Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sermon for 7/31/11: Sixth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Higher Standards
Matthew 5:17-26

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

The really annoying thing about hard work is that, when you do it well, it always seems like additional hard work gets added to what you’ve already done. That’s a good thing in the workplace. If your boss gives you extra responsibility, it means you’re a reliable employee who may very well be on the way up the company ladder. That’s all very well and good; but a teenager who finally gets done mowing the lawn and then finds out that he also has to paint the picket fence might not find it so easy to see the benefits of hard work. What, then, do we say when Jesus puts His holy thoughts to the Ten Commandments?

Jesus shows the scribes and Pharisees the difference between true righteousness and their obedience to their own interpretation of the Ten Commandments, and how empty that interpretation is. Look at the example that Jesus gives us: You shall not murder. The scribes and Pharisees would say that, so long as you do not perform the act of murdering someone or use your influence to have someone murdered—as King David did with Uriah—you have not committed murder. It is enough for the Pharisees that you do not commit the deed. And if you don’t commit the deed, you can avoid prosecution. At no time do the Pharisees ever concern themselves with the spiritual consequences of murder; their only concern in obeying the law is about avoiding civil judgment.

But Jesus looks deeper. As only Jesus can truly do, he looks at the heart and mind to see what is behind the act of murder. Now, Jesus is not contradicting or adding to the Law of Moses here. He has come to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it. Instead of doing away with the Law, Jesus shows us what the Law truly means, showing us that it goes beyond the physical act into the emotions and thoughts that form the act. So even though a man doesn’t take up a knife or a gun or a club and cause the physical death of his neighbor, in the eyes of God, a man who becomes inflamed with anger toward his neighbor or even takes the first step of anger in calling his neighbor a name is guilty of murder, and thus faces the wrath of judgment.

We’re no better than the scribes and Pharisees, though. And it’s not just with the Fifth Commandment, either. What about our interactions with our parents, the police, employers, and other authority figures? How many of us have ignored our parents, seeing their opinions as obsolete? How comforting it is look at a police car pulling someone over for speeding and think that they should find a real job instead of harassing decent people. But as long as we give Mom a card for Mother’s Day, as long as we don’t try to get our boss fired, as long as we don’t try to run the police officer over as we drive past, it’s easy to think that we have honored those whom God has placed in positions of authority over us.

It doesn’t matter which Commandment we consider. We act as though we’re lawyers before the city judge, looking for loopholes so that we can be exonerated despite our guilt. We do our best to ignore the fact that we will find ourselves before the righteous Judge of all people, the only Judge who can truly read our minds and our hearts as well as our actions. This Judge knows all the laws and has plugged all the loopholes. God’s Law requires not only outward obedience to the letter of the law, obedience in deed; it also requires inner obedience, perfect obedience, obedience in thought and word. There is no bloody glove that our hand will not fit, no paid-off witness to give a false alibi, and no prison guard who will look the other way while we make our escape. When the Judge declares us guilty—and make no mistake: you are guilty—the sentence is just, and there’s no chance for parole.

Sinners must face the consequences of their sins. When you sin against your neighbor, you are acting against your own conscience. Thus you harm both yourself and your neighbor. But more than that, you are also sinning against God. Jesus recognizes this, and He says to you, “If you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” This is the language of the Church. This is confession and absolution. Brothers and sisters in Christ would not come to the altar for the Holy Supper of Christ’s body and blood until they were first reconciled with each other. The Church from its earliest days has practiced this, and it is a practice which we must still practice today. To approach the altar with unrepentant anger in your heart is to approach the altar unworthily, and what you receive there will be received to your own judgment.

If you plan on receiving the Lord’s Supper but you remember that you have sinned against your neighbor, go to your neighbor. God’s good gifts aren’t going anywhere. Apologize. Make peace with him. If your neighbor has sinned against you and comes to you to apologize, grant him forgiveness rather than holding a grudge. Then come to the altar. Confess your sin before God. Your neighbor may or may not forgive you; but God will surely forgive you. I John tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful and just, and He is gracious to forgive our sins in the name of Jesus. And with that forgiveness, we can then approach the altar with joy to receive the body and blood of Jesus, which strengthens our faith for this life and the life of the world to come. You cannot trust your own reason or strength. You cannot trust your own works. But even though you cannot trust your own works, you can certainly trust in the Lord. You can trust that Jesus lived to fulfill the Law. You can trust that Jesus died under the sentence of our sin and guilt. And you can trust that Jesus rose again for your sake, so that the perfect obedience and righteousness of Christ is all the righteous Judge sees when He looks at you. When you look to Christ instead of to your own works and strength, God is merciful. He gives you forgiveness, striking away that sentence of eternal damnation, giving you pardon and peace for now and for all eternity.

The Lord has higher standards for us in His Word, standards that we cannot hope to meet. But thanks be to God, for we don’t have to rely on our works. Christ lived in perfect obedience, and through His death and resurrection, in Holy Baptism He has made that obedience yours. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sermon for 7/24/11--Fifth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

At Christ’s Word

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

Nothing happens apart from the Word of God.

On the shore are two boats. Because of the crowds, Jesus gets into one boat and asks Simon to put out a little from shore. The reflection of the sound off the water enables a larger number of people to hear. Peter's boat becomes a pulpit. From the boat our Lord preaches His Word of salvation. Christ is in the boat for the people, drawing them to Himself. Like a fisherman, He casts the net of the Gospel to draw the fish into the boat.

The boat and the water remind us of Noah. At God's Word Noah built an ark. In that boat eight people were saved from the Flood which drowned all of wicked mankind. Salvation was only in the boat. And Peter tells us in his second epistle that Noah and the flood is a foreshadowing of our baptism. Just as the Lord washed the earth clean of the wicked in the flood, so He washes us clean of our wicked sinfulness in holy baptism and gives us new life. This happens because our Lord combines His Word with the water. Nothing happens apart from the Word of God.

Our Lord now speaks His Word to Simon Peter, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." Simon knows that no fisherman goes to the deep for a catch. For a living catch fishermen stay in the shallows where the nets can reach the fish. Furthermore, Simon knows that no fisherman fishes in the heat of the day. What our Lord commands Simon to do here makes no sense. That’s not how it's done. But that’s the way it’s done with the Lord.

There are those today who question the Lord's methods of baptizing and teaching to draw fish into the church. They say we need something more than the Gospel—groups and programs and gimmicks; changing the liturgy to be more user-friendly to the culture. They say we need to go to where we're most likely to catch fish, relying more on statistics than the Word of Christ to lead their outreach efforts. It's no wonder that, even in our own church body, so many of the new churches are started in the safe, white, middle class suburbs or small towns. Often these churches are growing for reasons other than faith in Christ alone.

But our Lord's thinking is unconventional. "Launch out into the deep," he says. Not only in the suburbs but in the cities and rural areas; not only to people who seem open to Christian spirituality but also to the "unspiritual." Not only to young families with children, but to people of every age and color and nationality and marital status. The church is to proclaim the Gospel wherever Christ gives us opportunity—pastors by visits and by preaching from the pulpit; and you by confessing your faith in your daily callings as family members and workers and citizens and neighbors, so that others might be drawn in to get caught in the net of Christ's preaching and teaching and baptism and by these things enter His boat. Sometimes the catch will come in surprising places.

Peter responded at first by saying, "Master, we toiled all night and caught nothing." By nature we labor in the darkness apart from the Lord. From our own efforts comes nothing. However, in the Light Peter goes on to say, "At Your Word I will let down the nets." Purely by faith Simon surrenders all that he knows and all that he has experienced and lets down the nets. So it is to be in the Church. Not our word but the Word of Christ is our life and salvation. What counts is not what seems reasonable to us, but what is good and right in the sight of the Lord. The Gospel, the message of Christ crucified, is foolishness to the world; but to faith this message is the power of God. His truth orders our lives. Again it is written, "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

Simon does what our Lord commands, and the nets fill up. Simon calls to his partners on shore to come out with their boat. With his partners both boats are filled so that it seems that they will not make it back to shore. So great is the catch of fish that one boat cannot hold them all.

Peter's reaction to this miracle seems a bit surprising. "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!" This mighty work of Jesus causes Peter to see that he was in the presence of the holy God. And so the unbelief that remains in Peter rises up and begins to overwhelm him. "This is God. God is holy. God hates sin. I am a sinner. I am lost." That is the work of the devil. God does indeed hate sin, and the devil wants you to believe that God’s judgment against sin is the final word.

However, the One who stands before Simon Peter and before you today, Jesus the Son of God, did not come into this world to condemn the world but to save the world. He came to rescue Peter; He came to rescue you. Just as Simon trusted in the Lord when he went out to catch fish in the deep, so now you are to trust in the Lord as He speaks His mercy to you. Notice our Lord doesn't say, "Oh, that's okay, it's not really that bad." Instead He says, "Do not be afraid. I forgive you all your sins. You are reconciled to the Father through Me."

And finally, our Lord does one more amazing thing. He says to Peter, "From now on you will catch men." In other words, He makes this sinner into an apostle, a preacher of the Gospel, so that more fish might be drawn into the boat. So it is with all the preachers Christ calls and ordains: they are sinners. What counts is not what they are, but what they preach. Don't pay attention to your pastor or his personality or quirks; pay attention to Christ who uses pastors as His voice and hands to speak His Word and administer His Sacraments, that you fish might continually be drawn into the church.

Today, our Lord feeds you with the riches of the Sacrament of the Altar. He puts His body and blood into your mouths to hook you and reel you in. The Word alone brings you to repentance and keeps you in the faith. After all, nothing happens apart from the Word of God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Higher Things 2011: Coram Deo

Something tells me that this blog post won't win Todd Wilken's approval for brevity. My apologies.

I've worked with young people for a long time now.  It's been twenty years, in fact, which is well over half of my life. In that time I've seen trends and fads, facts and figures, gadgets and gimmicks, both in the secular and ecclesiastical realms. 

I don't think I ever posted my critique on this blog, but I am a survivor of the Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod's 2004 National Youth Gathering (and I do mean "survivor", as it was a nightmare of the worst trends in post-modern evangelical Christianity). There was not much about that event that I would consider Lutheran. There was not much I would even consider inherently Christian. The oozing emotionalism, the specially-produced liturgies, the contemporary Christian music, the Bible study that began with the pastor fanning his softcover gathering Bible while holding it up to his ear and asking if we could "hear the Spirit moving", the sermon preached by the wife of the former Synodical presidentthese things did not lend themselves to the edification of the soul.

This past week I took kids from my youth group to the Higher Things conference in Bloomington, Illinois. To my great delight, the conference was refreshingly lacking in fads, gimmicks, and the command to "Shout if you love Jeeeeeeeezus!" I was impressed all around with the commitment of Higher Things to traditional Lutheran theology and worship, a commitment demonstrated amply in the 10 different organized services and the numerous plenary and breakaway presentations. I'm going to list, point by point, the things I liked and disliked about the conference, and there's very little you can do to stop me.


Let's start with all things liturgical. Coram Deo began and ended with the Divine Service. Not only did the conference begin with the Divine Service, but it was a setting taken straight from the hymnal (LSB Setting 1, if you must know), rather than the scattered moonings of some "master liturgist". The confession of sins was an actual confession, where we confess that we are sinners in thought, word and deed, and we received the full forgiveness of our sins; we did not make a confession of sins that doesn't really confess sins, nor did we hear an absolution that doesn't really absolve the sinner of anything. The creed was the Creed taken straight from the hymnal, not some bastardized version of the creed that confesses that Jesus loves us the way the sun loves a flower. No one's wife got up in the middle of the service to preach a sermon in the middle of another sermon. No one's daughter got up to entice the young men in attendance to love Jesus just a little more through the gyrations of her scantily-clad body. The sermons were Lutheran sermonsno "moral of the story", no patronizing the youth. We prayed four times each day: Matins, Vespers, Evening Prayer, and Prayer at the Close of the Day (a shortened version of Compline). This was counter-cultural worship, the kind of things that today's youth aren't supposed to enjoy; and yet many of the kids I talked to described the worship as their favorite part of the conference. And the hymnody?  Well, let's give the hymnody its own section.

And why don't we do that now. Ah, the hymns. The conference hymn was "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It", which went nicely with the conference theme, which was Coram Deo. I'll talk more about the conference theme in a moment. The hymns were actual hymns, and, with one exception, I was pleased with their selections. We sang the conference hymn at almost every service. We sang the greats like "Thy Strong Word", "At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing", "For all the Saints", and numerous others. We sang all the verses of each hymn. Nowhere were we called upon to wave our hands to heaven as we repeated nonsense phrases. Nowhere were we called upon to emote about what we've done for Jesus.

The conference theme was Coram Deo, a Latin phrase which means "before God" or "in the face of God". Where do you stand before God? As a sinner, that is a horrible question to have to answer. In the way of the Law, you stand before God as a sinner, worthy only of condemnation. But through Baptism, this is no longer a horrifying question to answer, because you stand before God as His redeemed child. You stand before God wearing the white robe of Christ's righteousness, and He sees Christ's righteousness and pronounces you "not guilty". Again, the substance was counter-cultural, raising the bar, asking the kids to think rather than to feel. The plenary speakers, Pastor William Cwirla and Pastor Brent Kuhlman, took the kids into the topic intensively. Pastor Cwirla took the kids through Romans, while Pastor Kuhlman took the kids through the Catechism, both of them showing the kids where they stood Coram Deoand Pastor Cwirla adding the extra emphasis of Coram Hominibus: how we stand before our fellow humans. The breakaway sessions continued with the theme. None of the speakers I saw needed gimmicks, and at no time did the speakers insult the intelligence of their audience.

As always, I am impressed with the overall philosophy of Higher Things. "The mission of Higher Things, Inc. is to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth . . ." (which is taken directly from their website). I have attended a Synodical National Youth Gathering, and I have attended District Youth Gatherings. I know that Higher Things does not intend to deliberately compete with these things in their conferences, but as one who has attended such things, it's difficult not to make the comparison. You can't help but notice the difference in the philosophies behind those who are responsible for Higher Things and those who are responsible for the Synodical gatherings. The monthly mailings from the LCMS Youth Ministry Office are strewn with the results of surveys and "longitudinal studies" about "what youth want today" and "what youth are up to today" from George Barna and others. Their conference speakers are not always Lutherans, much less LCMS Lutherans. On the other hand, Higher Things urges you to "dare to be Lutheran". Everything about their conferences, their magazine, their organization, is unashamedly Lutheran.

The Higher Things staff and volunteers (CCVs) impressed me as well, from the top of the organization to the lowliest college student who volunteered their time. I admit that I've met a large number of the Higher Things staff before, and the Media Executive is a good friend. Even without those connections, one cannot help but be impressed by the commitment of the staff in putting together three consecutive conferences in three weeks. And for each of these conferences, a group of college students pays (if sufficient donations are not made) to volunteer their time to making sure the speakers have no technological issues and the youth don't spend too much time lost on a college campus. Of course, two of my adopted sisters were CCVs at the Bloomington conference, so I'm a little biased, but even the ones that I didn't spend a year with on vicarage were excellent.

I was also given the opportunity to appear on Higher Things Radio! Since my group of kids traveled with the group from Pastor Buetow's congregation, Bethel Luthern in DuQuoin, our groups did our nighttime prayers together. When the prayers were over, he said he was going down to record an episode of HT radio where they'd be doing an "Ask the Pastor" section, and he asked me to participate. Of course, now I know why God called me to the Office of the Ministry: to save me from my delusions that I'd have made a dynamic radio personality! Nevertheless, I had a great time doing it, even if I sounded like I've never spoken in public before. You can listen to that particular episode here.

All around, I was impressed with the kids who attended the conferencewith a special mention of my own group from St. Peter Lutheran in Campbell Hill, IL. As I said, we traveled with a group from Bethel Lutheran Church in DuQuoin, IL. We also had a group with us from my vicarage congregation, Trinity Lutheran in Norborne, MO. So we already knew some of the kids who were attending. Of course, 20 kids in the sea of 1,200 kids isn't much. But watching how these kids from 25 states and 4 Canadian provinces came together, daring to be explicitly Lutheran . . . well, it was quite a sight to see. With few exceptions, the kids were well-behaved, respectful of the speakers and staff, and willing to jump right in and be a part of something bigger than themselves.

A couple personal highlights: (1) I met Dr. Lamb of Lutherans for Life, an organization determined to preserve human life at all stages. I shared with Dr. Lamb the text of my hymn "Before I Formed You in the Womb I Knew You", and he said to look for it in one of their future periodicals! (2) I was also reunited with three fellow alumni from my alma mater, Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. I hadn't seen any of these gentlemen since I completed my course of studies eleven years ago, and it was nice to be reunited with them (and to meet their wives, two of whom I hadn't met before). (3) It was also a blessing to meet in person for the first time (and to be reunited with) friends from Facebook and other circles of friends.


My biggest dislike in the whole of the Coram Deo experienceand the only one over which the Higher Things staff had any controlwas the selection of the Stephen Starke hymn "We Praise You and Acknowledge You, O God" (LSB 941). It's a wonderful textit's hard to screw up the Te Deum Laudamus, after all, and I'd love to see the text set to another tune, even if "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" (LSB 940) is one of my favorite hymnsbut the tune is Thaxted, which is the melody of the central section of the Jupiter movement of Gustav Holst's "The Planets". I believe that using that tune sends a bad message. We tell our young couples not to use Mendelssohn's Wedding March from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" or Wagner's Bridal Chorus from "Lohengrin" because of the context in which those pieces appear. By the same token, "The Planets" by Holst deals with the astrological and mythical significance of the planets. Whether or not the kids know the context of the music, it's inappropriate for a Christian hymn. It is, however, firmly embedded in Lutheran Service Book and is quite popular with the Higher Things crowd, especially since (If I remember correctly) it was the conference hymn for one of the past conferences, so I have no illusions that it will disappear from Higher Things any time soon.

Of course the Higher Things people have no control over this, but it was hellishly hot in Bloomington last week. It was in the high 90s all week, and I don't think it slipped below 80 until at least midnight. This polar bear nearly went extinct!

The whistles. Exhibitors always attend things like this, and for the most part I was pleased. One exhibitor, however, handed out whistles. Give a kid a whistle, and you know what he's going to do with it. Those whistles were a plague! 

I was ever-so-slightly disappointed in the organ playing. Of course, when you go in expecting to hear the great Chris Loemker, anyone else is going to be a letdown. But circumstances kept Chris away for most of the conference, so he was only available for one service. Dr. Eifert of Mt. Calvary Lutheran in San Antonio, TX, was an admirable substitute, though.


All in all, as I'm sure you can tell, I was very much impressed by the whole experience. Even with high expectations going in, I found those expectations surpassed. I arrived tired and spiritually run down. I departed exhausted and spiritually refreshed. (Yeah, you don't sleep a lot at these things.) If you are a kid, ask your parents and youth leaders and pastors if you can go. If you are a youth leader or pastor or parent, encourage your kids to go. Finally, here is a place where you don't have to be embarrassed to be a Lutheran. In fact, a Higher Things conference will encourage you to "Dare to be Lutheran"!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sermon for 7/17/11--Fourth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Be Merciful

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

Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Mercy is not giving someone what they deserve. It means that you know exactly what this person has done. You know what they deserve—if all things were right and fair. You know. Yet you choose instead to show mercy to them. You forgive them. You pay the debt yourself. You don’t give them what they deserve. So when Jesus says, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful,” He is first of all giving us the Law. Do this. Be merciful. This is the Law. Jesus knows perfectly well that you are not merciful. You are full of judgment and hatred toward your fellow human beings. How many times have you sat in the pew right where you sit now and sat in so-called righteous judgment over your fellow Christians next to you? “Well, at least I’m not like them.” How many times have you looked at other people secretly with contempt, knowing that you are really a better Christian than those ones who don’t do as much, or don’t come to church as much, or whose life is a mess, or who have created some kind of scandal, or whatever it may be.

What Jesus is really getting at in our text is the Eight Commandment. “You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.” Luther reminds us what this means: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” That’s easy to say, but it’s terribly hard to put into practice. Be merciful. Don’t give into your evil desires! Don’t sit in judgment over others. Many people believe that they are not really poor miserable sinners. Looking at this commandment and what it means reminds us all that we are all unkind and even cruel toward the people we claim to love the most. When it comes to mercy, we are most often unmerciful and just plain evil at times toward our own family. How often have you lashed out at your spouse or one of your children? How often have you kept score with your siblings or held a grudge toward a relative or friend, knowing that sooner or later you would get them back? Every time you take it out on your spouse because you know they’ll take it, you forget mercy.

This is what Joseph’s brothers feared when their father, Jacob, died. In Genesis we hear of how Joseph’s brothers believed that once Jacob was dead, they would get their just desserts. They had sold Joseph into slavery, lied about him and had treated him worse than their worst enemy. Yet Joseph showed them mercy. Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.” This is what Jesus is talking about when He says, “Judge not lest you be judged.” What he is saying is that none of us stand in the place of God. It is not your job to stand as judge, jury and executioner over your fellow Christians. That is God’s place. Your job is to defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way. Your place in life is to cover up the sins of your family and friends, and even your enemies. Your place as a Christian is to remember that all are poor miserable sinners, and you are simply being a liar by claiming to be better than anyone else.

Now this is often misunderstood. Do not judge unless you wish to be judged. Many take that to mean that we may never condemn sin or say anything is right or wrong. “Well, they’re living together before marriage. It’s not what I think is right, but who am I to judge?” “Gossip is wrong, but I’ve certainly gossiped before. How can I condemn someone for that?” The problem is that this confuses what Jesus is saying. What Jesus is condemning is a double standard. You can’t hold others to a higher standard than you yourself hold. And what is the standard by which all are judged? The standard is God’s holy law, not our own petty rules. And God’s holy Law does not bend. All stand condemned before God’s Law, which we all break time and time again.

So what is Jesus talking about when He says, “Be merciful as your Father in heaven is merciful”? The point of this text is that the Father in heaven is merciful. We judge each other on the basis of our limited vision. We look and see what we don’t like in someone else, and we condemn him for it. But your Father in heaven knows all and sees all. There is nothing hidden from his sight. There is no sin that goes unnoticed, no misdeed that is lost. He knows all your faults and shortcomings, down to the very end.

Still, He is merciful. He doesn’t give you what you deserve. He doesn’t give you death. Instead, He gives you the very opposite. He gives you life. Now this life that the Father gives by mercy isn’t just any life. It is eternal life. It is His life, rich and full of blessing. It is a life washed clean of every stain of sin in Holy Baptism, which allows you to stand before God as His redeemed child.

Now what does this mean for you in the real world? It means everything. It means that this is a place where you receive the one thing you need more than anything else: mercy. Here your troubles are not glossed over or held up as a spectacle. No, here in this place our heavenly Father gives you this great gift of mercy, so that your sins are washed away forever. Perhaps this seems like old news to you. “We’ve heard this before, pastor. Why don’t you get to something more useful?” My brothers and sisters in Christ, mercy never goes out of date. Just like the love of God, His mercy knows no boundaries, and it delivers you the peace of God that all desire. This is why we may sing with the Psalmist: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Sermon for 7/10/11--Third Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)


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

The family depicted in the Gospel is not a perfect family. The younger son runs away, but not before demanding from his father all the property that would be his when the father dies. And the older son stays on the ranch, but he is not at all pleased with the situation. He feels like a slave. He’s mad at his brother for running off, and he might even be a little angry with himself for not thinking of it first. Those are only the symptoms. The real problem is that the sons are having problems with forgiveness.

The younger son has sinned against God and against his father. He feels shame. He can’t forgive himself. He has wasted the money his father gave him on extravagant living. He’s going hungry. He has to find a job. He’s gone from raising livestock on his father’s ranch to feeding pigs. There is really no other job in a land ravaged by famine. Don’t forget that this is a nice orthodox Jewish boy. He’s barely supposed to know what a pig looks like, much less spend any significant time with them. He’s shamed himself. He’s shamed his family. How can he go back home? He finally comes to the conclusion that he can go back home, that maybe his father will hire him on as a servant. He remembers that the servants are well-treated and have plenty to eat. He won’t dare ask for forgiveness; what he’s done goes far beyond the bounds of what can be forgiven. But maybe his father will have mercy on him and let him work for his living.

But when he returns home, he finds his father running to him, and his father gives him the forgiveness he could not bring himself to ask for. His father not only welcomes him home, but gives him the best robe, a pair of sandals, and a ring. And on top of all that, he has the servants kill the fatted calf, gives everyone the rest of the day off, and has a big party to welcome home the son that was lost, but now is found. The end. Roll the credits. What a spectacular ending!

But what about the older son? He’s still out in the fields, slaving away for his father. He hears the sound of a party at home, and he wants to know what’s going on. When he finds out that his brother has come home and that the party is for that delinquent, he refuses to join the party. He refuses to speak of the younger son as his brother. He certainly won’t forgive that boy for what he’s done.

Neither son really understands forgiveness. The younger son feels that nobody can forgive him for what he’s done. The older son doesn’t think he should have to forgive, and he doesn’t understand how his father can forgive. Why should he forgive his brother? The older son has never done anything wrong! He’s been loyal to his father, even though he feels like he’s been a slave all these years. He is the one who deserves a party, not his brother. Why should he be the one to make things right again?

The only one in the family who understands forgiveness is the father. When his younger son comes home, he runs out to meet him. He has compassion on him. He throws his arms around him, never mind that he smells like pigs. This is his son, not some stranger. The father completely forgives his younger son, and the son begins to understand. In the face of his father’s grace, he can repent; he has already been completely forgiven. And then the father pleads with the older son to forgive his brother, to show the same complete acceptance the father has shown. The father has not closed the door on either son.

We are members families, and we all face the difficulties of forgiveness. By refusing to forgive, we close many doors on our relationships. Most broken homes exist because someone cannot bring forgiveness to bear. Sometimes one cannot forgive himself. In the same way, if we don’t forgive others, we not only lock them out; we lock ourselves out, too. We see this, both in our homes and in our churches. The divorce rate is higher than ever. Too often we hear and live stories of brothers and sisters who don’t speak for years. And in our churches, we see more and more feuds every year. Pastors are forced out of churches by angry congregations. Angry or ignored church members trickle out of membership rolls a handful at a time, to reappear on other churches, or worse yet, to disappear from church altogether. Church meetings become shouting matches between factions that can’t agree; and these shouting matches aren’t resolved by agreement, but are merely postponed by the forceful expulsion of one of the parties. Thus the argument is never resolved. Sunday morning becomes a war—a war within ourselves and a war with those around us. The worse part of this is that we don’t understand that we sin not only against each other. First and foremost, we sin against God. We don’t forgive those who trespass against us; why should God forgive us? The psalmist writes, “While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long.” Rather than seek absolution and reconciliation, we hide away, pretending the problem will disappear on its own. If we don’t confess our sins, there is no chance to be forgiven; and without forgiveness, only death remains.

But before anyone can condemn you, God forgives you. Our God is a forgiving God. Our Lord hung upon the cross to bear all your sins, so that when the Father looks upon you, He sees only the blameless Son. The Son instituted Sacraments in which you receive forgiveness. In Baptism you have been washed clean from the sin that you were born into, and the Lord received you into His family. In the Lord’s Supper you eat the body and blood of Jesus, which is given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins. This is the great family banquet which is shared by the whole family of Christians of every time and place. And Jesus also shows you how to forgive each other. Forgiveness is a complete change. He told Peter that forgiveness isn’t something you limit to 7 times, but something to give freely, 70 times 7, as many times as a person truly repents and asks to be forgiven. That’s a radical concept, as radical as dying on a cross to forgive sins.

In the face of your Father’s complete forgiveness, you can truly repent and you are truly forgiven. And through His forgiveness, you can forgive each other, as well. That’s a normal family—the family of brothers and sisters in Christ. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Sermon for 7/3/11--Second Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Still having trouble with the podcast. Looking for a new host.

The Feast of Love

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

There are few words found more frequently in the Scriptures than the word “love.” Just about everyone, even those who don’t really believe it, know the Biblical phrase, “God is love.” And it is true that love is the very essence of God. The problem, however, with the word “love” is that it is easily and often misunderstood and misused. For example, it is often assumed that “love” is always a “Gospel” word, a word that speaks of promises and gifts from God. It is, indeed, often used in this way: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.” But if you would check out “love” in all of its various Biblical contexts you will find that in most cases it is actually a “Law” word, a word of command or admonition to love God or to love our neighbor. And so we must bear in mind always that the word “love” is a two-edged sword: it can bear both a Gospel meaning and a Law meaning; and at times, both may be found together. This text is just such an example.

Now, you may be thinking, “What does any of this have to do with this text? After all, the word ‘love’ is not even found in the text.” That’s true. But still, the love of God for us and the love we are to return to Him is all over this text, whether or not the word itself is there. It is found in the context of a great heavenly banquet, which always speaks to us of the Lord’s Supper; and it also speaks to us of the great feast of everlasting life around the throne of heaven.

The great supper described in this text is a wonderful picture of the love of God. The love of God is a love that is wide, for the invitation to the supper is one that goes out to many. It is a banquet that is full and rich, for it meets all the needs of men. It is a great feast that has been prepared and is ready to be enjoyed. What’s more, this is an unending feast. It is a feast of joy for the present, even as it is one of hope for the future.

There is no worldly feast offered this side of heaven that can give any more than present satisfaction. And even in the best of them there are things that we find less than pleasing, or which do not especially appeal to our taste. But this great supper offers present happiness and future glory. As we gather at His invitation at the table of the Lord, we are given His very body and blood, given and shed for the remission of our sins. This is a “foretaste of the feast to come”, a sign of all the wonders that the Lord of the Church has prepared for those who love Him and who long for His return.

This feast of love is so rich, and the entrance to it so easy, that we cannot help but be amazed at how many refuse the invitation to come. It is like faith itself. Saving faith is a great mystery. But perhaps an even greater mystery is that, when offered the boundless blessings of the Gospel, the fullness of the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life, so many will quickly refuse it!

There are many excuses by which the invitation is refused. Some excuse themselves because they have earthly wealth; they simply think they do not need this great feast of love. Others refuse the invitation because they’ve got what they think of as better things to do. Still others refuse because of their families. Can you relate to any of these? You may not be wealthy, but surely there have been times when you have been well satisfied with yourself, and the need for God was far from your mind. And surely the rigors of daily life have kept you busy. At times you have permitted such things to turn you away from the gifts of this great feast of love.

But these excuses are only symptoms. The real reason for refusing the feast of love is because unbelief always yearns for a different feast. Unbelief is too satisfied with earthly riches. It is too busy with daily living. It is too pleased with the delights of family. There is room at the heavenly banquet, but there is no room for the banquet in the hearts of sinners. All excuses are needless. Enjoying God’s great feast will not take away from all these others things; it will enhance them and make them even greater. The enjoyment of God’s great feast will add even more pleasure to those with wealth; it will help those who bear many daily burdens to bear them with joy and without anxiety; it will make even the happiest home happier still.

This parable of Jesus is one that cuts across all the ages of time. The temptation comes to all, including the faithful of the Lord, to think themselves too satisfied, too busy, or too tied down to need the feast of love. And here is the truth that lies at the root of it all, the one thing we need always to remember: we will not taste the feast unless we have the taste for it. That means repentance and faith. The love of God is something that must not be refused by us. His love for us cost Him the life of His Son on the cross, and He will not leave unanswered the rejection of His Son. It is for us to repent for those times when we have thought ourselves beyond the need of the love of God given to us through the saving life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. But even when God’s anger is roused by our sin of refusal, still His love persists. He doesn’t stop sending the invitation; He repeats it again and again, each time full of His desire that we would accept His invitation.

This is an open invitation to the Savior’s body and blood in His Holy Supper, which is a foretaste of the feast to come. The feast is great, its blessings boundless even now; but, as yet, we have tasted only the crumbs, the appetizer. Here the words of the Psalmist come to mind: “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in You.” Hear His invitation, and answer to your everlasting joy and blessing! In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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