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Preaching Law on Call Night — Let’s Rethink

April 30, 2015 1 comment

I listened to the the Call Service sermon at dear alma mater last night.  Thirty-six minutes!  And because the format of theses things seems now required on the Interwebs, let’s call this post “Seven Reasons not to preach the Law too hard on Call night” (especially when the Gospel is preached less sweetly.)

1.  It’s like preaching the Law at a wedding and regardless of whether its directed at the couple, the congregation, the pastor’s own silent struggles in his marriage, or society’s ills, it’s best not done.  Everyone knows marriage is hard, some harder than others.  Preach instead about how hard God is working and will work to keep the couple together in mutual forgiveness, commitment and self-sacrificing love for them and in one another.

2.  It’s like preaching the Law at a funeral.  The Law’s done been preached.  No clearer sermon illustration of the wages of sin can be had.  Preach the sweetness of the Gospel, the comfort of resurrection on account of Jesus, and the confidence we’ll see one another in paradise.

3.  It’s like preaching the Law at Easter.  Honestly, I tried this a little this year.  It did not go over well.  The folks who’ve sweated out Holy Week with you don’t need to hear it.  The Reproaches are still ringing in their ears.  “What I have done to you, O my people?”  And to be honest, you really should be glad there’s enough of a conscious left in someone to get them there on Easter.  For most, they have already recognized their own hypocrisy and stopped coming to see the flowers and take their kids to the egg hunt.  Is anyone still setting up folding chairs on Easter?  Besides, your egg hunt can’t keep up with the Rotary Club’s.

4.  Preaching the Law at Call night is belittling.  It’s never going to sound better than “Look here, you little greenhorn…” It just doesn’t sound churchly; it sounds churlish.  It belittles the candidates, their hard work, their and their families sacrifices to get them to this point.  It belittles the faculty you’re preaching in front of as if your little chestnuts have never been said to them by the seasoned pastors who now train our men to be pastors or learned in the year of internship.  And in the era now of live streaming these things, it begins to belittle the institutions in view of the whole church.  I put forward that it might be somewhat harder to ask the hypothetical Grandma Schmidt to write her check to the seminary on Sunday if you were suggesting they could be do better on it’s most important night.

5.  All that Law came without any specific Gospel.  So, let’s say there was a hypothetical candidate in the pew who had delusions of grandeur about how he was God’s gift to the church and he was planning to Lord the office over the congregation.  Did your preaching of the Law catch him short or did you preach it in such a way to get a laugh from the congregation at this man’s expense.  Did you really just lord your office over his?  (Keeping in mind yours is a derivative office in Missouri polity.)  Telling him not to do it by actually doing it is not a great tactic.  And even if he does go out and sin, (who won’t?) will he come to you for forgiveness?  You told him not to in everything you said.  And you never preached that Jesus was there to forgive pastors, too.  “Love your people” is Law.  “Jesus loves you too, just like He loved Peter, even when you get it wrong.”  That’s Gospel.  When he is restored, Jesus asked Peter three times, “do you love me?”  The implied question here needs to be brought out.  It’s, “Peter, do you see how much I love you that I am willing to forgive you?”  That’s the Gospel for pastors.  That’s the only source for us to be able to continue to do what we do.

6.  All that Law doesn’t build any trust.  Church leaders complain pastors don’t trust one another.  After that sermon last night, and it’s not an isolated occurrence by the way, am I going to trust that guy to speak the Gospel to me when I need it?  The ugly truth is, pastors don’t really have pastors.  If we’re fortunate, we have a network of fellow pastors who commiserate with us and celebrate with us.  But that network is in isolated corners of the Internets, invitation only email lists and secret groups on Facebook.  Look at any comment string after a pastor posts something like this post, if it gets any traction in the Lutheran blogosphere, and see how much collegiality there is and see how much is sheer nastiness toward one another.

7.  All that Law doesn’t really give them what they need for what’s coming.  In a few short weeks, most of these men will leave the warm seedbed (that’s literally what a seminary is) to be uprooted and transplanted into the fields they will serve.  The transition will not be easy.  Some will not make it 2 years.  That should be a sobering thought for us all.  Some will bounce through a couple parishes first before leaving to sell insurance or go back to their old job.  And truly, nothing can prepare a man for the isolation, the relative sparsity of liturgical life in his new parish, and the sense of not belonging in a new community.  I got the sense from the sermon last night that the old man was almost embarrassed that these men had to sit though all the theology, liturgy, and Scriptural study of seminary because in the parish no one will care.  He’s right, of course.  But now we’re back to what’s best described as churlish.

In all honestly, we could do this better.  We could do a better job helping men in their parishes.  Maybe that should be reflected on Call Night.

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Message for Weds Night in Easter 3, April 22

April 23, 2015 Leave a comment

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Exodus 34:29–35:21

The readings today don’t necessarily fit for a baptism but a baptism fits into a service not the other way around.  And that may not make a whole lot of sense because certainly the baptism here tonight of little Allie is the event that is definitely different from what we are normally do but it’s still the wrong way round to say that the baptism for Allie is the most important thing.  It is for her, she’s been baptized but the most important thing is that God is here to do it, and she can return, we can all return week after week to the Lord’s house to hear his Word and to continue to grow in what He’s begun in us, in Allie tonight.

But to tell the truth it doesn’t look like much, does it?  A bit of water, some religious sounding words, a ceremonial 1-moses-descending-mt-sinai-grangerwashing, we might say if we were feeling particularly spiritual.  But that’s about it.  Certainly nothing real, we’re tempted to think.  After all, when we think of actions worthy of the great God of the universe, we think of movements on a cosmic scale, plate tectonics and supernovas and galaxy creations across light years, not something simple like a bath, certainly nothing like a what might appear to be a man-made ceremonial washing.  We expect thunderbolts and lightening and dark clouds of his presence like the Israelites saw firsthand and which no one has seen since.  To put a twist on Groucho Marx’s old line, it’s a little hard for us to believe in a God that would have us as believers.

Sinners should have no place in the presence of a God worthy of our awe.  And yet we know God not only loves those who rebel against Him, He is long-sufferingly patient with them.  He is not like us.  We expect God to make humans His slaves and instead, the content of Jesus’ life and ministry is shows God sent His Son to enter the bondage of sin and death so that we might become His beloved ones, His daughters and sons once again.  We expect a powerful God to conquer His enemies.  Instead, the message of Good Friday is that His enemies conquer Him by nailing Him to a cross.  We expect to get what we deserve at the end of our lives.  Instead, the message of Easter is that we get what Christ earned for us in His resurrection, as we have life eternal just as He was raised from the grave.  We expect sinners to be cast out of His presence, not for our own sins to be washed away in a simple bit of water.

When Moses went up Mt. Sinai, he was baptized of a sort when He came into the presence of the Holy God.  The face of his skin shone like the sun.  What if God once again overpowered us with His might and His glorious presence?  Would it work this time?  It didn’t for Israel.  Those who beheld the glory of God could not bear it and asked Moses to veil his face.  And so God comes now in more ordinary, even hidden, ways.  Do not doubt there is any less the promise of God to be in water, and Word, and bread and wine.  There is nothing manmade about them; they all carry the first-hand mandate of the Lord.  Our Lord said make disciples by baptizing in the way we have done for Allie tonight and then teaching them to obey everything He commands and we’ve promised we’ll do that.  He explicitly directs His deeds be not just taught but declared to all.  Proclaimed.  People don’t pay attention much to proclamations these days from any quarter much more the Lord’s, but the mandate stands.   The bit with the bread and wine comes with explicit instruction, “Do this…in remembrance of all that I have done for you.”  And what the people could not handle in its full glorious power, they despise now in hidden form.

An ancient father of the Church said, “Our Lord bestowed great gifts through small means so that He might teach us of what they are deprived who have scorned the great things.  For if healing like this was secretly stolen from the hem of His garment, could He not all the more certainly heal when His word distinctly bestowed healing?”

And so a little bit of bread and wine, attached to the promise of His Word, carry with them His resurrected body and blood for healing and for peace with God and one another.  A mere man becomes the living voice of Jesus when his words are in accord with what the Lord has spoken.  A pouring of water, attached to instruction and the Name of God as He has revealed Himself become a lavish washing away of sin and recreative for life with God.  He does it.  He dies for His enemies and we experience peace with God and one another.  He makes us free by serving us.  God does great things with what seems to insignificant to our sin-veiled eyes.

And yet, He does it.  For Allie tonight, it is certain.  For you, to be sure.  For us all.  He has done it.  Go in peace.  Amen.

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Sermon for Easter 3, April 16, 2015

April 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Luke 24:36-49

Grace and peace to your form God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.jesus bread

The text for the sermon this morning is the Gospel for today from Luke chapter 24.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.

Last week as well as this week we have for the Gospel readings accounts of post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.  Last week as well as this week the emphasis is the same as that of Easter morning, Jesus has risen in his body.  The disciples could see where the nails where in Jesus’ hands and Thomas can put his fingers into the nail holes and put his hand into the place where the spear pierced Jesus’ side.  Today the emphasis is much the same.  “See my hands and feet?”  Jesus says.  He means look at where the nails pierced them through.  “Touch me and see,” Jesus is not a ghost.  He is resurrected in his body with flesh and bones.  Got anything for breakfast?  Ah, a lovely piece of broiled fish.  Ghosts don’t eat.  Spirits don’t eat.  The resurrected Jesus eats.  We say the Apostles’ Creed at least every week in Bible Class and every other week here in church, if not every day in our daily prayer, “I believe in the resurrection of the body…”  The Christian Church really believes, teaches and confesses that truth.  Just as Jesus was raised, that is, in His body, so shall our bodies on the Last Day be raised from the grave and we will eat forever at the banquet table of the Lord.

This teaching is in explicit contrast to the prevailing spiritualized Christianity prevalent today that resides in the hearts of many if not most who claim to be Christians.  I have even heard it preached at supposedly Lutheran funerals that the now dearly departed has already been resurrected with Jesus.  Really, I wonder?  I just saw him in the box before they closed the lid.  Revelation chapter 6 helps us to see this rightly, “When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”  (Rev. 6:9-11) No, this now departed saint is at rest in the Lord and is even with the Lord, his voice now joined with the choir crying out for the Lord to bring all things to completion, “How long, Oh Lord!” but he will wait until the last day to be resurrected, bodily resurrected as Jesus was from grave.  Listen to the words of the committal rite held at the graveside.  “We now commit the body of our departed brother the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in the sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.  May God the Father who created this body, may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body, may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.  Amen.”  LSB, Pastoral Care Companion, 134)  These are not just preacher’s “pretty words;” this is the proclamation of Jesus’ Easter victory over death at the mouth of the open grave.  This is most certainly true.  Amen.

Gone should be any notion that the disciples believed that Jesus’ resurrection was a spiritual resurrection.  The evangelists took great pains, at the expense of their own pride in confessing misunderstanding as to what it meant, no less, that Jesus was raised in glorified flesh and bone.  The apostles, especially Peter and then Paul go on to proclaim that this is not just news but Good News.  As Jesus was raised from the death, so shall we be.  When Jesus promises that we will no longer suffer hunger or thirst or scorching heat, it’s not because we won’t have bodies that suffer so, it’s because all those needs will be met.  This is the great difference between a vague notion of “I hope I fly away to heaven when I die,” and, “the Day of Resurrection!”  And it’s also a reason why in church we don’t sing the song, “I’ll Fly Away,” no matter how much fun it is to sing.

And the Good News that Jesus is raised from the dead in glorified flesh and bone is not just Good News for us one day in the sweet by and by, but in the here and now.  In both appearances last week and this week the message of the resurrected Lord to you is “Peace, be with you.”  Peace is the prevailing message of the New Testament Church.  Jesus doesn’t mean peace like an old burned out hippie, He means you are right with God.  All that frightens you about life in this world, the uncertainty over what lies in the future, the acceptance letter, the next election, the next text results, the next health crisis, for many the next day, the next meal, the next breath, all of those fears are put to rest.  And it’s not your faith which gives you strength to meet these challenges, it’s your Lord who has already met them and answered them in Himself, in His victory over sickness, anxiety and even death itself.  What Peter called “times of refreshing” are already at hand.  Would that I could with a touch erase cancer from bodies.  Would that I could, Like Peter and John, restore the lame but it is not given to me to do, but my task is just as apostolic, to preach the resurrected Jesus.  He has risen from the dead in glorified flesh and bone and one day, on that great Day, there will be no more poverty, no more sickness, no more cancer, and no more death.  That Days is surely coming, declares the Lord.

And I have one other apostolic task by virtue of the Office of Holy Ministry I have been called and ordained to hold in the Church and that is to say the words given to me to say, to speak on His behalf, to say the resurrected Lord Jesus comes today in glorified flesh and blood, via bread and wine just has He Himself says, and He brings peace to you.  It is no accident that the peace of the Lord is proclaimed to the people immediately after the consecration.  Jesus, resurrected body, is as truly and really present at His table just as He was in the upper room, just as He was on the shore of Sea of Galilee that late Spring and He brings to you the same peace.  The bread and the wine now bearing with them the glorified flesh and blood of the resurrected Jesus are held aloft and the minister repeats only the words he is given to say, “The peace of the Lord be with you, always.”  The only proper response is truly, “Amen.  Yes, yes, it is so.”  The liturgical renewal in the Church did so many good things but it was a great misunderstanding when the peace of the Lord turned into something of a holy howdy, a meet and greet between minister and people and then between the people themselves.  Yes, truly we have peace with one another one account of the risen Jesus, but the response is not first, “And also with you, pastor” but rather, “It is as you say.  Gift received.  Amen.”  It will be a generation now in many places before this certainty is returned liturgically.  Hopefully we will not have to wait a generation for this certainty in the Lord’s peace to return to us for we have His peace even today.

Jesus is raised from the dead in glory.  So shall we also one day, but until that day we have the resurrected Jesus with us in body and blood, the peace of the Lord be with you always.  Amen.

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

Alleluia! Christ is risen.  He is risen indeed.  Alleluia.  Amen.

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Message for Easter Morning

April 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Luke 24:1-12

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.”  They find the stone rolled away from the tomb.  And when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  Suddenly there were to angels.  And they said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”

This is either the greatest news humankind has ever heard or it is the greatest hoax ever.  Which is it?

Our claim and the central claim of Christianity is Jesus’ body was raised from the dead.  Next week, if you’re here, you’ll hear that Thomas actually puts his fingers in the places where the nails were in Jesus’ hands and into the place in Jesus’ side where the Roman soldier poked with a spear.  It was not just His soul that was raised.  Jesus was not just raised spiritually.  He’s not just alive in our hearts.  Jesus’ body was raised from the dead.  And if Jesus is alive, it means the grave no longer has the power we used to think it did.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia.

When I think about today and the real meaning of the day, it gives me great comfort that one day, on the Last Day, Jesus will come back and all those who have been buried will be raised in a glorious resurrection of the dead.  All our loved ones, those for whom many of you bought lilies in memory, they will be raised.  We will see them again and live with them again in the new creation not in some ethereal disembodied existence up in the clouds somewhere.  A real new life with real people who have been raised like Jesus was, in a real new creation.  That’s the assurance we have today because of Easter morning.  That first Easter Jesus showed us the grave is not the end but rather the resting place for the bodies of all who fall asleep in Him.

We love to sing our Easter hymns so much we’ve forgotten to pay attention to the texts of those hymns.  When you sing hymn 490 today during communion, pay close attention to the first stanza.

Jesus lives!  The vict’ry’s won!

Death no longer can appall me;

Jesus lives!  Death’s reign is done!

From the grave will Christ recall me.

Brighter scenes will thence commence;

This shall be my confidence.  LSB 490:1

That’s the Message of Easter.  Death is defeated.  That’s the message of God to the world in Christ Jesus.  That’s the message we are given to share with the world.  That’s the Gospel.  THE Good News.  It changes everything.

But do we live as though that news matters?  Do we long to hear that Good News over and over again?  Has the Good News been drowned out by all the other news that constantly swirls around us?

Think of so much of the other news we hear.  I’m thinking mostly about the political and economic news that we hear daily.   Too often that’s this other news that drives how we feel and how we act.  We get agitated at the bad news and then we get complaining about it and fail to remember the Good News that does change everything.

Or maybe it’s not that the national news that bums us out but news that is more personal.  It looks like the job won’t last.  The IRS says you miscalculated and you owe more money.  Or worse, a friend, a teacher, a parent, a child has just been diagnosed.  That’s truly told terrible news.  That news can definitely drown out the Good News.  In the face of such pain, the Good News sounds too good to be true.  It’s whistling in the graveyard,” we say.

Part of the problem is that when things happen, when the pain of sickness and death threaten to swamp us, it becomes pretty clear that nowhere else is there any truly Good News.  The doctors can only make her comfortable.  The boss can only keep you on for a little while until you find something else.  Your friends can only seem to share platitudes like, “When God closes a door, He opens a window,” which by the way is not the Good News.  Nowhere else is saying this is all but temporary.  Nowhere do you hear, “I know it hurts.”  But Jesus came into the pain and suffered it for real to know exactly how we feel.  He knew the pain of losing friends and family to illness and injustice.  The cross was real pain for Jesus but there is Easter.  And because of Easter we know there is victory coming.  It is assured.  As certain as Easter morning happened, victory is coming.  It’s only in church where that message is spoken in the face of life’s pain and sorrow and death.

Head over to Walmart after church this morning and try shouting down the line of cashiers, “Alleluia!  Christ is risen!”  You let me know if you get a response other than looks that ask, “Is that guy nuts?”  But maybe the problem is Walmart.  Go over to IHOP instead and try it out.  Let me know if the hostess there doesn’t already have the hand on the phone and dialed 9-1…  Head just across the parking lot there and walk into Starbucks.  Try shouting that news.  If they actually look up from their laptops and their lattes, they’ll not be impressed.  No, this is really the only place where that Good News is proclaimed.  It’s not at Walmart or IHOP or Starbucks.  Now don’t get me wrong, I like my Starbucks and I go to the local place even more than the Starbucks here, but the Good News isn’t proclaimed there in its truth in purity.  The forgiveness of sins isn’t attached to a double shot cappuccino.  This is the only place where the Good News is proclaimed week in and week out in the face of all the other news we get.

May the problem is the news.  A guy in front of me at Lowe’s shared with me about the weather.  He didn’t shout about it but he talked both with me and with the cashier about what a fine day it was.  Not really news.  I was already out.  I’d already seen for myself what a fine day it was.

Instead of running into Walmart and shouting Christ is risen, but instead shouted that there was a lady out front handing out gold coins, I’m sure there would be more of a reaction.  As more and more people came back with their gold coin, I’m sure more and more would be out front, in line waiting to get theirs.  It has to be news like that, doesn’t it?  News that benefits every person that hears it.  Is that not what we are saying today?  Jesus is raised and is the firstfruits.  As He rose, so shall all who believe in Him.  That’s our witness today.  Jesus’ grave was empty, not because of grave robbers but because He had risen just as the angels said.

And I want to make a special plea to you today because so many of you are here.  If you value this Good News, that Jesus is truly raised, you might need to consider how you order your life.  After Peter preached this Good News at Pentecost and many were cut to the heart, they asked him, “What then shall we do?”  He said be baptized and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  All of you, I presume have done that.  But can I ask then, where you are when it’s not Easter?  If this is the place where the Good News is being announced, don’t you want to hear it?  Don’t you need to hear it?  Don’t you need a glimpse of what it will be like when He comes again and welcomes us to the eternal banquet table?  In the midst of all the bad news, some weeks, the Good News is the only thing that keeps me going.

So, today is not just a day for eggs and hats and new dresses.  It’s the day we are assured of new life.  It’s a day of Good News, the greatest news ever.

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared.”  They find the stone rolled away from the tomb.  And when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  Suddenly there were to angels.  And they said, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?  He is not here, but has risen.”  Amen.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!  Amen.

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