Saturday, July 23, 2005

10th Sunday after Pentecost, Matt 13:44-52, July 24, 2005

10th Sunday after Pentecost, Matt 13:44-52, July 24, 2005

(Matthew 13:44-52, ESV)

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

Have you ever been excited about something that valuable? Just think about that guy there in the parables, weather we’re talking about the treasure chest or the pearl, when he found that thing of great value he sells “all that he has.” Jesus says that that’s what the kingdom of heaven is like… and I wonder exactly what he means. How do we figure out this parable?

I was going to bring a string of pearls my wife has, a string that I bought her when I was a computer consultant, and had money to buy such things. I decided better than to even ask. Those pearls are pretty valuable to her. She didn’t sell everything she had to get them. Neither did I. But if we had to sell some of our stuff those pearls would be toward the end of the stuff we’d sell. You’re not going to find them at the “Burt Days” garage sale. So, we value them highly.

You’ve all got things that you value very highly. The funny thing is that what’s valuable to you isn’t necessarily valuable to anyone else. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” These things that we value have value for different reasons. The other night I saw on PBS the Red Green show. The gist of the show was that The Antiques Road Show was visiting town and everyone was taking their prize possessions to see what they were worth. One of the characters, Harold, was taking a small ceramic doll that turned out to be worth some thousand dollars. Red, the main character, took his father’s fishing basket. It was tattered, and patched with “the handyman’s secret weapon,” duct tape. Red said it was the most valuable thing he owned. The Road Show disagreed. They said it was just junk. “What do they know, anyway?” was Red’s reply.

Jesus tells us a story about value, it goes something like this:

My name is John; I’m going to tell you a story about myself. I wasn’t always wealthy. In fact at one time I was just an average person with an average income. But everything changed for me one day. You wouldn’t believe my luck. I was looking all around for a small parcel of land to buy and sell on speculation. It was something I did to help me make ends meet. As I was looking at one particular piece of land I noticed a bump of ground seemed out of place… so I dug. What I found was beyond my dreams. A treasure. It wasn’t just a few thousand dollars either, but a fortune, enough that I’d never have to work again. It was there in the land and mine for the taking. But how to do it to assure that it would all be mine. I made a plan. I re-buried it and made sure the place looked as if no one had been there for years, just as it was before. Then I rushed home and sold all that I had. And when I say all I mean everything. Pots and pans, blankets clothes, beds, house and home. I had to raise enough money to be sure that I could get the land. It was worth the risk. Everything I owned was not as valuable as what I had found in the field. It was hard work to close the deal but in the end that’s what I did. The price I paid was worth it. And now I’m reaping the profits of my labors.

Jesus story can make us ask the question “What would you give for a treasure?” Or maybe even the more important question, “What kind of treasure would be worth giving up everything?” Well, Jesus doesn’t tell little stories for the fun of it, he wants us to struggle with questions like these. And even more specifically, He wants us to think about those questions in terms of the “Kingdom of Heaven.” When ever Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven, he’s not just talking about where we go when we die. He’s talking about having forgiveness of our sins. He’s talking about living life as is that forgiveness makes a difference. He’s talking about having faith in Jesus and all that he did for you, and living in a way that shows it. And that’s exactly where the parable really gets us where it counts. I don’t know any of you who haven’t at one time or another taken your faith and Christ’s church for granted. I know it’s true because I’m guilty of it, too. Who among of us hasn’t just gone through the motions on Sunday morning, acting as if all that God does for us in this place, and especially the forgiveness of sins is no big deal? And even acted as if the forgiveness that Christ gives us here is something we’ve earned? “God can forgive my little sins because I’ve not been so bad this week.” Who among us hasn’t begrudged the collection plate and the check we’ve put in it? We’ve all been reluctant to sacrifice to help the spread of the gospel. We’ve all held our tongues at times when we knew we should speak for fear of criticism or ridicule. And haven’t we been selective about who we want to belong to “our church?” The man in the parable gave everything he had for the most valuable treasure he had ever seen. We have the treasure of Jesus Christ, and we don’t even want to part with a few dollars or a little personal time to nourish it. Doesn’t that kind of make you wonder if you really have the treasure at all? The man in the story I told had the treasure and couldn’t wait to tell you how he got it. That’s not how we act all the time is it?

I think this is the most common understanding of the parable. “Salvation is the great treasure; you should be willing to give up everything you have to attain it. You should be willing to give up anything you have to hang on to it.” I wonder though how much would be enough? Is 10% of your income enough? If you faithfully tithe is that an indication of the value of your treasure? Most people don’t even give that much. So if you give that you must value it more than they do, right? But if 10% is good isn’t 20% better? The man in the parable gave up everything. Doesn’t that mean that you need to sell the farm, quit your job and go to a monastery, become a missionary, go to the Seminary? Well the truth is that no matter how much you value salvation you can’t give enough to earn it. Sin shuts you out from it. Even if you offer your life it’s not enough. You can’t give enough to match its value. Your sin condemns you to separation from God forever. And if you want the indication of just how sin is true in your life, just ask the question the parable asks: When was the last time I took my faith for granted, or acted as if it was not important at all? When was the last time you acted as if church (and here I’m not talking about the building, or the budget, or even the social events here, but the fact that this is the place that God uses to give you forgiveness of sins, life and salvation.)

Well, that’s what comes of interpreting the parable wrong. That’s what comes with putting ourselves at the middle of the attention, again. That’s the strongest indicator of the depth of our sin. We always want the story to be about us. This parable isn’t really about us, in the sense of telling us what we need to do. That puts us at the center. This parable is telling us what God does, more specifically Jesus.

You know how always say that Christ is the center of everything we do and talk about here? Well here’s a classic example. When you what to interpret this parable put Jesus in it instead of yourself. Make Jesus the man who gives up everything for a treasure beyond value. When you do that it all comes into proper focus. In fact, when you do that the parable will also tell you exactly what you have to do to get Christ.

Now it makes sense doesn’t it? Jesus, is God, he had everything, and he gave it up to be born of a poor unmarried woman. He didn’t even come into the world’s riches. “The son of man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus said. Everything was his and yet he lived as a poor man. And more importantly he died a poor man’s death, even a death reserved for the worst of criminals. He hung naked and shamed on a public road; as if he’d been strung up on one of buildings on the highway coming into town, where everyone coming and going would see him. When you think of who Jesus is, no one in history gave up more to achieve a goal, to have a treasure. Jesus has to be the man in the parable. Now I told you, not to put yourself at the center of the parable, but really in a way we should do that. Because Jesus goal was a treasure of priceless worth. All that he did he did to have you. You and I are the treasure Jesus gave up everything to have. At first it might make us feel good, but if you are honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you aren’t worth the trouble. You’re not Harold’s porcelain doll, the truth is your not even Red’s tattered fishing bag. And yet, you can see how much God values you. That’s how much God is willing to give to have you with him forever.

And what do you have to do? Well, what does the treasure do to be found? What does the treasure give up to belong to the land purchaser? What does a pearl do to end up around my wife’s neck? Nothing at all! You see, God does it all, God gives it all, God makes it happen for you through Jesus Christ. We can’t do enough good stuff to cover over the evil in our hearts. Everything we do is covered with sin. Every good work we try turns on selfishness. “Why should I do that? Because in the long run it’s good for me!” We say. That’s why the treasure seeker does it all for you. He values you beyond your value. He loves you in spite of yourself. And he gives everything, his very life, to have you as his.

What a valuable treasure you’ve been given, you are God’s valued treasure! What does that mean in your life as you live it every day? You see, everyone in this room is God’s valued treasure. Everyone on Burt is God’s valued treasure. Everyone in Iowa, the US and the whole world, in fact. That means you can reflect God’s value for them by treating them the way that God does. God takes care of you in so many different ways, you don’t have to worry about yourself, you can (and you do already) serve your neighbor. Help when help is needed. Comfort when comfort is needed and even money when that’s needed. The thing is you might miss the fact that you do it because of what God has done for you. You don’t have to give up everything to serve your neighbor and to show you value the treasure God has given you. You don’t have to sacrifice to receive the treasure of God’s Kingdom. He’s already done what’s necessary to put you in it. He’s given you faith in Christ. You are God’s treasure. Amen.

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

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Funeral - Augie Bernau - 1.John.3.1-2


Funeral for Augie Bernau, July 13, 2005

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-2, NIV)

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

How great the love the Father has lavished on us… I heard Augie say that a thousand times… well not exactly in those words. He’d say something like, “I really can’t complain, I’ve had a good life.” And Indeed he has. When I read this verse from St. John’s I can’t help but think of that picture with Amelia and Roland and Augie… with those shoulder length curls! How lavish they are (although maybe not in those days). After all, according to the doctor that brought him into the world those curls belonged to a future Governor of Iowa. Well, maybe he wasn’t Governor but it seems he was just as well known. One of the relatives told me, and I’ve had some experience with this myself, as you travel around Iowa when people find out you are from Burt they will ask you if you know Augie Bernau. People loved Augie. You see, that’s also a part of that great love God had lavished on him. We could talk to about Augie’s family, his brothers and sisters, his children, grandchildren, etc., not to mention his two wives. One wife for his youth and another for his old age, they were two totally different kinds of women, two totally different kinds of love lavished on Augie by his God. Since God had so blessed Augie, he was a great blessing to everyone who knew him.

Now today we struggle with the pain of losing this much loved person. It was difficult to see him fight with death these last few weeks. It was difficult to deal with his confusion over the past several months. Augie would have given anything to be able to be home among his animals. But even in this God’s love was given to Augie through the people who where always around him to comfort him.

Now, God lavished all this love on Augie, but as much as we loved him we also know that Augie didn’t deserve the love of God. He’s no different from any of us. Just like you and me Augie had sin in his life. He got angry when he shouldn’t have gotten angry. He raised his children the best he knew how, but his parenting decisions weren’t always the best. He fought with his wives (and they fought back). All of you can come up with some event in your mind when Augie didn’t live up to God’s standards for living. Now some of you might be put out by my saying these things. We’d rather just say good things about people at funerals. But that sin in Augie’s life is the reason we are here. In fact, death is the proof of sin. The wages of sin is death. I mention all this because when you think about it, it makes that great love lavished on Augie all the more incredible; the fact that God loved Augie, in spite of his sin.

Today as we look into the face of death, as we deal with the pain of separation caused by our own sinfulness, there isn’t really any comfort at all in the worldly blessings that Augie received from the hand of God. In fact, if you want to really understand God’s love for Augie you don’t need to look at any of those blessings, you need only look at one, St. John tells us about that one blessing in the text. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! That is what Augie is, a child of God through faith in Jesus.

Augie knew Jesus. He knew about His sacrifice on the cross to bring him forgiveness. And most of all he knew that the forgiveness purchased by Christ’s precious blood was for Augie. The love of God found in the forgiveness of sins was lavished on Augie, not because he was a good person, but only because he was loved by God. Augie held onto his faith in Christ, even at the very end. A few days ago when he wasn’t responding to much else he responded with a strong “Amen.” To the Lord’s prayer. It was great to hear; it warmed our hearts and gave us comfort. But, still if we want to see the proof of Augie’s faith we don’t have to think about that event, we don’t have to hold on to Augie’s words. We can go to the one who is always faithful. We can look at the promises God made to him in Baptism. Just like we said together a few moments ago:

P In Holy Baptism name was clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness that covered all his/her sin. St. Paul says: “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?”

C We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with Him in His death, we will certainly also be united with Him in His resurrection.

You see, more that all the wonderful gifts that God gave this wonderful man through out his life, the most important is the gift of faith. How great indeed is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God!

So, family and friends of Augie Bernau; today we need comfort because we have lost a good friend. Take comfort not in anything that Augie did, but in what God has done for Augie and you and me, by lavishing His great love on us through Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Friday, July 08, 2005

8th Sunday after Pentecost, Matt 13:1-9, July 10, 2005


Pentecost 8, July 10, 2005

St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City

Mt 13:1-9, ESV

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

Wow this is such a familiar text… that makes it really hard to preach about. First, we’ve all heard it so much we think we know everything there is to know about it. Second, there’s the real danger of saying something that disagrees with a long held and favorite understanding. “That’s not what pastor so-and-so said it meant!” That’s the burden of a preacher. Just like the sower my job is to sow the Word.

You’ve all got some corn this morning. We’re going to talk a little bit about that in just a moment but I gave you corn because it’s obvious the seed that the farmer is sowing in the parable is corn. Who can tell me why? The clue is right there in the text… Well, it’s obviously corn because after the parable Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.” I couldn’t give you all a whole ear… but he who has ears let him hear. Just hang on to that seed a little longer, we’ll get back to it.

Let’s talk a little about this parable. It’s been called the parable of the sower, or the parable of the soils. Now both of these have their merits. The seed lands on the soil and it grows according to what kind of conditions it finds there. Jesus is telling us that he casts his word out upon human beings and they react differently depending on their soil type. Originally I was going to stick the corn onto different colored pieces of paper, so that each of you would get different colors. But it didn’t seem quite right. After all I’m assuming that if you hear in church you’re here to hear God’s Word, and have it sown on you. So you must in some sense be “good soil.” We could go into a detailed description of all the kinds of soil there are. Accusing those who aren’t here of being the path or rocky or weed infested. “Shame on you!” we could say about them. But the truth is that we all have those same kinds of problems. We reject God’s Word that we hear, it just bounces off of us especially when it tells us of sinful behavior we don’t want to change. Satan comes and snatches it away, “you don’t need to worry about that little sin. God isn’t really talking to you. There are so many people who are so much worse than you are, that one little weakness doesn’t matter.” We all at times don’t have God’s Word deeply rooted. Trouble and hardship in our lives, that should push us to Christ, instead our faith withers. Instead of looking to Christ and saying that without Him we are lost, we look inside ourselves to find the strength to go on. And we all have those weed that threaten to choke out God’s Word, too. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of coming to church. Life is busy all year round not to mention our “summer schedule.” And there’s even the temptation to think that we come to church to be entertained. It’s easy to think that God’s Word by itself isn’t enough to do the job, we’ve got to make it more acceptable, by doing something flashy. All of it serves to distract us from hearing the simple message of God’s love for us in Jesus. Those weeds seem to grow up before we know it and choke out our interest in worship, and bible study, and prayer, and even a five minute devotion from Portals of Prayer. And then there’s the good soil… we’ll talk about that later. You see how it really doesn’t matter what type of soil we are. We’re really all kinds of soil. Jesus is describing where the seed of His Word falls. He’s describing human beings, just like you and me. Without faith in Jesus we’d all reject His Word. Satan’s word to us would always sound like the truth. Without faith in Jesus, we’d all get scorched by persecution and trouble. Without faith in Jesus, His Word would always be choked out of our lives.

Well, I think there’s different point being made by this parable. When we are looking at the soil, we are looking at us. Whenever we look at ourselves as the answer to any problem we’re looking in the wrong place. God doesn’t promise that you’ll have the strength to do whatever you want or need to do. He promises that He’ll give you whatever you need. When we look at ourselves, in light of the soil the best we can do is say, “Let’s be good soil!”

You farmers out there, can any one of you tell me what the dirt does to be good dirt? Can the rocky soil get rid of the rocks? Can the earth beneath the bean field zap its own weeds? Can the soil that lacks nitrogen get it on its own? Of course it can’t. But a farmer can do something about it. What did it take to make the farmland around here arable? I’ve been told many times about the hand dug tiles that drained the water. But the land couldn’t do it by itself.

I don’t think this parable is so much about the soil as it is about the Sower. In fact, one way of interpreting parables is to look for the thing that’s out of place, look for the thing that people would never do. When you find that crazy thing you’ll usually find what Jesus is saying about himself. So what’s the thing out of place here? What’s the thing that someone would never do? Let me ask you this question. What’s up with this Sower? What farmer is going to run his planter over the road? What farmer is going to through his best seed corn in the fence row? What farmer isn’t going to do something about the weeds that are growing up among the plants he planted? You see, this isn’t a proper Sower. He’s very reckless with His seed. He seems to throw it all over and He doesn’t care where it lands.

Actually, what Jesus is saying is that He, as the Sower, is very generous with the gift of His Word. He spreads it all over, without regard to where it’s going to land (I like this picture… see the sower, he’s not even looking!). His Word is for all people, those who out right reject it, those who let the concerns of the world choke it out, people who don’t take is seriously, and even those who don’t hold on to it and treasure it. You see, that’s God’s great love for all people. He wants all people to know what He has done for them in Christ. He spreads His Word high and low to all people. That’s the God we have. He loves to give and give in amounts and ways that are more than we can fathom. We see the generosity of God in Jesus. Not just that He feed people who needed food. Not just that He healed people who needed healing. But mostly that He gave His very life on the cross for sinful people. There were those who were there at the cross who mocked Him. His death was even for them. You and I are sinful people who need the generosity of Christ. Our sins and failures keep us from a relationship with God. But God tells us in the seed of His Word that Jesus blood covers our sins. And that even though we aren’t “good soil” in the sense that we can earn His love, He gives us the forgiveness we need as a free gift for the sake of Jesus.

How about a concrete example? At the very beginning of the service we confessed our sins to God. Well, He knew them all already. He knows even the ones we don’t know and the ones we keep hidden very deep in our hearts. But have you ever noticed that God’s forgiveness isn’t conditional? The Word of God that I speak to you from Christ’s lips isn’t “I forgive you some of your sins.” Or “I forgive you only the sins you know about.” Or “I forgive the sins of those of you who were in church last week.” No Jesus says through me, “I forgive you all your sins…” I’m not offering you my forgiveness. That wouldn’t mean a thing. I’m offering you Jesus forgiveness, in His own Words. You see that’s the Sower sowing the seed. It’s as if it took that corn and threw it over all of you. Not caring where it lands. Not being specific to throw it at anyone. But to everyone. That’s the reason God has given you a pastor. He wants you to hear and see God forgiving you of all your sins. He wants you to be sure that the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished on the cross covers the 2000 years of history and gets to you right here and now. So look at that corn in your hand. If you didn’t get any raise your hand now and the usher will give you some. Think of that corn there like God’s Word given to you, God’s forgiveness, just as if I’d thrown it out and hit you in the head.

I think that’s what the OT lesson is talking about too. Did you remember that phrase, “seed to the sower and bread to the eater?” (Isa 55:11) When you are hungry for forgiveness, when you are starving to hear God’s Word, when you know that you are doomed without God, He gives you the Bread that you need. He offers you forgiveness in Christ. He offers you comfort in the promises found in His Word. That’s bread to the eater. Eat the gifts of God here and be satisfied! God loves to give bread to the eater.

And there’s another thing. It’s in that “seed to the sower.” You know what God offers to you. You’ve received it today through God’s Word. Think about the Sower again. He sows all over without regard to the reaction, without regard to the reception, without regard to the fruitfulness of the soil. You see that corn in your hand, that’s for you, and it’s for you to spread around. You see, there’s plenty where that came from. God sows His seed Himself; He doesn’t need you to do it. But He gives you another gift in that Word that He gives. He gives you the gift of sharing that Word with other people. He gives you the seed to sow right where you are. Now your first thought it that you’re supposed to find people to share the Word with that don’t know Jesus. But that wouldn’t be like the Sower in the parable would it? The person right next to you needs to hear about Jesus too. They already know about the forgiveness of Jesus. But they need to hear about it again. I need to hear it again. So take one of those kernels of corn in your hand and give it to a person sitting next to you. And when you give it say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Now take a kernel to someone across the room, and say “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Wasn’t that easy? What a privilege to give the Word of God to someone who needed to hear it! Now this week you take that little pile of corn with you. Find just one person (it doesn’t matter who!) to give it to and say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” When you are helping your neighbor, given them one of those kernels. They’ll look at you funny, but you can blame it on me. Tell them that your pastor made you do it. Don’t forget to say, “He wants me to tell you, Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” And when you are making out your offering envelope you can put one of those kernels in with your check. That’s to help you remember that the money you give to the church here is for the sowing of God’s Seed. And the money that you give to support missionaries and mission projects is God’s gift to you to sow God’s Seed. And just think, Jesus doesn’t tell you to worry about the reception of the Seed. That’s His department, that’s His worry. Some of that Seed will produce fruit and some won’t. But God promises that it won’t return “empty” but will do what God wants it to do.

Well, even if you don’t give any away… remember, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Amen.

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