Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Sermon for 1/24/16: Septuagesima

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Rejoicing in a Generous God

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

The master of the vineyard said, “Go work in my vineyard and I will pay you what is right.” He never mentioned fairness or equality. He said he would pay what is right, or righteous. This is the kingdom of God. You don't get what you have earned; you receive what the Lord freely gives. Then you realize that whether you work eleven hours or one hour—whether you’ve been a Christian your whole life or came to faith in old age—what you have from Him is a gift. That's how the Lord works. Because of Christ, you don't get what you have earned. You don't get what you've got coming. You get forgiveness, life, salvation. Jesus does the hard work in His suffering and death. He bears the heat of the sweltering judgment of God for your sins on the cross so that, on the Last Day, when it is time to settle your accounts, the Lord just hands you something you never earned or expected: salvation and eternal life. People think Jesus told parables using everyday illustrations to make a point. But nobody ever gets paid this way. The unions would strike. The government would step in. Labor laws would be enforced. People would go to jail. But in God's kingdom, you don't get what you have earned. You get what is right—that is, you get what is righteous in the sight of God. You get what Jesus has earned for you.

If you so choose, you can certainly complain that it's not fair. You can try to cut a deal with God. You can approach Him on the basis of your works: He must pay you what He owes you. But if deal with God like that, you deal only with the Law. The Law says to love God and love your neighbor. If you don't do those things, you don't get paid. It's as simple as that. And much as we like to try to fool ourselves that we love God and love others, our lives and our sins show that we don't. There's a reason the Bible says, “The wages of sin is death.” Death is the payment you get for not doing your job. That's what you've earned; that’s what you deserve for breaking the Law, for not loving God like you should, for not loving your neighbor as you've been commanded. On the Last Day, those who thought they could bargain with God on the basis of deeds will get exactly what they have earned. They will hear those awful words, “Take what is yours and go your way.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, that is what hell is. 

But Jesus did not come to pay you what you deserve and send you on your way. He came to take the riches of God and do what He wants: and what He wants is to give you those riches. It doesn't matter when you've been brought in—as an infant; in adolescence; or even on your deathbed, inhaling for the last time. He has called you into His vineyard beginning with your baptism, and He settles up for you according to His righteous will, giving you the riches of His labors: the riches of forgiveness and eternal life in the spoken word of absolution and in His body and blood. When He comes again on the Last Day, there will be a payday, but not like the world thinks. Oh, for those that wanted to make an agreement with God, they'll get what they deserve. But you get what is righteous in God’s sight; you get what is Christ's. He has for you such gifts that all we can do is give thanks for the generosity of this Lord. True faith and worship is not to come to God and negotiate. It's to receive from Him the generous gift He has for you. There is no comparing; there’s just the Lord, who takes what belongs to Him and gives it to you “without any merit or worthiness in [you].” That's how the Kingdom of God works. When it comes to the Lord, you don’t get what you deserve. You get what Jesus freely gives. You'll get forgiveness. You’ll get everlasting life. The Lord does not give you what is fair—thanks be to God for that! He gives what is righteous in His sight. He gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. Come and receive what the Master freely gives. 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, January 17, 2016

Sermon for 1/17/16: Transfiguration of Our Lord

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Leaving One Mountain for Another

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

At first, Peter, James, and John wanted to stay on the mountain. Then they were afraid. And then, at last, they saw no one but Jesus only, and they followed where He went. But trouble was still to come. Their journey was not yet done. They saw Jesus only. They were focused. But the flesh was still weak. They followed to the garden and could not stay awake. And when that fateful betraying kiss was done, Peter grew angry and lashed out with violence. John followed at a distance, took advantage of his connections, but was too afraid to speak. And James simply ran away.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, with Moses and Elijah and a glorified Jesus, the favored disciples would have stayed. But they wanted no part of Mount Calvary, where God was revealed and seen not in glory but in His humble, bloody, dying mercy. To their shame, they did not want that. Yet Moses and Elijah came to the Mount of Transfiguration in the only way that men do: by means of death. There is no other way. You either die to this life and ascend, or you die in eternal death and descend. In this all are the same: all die. Even those still living at the return of Our Lord will have either died in Baptism and therefore go to Life, or they will die eternal death.

Peter eventually learned a hard lesson. He wept bitter tears of shame and of sorrow. The muscles built on the Sea of Galilee, the brawn and street smarts, the plans and schemes and ways with men, all fell away to nothing when faced with God’s glory. Peter was afraid. They fell away again when faced with Our Lord’s willingness to suffer and to die for men who hated Him. Peter’s courage left in the face of God’s faithfulness and loyalty to betrayers and rebels. It was too much, too great, too incomprehensible, too wonderful to behold, and thus did Peter weep. For in the face of that great love and loyalty Peter knew just how far he’d sunk, how awful were the things he’d done, how disgusting were the things he’d said and thought, how terrible were the lies that he had told, how false and shameful was his bravado and pretending piety. The eyes of the Lord fell upon Him. The rooster crowed. Peter wept.

Before you condemn Peter, look at yourself. How cheaply will you sell your soul? Do you not even have the decency of Peter to be afraid? Are you so confident in your sins? Do you think that you can fool God as you fool men, as easily as you fool yourself? Do you dare to challenge God and risk His wrath and the Law? Why should God put up with you? You are as disobedient as Peter, as quick to betray your Lord when you are put to the test, as quick to deny Him when the world demands an answer of you. Repent. Weep bitter tears. Turn from your self. Turn to Christ.

Then arise and do not be afraid. God does not merely put up with you. He saves you, and He does so because He is good and His mercy endures forever; because He promised to be your God and to love you; because He, unlike men, does not lie. Arise and see Jesus only. Your own transfiguration is coming. Do not focus upon yourself but upon His unfailing love and promise. He went to death like a Lamb to the slaughter: without complaint. But He did not go without knowledge or against His will. He went in perfect love, in consummate obedience, with nothing more than the desire to make you His. For He knew this was the cost. He knew what it took to bring Peter and James and John, Moses and Elijah, David and Nathan, and to bring even you to Himself and His Father in heaven. He was always willing to pay that price. He did not flinch or hesitate. He endured all of Hell’s fury to wipe away both Peter’s tears and yours. It is worth it to Him. You are worth it to Him. And He has no regrets. His love for you is pure and undefiled. Hell cannot stop it. Death cannot hold Him. It will not hold you. He leads you out of death’s shadow and slavery and into the promised land that Abraham now enjoys.

So arise. Do not be afraid. He has provided the Lamb for the sacrifice. There is nothing more to pay, no sins left to forgive, nothing so bad or painful that He cannot overcome. He has placed His Name upon you. He is well-pleased with you. And He provides for your nourishment and strength, for your courage and your loyalty, giving you His Body and His Blood. Do not be afraid. Eat. Drink. Rejoice. Rest. He knows what He is doing. He is loving you, and He will never stop loving 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.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sermon for 1/12/16: Funeral of Geraldine Mueller

Sorry. It's been a long week. After sixteen months without a funeral, I went from Gerry's funeral dinner to visit another dying member.

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Thy Will Be Done
Matthew 6:10b

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  Our text is the Lord’s Prayer, especially the words, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

We all know what we want, and we all know how and when we want it. We live in a world of big desires and instant gratification. For people who are accustomed to getting our own way, it’s not easy to set aside our own desires and put the needs and wants of others first. We are selfish and self-serving. We’re never happier than when we’re looking out for ourselves. It should come as no surprise, then, that we’re also not that good at paying heed to the will and Word of God. We act as if what we think and believe is more important than what God says in His Word. After all, our minds tell us the Bible was written by sinful men, and humans make mistakes. So we disregard God’s holy Word: bearing false witness against our neighbor because our neighbor did so to us; reveling in the lusts of our flesh because a loving God must not condemn anything done in the name of love; killing children in the womb for the sake of convenience. We’re no better than our first parents, Adam and Eve, who set aside the Word and command of God to partake of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil just because they thought it looked tasty and it would let them know what God knows. We look at what God says in His Word, and we set aside those portions that don’t agree with our outlook or agenda. 

And yet, every time we gather as a community of believers, and often in the privacy of our own homes, we pray to our heavenly Father, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It seems rather counter-productive for us to pray for the will of God to be done at the same time that we put our trust in the imaginations of our own hearts and the treasures of this world. But God has written it into our hearts that His will is always for our good, that what He desires for us is so much better than anything we could plan on our own. For example, it is never easy to accept being separated from those we love whom the Lord has called to rest from the labors of this life. Sometimes it is made easier by the circumstances surrounding their final days. Certainly in the midst of our mourning, we can feel some relief that Gerry no longer has to fight for each breath. Nevertheless, while there may be some measure of relief, there is also sorrow. If it were up to us, Gerry would have regained a measure of health to enjoy the company of her family. This was not to be. This was certainly not the way we wanted things to turn out.  

Our God is not a cruel God. He does not desire the death of His children, nor does He cause it. But even in our grief, we can be comforted that the life and death of Geraldine Mueller happened exactly as it was meant to happen. We can be confident and sure of that. Every time I brought the Lord’s Supper to Gerry, every time I visited her in the hospital, every time she had come to God’s holy house to worship Him, she prayed, “Thy will be done.” And the Lord answered with a resounding affirmative. Why Gerry? Why now? No one can fully know the mind of God. No matter how much faith we have, no matter how much education we claim concerning God’s Word, nobody can know the full counsel of God. As St. Paul says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men.”

That’s why our Lord Jesus Christ would have us call upon the Father and say, “Thy will be done.” The great joy of that prayer is that we don’t have to understand the will of God. We can bring our petitions before the Lord. We know that He already understands what we need; He knows these things even better than we can ourselves. We bring those petitions before Him, and we leave them in His hands, knowing that He will provide for us whatever is right for us, whatever is best, whatever will answer our prayer in the most beneficial manner. His will shall be done and is done. Whatever that means, however it works out in our lives, we can trust that God has answered our prayer exactly as it should be answered. For some, that might be a miraculous cure. For some, it might be a temporary respite.

And for Geraldine, it was the Lord’s will that, eighty-five years ago yesterday, she should be washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, where God made her His own child. It meant that it was God’s will that she be loving, forgiving, generous with the talents and treasures the Lord gave her. It meant that it was God’s will that she should meet Edwin and spend 40 years as his wife. It meant that it was God’s will that she should love the three children God placed in her care. And just as it was the Lord’s will for those blessings to come to pass, we can trust that Friday night was exactly the right time for the Lord to call her home to Himself.

Asking for the will of God to be done is not an easy prayer, even in the best of circumstances. It’s never easy to set aside your own will and wait for the Lord to show you the plans He has for you. Nevertheless, it is the best path, the narrow way, for God will answer your prayers with answers far better than anything we can ask or imagine. For Geraldine, the answer that God gave is a rest in His arms that will never end. For you, while you wait for that same eventual answer, He will bless you according to His good will—with the means to support yourselves, with the love of family and friends, and with the comfort that you need and desire in your grief.

I hope that Kim and Scott will indulge me if I share a private moment they had with their mother. On Friday night at the nursing home, Kim had Scott on the phone, and they prayed with Geraldine the song of Simeon. It begins with the words, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word.” Almost immediately after praying this prayer with Gerry, the Lord answered that prayer: He gave Gerry a peaceful death—the kind of peace only God can give.

Just as it was the Father’s will that Jesus should die to save us from our sin, it was the perfect will of God that Gerry come home to rest with Him. She had prayed for God’s will to be done all her life, and even in her death, God answered that prayer. As you mourn, God grant you faith to pray, “Thy will be done.” For when you pray that prayer, you know He will answer graciously. 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, January 03, 2016

Sermon for 1/3/16: The Epiphany of Our Lord

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

King Herod was a troubled man. The birth of the Christ child troubled King Herod because he figured someone had been born to replace him as king. But Jesus has not been born to be an earthly king with a palace and a golden crown and a throne and an army. He has come to reside in the palace of the stable in Bethlehem, to be crowned king with a crown of thorns, to be enthroned upon the throne of the cross, to lead a ragtag army of disciples who would abandon Him. His kingdom is not one of a particular border, but one comprised of people of all nations. It is a kingdom whose citizens are all sinners, and the King gathers His sinner subjects to himself. Jesus is a king who saves us. The kings of this world raise armies and send their soldiers to defend their realms. But Jesus comes not to ask us to sacrifice ourselves for Him; He has come to sacrifice Himself for us. He leads the raid into the devil’s territory to rescue us from sin and death and bring us into a promised land paradise of everlasting life. That's the sort of king Jesus is.

King Herod is worried. He shouldn't be. Jesus didn't come to take his place. But King Herod knows, like we do, that the coming of the Savior changes things, and Herod doesn't want to take part in it. He doesn’t want the competition for power. He doesn’t want the competition for attention. And you have the same problem as Herod. If Jesus is the King, that means you can't be. If Jesus is God and king, that means you have to fear and love and trust in Him more than you fear and love and trust in yourself. Your kingdom is going to be torn down by Jesus. There can be no more acting like you're the high and mighty one who gets to boss everyone else around. You can no longer act as if everyone else's lot in life is to serve you. There can be no more going out of your way to get your way all the time. There can be no more acting like you are the one who is always in charge and always right, no more being sinned against by another person and thinking "off with their head!"  That's all the kingdom of the Old Adam, the sinner who must have his kingdom thrown down and destroyed. How's that for a New Years resolution? Repent of acting like you're the king! Stop acting like you’re all that matters. Jesus being King rescues you from all that! He'll do the work of being the king so you don't have to. And His kingdom is not a terrible one but one of life and light.

The truth is, you have been made a royal nation, a kingdom of priests. You have been given the crown of Christ's righteousness in your baptism. You have been robed in the royal baptismal garments of the kingdom of God. You have a personal herald, your pastor, whose one job is to declare the pronouncements of the King: “Hear ye! Hear ye! Your sins are forgiven!” You get to dine in the royal banquet hall to enjoy the feast of salvation in His kingdom. And what happens when The Lord makes us true royalty? We stop being kings unto ourselves and become servants to others. Baptized, absolved, and fed with Christ's body and blood, we are rescued from having to show others that we are boss; we instead live to serve. No wonder the Old Adam is scared of Jesus! The wise men offered their gifts to Jesus, but it was really Jesus who had gifts for them: forgiveness, life and salvation. He is now and always will be the king who has the same gifts for you. And it is the reign of this King, the King of salvation, Jesus, who is the Light who shines in the darkness, who makes us royal heirs before God. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. 

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