Monday, February 24, 2014

Sermon for 2/23/14--Sexagesima



Christ the Seed

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

This farmer is unlike any earthly sower. He doesn't seem to care where the seed lands. He just sows everywhere! This is how Christ showers His Word upon us: limitless and unrestricted. He sows His Word everywhere so that all may hear and believe. And He sows His Word today to warn us, to wake us up, to call us to repentance—to save us. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord sows His Word, but so very little of it is received by the ground to bear fruit. Here the Lord lays bare for you your own heart and teaches you how easily and how often you despise His saving Word.

Some seed is snatched up by the devil. When we let the Word of God go in one ear and out the other without learning it, inwardly digesting it, we should know that it is the devil who is snatching the Word away! If you walk out of that door knowing the same or less of God's promises than when you walked in, or if you haven't learned anything else since the day you were confirmed and threw your catechism in the back of your closet, then know that it is the devil snatching away the Word.

Then there is the seed that falls on the rocky ground and withers because of the heat of temptation. What trials and temptations in your life tell you that God's Word is not true and is not worth listening to? We start with good intentions, of course, all excited to hear God's Word and grow in it. But then the suffering of this life withers us so God's Word takes no root. This too is the work of the devil who wants none of us to hear and believe God's Word! What then of the seed that falls among the thorns? The cares and pleasures and riches of this life come and choke off faith. What things in your life are better than the Word? What things keep you from the Divine Service? Such birds and shallow soil and thorns afflict every life.

There are those who hear the Word but don’t learn and grow in understanding. There are those who think the Word of God is worthless. There are those who think they have more important things to do than learn what the Word of God has to say. The Third Commandment condemns us, for we clearly despise preaching and God's Word; we don't hold it sacred; we don't gladly hear and learn it! Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear! If you recognize yourself in any of those bad soils, then cry out to the Father to break up your heart that you may hear and believe His Word. Listen to the preaching and teaching of your pastor so that you will be saved from being carried away by Satan and instead kept by the Spirit in the faith of Christ.

This salvation is a gift. We would never have hearts to receive God's Word if not for our Lord being Himself sown into the ground for our salvation. Jesus comes into the flesh and suffers the fate of the seed. Jesus Christ, the Son of God is Himself the Word of God. The Word, Jesus, is snatched away by the devil as He is grabbed and arrested, mocked and condemned and killed by the devil's own preachers and agents, the Word-despising Pharisees and clergy and Roman governor. Just as the seed falls on the rocky ground, so our Lord is planted in the rocky tomb, put in the earth as a sown seed for our salvation. He is choked with thorns and thistles as He wears a crown of thorns and suffers the curse of sin on the cross in our place. In all these ways, the seed, the Word, Christ Himself suffers the fate of sinners and unbelievers; He suffers and dies for us! But our Lord is the Son of God. Death cannot keep Him down! Where He is sown, there is life! Christ rises from the dead, sends out His preachers to sow the Word, to deliver the forgiveness of sins to the world, and thus produce fruit a hundredfold and more.

The Gospel of the forgiveness of sins drives the devil's birds away from the Word. The waters of Holy Baptism are the waters which wet the soil of our hearts and keep us from withering under temptations. The Body and Blood of Christ attach us to the True Vine who raises us above the thorns and thistles that would choke us off. It is the Word of God itself, brothers and sisters, which delivers the Word of God to us for our salvation. Never despair, dear Christian, of the salvation the Lord has for you. Don't despise His Word but believe it, for it is given to you so you may know it and be saved by it! 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, February 18, 2014

Sermon for 2/16/14--Septuagesima



A Better Way

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

There is a better way to live. We can be happy for our friends and our neighbors. We can rejoice in their prosperity. We can seek to serve them, to honor them. We can help them to protect and improve their property and income instead of trying to get it for ourselves. We can encourage their spouses, employees, and children to do their duty. We can refuse to think or say evil of them, refuse to tolerate gossip. We can put the best construction on all they say and do. We can treat them the way we want to be treated. The only thing that stops us sin.

Why should we be jealous of one another? Why should we begrudge a rich man? After all, his wealth does not take away from us. His work has probably helped us and our economy. How sad it is when we will not take a man at his word beyond what we ourselves can endure. We are jealous of God-given abilities, but we don’t know the weakness or crosses that are paired with them. What’s more, we aren’t prepared to do the hard work it takes to hone our own gifts. It is foolish to assume that anyone is really any happier than you. All men suffer in this life. You never know what someone is going through—at work, at home, or even in his head.

Repent. There is a better way to live. It is in accordance with the Law. It would bring great blessings upon our nation and society, churches, schools, and families. Our lives would be far happier. The only thing that stops us is sin. Sin is no small thing. But it is already defeated. It stopped us, but it did not stop God.

The fallen heart of man cries out: “unfair.” But that won’t stop God either. He is like the foolish owner of a vineyard who overpays. He is good and generous. He does not reward according to works. Even though Jesus was perfect in every way and was worthy of all good, the Father forsook Him on the cross. He left Him to die for sins He did not commit. It was not fair. It was grace. And by that awful sacrifice, He overpays in mercy to sinners. He is forgiving and loving for the sake of His Son. By the blood and death of Jesus He gives you a wage of eternal life. He treated His Son as though He were you: guilty of selfishness, guilty of a lack of self-control, guilty of overeating, of negligence, vanity, jealousy, and pettiness.  He treated His Son like He was you so that He might treat you as His Son and reward you for His work; that He might Name you as His own; that He might love you forever.

God is generous. He loves you. He does not judge you except as His own perfect beloved and well-pleasing Son. He has provided more than the bare necessities of life. He is good. Rest in His grace. For your own good, at times you may be asked to bear some of the heat or the burden of the day, but that is because He would not have you standing idly by in the devil’s marketplace, subject to the temptations that destroy men. He would keep you close to Himself. He would have you know that He is your comfort and relief, your only Help and Shield, your only Hope. Who knows what good will come of your suffering? The world may see your faith in the midst of trial and learn that forgiveness is stronger than despair and death. You may never know. But in the end, the reward promised in the Christ will be yours.

The Law shows us a better way to live. But there is an even better way to live than the Law. It is a life lived in grace, basking in forgiveness, resting in the peace that passes all understanding, dependent upon God’s goodness and mercy for all things. It is the way into which you have been Baptized, the way which is fed by the Holy Word and the Lord’s Supper. There is nothing, not even sin, to stop you. 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, February 11, 2014

Pastors and Grave Sin

The danger of choosing sinful men to serve in the Office of the Holy Ministry is that these are sinful men, and these men do not stop being sinners just because they have been chosen to serve. I've been involved in a discussion of what happens when (for the purposes of this post, as I don't have one particular case in mind) a hypothetical pastor is found to have committed a grave moral failing, a sin of such proportions that he is found to be no longer worthy to serve in the Office of the Holy Ministry. Now, this hypothetical man has confessed his error and has rightly resigned his position and has accepted removal from the clergy roster. Some would say that, mindful of I Timothy 3, he is no longer "above reproach" or "of good reputation with those outside the Church," and so he must be removed from the clergy roster AND he must remain silent from that point on. He must not be allowed to teach Sunday School or Bible classes; he must not be allowed to serve in any lay congregational office; he must not be chosen to write for the Synod's publishing arm or Synodical publications; he must not speak (or possibly even participate) at conferences sponsored by any body of the Church--all so that he does not exacerbate the pain of those who were affected by and continue to be suffering because of the man's grave moral failing. 

I admit that I am very sensitive, maybe overly sensitive, to such things. After having been placed on Restricted Status by a District President (who from the very start admitted that my sin was an error in judgment and not a grave moral failing), and according to the by-laws of Synod being completely unable to perform the duties of the Office of the Holy Ministry for nearly eight months while on Restricted Status for what was not a grave moral failing, I'm not altogether convinced by the idea that reputation as we view it today is a permanent bar to any sort of public participation in the life of the Church. I know how easy it is to tarnish or even destroy a man's reputation, rightly or wrongly. For a man who rightly is removed from the clergy roster, that is rightly a temporal consequence of sin. That being said, what other temporal consequences are there? Do they need to be laid out plainly, or do we make them up as we go along? Does such sin merit a life sentence without possibility of parole in the prison of the Church--allowed to live as forgiven, yet for all intents and purposes completely segregated from the daily life of the Church?

I am not insensitive to the pain of those affected by scandals caused by pastors who have been caught in a gross public sin. Such pain lingers, I know, and it affects how victims of such sin view the Church and even the Lord. However, I am also not insensitive to the thought that the man who has sinned is forgiven in the eyes of God and the Church, has accepted the temporal consequences of his actions by resigning his position, and has learned important lessons of forgiveness--especially forgiveness for sins that tend to burden the consciences of all sinners, clergy and laity--which he has the opportunity to share with the Church. Should he be a pastor again? I don't think so (but then again, that would have excluded Peter the denier and Paul the murderer from serving as well). Should a child molester, for example, be allowed to teach Sunday School? Certainly not. Should an embezzler be allowed to serve as congregation treasurer? Don't be silly. Should the man be gagged and kept in the closet, to be part of the Church but unable to be part of the life of the Church? No. Within reason, and certainly with sensitivity to the pain of those who have been hurt by the sin committed by this man, I believe the Church has the opportunity to utilize such men to continue to teach the Church--no longer as pastors, but as sinners with theological training who have a unique understanding of the power of forgiveness through the grace of God in their own lives.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Sermon for 2/9/14--Transfiguration of Our Lord



A Place for the Law

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

Sun and moon shall darkened be,
Stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee;
Christ will then like lightning shine,
All will see His glorious sign;
All will then the trumpet hear,
All will see the Judge appear;
Thou by all wilt be confessed,
God in man made manifest.
These beautiful words which we just sang are appropriate for both the Transfiguration of our Lord--for they show Him shining with the light of the sun--and for the Last Day, the day when Christ will return in glory to judge both the living and the dead, as we confess in the Apostles' Creed. The world looks at such a judgment as folly, and even within the Church that judgment is viewed with trepidation and fear, for it seems that we will be judged by what we have done and by what we have left undone...both the good and the evil.

But everything in the Law of Moses and the message of the prophets points to and is fulfilled in Jesus. Moses would say that you should change your heart and your ways and turn back to God. But that preaching pointed to the coming Savior. When Jesus is standing on the mount of Transfiguration, the chosen disciples see Moses and Elijah with Jesus. Then, when the disciples look again, they only see Jesus. We are to learn from that that everything Moses wrote and everything the prophets said is fulfilled and wrapped up in Jesus, who comes to fulfill the Law by keeping the commandments perfectly and dying on the cross under the Law's judgment upon sins. Everything finds its place in Jesus.

Like Peter, we want to give Moses and Elijah their own place alongside Jesus. Sure, we believe Jesus died for our sins, but what really matters is what the Law says. What matters is how you live, how you treat others. Of course you're better at keeping the Law than other people. We act as if the preaching of the prophets to turn from our evil ways is something we can do if we just try hard enough. What happens then is that Jesus is no longer the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets; He is just a better and more powerful version of them. We make Jesus into a new Moses whose job is to teach us how to live and to point out bad behavior. If we go to church and have our lives in order, other people should too. Jesus becomes the guy who leaves us in guilt that we aren't doing what we're supposed to be doing or not doing it well enough. That's what happens when you give Moses and Elijah their own place next to Jesus.

The place for Moses and Elijah is in Christ—fulfilled in Him, that is. Peter wants to make tabernacles for them. The Father interrupts and tells them to listen to Jesus. Then they look up and see only Jesus. What they are to learn from this? It’s not, "Keep an eye on bright, shining Jesus," but rather, "Hear Him." Hear His Word. What does His Word say? It says He will go to Calvary and die for sinners and the third day rise again. It says that to be washed in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is new birth from above. His Word says that when His pastors forgive your sins, they are forgiven. His Word says that true repentance isn't turning your life around; it's being forgiven for your sins. His Word says, "Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." His Word does not say to fix your life and do what the Commandments say. Like we really need Jesus to tell us that. We already have the Law written on our hearts. But if we listen carefully, the words of Moses and Elijah point us to Jesus who takes away our sin and gives us a place with God.

And that's where this all ends up. The Father said at Jesus' baptism, "This is my beloved Son." The Father says at Jesus' transfiguration, "This is my beloved Son." At your baptism, the Lord says, "This is my beloved son." It’s not because you did everything Moses told you. It’s not because you did what the prophet said to do. You are the beloved Son of God because you are in Christ, the One who has kept all the Law for you, fulfilled every prophecy for you, and is the Father's beloved Son for you. Stop trying to make tabernacles for Moses and Elijah! Jesus has made a place for you—a place with Him forever. That's what the transfiguration of Jesus is all about. 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, February 08, 2014

2014 Reading List: January

It worked so well last year that I decided to repeat the process this year. Once again I will be keeping track of my reading list for the year. My goal is 200 books (which I didn't reach last year), but I'll be satisfied with 150. Again, a lot of this is read as research for future writing projects of my own, so some of the books on the list might seem a little odd compared to my usual choices. Anyway, here's January's list.

  1. Willis, Sherrill R. Ruby Lake. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2011.
  2. Swartz, Katharine. The Other Side of the Bridge. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  3. O'Neil, Ryan. Plain Old Kirby Carson. Auriferius Books, 2011.
  4. Kipling, Rudyard. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Gere Donavan Press (Public Domain), 2010.
  5. Bates, Sarah. What the Heart Wants. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  6. Pless, John T. Didache. Second Edition. Emmanuel Press, 2013.
  7. Roberts, Sherry. Book of Mercy. Osmyrrah Publishing, 2011. (Not impressed. Too many stereotypes. The whole "conservatives and Christians are afraid of new ideas and promote censorship" schtick was old long before the original Footloose came out in theaters.)
  8. Fredrick, MJ. Bluestone Homecoming. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2011.
  9. Grayson, Josh. Sia. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  10. Rollins, Nick. Tony Partly Cloudy. Muscovy House, 2013.
  11. Gibson, Rachel. Simply Irresistible. Avon, 1998.
  12. Kirchner, T.W. Pirates Off the Deep End. Short on Time Books, 2013.
  13. Cotton, Brad. Boundless. Prinda Press, 2013.
  14. Wong, Billy. Iron Bloom. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  15. Haley-McNeil, Laura. Fragments of a Melody. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  16. Underwood, Michael R. Geekomancy. Pocket Star Books, 2012.
  17. Underwood, Michael R. Celebromancy. Pocket Star Books, 2013.
  18. Dukey, Ker. The Broken. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2013.
  19. Winograd, Marcy and Jackie Hirtz. Lola Zola and the Lemonade Crush. Self-Published Kindle Edition, 2012.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Sermon for 2/2/14--Epiphany 4



Raging Storms

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

Jesus can sleep through anything. He has no fears, no guilt, no worries. Sometimes it seems as though He sleeps through our prayers. In any case, He rarely behaves the way we think He should. Why was He sleeping while the storm raged? Why was He not with His disciples? Why was He not teaching or praying or comforting them? Why wasn't He helping? And why, when they came to Him looking for salvation, did He rebuke them when He had praised Gentiles for the same request?

God is not like us. He does not submit to our ideas. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts are not our thoughts. We live by faith, not by knowledge or understanding. Unlike every other man, Jesus never considers appearances. He really doesn't care what people think. He is His own man in a way no one else can be. He is not concerned with doing the proper thing. Whatever He does, whether we understand it or not, is right. Accepting that idea requires faith, because He doesn't seem to us to be doing the right thing. He seems to be sleeping, ignoring us when we are plagued with wars and disease, hatred and greed, crime and poverty, abortion, the crumbling of families, government lies, betrayal from friends, false doctrine from trusted preachers, and even nature attacks with hurricanes and tsunamis, killing frigid temperatures, ice and snow. We are powerless before these afflictions.

Our vain efforts against such woe would pull us to Jonah's oblivious sleep. Your answer doesn't lie in gadgets or flower bouquets, in a beautiful home or a beautiful meal, even in happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. And there is no such thing as Harlequin's soul-mate either. You won't find salvation in human love. Spouses and children, parents and siblings disappoint as surely as we disappoint ourselves. Repent. Stick to your prayers. Submit in faith to the goodness of God and wait for the Lord. It will be revealed in time. The storms will cease. Jesus is with you.

And what if He rebukes you for your panic, for your desire for safety, for your desperate little faith that thinks it is perishing? Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God that you still have a smoldering wick of faith and that it knows where to go, that it still prays, that it seeks salvation in Jesus' Name. Thank God you are weak, for it is in that very weakness that you are strongest in your baptism. Our Lord will not let you depend on yourself or your works. He will purify you with holy chastisement. He will not let you ride out the storm in false confidence. He will keep you dependent on Him.

And what if your conscience is plagued by guilt and regret, by doubt and fear? What if you are weary? Thank God for that as well. For it is faith, a living and vibrant faith, that stirs your heart. Faith causes you to feel sorrow and shame. The pain is proof that your faith is alive. Pray that you never lose that feeling until God relieves you of it on the last day. Pray that you are never comfortable in your sins, that you never think you've got Him figured out, that you can handle the storms on your own. Be rebuked again and again. Be broken by His Law. In this way He empties you of yourself to fill you with His love. He breaks you to mend you. He kills you to revive you. For His sake we are killed all day long. We are counted as sheep for the slaughter. His thoughts are not our thoughts. If we stop feeling the Law, we lose the Gospel. First comes the rebuke, and only then comes the calming of the storm. First comes the cross, then comes the glory.

Are we also disciples of little faith? Indeed. We are unworthy in every way. But God has made His promise. He is our God. His Name is upon us. When we cry out, “Save us, O Lord,” we know He will. He will be our God, our Savior. He will deliver us from these present evils and from the Evil One. We have no claim upon His mercy, but we have His Word and Promise. That is enough. He will calm the sea with His sacrifice. He has gone into the belly of the earth and come forth again on the third day. When the waves crash over the sides of the boat and we are desperate and full of fear, He gives us peace according to His Word, gives us the faith we lack, sends to us His Holy Spirit to bring us home. The Lord remembers His Word and promises even while we wait for the Resurrection to come and the consummation of all our hope. Save us, O Lord. 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.