Monday, September 30, 2013

Saint Michael and All Angels Sermon

Jesu Juva

“With Us on the Battlefield”
Text: Matthew 18:1-11; Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3;
Revelation 12:7-12

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

Today the Church commemorates Saint Michael and All Angels. Michael is one of the two angels named for us in the Scriptures - Gabriel is the other one, and probably the more well-known one. For Gabriel is the messenger. He came to Zachariah in the Temple and told him he would be the father of John the Baptist. He came to Mary and told her she would be the mother of God’s Son. And perhaps he is also the angel who came to Joseph and gave him instructions concerning Mary and Jesus. 

But by commemorating St. Michael - and not Saint Gabriel - and All Angels, we remember today that angels are not just messengers of God, but warriors of God. And that there is a great battle taking place between the dragon, that ancient serpent called the devil and Satan, and his angels, who are fighting against God, and Michael and his angels, fighting for God. It is a battle that has been taking place since almost the very beginning. For sometime after the sixth day of creation, when God saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good (Gen 1:31), the dragon and his angels turned against God and were cast out of heaven and down to the earth. And they immediately went on the attack, luring Adam and Eve into sin. And so quite rightly did we hear in Revelation: But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath. He has turned God’s Paradise into a battlefield.

A battlefield. A place of devastation and horror and death. And though we cannot see it, that’s what our world looks like to God, who created all things visible and invisible, as we confess in the Creed. So while the visible may look good to us - our houses and cars, our families and jobs, the invisible is a whole different story. There the battle is raging, on the battlefield of our hearts and minds. This creation is wearing out and passing away (Rev 21:1), and so the battle is not for this world and the things of it. No, the fight is for your thoughts and desires, and who you will fear, love, and trust. 

Satan wants you to fear, love, and trust in anyone and anything but God - that’s what he’s fighting for. And so he fights with weapons to do just that. He fights with pleasures, to tempt us to love them and not God. He fights with horrors, that we think that God cannot be trusted, that is not good, and so turn to our own ways. He fights with lies, that we not fear God and believe His Word, but think that there are lots of ways, lots of words, lots of truths. He fights to capture our hearts and minds and so capture us for eternity. And he captures many with these weapons, does he not?

So what are the weapons of God that His angels fight with? We heard of them in the reading from Revelation: the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, the Word of the Gospel. For by these the weapons of satan are countered and blunted. By these our hearts and minds are cleansed and put right again, with the right fear, right love, right truth of God. For now and for eternity.

And how serious is this battle? Well perhaps we are given a clue in the fact that whenever people see angels in the Bible, they are always frightened. Like Daniel, as we heard earlier. Some have suspected from this that angels must look really frightening - not like the common portrayals we see so much in popular art and books today, of delicate, feminine figures and chubby-cheeked cherubs. And maybe that’s true, that angels do in fact look frightening. But maybe also it is because when these people were given to see angels they were given a glimpse of the spiritual battlefield they were on. They could see what was really all around them that normally could not be seen. And it terrified them, as it should.

For make no mistake about it, this is a serious battle and why God takes sin so seriously. For sin isn’t just breaking the rules and so you have to go spend some time in the corner. Sin is you being a traitor and taking up the weapons of the enemy. And that is no small thing. 

But that we diminish sin - our sin, at least, is one of the weapons of the dragon. Of course, we don’t do that with the really big sins and sinners, like Aaron Alexis and Bashar Al-Assad. But our sins? Aw shucks, I really didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. Just a little indiscretion . . . it really doesn’t matter.

Not so for Jesus. How does He speak of sin? Better for you to have a great millstone fastened around your neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Better for you to cut off your hand or foot or pluck out your eye than to be thrown into the eternal fire - that place meant not for any man, but for the dragon and his angels. Paradise, heaven, the glorious presence of God is the place prepared for us. Jesus said that too (John 14), that He is going to prepare a place for us, and that He will come back to take us there. But sadly, tragically, some will go to the eternal fire. Those who take up the weapons of the enemy and fight against God. Those who fear, love, and trust not God.  

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Like Daniel, those words of Jesus concerning sin should terrify you. And if that were all we knew, if that was the end of the story, then like Adam and Eve, the first man and woman attacked by satan, we should rightly be terrified of God and hide from Him.

But as you well know, that’s not the end of the story. For a Lamb entered the battlefield. God so loved the world that into this world of traitors He sent His Son. Normally, 5-star generals don’t go to the front lines, but have others do the fighting for them. But this one did go. The Son of God came down to not only fight the dragon and win, and to not only take the punishment we traitors deserve, but to provide the life we need, to restore us as children of God and faithful sons of God. 

And so Jesus came onto the battlefield and was tempted just as we are, to fear, love, and trust anyone and anything but His Father. But He did not succumb to the temptations of the evil one. He then went to the cross where He gave His perfect hands, His perfect feet, His perfect eyes, His perfect life in place of our sinful hands and feet and eyes and life. With the millstone of our sin hung around His neck He was plunged into the depth not of the sea but into the depth of hell and forsakenness by His Father in our place. And then with His victorious resurrection from the dead, Jesus now lives to give His victory and life to you. 

And so in Holy Baptism, sinners are plunged not into the depth of the sea with their sin, but plunged into Jesus’ death and resurrection, to die to sin and arise with sins washed away and live restored as children of God. Children of God who then humble themselves in repentance, confessing our sins instead of cutting off our members, and continue to receive the cleansing forgiveness and the new life of our Saviour. That forgiveness and new life also poured out for you in the Body and Blood of the Supper, where the forgiveness, the medicine, the strength that you need is given to you in this heavenly food. That your hearts and minds be set on Him. That your fear, love, and trust be in your Saviour, your Father, and His Spirit alone.

That in the midst of the battle and the battlefield, you be not alone. For your Saviour is here through His Word and Sacraments, and He still sends His angels to fight for you. For as long as we live in this world and life, satan will fight and the temptations will come. And this is necessary. Yes, It is necessary that temptations come, Jesus said. Which sounds odd, doesn’t it? For wouldn’t this world be a better place if God had just destroyed the dragon and his angels right away after they rebelled and was just done with it and with them? Wouldn’t that have saved us a lot of grief? So it seems to me and maybe to you too.

But God knows what He’s doing. And though the fight is fierce and the warfare long, there is an end to it coming. Either on the Last Day, when our Saviour returns with His angels and the dragon and his angels are finally cast into the eternal fire, or when the Lord sends His angels onto the battlefield as medics, to take His slain home to Him. Those, who we heard in Revelation, loved not their lives even unto death. Some of them were slain in the battle in brutal ways, yet their death was not defeat and not the end for them. Satan took their lives but did not win those battles. And so the Church sings in one of her hymns: Lord let at last Thine angels come, to Abram’s bosom bear me home (LSB #708). Victorious. And we’ve all known folks for whom that blessing, that reward, has happened.

But until that day, the battle goes on and the angels are fighting for us. Jesus told us that when it comes to children of God, their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. They are on the alert and standing at the ready, to go and fight on a moment’s notice, at the direction of God. To go and defend God’s little ones, you and me. That when satan and his lies and deception come, the angels and Word and truth of God come also, to strengthen heart and mind and keep our fear, love, and trust right and steady. That the blood of the Lamb and the Word of the Gospel protect and defend us. 

We’ll receive that blood in just a moment now, as we gather with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven at this Table, this Table which as we are reminded in the 23rd psalm (v. 5), is prepared for us in the presence of our enemies. Or in other words, on the battlefield. For our enemy is not flesh and blood, and his weapons not bullets or bombs. And so on this battlefield for hearts, minds, and souls, our Lord sets up His Table, a place of rest and peace and victory. And says come, for the forgiveness you need, for the strength you need, for the healing you need. Then go out and continue in the fight. Fearing not, for my angels and I are with you to the end.

And so as we sang and prayed earlier:
Still let them aid us and still let them fight,
Lord of angelic hosts, battling for right,
Till, where their anthems they ceaselessly pour,
We with the angels may bow and adore (LSB #520 v.4).

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pentecost 18 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Absurd and Crazy Love”
Text: Luke 16:1-15 (Amos 8:4-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-15)

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

Tragedies seem to bring out the best in people. When bad things happen, people want to help, people want to give, people open their hearts in compassion. The flooding in Colorado, the bombing in Boston, the tornado in Oklahoma, superstorm Sandy - just to name a few recent examples. Spontaneous memorials are erected to comfort, relief funds are started to aid, and people come from all over to roll up their sleeves and pitch in when normally they’d be home, sitting on their couches, watching TV or surfing the internet.

How sad.  . . .  Yes, how sad that it takes a tragedy, that it takes these extraordinary events to get us to do what we should be doing all along, all the time: loving our neighbor. Maybe that’s why God causes, or allows - or however you want to say it - these things to happen. To get us out of ourselves and out of our shells to love our neighbor. To get us to serve. To get us to give.

And so it seems to me in the Holy Gospel we heard today. This is the next in a long list a parables Jesus is telling. Stories to help us realize and begin to understand God’s love for us.

So there’s this man, Jesus says, who is a manager, or a steward, for a very wealthy man. This is a great job, a privileged position, a job lots of people would like to have. Jesus doesn’t give a lot of information about this man or his job except that one day, someone reported him to his master and brought charges against him: he was being unfaithful; he was wasting his master’s possessions. This was a tragedy - a personal tragedy for this man, for he was losing his job. The master calls him in and says to him: You can no longer be manager. Come give an account of your management.

And as any of us would do when summoned in this way . . . [Gulp!]

Perhaps the words that the prophet Amos spoke today could have been spoken to this man. Again, Jesus doesn’t give us many details, but maybe this is what he was doing, what Amos accuses Israel of, back in the day: trampling the needy, using false measures, taking advantage of people, eager only for gain however he could get it, and from whomever - whether they had little or much. Sounds like a lot of people today as well. You know people like that. Maybe he or she even stares back at us in the mirror from time to time . . .

But whatever this man was doing, he wasn’t going to do it much longer. Give an account. Your time is up.

So he begins giving. He is beset by tragedy but, by golly, he is going to use the time he has left! He begins slashing what is owed by his master’s debtors. 100 becomes 50 for one, 100 becomes 80 for another. And you get the feeling he did this for everyone he could, all who owed his master.

And for this he is commended! Well done!

Now, if you’re scratching your head over that, you’re not alone! This parable has caused a lot of confusion over the years . . .

And so some, in trying to make sense of this, have surmised that what the manager slashed may have been his own profit and not his master’s money. Over the years he would add to whatever was owed his master to pad his own pocket and that’s what he’s giving up here. And that’s possible, that was a practice back then, though we’re not told that, so . . . maybe not.

And if not, then what he was slashing was in fact owed to the master, and the master should have been angry with his manager even more! For he was giving away what was not his; decreasing the master’s income; stealing from him in a way. And maybe that’s what the manager was doing, trying to stick it to his master one last time before he had to turn over the books and leave. Fire me, huh? I’ll show you!

If that’s the scenario, it makes the master’s response all the more non-sensical. For why would he commend the manager for doing this? But we’re here thinking with worldly minds, and trying to make worldly sense of this parable. But if there’s one thing to learn from Jesus and His life and His parables it is that God and His love do not make worldly sense. That’s the point. God’s love, mercy, and compassion is beyond our wildest imagination.

So let’s think differently: what if this is what the master wanted his manager to be doing all along? To be kind, to be compassionate, to use the master’s wealth to help and love and care for people? So when the manager does that - even though it took a tragedy to make him do it - the master is pleased.

And so it is for you and me. The wealth that has been entrusted to you is not “yours” - it is your Master’s, your God’s, given to you to use for a time. And looking at all of you, your Master is not only very wealthy, He is very generous. He has given you all so much! Some more and some less, but all of you have little or no need. And what pleases Him is when we are good and faithful stewards of all He has given us. Serving not ourselves or making our wealth our god that we love and cherish above all else, but serving Him with it - serving Him by loving and caring for and helping our neighbors. Using our worldly wealth (or as Jesus said: our unrighteous wealth) as well as our spiritual wealth (our true riches) in that way.

And so not just in times of tragedy, but at all times using and giving what we have for others. Giving not just our worldly wealth, but also giving our hearts, our ears, our compassion, our time, our prayers, our forgiveness. Lavishly giving - not holding grudges, not being too busy for others, not looking at them with suspicious eyes, not withholding our love - but serving them as if they were God Himself.

Think about that! Would that change how you do things? If that person in need were God Himself? For as Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).

The Pharisees ridiculed Jesus for this. Maybe you and I will be too. So be it. They are not really ridiculing us, but God. For this is what He did for us. He is always a giving God, a loving and serving and compassionate God. And in response to the tragedy of sin and death, His response was to give even more. To give his Son to rescue us. And so: Jesus. As we confess: conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. And then the third day He rose again from the dead

And with that, all that we need was provided. The debt of sin paid, the power of the enemy broken, forgiveness won. Which now, in Word and Sacrament, is lavished upon you. Sinful you, broken you, confused you, unfaithful you. Now holy you, healed you, forgiven you, faithful you. Spiritual gifts. The gifts Christ freely gives (LSB #602). That you be what you are not. That you be raised from the death of sin to a new life in Christ.

Is that foolish? No, it’s love. The absurd, incredible love of God for you.

For as St. Paul said in his letter to Timothy: This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved - all people, even you! - and to come to the knowledge of the truth. And sometimes it takes a tragedy to do that. It takes taking away our false gods before we’ll turn to the true God, before we’ll open our hearts and give what we have been given. And so receive God’s commendation: well done!

This is good, Paul says. To pray for people, to love them and care for them. Which really seems rather obvious doesn’t it? Did we really need Paul to tell us this is good?

Unless . . . unless “good” doesn’t just mean “not bad,” but more than that. Like “good” as in God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was good, very good (Gen 1:31). “Good” as in before sin. “Good” as in Jesus the Good Samaritan. “Good” as in Jesus the Good Shepherd. “Good” as in no one is good except God alone (Mark 10:18). To be good in that way is to be of God, is to be god-like, is to be of the Gospel. To be so toward others not because they deserve it, but because of the Gospel given to us. The Gospel which changes us and works in us. Because of Christ living in you and working through you for others. Family, friends, neighbors, strangers. All people everywhere. Good works are Gospel works. 

That it sometimes takes a tragedy to get us to do that, what we should be doing all along is sad. But we have a Saviour who turns tragedies into blessings. From the cross He bore to the cross in your life. The cross, that dying and rising for you, you may also die and rise with Jesus to a new life, a good life, a Gospel life. Which is the ultimate gift.A gift that begins now and has no end.

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pentecost 17 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Jesus’ Joy, Our Joy”
Text: Luke 15:1-10 (Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 Timothy 1:5-17)

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

There’s them, and there’s us. We all do it. We just define “them” differently, depending on who you are and what you consider important. The labels and categories may be different and change from time to time, but it’s still them and us. Liberals and conservatives. Seniors and freshmen. Union and non-union. Even in the church we do this. Confessional or missional. Traditional or contemporary. And for the Pharisees and Scribes in the Gospel today, it was them or the “tax collectors and sinners.” Why this matters is because whether or not the label or category is appropriate or true, it makes a difference in how we look at others and how we regard them and think about them. Both for the better and for the worse.

But not Jesus. For Him, it’s all us. All of us the same. All of us His creation. All of us fallen and lost in sin. All of us in need of rescue. All of us He wants as His children.

And so He acts like it. As we heard today, He comes for us and searches for us. And He does not give up. He searches in every nook and cranny of this world. He searches in all the places we like to hide. So great His desire to find us, and so great His joy when He does. A joy that seems quite out of proportion to the value of the thing lost - and yet the joy that is His in finding sinners like you and me, in giving us His forgiveness, in giving us the gift of eternal life. He does not grudgingly do this but delights to do so. And His joy and delight is shared by the angels and all the company of heaven. It’s not Him and us, it’s Him for us.

Now there are two different things going on here. There is first the truth of how Jesus looks at and regards us, and the length He is willing to go for us - even to death on the cross, taking our sins that we be forgiven. This you know. You’ve be taught it and heard it from this pulpit time and time again, though you can never hear it enough. But the second thing here is Jesus’ joy in finding us. And for me, at least, that’s a bit harder to understand. I’ve lost things before and I’ve searched hard for them, but usually when I find them it’s not joy that I feel, but relief.

But earlier this year, I think I finally understood this a bit. I don’t usually tell stories in my sermons, and hardly ever stories about myself, but you’re going to get one today! 

It happened the day after Easter which, if you know me, is a day I usually try to go out and play golf. After all the intensity of Holy Week and Easter, it is a chance for me to get outside and give my mind a break, to just walk around and enjoy the day. But this year as I was getting my stuff ready, I lost my wedding ring. I’ve been wearing it for almost 20 years now, and while I never feel it falling off, I almost always immediately notice when it’s not there. So I was getting ready when I noticed it wasn’t there. I looked around the floor right where I was. Nothing. I looked in my golf bag. Nothing. I looked again and again. Nothing. It wasn’t close by.

So I expanded my search. I looked everywhere I had walked - in the hallway, up the stairs, in the bedroom and bathroom. Nothing. I looked again and again. Nothing. I looked in the kitchen and dining room. Nothing. It wasn’t in the house.

So I began to look still farther, getting quite upset now. It’s just a wedding ring, but at the same time it’s more than that. And I really wanted it back. And not just any one - I wanted that one. So, after muttering a few - probably whiny - prayers, I started to look outside. I had walked Joanna to the bus stop earlier, maybe it had fallen off while I was putting on my clothes and had worked its way out my pant leg. And my mind started playing tricks on me . . . had I heard it hit the pavement? So I began slowly walking, looking on the sidewalk, on the grass, all around the bus stop. Nothing. I walked back to the house, by the mailbox. Nothing. It wasn’t outside.

So back in the house. I looked in all the same places. Nothing. I started moving things it could be under, even though it couldn’t possibly be under those things. Nothing. Back outside. Back to the bus stop. Nothing. I didn’t even want to play golf anymore - I just wanted to find my ring. Then as I was again walking back past the mail box, one of my neighbors came out and said, “You’re looking quite pensive.” I told him my story as we exchanged some small talk, and went on. But nothing. I was beginning to sadly resign myself to the fact that it was lost. Maybe someday I would find it.

But back inside the house I went and looked some more. I looked in all the same places again, some it seems for about the seventh time. And then, right where I had been packing my golf bag, right where I thought and expected it would be, I found it. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before, but there it was. And this time, I did not feel relief at finding it, but joy. And the first thing I wanted to do was run down the street and tell my neighbor I found it. That’s unusual for me. I’m kind of a private person and wouldn’t usually do that. But such was my joy. 

And such is Jesus’ joy over you. Maybe you think you’re just another person, just another sinner, no big deal. But not so. Jesus doesn’t want another person, or a better person, or an easier person, He wants you. You matter. 

The Pharisees and the Scribes didn’t get that. Why would Jesus eat with . . . them? Why would He care so much? Why not rejoice in us, the good guys? Well, Jesus wanted to rejoice in them too, and forgive them too. No labels or categories for Jesus, just sinners in need of forgiveness. Or perhaps we should say, brides in need of cleansing. For Jesus doesn’t just want you as a servant, but as His bride, that you be one with Him and receive all that He is and all that He has. For you are His joy and He wants to be yours.

We heard from St. Paul today: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. Paul considered himself not even at the level of tax collectors and sinners, but beneath them. A sinner of sinners. But Jesus wanted him, really sinful him, and rejoiced over him. And that made Paul rejoice in Jesus.

And if for Paul, then also for you. You might be the foremost sinner, the least sinner, or someplace in between. No matter. To Jesus you are a sheep, a coin, a ring that He desperately wants to find, that He desperately wants to wash clean in forgiveness, that He desperately wants to feed with His Body and Blood, that He desperately wants in heaven as His bride. 

So if you’re going to label yourself, if there’s any category, if there’s any them and us, let it be this: Jesus Christ my Bridegroom, and you and me His forgiven bride. And then rejoice with the angels, and with all who receive this forgiveness. 

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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

St. Matthew Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Follow Me”
Text: Matthew 9:9-13
(Ephesians 4:7-16; Ezekiel 2:8-3:11)

12 years ago this day, no one (except a handful of terrorists) woke up on that beautiful, crisp morning expecting jets to be used as bombs, almost 3,000 people to lose their lives, two iconic buildings to be reduced to a great pile of rubble, and a third to be badly damaged. By the end of the day the world had changed.

So it was also for a man named Levi. When he awoke that morning, he went to his tax office, like usual; he saw the same faces, like usual; and he began collecting taxes, like usual. But by the end of the day, his world had changed for him. Because not a terrorist, but a Saviour, came crashing into his life. That day, Levi became Matthew, and a tax collector became an apostle and evangelist. Because Jesus came to him and said, “Follow Me.”

That’s what the firefighters and rescue personnel said that day 12 years ago also. Follow me. In response to the disaster, these people did what they had been trained to do and sent to do. They rushed into the burning buildings and found the people in danger, the people in smoke-filled rooms, the people disoriented by what had just happened, and said: follow me. Many of those first responders didn’t make it. But they saved a good many people that day as well, and were hailed as heroes.

Jesus, however, was not hailed as a hero by the Pharisees. Quite the opposite - He was criticized. The Son of God was sent into this world burning with sin, but the Pharisees didn’t rejoice in Him, but instead wondered: Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? The answer, as you heard, was: Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Or, we could say: those who are not trapped in burning and collapsing buildings have no need of a firefighter to rescue them, but those who are do. And those who are are filled with joy when they are found and hear those wonderful words: follow me.

And so Matthew’s joy when Jesus found him that day. Until this time he knew only of taking. Of a government taking taxes, and of his taking taxes from the people. And for doing his job he was disliked at best, and ostracized at worst. As a tax collector, he was lumped together with the great and obvious sinners of the world and considered no better than they. The tax collectors and sinners, they sneered at him. How would that make you feel? Maybe you know. Maybe you’ve been sneered at and rejected like that.

But Jesus says no such thing. The one who came to rescue does what He is sent to do. And He doesn’t take, He gives. Freely. In Matthew’s taking world, he wasn’t used to that! But how wonderful it was. Jesus giving honor and love. Jesus giving forgiveness not criticism. Jesus building up and not tearing down. And for this Jesus would lose His life, the sin and death of our burning world collapsing down on Him. But even in this Jesus is giving, for this was no accident or unforeseen event. Jesus came to give His life for us. To lay down His life for us. To trade places with us, that He be captive and we be free. That you be free.

Which is why the Pharisees weren’t rejoicing - they thought they were free. They didn’t realize they too were caught in a burning building on the verge of collapse and in need of rescue. And if you don’t know that, then when a firefighter shows up on your floor or at your door and says “follow me,” you look at him like he’s crazy. And so they looked at Jesus in that way - the crazy man who hangs out with tax collectors and sinners.

That’s why God sent prophets like Ezekiel, to speak to the people the danger they were in, the danger of their sin and idolatry, and to point them to their rescue. That’s why God gave the apostles and evangelists like Matthew, to go into all the world and not only proclaim this truth, but also proclaim the Saviour who has come to rescue us, and to write it for all the generations to come. And it’s why our Lord still today gives shepherds (or pastors) and teachers - that you know too. And that Matthew’s joy be your joy, and Matthew’s rescue be your rescue. 

For that’s what Jesus was sent to do. To go everyplace and rescue everyone. And so He goes to the manger - to be one with us beginning even in infancy. He goes to Jews and Gentiles, men and women. He goes to tax collectors and sinners. He goes to lepers and outcasts. He goes to the Temple, to synagogues, and to houses. And finally He goes to cross and grave and hell. And on the third day, He came out of the rubble alive. With the promise that all who belong to Him, all who are baptized, all who believe in Him, will do the same. No matter how great the rubble of your life. No matter how great the sin. No matter how hopeless things may seem. He did it, He promised, and so you can be sure.

And then there’s one more thing: He ascended into heaven. That’s for you too. For you know what Jesus is doing there? Eating with tax collectors and sinners! For heaven is populated entirely by forgiven sinners, the sick who have received the healing medicine of forgiveness. So there’s a seat for you and me. Just as we come to our Lord’s Table now in Holy Communion, so He will seat us at His Table forever in the feast that has no end.

The tragedies that occurred twelve years ago left a scar on our country and on many people. The cross left scars on Jesus too. Those piles of rubble that were a result of that day have since been cleaned up, and gleaming new and repaired buildings raised. Jesus was resurrected too - glorious forever. For while we cannot be sure that another 9-11 will not happen, we can be sure that Jesus’ death will not happen again. For Jesus defeated sin, defeated death, defeated the grave, and defeated the foe - and is victorious and glorious forever. And in Him, that’s for us too. For Ezekiel, for Paul, for Matthew, and for you. 

And so Matthew rose and followed Him. So will you and I, on the last day, when Jesus comes again in all His glory and with all His angels. The trumpet will sound, we will arise alive from the rubble of death and the grave, and follow Him . . . to heaven.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pentecost 16 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“How Much? How Many? . . . One.”
Text: Luke 14:25-35 (Philemon 1-21)

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

Now great crowds accompanied [Jesus] . . .

That’s good, right? That’s what Jesus wants, isn’t it? All people to know and follow Him.

But in the Gospel today, Jesus turns to them and seems to discourage the crowds. He doesn’t tread softly and encourage them and speak words of comfort to them. Quite the opposite, actually. Tough words. A very high bar compared to what is often the easy, low bar Christianity of our world today. And how do you measure up?

If you do not hate your family - your father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters - you cannot, you are not able to be my disciple, Jesus says.
If you do not hate your own life, you are not able to be my disciple.
If you do not bear your own cross, you are not able to be my disciple.
If you do not renounce all you have, you are not able to be my disciple.

Strong words. But not to discourage them, or us. Rather to be realistic. Because Jesus knows what we don’t know, or don’t want to know, or so often forget: that He’s in enemy territory, come to do battle. Battle against the old evil foe, the devil, who’s not going to sit back and do nothing; who’s not going to take this incursion lightly. He’s going to fight. And not just against Jesus, but against you. 

If you remember, right after 9-11 - the twelfth anniversary of which we commemorate in just a few days - President Bush came out with what became known as “the Bush Doctrine:” that the United States will pursue and punish terrorists and those who harbor them. Well, the devil’s doctrine is much the same: to pursue and seek to destroy Christ and those who follow Him

And, Jesus knows, he will use your family. Many have turned away from Jesus in some way, shape, or form because of family. Because they did not want to offend, because they were more afraid of what their family would think than about Jesus. 

He will use your own life - your sinful human nature and its desires - to turn you away from Jesus, making sin look good and delicious and desireable. Making the truth seem mean and ugly and false doctrine seem good and loving. Playing on your emotions and weaknesses . . .

He will use persecution and the cross. Threats of not only harm but of disadvantage at work, in school, in society have caused many to compromise and cave to the sinful ways and will of the world.

In short, the devil will use anything and everything in this world to undermine your discipleship. To cause you to turn back and turn away, maybe. But often it is more subtle than that. To just make us pause and take a break. Perhaps miss a few Sundays. Fall for a few temptations. Disbelieve just some of the Word. Start thinking that we need to get with the times. But then, like the toddler who stops following Mom in a crowded mall, we soon find ourselves separated from Jesus and, if left on our own, not able to get back.

That’s why Jesus’ words today, warning us: if you love these things more than Me, if you prefer these things and follow after these things, you are not able to follow Me. You will fall. 

And we do fall. If not directly because of sin and temptation and these things I’ve been talking about, then because we’ve simply grown battle weary. Our country today, it is said, is battle weary. We’re tired of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the conversation/debate about getting into the civil war in Syria. Many just want a time of peace and rest. 

Well, so too in our lives as Christians. It’s hard to keep fighting. It’s hard to stay vigilant. We just want a time of peace and rest.

The problem is: the enemy doesn’t rest. He thinks he can win this war. The devil believes he can eliminate the church, and looking around in our world today it may look like he is succeeding. The persecution against Christians in many countries, the false doctrine in many churches, the watering down of the truth . . .

But it is not so. The devil cannot win. We have Jesus’ promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church (Matt 16). Without that promise you might as well go home and sleep in on Sunday mornings, and I might as well sit down and shut up because we can’t do it. Like with Adam and Eve, the devil is too much for us. Without that promise, we’re done.

But he who has ears to hear, let him hear. Hear not only this promise but all the good news Jesus has for you. For you who cannot build the church or your own eternal life. For you who do not have the strength or the numbers to stand up against the enemy’s forces and power. Hear, so that you live not in fear of the enemy or despair in yourself, but in confidence in your Saviour and boldness against whatever comes your way.

For God, yousee, did count the cost. He calculated what it would take. He knew the price of victory. And the answer for Him, the answer to how many, how much is . . . one. His Son. 
To build His church . . . one. His Son.
The number needed to stand up against the devil and his minions . . . one. His Son.
Who took up the cross . . . one. His Son.
Who renounced all He has . . . one. His Son.
Who loved His Father more than family, more than the things of this world, more than His own life . . . one. His Son.

And when that one, hanging bleeding and dying on the cross said It is finished (John 19:30), it was. The devil will keep on fighting until the last day, until the very last moment, and casualities will still, sadly, happen. But that third day, when the seal of death and the grave were broken in Jesus’ resurrection, the war was over. Victory assured. The gates of hell no match for that one. That one on your side. That one who fights for you.

And so all you need to be His disciple that one puts here for you and gives to you. On your own it’s not happening. You are not able. But in Jesus and with Him and His victory, you are His disciple. Because He has done it. You are baptized into Christ. You are His, His child, His disciple, because He has declared it to be so. And He will provide all you need to remain so. 

And so the life that you need against the deadly poison of the devil? Given
The forgiveness that you need when you fall? Given
The rescue that you need when you fall back and get lost and separated? Given
The love you need when your love gets messed up? Given
The strength that you need in your weakness? Given
All that you need? Given

For His blood given and shed for you is now given to you in His Word and Sacraments. His blood given to wash you clean, feed you, strengthen you, keep you, and “Spirit” you with the Spirit of Jesus. The Holy Spirit to make you holy by connecting you with Jesus, and to live in you as your strength against the old evil foe.

So now in Jesus and with His Spirit, you are able. To live a new life. To bear the cross and lay down your life for others in love and forgiveness and so follow Christ. And you do not have to look for these opportunities. They will come to you as the Spirit works in you to conform you to the image of Christ. At school, at work, at home, in your marriage, in your friendships, at church, wherever you are living in the callings you have been given. In the Epistle we heard this morning, both Phiemon and Onesimus were given that opportunity to live a new life. Onesimus, the runaway slave, by going back to his place, and Philemon, his master, by taking him back, or releasing him, and forgiving. 

How often do we have those same kinds of opportunities? To go back? To forgive? It will never be easy to do those things, and you’ll fall. Sometimes hard and spectacularly! Sometimes because you’re stubborn, sometimes because you’re weak, sometimes because you’re afraid, and for lots of other reasons. It will never be easy to follow Christ. The devil will make sure of that.

But when you fall, here’s the key:  . . . And if you only remember one thing from the sermon today, remember this:  . . . When you fall, don’t turn back to your own strength or resolve to do better! You’ve tried that before, so have I, and it doesn’t work. Not for the long haul. Not for the battle. We’re not able. 

Rather, when you fall, go back to the one - the one who is able. Confess your sin, your failure. Repent. And given ears to hear, hear again those words you need to hear; those words that will give you strength and hope and all you need. He who has ears to hear, let him hear: You are baptized. You are mine. I forgive you all your sins. Take and eat, take and drink. Depart in peace. And these - and that one who speaks them - will make the difference in your life.

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pentecost 15 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“When Higher is Really Lower . . . and Vice Versa”
Text: Luke 14:1-14; Hebrews 13:1-17

A gentle reworking and representation of a sermon from six years ago. A sermon I needed to preach to myself this day . . .

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

Pride is a tricky thing, because it comes in so many shapes and sizes, and manifests itself in so many ways. Some of them obvious, and some not so obvious.

Pride is something we all have, though none of us likes to admit. You do not have to be invited to a banquet to vie for the seats of honor. That is a competition in which we are all involved – in our families, in our workplaces, among friends, and even in the church. It is why I feel gypped when something is done for another but not for me. It is why I lash out at others when they do not do for me what I want, or what I think I deserve. It is why I look down on others when they do not live up to my expectations. It is why I feel slighted when I do not receive recognition for my efforts, or my faithfulness. It is why I get disappointed with others – because pride sees the sin in them and overlooks (or excuses) the sin in me.

Pride begins with me. I am the starting point and everything and everyone else is judged in comparison. Even God. It is sin and selfishness lived to their logical conclusion. So twisted is our pride that even when I take the lowest seat, it is often with the prideful expectation of being moved higher! Humility is used as a way to receive more praise. Even confession of sin can be turned into the pride of greater self-examination than the next guy! And so pride is rightly one of the seven deadly sins, because it focuses all on me – and takes my eyes off of Christ, the source of our life.

But in contrast to all of that today is the man in the Holy Gospel with dropsy. He is so easily overlooked in today’s reading, but he is really the key. He knows who he is. No pride here. He is not one of the beautiful people. Not popular. He is considered a loser. He is alone. He is afraid. He is marred and outcast. He has nothing to give, he can only receive. He is swelled not with pride, but with the effects of his disease, making him look grotesque. He is there because the traditional piety of that time said to have your door open for the stranger and the poor – which the Pharisee did . . . but with the expectation that no fool of a stranger or person in need would take this seriously and actually come in! But if he did, you could always stare him down, or make him feel uncomfortable in other ways, so that he’d leave and not make that mistake again! After all, who wants such a person ruining a perfectly good dinner party . . . or (to put it in more contemporary terms) who wants such a person ruining a perfectly good Divine Service, or a perfectly good vacation, or a perfectly good Sunday afternoon nap, or our perfectly good, well–planned, laid out life!

You see, pride doesn’t like messes. It likes everything where and how I want it to be. Everything and everyone in its place. No surprises. No inconveniences.

Perhaps that’s why there are always messes around Jesus. For while this man entered through the open door of the Pharisee, it is not to the Pharisee that he has come, but to Jesus, whose open door is a truly open door; whose invitation is a true invitation; and whose grace is true grace. And when you truly open your door, you know whose going to come in? The poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the sinful messes like you and me. We who have nothing to give, but who have come to receive from the goodness of our Saviour. His forgiveness, life, and love. The gifts He has come to give to us who need them. For the exalted One has humbled Himself and come into this world of sin to pull His sons and daughters out of the pit of sin and give them life. The life that we so desperately need.

And so we come, not in pride but in truth – swelled and grotesque with the sin we’ve committed again this week, with the pride we’ve pushed others down with this week, with all the failures and shortcomings of this week, and repent. We use the words printed in the hymnal, but sometimes we don’t even need those - we stand here ashamed, with the speechless, simple silence of the dropsied man, standing before our Lord in our broken nothingness. To hear again His wonderful Word that washes us clean: I forgive you. No matter who you are. No matter your past, present, or future. No matter how disfigured with sin. I forgive you. I love you. You are mine.

But our Saviour is not content with that – with inviting us in but then relegating us to a seat in the corner or in the back! Forgiving us (since He is a Saviour and all that) but not really wanting us here. No! He then gives us even more. Giving us who have no right to even be here a seat of honor at His table, so that He can serve us! With His own body and blood. The medicine of immortality. The food of eternal life, the fruit from the tree of the cross. For it is on the cross where the One with the highest place freely took the absolute lowest place. 

Luke told us today that Jesus noticed how those who were invited to this feast took the places of honor. You know what that means? He wasn’t in them! He who deserved the highest place didn’t take it, but came to be with us. The greatest became the least; the perfect One became the greatest sinner. He came and took our place, our sinful place at the bottom of the totem poll, so that you might have His place at the head of the Table. The place where sons sit! Because in Christ, you are a son, and the Father loves you so, and exalts you with an exaltation higher than we could ever exalt ourselves.

And this is so because the One who opened the door of mercy to us is the One who opened the door of the tomb, defeating the sin and death that beat us up, knocked us down, disfigured and uglied us and which held us captive - defeating sin and death and gave us our life back again. A new life. A better life. A life as it was always meant to be. A life with hearts filled no longer with pride but with love; with minds filled no longer with sin but with forgiveness; with lips filled no longer with gossip but with prayer. Not pretending that the sin and messes of our lives aren't there, but knowing that they are, and that we cannot fix ourselves, and that here is the healing and the forgiveness that we need. That we simply cannot live without. The life that became yours in Holy Baptism, as the Father made you His child, swaddled you, raised you, and promised you a future and a kingdom which has no end. 

And so the words of Jesus that we heard today are not so much a lesson in humility or table etiquette, as they are a Gospel - a good news - for you, showing the wonderful work of Jesus for you. For our Saviour who took a dropsied man, healed him, and sent him on his way, has done the same for you – taking you in Holy Baptism, healing you with His absolution, and sending you out with His food, strength, and blessing. Out into the callings, the vocations, the lives and relationships He has given you, that you may so do for others. Not because you have too. Not because that’s what the “traditional piety” tells you to do. But because that’s what the love of God in Christ Jesus compels us to do. The Gospel given to us also now lived in us.

And that, in the upside-down way of the Gospel, is also moving up higher! Even though it looks to the world like moving down. For when we pridefully try to move ourselves higher we are really sinking deeper into sin. But in loving and forgiving and serving others who have fallen and collapsed in sin, in shame, in difficulty, in trouble, or like those we heard about in the reading from Hebrews: the strangers, those in prison, those who are mistreated, those under oppression . . . is this not to be with the Son of God and in His place? And so to be called, to be vocationed, to a higher place, even though it looks lower and less desirable to the world and to our sinful natures. But as sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus, we can now freely take our place with the least, with those in need. Knowing there is no higher place to be. And this not in order to be repaid, but because we have already received what is far beyond the price of silver and gold – the body and blood and life of Jesus, which will never end.

What will end are the things of this world. But when they do, Jesus wants you to know, His door will still be open to you. For when the things of this world end for you - whether that is at the end of a long, full life, or a life ended too soon by disease or accident or tragedy - you will enter that heavenly sanctuary, where your Bridegroom and His unending feast is waiting for you. And if you want to picture that in your mind, think of the last wedding you were at, when the bride stood at the entrance of the church looking to her groom, and the groom stood at the front, looking back to his bride with joy and love for her. So it will be in that day for you and me, as the Spirit leads us to Christ Jesus, and Jesus takes us to the Father as His own. That day when all sin, pride, division, heartache, pain, and tears will be gone. When we who have suffered here with Him, will there be glorified with Him (Rom 8:17).

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