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February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Okay, folks.  The blog is updated.  It’s been busy the last few weeks and blog posts take a back seat to other things.

Also, I just updated my subscription to be able to post audio files.  I’ve heard from a couple folks that they appreciate that.  So I’ll keep doing it.  It doesn’t cost much and it seems to be worth it.

I hope you are edified.

+Pastor Smith

 

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Sermon for Epiphany 5

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Sermon for Epiphany 5B   Mark 1:29-39

Augustana, 2012

15 Sermon for Epiphany 5.mp3

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

The story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law comes right after last Sunday’s reading of Jesus casting the unclean spirit out of the man in the synagogue.  Last week, the scene was loud and dramatic, exciting and of the stuff Hollywood movies are made of.  An epic battle played out in the body of a man, a battle of two voices, Jesus’ and the unclean spirit.  A demon cried out and defied Jesus.  “I know who you are” he said in an attempt to perhaps threaten Jesus.  But Jesus is undaunted and answers with a word of authority.  The Word of Jesus triumphs over the forces of Satan.  In this battle of two voices, Jesus’ voice carried the day.

Our reading this morning is quite different; it is quiet and ordinary.  The scene is much more familiar to us.  Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever.  We may have never seen demon possession off the silver screen but we’ve seen fevers.  There is nothing quite so ordinary as a fever.  And Mark tells us that Jesus came in and took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and raised her up and the fever left her.  And then she begins to get back to work, serving those who had come to the house.  I’m not sure if anything could be more ordinary.

I’ve recalled the two stories the way I have to highlight the tremendous difference between the two.  I think in these two stories we see some differences between how we may be tempted to see the Christian life.  There are those Christians for whom everything is a powerful miracle of God.  Their faith is loud and Jesus is in charge going from battle to battle ahead of them.  And Jesus is like that, certainly as last week’s Gospel lesson reminds us.  The arrival of the Son of God in the flesh is dramatic.  His work of redemption on the cross is vivid; it’s powerful, even cosmic in size and scale.  This week Jesus shows us that the arrival of the Son of God in the flesh is also individual and deeply personal, Jesus’ redemption affecting each individual, for whom He died to rescue from sin and death to comfort in every sorrow and trouble.  If Jesus came to defeat the power and principalities of this world, He’s also come to defeat the ordinary enemies of His people that hide in the living room and heal the aches and pains that threaten a humble disciple or his mother-in-law.

The difference is not just in scope, but in Jesus’ method of healing.  In last week’s story, we were focused on the authoritative Word of Jesus.  Here the attention is on his gentle hands.  Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law by taking her by the hand and lifting her up.  The effect is at once powerful and gentle. Here, there is no rebuking; there is no speaking at all.  The power of Jesus is in His touch, in His hand, in the very flesh by which He, the eternal Word, entered this world.  While Jesus uses at one time His voice and now at another, his touch, the effect is the same.  He speaks and what He says must be and He can extend his healing touch through His own flesh, His body and blood.

Jesus did not just come to accomplish the cosmic redemption of creation.  He came to redeem you.  He came not just to fight the demons whose claim over you was all but sure; He came to protect you from the little things too.  No troubles you have are too small; no person is so small, that Jesus doesn’t care for them.  So look and see how He often works.  Is it in great power with an authoritative Word that rebukes the fever or the cancer or the problems at home or the problems at work?  Or does He instead reach out to you when you’re down and gently raise you up with a touch, a touch that is not merely spiritual but real, a touch form Jesus that comes through His body and blood.

Jesus came in flesh and blood so that the infinite power of the eternal God might come and be known by us and know us.  This same flesh and blood that touched Peter’s mother-in-law and bled on the cross reaches out to us in His body and blood today.  The Lord’s Supper is the healing touch of Jesus among us today.  If it is His voice that rebukes our sin and creates a clean heart within us, it is His body and blood that grabs us and lifts us up into His own glorious body by what He feeds us and pours into us.  Jesus did not just come once a long time ago and is now gone.  He promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  He has not left us with less of any aspect of His ministry on Earth.  We do not have less than Peter’s mother-in-law.  We do not have less than the man with the unclean spirit.  We have more, much more.  He gives us not just His spiritual presence but His very body and blood to eat and to drink.  If His mere touch chased away a fever, then how much more assured are we that we have received His forgiveness, life, and salvation with certainty and joy in His blessed Supper.

Mark tells us something very interesting in his final comment about this episode.  After Peter’s mother-in-law was healed by Jesus she began to serve them.  Now from this we can observe two things.  Jesus healing was not like a doctor’s healing.  A doctor heals and we need some time to recover.  Jesus healing was immediate and total.  Peter’s mother-in-law felt so good that she returned to her work.  He healed her so that she might, in the words of the catechism, “be his own, live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.”  In other words, Jesus heals her and what results is that she returns to her daily vocation of serving her household.  Having been healed and her faith strengthened, her faith shows itself in her daily life and service in the place that God has placed her.

And so it is for us.  Here we come, fevered from the week.  Fevered with sin.  Fevered with sorrow.  We come to the table the Lord Himself has set for us.  We receive His body and blood and we are not transported to some spiritual dimension beyond this present reality, but He comes to us here, now, and feeds us and returns to the places where we have been placed to serve—home, work, school, community.  One of the post-communion prayers mentions that the purpose of the sacrament is that we would grow in faith toward God and “fervent love toward one another.”  Peter’s mother-in-law displayed that kind of fervent love for which we pray—love that results from receiving the Lord’s healing touch.  The connection between the Lord’s Supper and daily life is in the flesh and blood reality of both us and the world we live in and Christ truly and really physically present for us.

Today Jesus lifts you up, heals you, forgives you, and strengthens you for the week ahead.  Amen.

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

Note:  I am greatly indebted to my friend and colleague, Pastor Greg Alms, for the strength, tone and even shape of this message.  He presented these thoughts to our weekly pericope study group and I only smoothed them and fit them to my people and context.

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Funeral Sermon for Gloria Mueller

February 7, 2012 1 comment

Funeral Sermon for Gloria Mueller

29 Jan, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 14 Funeral Sermon for Gloria Mueller.mp3

 

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

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”  Jesus’ words in the Gospel reading today are familiar and comforting.  Christian people have been turning to these words for comfort in the midst of life and death in all its complexity and seeming incomprehensibility ever since they were said.  Jesus is so reassuring, we get a sense of the comforting love that God would have for His children.  These words are good medicine for hurting hearts and they are a summary of what are assured of on a day like today.  Our Lord Jesus Christ went to prepare a place for us in heaven, where those who die in faith will dwell with God forever.

But like a jewel shining in even greater splendor because of its setting, these words to come to us in the middle of an amazing set of set of circumstances.  Jesus speaks these words to His disciples not as it might sound, shortly before His ascension into heaven, but rather on Holy Thursday night after the Last Supper.  John tells us that it was after Judas had left them there in the Upper Room that Jesus said then to rest, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

“On the night when He was betrayed,” as we say, it was the night of treachery and deceit.  And it was the night of denial and disavowing of any knowledge of Jesus before such a terrible judge as a servant girl.  And Jesus knew well that it would all happen just as it did.  He knew not only what Judas had gone to do, He knew that Peter would not lay down his life for his master.  All that talk about being Him being glorified was talk about Him being lifted up on the cross and crucified.  He knew.  Jesus knew that the only way to the Father’s house was through the cross and the grave.

And as on cue,36 Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”

And is this not where we are so often on days like today?  I should have called more often.  I should have taken the time to write.  We could have, we should have, if only we had.  This is the setting for Jesus’s words to us today: doubt, fear, unbelief, and guilt.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Do they not shine all the brighter now?  Do they not sound all the sweeter to our troubled hearts?  Jesus knew what was happening in the hearts of all those gathered around the table that night.  Jesus knows what is happening in your hearts now and He speaks to you even now.  “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

I have now gone two pages in this sermon and not yet mentioned our dear sister and your mother, Gloria.  I pulled the same maneuver in your dad’s funeral sermon and your mom wasn’t entirely sure what I’d meant by it.  She was so proud of your dad and she thought, I think, that maybe I hadn’t completely honored him.  The point I tried to make then is the same point I’m trying to make today and if I get it wrong again, I’ll just give up trying to be clever and preach more straightforward funeral sermons from here on out.  The point is this: this is perhaps, as it should be.  That in this moment today, we should focus on the reassuring words of our Savior and not try to focus on our loss but on what Willard and now Gloria have already gained and what we stand to gain in following after Jesus on the way that he has promised lies ahead for us.

To be sure, Gloria lived a life that evidenced a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ.  She grew up in the Lutheran Church; her life embodied life in the glory days of the Missouri Synod, not just becoming a Lutheran teacher at St. John’s Winfield, we’re supposed pause now in honor of St. John’s, but even marrying a Lutheran pastor.  And she embodied our Lutheran life not just in church but in faith.  I can’t remember Gloria ever coming to Sunday morning Bible Study but when we started on Wednesday nights, that was perfect for her and she was a regular and enjoyed it, at first coming with Pastor Mueller and then, even after he died, she was a regular up until this past autumn when she just couldn’t make it.  The hymns for the service today were culled from a long list of hymns in the back her old TLH and from the pages that were marked and starred and underlined and notated.  The readings were culled from a similar list that she had marked in at least three different Bibles I looked at.  The psalm today the setting for her confirmation verse, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after:  that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”  (Ps 27:4)  Gloria’s faith was supported by all those words from the Lord and all those lines in our hymns.  She had a tested faith and faith that endured because it was a faith centered on Jesus.  Her faith was centered on Jesus who comforted troubled hearts and doubting and unfaithful disciples.  Her faith was centered on Jesus by the light of His word walked with her down that often dark road.

Jesus might as well have been talking to Gloria as much as He is to the disciples in this passage.  “And you know the way to where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Thomas is open, honest, and maybe even a little pessimistic.  His was the question of a man who was overwhelmed by life and his failure to understand any integral meaning in it.  And Thomas asks his question on behalf of us all, does he not?  Are we sure of the way?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  Jesus’ answer to Thomas’ question is the ultimate answer to the ultimate question.  Jesus is not just claiming to know the meaning of life, as though it might be some formula He could pass on to others.  But Jesus actually said He was the answer to the biggest problems in life, sin and its power over us and the black hole like power over everything that death seems to have.  Jesus’ solution to the problems of sin and death are, remarkably, not a formula for a better life.  Jesus’ solution is His very Self, crucified for sin and died to kill death itself.  Jesus is the way to the Father because only He has a perfect knowledge of God unmarred by sin.  He is the truth because He has the perfect power of giving meaning to life regardless of its ups and downs.  He is the life because He was not subject to death but made it subject to him; He did not live with death as the ultimate end of his life; He died to demonstrate the power and continuity of His life.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

Jesus is not a proof-text, He is the living, breathing perfection of God that we might truly know God in human form Who came in human flesh that we might be truly known.  What we know about Jesus is the core of our faith.  What Jesus says to us on days like today is uplifting for us not just because we believe it, but because it’s true.  These words are true because they come from the source of all truth, Jesus Christ, our Lord, Gloria’s Lord.  We are not comforted by a proof text but by a Lord Jesus Who conquered the power of sin and death and gave Gloria His mercy and new life.

Gloria knew her Lord, as we heard from Paul this morning, because Jesus knew her.  The Lord knew Gloria because He took on human flesh and lived in her world and died on the cross for her sins and died so that death would have no power over her.   And Jesus is not just Gloria’s Lord but is your Lord.  And His victory is your victory just as it is now already Gloria’s victory.

The coming days are the hardest days.  They are days of mixed emotion, of great thankfulness and great sadness.  The same Jesus will reassure you of the truth you have heard this day, because He is the, way, the truth and the life.  And it is none other than the Lord Himself who comforts and assures us today.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

We give thanks to God for all the mercy poured out on Gloria during her time on this earth and we take comfort in not only the room He has prepared for her but His promise to return to take her and all those who believe to be with Him that she and we all may be where He is.  Amen.

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

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Sermon for Epiphany 4

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Sermon for Epiphany 4B   1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 13 Sermon for Epiphany 4.mp3

 

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

The sermon is from the Epistle lesson for today, Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth.

We’ve not spent a lot of time in the Epistles together and we may not be very familiar with the reasons why Paul wrote this letter to them.  As you can see from our reading today, the understanding we have of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has imminently practical considerations.  Imagine that, what we believe might have some bearing on how it is we should actually live our lives?  I  know, right?  So the issue in Corinth is kind of interesting: Christians eating food that had been offered to pagan gods, quite literally “idol-food.”  I want to explain this not because we have a problem in our congregation or in the wider church with our people eating “idol-food” but because Paul offers a teaching here that is easily applicable to more than just this situation.  We’ll get there.

This “idol-food” refers to sacrificial meat, part of which was burned on the altar, part was eaten at a solemn meal in a pagan god’s temple, and part was sold in the market … for home use.  Now remember, this is very early in the life of the Church and so there is still a very strong influence of Jewish practice on the Church.  The Jerusalem Council early on met over issues like these and decided that it would still be appropriate for new Gentiles converts to the true faith to keep themselves from meat sacrificed to idols.  (Ac 15:29)   From the Jewish viewpoint this “idol-food” was unclean and therefore forbidden.  From their view, no one believing in the One True God would spiritually contaminate himself or his family with such food.  This is the connection: it was an affront to eat meat devoted to another god because it was as if we were saying thanks to that god rather than thanks to the One True God for the food.  What is apparent is that there were two viewpoints among the Christians in Corinth with a disagreement on whether it was appropriate for Christians to eat this “idol-food.”

Paul starts out this chapter apparently even quoting back to them the phrase they had used to justify their eating.  “All of us have knowledge.”  It is as if they were saying, “We believe in the One True God and follow Jesus our Lord; these other gods are false gods so what does it matter if I eat “idol-food.”  It was more than just what food they bought at the market.  We can assume that some Christians of higher social status at social occasions would recline at table in dining rooms near or even in the temples of false gods.  “We know,” they said, that these gods aren’t real.

But Paul gets them right there in their so called knowledge.  What does this knowledge do?  It puffs up.  Paul calls them out for arrogance, but not just arrogance on a personal level, arrogance on a spiritual level.  “I am well catechized enough to know that these are false gods.  I can participate here because I am free in the Gospel to do so.  In fact, I’m a little worried about you Christians who look at the world so narrowly in your fear that you think this might actually hurt us or our relationship with God.”  These kind of “Super-Christians” are boasting in themselves rather than in the Lord.  This is the whole of Paul’s point not just for the Corinthians but for us today.  The love of Christ for the church is not shown in puffed up knowledge but in the love of one who died for the weak.

Paul contrasts the one who thinks he knows God with one who truly loves God.  “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”  God Himself is the source of our knowledge; indeed, God is the source of our love.  Paul says something similar in Gal. 4:9, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…”  God’s knowledge and election of us comes first and enables us to then know and love God.  While you may think you have come to know something about God and have chosen to believe in and love God, it actually was God’s prior action of knowing you and His revealing Himself to you that results in your knowledge of and living in God.

Now of course I say all this at some risk.  I just spent a week at one of our seminaries learning.  As members of a church born at the university, we need to pay close attention here that we don’t use knowledge in the way the Corinthians did.  And in the local church too, that we don’t just expect a certain about of head knowledge to suffice for faith.  We were once a church of the catechism and that was a great strength.  If we return to the catechism as we are now doing, we will once against have a knowledge of the faith that is rock solid.  But we should take heed, lest we fall, because the temptation is to think that once we’ve learned the catechism, we’ve learned it all.  Today, just as it was in Corinth, this is as much a spiritual problem of sinful pride as much as it is a matter of whether what we believe should have anything to do with how we live as Christians.

Gordon Fee had a comment that is especially applicable for us today and provides a way for us to link this reading to the Gospel for today.  “Paul took the power of the demonic seriously; hence his concern that a former idolater, by returning to his or her ioldatries, will be destroyed—that is, he or she will return to former ways and be captured by them all the more, and those eventually suffer eternal loss.” (Fee, 388 n. 62, Lockwood, 289)  Jesus too, took the demonic seriously.  Jesus does not show his authority over the demons just to showcase His amazing power, but He does what He does out of love for the demon-possessed man.  He casts out the demons not even to destroy the demons but to free the man in front of him from the power of the devil.  This was but a glimpse of the full revelation of the heart of God in death of Jesus’ on the cross.  Just as the demons cry out with a loud voice in forced obedience to the authority of the Son of God, there on the cross, Jesus cries out with a loud voice in victory over our enemy, sin death and the devil.  Jesus died to break the stranglehold of sin, death and the devil on you.  Neither Jesus nor Paul want you to ever return to the old idolatries, to trusting in anything or anyone else than the Lord who came to rescue us from such slavery.

That means you have been freed even from self-centered pride and arrogance.  You no longer live for yourself, but for God who has granted you salvation and freedom in Christ.  When you, as a result of God’s love for you, love God, He is also building up the community of God’s people.  And when your focus is thus on God and others in Christ, you will no longer rejoice in your own knowledge but in God’s gracious knowledge of you and those around you who are in Christ.  This is how God shows how to live, by loving us in the cross of Christ Jesus.

Lockwood, in his commentary relates a story from the mission field where new converts in Papua New Guinea found it difficult to rid themselves completely of their old fears of witchcraft and ancestral spirits.  The new Christians there resisted the missionaries’ suggestions to use traditional musical instruments like the kundu drum in the worship services.  They explained that they could not hear these instruments without hearing the voice of the spirits.  Later generations of Christians who never participated in ancestral worship were about to incorporate the drum in worship.  Idol food and pagan practices may seem far, far away to many of us, but Paul’s point becomes clearer if we have in mind someone rescued from practicing witchcraft or the occult, or someone who came out of lifestyles typified by certain forms of music like rock ‘n roll or rap, or even one who used to participate in groups or clubs like the Masons, or even, a recovering addict, prostitute, or alcoholic.  Anyone who was enslaved to any form of idolatry and who wishes not to return to it.  So sure, we all know that “idol-food” is really just food.  But knowledge without love is arrogance.  And Paul is expressing pastoral care for the whole community in which there may be many who cannot eat idol-food as merely a gift from the one true God, creator of heaven and earth.  The old associations from their former lives reassert themselves and they have defiled consciences and they go home feeling guilty because they feel they have participated, at least outwardly, in the worship of a false god.

Part of what it means to live as holy people is preserving a good conscience and keeping others from the burden of a strained conscience.  Paul writes to Timothy, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim 1:5)  If a Christian feels he must refrain from former pagan practices, he is not missing out on anything.  By the same token, any Christian who participates in these meals should not think he is in any way superior.  The guiding principle is love which “builds up” not knowledge which “puffs up.”  True spiritual knowledge should always result in love for the Christian brother, especially the weak.  After all, it was out of love for us who were weak and enslaved to sin, death and devil that the Lord Jesus willingly sacrificed Himself for us all to free us to live with Him 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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Sermon for Epiphany 2

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

Sermon preached on 15 January.  I preached on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Much of the idea for this sermon came from Concordia Pulpit Resources.

Click here for mp3 audio 12 Sermon for Epiphany.mp3

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