Monday, September 16, 2019

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Pentecost 14 (September 16-21, 2019)

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

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: 1 Timothy 2:5-6a - “AFor there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

Hymn of the Week:  The Lutheran Hymnal #557 “Seek Where You May to Find a Way”
Hymns for Sunday: 909, 557, 618, 555, 729, 818

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

Monday: Psalm 113
What does God do that makes Him worthy of praise? How has He done this for you?

Why is the word of the cross a stumbling block to so many? What is this word? Why is it offensive? But why good?

Wednesday: Matthew 9:9-13
How was Matthew “sick?” How did Jesus heal Him? How does He do the same for you?

Thursday: Amos 8:4-7
Does God forget our sins? What did He do instead?

Who does God want us to pray for? Why? How does God’s good order serve His saving purposes for us?

Saturday: Luke 16:1-15
How does this parable teach us about Jesus? Who was He serving? What He do with our debt?

The Catechism - The Creed: The Third Article [part 1] – And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ those suffering the effects of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and those working to provide for them.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and guidance for our congregation’s Deaf Ministry Advisory Group.
+ the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, guidance, and provision for the Lutheran Haven senior community.
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 14 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Each and Every One”
Text: Luke 15:1-10 (1 Timothy 1:12-17; Ezekiel 34:11-24)

A little shorter sermon today since we had a little longer liturgy today, our annual Narrative Divine Service.

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

One sheep. It’s only one sheep Jesus. You still have 99. Don’t worry about it. It’ll probably just wander off again anyhow. Relax. There will be more. Your flock will grow. It’s just one sheep.

And one coin. It’s only one coin Jesus. You still have 9. Your bank account is still plenty full. Don’t waste your time. It’s just one coin.

But that’s the way of man, not of God. For God, each and every one is important, valuable, and worth His time and effort. Not sheep or coins, but sinners. He doesn’t want even one lost. 

Maybe it doesn’t always seem that way. After all, the Bible is full of big words, words like all, and world, and cosmos. Jesus feeds 5,000 and then 4,000 at a time. 3,000 are baptized on the day of Pentecost. The picture of heaven in Revelation is of a great multitude that no one could count. And so, perhaps, it’s easy to think we get lost in the crowd.

But then we have other pictures of Jesus, too. Like when He was on His way to a centurion’s house because His daughter was very sick. Jesus was going just for her. Until a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years dared to touch the hem of His garment - then Jesus stopped just for her. To speak kindly to this desperate and scared little lamb of His. Jesus spends time talking to Nicodemus one-on-one at night. Just to him. He stops at a well in Samaria and spends time talking to a woman no one else wanted to be with or talk to. He’s there just for her. And how many more stories are there? Of folks Jesus knows and cares about; of how no one gets lost in the crowd with Him.

But sometimes we do want to just blend in, don’t we? Like when you’re in school, in class, and you don’t want the teacher to call on you. Or at work, when you don’t want more work to be given to you. Sometimes we just want to blend in with God and at church, too. Because of our sin. Because of our shame and guilt. I don’t want others to know what I’ve been up to. I don’t want them to know my doubts and fears. I don’t want anyone to know how really and truly unworthy I am and how unchristian I’ve been again this week. How I’ve blown up the commandments again this week. How I have lived as if God did not matter and as if I mattered most. How if there was a police line-up with 9 criminals and you, no one would finger you as the Christian. So just blend in. Pretend everything’s alright.

But it doesn’t work, does it? The sin and guilt and shame are still there, undealt with.

Until Jesus deals with them. Jesus who knows you and all you try to hide. No one else may notice the one sheep that has gone astray, but Jesus does. The Good Shepherd knows each one by name. And one coin missing from the purse isn’t a noticeable difference - unless you’re Jesus. That’s why He came. To search for every lost sheep and every lost coin - every lost and hiding sinner - and bring them back again. Forgive them, love them, care for them. For you.

That’s, in fact, what Jesus was doing that day. Spending time with sinners. Loving them, caring for them, forgiving them. That’s why the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling. They thought Jesus was not hallowing God’s Name by hanging out with those folks! But Jesus wanted them all to know that He was, in fact, hallowing God’s Name by hanging out with those folks. Because He was making it known what kind of God we have. Not a God who loves us because we don’t need to be forgiven, but a God who loves us - each and every one of us - so much that He laid down his life for us and our forgiveness.

For that’s what brings Him joy. Not 99 righteous persons who don’t need to repent. (And let me know if you ever find those 99 persons!) There is joy in heaven and among the angels over one sinner - each and every sinner - who repents. Who is found by God and finds her life and hope and forgiveness in Him. That she is not lost in the crowd nor lost forever, but singled out, cared for, and died for. 

That love is what changed St. Paul. He never blended in. First, he stood out as a Pharisee. He was a Pharisee’s Pharisee, the best of the best. And it ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up. No one could match his dedication to the Law, or his zeal in persecuting the church (Philippians 3). But then Jesus came to him and found him. Still he didn’t blend in, but stood out - now not as the best, but as the worst of sinners. The foremost of sinners, as we heard him say today. But to such a one as him, Jesus came. To love him, mercy him, die for him, and forgive him. He didn’t deserve it. He was lost lost. Until Jesus found him. 

And so would Jesus do for you. That’s the kind of God we have. The way Jesus is here on earth is the way it is in heaven. God isn’t one way here and one way in heaven, but the same here and there, yesterday, today, and forever. 

So if Jesus is hanging out with sinners here, who do you think fills heaven’s courts? Sinners. If Jesus is eating with sinners here, who has a seat at the heavenly feast? Sinners again. Who fills the heavenly choir? Sinners. Not those who don’t care about their sin, but those who repent. Not those who think they’ve earned it or deserve it by their own goodness, but exactly those who don’t. Sinners whose sins have been paid for, atoned for, forgiven. The lost sheep, the lost coin, lost you, now found, now home.

And the way Jesus is and the way it is in heaven is the way it is here, now, in Jesus’ church as well. For who fills these chairs? Sinners. Who has a place at this table? Sinners again. Who sings these hymns and confesses the faith? Sinners. Every week. And every week, acknowledging this fact and repenting of the reality of our sinfulness, our lostness, our fallenness, our not-good-enough-ness, we get to hear those joyful words of forgiveness. Grace that is for all of you and each one of you. A baptism that is for all of you and each one of you. And Body and Blood that is for all of you and each one of you. Because Jesus is here for all of you and each one of you. For each and every lost sheep, lost coin, lost person. And there’s no place He’d rather be. Let that sink in. There’s no place that He’d rather be than here, with you, with sinners, loving you, rescuing you, being your God.

For Jesus is Ezekiel’s shepherd, come to search for His sheep. Jesus is Ezekiel’s David, come to be enthroned on the cross to be the kind of King and God we need - the one who dies our death and gives us His life. Who has come to find us. And we are found.

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

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Montreal Foro Devotion

Montreal Foro
September 13, 2019
Reading: 1 Corithians 1:18-25

As Dr. Just reminded us this morning, tomorrow, September 14, is Holy Cross Day. A day which began as a commemoration of when Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother, was said to have discovered the cross of Jesus in the year 320. I don’t know if the cross she found that day was really Jesus’ or not. I do know that if you’re interested, you can find some pieces of it for sale on Ebay. Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

But according to Paul and his words that we heard today - God’s Word - it is not the cross itself that is the power of God, or folly to those who are perishing, or a stumbling block to the Jews. Crystals, amulets, lucky Rabbit’s feet, and other charms - there are many things people today think have power. So why not a piece of the cross, too. But according to Paul, it is the word of the cross, the message of the cross, the preaching of the cross - that is the folly. That is the stumbling block. That is the power of God.

Therefore this preaching of the cross is important. For even before Jesus was put upon a cross, crosses preached - a Roman preaching. Don’t do it. Don’t go against the Roman government. If you do, this is what will happen to you. And that was a powerful message.

But this is not just ancient history. Just a couple of months ago, the United States Supreme Court, in a case regarding a large cross on public land, in its ruling allowing the cross to remain, preached that the cross has acquired “an added, secular meaning,” and that “the cross symbolized the local community and its past.” Or in other words, it was a monument to honor men, not save them. This preaching of the cross neuters the cross of any power or enduring significance.

So in Montreal, as in all our cities, where there are Jews and Greeks and everything in between, the true preaching of the cross is needed. This word that isn’t wise enough for some and too foolish for others. No matter. We preach the cross, for we preach Christ crucified. This we proclaim because it’s all we have to proclaim. And it’s what all people need to hear. 

Now to be sure, the cross of Christ preaches a powerful message of Law, similar to Rome. Break the Law of God and this is what you get. Death. And worse. Eternal death. But this is not the proper preaching of the cross. That is to say, the Law is the alien work of God. So this message of Law is the alien preaching of the cross.

Rather, the proper preaching of the cross is the same as the proper work of God: the Gospel. The for you of the cross. The Good News, as Charles said this morning.

The Good News that Phillip preached to the Ethopian eunuch: that for you Jesus was stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. For your transgressions He was pierced by men. For you and your iniquities Jesus was crushed, not you. The Lord laid your iniquity on Him. All for you.

But in addition to this preaching, we have the preaching of Jesus, too. The words He preached from the cross. That He was forsaken so you would never be. That even as He bears your sin He prays for your forgiveness. That Paradise is no longer barred. And that all is finished. Your salvation is complete. I am making all things new. That is, another took your place. Life springs from death. You don’t have to justify yourself or straighten yourself out with God or atone for your sins. Jesus did. The grace and love of God for you.

Just the cross along a Roman road or on public land - or on the top of a mountain in Montreal - doesn’t preach that. So with Paul, we don’t just preach the cross, but the one on it. For you. Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God. 

So while don’t claim to have the selfsame cross that Jesus hung on, we proclaim instead that we have something better: the Jesus who hung on the cross. We have Him in water, words, and bread and wine. We have Him as we are washed and absolved and bodied and blooded. We have Him, and in having Him we have His forgiveness, life, and salvation. His proper work. 

So what a perfect weekend to have a Montreal Foro and a congregational anniversary. Holy Cross Day. But while just one day on the liturgical calendar, the Holy Cross is the daily life of the Christian, as every morning we make the sign of the cross, remember our baptism, and die and rise with Christ. 

And we pray this would, one day, be the daily life of every Montrealer. That they would know, with us, not just the cross, but the for me of the cross. And say with us, AMEN!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Pentecost 13 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“You Can’t; He Can”
Text: Luke 14:25-35
(Philemon 1-21; Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

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

How did you do it?

Seriously! How did you do it? How did you become a disciple of Jesus? Because you are. You’re here. You confess. You’re a Christian, a follower of Jesus. 

But you don’t measure up. In fact, according to the words we heard today, frankly, do you even come close? 

I mean, hate father and mother? Hate your wife and children? Hate your own life? Renounce all you have?

Even allowing for the fact that the word “hate” here doesn’t mean despising and being against your family or your life so much that you wish them ill or wish them dead, but means what you’re willing to leave behind in order to be a disciple . . . still, how did you do it?

For can you really and honestly say that you’ve never put family before God? That you’ve never been silent because you didn’t want to offend? That you were never more fearful of what your family would say or think or do more than God?

Can you really and honestly say that you haven’t followed your own desires and urges rather than the Word of God? That what the world says seems better to you than what God says?

Have you never - at least temporarily - put down the cross because of the ridicule or persecution that was coming your way? Have you never compromised to avoid hardship or conflict?

Can you say that? ‘Cuz I can’t.

So how did you do it? How did you become a disciple, and stay one, and be here today? Seriously.

Or maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re just fooling yourself. Wishful thinking. Call yourself a disciple when you’re really not. That’s what the world thinks, after all. That’s the accusation they’ll throw in your face. That you’re a hypocrite. That you call yourself a Christian, but you’re no better than the next guy. In fact, you’re worse, because you call yourself a Christian but don’t live like one. 

And that’s especially what the devil wants you to think and believe, too. Using Jesus’ own words, the words we heard today, to prove it. See? Disciple? Right! As if! You? You’re rather the unsalty salt Jesus talked about today. That’s who you are. Good for nothing! Not even for the manure pile! Not even good enough for manure. Ouch. 

But if you look at your life, you know he’s right, don’t you? And if judged by your life, you’ll be thrown someplace worse than the manure pile.

So thank you, devil! Yes, thank you . . . for reminding me of this truth. And for being Jesus’ stooge. Because you mean to drive me away from and separate me from my Jesus, either by making me try to clean myself up and try harder and rely on myself, or by making me despair and think I have no hope. But I’m not here for that. I’m here to repent. And find my life - and my discipleship - not in me, but in Jesus. Which is how He meant for me to hear these words. 

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

That’s what Jesus said. So I’m going to hear what Jesus has to say to me, not you, devil. That’s the ace up my sleeve. Or better to say, the word of truth in my ear. 

Because you know, devil, the first thing I heard that made me a disciple? It wasn’t how good I was or what I did or anything in me. It was this: I baptize you. You see, that’s when I became a disciple. It’s what Jesus did, not what I did. He made me a child of God. He cleansed me. He gave me this life. With those words and water, He took this worthless person from the manure pile and made me His own. How ‘bout that, devil? 

And while you’re right that I haven’t lived that way, and I’ve fallen more times than I can count, you what else I hear in these ears, devil? Not you better improve or get better, but this: I forgive you. You see, that’s what keeps me a disciple. What Jesus keeps giving to me, not my improvement. So even when I repent, it’s not to do something for Jesus, it’s to hear these words of forgiveness. That I can’t make salt salty again, but He can. And does.

So you’re pretty good, devil, using these words against me. And you actually get me to believe you sometimes, and not believe God. ‘Cuz you know how weak and stupid I am.

But I remember how you tried to use these words against Jesus, Mr. Devil. Do you remember? I’m sure you do, though you’d rather forget. It was while Jesus was on the cross. You had all those people come by and mock Him. Yeah, He thought He could establish and build the Kingdom of God, but He couldn’t complete it. He thought He could fight this spiritual war, but look at Him now. How do you spell failure? J-E-S-U-S! The picture in the dictionary next to the word failure? Yup, that’s you Jesus!

But what happened, Mr. Devil? He shut your filthy mouth, didn’t He? ‘Cuz you thought He was dead, but He rose to live again. You thought He was defeated, but He descended into hell and proclaimed His victory. You thought you were the king of the world, but now look at you - you’re like a gun with no ammunition; a sheath without a sword; a bomb without any explosive. You look all bad, but are nothing. My sins are forgiven and cannot condemn me. My death is defeated and cannot hold me. 

And then I hear this hear, too, Mr. Devil. Jesus shut your mouth, but you know what I hear here? He opens my mouth. And you know what He puts in? His Body and Blood, given for me and now given to me! Yup, the same Body and Blood you thought was dead, that you thought you beat, that you thought was going to decompose in the tomb. It didn’t. He lives, and now so do I. Because of Him. You are what you eat, right Mr. Devil? So I am a son of God, a child of God. I am dead and risen with Him. I followed Him through death and the grave. Or better to say: He pulled me through death and the grave with Him to life again. Which makes me a disciple.

Because all those things I can’t do, Jesus did. He did leave everything behind. He did give up everything. He didn’t let anything or anyone move Him from His mission. He did take up His cross and die. For me. 

And for all these people here today, too, devil. Because they’ve been Great Commissioned. Remember those words of Jesus? He told His disciples - who weren’t really good at being good either - He told them: Go and make disciples of all nations, by baptizing them and teaching them (Matthew 28:19). By forgiving them and putting Jesus’ words into their ears. That’s how you disciple someone. They don’t do it. Jesus does.

So yes, devil, I know you’ll keep trying. I know you won’t give up. I know you’ll be fighting to the end. And I know I’ll keep falling and failing, try as I might to be a good and faithful disciple. You know how weak and stupid and unable I am. So I’m just going to die. That’s what a cross is for, after all. But it’s Jesus’ cross that I die on, devil - not my own. I die with Him, not apart from Him. And so I’ll rise and live with Him, too. I’ll keep repenting and admiting that you’re right about my sins. But I’ll keep hearing Jesus’ great and powerful words of forgiveness and life, and confess that they’re right, too. And that’s the life I now live. A new life. As a child of God.

And when I run away, like Onesimus, thank you, Jesus, for sending me a Paul to call me back and send me back to you. And when others come to me looking for forgiveness, help me to welcome them back like Philemon and forgive them, knowing that You have paid their debt and mine. And when faced with the choice between life and good, and death and evil, help me to know the difference! Because as you know, Jesus, the devil can make good look bad, life look like death, and righteousness look like evil. But fill my ears with Your Word, that I know and choose life and good. That I follow You. Now in this life, and finally crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land of heaven.

So that’s how you did it, dear children of God. It wasn’t you after all, you’re not able; it is Christ, and Christ who lives in You. So you are who He says you are, and you now do what He has done for you and given to you. And so you are His disciple. And even more than that, His child.

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

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Pentecost 12 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Dead Men Don’t Care”
Text: Luke 14:1-14; Hebrews 13:1-17

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

He just wants to have a nice dinner party, this Pharisee. At least, that’s the appearance. But there’s an elephant in that room. The Pharisees, we are told, were watching him carefully. And they had been for some time. They wanted to trick Him, trap Him, or tempt Him; get Jesus to say or do something so they could discredit Him, strip Him of His followers, and get rid of Him - put this Jesus problem to bed once and for all. 

But they couldn’t. How many times had they already tried? Got to give them credit for not giving up. But they had a problem. A giant miscalculation they didn’t understand about Jesus. They kept thinking Jesus was like them, and so they kept setting traps and tricks and temptations that would work on them. So they were flummoxed when they didn’t work on Jesus. They were smart. They were among the best and the brightest and most educated in Israel! Surely they could come up with something . . .

So what was it that they didn’t get? What was their giant miscalculation? You’re probably thinking that it’s that Jesus is not just a man but the very Son of God in human flesh. And while that’s true, that’s not Jesus’ edge here. For though He was the Son of God, He did not use His power and wisdom as God for Himself. For others, yes. But the Scriptures say He was like us in every way, except without sin. And so it’s not that Jesus had these secret super-God powers that kept frustrating the Pharisees. It’s rather this: Dead men don’t care

And Jesus knew He was a dead man. He kept telling His disciples that He was going to be crucified. In Luke chapter 9 (v. 51) He sets His face to go to Jerusalem - to die. He knows this must happen. Just as He is fulfilling the Old Testament prophecies about the blind receiving their sight, and the deaf hearing, and the lame walking, so too must He fulfill those other prophecies that speak of His suffering and death. That He will be pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). This is why He came. And this is what would happen. Every Word of God will be fulfilled.

And so Jesus doesn’t care about what the Pharisees care about. He doesn’t care about His social standing. He doesn’t care about wealth. He doesn’t care about being invited to the banquet at the next Pharisees’ house next Sabbath and what seat He’ll get then. He doesn’t care. Dead men don’t care about such things. 

What He cares about . . . is them. That’s why somewhere between the soup and salad courses and the entree, He focuses attention on this man with dropsy and whether it is proper to heal Him on the Sabbath or not. Surely if he was one of their children they would help him. Or even just one of their animals they would help him. Even on a Sabbath. So why shouldn’t Jesus help him? Interrupting a perfectly respectable dinner party to talk about a man with some gross disease is one way to make sure you don’t get invited back. But dead men don’t care. And more important to Jesus is to teach about mercy than to make sure He gets His belly filled next week.

And then He goes on to criticize the guests because when the announcement had been made, “Dinner is served,” He had gotten more than one elbow to the ribs from those rushing to get the seats on honor. Who does He think He is? Be gracious, not critical, Jesus. But dead men don’t care. And more important to Jesus than proper etiquette and social standing is to teach about humility.

And then finally, one last dig, one last chide before dessert is served: I see that you only invited those who are of advantage to you; those in the dinner party rotation; those who can pay you back. Why don’t you invite those who can’t? The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. They’re the ones who need it, who need your generosity and care. And though they cannot pay you back now, you will be repaid in the resurrection of the just. And pay attention to that last line and the reference to the resurrection. In other words, they’re dead men too. For only the dead are resurrected. So these things they care about, all these things . . . aren’t going to make much difference when they’re dead. So why do you care about them now?

By the way, that last question wasn’t just for the Pharisees - but for you, too. Why do you care about these things? 

Well I think the answer is that we find our lives in these things and we’re trying to save our lives. We want to be well thought of, not forgotten or brushed aside. Maybe we don’t have to be rich, but at least we want to be comfortable. We do want to be recognized by others. We want to move up in the world, not down. 

But like Jesus, you’re a dead man. With each passing day, you’re one day closer to your death. And while we don’t like to think about that, it does change your thinking and your priorities. The fancy house, the big vacation, your social standing, next year’s invitation to the banquet of the year, none of that matters so much when you hear the news that you have cancer, or some other life-threatening disease. Neither does that squabble you have with your neighbor, or the revenge you’ve plotted, or how you’re going to even the score. Dead men don’t care. It is the ultimate freedom. Freedom from the worries, cares, concerns, anxieties, and competition of this world. From all these things that all they do is divide us from one another and separate us from God. These things that are all about me. What’s good for me. What I want.

But dead men don’t care. My father doesn’t care that all his earthly belongings are in boxes in my house. He doesn’t care who the president is and who’s going to win the Democratic primary. He doesn’t care what people think about him. He doesn’t care who’s going to win the Super Bowl this year, or if he’s going to be invited to the big Christmas party. He is now with Jesus and that’s all that matters. What he before knew by faith he now knows by sight. And nothing else matters. Dead men don’t care.

But, you say, I’m not dead yet and so I must care about these things! Well, Jesus wasn’t dead yet either, but He knew His Scriptures, and that they must be fulfilled. That every Word of God must be fulfilled. So haven’t you heard: 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)

So you are a dead man! Because you’ve been baptized. Oh, yes, you still have your physical death to go through, but that death has been transformed by your baptism. Or perhaps better to say, transformed by Christ and His death and resurrection given to you in baptism. So that it is now simply the pathway from life to life. From this world to the next. From faith to sight. Because of your baptism, you have a part in the resurrection of the just, for baptism has made you just. Your debt, your faults, your every sin has been forgiven, washed away. By water, by the blood of Jesus, by the Word of God, all applied to you there. You are joined to Christ, and so live with Him now and will live with Him forever.

That’s what the Word of God says, and it will be fulfilled. And so you, now, like Jesus, get to walk in newness of life. Which is not putting you back under the Law, telling you be new! But rather, telling you that you no longer have to care. Because dead men don’t care. And you have died with Christ and been raised with Christ. Christ is your life, not the things of this world. And so your stuff, the size of your house and bank account, your social standing . . . dead men don’t care. Because you have what’s greater and more lasting. You have what death cannot take away. Your life in Christ. 

And that’s the ultimate freedom. The freedom to enjoy the things of this world and life, the things of this creation - as Jesus did - but not to find your life and value in them; not have them rule you and so control what you do or say or how you live. And you have the freedom not only to enjoy these things, but to use them for others, to help them and serve those in need. Because you’re a dead man - you don’t need them. And what you need, Christ will provide. And honor? What worldly honor could surpass the honor you have already received in being made a child of God? So while you may never get your name on a Man or Woman of the Year plaque, a sports trophy, or a Medal of Honor, you have something even better - your name is written in the Book of Life. The guest list for the heavenly wedding feast that has no end.

Therefore, the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind who have been invited to the feast? That’s you. And the humble, the lowly, who have been exalted to a higher place? You again. And those who have exalted themselves will have to give way. 

So dead men don’t care because they don’t have to care! No one is more free than a dead man. And since you are free, you can say as we heard in the reading from Hebrews today, confidently: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” 

So you can love, even those no one else does. You can show hospitality to strangers. You can vote but not despair if the outcome is not as you wished. You can keep the Word of God and speak its truth even in the face of mocking and persecution from the world. You can share and give what you have. And what else? What else are you hanging onto that you won’t need when you’re dead? Then why are you holding onto it? Dead men don’t care. They are free. And you are free.

This morning when we began the Divine Service, you repented of not living a dead man’s life and died a little death again. Good! And then you received the forgiveness of all your sin; a resurrection to a new life already here and now. And you’ve heard the Word of God and all that Jesus has done for you and provided for you and gives to you. And now you come to the foretaste of the feast that awaits you - the feast for those who have been crucified and risen with Christ. His Body and Blood to keep and preserve you steadfast until He calls you from life to life, from this world to the next, from faith to sight. 

But it’s all yours, now. And when you live that way, the world might look at you and regard you as the Pharisees did Jesus - they’ll think you’re like them and so won’t be able to figure you out. Why don’t you care about what they care about? Why are you so free? And you can tell them: because dead men don’t care! I live in Christ. 

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

Funeral Sermon for William Douthwaite

Here is the sermon I preached at my Dad's funeral. If you want to watch and listen to the service, here is the link to the video my brother made on his cell phone.

Jesu Juva

“The Promise of Nothing”
Text: Isaiah 55:6-13; Romans 8:26-39; Philippians 1:18b-26; Matthew 28:1-10

I wrote this sermon when Dad was put on hospice for the first time; when we were told he only had ten days to live. That was three and a half years ago! God gave us the gift of these extra years, which were so precious. So, with a little editing . . .

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If you go with us to Mount Hope cemetery today, you will see those words etched into my father’s headstone. Those were his words. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord

And I think the older he grew, the more precious they grew, because it seemed like he was being separated from everything and everyone else. All of his immediate family has been gone for some time now. When you’re the youngest child, I guess that’s to be expected to some extent. But that has been the case for quite some time now - not just that they were all taken from him, but that they were so soon. Too soon.

Of course, the separation that hit him hardest was when his Nancy was separated from him. Being ten years older, he said, he always thought he would go first. A not unreasonable expectation, we would say. But that our Lord called her home frist, and almost 15 years ago, is another indication of what Isaiah said: that God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts

Then for the past almost six years, he was separated from his home - from the home he had lived in for almost 50 years, the church, here, that he was a member of for over 50 years, and from some of you that he had been friends with for 50 years. That grieved him too. He loved it here. He loved all of you. He didn’t want to be separated from you, but knew . . . but knew that it was needed. A bum hip, a tired body, and a failing memory were making it too hard to stay.

So Dad, I think, was a lot like the apostle John in this regard. John was the last one too. At the end of his life, he was separated from his home, in exile on the island of Patmos. In the book of Revelation, John sees visions of the martyrs who went before him - and I always think he saw his friends in that group in heaven wearing white robes. Peter, his brother James, Andrew, and the rest - they all went before him, too. 

But then Dad was like the apostle Paul, too. For Paul’s words from Philippians that we heard were his words: My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary . . . Dad didn’t know why staying was necessary; he wanted, like Paul, to go home. He said it many times. All the separation was hard for him. Hearing another friend had gone before him - especially his good friend Jack Buss - was hard for him. He wanted to go to that place Jesus had gone to prepare for him.

So how very, very precious these words of Christ for him, and for us today. As he, and we, live in the midst of a world of separation: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing. 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. Nothing. Not even a failing memory.

And the answer why is very simple: we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. More than conquerors through Him who was separated from His Father for us; forsaken on the cross for us. More than conquerors through Him who loved us so much that He entered into our death with us, enduring the condemnation of our sin for us. More than conquerors through Him who then brok the seal of the grave for us and rose to life again. More than conquerors through Him who then baptized us into His death and resurrection, that we might rise too. With Him. And never be separated from Him. Baptism is that inseparable bond where Jesus binds Himself to us, so that nothing can separate us from Him. Nothing. Yes, His Word and promise combined with that little bit of ordinary water is . . . that . . . great.

And Dad knew it. Jesus had planted that faith in his heart and made it grow and flourish over the years, as Dad was fed by the Word he heard preached here by so many pastors over so many years from that third pew on the left - right in front of the pulpit. That was his pew. And as his faith was strengthened by the Word of Absolution he heard pronounced here so often, and as he was fed by the Body and Blood of the Lord at this altar. Jesus was holding onto him.

And that’s why a few years ago, Dad wanted to make sure of his baptism. One day he started thinking about the fact that while he thought he had been baptized, and was pretty sure he had been, he didn’t have a certificate, and all that had witnessed it were already gone. The church wasn’t even there any more. But he wanted to be sure. It was really important to him. To have the nothing of baptism - the nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus - that was so important to him. 

And so my sister started making phone calls and investigating and following up . . . and finally found a pastor who had the records from the old church that had once been there, and Dad made a copy of the page showing that he had been baptized on April 20, 1924. And just how important that was to him is shown by the fact that he kept that page in special folder all its own, which he kept in his fireproof lock box with all his other really important papers.

Ironically, while we were looking at some of his old papers on Tuesday, we found his baptism certificate - it was on the display you saw when you came in. He had it all along. He just forgot. Toward the end, he forgot a lot of things. But Jesus never forgot him. Jesus never forgets his children.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Which is why he could say so often, with Paul, and pray for the Lord to take him home, to that place prepared for him. It wasn’t because he was so strong, so faithful, or so good - but because he had Jesus’ promise. Nothing can separate me from you, Bill. Nothing. Tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword . . . or dementia? Nah. I beat it all. I am your Good Shepherd. You shall not want . . . and you shall dwell with me in my house forever.

So now Dad has been separated from us - but just for a little while. The Father who did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all, has now answered Dad’s prayers and called our father home. As He graciously gave him all things here in this life, so now still graciously giving him all things - including rest and peace and no more pain, as we await the day of the resurrection of all flesh. Our grand reunion with Dad and Mom, Bill and Nancy - Uncle Bee - and All the Saints who from their labors rest (LSB #677).

So we will do as Paul said, and rejoice today. That’s not the same as being happy. We’re not happy to be here today! It’s better than that. It’s that because of Jesus, because of His death and resurrection for us, because of His promises, because of His forgiveness . . . we can rejoice even in the midst of sadness and separation. Because He conquered them. Because He is greater than them. Because We Know that Our Redeemer Lives (LSB #461).

And we’ll also do what Paul says in another place (1 Thess 5:18), and give thanks. Thanks for Jesus and all that He has done for Dad and for us. But also thanks to God for giving us this man for so many years, as father, grandfather, and great-grandfather; as uncle and friend; as His blessing to us.

So thank you, Father, for this our earthly father, and friend. For giving us a father who loved us, especially when that love showed itself as a leather belt across my disobedient and rebellious butt. For giving us a father who took us to church faithfully, who had us baptized, and showed us the importance of faith and being in the Word. Who showed us by devotions every night after dinner, lighting a candle and reading the Scriptures.

Thank you, Father, for giving us a father who showed us what love is as he took care of Mom in her last days. For giving us a father who prayed - the image of that I will always remember is of him sitting in his recliner in the morning, before work, before the sun came up, with his Bible on his lap, his eye closed, and his hands folded.

Thank you, Father, for giving us a father who was a sinner and showed us how important your forgiveness. For giving us a father who struggled, to help us learn from him and giving us a chance to care for him and love him and understand that when we are weak, you are strong (2 Cor 12:10). For giving us a father who wasn’t afraid to cry, and who taught us the importance of family.

But thank you most of all, Father, that You put him in Your family. That You adopted William as Your son. That You baptized him, redeemed him, forgave him, and at 2:17 am Monday morning, took him home to be with You. And thank You for the confidence that we now have in Your Word, not only that he is with You, but that we will be too, one day. That the “nothing” that was so precious to him is also for us. That it is true: Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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