Saturday, November 22, 2014

1 Corinthians 15:20–28; the Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 23, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church; Creston & Mount Ayr;

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There it is. All laid out right in front of you. Christianity in a nutshell. Jesus Christ risen from the dead. In fact, back just a few verses before this text you find out how critical the issue of Jesus’ resurrection is. Listen to what it says:

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:17–19, ESV)

So that says, no resurrection of Jesus, no resurrection of you and me, no Christianity.

Do you realize what this actually means? If there is proof that Jesus is still in his grave, then we are all wasting our time this morning. All of Christianity hangs in the balance. It’s actually in the Creed (http://catechism.cph.org/en/creed.html). It’s all stated as fact, at a particular time. Some folks have said that the most important words of the Apostles’ Creed are “suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Pilate was a real person in real history. Jesus was a real person in real history who actually suffered crucifixion under a real Roman government in a real place at a real time. And, more importantly, rose from the dead in a real place and time. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_Stone) Now, you might not think this is important, but St. Paul says differently. Other religions are based in unverifiable or mythological events, or even founded on people that can’t be shown to have even existed. Our faith isn’t like that. Christianity is uniquely historic. It claims to be just that. And in fact in many places in the New Testament, the writers encourage people to check that what is claimed about Jesus is what actually happened. (Acts 26:26, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11) Everything that we believe about Jesus is verified to be true because Jesus rose from the dead. It isn’t even an arguable point. If Jesus is alive, what he says is true. It is Jesus himself that hangs his whole reputation on his resurrection. (See Matthew 13:38-42, Matthew 17:22-23, Matthew 27:62-63, Mark 8:31, Luke 11:29-32, John 2:13-22) When the Jews asked for a sign that he was who he said he was, Jesus says to wait for his resurrection. After all, who are you going to believe? Centuries of scholars who are dead in their grave, or the one who came out of his grave alive again?

So the question is: How do we know Jesus is risen? God doesn’t leave that to chance. He doesn’t put the answer in your heart so you can feel that it’s true. That’s what the other false religions do (i.e. Mormons and their “burning in the bosom” to verify that the Book of Mormon is true, http://carm.org/are-you-mormon). He gives you something objective, outside of yourself, to rely on. It’s written down in a historically reliable text. Of course, I’m talking about the Bible. We in the faith believe that it is God’s Word and therefore perfectly reliable. But did you know that the New Testament in particular is the most historically verifiable document from the ancient world. There are more copies and fragments of the New Testament than any other documents in ancient history. Everything we know about Ancient Greece, Rome, Homer, Aristotle, Plato, and the Trojan horse, all of it is based on very much less historical record than what happened to Jesus Christ and his followers. (http://carm.org/manuscript-evidence) If you deny the accuracy of the New Testament then you have to deny everything we know about the ancient world. The copies were made closer to the originals in time, and there are more of them than any other. For example: We have only 600 ancient copies of Homer’s Iliad written down many centuries after the events and the copies many centuries after that. We have over 20 thousand copies of the New Testament, from copies made within 100 years of the originals that were written within 30 years of the events.

So the documents are accurate, but does that mean that the writers are telling the truth. The writers claim to be witnesses or close associates of witnesses of Jesus life, death and resurrection. But maybe they made it all up. Well if they did, they are going against Jesus clear teaching that lying is a sin (John 8:44). It is also important to note that the Gospel accounts of Jesus life are not identical. They are from 4 different points of view. Any judge will tell you that identical testimony points to lying, it’s call collusion (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collusion). Also, the disciples don’t tell a very flattering account of themselves. People don’t usually lie to make themselves look foolish. And there are a great many external non-Christian sources that verify the events written in the Gospels. Archeology it the friend of the testimony of the writers. Over and over again the details in the New Testament have been verified by archeological finds. And another thing; the documents were circulating within the lifetime of other witnesses, both hostile and friendly. There is no record of hostile witnesses denying what was written. They had motive, means and opportunity. The Jewish religious community could have spoken out against what was written if it was a lie. But they didn’t.

Now look at where we are. Faith is not required to see that the disciples recorded what Jesus said and did. Faith is required to see that what Jesus said and did is for me. But we can see that what was written is an accurate record of Jesus life and words. So what about what he did and said? He says that his is God. In fact, he is God in human flesh. He says that he has come to bring forgiveness to the world, and to restore a perfect creation. But anyone can claim to be God. Usually we lock people up who do that. The author C.S. Lewis said that Jesus’ claim makes him a lunatic, a liar, or God (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/6979-i-am-trying-here-to-prevent-anyone-saying-the-really C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952). So, what makes Jesus claim different? Once again it is the resurrection. Jesus basis all that he say on his resurrection, he predicted it and pointed to it as proof. He was crucified, dead and buried. The disciples recorded in gory detail what happened to Jesus on the cross. The events leading up to his death, are in fact, the bulk of the discussion of the Gospels. And they were public, “Not done in a corner.” According to the writer of Acts (Acts 26:26). The disciples on the Emmaus road were surprised that anyone wouldn’t have heard of what happened to Jesus. There can be no doubt that he died on the cross and was buried in the tomb. And then, the writers describe seeing him alive again. If you are dead at point A and alive at point B, then what you have is a resurrection. One of the first Creeds of the church was "Χριστός ἀνέστη!" Christ is risen! "Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη!" He is risen, indeed! It wasn’t wishful thinking, or some made up hope. It was based on eyewitness testimony. When the disciples were writing the Gospels, people who saw Jesus alive after his resurrection were still around. And the disciples encouraged investigation. The grave is empty. The enemies of the church only had to produce a body to disprove everything that was written. No body was produce even though many people had good reason to discredit the disciples.

All this is to say what St. Paul says.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20, ESV)

Jesus is exactly who he says he is. He didn’t do some pointless miracle to prove it, he rose from the dead. It is, in fact, the most important miracle that could ever be done. Death is in your sight. It doesn’t matter if it happens by accident, disease, or old age. It is the most real and basic problem with your life. You are facing death. God says, it is sin. You sin, so you will die. And not only death but eternal punishment in hell. So serious is sin that God cannot tolerate any of it in his presence.

But Jesus is the first fruits of the resurrection. He was dead on the cross, then he rose from death. He says that his death is the total payment for your sin. And he promises resurrection for you. Someday soon, Jesus will appear again. And he has promised on that day he will destroy death. Actually, he’s already done it. He died and rose from the dead. In that truth he promises to do the same for you. He is the only one in all of history who can say it and mean it. It is what our faith is about. And it is founded on Jesus. His life, death and resurrection. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Amos 5:18-24; The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost; November 9, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! Why would you have the day of the LORD? It is darkness, and not light, as if a man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him. Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it? “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:18–24, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In the book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, author CS Lewis writes a conversation between the characters about the Christ figure.

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?” Who said anything about being safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

YHWH is certainly not safe. That’s what Amos is trying to remind God’s people. They were thinking that God’s promised judgment was going to be a good thing. The problem was they were ignoring their own sin. They weren’t acting with justice and righteousness. They had mixed the truth of God with falsehood. They were worshipping other gods along with YHWH. God is dangerous to sinful people. He is also good and gracious to those who love him and keep his commandments. We memorize it every year in Catechism class.

What does God say about all these commandments?

He says, “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments.” (Exodus 20: 5–6)

What does this mean? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore, we should also love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

The problem with God’s people in Israel, the thing that Amos is telling them, is not to assume that they are safe because they are going through the motions of worship. They were unjust. They were taking advantage of the poor. They were mixing false teaching in with the truth of God’s Word, mixing the worship of false gods into the worship of the only true God. But they thought they were safe because, after all, they were God’s people, and they were attending church.

Amos makes it clear when he speaks for God. When the Day of Judgment comes, there is no escape for those who are not living according to faith. You might be running from the lion, right into the claws of a bear, escape the bear to be bitten by a poisonous snake in your own home. When God judges sin it isn’t a day of light and brightness, but a day of darkness and gloom. Prophets don’t always get to tell the good news. Sometimes they have to tell the people the way things are. Amos is doing that. He must dissuade the people of their false impression that they are safe, because they are not. And it is worse than they think.

YWHW / God isn’t even happy with their worship. He actually despises their empty repetition, their feasts, their festivals and their sacrifices. What makes them empty? Well, they are not living in their faith. God intends to have a righteous people. That is no “Sunday morning Christians”. Faith is lived out in action. The Ten Commandments describe it perfectly. A relationship with God, Commandments one through three, results in a relationship with other people, Commandments four through ten.

And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37–39, ESV)

Amos tells them what God wants.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24, ESV)

What he means by “justice” is not what we think of, that is social justice, but right living that flows from faith. He means living your life according to the 10 Commandments. Living in a right relationship with God and a right relationship with other people. Its parallel is righteousness. That means to do what is right and good for others.

So that means, when you take advantage of your neighbor; when you speak poorly about people not putting the best construction on what they do and say; when you are jealous of what other people have and not satisfied with what God is giving you; when you manipulate people to get what you want; when you tell the little white lie that makes you look better in your friend’s eyes; when you disobey God ordained authority and push your foot on the gas pedal a little harder than you should because you are running late; when you say that all religions are the same and lead to the same place; when you don’t defend life in the womb; and then you come to church and pretend that these things don’t matter; that you have a right relationship with God; then you are in danger of God’s judgment, and you cannot escape. The lion, the bear or the snake will get you. YHWH isn’t safe when you disobey. God demands to have a just and righteous people.

The day of the Lord is coming…

Is not the day of the LORD darkness, and not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?” (Amos 5:20, ESV)

Judgment is darkness. And God’s judgment must come about. It is time to repent! It is time to…

…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (5:24)

Our lives are full of sin. We are dehydrated, dry and dead deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. But justice and righteousness can only flow from people through faith in the one who justifies sinners, the one who forgives sin. And forgiveness refreshes like an ever-flowing stream of water. Forgiveness flows from worship and Word and Sacrament through God’s people into the world. God’s children love and forgive in the world prompted by God’s love and forgiveness for them.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” (Titus 3:4–8, ESV)

God’s love and forgiveness comes to those who are in relationship to him through faith. Jesus death on the cross and his resurrection brings forgiveness to Christians soaked in the ever flowing stream of Holy Baptism.

Only Christian life begun in Baptism enables justice and righteousness to cascade is a river of life and mercy. (Rev. Reed Lessing, Concordia Commentary, Amos, p. 376, CPH, 2009)

This is the message of Amos to God’s people. It’s not a message of, do good works to make yourself right with God. But it is a message of, do good works because forgiveness that God has given to you. It all flows from forgiveness. It flows from Jesus Christ at work through the Holy Spirit in you.

Our churches teach that this faith is bound to bring forth good fruit [Galatians 5:22–23]. It is necessary to do good works commanded by God [Ephesians 2:10], because of God’s will. We should not rely on those works to merit justification before God. The forgiveness of sins and justification is received through faith. The voice of Christ testifies, “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’ ” (Luke 17:10). (AC IV 1-2; Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (pp. 33–34). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.)

Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

All Saint’s Day; November 2, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Death is an awful thing. It tears apart all that God intended to be together. It separates the body from the soul. It separates people, in relationship with one another, from each other. One classic western movie says it like this.

It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have. (Bill Munny, Unforgiven, 1992, IMDB.com)

Death can even separate us from God forever. Those who have no relationship with God in life will be forever separated from him in death. Eternal death is forever punishment in hell. God’s just punishment for rejecting his love and care.

And here we are, on All Saints Day, suffering the separation that death brings. And if you doubt me, just look at our long list of names on The Role of the Saints. We are separated from these loved ones and we mourn their death. To be sure, we don’t mourn, as St. Paul says, as those who have no hope. These have the glorious advantage of being with Christ, awaiting for the resurrection of the body, just as we are waiting for the resurrection of the body. This is the great hope of our faith, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

There are always lots of questions when we talk about death. Especially, we want to know about our loved ones who have died. God’s Word does not give us all we want to know. But it does tell us these things. The dead in Christ are “with Christ”. Remember Jesus comforting the thief next to him as they faced death together. “…today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) And Saint Paul says the same thing. Death involves separation from the body, but being with Christ.

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8, ESV)

And additionally, he adds in Philippians (1:23), to be with Christ is “far better” than merely earthly existence. He is talking about the absence of the effects of sin, fear of death, pain and suffering and trouble. The dead in Christ are with him. They have no cares about the sinful world. (Isaiah 63:16) They do not communicate with the living. They do not return to this world. (Luke 16:27-31) Martin Luther was reluctant to speak about this intermediate state, but he spoke of the soul that is alive, at rest, and fully aware of Christ’s presence and blessing.

And finally, God tells us that those who have fallen asleep in Christ are looking for the resurrection. (Revelations 6:10-11) Their redemption is finished but not yet complete. They (and we) will not live in eternity as disembodied spirits. But in our newly created, perfectly human, physical bodies. That is the ultimate Christian hope, the reason Jesus was born, lived, died and resurrected. Christians long for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. In fact, when the question of those who have died is discussed in scripture, most often it is deferred to a discussion about the resurrection.

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, ESV)

Notice how he says we should encourage each other on the question of “those who are asleep”. Encouragement is found in the second coming of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead and being together with Christ forever in our resurrected, human bodies.

And so, as means of encouraging each other in the face of the separation caused by death, let’s talk some more about the resurrection of the body.

One of the best places to see the importance of the resurrection is at a Christian funeral. The typical Lutheran funeral is packed full of references to the resurrection of the body. In the best funerals our readings from God’s Word and our hymns highlight the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. Easter hymns are particularly nice at a funeral. And there is good reason for that, it is this very encouragement in the face of death. The service begins as we cover the casket with a big cloth called a Pall. It’s a reminder of God’s promises that those who have been baptized into Christ are promised what our Lord achieved, the resurrection of the body. We read St. Paul’s words of encouragement as it is draped on our loved ones coffin.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” (Romans 6:3–5, ESV)

The promise of Holy Baptism is a physical, bodily resurrection like Jesus.

But my favorite encouragement comes at the cemetery. We carefully take the body of our loved one to be placed in the grave. And we again hear readings that comfort us with the promise of the resurrection. If you have never gone to the cemetery committal service I would encourage you to do it next time. I like Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 15 read at the grave.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:51–57, ESV)

The resurrection is indeed the greatest of all mysteries. Our bodies die and decay in the ground, our souls are with Christ, and yet God will raise us to our changed body that will last forever. That which is mortal, that is our currently sin racked body that is subject to death, will put on immortality. Death is swallowed up in Jesus’ victorious death and resurrection. Death has no victory over us because Jesus has died on the cross to suffer our eternal punishment, our separation from God, and we have been given the victory, that is the resurrection of the body. Sin is what gives death its power, and sin is dead in Jesus death, eliminated in Jesus’ resurrection.

In death our soul and body are separated. The wages of sin is a harsh reality that God hates. But it is the necessary curse of sin. (Genesis 3:19) Death is terrifying because it is a tearing apart of that which God created to be eternal, the human person, in both body and soul. So much of the worldly philosophy that the physical world is unnecessary or somehow evil has crept into our theology. We Christians place the body in the grave with great care, for God’s good keeping until the resurrection. It is a part of us that will be restored. It is not a shell to be lightly cast off. The promise of God is that we will live eternally, physically in our same body.

Listen carefully to the culmination of the graveside service:

We now commit the body of our brother/sister to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.

May God the Father, who created this body; may God the X Son, who by His blood redeemed this body; may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be his temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Amen.

Death is our lot. It is the wages of sin. We will suffer the separations caused by death until our Lord returns. Come, Lord Jesus! But, we have the promise of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. We have the promise of a joyful reunion with those who are asleep in Christ. We have the promise of being with our Lord, Jesus Christ forever. The Crucified One has risen from the dead to make it so. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Reformation Sunday (Observed); Sunday, October 26, 2014;

 

(From a Sermon by Pastor Charles Lehmann, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Belgrade, MT)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In the year 1517, the Christian family gathered for worship, they communed only once a year. And even then only the Lord’s body was received. His blood fully regular people. Only the lips of the priest touched the chalice.

Even in the worship service following Luther’s nailing of the 95 thesis on the Castle Church door, those that gathered in Wittenberg simply watched the priest say the words of institution. They listen for the bell that announced that the bread had become the Lord’s body and the wine had become the Lords blood. They knew that their lord was physically with them, so they bowed in silence. But, they didn’t dare go forward to receive the sacrament. The Lord’s Supper was too holy for miserable sinners. The Supper was for those who achieved holiness on their own, those who worked to please God. So, God’s presence brought fear, not joy. There was no comfort for sinners in the meal, no forgiveness.

Christians had been taught that God was a vengeful tyrant whose wrath could only be turned aside by prayers, fasting, and offering the endless stream of mass after mass. It didn’t matter that almost no one communed. The mass (that is the Holy Communion Service) was important because it was human work to appease an angry God. The fact that barely anyone communed, the fact that the Word of God was almost entirely neglected, didn’t matter. The important thing was the priests mumbling the words before the altar, the friars peddling indulgences to build the church.

By 1530 everything was different. Faithful Christians longed for services on Sunday. Martin Luther’s sermons taught a loving and merciful God who sent his Son to die on the cross for their forgiveness. They knew that God’s righteousness given to them through faith in Christ was reason for joy. They were certain that though the blood of Jesus shed on the cross they had been received into God’s favor, they had forgiveness.

Luther’s pastor, Bugenhagen celebrated the Lord’s Supper only when there were penitent sinners who desired to receive the comfort that it gave. And that didn’t mean twice a month, or quarterly. It didn’t mean the First (Second) and Third (Fourth) Sunday’s of the month either. Once the people were taught that in the Lord’s Supper they received gifts nowhere else so readily available, life, salvation and forgiveness of all their sins, they demanded to receive it every week, every service.

And that’s exactly what their pastor did. Penitent sinners streamed to the altar. They didn’t come because they were holy, better than others. They came because they were sinners in need of what God offered. They were wicked. They were selfish. They were stubborn. They were liars and thieves, adulterers and cheaters. They knew their sin pushed them away from God. They knew hell was the place they deserved. They knew that God would have been perfectly just in striking them dead on the spot. And, they knew that he wouldn’t. They knew that God wanted above all else to give them his gifts at the altar. They knew that he wanted them to have forgiveness, life and salvation found in Jesus Christ alone, offered at the rail. All they need do is open their mouths and receive it from God.

And God gives it. He bound himself to bread and wine, word and water. He used the hands of a sinful pastor to give it. He put the very body and blood of Jesus into their mouths. He used the mouths of sinful men to announce that the true body and true blood of Jesus would feed them what they needed more than anything else in the world. There is no greater gift of God.

It was only 13 years. The church turned from its satanic ways, its greed and wrath, to joy and peace. They were no longer taught they had to work to make themselves right with God through impossible works. The church became the place where God’s grace was proclaimed and given. Forgiveness, life and salvation were given to God’s people according to God’s command.

The Reformation was no small thing.

For Centuries the good news of Jesus’ salvation was hidden inside the demands of the law that could never be met. Church services weren’t even in their own language. All they had that proclaimed the gospel was art. The gifts of God, his Word, the Lord’s Supper and Confession and Absolution were empty deeds that were used to earn, unearnable salvation.

Is it any wonder that the gifts were despised? They were no longer gifts but burdens. They were a club used by the church to beat into submission. People ran from them. The supper was something they did, and as little as possible. They didn’t confess their sins because they could never do it well our complete enough. And when they did confess, the burden of penance was heavy. Why go, only to carry and even heavier load than before? Why go, and have something new to feel guilty about? The church of God had been taken captive by Satan’s lies. It was corrupt and evil. But it was the bed that made the Reformation.

God used Luther and those who gathered around him to speak his truth. Satan had come at God’s people with all the power of hell, but one little word made him fall. The name of Jesus, proclaimed as savior of the world.

It began with Luther’s hammer and peaked with the princes so dedicated to God’s Word that they bared their necks to the emperor rather than have it taken away from them. Twenty years earlier they wouldn’t have cared about the Lord’s Supper, now they stood in the halls of power vowing to die rather than lose it. Twenty years earlier they didn’t confess theirs sins. Now they would be willing to run a hundred miles to receive the comfort of the Gospel spoken to them in the Absolution in response to their confession. Some of them died a martyr’s death, some of the lived through the reformation and died of old age. But the Gospel clearly proclaimed changed them.

Jesus told Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail against God’s church. Before the Reformation it looked as if Satan had the upper hand. But God is active in his church, in his word and sacrament, doing what he always does: he calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies his children. The dimly burning wick is not snuffed out. Christ Jesus preserves his church throughout all time, until the end of time, just as he promised.

He is here for you today, in bread and wine, water and word. Your pastors are required by God to proclaim God’s forgiveness and feed the body and blood to any penitent sinner who asks.

You are forgiven. You are free. You are heirs of the Reformation. Rejoice! Be glad! The creator of the universe has given every good thing to you, and He’s about to do it again. Be at peace. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Isaiah 45:1-7; The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 19, 2014;

Isaiah 45:1-7; The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 19, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:1–7, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It was about the year 539BC. The Jews were scattered all over the kingdom of Babylon (modern day Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan). They had been exiled from their own homeland. Taken away from their beloved promised land because they had forgotten that it was God who had given that land to them in the first place. They had turned to other gods, and depended on their kings to rescue them, but they had all failed and now they were in exile. Their exile hadn’t been easy either. The kings of Babylon were harsh, and oppressive. They were reminded of the time they spent under the Egyptian whip. But even worse the temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed; only rubble lay on the temple mount. And the city of Jerusalem itself was emptied of inhabitants. It, too, lay in rubble. And it had been that way for some 40 years now. But, things were on the brink of change, and there was reason to hope. Power had all but vanished from Babylon. A new empire was growing, Cyrus, the Persian king, was standing at the gate of the Babylonian capital. It would soon be his. As history tells us he took the city without firing a single arrow. The people were simply tired of the rule of Babylon Kings. They just opened the gates and let the Persians in.

But what was the hope of the people of God. What difference did it make to them, that another pagan would soon be in control of the land that they were exiles in? The answer is found in our text for today. It was written nearly 200 years earlier. Penned by Isaiah to give the exiles hope, to remind them that this exile would be a temporary situation. God had a plan to redeem them from their captivity. God was in control of the history that was about to be made. Just as He rescued them from oppression in Egypt, He would rescue them now. As amazing as it seems Isaiah scratched out a promise from God, that a new ruler would command that Jerusalem and the temple be rebuilt. And he even wrote the rulers name. “Cyrus, my shepherd,” God called him, “and he will do what I please.”

“I am the LORD,” wrote Isaiah as the Holy Spirit instructed him, “who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

God wanted the Israelites to remember that God was in complete control of human history. God had called Cyrus by name, two centuries before Cyrus had even drawn a breath! He would be God’s shepherd, God’s anointed one, the one who would do God’s bidding. God called Cyrus to change history, to change the future of God’s people. And that is just what he did. He conquered the Babylonian empire; he “stripped kings of their armor; subdued nations.” It was all, just as Isaiah’s words had said generations before. And Cyrus even said that he knew what it was all about:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:2, ESV)

I’m sure that the people of Israel were shocked to see that this pagan king was indeed God’s Shepherd to them. That He was called by name to change their history and to give them a future. But, the idea of being called by name wasn’t a foreign concept to them.

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1, ESV)

God had been calling them by name since their name was just Abraham. “Abraham, Abraham… God said on the mountain where he told to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, “do not harm the boy… because you have done this and not withheld your son your only son… all the nations of the world will be blessed.” God had called Abraham by name to change the history of the world, to bless all the nations. And God called Jacob too, and he even changed his name to Israel, all to fulfill the promise made to Abraham and to the world. And when the people of God needed to be rescued from slavery in Egypt, when their future and history looked dark, God called Moses by name at the burning bush and rescued them and changed their history again.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1, ESV)

The God who created the world was busy changing the course of human history for his purposes, for his people, to fulfill his promises. Through Moses God freed his people from slavery, through Cyrus God returned his people from exile. God had molded their history to change the history of the whole world.

It was through the people of Israel that God promised to make his greatest change. God called another Shepherd, and just like Moses, just like Cyrus he also would rescue God’s people from slavery and exile. “You shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the Great Shepherd called by name to rescue people not from slavery in Egypt but from the slavery of sin. And not from exile in Babylon but from the exile caused by sin. God called Jesus by name, to once and for all change human history, to give life and salvation where there was death and hell; to give hope and comfort where there was only despair. He came to rescue you and me, to change our history, to change our future.

The sin that we were born with, the sin that is in our very nature, put us at odds with our creator. We were exiles from God. Not by his choice but by ours. Just like the children of Israel chose other gods, we choose ourselves as god, doing what is best for us without concern for anyone else. We trust in our wealth instead of trusting in God. Isn’t it funny that our money says, “in god we trust?” So many people what to change it but really in many ways it’s telling the truth. We want to decide our own future, our own history and decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. Sin makes our future bleak. It destroys everything that is good in our lives, our relationships and our families. As a matter of fact sin gives us no future at all except the punishment we deserve for pushing ourselves away from God, and not depending on him.

Jesus rescues us from that exile. Jesus was called by name to change our history and give us a future again. Jesus was obedient to God,

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8, ESV)

And that death ended our exile and our slavery by reconciling us with God.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, ESV)

Jesus called by name, humbled himself and was obedient to death on the cross, to rescue you and me from slavery and exile.

And Jesus calls you by name. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus the Good Shepherd, God’s Shepherd for his people calls them by name and they follow him. He leads them out of the slavery to sin and death. He guides them on the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake. He changed your history; he has called you to change history, too. The God who created the universe, who forms light and darkness, who creates peace and disaster, the one who controls human history for his purposes, has called you by name. He was “obedient to death on the cross” for you. As he hung there bleeding and dying it’s as if he was calling out your name, this is for Bob, this is for Scott, this is for Mary, and this is for John. That was God’s rescue for you. God gave you his name in baptism, and called you by that name to be his own. Go and make disciples of all nations. “Change history in my name,” Jesus says.

Don’t think that the writers of our church’s constitution said, “The name of this congregation shall be Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa.” by accident. They knew that they were called by name. They knew that they were gathered together by the Good Shepherd, called by name, to change the history of Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa; to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to this place. They were not called just to be of Creston & Mount Ayr but they were called to this place, and so are we.

Dear Christian friends called by name, in the name of Jesus Christ. We are called by name to this place at this time. And there is so much to do. We live in a community that is largely unchurched. Just look at our own congregational roles for example. Our average worship attendance is 100 and yet our membership is almost 350. The majority of people who claim membership in our church rarely sit in a pew. What are we doing to remind them that Jesus Christ changed their history? So many of the things we do are only for us right here sitting in these pews, but if we really want to be doing what God has called us to do, if we really want to “thrive” and not just “survive”, we’ve got to reach out with both hands to this community. We are called by name, in the name of Jesus, to bring the Good News of Jesus, the news that really changes human history, to Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa.

God has called you, by name. He called you in your baptism. He changed your history and gave you a future. Cyrus conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home. God called the people of Israel by name, through them the Savior would come. God changes history by calling people by name. Jesus Christ changed human history forever through his life, death and resurrection. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Isaiah 25:6-9; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 12, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”” (Isaiah 25:6–9, ESV)

(Outline from Concordia Journal, Homiletical Helps, April 8, 2012;

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Once LCMS Lutheran, Apple executive Steve Job said in his biography, “life/death—like a light switch—snap on, snap off. The end, nothing, forever.” Is that how it is? We would think not, pray not, hope not… but it graveside is when we feel it the most. Heavy hearts, heavy steps. We know it well, grief, death, burial. We have all been there. And even more fearful is the thought at every funeral, that we will all eventually be the guest of honor.

But we have Easter Morning. The empty tomb. The risen Lord. He is not dead. He has risen. And as Jesus himself said,

Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19, ESV)

Break out the Champaign! Let the party begin. Our text provides the picture. YHWH is on Mt. Zion. God is present with his people, the church. YHWH brings the food. Meat with full fat. The best wine. The thanksgiving meal is served. Jesus has broken death. His death on the cross and his resurrection are our victory over death, and not just any death… your death and mine! You and I will live forever at table of the Lord, the marriage feast of the Lamb of God.

Oh, but there’s always more with God. The resurrection means that what separates us from God has been dealt its deathblow. That is also the point to the feast, the celebration. We will die but we will live. The pain of death is only temporary, the separation, too. The veil of death lifted. But the veil of sin is also!

Sin? It is everywhere present. Today is seems to define our culture. But, make no mistake, it has always been so. Whatever God says is right and true is thrown under the bus. What God says is wrong is celebrated. God says marriage is the place for sexuality between a man and a woman. We say “No!” we normalize homosexuality, promiscuity, lust, pornography. God says we are to deal fairly and honestly with others. We say “No!” Greed is good! The poor are left to their own devices. God says worship him and him alone. We say “No!” All ways of worship are equal. All paths lead to the same place. Any god is as good as another, or no god at all, is even better. And “we” are as guilty as “they”. We are the “all” in the “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, ESV) Even in our own hearts lurks the evil, the capacity to do the most heinous sin.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV)

God can, and he does! We deserve his wrath and punishment. We deserve eternal death. We deserve hell. God could punish, but instead he does Easter. The once crucified, dead and buried Jesus

…was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25, ESV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV)

Jesus lifts the veil of sin. We have forgiveness. He is risen. We will rise. Sin’s power is mute.

And death, “swallowed up forever.”

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57, ESV)

The promise is now, and to be more later. “On that day”, says God, death will be done away with forever. There will be no more death. There is a day to come, a great feast day, when our Lord will return. And “on that day” it will be a done deal, promise completed in full.

At our funerals we have a Funeral Pall. It is a great white covering that goes over the casket. It tells us in death there is life. It is a reminder of the wedding garment required for entrance to the feast. The forgiveness of Jesus Christ, provided by God himself in Holy Baptism.

No more tears. No more sorrow. What God promises happens right here at the font. Baptism is death and resurrection, a promise of another fuller, complete, no sorrow only joy, bodily, physical resurrection.

And so now… we wait. Eagerly. Hopefully. Longingly. Grounded in our Lord’s resurrection.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3–4, ESV)

We stand in quiet confidence, in the face of whatever Satan, the world and our sinful flesh dish out against us. All of it is nothing in light of the salvation that God has accomplished for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus’ grave is empty, as will be yours and mine, as will be those who have gone before us in the faith. That is his promise in his victory over death, his life. Nor more sorrow, no more sin, no more punishment, no more tears, except tears of joy. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Isaiah 5:1-7; the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 5, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1–7, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” Dorothy Francis Guerney

Well it doesn’t exactly work that way does it? There’s chiggers, poison ivy, and snakes. Gardening isn’t always easy either. Weeds take over, knees get sore, thorns prick your fingers, and your back gives out from leaning over. The garden actually shows you two things. God’s wonderful creation and the corruptive nature of sin.

The text from Isaiah 5 is about a vineyard, it’s not a garden, but the qualities are similar. This particular garden that God describes is well designed, well cared for, and loved. But something is wrong. What should be a wonderful place to visit is actually corrupt. Instead of wonderful plump grapes for making good wine, the vineyard only has sour, wild grapes. The garden is full of weeds. The gardener didn’t get what was rightfully expected. Maybe you’ve planted something that didn’t turn out, something so awful you pulled it up by the roots. That’s what God is going to do to his vineyard.

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

This garden is raised to the ground, desolate, abandoned. Makes you think twice about being closer to God in a garden, doesn’t it?

Jesus tells a similar story in the Gospel for today (Matthew 21:33-46). A man planted a vineyard and rented it out. But when he sent his servants to collect the rent the tenants mistreated them and sent them packing. When the son was sent they killed him. What an awful turn of events. What horrible, unrighteous tenants. The owner must be fuming mad. Justice must be done! Everyone recognizes what must be done.

“He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:41, ESV)

The vineyard owner was looking for good things from the vineyard. He got nothing but weeds. He even lost his son in the bargain.

Of course you know that the parables aren’t about gardens and vineyards at all. They are about people. The people of Israel were God’s “pleasant planting”. He loved them, cared for them and protected them. He planted them to do good things in the world, especially to bring justice and righteousness. But they only produced wild, sour grapes; bloodshed, violence, and selfishness.

Today we are God’s “pleasant planting”. Baptism waters us into God’s vineyard. He plants us in the church so that there can be good fruit, plump juicy grapes, for delicious wine. God does all the work. After all it is his garden, his church. He plants us through Holy Baptism. He feeds us through his Word, read and preached, and his Holy Supper. Everything necessary for the vineyard to produces good fruit. The “pleasant planting” of the church is centered in Jesus Christ Crucified, Cross centered, Christ focused. Jesus, the beloved Son of God, who lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of all people. Jesus is, after all, the one who said,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 5, ESV)

When are we “nearest to God’s heart?” When we are where God has placed us, producing good fruit among our neighbors, doing what God has planted us to do. And when we are receiving from him the gifts that he lovingly gives for the vineyard to grow and prosper.

But even we here, in God’s vineyard, have a problems don’t we. We see it all around us, and, when we dare to look in ourselves, in us. Sour grapes! Instead of kind words, we speak harshly. Instead of loving those in need, we ignore them. Instead of happily serving, we begrudge the time we spend here. Sunday mornings are too early, or run too close to dinner. The Gardener should be angry. We deserve to be plowed under and made a desolate plot of land. But God doesn’t give up. In fact, he sends his very Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. And he keeps sending us the nourishment we need. Jesus’ body and blood to nourish us, the Word poured into our ears, to convict us of our sin and turn us to him for forgiveness, leading us to repentance for the sour grapes. He gives us Pastors who preach and teach according to God’s Word.

The “pleasant planting” is all about God’s love for the world. Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commandments. Remember how Luther taught them, how you learned them in Confirmation class. Every explanation that he wrote had two parts, dos and don’ts. To keep the commandments we do the dos and don’t the don’ts. Love you neighbor as yourself. Producing good grapes, bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). And in light of our failure to do just that, it’s about the proclamation that God has taken care of our sin. “God so loved the world…” And remember it’s not the bearing fruit that causes us to grow, but God’s gracious gifts. We are forgiven, so we bear fruit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.