Saturday, December 24, 2011

Isaiah.40.1-11; The Festival of the Incarnation of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. December 25, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, IA

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:1–11, ESV)

From a Series by Dr. Reed Lessing, "Savior of the Nations Come"

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

You know it happens, you fail, you fall, you stop dead in your tracks unable to move forward. "dead as a doornail" "lost cause" "throw in the towel" "mighty Casey has struck out."

Israel was there. They were in exile from their loved land. They rejected God. He sent the Babylonian army to conquer them and drag them into captivity. They had no temple. They had no capital city, Jerusalem. They had no king to rule. The had no hope. "dead as a doornail" "lost cause" "throw in the towel" "mighty Casey has struck out." Isaiah speaks to them.

To those who had thrown in the towel he writes "Comfort, Comfort" He doubles up the word to show how strong the comfort will be. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God." The words explode with comfort from God's promises. As he said when he brought them out of slavery in Egypt, "I will be your God, you will be my people!" (Ex 6:7). "Speak tenderly," he continues. Literally "upon the heart" to bring the comfort right where it is needed most. This text has comfort at the beginning and comfort at the end. Like bookends. Spoken in the beginning and in-fleshed in the Shepherd at the end. Just like the beloved Psalm "The Lord is my shepherd" the image brings the comfort of God's compassion and tenderness that were needed by the exiles. The people, like sheep, had gone astray. God their Shepherd, would fold them in his arms and take them home again.

Now sheep are not very intimidating creatures. In the NFL there are teams called the Chicago Bears, the Detroit Lions, the Denver Broncos, Minnesota Vikings and the Atlanta Falcons. But there isn't, and I dare say, there will never be a team called the Los Angeles Lambs or the San Antonio Sheep.

Sheep are not intimidating creatures. The truth is they are dumb. They graze on the same hills until they turn it to a waste land. They get too close to the water when they drink and the water wicks up into their wool and they fall in, and drown. We aren't like that... are we?

Sheep are dirty. Their wool is a magnet for every foul thing on the ground, dirt, mud, manure, and maggots. Sheep absorb every particle of filth in the atmosphere. We aren't like that... are we?

Sheep are defenseless. They turn over on their back to rest. Then they can't get up. Wild dogs, coyotes and cougars all know that a cast sheep is a sitting duck. But we aren't like that... are we?

Israel had been just like that. They were lost, defenseless. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar set upon them. The towel was thrown in 586 because they were like sheep.

Israel had been dumb. Isaiah 1:3 — “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”

God’s people were dirty. Isaiah 64:6 — “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.”

Israel had been defenseless. Isaiah 1:6 — “From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness; only wounds and welts and open sores.” We're not like that…are we?

Hear the word of the LORD: Isaiah 53:6 — “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” And the result? “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remember Zion.” You and I are living testimonies of lost causes. We are exiled. We are so far from the Father's will and ways…so far from bearing each other's pain and burdens…so far from spouses, children, sisters and brothers. Mighty Casey has struck out!

So what's the Shepherd to do? He only has one option; to become a Lamb. But not any ordinary lamb. “A virgin will conceive and bear a Son and you will call his name Immanuel” (Is 7:14). “His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).

This was no ordinary baby. Angels sang over him. Shepherds marveled at him. Simeon worshipped him. Mary pondered over these things and stored them up in her heart. Herod plotted to kill him.

But where he failed others would succeed. “He was led like a Lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7).

There were no green pastures. Rather spit and blood are caked to his cheeks. Neither were there quiet waters, in fact, no water at all. His lips are cracked and swollen and his throat is parched from the hot Palestinian sun. He's passing through the valley of the shadow of death as pain twangs her morbid melody. There's no rod or staff for comfort. The cup overflows all right…he drinks from the cup of the fury of wrath of God Almighty. Surely goodness and mercy have been twisted and perverted in the most inhumane way. Mary’s little Lamb is crucified, dead and buried.

Isaiah says, though, "The Word of our God stands forever!" The word stands when God burst the people free from exile in Babylon. The word stands when the Babe bursts from Bethlehem. And the word stands when Jesus bursts from three days dead in the tomb.

"Comfort, comfort my people!" That what the shepherd does. When I'm lost and exiled he leaves the 99 and runs after me. When I'm confused by voices of demons and devils he calls me by name and I know that voice. When I'm dirty and full of filth he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. There is a Shepherd who gathers me in his arms until I’m better, holds me until I can live with the hurt, and carries me close to his heart forever!

Dumb, dirty and defenseless. We are like that…aren't we? There is one more word to describe us, though, this Christmas Day. We are delivered! Jesus delivers comfort, like bookends: in the beginning all the way through to the comfort at the end of life…until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

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

Isaiah.40.10-11; The Nativity of Our Lord; December 24, 2011;

Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:10–11, ESV)

From a Series by Dr. Reed Lessing, "Savior of the Nations Come"

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

A man was walking through a cemetery late one night when he fell into an open grave. Frantically, he began to feel around the walls of the pit. Pretty soon he began trying to jump out. Exhausted after a few minutes he gave up all hope and sat down. Just then he heard someone say, “Forget it pal. You are stuck!” And guess what? Being totally shocked and surprised, the man was out of that grave in no time!

How does it feel when you are stuck in a pit and can't get out? How does it feel to be stuck in a grave, clawing at the walls, only to fall back down again and again?

You now how it feels and so do I.

As we sit in our pit of disappointment people pass by and offer their help. A sensitive person walks by and says, “I feel for you down there. I’ll get around to sending you some flowers real soon!”

A religious person walks by and says, “Only bad people fall into pits. What did you do so wrong to end up so stuck?”

A math teacher walks by and says, “Let me calculate how you fell into the pit.” So he takes out his calculator and crunches some numbers.

A news reporter walks by and says, “Let me do an exclusive story on your pit.”

An IRS man walks by and says, “Hey, are you paying taxes on your pit?”

A friend walks by and says, “Things could be worse.”

A pessimist walks by and says, “Things will get worse.”

The truth is, most of the time we are responsible for being stuck in our own pit, for digging our own grave. You know how it goes. You can't hold your anger. You can't manage your money. You can't tame your tongue. You can't get along with that co-worker. You can't say good things about your neighbor.

The big problem with our pit comes when we get so used to being there we set up housekeeping. We decorate the walls, hang pictures, and wall paper. A couch here, a chair there, a place to pay the bills and it almost looks like home. But it's not!

Isaiah tells us that God comes with his mighty arm. That's what he always does for his people. He is strong to save, defeating enemies and ending conflict. He comes with an outstretched arm a compassionate arm that cares for our needs. What's great about God's work is that it never ends. God is eternal. He reaches out to save and beneath are the everlasting arms.

Back in the pit, night falls. It is an ordinary night with an ordinary sky. There are some ordinary sheep. You hear them from the pit.

And you hear shepherds, plain old, ordinary, smelly, poor shepherds. They smell like sheep, and look like them too.

It all seems like an ordinary night. But God has other plans. The black night explodes with bright light. The sheep begin to get noisy, too. What in the world is going on?

Jesus is coming into our human hell. Jesus is entering into our deep darkness. Jesus is coming into your pit, right where you are.

His arms feel the burn of the whiplash as he is beaten for our sins.

His arms feel the flaming fire of the nails piercing his flesh.

His arms feel the weight of his body as he hangs on the old rugged cross.

His arms feel the warmth of his own blood as it runs from his open wounds.

He is crucified, dead and buried for you. He suffers the pain of our punishment. He is there in our pit to bring us forgiveness and rescue. Underneath us are the everlasting arms. He jumps down into our pit of death and despair. He reaches out and holds grabs us with everlasting arms. These arms, though, dead, are alive again. They are everlasting!

Our Savior’s arms welcome us, hold us, lead us, and guide us forever. And they are there in our pit carrying us up and out. Amen.

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

It's time!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

John.1.6-8.19-28; Third Sunday in Advent; December 11, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. John 1:6-8

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:19-28

Songs of Emmanuel – The Agnus Dei

From a sermon by Pastor Tim Pauls

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

There’s something compelling about John the Baptizer. Even for you and me, after all what would advent be without taking one Sunday and talking about him. Though, I don’t think that it’s his clothing. Camel’s hair isn’t exactly a popular fashion statement. I don’t think it’s his diet either. When was the last time you heard of a diet guru promoting a diet of locust and wild honey? If that were my diet I’d surely loose weight! But, John is a commanding presence; there must be something about him that draws people’s attention. It has to be because the text says the “all Judea” was going out to see him. They went out to hear his message and to be baptized. Those flocks of people must have seen something more than “John son of Zacharias.”

The Scribes and Pharisees sent people to him because they wanted to know what he was all about. They were probably looking for a reason to kill him for all his attention.

"Are you the Christ?” they ask. He was certainly drawing crowds like they expected the Messiah to do. He had words for even Roman Soldiers. But John answered their question clearly, “I am not the Christ.”

“What then? Are you Elijah?” They wanted to know if John thought he was the great prophet returned from the dead. Elijah was the prophet who spoke God’s word and brought famine, and then again and the rains refreshed the land. He is the one who killed 400 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. And he even raised the dead. Maybe John saw himself as Elijah. “Are you him?” they asked. “I am not.” John says.

“Are you the Prophet?” came the next question. Israel had for millennium expected a prophet greater than Moses to appear; one to preach like Moses; one to lead the people out of slavery like Moses; one to supply them with their needs like Moses did with manna and quail. John was gathering crowds, maybe he thought he was the Prophet Moses promised. “Are you him?” they asked. “No.” said John, simply.

“Then who?” they needed to know. “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?"

John’s answer may have surprised them. “I am The Voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” as the prophet Isaiah said.” Oh, so that’s who he is, they may have said to themselves. For all of his talk, all of his crowd gathering, all of his charisma, he’s just “the voice.” He’s just the preparer. But the voice is preparing the way for Christ himself. John’s isn’t the Messiah but if he is the voice then his message is that the Messiah is coming.

If John draws so much attention what will the Christ, who comes after him, be like? Will he stand out head and shoulders above the crowd? Will he come in power and strength and authority? If John is the voice and he draws this kind of attention, the Messiah that he announces will surely draw even more. The Christ is one who is anointed by God to save his people, and govern them and lift them up forever. He must be a strong and powerful person indeed! If he is coming we’ll know him when we see him, right?

The Pharisees ask one more question: “Why do you baptize if you are not any of these people, sent by God?” John says, “I baptize with water, but there is one who stands with us now, he is the coming one, you don’t see him but he is here. I’m not worthy even to stoop down to take off his shoes.”

Those people must have been scratching their heads and looking around. “You mean he’s here right now? “Standing among us,” you say. But we don’t know him? Why doesn’t he stand out? Don’t you think we’d recognize someone who’s greater than Moses and Elijah? Don’t you think we’d recognize someone greater than the Baptizer? Prophecy tells us that when the Christ comes he’ll flatten mountains and rise up valleys. He’s called the Lion of Judah.”

Jesus was there and quiet. And they don’t recognize him. He’s just a face in the crowd. For the Christ that God did send you can’t go by appearance. If you want to know who this Christ is you have to go by what he says and does. John knows and identifies him. Pointing a finger at Jesus he says “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He was right there with them and John called him the “Lamb of God” not the “Lion of Judah.”

A lamb isn’t what is expected. Lambs don’t bring images of power and glory to mind. They don’t conquer worlds and kingdoms. They are taken care of. They don’t care for others. They are lead to slaughter and sacrifice without putting up even so much as a struggle. But isn’t the Messiah supposed to be strong and powerful, why is he the “Lamb of God?”

He is strong; in fact he is all-powerful. But he is also meek. He is going to conquer his enemies but he will do it by meekness. Just like everyone standing on that riverbank he submits to John’s baptism. He isn’t going to save by being overpowering he is going to save by serving. He will draw his followers by being their servant. He won’t punish his enemies either. Instead he will allow himself to be punished by them. Most of all he will save by sacrifice. He will offer himself as the sacrifice for the whole world’s sins. He will take them to the cross and shed his blood, just like the lambs in the temple. He is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Many will miss this Savior because he doesn’t look like what they expect. In their eyes he should be a powerful king. He should have a throne of power that people can look up to. People go by appearances, so many reject Jesus out of hand, and pass him by as if he is nothing special.

But there are some who hear his word and believe in him. They don’t care what he looks like, they don’t care if he’s just a face in the crowd. They look on the one who dies on the cross for them and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”

"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have grant us Thy peace."
"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John says those words because Jesus was right there the face in the crowd. John spoke what was true; Jesus had come to save the world. He was on his way to the cross to bear the sins of the world and set everything right between God and man.

We don’t repeat John’s song just out of a sense of what God has done for us in the past. We sing it because he is present with us here and now. We sing those words in our worship because the Son of God has become flesh and he promises to be with us here whenever we gather in his name. He is here right now, flesh and blood, just as he was with the people who crowded around John on the banks of the Jordan River.

Jesus Christ conquered sin and death and rose in victory over the grave, he even “sits that right hand of God” and rules all things. But he still comes to you humbly. He still comes to you to serve. He is present here with his Word. He is the Word made flesh, so when his Word is here, he is here. He is present whenever he pours the water of baptism, when he washes away the sins of the world. He is here in bread and wine, giving you himself, his very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

It’s rather a humble way to come, isn’t it? The spoken word, water and wine. These are everyday things you can find in the grocery store. Just in the same way he was quietly standing on the banks of the Jordan, he comes to us humbly in common things. That’s his promise to us that he is with us here in Word and Sacraments.

The problem for us is that we often want to look for God where he isn’t found. Our sin makes us want to see him in less common things. There are plenty of charismatic leaders out there, who proclaim a popular message. We want to see Jesus there, but if they don’t proclaim the Gospel, if they don’t point to what Jesus Christ has done for the world, Jesus isn’t there. We want to see Jesus in our feeling and experiences. We say to ourselves that we need to “feel” the Holy Spirit in our lives to know that God is with us. But Jesus never promises that we will feel any different when we become Christians. We don’t look inside ourselves to prove God’s favor to us, our feelings and experiences can be wrong. We look to Jesus Christ and what he promises to do. We want to see Jesus in powerful, growing, successful churches. We want to see him in big programs that appeal to the “felt needs” of people. But if God’s word isn’t preached and the Sacraments are not administered, if the Gospel isn’t found in those programs, it’s all for nothing. Jesus Christ isn’t there either.

We walk by faith, not by sight. We believe in the Word, not what things look like. That’s why we rejoice in the promises of our Savior. He promises to be here in Baptism, Communion and his Word. They may look like everyday things but everyday we need what God promises to give through them: We need the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. Our Lord comes humbly as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It doesn’t look very glorious, but it is.

If we think about this just a little more we can see that it explains a lot about our lives, in general. Some people will tell you that when you become a Christian, you should expect an extraordinary life. You should see miracles and wonderful things a proof of God’s love for you. When you hear that and look at your life, that may be very unremarkable, and everyday, you may think that something must be wrong. But, there’s nothing wrong at all. Jesus Christ works in very un-remarkable looking ways for your salvation. He also works in some very ordinary, everyday ways for your other needs also. Instead of using a glorious healing, he may use ordinary doctors and medicine to heal you. Instead of sending manna from heaven he provides you with a job so you can work to provide for your family. These ordinary things don’t point to God’s absence in your life, they in fact point to God working and providing for your every need.

Jesus was just a face in the crowd at the Jordan River, he was unrecognized by the crowds. You too, may live a life that is unrecognizable from people around you. Just as Jesus suffered, you too will suffer. It’s not because Jesus has abandoned you, but because you are his disciple. You are the sheep of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You are forgiven. You are his. Amen.

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

Saturday, December 03, 2011

2 Peter 3:8-14; The Second Sunday in Advent; December 4, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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

This waiting thing during Advent is a difficult thing, especially these days. Christmas runs full bore beginning with Black Friday through 9am Christmas morning. And then it should be done. After that we move into bleak winter, or look forward to Valentine's day or spring. The time of "Peace on earth" is over, let's get on to the next thing. But, here in Church we have it all backwards. There's the yearly struggle between Pastor and the Christmas decorations. He says we should wait till the week before Christmas, we need to get it done while people are still in the mood to decorate for Christmas. Pastors can be such Scrooges when it comes to Christmas time. When we talk about waiting, we are trying to swim up stream, kicking against the goads, as Jesus said to Paul. (By the way a goad is a cattle prod). Waiting is the last thing we want to do these days. We want what we want and we want it now! Hey, I'm not just talking about you here. I'm talking about me. It's easy to click that little button on the web order to get the package in 2 days rather than 5 days, the heck with how much it costs. So, when we talk about waiting... When God tells us that we should be waiting, that's hard for us, all of us.

Well, the waiting at Advent isn't about killing the joy of Christmas, or fighting against the culture. It's about reminding ourselves what we are really waiting for and what that waiting is to look like. What St. Peter wrote in his letter he wrote to us, he could have just as well said, "to the church at Creston". He reminds us, those who have obtained faith... by our Lord Jesus Christ (1:1), why we are waiting.

But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” (2 Peter 3:8–14, ESV)

So, talking about all this burning up and destroying doesn't sound very Christmassy does it. But it is good to remember, that this life that we live is heading somewhere, and that somewhere is the return of Jesus, our Savior. The judgment of the whole world. The setting of all wrongs right. A new heavens and a new earth where there is no more waiting, or pain, or sorrow, or trouble, or death. If we keep our eye on the ball, that is looking toward Jesus return, the ultimate goal of Christians, then everything will make sense. So that's exactly what we are doing during Advent. Christmas Day is a day full of Joy to the World. We have every right to celebrate. God became man in Jesus Christ. The account of his coming is something special. The whole world recognizes that. But we push off the joy just a bit during Advent, just as we are right now waiting for the joy of his coming again. And so St. Peter helps us keep our eye on the ball. Everything he says here could be summed up like this: While you are waiting for the coming of Jesus, live lives of holiness and godliness.

Well, talk about kicking against the goads. Living a life of holiness isn't exactly in vogue. Just a quick example. We all pretend that the great deals we are looking for on Black Friday are for Christmas gifts. But most of the mountain of purchases that packed on already full credit cards this year were not Christmas gifts. They were opened at home right away. We pretend to be in a giving mode but our favorite giftee is us. How quickly the giving season becomes self-centered when there are shiny things to be had. Well that's certainly not being holy, is it?

Let's make sure we understand exactly what the Bible means when it tells us live in holiness. First, we usually think that holy means to be good, or sinless, or perfect. And while that's a part of the meaning, there really isn't an English word that gets it all. In Bible the word holy most often means "set apart for God." The opposite of holy isn't sinful, the opposite of holy is common. That is able to be used by anyone, for anything.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

It means to set aside the Sabbath day for God's use. That's why we come together here, isn't it. We receive the things God promises to give us here, on this day. We set aside this time for God to do what God wants to do. This day, this time, is holy, that is set apart for God's use.

And so St. Peter says that while we wait the coming of the Lord, we are to live lives of holiness, to be holy. So, he means, lives set apart for God. You have already been set apart for God, you are already holy. Another way to say this is to say that you are a 'saint'. Now you know that you are not perfect, or sinless, or better than anyone else. You are a saint, because God says you are. You were made a saint, that is holy, in Holy Baptism. There God declares you his holy, forgiven child, because Jesus' life, death and resurrection are yours. God removes sin from you and sets you apart as his.

In his other letter St. Peter describes you like this:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9–10, ESV)

There we have it. You are holy, that is set apart for God, to "proclaim the excellencies" of God. You are set aside for God, to proclaim the great things that God has done. You have received mercy, forgiveness, life forever, salvation, through God's work in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

You do this by living life as God directs. Because you are set aside for God, you do as God would want. Now that's quite a bit different from what's going on in life around you. People live for themselves. You live for others. People sleep in on Sunday morning. You make Sunday holy to God, set aside for him. People do what ever they think is right. You do what God says is right. It's because you are holy, set aside for God.

Ah, but there it is, isn't it? You don't think your are holy because you don't live up to any of these expectations. You find yourself being selfish. You find yourself skipping church. You find yourself influenced by what the world says is right. You know it isn't as God would have you live. If only you could live a perfectly holy life. Now we go back again to what St. Peter said.

[God] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

God is not patient because he tolerates sin. He is patient, because he sent Jesus to suffer the punishment for your sin. He doesn't just push sin under the carpet, he pushes sin onto his son, Jesus on the cross. And repentance is just that. Seeing our sin, and pushing it on Jesus on the cross, and receiving forgiveness through faith that Jesus death is my death. His punishment for sin, is my punishment for sin. Because of Jesus I have received mercy! So, I am set aside for God, to do what God would have me do, to be holy as God is holy.

And so, we look forward to a time when we won't have sin to give to Jesus. A time when everything will be perfect and holy. A time when there will be no more waiting and everything that God promises will come to completeness.

Until then we wait. And so we wait at Advent. Looking forward to the coming of Jesus, and the joy of the stable. The joy of the stable, the baby Jesus, is the joy of sins forgiven at the cross. The joy of Christmas is the promise that all things will be made new again, and that Jesus is coming again at any time, in a day or a thousand years. And when he does there will be such joy. Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mark 11.1-11; First Sunday in Advent; November 27, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:1–11, ESV)

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

Well this story seems a bit out of place. I thought Christmas was coming, not Easter. Isn't this Palm Sunday? Are you sure this is the right text for today, Pastor? Yes, it is the right one, and if we think about it a little bit I’ll bet we can come up with a few ideas just why it is a good text for the beginning of Advent. Most of us think of the Christmas season beginning as soon as Thanksgiving is over. I’ll bet a lot of you did some Christmas shopping on Friday. But really, the Christmas season (according to the church year) is the time after Christmas. The song the 12 days of Christmas is all about the 12 days after, not before. We are careful here in the church to hold off singing Christmas carols during the time before Christmas because, in a way, we want to build the suspense. That’s what this season of blue is all about before Christmas. It sets up the Joy, by emphasizing the wait. So we talk about how our savior is coming. That’s what the word Advent means – coming.

We do some special things to mark the season of Advent. Like the advent wreath, the blue paraments, etc. It's all to get us ready to celebrate Christmas, the coming of Jesus as an infant.

So, what does the Palm Sunday text, the text about Jesus riding in to Jerusalem on a donkey, have to do with Advent? Why would we talk about something that happened the week he died? What does that have to do with the time before he was born?

Well I’ll tell you; this text is about Jesus coming, and coming as King. The donkey, the shouts of the people, and coming to Jerusalem tell us all of that. And any text about Jesus coming is appropriate for Advent, as we await his coming as the Baby of Bethlehem. You see Jesus is the Coming One. God planned his coming from eternity, even before humans made a mess of things in God’s created world; God had a plan to straighten it all out by sending… himself. By coming to earth as a human being to do what human beings couldn’t do. Jesus the Coming One, came into human history. He was born, just like any human being would be born, but not as we would expect God to be born. Instead of a palace Jesus came in a dark stable in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. And instead of coming to a royal family his parents were a carpenter and a poor teenage girl. But, he is / and was God in the flesh. The ultimate power in the universe reduced to a pink, squirming bundle in a woman’s arms. It was just as messy, just as painful, and just as joyful a birth as any birth, just like yours and mine. Jesus Christ, the Coming One came as promised, flesh and bone, God and man, Savior.

Jesus comes to us still. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20 Jesus is with us now, in this place, at this time in human history. It is for that very reason we have gathered together, as the church has for centuries. We are here to be with the One Who Promises to Come in his Word and in his Sacraments. We gather around to listen to God speak to us, to instruct us, to comfort us, and to make us joyful. Jesus Christ, himself, is present in his Word, and it strikes our hearts and does what God wants it to do. It too, is a real physical coming, as the words leave the mouth and pass through the air and strike your eardrums, and enter your consciousness, and cut straight to your heart.

And don’t forget that Jesus Christ, comes in the flesh to us today also. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. Mark 14:22-24 In a few moments Jesus Christ will be present with us in the very same body that Mary fed in her arms; and the very same body that was broken and bled and died on the cross for you and me; and the very same body that rose from the tomb alive again. And we will eat and drink to receive him. It isn’t a coincidence that we sing the same song that the people who were celebrating the coming of Jesus on Palm Sunday sang. “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Holy, Holy, holy Lord, God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus Christ is coming to us right here. The Body and Blood of Christ enter us and we touch and feel Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and strengthened by his presence with us.

And don’t forget that the same Jesus who came in history to Bethlehem, and the Jesus who comes to us today in his word, and in his body and blood, is the Jesus who is coming again. Over the last few Sundays we’ve been talking a lot about his coming in our future. This Jesus who wore diapers, this Jesus who lived and breath as every human being lives and breathes, this Jesus who suffered pain and death. He speaks to us today and touches us with his very body and blood. And He will come again to make complete everything he has done for us.

Notice how Jesus sets everything up, in the text. He is deliberate about what he says. “Bring me a young donkey that no one has ever ridden. It’s time to go to Jerusalem.” Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9ff Jesus was sending a very strong message. He was saying exactly who he was, and why he had come. He was the king coming into the royal city of Jerusalem. The word of Zechariah would be fulfilled; Jesus, the King was coming. Jesus is the Messiah the King of Israel, and the descendent of David who would rule of God’s kingdom forever. He would be like David but greater.

Remember how David destroyed the enemies of God’s people? He was the shepherd boy who stood against the giant. Goliath shouted out curses against God, and David delivered stone to his forehead and used the giant’s own sword to cut off his head. Jesus too, defeats the great giant enemy of God’s people. Satan shouts curses at God, and Jesus, the Shepherd of his people, defeats him by using Satan’s own actions against him. When Jesus breath out his breath on the cross and died, Satan must have shouted with joy! He thought he’d won, but instead he lost. When Jesus pushed the stone away from the tomb, Satan’s head was crushed, and he went whimpering back to his corner. David’s rule over God’s people ended. But, Jesus reign as King will be forever.

And the Kingdom he brings is for us. We have a Savior. Not only did Jesus destroy our enemy the great giant, Satan, but he also removes the power of sin in our lives. We are his children, born into his family by water and the word. We are re-born into the new life that he won for us by his death and resurrection. That new life is one over which sin holds no power. Sin causes death, but Jesus Christ makes us alive again.

That’s what the Coming One has done for us; that’s what the Coming One does for us, and that’s what the Coming One will do for us; and that’s what Advent is all about. Sometimes we talk about life from cradle to grave… in Advent we think about new life, Jesus’ cradle to Jesus’ grave… but it doesn’t stop there. His grave wasn’t the end, but really a beginning for us, because he came from that grave alive again and he makes us alive again. Jesus Christ is coming! Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Luke.17.11-19; Thanksgiving Eve; November 24, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”” (Luke 17:11–19, ESV)

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

I know, your ready for a good scolding. After all it is Thanksgiving, you need to feel guilty so you can be thankful. So here goes.... You have been given so much, there are starving people in China, what you eat tomorrow for your feast would feed them for a week. You need to be more thankful. Like the unexpected Samaritan leper. The other guys, the nine, weren't very thankful they were just like you. Look at what they got. And they can't even be bothered to say thanks. You should be more thankful, but your not, but Jesus forgives you anyway. Amen.

I think I've preached that sermon on this text before. I'm sure you've heard any number of preachers do it that way. I'll bet if you turn on the radio tomorrow you'll hear a sermon just like that, too. But the thing is that way makes the text about the lepers and you. And I'm pretty sure the bible isn't about you. Ok, so who is the text about... well I think we can figure this out if we notice a couple of things about the text and make a couple of well warranted adjustments to the English translation.

First, Jesus is "On the way to Jerusalem." Never underestimate Jesus' journey to Jerusalem. Remember what Jesus is going to Jerusalem to do. Especially in Luke he sets his mind and heart there. He is heading there to die on the cross for the forgiveness of sinful people. He is heading there to die on the cross to end the curse of sin on the world. He is heading there to restore creation to its rightful order. Forgiveness, healing, restoration: That is what Jesus and his journey to the cross is all about. He is God in human flesh making this journey for you.

So on his way to Jerusalem the ten lepers come to Jesus expecting healing. "Master, have mercy!" Have mercy is a common prayer but the use of the word "master" shows that they know something about Jesus that seems to escape others. They expect to be healed. They are willing to ask for it and do whatever Jesus says.

We see the same thing from Peter earlier in the Gospel. The disciples were fishing all night without a catch. Jesus tells them to try again. "Whatever you say Master." is Peter's reply. He knows something is special about Jesus. Jesus says "Try again." He does what Jesus says. They catch more than they can carry. Peter responds in terror. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." (5:8) Jesus is more even then Peter expected. Peter sees Jesus as God, himself.

It's there for the lepers, too. Jesus answers their prayer by sending them on their own journey of healing to the priests. They get what they asked for while they go. Indecently, do you know what the priests will tell them to do after they show themselves to be clean and free from the disease? They are to go to the temple and offer sacrifices. These bloody gifts at the temple are God's way of showing them where healing really comes from. They remind us again that Jesus is on that journey to Jerusalem. He is going to shed his blood for forgiveness, healing, restoration. He sends them on the same journey.

When they see that they are healed nine of them speed to see the priests. Only one returns to Jesus. He comes back to give thanks to Jesus, praising God in a loud voice. He has figured something out. He knows something more than he knew before. He has figured out a very important connection. He falls at Jesus feet in thanks. This is the only place in the NT where this kind of thanksgiving is given to Jesus. He now knows who he is dealing with. He praises God and gives thanks to Jesus (It is important to note that the Greek word for thanksgiving is εὐχαριστῶν). He had faith before, "Master, have mercy!" but now he has faith in Jesus as his God, the healer of his body, the sacrifice for his sins. He sees Jesus as Savior. He give thanks to Jesus and glory to God all at the same time. And look what Jesus does! He sends him on another journey. "Go your way." It's just as if Jesus said, "You don't need to make a sacrifice at the temple, you have me for that. You have faith in me." He is the only one found to do this out of the nine. That's the first correction I'd like to make in the English translation. Instead of a question, "Where are the other nine?" I believe it actually makes more sense as a statement. There are none found to return and give glory to God except this foreigner. This Samaritan leper is the most unlikely person to make this connection. He is the outsider. But he is the one who gets Jesus.

Once again we see this same thing in other places in Luke's Gospel.

The woman who wanted to be healed by touching Jesus' garment in the crowd. She knew Jesus had come to heal and forgive. She reaches out only to touch Jesus robe. When she does it she his healed of her long illness. Jesus tells her to go in peace.

The blind beggar on the road calls out to Jesus. "Have mercy!" "What do you want me to do for you?" Jesus asks. "Lord, let me recover my sight." "You have it!" Jesus says.

And finally, the woman who poured ointment and tears on Jesus' feet and washed them with her hair and kissed them. Jesus tells her also to "Go in peace! Your sins are forgiven."

The one thing that they all have in common is the second correction I'd like to make to the English translation. The text says, "Your faith has made you well." But Jesus uses the very same words for all of these people. "Your faith has saved you." ("ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε.)" Using "made you well" is focuses on the healing. But all these unlikely people all see something more in Jesus. They figure out who he really is. They come to know Jesus as their Savior. That's what's going on with the leper, too. He shows his giving thanks to God by giving thanks to God in the Flesh, Jesus.

Now that's a model for you to take up on Thanksgiving. Not that you should be more thankful, but that you know where to give thanks. On this Thanksgiving, and every day for that matter, our thanks should be directed to God through Jesus Christ. After all, all God's gifts to you are pointless without the gift of Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried. Without Jesus there is no real God. Just like Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) That means you can give thanks to God all you want, but without Jesus and his forgiveness, it doesn't' mean a thing. Thanks that don't go through Jesus go to the void of the false gods that don't really exist.

The leper has it right. He gives God glory and thanks Jesus. It is one and the same. Jesus gives him access to the Father. Jesus heals and forgives. Jesus is the real savior and the real focus of the text.

So today is Thanksgiving. Tomorrow you'll have a feast, a family meal. Remember how I said the word Luke uses for the thanks given by the leper is εὐχαριστῶν. Well, our Christian family meal is set on the altar. We call it the Lord's Supper, but another name for it is The Eucharist. The Thanksgiving. When we do the liturgy in a few minutes just listen to how many times the words "thanks" and "thanksgiving" come up. It really is the great thanksgiving, the great thanksgiving to Jesus. It is the real thanksgiving meal. Here God gives to us what we need through the really present body and blood of Jesus our savior in, with and under the bread and wine. The body that took the journey to Jerusalem. The body that healed the leper. The body that walked, and ate and taught. The body that hung on the cross. The body that bled and died. The body that was stabbed by the Romans. The body that lay dead in the tomb. The body that rose again and ascended into heaven. The body now here for you, to bring you the forgiveness of sins won on the cross.

You see, this thanksgiving, I could tell you to be more thankful for what you've got. But I'd rather point you to Jesus. He gives you all you need.

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

1.Corinthians.15.20-28; The Last Sunday of the Church Year; November 20, 2011;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:20–28, ESV)

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

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This is the simplest yet most important of Christian creeds. If fact, our whole faith rides on it. A few passages before this Paul makes it very clear.

And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:14, ESV)

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (1 Corinthians 15:17, ESV)

It is that simple, we stake everything on Jesus' resurrection. If Jesus' bones are still buried somewhere in Palestine we may as well go home and go to bed because nothing we do here means anything at all. As foolish as the crucifixion of Jesus is to the world, that is that God died on the cross, the resurrection is the miracle that seals the deal for them. When skeptics look at you when you claim to be a Christian they think you are naive, or crazy, or uneducated, or... anything but rational. That's because people don't raise from the dead. There's a whole cemetery full of the proof for that. And yet, here we are confessing, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." Here we are listening to preaching that claims Jesus' resurrection. Here we are claiming that not only did the resurrection happen but it proves that Jesus' death (that is God's death) on the cross means the forgiveness of our sins. But, it would seem, it is a house of cards built on an irrational belief. Or so the skeptics say.

And yet, over the centuries many skeptics who have undertaken the task of proving Jesus dead and buried forever, have come to believe that he is not dead and decomposed[1]. The proof is here in the historical accounts. The Gospels are an accurate record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But reading them and studying them isn't just an academic or historical exercise. We know that the record of the Good News of Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again has God's power of changing the hardest of hearts, the most skeptical of skeptics. It is wholly because in this book (the bible) God speaks the truth. And the truth works miracles.

And that brings us to "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." Paul is telling you and me what is so important about the resurrection of Jesus. The power of the resurrection isn't in it's proof. The power of the resurrection is in what it means. Jesus' resurrection is the miracle of miracles. Because Jesus really did rise from the grave, because he was dead and is now alive death is undone. You see, any old miracle worker and do any old miracle. But it doesn't mean a thing for you because no miracle can stack up to the promise of eternal life, that is the result of Jesus' resurrection from the dead. That's what Paul means by firstfruits. Jesus is rose from the dead and Jesus promises the same for you. Saint Peter calls this a living hope.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,” (1 Peter 1:3, ESV)

Living hope has a double meaning. The hope that we have isn't some pious wish but a solid promise. A living hope, that we will be living forever because Jesus himself died but now he lives. Without this promise of living there is only death. Death with no resurrection takes away everything you have. It separates you from the people you love. It ends all hope. Death is the destiny of all the sons and daughters of Adam. Death is the result of sin.

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12, ESV)

It really doesn't matter that Adam's sin caused death to come into the world. Your sin, by itself, brings you death. It is the ultimate problem of everyone. People die; old people; young people; rich people; poor people. All people hate death. All people want there to be a solution for death. Jesus' great miracle is the miracle of solving the death problem. He is the firstfruits. His promise to you is that you will be made alive.

Now get out your hymnal and turn to p 278. Read the Remembrance of Baptism together with me. Where is says [name] speak your name. Where it says [his/her] say "my".

In Holy Baptism [name] was clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness that covered all [his/her] sin. St. Paul says, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?"

We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.

St. Paul says,

But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.

You see, we die with a living hope. The promise of resurrection. The solution to the big problem. Paul calls it the last enemy. And every day that enemy seems to have his way. Year after year we lay our loved ones in the ground. We gather in this building and confess our faith in the firstfruits. We mourn, and rightly so, because the enemy has struck a blow. And you and I are next. In Adam we all die. But God has more in store for the dead.

Then comes the end. The Apostle says. The word end is teloj. "It means the purpose or goal of an event viewed in terms of its result." The result of death, the result of his resurrection, the result of his coming again is just this.

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

Dear Christians, Jesus Christ is, in fact, risen from the dead. Your life in Christ means exactly this. Christ, the firstfruits of the dead, promises you resurrection. In him you have a living hope, that is a true and certain promise of living forever. Your enemy death has been destroyed. And even though he will seem to win by taking you, in Holy Baptism, Jesus death and resurrection guarantees your death and resurrection. There is nothing more sure and certain.

Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Amen.

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

[1] Ludwig Wittgenstein, p. 9. Tractatus Logico-Theologicus. Dr. John Warwick Mongomery.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Psalm.149; All Saints Day; November 6, 2011;



Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a | new song,*
his praise in the assembly of the | godly!
Let Israel be glad in his | Maker;*
let the children of Zion rejoice | in their King!
Let them praise his name with | dancing,*
making melody to him with tambou- | rine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.
Let the godly exult in | glory;*
let them sing for joy | on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the | nations*
and punishments on the | peoples,
to bind their | kings with chains*
and their nobles with fet- | ters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment | written!*
This is honor for all his godly ones. |
Praise the Lord!

Glory be to the Father and | to the Son*
and to the Holy | Spirit;
as it was in the be- | ginning,*
is now, and will be forever. | Amen.

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

Now let's be honest. This psalm makes you a bit uncomfortable, doesn't it. I mean, you agree with it at first, then toward the middle it gets a bit rough. I mean praising God with a two-edged sword isn't quite the image we have of church. I forgot my saber at home, what about you? And that "executing vengeance" and "punishments on the peoples" is a bit strong. Does God really mean to slap kings in irons? All of that just doesn't fit with "Sing to the Lord a new song". Well, at the very least it's not a NEW song. It sounds like this is one of those things in the bible that's just a bit outdated, one of those embarrassing things we push under the carpet with a broom when no one is looking. I guess pastor wasn't paying attention when this one was printed in the bulletin... should have stopped it with "Let the godly exult in glory let them sing for joy on their beds."

Actually there are lots of ways to understand this psalm. First of all, in its historical context it made perfect sense for God's people to rejoice in God doing just what the psalm is talking about. They had enemies all around them that we bent on their destruction. God's promise of a Savior extended to his protection of the people from where the Savior would come. They rejoiced in God's protection. And it was right for them to do so. But why then do WE read and sing this psalm? Maybe it would be better just to cut it off in the middle.

Well before we get to that point, I think its a good time to review a bit about the Book of Psalms. First and foremost I want you to remember that the Psalms are the prayer book of the church for all time. In them you'll find every aspect of Christian life described, every emotion, every evil called out, every claim and promise of God. Martin Luther thought very highly of them and used them every day in his daily devotions. The Psalter is a book of poetry. But it is much more than that. It is a prayer book, the prayer book of the church. It you want ample proof that it's ok to pray pre-written prayers you have an example here of 150 of them. The way to understand what the psalms are saying is to understand two things about them. First they are poetry, Hebrew poetry. They have a specific structure. Each verse (usually) contains one thought. The thought is expressed in the first half of the verse (called a strophe, marked by the *). Then in the second half the thought is repeated and expanded or explained. And so the psalms are written to sing antiphonally. That is, back and forth, person to person. Each thought is sung and then repeated by the other person. That's why we speak / chant them the way we do on Sunday morning. Hebrew poetry is also known for its compactness. In Hebrew the psalms don't often rhyme, but they do have a meter, and lots of alliteration (that is words that have complementary sounds). It's like a conversation about God, from God. It's confessing (same-saying) what God tells us about himself.

But the really important thing to remember about the Psalms, and the best way to get meaning out of them is to read them as World War II Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer says:

“the Psalter is the prayer of Christ for his church in which he stands in for us and prays in our behalf…In the Psalter we learn to pray on the basis of Christ’s own prayer [and] as such is the great school of prayer.”

“In the first place, we learn here what it means to pray on the basis of the word of God, to pray on the basis of promises…In the second place, we learn by praying the Psalter what we should pray for just as surely as the range of the prayers of the Psalms goes far beyond the experience of any individual, we still pray the whole prayer of Christ in faith, the prayer of the one who was the truly human being and who alone has taken into his life the full range of the experiences of this prayer…In the third place, praying the psalms teaches us to pray as a community…the deeper we penetrate into the Psalms and the more often we ourselves have prayed them, the simpler and richer our own prayer will become.”\

Jesus Christ has brought every need, every joy, every gratitude, every hope of men before God. In his mouth the word of man becomes the Word of God, and if we pray this prayer with him, the Word of God becomes once again the word of man. (The Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible, Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

A simple way to remember it is to "put the psalms on the lips of Jesus." He did that all the time in his ministry. He quoted them. He prayed them. All at the most important times in his ministry. The psalms are Jesus prayer book.

The best example is Jesus on the cross quoting Psalm 22. It tells us exactly what's going on in Jesus, as he hangs there.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1–2 (ESV)

Jesus means for us to see him speaking the whole Psalm there. And there He wants us to understand that there on the cross he is suffering the eternal punishment of our sin. That is, he was abandoned by God. He suffered the eternal punishment of hell. Eternal separation from God. It is what you and I earn for our lives of sin. It is what you and I could not avoid because we are "by nature sinful and unclean." Had it not been for Jesus sacrifice on the cross there; all we could look forward to is dying in our sin and eternity separated from God, in the eternal punishment of hell. You see, if it were not for Jesus, there would indeed be no "new song" to sing. There would be no reason for "dancing" and "melody" to God. In Jesus this psalm rings out in praise to God for saving us from our enemies; sin, death and hell.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:13–15, ESV)

So the old testament saints sang this psalm in praise for God's deliverance from their enemies, and in light of the Savior who would do the same. And so we sing it, too, because we have been delivered from our enemies.

And what about those saints whose names we'll read in a moment? Well, they are singing this psalm right now. For them the words of salvation are most poignant. They have passed through death to life.

For the Lord takes pleasure in his | people;*
he adorns the humble with sal- | vation.

Let it be so also for us!

And... there's always one more thing. It's that sword thing:

Let the high praises of God be | in their throats*
and two-edged swords | in their hands,

I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't make the connection here to Jesus himself.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:12–13, ESV)

Our message is this Word of God and it does just what the psalm says. It executes judgment, it binds kings (and all people) to their sin. And that is our proclamation of the Law. Remember the S O S? The Law shows us our sin. It is a necessary part of our message to ourselves and the whole world. So that people see their true place before a holy God, deserving only God's wrath and punishment. Without the proclamation of the Law no one would see their need for Jesus on the cross. But the Sword of Word is also the S O S of the Gospel. It shows us our Savior. Jesus saves us by his life, death and resurrection. The Book of Hebrews continues:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14–16, ESV)

This is our two-edged sword. The Good News of a Savior from sin. And is it ours to wield in the world. Amen.

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

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

John 8.31-36; Festival of the Reformation; October 31, 2011;

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices 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 8:31–36, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Every text comes with a context.  I've told you many times that you can't just take a text plop it out on the table and say what it means.  You have to read it in its context.  Today's text is a great example.  When you look at the part we have here it looks quite simple.  Jesus is encouraging believers to remain in his Word.  It's true.  That's exactly what he's doing.  But the text is so much more complicated than that.  What we don't read before and after this text is Jesus' conflict with these believers.  In fact, just prior to this the same crowd (of believers) tries to kill him but he escapes because, John says, it was not yet his time.  And following this text he tells these believers that they are doing the works of their father, the devil.  They are plotting to kill him.  It just seems a bit out of sorts.  Why would believers do these things?  But I think this conflict is pushing toward the very point of what the Evangelist is saying.  Jesus is talking about being set free from sin, and not being slaves to it.  And this struggle against sin isn't easy.  In fact, it is the most difficult struggle in which a believer will ever engage.   

It happens for these Jews, who believe in Jesus.  They are here listening to Jesus, and believing in him.  They have been hanging around and they like Jesus and they have begun to believe in what he does and says.  They are starting to think that he is who he says he is.  But Jesus won't leave it at that.  He pushes their buttons.  It's like he's saying,  "Listen to what I'm saying.  It is the truth.  Cling to my words and set aside the things that conflict with the truth I tell you.  Then you will be set free. "  These believers do just what you and I do.  We hear Jesus' words and we push them aside and say they don't apply to us.  They answered Jesus, "We've never been slaves to anyone.  We are perfectly free already.  We don't need this."  They are proving Jesus' exact point.  They want to be easy believers.  They want to be disciples and keep their previous assumptions.  They want to work and live just like the rest of the world and still hold on to Jesus.  "We are the seed of Abraham!"  They are not talking about their blood line.  They are talking about their place before God.  We are free because we are who we are.  We don't need to saved because we are God's people already.   If we put it in terms of Jesus' words (Mark 2:17), "We are not sick, so we don't need a doctor.  We are not slaves, we don't need to be liberated."  They push back hard against Jesus and what he says.  It's an echo of what they are going to do.  They are going to kill Jesus.  They want to believe but they want to believe on their own terms.  

Now that sounds like us.  Jesus is ok for Sunday morning, but I'm not going to take what he says out there.  After all what he says makes me look foolish, out there.  He says God created the world in six days.  If I agree with that, out there, my friends will laugh at me because, out there, science says that it took millions of years.  He says homosexuality is an abomination.  If I agree with that, out there, I'll be called a bigot and homophobe.  He says sex is for marriage.  If I agree with that, out there, I'll never get married, because out there, they say you have to have sex to see if you're compatible, then you get married.  He says women can't be pastors... he says the table of his supper is closed to those who don't believe the same things...  And on and on the list goes of the things that we hold in reserve, and still want to believe in Jesus.

And there's more.  It's not just morality.  It's economics.  Out there, self-fulfillment comes with stuff.  The marketplace teases us with the latest bit of technology that claims it will make us smarter, better and more popular.  And we buy in, literally.  The new car, the new computer, the latest gadget have more meaning to me and you than Jesus warning, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.  We want to be believers because we think that if we believe, if we trust in God, he'll make us healthy, wealthy and wise.  We believe in Jesus because we believe that God's greatest desire is to make us happy.  We want to believe just in case cancer strikes and we need a miracle.  God is like our great concierge.  We believe in him and he gets us what we want.  Jesus says Love your neighbor as yourself.  We love ourselves over our neighbor.  Our belief in God is just the means to loving ourselves.  Out there, after all, you have to take care of yourself because no one else will. 

And even with all this we think that we are free.  Jesus pushes our buttons. 
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It's easy to believe, until belief lays its demands on us.  Being a disciple doesn't mean a life of ease.  It means to hold what Jesus says is the truth through cross and suffering.  And make no mistake, if you hold to what Jesus says, you will have cross and suffering.

But let's be very clear.  I'm not saying that doing any of these things will save you.  I'm saying that we place these things, the things out there, the way they think out there in the place of Christ.  We think that doing or saying those things, and following those people, out there, will make us free.  Free from trouble and pain and persecution and worry.  Free to be ourselves.  But in reality, the truth is (as Jesus says), these things enslave us.  These things are sin.  And anyone who sins is a slave to sin.  And not only that but the doing of sin actively enslaves.  Human beings are slaves to moral failure.  All of it is an active rebellion against the God who created us, in favor of the god of ourselves.   That which we think would set us free doesn't The Scottish preacher, George McDonald said,
A man is in bondage to whatever he cannot part with that is less than himself.
Martin Luther says it like this:
For anything that is not God’s Son will not make me free.
 Luther, M. (1999). Vol. 23: Luther's works, vol. 23 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (Jn 8:38). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
That is exactly what Jesus is telling the Jews in this text.  He is the way to freedom.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to freedom (to the Father, into a relationship with God) except through him.  Jesus offers the only way to be free people.  Know the truth, that is know Jesus, and the truth will set you free.

What does the freedom that Jesus gives look like.   Well, it starts with the freedom from the punishment that we deserve.  Sin, rebellion from God, selfishness and self worship, deserves punishment.  Like the murderer waiting on death row for the guards to carry him to the hangman.  The death sentence hangs over us.  We are guilty.  We deserve to die.  But Jesus Christ brings freedom:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1–4, ESV)
To be in Christ is to be free.  Jesus hangs on the cross as punishment for your sin, for my sin.  Again Luther makes this very personal.  He says the most important words in the bible are "for you."  Jesus does this for you.  He dies for you.  He dies for your sin.  You have no punishment due.  The Chaplin has come to the prison cell and let the murderer go, he has received a pardon, he is free.  You are forgiven in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  You receive the pardon you are free.

This freedom also means, not only are we free from sin and its punishment, but we are free NOT to sin.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
The problem with sin is its effects.  The spiritual effects of sin are our broken relationship with God that deserves hell.  Jesus mends that.  The worldly effects of sin are the things we see it do to us every day.  It damages our relationships.  It muddles our thinking.  It breaks our hearts.  It separates people.  It hurts the helpless.  Those damages will continue until our Savior returns and sets all things right.  But free people, people in Christ, have opportunities that slaves to sin do not have.   They are free to serve.  St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1, ESV)
 and a bit later in the same letter:
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” (Galatians 5:13–14, ESV)
We have freedom to serve.  Just as Jesus served us and gave us what we need, the forgiveness of our sins that means freedom from punishment, we are free to serve the people around us and give them what they need.  Instead of being selfish we are free to be unselfish.  When our neighbor is suffering we are free to comfort him.  When our neighbor is hit with the effects of sin we are free to tell him the Good News about the One who sets us all free from slavery to sin.  When our relationships are breaking we are free to do what is necessary to restore them.  When the world professes lies, we are free to proclaim the truth.

This is the Reformation. 
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting [our] trespasses against [us], and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19–21, ESV)

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

Friday, October 21, 2011

Matthew 22:34-46; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 23, 2011;


But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matthew 22:34–46, ESV)

(From a Sermon by Rev. Nathan Dudley)

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

One way you know that you've won an argument is when your opponent has nothing left to say. When this happens you know that you've answered all their points and they can't respond to yours. When you are looking at stunned silence you can be reasonably sure that you've won.

That's what we are looking at in this text for today. Jesus has answered the pointed questions put to him. He has answered unexpectedly and removed himself from the danger his opponents sought for him. Last week we heard about the Pharisees who tried to trap Jesus in a question of Church / State relations. They wanted Jesus dead so they asked a question that they thought had no good answer for Jesus. But Jesus easily defeated the attempt and sent them scurrying for cover.

“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”” (Matthew 22:21b, ESV)

What we haven heard about it what happened after that and before what we are reading today. After the Pharisees failed the Sadducees tried their hand. The Pharisees and the Sadducees didn't agree on a lot of things, but they were of one accord when it came to Jesus. He had to be stopped. They tried to tangle with Jesus on the question of the resurrection of the dead. It was one of their primary concerns because they didn't believe in it. They lock horns with Jesus thinking they have an unbeatable argument.

“Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”” (Matthew 22:24–28, ESV)

This argument was based on the idea of how preposterous the afterlife would be for cases such as this. "Whose wife will she be?" "Who can tell?"

Jesus shows these learned men that they are ignorant. "There is no marriage in the resurrection." He says. You show how little you understand.

‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.”” (Matthew 22:32, ESV)

"I am the God of Abraham" not "I was..." Jesus shows that God is the God of the living. He shows that God believes in the resurrection, even if they don't.

That's why the text today begins with

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together

These guys were now ready for another attempt to trap Jesus again. They know the scriptures. Exactly what Jesus accused the Sadducees of not knowing. Reading and studying is the life's work of the Pharisees. They bring the question that that occupies there study. "Which of God's commandments is the greatest?"

It's an important question for them. They were hardcore legalists. They argued the smallest details of every commandment given to Moses and added some 600 more. For them the argument on the ordering of the commandments was endless. Each commandment broken led to another and another. Was lying worse than murder? What if the lie led to someone's death? They thought that they had Jesus now, caught in an endless argument. They would have the upper hand because no matter what he said, they would be able to turn it back on them. Their problem is they didn't know the spirit of the law. God sums up the law in one word, love. When you love God, you love your neighbor. When you love your neighbor you don't kill him, or take his things, or say false things about him. When you love your neighbor you look to his interests beyond your own. Love fulfills the law.

They are about to learn that arguing with Jesus is a losing proposition. No matter how much you think you hedge your bets you will lose. He answers the commandment question easily. Jesus knows the spirit of God's law. He lives it. He is committed to love. He is it. He loves God with his whole heart and his whole soul and his whole mind and he loves his neighbor completely. That's what leads him to become human and die on the cross for human sin. We see what Jesus is talking about in how the commandments are organized. The first three commandments are about our relationship to God. The last seven are about our relationship with other people. If you keep the first, by loving God, you would keep all of the rest in loving the people that God loves. This is the answer to the Pharisees' question. Love God first, then love your neighbor.

It's not what they thought they'd hear. There is no counter argument. There are no chinks in the amour. Jesus answer is perfect. But Jesus doesn't let it stand at that. While they are still standing in their shock, he makes the killing blow.

saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”” (Matthew 22:42, ESV)

They answer quickly because they know the scriptures. The messiah is a descendent of David. They may be thinking they have gained the upper hand again. But Jesus drives the killing spike.

He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, “ ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet” ’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?”” (Matthew 22:43–45, ESV)

That's a question they can't answer. It seems easy to us. We know who Jesus is. He is God, the second person of the Trinity. He is God in human flesh.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried. And the third day He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. And He will come again with glory to judge both the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end.

But the Pharisees don't understand this. In fact, they can't see that this is true. It defies what they think their religion is all about. They have nothing to say. They stand there in dumb silence.

Then St. Matthew says, "from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions." The whole world in fact stands in silence before Jesus. That's exactly the way it should be. In fact, it is one of the reasons God gives his law, to shut us up. In the face of the law's perfect demands we stand guilty. We would speak about the good things we do and hold them up to God, demanding that he consider us righteous because of them. He shuts us up with the declaration that good isn't good enough. Only perfect people can stand before a perfectly holy God. We offer excuses as if excuses erase the effects of or sin. Instead of loving God we place his precious gifts of Word and Sacrament and church low on our priority list. We worship only when it is convenient. We pray half heartedly for our neighbor, if at all. Instead of love for our neighbor we covet what he has, lust after his wife, secretly plot to take his money, and lie about him to get the upper hand. The law shows us our sin. We have no excuses. When it speaks clearly, as it does, we can only shut up. We do not love God. We do not love our neighbor. We love ourselves. In everything we think, do and say, we have ourselves in our hearts. This kind of self love is deadly sin. It deserves only God's anger. It deserves only God's punishment. When the law has done its work we can only stand in silence, guilty and accountable, just like the whole world.

The Pharisees and Sadducees who where silenced by Jesus weren't about to let it stand that way. They couldn't silence Jesus with their arguments so they chose another way to quite him. A few days later they stood around Jesus again, this time accusing him of crimes. This time Jesus is silent. They need to find something worthy of death so they ask a question that will nail shut the case against him.

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so.”” (Matthew 26:63b–64a, ESV)

And the trial is over. Jesus says he is the same as God. They simply cannot believe that truth. Jesus is condemned worthy of death. The continue speaking. They accuse him before Pilate, calling for his death. But even the crucified Jesus doesn't stop them. They stood at the foot of the cross mocking him. And in all this it is Jesus who stays silent. He is keeping God's commandments. He is shows his perfect love for God. He submits to the Father's will, even to death on the cross. He shows his perfect love for all people. He was silent for us. Hanging on the cross he carries our guilt and punishment for us. And there on the cross we see the perfect picture of God's love. Love for God (vertical part of the cross) and love for all people (horizontal part of the cross). There is Jesus hanging in love for you and me. Keeping the law perfectly and perfectly sacrificing himself for us.

When Jesus cold body was placed in the tomb and the stone was rolled in front of the door, Jesus' enemies where sure they had heard the last from him. They didn't know the scriptures or the one true God. But just as he told his disciples Jesus rose again from death. So much for the Sadducees! Having risen Jesus now has lots to say. And he continues to speak through the church.

Jesus speaks to you and me. He speaks these words of God's perfect law. Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. In that speaking we see our inability to keep it. We stand in silence convicted. That is when he speaks his words of forgiveness. Peace. Be still. Do not fear. I forgive you all your sins. Receive the Holy Spirit. Take, eat this is my body, this is my blood. Go in peace. I am with you always.

Lord you have the words of eternal life. We say. And we say also... Amen. Let it be so. Amen.

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