Friday, July 28, 2006

No Sermon for July 30, 2006 - Instructional Liturgy

July 30 - Due to the instructional liturgy used at St. John's on July 30, 2006 there will be no sermon posted this week.
Pastor Watt

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Psalm 111:10, Bertha's Funeral Sermon

Psalm 111, Bertha
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There’s lots to tell about Bertha.  As for me, well, most of the time when I visited her she was in that sleepy daze.  I just didn’t get to know the Bertha that you did.  She didn’t react to me much.  She knew who I was but, we didn’t get in any really good conversations.  Mostly, I think she just missed Clarence.  I think I got a glimpse of the real Bertha a couple of times when that mischievous twinkle popped up in her eyes.  It said playfully, “You’d better watch out, I’m gonna get you.”  Still, I was never the target.  I just got the impression I was gonna get it…  maybe for me that was the thing, always expecting it but never actually getting it.  How many of you have a “Bertha” tale of mischief?  You know what I mean, a story about how she teased you or something, and it made you love her all the more?  Well, that was a part of who Bertha was.  She had another side to.  The perfectionist.  I think she ran the store that way.  Everything had its place and it should be in that place.  The folks who worked for her can tell you all about that.  Maybe she was a little hard on people from that side, I don’t know.  Being a perfectionist has its good qualities for business but sometimes it can be hard on personal relationships.  And there are also the folks who thought that Clarence and Bertha thought a little too much of money.  Well, I don’t know anything about that.  I know they had a successful business, and that takes very hard work and dedication.  There’s good and bad in that too.  As far a Clarence was concerned I’ve heard that Bertha was a very dedicated wife.  Submitting to Clarence in everything, she was a real helper to him, a real partner and spouse.  Some of that reflects exactly what God intended for a man and a woman.  Yet, some of you may have wondered if she was a little too dedicated to him.  There’s more to say, but you knew her.  She had good qualities and bad qualities.  Bertha was a real person loved by some and not as much by others.  It’s a good thing to say the good and the bad today.  That’s what funerals are for.  One temptation at funerals is to only say good things about the person who had died.  But believe me; they don’t care if we remember the bad stuff too.  In fact, Christians who die want you to remember that it is sin that brought them here.  In our church we confess our sins in our Sunday Worship.  We say that we are by nature sinful and unclean.  When death comes to us we know that we deserve it.  As much as we are loved by people, by family and friends, that doesn’t take away the fact that we’ll all end up here.  The most important reason we are here today is because we need to be told again that God has done something about this (death).  When Christians die they want you to remember sin, so that you remember that God himself became a human being in Jesus Christ to save sinful people from this.  They want you to remember that your sin will lead you here, but that Jesus Christ hung on a cross and died for you.  He died a painful death for you.  And then He rose again out of death and promises life again to everyone who believes in His work for the forgiveness of sins.  
As for me, I only knew Bertha from a very narrow perspective.  I’d like to highlight that by talking a little about the verse that was given to her at her confirmation:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:10, ESV)
Very simply it says that those who live their lives knowing that God is God and we are not have a good start on living the way that God would have us live.  I think that Bertha lived that way.  How do I know?  Well, very simply she showed me her faith.  I know, I said I didn’t really talk to her (or she never really talked to me).  And yet, I’m confident of that she had faith in Jesus Christ.  She showed me that she knew she was a sinner in need of forgiveness.  I’ll tell you how.  As I said, most of the time that I visited with Bertha she was quiet.  She’d sit in her wheel chair at Good Sam without a word during the church services I did there.  Sometimes she would even droop her head and sleep.  It’s not uncommon to see that in nursing home residents.  After the service I’d go to each person and greet them usually saying “God’s Blessings to you.”  Then it was time for the St. John’s folks to have communion.  I’d go to Bertha and say in her ear, “Do you want communion?”  “Yes.” She’d say very clearly.  You see no matter what happened she was always clear about that.  Bertha knew what God offered to her through the Body and Blood of Christ there.  She knew that Jesus promises to come and bring her the forgiveness of sins that He earned for her on the cross.  Holy Communion is a way that Christians let God be God and do things the way he wants to do them.  Holy Communion is one of those “Great Works” the psalm talked about and Bertha delighted in it.  Right there she showed that she knew her sin needed Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  In faith, she held out her hand and took the bread and ate it, and opened her mouth and drank the wine.  And Jesus gave to her the forgiveness he got for her on the cross.  
The last time I saw Bertha alive was Saturday morning several hours before she died.  That morning she was really unresponsive.  I touched her forehead, she was cold and clammy.  Death was coming.  I sat beside her bed and read God’s Word to her.  Some of the same words that we’ve heard today and that we’ll hear again at the grave yard.  I sang several hymns to her and though I think she heard them, she didn’t really react all that much.  Finally, before I left I said the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.  I could see her lips move as she said those words of faith with me.  You know, I’m convinced of Bertha’s faith.  But really I shouldn’t be surprised because that’s what God promises, because Great are the works of the Lord. (Psa 111:2, ESV).
At the beginning of the service we stood and remembered God’s Great Work for Bertha in Holy Baptism.  That’s where God connected her to Jesus death and even more important for us to remember on this day, His resurrection.  All those years ago the pastor spoke the name of God (auf Deutsch) and poured water over her head.  That’s when Bertha’s life of faith began.  You see, I really don’t have to depend on Bertha’s actions, even though they are very comforting, I can depend on God’s Words and promises.  Like where St. Mark says, Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved. (Mark 16:16a, ESV)  or where Paul says, 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. (Titus 3:5-7, ESV)  And my favorite that we began this service with 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 6:5, ESV)  That’s the Great Work of God, right there.
So, today we look forward to God’s Great work, His promises.  We look forward to the resurrection of the dead, Bertha’s resurrection, and yours and mine.  Bertha’s confirmation verse ends with His praise endures forever! (Psalm 111:10, ESV)  That’s what we’ll do then, Praise God for His great work for us in Jesus Christ.  And that’s a good way to end.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2006, 2 Cor 12:7-10

Seventh Sunday After Pentecost, July 23, 2006
St.  John’s, Howard, SD
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
It’s a good thing to be strong, isn’t it?  Well, that’s how we get along in this world.  That’s how we live life to the fullest, being stronger than the other guy; acting when he is afraid or too weak to act; taking opportunities that others are too timid to take.  The world was made by strong people; politicians, professional athletes, steel workers, firefighters, etc.  The world is being built by strong people.  In fact if you want to get ahead in the world you’d better be strong.  Life is no place for weaklings.  If you have a goal you’ll never reach it if you’re not strong enough to do whatever is necessary to accomplish it.  You’ve got to push every obstacle aside, every thorn that gets in your way has to be dealt with.  When bad things happen you’d for sure better not show any weakness, because there are wolves out there that are waiting to pounce on weakness.  Don’t get bogged down like weak people who always need a hand to get along.  Keep moving forward toward your goal.  Be strong.  That’s the American dream, isn’t it?  to be strong and self confident, like the Marlboro man.
Strong people are necessarily self-confident.  You can’t be successful if you’re not confident in your self and your abilities.  You hafta know that you are better than anyone else.  Of course that sounds a little conceited, so instead of that let’s call it confidence.  You’ve gotta be confident that you are better than other people, stronger than other people.  You’ve got to have faith in yourself that’s the strength you need to succeed.  It is the height of weakness to lack self-confidence and depend on anyone else to do things for you.  That only leads to failure.  Failure is for weaklings.
And worst of all, the most important thing to remember is this.  There is no room in the world for grace.  That’s having good things happen for you that you don’t deserve, getting stuff you don’t earn.  Well, it happens to people all the time, people win the lottery, or inherit a house or a farm, or even get lucky in love, but when that happens you can be sure they don’t appreciate what they’ve got.  They waste it.  Most of the time quick fortunes are mismanaged and lost quickly.  You’ve got to have blood and sweat invested to things you get to have value.  Grace is really a crutch used by people who aren’t strong enough to make it on their own.  Weak people depend on grace because of their weakness.  It’s rather gullible to sit and wait for anything good to fall into your lap.  
But wait a minute… I don’t think that’s what this text from St. Paul seems to be saying?  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Paul was a weakling.  He was constantly under attack, beaten, stoned and left for dead, jailed for years at a time, shipwrecked, struck blind, abandoned, and misunderstood.  It’s a pretty strong person who undergoes such punishment… it’s a pretty strong person who takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’, the way that Paul does.  But from what he writes here we’d better not be too quick to make Paul out to be the Super-Apostle.  I mean its easy to imagine Paul standing with his hands on his hips while the bullets of false teaching seem to bounce off of him.  We might even imagine him walking all around Greece preaching boldly everywhere he goes.  He seems strong and sure of himself even self confident.  And Paul even confronted Peter one time, when Peter wasn’t living up to what Jesus sent him to do.  Didn’t that take a great deal of strength?  To stare down one of Jesus own disciples in public! That took a certain kind of strength, don’t you think?  That’s why Paul got things done, right?  
Well, as often happens, God has different ideas about strength and weakness than you and I do.  He has different ways for us to live our lives than we naturally want to live them.  We think of strength, God speaks of weakness.  We think of honor, God speaks about being humble.  We think of getting the job done, God says he’s already taken care of it.  That’s our old sinful nature speaking.  Deep in our hearts we want to take care of the things that are God’s things to take care of.  God is not above slapping us down and putting us in our place when we need it.  He has our eternal future in mind.  Temporary sickness and difficulties in this life are small compared to eternity.  Even death is sometimes used by God to get us to focus on what’s important, to get us to see just how weak and short our lives really are.  God will use whatever is necessary to keep us focused on Him and what He has done for us in Jesus.  That’s what we see Paul talking about here.  He needed God to be strong.  Paul needed to be reminded that he lived only by God’s strength not his own.  Paul writes these words himself:
So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, ESV)
It’s that last phrase that I find most interesting.  It’s that last phrase the makes me scratch my head and say “huh?”  “…when I am weak, then I am strong.”  You see, if your like me you wonder just how weakness ever be strength?  You what know how can a weak person be strong?  I’ve been around when the big guys pick on the little guys.  I should have stood up for him, but instead I just stood there watched it happen.  I was happy I wasn’t the weakling that was being picked on.  I really had no excuse there were times when I was the weakling that was picked on.  But Paul says being weak is being strong.  That sounds like double speak!  And how can Paul possibly say and really mean it, when he writes, “I am content with weaknesses?” Nobody wants to be weak… right?
Well, Paul might not want to be week but he’s been told that it’s what’s best for him.  He says God gave him a thorn in the flesh.  Lot’s of ink has been spilt over those words.  Lots of people have tried to decide exactly what it was, what kind of trouble Paul suffered from, what kind of a thing he asked God to get rid of.  But he never tells us, in all his writings, this is all that we are told.  We studied this in school, I could make a list of possibilities but really it doesn’t matter what it was.  Paul himself tells us everything we need to know.  He tells us what is important about it.  He tells us the purpose.  “To keep me from being too elated.”  Whatever it was it had the ability to knock Paul down a peg, and keep him humble.  Whatever it was it took away Paul’s ability to boast his accomplishments.  When good stuff happened, because of what Paul was doing, this thorn made it abundantly clear, that it was all God’s work not none of Paul’s.  Paul couldn’t take any credit if he wanted to.  The thorn made Paul the super preacher dependant on God.  Really what Paul says is the most objectionable thing we Americans can think of.  What he says is really the most un-American thing of all, Paul the Super-Apostle, the person most humanly responsible for founding the Christian Church was really just an over dependant, weakling.  And more than that, he was proud of his weakness.  That just gets our goat… rubs us the wrong way… puts a burr under our saddle.  Couldn’t Paul have taken just a little bit of the credit?  But Paul must have known something we don’t know.  What was it?  What did he have that we don’t have?  How was he, weakling that he was, able to get done all these things that got done?  Everywhere he went new Christians sprang up like weeds.  Little churches even popped up in the middle of strong multi-god-ed cultures that hated the way Paul talked.  If Paul was a weakling, how did all this stuff happen?  Well, Jesus tells us.  He tells us through Paul’s pen, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  
Paul knew that with out the Grace of Jesus Christ, he’d be nothing, just a lost and condemned person.  He knew that the work God had planned for him to do was at its best when Paul was weak and Jesus Christ was strong.  When Paul was leaning on the crutch of Jesus Christ, when he was depending on Jesus to get him through, that’s when Jesus was most clearly seen in Paul.  You see; Paul was a weak man who depended on someone else.  In God’s economy of life there’s no room for conceit, or pride.  What Paul is saying here is that, he really didn’t have anything to do with all that he did.  With God, weakness and dependence is strength.  That doesn’t match up with how we are told life works, by the movers and shakers of the world.  But it shouldn’t surprise us that the world thinks that way.  After all in the world’s estimation the crucifixion of Jesus just one huge sign of weakness, one big failures sign out in front of God and everyone.  No reasonable person would see strength in humiliating, bloody, horrible public death.  A strong person would never allow that to happen.  A strong person would have put up a fight and been killed while taking an army of enemies into death with him.  But the reality of Jesus is that in all of human history no one has ever shown greater strength.  Jesus said it like this, greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.  Jesus could have fought back, he could have taken out the whole band that came to arrest him, but he didn’t.  He showed great strength in the face of the terrible pain he knew was coming.  He faced suffering, even the extreme suffering of death on the cross, just to bring salvation to conceited human beings that hated him, and wanted him dead.  What’s more, that suffering and death, brings salvation to you and me, right here and right now.  Jesus the weakling gave his life to save you and me.  When we look to Jesus as savior we realize he wasn’t weak at all.  His strength just doesn’t fit the way we think, because he does what we never would have done.  Now, that’s what go Paul going.  He was a dependant weakling.  Paul didn’t deserve salvation any more than you or I deserve it.  It’s when people could see through Paul and see Jesus that things really started to happen.  When Paul was weak, people knew what was happening wasn’t from Paul but from Christ.  That’s what Jesus means when he says His grace is sufficient.  When we lean on God’s grace through Jesus, people see how good that grace really is, and they begin to lean on it too.
But our problem is just like Paul’s… it’s just like everyone.  We want to be strong and self-reliant.  We want to make it on our own.  If we look at our lives we can find lots of things to be boastful about.  Our success stories are always me centered.  Look at what I did to solve this problem or that problem.  Look at the kingdom I’ve built for myself.  I’m something special because I’ve beat the odds and become successful.  We put ourselves ahead of God and trust our own resourcefulness to get us through our troubles.  In fact, we use God and religion as a resource; in stead of the source for life.  What we forget is that without the grace of God we wouldn’t even be here.  According to God’s justice the whole world should be destroyed.  That’s what we as the human deserve because of our sin.  Putting ourselves ahead of God makes him our enemy.  We deserve death and hell for it.  And the worst of it is that we can’t help it.  That’s who we are, and how our mind’s work.  God knows that about us and God knew that about Paul.  So God gave him a thorn to remind him who was really in control.  He gave him a thorn to make him dependent.  When Paul’s thorn made it impossible for Paul to function on his own, he turned to Jesus.  When Paul was down and out, when he was weak, Paul turned in faith to the One he knew was strong.  That’s what faith is, depending on Jesus’ strength and not our own.  
Got thorns in you life?  Of course you do.  They overwhelm you sometimes.  We’d like nothing better than to have them gone.  Paul asked God to take his away, too.  But he rejoiced in his weakness because of what happened when he was weak.  So, thank God for your thorns! Especially those that seem to be more than you can bear.  It’s the big ones, the ones that take you down a peg, the ones that leave you desperate, and out of control, it’s those that most often push you straight to Jesus.  Ever had a problem so big you couldn’t wait for communion to come around so you could see Jesus, turn to Jesus, taste and touch Jesus, and hold on the promises that he puts into the palm of your hand… right there with the very body and blood that He shed on the cross for you?  Maybe you don’t think about the Lord’s Supper that way, but maybe you should.  If you turn to God’s Word when you’re in trouble what is Holy Communion other than a visible, taste able, touchable form of Jesus Words with all doubt about who they are for taken away.  Sometimes it takes a thorn for us to see our need.  You hardly ever feel that way when you’re riding high.  You don’t think about Jesus at all when things are going good.  It’s when trouble stalks you you’re constantly in prayer, just like Paul.  When we’re in trouble our prayers get pretty simple don’t they.  “Help! Now!”  When you are weak and depending on Jesus, that’s when His power is being made perfect in you.  That’s where you see that you can’t be saved without Him.  It’s when you cling to His every Word and Promise that your faith is most noticeably growing.  It’s where the ‘rubber meets the road’ and you really understand what it means to be dependant on God.
God’s grace was sufficient for Paul.  God’s grace is sufficient for you.  But don’t think that God’s grace is a little thing, or of small account.  God’s grace is sufficient because it is… well huge.  While we face our own single death, Jesus faced suffering and death, the punishment for the whole world’s sin, for all people for all time, on the cross.  While we most often bear thorns of our own making, Jesus bore a crown on his head made from thorns.  But the suffering He suffered wasn’t His but ours.  But in a way it was of his own making too, because he chose it for himself.  We live our lives with pride, conceit and self-dependence pushing God away.  He lived life subject to God’s perfect will, in a totally dependant relationship with the Father, even though that meant He must die on the cross.  Such is God’s love for you.  Such is Jesus’ love for you.  Jesus takes all that He did , His whole perfect life, and He takes all that you do, your whole sinful life and He exchanges them.  In one wet moment He makes a great exchange.  Sin washes off of you and on to Jesus, and He dies for it.  God declares you to be holy and perfect just as Jesus is, and promises that just as Jesus rose from the dead you will, too.  That is God’s grace.  His undeserved love for you.  You see, it’s too big for you to handle.  Only God can do it.  Only Jesus.  We see it most clearly when we are weak.
So we started talking about being strong.  And we find out that it’s really good to be weak.  Weakness brings you to Jesus and His all sufficient grace.  The thorns are there, they will be your whole life.  Just remember when they stick you, rejoice and turn to Jesus in faith and ask for help.  That’s why they are there.  Because when you are weak, then you are strong.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 16, 2006, Mark 5:21-43

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 16, 2006
(Mark 5:21-24a, 35-34, ESV)
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well it’s quite a pick of texts today to talk about.  Our three year cycle of readings just doesn’t get around to Lamentations very often.  How could you not say something great about: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-33, ESV) And then there’s the Epistle from St. Paul.  Give generously because giving is a gift of God!  (2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-14, ESV) I know, lots of you are thinking there are folks in our congregation who could sure use a stewardship sermon. But, unless we are willing to look at ourselves first, well… that’s another sermon.  Then there’s that Gospel.  Mark gives us the account and you can almost smell the sea air of the lake they just crossed.  It’s not an easy choice.  But the topic of the Gospel lesson is just too rich.  And besides it’s really the topic of all time isn’t.  Think about it, we’ve come much closer to it these last few months than we’d like, and I can prove it.  Bill.  Fred. Philip. James. Doc. Everett. Leon. I know there are names that I’ve left out, but that’s enough to prove the point.  The topic is death, and it’s here, with us among us every single day.
Maybe it just the topic we love to hate.  If you google the word you’ll get more than you want to see.  I did find a very interesting site though.  At you put in some vital information at get your date of death based on your normal life expectancy.  It adjusts the date if you smoke, are over weight and such.  My “Personal day of death” is Tuesday, October 9, 2035 then it gives you the number of seconds that is.  I’ve got some 9 hundred 22 million seconds left.  You can sit there and watch the time ticking away, second by second.  It’s morbid, but fascinating.  As I watched the second of my life tick away I got the urgent feeling that I should be doing something else… much more constructive.  Death does that to us when we think about it.  Bishop Hall said "Death borders upon our birth, and our cradle stands in the grave."  One pastor I know said we live our whole lives graveside.  You’ve all lost someone you loved.  A father, a child, or a spouse, a brother or sister… the pain is just as much about our own coming death as it is a hole in our heart because we miss the one who died.  So when the bible talks about death we perk up our ears.  When we hear about Jesus healing a woman who was considered dead, and raising a little girl who was dead we perk up our ears.  It’s the topic we want to hear about but we don’t want to hear about.   Today we are going to talk about death by looking at an example of what Jesus does about it.  Here’s how it goes…
Jesus was crowded in, as usual, when Jairus, the synagogue leader, pushed his way in to see him.  He had to yell over the crowd.  “Jesus! Jesus! My little girl is dying!” he dropped his to his knees in front of the teacher. “Please come and touch her so she can live.”  Jesus just smiled, raised him to his feet, took him by the elbow and began to go with him.  But they didn’t go very far when Jesus suddenly stopped.  “Who touched me?” he looked around at the pressing crowd.  The noise died down for a moment.  “Someone touched my clothes. Who was it?”  A timid woman moved toward Jesus.  She dropped to Jesus feet.  “It was me, Lord.  I only wanted to be healed.  I’ve been bleeding for twelve years.”  The crowd backed away in horror.  She was unclean.  She didn’t belong among them.  No one could touch her.  They shouldn’t even be near her.  “I had no life at all,” She said. “The doctors were stumped.  They tried everything but over the years the condition just got worse and worse.”  The crowds backed off even further.  She was a dead woman walking around.  “But all that has changed.  I knew that if I could just touch you I’d be better.  You’ve given so many people their lives back.  I just brushed the hem of your robe, the bleeding stopped.”  Jesus gently laid his hand on her shoulder.  “Ah, daughter, you were right, it is your faith has made you well.  Go in peace and be healed.”  The crowd reacted.  But while Jesus was speaking to the woman a man took hold of Jairus and spoke into his ear.  “It’s no use to bother the teacher any more.  Your daughter is dead.”  Jesus heard what he said.  And everyone could see the fear and grief rising up in Jairus’ eyes.  But Jesus looked straight at him.  “Stop.  You don’t have to be afraid.  Just believe in me.”  Jesus spoke to his disciples; they held the crowd while Jairus, Peter, James, John and Jesus went on the Jairus’ house.  It was near by and soon they could hear the shouting and weeping of the wailers.  They were trying to match the tragedy of the death of one so young with volume.  “Why are you doing this!” Jesus shouted over the voices.  “That little girl isn’t dead, she’s just sleeping.” The wails turned in an instant laughter.  “What! Who are you to say such a thing?”  But Jesus sent them away with a single word.  When everything was quiet he placed his arm around the girl’s mother and they all walked into the room where her daughter lay.  In the dead silence of the room, Jesus knelt by the bed and took a hold of her cold hand.  Placing his lips near her ear he spoke.  “Talitha Cumi, Little girl, get up.”  And that’s exactly what she did.  She breathed a breath, opened her eyes, smiled at Jesus, put her feet on the floor and headed straight for her favorite toy.  Picked it up and began walking around the room with it, because that’s what twelve year old girls do.  No one in the room could believe what they saw.  She was alive and walking around.  Her parents were too shocked to do anything but stare.  Jesus turned to them and quickly said.  “Don’t tell anyone about this.  No one!  She’ll be hungry.  She needs something to eat.”
Now you and I have been there, right between the two dead twelve year olds.  We’ve watched cancer take the lives of people we love.  We’ve stood by the death bed of those who’ve gone too soon.  We have the same reaction every time; sorrow, pain, fear, and horror.  And we ask the question that is always asked.  Why?  Why did they have to die?  Why do I have to die?  It is a good question and there is a clear answer.  The answer is because we deserve to die.  That little twelve year old girl deserved death.  The woman who bled for twelve years deserved death.  You and I deserve it too.  That death clock ticking is only bringing about our just reward.  I know, I know, we have a real problem with this.  We really don’t believe it’s true.  All our lives in fact we work under the assumption that there’s got to be something that makes our lives worth while, worth saving.  When the young die, we say, “He didn’t deserve this.  He was such a good person.”  That’s why we need to be reminded of truth.  God told Adam and Eve that if they ate the fruit, they’d die a double death (Genesis 3:17, ESV).  What He meant was that sin would forever separate them from His presence.  And that separation would also mean that their bodies would face death, too.  Saint Paul said it clearly.  The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23, ESV)  When we sin we are dead people just walking around waiting for our bodies to catch up.  And what makes you and me and the twelve year old fit in that category?  Well, it’s sin.  You can’t deny it.  I can’t deny it.  We brush it aside as if it isn’t really anything.  But it is.  It’s real.  It invades our thoughts.  It changes our good motives to selfishness.  We think we can stop it, we think we have the power to make it go away.  But we can’t be successful enough to rid ourselves of it.  It keeps crawling back into our lives.  We mistakenly believe that we have “free will” to choose good over sin.  But Adam and Eve changed all that.  Now we only have “self will.(1)”  Lying dead on our beds is all that we can look forward to.  The clock is ticking the seconds away.
That’s when Jesus says, “Stop! You don’t have to be afraid.  Just believe in me.”  Well, just look what he did.  A suffering dying woman touched his cloths and stopped bleeding.  St. Mark says that when she did that power flowed out from Him.  In Mark’s language the word he used was dynamite.  It was an explosion of life giving power.  She was restored to complete health.  Life returned to a lifeless little girl when Jesus told her to get up.  He only spoke two little words into her ear, and life came back to her and she began walking around, because, Mark says, that’s what living little girls do.  This man that crisscrossed the Sea of Galilee, and walked the roads around Capernaum, was more than a man.  He holds the power to raise the dead.  He holds the power to raise you and me from the dead.  How do you know that?  After all, Jesus was there doing what He was doing over two thousand years ago.  How do we know that when time comes to an end and we’ve been lying in the grave for years and years, Jesus can and will speak words of resurrection in our ears?  It is because he didn’t just break other people out of the hold of death, He came walking around out of His own grave.  It is one thing to raise the dead, but it’s something entirely different to raise yourself from the dead.  Jesus did.  He offered up his own life.  He faced a sorrowful, painful, fearful, and horrible death on a cross.  He was beat to a bloody pulp by Roman soldiers.  His hands and feet were fastened to wood with six inch spikes.  A guard used a spear to split his heart in two just to make sure.  He was dead; as cold as the little girl lying on her bed; as lifeless as anyone lying in our cemetery.  But in an instant He breathed a breath, opened His eyes, smiled a smile, stood on his feet and walked out of the tomb.  Jesus is alive.  We don’t have to be afraid of death because Jesus promises that He will do for us what He did for those two women way back then.  Jesus promises you, that He will speak to you “Talitha cumi, little girl, little boy, get up.”  And you will.
Well, pastor, that’s all fine and good.  I believe it.  But those folks back then had it easy.  Jesus touched them.  He took them by the hand and led them from death to life.  He walked around there in the dust of the ancient world.  He breathed on them.  He laughed with them.  He ate with them.  If only he’d take my hand like that.  If only Jesus would touch me.  I’m sick.  I’m tired.  I’m worried.  I’m lonely.  My sin is always in front of me.  I’m afraid of death.  I’m a dead person walking around.  If only Jesus would touch me and raise me from the dead.  
Dear Christians, that’s exactly what he promises to do, and in fact that’s exactly what he does.  Jesus Christ in his very body crosses all that time and comes right here to you.  He places his very body into your hand.  It’s the very same body that had its hand nailed to the cross.  It’s the very same body that took hold of that little girl’s hand and brought her life.  And He comes to you through bread and wine to bring you to life.  Because the sin that makes death come to you is washed away by the blood that came from His cut side.  The sin that you can’t stop doing, the sin that means you should be separated from God forever, is taken away by Jesus by the blood that He pours into you in, with and under the wine.  When you come to this altar and Jesus touches you, He takes you by the hand and says “Take and eat, you are forgiven.  Take and drink you are forgiven.  Get up and walk around in new life.”  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
(1)For this reason I would wish that the words, “free will,” had never been invented. They are not found in Scripture and would better be called “self will” which is of no use. Luther, M. (1999, c1958). Vol. 32: Luther's works, vol. 32 : Career of the Reformer II (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (32:94). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 9, 2006, Mark 4:35-41

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 9, 2006, Mark 4:35-41
St. John’s, Howard, South Dakota
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We haven’t had many storms this spring.  Actually we’d love to have rain, but the storms we can live without.  Well, hang on because we’ve got storms in the readings.
In Job, God speaks to Job out of a storm (some translations call it a whirlwind). Up until this point in the book, Job has wanted to confront God for the trouble he’s having. You remember about Job, how he lost everything, his wealth, his family, and his health. His friends sit around him and tell him that all of things that are happening to him are some kind of punishment for sin, if not outright sin, than some hidden sin Job isn’t aware of. But Job insists that there’s nothing that he’s done, he doesn’t deserve the storm of trouble that’s happening to him. He complains that if he could just plead his case before God, he’d get answers. Our reading is the beginning of God’s response to Job “out of the whirlwind.” Finally, in the middle of Job’s stormy life, God speaks to Job. Only it’s not the response Job is expecting. It’s not an answer we’d be happy with either. “Who are you to question me?” God says, “Where you around when I created everything? I’m the one who made everything. Were you there when I created everything?
God puts Job in his place. It’s just not the kind of answer we think we want from God. There’s not compassion or comfort there. It’s just as if he drives another nail in Job’s coffin. He doesn’t answer Job’s questions about why he is suffering. God doesn’t justify his actions or pacify. And Job bows in humility and fear, his storms are not calmed by God (yet!).
In the Gospel lesson, which is actually the text for our meditation, the storm is a little different.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41, ESV)
This storm is no less real than the storm faced by Job, and no less real than the noises that had been waking me in the night last week: A real storm, with real consequences. For the disciples they are afraid of drowning in the lake. If you’ve ever been out on a choppy lake during a storm you know the fear. As the waves grow and begin to splash over the sides of the boat you imagine the boat disappearing under the dark green foamy water. What will you do? Swim, how will you know which way to go, how will you keep afloat with the rain and wind. The fear is real. The disciples were afraid… for their lives. What a contrast to Jesus sleeping in the boat! Here he is sleeping soundly in a boat that’s filling with water and about to sink. And finally the disciples can’t bear the fear any more. And Jesus lying on the cushion sound asleep exasperated the whole experience. They were facing death and Jesus doesn’t seem to care! So they wake him up. “How could you sleep at a time like this? Don’t you care if we drown? There’s real danger here and you’re just sleeping your life away, and ours!” Jesus doesn’t answer their question but speaks directly to the water. “Quiet! Be still!” I imagine him looking also at the disciples as if to say “you too!” The wind and the waves react instantly. As soon as Jesus speaks the wind is silent and the waves calm. It’s a great contrast from complete storm to complete stillness, in an instant. Opposite of the great contrast that is seen in Jesus; great calm while sleeping to calming the storm. I wonder, do you see the connection to the reading from Job?
“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job 38:8-11, ESV)
Jesus mastery of nature is striking in the way He commands the waves and they obey. Just look at the disciples surprising response. They don’t lose their fear its focus only changes. And they ask the important question. “Who is this? Who is this that sleeps one moment and controls the storm in the next?” It is a question of faith and fear. “Why are you so afraid, do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks them. After all the disciples had witnessed, it appeared that they still didn’t know who he was. And yet right there in that boat they had all they needed to see. Jesus was sleeping, clearly a human being who needed sleep. He ate and slept, and drank and walked, and talked with them every day. He is as human as they were. And also he controlled the waves as easily as they threw their fishing net into the water. He was the one who set the boundary for the waves. Jesus is God; God speaking from the midst of the storm just like he did for Job.
You see, this text isn’t about how Jesus calms the storms of our life. As much as we want it to be true, God never promises that faith in him means that we won’t suffer from bad things in our lives. Look at Job. He suffered a great deal, but never found out why he suffered. He never knew the purpose. Job was a man of great faith. We often think about his patience but really it’s all about his faith… that is letting God be God and never knowing why he suffered through the storm. This text is about God being God; it’s about Jesus Christ being truly God, and Jesus Christ being truly man. And how God reconciled the real cause of storms in the world by sending Jesus his son, in human flesh. The storms of this world, tornados and social problems, earthquakes and broken families are our own fault. Sin is at the root. Sin causes pain and separation. Sin causes death. To be in sin, which all of us are, is to have a stormy relationship with God, instead of a perfect one. And that stormy relationship means that we don’t deserve anything from God, especially his protection, and presence in the storms we create. But he came anyway, in Jesus Christ. Jesus calms the storm between God and man, by taking the punishment instead of us. He brings God to us by suffering and dying and rising again.
That is what our faith is all about. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, ESV) That’s the content of our faith. That’s the important thing about what we believe. Christianity is specifically about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. The fact that he came to earth God and Man to live a perfect life for you and me, suffer and die on the cross for human sin. To reconcile us to God by paying the punishment of sin, suffering hell on the cross for us. But when the storms of life gather around us we forget who Jesus is. Well maybe we don’t actually forget but we act as if it doesn’t matter who he is. And that’s what also places us there in the boat with the disciples, being afraid of the storm. Our storm may not be the spinning cloud that passes through town, but what about the turmoil in our family that seems to be tearing it apart? No matter how hard you try you can’t seem to put it back together. You’re afraid you’ll never again have a whole family. What about the disease that won’t let go of you, and threatens to take away everything you have. Or the heart problem, or stroke, or illness that strikes without warning. Or the storm of being so busy that you can’t stop even to breath for fear of missing something important. You see all those storms leave us afraid and we shout out, “God don’t you care what’s happening to me, I’m afraid, and you don’t seem to be doing anything!” Just like the disciples we’ve forgotten who God really is. We forget that he’s in the midst of the storm. We forget about Jesus and what he promises us.
But Jesus knows about our storms because he isn’t a God who stands back and hurls lightning bolts at us from heaven. He is a God who became a man and lived among us. Right here in the midst of our storms, in the midst of our suffering, in the midst of our pain. Jesus Christ knows what it means to suffer through them. He suffered, just like we do and more. He knows the storm of separation caused by death. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He knows the storm caused by illness. He walked among the crowds that pressed in on him for healing. He had compassion on them, but he didn’t heal them all. No matter what’s troubling you Jesus Christ knows your storm. He can and does take care of us. He is God. He is the very same God who created everything. He is the God who set the boundaries for the sea and formed the mountains with his very words. He is in control of everything, from the smallest flapping of the butterfly’s wing, to the formation of clouds and the waves that lap against the seashore. That’s Jesus standing in the boat with the disciples calming the storm around them, speaking in the midst of the whirlwind.
But he doesn’t always calm the storm. Job had to suffer for a very long time. You and I have storms that never seem to end. What is Jesus doing about that? Well, he hasn’t left us alone to deal with the storms of life, even if he doesn’t just make them go away. Jesus Christ the God-Man who died, and rose again for us has provided us with special gifts to help us weather the storm. These are things that he gives us freely and abundantly. And he gives them to you right here.
Right here in this place he speaks his word to you. Storm or calm, week after week, month after month, year after year, His very words of comfort and strength are given to you. What does he say to you? He gives you promises. Promises that he will always be with you, you are not alone in the storm. You don’t have to leave your bed and crawl in with mom and dad, when the thunder rolls; Jesus is with you wherever you are. The disciples were in the boat with Jesus; the storm was nothing to worry about. Over and over again Jesus makes that promise to you.  It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV)
God doesn’t promise no storms or burdens but he promises that he’ll help you bear it.  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV)
These are the kind of promises of God makes to you, given in his word. And don’t forget that those promises are true for you because he has claimed you to be his own. Look at the font here. Here God reaches out and grabs you in your storm. Here he makes you his child.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV)
That promise to be with us is no more sure and certain for us than it is here at this altar. Here he comes to us in his very body and blood. In the midst of our storm we can take hold of Jesus Christ himself, as we hold out our hand and make for him “the very throne of God!” We handle him, touch him and see him… and he gives us strength in this food to stand in the storm, but not strength to stand on our own, strength to stand because he gives is promise and keeps his promises.
Will the storms all go away? Will Jesus always stand up and “rebuke” the demons that threaten us? Nope. Life is still full of stormy days. Look what that storm did for the disciples. They got a lesson about turning to Jesus. They needed to be reminded who he is. That’s what the storms do for us too. They remind us that we can’t go it alone. They remind us that God is in control of everything. They remind us that we need to depend on him more and more every day. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, July 2, 2006, Psalm 42:1

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 4th of July Weekend.
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, SD
As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. (Psalm 42:1, ESV)
From a Sermon by Rev. John Nunes.
Grace and Peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Repeat after me: Praise the Lord! Hallelujah! Glory to the name of Jesus! The Lord our God is King!
Does that make you uncomfortable… don’t feel alone it makes me uncomfortable too.  Now if we were down south it, speaking and shouting like that would be common place.   But there are places where speaking like that is downright dangerous.  The US State Department says that in nearly 70 countries it’s legal to persecute Christians.  It’s legal to imprison torture, enslave, rape, assault, and even murder by crucifixion people who confess words just like those.  In some places in the world what we are doing right now would land us on death row.  Today, a few days before the 4th is a good time to take about the wonderful gift of religious freedom we’ve been given through our God, in this country.  
For some Christians worshipping Jesus Christ is a matter of life and death.  But for us, actually it means even more than that.  You see, all eternity hangs in the balance.  It’s not just a mater of life and death; it’s a matter of everlasting life and everlasting death.  Through His presence here today, God gives us life and life to the full.  Through God’s Word and the Sacrament God puts Jesus into our lives in a way that gives us much more than worldly freedom.  He is the way the truth and the life.  Through Word and water, bread and wine he enters our lives and we are changed, we are set free from sin and death.
Our freedom was won on Calvary’s Cross, where Jesus bled and died for your sins and mine.  His death changed all of human history forever and more importantly his death changed your history forever.  His resurrection gives us a freedom that’s greater than the freedom promised us by The Constitution.  Jesus lives and promises new and eternal life to you and me.  He will raise our bodies from death.  That’s the freedom we’ve been given.  Freedom from our greatest enemy death.  Martin Luther said, Human freedom might change laws without changing people, but Christian freedom changes people without changing the Law.
But Jesus life, death and resurrection frees us from the claws of the law.  
  • From living in a dead end valley of the shadow of death to living an abundant life.

  • From slavery to sin to having all the rights and privileges of the Children of God.

  • From having broken spirits to leaping with joy in the Holy Spirit.

  • From thirsting for righteousness to drinking from the cup of salvation that runs over.
There was an African American poet from in the 1700.  Her poetry won her freedom from human slavery. Her faith in Jesus Christ won her freedom from sin, death and hell.  Her name is Philis Wheatly.
In every human breast,
God has implanted a
Principle with we call
Love of
Freedom; it is impatient of
Oppression, and pants for
As much of a blessing worldly freedom is the problem with our “panting” after it is that we are panting after the wrong kind of freedom.  No matter how good the freedoms granted by governments it’s only temporary.  It’s not a real, complete and permanent freedom.  All human institutions come to an end.   All governments fail.  History confirms it.  True freedom is only found through faith in the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  That’s what the Psalm is talking about, “panting” for the Only True God.  Finding in Him true freedom, freedom that lasts forever.
So here we are today, gathered in the name of the One True God.  We’ve come here because we pant for the gifts that only He can give, forgiveness of sins through Jesus Christ.  We sit and stand together here in a unity that comes through that faith.  We are connected together through Jesus.  That freedom compels us to share what God has given us with people who don’t know Him yet.  People who are still enslaved to sin and death.  But there are many ways to serve.  Some serve quietly, like in prayer frequent for friends and neighbors.  Others serve outwardly working for a better life in our community.  Some serve by visiting hospitals and nursing homes.  Others by working hard and doing well in their chosen profession.  God gives each person special and unique gifts to serve.  St. Paul says that we are one body with many different parts, each gifted to serve in a special way.
Also being a Christian means that there isn’t necessarily one way to vote either.  We are free to serve by participating the political process.  We are responsible to carefully vote in ways that protect human life, and the property of our neighbors.  Constructive debate on issues can help us to make God-Pleasing decisions about our participation in “government of the people.”  The Missouri Synod has produced a nice booklet called Render Unto Ceaser… and Unto God that is a great help here.  If you’d like to read it I’ve got a copy you can borrow.  Our government is put together to include us in the process.  There is a time and place for creativity… a time to challenge long established assumptions… a time to question the way we’ve always done things… and propose changes.  There’s room for many opinions among God’s people on the best way for government to run.  We enjoy the wonderful gift of freedom to participate in the process.  We should do so.  But we shouldn’t expect the freedom given by the government to answer all our needs.  That belongs to God alone.
The freedom we are looking for, well the freedom that everyone is looking for is found only in Jesus Christ. He is with us here and we are free! We gather here to eat and drink his very body and blood that is our freedom. We deeply drink in the Word of God spoken to us, which brings us the deliverance that comes from knowing the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are totally delivered from the slavery of sin. We are delivered and free, now! Not sometime in our future after our death, but right now. We struggle with sin every day, but Jesus death has freed us from it. It doesn’t control us because we have forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Whenever sin tries to bind us again we know that Jesus was bound to death instead of us. We can set sin aside and move on to a better future, a future of freedom in Jesus Christ.
Think of what it means for your life now that you are free from the slavery of sin. You don’t have to worry about punishment for your failures. When you fail you can move on, you can forgive and forget when someone hurts you. All of that pain and suffering was placed on Jesus; you can give it to him and live free from it. You don’t have to worry about your eternal future.  That’s made sure by the death of Jesus for you. What happens to you after death is assured through Baptism into the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  His life is your life.  His death is your death to sin.  His resurrection is your full and complete life forever.  Doesn’t that make your life different than it would be otherwise? You are free to do all kinds of things now.  You can service other people instead of having to worry about yourself.  I’ll be you can think of all kinds of different ways to serve others, all the while pointing them to the One who has set you free… free to serve.
That’s really what life is about. Being free in Jesus lets you see and know it. We have a small taste of that because of the freedoms we enjoy here in the US. We can be very thankful for that. But most of all we can be thankful that Jesus Christ has really set us free. Amen.
The peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.