Message for Sep 24 — Not Fair but GREAT

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment

This was the massage I preached on Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, Matthew 20:1-16.

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Message on Sep 17 — The great debt , FORGIVEN

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment
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Message on Sept 10, Who’s the Greatest?

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment
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Message on Sept 3 – Paradox of Faith

September 25, 2017 Leave a comment
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Message on Aug 20, 2017

August 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Grace and peace to you.
The text for the sermon is the Gospel reading for today, Matthew 15:22-28, Jesus and the Canaanite woman.
This is really an extraordinary account in the ministry of Jesus.  He’s up on the coast, in an area we would know as Lebanon today, well out of of Jewish territory and he meets this Canaanite woman, who knows who Jesus is and what he can do. And so she begs “the Son of David” (she knows who he is–that’s a messianic title) to heal her daughter, and even verbally spars with Jesus a little bit when he initially refuses, as Luther might say, rubbing the promises of God in the ears of Jesus.  Her persistence causes Jesus to praise her for her trust.  The clear central thought of this Bible passage is that we should trust in Jesus because he is worthy of our trust.  Too often, when we are in need, we fail to pray with confidence like this good woman.  Jesus hears our prayers, and he has promised he will answer them as is best for us.  That’s our assurance.
The older and wiser among us have combined lifetimes of proof that God hears our prayers and answers them.  They tend to be less rattled by the changes and chances of life than younger folks.  I’m not quite there yet.  I have my days of anxiety.  Maybe that bothers you to think that your pastor has his fears but I do.  And my concerns are typically driven by the news and so over the past several months I’ve tried to consume less news.  I did really well on vacation and I was less anxious.  Let me tell you, ignorance is bliss!  And now in in the span of two weeks I’ve gone from worrying about the beginning of World War 3 to the beginning of Civil War 2.
It’s clear our country has some very serious challenges before it.  I don’t feel like we are equipped to deal with them in a way that brings people together.  Racism is still a problem in our country.  I’m not saying that as a political statement.  I’m saying that as a moral statement.  It certainly has political implications but I’m far more interested in the moral implications of that statement.  I grew up in the south, on a southern civil war battlefield in Georgia.  I know what’s said about people of color when they aren’t within earshot.  That’s racism.  It’s inconsistent with a biblical worldview to hate others because of their skin color.  And today’s Bible reading helps to highlight that.  Jesus welcomed and praised the faith of the Canaanite woman.  She wasn’t doomed to hell because she was from the wrong ethnic group.  She was one of the many people outside the genetic line of children of Abraham who didn’t just get brought in as some second-class citizen but celebrated because of their faith in God’s Promised One.  If there’s room in God’s kingdom for a Canaanite, there’s room for me, best I can tell, an Anglo-Saxon/Slav, and room for you, whatever your skin color or ethnic people group.  Jesus told the disciples to make more disciples of all peoples and he meant it.
It’s hard for me to say things from the pulpit that don’t sound political because everything seems to have become politicized.  But I feel compelled to speak in light of the events of the past week in Charlottesville and the fallout all week.  I don’t know how you reacted but I have been trying to listen to the motivation for people who claim to be Christian but chant Nazi slogans.  Blood and soil” is just the English of the Blut und Boden” Nazi slogan which idealized a racially defined state.  There is nothing good about these words or the worldview from which they come.  John writes in his first letter, Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”  (1 Jn 2:9)  Jesus certainly never advocates for an ethno-state.  Jesus said love your neighbor.  And you can’t love your neighbor by wishing he wasn’t your neighbor.  You can’t hate your neighbor because she is of a different race.  I think we get that.  But given this past week, I felt like I had to spell that out.
I’m usually not so fond of overly simplistic questions as What Would Jesus Do?”  But I think it applies here.  I’m not really a political liberal and so I find it difficult to think Jesus would be on the side of radical left.  To do that I have to see beyond the hatred they have in their hearts and their violence.  But admittedly, that’s easier to for me to do than to see Jesus chanting, Blood and soil.”
I’ve tried to listen to the other side too.  The Black Lives Matter people believe that the justice system is not fair for everyone.  And to look at the numbers, they likely have a point.  I think we can all agree that the justice system in our country should be fair from the enforcement of laws all the way through to trial and sentencing.  I think we have a feeling that the scales of justice are tipped in favor of those who can afford legal representation.  It shouldn’t be that hard for us to see that’s a problem.  And if money can affect justice, certainly the lack of money can.  If you want to know where The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod stands, I can tell you that this month we opened what we’re calling the Lutheran Hope Center in Ferguson, MO, as part of the Ferguson Community Empowerment Center which stands on the site of the burned out Quick Trip gas station, which was ground zero for the riots after the police shooting death of Michael Brown.  You can read more about it online.  We don’t have to pick a side to be a light in the world.
I mentioned the older people because they lived through the 1960s and they remember a time when this country was in turmoil.  I don’t think the current discussions about safe spaces” on college campuses today comes close to the campus riots and the violence of that era.  They lived through the race riots in our cities and the saw the civil rights marches.  They remember the Cuban Missile Crisis and most know just how close we came to the fiery and furious end of all we hold dear.  As I look back on that time, albeit through history books, one thing is for certain, back then more people were in church.  Today, not so much.  It’s probably impossible to measure just how much Christians were bringing light in the darkness of the world at that time.  We’ve been sent into the world to bring light.  And now, we must burn all the brighter against the darkness.
Christians are really citizens of another country merely living as best we can where we are until the day comes when we can be brought home.  And so, we need to do the best we can until that day.  Part of that work is prayer because God has promised to hear our prayers and answer them.  It takes the kind of faith this Canaanite woman had to ask God for what we ask but we must.  We must pray for our country and for all who make, administer, and judge our laws, that peace is preserved, the weak are defended, and that real justice would prevail.  We have a rather unique right in our country, at least from the perspective of history, to write our gov’t representatives and urge them to do their God-given duty.  So pray and encourage.
And trust.  Jesus heard the plea of the Canaanite woman and her daughter and answered their prayer.  God is faithful.  He will do it.  Amen.
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Message at the Ordination of Tommy Presley, Aug 13, 2017

August 24, 2017 Leave a comment
Grace and peace to you…
The text for the message today is from 2 Corinthians, chapter 2.
Tommy, it’s a real honor to be here today and celebrate this day with you and I can say, on behalf of Heavenly Host where you served as vicar, and for myself, this is a great day for you and for the Church.  It’s a milestone day, the effects of which will be etched on you for the rest of your life.  So, I pray the service and the Word I share with you be a blessing on you today and for your ministry and life.  That’s a pretty big set of expectations, isn’t it?  And to do it, I’m using Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, not even a pastoral epistle.  Trust me.  There’s pure gold here.
Paul writes, When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there.”  Paul is rather frank here.  Even though he was where he was supposed to be, his spirit was not at rest.  He was frustrated, we might say.  Now, I could tell you how I arrived at this text, but that story would bore everybody here but you, Tommy.  Let it be enough to say, Paul is frustrated here about his ministry in Troas and so he says he moved on to Macedonia.  Paul briefly mentions his frustration but he breaks into praise, doxology really, about how God works in the midst of frustration.  This is an important thing to remember, if not today, then in the not too distant future when frustrations in ministry manifest themselves.  You know from experience already, ministry is not always as hiccup free as we might like it be.  But talking about ministry frustrations at your ordination is a little like a couple fighting at a wedding.  So instead, let’s talk about what God is doing today and every day for you and the people you will serve.
Paul writes, But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.”  To praise God, Paul is using a very powerful word picture of the Roman military triumph, more or less a victory parade through town.  When a Roman general would conquer a foreign king, the Senate would sometimes grant a triumph,” a victory parade where the general and his soldiers would march through the city to the cheers of the people and they would lead their high value prisoners through town to prove to everyone and the prisoners of Roman power.  In our country, we have a version of this too, the ticker tape parade down Broadway in New York City.  In Rome, there was no ticker tape coming down, but there was incense smoke going up and wafting along with the soldiers as they passed in front of multiple temples.  Paul is saying that it’s Christ Jesus who leads us in this victory procession and it’s through us that the the good smell of the knowledge of Him spreads everywhere.
Through us spreads the beautiful fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His victory over sin, death, and the power of hell.  This is Gospel language, Good News language.  The Good News is: the victory has been won by Christ.  The Good News is not: this is how to march in the parade.  The Good News is not: use this brand of incense.  The Good News is that Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to end death, to die to it and by dying to it and rising from it, bring it’s power to an end.  That’s the victory.  The old evil curse has been conquered.  The devil no longer has dominion over this world, the kingdom of God is at hand.  Bound in chains and led through the streets behind the triumphant Christ, the knowledge of Christ’s victory is spread through the world like the sweet smell of incense, through us.  Everywhere we go, we take it with us.  It wafts along with us and people we meet can smell it.
And this is a word picture that makes sense to us too, right?  Maybe another example here.  Have you ever met someone who eats a lot of garlic?  I mean, day in day out, they eat garlic.  Garlic is one of those foods that just becomes a part of somebody who eats it.  It works its way through the whole body, right.  Somebody who eats a lot of garlic, you can smell them before they arrive.  You know they eat a lot of garlic.  In a similar way, those of us who have Christ in us, Christ fills us and lives in our whole body.  And it comes out in a profound way to the people we meet everyday.  Or at least it should.  It should be more profound for us to live with Christ in us than for us to live with a lot of garlic in our diet.  This is what Paul means when he writes, For we are the aroma of Christ to God.”
And Paul goes on to say that we are the aroma of Christ to God and among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”  Faith is something people can detect in you.  Paul’s word picture is that they can smell it on you.  To those who are being saved, it is a sweet smelling fragrance from life to life.”  To those who are perishing, it is the rancid odor that confirms them in their death.  Christ in you is not some neutral thing.  You’ve got your truth and you’re living your truth, as the kids say today.  Nuh uh.  Christ in you is not neutral, it cuts, one way or the other.  It’s either blessing or curse.  
But man o man, doesn’t that ever seem overwhelming?  Does that seem like a pretty huge responsibility to you, dear Christian?  It is to me.  Tommy, does that seem like an easy thing to do?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  And St. Paul is overwhelmed too.  Who is sufficient for these things?”
But you know what, we are not peddlers of God’s word.  We are men of sincerity.
It is auspicious to be ordained in the 500th year of the Reformation.  We are not peddlers of God’s word.  We bring healing and hope and forgiveness and peace.  And it is that holy office into which you are ordained today.  And the promise is that God will accomplish His work through us.
Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ.
Thanks be to God.  Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.
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Message on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost

August 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Note:  this sermon was preached the weekend before the terrible events in Charlottesville, VA.  I had no idea I was speaking to an issue that was already in the minds of so many and would be in the forefront of the public conversation, a week later.

Romans 9:1-13

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

The text we’re looking at today is the Epistle, Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 9.

Paul, the apostle, is writing to a group of house churches in Rome, a city he has not yet visited, and as you well know, he writes a comprehensive letter that details his teaching about Jesus.  In chapter 9, Paul begins to deal with the problem of Jews who did not receive Jesus as the one promised in the Scriptures.   Because that is a problem.  Jesus of Nazareth was very much ethnically Jewish and on the whole, those who would consider themselves both ethnically and religiously Jewish, rejected Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures.  I think those categories, ethnic and religious are helpful here even if in Jesus’s Paul’s day they coincided.  In Jesus’ day, it would be rather difficult to find what is common today, a person who claims to be ethnically Jewish but not religious.  By the time Paul writes his letter here, it’s a little different, there are people who are ethnically Jewish but have received the Good News about Jesus and have seen the promises of the Scriptures fulfilled.  We would call them Christians today because of the religious faith but they would still probably very much identify with their heritage as Israelites, God’s people of the promise.  In fact, Paul calls his kinsmen precisely that, Israelites.

I want have just a sidebar here to talk a little about this issue of continuity or discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments.  Jesus is very clearly ethnically Jewish but does his teaching match what passes for Jewish teaching in His day?  No, of course not.  He gets killed for it, for blasphemy, in essence.  Paul is very much a Jew of Jews, as he himself claims, right?  Very much ethnically Jewish, but does his teaching match what passes for Jewish teaching 20 to 30 years after Jesus?  No, of course not.  It gets him only grief from the synagogue rulers in most of the towns he travels to.  And there are others like John the Baptist.  Is he ethnically Jewish?  Yes.  But he is expecting “the coming One.”  And the Gospels show us others like Simeon and Mary and Joseph and even Jairus the synagogue ruler in Capernaum, and Nicodemus a member of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin.  Are they ethnically Jewish?  Yes.  Are they religiously Jewish?  They are certainly more open than the standard response Jesus meets throughout His ministry.  Remember that the OT books cover a very long time span.  Moses never knew the Psalms written by David.  David never knew the prophesies of Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Zechariah.  And Abraham didn’t know any of it.  But everyone is a descendant of Abraham through whom God made a promise, a covenant.  And what was the promise the Lord made with Abraham?  Yes, that he would have a son, Isaac.  And that his descendants would be as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach but also that through Abraham’s descendant, singular, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.  Abraham and Sarah had Isaac and Isaac and Rebekah had Jacob, and Jacob’s other name is Israel and he had twelve sons.  And from the very beginning, people not in Abraham’s lineage become part of God’s people of promise, the nation of Israel, the Israelites.   Children of Abraham.  People of Israel.  Israelites.  By the time of Moses, Hebrews seems to be synonymous with Israelite both ethnically and religiously.  Jew seems to get used only very late historically, after the fall of the Northern Kingdom when the people of the Southern Kingdom of Judah are known as Judahites.  The point of this side bar is to say that if Jesus says the prophets of the Old Testament anticipated His coming, those who saw it but rejected it do not hold the same faith.  It’s not as if the Lord dealt with people in the OT people this way, priests and temple and sacrifices, but now at the coming of Jesus, it’s a whole new way of dealing with people.  There are not two paths to salvation, the old way through the Law, and the new way through Jesus.  There is only one, the old way that anticipated Jesus the coming One and the new one which looks to Jesus as the one who came.  Just one last point on this before we move back to Romans 9.  Back at the beginning of Exodus when Moses is talking to the Lord in the burning bush, Moses asks, “When I tell the Israelites who sent me, what name should I tell them?”  And the Lord, answers, “Tell them, ‘I Am WHO I Am’ has sent you.”  This is the divine name we know today as Yahweh.  Well, the claim of Peter at Pentecost is that Jesus, who was crucified is Yahweh.  And in fact, the earliest creed of the Church is just that, “Jesus is Kyrious.”  That is, Jesus is Yahweh, come in the flesh to be crucified and raised on Easter.

Back to Romans 9, Paul’s problem is that a number of his kinsmen, his fellow Israelites, reject this teaching.   And the tragedy of it is that they should have known.  They are the Israelites.  God has dealt with them specifically to bless them.  And the list here that Paul enumerates is very interesting because these are the specific blessings of the Lord to His people in the OT using the sometimes technical terms of the OT.  To them belongs the adoption as sons of God.  To them belongs the glory of the Lord, the burning bush, the pillar of fire and smoke that led them through the wilderness, and filled the tabernacle and first temple.  To them belong the covenants.  Remember how the Lord dealt with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and made good on His promises to them through Moses and Joshua and David.  To them belongs the giving of the Law.  They were the people sealed in the Law at Sinai and who the Lord covenanted again and again with each faithful king.  To them belonged the worship.  Actually the word here is specifically the word used in the Greek translation of the OT to denote the priestly service of the tabernacle and the temple.  And to them belong the promises, specifically those messianic promises fulfilled in the coming of Jesus and His kingdom, His death and resurrection.  To them belong the patriarchs, and according the flesh, Jesus, who is God over all.  Remember Jesus is Yahweh, God of gods, God over all.  Blessed is He, we might say, forever.

And the Jews of Paul’s day reject that.  And He is deeply sorrowful with unending anguish in his heart for them.  I want to note that Paul is not angry.  He is in pain.  The NT never advocates hatred or violence toward the Jews.

Paul is going to go on to say that to be an Israelite was never something that came by merely being born to it.  God’s people has had more than just one race, one ethnicity.  We only have to look at Rahab in Jericho, an unlikely addition to God’s family, if you know the story or even Ruth who was not an Israelite.  She was from Moab.  She was a Canaanite!  Jesus too finds greater faith than in all Israel with another Canaanite woman in Matthew 15.  So being a part of the people of God was always about right belief.

So what are we to make of this?  The direct implications are there’s never a justification for hatred or violence.  Historically, too many Christian leaders have used the Jewish rejection of Jesus as a justification for hatred and violence, including we should note sadly, even our own beloved Father Luther.  In his final years, Luther angrily attacked the Jews for their rejection of Jesus and some have even linked this to the racial hatred of anti-semitism which has ebbed and flowed in Europe for centuries before and after Luther and seems to be on the resurgence again in recent years.  We should also take a look at the other ditch on this narrow road and say there is not an alternate way of salvation for the Jews because they are ethnically “God’s chosen people.”  That’s manifestly false as well.  There is only one name by which a person is saved, Jesus.  Those are the two points I’ve tried to lead us to this morning but perhaps there is one more.

We Lutherans see ourselves very much as the Christian church with the right teaching.  And if I didn’t believe that I would be standing before you today.  But “Lutheran” can too easily become culturally defined rather than understood as the faith once delivered to the apostles.  You’re Lutheran because you have an ethnic association with people like you.  Whether you’re German or Scandinavian and you have casseroles or hot dishes and whether you eat brats or lutefisk.  Being Lutheran must always be about the teaching of Jesus delivered to us through the the Scriptures and lived out as Jesus’ disciples, whether we claim a northern European ancestry or not.  Remember, dear Christian, why we’re Lutheran.  The Church of Rome had gone sideways and the Gospel was no longer clear.  Just as God provided His people a Savior, He provided for the Gospel throughout history.  And if we give up our inheritance as His children, He’ll raise up from stones more children from Abraham.  Take the content of the faith seriously.  Take the practice of the faith seriously.  Come to services in God’s house.  Support the preaching of the Gospel and the giving out of God’s grace in the sacraments with your tithes and offerings.  Serve all with the love of Jesus you have experienced here through the Word and Sacraments and realize that through these God in Christ blesses us forever.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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