Friday, October 14, 2005

Pentecost 22, October 16, 2005, Isa 45:1-3, Farewell.


Pentecost 22, October 16, 2005

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

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

Dear friends in Christ, members of St. John’s and Our Savior. “This is the last…” that phrase has gone through my head a thousand times over these “last” weeks and days. I’ve thought about “the last” a lot. It’s the last time I’ll read to you God’s Holy Word… It’s the last time I’ll stand here in this spot and preach God’s Word to you. the last bible class… the last religion school and confirmation class… the last hymn… etc. I even had one person come to me this week and say, “This is the last time I’ll bother you… ever.” There’s many “lasts” when a Pastor is called by God to go to a new congregation. I’ll miss very much doing these things with you. Mostly, I’ll miss pronouncing God’s forgiveness to you, as a “called and ordained servant of the Word” and especially God using my hands to put that forgiveness in your mouths. There is so much that could be said about things “coming to an end.” And all that talk about “the last” things can be very sad.

But today, I choose to look at it another way. Instead of things “coming to an end,” this is God’s way of opening doors. God is faithful, very soon God will provide to you a new pastor. I don’t know how long the calling process will take, months or years, but I do know that God will provide. He will provide you with the very pastor you need. And in the mean time He has provided your vacancy pastor, Pastor Fredrick, to serve you until you can call another. These are all doors that God has opened. A time to consider what God has called you to do in this community. A time to prepare for a new pastor to lead you… a different style of preaching and teaching… a different way of emphasizing the work of Jesus in this community… a different way of leading. Each one is an open door… opened by God’s hand. When God opens doors, amazing things happen. I’m confident that amazing things will happen here, too.

Now, since we really need to talk about the text, It occurred that the Old Testament lesson for today (Isaiah 45:1-7) is really talking about God opening doors too. Just listen to the first few verses again:

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. (Isaiah 45:1-3, ESV)

Now, if you’ll indulge me just a bit, in order to see God’s open doors we’ll need to talk just a bit about the history around this passage. The King mentioned here in this verse is Cyrus the Great (Actually II). He was the king of Persia 559-529 BC. Actually he the founded the Persian Empire. He did it with an iron hand. He marched his armies from The Mediterranean sea all the way to India, and established footholds in Africa, and Asia making a huge kingdom for himself. There are many stories of his great conquest, but one of my favorite is that one of his adversaries’ horses ran away from the battlefield just at the smell of Cyrus’ camels. I guess that when you smell Cyrus coming you just run away.

Now history tells us that Cyrus was strictly a monotheist (that is he believed in only one god), But as far as we know he didn’t know the One True God, the God of Israel. He was a pagan king. But just listen again to how God describes him here through Isaiah. says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus” and just a few verses before our text God actually calls this King, “my shepherd.” That’s because God was using this guy to do what He wanted done. He was going to use him to release His people from exile in Babylon. Cyrus was God’s hand pick man to get the job done so God opened all the doors necessary for it to be done.

God’s people, the people of Israel had gotten themselves into this mess by ignoring God’s command to give up their worship of other gods. He sent prophet after prophet to tell them that if they didn’t straighten up they would be sent away from the land that God had given them. They didn’t and He did. The kings of Assyria and Babylon conquered the whole land of Israel, took the people, and spread them all over Middle East as servants and slaves to their own people. After a while, it was time for God to rescue His people and send them home. And Cyrus what the man for the job.

Apparently the kings of Babylon were so bad, and so corrupt, and so mismanaged the huge empire that they had, when Cyrus marched his armies up to the gates of the city, the people of the city opened them wide. Cyrus was able to just march right in. The Babylonians weren’t willing to make “Custer’s last stand” for their awful leaders. The city wall was made of hundreds of huge bronze gates. It was one of the ancient world’s most fortified cities. Cyrus took it with firing a single arrow. So, it happened just as God said it would. The gates fell to pieces before the King of Persia. God opened the gates to rescue his people who were stuck in bondage. Cyrus sent the people of Israel home and even paid to have God’s temple in Jerusalem rebuilt.

So that’s the history lesson. What’s really amazing isn’t that Isaiah wrote about this event. It isn’t even that God would use a pagan to get the job done. (Just think of the most famous pagan mentioned in the church, almost every Sunday we speak in the confession… who suffered under Pontius Pilate… He of course was the pagan governor who put our Lord to death), it’s that Isaiah wrote about it 200 years before it happened, and God mentions Cyrus by name.

Now listen carefully again to Isaiah. I want you to hear whose taking credit for the opening doors.

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. (Isaiah 45:1-3, ESV)

God is the one opened the gates of Babylon. God is the one who opens doors for his people. Jesus said it like this… “And the gates of hell will not prevail…” (Matt 16:18). No gate is too strong when you have God’s anointed one, God’s messiah, led by God’s might. Well, that’s what Cyrus was, selected by God to do God’s purposes. And even if he didn’t know who the true God was, Cyrus had his opening day.

So, what does that have to do with you and me? Yea, it’s amazing that God predicting how he would open those doors all those years ago, but it is all those years ago (about 2500 years!). What’s that got to do with us? Remember what I said, it’s God who opens doors? Well, God is very active in human history. God shaped those events all those years ago to tell us something about Himself. And even more importantly, what God was going to do with another hand picked, Messiah, Anointed One. Jesus Christ is that Messiah. In fact, Christ is Jesus title, not his last name. And Christ means Messiah, anointed one. He is God’s one and only son, selected specifically to do God’s will. What’s the difference between Cyrus and Jesus? Jesus knows God intimately. Cyrus probably didn’t know the true God at all. Cyrus plundered the country side for his own gain. Jesus walked and talked, lived, died and rose again completely for God’s people.

The people of Israel were in bondage, enslaved, to the Babylonian kings. Our bondage isn’t like that, it’s even worse. Listen to what Paul says about our daily lives.

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:15-25, ESV)

We are captives of sin. We are slaves. Every day we live in the knowledge that we can’t get it right. Every day we live with the consequences of doing the wrong thing. Every day we labor to do what is right and fail. We want to think that if we just try harder we can break free, but even our good progress comes at a cost. We can straighten out the way other people see us. But, lurking there in the dark recesses of our minds and hearts is the desire to do what we know is wrong. (The Ten Commandments)

Why do you think sex is so popular on television? We’re the ones who make it that way. If we didn’t want to see it… it wouldn’t permeate every program. We might be able to say that we haven’t cheated on our spouse, but it’s easy to linger too long over the magazine ad that shows just a little too much skin.

It’s easy to keep you language clean in church, but what about around the coffee table. What about when that wrench slips and you bust your knuckles?

We might not be the shop lifter, but do you speak up to the manager when you see it happening? Our do you say, that’s none of my business. Are you careful to speak only good things about people? Or do you catch yourself wagging your tongue over the latest tidbit.

Can you hold your attention all through the worship service? Does the sermon get just a little long and your mind wonders? Are you jealous that your neighbor always seems to have the newest farm equipment, or that he’s done with harvest before you’ve even gotten started? Does he always seem to get the best weather and you the worst?

Well that’s our bondage. We can’t stop sinning. We can’t keep the commandment perfectly. And when we look at them in this way all we see is closed doors. All we see is that a perfect God must punish perfectly sinful people. What we need is for God to open doors for us to escape our sinful nature. What we need is what Isaiah talked about:

“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7, ESV)

God has sent us a Messiah to do just that. It’s Jesus. Just like Cyrus Jesus had and opening day, too. We hear about Jesus’ opening day right here. He opened the eyes of the blind. He opened the ears of the deaf. He opened doors for sick people by making them well. And he even opened the graves of the dead. Jesus says to us, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. (Revelation 1:17b-18, ESV) He can and does open the doors of death and hell so that we can live again. He sets us free from our slavery to sin. He opens the door for us.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:34-36, ESV)

Do you want to see Jesus opening doors for you? Do you want the picture burned into your memory so that you never forget? So that no matter what trouble pops up in your life you can see it as an open door. So that when guilt binds you to the past thinking that your sin is greater than God’s forgiveness you can know that the sin God really does forgive.

If that’s what you want, look right there (crucifix). Look at Jesus on the cross. See Jesus your messiah, the anointed one of God, the hand picked son who open doors to you through the forgiveness of your sins. Take that image to heart. That’s Jesus opening day. That’s where God dies for your sins and sets you free from sins punishment. That’s where sin’s power over you is broken and you are set free from the slavery of sin.

Now there’s one more door that Jesus wants to open. There’s one more gate that the Anointed one of God longs to open. I wonder what that door could be.

Say it with me, “Oh Lord, open my lips… and my mouth shall show forth thy praise…” Amen.

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

Sunday, October 09, 2005

LWML Sunday, October 9, 2005, Phil 3:12-21

LWML Sunday 2005
Philippians 3:12-21, ESV
from a sermon for LWML Sunday
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Lose 10 lbs in 7 days”; “Lose 20 lbs in 30 days, guaranteed!”; “Check out our new Low Carb menu”; Atkins low-carbohydrate diet, the Ornish vegetarian diet, the Weight Watchers plan, The South Beach Diet, The Zone Diet, The Grapefruit Diet, The 7 Day Diet, and The 3 Day Diet… How many more diets can you name? How many of you have used one or more of these diets?
They all have the same goal, don’t they? You choose a diet because you want to lose weight. You choose a diet because you want to look like the “after” picture you see in the newspaper, but you were afraid you looked more like the “before.” These diets all make promises, but usually we ignore the fact that those promises contain the lines, “individual results may vary” and “a complete program includes diet and exercise.” We usually tend to follow the diet (for a while) and skimp on the exercise, so we never quite get to the “after” picture as we dream.
CNN reported on four major diets asking the question “Which one really works?” The headline said, “Study: Pick one diet and stick to it.” The by-line read, “Researchers say no diet works for everyone, few stay on plan.” The report emphasized that no one diet works for everyone. It also stated that while all four of the diets did the job if you stay the course for a whole year, 3 out of 4 people who began them failed to stick it out. One researcher (Dansinger), in the Journal of the American Medical Association, wrote that no one diet works for everyone. He suggested, “Dating diets” as if looking for a life-long partner. Some will be frogs but once you find your prince, stand by your plan. Finally, an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded, “no one really knows which diets work and which are a waste of time, with the possible exception of Weight Watchers, which had scientific research to back its approach.”
Well, that pretty much fits the way people think about things these days, doesn’t it? There is no one-size-fits-all solution to anything. Oprah Winfrey says that there can’t possibly be just one way to god. So there are lots of people who treat faith and religion just like they do their diets. They spend time “dating religions” looking for a “life-long spiritual partner.” And just like dieters many try Christianity but not everyone sticks it out for the long-term.
Now, the difference between all that diet research and spiritual matters is that there is only one “diet plan” among all the religions that really works for salvation. All the others may seem to have benefits but they lead to a dreadful end. The one true plan is Jesus Christ. His plan is the one that can actually live up to its promise to transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. Not just for a short time, not even just for a life time but also for eternity. Jesus gives us to plan that leads to eternal life that begins right now. His is “The Diet that Transforms Lives”
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV)
He’s talking about “sticking to it” when he uses the words “I press on.” His goal is to make it his own because Christ first made him “his own.” (other versions translate the word as “take hold”) Paul is very careful to point out that Jesus makes the important move here. Jesus takes hold of him and makes Paul his own.
Our Lord takes hold of us and makes us his own. Jesus does this by taking on human flesh and living in the trouble and pain of human existence. He drank the cup of suffering. He prayed in the garden, “’Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ . . . And being in anguish . . . his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:42, 44) His was a diet of suffering, sacrificing His body, and dying on the cross so that we might receive the forgiveness of sins.
This, “Christ has [also] been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep . . . In Christ all will be made alive . . . Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” (1 Corinthians 15:20, 22-23) Through Him, death is swallowed up in victory. Through His death and resurrection, Christ makes us his own (takes hold of us). He won for us hope and life – all of which He gives us as a gift by grace through faith.
In faith, we press on to “make it our own” because Christ has already made us his own through the forgiveness of sins. That’s our diet, forgiveness and life. It is a diet that brings spiritual growth and life and wholeness.
Now in all diets there is always temptation. In our spiritual diet there are the worries and distractions that come up in everyday life. They often seem bigger and more important than the goal of life forever with God. They want to push us out of our faith. We see their effects in the lives of others and even in our own lives.
There is the temptation of discouragement. It’s easy to get discouraged when life hands us lots of trouble. When that happens, we sometimes wonder what good it does to be Christian when God lets stuff like this happen anyway. We pray and God doesn’t give us the answers we want. We still get sick. Our loved ones still die. Our crops are underwater. The nag at work keeps on nagging. Discouragement lies to us and tells us that God doesn’t care about us. The difficult part is learning to trust God in everything, even trouble, even pain, even death. The difficult thing is letting God do what God knows is best for us.
There is the temptation to “pick and chose” what we like from all different religions. It’s called pluralism. It’s very common today. It happens when we are attracted to other religions and other philosophies. We would like to make a religion of our own by bringing pieces of other non-Christians religions into our Christian faith. It happens when we let our brains be the final standard of truth instead of relying completely on God’s Holy Word to tell us what true religion is. It happens when we let our emotions tell us more about how God works than relying on the promises he makes to us in his Word and Sacraments.
These temptations even affect us, who are gathered here. Even we stray from the “diet.” But the good news is that even these failings are forgiven by Christ. We take them and all our sins to the foot of the cross and dump them there on Jesus our Savior. That’s what we call repentance. We see our sinfulness and give it all to Christ. That’s the best part of the diet. We give him all the crummy, slimy, sinfulness in our lives, and he gives us new food to eat. He gives us the Bread of Life. He forgives our sins. So that we can do like Paul says, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
By the work of the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism, we can make this diet our own, because it feeds us with heavenly food and heavenly drink. We receive the very body and blood of Christ, in, with and under the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. In that “diet” food we receive Christ’s forgiveness right from the cross. And when we are sure of forgiveness our faith and trust in Christ grows. When we hear Christ’s forgiveness proclaimed to us, it’s like the sweetest treat. But it’s not empty it fills us full of joy and peace and prepares us for action.
You see, that’s the diet that transforms our lives. It’s the diet that is guaranteed to work; guaranteed to lose weight… the weight and burden of sin. That’s the diet we stand behind. It’s a diet that changes lives. That’s the one we want to share with the whole world.
Jesus transforms lives. He transforms the lives of those He loves. He transforms the lives of those who are loved by them. He has transformed your life and mine so that we can feed His message of love to others. He transforms the lives of those in the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League in their mission “to assist each woman of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod in affirming her relationship with the Triune God so that she is enabled to use her gifts in ministry to the people of the world.”
This all happens through the “Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” His diet is one filled with grace and mercy, forgiveness and love, hope and witness. His is the diet that transforms lives in time for eternity. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

20th Sunday After Pentecost, Oct 2, Matt 21:33-43

Pentecost 20
Matthew 21:33-43, ESV

(outline from Hubert Beck, Concordia Pulpit, 1984)

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

Pastor Hubert Beck, once told this parable.

There were two beggars. Both were very successful at their occupation. They traveled from town to town collecting food. But there was a very great difference between the two.

The one found many open hands as he traveled, and so he colleted the goods in a sack over his back. Now times were bad, and the outlook for the future wasn’t so good. So he collected as much as he could, saving for a “rainy day.” Hording what he received because he was sure that worse times were coming. As he traveled and continued to place everything in his bag and the bag grew heavier and heavier. The bread that he received freely went stale and the vegetables rotten. Finally, the sack became too heavy to carry, and he broke down on the side of the road from the sheer weight of his horde. And there he died, trying to eat rotten food and stale bread.

The other beggar also met with success. He too carried what he received in a bag over his shoulder. But unlike the first, whenever he found people in need he gave out what he had. He traveled light because there were always people who needed what he had in his bag. He was always more than generous. He never grew weary of bearing the weight like the first beggar, because his sack was always light. In fact, during his many years of travel he was able to care for many people who were in far more need than he was.

These two parables are connected. The men in the vineyard were provided with everything they needed to produce a good crop for the landlord. They didn’t own the property; they were, in a sense, beggars living off the good graces of the owner. He had provided everything that was needed for a successful venture; a fence to keep unwanted animals and people out; a press to squash the grapes into wine, and even a watch tower to keep watch over everything. The tenants were there to watch it and make sure it produced fruit while the master was away.

Jesus doesn’t make any bones about it. The tenants were God’s people of the day, the people of Israel and their leaders. They had been provided a land and opportunity. They had been chosen by God to show his wonderful gift of grace to the whole world. They were beggars who had been richly blessed to give to the people around them.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to look down our noses at them, because we can be just like they were. We’ve been given so much. We’ve been given wonderful gifts to fill our sack in this vineyard. Through God’s Word and Sacraments, God’s undeserved love, we receive new life through the forgiveness of our sins. We live here; we have life here; not because we deserve anything from God, we are beggars, and receive these good gifts because of his mercy.

Jesus’ parable seems a bit strange. How could it be that tenants would do what those tenants did? After all the landlord did to make a perfect place to work, he provided them with everything they needed. How could they repay him by beating up his messengers. And not just once but twice. And finally they even kill his son. The landlord isn’t doing anything unreasonable in asking for rent. Their reaction seems out of place.

Well, according to scholars this kind of thing actually happened in Jesus’ day. The law said that if a landlord didn’t collect a harvest for three years the tenants could claim the property for themselves. The killing of the son outside of the vineyard, in public was their way of making that claim. So, as Jesus often did, he probably used a real life event to make his point. But there is something even more real life about the parable. The set up comes right from the pages of the Old Testament. Did you hear how the preparation of the vineyard was repeated in the two readings? The way Jesus tells it by using Isaiah he puts God’s people squarely in the vineyard. The crowd standing around him where the children of those who had brutally beaten God’s messengers, the prophets and even killed them. And standing right before them was Jesus. Finally, God sends his Son. The church leaders were so angry with him that they had him dragged outside the city and crucified. These tenants of God’s vineyard followed the parent’s example. They had gladly received all God’s gifts, all the produce of the vineyard but it turned to arrogance. They didn’t see that what they had received wasn’t just for them to horde for themselves but it was to be used to show God’s love to the whole world.

How could this happen? We might ask. How could they? But, don’t miss the log in our own eye. It happens with us, too. We gladly receive the things of God, his forgiveness, his life, his joy, his Word. But we often miss the chances we have to give it away, and we foolishly act as if it is only for us and only for us in this place. There are always excuses, like lying ourselves into believing that everyone we know already knows Jesus, or believing that they don’t need to hear about the forgiveness of sins in Christ. We excuse ourselves for being afraid of persecution, or telling ourselves that it’s the pastor’s job to meet new people and getting them to come to church. And we even pretend that it’s none of our business that our friends and neighbors have stopped coming to church. We have been known to live our lives as if God’s gifts to us are only for us and our welfare, to be stuffed into a sack on our backs and saved for our use only.

That’s where Jesus comes in, reminding us that the gifts that he gives are for everyone. In last week’s epistle reading we heard about Jesus humbling himself by taking the form of a servant. He gave all that he had, just like the beggar who traveled light. He was blessed to be a blessing and He continually gave to those who gathered around Him. He healed the sick. He fed the hungry. He clothed the naked. He constantly reminded the people of God’s great love for them. The bag that was filled with good things was emptied. He didn’t die like the beggar who was overcome by the weight of his treasures. Jesus died giving finally even Himself. And finally gave up everything, even his very life, for the sake of sinful human beings.

You and I have been placed as tenants in the vineyard. We’ve been very blessed with everything that we need to bear fruit. I look around here and marvel at all that we have, all that we’ve been given by God’s grace. Here in this church there are people with all kinds of talents and abilities. Here in this church there are people with time and treasure. Those are wonderful gifts from God. But just like the vineyard was very complete with its fence, press and tower, we have all that we need and more. God’s most important gift is his Word and Sacraments, where we continually receive forgiveness of our sins, and as Luther reminds us, where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. You see, He promises that where his Word is there will be fruit. And you surely don’t have to look far to see it. We’ve got children in Sunday School classes hearing about Jesus. We’ve got shut-ins listening to recordings they can actually understand. We’ve sent cash to people hurting from the forces of nature. You see, even though we are selfish God is selfless in Christ. You see, even though we often fail, God is faithful. Even though we sometime horde, God provides growth.

Can we do more? Could we get out there and share these blessings with more people all around us. Of course we can. That’s precisely what God wants us to do, that’s why we are in this community. That’s why God opened the doors of this church those 90 some years ago. He wanted to give you all you need, and he wants you to give it to others.

You see, we don’t have to wonder what beggar we are like. We don’t have to worry about whether we are good tenants or bad. We are in God’s vineyard and have that we need. Lot’s of times we act like the first beggar who kept everything for himself. And God offers us forgiveness through Christ. We receive his wonderful gifts and promise to do better. But it’s through God’s promises, through God’s work in us through the Holy Spirit, we can and often are like the beggar who gave until his bag was empty. Amen.

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