Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sermon for 2/24/19: Sexagesima

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A Surprising Harvest

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

God is not like earthly farmers, nor is He like earthly landowners or merchants or kings. Parables, simple words and simple stories, conceal God from men too proud to believe that He is not like them. Parables are easy to misunderstand. The point of the parable of the Sower is that God does not farm the way we do. Being a farmer who works with seed and soil and fertilizer gives very little insight into God and His ways. Farmers work the soil and make it productive. They work the soil for profit, applying all their wisdom to it. But God does not seek profit. He does not gain from sowing. He sows seed in foolish places. He does not work the soil. The seed itself is good, and men are in need. The seed does its work, but all at God’s expense.
His ways baffle us. He sows His seed in foolish, weak, and impossible places, without thought to gain or loss. He sows on the trodden path, the rocky patch, the thorny ground—into the deaf ear, the blind eye, and the hard heart of those who hate Him, who seized the Son and killed Him. He sends His message out in ways and to markets that make advertising executives cringe. He sows where His seed absolutely should not grow. He wastes His love on fickle men with hearts full of lust and greed.
And most is lost. Most is trampled, snatched, withered, and choked. Most is wasted, spent in vain, tossed away for nothing, indistinguishable from chaff in the wind. This Sower does not show a profit. He gives and men waste. He never counts the cost. He does not sow for gain or profit. He does not sow for fame, honor, or prestige. He sows for men. He sows because they are in need. He sows because He would love them again. He sows because He is love. He is lavish in His gifts of grace.
And somehow, miracle of miracles, the seed finds earth. Miserable, scorched, dry, rocky ground though it be—even on the darkest pavement of our hearts—the seed finds the earth, and it grows! That good seed transforms some of those trodden, rocky, thorny patches into soil rich enough to bear a crop a hundredfold! It takes root in ears that could not hear. It grows to life in blind and unlikely corners where men had given up and moved on. It bears a crop that demographics studies and the best laid plans of men could not predict or expect, while well-farmed lands in fertile plains are ripe with weeds. The Word of God bestows wisdom in the midst of foolishness. It harvests life from death. It bears a crop where and when the Spirit pleases, and that pleases our Father.
The Good News of Our Lord’s death and resurrection is the seed; it is the power of God for salvation. And though it seems a foolish waste to human wisdom, it changes lives. It heals disease. It puts an end to war. It brings husbands and wives back together. It turns the hearts of the fathers to their children. The Word always works the way God wants it to work, because it is the creative force of God Himself, and He is not like us.
            It is for you that the true Vine, our Lord Jesus Christ, suffered the weeds that choke, the birds that snatch, the rocks that wither roots, the feet that trample the seed of His Word. He died for you and rose again. He was cut down, but He came up like a shoot from the stump. By His Word He declares you innocent. He opens heaven. There is nothing for you to add or prove or do. He has done it all for you. Foolish and ridiculous though it seems, impossible and wonderful, He has died for you. He does not hold it against you. He has sowed His Seed within you so that you would live and be loved by Him. He has sowed His seed so that you would know your Father. He will make you bloom in the resurrection. Eden and all of creation will be restored. 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, February 17, 2019

Sermon for 2/17/19: Septuagesima

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Friends of Jesus

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

Like the landowner in today’s Gospel, our heavenly Father goes out time after time, hour by hour, to beckon us into His Church; to summon us to return to His home; and to urge us to tend His harvest, just as He first created us to do. Time after time, our Father calls us to Himself. First He uses patriarchs; then prophets; then John the Baptist; then the holy Apostles. And now, in these last days, He issues His loving invitation through pastors. Through these preachers, and through faithful parents, teachers, and neighbors, our Father continues to extend His mercy. No one can question His persistence. No one can say that He’s not done enough.
Yet sinners still grumble. The grumbling says that our benevolent Master has not been generous enough. The grumbling insists that we, who deserve nothing, deserve more. And so we grumble, complain, moan and whine: the language of the dissatisfied, the ungrateful, the lazy, the complacent. Often we hear it from our neighbors. Too often, the mouth that produces such grating and annoying noise is our own. We are like those workers: we believe that the Father is dealing with us, not out of mercy, but out of justice. And we want our just desserts. We demand fair treatment. We insist that the Lord study our case, confident that He will conclude that He should give us even more.
Beware of what you demand from the Lord. Beware of being your own lawyer, especially in the Lord’s field. A vineyard is not where lawyers practice; a church is not a courthouse; and demanding justice and fairness requires that sympathy and mercy be set aside. And beware of turning your Father into your Judge. After all, He has already made a judgment on your behalf: a judgment to sacrifice His Son and, for the sake of His Son’s sacrifice, to set aside your sin. He has already judged that, to save your life, to save your soul, He must not deal with you as is just and righteous. Instead, to save you, He must have mercy.
So let us consider the mercy of Our Father. He gives this mercy to us through His Son by the power of His Holy Spirit. Let us consider this generous work that the Trinity has performed for our salvation, work that our God continues to perform in us so that we might not lose what He has given. He gives us this undeserved gift so that He might return us to the kingdom that we walked away from.
Let us consider the mercy of our great God and Savior, how full and rich it is. His mercy gives us our daily bread. His mercy blesses us with home and family. His mercy leads Him to call us “friend,” even while we were yet His enemies. His mercy wards off the devil and delivers us from evil. His mercy washes us clean in His watered blood in Holy Baptism. His mercy feeds us the medicine of immortality in His own body and blood.
As we consider this mercy from the hand of our Lord, let us be grateful, not only in word, but also in deed. Let us be grateful to the extent that we strive earnestly to imitate His mercy. Let us demonstrate our gratitude by being merciful, just as our Father in heaven is merciful. Let us not exact our pound of flesh from whoever angers us; let us not insist that they pay for how they’ve hurt us. Instead, let us imitate the Lord’s mercy by being slow to anger, quick to forgive, and generous with words of kindness and deeds of love. Most of all, let us imitate Our Lord’s mercy by sacrificing ourselves—our desires, our goods, even our lives—so that our neighbor would see in us and receive from us same the mercy that we have received from our heavenly Father. 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, February 10, 2019

Sermon for 2/10/19: Transfiguration of Our Lord

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Dwelling in Glory

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

There is a temptation to denounce Peter because he wanted to stay on the mountain, as though he were foolish for not seeing what was ahead. Our fallen ears are so corrupt that defeatists sound wise. We are afraid to hope for miracles. We do not want to be disappointed. God means the Theology of the Cross to comfort us, but we have used it as an excuse for despair. Is it not enough to weary men? Must we weary God as well? Are you so proud as to refuse a sign from God? Are you so proud that you will not ask for a miracle or trust in His providence and grace? Repent.
Peter spoke the truth on the mountain. It was good for them to be there. His desire to stay was a godly desire. He desired a good and a noble thing. The Lord did not rebuke him for this. Jesus simply reminded Peter that He is the beloved Son of the Father, in whom the Father is well-pleased; He is anointed as a Sacrifice for the sins of the world. Not the Cloud, the Light, nor the Voice were meant to scare Peter. They were meant to encourage him. Peter was only afraid because he was a sinner. Unlike Moses and Elijah, Peter had not yet passed through death and into life. His flesh was still weak. God’s glory was too much for him, even as it had been for Isaiah in the Temple, as it had been for the Israelites at the foot of Sinai. But today is no longer too much for Peter. Now, today, Peter and the brothers have joined Moses and Elijah. They no longer reside in temporary tabernacles; they dwell in the place prepared for them by their Lord.
God’s purpose in the Transfiguration was not to scare these three, or to show how stupid they were. This was meant to comfort them. He was showing them their own future and planting in them the reality of His divinity. The Transfiguration gave substance and authority to the preaching that followed the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It gave them comfort. Our Lord desires for you the same strength and comfort that He gave to them.
Today we put our Alleluias to rest for a time. We embark upon that great season of penance and contemplation when the liturgy is dressed in sackcloth and ashes. But our Alleluias shall return. The light shines in the darkness. He is not dead. And we remember, confess, and proclaim even in Lent that the tomb is empty. Still, this is a long time to remain focused, to wait for the return of uninhibited and exuberant joy of the resurrection. And so, as we gather on this new Mt. Zion, where God is present in His mercy for you, bread and wine are the cloud that obscures the glory of the Lord. A slain Lamb is a living feast, given for forgiveness and strength, for life and salvation. You will see that Moses and Elijah, Peter, James, and John were here along, mingling their praise with yours. Even today they cry out, “How long?” praying that all God’s people would be fully united; praying that the peace of God would be revealed at last to all creation; praying that the groaning, complaining, and despair would finally stop.
Is that naive and foolish to desire? Is that not what God promises? Is that not what we believe? Do we not die in the waters of baptism, only to be raised to life with God? There is no room here for despair. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. Easter is coming. It is good for you to be here. God Himself is present for you in His Word and in His body and blood. And soon—very soon—the day will come when you will stay, when Peter’s desire will be fulfilled, when we will dwell forever in the glory of the Lord. Alleluia! 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, February 03, 2019

Sermon for 2/3/19: Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany

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

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. And whatever He does, whether we understand it or not, it is the right thing.
Such an idea requires faith, because Jesus doesn’t seem to us to be doing the right thing. He seems to be sleeping. He seems to be ignoring us. Wars and disease, hatred and greed, bigotry and addiction: these things don’t seem right. We are plagued with crime and poverty. Families are falling apart. Babies are murdered in their mothers’ wombs. American soldiers die in foreign lands. The government lies. Children cheat. Schools can’t be trusted. Friends betray us. Pastors preach false doctrine. And then, as if we weren’t already our own worst enemies, nature herself comes swooping down on us in hurricanes and tsunamis, in killing frigid temperatures, in ice and snow. And all our efforts against them—our little programs with grief and debt and pregnancy and marriage counselors, our engineering feats and government money—all seem of little effect against the evil that lurks in the hearts of men and the brutal effects of nature. Yet we put our trust in these false gods of flesh and concrete.
Repent. Your answer doesn’t lie in engineered wonders or human ingenuity, in a beautiful home or a perfect meal, not even in happy, healthy, well-adjusted children. You won’t find salvation in human love. Spouses and children disappoint as surely as parents and siblings, as surely as we disappoint ourselves. Repent. Stick to your prayers. Submit in faith to the goodness of God. Be still and wait for the Lord. Your deliverance 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. Thanks be to God that you know where to go, that you seek salvation in our Lord.  Thank God that you are weak, for it is then that you are strong. He will not let you become dependent on your works. He will purify you with His holy rebuke; He will not let you ride out the storm in false confidence. He will hold you close to Him. Be rebuked again and again. Be broken by His Law. He uses these things to empty you of yourself and 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. And His thoughts are not our thoughts. If we stop feeling the Law, we lose the Gospel. First comes the rebuke; then comes the calming of the storm. First comes the cross; then comes the glory.
Are we of little faith, O Lord? Indeed. We are unworthy in every way. But He is our God. He puts His name upon us. He delivers us from these present evils, for He has died bearing our sins. We have no boast, no claim of our own upon His mercy. But we have His Word and Promise. We have His name. We have His body and blood. That is enough. He calms the storms—even the storms within us: the fear, the heartbreak, the despair. He leads us to call upon Him in prayer. He gives us the faith we lack. He saves us. 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.