Monday, January 27, 2014

Sermon for 1/26/14--Epiphany 3



Jesus Under Authority

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

The centurion confesses before Jesus that he is not worthy. In fact, the only hope this soldier has that Jesus will do what he asks is that he knows Jesus is under authority, that is, "under orders." My brothers and sisters in Christ, the uncomfortable truth we all must face is that you and I are not worth saving. There is nothing in us which is worth the Lord's time and attention. We are born sinful, and we die the same way. There is none who has loved God or neighbor. These things the Scripture teaches. And this is the confession of the centurion.

The centurion knows he has no claim on Jesus. He has nothing to offer Jesus. He has nothing to give Jesus. There is no bargain he can make. All he can rightly say is this: "Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof! Only say the word and my servant will be healed!" Dear brothers and sisters, this is true and saving faith: that we confess we have no claim on God's mercy, no right to His blessings, that we deserve nothing but eternal punishment for our sins. Most popular preachers deliver the preaching of flattery which will only tell you how precious you are to God. God just can’t resist you! He just had to come and save you because you were worth saving. Such preaching only flatters; it certainly doesn't save. Flee such preaching! Confess with the centurion that you have no claim on the Lord and His mercy, that only His Word saves us.

Why does Jesus save us? The centurion answers this. He says, "I also am a man under authority." In other words, he receives orders and he will obey, and he gives orders which will be obeyed. Likewise, our Lord Jesus is "under orders." He is under orders from the Father to save sinners. Jesus comes to save us, not because we are worthy, but because He loves His Father and obeys His Father's will. Just as the centurion orders his servants and they carry out his will, so we confess that Jesus obeys the Father's will. On the night He was betrayed, Jesus prays in the Garden: "Father, if it be possible, take this cup from Me; but not My will, but Yours be done." Our salvation hangs in the balance! Our Lord desires not to drink the cup of the damning judgment against our sins. But He did not come to do His will. He came to do the will of the Father who sent Him. That is our salvation. He saves sinners whom the Father commands Him to save, sinners who have no hope but in the Son’s obedience. He saves us by being obedient, even unto death, shedding His blood in our place to rescue us from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

The centurion teaches us this also, that the salvation Jesus brings is brought to us by His Word. "Just speak the Word and my servant shall be healed." This salvation that our Lord brings does not come to us by any other means than His Word: Word spoken into our ears that proclaims that God's mercy is ours in Jesus Christ; the Word joined to the water which washes away our uncleanness; the Word which sets before us the body and blood of Jesus to eat and drink for the forgiveness of our sins.

The centurion knew that what He needed from Jesus was His Word. The ones whom the Father draws through Jesus are those who have no claim on His goodness other than the Lord’s mercy given in His holy gifts. Jesus is under holy orders, and He has fulfilled His orders from the Father and saved us. Now, from the men who are also under holy orders, we receive the same mercy of God in Jesus Christ, delivered in His holy gifts. "Speak the Word and my servant shall be healed." The Word of Jesus has been spoken: the Word of Absolution, the Word in the water, the Words of Institution which make simple bread and wine a feast of Christ’s body and blood. The Word has been spoken. May it be done for you as you have believed. 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. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Sermon for 1/19/14--Epiphany 2



Do Whatever He Says

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

They didn't need more wine. Rare indeed is the man who needs more wine! Some of them would surely abuse it and get drunk. Who knows what evil would result from more wine. Whatever it was that Mary was hoping for, she was denied at first. Jesus did not offer to run to the liquor store. He did not commiserate about the sadness of a poorly planned wedding or an embarrassed couple. He did not even tell her that good Christians don’t drink. He simply told her that her concern was beneath Him; her request trivial in the face of His looming betrayal, suffering, and death.

But her response to this rebuke couldn't be better. She believed. Despite the rejection she believed that Jesus was good, that Jesus would help her and the couple in some way. That is what Jesus does. That is who Jesus is. He is always rescuing people. So despite the rejection she believes. She believes that nothing, nothing of her concern, is outside of His concern, that no request she makes is trivial, and that He hears and answers her every prayer. With perfect faith she gives the servants the best advice in the world: "Do whatever He says." And what a surprise He has in store.

He gives them wine like the world has never known. It was a huge amount, somewhere between 600 and 900 bottles. As to the quality, we can only imagine, though we know it was better than the "good" wine the bridegroom used for their "champagne toast."  He gave them good wine, and that an awful lot of it, more than they could consume in a single night. God gives His gifts in abundance for them to enjoy them, knowing that some may abuse them, some may not appreciate them. He never gives His gifts so we'll attach a plaque and send a thank you note. Jesus was not there for pleasure. He never went anywhere merely for pleasure. Wherever Jesus went, He was there to serve. He does not do these things because it makes Him feel good to help. He does them because we have need, because He would see us enjoy the blessings of creation. He was not in Cana to enjoy Himself. He was there to give His blessing, to provide wine, to supply daily bread in all its forms.

To this day we rightly pray with Mary, "They have no wine." We pray: "This life is hard. I’m sad. I’m so tired. I’m weak and frustrated. I’m angry. I wish I had a million dollars, a vacation home in the Hamptons, a Camaro, a video game room. I wish, O God, I was happier. I wish my classmates were nicer, my job was easier, the traffic less dense. I wish there was more wine." And what does God say to our selfish prayer? More often than not, it seems that He says "No," for we do not have these things. Does He ignore us? No. He never ignores His beloved for whom He laid down His life. He will do what is good and right. He will surprise you. Pray away, in boldness and confidence. And if it seems He holds out for now, do not despair. Your heart's richest desire awaits you in His eternal presence.

God is good. He knows what you want. He knows what you need. He will not fail. You will have wine. Your heart will be glad—if not now in all the fullness you desire, then in the Kingdom to come. In the meantime, while you wait, with the rebuke still in your ear, remember Mary's charge. "Do whatever He says." What He says is: "Take, eat. Drink ye all of it. Do this in remembrance of Me." Eat the Body of Jesus. Drink His Blood. Hear the Word of absolution and have the balm of His resurrection applied generously to your heart.

The servants know who turned the water into wine. The disciples believed. They know who is responsible for the joy and gladness, for the gifts enjoyed by men. It is Mary's humble Son, Jesus, who fulfilled the Scripture in their hearing. The servants know. The disciples believe. God grant us always to be numbered among them. 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 1/12/14--The Baptism of Our Lord

Again, I'm a little behind. We didn't have worship on January 5 due to the horrible weather and road conditions, so you didn't miss anything from the previous week.



Clean and Full of the Spirit

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

After He expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the Lord uttered the terrible sentence: "My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh."  When man listened to the Serpent, the devil, rather than the voice of the Lord God, then the heavens were shut, and man could not open them. There was no one in whom the Father was completely and fully delighted, upon whom the Spirit could come to rest…until the day your Savior Jesus began His ministry in the flesh. When Jesus was baptized according to God the Father's will, He was praying, and a most unexpected and most wonderful event occurred. The heavens burst open once again! The Holy Spirit, who for so long stayed aloft, giving the Word to all those prophets back in the Old Testament that a Savior was coming, finally came down to abide in the flesh of Jesus.

That’s important, because from the moment Jesus emerges from the water of the Jordan River, the devil also went full bore at Him, trying to tempt Him into being some other kind of Jesus than He came to be. From the moment of His baptism, Jesus walked the earth as a sin-bearer, all the way to the cross. Over and over we see His own innocence ignored, and He is treated as a criminal, a blasphemer, a sinner. Ever closer He goes to the cross until finally, handed over by His own friend, He was condemned by the clergy who should know God's Word. He was put to death by an indifferent Roman governor. What begins in His Baptism ends at the cross of Calvary, where He died, covered in your sins. And then He rose, and your sins are left behind in the tomb, gone for good. That's what Jesus stepping into the Jordan today is all about.

And that brings us to your baptism. Don't do what so many “good Christian people” do. Don’t ignore your baptism like it's just something that happened long ago. Don't go looking for Christ in your feelings and rainbows and things that happen that make you happy. Christ is found nowhere else than His Word and gifts. Don't go looking anywhere other than your Baptism to find God. Repent of talking about your faith without talking about what God has given you in your baptism! Your Baptism, after all, is an event at which the whole Triune God is present! It is God at work. Your baptism is Jesus taking YOUR place because He has carried your sins. Your baptism is the Holy Spirit landing on you to make you His temple. Your baptism is the Father Himself declaring, "You are my beloved son!" You see, when you are baptized, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are washing you, forgiving you, saving you.

The Lord steps into the Jordan for you today. He does it to take your sins from you because you cannot be rid of them yourself. He takes them to Calvary and the tomb and leaves them there. And then, in your baptism, the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit that were there at the Jordan River are there at the font giving you a new birth from above, forgiving your sins, rescuing you from death and the devil, and giving you eternal salvation. There is no better proof in your life about what God has done for you than your baptism. Therefore on this day of Jesus' baptism, remember and rejoice in your own baptism, where you received the Holy Spirit, faith, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting. 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 12/29/13--The Sunday After Christmas

Fell a little behind. Sorry! 

The audio quality is a little lower, as we met this Sunday in the education building when the church had no heat.



Depart in Peace

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

Simeon was waiting for what St. Luke calls “the consolation of Israel.” Indeed, he was promised by the Lord that he would not die until he saw it. The Lord promised Simeon, and once he had seen and held baby Jesus, he could die in peace. You should know that when your pastor tells you to “Depart in peace” at the communion rail, he’s not telling you that you can get up and go back to your pew. He’s telling you that it’s okay to die. Depart in peace. That’s what Simeon looked forward to: the fulfillment of God’s promises.

The Old Adam doesn’t want to die. The world goes kicking and screaming into death. Admit it: you hate the thought of death—the death of another person, yes, but especially of your own death. We try to explain death away: “God wanted another angel.” “It was her time.” “Death is just a part of life.” That’s all hogwash. Death is the sting of sin, plain and simple. But Simeon teaches us that once you have Christ, death is nothing. In fact, having received Christ, we go to death in the peace of Christ.

Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her soul. This little baby is going to die. All of those things neither Mary nor Joseph could anticipate when Gabriel told Joseph to give the baby the name of Jesus, Simeon now lays out before them: pain, suffering, scorn, hatred, blood and agony would be the lot of this Child. What mother would want to see that happen to her son? No mother should have to bury her own son, but this is a death that is no accident or disease. This is the hatred of sinners putting her Son to death. It is her sins and your sins and the sin of the whole world. But what Simeon knows, what Simeon confesses and sings, is that this is salvation. “My eyes have seen your salvation.” This baby in Simeon’s arms is not just some tragedy waiting to happen years later. He is the One whose death saves sinners. His is the death and resurrection by which our death is transformed. His is the death and resurrection from the dead which take the sting out of death. It is the victory over sin and death that enables Simeon to sing, “Lord, let your servant depart in peace.

Now you haven’t held baby Jesus in your arms like Simeon, but you have Christ come to you in equally mystifying ways: in the water and Word of the holy font; in the absolution and preaching of your pastor; in the Word given in the Scriptures; in His own body and blood given in His Supper. Here in these gifts, Christ saves you, forgives you, even prepares you for death and gives you the gift of everlasting life. No one but God knows what will happen to you when you walk out that door. I hope and pray that each of you live a long and happy life and fall asleep peacefully in Jesus at a good old age. But we all know that anything can happen. And whether it’s an accident or disease, or something else, death is there. So before you get up and walk out that door, I shall tell you these words after the Sacrament: “Depart in peace.” And we shall say them with Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” And when I say those words and when we sing them together, we are confessing, right in the face of death, that death has no more power over us. It is merely a passage to the everlasting life  which Christ has in store for us. This Child was born so that sin and death would be thrown down. Now that He has come and done His work of dying and rising, washing and feeding and forgiving, death has no power over you…ever.  Therefore, like Simeon, and like all of Christ’s lambs before you, you can depart in peace. In other words, you can die in the peace of 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.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Baseball Hall of Fame Voting: Idiocy Compounded

I've been a fan of the game of baseball all my life. One of my earliest memories is of Reggie Jackson  hitting three home runs on three pitches from three different Los Angeles Dodgers pitchers in the sixth game of the 1977 World Series. There are (rather embarrassing) pictures of me from before that time, wearing little more than a baseball glove and cap. I played baseball for ten years, and I lived for the days on the diamond, whether it was organized games, team practices, or just pick-up games with friends in the back yard. I've watched baseball with a near-religious fervor all my life. It should come as no surprise, then, that I would have and express an opinion about an aspect I hate of the sport I love.

I've watched the whole steroid issue play out in baseball with a certain amount of disgust. Most especially am I disgusted by those who use steroids to get ahead. I can understand the desire to succeed. I didn't have enough talent to play professionally at any level, and steroids wouldn't have changed that. And for those who do or did have enough talent, I can understand the desire to extend a career that allows one to play a game for a living. That does not excuse their actions, but it shows the human face of an issue that often sees the press demonize those who have fallen.

And the press should hold themselves accountable for their role in this scandal. For too long they ignored what was right before their eyes. Then, when they could ignore the issue no longer, they went on the offensive, blasting away at anyone whose name was even whispered to be connected with steroids. Evidence or no evidence, conviction or acquittal, anyone who was rumored to be connected with steroids was evil, and the press was ready with pitchforks and torches to do their due diligence to burn these hardened heretics who dared to violate the holy cathedrals of baseball. This is evident, not only in their regular work as sportswriters, but especially in the decisions made by those baseball sportswriters who have been given the privilege of voting on the ballot of players eligible for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The crux of the matter is the criteria upon which each candidate must be judged. Here is the relevant passage: "5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played." When it comes to the issues of integrity, sportsmanship, and character, many voting sportswriters consider anyone connected to steroids to be unworthy for consideration. One voter this year even stated that he wouldn’t vote for anyone who played during the “Steroid Era.”

Baseball is known as “America’s Pastime.” For those who star in our pastime to be held to the un-American standard of “guilty until proven innocent” is just ridiculous. It’s no better than Kenesaw Landis giving “Shoeless” Joe Jackson a lifetime ban for throwing the World Series—not based on evidence, but based on a confession coerced from an unlettered country boy who didn’t know he was being burned. Those who have been proved to be guilty of steroid use, along with those who have confessed to steroid use, might rightly be castigated for cheating. Still, when the writers allowed proven spitball users Gaylord Perry and Don Drysdale into the Hall, their righteous indignation toward other cheaters seems overdone. In fact, on the integrity and character scale, Roberto "I'm a Better Spitter than Gaylord Perry" Alomar probably doesn’t belong either, and even the cases of Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, one a drunken womanizer and the other a jackass on and off the field, might be brought into question as well. And though he wasn’t a player, by the character and integrity standard, does Kenesaw “Who Needs Evidence?” Landis really belong? As for those whose names have been mentioned but for whom no compelling and exhaustive proof has been given, excluding them from serious consideration because of their era or because of mere rumor is a travesty and a miscarriage of justice, and those who engage in such a perversion are as bad as  those who use steroids--or worse because of their hypocrisy.

One writer said that this year’s elected players, Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, and Greg Maddox, became hall of famers in their living rooms yesterday, presumably when the Baseball Writers Association of America announced their selections. Such arrogance! These men became hall of famers on the baseball diamond, in the dugout, in the clubhouse, in the weight room, in little league, in the yard with their fathers. I'm thinking there needs to be a baseball sportswriters hall of fame which is voted on solely by those who play the sport professionally. But if you lived in an era where caffeine was in use as a stimulant, whether you drank it or not, you're ineligible for election.

Although most (and certainly not all) of the players (and others) enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame deserve the honor, some who deserve the honor will never be so honored. The personality cult of baseball sportswriters--and, in one case, the arrogance of a man called "Mountain"--has seen to that. Until the Hall of Fame election process is completely overhauled or the sportswriters be taught humility and basic journalistic integrity, the true Baseball Hall of Fame will reside in the only pure shrine of baseball: the hearts and minds of its fans. Pete and Joe, you'll always be welcome in mine.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

2013 Reading List: December

2013 is over, so this will be my last post on the 2013 reading list. Obviously. Fifteen books this month makes 174 for the year. That averages to exactly 14.5 per month. That's a little short of my goal of 200 books, but I'm not unhappy with the total. I like knowing what I've read; look for next year's lists in the months to come. Anyway, here's the last list of the year: 

  1. Kenyhercz, Katie. On the Fly. Crimson Romance, 2013.
  2. Allen, Heather. Just Breathe. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  3. Nunez, Frank Vincent. My Last Christmas Wish. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  4. DeGiorgio, S. Yo Ho Ho and a Very Merry Christmas. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  5. Wilkinson, Dacia. For Love of Words. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  6. Schulz, Charles M. A Charlie Brown Christmas. Peanuts Worldwide LLC, 2011.
  7. Crowne, Mackenzie. Cara O'Shea's Return. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2014 (sic).
  8. Robison, Roderick J. The Christmas Tin. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2012.
  9. Jordon, Autumn. Perfect. Dianne Gerber, 2012.
  10. Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. Public Domain, 1843.
  11. Carlson, Melody. Gift of Christmas Present. Revell, 2004.
  12. Welch, Karen. Christmas at Valley Rise. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2012. 
  13. Rogers, Martha. Christmas at Holly Hill. Realms, 2012. 
  14. Reuther, Mike. Nothing Down. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013. 
  15. Bird, Chad L. The Infant Priest. Self-Published, 2013.