Sunday, October 11, 2020

Isaiah.25.6-9; Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 11, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:6-9, ESV) Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It will happen. Sooner or later we’ll have to deal with it. Death will visit Life in Christ, Grand Marais, sticking its bony fingers into our business. Members of this congregation will have to gather, with friends, and family around a loved one who has died. Death will come, and we will be left, sad, afraid and lonely. We don’t like the intrusion. We would just as soon be left to go about our regular business without having that visitor. We don’t want to suffer the separation from our loved ones; we don’t want to have to deal with the pain, and the loneliness. Most of all we don’t want to take the time to deal with our own mortality. Sooner or later, and we all hope later, that ugly visitor will be knocking on my door. And sooner or later, he’ll be at your door too. It doesn’t console us at all to know that death only comes to those who deserve it. We only need to look at ourselves to see that each and every one of us deserves it. “The wages of sin is death.” The bible shouts at us. The more we look at ourselves the more sin we see. From that little white lie that we told last week to the selfish lustful desires that come and invade our thoughts. The sin is present, unavoidably, unmistakably present. Yes, we see it and we know that when death comes, we deserve it. But, hey, we each come from a long line of deserving people. Deserving parents give birth to deserving children. When those cute little babies are born, we press our noses to the nursery glass, hoping to see ourselves in their features. We hope our best traits have been passed on. “Oh, look at that adorable little baby, she has her father’s eyes. Oh look; she has her mother’s nose...” The comment we never hear or say is “Eck, she has her parent’s sin.” But parents deserving death always pass on their least attractive trait. She has her parent’s sin. She deserves death too. She will live her whole life in that dark shadow. The dark shadow of death cast by her unavoidable inheritance. She takes her place in a very long line of deserving people. “Oh, Pastor.” You are saying, “I thought today’s theme was party, party, party. You sure know how to kill a party. What happened to the party?” Well, the truth is this, Death has crashed the party, and he’s out there, rattling around in our lives, stalking us at work and lurking about in our house. Death is a real part of our everyday lives and that’s exactly why we are here today. It’s exactly because God had done something about Death’s shadowy intrusion that we have a reason to have a party. In a sense, all the things we do here are a party. Worship is a party. Each time we gather here on Sunday we have a victory celebration. We revel in Christ’s victory over Death on Easter Sunday. We sing joyful songs of praise, and gather around party food, a feast of bread and wine at the Lord’s Table. Today is a party to remind us, that even when Death seems to have the victory, Jesus Christ is the true victor. Death doesn’t stand a chance before the one who faced death, a brutal, horrible, bloody death, but broke through death and rose again to live again. Isaiah is a true artist; he paints us a picture of a party. He calls it a “feast of fat things.” He didn’t worry about cholesterol. Isaiah knew the best parts of the meat were the fatty parts and the marrow, where all the flavor is. “… the stakes were this thick!” He might say today. “and the wine…” Isaiah says rolling his eyes for effect, “it’s the best wine that there is. It’s the oldest and clearest; it’s the stuff that’s left on the dregs (the stuff in the fermenting vat), extra long. It’s the wine that has the most flavor. Every drop was to be savored. The feast, the party that Isaiah is describing is the kind that was reserved for only the most special occasions: Marriage and other very important events in a family or victory over enemies. “This party,” Isaiah says, “is because the LORD has done something about death! There is a mountain,” Isaiah says still painting a picture for us, “and on it he is going to destroy the thing that we all live in fear of; the burial shroud that covers us, death itself, is going to be destroyed. The Lord will remove it tear it to pieces and it will not bother us any longer! Then on that mountain we are all going to have a party!” Where is the mountain that Isaiah was talking about? It’s a mountain that we all know about, is a “green hill far away.” It’s the mountain where Jesus Christ destroyed the shroud of death that covered us. He took that shroud from our sin burdened shoulders and placed it upon his own sinless body. He wore it for us, wrapped up in it as he bled and died on the cross. It clung to him for three days, tying to hold him. But Jesus Christ is the master of that shroud, he his more powerful than death, and he broke free from its power removing it from us forever. That is the victory celebrated that Isaiah was celebrating, that is the victory that we are celebrating today again. It’s Jesus victory that removes the curse and the power that death holds over us. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin… Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sin causes death, death is out there but the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves his victory over it… proves its powerlessness in our lives as well, because God has promised us that same victory when he called us his own, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That’s our promise that we too will be raised. Death will take us, but just like Jesus, it cannot and will not hold us, because our Savior has proven that he is stronger than death. And some day soon, our strong Savior will return, he has promised that, too. When he does, death won’t even be able to stalk us any longer. It has now already lost its power. It is now already nothing to fear. On that great day, it will be no more. There will be no death to bring separation from our loved ones. There will be no death to cause pain and loneliness. There will be no more death, period… its cold dark shadow will be obliterated by the Light of the Living Son of God. Now picture the party again, the feast on that day. There are long tables as far as the eye can see. They are stacked with food. There are huge dark crusty loafs of hot bread. The steam rises off each one, fresh from the oven. The smell is more than you can stand. The tables are so crowded with serving dishes, the plates hang off the edge… if you try to push them so they don’t; everything else moves. There are giant goblets, full of dark red wine; the tablecloth has pink spots from the great red drops that have fallen from each and every one. You are sitting there, elbow to elbow, with your family and friends; your plate has never been empty. And is seems as if there are children everywhere… well you all feel like children anyway. That pain in your back doesn’t bother you anymore; you don’t even remember what it felt like. It is noisy and happy. There is singing… you join in from time to time, because you know each and every word, they just come flowing out of you as natural as breath. And the center of it all is Jesus standing, arms open wide. You’ve already been with him, leaned upon his breast and cried tears of joy. You saw the marks in his hands and feet and side. He is the reason you are there. His love lights the whole feast. It will never end… the joy, the singing, and the feasting… with the resurrected Savior. That is what our worship is all about. It is a little party to remind us that the great party, the mother-of-all parties that is coming. Today we sing praises to the host of the party; at the great party there will be unending songs of praise. Today we feast on bread and wine, Christ’s own body and blood; these are the seal of the promise of the great feast to come. Look around you and see your brothers and sisters in Christ, they’ll be seated around you at that party, too. I can’t wait! Yes, death is still out there. It still claims its victims, one by one, and it will claim each of us. Today’s feast… this great party… is a reminder that death’s visit is not a cause for fear. Death’s sting is gone. Jesus, our Savior, has swallowed up death and destroyed it forever. Today, at our little party, we repeat the wonderful words of Isaiah, and we will say them again at the great feast, “This is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in him; let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation." Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

John.15.1-8; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020;

John.15.1-8; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 4, 2020; Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:1–8, ESV) Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. There’s a vine in here. Maybe you can’t see it, but I assure you it’s here. It’s wound around the rafters, it’s clinging to the organ, and it’s hanging of the altar. It’s got leaves springing out of it all over. And it snakes right through all the chairs; if you would try to walk around, you’d probably trip over it. You might have guessed that it’s not necessarily your average vine. Actually, you know the vine very well because you’re attached to it. So, you see this vine that’s all around us is no ordinary vine, because you are its branches. That’s right you’re connected to the vine that’s all around here, even if you can’t see it. You might wonder how you got to be a part of this vine that we are all sticking to. Well, you were grafted onto this vine. For many of you it happened on a day that you can’t even remember, only a few days after you were born. There’s one more very important thing I forgot to tell you about the vine, it wanders all over this room, it’s attached to each of you, and even spreads out into the narthex, but I didn’t tell you where it begins. Maybe you can tell me? Yes, of course, the vine begins right here in this font. It starts here where the branches get the necessary water to grow and thrive. Here is where you became attached to this vine. Here is where you were made “clean” (καθαρός katharos) and “pruned clean” (καθαίρω kathairō ) that is made ready to bear fruit. And guess what. You are bearing fruit. Well, you can’t help it really. You see you’re a branch connected to the vine. “It is no longer I who live but ‘the vine’ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20) You can say. Branches that are connected to the vine bear fruit because of their connection. If you look around here at the other branches around you, you know you’ve seen the fruit in them. What is the fruit of this vine? The Fruit of this vine is things like “…joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal 5:22-23 ESV) You’ve seen these branches in action. They’ve cared for you when you were sick, they’ve given of themselves and sacrificed for others. They’ve been a support for other ‘branches’ even ones not connected to the vine. Some of the branches here are even scrawny looking and seem to be weak. But you’ve seen fruit there, too. In fact, amazing things come from the thinnest sickliest looking ones, words of comfort, and actions that don’t seem possible. It’s funny how good things are expected from branches that look healthy and act healthy, but around here, connected to this vine, fruit doesn’t have anything to do with the branches. The fruit on these branches all comes from the vine. But what about all those times when you look at yourself and the fruit you see doesn’t look like particularly good fruit at all. Like: angry words spoken to people you love; or missed opportunities to be supportive. You look at your own fruit and instead of looking good, it’s full of rotten spots that just need to be cut out, because even though you did a good thing you did it for selfish reasons. After all you have reputation to keep up. Well that is the struggle for branches of this vine. We look at the things we’ve done, and don’t seem very good. We look at the things we should have done and realize how we’ve missed a perfect opportunity to bear fruit. We can’t see the good fruit that is there, and the fruit that is, is always tainted by selfish thoughts and motives. Well, your struggle isn’t unusual for branches of this vine. One branch once said, "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15, ESV) The only thing worse than the fruit we seem to bear, would be not being attached to the vine at all. “Apart from me you can do nothing!” It says. If we were not attached at all nothing we could do is of any lasting value. There’s a little poem that goes something like this. “One life it will soon be past, only what’s done for ‘the vine’ will last.” The better way to put it would be, “only what’s done in ‘the vine’ will last.” It’s only in Him that our fruit amounts to anything at all. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” That’s what the vine says, not a “little” fruit, but “much” fruit. That’s what happens to branches attached to the vine. "…at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true)," (Ephesians 5:8-9, ESV) All that is good and right and true is fruit. Have you done anything that is good and right and true this week? Of course, you have. You’ve done good things for your family, in spite of fighting with them, you’ve done good things at work, even if you didn’t want to be there, you’ve done good things here at church, by the work you’ve done to keep the building up, or even things you’ll put in the collection plate, even if your motives are sometimes selfish. You see, that’s good fruit, and you do bear it every day of your life. All these things you do every day are good fruit because you are attached to the vine. The vine enables you to do them because he through you, just like the sap that flows through the trees enables the tree branches grow leaves. And we know what happens to branches of trees that break off the tree. We gather up the broken branches from our yard after a storm. We throw them in a pile and burn them up. Branches that are not attached to the vine have the same fate. They are thrown in the fire and burned. But that’s not what’s ahead for us, because we’ve been attached to the vine already. But what is it that makes it so that we stay attached to the vine? We certainly don’t always look like healthy branches. The fruit we do grow is far from perfect. We know that when we look closely at our lives we should be cut off, like branches that don’t bear any fruit at all. When the Vinedresser looks over the vine why in the world would he choose to let us grow. We do bear fruit and lots of it, we already said. But it’s hardly perfect fruit. We are not cut off, because of the vine. It’s not that we do enough good stuff; it’s not that we deserve to be left attached. But we are left attached for the sake of the vine. The vine is Jesus Christ. He was planted in the world and grew up bearing perfect fruit. It wasn’t simply good fruit, it was perfect, the best fruit that could ever be grown. He loved everyone perfectly; he healed the sick, and gave food to the hungry, all with a perfect selfless motive. In fact, all of those things we wish we would do, Jesus actually did. All those things we wish we didn’t do, Jesus never did. He was the perfect vine with perfect branches, bearing the perfect fruit. But the God the Father, the Vinedresser, cut him off and threw him away into the grave of death anyway. Jesus Christ was cut off and cast in to the grave. But because he was perfect, because he didn’t deserve to die, God raised him to life again. He was firmly replanted, the perfect, and true, one and only vine. And you, dear branches, were grafted onto him, in baptism. And it’s not because the fruit made you worthy of him, not even because he knew you’d bear fruit, but simply because he loves you so much that he was willing to be cut off in your place. His life, his death and his resurrection are the perfect replacement for our rotten fruit. And now Vinedresser looks at us and sees fruit, he sees it as the fruit of the vine. "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." (Romans 6:3-4, ESV) We said it before, the vine starts right here. It grows out of the water of baptism. You are attached to the one true vine in baptism. First, buried with Jesus Christ, cut off, as an unfruitful branch, with him, and then raised from death, grafted onto the perfect vine to live in newness of life. That is, to bear good fruit… because of the vine, through the vine, attached to the vine, Jesus Christ. And there’s another important part of what Jesus, the vine, is saying to you right here and now. He’s giving you a wonderful invitation. That invitation comes in a single word. “Remain.” Remain in me. Jesus says. “Know who I am. Know who you are.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” You are already attached to me. I have provided everything necessary for you to remain. “Remain!” Remember your baptism. Remember that you have been grafted to the one true vine and there is nothing that can separate you from him. “Remain!” Listen to my words, Jesus says. They are words of life. If you remain in them, you will continue to bear “much” fruit. “Remain!” and take nourishment from the vine himself, “Take and eat this is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all yours sins.” Remain and grow. Remain and bear much fruit, as a branch of the one true vine. Jesus Christ. So, we’re part of the vine. Maybe you couldn’t see it clearly before. Look again. If you can’t see the vine itself, I know you can see the branches. Strong ones, weak ones, thin ones and curly ones, they are all around us. And I know you can see the fruit. You can see it on each and every branch if you just look. The problem is that sometimes we get used to looking for only a certain kind of fruit, but remember that every branch connected to this vine, bears fruit. Look again and you’ll see it everywhere. Remain and grow, together branches of the true vine, bear much fruit. Amen. The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ, Jesus. Amen.