Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sermon for 10/3/10--Eighteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

"What do you think about the Christ?"

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

It’s easy sometimes to think of Jesus as a softie. By observing Jesus we notice that He has a special place in His heart for children, taking them in His arms and blessing them. Apparently He doesn’t like sickness and suffering, for He spends a lot of His time healing the blind, the cripple, the leper, and everyone else who comes to Him for healing. He also has a soft spot for widows, fishermen, tax collectors, and those who society tends to overlook. These things and numerous others that we observe in Scripture might lead us to believe that Jesus is one of those “bleeding heart” types, someone who is merely interested in social justice. But then we encounter Him when He is dealing with the Pharisees and Sadducees. In His conversations with them, we observe Jesus as a man of doctrine. He knows His Scripture, and He’s not afraid to use it. He’s compassionate—He desperately wants these men to understand and cling to the truth which He teaches them, even though He knows they’re out to test and trick Him—but at the same time, He’s steadfast. He won’t give in to them for the sake of unity or peace or even safety.

After Jesus passed the test of the Pharisees, He asked a question in response. “What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?” The question is an important one, and the Pharisees gave the correct answer: “The Son of David.” But Jesus took it one step further. First He quoted Psalm 110: “The LORD said to my Lord, ‘Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.'" When he asked them, “If David then calls Him ‘Lord,’ how is He his Son?” That was the question the Pharisees could not answer. But of the questions Jesus asked them, this was the more important one. The correct answer to first question revealed Jesus to be the Son of David, for Jesus was David’s direct genealogical descendant through His mother, Mary. But the correct answer to the second question reveals Jesus to be the promised Messiah, the Son of God. As true God, begotten of the Father, He is David’s Lord. He is both David’s Son and David’s Lord because He is both true God and true man. This is an answer the Pharisees would never give. What’s more, Jesus was asked at His trial if He was the Son of God; and when He answered in the affirmative, the High Priest called it “blasphemy”, and He was sentenced to death.

That answer receives no better welcome today. The truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is offensive to the world. You can talk about God all you want, as long as you speak in generic language. But try praying in the name of Jesus. Walk into the halls of Congress and pray in the name of Jesus. Go to a public high school graduation service and invoke the name of Jesus. Speak to a Jew or a Muslim or even many who call themselves Christians and say that Jesus is the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity. They will be offended. The world can accept Jesus as a rabbi, a prophet, a bodhisattva, a holy man; but to say that Jesus is God would mean that the Jew is waiting for a Messiah that has already come. It would mean that Allah is not the true God, and Mohammed would not be a prophet of the true God. It would mean that not all gods are equal. And none of those things are acceptable to the world.

So . . . what do you think of the Christ? Before you answer, remember, the eyes of the world are on you. Remember how unpopular the truth is. Remember the consequences of speaking the truth. Remember that people have been exiled, stabbed, shot, maimed, tortured, burned, crucified and killed for saying that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Remember all of that as you confess the Apostles’ Creed next week. But we are called to faithful confession. In our text, Jesus says that, along with loving God with all your heart and soul and mind, loving your neighbor as yourself is the greatest of the commandments. That means you’re supposed to love your neighbor so much that you’ll speak the truth about Jesus to him, even if he’s going to have a violent response. In the rite of Confirmation you vowed to continue steadfast and suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from such a confession. Even if the only consequence is that you are mocked or ignored, it’s so much easier, so much safer, to just mumble something generic about God and faith. And we like safe. We like easy. And if the truth were told, we like the idea of the easygoing Jesus, the one with a soft spot for troublemakers and the outcasts. Faithful confession is neither easy nor safe, and it’s certainly not popular.

It is in that difficult and dangerous and unpopular struggle that our Lord steps on our behalf. The love we are to show to God and to our neighbor, this is the love which Jesus first showed us—for He is our Lord as true God, and He is our neighbor as true man. Jesus knew full well that saying that He was the Son of God would lead to His crucifixion and death. He confessed freely, loving God with all His heart and all His soul and all His mind; and He went to His cross and death willingly, loving His neighbor as Himself, so that His confession and death would be our confession and death, so that, when He rose from the dead, we too would rise with Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. Like a mother who writes her child’s name on his shirt so that no one else can claim that shirt, in Holy Baptism, the name of “the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is indelibly written upon us by our good and gracious Lord. Because of that mark, He alone can claim us. That mark allows us to confess before the world, “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and the Son of David, true God and true man.” Not only does He mark us as His own, but He strengthens us for faithful confession, the kind of confession that demonstrates the love of Jesus for us and the love we are to show to our neighbor, no matter the consequences. Jesus feeds us His own body and blood, strengthening us through that holy sacrament in our faith in Him and our love for each other. And when, like Peter, we deny that we know Him, He is gracious to speak the word of Holy Absolution, restoring us just as He restored Peter.

The world is going to ask you the same question Jesus asked: “What do you say about the Christ?” It’s an important question—probably the most important question anyone will ever ask you. But don’t worry that you don’t know the answer, for the answer is written upon your heart and soul and mind. Do not be silent like the Pharisees, and do not be afraid to answer; but through the Holy Spirit, speak boldly: “Jesus Christ is the Son of David and the Son of God, true God and true Man.” Whatever the earthly consequences may be, the Lord will strengthen you and grant you grace to bear them faithfully. 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.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love bade me welcome . . .

When I was in the Concordia Festival Chorus at what was then called Concordia College in Bronxville, New York, we performed a piece called "Five Mystical Songs", a Ralph Vaughan Williams arrangement of four poems written by George Herbert, a poet and Anglican priest.  This was my Freshman year—has it really been seventeen years?—so I wasn't even a pre-seminary student at the time.  Yet the piece spoke to me about the nature of Easter and about the nature of baptismal faith.  (I've read that Vaughan Williams was an agnostic, and I hope the glory and goodness of God which his music so often proclaimed was able to reach his soul.)  It's seventeen years later, and I've been a pastor for ten years.  I've listened to that piece numerous times over the years, and it still speaks to me about Easter and the nature of faith. 

I recently came across a copy of George Herbert: the Complete English Works, and I couldn't resist.  I've started reading it, and the spiritual depth of his work is fascinating.  He articulates the tenets of the Christian faith in accessible terms, often in picture language.  I attempt as a writer to articulate the faith in both sermons and in verse, and it has always been a challenge and struggle.  Herbert's seeming ease in using the medium of verse to proclaim the faith is astonishing, revealing a spiritual maturity and a mastery of the language.

Let me share with you the poem "Love (III)", a work about the Sacrament of the Altar and the worthy reception thereof (and one of the Mystical Songs of the aforementioned piece).  Note how the unworthy guest is revealed to have been made worthy by Love to partake of the "meat", the body of Christ.

Love (III)

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
        Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        "Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
        "My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
        So I did sit and eat.

And now, listen as the piece is performed.

What a great and glorious God we have, to reveal Himself to us in such wondrous ways!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sermon for 9/26/10: Seventeenth Sunday After Trinity (1-Year LSB)

A Sabbath Remains for the Weary

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

Before we deal with the meat of this text, we must first ask an important question: What is the Sabbath? Forgive the shameless plug, but if you join us for our study of the book of Genesis on Sunday mornings, in a few weeks you’ll learn that the word “sabbath” means rest, and the observance of the Sabbath comes from the recorded account of creation. In Deuteronomy chapter five Moses repeats to the children of Israel the Law which God had delivered to Him: “Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your ox, nor your donkey, nor any of your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” The teachers of the Law in Jesus’ day took this very seriously. So that the Sabbath day would not be dishonored, they set forth all sorts of restrictions regarding what could be done on the Sabbath. You could only do so much cooking on the Sabbath, for instance. You couldn’t transport goods. You could not harvest on the Sabbath. In fact, they even put a number on the steps a person could take on the Sabbath, to prevent a person from putting forth the amount of effort that would dishonor the Sabbath.

It should come as no surprise to us that Jesus would find Himself challenged regarding these restrictions. We don’t know if this was set up as a test, but while Jesus was with a group of the Pharisees, a man with dropsy came to Him. Today we call this “edema”, which is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body. Jesus knew that the Pharisees were watching Him closely. He asked them a simple question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” These men who made their livings with their mouths found themselves speechless. In fact, the Greek tells us that these men were not strong enough, not healthy enough, to answer. In focusing all of their attention to the details, the teachers of the Law missed the bigger picture. They were very good at teaching the letter of the law, but very poor at living the true spirit of the law. Any answer they gave would convict them. Since they would not respond, Jesus answered His own question—not with words, but with actions. He healed the man and sent him on his way.

So what is the Sabbath today? God Himself established the pattern for us to follow when He rested at the end of His week of work on the creation of the heavens and the earth. God blessed that day and declared it to be holy for us. Just like our Father, we children are to rest for a day from the labors of our hands and mouths and minds. So that means it’s the day to sleep in, or to get up early and go fishing, right? There is certainly nothing wrong with fishing or sleeping in or helping your neighbor paint his house, not even on a Sunday. Without a doubt, it’s eternally beneficial for your body and soul for you to receive the gifts of God when they are offered. That being said—and I hope I don’t regret saying this—you aren’t going to go to hell for missing one week of worship, even if it’s to go fishing. Luther tells us, “We should fear and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.” So the Sabbath is about rest—godly rest. The Sabbath is a day of mercy, not a day of rules by which you may earn eternal life. But how often do we take our rest in things apart from Jesus? Why do we constantly seek our peace in worldly things to the exclusion of Jesus? When our Sabbath is constantly all about the Rams or Cardinals, when it is only about the comfort of our bodies, when our Sabbath is constantly opposed to the Word of God, it is then that we despise preaching and the Word of God. It is then that we stand silent with the Pharisees, when any word which we could utter would convict us.

With all that in mind, let us answer the question: Yes, it is, indeed, lawful to heal on the Sabbath. It is not against the law that God gave to His people concerning the Sabbath Day to bring healing to a sick person. It is not against God’s Law to do a good work for someone on the Sabbath. In fact, it is the very spirit of the law regarding the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a day for healing. And more than that, the Sabbath is a day to remember deliverance. As we heard earlier from Deuteronomy, “Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm.” Jesus delivered the afflicted man from his disease, just as the Lord delivered the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt, the Lord has delivered you from your bondage to sin and death. Those chains which held you in captivity to the power of the devil have been dissolved in the waters of Holy Baptism—the water combined with the Word of God which washes away the dreaded disease of sin. Instead of drowning in those waters, the Lord Himself pulls you out into new life in His name.

All of this is yours through the death and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf. He suffered the sickness of sin so that you would be healed. Because of His death, you receive new life, eternal life. We remember the Sabbath day as the day when Jesus rose from the dead, celebrating the healing He gives us in His body and blood. Every celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a celebration of the Sabbath, for we receive our promised rest. As He did with the man with dropsy, He reaches out and touches you, blessing you and healing you with the forgiveness of your sins. And as forgiven children of God who have found rest in Him, we are ready for another week of labor in the midst of our various vocations—whether it’s labor for our daily wages, labor with husband or wife, parents or children, labor among our neighbors, whatever the labor may be. And we are blessed that we may receive a measure of that Sabbath rest every day, for we may return to our baptism daily to receive rest for our souls in His holy Word.

Just as it is lawful for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath, it is lawful for us to seek healing from Him on the Sabbath; for we know that He will graciously hear our prayer and deliver us. God grant that we always seek our rest in Him. 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.

Friday, September 17, 2010

HYMN: Witness, Mercy, Life Together

With his staff, the Reverend Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, has adopted a new emphasis (or perhaps a renewed emphasis) for the future of the LCMS: Witness, Mercy, Life Together. The information page for this focus states, "These phrases illustrate how the church lives and works together to proclaim the Gospel and to provide for our brothers and sisters in Christ in our congregations, communities and throughout the world. And in all we do, Christ is at the center, leading us, sustaining us, keeping us focused on our mission. This will never change."

One of Pastor Harrison's assistants, the Reverend Albert Collver, shared on his blog an excellent introduction and overview of this renewed emphasis. I would encourage you to read and share this information with your brothers and sisters in Christ.

As for me, I'm encouraged by this renewed emphasis for the LCMS. After the past near-decade of the Ablaze!(tm) movement, I see this as a move back toward our historical desire as a body to get the message straight and then to get the message out into the world. It is encouraging to see the leadership acknowledge that we are not united in doctrine and practice (and having division in one means we have division in both). It is encouraging to see that our leadership is striving to have us unite around the truth of the Word.

With all this in mind, I've put together this hymn text in honor of our new (or renewed) emphasis in the LCMS.

Witness, Mercy, Life Together

1. Witness, mercy, life together--
This, the baptized life in Christ.
Praise His holy name forever.
Praise the Lamb, the Sacrificed,
Bearing witness with Saint Peter:
"You are Christ, the Father's Son,"
Him whose death salvation won.
Saints and angels, every creature:
With the nations share the Word
Until every soul has heard.

2. As the Father first has given,
Let us give to all in need--
Not to earn a place in heaven
But to plant a Gospel seed.
Serve each neighbor with thanksgiving
For the grace that Christ has shown.
Share the love His death made known:
Serving, loving and forgiving.
Let us seek not glory's fame
But to serve in Jesus' name.

3. Let us dwell as holy brothers
As with us Christ dwells to bless.
Teach us, Lord, to love each other
Both in peace and in distress,
Seeking after true communion
In baptism's holy flood,
In Your body and Your blood,
So that we, in holy union
Dwell in peace and harmony
Here and in eternity.

(c) Alan Kornacki, Jr.
PM (87 87 877 877)

(If you should desire to use this hymn, you may do so as long as you notify me that you plan to use it.  DISCLAIMER: This hymn was neither commissioned nor endorsed by the Office of the President of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod, nor does the author have any official connection said Office.)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Sermon for 9/19/10--Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Do Not Weep
Luke 7:11-17

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

If you’ve ever been to a funeral, you’ve probably heard someone try to offer comfort with the words, “Death is a natural part of life.” It’s a noble effort, but it’s not the truth. The truth is, we were not created to die. In fact, it is distressing and un-natural when body and soul, which God has joined together, are separated; when the breath of life which God breathed into us departs; and the body which God created from dust once again returns to dust.

It is into that unnatural separation that Jesus places Himself in our text. Jesus met the widow as she came out of the city. She had already lost her husband, and now she has lost her only son. In other words, this is a woman who is alone. A great crowd of people who wanted look at her grief and pain followed her. But she was alone. In that day and age there was no Social Security or 401k plans. Her security was in her family. But her husband had died, and now her only son, the only one who could take care of her, was also gone.

Jesus met the funeral procession coming out of the city. Life meets death. He spoke to the widow and dried her tears; and then He raised her son from the dead. The Jews of the day were astonished: some feared, and others could hardly believe it. But why should we wonder at this great miracle? Our Lord Himself said, “The hour will come when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live”; and the Apostle Paul adds the words, “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise again incorruptible.”

What is this trumpet that declares war against hell, rolls back the stone from the tomb, and gives to all as they rise from their graves victory amidst light everlasting? What is it? It is the voice that Jesus mentioned above: “The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God.” This is not the voice of a trumpet made of brass or something else, with a mournful call to War; rather, it is the Voice that comes from the heart of the Father, from the mouth of the Son, the call to life to those who are in heaven and in hell on earth.

There are times in this life when we feel alone. Things like television and internet social networking sites have made it possibly for us to be doing the same thing at the same time—and even to be communicating with other people—yet still be alone. That is what this life does to us at times. We put on masks and pretend that everything is good, everything is perfect. And yet right underneath the surface is the deep sadness of knowing that you are trapped in your own sins and boxed in by the world around you. Like this widow, a tragedy may hit us, and the sorrow just seems to keep coming. Her son was dead; her husband was already dead; she was destitute. Like the widow from our Old Testament lesson, she was ready to go home and die.

So what did Jesus do for this poor woman? He had compassion on her. Remember that word? It was the word that the Good Samaritan used for the one left for dead on the road. Jesus had compassion on her; He was moved from the very depths of His being to help her. So He said to her, “Do not weep.” Now when we are faced with death, it is very easy to want to try and put on a mask and act as if nothing bad had happened. That’s what we want to do. We want to deny death; we want to make it into something else. We want to say that death is just another path to another life, or reincarnation or something else. But death is not that. Death is the result of sin; for as St. Paul said: “The wages of sin is death.”

Now Jesus knew this, and He loved both her and her dead son, so He said to her “Don’t weep.” Jesus doesn’t say this because he wants her to forget her son. If He had left it at that, it would have been cruel. Everyone else could only stand by and watch, but Jesus could help. And He did. He went to the coffin and touched it. He touched the open coffin. Now in the Jewish world, that was bordering on blasphemy. A dead body is unclean, and is not to be handled. But Jesus, the giver of Life, is not afraid of death. He knows that He has the power over life and death; and so He touched the open coffin to show the widow and all those around who was really in charge.

So Jesus touched the coffin and spoke to the young man as though he were still alive. After all, what is dead in our eyes may be very different for God. Jesus then said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” Arise! And the one who was dead sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother.

You see, that’s how God works. God is always raising us up from the dead. Jesus is always doing the unexpected, and His timing is always perfect. Not only did He raise her son up from the dead, but He did it when it seemed as though there was no hope, no possibility of a future or anywhere else to turn.

But that’s God’s work, isn’t it? God is always raising us up from the dead and bringing us back to life. God’s Word of life and forgiveness does that. When Jesus forgives your sin, it is as if you are raised up from the dead once again! That’s what Baptism is. Your baptism was your death and resurrection. And it is because of that death and resurrection in water and Word that you can now stand up and speak God’s praises for life and salvation.

We have heard the voice of the Son of God when He called out to us in Baptism. And there will come a day when we will hear His voice again, and He will call us forth from death into life. That voice, that trumpet of God, is the great voice of our loving Savior who never leaves you, who knows just what you need and when you need it. That voice, those words will turn your tears into joy. That voice calls you to a new life, a life lived in Him and for Him, for He knows what you need and He will give it to you. So we can pray with the Psalmist, “For great is your mercy toward me, for You have delivered my soul from the depths of Hell.”

That voice of God calls out to you with words of mercy and forgiveness. The voice of Jesus calms your fears, sets your heart at rest, and raises you up from whatever onslaughts Satan has thrown upon you. God is the only one who can deliver you; and He does, again and again and again. He can even raise you up from the dead. Like the young man in our story, you are His child. And He will raise you up also. 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.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sermon for 9/12/10--Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

Christ will be making Brynnley Grider a child of the heavenly Father this morning through Holy Baptism. Thanks be to God for this wonderful blessing!

One True Master
Matthew 6:24-34

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

In his Large Catechism explanation of the First Commandment, Martin Luther wrote, “What is it to have a god? Or, what is one’s god? Answer: To whatever we look for any good thing and for refuge in every need, that is what is meant by ‘god’. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in him from the heart. . . . To whatever you give your heart and entrust your being, that, I say, is really your God.” In this way, Father Luther beautifully explained the heart of our text. In saying so, he brought to the forefront the question which we must ask ourselves when we hear this text: “Who—or what—is your god?” This question is so vital because, as Jesus says, you can truly honor only one.

God help us, for we know what the answer to that question should be. Again, Luther answers the question beautifully for us: “We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.” The answer is profound in its simplicity. But we know very well that we do not fear, love and trust in God as we should. The questions Jesus asks are foremost in our minds: What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear? We can’t deny that we worry about these things. Ask almost any high school student the kind of pressure they’re under to wear the right clothes. Ask almost any farmer what it’s like to worry if the rain is going to come at the right time. Are you making enough money to support your family? Is your house in good enough shape to survive a brutal winter? How much longer will the tractor hold out, and can you afford a new one when this one gives up the ghost? How can you afford to feed and clothe these kids who are growing so fast? We know what the answer is; but God help us, because if we truly feared, loved and trusted in God above all things, we wouldn’t worry about where we’d get our food or drink or clothes or house or home or wife or children or land or animals or anything we need to support this body and life.

Why do you set your hearts on the things of the world? Jesus makes it very plain in his examples just how little worry accomplishes. Lilies are beautiful without any work or worry on their part. Grass gets mowed frequently, and yet it is beautiful. Birds don’t plant or harvest, gather or hoard, yet they eat. God provides the beauty of the lilies and grass; the heavenly Father provides the food which sustains the birds. You are the crown of the Father’s creation. If God sustains the lowliest of His creation, why would you ever doubt that He will provide all the more for you?

It is not inherently sinful to seek after and tend to these things which we need to live. After all, it is God who has given you your job, your land, your school, your wife, your children or parents, and whatever else it is that we truly need. But worrying about these is sinful, for this worry reveals a lack of trust in the One who has promised to deliver these things to us. And to be honest, it’s ridiculous to worry about the necessities of life when God could strip away most of our earthly possessions and we could still thank God for His generosity in providing for all our needs. If only we could say with Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Worry will not increase your life by one minute. Nothing we can do can add one more minute to our life than has already been set apart for us. This is why the psalmist prays, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” When we are content with what we have, when we trust that our heavenly Father has provided and will provide all that we need, when we place these needs into His gracious hands, when we acknowledge that God is good no matter how much or how little we have, it is then that we live by faith. It is then that we truly seek after the kingdom and the righteousness of God.

No one can serve two masters. No one can faithfully seek after righteousness while clinging to the things of this world. Life is more than the sum of your junk. It is more, even, than the sum of your earthly, bodily needs. And so our heavenly Father provides for your greatest need. He has made you His servant, His slave. He has chosen between the two for you. He has made you His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, marking you as His. He has brought you to this place, where you lay your needs and concerns at His feet. He has given you faith to trust in Him, faith to cling to His promises, faith to receive what He gives you freely and fully.

So what does it mean to seek after the kingdom and His righteousness? It means to cling to those rich gifts which God has already given you. If your clothing concerns you, then by all means, cling to the white robe of righteousness which Christ has placed upon you in Holy Baptism, that robe which fully covers your sinfulness, that beautiful garment of righteousness which God has placed upon His beloved child Brynnley this morning. Are you concerned about what you will eat or what you will drink? Then by all means, cling to the rich feast with which the Father will feed you this morning: the very body and blood of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. The heavenly Father will not abandon His children.

When Jesus calls us “you of little faith”, it is not an accusation. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that even those who have the smallest amount of faith should have no anxieties about worldly needs. There is no doubt that we will face need, for God does not promise prosperity or a lack of hardship. Yet in our sermon hymn this morning we sang:
What God ordains is always good;
This truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need or death be mine,
I will not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, for with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
So to my God I yield me.

Whatever our needs, our Father in heaven is with us, and He will provide. He has even given us faith in Holy Baptism to cling to that promise. Whatever happens to us, whatever needs we have, whatever trials we face, whatever it is that grieves us, we have a gracious heavenly Father who provides all that we need—for today, for tomorrow, for all of eternity. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Sermon for 9/5/10: Fourteenth Sunday After Trinity (LSB 1-year)

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

Leprosy was a prevalent disease in the days of our Lord; and a terrible disease it was, literally eating away human flesh until death finally came. Jesus came across a colony of them in our text. There were ten of them, and all ten were healed. But, nine of them failed to say “thank you.” As we hear the account of this miracle of healing, the ingratitude of the nine is striking. And yet, if we really think about it, there are no surprises here. Through our own personal experiences we know how often gratitude has been due us, but seldom delivered. More difficult to remember may be the moments of our own thanklessness; taking our parents for granted, taking our spouses for granted, taking our teachers for granted, even taking our friends for granted. Are good manners the only lessons to be learned from the lepers? Are we too narrow if we look only for role models of ingratitude or thankfulness?

When Jesus responded to the praise of the one leper, He did not point to his gratitude, but to his faith. Faith in Jesus Christ allows true gratitude and thankfulness in the heart of the Christian for two reasons. For one thing, faith knows that no good thing we receive is deserved by sinners, such as ourselves. And then, too, faith believes that what we receive is solely by God’s grace, and for our spiritual good.

Why was there no expression of gratitude from the nine? They had called out to Jesus, just as the one had done. All ten of them received the same gift of healing as they made their way to the priests, as Jesus had instructed them. What reasons could account for their ingratitude? Perhaps their ingratitude was rooted not in what they believed about Jesus, but in what they believed about themselves. Gratitude is not necessary when you are only receiving what you have deserved all along. The winner of a lawsuit who is to receive a huge amount of money from an insurance company does not usually thank the insurance company; that sum of money is simply owed. He has it coming to him; it is what he deserves for what he has borne. Such an attitude is common.

Perhaps these nine lepers thought of their healing as justice, something they were entitled to have. No doubt they appreciated this sudden change of condition; any of us would. But to be grateful for it is another matter. If it is merely justice, why be grateful? We are only getting what we have coming to us any way. Indeed, rather than gratitude, these lepers might well have thought, “If healing was this easy, why didn’t God do it sooner? Why didn’t God give me what was mine all along?” With a mind set like this, anger over lost years rather than joy over future years, is what follows. And, of course, anger will never give birth to gratitude.

Then, again, this picture may be too complex. Maybe these nine lepers were ungrateful from the beginning. Maybe there is no need to account for their behavior at all. There are some who are never satisfied. It matters not what is done for them, it is never enough, it is never at the right time, and it is never good enough. Do any of these scenarios fit any of us? Has ingratitude been a problem for any of us because we have felt like God’s gifts were blessings we rightly had coming to us to begin with? Could our ingratitude toward God be rooted not in what we believe about the goodness of God in the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, but in what we have wrongly believed about ourselves?

Now, by way of a complete contrast, why was there such a sincere expression of gratitude on the part of the one leper? And to complicate the matter even further, he was a Samaritan, an outcast, a heretic without the assurance of a gracious God. If ingratitude comes from our perceptions of what we think we ought to have, it is a wonder that any one says, “Thank you.” What does the gratitude of this one leper have to teach us?

As Jesus pointed out, it was “faith” that made him well. What did Jesus mean by this? It was not that the Samaritan leper’s faith created the miracle that healed him. Faith never creates anything; faith receives what God gives. This one leper understood by faith that the healing he had been given was not something he had coming to him. It was not merely a matter of justice being done. It was not even that he deserved his healing. To the contrary, he knew that he, along with all other sinners, deserved nothing but God’s wrath and punishment against sin. If we were given what we really had coming to us, if justice were truly done in our case, we would have been nailed to the cross instead of Jesus. And somehow, this one leper knew this. He knew that his healing was an act of grace, and not justice. With great clarity he understood the true relationship between fallen creatures and a perfect and holy God.

This faith believes that Jesus is its only hope. That was surely the case then, when there was no earthly hope for a cure for leprosy. But that is the case also now, even when healing has become commonplace for diseases that were once dreaded. There is still disaster and tragedy and death that we must deal with in turn. And for such things we find no earthly answers. There is no hope found in men for these things. Jesus, and His love and mercy, is our only hope, as it was for those lepers. Anything we receive from Him is by grace alone, and in no other way. And out of that flows gratitude.

Apart from God’s action in our lives, we are dead in our sins, and without hope in this world, and in the world to come. We have earned nothing of the good that has been given us. As Luther put it in the meaning of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “For we are worthy of none of the things for which we pray, neither have we deserved them, but that God would grant them all to us by grace . . .”

This faith knows that every gift of God comes by grace. Whether it is health or wealth, whether it is the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, or anything else, it is all by grace. True faith knows this and rejoices in it. The gratitude that comes through faith is one that sees and knows the love of God. And it knows that the love it receives is unearned and undeserved. Through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through His resurrection, we have received the forgiveness of sins and salvation, life now and life eternally. And with this faith we have been given, we are able to respond to our Lord with a heartfelt and grateful “thank you”. Even as the leper was cleansed and made whole and returned to glorify God, we, too, have been cleansed from the stain of sin and the death it deserves; we have been made whole, before God, both in body, and soul. And so it is ours to return to Him daily, to praise and glorify Him for all that He has done. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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