Category Archives: Sermons

2nd Sunday in Advent

2nd Sunday in Advent

December 10, 2017

Mark 1:1-8

“A Weird Beginning; A Strong Ending”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us this is today’s Gospel Lesson which are the opening verses from St. Mark’s Gospel as just previously read.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

To start out with, I want you to take a pop quiz. So as not to stress anyone out, you’re not getting graded or anything, so don’t worry. I am going to present you with a list of pop culture phrases; each one comes from a TV show, a song, or from literature. Try to name the source of each. Okay, here we go. 1. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” 2. “Is that your final answer?” 3. Just do it. 4. “Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” And finally 5. “Start spreading the news I’m leaving today. I want to be a part of it.”

How did you do? The first phrase was from the Charles Dickens classic “A Tale of Two Cities.” The second phrase is from “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The third is the marketing slogan for Nike. The fourth phrase was from the old Superman TV shows and the fifth reference was the opening lines from the song “New York, New York.”

Odds are you could identify most of those phrases, if not all of them. That’s because these phrases permeate our culture; they go beyond their original audience and influence a much wider audience. For the phrases that you knew, didn’t it

generate an emotion or a piece of familiar music or a short flash of a mental image? I’ll bet it did!

I told you that to tell you this. If you were a resident of 1st century Palestine, the content of Mark 1:1-8, our Gospel lesson for today, would have had the same kind of effect. Today we look back and SO MUCH of the impact of this text is just lost on us. As readers separated by thousands of years from the original context of this event it comes across to us as weird or unusual. Clothes made of camel’s hair? Eating locusts and wild honey? Gross! And why are all those people going out to see and hear this one called John the Baptizer (1:4)? Here is why. Just as each one of us is steeped in American culture, the Jews of Jesus’ day knew the Hebrew Scriptures. And what was going on out there in that weird desert scene actually triggered A LOT for those who were there.

John the Baptist’s clothing, environment, and diet caught the people’s attention. Maybe it just seems weird to us, but to the Jews in that region it meant something completely different. John wearing clothing made of camel’s hair isn’t weird or a way of showing his self-induced suffering for God’s sake. People who know the Old Testament scriptures know that God’s prophets wear clothes like this! In 2 Kings 1:8 we are told that Elijah, that great prophet of God, wore clothing made of camel’s hair and a leather belt. Zechariah 13:4 reminds people that prophets wear clothing made out of hair. John the Baptist isn’t causing himself to suffer for God’s sake; he is wearing what a chosen prophet of God wears…and the people knew that.

In addition, he was out in the wilderness baptizing people and telling them they needed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (1:4). Well, that just seems weird, right? I mean, if God really had a serious prophetic message that needed to be heard, wouldn’t He use means to ensure that it spread as far and as fast as possible? If you were given that kind of message, wouldn’t you approach television producers or contact SiriusXM or find a 13-year-old to explain social media to us? You certainly wouldn’t wander out on Highway 72 east way out past Myakka River State Park and just start preaching, would you? Yet that is essentially what John the Baptist did. He did not go to the heart of Israel in Jerusalem or the epicenter of civilization at that time in Rome. Instead he stood in the Judean wilderness…and the people came to him! Walking from Jerusalem to the Jordan River is about 20 miles. That’s like walking from Sarasota to Venice to see what is going on down there. Worse yet, the return trip home to Jerusalem would have been 20 miles back, but uphill as well – 3000 feet uphill. Why would thousands of people walk to this weird scene? Because John had tapped into two powerful themes of Jewish thought: salvation comes from the wilderness and the return of Elijah.

Because of Old Testament prophecies, the Jews believed that Elijah would return prior to the coming of the promised Messiah and deliver the people of God in a new exodus; a journey that would start in the wilderness and end in the Promised Land just as it had for their ancestors under Moses. So here was John the Baptist in the wilderness looking like and sounding like Elijah: saying the right things and having the right look to indicate the end of Jewish oppression under the Romans.

Some thought John was the fulfillment of the coming of Elijah, but John the Baptist puts a spin on the expectation; he introduces a radical change. “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (1:7-8). Baptism? How will Baptism end their suffering? How will Baptism kick the Romans out of their country? That was not the kind of Messiah that people wanted. They wanted results, not to get in the river; they wanted war and not to get wet.

Indeed, that is still not the Jesus that people want. They want a Jesus who will make everything okay for their relationships, for their pocketbooks, and for their careers. They don’t want a Savior who says things like “Repent and believe the good news” (1:15). To repent is to recognize one’s sinfulness and the need of forgiveness before God. That’s not what people want. They don’t want to have to admit their guilt; that they’ve done anything wrong. They would like Christmas, without the guilt-giving Christ thank you very much.

John’s baptisms, though they seemed weird, pointed to a more solid ending. They pointed towards One who would come and bring the Holy Spirit. The questions of our past are resolved and our forgiveness is sure through repentance, forgiveness, and faith – gifts given through Baptism! And the object of our Baptismal faith is the One whom John the Baptist pointed to – the Savior Christ the Lord.

In the waters of our Baptisms we are given forgiveness of our sins, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. But those don’t just come through some water. Those blessings were bought at a price – the body and blood of Jesus, whom John the Baptist openly called The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Christ, through His perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection has won full forgiveness and salvation for the whole human race. Those gifts are distributed to us through Baptism; they are a means by which God’s grace is given to us. In your own Baptism God called you by name to be His. Whether your baptism occurred 75 years ago or 75 months ago or 75 days ago, it was and remains a significant event in your life to be remembered on a daily basis!

What John the Baptist was doing out in the Judean wilderness may look weird to us, but it was anything but to those who went to him. For what John the Baptist pointed to was not weird, but a rock-solid ending for the people of God. It is a future that was purchased for you by Christ.

Amen.

1st Sunday in Advent

1st Sunday of Advent

December 3, 3017

Mark 10:1-11

“A Not So Sentimental Journey”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us on the 1st Sunday of Advent is today’s Gospel lesson from Mark 10.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

Have you ever felt like you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or like something is out of whack? Maybe that’s how you feel today. I’ll explain. It’s after Thanksgiving so the preparation for Christmas is kicking into a higher gear. In church we expect to be transported to Bethlehem, to a manger, surrounded by animals. Instead, our Gospel lesson takes us to Jerusalem with Jesus riding on a donkey. Remind you of another time and place? Like Holy Week? But wait! The Christmas decorations are up! Wal-Mart’s Christmas stuff has been out for weeks. Cyber Monday came and went. Santa Claus appeared at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the mall here in town. So why do we have the Triumphant Entry for a Gospel lesson?

Interestingly enough, the traditional Gospel lesson for the First Sunday of Advent is the same as that of Palm Sunday—Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. It seems, in a way, wrong. Out of place. Children everywhere are already rehearsing for Christmas programs, getting ready to reenact the story of Mary, with child, riding on a donkey into Bethlehem. And instead, we heard about Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem a week before He dies. In Advent, we should be moving toward a celebration of our Lord’s birth in Bethlehem, and instead we hear a story about our Lord moving toward his death. We should all be going to the theater to see A Christmas Carol, and instead we get The Passion of the Christ. What gives?

But maybe there’s something we can learn—something that, like Mary, we can take with us and ponder in our hearts. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. “Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die” (LSB 441:2). For this reason, our Lord came from heaven. For this reason, the Son of God became the Son of Mary. The narrative that we hear today is the reason why Christmas has real meaning and lasting value.

In our society, Christmas has become a largely secular, worldly affair. We celebrate Christmas, and we even fight for the right to say “Merry Christmas” in the public square, but we rarely talk about why Christmas is merry. The absence of Christ has left for many a big hole, an emptiness that needs to be filled. And so many folks try to fill the void with man-made traditions, songs, stories, and receipts. Rather than tell the story of Christ at Christmas, the world tells countless other stories: Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and “Frosty the Snowman,” not to mention It’s a Wonderful Life and A Miracle on 34th Street. The world has its own hymnal as well, with Christmas “hymns” ranging from Elvis’s “Blue Christmas” to Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas.” Nat King Cole sings about chestnuts roasting in “The Christmas Song,” and Gene Autry still can be heard singing of Santa Claus coming down Santa Claus Lane. I like a lot of those stories, enjoy some of those songs. But if that’s all there is, we don’t have much to celebrate.

But if we’re to be honest, even for us Christians, Christmas often does fall flat. Perhaps we should blame the angels for raising our expectations. “It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold: ‘Peace on the earth, goodwill to all’ ” (LSB 366:1). A beautiful hymn and a beautiful sentiment. But peace and goodwill? Really?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t see much peace on earth, nor, for that matter, good will to all. For two thousand years, we’ve had nothing but wars and rumors of wars. And so at Christmas, when peace on earth seems unattainable on a large, global scale, we attempt it on a smaller scale, at home with family and friends. But even at home, there is not always peace. Christmas is great, but the bills aren’t so wonderful. Throw in anxieties over work issues, a chronic medical condition, a dispute with the kids/family, the loss of a loved one, or a broken relationship, and there’s a lot of strife and sadness. Some of this sadness is because we live in a fallen sin-filled world, and truth be told, some of this sadness is of our own making: bad choices we’ve made, people we’ve hurt, relationships we’ve damaged. Where, then, is peace to be found? Nowhere else than in the Christ Child. Not in some Precious Moments Christ Child but in the Child who was born to die. I want my Christmas to be about a real-world Savior for a world with real problems.

At our Lord’s birth, the angels sang, “Peace on the earth, goodwill to all.” But there is still another song to sing, and we sing it as Jesus is riding on a donkey into Jerusalem: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna” Sure, it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Silent Night,” but you know what I mean.

If we are to reclaim Christmas, we must, I think, recover Advent. Granted, Jesus is the reason for the season of Christmas, and Advent is a season FOR a reason. Advent is NOT “almost Christmas” or “X # of days until Christmas.” Advent is a season of preparation—not simply of our homes, the tree, meals, and presents, but a time of preparation for our hearts. A time of assessment and acknowledgment and a time to recognize WHY our Lord came in the first place. We cannot have Mary and the manger without palms and Pontius Pilate. But by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, we now have peace and forgiveness and life eternally because of the Christ Child; the One who as a man rode into Jerusalem to die.

The season of Advent is one of self-assessment and not getting sucked into the things of the world. It’s a time to remember that the things of this world are indeed already passing away, a time to set our hearts, now more than ever, upon things above. A time to look at the child who came to die, a time to crucify our sinful passions. Indeed, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” and we who bear his name now also take up our crosses, follow him, care for the “least of these,” and go forth to make disciples of all nations.

In this season of Advent, let us prepare our hearts once more for our Lord’s coming. Let us forgive as we have been forgiven. Let us embrace the child who came to embrace us; to die for us and for the forgiveness of our sins. And let us offer up our lives as gifts to the One who came to offer up his life as his gift of salvation for us all and joyfully sing this Advent “Hosanna in the highest! Hosanna!” Sure, it doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Santa Claus is coming to town,” but you know what I mean.

Welcome to Advent 2017. Amen.

 

 

 

Last Sunday of the Church Year

Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 26, 2017

Matthew 25:31-46

“The Five Ws”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. The text that engages us as the basis for the sermon is today’s assigned Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 25.

My Dear Friends in Christ Jesus,

When I stop and think about it, I have already had a number of jobs in my 50 years of life. I have washed dishes and mown grass for money, I was a radio DJ, I worked for a pharmaceutical company, and now I am a pastor. One of the jobs that I had for about 2 years was as a sports writer for our hometown newspaper. I wrote an opinion column called “As I See ‘Em” and I covered all the local high school sporting events. Of course, anyone who has ever written for a paper or even read a paper knows about the “Five Ws”: the who, what, where, when, and why of a story usually captured in the story’s lead sentence.

Locating the five Ws of today’s Gospel lesson is easy, but it is the answers themselves to those questions that are a whole lot tougher. Today is the last Sunday of the church year, a day which traditionally focuses upon the final judgment, again not something that is easy to write or even talk about.

We have before us today an awesome scene in which the masses of humanity from all generations are brought before the majestic throne of God, where their hearts and lives are laid bare for judgment. We are told that a clear separation is made between those who are righteous and those who are unrighteous – a fairly scary topic. Jesus the Judge praises the caring acts of the righteous (vv. 34-36). Then they will ask him, in effect, “When did we ever do such things?” And Jesus will reply, “as you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (vv. 37-40).

Now, before we go any further in trying to understand what this passage says, we must be clear about what it does not say. We can’t isolate Matthew 25 from the rest of the Bible, but we interpret it in light of what the rest of the Bible clearly teaches. And the rest of the Bible makes it abundantly clear that our salvation and eternal life is a free gift that is not earned by our good deeds or acts of mercy. We don’t get to heaven by feeding the hungry or clothing the naked or welcoming the stranger or caring for the sick; “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works – so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).

Notice that in Matthew 25 the separation of the sheep and the goats takes place before any deeds are even mentioned! Why? Because the separation is based upon who they are, not on what they had done. The people on Christ’s right hand are placed there because they are sheep, because they are righteous. The people on the left hand are placed there because they are goats, because they are unrighteous. And Scripture makes it very clear that the people who are righteous are so because God has made them righteous by the blood of the Lamb, not by their works.

And so, let’s again consider the five Ws and think about the who, what, and why regarding Christ’s calling to us. Who are the “least of these my brothers”? What are we to do for them? And why are we to do it for them?

First of all, who are the “least of these”? They are the needy and hurting of the world, those who are suffering and considered insignificant by society. Often times they are the ones the world would just as soon dispense of: the unwanted fetus, the battered child, the poverty-stricken family, the homeless addict. Thanksgiving just rolled past and we comfort ourselves with the assumption that everyone had plenty, but that is just not the case. The “least of our brothers” are all around, not just in rundown parts of the Tampa. It’s not just a Bradenton problem or a Newtown problem. It’s right here even in affluent Sarasota too.

But our next question calls for action. It is the question of what. What are we as Christians to do for them? In a cartoon I saw once, Garfield the cat, seated in a comfortable chair, sees his friend Odie the dog at the window peering in eagerly. Garfield says to himself, “Poor Odie. Locked outside in the cold. I just can’t bear to see him like this. I gotta do something!” At that point Garfield gets up from his chair and closes the curtain.

We can laugh, but not too loudly, because that behavior is so much like us. As we live in comfort and abundance, throwing away the table scraps from our meals, once in awhile the reality of the needy and starving world outside our borders breaks in to our lives. We view on our big-screen TVs those skeletal creatures in the Third World which look like the living dead but are really human beings just like us. They seem so distant and unreal. So, we pull the curtains or turn off the TV so that we don’t have to think about it. That may make us feel comfortable again, but it doesn’t change the reality that they are hungry and starving and dying.

So what are we to do? Jesus says: “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do it to me. I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me.” Some great organizations for accomplishing this commission of our Lord include LCMS World Relief, LWML, Habitat for Humanity, and Feed My Starving Children to name only a few. They go to those areas of the world in crisis conditions to provide care and relief to people. Maybe we cannot go like they do, but we can support them through our prayers and through our gifts.

The final question to be answered today is why. We’ve already seen that such acts of mercy do not earn us salvation. So why should we seek to show mercy? Of course the most significant answer is because God has shown mercy to us. When we were in the poverty of our sin, Jesus Christ entered into our condition for us. As Paul writes: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Because of Christ’s sacrificial death, we have our debt of sin cancelled. And we are made rich – rich with the righteousness of Christ credited to us. That righteousness makes us sheep, not goats! That righteousness makes us acceptable to God today and on the final day of judgment. But that righteousness is now also expressed to others as we share Christ’s love with them in deeds of compassion.

A story is told that during World War II a beautiful cathedral in Europe was so severely bombed that about the only thing left standing in its midst was a statue of Jesus. But this statue did sustain some damage, because the hands of Jesus had been broken off in the destruction. Not true. The statue is real, but it happened in California, not Europe and vandals broke off the hands, not a bomb. Regardless, the inscription of the statue now reads “ He Has No Hands But Us.” May we go forth as His caring and helping hands in a hurting world of suffering and hunger to bring the badly needed answer of Jesus to all people in every place.

Amen.

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.