Thursday, February 16, 2012

The LCMS reacts to contraceptive mandate: Synod President Matthew Harrison testifies before Committee on Oversight and Govt. Reform:

Two videos are available from the LCMS regarding this issue.  The first is presents Pastor Harrison's comments on the birth control mandate.  The second is the video of his testimony before the Committee on Oversight and Govt. Reform.  I encourage you to view these videos.  You may see them on YouTube at

Friday, February 10, 2012

2 Kings 5:1-12; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 12, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.” But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.” (2 Kings 5:1–12, ESV)

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

Naaman was an important man, and no friend to Israel. In fact, some of the early church fathers believe he was personally responsible for the death of a previous king. He was a brave man, leader of the armies of Syria. Second only to the king, it seems. But he had a problem. He had leprosy. It was a serious problem. It was a fatal problem. All that he had, his reputation, his wealth, his position was in jeopardy. So when the little Hebrew slave girl spoke up he listened. She had faith that God could heal through the prophet Elisha. Naaman wasn't taking any chances. He went to the king to request the necessary travel arrangements. The king quickly sent him on his way with a letter of introduction. Naaman gathered up offerings, expensive gifts, and hit the road. When he arrived he wasn't well received by the King of Israel. Of course it didn't help that Syrians were in the habit of raiding the border and carrying off people and treasure. The king of Israel was naturally suspicious. But more than that, given the impossible task of healing leprosy, he was sure it was a trap to give the foreign king an excuse for another raid. What he didn't see, was God's hand at work. The little girl was a foreign missionary. She trusted in the possibility of God's work through the prophet Elisha. She spoke out in faith. Naaman listen. The king of Syria also acted in a kind of faith that something could be done. The king of Israel doubted God's willingness or ability to act, but the prophet Elisha set him straight. "Send him to me, so that he can know (as you should know!) that God's prophet is in Israel." Naaman takes his whole company to Elisha's door. And there he stands waiting for the prophet to appear. But he doesn't. Instead he sends a servant with a message. "Go and wash in the Jordan river seven times and you will be healed." Now its Naaman's time to show his true nature. He is a proud man. "I've come all this way and he sends a servant! He should come out and meet me. After all I'm an important person, not some lackey who doesn't get the attention of someone who should be my servant!" His pride is so strong he would rather die than do what the prophet said, wash in the Jordan river. He knew the river. He likely crossed it on his way. It didn't even matter that he would probably have to cross it in order to return home. The Jordan was a mud hole. The rivers in Damascus ran crystal clear. In Damascus the river water was used to irrigate the farmland. The Jordan was even worthless for that. "How can that filthy water do anything! I'm an important person, my healing needs to be done some other way." He stomped away in a tantrum. But God's Word wasn't done yet. Just like the little slave girl spoke up, Naaman's other servants speak up. "Father! (a term of respect for their master) This is an easy thing to do. If he had told you to do something difficult you'd have been right on it. What have you got to loose! All you have to do is what he said, 'Wash and be clean!'" Again Naaman listens. He sets his pride aside make the trip to the Jordan and washes away his leprosy. "... and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child." And a miracle happens. He returns to Elisha and says, "Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel." It's a kind of double baptism. His disease is washed off and left in the dirty Jordan water. His unbelief, his sin, is washed off, too, into the water. As it is all washed away in that muddy water, in the washing, God gives him faith. It is the miracle of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

It is no coincidence that many years later Jesus washes in the very same water. But he doesn't need to do it to be clean, that's what John the Baptizer says. Jesus steps into the water and John protests. "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." (Matthew 3:14-15, ESV) You see, he is going into the water with Naaman. Down there in that filthy water is Naaman's leprosy. Down there in that filthy water is Naaman's unbelief and sin. Jesus is going down in there to take it up into himself. As, the perfect and righteous Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, steps in the Jordan river, his righteousness is filled up with Naaman's leprosy, Naaman's unbelief, Naaman's sin. Jesus and Naaman down there in the water together. Naaman comes up clean. Jesus comes up filthy. Naaman goes to Elisha to confess his faith.

Surely [Jesus] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4–5, ESV)

To the cross he goes with sin, and unbelief and disease and suffering... he dies there to put it all to death there, and bury it all in the deepest pit.

This font is your Jordan river. "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That's you in the filthy water, up to your neck in disease, and unbelief and sin, and death. And that's Jesus standing with you down there in the filthy water. Jesus is there to take it up into himself.

How can water do such great things?

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three:

“He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.” (Titus 3:5–8)

And out you come confessing your faith. Out Jesus comes and to the cross, to suffering and death, your suffering and death, for your sin. Promising you rebirth and renewal. It's the word of God, brought to you by his servants. The word of promise. The word of life.

And there's more... there's always more. Jesus' death leads to Jesus' resurrection, his restoration before God, the Father. Naaman came up out of the water with resurrection flesh, like that of a young child. Baptism is your promise of resurrection flesh.

... Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25–27, ESV)

... without spot wrinkle or blemish you will stand before Christ for all eternity, perfect and holy. Fully human, fully forgiven, forever.

And so we remember that little splash of water, that promise of healing and forgiveness, our little part of the Jordan river. Just like the little slave girl focused on God's promises, just like Naaman's servants focused on God's word of promise through Elisha, we focus on God's Word of promise here. Amen.

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

Naaman Made Clean by a Double Baptism.

ev2vp00Therefore Naaman was sent to the Jordan as to the remedy capable to heal a human being.  Indeed, sin is the leprosy of the soul, which is not perceived by the senses, but intelligence has the proof of it, and human nature must be delivered from this disease by Christ’s power which is hidden in Baptism.  It was necessary that Naaman, in order to be purified from two diseases, that of the soul and that of the body, might represent in his own person the purification of all the nations through the bath of regeneration, whose beginning was in the river Jordan, the mother and origin of baptism.  Ephrem the Syrian commenting on 2 Kings 5:1-12

Conti, Marco, ed. Oden, Thomas, general ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. 1. 5. Dower's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008. 167. Print.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Mark 1:29; Fifth Sunday after Epiphany; February 5, 2012;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA;

And immediately he left the synagogue and entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told him about her. And he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:29–39, ESV)

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

You know, there’s a time in everyone’s life when they face suffering. When it happens to you, you don’t like it. Who would? The thing is that suffering is a regular and expected part of life. You know the old saying; “the only sure thing in life is death and taxes.” I think you can add suffering to that list. You know people who are suffering; I know people who are suffering. There are people suffering across the street, down the block, in the next town, state country and continent. You may be suffering yourself. You may be the only one who knows about it. But you should know that you are not alone. It is a constant in the universe. Suffering…

Think about that old testament guy, Job. He's a guy that knows suffering. He is deep in suffering. Disease has racked his body, the scabs, the worms, the sleepless nights, that’s suffering. Some of you have suffered like he is, as cancer has invaded your body, or pain from an unknown source, and the doctors scratch their heads, afraid to say what they don’t know. Afraid to admit they have no answers. Job wants his suffering to end, just like you and I want our suffering to end. But we suffer none-the-less, like Job.

You may have noticed that we’ve been reading the Gospel of Mark for the last several weeks. The Gospel of Mark, as a matter of fact, is going to be our emphasis for the whole year. Almost all of the Gospel readings will be from it. Notice one important thing about today’s Gospel, it’s still in chapter one. It all started back in December with Mark 1:1 and we are only at 1:29. We’ve already seen John the Baptist, Jesus tempted in the desert, Jesus calling some of his disciples, and Jesus casting out a demon. Mark keeps the pace going; in fact his favorite word is “immediately.”

Last week we heard about Jesus in church, casting a demon out of a possessed man. “Immediately,” Mark tells us, “Jesus goes to Peter’s house for dinner.” But, the problem is that Peter’s mother-in-law, the person who would be serving the meal is sick with a fever. It doesn’t stop Jesus, he tenderly takes her hand and she recovers. You know how you feel when the fever finally breaks? Well, she didn’t, she got up and served dinner as if she’d never been sick. News spread quickly that small town of Capernaum. By nightfall, the “whole town” has gathered outside of Peter’s doorway. They want to see this man who is doing these wonderful things. What’s more, the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town the sick and the well are standing at Peter’s door peering in at Jesus.

These are people just like you and me. Remember, suffering is a constant. They had friends with cancer, sons and daughters who were injured in accidents. There were women who had lost their husbands, and men who were divorced. These were people who saw the unknown looks in doctor’s eyes. They were human beings, just like Job, just like you and me, who had an intimate relationship with suffering. And just like us, they wanted their suffering to end. And that night at Peter’s house it seems that Jesus healed them all. Good for them.

They got what they were looking for. They knew where to go to be healed. And even Job eventually got what he wanted too. Job had a whole book of the bible of suffering. Nothing works out for him until the last six verses. So Job was healed, he didn’t have to suffer with the scabs and the worms, the people of Capernaum didn’t have to suffer because they went to Jesus. Jesus even took away the fever from Peter’s mother-in-law so that they wouldn’t have to go to someone else’s house to eat. It’s nice for all of them, but what about me, and what about you. We’ve come here today to see Jesus. We have faith in what he does for us, why do we have to keep suffering. Why are we lonely, and hurting?

I don’t know. God hasn’t given me a magic book, or visions in my dreams to make me able to tell you why you are suffering. I do know that suffering in the world is caused by sin. Sometimes we suffer because of specific sins we have done, sometimes we suffer because of the sins of other people. But, mainly we suffer because the world is broken. It isn’t the wonderful paradise that God created it to be. When human beings rejected God, and we are all guilty of rejecting God at one time or another, everything fell apart. The strongest sign of the brokenness of this world is suffering. Remember Job? In that whole book he never finds out why he is made to suffer. God doesn’t send him friends that have a magic knowledge of why his children died. The friends that come to Job just make his suffering worse. You’ve felt that too, when a friend offers suggestions at to why you are suffering. But the answer isn’t really there. Your question is “why?” and the truth is you may never know the answer.

I’d like to make a suggestion based on our text for today. The people of Capernaum looked for Jesus to help them with their suffering. And Job too, turns to God in his suffering. “Remember!” he says to God, “Remember me! I’m suffering and I can’t bear it any more.” That’s where we too should turn. “Remember me! Lord. I can’t live with this pain anymore.” Because that’s the truth, we can’t bear it, and there is nothing we can do. You see; sin will have its way with you. There is nothing you can do; pain, illness, and suffering are going to be a part of your life. What’s more, it will all eventually come to death. You can’t bear it. It is too much for you.

I’m also not going to tell you that if you have enough faith you can stand up and be strong in the face of your suffering. You see, God doesn’t require us to be strong; in fact he wants us to be weak and needing him.

We are all guilty of thinking that if we are just strong enough we’ll survive. We even say, “My faith will get me through.” When what we really mean is “I’ll get through with the strength of my faith.” But Faith isn’t strength. Faith is weakness. Faith isn’t turning into ourselves, or looking to something inside of us to get through. Faith is looking to God. It’s submitting to God. It’s Trusting in God. It’s Job saying, “Remember me!” It’s the crowd of people pushing toward Peter’s doorway, “Remember me!”

God never promises to always heal. The question isn’t “Why must I suffer?” The question is “Where is God in my suffering?” And that question I can answer. He is right there in the midst of it. God knows suffering. He understands suffering. He knows how you are suffering. When Job said, “Remember me!” When you say to God, “Remember me!” Jesus answers, “I remember. I know your suffering; I suffered just as you do. One dark night in Jerusalem, before I went to the cross, I was lonely, I was afraid of pain, and I was even afraid of death. And there on the cross I suffered for you. In that suffering I won the victory for you. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Cor 12:9) You don’t have to be strong. Just look to me, I remember you.”

There is more to what Jesus did for you than to be sympathetic to your suffering. His death is the remedy, the fix for the broken-ness of the world that is caused by sin. If it were only sympathy we’d be left to suffer for all eternity. But, Jesus lived and died to do more than that. He came to restore. He came to heal. It isn’t that we look to the suffering of Jesus on the cross and receive power to fix ourselves. The cross shows us that we can’t help ourselves at all. He remembers us. He dies for us. He suffers for our sin. Jesus suffering there is the only answer for those who know that they are dead without him.

You will have suffering all your life. God doesn’t want you to “buck up and be strong.” He doesn’t say to you, “If your faith were stronger you’d not have to suffer like this.” He wants you to take your suffering to the foot of the cross of Jesus. He wants you to take your weakness to the foot of the cross of Jesus. He wants you to shout to Jesus there, “Remember me!” Amen.

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