Monday, August 18, 2014

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 10 (August 18-23, 2014)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed.

Verse: Psalm 121:7-8 - “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep    your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #583  “God Has Spoken by His Prophets”
Hymns for Sunday: 518 (v. 23), 583, 633, 857, 726, 564

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Isaiah 51:1-6
What comfort does God give you in these words?

Tuesday:  Romans 11:33 – 12:8
Why are God and His ways so far beyond our understanding? What does this mean for you, now, in this life?

Wednesday:  Psalm 121
List all the promises of God for you in this psalm!

Thursday:  Proverbs 3:1-8
Why is v. 5 so hard to do? Is it even possible for us? What (or Who!) then is your hope?

Friday:  2 Corinthians 4:7-10
What is the “treasure” Paul speaks of in v. 7? What power does this treasure provide for you?

Saturday:  Luke 22:24-30
What we earn and deserve versus what is given us from above – which is greater? Why?

The Catechism: Where is this [the Office of the Keys] written? This is what St. John the Evangelist writes in chapter twenty: “The Lord Jesus breathed on His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:22-23

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ Christians under severe persecution, those trapped in war torn countries, and for all refugees driven from their homes, for God’s mercy, care, and provision in both body and soul.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Commission on Mercy.
+ the Portuguese Evangelical Lutheran Church, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and provision for the Siberian Lutheran Mission Society.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Pentecost 10 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Cling to the Word”
Text: Matthew 15:21-28 (Romans 11:32; Psalm 28:6)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

What do you do when what you experience in life does not seem to line up or agree with the Word of God? When what is happening to you even seems to contradict the Word of God?

The Word which says that God will provide for you (Matthew 6:25-33), but you’ve been in need for so long? The Word which proclaims that God will be with you always (Matthew 28:20), yet you’ve never felt so alone? The Word which teaches that you are a child of God (Galatians 4:4-7), baptized into Him, and that He will never leave you as an orphan (John 14:18), yet your Father has never felt so far away? The Word which trumpets that you are forgiven (Acts 10:43), yet you look at yourself and inside yourself and see nothing but a miserable, wretched sinner, and feel so unworthy and dirty and unclean? The Word which promises you every good (Romans 8:28), yet so much of what you receive seems anything but good?

How do you reconcile the Word which says God will always hear and answer every prayer (John 16:23), yet when you pray you seem to be like this woman we heard about today, whose prayers are met only with silence and rejection? 

What do you do? Such times are hard, when Word and world conflict. But that is the reality we live in. This woman’s reality. So by considering her, we see ourselves.

So first of all consider: why was she there? Well, because her daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. Maybe for some time now. And how do you fight against a demon? She needed help.  . . .  You know how it is, for demons are pressing hard, attacking, luring, and tempting you too. Into all manner of sins. What are they for you, that you wrestle with? Maybe severely. And your strength is not enough. You’ve tried, and failed. Fallen back into the old ways, the old sins, the old bad habits and despair. You need help too.

But do not overlook this fact: why was she there? Because first Jesus had come to her. The Son of God had come down from heaven in the flesh, and then Jesus went to her, to her area, to the district of Tyre and Sidon. First, the Lord of all invaded the enemy’s territory to help, to rescue, and to save.  . . .  And again this is true for you as well. We have not a God who is far off, but a God who is near, who comes to us in our own flesh and blood, that we come to Him. 

But still there is more, for why was she there? Because not only was Jesus there for her, but she heard about Jesus. Someone told her. Someone preached to her. Just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds and John the Baptist pointed the crowds to Jesus, so she had been told this good news. Or maybe she heard Jesus herself - His preaching with an authority not of this world.  . . .  You’ve heard that word, that preaching, too. That here is hope for the hopeless, help for the helpless, and freedom for the possessed. And so you’ve come too.

And so with great boldness and in great desperation and with great hope, she comes to Jesus. And she gets . . . not what we expect. Not, I’m sure, what she expected. Not what Jesus’ track record indicates she would get. She gets . . . this. The silent treatment, rejection, insult. Sand kicked in her face. Shoved to the back of the room. Acknowledged only to be rejected. 

For this woman, the Word she had heard and what she was now experiencing were two vastly different - and seemingly even contradictory - things. 

But she does not believe her experience. She does believe whatever emotions are surging from her heart. She does not believe the demons whispering to her to go away, that see? Jesus does not want to help you. No, she clings to Jesus. She clings to the Word and promises of God about Him. That Jesus is the Lord. That Jesus is the promised Son of David. That as Paul would later proclaim, Jesus has come to have mercy on all people. Including Gentiles. Including Canaanites. Including her.

And because of that, Jesus holds her up as an example of great faith. For this is what faith does - it clings to the Word and promises of God. Even when our emotions and experiences and other people in this world - even disciples - tell us otherwise. Because everything else is unreliable. Everything else in us and in this world has been tainted with sin. For sin isn’t just the bad things we do, it is the disease that infects our minds and our emotions so they don’t work as they should. That we think wrongly and interpret our emotions incorrectly and when left on our own, will think wrong things of God, too. And you can be sure the devil and his demons take full advantage of that, to deceive us and mislead us in false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice (Small Catechism, explanation to the Sixth Petition). Which means that any sentence that begins with “it seems to ME” or “it feels like to ME” frankly cannot be trusted.

Only sentences which begin with: Thus saith the Lord - only these are pure truth. Only these are to be relied on and trusted. Only these will give us the firm and certain foundation we need in a world full of trouble and strife, changes and chances, danger and need. Especially when our experiences and emotions are telling us one thing today and something else tomorrow. God doesn’t change and His Word doesn’t change, and so we have something outside of our infected, sinful selves to rely on.

That’s what this woman did that day. She clung to the Word of God and would not let go. And not only the Word of God she heard that brought her there to Jesus that day, but also the words that Jesus spoke too. The words that sounded so harsh, yet in which this woman finds hope. For when Jesus says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” the woman responds: “You say that I am a dog. Let it be. I will gladly be a dog; now give me the consideration that you give a dog. I ask no more than a dog’s rights. Give the children what is the children’s; I don’t ask for that. Give me the crumbs and I will be content with that” (Luther, House Postils, Vol. 1, p. 325).

How different is that from what we hear in our world today - where so many are demanding rights and privileges and what they want from God? And when He doesn’t deliver, see ya’! 

No, it is not to those who think they are deserving or worthy that Jesus gives, but to the undeserving and the unworthy. Not to the Pharisees and Sadducees, but to the tax collectors and sinners. Not to those who think Jesus owes them something simply because they are physically descended children of Abraham, but to the true children of Abraham - those not according to the flesh, but according to the promise. Children by faith. Like this Canaanite woman. Like you.

And so she receives. The mercy she has come for. The mercy Jesus has come to give. Was it a crumb, was it more? It didn’t matter! Faith doesn’t measure the gift, but receives what God gives with thanksgiving. Believing that it is good and exactly what we need.

Faith doesn’t measure the gift; it is the sin in us that measures gifts. Comparing what God has given to others and what He has given to me. Judging what God has given to me compared to what I asked for. But just as we cannot trust our emotions and experiences, so too we cannot trust our judgments here. What we think are mere crumbs might be much, much more. Like children rushing downstairs on Christmas morning, one child receiving a small box and one receiving a very large box, and immediately the jealousy begins - not even knowing what those bosex contain! Do we judge God that way? His gifts that way? His works that way? His love that way? Lots to repent of there.

Instead, believe the Word. What the world considers treasure - wealth and power and honors and glory - these are of little worth, really. They come and go and do not last. But what the world considers of little worth - the Church, the Word of God, the water of baptism, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, these are treasures containing far more than mere crumbs. They contain the death and resurrection of Jesus for you. They give you the fruits of His cross. They give you those gifts that will never end - His forgiveness, His life, His salvation, His Sonship, His Body and Blood. And that’s true no matter what you feel or experience here - you have His Word and promise. For thus saith the Lord: I baptize you. I forgive you. This is My Body, My Blood. I am coming back. You will be with Me in Paradise. Sure and certain, these words. Words of life. Words to cling to.

For no matter what the devil, the world, or your own sinful nature with its emotions and experiences wants you to believe, your Father in heaven, your Saviour Jesus, and His Spirit will not let you down. The struggles will continue, of that you can be sure. Those hours of deep need, darkness, and hurt. Such is life in this sinful world. But as we sang in the Introit earlier: The Lord is my strength - when I am weak - and my shield - when I am attacked; in Him my heart trusts - not my emotions or experiences - and I am helped. And not just given a helping hand, but rescued, saved. For you are forgiven. It is finished (John 19:30). The Lord has mercied you. Cling to that When in the Hour of Deepest Need (Office Hymn, LSB #615). And every other hour too.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Pentecost 8 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Not Practical, But Compassionate”
Text: Matthew 14:13-21 (Romans 9:1-5)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

The story that we heard today, of Jesus “Feeding the 5,000” as it has come to be known, even though there were more than 5,000 there that day, for there were 5,000 men plus women and children, whose numbers could have swelled the crowd considerably - this is a story found in all four Gospels. And so it is probably familiar to all of you. Today we heard Matthew’s account of this story, the simplest account of the four, and the one which provides us with the fewest details. Which is quite unusual for Matthew, who likes to tell us how all that Jesus did was according to this or that prophet and in fulfillment of this or that Scripture.

He omits from this account Mark’s emphasis of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, that Jesus sees the crowds as harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, and has them sit down on green grass (Mark 6:34, 39), a lush pasture, even in the wilderness, for His sheep. We might have expected Matthew to include this and then add that this was in fulfillment of Moses’ prayer, that the people of God not be harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Numbers 27:17), or concerning the green grass, to let us know: as it says in Psalm 23 . . . But he doesn’t.

In the same way he omits Luke’s emphasis on Jesus teaching the people and speaking to them of the kingdom of God (Luke 9:11) before feeding them, to which Matthew could nicely have added references to Samuel or Zechariah, of God as Israel’s true king (1 Sam 8:7; Zech 9:9), or of the kingdom of truth Jesus had come to establish.

And he omits the details that John includes of the fact that Jesus was testing His disciples, for He knew what He was going to do (John 6:6). Or the fact that it was the time of the Passover (John 6:4). Or that it was a young lad who, in fact, had the five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:9). Lots of fodder here for Matthew! Of Jesus being the prophet greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), and Jesus as the new and real passover.

All, you could say, important details. But without them, strip away all those details from this story, and what you have left is Matthew’s account, and the clear focus he wants to highlight without any other clutter: Jesus having compassion

Now maybe you’re used to hearing that, of knowing Jesus that way. But I think it is worthwhile to think a little bit more and a little bit deeper about compassion and just what that means. And first, to do that by realizing what compassion isn’t: it isn’t practical. 

In this story, it is the disciples who are practical. They are experienced in the ways of the world. At least some of them were businessmen before leaving that life behind and following Jesus. They knew the value of a denarii. And so it was only reasonable, it was common sense, it was practical for Jesus to send the crowds away. The reasons were many: it was a desolate place. The day was almost over. No way was there enough food out here in the middle of nowhere. Maybe the disciples’ own stomachs were rumbling and grumbling. So be realistic, Jesus. It’s time to send them away.

But Jesus never does the practical thing. He does the compassionate thing. Compassion interrupts us and our lives and what we were doing. Compassion stops what we’re doing in order to see to the needs of someone else. Compassion makes us go out of our way to help another. Compassion means sacrificing yourself because something else has come up, whether that means sacrificing time, or money, or energy, or sleep, or whatever else you were really hoping to have or get done today. To help a family member, a neighbor, or even a stranger. That’s why compassion is so hard and increasingly rare in our world today. Our world where I don’t even have enough time to get done what I need to get done, let alone stop and help someone else! Our world of tight budgets, little time, and lots of demands. Compassion just isn’t practical.

So how does a compassionate Jesus respond to His practical disciples? He invites them to be compassionate too; to be compassionate with Him. They need not go away; you give them something to eat.

And their response: We are not able. We have only five loaves of bread and two fish. So Jesus says: Bring them here to me. 

I don’t know if Jesus said that with exasperation, disappointed that His disciples still didn’t get it. Or if He had a little smile on His face. I suspect it’s the latter, the smile. Jesus the compassionate having compassion on His disciples too. To teach them that with Him, there’s no “only.” When you have Jesus, you have everything. Enough to feed 5,000 men, plus women and children. Enough to feed a world full of Christians with His Body and Blood. No place is desolate or empty when Jesus is there. 

Brodi - that’s something for you to especially remember this day as we bid you godspeed as you leave for the seminary. You’re going to have a lot of times - as a seminarian, as a vicar, and as a pastor - where you think you are not able; you don’t have enough; you have “only” . . . whatever. But remember: there’s no “only” with Jesus. When you have Him, you have everything, and far more than enough.

So Jesus takes the bread and fish and looking up to His Father, says a blessing. He says grace. A thank you. Thank you for the people. Thank you for these disciples, even if they don’t quite get it yet. Thank you for the food. Thank you for the opportunity to feed them all, to teach His disciples what they need to learn: that God isn’t practical - He’s compassionate

So after giving thanks, Jesus gives the bread and fish to the disciples, that they do what He told them: you give them something to eat. They do, and much to their surprise, they are able. Jesus even feeds their rumbling, grumbling stomachs, too. Turns out, there is more than enough. All ate and were satisfied. Ready now to go home not in want or in need, but filled and content.

The God who is not practical, but compassionate. That’s what Jesus shows us. That’s who Jesus is. A God who cares about the needs of His people and provides. And not just spiritually and not just physically, but both, for we are both. 

And this has been true all along - a compassionate, giving God. Paul wrote of all that God gave to His people in the Old Testament, as we heard in Romans today. To them, he says, belong the adoption, God choosing them out of all the nations on the earth; the glory, God Himself leading them and dwelling with them in a pillar of cloud and fire; the covenants, given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David; the giving of the law, God’s glorious revelation on Mt. Sinai; the worship, the tabernacle, where God would be for His people to provide for them the forgiveness of their sins; the promises, of a land of their own, peace, protection, and all that they would need; the patriarchs, the fathers in the faith and God’s perfect faithfulness to them; and the Christ, in the flesh, who is not just flesh and blood, but God over all, blessed forever. 

So much had been given to them! So much has been given to us! But how often are we blind to it, and blind to our Lord’s compassion. How quick to forget His work and faithfulness of old. How quick to look and trust only what I have in my hands instead of the fact that we are in His hands, and therefore think: It is not enough. I am not able. 

Repent. Of your doubt, of your lack of compassion, of your thinking that God somehow hasn’t given you what you need. There’s no “only” with Jesus. With Him whose hands were filled, always, with compassion. Whose hands baptized you and now feed you. Whose hands shield you and bless you. Who hands went to the cross for you. To pay the price you could not pay, not just for your food, but for all your shortcomings, all your sins, all your rebellion, all your doubts - that you have life. And not just life, but His life. That you who are thirsty may have drink. That you who are hungry may have food. And no mere bread and fish, but His Body and Blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. To satisfy you so that now, in Christ, you are ready to go to your home filled and content, too. Your home here, yes, but even more, your home with Him, forever. 

For you have Jesus. And when you have Him, you have everything, and far more than enough. 

And having done so for you, Jesus invites you now to be compassionate too. Like the disciples, He gives to you what you need to do so. Including the heart. And to realize: this Christian life may not be practical. This Christian life may call on us to do a lot of impractical things, things that make no earthly sense - where we put our money, how we spend our time, things that maybe do not give us the biggest return on investment in the world’s eyes. To get interrupted, to not get that thing done, to go out of your way, to sacrifice. 

That’s not always easy. Maybe it’s never easy! That’s okay. Maybe the interruption and the getting you to show compassion is the compassion you need right now! God is not practical. He’s compassionate. And that’s better. 

Practical would have been to choose better disciples in the first place, right? Or better Christians; better yous and me. But God is not practical. He’s compassionate. And that’s better. And so you are a child of God.

And so we prayed earlier: Heavenly Father, though we do not deserve Your goodness, still You provide for all our needs of body and soul. That’s the foundation. That’s what we heard today from Matthew. So . . . Grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may acknowledge Your gifts, give thanks for all Your benefits, and serve You in willing obedience.

Serve Him who has everything . . . how? We heard that today too: by serving others in compassion. Like Father, like Son. Like Son, like Christians. For when you do it to one of the least of these, Jesus says, you’ve done it unto Me (Matthew 25:40).

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pentecost 7 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Me? A Treasure? Yes You Are!”
Text: Matthew 13:44-52 (Romans 8:28-39)

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today we heard two of my favorite parables of Jesus. Parables that I do not think we can ever hear enough. Parables that teach how valuable you are, how much you are worth to your Saviour. That you are His treasure, you are His prized pearl, for whom He gave everything. 

We can never hear that enough, because if there’s one thing, one truth, satan does not want you to hear, it’s that one. If there’s one thing, one truth, satan does not want you to believe, it’s that’s one. 

And so he is fighting. Against you, against the church. To get you to disbelieve or doubt your Father’s love for you. And so, he says: A loving God? A God who treasures you? Really? Take a look around. The world is a mess. The Church is a mess. You are a mess. Look at what happened in the world just this past week. Look at the continuing divisions and scandals in the Church. Look at yourself! You’re no treasure! You’re a dirty, rotten sinner. 

And he’s right, you know. There is always a kernal of truth to satan’s lies, which is what makes them so effective. The world, the Church, and yes, you, are a mess. And satan’s working very hard to keep it all that way, sowing his weeds - as we heard last week - not only of hatred and division, but also of pride and glory, to keep us in sin, to keep us selfish, to keep us a mess. 

And then in addition, he says, you have to fix this mess you’ve created. He is not content with messing things up, he also wants us to keep chasing our tails to try to fix it. Because we’re not very good at that. The world that preaches tolerance as the way to peace just keeps getting more intolerant and unpeaceful. The Church that preaches compromise as the way to unity is just compromising itself into irrelevance. And ourselves? You know the answer to that. Like New Year’s resolutions, we might do good for a couple of weeks, and then we fall again. Pull one weed and another pops up in its place. 

And he even uses Jesus’ own parable against us. This parable, which Jesus meant to comfort us and reassure us, satan turns on its head and says: You are the man in the parable. Or at least you’re supposed to be. God and His kingdom are supposed to be this precious and valuable to you. And you say they are, Christian. But you don’t act like it. You are willing to give up everything, are you? I know better. I know your heart. You’d rather deny, you’d rather compromise, you’d rather keep quiet than lose your job, lose face, or lose your precious things. And I don’t even need to try very hard to get you to fall! You’re so weak and pathetic. A little name calling, a little pressure, and you crumble like a stale old cookie. So treasure? You’re no treasure! You’re an old, obsolete, broken down piece of junk that God is burying not in love, but in a landfill.

But here’s the thing satan: If you want to talk about burying and you want to talk about a landfill, well what about Jesus? You see, He was crucified on a garbage heap, yes, thrown out like the garbage by an ungrateful world, and then buried, dead, in the ground. That’s all true.

But satan: why was he there? Why was the Son of God there at all? Was it not because He loved us? Was it not because He was giving up everything for us? 

He came down from heaven and was incarnated as a man. He willing gave up His prerogatives as God, willingly not using His divine power to help Himself or save Himself. He left his throne in heaven and the unending song of the angels to be born in a stable. He became obedient to His parents, lived in this fallen creation, and He who feeds all knew hunger, He who provides rain for all thirsted, and He who is joy sorrowed. You tempted Him satan, but He didn’t fall for it, did He? He knew rejection, even in His hometown, even by His “framily" - His family and friends. And then He allowed Himself to be arrest and beaten and whipped and spit on and punched. His head was crowned with thorns and He experienced the utter rejection of the cross - yes, thrown out and buried like garbage.

And you call Him weak, satan. But isn’t that strength to do all that? And you call Him a failure, satan. For having such indignity done to Him. But why, then, is His grave empty? Why, then, is there still a Church - as imperfect as it may be? And why, satan, are you still fighting so hard if you’ve won? Where is your victory?  . . .  Unless you haven’t really won at all! Unless all you can do is mess things up and try to make us believe you won.

Yes! It’s true isn’t it, satan? We are God’s treasures. If we look at ourselves, as you want us to, we’ll never see that. But if we look at the cross, and all that Jesus gave for us, then that’s how much I’m worth! Then there’s what cleans up my mess. There’s my forgiveness, my life, my salvation, my food. There’s the answer. We confess it every week in the Creed, those words that mean that Jesus purchased and won us from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death (Small Catechism, explanation of the Second Article). Purchased! I belong to Him. And dear friends, so do you.

Because Jesus took that holy precious blood poured out on the cross and poured it over you in Holy Baptism, to cleanse you and make you His. 

And He takes that Body and Blood that hung on the cross and was buried in the grave but now risen from the dead and puts it into you, into your mouth, feeding you with Himself and His life and His victory.

And He takes the Word of His cross, that message of how valuable you are to Him and all that He gave to purchase you, and fills your ears with it. That you may know, and by the working of His Spirit, believe it.

Because it’s hard to believe it sometimes. When we’ve had a particularly bad week. When our own sins have erupted from us and the sins of others have crushed us. When we look in us and around us and see nothing but dirt.

But in the dirt is where Jesus is! When He came down to earth, He was born in a dirty stable, not an immaculate palace. He hung out with dirty sinners, not the high and mighty and those who thought themselves deserving. 

And so as He was hidden, so now He hides us in the ground, in the dirt. But don’t be dismayed by that. It is, as St. Paul said, good. First of all because once we get a taste of glory, we always want more. That’s the way of our sinful nature. Get a little, want a lot. So Jesus buries us, His treasures, under the sufferings and pains and trials of this world - not because He hates us, but because He loves us. To keep us with Him and relying on Him, and hungering and thirsting after Him and His glory, not the glory of this world and life.

And secondly, He hides us in the ground, in the dirt, that we may be a blessing to others in the dirt, those with us under the suffering and pains and trials of this world and life. That they not be alone. That they may see and hear the love of their Saviour from us - that they, too, are pearls of great price their Saviour is searching for.

He hides us in the ground for hiddenness is the way of it with God. In the end, on the Last Day, all will be revealed. The net will be hauled ashore and the fish separated - the righteous and the evil. Those in Christ and those who are not. But not until then. Now we live by faith and not sight. Now we live by His Word and promises. Now we receive Him hidden in water and words and bread and wine. Now we live in the dirt, but knowing that the resurrection to eternal life is coming. For He who was raised from the dirt and dust of death, is coming back to do the same for us. And then will be the kingdom, the power, and glory.

Yet not that even then you will see the treasure that you are. For then you won’t care about that. You will only see your Saviour and the treasure that He is. 

And so until then, we confess with St. Paul: No, in all these things - in all this dirty world and life - we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. From our Saviour who came into the dirt for us, to raise us to Him in His glory.

So it is as we sang just before the sermon: I am baptized into Christ (LSB #594). Into His death and resurrection. And so sin, satan, and death have all lost. And there is nothing worth comparing to this comfort sure. We don’t even have to fear the grave - we’re already buried, with Christ. Treasures, pearls of great price, resting and sleeping secure, awaiting the day of our raising. Children of paradise, being kept by our Saviour. 

That’s who you are. And if you are still doubting it, come and receive the Body and Blood of the One who says you are. Yes, you are worth it - every crumb, every drop, every splash, every Word. Yes, you are worth it, so He is here for you - His treasure, His child.

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Pentecost 6 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Why? Because God Is Merciful”
Text: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43; Romans 8:18-27

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Last week we heard the Parable of the Sower. How graciously, generously, abundantly, and constantly God is sowing the seed of His Word in this world, to build His Church, to produce good plants, believers, who yield a harvest of faith and love. This week we hear that Jesus isn’t the only one sowing seed. The devil is too. The seeds of sin and evil in God’s good world. 

And so there is evil in the world. No surprise there. You know it. It’s all around you. The news is full of it. And it seems that not a day goes by where you don’t shake your head at all that happens in our world that shouldn’t. And the question many are asking is: why? Why doesn’t God do something about it?

Well, there are two answers that are often given. One is that God doesn’t care enough to do anything about it. Or, God doesn’t care enough about you to do anything about it. Either He is detached and uninterested, or you are too sinful, too unworthy, for Him to intervene. So obviously, He is not a God you can count on when the going gets tough. 

Or, another answer often given - in derision against Christians - is that your God can’t do anything about it. He wants to, He cares for you, but look at all that is happening! If God could do something about it, don’t you think He would? So your God is not as strong as you think. He is weak.

And even Christians can fall into the trap of thinking these things. When things are going bad, when thing are going wrong in our lives, we sometimes wonder whether God really does care about me and what’s going on in my life; why He’s not doing anything about it. At least that I can see and feel. Or, we give the devil too much credit, thinking him more powerful than he really is and foiling God and His plans. That God is not strong enough to do anything about him. And that’s exactly the way the devil wants it, the temptations he plants in our minds. To think too highly of him and to think too lowly of God. 

But today, in this parable, God gives us His answer to the “why?” question. An answer that is quite different than those we often hear. And quite surprising. And it is this: God allows the evil to stay, He doesn’t pull all the weeds now, Jesus says, not because He is weak or uncaring, unable or uninterested, but because He is merciful. Which is also what we sang in the Introit this morning: But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

You see, we think like the servants of the master in the parable. We are the servants of the master in the parable. We want the weeds pulled now and the garden, the world, to be pristine and pure, like it was in the beginning, before sin. So, weeds? Pull ‘em out! Get rid of them. 

But there are a number of problems with that thinking. The first being the asumption that we actually know the difference between the good plants and the weeds. I know that around my house, in my gardens, some plants that I think are weeds are really good plants, and some I thought were good plants were really weeds. So by my judgment, what seems to me, I’d often be pulling the wrong plants. But God is merciful. No good plants will be pulled.

A second problem is when the weeds and plants are growing so closely together their roots and branches get intertwined. And as Jesus said, uprooting the weeds would uproot the good plants, or hurt them by breaking off good branches. So now think: who are the people in your life who are not believers, not sons of God - do you want them pulled right now? Family, friends, neighbors, people you count on for help, for protection, for what you need. If they were pulled right now, what would that mean for you? No, God is merciful. No good plants will be hurt.

Another problem is that while in the world weeds cannot become plants, the same is not true with God. You are an example of that. You were born a weed by nature, but are now a good, fruitful plant, grafted into Christ by baptism and forgiven for your weedy ways. So pull the weeds now? No, God is merciful. No weeds will be given up on too soon.

God is merciful. Not wanting any to perish. Which is why Jesus was there telling parables, and why He is here today. That by His Word, by His cross and atonement, by His forgiveness, by His Baptism and Absolution and Supper, He continue to graft weeds into Himself, making good what was evil, and producing a harvest of faith and love. And He is. You and I may not always understand how that is and how certain things that happen in our world are merciful, but we trust not in what we understand or know or feel, but in our God who is merciful. And who showed His great mercy in Christ and His cross. That He would come to be uprooted from this life, that He would die for us weedy sinners, that by His blood we might be good plants in His garden and sons in His kingdom. So if that was His plan from the beginning, and then what He accomplished in time, do you not think He is working that for you now?

There will be a time for harvest - not now, but at the close of the age. And we won’t be the reapers - that will be His angels. That day has not yet come because God is merciful, and patient (2 Peter 3:9). Not wanting any to perish. It is for us now to be who we are, good plants, sons of God, and grow where He has put us, trusting, and growing in faith toward God and love toward one another. 

Until that time, Paul says, be like creation and wait with eager longing for that day of harvest. When all will be revealed. Maybe the weeds and the evil one are causing you suffering right now, and maybe even your fellow believers who are acting weedy! And when we suffer, when things are going bad, it is easy to get self-absorbed and filled with self-pity. It is easy to focus so much on the here and now, and the problems and pain now, that we cannot see anything else. That we lose hope. And so life can become quite overwhelming.

So take a cue from creation, Paul says. Creation didn’t do anything wrong - it was man who sinned. But glorious creation was subjected to bondage and decay and death, and now waits for its Creator to set it free. To restore it, renew it, and recreate it. Perfect again, with no more death, no more weeds, no more evil. Creation is waiting with eager longing, he says - like a child up on tip-toes trying to catch a glimpse of the coming parade, or waiting for Christmas morning. The joy is coming, and it can’t come quickly enough.

And so too for us. We are subjected to bondage and decay, to suffering and death. Your own sins weighing you down, the sins of others erupting upon you, and the attacks of the evil one relentless in this weedy world.

But God is merciful! And so we are not hopeless now, just waiting for the end to come and end our suffering - what kind of life would that be? In that case, why not just end it now and get it over with?

God is merciful. So while all that creation can do is wait with eager longing for the end, our merciful God has brought the end to us already, here and now. For He is coming to us already here and now - we don’t have to wait for the end. He is coming to us in His Spirit, giving us the joy and beginning the renewal and re-creation of the end already here in the midst of the suffering, decay, and death. 

And so in Baptism the end comes to you as you get the end - death - over with, dying with Christ in His and rising grafted onto Christ in a new life. He is the Vine, you are the branches, in this garden, in this new life. 

And in the Lord’s Supper the end comes to you as you get a taste of the end, of what is coming, a foretaste of the feast to come - like a great cook giving you a taste of her delights before they are even served. But for you it’s even better, for you are not just getting a taste or a preview, but actually already joining in with those who have gone before us, who have been set free, joining in with them already now in the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which will have no end. 

And in the Absolution the end comes to you as not only is your weediness forgiven now but you hear the verdict that will be spoken upon you in the end, on the Last Day. All this so that there be no doubt, no question, no fear in your mind about that day, or about your Lord’s caring for you, but that you live now - even in the midst of suffering and trouble - not in resignation or despair, but with confidence and joy. 

And this breaking in of the end already in the here and now, is what we prayed about earlier in the Collect of the Day. We prayed there, if you remember: O God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit - Your Holy Spirit who comes to us and breaks into our here and now in Your Word and Sacraments - that, ever mindful of - the end - of Your final judgment - or in other words, help us to live not in fear of that day but mindful of the joy and freedom that is coming! - that we maybe stirred up to holiness of living here - holiness of living, not giving up - and dwell with You in perfect joy hereafter - perfect joy, for our joy here is not yet perfect. 

And know this too, Paul says, that the sufferings of this present time? They’re not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us

So do not lose hope in this weedy world, even when the weeds grow tall and plentifully and strong. They will not win. They cannot win. As was said last week: God will have His harvest. And that’s still true. For Christ is risen and your hope is secure. He has given you His Spirit to be with you now and help you as you wait. As God does His patient, merciful work - for you and for all.
In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pentecost 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“God Will Have His Harvest”
Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Isaiah 55:10-13

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Ever have a really good week? Things at work or school went really well. You finished a project or aced a test. You didn’t fight with your family or lose your temper or kick the dog, maybe you were even helpful around the house. You did your devotions every day and prayed every day. Your pet sins? Resisted those temptations this week! And even a few more on top of that. And so overall, feelin’ pretty good! Doin’ pretty good. Makin’ progress.

So you come to church that Sunday, pretty proud, pretty optimistic. Confession of sins? Um, really can’t think of anything to confess! You just mouth the words. Been a good week. And Pastor’s preaching? Yup, I remember when I was like that, did those things. Lots still doin’ them, still need to hear that word. And the Sacrament? Finally feel like I’m worthy to receive it. And maybe this week I’ll do even better!

A man went out to sow some seed, but some fell on the path - the hard, self-righteous, self-centered, proud, unrepentant and unbelieving heart. It didn’t grow; it bounced right off. And the evil one is more than happy to come and snatch it away.

Or maybe that’s not you. Maybe you had a particularly bad week, but the service today was great! It really picked me up. Pastor finally picked my favorite hymns and the congregation sang them so well. The church was pretty full, I got to see my friends, the food after the service was tasty and the fellowship enjoyable. And that last hymn was a real toe-tapper! Good service, pastor!

But how come that feeling doesn’t last? Monday comes and its back to the grind. Tuesday means lunch with that friend who is always bad-mouthing Christianity and saying how backward and behind the times we are. Wednesday my boss tells me I’m going to have to start working Sundays or he’ll find someone else who will. Thursday I feel like crap because I missed my devotions all week and haven’t prayed. Friday the doctor said . . . 

A man went out to sow some seed, but some fell on rocky ground - and it sprang up with joy, but it was all emotion - it had no root. So when tribulation and persecution came, it withered away.

Well, that’s not me either, pastor. I wish life were that simple! My life - it’s one thing after another. I have too much to do at work (or school), I have too much to do at home. But I still don’t know if my job is secure or not, or if I’ll get into the school I want. My house is underwater, I don’t get enough sleep, and my investments are going to pot. My doctor said I need to quit worrying and exercise more and sleep more, but who has time for that? I thought that new big screen TV and DVR where I can record 12 shows at once would help me get my mind off of things, but all I can think about is how I’m going to pay for it and all the things I should be doing instead of watching it. Why does life have to be so complicated? Why I can’t have a little peace?  . . .  

A man went out to sow some seed, but some fell among thorns - and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choked it, and it bore no fruit.

Well, oh-for-three so far, Mr. Farmer-man. But at least there’s one more kind of soil, right? One more chance . . .

How is it with you? How is the Word with you? In your heart and mind and life? What it should be? Why not? What is keeping that seed, that Word that you here receive from taking root and growing and producing fruit throughout the week? And what’s a God to do so that His Word, so graciously and generously and abundantly sown, might find good soil and take root and grow and produce a harvest?

Well, how about plow? You see, good ground doesn’t just appear out of nowhere - it is the result of the farmer’s preparation and plow. For hard ground cannot loosen itself, rocks do not automatically clear themselves or jump out of the ground, and weeds will not go silently into that good night. Truth is, if it were up to us, there would be no plants, no growth, no fruit, no nothing. We’d be forever o-fer, as they say in baseball. Like Adam and Eve who swung and missed and turned a garden that produced nothing but fruit into a world of thorns and thistles and sin and death.

But the God who planted that Garden in the beginning, and now sows His seed so graciously and generously and abundantly, will not have that. So He plows. You. In mercy. Your pride and self-righteousness, your desire for good feelings, your false gods that cause so much care and anxiety, must be plowed under and buried. Six feet under. You must be buried six feet under. Dead. Dead to sin, that the seed of God’s Word then grow in you. 

The good news is that God has already done that for you. Your six feet under happened here, at the font, where the old, sinful you was crucified and buried with Christ, that a new, good soil you be also raised with Christ. To live a new life. But that’s not all, for when those weeds return, when that hardness returns, when those wrong desires return - as they always do - God continues to work, plowing you under with His Word of Law, and with trials and struggles and maybe even suffering, to root out of you and your heart and life all that gets in the way of His Word, that His Word grow in you. And produce a harvest, and abundant harvest, the fruits of faith and the good works of love in your life.

But now, God’s merciful spade or rototiller doesn’t feel so good. It doesn’t make you happy, or feel good about yourself, or give you anyone to blame but yourself. You won’t like it one bit when you come to the realization of how poor and miserable and wretched a sinner you really are. All the Word you got that bounced off, got eaten or choked or scorched over the years. You heard it, but what happened? Where the fruit? So, God be merciful to me, a sinner. We prayed it again this morning. And it is good so to confess.

And then to hear that He is. God is merciful. Forgiving your barrenness and continuing to plow, and continuing to sow His seed in you - graciously, generously, and abundantly. You don’t deserve it - what you deserve is for Him to have given up on your hard, weedy, thorn-infested heart a long time ago. But He doesn’t give up. Still He continues to work and sow. In you. For you. And He won’t give up. He will have His harvest.

That’s why Isaiah could write the words he did, that we heard today: 
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
    and do not return there but water the earth,
    making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
    but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

When you hear those words, think first and foremost of the Word that went out from God and came into this world - the Word of God made flesh. He is the seed that the satanic foe tried to devour, the sinful thorns of men tried to choke, and the heat of persecution tried to whither. He is the seed that was planted in the ground after His death on the cross, and then rose, accomplishing all the Father sent Him to do. And now producing an abundant harvest. A Church. Because the seed that is now sown in you is the seed, the Word, packed full with Him.

Which is why it is attacked so! Any other seed, no way! This seed must continue to be attacked. So satan continues to plant his weeds, the world continues to tramp you down, but God continues His work, too. Plowing and planting, never ceasing. Baptizing, preaching, feeding, forgiving, that the Word, that He, grow in you, and produce a harvest. For your sin that caused the Word of God made flesh to die your divine death penalty on the cross for you, is now the sin that is forgiven by the Word of God spoken from the cross for you, and forgiven by the water and blood of the Word of God that poured from that cross - from Him, for you. 

And as you are the blessed recipient of those cross-won gifts, as you are washed, as you are fed, as you are absolved, you grow. In Him. For He grows in you. And you shall, as Isaiah said, not only produce fruit, but also go out in joy and be led forth in peace. The joy of the Lord, which doesn’t just come when things are going your way, but even when they’re not. And the peace of the Lord, which comes with His forgiveness and His promise of everlasting life. 

So be patient. We’re usually not so good at that in our world today, but seeds take time to grow. Don’t worry. God will have His harvest. Repent, receive, and trust that He is working. In you and in others. You may not see it now, but in the end, at the final harvest, all will be revealed. God will have His harvest, and will it be 30-, 60-, 100-fold in you? You just might be surprised . . .

In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

(Thanks to the Rev. William Cwirla and Chad Bird for some of the thoughts used in this sermon.)