Sunday, October 28, 2018

Sermon for 10/28/18: Festival of the Reformation (observed)

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Our Heritage and Inheritance

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

We do not simply sin by mistake or weakness; we also sin on purpose. We’ve all known what we were doing and have done it anyway. We’ve sinned with full knowledge, repeatedly. We’ve heard the voice of the new man in our minds, telling us to stop gossiping, but we’ve also noted how our friends were hanging on our words, looking at us with admiration, and we wanted to keep it going. So we’ve suppressed the good. We’ve embraced the evil. We’ve harmed not only our neighbors but also ourselves. We’ve enslaved ourselves to sin and let it rule over us.
How dare we say that we have fellowship with Christ while we walk in darkness? We lie and do not practice the truth. If we are ruled by sin, we do not have fellowship with Christ. We are not His brothers. We are the sons of devil who do the work of the devil. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit. When Jesus tells us to abide in the Word, it is not simply an admonition to know right doctrine. It is an admonition to live by His Word, to obey His commandments, to love what He loves and to hate what He hates.
We Lutherans are proud of our heritage. It is a good thing to be faithful to the Word of God. But do not say, “But we have Luther for our father and we love the Gospel and have never been slaves to anyone.” You have been slaves to your flesh and your heritage. You have twisted the Gospel into an excuse to sin and dared God to notice. He notices. He is not amused. He does not think it is cute or somehow your rightful liberty. He hates gossip. He hates drunkenness. He hates lustful eyes and evil thoughts. God threatens to punish all who break His commandments. So repent. Let every mouth be stopped. May the law bring knowledge of sin to us sinners.
You have enslaved yourself to sin, but you do not belong there. Repent. Turn from your sins. If the Son sets you free by being sin and guilt in your place, by suffering your punishment in your stead, being declared guilty so that you are declared innocent, by dying and rising again for you, then you will be free indeed. You might sin, but you will not be cast aside. You are not a slave, but a son. He restores you to fellowship with the Father and even restores the marriage bed because He still loves you, no matter what you’ve done. You are a son, and you remain a son forever.
So confess your sins. He is faithful and just. He forgives your sins. He cleanses you from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and His Word is not in us. So if you say you have not sinned, you go back to eating with the pigs like the prodigal son until you wake up and find the Father waiting for you. Otherwise, if you insist, you die and go to Hell. But if you confess your sins, He is faithful and just. He forgives sins. He restores fellowship. His accusations are taken from you and placed on the Son, the One who became your Brother and has declared you to be God’s child forever: forever innocent, forever holy, forever His. You walk in the light just as He is in the light, for He is the Light. You have fellowship with Him and with one another in the blood of Jesus which cleanses you from all sin. Thus you abide in His Word, in His Gospel. You are truly His disciples, His children, His Bride, and even His friends.
This is the Word of the Lord that endures forever. “We are justified by His grace as a gift received by faith.” This is the truth upon which the Reformation is founded. If Martin Luther has left us a legacy, let it be this and nothing else. 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, October 21, 2018

Sermon for 10/21/18: Twent-First Sunday After Trinity

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The Word Is Enough

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

We know the nobleman’s son is healed. But the man himself doesn’t know. Jesus tells the man that his son is alive. The man does not know if his son will still be alive when he gets back to home. Jesus could have very well have meant that the nobleman was wasting his time seeking signs and wonders; he should go home while his son still lives, before it is too late. The man’s son is alive for now in Capernaum, yet the man is in Cana.
The surprise is this: Jesus says to the man, “Your son lives,” and this word causes the nobleman to believe. In this Word from Jesus, the nobleman learns to leave Capernaum for good. He stops trying to get the Lord to come to his house. He believes. It is a remarkable thing. Jesus hasn’t promised him anything, and yet the nobleman believes. Jesus merely states the reality: “Your son lives.” The nobleman gets no sign or proof; He gets the simple statement that his son is currently alive. But the Lord’s statement tells the nobleman that life is in our Lord’s hands; it tells the man that our Lord has compassion. Jesus knows the man’s son. He gave him life and He sustains it. He knows whether the son is alive or dead; He cares. It is not a sign or a wonder for the nobleman. It just a statement: Jesus is the Lord of life.
This Word Jesus speaks bestows faith and confidence in the nobleman. Jesus is good, no matter what happens. The nobleman stops looking for signs and wonders. As Job confessed, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord.” The man’s son lives. That is a gift from the Lord. “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” His son may yet die. The Lord may take him away; even so: “Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” This is faith. Now the nobleman is seeking the Kingdom and not signs and wonders. Now he knows that Jesus is the Lord of life. He goes home in faith. He accepts that the Lord will work all things for good.
The man still desires time with his son on earth, of course, but he also trusts that the Lord is good. Even if he doesn’t get time on earth, he will get time in heaven. This life is transitory, temporary—the mere wink of an eye when compared to eternity. If the nobleman must mourn, he will mourn. But he will not despair. The Messiah has come. He has laid down His life as a ransom. He pays the price in blood for the nobleman and for his son. Even if his son dies, his son lives. That is what Jesus said, and it must always be true. “Your son lives” means your son will always live.
This is important for us, too. We live on that road between Cana and Capernaum. We’ve all prayed for all sorts of stuff—most significantly the lives of our loved ones. Mostly that gift hasn’t been given. We’ve gone back home with nothing more than a statement from Jesus: “Whoever believes in Me will ever die.” We’ve all suffered; barring return of our Lord, we will continue to suffer the death of our loved ones. We beg Him to come, to bring healing our loved ones. He says, “Your loved one is My loved one, baptized into My Name. He lives. That is enough. Believe and go.”
And off we go. No proof. No miracle. Apart from Christ, there is only death. If Christ says the boy lives, he lives, even if he dies. That has to be enough—not just for the nobleman, but also for us. And it is enough. The nobleman goes back to Capernaum. He leaves Cana, where water was changed into wine. While we abide in this dying place, we come to our own Cana, where blood hides in wine, and we find not just our loved ones who have gone before us in the faith; we also find here Our Lord Himself, where He has promised to be. This is the House of the Lord. For the time being we must go back to our own Capernaum. But we go in faith, with the Word of Jesus: “Whoever believes in Me will never die.” God be praised, it is enough. 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, October 14, 2018

Sermon for 10/14/18: Twentieth Sunday After Trinity

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Honored Invitees

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

The servants are sent out into the streets to invite as many as they find, both the good and the bad. No respect is paid to rank, class, or privilege. Everyone, apart from works or genealogy, gets the same invitation. In a world with no free lunches, the offer of an endless banquet in paradise seems too good to be true. But it is true. All things have been paid for; all things necessary have been sacrificed. The meat, the milk, the wine—the best parts are on the table. It is prepared for you with no cost to you. It is pure gift.

But many reject the invitation. They know the invitation is from the King, but they don’t care. They hate the King. They want to rule themselves. Some don’t believe the invitation is actually is from the King; some deny that a King exists. They have lived in delusion for so long that it has become comfortable. They are afraid of change, afraid to risk anything, afraid to come out of the darkness and be exposed. They don’t want to be noticed. They want to hide, keep their blemishes secret, and pretend they are better than they are. They are afraid to face the Word of God.

That is because the Word of God is a threat. The Word of God wields divine power. It changes things. It kills…and it makes alive. What they have always thought is wrong. What is comfortable, what makes sense, what they know from experience—all of it is wrong. What they think about God, what they think about man, what they expect from life—all of it is wrong. God beckons them to a position of vulnerability, of faith in things that they cannot see. But what they can see—a man hanging on a cross, His followers persecuted and martyred—that, they do not like. So they scurry back to the darkness. They think they made the wise choice. But the wisdom of men is folly, and the foolishness of the cross is the only true wisdom.

Thanks be to God: a few are so desperate, so lonely, so tired, so hurt that they come anyway, despite the foolishness. They are the meek. But they inherit a kingdom. They are brought into the wedding hall, clothed with righteousness, and embraced as long-lost children. They are home at last. The loneliness and heartbreak, the weariness and fear, the frustration and pain of their time in the kingdoms of men is removed. They have been found and restored, forgiven and cleansed, filled with joy.

Repent. Seek the Lord while He may be found. Hear His Word, and your soul shall live. Let His Word have its way with you. Let God speak for Himself. His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. But His Word is Truth. It does not lie. It is good. It will accomplish that for which it was sent. Let it break your heart and change your mind. Let it make you vulnerable. Allow yourself to be lonely outside of this fellowship. Be weary enough, hurt enough to give up on your own strength; then you will be strong. In defeat you will find victory; in hunger, satisfaction.

You are a citizen of the Kingdom by virtue of the invitation. It doesn’t matter if you were good or bad. You are His. He has bought you. That is what matters. What you are displaces what you were. But you are still in a foreign land, and there is temptation along the way. Many beckon to you from their dark doorways, and some have been seduced into depravation. Be warned. Be vigilant in prayer. Forsake the ways of men. God has placed way stations like this along the way for you, places of His presence, of His Word and Sacrament, of His regenerating love. God is here for you.

And there is one more surprise. When at last you arrive at the wedding hall, you will find that you are not merely a guest, an honored niece or nephew, even a brother of the Bridegroom. You are the very Bride, the one for whom He did it all…the one He loves. 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, October 07, 2018

Sermon for 10/7/18: Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity

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Specific Grace

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

What Jesus said to the paralytic caused real concern to the Scribes present in that house. They took His words at face value. This fact can seem strange to our postmodern ears. We are tempted to think that religious speech is generic, not to be taken too literally, if it would offend. When we hear pastors or teachers, we filter their words through our own understanding of how things are. It is expected that religious words should be general, all-inclusive, because we don’t want to face differences in theological thought. We don’t want to have to tell someone they’re wrong. And no one can tell us that we’re wrong.
The Scribes in the house with Jesus that day knew at once that He was being specific. He meant what He said. He called those who heard Him into question: their faith and the way they practiced that faith; and the ideas, words, and actions which flowed from their faith. What Jesus said cut through to their hearts; it made them uncomfortable and angry. With Jesus there is right and wrong, black and white, sin and forgiveness. There is no gray.
You would do well to listen to Jesus and to take Him at His Words. Our Lord said to the paralytic: “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  “You are let loose from your sins.”  What He says is what we call Absolution. Absolution is not saying that this man is excused from what he has done and been. Absolution is not saying that this man was not really guilty, or that he was somehow not responsible. And He certainly is not saying the man should simply ‘forget it’ or ‘learn to live with it.’ When you and I speak of forgiveness, we usually have one of those in mind. Just think for a minute how you responded the last time someone apologized for what they had done or said that hurt you. You probably told them to forget about it, that it was not all that serious, that the effect of their action was not that significant. You probably said, “It’s okay,” even when you knew that it wasn’t okay. Maybe you said, “No big deal,” when it was a big deal to you. That is not Absolution. Forgiveness is costly to give, because it gets to the heart of the matter. Jesus forgives. Real forgiveness is costly. Our lives are never the same when we have forgiveness. Jesus takes the sin of the sinner upon Himself and lets it do its deadly work to Him. Your sins are forgiven when they are put to death in Christ.
Jesus absolves the paralytic. He does not forgive him for being a paralytic, as if our offense against God was that our bodies are weak and our minds are not all-knowing. The paralytic is more than a paralyzed man; he is a sinner, just as we are sinners. Our greatest need is not the healing of our bodies, the mending of our marriages, or the reconciliation of our relationships with our parents or our children. Our greatest need is the forgiveness of our sins. That’s the heart of the matter, and Jesus always sees through to the heart. Those three little words—“I forgive you”—can heal family feuds, hurting marriages, damaged friendships, and broken homes. They can heal the people giving them and the people receiving them.
Jesus speaks these words to you, and then He puts those words in your mouth in His body and blood in the sacrament. And soon, in His time, He will call you to rise from your bed and to go to your heavenly home. Soon all of your physical infirmities will be taken away and you will again be whole and perfect. Here and now He speaks and invites you to receive the forgiveness He won for you. He came to give it because He loves 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.