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Sermon for St. Michael and All Angels, 29 September

September 30, 2013 Leave a comment

Revelation 12:7-12

Note: This started out as an adaptation of a sermon by my friend Chad Bird which can be found in its original form here.  As usual the audio can be heard by clicking the triangle in the embedded player below.

Vitrail_Florac_010609_05_St_MichelGrace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today is the feast of St. Michael and All Angels.  The Feast of St. Michael, or Michaelmas as it is known to many Christians throughout the world, is one more day that pulls us out of our secular world and ties us back into the rhythms of the Church Year.  And before you think you must have stumbled into the wrong sort of church this morning, let me assure you that saints’ days were always a part of the early tradition of the Church, not just a later medieval invention of the Byzantine or Roman churches.  In the front of our hymnal it’s listed as a “principal feast of Christ.”  (LSB, p. xi)  So it must be important, right?  We would never pray to St. Michael as an intercessor—we have every confidence in Christ as our intercessor—but we thank God for St. Michael and all the holy angels and all the saints who have come before us and who were faithful.  And today especially we have the opportunity to give God thanks for St. Michael and all His holy angels.

Ask about just about anyone to draw a picture of an angel, and all of them would be sporting those well-known wings, and most them would look like those chubby, playful cherubs.  I think you’d be hard pressed to find a traditional picture of Michael the archangel looking like one those kinds of angels.  Closer to the real thing might those depictions of the angels that more like a solider or Marine dressed for battle, just replace the rifle with a sword.  But that image of the church militant is too unnerving for most.  If a more realistic image of angels were to become better known, I daresay their popularity in our culture would soon diminish.  We want angels like we want a lot of things, soft, easy, and above all nice.  And yet every Scriptural account of one of God’s holy angels arriving on the scene includes the terror of person being visited and the immediate Word from the angel, “Stop being afraid.”  So too, we want leaders as long as they have warm smiles; we want doctors with jovial personalities; we want pastors to be above all, nice.  We want things the way we want them because we are a product of a century of consumerism reinforcing that we’re right to want things the way we want them.  If we’re not careful we can become like starving men who would rather gorge themselves on paper showing pretty pictures of candy than dine on an ugly steak.

We are a product, more or less, of a society that is addicted to the trivial.  And what happens out there so easily finds its way in here.  How many hours a week do we spend watching reality television instead of studying God’s Word and praying and teaching our children what being a Christian means?  Holy Word read and prayed daily.  We yearn and long for so many things that do us little or no good, all the while forgetting about the One who does us nothing but good, who hungers and yearns and longs for us—the Lord of Angels, the God of Redemption, the One who is anything but trivial.

And so it is, if we would but pray Luther’s morning and evening prayers, that we would ask God’s “holy angel be with us, that the wicked foe have no power over us.” And it would be well if we did.  Simple prayer, prayed simply.  In the second reading for today, we have a brief glimpse at the holy war that goes on around us invisible to our eyes.  Michael, the one whose name means “one who is like God,” fought the dragon, Satan, in heaven and defeated him.  Look at any depiction of St. Michael in Christian art and he’s wielding a beautiful sword and shield but that’s a little deceiving.  The holy angels of God, who help and defend us on earth, but they don’t wield swords and spears. The weapon of the angels is not tucked into a scabbard or holster. It’s actually their mouths. Their tongue is our protection, for the weapon of angels is the word of their Lord.  Revelation 12 is clear that Michael and his angels overcame the Dragon and his angels, “By the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.”  Words, angelic words, words steeped in Jesus’ blood—these words shield you from the fiery lies breathed out of the Dragon’s mouth, for these are not trivial words, but the word as weighty as the Lord whose words they are. It is not wing-ed angels that you need, but word-ed angels who do his word, heeding the voice of his word (Psalm 103).

I said that earlier we should give thanks to God for the protection of His holy angels.  And I realize that observing this feast of the Church might be a new thing for many of you, but it is certainly not a new thing.  This is not just a feast honoring St. Michael and the holy angels, but a principle feast of Christ, giving thanks to God for the redemption purchased by the holy innocent blood of His Son Jesus Christ.  I know that we are still in the process of getting to know one another and I know that some things I do may be different from what you grew up with.  I can assure you, as I did when I was installed with every holy oath, that what I do, what I preach, is in accord with the Scriptures and the Lutheran Confessions.  If you ever have any questions, ask.  I’ll be happy to show you, chapter and verse, confession, article and paragraph.  For today, I would offer you Article XV from the Augsburg Confession,

1 “Our churches teach that ceremonies ought to be observed that may be observed without sin. Also, ceremonies and other practices that are profitable for tranquility and good order in the Church (in particular, holy days, festivals, and the like) ought to be observed.[1]

And so today we have in the example of St. Michael a full-throated confession of the power of the word of God to vanquish the enemy.  Sure Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness with the Word of God, but can we?  We are but created beings.  Here too, the angelic Michael and the angels are examples of faithfulness, angels yes, but created and fighting with the same sword of the spirit, the Word of Jesus who conquered by His blood.  So I too, one whom the Scriptures call a messenger, have only the power of the Word of Christ Jesus.  I am called and sent to speak the protection of God’s word, accomplished in Christ, over you.

What do you need from me?  Do you need a man who is above all just nice, who will tell stories to entertain you or do you need a messenger from God, a fellow creature redeemed in Christ, who will call you to repentance and preach you into heaven? Do you need a man who will say, “Thus says my Conscience,” or “Thus says my Experience,” or one who proclaims, “Thus says the Lord?”

I am not Michael.  I only serve as called messenger but I have the same task to bring the word, the same word of the angels, the word steeped in Jesus’ blood, shed for you.  In the end, it’s all I have, and it is enough, for the Word accomplished that for which it is sent.  This is the word that breathed into water so that you are born from above. This word is the Spirit’s sword that cuts to the heart of the matter, shows the thing for what it is, and leads to confession and absolution. This is the word joined with bread and wine to put into our bodies the body and blood of the risen and victorious Jesus, that we might eat it and overcome.  This is the word that makes each of us greatest in the kingdom of heaven, for it plants us in the King of the Kingdom and makes us partakers of Jesus’ never-ending life.

Because what you need is not trivial, what God gives you is anything but trivial. He gives you Himself for He gives you His very own Word—incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, all for you. Even though the worst of hell is what we have deserved, God has given us the best of heaven, that His work for our salvation might be complete and perfect. It is finished—the Serpent’s head has been crushed.  Now salvation and strength and the kingdom of our God and the power of His Christ have come.  I pray every week that the Word preached enters the ear, and goes from the ear to the heart and from heart to life and conversation, that as the rain returns not empty, so neither may the Word of God.  What would happen, if we would but meditate on that word preached, the word read, the word received with bread and wine for the forgiveness of sins?  Would happen if we, too, like the holy angels, would dress for battle with that word!  We would be far better interpreters not only of the word but our culture and what threatens to nibble away our faith.  The trivialities that bleed off our energy and attention would be put far away.  And our households built up into homes over which the holy angels stand their watch by day and night.  Why, the gates of hell could not prevail against us!  And it is the very same word.  The word God’s messenger preaches into your ears so that with Michael, the angels, archangels, and all the saints in heaven, you might forever rejoice at the Feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end.  Amen.


[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 39.

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Sermon for Wednesday in Pentecost 18, 25 Sept 2013

September 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Malachi 1:1-14

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temple sacrifice

We’ve had three months of Old Testament readings that have ranged from the particular to the peculiar.  Tonight’s reading, by contrast, is relatively clear.  The Lord is calling His own to repentance for doubting His protection and love and calling them to task for what amounts to false worship.  False worship is a despising of God as the Lord makes clear through His prophet.  Tonight I’d like to talk a little about Old Testament worship practices but I hope not in a way you’ve maybe heard them before.

I know we usually think of the animal sacrifices of the OT as somewhat inferior to what we do now but it’s not the animal sacrifice, specifically, that the Lord is unhappy with; after all, He commanded the entire sacrificial system.  We have the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy that testify to that system coming from the Lord’s own lips.  So the Lord can’t be unhappy if the people are doing what He told them to do.  What He is furious with the Israelite priests about is their lip service, their false piety.  They acted as if they were making the proper sacrifices but were instead offering the Lord less than their best.  What can you do with flour of poor quality?  Well the priests can use it to make showbread for the temple.  What can you do with a lame animal?  Well sacrifice that one and sell the good one for a fine profit.  It’s not a matter of stewardship or thrift, it’s a matter of being cheap toward the Lord and of claiming for oneself what belongs to Him.

Clearly the honor and reverence due to God was lacking in the priestly service.  The Lord asks, “where is my honor?”  “Where is my fear?”  The Lord accused them of despising his name.  And with that, we’re already into two commandments, the fourth, “Honor your father and mother,” and the second, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord.”  And with the mentioning of the priests despising the Lord’s name, we land squarely into territory governed by the third commandment, “You shall remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”  Not sure how I got there?  What does this mean, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise the preaching and His Word…”  Clearly the worship in Israel was less than God-pleasing.  Remember, it is the Lord Himself who levels the charge against the priests.

And the priests react like Adam in the garden, “How have we despised Your name?”  And the Lord lays out His case against them in clear and unambiguous language.  They offered polluted bread and broke the Law in Leviticus 24.  They offered the sick and lame animals to the Lord in sacrifice, breaking the letter of the Law in Leviticus 22 and Deuteronomy 15.

Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand.”  “The point is clear:” as it read in one commentary on this text, “Empty religious formalism does not impress the Lord, nor does it bring blessing or satisfaction to those who engage in it.”[1]  Or as the prophet Micah put it,

 6    “With what shall I come before the Lord,

and bow myself before God on high?

     Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,

with calves a year old?

   Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,

with ten thousands of rivers of oil?

     Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,

the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”

   He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

     but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?  (Micah 6:6-8)

It’s budget time in the church, and how much and where to use those resources in the work we have been given to do is a matter of honest debate.  For most folks these days, the level of sacrifice today in the church is closer to the days of Malachi than what the Lord would have of us and we wonder why we are not blessed.  Talk to people who are truly wealthy, who have been blessed by God and they we will tell you the same thing the Lord Jesus told us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.”  This is the differences between people who have a lot of money and are miserable and people who are wealthy and know the source of that wealth, the Lord God.

Even in terms of worship, how feebly we sing and how insincerely we pray.  How little we pay attention to the Word.  How little we tend to amending our life according to the Word of God even after we’ve heard it.  Our fallen human nature also makes us quick to serve our own interests by giving not much but our leftovers in service to God rather than firstfruits.  Why do we hold back from the Lord?

Was there any bit of goodness that God has held back from us?  Originally in the garden, that was Adam and Eve’s doubt, that God was holding something back, some bit of knowledge, some bit of Himself, something good, when in fact, He had not!  And thanks be to God that He did not hold anything back in redeeming us from our sins, from our despising of His Word.  He sent His own Son, to pay the price for our sin, not with gold or silver but with His holy, precious, innocent blood.

God is merciful.  He sent His Son to make the proper sacrifice for sin, for our sins of despising the Word of God, denigrating office holders, despising the name of the Lord.  Jesus Christ, our High priest, offered Himself as a perfect sacrifice for all our sins.  And by it, look what He has made you, a holy priest to offer the sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving to God the Lord for His mercy.  We gather together to worship God, not because we have to to prove our own faithfulness but because we get to worship a God who is faithful to us and holds nothing back of His good gifts.  Some folks are so completely enthralled by the mercy of God and His goodness, they have taken to setting aside time each morning and evening to worship Him with hymns and prayers.  This is the activity of the Gospel going forth and making great the name of the Lord.

I would probably also be remiss if I did not mention that this text tonight is quoted and commented on at length in our Lutheran Confessions precisely on the matter at hand, the right worship of God and what constitutes a pleasing sacrifice to the Lord.

“First, his words say this: the name of the Lord will be great. This is accomplished by the preaching of the Gospel. Through this preaching, Christ’s name is made known and the Father’s mercy, promised in Christ, is recognized. The preaching of the Gospel produces faith in those who receive the Gospel [Romans 10:17]. They call upon God, give thanks to God, bear troubles for their confession, and produce good works for Christ’s glory. So the name of the Lord becomes great among the Gentiles [Malachi 1:11]. Therefore, incense and a pure offering means not a ceremony by the outward act, but all those sacrifices through which the name of the Lord becomes great: faith, invocation, the preaching of the Gospel, confession, and so on… We include the preaching of the Word among the sacrifices of praise… So the reception itself of the Lord’s Supper can be praise or thanksgiving… Malachi speaks about all the services of the New Testament… He requires services of the heart, through which the name of the Lord becomes truly great” (Ap XXIV 32–33).

God is not pleased with mere lip service.  I can’t make it any plainer than that.  Those who worship Him in truth, worship Him because of His love and compassion, His grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. Let us join in the praise of Him who is the great King that we may serve Him with the first and best of all He have given us.  Amen.


[1] Eugene H. Merrill, “Malachi”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) ( ed. Tremper Longman, III and David E. Garland;Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 848.

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Fresh from the sermon cutting room floor

September 25, 2013 1 comment

On the OT reading from today, Malachi 1:1-14

The Lord is so offended by the priests’ false worship, He turns sarcastic, “Present that to you governor, see what he thinks of your “honor” toward him!”

I’m particularly struck by the Lord’s comment because I think honor is in relatively short supply for our public officials, for those who are due a certain measure of honor simply on account of the office they hold.  Take, for instance, our president.  I’m not a current fan of the currently sitting president, Mr. Obama, and yet I’m more than a little embarrassed by the way I hear so many fellow Christians speak of him.  By denigrating him so terribly, they take down not only the man but disrespect the office, and in doing so break the fourth commandment to honor father and mother.  What I don’t understand is how we can clearly see the effect of pornography in its destruction of the order God wants for us according to His sixth commandment but we fail to see the caustic nature of the political discourse in our country.  And if we are so willing to treat a civil office holder in such a way, how much longer before we treat other office holders, even the Lord, in the same way?  And many, quite frankly do.

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Sermon for 22 September, 2013, Pentecost 18

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

A Sermon on Luke 16:1-15, The Parable of the Dishonest Stewarddishonest-steward

 

 

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

The story in the Gospel reading this morning is simple enough to understand.  There’s this rich landowner who has a steward manager. The landlord somehow catches wind that his manager has been squandering his wealth and so he fires his manager.  The manager then wrestles with the problem of having been caught and what to do next.  He is out of work, he will be out of a place to live and because of his reputation, who will hire him?  After he rules out physical labor and begging, he happens upon an idea that might solve his problem.  The manager is not just shrewd but dishonest.  He will write down the debt of the landlords tenants, but here’s the shrewd part: he does it so that his landlord will be honored by the community.  It is this shrewdness that leads his master to commend him and leads to Jesus’ interesting summary of the parable to the disciples.  This is not an easy parable because it looks like the landlord is actually commending his servant for being dishonest.

The thing is, if this were a secular story told by some ancient sage the interpretation would be self-evident, right?  Something like, “Life is hard, or in this case business is hard, so do what you have to do.”  The problem is that this isn’t a secular story and Jesus seems to be commending dishonesty to His followers.  SO we’re left trying to make sense of it.  Now, we typically look at this parable from the perspective of the servant manager but what if we look at it from the perspective of the master?  Then the emphasis is not on the servant managers’ dishonesty but the mercy of the landlord.  To be fair, we are making an assumption that the landlord here is an honorable man, not some kind of mafia boss.  But this is a safe assumption.  In the parable just before this one, the parable of the prodigal son, the father who waits for his son to return is an honorable father.  The rich landlord’s mercy on the dishonest servant manager who squandered his estate is parallel to the father’s mercy to the prodigal son who squandered his share of the father’s estate.

The steward is most likely some sort of salaried estate agent, servant manager.  The debtors in the parable probably rent land from the rich landowner to grow crops and the debt is a predetermined portion of the harvest, whether olive oil or wheat.  When the report of the squandering comes to the landlord about his hired manager, he tells his steward he is fired but he does not jail or punish him in any way.  He should have; his estate has been squandered.  It is his right to do so but he is a merciful man.  It is precisely this mercy that the steward counts on when he chooses a solution to his problem.  And when we focus on the mercy of the landlord, the dishonesty of the steward becomes a moot point.

When the steward figures out he’ll be fired, he does not protest but he tries to figure out what’s next for him.  This is prudence.  What can he do to lessen the effect of the mess he’s caused himself?  He is so overwhelmed he even considers two ridiculous ideas, digging and begging, that for him are really impossibilities.  So like the prodigal son, who desired to eat the pigs’ food, the unrighteous steward has hit bottom and realizes he can do nothing for himself.  He has no real escape.  The steward’s great insight is to see that the answer to his problem must come from outside himself.  Remember, his entire plan is based on the fact that his master is an honorable and generous man who will respond in mercy.  The steward takes advantage of a brief period of time before the accounts are laid out and reckoned to meet with the master’s debtors and to do so in such a way that they think the master is acting in mercy toward them and not that the steward is acting out of desperation.  The debtors are willing to believe that this is the kind of thing that the master would do, just write down a big chunk of their debt, purely out of mercy.  Actually, it was supposed to happen by Jewish law.  Every seven years debts were forgiven.  Every 50, (or maybe 49, a multiple of seven) the land returned to the owners.  But back to this parable.  So, the whole community then is dependent on the generous and merciful landlord and has come to expect this kind of behavior toward them.  The steward is able to benefit because of his master’s reputation.

When the landlord finds out what his steward has done, he’s in a bind with really only two options.  He can cancel the debt forgiveness but if he does, his renters will turn on him and probably think he is no longer a generous and merciful master.  If he lets the adjustments stand he has further secured the goodwill of his tenants.  That then is his choice, if he is to be consistent with this own character.  He must commend the steward for acting shrewdly.  After all, the steward was counting on the trusted character of his master and staked everything on his mercy.  In fact, the landlord is put into a position where he has no choice but to praise the steward if he wants to maintain his reputation as a merciful lord.  Jesus clearly commends the steward but he commends him as a steward of unrighteousness.  But again, the steward’s prudence comes from trusting the mercy of his master and making the most of a terrible situation.

Jesus then summarizes this parable with an interesting phrase, “For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”  Remember who’s listening to this parable, the disciples, yes, but also the Pharisees.  Jesus is encouraging his disciples to imitate the steward but not by being dishonest.  The sons of this age, are more prudent in worldly matters because they know how to bend the rules, how to be unrighteous to accomplish their goals.  Jesus wants his disciples to be unlearned in the practice of unrighteousness because it is only advantageous in this present age and is actually harmful for those whose hope is in the age to come.  The sons of light are to be prudent by recognizing that there will be a time of reckoning, at the last day and when that day comes, they need to focus carefully on where God’s mercy lives.  In this sense, then, the steward is praised not for his dishonesty but for knowing where his salvation was.

Dear Christian friends, the master is coming. Word has reached him how it is you have squandered your inheritance, the gifts he has given you.  He knows how you live.  He knows how you live with others.  He knows your hard and dishonest heart.  He knows how you have traded on his good name for many years to your own personal advantage but with no advantage to Him.  Caught red-handed in your dishonesty and the squandering of his wealth, you are fired.  Your only hope is not in any protest of your innocence.  Your only help comes from outside you, from trusting in the mercy of your lord when he comes to judge you.  Until that time comes, what is your best course of action?  Take advantage of this brief time before the Lord returns and reckons all accounts.  Use what you have been given to further the reputation of your Lord.  Christians who have control of even a tiny bit of worldly wealth need to use it in service to the kingdom of God, as a way of expressing love, both to God and to other people who have needs.  Jesus’ warning stands, “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?”

What are the true riches if not Christ and all those things that bring us to Christ, the Word, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  To be rich toward God is to be a member of his kingdom through the riches you have been given.  To be faithful stewards of the true riches means to use those things you have been given to further the name of your Lord, Jesus Christ.  The fact is, everyone around you is in the same boat.  We are all debtors of the master who is coming; we all stand as those who have squandered the wealth we have been given.  There is no better way to conduct oneself than to write down the debt of another.  Jesus put it a little differently when He was teaching us to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We serve a master who is merciful and generous.  And when he comes you will be commended for trusting in his generosity and mercy.  Amen.

Let us pray.  Deliver us dear Lord, from the love of money, and increase our love for you and for one another.  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 the Funeral of Fred Frank, 20 September, 2013

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

John 10:27-29Good Shepherd

For Fred Frank’s obituary click here.

 

Note: I just want to reiterate that depression is a serious mental illness that left untreated is not only miserable for the sufferer but for all those around the sufferer and can lead to terrible tragedy.  There is help available.  You might be interested in the blog, I Trust When Dark My Road at http://www.darkmyroad.org/.  You might also be interested in reading the booklet prepared by Rev. Todd Peperkorn which can be ordered for free at this link http://www.darkmyroad.org/the-book/.  If you or someone you know suffers from depression, get the help you need.  Depression can be treated and its effects mitigated, and, in many cases, cured.    

The Gospel reading for today comes from the Good Shepherd chapter in John’s Gospel, chapter 10.  Every year on the Fourth Sunday after Easter we hear Jesus say these comforting words, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  (vs. 14–15)  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” (vs. 26–29).

The Gospel reading along with the other readings chosen for today reflect just a small portion the tremendous comfort we can find in the Scriptures.  Hopefully you have heard them today and will continue to meditate on them in the days and weeks ahead and find a measure of comfort and peace in the wake of Fred’s death.  Because that’s what we all need today, comfort and peace.  The first word that Jesus the Good Shepherd speaks today, is a word of assurance for peace for our brother Fred.  That assurance is solid.  The same Jesus who was sent out of the Father’s love to redeem the world, to redeem Fred, is the same Jesus who promises that nothing and no one can snatch Fred out of the Father’s hand.  Always in times like this, there is terrible doubt about the salvation of those who are driven to despair but we should always be confident in the love and protection of God our heavenly Father.  Jesus died for all sin.  There is no sin Jesus did not die for.  There is no sheep Jesus did not lay down His life for.  Jesus died for Fred.  And yet, Fred despaired.  So what went wrong?

Fred was an avid fisherman and hunter all his life.  I too, much later in life have learned how much I enjoy being outdoors.  So just a couple years ago I took the state-mandated hunter’s safety class.  You might think that the most important thing I learned was firearm safety but it was the video on hypothermia that made a lasting impression on me.  Most cases of death by hypothermia happen in temperatures well above freezing, even in temperatures well into the 50’s.  In these cases, the victim was ill-prepared for a dramatic shift in the weather, or they got wet and weren’t wearing proper clothing and as their body temperature started to fall, the mind ceased to function the way it’s supposed to, the way it needs to for self-preservation.  In the way that I’ve just described it, hypothermia is not entirely unlike serious depression.

Imagine a disease that so insidious, it doesn’t attack the body first; it attacks the mind, gradually darkening it to point that one cannot see life as good, as a gift from God.  It’s invisible and so outsiders can’t clearly see its effects.  If it was a blindness of the eyes, a cataract that could be treated with lasers we could better understand it.  But this disease attacks the eyes of the soul and heart, closing the victim off from an unseen God and even the easily visible people around them that show God’s love.  It is a cataract of the spirit that finally drops its victim over the edge of self-preservation and protection.  That disease is depression.  It alters the very chemistry of the brain to shut down its response to pleasure and highlight perceived pain.  Left untreated, it ends in a sense of overwhelming helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness.

What else could possibly give us any explanation to what happened to Fred early Tuesday morning?  Fred wasn’t just a nominal Christian; he was a faithful member of this congregation for many years.  He was a faithful husband to you, Marlene.  He was a trustworthy employee with Murphy Oil.  He was warm and friendly and enjoyed life and enjoyed the people in his life and was truly thankful for how his life had turned out.  And then Fred got sick, not physically, yet that would come.  He lost two close friends and some say he was never quite the same after.  And then he did have some physical ailments too.  Folks saw it.  They noticed when he stopped going out to hunt and fish, when he stopped working in his woodshop.  And if we saw it, why did we think it would just pass?  Well, because it’s Fred we’re talking about.  Fred who loved life and was quick with a story.

Nobody could stretch a story into something so believable and yet so fantastically funny as Fred could.  One of Fred’s storytelling tricks was to heighten the expectation of what was coming next with, “and all of a sudden.”  Well, one year, Lee Smith and Pastor Paavola were coming back from a mission trip to Milwaukee and Lee said, that coming home, Fred was telling stories while Lee was driving.  Well Fred must have just been rolling with the stories and the “and all of a suddens” when, all of a sudden, poor Lee said he almost ran off the road in Indianapolis because he was laughing so hard, tears were streaming down his face and he couldn’t see the road!  I’m sure Fred could have told that story better.

So the way I look at it is this.  Tuesday morning, Fred woke up in an even worse state than he’d been in.  Seeing no other way out, he did the only thing he thought he could do.  He was overwhelmed and he sinned.  The disease in his soul kept him from hearing the voice of his Good Shepherd.  But all of a sudden, he was no longer in turmoil; he was at peace and safe in the hands of his loving Father in heaven, because nothing and no one could snatch him away from the Father’s hand.  That’s the clear message of the whole of the Scriptures and what you hear today.  “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  Jesus says elsewhere in John’s Gospel, “All that the Father gives to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of Him who sent me.  And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.  For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who look on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:37-40)

I know what our eyes tell us and the reason why we’re here.  But Fred Frank was precisely the reason why the God-man named Jesus was sent into the world by His Father.  Fred despaired of this life, not of the next, not of His Good Shepherd.  Fred’s sin was not bigger than the forgiveness Jesus earned for him on the cross.  And I want to assure you of the same forgiveness Jesus, the Good Shepherd, earned for you.  In the wake of a death like Fred’s, we’re tempted to despair.  We’re haunted by our failure, our failure to see how bad off Fred really was, our failure to intervene.  All the “if only I hads…” come rolling in and we’re haunted by our shame and probably don’t even know what to do yet with the anger we feel towards Fred.  So we, too, may be tempted towards despair.  But the message for Fred the sinner is the same for us sinners.  Jesus came to lay down His life for the sake us of us sinners.  There’s a profound misunderstanding all around us that church is for the “good people” who live in a world where bad things just don’t happen.  Jesus victory over death is not for the good people, it’s for sinners who struggle in a world that is constantly set against them.  The message of Jesus is that God so loved all sinners that He sent His only-begotten Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.  Jesus the Good Shepherd came to lay down His life for His sheep, for Fred and for you and for me.

And this should also tell us one more thing: that the world we live in is far more dangerous than it might appear at first glance.  The world is still set against us.  Sin still rages on.  We need to be as well-prepared for it as we can because the conditions around us can change in a flash.  So look not at the world or your sin.  Look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Look at His laying down His life for you, for your sins.  Look to Him and listen for His voice.  “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  We need to be always listening for the voice of the Good Shepherd, to be on guard against despair, to be ready to help those in need, to be content in the protection of the heavenly Father’s strong hand.  “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”  And look forward to the day, when, all of a sudden, the turmoil of this world will pass away and we’ll see the face of Him whose voice we know, and we’ll be at peace forever too.  Amen.

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Sermon for Wednesday, 18 Sept, 2013

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Jesus-Christ-is-Lord-by-Thomas-HawkA Sermon on 1 Timothy 1:1-20

Note:  I added a whole section/paragraph in the middle of this sermon about Fred Frank’s death that isn’t in the text.  As usual just click the triangle in the embedded player below to hear the audio.

We seem to be in a phase these last few weeks of getting the opening of a letter for our New Testament reading.  The letters that comprise a good chunk of the New Testament, especially the letters of Paul, are chiefly concerned with the truth of the Gospel, the content of the Christian faith in the face of so much false teaching in so many places.  Paul seems to indicate in his letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, that it really does matter what specifically one believes about Christ Jesus.  When we get to the letters directed to Timothy and Titus, fellow preachers and protégé’s of Paul, we get the same emphasis on the truth about Christ but from the perspective of an apostle and fellow preacher of the Gospel.  You might find it odd that in a personal letter like this, Paul might appear to be so dogmatic.  But I was just with a group of pastors and much of what we discussed would fall into this category.  We talked shop because we all have it common.  A lot of what we said to one another was mutually encouraging and would pair nicely with what the older Paul writes to the younger Timothy.  And yet the teaching of the apostles about Jesus is never just a set of doctrinal statements as if the preaching of the Gospel could merely be the conveying of some new information about the world.  It is, but it’s so much more than that.  The fact of our redemption in results in a whole new way of life, summed up in our reading tonight in verse 5:  genuine love, good conscience and sincere faith.

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus instructs the apostles to make disciples by baptizing and teaching them everything that the Lord commanded.  When I look at the challenges present in the wider church and even this congregation today, I have to say that for the most part, we get the baptizing done.  Sometimes folks hold off, but usually baptizing happens rather soon after a child I born.  And we have our school, and Sunday school, then confirmation classes and then Bible class, with progressively fewer folks in them as the years go along.  But that teaching effort is an effort to meet the Lord’s command of teaching all things.  Granted, in years past, maybe we haven’t emphasized this.  Somehow or another, the emphasis became: “make disciples by baptizing and teaching them just enough so that they can examine themselves and come to communion.”

So there’s no room in the churches for false doctrine and teachers that teach less than “all things” are just not helpful either.  But there remains a third aspect to this teaching and that is the expected transformative nature of it.  That is, the preaching of the Gospel is supposed to create change in the life of a believer, in the life together of a group of believers, whether on the small scale like a family, or on the larger scale, like a church.  Faith in Christ Jesus is never just a headgame, assenting to a set of historical facts that redefine history, and it’s never just an individual experience as if we can be believers in Jesus all by ourselves.  Paul says, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.”  And that this faith be the foundation for every Christian, but especially the teachers of the church so that they know how to build up the community in mutual love and support, rather than but the wrong sort of teaching or behavior, tear it apart.

What just looks like the opening of a letter is actually full of our understanding about who Jesus is.  God is our savior, that is, rescuer.  Jesus is Lord.  Jews in Paul’s day would have confessed no one other than God as Lord.  Paul is saying quite clearly that Jesus is fully divine.  And before you might be tempted to think that here I go again with some theological esoterica, keep in mind that the way to that clean conscience before God and a genuine faith is by the grace of that Savior God who send His fully divine Son, into human flesh to rescue us from sin, death and the power of the devil. After you get all that straight, then there’s no need for the old myths and the endless genealogies.  The teaching of the gospel itself, and of the way of life which flows from it, must not be a muddled, rambling thing, going this way and that over all kinds of complex Jewish theological issues. It must go straight to the point and make it clearly, so that the young Christians who so badly need building up in their faith may learn the deep, rich, basic elements.

Being a Christian means believing that Jesus is Yahweh and the Lord’s Messiah, the true king of this world.  It is Jesus, our King, and Lord of the Universe who brings us grace, peace and mercy, even now.  This is the living reality of faith in Christ.  It is Christ and Christ alone in whom we have set our confidence.  Amen.

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Sermon for Sunday, 15 September, Pentecost 17

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

JesusThe_Good_Shepherd_bydelparsonNote:  As usual, you can click the triangle in the embedded player. 

 

 

 

 

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

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel reading for today, the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus stops and teaches along the way.  By this point there are great crowds following him.  Even the tax collectors and sinners were coming out to listen to what he had to say.  This caught the attention of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law and so they muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  Jesus tells these two parables in response to the Pharisees’ charge against Him.  In them we see the immeasurable and overflowing love of God.

But before we get to the parables, let’s sort this issue of what a sinner is here.  There are two kinds of people in first century Jewish society, Jews and everybody else, the Gentiles.  You’re probably familiar with that division.  But within Jewish society there were also two groups, the sinners and the righteous.  The Pharisees and those who supported them were the righteous.  They were people who consistently strived to love by the Law of God.  And then there were the sinners.  Sinners lived lives in willful and knowing opposition to the expressed will of God.  And then there were men like Levi, who didn’t just work for the IRS, he collected for either Herod or the Romans or both, both of whom were despised by the people, and tax collectors were also notorious for making their money by extortion and violence.  This phrase, “tax collectors and sinners” gives you the idea that both these groups were thought of in the same way—despised by the righteous.  No respectable rabbi would associate with that kind of people.  And Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.

When we say that Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners, we need to be clear that He is not condoning sin.  There is a general feeling among some Christians that because Jesus welcomed and ate with tax collectors and sinners and did not take part in the stoning of the adulterous woman, that Jesus had a permissive attitude to what we have traditionally known as sin.  Not so.  In these very parables Jesus says that the cause for rejoicing among the angels in heaven is that these sinners repent of their sins.

Times haven’t changed much from Jesus’ day.  The righteous are always trying to get the sinners to repent of their sins.  It’s always easier to focus on the other person’s sins instead of focusing on one’s own.  The meaning of these parables are not shrouded in mystery.  Jesus is trying to prick the consciences of these Pharisees who see no sins in their lives to repent of.  People who do not need to repent are no cause for rejoicing in heaven.  It gives God far greater joy for us to repent of our sin than it does for us to try to impress him with what we think are our righteous deeds.  The Pharisees thought it was God-pleasing when they treated sinners and tax collectors with contempt.  They thought they were pleasing God by holding up their strict understanding of the law.  No longer content with criticizing Jesus’ disciples and their less than “holy” way of life, the Pharisees finally are bold enough to begin their attack on Jesus Himself.  They see no need for forgiveness for themselves and that is the worst sin of all.

Look again at how this passage starts.  “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.”  That little phrase “drawing near” is significant.  When Jesus came into the world, He came to bring near the kingdom of God.  It’s the same phrase.  Now as a result of His preaching, sinners are drawing near.  How about that!?!  The preaching of the coming of Jesus into the world to save sinners actually draws them near.  But look who doesn’t draw near to Jesus.  John the Baptist had come preaching a message of repentance, to be a part of the kingdom of God, the sinners heard and drew near, “the righteous” didn’t and stayed away from Jesus.  The purpose of preaching is to preach repentance to sinners and draw them near.  In this way the kingdom of God comes among us even as it is in heaven.

In telling these parables Jesus contrasts the hardness of the Pharisees hearts with the softness of the Father in heaven’s heart.  Do you want to know what God’s love looks like?  It looks like a shepherd seeking a lost sheep.  The sheep wanders off and gets lost.  With no way to get back on his own, the lamb is sought because of the compassionate care of the Shepherd.  When the Shepherd finds the lost sheep, he doesn’t just call and have the once lost creature walk back to town.  He lifts the sheep up on his shoulders and carries it back to his village where he calls together his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him over the finding of his lost sheep.

When we read this passage honestly, we must finally come to the realization that we are probably more like the Pharisees, the righteous ones, than other sinners we know.  For me I know, the only difference is that I am just better at hiding my sins from other people and appearing to be polite and sincere and sometimes, even holy.  No.  My only saving grace is the same as everyone’s.  Jesus my Savior doggedly pursued my stupid “righteous” self.  He found me, dead in my sins, dirty and starving and He rescued me and lifted me up on His shoulders and carried me back to the Father’s flock because the Father had claimed me as one of His own long ago.  If I can’t say that about myself, I’m a Pharisee for whom in heaven there is no rejoicing.

This has happened to you too.  Jesus, the Good Shepherd sought you out.  He found you wounded and dead in your trespasses and sins; dirty and starving, He lifted you up onto his own shoulders and carried you in safety back to the flock where he washed you and he fed you and he bound up your wounds.  If you cannot see where that happened for you I encourage you to look all the more deeply at Luther’s meaning of the second article of creed, where we confess that “Jesus redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil.”  It happened there at the font; that is the nature of Holy Baptism.  It is happening even now for you by the Spirit in the pure proclamation of the Word.  That is the goal of the practice of the Christian faith to see Jesus accomplishing those things for you right now.

The Christian life is not a life of self-generated holiness but rather a life of repentance, a life of humble recognition that we needed to be saved from our life of slavery to sin, death and the devil.  It is perhaps not just merely humility to say we need such a rescue, but even humiliating.  We are saved by a Rescuer who humiliated himself into order to rescue us.  This is what Jesus did when he carried our sins to the cross.  Our rescue comes when Jesus finds us and takes us on His shoulders and carries us home to the Father.

Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them.  And the Pharisees despised Him for it.  Today Jesus welcomes sinners and feeds them.  Today Jesus extends His welcome once again to you to be one more sinner at His table today.  If this is not how you see your life, dear Christian, hear Jesus’ parable as the warning it is.  Repent.  Repent and then be glad we have such a Savior who delights to eat with sinners.  Amen.

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