Veterans Sunday

Veteran’s Sunday/24th Sunday after Pentecost

November 19, 2017

2 Samuel 1:19 and Romans 5:8

“Grace is Never Cheap”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The texts that engage us today are 2 separate verses from the OT and NT; from 2 Samuel 1:19 and Romans 5:8 and they read as follows: “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How the mighty have fallen!” and “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Today we are celebrating Veterans Day. “Wait!”, you cry. “Veteran’s Day was last Saturday!” True, but it’s less important the date we choose; we simply want to give thanks to God in honoring the men and women who faithfully answered the call to serve in our nation’s military. Today is our time to remember that much of what we enjoy in life comes to us through the service and sacrifice of others. In the same way, God’s grace often comes to us through others without our realization. And, most certainly, God’s grace is never cheap!

There is an interesting song written by David in the Old Testament that emphasizes this truth. God had chosen David as Israel’s future king, and David was very popular among the people after he had killed the giant Goliath. Unfortunately, the reigning King Saul became very jealous over David and repeatedly tried to kill him. David’s very close friend and Saul’s son, Jonathan, tried desperately to restore this broken relationship between Saul and David, but it was not to be. David was forced to live as a fugitive, constantly on the run and in fear for his life.

Then, in the first chapter of second Samuel, a tattered and exhausted messenger arrived at the camp where David was hiding. The messenger brought news that both Saul and Jonathan had been killed in battle. As proof, he handed David a band from the king’s arm, and, the most prized possession, the king’s crown.

One could assume that David must have been overwhelmed with joy. After all, he was now free from danger! And, more importantly, the wicked and deranged king Saul was dead, and David’s path to the throne was finally cleared. But instead, David mourned bitterly over the news and composed a heart-wrenching song that reflected his grief. Throughout the song, a powerful phrase recurs again and again… “how the mighty have fallen….how the mighty have fallen!” (2 Samuel 1:19).  These are not words of gloating, but words of deep lament. David recognized the service and sacrifice of Saul.

How quickly have we taken for granted the service of those who served our country? How many times this week have you focused on what you don’t have rather than being thankful for what you do have? Think about the simple graces or undeserved blessing we have already enjoy on this day. That warm cup of coffee and the banana on our cereal – how many faceless and dirt-poor people made that possible for you? Or, what about the clothing on our backs – how much of it came from the sweatshops in third-world countries? And then there are the untold hundreds who make possible the gas and oil that fuel our cars, electricity for this building, and the “disappearance” of our garbage and sewage. When you think about everything in your life, the list of struggling contributors you don’t even think of becomes overwhelming. And who, fellow Americans, has made it possible for us to travel wherever we please, to speak whatever we think, to read whatever we want, to worship anyway we please, and to elect whomever we choose? Has any of that come to us without cost? There is nothing free about freedom. Do we ever consider the many, the hundreds, perhaps the thousands of lives that have, in some way, been sacrificed for our moments of comfort today, which we take for granted?

When the movie “Saving Private Ryan” came out, there was a brief renewal of interest in the war experiences of our veterans who had spent much of their post-war life not talking about what happened. “Saving Private Ryan” was the story of a squad of Army Rangers sent to save a fellow soldier – James Ryan – whose three brothers had been killed in battle. The squad undertakes a search for a “needle in a stack of needles.” Army officials wanted Private Ryan to be sent home to spare his mother the agony of losing all of her sons in combat. The Rangers find Private Ryan but are caught in a fierce battle, and the squad’s captain is mortally wounded. With his final breath, he whispers to Ryan “Earn this.” Obviously, no matter how “good” Ryan would live for all the years to come, he could never earn what those men had sacrificed. “Earn this!” We can’t. We can never earn the grace under which we all live. But, may God forbid that we ever ignore the cost!

What happened at Normandy and Europe and the Pacific Theater, sadly, has been repeated again and again – at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea, at Da Nang in Vietnam, at Fallujah in Iraq, and at Sangin in Afghanistan. Even when our nation is not at war, American servicemen and servicewomen are often killed or wounded while aiding our allies or protecting our borders.  So today we ask ourselves…are all those who die or are wounded in such service righteous? Do they “earn” righteousness? No. They are no more righteous that those who slaved to provide our coffee, bananas, clothing, fuel, or sanitation. They are no more righteous than we are. Our service doesn’t make them or any of us righteous…but faith in Jesus Christ does.

When we live in that kind of awareness, then we begin to get a faith glimpse of what Paul was talking about in Romans. “But God demonstrates his love in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8). Think about that! In fact, as Paul put it, God intervened into history … “at just the right time,” – specifically, “when we were still powerless” (5:6). His is a divine service, a divine sacrifice. The cross and empty tomb is the ultimate D-Day invasion; the eternal attack on sin, death, and the devil was announced a complete, total, absolute, and unconditional victory.

Inscribed near the entrance of a cemetery in Okinawa, where many American military personnel are buried, are the words “We gave our todays in order that you might have your tomorrows.” Today is our day to honor all our veterans for all they have done for us for which we are extremely thankful. But it is also a day of vivid reminders of God’s total grace in our lives – not only in daily treasures we have but also, and especially, in the crown of life, which is ours through Jesus Christ. We can call his grace “amazing” as we do in the beloved hymn, but there really is no adjective to describe its cost. Above all, it is not now, nor has it ever been – cheap! There is nothing free about freedom; there is nothing cheap about grace. Thank you, veteran’s, for what you have done for our country; well done, good and faithful servants! Thank you, God, for what you have done for us in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

LWML Sunday

LWML Sunday

November 12, 2017

2 Timothy 4:1-4

“Be Ready to Confess Jesus”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Epistle Lesson read from 2 Timothy 4.

My dear friends,

There is just no good way to say this, but there has been a lot of bad stuff this year: terror attacks, terrible shootings in Las Vegas and now in Texas at a church of all places, hurricanes brought devastation to people far and wide, raging wildfires scorched the Pacific NW, not to mention my personal struggles with surgeries and family crisis. Yeesh! That being said, 2017 has also really been a rather amazing year. Recently we celebrated the 500th  anniversary of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses. But there is even more to 2017. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League, our LWML, which has done so much to encourage and support the sharing of Christ’s gospel within our Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and among partners and friends throughout the world. This is a big deal!

In the half millennium since the Reformation began and the 75 years since the LWML formally organized, confessing the faith has not gotten any easier. In fact, it may be even more difficult for us to speak and to live as Christians today. And who knows what the future might hold for us, our children, and our grandchildren? Yet God is faithful and has promised that His church will survive all the challenges that the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh can throw at us. Building on God’s promises, we know that this is our time to be distinctly Lutheran. As confessing Lutherans in a rapidly changing world and in an increasingly hostile culture, we need to Be Ready to Confess the Gospel of Christ to a world that desperately needs to hear it.

Paul wrote to a brother pastor Timothy “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, …preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:1-2).” When Paul wrote these words to Timothy, he did so as one writing to a fellow pastor, a man specifically called to carry out the office of the public ministry. And he did so also knowing full well the challenges that faced preachers of the Gospel in the early church. But he did so also knowing that Timothy had come to the faith through the Holy Spirit working through faithful teaching of a committed mother and grandmother. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5). How many of you here today are here because of a faithful mother or grandmother in your past? More than a few I bet!

The good news of the Gospel is given to each of us to share with those whom God places in our circle of influence regardless of our station in life. Proclaiming the salvation won by Jesus is not just “the pastor’s job” or for moms and grandmas. Every single one of us is all called to be ready to confess Christ as God opens the doors for us to do so. You are called to be ready to confess!

The content of our confession is what Martin Luther finally came to understand, through the Scriptures, that the righteousness of God is not about us being good enough. The righteousness of God is about Christ who is perfect. Christ, the God-man, who has completed salvation for Luther, for you, and for me, perfectly, once and for all. There is a great exchange that occurs. The filthy rags of our sinfulness and rebellion towards God, Jesus took upon Himself, carried it to the cross, and crucified it once and for all. The perfect righteousness that is His, He now clothes us in and through the waters of Holy Baptism. Where before there was sinner, God now sees his perfectly redeemed child through Christ; where before the person was far from God, there is now a child of God.

Sounds good, right? That will preach, right? You bet! But then Paul wrote this: For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4). It sounds like a commentary on 2017! How do we faithfully confess Jesus in an age in which people have turned away from the truth and wandered into myths? How do we, like Luther, prepare ourselves to be ready to confess? Would you believe the LWML can help? The answer, friends, is in a renewed passion for missions driven by the Word of God!

The LWML has had a marvelous impact on the mission efforts of the congregations, districts, seminaries, and other entities of our Synod. And it has done so always by carrying out faithfully its mission. Do you know the where, when, and why for the LWML’s formation? I said earlier that the LWML is 75 years old, meaning they formed in…1942!  The world had been at war for three years and the United States had joined the effort in 1941. Rations were short, men were preparing to fight overseas, and women were entering the workforce to fill the vacancies left by the new soldiers. The circumstances were challenging, to say the least!

Yet, on July 7-8, 1942, over 100 women met in Chicago and established the LWML. Its purpose was to encourage a passion among women for mission work and to gather funds for mission projects above and beyond the Synod’s budget.  Imagine…at a time when self-preservation would have been vital, the LWML committed itself to helping others and not themselves. From this humble beginning— and through the use of the now familiar “Mite Boxes”—the League has blessed the mission efforts of congregations, districts, and synod in amazingly powerful ways!

The blessing of the LWML goes far beyond the millions of dollars raised for missions. Its benefits can be seen in faith deepened through Bible studies, in the befriending of career missionaries, in blankets and clothing gathered for the impoverished, in food shared with the hungry and, above all, in the friendships nurtured and the lives changed by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.

“Time marches on,” as we all know so well, and it seems that as we age it marches by so quickly.  And through it all the Lord has been faithful and has raised up faithful pastors like Timothy who have preached the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified for our sins and raised for our justification. And the Lord has gathered faithful men, women, and children who have carried out the work of the Lord with zeal and devotion, meeting the challenges and opportunities to reach out to those who need to hear the Gospel. Simply put, our faithful God keeps His promises and we pray today and always that He will always enable us to be ready to confess.

Amen.

 

All Saints’ Day 2017

All Saints’ Day

November 5, 2017

Revelation 7:9-17

“What Will Heaven Be Like?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us for All Saints’ Day is the First Lesson read for today from Revelation 7.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

The trip down to Nebraska began with optimism and joy. My daughter Emily and I had tickets to a Nebraska football game in Lincoln – a drive 700 miles to our southwest. I had been to several games; Emily had never attended an event of this size before. Her first Cornhusker game. We started out our journey excited about what would follow. Then, in St. Peter, MN we hit a detour. Ugh. Outside of Windom, MN it started to rain and it didn’t let up the rest of the trip. Yuck. Road construction made it tough going at times. But despite all the odds stacked against us, we made it and finally walked up to Memorial Stadium on a crisp, cool fall morning with 85,000 other people dressed in red cheering for the Cornhuskers.

Why bring that up? Well, I see the trip down for the game as a microcosm of the life of a Christian and especially what we celebrate today – All Saints’ Day. Let me explain. In life we also started out all excited at what could be and might be as our lives unfold. Then, as we get older, life can get tougher. We hit the detours and potholes and rainstorms in life that makes daily living harder than we expected. Yet we drive on, persevering, living life by faith until we reach that glorious end result with the people whom we share so much with.

The author of Hebrews writes in 12:1, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” The illustration is that of a great stadium in which the crowd of those who have gone before watch those still striving to run their race of perseverance. Today’s lesson from Revelation provides a reversal of perspective.

Today we get a glimpse of those already in heaven; members of the Church Triumphant. In Revelation 7 we heard, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (v. 14b-17). And so, with that being said, let’s ask ourselves today as we celebrate All Saints’ Day, in addition to that description, what will heaven be like?

First, let’s cover a few basics. Where is heaven? I cannot give you turn by turn directions, as if you could drive there or fly a plane there. Instead, heaven is where God dwells in all His fullness. With our limited minds and imaginations, we need to have a location in mind when we think of where heaven may be, but the only general direction the Bible gives is up. But I can tell you that heaven is where God dwells with His people. In a sense we have a small piece of heaven with us, since God dwells with us and comes to us in His Word and Sacraments. We have the promise of heaven now, but not yet in its fullest sense. Martin Luther once said, “Eternal life begins here (on earth) in our hearts; for when we begin to believe in Christ,…we are liberated from death, sin, and the devil. Therefore, we have the beginning of life eternal…in this life, a sort of mild foretaste; we have entered the lobby (of heaven).”

Next, who will be there? FINALLY…an easy one! Heaven is ONLY for those who believe in the Triune God as He reveals Himself in His Word and calls His people unto Himself by FAITH; we are saved by our Triune God’s grace as a gift by faith alone. ONLY people who know and hold this promise dear, and ONLY those people, will join us in heaven.

So, what will we do in heaven? That’s a good question. The Bible associates heaven with never ending banquets, that is, we will never have any wants or needs in heaven. Will we work at our jobs? No. Will we play golf and fish and fly kites and stuff like that? I don’t know, but I doubt it. On this same topic, Luther once said, “I often think about (what will occupy us in eternal glory). I cannot understand what we shall do to pass the time; for there will be no labor, food, drink, and transactions. But I hold that in God we shall have enough to keep us occupied.”

So now I know what you’re thinking: “well, if there’s no food or football or golf or beach days, won’t we get bored?” I doubt it. Think about it for a second. “Boredom” is a human emotion brought about when we feel nothing is available for us to do. In other words, we’re lacking. In heaven there will be no lacking…none. In the eternal life of heaven ALL will be revealed to us, and the whole heavenly host will only rejoice at the glory that surrounds them physically and spiritually. We will praise and rejoice and celebrate every second just like it feels when our favorite team goes undefeated and wins the sought-after championship. Nebraska has done that 5 times and it feels great! Maybe now if the Tampa Bay Lightning can win the Stanley Cup…

And so this brings us to today. Today is All Saints’ Day, the day we remember all those who have gone before us in the faith over the past year. It hurts us to have them no longer in our lives day to day. And yet still today is a celebration for we know that the glory of heaven is already theirs! They have the glories of heaven now: They hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; no scorching heat, they have access to springs of living water, and God wipes away every tear from their eyes” (7:16-17). Our loved one are gone, but not forgotten for they live on in our hearts and minds. They are no longer with us and we feel sad, yet because of their faith in Jesus Christ they are in a place where sadness and grief and pain don’t even exist. Heaven is their home; it’s always good to be home, right? Heaven is also our home by faith now and one day it will be our eternal existence.

Today – All Saints’ Day – let us remember what heaven will be like: glorious beyond all comprehension where the souls of the faithfully departed await us and the return of our Lord. Let us remember to run the race of this life with perseverance even through the rain and detours and roadblocks because we know what the finish line will be like. Let us remember that heaven is the eternal home for all of God’s faithful people where we will drink from springs of eternal, life-giving water, and God will wipe EVERY tear of grief from our eyes forever and ever and ever.

Amen.

Reformation Day 2017

Reformation Day 2017 (500th Anniversary)

October 29, 2017

Romans 3:28

“Justified By Faith”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is Romans 3:28 – ““We hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

This is the text. My dear friends,

In the orthodox Church, what this text teaches – and make no mistake about it – is the very heart of why Jesus lived and died and rose. And, before Martin Luther, this precious Gospel truth was shrouded in error and nonsense for nearly a thousand years.

All that changed 500 years ago, on October 31—the “Eve of all Hallows” or “Halloween,” the eve of All Saints’ Day—Martin Luther, a 34 year-old Augustinian monk, preacher, and professor of Scripture, took an eight-minute walk from his monastery home on one end of the little town of Wittenberg to the Castle Church on the other end of town, and there he posted his written protestation against indulgences. He had absolutely no inkling of the firestorm he would start, nor that within weeks he would become the most famous person in the Western world. And he certainly had no inkling that the storm would still be raging some five hundred years later.

Maybe if you knew what was going on inside the Castle Church, that would give you insight into why Luther wrote what he wrote and why. Behind the church door where Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, there was a sanctuary with seventeen side altars. Seventeen! Why so many? Priests were at those altars day and night, 24-7, saying masses to achieve merit for the living and the dead. Money, of course, had been paid by the living for deceased family members and friends. Such masses, it was believed, reduced a person’s time in purgatory. It was taught that Christ’s death paid only for eternal punishments, but not temporal punishments. Temporal punishments had to be paid off by suffering through hundreds of thousands of years in purgatory. Can you imagine the pain and guilt of knowing the soul of your loved ones were in agony in purgatory? So, as a result, people paid good money to ease the suffering of their loved ones in purgatory by paying for masses and/or buying indulgences…or so they thought because they didn’t know any better.

Additionally, this particular sanctuary was also special in that it housed a collection of “relics” of the saints. Luther’s prince had collected hundreds and hundreds of bits and pieces of this or that saint or other holy things. The most important relic, around which Frederick the Wise had built the whole collection, was a thorn, allegedly from the crown of Jesus. Yeah…right. But there was also a feather from the wing of the angel Gabriel, fingernails from John the Baptist, and milk from the breast of the Virgin Mary! You name it, it was there and available to view…for a price. Luther later joked that if you added up all of the pieces of so-called “relics” housed in such collections, there was enough for at least eighteen of Jesus’ apostles buried in Germany alone (and there were only twelve apostles, you might recall)! In other words, it was all fake! None of that was what God intended at all, and Luther had figured that out. Winning less time in purgatory by honoring bones and bits or buying an indulgence was not the Gospel! They had never been taught any different and they had no access to the Scriptures to learn otherwise. If the Church told them their loved ones were suffering and paying money was the only way to free them early, the people paid up.

But Luther knew differently. Luther taught the Bible at a university for five years before he posted the Ninety-Five Theses. Before he came to clarity on the Gospel, he had taught courses on the Psalms, Romans, and the book of Hebrews. During Luther’s study of Holy Scripture – especially Romans – God moved him in his understanding of righteousness—of God’s righteousness, and our righteousness. Luther already believed, like everybody else, that God is the supreme judge who rewards good and punishes evil. But then, Luther came to believe that the Law reveals one’s sins, and that if we are humble enough in recognizing our sins and lost condition in true repentance and confession, God will not count them against us in the end because of Jesus’ work on our behalf. That’s Gospel! The final breakthrough for Luther came in the months after he had posted the Ninety-Five Theses. It happened as Luther was mulling over Romans 1: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, (for) in [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ ”

Luther described his “Gospel epiphany” this way: “Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that (God) was placated by my (efforts) – my works! Masses! I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners . . . I was angry with God…I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the words, namely, “In (the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’ ” And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel. Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates.”

Luther had learned and would teach that there are two kinds of righteousness: active and passive. Passive righteousness is just that…passive. It isn’t something we can earn, buy, find, achieve, trade for, or anything else. It is the righteousness of God that is unattainable for sinners like us EXCEPT for the fact that God in Christ gifts that righteousness to us; it is passive in the sense that we cannot make it our own unless gifted to us by faith. That righteousness is active in that we, motivated by the Gospel, show forth God’s righteousness and love and mercy and grace in the lives that God calls us to live in whatever station of life we find ourselves in; what Luther referred to as “vocation”.  Faith receives the Gospel and its blessings and then also motivates how we live as a result. Forgiveness of sins is won for us by Jesus on the cross and it is NOT for sale…by anyone. It is a free gift of grace.

That, my friends, is what the Lutheran Reformation was about at its heart. Luther never intended to create a new church or tear down the existing church. He only wanted the church to correct its errors and lead people to the truth of the Gospel. It’s a message that applies to you as intensely today as it did to Luther five hundred years ago. And it’s a message needed by our world—those right in our own families, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces, as much today as ever. 500 years is a major milestone, but it’s not the end of anything. The Reformation and its crucial message is still on, for it lives on in every heart moved to live by grace through faith in Christ alone in order to love both God and neighbor!

Amen.

20th Sunday after Pentecost

20th Sunday after Pentecost

October 22, 2017

1 Thessalonians 1:5

“Love and Power”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is a portion of the Second lesson read from 1 Thessalonians 1: “Because our Gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

My dear friends,

I’m not trying to switch into “crotchety old man” mode here, but when I was a kid, things were so different from today! When I was a kid we played outside…in the dirt…in the dark. We drank right from the garden hose if we were thirsty. And, when I was a kid, bullies were bullies. It wasn’t a situation into parents and counselors and crisis intervention squads were called in via fast-ropes from helicopters hovering over the playground. Bullies were an everyday fact-of-life.

Do you remember how in grade school you were picked on for literally no good reason? Maybe somebody called you a name and it stuck and became a badge of shame that you had to wear every day. Maybe classmates avoided you because of it. Maybe you felt you had no friends, or you felt stupid, or weren’t a good athlete and always got picked last to be on a team. Maybe you didn’t get invited to a birthday party for one of the “popular” kids, and the valentine from that cute boy/girl never made it to your desk. Kids can be particularly cruel to one another.

For me, it was a kid named J. J. Finnegan. J.J. Finnegan was a full year older than me and lived about 6 blocks away but close enough that we still went to the same junior high school. To put it mildly, J. J. Finnegan made my 7th grade year a living nightmare. When I was in 7th grade I still hadn’t hit a growth streak (less than 4 ft. tall) so I was still pretty short…not that I’m a tall person anyway. My smallness endured me to a lot of people, but J. J. Finnegan saw it as a weakness he could exploit.

If J. J. Finnegan saw me in the hallway, he would shove the books out of my hands. If he saw an open locker than I was near, he would shove me in. Ha ha! That’s a good one. He would chase me with threats to beat me up, but being a bigger, heavier kid, he could never catch me. But just knowing that he would be in school made my stomach hurt. There were days I faked illness just so I could stay home and get a 1-day reprieve from J. J. Finnegan. The situation was resolved when my family moved to Minnesota and I was never bullied again.

You ever have your own “J. J. Finnegan”? If you were bullied, what did you do with that problem? When you were teased or taunted or tormented, what did you do? Most of us went home with it. We shuffled into the house. We hid in our bedrooms and cried, or plotted some righteous and really painful revenge upon our persecutors. Inevitably, eventually, mom or dad would notice something was not quite right.

But you didn’t tell them about your problem, did you? You didn’t tell them about the names you were called or the name of your tormentor.  Why not? Because you knew, deep down, no matter how much they loved you, they couldn’t help. They had the conviction, but they didn’t have the power. What were they going to do? Go to your school or to your teacher and complain? Mom and dad loved you, but they didn’t have the power to help you. The kids in the class had the power to help you, but they didn’t have the conviction your parents had – the other kids didn’t love you as such – so they did nothing to help. For the problem to be solved, ability and conviction – power and love – had to come together.

Okay, let’s move forward on your life’s timeline a bit. Let’s move forward to right now. How are things going for you? Is everything perfect in your life? Everyone getting by with no difficulty whatsoever? Or…are there money problems, family problems, health problems, work problems? Is it possible you have a guilty conscience because you did the bullying or you saw it happening and you did nothing to help? Don’t beat yourself up. It is a universal truism that sinful people are going to treat each other sinfully and daily feel the effects of sin and sinful behavior.

You know, it’s a rare person whose life is perfect all the time. Assuming you’re not that rare person, and believing you have difficulties, trials, temptations and sins just like everyone else, let me ask, what are you going to do? We cannot tell our parents because we’re the parents now and, for many of us, our parents are gone. When the money is tight, what are you going to do? Call the bank and complain? See if your mom can call the teller?

We grew up and left the playground, but the bully of sin follows us wherever we go…taunting, teasing, and tormenting us. When life gets tough, and we feel beaten up physically or emotionally or financially or even spiritually, the answer is simple: take it to the Lord. He who brought the universe into being with a powerful Word has the loving conviction to take care of anything causing difficulty for you. Paul wrote in that lesson that “because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” In Christ, love and power come together for YOU!

Not only does He have the power to help you, He has also shown the loving desire to do so. That He has shown in the sending of His Son, our Savior. Jesus came to this world to carry our sins, to take our place under the Law, and to die the death we deserved. Now, with His mission completed having paid for our sin and conquered death itself, He says, “Call on Me.” Call upon Me, knowing I will hear. Call upon Me, knowing that I care. Call upon Me, and be assured the power and love of our Triune God will help you. In times when you feel powerless and unloved, turn everything – TRULY TURN EVERYTHING – over to God’s gracious care and trust in His plan and His provision. His resolution may not match your expectation…just be prepared for that!

Of course, to all that, you might reply, “I’ve done that and I still have problems. I have prayed and I have prayed and I have people praying for me, but the problems persist. Our problems have not gone away! That may well be true, but I can assure you, God will change your problem, eliminate your problem, or make it so you can deal with that problem. Our Lord has the power and the love to change us and our lives for the better. In doing so, we can become “imitators of (the faithful) and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction…so that you became an example to all the believers.”

And, J. J. Finnegan, if our out there, I forgive you in the name of Jesus.

Amen.

19th Sunday after Pentecost

19th Sunday after Pentecost

October 15, 2017

Matthew 22:1-14

“Come to the Feast!”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read earlier from Matthew 22.

My dear friends,

So, I hope you were here last weekend, because that will really help you with today’s Gospel lesson. Last week Jesus told the Parable of the (Wicked) Tenants which was a swipe at the religious leadership of the day. On the heels of that parable, Jesus tells another parable – the Parable of the Wedding Feast. Good idea? Must be, but tensions are already high and the hatred of Jesus by the religious leaders is increasing. Last week we found out the leaders want Jesus arrested. In 22:15, after this wedding feast parable, the leaders seek even new ways to trap Jesus in His words so that He can be arrested like they want.

But Jesus isn’t finished yet. He tells a parable about the kingdom of heaven; It’s as if Jesus were speaking from the perspective of Judgment Day and looking back over the history of God’s people. He likens it to a king (God the Father), who prepared a wedding banquet (eternal life in heaven). And God’s kingdom on earth is compared to all that happens in between. The king sends his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet (the Old Testament people of God) to tell them that all was ready and that they should now come. But they refused. Just like in last week’s Gospel, when the wicked tenants in the vineyard refused to hand over the fruits of the harvest, so now these invitees refused to come to the banquet.

But the king didn’t give up. He is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ps 86:15). The king sends some more servants and says to them, “Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner” (v 4). Give them more details; there is rich food, aged wine, the best of meats, and the finest of wines. Everything is prepared to perfection! Come to my wedding banquet! Nevertheless, again—even after this second summons—the guests in our parable refused.

This time their refusal was varied: in some cases, plausible and seemingly polite; in others, violent and crass. One went to his field; another went to his business. Those were the polite ones. Still others who were invited seized the servants, roughed them up, and killed them! Is there any doubt that many of God’s prophets, apostles, and preachers have been treated the same throughout the centuries? And it’s still happening today in many parts of the world.

So the king was enraged. Time had run out on his mercy and grace. Now remember, the king is the Lord Almighty. And there is such a thing as God’s righteous anger. And He sent his army to destroy those murderers. Meanwhile, the king’s banquet hall was not yet filled. His grace and generosity are still available for others. So he turns his attention to a new group of people (which will include both Jews and Gentiles). The king tells his servants to go to into the roads and invite anyone they ford—”both bad and good,” and so finally the banquet hall was filled.

But the parable isn’t over. When the king came in to see his guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper wedding garment. Now it’s not that this man was merely poor and being discriminated against for his lack of a fancy garment. No, this man had apparently refused to put on the robe provided by the king for each of his guests. There is some evidence that 1st century wedding feast hosts provided garments that were clean and didn’t smell! Makes sense, right? And so this man’s refusal was an insult to the king. It was as if this man were saying, “I’ll do it my way!” But the king said, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?” (v 12). And the man had nothing to say. There was no excuse, so the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.” Yikes!

Jesus is speaking in this parable not only to the religious leaders of Israel but also to you and me. And rather than hearing this as dusty history about the Jewish people, we are to ask ourselves, “Me? It’s about me? Really?” Yes…you…really.

Are you the one who has been invited by the Lord to His eternal banquet but you prefer being out in the field instead? Are you the one who prefers his earthly business to eternal life in heaven? Are you the one whose mind is on earthly things causing you to neglect or ignore eternal things? “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2). “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21). “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Mt 6:33).

How many say, “Of course, I believe in God! Of course, I’m a Christian!” And yet the society we want so much to fit into keeps openly rejecting the King’s invitation and teaches us to do the same. Just think of the assault on Christ and his Word that’s escalating in our land: legalized abortion, the diminishment of marriage and the re-definition of family. And the list goes on and on.

And even if we sit right here week after week, this parable still challenges us to ask ourselves, “Have I put on the wedding garment? Am I here on God’s terms or my own? Am I seeking to have a share in God’s eternal banquet in the way that he wants me to, by faith alone, solely on the merits of his Son, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins? Or am I seeking to wear my own clothes, to earn my way into the banquet, to be dressed in how nice a person I am or how hard I try or how well I keep the principles for Christian living?

There is only one way to be found at the end of the age, at the end of your life, and even today and every day. It is to be found in the banquet hall—in the kingdom of heaven—having heeded his invitation. And it is to be found wearing the robe of Christ’s righteousness, by virtue of believing in Jesus Christ and him crucified for your sins. And all this God offers to give you for the sake of his only Son, who gave his life so that his righteousness could be yours. All your materialism, your earthly-mindedness, your choosing the ways of this world rather than the kingdom of God—it’s all paid for, covered up by the robe of Christ’s righteousness, which he first gave you in Holy Baptism.

This is the day the Lord has made! He has prepared a table for you! Today your Savior kindly calls, COME TO THE FEAST! As broken and lonely and weary and worried as you are, come to the feast! Put on Christ’s robe of righteousness. Find strength for today and hope for tomorrow in this amazing feast for you! Rejoice and be glad in his salvation…YOUR salvation! Come, for the feast is ready, for you.

Amen.

13th Sunday after Pentecost

13th Sunday after Pentecost

September 3, 2017

Matthew 16:21–28

“Stuff I’m Still Learning – Take 2”

Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior Jesus. The basis for the sermon is today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew 16 as previously read.

My dear friends,

Know what this is? Yes, it’s an empty champagne bottle, but do you know what it REALLY is? It is an heirloom, more or less. I’ll explain. We bought this champagne 3 years ago along with a carton of Florida orange juice and we waited for the phone to ring. When the phone eventually did ring, and it was from Good Shepherd, we knew what that meant. You were calling me to be your new pastor and I accepted. We made mimosas from that champagne and OJ to celebrate the call and we started packing our moving boxes that same day.

We relocated to Sarasota, I was installed as your new pastor, and the next week I was up front to preach my very first sermon at Good Shepherd. The Gospel text that day is the same assigned Gospel text we have today from Matthew 16. The sermon my very first Sunday with you was called “Stuff I’m Still Learning,” and some of you may remember pieces of that sermon. You might remember I referred to the “bird house” at the end of our block where all the weird, big birds congregate. I mentioned the need to stay away from the intersection of Honore and Ashton, which is still not a bad idea. I also spoke of learning about the “little” rain storms we occasionally get in south Florida. Don’t think I need to remark too much on that since this past month we received more than 10 inches of rain, most of that coming in this last week; what a mess!

And so, here we are. 3 years later. Since that first sermon in August 2014, I have preached 192 other sermons in the days that followed. Today we come right back to where we started from 3 years ago and today I’d like to take a second look at this text from Matthew 16 and see what further truths there are to learn 3 years later.

We don’t know where today’s lesson took place. Jesus and the disciples had been in the northern Gentile area around Caesarea Philippi earlier in chapter 16. Where they go next is to the Transfiguration event (chpt. 17) which could have been either Mount Tabor to the south or Mount Hermon to the north. We don’t know where the words of today’s Gospel were spoken, but we know where they affect us – right in the middle of our hearts and lives.

In verse 21, Jesus tried to explain to the disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Wait! Why would Peter do such a thing? Probably because this was most certainly NOT the way he expected Jesus’ ministry to go or end up. Peter didn’t envision a Messiah/Christ or Savior who would suffer and die; that kind of Messiah was not a part of Jewish thinking at that time. The vast majority expected a military warrior, a political powerhouse who would kick out the Romans or anyone else who dared to try and occupy Israel again; a King to restore the throne of King David forever. That’s hard to do when you’re dead; poor, misguided Peter.

Don’t we too have the same misguided belief? Nothing bad should happen to me because I go to church and I believe in Jesus and I give money to causes. Nothing bad should happen to me because I’m a good person. That may be true – you may be a good person – but since when do we think that bad things shouldn’t happen to us? We should expect bad things all the more! Bad things DO happen to good people.

Maybe I naively thought that moving to South Florida and Sarasota would be like living on vacation. The last 3 years have been anything but! Our family and medical trials and tribulations have been head-scratchingly difficult ever since our arrival, and now I stand on the verge on another surgery…a fairly significant one!

But here’s something I’m still learning. When we are governed by our human will instead of God’s divine will, then we do get confused and anxious and upset. A confused human will cried out “why me!” God’s divine will declares “why not you?” Our human will announces “I cannot.” God’s divine will proclaims “you will.” I have learned that giving up your sinful human will and in favor of God’s divine will is a very liberating experience; let God be God in your life!

As the people of God we are called to daily die not only to our sinful desires, but to die to our own will and take up the will of God. Hard to understand and comprehend? You bet…and I’m still learning that’s always the case! When we try to understand God’s ways, thinking we know better, is a quick way to be reminded that God knows so much more of what we need like forgiveness of our sins, salvation, and life, which is why He tried to explain His passion to the disciples in the first place.

Additionally, Jesus said “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” To give up our lives, to deny ourselves and take up our cross, points to God’s will for our lives over our own will. Over the last 3 years I have had to accept a lot of God’s will instead of my own. Maybe I thought coming to Florida would be all sunshine and fresh fruit and golf, instead we’ve dealt with pain, loss, death, frustration, anxiety and fear. It’s not just me and it’s not just us. It happens to ALL of us. Do we regularly, day by day, moment by moment, examine what we want in life seen through the light of what God wants for us knowing they don’t always match up? The further our hearts are transformed to love like Jesus and the more our minds are trained to think like Jesus, we will have a life in which our daily actions reflect Jesus like sunlight reflected off the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico on a still evening’s sunset.

I’ve been here in Florida for 3 years, and there is still so much for me to do in Sarasota both personally and professionally and I hope to do that with you. And as we learn and grow together, we’re never going to know it all…not in 3 years or 33 or even 333 years. But I do know this. Those who can truly deny themselves and take up their crosses and bear them in faithful discipleship and stand firm until the end will stand out in the world through a transformed life that will be evident to see by all. Is there truly anything in life more rewarding than that?

That’s some of the stuff I’m still learning. And so, here’s to another 3 years together, my friends, and many more to come as God wills it for all of us.

Amen.

12th Sunday after Pentecost

12th Sunday after Pentecost

August 27, 2017

Matthew 16:13-20

“Who is This?”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text for today’s sermon is the Gospel lesson read previously from Matthew chapter 16.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Who is the greatest golfer of all time? That depends on who you ask. Some would say Bobby Jones. Others might say Arnold Palmer or Jack Nichlaus. Still others would say Tiger Woods. Throughout the 2000s, Tiger Woods was the dominant force in golf. He was the top-ranked golfer in the world from August 1999 to September 2004 (264 weeks) and again from June 2005 to October 2010 (281 weeks). But then a persistent injuries and troubles in his life knocked him from Golf’s highest pedestal and he never returned to greatness.

Will we still be talking about Tiger Woods in 5 years? 50 years? 500 years? Probably not without also asking “who is that”?

Jesus never won an Open Championship. He never had an endorsement contract. But people everywhere still know His name 2000 years later! Coincidence? I don’t think so. So…who is this anyway? Glad you asked.

Over the past several weeks the Gospel lessons have pointed us to some of the miracles of Jesus: feeding the 5000+, walking on water, and healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter. These are miracles that show us who Jesus is by pointing us to what He has done motivated by compassion and love: He fed the crowds because they were hungry, went to the disciples in the storm because they were afraid, and healed the woman’s daughter, who was not an Israelite, because of her faith.

 

In verse 13 of today’s lesson, we hear the issue at hand: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” That’s a good question considering how people have identified Him thus far in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has been called teacher, a blasphemer, and a demonic. Now, in today’s text, we find out that the masses are also thinking that Jesus may be John the Baptist or Elijah or Jeremiah or one of the prophets. I would think it is safe to say that there was a lot of misunderstanding about Jesus in His day and exactly who He was.

And so here we are, 2000 years later, with high definition TV and hand-held access to the Internet and cars that park themselves…but we still as a society lack a unified answer regarding “who is this?” There is still a lot of sinful misunderstanding about who Jesus Christ is; many today are still confused. Regarding Jesus, people say He’s a good teacher or a trusting friend or a pal who knows your every secret. He’s the one who will bail you out of every financial problem. He’s the one who can fix all your nasty habits. He’s the one who will get your enemy for you some day. He’s one way among many ways to heaven ’cause we’re all going there someday no matter how you define “god” so we should just learn to “coexist” because we’re going to spend together forever. Still others say that Jesus is a phony; a fraud who peddled parlor tricks to woo a bunch of spiritually-needy people and the Church is a continuation of an ongoing swindle to get money away from people. Wrong Answer, just as wrong as John the Baptist, Elijah, and Jeremiah.

Peter’s confession is also our confession: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” True…but what does that mean? His name itself means something. The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” His title – “Christ” (not His last name) – refers to “the anointed One,” that is, the one set apart by God for a special, holy purpose. And just what is that purpose? For that answer you have to trace Matthew’s entire Gospel.

Who is this? We know that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary (chapter 1). We know that He was identified as the Son of God at His baptism (3:17). We know that He was an amazing teacher from His Sermon on the Mount and His parables (chapters 5-7, 13). We know that He works miracles (chapters 8-9, 14-15). But there’s more!

To truly know who this is, you’ve got to stick with the narrative through the gruesome end. If you hang in there through the brutality and the flogging and the nails, it’s when Jesus Christ is hanging dead on His earthly throne — the cross — that He is declared to be who He is: “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God”’ (27:54). Granted, the cross looked like a defeat, but it wasn’t. Christ Jesus is not whom He appears to be. He is more than teacher or friend. He is the Son of God who gives His very life for the forgiveness of our sins and the salvation of our souls through faith in Him.

To know who He is is to rejoice at the words heard at the empty tomb: “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay”’ (28:5-6). Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was crucified, who rose again, and who then gave His Great Commission to all His disciples in Matthew 28:19-20.

So what does that mean for us? We know who Jesus is, right? Okay…but what does that mean to you; what difference does that truth make? Do you confess Him to be the Lord and Savior of this world? To know Christ is to know His Gospel, to be enlightened in this life by His gifts, and to live a life in accordance with His Word.

And so here in Sarasota, FL and not Caesarea Philippi, we, along with the disciples, we answer the question “who is this” in the same way that Peter answers. As a result, we are given strength and courage to boldly confess our great Triune God in this world where confession is not always that easy. In our answer we find ourselves bound to Jesus through a faith-filled life commitment that not only directs our daily living, but lasts through this life and into eternity.  Amen.