Monday, July 26, 2010

July 25, 2010 - The Eighth Sunday after Trinity - St. Matthew 7:15-23

Poor Jeremiah. He was called by the Lord to preach the Word to the people of Judah and they didn't want to hear it. The Lord had had enough of the idolatry of Israel. He had prepared the Babylonians to come and punish His people and take them into captivity. Among other things, the Lord told Jeremiah to preach this. Jeremiah was to preach that God's people would be sent into exile and they would be better off if they cooperated with the enemies and went willingly! Can you imagine! No wonder the king wanted Jeremiah dead! But that was the Lord's Word. On the other hand, Judah was filled with prophets who went around saying, “Peace! There's going to be peace! Everything will be fine!” They were NOT sent by God. They did NOT preach faithfully. That is one of the difference between the false prophets and the true: the false prophets preach what people want to hear and they will change their message so that their hearers will always like what they hear. The true prophets, on the other hand, preach what the Lord tells them to preach whether people like it or not, whether they listen or pay no attention at all. So it is today. Those who preach faithfully deliver the Word that the Lord has called them to preach. Those who are false prophets, those who are dressed like the sheep but are really wolves, they preach what is false and wrong.

Jesus warns us about such false prophets. He says they come as wolves in sheep's clothing. That is, they don't come looking like false prophets. They come looking like they belong in the church. But we tell the difference between the faithful and the true by their fruits; what they are preaching, what people are hearing and believing. The reason Jesus warns us about the false prophets is because He is saving us from them. The Lord knows that many will come in His name and throw around the name “Jesus” like they belong to Him and yet their preaching will lead people to hell. False preachers teach people to cling to and believe in something other than Jesus who died for their sins. Perhaps they are to put their trust in themselves. The false preacher tells people they have the power within them to be godly and to live a right life. Or maybe the false preacher wants them to believe in him. If they send him money or follow his program, they'll have success and happiness in their life. Sure, he or she will throw in the name of “Jesus” as if that's whom they're really preaching about. But really they want people to believe in something else. Why? Such false preachers and prophets are the devil's instruments to drag people away from the faith. The devil uses a false prophet and preacher to confuse people, cause them to doubt, and otherwise leads them to trust in something other than Jesus so that in the end, he can drag them down to hell with himself! That's why Jesus says, “Watch out!”

Can you get good fruit from a bad tree? Bad fruit from a good tree? No. Good fruit comes from a good tree. The good tree is the cross and that fruit is the forgiveness of sins, plucked from the tree upon which our Lord gave His life for sinners. The taste of that tree's fruit is in the sweet sap of blood and water by which we are baptized and nourished and saved. Jesus gave Himself into death to save you. Not so you can save yourself. He saves you. His death saves you from the devil who wants you to believe God's doesn't love you. The cross is the demonstration of God's love for you, the sending of His Son to take away your sins. Jesus' death saves you from the world which hates Him and you, and wants you to fall into the trap of living for yourself instead of for others. The death of Jesus saves you even from yourself, your own sinful flesh which wants to trust in nothing but itself. Jesus' death on the cursed tree makes that tree, that cross, the good tree with good fruit. That fruit is the forgiveness won there by which God doesn't count your sins against you. He rescues you from you! He grafts you into that true Vine which is Christ in whom you have life and eternal life.

Now a false preacher brings evil fruit from a rotten tree. Good tree is Jesus and His death for you. Good fruit from good tree is the forgiveness of sins from Jesus. A rotten tree is a preacher who points you to something other than Jesus. Yourself. Himself. Whatever. Not Jesus. And the evil fruit of that sort of a preacher is faith and hope and trust in yourself. How do you know a rotten tree? Bad fruit. And it's hollow inside. False preachers are hollow. They talk and sound preachy but they've got nothing inside. Just emptiness and death. The fruit of a rotten tree is withered and dying. Tasteless and rancid. So is the faith that is the fruit of false preachers. A false faith which trusts in something other than Christ is a rotten fruit that is no good. It doesn't hold up in trials and difficulties. It doesn't overcome the guilt and weight of sin. You will recognize this sort of preaching in those sermons and speeches which talk about what YOU can do to get right with Jesus. What YOU have to do to become and remain a Christian. This preaching will point to you and flatter you and tell you what good intentions and good effort and a sincere faith will get you. But all of that sort of talk and preaching leads to death. For by it the evil one lures people away from Christ who is the Lamb of God to themselves, thinking they are good enough to please God or else causing them to despair because they can't measure up!

This is why Jesus warns us so strongly! Watch out! Watch out for such false preaching! Learn this, brothers and sisters, that it matters what comes out of the mouth of the man in the pulpit. It matters because what is preached will either save you from your sins and give you eternal life or it will tear you away from Christ and drag you down to hell. This is why I say, and I'll say it again now: NEVER trust your pastor. Don't ever take his word for something. Rather, learn God's Word and TEST your pastor to see whether what He says is what the Lord's Word says. Our Synod last week voted on all sorts of things in convention. Did they follow God's Word? Don't take THEIR word for it. Check and see if it's so. True preaching is always preaching that delivers Christ crucified for your sins and raised from the dead for your eternal life. True preaching is preaching that points you to the gifts given in Baptism, Absolution and the Supper of Christ's body and blood. Jesus teaches us the difference so that we will not be taken in by the wolves in sheep's clothing but rather protected and preserved in the holy faith of Christ by which our sins are forgiven and we are saved.

St. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit has been given to us and testifies that we are God's children. How does He do that? The false preachers will tell you to look to your feelings. Do you FEEL like a Christian? You must be! Are you sinning less and less? You must be doing OK! No! Wrong! The testimony of the Spirit is water and blood. The water of Baptism by which He covers you with Christ and the blood of Jesus given to you in His Supper. You have those things and that means you are His. The false prophets are out there, barking and howling like wolves, wanting nothing else than to snap their jaws shut around you. But Jesus has warned us. We know what to look for. And more than that, we have His promise, by the Holy Spirit, that we are the sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. That means sheep who have a Good Shepherd who saves them, not destroys them. Thanks be to Jesus for this gift of His warning and for the promise of His preserving us forever in the flock of His church. That is the good fruit of His good tree. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

July 18, 2010 - The Seventh Sunday after Trinity - St. Mark 8:1-9

The Lord knows what you need even before you know you need it. Consider Adam. The Lord made him, breathed life into him and then set him in the garden and gave him all the trees and plants to eat. Did the Lord tell Adam to decide on how he wanted to decorate the garden and which fruit he was hungry for? No, He made Adam and provided for Adam. Likewise the Lord didn't leave Adam to figure out which tree was the one that would kill him. The Lord spoke His Word to Adam to warn and protect him. When the 4,000 were following Jesus around and had been with him for three days, do they start complaining? Do the disciples decide these people need to eat? No, it is Jesus who has compassion on them and before they even ask feeds them so fully that there are baskets full of leftovers! That is how the Lord acts. He knows, dear Christians, what you need before you do. He intends to provide what you need for this body and life because He has compassion on you. He knows that you need, above all else, these two things: His Word which saves you and your daily bread which sustains your body. In Jesus, we see His promise to provide both for us so that in Christ we may never be in want.

Our Lord does the same thing for your salvation. When Adam and Eve went ahead and ate from that tree, did the Lord say, “I'll just wait until Adam owns up and tells Me what he did?” No, the Lord comes to Adam and confronts him and delivers the promise: the Seed of the woman will crush the serpent's head. For this fallen world, does the Lord wait on us to come around? Does God say, “Well just as soon as those sinful people realize how bad they've ruined things, then I'll come up with a plan?” Does He conclude, “Well if I wait long enough, they'll come back and realize they need me?” Does the Lord wait for us to make the first move? He does not. But rather in His divine and Fatherly compassion sends His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem us from the curse of the Law. God the Father sends His Son and Jesus is born to save us. Jesus Christ comes to us without being welcomed or expected, without being asked or invited. Of His own will, in obedience to His Father's will, Jesus comes to save sinners. Does He ask for our help? Does He wait for us to tell Him we need Him? Nope. He comes and lives. And dies on the cross and rises. He suffers for us without our having asked Him to. He died for our sins without our having wanted Him to. He rises from the dead without our having told Him to. Because before we even knew we were sinners, indeed while we were still sinners, Christ died for the ungodly to rescue us and give us life.

And on it goes into the delivery of that salvation. Most of you here became Christians when you were babies. Did you ask your parents? You couldn't even talk! Yet while you were still unable to recognize everything going on around you, the Lord saved you by the washing of the water and the word. Now, some of you may have been baptized when you were older. Yet nevertheless that too was God's work. For it was the Lord who, before you even realized what was going on, led you to hear His Word and believe it, and to be washed at the font. It was your heavenly Father working out all things for your good and your eternal salvation. Did Jesus wait until His disciples knew what was going on before He gave them His body and blood to eat and drink? No. Neither do we wait until a child supposedly understands everything. No, even our little ones are given Christ's body and blood because they need it and because the Lord's compassion is to feed them with His own body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. Whatever it is, from the daily bread we need for this body and life, to the forgiveness of sins which saves us from death, to the means of grace which give it out, it is always our Lord having compassion on us, always our Lord coming to us, always Christ doing what we need even before we know or ask! Such is God's compassion to us that He doesn't wait on us but feeds and saves us when we need to be fed and saved!

Now what joy that we are set free from our slavery to sin! St. Paul says that we are now slaves to righteousness! Know what that means? It means you never have to wait for your neighbor to ask for help but instead just help them! It means we don't have to get caught up, as the world does, in waiting for others to deserve our help or ask for it. That's slavery to sin: I'll only do for someone else if they do for me or if they're big enough to ask for it. Kids, wouldn't it blow your parents mind if you saw something around the house that needed doing and just...did it!? Husbands, do you really need your wives to beg you five times to get that thingamabob in your house fixed? What if you just did it without being asked? Does the church council really need to stand in front of us one more time to bug us to get something done at church when we could just pitch in and take care of it easily? Do our neighbors and friends and loved ones really need to come with shame to beg our forgiveness or can we treat them as those whose sins are already forgotten, put away and taken care of!? You see what freedom Christ has given us toward one another by His salvation? Because He has saved us without our even bothering to ask, He also teaches us to love others without their asking us to do so. Amazing! But such is the new life of having been set free from sin!

How is that new life given to us? How do we stay in that new life? How are we protected from becoming slaves to sin once again? It's all there in the Word. The Word. The water. The preaching and teaching. The body and blood. Why were those multitudes following Jesus around for three days? They stuck by Him because they wanted to hear His Word. They recognized in Jesus an authority that wasn't like the scribes and Pharisees. They heard in His teaching not more rules that they'd never ne able to follow but forgiveness, life and salvation. They received from Christ the good news that their sins were being put away from them by His salvation and He was the one to rely on for everything in their life. In short, this Jesus whom they heard was the One who could actually save them and actually provide for them. But notice something: they were so wrapped up in hearing Christ that it was Jesus who had to stop and feed them. That should be our attitude toward God's Word: that it is something so precious that we could never do without it and we must hear and learn it more than anything else in this world. And do they starve because they want the Word of God? No, Jesus takes care of that too. Because He's the Lord and that's the kind of Lord He is. He won't let us down in this life or for the life to come. He's got it all covered every which way.

So know this, brothers and sisters in Christ: Your Lord knows what you need even before you ask. He knows your sinfulness and He knows your needs and wants. He has provided everlasting victory over your sin and death and He'll make sure you've got at least a few cans of beans in the pantry, too Your Lord has rescued you from being a slave to sin and has made you a slave of righteousness for the sake of your neighbor. Now, free in Him, there is nothing and will never be anything that you lack. For the one who dishes out bread in the wilderness is Himself the Bread of Life who feeds you with Himself now and forever. Whatever it may be, before you can even think to worry about it, your Savior's got it taken care of. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, July 12, 2010

July 11, 2010 - The Sixth Sunday after Trinity - St. Matthew 5:17-26

We heard today the Ten Commandments that our Lord gave from Mt. Sinai. People misunderstand the Commandments. Most people think of the Commandments as rules that God came up with to corner you in and bother you with. They figure that the Commandments are arbitrary rules that can be ignored or else that have to be followed to get right with God. But the truth is that none of these views is the right one. First of all, the Commandments are not mere rules to follow. They are not just things God says you have to do or not in order to not go to hell. Rather, the commandments, because they are God's Word, are a gift. They are a treasure. In each commandment, the Lord is teaching us about some gift that He has given to us. In the First Commandment, the Lord teaches us that He gives us Himself. In the Second and Third, He gives us His name to call upon and His Word to hear and believe. In the Fourth He gives us our parents and family and in the Fifth our lives. The Sixth Commandment teaches us of the gift of our spouse. The Seventh and Eighth Commandments speak about the gift of our possessions and reputations. The Ninth and Tenth teach us about contentment. In every commandment we see that the Lord has given us a gift and would protect that gift for us.

The problem with us, however, is that we despise God's gifts. Our sinfulness causes us to refuse the gifts the Lord would give to us. Do you know what sin is? Sin is really not about breaking rules. It's about despising God and the things He gives us. Why do people have other gods? Because they don't want the True God who made them? Why do we despise God's Word and not learn it? Because we think there are other more interesting things to know about. Why do children disobey their parents? Because they don't appreciate and love the parents God has given? Why do marriages fail? Because people despise the spouse that God has given and want some other one. Why is there murder and stealing and gossip? Because we don't want the things God has given us but instead want to make ourselves better than others and have reputations that we have made for ourselves. Why is there so much coveting? Because we are not content to have the things our heavenly Father has given us but instead must worry and fret and strive to get everything else we think we need. In short, our sin is that we don't want God or what He gives to us. This is far worse than breaking rules. This is a hatred and despising of the God who made us and provides for us. Our sin isn't just that we break some rules but that we tell Him we don't want Him or the stuff He gives us. This shows us also that our sin is far worse than simply the things we do. Our sin is a corruption so deep it has taken us completely away from the God who made us.

And it gets worse. The judgment of eternal death and damnation doesn't come about because we broke some rules and now we have to be punished. No, when the Lord judges us according to His commandments, He is actually giving us what we want! You don't want God? Then be separated from Him for all eternity! Don't want the parents or kids or spouse or possession the Lord has given you? Then have nothing for all eternity. That's what you want, isn't it? Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Ten Commandments show us our sin not because it reminds us that we broke some rules but because it shows us what ungrateful and selfish people we really are. The judgment against us isn't that we are rule breakers but God haters and gift despisers who deserve nothing else than to be given exactly what they want: no God and no one else forever! Here is where we learn true repentance! True repentance isn't just fessing up to some naughty behavior. It's not just acknowledging that we did some things wrong. True repentance is the recognition, which can only come by the Holy Spirit, that we are so terribly self-centered and corrupt that the worst thing God could do is give us what we want! Our repentant cry to the Lord is to have mercy and give us not what we want nor what we deserve but what is Christ's! For otherwise we perish. But we are saved by Christ who is the keeper and fulfiller of the whole Law.

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, not one jot or tittle of the law will pass away until it is all fulfilled.” Here Jesus is saying that we will never get out from under the Law. It will always be the beautiful gift of God which ends up showing us our sin and condemning us to judgment. But, He says, it will be fulfilled. That means the Law will be kept. Not by your or me. We could never do it. Who then? By Him. Jesus keeps the Law. He keeps every commandment. He loves God the Father above all things and loves His neighbor as Himself. Jesus doesn't do what we do by trying to make the Commandments easier. The Pharisees taught that if you didn't kill anybody, you hadn't broken the Fifth Commandment. That's how we usually judge things too. If you've never shot or stabbed or run over anyone with your car, you're not a murderer either! Easy! One down, nine to go! But the Law isn't like that. Jesus teaches us that it isn't just physical killing that is murder but all anger and hatred and hurting another person. The Law isn't easy at all. It covers our whole lives and words and thoughts and actions. And where we fail, Jesus keeps it. All of it. Without sin. Without a mistake. Therefore Jesus who has kept the Law perfectly is the one man who never has to die. But He does die. Horribly. On a cross. Why? Because He takes on our sins. Our hating God. Our hating our neighbor. He takes it all on and dies for it. On the cross, Jesus suffers and dies for us and gets rid of not His sins but ours. It works like this: You and I never kept the Law so Jesus kept it perfectly for us. You and I deserved eternal death and punishment. Jesus took that on for us too. He lives our life. He dies our death. At every spot where every jot and tittle of the Law hits us, Christ stands to do it right and then take the hit for us. Here is the One, Jesus, who is perfectly content with all that God the Father gives Him, even content with dying to save sinners because that pleases the Father. In Jesus, the Law is fulfilled and kept. And with that, its judgment over you passes away.

Now Paul tells us that we have died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism. We are dead to sin. What does that mean? Well it doesn't mean we don't sin anymore. It means sin doesn't have any power over us. Your Baptism is God's promise that He doesn't hold your sins against you any more because of Jesus. It's His promise that you have been given the Holy Spirit to battle against sin in your life, but that in Christ you already have the victory over that sin. But Paul asks an important question: Now that we're forgiven, does that mean we can go on sinning? Absolutely not! To think to ourselves that because we have been forgiven, we can just do whatever we want is to really have no repentance at all and to once again fall into despising Christ's gifts. But to live in our Baptism is to recognize that Christ's perfect life is our perfect life. His death has become our death. His being judged for sin is our being judged for sin. His rising to life is our new life. And that new life is totally different than the old life. Our life of sin is to want what we don't have and to despise what the Lord has given us. The new life in Christ is to love the Law and to learn from it how to glorify God and love our neighbor. It's such a teaching that we no longer hold another's sins against them as God has not held them against us. It's the new life in Christ in which we learn to be reconciled to our neighbor and not hold people's sins against them. Where once we did not want what God give us and so He would have obliged, instead Christ does what the Father wants and we are saved. By His loving the Father and dying for us, the Law is kept and we are saved.

And now, having all that is Christ's we learn that the Law is not our enemy, sin is! The Law, the Commandments, becomes the way of learning to repent of our sins and see what Christ has done for us. The Ten Commandments have become a picture of what Jesus has done to save us and how it is that He lives in us and through us. Now the Commandments, fulfilled in Christ, become for us a true treasure and gift, sweeter than honey and more to be desired than gold and riches. For the Ten Commandments point us to Christ and Christ, who has kept the whole Law, has redeemed us from its curse and made us His own. Christ has kept the Law perfectly and now, in Him, so have you. In you, the Law is fulfilled because you have died and risen with Christ by the waters of Holy Baptism. What is Christ's is now yours. And you are His. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

"Given" Thursday Vespers -- Isaiah 52:7-10

Several folks have asked about the sermon I preached for this year's Higher Things Conference. Here it is.

Higher Things “Given” 2010
Thursday Vespers
Isaiah 52:7-10

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news!” That means how beautiful are Jesus' feet because He brings Good News. These are the feet of God's Son who was born with ten little piggies just like the rest of us. These are the feet that stepped into the water of the Jordan River to be baptized for you. These are the feet that walked on water and carried the preaching of the Kingdom of God around. These are feet so beautiful that the sinful woman washed them with her tears and hair! These are the feet that stood before the religious leaders and the Roman Governor. These are the feet that stumbled as they carried the cross to calvary. And there, on Calvary, on the mountain, behold the beautiful feet, pierced with nails, stuck to the cross. To bring Good news. The Good News that your sins are forgiven. The Good News that He is pierced for you. That His feet and hands and side and brow are pierced for your sins. To wash them away with His blood. To wipe them out once and for all. The pay the price. To bring peace between you and God. How beautiful indeed are those holy feet of Jesus that walked this earth on their way to be nailed to the tree for our salvation!

And we need those purdy feet! Because our feet ain't so purdy! Our feet are dirty. Our feet step in it. In sin. How often have you used your feet to wander away from Christ's church to someplace more interesting and exciting or buried those feet deeper under the covers rather than get up and go hear Christ's Word. How often have you used your feet to wander away from those around you who are in need? How often have you run with those feet to share the latest bit of juicy gossip? How often have you used those feet to storm away from Mom and Dad when you're angry at them? How often have you used those feet to kick others while they are down or to stride around like you're the best thing ever happened to everybody? Oh yes, our feet are caked in the gunk and crud of sin!

Jesus knew this about His disciples. Their feet were dirty like that too. So He washed them. He whose feet would be pierced made sure the feet of the apostles were clean and beautiful and then sent them to preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name to the ends of the earth. That Good News that your pastor proclaims, that your sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake is what makes your pastor's feet beautiful, what makes Him a messenger worth listening to. For Jesus has sent your pastor to proclaim the Good News of Christ that cleans the feet of even the dirtiest sinner! Your pastor has had his feet washed, that is, been forgiven, and sent and ordained to be the guy who brings you the Good News. Who proclaims peace. Who announces glad tidings. Your pastor's feet are beautiful because He walks around giving the gifts of Christ. It is your pastor's feet that stand by the font while Christ washes us from our sins. It is the pastor's feet that stand before you, speaking the words of holy absolution. It is the pastor's feet you see as you kneel at Christ's altar, eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus and receiving that forgiveness! Rejoice that by the feet of His ministers, the blessings of Christ's nail-pierced feet are delivered to you. “How beautiful are the feet on the mountains of him who brings good news!” Indeed those feet are beautiful because they are the feet of Jesus, pierced for our salvation on Mt. Calvary. And that Good News is carried to us by the feet of Christ's preachers. How beautiful the feet that trod the road that leads us back to God. How beautiful the feet that ran to bring the great good news to ma! To you! In the in Name of Jesus. Amen.