Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sermon for 1/28/18: Septuagesima

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Mercy and the Kingdom

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

It is easy to believe that heaven is due payment for having to live through the misery of earth. We walk in danger all the way. It often feels like we are careening from one heartache to another, that we’re only one misstep away from disaster and ruin. So the more we suffer, the harder our life, the better we are at controlling ourselves, the more we help others, the oftener we go to church, the more we do right—then the more we are sure we deserve the payment and reward of heaven.
Certainly, the crown of righteousness has been laid up for us, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to all who have loved His appearing. And there is no doubt that this heavenly reward awaits all those who walk worthy of the calling—those who live their baptism with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. With all confidence, we can and should expect to receive this crown, this reward, this heavenly life. Our Lord has promised it to us. And by His Spirit, this incorruptible and undefiled inheritance that does not fade away is reserved in heaven for you.
But does this mean we have deserved it? Will we get heaven simply because we’ve paid our dues with the coin of grief, sickness, and death? Have we earned it because we’ve given our best years to a futile cause? And is it ours because we’ve worked and sweated to do the right thing, to turn our life around, to make the best of our rotten luck? Beware of such thoughts. They tempt us to take pride in ourselves, our work, and even our misery. And they tempt us to compare ourselves with each other, to see how we measure up, and to determine who’s really deserving and undeserving. But most of all, when we are convinced that we have earned our place in heaven, we belittle and dismiss the Lord’s mercy and grace. We live, not in gratitude for God and love for others, but selfishly.
That is what we see in today’s Gospel. Those laborers who cry “foul” at the end of the day are not grousing about unfair labor practices. Rather, they are thinking only of themselves. And they are more concerned with getting what they deserve than they receiving their denarius with thanksgiving. This story is not about workers and management. It’s about the kingdom of heaven. And in the kingdom of heaven, the coin—the denarius—is our Lord’s mercy and kindness.
Our Lord’s mercy is called that precisely because it is undeserved. It is His kindness, His love, His compassion extended to us who have rebelled against Him, who live as if He doesn’t matter, who abuse His creation, who think little of His gifts, and who are quick to believe the worst of Him; those who are convinced that the Lord’s will is never done and that His kingdom will never come; those who are sure that the Lord has abandoned them or is against them—they are the ones to whom our Lord extends His mercy. For no good reason whatsoever, our Lord also invites us into His kingdom, His vineyard, so that we might not be destroyed by idleness, but would live in Him by tending to the good fruits He has planted for our use and enjoyment.
So let our eyes focus not on what we think we deserve. If we do, we will miss what our Lord has already given us. His mercy endures forever. Let us fix our hearts and minds, our efforts and desires, our prayers and affections only on this—that our Lord Jesus once again, and without fail, has mercy on us by speaking into us His healing forgiveness, and by feeding us with the Blessed Sacrament of His body and blood. 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 21, 2018

Sermon for 1/21/18: The Transfiguration of Our Lord

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No Myth

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

Peter wants to stay on the mountain. But Peter has a problem: he’s full of it. He’s a fake. He claims to have left everything for Jesus, but he can’t stay awake an hour. He claims he will never deny Him, but he curses the woman who recognizes his accent. He claims he will feed Christ’s lambs, but he tries to deny the end of the dietary regulations. He wants to stay on the mountain with Moses and Elijah, but he has not earned that place. He wants to pretend as though he loves Jesus when he really just wants to save his own skin. He is a phony.
We are all phonies. We all calculate to deceive. We all tell other people’s stories as our own. We all exaggerate. That is what drives urban legends. We tell the stories, and we even get angry when we’re called on it. What is so wrong with us that we lie like that? We pretend we did and said things we didn’t. We deny what we did say and quibble about what we meant. We spend more time worrying about appearances than the truth, more interested in our own public relations than with our neighbor’s reputation. We say what we think we are supposed to say and hope no one can see into our hearts where we even lie to ourselves. We’ve lied so much we can’t keep track. Repent. Go and lie no more!
Peter was a phony. But Jesus loved him anyway. Moses was a murderer and a coward. But Jesus loved him too. Elijah was full of self-pity and despair, but Jesus still loved him. Here is the truth: God is love. His mercy endures forever. He paid the price to redeem them. He paid the price to redeem you. He laid down His life in your place, to set you free and forgive your sins, to make you whole and give you hope. Peter’s bravado and posturing did not stop our Lord. He loved the real Peter, the one that Peter was afraid to let men see: the lying, cowardly, lusty, greedy, lazy Peter. Jesus loved him and wanted him for Himself. He wanted Peter to be His perfect son, His immaculate, clean, and innocent Bride, to be with Him forever in a new paradise, free from Satan and temptation, free from his own betraying heart. Jesus also loves you, despite your lies and your faults. He loves you no less that He loves Peter, Moses, and Elijah.
But that love will not be accomplished by staying on the mountain. God in the flesh must go to Jerusalem and face the full force of man’s hatred and brutality. He must endure the lies of the Sanhedrin and the cowardice of Pilate. But this is why He came. He has taken man’s flesh to be a sacrifice. The serpent must bruise His heel. The Messiah must pay with His life. And Moses and Elijah love it. They rejoice in it. This is what they longed to see, what they had preached and prayed for. This is how God loved the world, how He showed mercy. The crucifixion of Jesus is where He draws you to Him. This is where the serpent that bit Eve’s heart is overcome.
Do not let this make you feel sad or guilty. The Son of Man has authority to lay down His life. No one takes it from Him. This is who He is and what He wants. This is the will of His Father; this is the work of the Spirit; this is the love of the Son. The day He dies is a good day, the best day. For the day He died, He took death to the grave. That is why the dead emerged from their graves on Good Friday. Death lost its hold. The serpent’s head was crushed. The battle was won.
This is no myth. This is no exaggeration. This is reality. This is the truth. And this reality changes you. Peter, despite his flaws and weaknesses, is now, by grace in Jesus Christ, Saint Peter. He is forgiven, perfected. You, also, by the grace of God, bear that same title, written upon you in the waters of Holy Baptism. And by the grace of God, you will bear that title forever. 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 14, 2018

Sermon for 1/14/18: The Second Sunday After the Epiphany

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Let Us Pray

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

The holy Apostle Saint James reminds us to pray to the Lord for one another because The prayer of a righteous man has great power… Prayer is one of the many gifts God gives to us, and in today’s text, we see that prayer has real power. Mary speaks to the Son of God on behalf of those who attend the wedding at Cana. And yes, this is a prayer. It’s not a long prayer. It’s not an eloquent prayer. But it is a prayer nevertheless when Mary says, They have no wine.” Her prayer is no different then when we pray, plead, sigh, or cry out to the Lord and say, “Lord, we’re in a tight spot. We don’t know where to turn or what to do next. We’re trying hard to do the right thing—to live as you want us to live. But we’re weak; we’re at our wits end. Have mercy, Lord, and help us.” And what happens when Mary prays? The Lord answers her prayer. He says, “Yes.” He turns plain water into the finest of wines, in quantities large enough to keep the wedding feast going for days.
But He doesn’t give His final answer right away. He says to His mother, O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come. We hear that answer, and we often misunderstand. We believe that Jesus is saying no. And we think that way because impatience corrupts our prayers. It’s as if we haven’t prayed at all. The Psalmist writes, When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long.” We don’t trust the Lord; we don’t trust His timing; we don’t trust His mercy. We dare say that, when He doesn’t answer our prayers in what we consider a timely fashion, He is reluctant to help us. We dare suggest that He’s toying with us.
Why, then, does He delay? After all, our Lord’s mercy and kindness and help are not like ours. He does not give reluctantly or tightfistedly or even bitterly. Our Lord’s mercy always flows from a tender heart. Our Lord’s mercy always flows without any reluctance or second thought. Our Lord’s mercy always flows freely, generously, without any strings attached. And our Lord’s mercy always flows without any regrets. So why the delay?
He answers prayer in His way and in His time so that we might be led to greater faith. And it’s not just that He desires for us to have a stronger faith. He leads us to believe in the right things. And the right thing in today’s Gospel is not merely some wine for some party. The right thing in our lives is not simply for the things we believe will make our lives better. The right thing in today’s Gospel—as it was from the beginning and remains to this day—is to trust the help, the comfort, the deliverance, the mercy, the kindness, and the salvation we receive from the water and blood that poured from Our Lord’s side—into the baptismal font and into the holy chalice.
Our Lord wishes us to set our sights, not on the wine in which we drown our sorrows or create our momentary happiness, but on the wine which is His holy precious blood—the blood of the Son of God which which was given and shed for us to drink for the remission of our sins. This is the sign of our salvation: the sign of the Lord’s mercy; the sign that God the Father has not abandoned us; the sign that He has sent His Son for our deliverance, and that, by His Spirit, we are united to Him and restored to communion and fullness of life in the Holy Blessed Trinity.
So Mary prays, “They have no wine.” By saying this she means, “Lord, they need the full abundance of Your all-availing mercy.” And our Lord, as He always does, comes through. He provides richly—all we need to support this body and life, and all we need for the life of the world to come. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

HYMN: My Soul, O Magnify the Lord

Sometimes a hymn idea just jumps out at me from nowhere. I was sitting at the table with my tri-circuit pastor brothers yesterday, just having returned from the Divine Service, and the words of the Magnificat (the song of Mary in Luke 1:46-55) popped into my head with a tune. It's a very rare treat when an idea comes to me so quickly and with a fair amount of flesh to it, even if the rest of the text seldom does. Anyway, here's a cleaned-up just-barely-beyond-first draft of my Magnificat versification. Yes, I know it's been done before, and by far greater writers than me. But that's okay; I won't complain if they won't. *wink* Feedback is love.

My Soul, O Magnify the Lord

1. My Soul, O magnify the Lord,
Rejoicing in my Savior God,
For He has seen my lowliness.
All peoples now shall call me blessed.

2. Behold, the mighty One has done
Great things for this unworthy one.
His name is holy. Those who fear
Will find His mercy ever near.

3. His strength He has made manifest.
The proud are scattered east from west.
The mighty from their thrones are cast;
The humble, lifted up at last.

4. And all who hunger have been stilled;
The rich are exiled, unfulfilled.
In mercy He remembers well 
And helps His servant Israel,

5. Just as He spoke to Abraham,
Providing him the thicket ram.
His grace to Abram’s seed is sure
And to our fathers evermore.

∆ 6. All glory to the Father sing;
All hail the Lamb, our Savior King;
All praise, O Spirit. Endless praise
Unto our triune God we raise.

LM (88 88)
Occasion: The Visitation 
Text: Luke 1:46-55 (Magnificat)

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Sermon for 1/7/18: The Baptism of Our Lord

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Bloody Water

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

Can you imagine if every Baptism was like the Baptism of Jesus? Can you imagine, as the water has been applied to the baby, the Holy Spirit swoops down like a dove to settle on the newly baptized? Can you imagine the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved child, whom I love”? What a wonder that would be. What a thrill, what a blessing it would be to have visible and audible signs from God that each person who is baptized, whether child or adult, is now washed by God Himself and is now pleasing in His sight. Those who doubt the power of Baptism; those who doubt that the words “all nations” apply even to infants; those who believe that a sinner must make a decision to give their heart to Jesus before they can be baptized—surely they would recognize what a blessing Baptism really is. Surely they would know without a doubt that Baptism is God’s work to wash away our sins, not our work to show how much we love Jesus. Surely they would recognize that Baptism is not a sign of our faith, but that it creates faith within us. Surely they would recognize that Baptism opens the Kingdom to us. God’s Word tells us these things, but maybe if the doubters saw the Spirit and heard the Father’s voice, they might change their minds.
It is precisely because they cannot see or hear the evidence that the unbeliever denies the power of Baptism. It is precisely because there is nothing visibly miraculous about Baptism that some within the Church teach that Baptism is our work instead of God’s work. “Surely there must be something more to this,” says the person who believes Baptism is a decision we make, something we must understand before we can accept it.
But water itself is a powerful thing—just ask Pastor Buetow, whose house and office in New Orleans were devastated by the flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina; ask the people in Indonesia whose homes are ruined with every tsunami; ask someone who is literally dying of thirst. And when the power of the Word of God is added to water, it is “not just plain water”; it “works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.” Anyone who asks more than that from Baptism must not think that forgiveness and salvation are the greatest gifts God gives.
And that’s especially true when you consider where Baptismal water comes from. Baptismal water is bloody. The same Christ who went into the Jordan to fulfill the Law for sinners? He then went to the cross, where that baptized body was stripped, whipped, nailed down. At His death, the ones who nailed Him to the cross shoved a spear in His side, and water and blood flowed out. That bloody water is what washes you clean from your sin. It covers you as a robe of righteousness, so that, when the Father looks at you, all He sees is His holy and sinless Son. He looks at that righteousness, and He welcomes you just as He welcomes His Son.
So no, you don’t hear the voice of the Father from heaven. No, you don’t see the Holy Spirit swooping down like a dove to settle on the newly baptized. But our Lord does speak to you: in His Word and through the mouths of His called servants. The Holy Spirit does rest upon you. And when you emerged from those Baptismal waters, the name of God was written upon your forehead and upon your heart. You are His child. He feeds you with the body and blood of Christ. And by these gifts, the Father declares Himself “well pleased” with 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.