Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 9 (July 27 - August 1, 2015)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: John 6:35 - ”Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #642 “O Living Bread from Heaven”
Hymns for Sunday: 821, 918, 625, 631, 774, 922

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

Monday:  Psalm 145:10-21
What are the praiseworthy works of the Lord in this psalm? Give thanks for them and pray for those in need of them.

Tuesday:  Romans 8:28-39
Things in our lives don’t always look good. How do we know God is using them for good? What teaches us this?

Wednesday:  Mark 10:35-45
Commemoration of St. James the Elder, Apostle.

Thursday:  Exodus 16:2-15
How does God respond to the people’s grumbling? Is this not remarkable? What does God give you? Where? How?

Friday:  Ephesians 4:1-16
We have unity and oneness in Christ. What threatens this unity we have been given? How is God preserving it?

Saturday:  John 6:22-35
Did the crowds want Jesus or what Jesus gives? What about you? How did Jesus come to give you Himself?

The Catechism: The Lord’s Prayer: The Third Petition (Part 1): Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ the Deaconesses of our Synod, for their work of mercy and care.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregational treasurer, Carris Vondal.
+ the Lutheran Church - Canada, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for the Lutheran Heritage Foundation.
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 9 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Our Always Saviour”
Text: Mark 6:45-56 (Genesis 9:8-17; Ephesians 3:14-21)

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

It had been a perfect day. Jesus had just fed over 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. And before that, He had taught - with those words that had authority; those words no one else ever spoke; strong, powerful words. They were different. He was different. And then the twelve baskets full of leftovers when there wasn’t even one basket full of food to begin with. They were in Jesus’ wheelhouse that day. It was great.

And then the day is over and Jesus sends them away. He doesn’t come with them, as they undoubtedly wanted. He sends them off in a boat while He goes off to pray. And their time on the water was exactly the opposite of how the day went. It was hard. Adversity. The wind was not at their back. When it was, they could practically fly across the Sea of Galilee. That night it was against them, so it was hard work. Every boat length of progress exhausting.  . . .  And Jesus is off praying. Where is He when you need Him? Like a couple weeks ago, when He was with the disciples in the boat on the Sea when a storm came up. He helped them then; where is He for them now?

You know how it is. You’ve been there. You’ve had a good day, maybe a good week, like our youth at Higher Things this week. They went with suitcases filled with clothes and came back with them filled with teaching, memories, and the awe of 1,000 people packed into that chapel, every seat filled, singing vigorously and loudly and with an organ that filled the room and then some. Jesus was feeding and teaching them.

And then it was time to come back home. All the cool pastors replaced with ordinary parents. From the awesome chapel to Mt. Kilimanjaro!* New friends gone and old brothers and sisters back. Instead of going to sectionals, doing chores. Jesus was there for them then; where is He for them now?

But you too. All of you, have been there. Good days, good weeks that end far too soon, and then back to the grind, back to adversity, with the wind in your face, not at your back. Challenges, struggles, trials that keep coming and seem never to end. Times when it seems like Jesus isn’t there for you when you need Him.

Oh, but He was there. When He was praying, He saw them. He saw them struggling. He saw the adversity. For the Good Shepherd never stops watching over His sheep. He never lets them get too far away. And then He comes to them. He doesn’t just zap Himself onto the boat - that’s not Jesus’ way. But He does walk on the water, because that’s where the disciples were. He comes to them where they are. 

Mark tells us, though, that He intended to pass them by. For they weren’t in danger, you see, like when they were caught in the storm. This time it was tough, but they were making progress, though slowly, yes; difficult, yes. So Jesus was just going to let them see Him; a glimpse, that they know He is with them; they are not alone. He is going ahead of them, to prepare for them. That should have boosted the disciples a bit.

But it doesn’t. Instead, they think they are seeing a ghost! They wanted Jesus with them, but not like that! They immediately think the worst, and cry out. Scared. Harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Maybe us too. Jesus is there with us when we need Him. He promised. But maybe, like the disciples, it’s just not in the way we want Him to be. He still doesn’t zap Himself into our lives or into the midst of our problems. He is with us, though, through the people He uses to care for us. Parents, spouses, friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, pastors, and more. These people the masks of God, through whom God has mercy on us, helps us, gives to us, and provides for us, through them.

Disappointed? Have in mind something else? Want Jesus, but not like that? Don’t be. Repent and give thanks to God for these gifts He has given you. And don’t think He cannot do great things through such simple people, through such simple means. Look at Noah. Through an ordinary old man and his big old boat, God saved alive all the species of animals in His creation, along with the man and his family.

And through that man and from that man would come this too: our Saviour. God didn’t zap Himself into our world and troubles then either, when our Saviour came - He was walking then, too. He came through a virgin, was born in a manger, grew up in the town of Nazareth (which everyone knows nothing good comes from). Then He traveled about with a rag tag group of twelve guys who weren’t the brightest bulbs in the box, and then eventually was condemned and crucified. And the disciples were scared then too. Denying, running away, and hiding behind locked doors. Like sheep without a shepherd.

But the third day after all that, Jesus spoke just about the same words to those frightened disciples behind locked doors that He spoke to those same frightened disciples in the boat who thought they were seeing a ghost: Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid. And His Word does what it says. The Shepherd is with His sheep and they have peace. 

And that is the way of peace for you as well: the Word of God. The Word of God that teaches us that no matter how bad things seem, they are never out of our Father’s control. The Word of God that speaks peace to us in the forgiveness of our sins. The Word of God joined to ordinary water that does a most amazing thing: it washes us clean on the inside, unites us to Jesus, makes us sons of God in Him, and gives the Holy Spirit. For Jesus is here with us in the boat of the church. And His Word and Spirit are too, to give us peace in the midst of the winds of adversity in our unpredictable and sin-filled world.

Disappointed? That all we’ve got is the Word spoken by a man as sinful as you and not something more spectacular than that? Want Jesus, but not like that? Don’t be. For as St. Paul said, through this Word, Thy Strong Word (LSB #578), Jesus is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to his power at work within us. And as Paul says elsewhere, Jesus doesn’t choose or use the powerful and spectacular things of this world to give His gifts. He uses the weak and lowly and despised things of the world to do the greatest work (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). Like the cross. To do His work. And He always has more for us.

So with Jesus in the boat the winds die down and they are able to make it to the other side. And when they get there, Jesus picks up right where He left off: healing, driving out demons, teaching, caring, shepherding. The people come and He turns none away.

For us too. After our perfect days and weeks, we get back and Jesus picks up right where He left off. It may seem as if Jesus isn’t with us or is passing us by, but it is not so. His promise to Noah is still His promise to you: that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. Because the Father did this instead: He offered up His Son. He offered up the flesh and blood of His Son for your sin, for my sin, for the sin of the world. And so the water the Father now sends is not a destroying water, but a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit (Small Catechism, Baptism: How can Baptism do such great things?). And that Body and Blood of His Son, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins (Small Catechism, The Sacrament of the Altar), now given to you here, swallows up your sin and death and gives you peace and life. Here Jesus says to you: Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.

And the sign of this covenant isn’t the bow in the clouds, but the cross placed upon your forehead and upon your heart when you were drowned and raised in that baptismal flood. The sign that tells you: I will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5), because my Son took that for you, there, for your sin, in your place. Now I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20). I am your Good Shepherd (John 10:11). I know you, and you know me. 

Disappointed? Never. For you have a Saviour who is with you in the really good days and weeks and in the really bad days and weeks. In adversity and in times of ease. In the spectacular and the ordinary. In plenty and in want. In sorrow and in joy. In life and in death. A Saviour who is here with you, so that you be with Him, in Paradise, forever. 

So with such a Saviour, 

Entrust your days and burdens To God’s most loving hand;
He cares for you while ruling the sky, the sea, the land. 
For He who guides the tempests Along their thunderous ways
Will find for you a pathway And guide you all your days (LSB #754 v. 1).

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

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.


* The Adventists from whom we rent space for church are having their Vacation Bible School this week and have decked out the church to look like Mt. Kilimanjaro. It’s something we have to endure every year.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pentecost 8 Sermon

Pentecost 8 with Confirmation

Jesu Juva

“A Faithful Lord”
Text: Mark 6:30-44 (Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ephesians 2:11-22)

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

Kitty, Juliana, Jarra, and Destry will today take their place with the 5,000 and receive the feeding of their Lord. They have sat at His feet these past few years, heard His Word, and learned from Him. Now He will feed them, with food even greater than there was that day. For He will feed them not with five loaves of bread and two fish, but with His very Body and Blood. Food not for the body, but food for the soul.

And just like the crowd that day, they have learned. But I’ll admit: you did not always come running to learn, like the crowd did that day! Like we just sang, your cry went up: “How long” (LSB #644 v.3)? But you heard, and learned.

And this is what they learned: they learned first who they are: sinners. Sinners with no hope of spiritual life, now or forever, in themselves. They are, as Luther would say, spiritual maggot sacks. They came up with their own colorful term for that themselves, which I’ll let you ask them later. But ugly, deformed, infected, and dead spiritually they learned we all are.

But they also learned who their Lord is, that He is their Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. And that beyond all human reason, He loves us maggot sacks. That Jesus laid down His life for them and they have been brought near by His blood. That Jesus broke down the dividing wall of sin between them and God, to reconcile them and make them holy in the forgiveness of their sins. That in Jesus they now have a gracious and merciful Father and have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.

And having heard the self-revealing voice of the Father, they then learned from His voice to speak back to Him in prayer, especially the prayer given them to pray by Jesus Himself, the Lord’s Prayer.

And they pray Our Father because they are baptized children of God, begotten from above by water and the Word. And they learned that this baptism is not a past event, consigned to the photo albums, but an ongoing reality for them. A reality to live in daily, drowning that old sinful Adam in them, and rising to life again with the forgiveness that pours forth from that font and never stops. 

Never stops, for the voice of absolution calls them back to that day, to receive even now what was promised them then, and that confession is a gift - that we need not live in fear of our sins and failures, but we can confess them and know that the words we will hear back are not ones of judgment or condemnation, but of love - that their sins are forgiven in Jesus. And these words, spoken by the called and ordained servant of Christ, are just as valid and certain in heaven as if Christ our dear Lord dealt with us Himself.

And they have learned that all of this leads to steps they will take today, to the altar and Table of the Lord, to be fed by Him. 

They have learned. Not perfectly, to be sure. Their learning has taught them much, but even more has taught them what they don’t know. They have learned, as Luther learned, that the catechism is something that needs to be learned and relearned everyday and all life long. A constant learning, a constant feeding, for we have a constant enemy, seeking to rob us of our treasure and of our Saviour.

And it won’t be easy. We’re going to hear that next week in fact. For the twelve disciples had learned much from the Lord. They were there while Jesus was teaching the crowd and were not only eye-witnesses but “hand-witnesses” of this great miracle, they themselves passing out the bread and fish that should not have even been enough for them, yet which fed the multitude. And yet not even a few hours later, their faith lets them down.

You too. And so too Kitty, Juliana, Jarra, and Destry. Your confirmation doesn’t mean that you’re home free. Despite the joy of this day, your faith is going to be challenged. Your confirmation is you putting a big, fat target on your back for satan to aim at. For he is not going to throw up his hands now and admit defeat. Oh, they’re confirmed now - oh well! Not at all and quite the contrary. Your confirmation means that he is going to increase the number and intensity of his attacks against you. He hates this day. He hates your faith. He hates your confession. He hates you. And so he is going to use every weapon in his arsenal to attack you and bring you down. And Destry, even your arms are no match for him and his. If you try to face him on your own, you’re going down.

But as you have learned: you’re not on your own. You are baptized into Christ. Your foundation is Jesus Christ your Lord. So when you are weak, He is your strength. When you fall, He is your forgiveness. When you struggle, He is your refuge. When you fear, He is your peace. You have a big, fat target on you, but you have an even bigger Saviour around you, and in you, and for you. You have His promises, all signed, sealed, and delivered. And so you can be confident. For as Jeremiah said, you have a shepherd, a good one; one who will not let you down. And His name is: the Lord in our righteousness. Or you know Him by this name: Jesus.

And now you’re going to make some promises, that what you have learned you believe, and what you believe is so precious and important that you would rather die than recant it or fall away from it. Pretty bold promise that. You know, when most of the people here made that same promise, it was pretty easy to be a Christian. Most people were. Christianity was respected and an integral part of our social fabric. Not so much anymore. You make this vow even as people atack you on the internet. You make this vow as you see Christians beheaded for confessing Christ. You make this vow even as politicians boldly say that we have to change our beliefs to get with the times. You make this vow as being an orthodox Christian is as strange to many people as looking at a ten-headed alien from another planet! Traditional marriage? Sanctity of life? Chastity? Objective truth? You’ve got to be kidding!

We’ve had it easy. No more. It’s a brave new world, satan’s ranks are swelling, and the truth seems on the ropes. 

But do not be deceived. That’s exactly what satan wants you to believe. That the hostility is too great, the evil is too great, the world is too far gone, that five loaves of bread and two fish aren’t enough! But we have Jesus. And with Jesus, five loaves of bread and two fish are five loaves and two fish more than enough. 

And so today, in your promises and in your confession, you hold up Christ crucified against the hostility and proclaim: Sin disturb my soul no longer, I am baptized into Christ! You hold up Christ crucified against the threats and assaults of satan and his minions and proclaim: Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ! And you hold up Christ crucified against death and all the weapons of this world and proclaim: Death you cannot end my gladness, I am baptized into Christ (LSB #594)! And you say this not alone, but we say it with you. We stand behind you. And we will feast with you. We and the whole Church, the angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. Jesus was faithful to them, just as He is faithful to you.

I can’t tell you how proud I am of these kids. You should be too. They’ve already been on the front lines, speaking the truth, proclaiming Christ, and getting atacked for it. They’ve asked good questions and we’ve had great conversations. Do I wish they would have learned a little more . . . worked a little harder . . . sure. But I wish that everyday of myself as well. I set the bar pretty high. But in the end, the Church’s One Foundation is not them or about cramming all the right knowledge into their brains, it’s Jesus Christ our Lord (LSB #644), and His faith in their hearts. And this the Holy Spirit has worked in their hearts through water and His Word. And this faith their Saviour will now feed with His Body and Blood. 

So today we will sing Te Deum Laudamus for them to end the service: We Praise You and Acknowledge You, O God (LSB #941). That’s also the theme for the Higher Things conference they will leave for very early tomorrow morning, for a week with probably 700-800 youth their age, learning, worshiping, and having fun together. 

But even more than that, we will sing Te Deum for the work of God for them, the work of God in them, and the work of God through them for others. For Kitty, Juliana, Jarra, and Destry, in you today we see the promise of God fulfilled in You. 

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Seminarian Fields Sermon Audio Posted

If you have been waiting for the audio of our Seminarian George Fields' sermon for Pentecost 5, it has finally been posted! (Sorry for my delay.) Click here to go to it, or simply scroll down through the blog.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Pentecost 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Powerful Words”
Text: Mark 6:14-29 (Amos 7:7-15; Ephesians 1:3-14)

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

Words are powerful. Words can inspire and they can terrify. They can bring peace or incite violence. They can imprison or set free. They hurt but they can also heal. 

Words are powerful. Think of what is happening in our world today. Supreme Court decisions, changing the course of our country, are being based on the meaning of single words. Those striving for social change also know that if you can change words you can change minds. So change the meaning of the word “pregnancy” and all of a sudden a pill which causes an abortion becomes a pill that simply “prevents pregnancy.” Don’t call people in a marriage husband and wife anymore, but spouse and spouse, ensconcing in public discourse that marriage has nothing to do with gender. And, of course, seek to silence those who would speak in opposition . . . because words are powerful.

Words are powerful. Words can arouse such anger in us that we physically and violently strike back. And even as children we know the power of words. Little ones learn early that calling out “mama” in the middle of the night brings a comforting hug. Saying “please” means you have to do what I asked because I said please! And you know which children say “Stick and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me?” The ones hurt by those names.

Words are powerful. I tell those I instruct in the catechism: you know what you never hear? People cursing in the name of false gods. You never hear “O Buddha!” or “O Allah” when someone is surprised or hits their thumb with a hammer. It’s only Jesus’ name, because the devil doesn’t care about those other names - it’s Jesus’ name that he wants to cheapen and take the power away from. 

Words are powerful. In the Holy Gospel today, words are what got John beheaded. And what an appropriate reading for what we see happening in our day and age. It used to be that beheading was one of those weird, exotic things that we heard about only when we read about John the Baptist, or Paul, who was also martyred by beheading. But today it has made a comeback with the savages in the Middle East. And here too, words are powerful. Curse Jesus and confess Allah and Mohammed and your life will be spared. But refuse . . .

That wasn’t the issue in the Holy Gospel, though. There the words that mattered were John’s preaching against sin, and Herod’s rash promise. And we can relate to both. For how many of us haven’t spoken words and made promises that we wish we could take back? Sometimes we just break our promises or walk back our words, but sometimes, like Herod, we’re so afraid of our honor or reputation that peer pressure makes us do what we really don’t want to do. Our words get us in trouble.

But the word of God’s Law, too, causes conflicts and struggles within us, just as with Herod. For look at Herod. He knows of his sin with Herodias, but won’t change his way. He doesn’t like what John has to say but wants to hear him. He imprisons John yet protects him. Odd . . . yet a story we know all too well. We, too, know of things that are wrong in our lives and yet keep on doing them. We too don’t like our sin pointed out, when the sermon preaches against you and your sin and not just the sins of others, the really bad people; but we keep coming back and listening. 

Herod was a mess. No denying that. But so are we. We heard from the prophet Amos today of God’s plumb line. A plumb line is a string with a weight on the end that was used to determine if a wall was straight or not. And a wall not built straight will soon fall into ruin. Amos held up the plumb line of God’s Word against Israel and Judah and found them crooked and wanting. John held up the plumb line of God’s Word against Herod and found him crooked and wanting. So too for you and me. Your thoughts, words, deeds, and desires that are crooked and sinful, that do not line up with God’s Word, are going to make you crumble and fall into the dust of death. 

So as sinful men and women, boys and girls, we have four options when we, like Herod, hear God’s Word. We can ignore it, deny it, change it, or listen to it

Many will ignore it, or try to. On one level its easy to do, just don’t come to church or open the Scriptures. But the Word of God written on your heart, your conscience, is not so easy to ignore. And while some may be successful for a while, what happens when your conscience springs to life, those skeletons come out of your closet, and the sin you thought you so easily dealt with is not so easily tamed? What then?

Others will deny it, saying that the Scriptures aren’t the Word of God but the word of man, or that what they say isn’t relevant for our world today. It’s got problems and contradictions, is old fashioned, out of date, behind the times, superstitious, a relic from a world and worldview we’ve thankfully moved past. But denial has its problems too. When archaeology and history confirm what it says, and again when our conscience does too. And then what happens when death rears its ugly head and we’re in need of answers?

And then there are those who change it - at least, the parts that are objectionable. Keep some, change some, deny some, translate it so that its more in step with our thinking today. But the problem here is: what to keep, what to change, what to deny? There may be as many different answers to those questions as there are people in the world.

So that leaves us with one other option: listen to it. If Herod had done so, not only would John have kept his head, but Herod would then have heard this: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). For that is the message John proclaimed above all others. His fiery and powerful preaching of God’s Word of Law was so that he could point people to God’s Word in Jesus as the answer. 

And so Herod would have known - had he listened to John - that Jesus was not John the Baptist raised from the dead, but the very Son of God, come to raise both Himself and us from the dead. That He is the very Son of God who has come to take our sin, death, and condemnation upon Himself, to save us from all we do that gets us into trouble. From our hasty words that trap us, from the sins which hurt us, from our conscience that haunts us, and from the death that seeks to swallow us up. There is an answer to all that, and it’s to listen to the Word - the Word of God made flesh. Not to ignore Him, deny Him, or try to change Him, but to listen to Him. For His words are powerful, too. 

And you heard that powerful word today, when He said: I forgive you all your sins. You heard it when either a few years ago or a long time ago He said to you: I baptize you. You are mine. And you will hear it again in just a few moments, when He says: This is My Body, This is My Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And those words are true. Just as true - and powerful! - as when Jesus spoke to the deaf and they could hear, when He spoke to the paralyzed and they could walk, and when He even spoke the dead back to life again. Those words are just as true as when Jesus told the thief hanging on the cross next to Him: Today, you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43).

Powerful words. Words filled with the power of God’s Spirit. Words that convict and promise. Words that condemn and save. Words that show us our sin, but also show us our Saviour. And so words of life. Words that give life. 

Those words are what enabled John to continue to preach to Herod even when Herod caged him up, and then silenced him in death. John knew that death was not the end. Herod kind of knew it too - for he thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead! But that’s all Herod knew, or suspected. What he didn’t know was how that life could be his. He sought life in the things of this world, but that only got him conflicted and confused and in trouble. John, on the other hand, knew what Herod did not - that life is found only in Jesus. And so free or in prison, John’s message was the same. And with or without his head, John’s life was the same. For his life was in his Saviour’s hands, not Herod’s. And that gave him confidence to the end. 

You too. Whatever the cage you feel yourself in - the cage of a guilty conscience, the cage of sins past or present, the cage of a world gone mad, the cage of fear and death - whatever it is for you, you have a Word more powerful than all that. A word that sets free, that forgives, that releases. A Word of God, which Paul said this way: In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us . . .  In him we have obtained an inheritance . . .  In him you also were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance.

So with those words, those powerful words, what cage can hold you? Answer: none. Jesus is the key to the Kingdom of heaven, the key that has set you free, the key that has promised - and delivered for you! - life forever. 

So ignore, deny, or change this Word? No way! Thanks be to God that we get to hear it every day. And hearing believe. And believing receive.

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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Pentecost 6 Midweek Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Depart: No. Mercy: Yes!”
Text: Luke 5:1-11 (1 Peter 3:8-15)

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Peter got it exactly right. When faced with the raw, almighty power of God, He melted. In our liturgy during the summer months, we say it this way, quoting the Psalms: If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand (Ps 130:3-4 NIV)? The answer: no one. From Adam hiding after his sin (Gen 3:8), to Moses at the burning bush afraid to look at God (Ex 3:6), to Isaiah saying “Woe is me!” after seeing God in a vision (Isaiah 6:5), to Peter, this is the reality for us sinners. Think of the last time you saw a really severe thunderstorm. (You don’t have to think long because we’ve had quite a few of them this summer.) When they’re in the distance, they’re not too frightening. The rumbles are low and the flashes at a distance. But when they’re right on top of you, with blinding flashes and deafening cracks, who isn’t awestruck and a bit on edge in the presence of such raw power? That, and a hundred times worse, is the terror Peter felt and the terror we should feel as sinners being in the presence of the raw, almighty power of God.

But, you say, many today have no fear of God. Many today thumb their noses at God and care little of God. Many today even make demands of God and accuse God of doing wrong and being mean and unjust. And that is true. Because God’s raw, almighty power is still rumbling and flashing in the distance. When it is upon us, when the Last Day comes, those who are bold now won’t be so bold then. Then they will be like Adam, Moses, Isaiah, and Peter; but then it will be too late. When, as Peter wrote in his letter in the first reading, the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

But now is not that time. Jesus does not depart from Peter and does not tell Peter depart. Instead He says, Do not be afraid. God is not here to destroy but to save. God is here on a mission of mercy. Make no mistake about it - it is the same almighty God who created the world and everything in it, whose raw, almighty power is terrifying. But now He is robed in mercy. Now He is robed in human flesh. Now He is here to use that power for us, not against us. So as with Adam, Moses, and Isaiah, God comforts His frightened child; swaddles and comforts him with His Word. Do not be afraid. And as always, just as His Word stills storms and makes fish jump into nets, so His Word does what it says and calms Peter’s troubled heart. 

So while Peter was right, He was also wrong. For while yes, the words we sinners utter should be Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord! the words Jesus invites us now to utter and that we should utter are: Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner. And merciful He is. That’s why He was born and took on human flesh. That’s why He was in the boat that day with Peter and the others. That’s why He then tells Peter that He is going to use him to catch men now, proclaiming this message of God’s mercy. And most of all, that’s why He ascended the cross and died. Jesus used His almighty power as God not to destroy us, but to save us. To save us from what really is threatening and trying to destroy us - namely, our sin, death, and the devil. 

But, you say, many today have no fear of these things. Many today revel in their sins, look to death as an answer, and mock the devil. And that too is true. The long, corrupting effect of sin has made us too dumb to even fear what we should. But when the frightening storm of evil rear its ugly head, when sin does rise up and punch us in the gut, when death comes upon us suddenly or in a long, drawn out struggle, when we see things like Isis and its raw evil, what then?

Do not be afraid. That word of Jesus is still our refuge. Do not be afraid of death, Jesus says, for I have defeated it in my resurrection. Do not be afraid of evil or the devil, for I have kicked down the gates of hell - they have no power over you. Do not be afraid of your sin, for I have atoned for your sins - all of them; every last one of them - on the cross, and I forgive you. Do not be afraid, for you are my child. I baptized you and feed you and am with you. And you will be with Me in Paradise (Luke 23:43). The stronger One has fought for us and won.

And that is the reason for the hope that is in us. Again in his letter, Peter said to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Here’s what that verse doesn’t mean: that you have to have all the answers to all the questions anyone will ever ask you about God! Who does? And that’s not where our hope lies, in our knowledge and knowing all the answers. No, our hope is in Jesus. Our hope lies in His mercy and forgiveness. Our hope is in the fact that God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to be in the boat with us, to go to the cross for us, and to have mercy upon us. And that we can speak. Some will hear and some won’t, but that’s not up to us. We speak Jesus and let the Spirit do the rest. And He will. For God is merciful. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s why He’s here. That’s why we’re here. That is our hope.

And when Peter had been thus mercied, Luke tells us that when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. You may not have been called to do the same now. Maybe now you’ve been mercied to follow Jesus as you take care of your family, or be a blessing in your work, to pray for those in need, or be generous with your time. Jesus calls us to those things too. 

But the day is coming when you will leave everything and follow Him - when you will leave the things of this world behind and follow Him to Paradise; when He calls you from the grave and takes you home. Do not be afraid of that day either, child of God. For in Jesus, what is true for Him is true for you. And what is true for Him - and so for us in Him - we sang in the Psalm earlier:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
    my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
    or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
    in your presence there is fullness of joy;
    at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:9-11).

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


Monday, July 6, 2015

Pentecost 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Crossing the Line”
Text: Mark 6:1-13 (2 Corinthians 12:1-10)

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

It was supposed to be a day that left everyone feeling good. Hugs and kisses from family. Handshakes and pats on the back from friends and former co-workers. Even admiration from those who perhaps hadn’t known Him so well before, but had now heard of all that He had been doing. He was a well-respected teacher. He was doing mighty works. Word had gotten around, and they were proud – one of their own, doing great things. And so on that Sabbath the synagogue was probably unusually crowded, packed, in fact. The whole town coming out, to listen to Jesus preach.  . . .   

But Jesus didn’t say what they expected Him to say. They were astonished, and not in a good way, at what He said. They began to say to one another, “Who does this guy think He is? Where did He get these things? Why is He speaking like this?” And so the day that began with such anticipation and promise, ended with the people mad, disappointed, and offended.

So what did Jesus say? What did He say that was so offensive? We’re not told here, but Mark tells us earlier what Jesus’ message was as He went about preaching. He said: The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel. Repent, because they are sinners. They’ve done what is wrong and not done what is good and right. They’ve spoken hurtfully, and their thoughts and desires have been soiled with sin. So repent, and believe that the One spoken of by the prophets of the Old Testament, the One who would do the works of God, the One who would save them from those sins, is here. And not just “here” in a general sense, but here - sitting before them and speaking to them now. The kingdom of God is at hand for the King is at hand. Repent of yourselves and believe in Me, Jesus said.

And they were offended. 

Now, were they offended at who He claimed to be? That this man they knew as the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon claimed to be something more? Maybe. But they could have dismissed that and dismissed Him as a lunatic. But at least He would be their lunatic, especially if He did some of those mighty works for them. But what really stuck in their craw, what really offended them about Jesus, was not what He claimed about Himself, but what He claimed about them. Calling them sinners. Calling them to repentance. He could have talked about Himself all He wanted, but once He started talking about them, and accusing them - that’s offensive; that’s crossing the line!

And that’s generally the way it is today, isn’t it? Jesus, and the church, and religion are all okay with most folks. They may think we’re goofy, even crazy. And we can have a church and we can meet all we want and people won’t much care. In fact, they may even like some of the things the church does for the community in feeding and clothing the poor and other service projects. And some folks may even come and join a church for that. As long as we leave their lives alone. As long as we don’t cross the line. As long as we don’t speak against what they believe or like or think, and the latest thing society says is good and right and normal. But do that . . . and things start to get a little nasty . . .

But it’s not just “them.” It’s you too. And if Jesus were here today, He’d offend you too. ‘Cause He wouldn’t let you get away with your sins. He wouldn’t let you hear the Word of God here and then leave like nothing ever happened. He’d confront you about why your Bible isn’t cracked all week, or if you did crack it, why you can’t remember what you read 5 minutes later. He’d confront you about why you’re too ashamed of Him to speak about Him to your friends and neighbors. He’d ask why you haven’t lifted a finger to reach out to those folks who haven’t been in church for a while. Or why you do the least, not the most, you can do. He’d condemn you for the grudges you hold and your lack of forgiveness. He’d confront you with how uncaring and hurtful your words and actions are, especially to your family members. He’d ask why you continue to do what you know is wrong and then act like it doesn’t even matter. He’d ask why you continue to be more concerned about your own name and reputation than His. And that’s just for starters. Then He’d get specific . . . and name all your false gods . . . all those things you fear, love, and trust more than Him.

Because the truth is: Jesus isn’t the offensive one, you are. We’ve just become nose-blind to our own stench, and heart-hard to our own sin. And it’s we who’ve crossed the line: from God to satan, from holiness to sin, from life to death, from heaven to hell. 

Which is what makes Jesus so amazing. Every other religion or belief in this world will deny the line, move the live, or demand that you cross back over that line yourself. But Jesus is the only God to cross that line to carry us back Himself. Think of the worst, foulest smelling place you can imagine on this earth, and what Jesus did in coming to us is infinitely greater than that . . . when God became man. But cross over He did. To take all your offense, all your stench, all your sin, all your death, all your hell, upon Himself. ‘Cause when He did that, He took you upon Himself, that in His dying and rising, you might too. You were going to die anyway, but you had no chance for life. Zero. Nada. Nil. Zilch. Bupkus. So Jesus came to take you back to life. To take you back from sin and death to life. A new life, in Him, in His cross, in His forgiveness.

And so He washes you clean and robes you in with His righteousness. We call it baptism. And then He continues to wash the grime of your daily life of sin off your feet. We call that absolution. And then He feeds you with the bread of life. We call that His Body and Blood, His Supper, His communion. It’s all a foretaste of the other side of the line, which we had before satan convinced us that the grass was greener on the other side and we jumped not into a pasture but a cesspool. 

So as Jesus said: repent. Stop denying the line, moving the line, or trying to cross back over that line yourself. You can’t. Only Jesus can. So repent in your weakness and be strong in Him. That’s what St. Paul said: For when I am weak, then I am strong. Now we don’t like being weak, that’s why we don’t like telling those we’ve hurt or offended we’re sorry and ask for forgiveness. But you are never so strong than when you do; than when you give up on yourself and your pride and your strength, and rely on Jesus.

And that’s why we pray for this in the Lord’s Prayer. That was the focus in our Vacation Bible School this past week - the Lord’s Prayer and what it means. And so Jesus taught us to pray: Thy Kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our Heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.  . . .  Or in other words, God’s Kingdom comes when God crosses the line and come to us. The Kingdom of God is at hand in the Son sent by the Father, and the Spirit who binds us to the Son. Thy Kingdom come. Come to us here, we pray, because we cannot come to you. 

And come His Kingdom does. What happened in that synagogue in Nazareth that day is what takes place here every Sunday, wherever we speak the Word of God to each other, and whenever we forgive one another. The Kingdom of God comes to us in His Word of life.

And that’s why this weekend, while our nation is celebrating Independence Day, we’ll watch our fireworks and sing patriotic songs, but not in here. The Kingdom in here is different. We give thanks for our nation, yes, and all the blessings God has so graciously bestowed upon it. But God doesn’t care about nations. Those are divisions we have made. He uses nations and works and blesses through them, but the only anthem that is sung in heaven isn’t a national one, but a heavenly one. And we’ll sing that one again here today, that greater one, as the Kingdom of God crosses the line and comes to us. Holy, holy, holy, we’ll sing with the angels. For we are now, and will be in the end, not one nation under God, but one people in Christ Jesus, in His Kingdom. So sing it loud, even if our nation and world don’t want to hear that anthem, and proclaim that the Holy One is here. Here with His gifts of forgiveness and life. Here for you and me and all people, until we go home, in Him. Until He crosses us over, to a joyous homecoming in heaven. 

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