

But then years later, there was another handing over - when Judas handed over the Son of God and He was crucified. But this “tradition,” this handing over, got the world out of its mess of sin; this tradition was of God and the reason why Jesus was born. And just before this, Jesus did a handing over of His own - He handed over His Body and Blood to His disciples, and commanded them to continue handing it over - handing HIM over - generation after generation, for the forgiveness of sin, for life and salvation. That in opposition to the tradition of sin, the Church hand over life; hand over Jesus.

And that really is the choice. When the traditions of men conflict with what is handed over in the Word of God, Jesus is at stake. Life and salvation are at stake. 

For in sending His Son, in handing over Jesus, God has done - as Isaiah said - a most wonderful thing! The most important thing. Wonder upon wonder, as He hands over His Son to atone for our sin, gives us this forgiveness, makes us His own, and promises us eternal life. As, Isaiah prophesied, He makes us who were deaf to hear His Word, and opens our eyes to see His glory. 

It’s difficult, though, isn’t it? We receive what is handed down to us by the world in great doses, and the Word of God . . . well, how much in comparison? And sometimes the traditions of men can sound very convincing and even look holy and good at times. But what has been handed down and handed over to you is Christ and His Spirit. What has been handed down and handed over to you is forgiveness and life. What has been handed down and handed over to you is true wisdom, not the ever-shifting opinions of time and place. The Word of the Lord endures forever for the Lord endures forever. This world will not. 

So what of you? Well, the Word of God was made flesh and has united Himself as one flesh to you. Jesus has forever united God and man in one body, and brought into that union through Holy Baptism, you have life. When you sin, you have life in His forgiveness. When you are anxious and worried, you have life in His promises. And when you die, you have life because He will raise you with Himself and take you to Himself. Or as Paul put it: Christ gave Himself for you to wash you clean and make you holy, without blemish, and give you life and a future with Him. He nourishes you and cherishes you and cares for you. You will not and cannot find a better spouse than He.

So shall we trade that for the traditions of men? Shall we look for a better way? A greater truth? A different life? Or shall we joyfully submit to such a God? To such a Saviour? It isn’t really much of a choice, is it? And then also in our marriages, in our callings, in our lives, do the same - laying down our lives for others, submitting to them in love, handing over to them the same forgiveness and love we have received. That, it seems to me, is something worth handing down and handing over. That is living in Christ, and He in us.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.