Sunday, July 30, 2017

Another Guest Sermon!

This week we are privileged to have Athanasian and now missionary Chris Yang with us for the Divine Service. Here is the link to the audio of his sermon. Thank you Chris for your preachment of the Word to us today and for all your work for the Lord!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

No Sermon This Week

No sermon manuscript to post this week as we were privileged to have Seminarian Daniel Broaddus proclaim the Word of God to us today, fresh off his vicarage. Here is the link to the audio of his sermon. We got to see the progress he is making in his pastoral formation and pray for God's blessing as he returns for his fourth year of study.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Commemoration of Isaiah Sermon

Jesu Juva

“The Fifth Evangelist”
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8; Hebrews 11:32-12:2; Luke 4:16-22a

Isaiah is often times called “the fifth Evangelist” because he wrote so much of Christ. It is Isaiah who wrote of the virgin birth. It is Isaiah who wrote that the people walking in darkness have seen a great light. It is Isaiah who wrote of Jesus as the branch that would grow from the stump of Jesse. It is Isaiah who writes that on the mountain of the Lord death would be swallowed up, a great feast prepared, and that God would wipe away tears from all faces. It is Isaiah who wrote, “Comfort, comfort my people,” who wrote of all the miracles Jesus would do, and that the Spirit would be put upon Him. It is Isaiah through whom God said, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” It is Isaiah who wrote of Jesus’ crucifixion, saying that Jesus would be stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted; that Jesus was pierced for our transgressions, was silent like a sheep before its shearers, and that He bore our iniquities. It is Isaiah who wrote of the visit of the Magi, and it is Isaiah who talks about the new heavens and the new earth. Isaiah knew his Saviour.

So it really is no surprise that the first sermon Jesus preached - after He was baptized and after His 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by satan - when He goes home and goes to church, the first sermon He preaches is from a reading from the prophet Isaiah. And He says this: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Or in other words: that guy Isaiah wrote about? It’s Me. The year of the Lord’s favor is here. The wait is over. 

Isaiah could write so eloquently of that not just because he was a prophet and the Holy Spirit spoke these words through him, but because he experienced the Lord’s favor himself. It literally touched him. For when he has been given a glimpse of heaven, and he saw the Lord sitting on His throne and the angels surrounding Him and singing, he cried out in dismay: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Or in other words, I’m a dead man. A sinner cannot come into the presence of God and live.

But live he did. Not because of his own merit, but because the Lord took away his sin. A burning coal from the altar, the altar of sacrifice, a holy thing, touched his lips and cleansed him. His guilt was taken away and his sin atoned for by this sacrifice. He was forgiven. And suddenly, Isaiah not only lived, but became a new man. And his lips, once unclean, would now prophesy - like no other - of the Lord. From dead sinner to fifth Evangelist.

That is a picture of what happens to us as well. For we are unclean. We are dead in our trespasses and sins. We have no right to come into the presence of God. And yet here we are. Because the Lord has taken away our guilt and atoned for our sin. You are forgiven. The sacrifice from the altar of the cross has touched you and made you new. The blood from that sacrifice poured over you in Holy Baptism. The flesh and blood of the sacrifice touching your lips as you eat and drink the Holy Supper. And like Isaiah, with these you need not fear anymore. For the Lord has done for you what He promised. What He promised Adam and Eve, promised down through the ages, spoke through the prophet Isaiah, and has now fulfilled and given to you. From dead sinner to child of God.

For his efforts, Isaiah was rewarded - tradition says - by being sawn in two, as we heard that some were in the reading from Hebrews. But once you have gone from death to life, as Isaiah did, then death has no power over you. And the people that wield death have no power over you. For you’ve been given a life greater than death; a life that overcomes death. In this world, because of sin, death overcomes life. But in Jesus, life overcomes death. And not lions, fire, sword, flogging, stones, chains, or saws can take that away. How excited Isaiah must have been to proclaim such a Saviour. To proclaim the Saviour who had done that for him.

And so now Isaiah is one of the great cloud of witnesses who surround us, whose lives of faith encourage and astound us (LSB #667 v.1). And they teach us. They teach us that when sin rears its ugly head, when the wild beasts tear at our flesh, when the fires of persecution burn hot, when words are hurled at us like swords and stones, when all the powers of hell try to silence our mouths and kill our faith - look to Jesus. Look to the one Isaiah wrote about. The founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and - what happened to Him? - is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. 

Which is where you too will be. In Jesus. Baptized into Him, absolved by Him, and fed with Him. For on the Last Day, when Jesus comes again, He will again speak words of fulfillment. But this time, the scroll that He will unroll on that day will not be the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, but the Book of Life. And we will see the Lord and we will not be afraid. Because the Lord we will see is the Lord we know, the Lord we hear, the Lord we eat and drink. The Lord who conquered death and gives us life. The Son of Mary, our brother in the flesh. And He will not ask Whom shall I send? but will say to you, come and rest. Come to the feast promised to you. Come for all is now ready. And we will come in joy.

Until that day, and knowing that great and glorious day is coming, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. For at the finish line is Jesus, the one of Isaiah’s pen, the conquerer of sin and death and hell, already victorious, with His victory for you. 

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Pentecost 5 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“He’s God. You’re Not. Rest.”
Text: Matthew 11:25-30 (Romans 7:14-25a; Zechariah 9:9-12)

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

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

What is burdening you, causing you to groan and struggle and be heavy laden? Causing you pain and stress and worry? Whatever it is, Jesus wants it. He wants to take it from you. He wants to bear it for you. And give you peace and rest.

What is burdening you? I’ll tell you some of mine. Maybe you’ll recognize some of these kinds of things in your own life.

I want to be a perfect pastor. Or at least a good one. I want all my sermons to be spot on with all of you. Every week. I want to know exactly the right thing to say when I visit you in the hospital or when you’re suffering at home or have questions. I want to teach so that the Word of God will be alive for you - a book better than any other. I want to fix your problems. . . . And I can’t. I struggle. I fail. I don’t manage my time well enough. I am not able to be the pastor I want to be. 

So Jesus says: That’s an awfully big burden you’re putting on yourself. I got this. It’s My Word - I’ll work through it. My Spirit will work through it, in My people. Let Me carry the burden. I can. I will. I’m God. You’re not. Rest.

I also want to be a perfect spouse and parent and son. Or at least a good one. I want to give my wife and children everything they need. I want my children to grow up without any danger or fear, with no problems or pains. Or if they get them and have them, I want to fix them. I want to protect them from all evil and show them the love of their heavenly Father at all times. . . . And I can’t. I fail. Things happen. I grow afraid and worry. I let other things get in the way.

So Jesus says: That’s an awfully big burden you’re putting on yourself. I got this. Remember: your children are My children too. I love them even more than you. I know the troubles, the challenges, the temptations; I faced them. Let Me carry the burden. I can. I will. I’m God. You’re not. Rest.

And then there’s my sin. And oh, how satan loves to remind me how I not only fail in these ways, but so many more. And even just as a Christian. Like Paul, I do those things I don’t want to do. I do those things I know are wrong. I do what I hate. And I don’t do what I want to do. I don’t do what I know is right. I want to be this - but I am this instead. And then even when I manage to do what I want, my motives are wrong, or I am reluctant, grudging, or my pride ruins it. And like Paul, I don’t understand. Why can’t I be different?

And Jesus says: I got this, too. Especially this. I want the burden of your sins. All of them. In fact, I already bore that burden for you on the cross. I already took all your sins, your failures, your shortcomings, your inabilities, your wrong thoughts and motives. I forgive you. You are forgiven. You’re baptized. I’m God. You’re not. Rest.

Do you recognize any of that in you and your own life? Burdens are in no short supply. And while we have callings that God has given us in this life, people to care and provide for, and certainly, we want to do our best and that’s okay. That’s good. But when they become burdens, when they weigh heavy on us, when they cause us pain and stress and worry - that’s not why God gave them to us. All that happens because I begin to think: I’m God and He’s not. At least, that how I act. I take over. I have to do it. It’s up to me. 

That’s a First Commandment problem: You shall have no other gods. My problem, and maybe your problem, is that when I labor and am heavy laden, it’s because my other God . . . it’s me.

But here, in these verses, Jesus doesn’t scold. He doesn’t wag His divine and human finger at us and tell us to shape up and do better. That’s the burden we’re already placing upon ourselves, and He’d just be making it that much heavier! Crushing. So He does something different. He says: there’s a better way, you know. A better God than you.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Like when you are carrying a heavy load of packages and someone comes and takes it all from you and carries it for you. How good is that? Jesus says: I got this for you. I’m God. You’re not. Rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Or in other words, Jesus wants to trade yokes and trade burdens with you. He wants your heavy and crushing ones and wants to give you His light and saving one. For that’s the kind of God you need. And that’s the kind of God you have. And it’s Jesus who teaches us that. For He’s the only one who can. 

So three imperatives (commands) Jesus gave today. And notice - they were not: Shape up! Do better! Or, get your act together! 

He says this: come to me. That’s the first imperative: come. Come to Me, not yourself. My strength, not your strength. My wisdom, not your wisdom. I’m God. You’re not. Come to me

Take my yoke upon you. That’s the second imperative. Why do you keep burdening yourself? Why do you keep making it worse? The yoke you are putting on yourself is too heavy. You can’t do it. My yoke is better, lighter, more pleasant, freeing, joy-giving. Satan wants you to think that My yoke is heavy and his is light. But it’s not so. He’s deceiving you and misleading you in false belief and despair (Small Catechism, Explanation to the Sixth Petition). Take my yoke upon you and . . .

Learn from me. That’s the third imperative. Don’t sit in satan’s school and learn from him. Learn from me.

And what do we learn? We learn what kind of God we have. That as Jesus said today, that our God, is gentle and lowly in heart. That Jesus is kind and forgiving, and humble. A serving God. A burden-lifting God. A God who wants to trade places with you - taking your sin and giving you His forgiveness. Taking your cross and giving you His throne. Taking your burden and giving you His freedom. Taking your hell and giving you His Paradise. 

And when you look at Jesus, when you look at His cross, and see that, learn that, then you know God. For as Jesus said: no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. God in the manger. God growing up in Nazareth. God teaching. God touching and healing lepers. God taking children up in His arms. God welcoming outcasts. God having compassion. God coming into Jerusalem on a donkey. God being arrested. God on trial. God on the cross. God dead and laid in a tomb. Learn from Jesus. That’s the kind of God you have.

God risen from the dead. God giving peace. God baptizing, God absolving, God feeding, God teaching. God still lifting burdens. God victorious. God coming again. Come, take, learn. Come, take, and eat. That’s the kind of God you have.

He’s God. You’re not. That’s good. Rest. And not just rest now, but rest forever. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Think of all the people in the Scriptures who did that. Sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, parents with dying children, parents with demon-possessed children, poor old women, rich young men. None turned away. Jesus’ easy yoke and light burden there for all. 

And for you. For struggling sinners, conflicted parents, imperfect spouses, not-very-Christian-acting-Christians, and pastors who fall short. For you. For those who mourn, those who are bitter, the angry, the hurt, those used up and kicked to the side of the road by others. For you. For the worried and anxious, the troubled and fearing. For you. Whatever it is making you heavy laden . . . come to me, Jesus says, and I will trade. I want it. I will give you rest. He’ll take it and drown it in the font. He’ll take it and expunge it from your record with forgiveness. He take it and let it chew Him up so that you can chew Him up and feed on Him. So that you can leave here today and rejoice.

Which is what the prophet Zechariah said: 
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Or if he were here today he would say it like this:
Rejoice greatly, O Saint Athanasius!
Shout aloud!
For behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
righteous and having salvation for you,
humble and mounted in water and words and bread and wine.
To trade - your burden for His. 
To set you free.
To give you rest.
Come, take, and live.

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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Pentecost 4 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“What Do You Want to Hear?”
Text: Matthew 10:34-42; Jeremiah 28:5-9; Romans 7:1-13

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

Sometimes people just tell you what you want to hear. It could be because they just don’t care. Sometimes they’re being condescending. Or maybe they want something from you, and think they’ll get it by telling You what they think You want to hear. And if you know that, if you know that’s what they’re doing, it makes you angry. It’s belittling. It means you really don’t matter; they’re the only ones that matter. You’re just being used, abused, ignored, or pushed aside.

Sometimes politicians do that in order to get votes. Not all and not always, but it happens. The last election cycle was interesting because it was noted that people who were answering polls were telling the pollsters what they thought they wanted to hear instead of what they really thought. And so some of the polls were very wrong.

But it’s not just politics. Sometimes children do it to their parents, spouses to each other, friends, too. Just say what they want to hear . . . It can even get absurd. Like when we tell the doctor that everything’s fine when it’s really not. Maybe we do that because it’s what we want to hear; what we want to believe. We don’t want to deal with the truth.

Today we hear the truth from Jesus. We always get the truth from Jesus, but today it is a truth that we perhaps would rather not hear; that we would rather not believe; that we would rather not deal with. That the Christian life is not all candy and roses. In fact, the truth is that following Christ and His Word may put us at odds with the world, divide families, and even lead to you losing your own life. Clearly, Jesus is not fishing for votes here.

This is what the prophet Jeremiah also was dealing with in his day - some 600 years before Jesus came. And he was not the first. But at that time, there were other prophets - one we heard about today was named Hananiah - who were not speaking the truth, but were just telling the people what they wanted to hear. And in Hananiah’s case, he was telling the people of Judah that everything was okay, they were okay, God was not unhappy with them, and in fact, was about to restore them and their kingdom and all that had been taken from them. And the people liked hearing that. They didn’t have to repent or change; they were all good.

Jeremiah, on the other hand, was speaking something quite different. That the people were not okay - they were being unfaithful to the Lord; that God was not okay or happy with that; and that there was not restoration coming, but another military defeat and the people being hauled off as prisoners of war. 

Of course, the people wanted to believe Hananiah. They liked his message better. But, Jeremiah said, which is the truth? The true prophet is not one who says what the people want to hear, but the one who speaks the truth. And not many years later, it was Jeremiah’s word that came true. The nation was defeated in battle, the people taken as prisoners, and they lived as exiles for 70 years.

The Christian life is not easy because the truth of God’s Word goes against our very nature and what we want to be true. For the truth is, we, too, like the message of Hananiah more than the message of Jeremiah. We like those who tell us we’re okay just the way we are, that we don’t have to change, that God likes us and will bless us and protect us because we’re pretty good people, try hard, and do our best.

But that’s not only not what Jeremiah said, it’s also not what Jesus said today. For who of us lives up to His standard? Who of us is worthy of Him? Remember what He said? Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. If Jesus were living today, those stunning words would have been caught on someone’s cell phone video, played over and over again on the news, and His Messianic career would be over. Not what we want to hear, Jesus. Not what we want to hear.

Well, not just today. Then, too. Words like this from Jesus are what got Him put up on the cross. He didn’t try to say what people wanted to hear. He didn’t try to save His life, so He lost it. Brutally.

But because He did, there is life for us. Because He spoke the truth, we know the truth, unpleasant as it may be: that we’re not worthy of Him or eternal life. We do love others more than Him. We love our stuff more than Him. We love ourselves more than Him. And we try to save and hang onto what we love the most - our lives and reputations and activities and stuff, more than Christ and His truth. You can see it when we say things like: I know I shouldn’t say this, but . . . I know I shouldn’t do this, but . . . I know this is wrong, but . . . We’re. Not. Worthy.

This is also what Paul was explaining to the people in Rome. This is the reason God gave the Law. That sin might be shown to be sin - in us! - and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. Sinful beyond measure. That we be shown to be not just a little sinful, but thoroughly sinful. Sinful through and through. Not one part good and one part bad. Sin-full. Sin-filled. Un-worthy. Of life or anything else from God. That may not be what we want to hear, but that is step one in receiving life from Jesus - knowing the truth about ourselves.

But unworthy does not mean unredeemable. Jeremiah spoke the truth and Jesus spoke the truth so that we would not only know the truth about ourselves, but so that we would know the truth about Him. That we would not look to ourselves for our hope, but look to Him. That we know the only way to worthiness is through Him. And specifically, His cross. 

For, the apostle Paul said today, you are unworthy because you are obligated to fulfill God’s Law - all of it, perfectly, through and through - and you don’t. And so you deserve death and eternal dying. And the only way to be set free from that obligation is to die. Because once you die, the Law doesn’t have any control over you anymore. Paul uses the example of marriage - that once your spouse dies, you are free to marry again; you’re set free from the laws of marriage; they don’t apply anymore.

So . . . notice what’s being said there. If we do not fulfill the Law perfectly we’re going to die, but the only way to be free from the obligation to keep the Law is to die, so we’re going to die either way. So why bother? Just do whatever you want. Don’t worry about right and wrong. Because it doesn’t matter if we’re all going to die anyway. And some people do live like that.

But what if there was a way to life? A way to die and be free from the obligation of fulfilling all the Law, and then live in that freedom from the Law? Wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that be something worth knowing and living? So that we don’t just live for a while and then die, but now also die and then live?

So Jesus said that’s what He came to do. Not just die on the cross, but die and then live. So that we can die and then live. 

Or think of it this way: a knife in the hands of a criminal is a weapon of death. But a knife in the hands of a skilled doctor is transformed; it becomes an instrument of life. That is what Jesus did with the cross. For the cross wielded by Rome was a weapon of torture and death. But the cross with Jesus on it is transformed into an instrument of life. For on the cross Jesus gives His life to death, into order to take His life from death again. And in taking His life back again in His resurrection, provide that same life from death for you, too.

So on the cross Jesus becomes the unworthy one, Jesus becomes the sinner, Jesus takes the sword and division and loses His life. He takes all that your peace-shattering sin can throw at Him, and He dies for it. But because it was all thrown against Him, it is not thrown against you. Which is what He wanted. So that when He rises from the dead with new life, there is now nothing to throw against you. He already took it all. All those threats and stones and arrows of the Law satan was ready to hurl against you . . . are gone. He used them up on Jesus. So that you can have peace. Peace now, and peace forever. A new life now, a new way to live, a new hope and freedom.

And you get that now when you die and rise with Jesus now. That’s baptism. For in those waters you don’t do anything; but in those waters Jesus makes your sins His and His forgiveness yours; your death His and His life yours; your unworthiness His and His worthiness yours. That you come out of those waters a new person, with a new life, a new way to live, a new hope and freedom.

And that’s what happened to you. And it’s what continues to happen to you also when you repent and receive absolution; when you repent and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus; when you read and hear the Word and promises of God in His Word and cling to them by faith. Life happens. You get the righteous one’s reward. You get the prophet’s reward. New life. Gift life. Bonus life. Life from the dead. And you’re no longer living to die, but dying to live.

So while Jesus doesn’t tell us what we wanted to hear, He tells us what we need to hear, and it turns out that that’s what we really wanted to hear all along - we just didn’t know it. He doesn’t tell us we’re okay, He tells us we’re forgiven. He doesn’t tell us we’re good, He tells us that He has goodness for us. He doesn’t tell us how to overcome sin and death, He tells us that He did it for us. So that we can now live. A new life. A new way to live. Not for ourselves, but for others. He lived for us, to set us free to live for others. A freedom even greater than our country celebrates this weekend.

So in Jesus, what we want and what we need is what we have. And if you disagree with that statement, think again . . . about what you really want and what you really do need. And that - just maybe - that really is what you hear and receive here. In Jesus.

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