Thursday, August 30, 2007
"I have made known to you everything that I heard from my Father." John 15:15b
These are beautiful and comforting words. Christ says to us: "If you want to know the Father's will and thought in heaven, you have all the information right here, for I have told you
everything." A Christian can arrive at this definite conculsion and say:"Nothing that serves my salvation is concealed from me."
Christ is not saying that we are to have an answer to every question, but that we have God's whole plan and counsel for us. If you want to be certain what God in heaven thinks of you, you must not seclude yourself, retire into some nook, and brood about it or seek the answer in your works or in your contemplation. Give ear solely to the words of Christ, for everything is revealed in Him.
And here He declares: "I was sent to you by my Father that I might shed my blood and die for you. As a token of this you have Baptism and the Sacrament, and I ask you to believe this. Here you have all that I know and have heard from the Father. The Father has no other plan and intention toward you than to save you if you have Christ and faith. From this you see how I love you, and what friendship, glory, consolation, and assurance you have from Me. You cannot attain this anywhere else, either in heaven or on
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
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Monday, August 27, 2007
Luke 13: 30
No one likes to be last.
Think of the last long line you had to wait in. If you’re like me, you asked the person in front of you, “Is this the end of the line?” knowing that it was, with the absurd hope that they would turn around and say, “Oh no, not for you, there’s no waiting over there.”
No one likes to be last.
This is a great time of year for a baseball fan. Pennant races and wild card chases make things intriguing for fans of the top teams. And then there’s the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, with the worst record in the Major Leagues, about 29 games out of first place; they’ve won about 37 percent of their games. If you’re a Tampa Bay fan, what do you have to cheer for?
No one likes to be last or even associate with those who are last.
I’ve had numerous conversations with people who live into their late 80s and 90s, and they wonder, why am I still around? The people I’ve been closest to are all gone. No one wants to spend time with someone like me—not for long, anyway. Why am I the last one standing?
No one likes to be last or even associate with those who are last. I take that back. There is Someone who loves those who are last. This Someone has reversed everything. This Someone would never be praised for having quote-unquote common sense.
Our culture worships winners and fawns over front-runners. The culture in which Jesus lived was no different. Back then, there were plenty of people who were convinced that their salvation was a shoo-in because they had worked hard enough and been good enough. Of course they would be welcomed into heaven; they had listened to the right things; said the right things; done the right things; they would waltz right into the banquet hall.
Not much has changed in a couple thousand years. There are still plenty of people who are convinced that heaven awaits them because of their good performance in the game of life. Success, big numbers, the glitz and glory are read by many as signs of God’s favor; the flip side being, well, no one likes to be last. So work hard. Stay out of trouble (most of the time…wink, wink). Try not to hurt anyone. Make something of yourself. And in the end, God’s got to notice that the good outweighed the bad, doesn’t he? “Doesn’t he?” asks worldly wisdom.
The disturbing story Jesus tells today answers worldly wisdom’s question. And the answer is no.
He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, “Sir, open the door for us.” But he will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.” Then you will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from the east and the west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.
This story is bad news for the high achiever who believes that gaining heaven is just another action they can perform with excellence. This story is bad news for those who have the sense that they are entitled to the blessings of God’s kingdom because of good behavior or personal pedigree. This story is bad news for those who believe Christianity is just a matter of listening to Jesus occasionally and eating and drinking with him once in a while, and then, when that’s done, we’ll put Jesus back into his little box and go about our lives unchanged. This story is bad news for those who think that God’s kingdom is really only for people who are a lot like us. All of which means that it’s bad news for me, because I’ve thought and acted that way far too often. Maybe you’re with me on this.
But do you know who this story is good news for? The last. No one likes to be last, but Jesus loves the last; He’s come to lift up the last and put them at the head of the line. This story is good news for the person who can’t shake the weight of guilt. This story is good news for those who have been pushed to the margins of life because of age, class, or race. This story is good news for the person who is struggling to enter through the narrow door; who is struggling against sin and struggling towards repentance. This story is good news for the one who has been humbled and humiliated by their own shortcomings; for the one who is ready to admit: I’ll never be good enough for God. If you’re there, this story is good news for you. Because it was told by the One who loves the last and the lost and has reversed everything. It was told by the One—Jesus Christ—who opened the narrow door by dying under our sins and burying them in His grave and then returning to life on the third day. This story was told by the same teacher who said: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” He came for the sick, for the last place finishers, for the outcasts, for the have-nots, and for all those plowed under by shame, sadness, sin, pain and grief and are simply willing to say to the Lord: “I don’t deserve any good thing from you. Be merciful to me, a sinner.”
To that person Jesus says, “Come into the kingdom I have prepared for you. Come to the feast made possible by my broken body, my spilled blood and my resurrected life. I do know you—I wrote my name on you when you were baptized. Come from every corner of the world, eat, drink, and celebrate with all who died and lived by faith in me! Come, you who were last, put down, excluded, labeled and marginalized, lose all faith in yourself, believe in Me and all I’ve done for you; and you will become an honored guest at My table.”
Because God loves you and values you, He gives you a preview of the feast he describes in this story. It’s called the Lord’s Supper. Here, in His Church, we eat the best of foods and the finest of wines—the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus, through which our sins are forgiven and we are cleansed. Here, in time, we approach the banquet table, as we will in eternity. Here is our preview of heaven—of life lived in the presence of Jesus, the Lamb who was slain and who lives again. Here with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, with all the saints and patriarchs like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with the prophets and apostles, and with Christians of every era who have died and live with the Lord, we surround the throne of God and kneel in awe at the Son of Man, Jesus, the Christ, whose scars in hand, foot and side still tell of divine love and mercy. Here, at this altar, in this sanctuary, our rehearsal of heavenly worship begins.
And if we rehearse for heaven here, then we also will rehearse the reversal here. We will rehearse the reversal that characterizes God’s kingdom. We will rehearse the reversal of priorities that Jesus insisted upon. We will seek out the last and the lost and the hurting; we will reach out to the marginalized, the lonely and those who seemingly have nothing to offer in order to let them know: there is a place of honor for you in God’s kingdom—not just in the life of the world to come, but starting now—here--today! We’ll rehearse the reversal by counting success in God’s kingdom not in terms of size or numbers and who is “winning,” but are sinners being led to the narrow door of Christ Jesus? Are they—are we--struggling, repenting, and entering? We’ll rehearse the reversal by not treating each other with an “eye for an eye” approach, but in sincere forgiveness, living out the words that we say when we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” When we do these things, we are simply letting Jesus use us. And when we let Jesus use us; when Christ comes through us with his forgiveness and servant heart, well, the world might look and see a loser. But you’ll know better. You’ll recognize the One who loves the last, and who, by that love, has conquered all. Amen.
August 25 and 26, 2007 + Pentecost 13
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Music is not a means of grace, a direct channel for God's undeserved love to flood into my life. (But the text sung to the music might be.) The preacher's winning personality is not a means of grace, nor is his style and skill in the pulpit. The ambiance created by the sacred space of church architecture is not a means of grace, nor is the friendliness of the assembled worshipers.
Of course, these matters are important. We want to do our best with them for the glory of God and for the edification of his people. But they are not the holy basics. We cannot let attention to them detract from reliance on God's glorious means of grace, the gospel in word and sacrament.
Every Sunday we can rejoice in the certainty that God's people are being fed. This happens not because the preacher has blended just the right ingredients of Bible text, humor, personal insight, and rhetorical flair. It happens because God promises, "My word will not return to me empty" (Isaiah 55: 11). It happens because the preacher handles the dynamite of God, the gospel, which is "the power of God" (Romans 1: 16). The Lord himself promises an unending supply of real spiritual food every time his baptized saints receive his body and blood. What confident joy we can have in God's promises connected to his means of grace!
Monday, August 20, 2007
Luke 12: 51
Isn’t it great that once you have Jesus in your life, everything starts to work out perfectly? Isn’t it awesome that once Jesus has hold of you, all the relationships in your family improve so much that all you do is give each other great big hugs? Isn’t it something that once your co-workers find out that you’re a Christian, they treat you with the utmost respect? Isn’t is exciting to see all your friends applauding your Christian faith, and are all just waiting to hear what you have to say about Jesus?
What’s that? That’s not how things are working out for you? Well, what do you mean? The TV preacher I was watching said that with a little bit of God in my life, I’d become a better me! I’d feel better! I’d enjoy life more! You mean that might not always be the case?
I’ll stop playing the fool here and let Jesus speak: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on, families will be divided—because of me.”
I sincerely doubt that these words of Christ will result in a number one bestseller at the Christian bookstore. But maybe they ought to. Maybe they ought to because they describe life pretty accurately. Instead of making our family relationships easier, sometimes Jesus makes them harder to handle, because Uncle Frank just doesn’t want to hear about Jesus from you. Instead of respect, your co-workers may declare open season on the “Jesus freak,” or more likely they will quietly humor your backward and old-fashioned value system. And your friends wouldn’t be your friends if they treated you like that, but there still is plenty of room for disagreement, especially if your faith keeps preventing you from having the same type of fun you used to have with them. All because of Jesus. That’s the trouble with Jesus, you know. He doesn’t want anyone to stay the same. He doesn’t want anyone to stay in the comfort of their sin. He has the nerve to want to be our first priority. He has the audacity to tell us we need to wake up and go in a new direction. That’s a message that makes people want to run and hide. It might make you squirm, too. One solution to the problem this Jesus is causing is to invent a form of religion that makes us feel better, but that includes no real call to change. Wow! Guess what? People have been attempting just that for thousands of years!
In the Old Testament lesson for today, God levels a devastating accusation at the false prophets who were running around at the time of Jeremiah, about 600 BC. In righteous anger God says, “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, “the Lord says: you will have peace.” And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts, they say, “No harm will come to you.” Did you hear that? God is condemning the very type of religion that lots of people love to practice. God is ripping these prophets up and down because they are telling people who hate the Lord and who have no plans to change their lives, “Hey, everything is going to be fine! Nothing bad will happen to you. You don’t have to change who you are! You’re OK!” And God might as well be talking about anyone who presumes to speak on his behalf, anyone who says, “God told me to tell you,” but who refuses to talk about sin, about repentance, about responsibility, about forgiveness. The Lord says, “if they had stood in my council, they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways.” And that’s the problem with God and the problem with His Son. He wants us to turn from evil, to turn from the sin we crave, and to come into His light. Jesus was 100% right—he brings division—division in me! Division in you! When you hear of someone who would voluntarily be punished—so that you wouldn’t be—something changes in your heart. When you hear of someone--the Son of God, no less—who had it all and gave it up to purchase your soul—there’s something different going on inside. When you hear of Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God, do you really want to turn back to feed on the slop of sin? Or do you feel the division? Do you believe Jesus has come to separate you from your sin? That is why He came. To forgive you, to claim you, to change you! To give you a new kind of life—life with no expiration date. To give you identity that is all wrapped up in Him. That is great and awesome news! That means your life today has great promise and purpose and physical death for you is just a bump in the road, because Jesus conquered death when He broke out of the tomb. Jesus has come to divide us from our sin, and by His Spirit we can see things the way they really are. That puts us at war with the devil, the world, and often ourselves. And fight we must.
Winston Churchill at the height of World War II had a counter-question to those who asked, “What are we fighting for?” He said, “Stop fighting and you’ll soon find out.” When the church is preaching God’s Word, when we stand in God’s council and then proclaim what he says—conflict will arise! It will arise because Jesus calls for change! But if we stop preaching the Word to avoid conflict, “we’ll soon find out what you get when you try to shut God’s mouth.”
When you’re an ambassador for Jesus Christ, there are great things that happen, thanks be to God—you see lives changed by Him, and it’s indescribable. But we must not be naïve, either. Standing with Jesus makes you a target. You have to give Jesus credit—he did not whitewash or sugarcoat in any way the cost of being his disciple. He said, point blank, families will become divided because of me. He could’ve added, friendships will be divided because of me. Ethnic groups and nations will be divided because of me. He told us exactly what was going to happen! And one point that I hope you take home with you today is this: when Uncle Frank or your childhood best friend or your brother or sister or whoever has a problem with you because of your faith; it’s not you they have a problem with. It’s Jesus they have the problem with. Either they don’t know him at all, or they correctly sense that Jesus doesn’t want them to stay the way they are. They sense that Jesus is going to ask for some changes to be made. For some folks that’s terrifying. For some that seems impossible. So what do you do for the Uncle Franks of the world? Be Christ-like. Endure the cross of a relationship that is being strained. Show them Jesus by showing them mercy, love, forgiveness, and patience, and don’t leave Jesus’ name unspoken. You don’t have to repeatedly bang someone over the head with Jesus—His Word is enough. God’s Word has all the bang it needs by itself. God even says to Jeremiah, “Is not my Word like fire and like a hammer that breaks rock to pieces?” But if we stop letting the Word of God speak to avoid conflict, what chance will Uncle Frank have? Isn’t that like having the lifeline in your hand and refusing to throw it to a drowning person? As Christians, we all have that lifeline. We carry it around with us every day. When was the last time you threw it to someone?
I know this is a challenging Word to consider today. But there is encouragement here, too. Returning to Hebrews 11 we have an entire list of faithful people who were able to do incredible things by faith. We’re asked to consider their example. Look at what faith prompted these people to do! Faith prompted Moses to stand up to Pharoah and lead a nation out of slavery! Faith prompted the Israelites to walk through the Red Sea as God held the waters back! That would take a little bit of trust, don’t you think? Faith prompted the people to march around the city of Jericho, a rather odd battle plan, but God made it effective when the walls fell down. And the writer of Hebrews says, since we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses; since we have all these examples of people who were faithful to God’s Word in the face of insurmountable odds; now that it’s our turn, what are we going to do? Will we get entangled in sin? Will we keep our mouths shut for fear of offending? Or will we run with perseverance the race marked out for us? Will we run with Jesus, no matter what the cost? Will we run to Jesus—who asks, in the end, not that we change ourselves, but that we let Him change us? As the writer of Hebrews invites us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Focus on Him, the very author of our faith, the living Word, Jesus, our goal and our way to the goal!
And runner, when the road is long/feel like giving in but you’re hanging on
Oh runner, when the race is won/you will run into His arms!
God grant it by the grace of Jesus. Amen.
August 18 and 19, 2007, Pentecost 12
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Two weeks ago I found myself in the midst of 25,000 Lutheran youth (along with their frazzled adult leaders)—a literal sea of Lutherans. It was an intense, wild and meaningful experience. I almost got trampled, but that’s a story for another time. By the way, the youth who attended this event will be sharing their stories after the 10:45 service tomorrow/today. Try to make time for that if you can—I think you’ll be impressed by what they made of their opportunity.
The theme of the National Youth Gathering can be summarized in one word: Chosen. And that word was everywhere, from the first event to the last; on backpacks and Bibles, on T-shirts, hats, bracelets and buttons. Chosen, chosen, chosen. By the end of our time in Orlando, quite frankly I think everyone was a little tired of the word Chosen. It had gotten to that saturation point. But, a day hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t given some thought to what it means to be Chosen by God.
So I get home and start to work on the service and the sermon and lo and behold, what do all three readings for this week have in common? That’s right. Being Chosen. Being Chosen by the God who loves to make unlikely choices; strange choices; daring choices. That God has chosen you in Jesus Christ. You know that, don’t you? He has chosen you to belong to Him; and He has chosen you for a purpose, and because He has, we can live courageous lives in Christ.
In the Old Testament lesson we become acquainted once again with Father Abraham. At this point, actually, he’s still Abram, which mean exalted father. Interesting name for a childless man. That goes to show us how God loves to choose the unlikely and the unreasonable to accomplish His purposes. Because it gets worse. Abram, Mr. Exalted Father (with no children yet) is told by God that he will have as many children as there are stars in the sky. Abram, whose father worshipped the false gods and idols of his culture, and had probably taught his son a thing or two. Abram, with not one child yet to show for it, is repeatedly told by God, you’ll have as many offspring as the sand on the beach and the stars in sky. Unlikely? Absolutely. Unreasonable? Of course. God’s choice? Yes! Abram would not be at the top of any congregation’s call list. But he’s God’s choice. And here’s the kicker. Abram believed the Lord. He believed it! Doesn’t mean he did all the right things! But he believed the Lord, and God credited it to Abram as righteousness. What do you know, righteousness through faith in the Old Testament!
And let’s quickly look at what that faith caused Abram to do. In Hebrews 11:8 it says “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where He was going.” I just love that verse, because I can totally relate to that last part. Maybe you can too. So many times in service to God I find myself in situations where I don’t know where I’m going! I don’t know what to do! I wonder, why have you chosen me to deal with this? Isn’t there someone more qualified, with more experience, with wiser words to share? If you want me to go, I’ll go—but I don’t know where I’m going.” Ever felt that way? Do you see what the writer of Hebrews is trying to say? We can look up to Abraham because of his great example of faith—faith that caused him to obey God, and that obedience caused him to go where God told him to. I’m pretty sure we get the faith part; it’s the obeying and the going that we get hung up on. Do you get the sense that God is calling you to go in a certain direction with your life? Are you resisting him until you get more information? Or until circumstances in your life change? Did Abraham gather the facts and debate the pros and cons? Or did he obey and go, even though he didn’t know where he was going?
Well, you might say, I’m not chosen like Abraham was chosen. Sorry, I’d have to disagree. In today’s gospel lesson we have some marvelous teachings of Jesus, where he warns against the fruitless exercise of worry; and strongly encourages us to make God’s kingdom our first priority, and then he says this: Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. In the words of our hymn: The Father has chosen to give you the kingdom. Please think about that for a second. Think about what Jesus, God-in-the-flesh is saying. The Father has chosen to give the kingdom—His kingdom—to you. Unlikely? Absolutely. Unreasonable? Of course! God’s choice? Yes, God’s choice. You may feel, because of what you’ve done; because of what you’ve been; because of what you’re going through now that you’re an even more unlikely and hopeless choice than Abram was: but guess what? Here you are. Here you are because God has chosen you. God has touched your life in some way that makes you open and eager to hear his words. So hear this and take it to heart: the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom! Can you believe it? Yes, you can! Because the one who said it is the Way and the Truth and the Life.
Ah, but what does it mean? Well, let’s state the obvious; God’s kingdom is not a political entity; you can’t find it on Mapquest; It’s not the Magic Kingdom outside of Orlando. Simply put, God’s kingdom is wherever Jesus is. God’s kingdom is wherever Jesus can still be found giving out His gifts of forgiveness, new life, salvation. God’s kingdom is wherever Jesus is serving the undeserving. It’s where Jesus’ words are still broadcast and listened to and believed; it’s where Jesus gives his own body and blood away for the forgiveness of sins. Is the picture starting to form for you? The kingdom of God is in the United States, yes, but it’s also in Africa, in Asia, in South America, in Russia, it’s everywhere Jesus is. This kingdom belongs to you, and you belong to it.
God chose you in Christ to be a citizen of His Kingdom, and citizenship definitely has it’s privileges: for starters, there’s freedom from sin, death, and hell; complete and total forgiveness through Jesus’ self-sacrifice on the cross; real life that happens to have no end that flows from the risen life of Jesus; faith to believe these promises; spiritual gifts and abilities to be used in works of love and service; fellowship and community in a disintegrating culture…I could go on. The Father has chosen to give you all of this and more through His Son Jesus Christ.
The kingdom is yours. What are you going to do with it? Will you take risks like Abraham who obeyed and did as God said, even though he didn’t know where he was going? The kingdom that has been given to you has a mission statement, you should know. It sounds like this: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the close of the age.” How are you going to go? What part will you play in making disciples? How will the teaching of Jesus Christ come to life in you? You have been chosen for this. But have no fear…for Jesus is here. Amen.
Delivered August 11 & 12, 2007
I love the hymns of the church. (I'm sure that comes as no surprise.) I think of them not only as hymns, but also as poetry, and also as brief and lively statements of faith (what one of my seminary professors calls "sung confessions.")
What follows is a beautifully constructed little hymn that was included in Hymnal Supplement 98. It does not appear that it made the jump to LSB. Anyway, see if these words speak to you.
This is the threefold truth on which our faith depends;
And with this joyful cry worship begins and ends:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
Made sacred by long use, new-minted for our time,
Our liturgies sum up the hope we have in Him:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
On this we fix our minds as, kneeling side by side,
We take the bread and wine--take Him, the Crucified:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
By this we are upheld when doubt or grief assails
Our Christian faith and love, and only grace avails:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
This is the threefold truth which, if we hold it fast,
Changes the world and us and brings us home at last:
Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!
Text: Fred Pratt Green, b. 1903
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Monday, August 13, 2007
Our congregation is helping support the Mays, and this site gives you a sense of what our missionaries really endure for the sake of the the gospel of Christ. There's plenty of pictures and contact information, so, by all means, make use of it.
A well-dressed European woman was on safari in Africa. The group stopped briefly at a hospital for lepers. The heat was intense, the flies buzzing. She noticed a nurse bending down in the dirt, tending to the pus-filled sores of a leper.
With revulsion, the woman said, "Why, I wouldn't do that for all the money in the world!"
The nurse quietly replied, "Neither would I."