Sunday, August 29, 2010

August 29, 2010 - The 13th Sunday after Trinity - St. Luke 10:23-37

Wouldn't it be great if you could just fix other people by telling them the commandments? Wouldn't it be great if you could tell your kids to stop back talking and to quit fighting with each other and they actually did it? How great would it be if a husband or wife could tell their spouse to “love and honor me the way you're supposed to” and they did? What if someone sinned against you and you told them, “You'd better repent and apologize and make it up to me” and they did? What if a pastor could tell the people in his church, “Stop holding grudges and not getting along” and they did? How great would it be if we could just toss out one of the commandments and fix the other person! The problem is, we do that all the time and it doesn't work. And people do it to us and it doesn't work. The Law doesn't fix people. The Law tells us what's wrong with ourselves but it doesn't fix what is wrong. We can hear the Law tell us what the right thing is to do and we can tell others what the right thing to do is but neither we nor they will do it! And the Law's response is always the same: If you don't keep the commandments, you will perish eternally. Do the Law and live or else die forever!

What is our problem? The problem is that the devil and sin have come along and beaten us to within an inch of our lives, robbed us of our righteousness and left us half-dead in the ditch by the road! Sin, both the sin we are born with and the sin that we fall into all the time have stabbed us, shot us, beat us up and tossed us aside to bleed out in the ditch. Sounds awful. It is. Sin kills. Brothers and sisters, the guy lying in the ditch in Jesus' story is YOU! And as he lays there bleeding to death, who comes along? A priest. A Levite. These are the representatives of the Law of God, the commandments and the teaching. And what do they do? They pass by on the other side! They don't stop to help. They don't even call 911 on their cell phones at least. They just pass on by! In your sin, the Law is no help. You have failed to keep the commandments of God. You surround yourself with idols and you love yourself and despise your neighbor and the Law says, “Well then you're on your own!” No help there. When you break the commandments, the commandments won't help you fix it and do better. Just like when you tell someone else what their problem is, that will never fix them. The reason the Law is no help is because life does not come by the Law. St. Paul tells the Galatians that if a law had been given by which we could have become righteousness, then we would have life that way. If the Law could lift us up out of the ditch, we wouldn't need a Samaritan to come along and do it. But the Law just multiplies our sins, and sneers as it walks a wide path around your dying self.

The only thing that saves that guy dying in the ditch is that the Samaritan comes by and has compassion on him. Compassion. A gut-wrenching feeling and desire to help this miserable guy in the ditch. Did you know the phrase “had compassion” is only ever used of Jesus and the Father in the new Testament? Compassion is something God has for sinners. His compassion is what He does. He rescues the man from the ditch and works to heal him. The only thing that will save you when you are lying in the ditch of sin is the compassion of God. And that compassion is in His Son who comes down into the ditch at the side of the road that is this world and lets Himself get strung up between two bandits, and made fun of and killed. The compassion of Jesus our Good Samaritan is that He lets men do whatever they want to Him, abuse, mock and torture Him so that you will be saved. Here is no Jesus who comes to preach the Law so that the people will start getting themselves right. This is the Son of God who comes to save us who cannot save ourselves. And He does it by letting Himself get taken down and then lifted up on that cross. If you ever doubt that the Lord is compassionate to you when you are beaten bloody by sin at the side of the road, then look to the cross, behold Christ crucified and know: that is your Lord having compassion on you.

But the Samaritan doesn't stop there. He doesn't just slap on a bandage and go on His way. He pours in the oil and wine and does all the first aid stuff but He also takes the man to an inn and makes sure that he is taken care of. Just so, your Savior doesn't just come down, die on the cross and rise again and disappear. No, He brings you to His inn, the church, where He pours in the sweet oil of your Baptismal anointing of water and the Spirit. He cleans out your festering sin wounds with the application of the blessed ointment of absolution. He feeds and nourishes you back to health with the food of His body and blood. All this He gives His innkeeper pastors to do for you. Whatever your pastor does to comfort you against sin and death, it is all laid to the account of that Good Samaritan who is footing the bill. It's not the innkeeper's money that he spends; it is His own. Just so, in His church, it is not the pastor's word and sacraments but Christ's which he applies to you and gives to you to nourish you back from your having been assaulted by your sins. Your Savior not only saves you but makes sure you are taken care of until He comes back too!

And so now, go and do likewise! You know, sometimes there are things that can only be understood when you have shared in an experience. Only someone who has battled cancer, for instance, can truly appreciate what a person who has cancer is going through. Only someone who has lost a loved one to death can have an idea of what that suffering is like when it happens to someone else. Only a single parent can know the struggles another single parent truly faces. And so on. But you, dear Christians, every one of you, knows what it is to have been pulled from the ditch of sin. Every one of you has been rescued from the near-death of being attacked and brought down by the highway robbers of sin and death. Every one of you knows what it is like to have no help from the Law but to instead be rescued and cared for by Jesus the Good Samaritan. So since that is the case, how can any of you, brothers and sisters, dare to walk past someone in the ditch of sin as if it's not your problem!? Or did you think that Lord rescued you so that you could pass by the poor wretch bleeding out on the side of the road the next time you were out for a stroll? Repent, brothers and sisters of rejoicing in and enjoying the rescue of the Lord while ever walking by that person who has been overtaken by sins! Repent because you know what it's like and you know where you've been and you yourselves have been rescued from such an attack.

Brothers and sisters in Christ: God has given us His holy Law to make sure that we're sinners and we know it. He has given us a Law which passes us by and doesn't save us so that we never fall under the false belief that we can save ourselves. The Law just won't rescue us. It can't. But the Good Samaritan does. Jesus does. He comes by and has divine compassion which means going to the cross and death to save you from certain death. It is the oil and wine of Baptism and His Supper that nurse you back to health from the wounds of sin to the life that He gives. So come now, the Samaritan hasn't returned yet. So come now, at His expense, and take your medicine, the medicine of forgiveness, life and salvation, the body and blood of your Good Samaritan Jesus. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Monday, August 23, 2010

August 22, 2010 - The 12th Sunday after Trinity - St. Mark 7:31-37

After Jesus performed this miracle, listen to what the crowds shouted: “He has done all things well! He has made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak!” He has done all things well. Jesus has done all things well. Whatever He did and still does He does well. Jesus has done everything well. He has loved His Father more than all things, even His own life. He has loved His neighbor, you and me and the whole world, more than Himself. He perfectly obeyed the Father when He came to suffer and die for us. He perfectly loved us by taking on our sins, taking the judgment and punishment against sin onto Himself and by defeating death and the powers of hell for us. He has truly done all things well. To this poor man who could not speak or hear, Jesus gives speech and opens his ears. He has done all things well. But He has given His life to take away our sins so that by that same word that is spoken, He might open our ears and loose our tongues, to hear and believe God's Word and to speak and sing true praises to God. Indeed, Jesus has done all things well. He loves His Father perfectly. He loves you perfectly. He saves you from your sins. He has done all things well.

And we need Jesus to have done all things well. Because we don't do all things well. In fact, we don't do anything well. Oh, I'm not talking about being good at football or track or knowing how to fix a car or repair a house. I'm not talking about the everyday skills you use to do a particular job or chore. Sure, you might have some skills and do some of those things well. No, when I say that we don't do anything well, I'm talking about the things Jesus did. We don't love God most of all. We say we do but then our lives are filled with lots of things we think are the most important thing ever. Here we don't do well. We do selfishly. And for our own benefit. We say we love the Lord. But we don't love Him well because we don't bother with learning His Word every day. We don't bother praying and teaching our kids His Word. We don't receive bad news with hope and joy in Christ but get all gloomy and despairing. We think we are doing OK, but we aren't doing so hot. And we don't love our neighbors well either. We say we do, but we don't. We don't trust God to strengthen our marriages, make us better parents, or provide our daily bread. Instead we complain, grumble, argue, fight, despair, wallow in our misery, blame others, make excuses, ignore God's teaching, and in a million other ways prove to the world that we don't love others as ourselves. We just love ourselves. Jesus has done everything well! That's a good thing. Because we sure haven't. There's our repentance. Not that we don't do things well. Sure, repent of that. But our better repentance is to acknowledge that we don't trust that Jesus doing it well makes a difference for us, that it matters to us, that it counts for us.

Jesus doing all thing wells is what saves us. We are born spiritually deaf, unable to hear God's Word. Spiritually dumb, unable to say anything about God but only to praise and glorify ourselves. Christ saves us from that as He saves the blind man. With His Word. His Word can actually open up ears that can't hear. His Word can actually loose a tongue that cannot speak. Jesus heals this man because He knows what awaits Himself. He knows that on the cross He will take upon Himself this mans sins and the sins of the whole world. He knows that on that cross He will cry out in agony and the Father will be deaf to His cries. The Father will say nothing when Jesus is crushed by the weight of this world's sin. And it is that suffering on the cross for us that saves us. He has done all things well but it only gets better. Jesus isn't just going around healing people and then leaving. It's all part of His work to save sinners. In order for us to have ears that hear and lips that speak rightly, He must go to the cross. There's no chance here for self-improvement or self-help. The answer to our NOT doing things well is not “Try harder.” We do. It doesn't work. No. What we need is a Savior who goes to the cross to saves us from eternal death and condemnation. To wipe away the awful things that husbands and wives say and do to one another, that parents and children do, the awful ways in which we turn from God and despise our neighbor, the very corruption and ruin that we are born with!

Jesus does all things well. That means He does what it takes to save you to. He's gone to the cross but He also delivers that salvation well. What is it that opens your ears to hear? It is the Word. For that deaf man, it was literally Jesus putting his fingers in his ears but also speaking, “Ephatha! Be opened!” That “Ephatha!” is shouted at your Baptism when the Lord opens your ears with His Word that baptizes you with the water. That “Ephatha” is spoken when the words of absolution are spoken, casting out your sins and opening yours ears to the Good News that you are forgiven. The very touching of this man's tongue by Jesus is repeated when the Lord Himself touches your tongue with His body and blood. It's not just some words from heaven! It's the real deal Jesus present here and opening your ears and loosing your tongue so you can say, “Amen!” to all of His gifts. “Amen! Gift received! That's for me! Jesus has done all things well...for me!”

By healing the deaf guy, Jesus demonstrates why He came: to save sinners. St. Paul talks in the Epistle Lesson about the Spirit and the letter. Jesus could come and deliver the letter of the law. He could tell the man that he is deaf because of sin and he can't speak because sin has ruined everything. Jesus could remind him of his sin. But Jesus instead cures him. Heals him. Saves him. That's the ministry of the Spirit, to save. Just like your pastor. What's his job? To tell you the Law? Sure, to call you to repentance. But more than that, to preach the forgiveness of sins so that by His Word, the Spirit would give you life and salvation. But it's also an example for us: how shall you approach your neighbor? Your husband, wife, kids, relatives, coworkers, friends, and so on? With the letter of the law? In harsh judgment? Holding them to standards you yourself cannot meet? No. The ministry of the spirit is your example here: a word of forgiveness, not holding someone else's sins against them. Here you don't bang someone over the head with what they've done but forgive them and act as if they haven't sinned. Love them by forgiving them. Show them that to be a Christian is to be a person not of judgment but of forgiveness. And that is Christ doing all things well through you.

Jesus has done all things well. He healed a man who was deaf and couldn't talk. Jesus has done all things well. He perfectly loves His Father and others. Jesus has done all things well. He gave His life for you and gives you life. Where we have done all things badly, Jesus has done all things well. And now, in Christ, in the Father's sight, so have you. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

August 15, 2010 - The Feast Day of St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord - St. Luke 1:39-55

Of all the triumphant saints that the church on earth remembers and celebrates, the most blessed must surely be St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, for she did what no one else did: She conceived in her womb and gave birth to the Son of God! In St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, we see demonstrated the way in which the Lord saves us. NOT by St. Mary but by the Son that she bore and to Whom she gave birth. Not only that, St. Mary also gives to us an example of true Christian humility and faith before God and love and service to her neighbor. Therefore we celebrate her feast day as a celebration of our salvation in Christ, as a thanksgiving to God for what He has done for all people through St. Mary's Son, and as an example of our own lives as Christians.

Consider first of all God's choice of St. Mary. Her cousin Elizabeth says to her, “Blessed are you among women!” Is Mary better than other women? Is she prettier? Is she smarter? Is that why the Lord chooses her? No! Why does the Lord choose Mary to be the mother of His Son? Perhaps it is because she is sinless? The one person who has no sin? No! Hardly. For doesn't Mary herself say that her spirit rejoices in God her SAVIOR? If Mary had no sin, then why would she need a Savior? It is true that Mary's family was in the line that descended from King David, as was Joseph's her husband. But among all the descendants of David, why pick THIS girl? Why choose Mary? The answer is this: Mary is chosen because the Lord tells her she is chosen! She is chosen, not for anything in her, but because the Lord, in His grace, called her to be the mother of the Word-made-flesh. And this is the first way in which Mary shows us our salvation. When the Lord chose you and claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism, He didn't do so because of you. He didn't do so because of your parents. He chose you by grace. There isn't anything inside you that sparked the Lord's interest. He didn't see that you would have faith or live a good life. He didn't see that you were going to turn out better than others or be less of a sinner. No, in the midst of your being dead in trespasses and sins, the Lord chose you by grace to be His own child. There is nothing to do there but rejoice that the Lord has chosen you in Christ to be His own!

Now the fact that the Lord chooses an earthly mother for His Son also teaches us how God saves us. He saves us by sending His Son. But Jesus doesn't come as a vision or a sign in the heaven's or as an animal form or as a mess of feelings inside us. His Son becomes a man. A human being. The eternal Son takes on a human nature in Mary's womb. When Jesus is conceived, He has a human nature given by His mother in her womb. There He grows as one of us. He is born as one of us. St. Mary reminds us that God saves us by becoming one of us. That the Son of God is a human being. St. Paul tells us why: He is born of a woman so that He may be born under the Law and redeem us who were under the curse of the Law! Jesus is born of the flesh of Mary so that God can do what people do: suffer, and bleed, and die. St. Mary is a reminder not only in her giving birth but in her bitter sorrow at the cross, that the One who is born from her will save us from our sins by giving Himself into the horrible death of the cross. To celebrate and remember St. Mary is really to remember that Jesus is a man in order to save us from our sins. Only by being a man could the Son of God suffer a death which takes away our sins and blots them out of God the Father's sight.

St. Mary is also a reminder to us that the Lord comes to us through means. The Son of God became man but He didn't do it by just becoming man and dropping out of heaven. He uses the earthly means of a human mother by which He takes on His flesh and is born to the praises of angels and shepherds. Just so, it is a reminder that the Son of God who is in the flesh does not come to us except through means. Thus the Lord doesn't take us into His death and resurrection except through the water and word of Holy Baptism. He doesn't absolve our sins in any other way than the voice of our pastor or another Christian. And just as He hid Himself in the flesh and in the womb of Mary, until He was brought forth for us, so He hides that same flesh and blood under the bread and wine in the Holy Supper of salvation. Mary is a reminder that our Lord can be located and found in a certain place. He is in her womb. He is in a stable manger. He is in the Jordan River. He is in Galilee or Jerusalem. He is on the cross of Calvary. He is in the Upper Room and alive. He is here, in His church, in water, word, bread and wine, delivering that salvation which rescues us from sin, death and the devil. Mary is even a picture of the church. For she bears the Word in her womb, giving birth to the Son of God, just as the church is the place where the Word is and she is our mother, as St. Paul says, giving birth to us as the sons of God in holy baptism.

Through Mary, the Lord also teaches us about faith and good works. Hear again Mary's words when she sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior!” That's faith. Mary's whole life was to say “Amen” the Lord's Word. She was chosen to be the bearer of God's Word and she did so gladly and with trust that the Lord would provide for her and care for her. So she teaches us that our highest good is from God and that the One who has put His Word in us by Baptism and praching and His Supper will also provide for us and care for us. See how Mary rejoices in her Savior! So she teaches us that we should have no higher joy than in learning what God has done for us and how He has done so. But see also Mary's humility and love of her neighbor. Think about this: Mary has the most honored position of any person of all time. We know that when people get money or fame they begin to do anything they want and live only for themselves. Consider the actor who wants to entertain but becomes so famous and rich that they just walk over everyone else and leave a trail of destruction behind them. Or someone who is elected to govern, and they desire to serve the people; yet when they get to Washington and get a taste of their power and authority they begin to serve only themselves. And that's just money and fame! Now consider Mary, the bearer of GOD HIMSELF! If ever there was an occasion for boasting, looking down upon others and going crazy with power and fame, it would be Mary. But what does she do? She goes to Elizabeth and helps here in her pregnancy. She goes and serves her neighbor. What a lesson for us! We ought to pray that the Lord would give us such humility that Mary has, that is so confident in God's goodness that it doesn't worry about anything but going and helping others! That is truly the work of the Spirit in Mary and in us. Learn, with St. Mary, to trust in the Lord's Word and to humbly serve Him and those around you!

So, then, St. Mary. She is the picture and model of our salvation. For when we remember her, we are remembering all that Christ is and has done for us. St. Mary teaches us that as she was chosen by God's grace for this holy calling so we too are chosen by God's grace to be His own. As Mary was the one whose flesh was given to the Son of God in His human nature, so she teaches us that our Savior is one of us, to bleed and die and rise for our salvation. He who is born of a woman gives us new birth into His kingdom! St. Mary teaches us that the Lord works through means. Just as His incarnation used the womb of Mary, so He still comes to us by earthly means: water, words, bread and wine, for our salvation. And Mary teaches us about our Christian life, that our first and highest duty is to rejoice in our Savior by faith. Then, we who have Christ in us by faith, live, as Mary did, for the glory of God and the service and care of others. Today we celebrate and remember St. Mary, the Mother of Our Lord, not for her own sake but because in her, we see ourselves, who are saved by God's infinite grace and mercy through His Son and hers, our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

August 1, 2010 - The Ninth Sunday after Trinity - St. Luke 16:1-13

So, dear Christians, what do you do with your unrighteous mammon? Jesus says to make friends with unrighteous mammon. What does that mean? For the world “unrighteous mammon” is money, usually. The stuff of this world. The stuff that greases the skids. The money that makes the world go 'round. For you, however, there is a different kind of unrighteous mammon. The unrighteous mammon that you have is mammon you haven't earned. Something you have gotten not because you deserved it. It is a “currency” which you are given to use which you have not gotten by your hard work. What is that “unrighteous mammon?” It is the forgiveness of sins. This is the currency that Christians are given as a gift and spend to make friends with others. Forgiveness isn't yours. It's Gods. And Christ is teaching us to use that the way the world uses its mammon and money: for the true making of friends who last beyond this life!

I want you to think about what this cheating servant has done. He works for a master and has been wasting his money and goods. The master finds out. Time to come clean. The servant is in big trouble. But he's got one more play in his playbook. He goes and reduces the bills on what his master's debtors owe him. One more time he takes what is his master's and uses it to his own advantage. You owe a hundred? Make it fifty. You owe a hundred? Make it eighty. Now think about this: what can the master do? If he goes to the guy and says, “You owe me a hundred,” then he'll say, “No, I owe you fifty.” What is the master going to say? “Well, that's a mistake. You'd better pay your hundred.” How can he prove it? The bill says fifty? If the master denies the discount, he looks like an idiot, a guy who can't even manage his own servants. So what does he have to do? Grin and bear it? “Oh, you only owe fifty? Very well. Fifty it is.” You see, the servant not only wastes his masters money one more time, but he also relies on the master's honor and promise. The master, for the sake of his honor, can't get out of the reduced debt without looking like a fool. He can't get out of his promise that his servant dealing with a customer is the same as him dealing with them. So he honors the debt. And he congratulates the servant on being so sneaky. He congratulates the servant for so cleverly playing it in such a way that the thing that saves him is the master's honor and promise!

Now how does that work with the currency Christians have? Like this: Jesus dies for your sins. Far more than just reducing your sin debt, He completely wipes it out! Now, if the Father should ever look at you and say, “Give an account of what you owe,” you can say, “I don't owe anything! See my bill? Zero! Your Son paid the price.” Now the Father can't then say, “Well no, I'm not going to count that.” His honor is at stake! More than that, His Word and promise are at stake. It's like when the Lord was going to destroy the Israelites after they made the golden calf and Moses says, “Lord, you can't do that! Not only would you look bad to the Egyptians but you made a promise way back to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to make a nation out of them!” Because Christ has died on the cross, you can stake your claim on Christ's forgiveness! The Father can't do anything but forgive you because His Son shed His blood. He can't ever get out of the promise that in Christ your sins are forgiven. God can never come back to you and say, “Hey, wait, there are some conditions you haven't met!” Nope. You just show Him Jesus. Show Him your Baptism in which He claimed you. Show Him your Absolution by which He has bound Himself to the words spoken by your pastor that your sins are forgiven. Show Him Christ in you by His body and blood. The Lord just can't get out of those promises! That's His goods. His currency. The forgiveness of sins.

But when it comes to spending that currency on others, suddenly we're stingy! Now I know that you, like the master's servant, are not stingy with the things of this world. If I asked you to pay for my lunch at Don Tequila's I'm sure someone would. But if I forgot to visit you in the hospital, how long would you remember? When your kids ask for gas money, you usually give it to them. If they want to start a sport or a hobby, you write the check. But how long does it take to get over it when they lie to you or do something stupid at school. When your neighbor is in need, you don't mind giving them a ride or helping them out in some way. But if they gossiped about you around town, how long until you would even talk to them again? When it comes to the world's currency, we're pretty generous. When it comes to Lord's currency, the forgiveness of sins, we're suddenly stingy! When someone says something about us, we get angry and we hang on to it. When someone does something against us, we remember it and we keep on remembering it. When something goes wrong, instead of admitting our part in it, we blame others. When a person sins against us, we suddenly shut our wallets of forgiveness and act as if they don't deserver to be forgiven! It's like all the sudden the “money,” the forgiveness is ours and we will do with it what we like. Instead of living like this steward, and using Jesus' forgiveness to save others and help others, we act as if we're the master and we control the forgiveness purse strings! Why is it that we can spend our money like the world to help others but when it comes to spending the cash of the Kingdom of God, the forgiveness of sins, we're suddenly such spendthrifts? Here is our repentance, to which Jesus calls us. Here He says that the sons of this world are more clever with how they spend what is not theirs than we are in spending what is not ours! Let's repent of that!

The unjust steward cheats his master to make friends for himself. He wants to make sure he's covered when he loses his job. One last time he abuses his masters goods in order to look out for himself and make sure that he'll be taken care of. But here's the difference with our Kingdom cash. We're not out. We're already IN thanks to Christ's death for sinners! We're already IN because we've been baptized and given this forgiveness. The reason we're stingy with the forgiveness is our unbelief. We don't really believe we're in so we don't act like we can spend that money. We want forgiveness for ourselves without wanting to give it to others because we believe that the kingdom of God works the way the world works. But it doesn't! In the Kingdom of God we can be generous in handing out forgiveness to others precisely because it's NOT our forgiveness. In fact, Jesus is calling us here to live like the unjust steward! Not in our earthly dealings, for that would be wrong to steal from someone! But in our dealings of forgiveness and setting aside the sins of others we are to throw His forgiveness around as if it's infinite! Because it is! There's nothing lost for the unjust steward to throw his master's money around and change everyone's bill. He's already lost his place. But just so, there's nothing lost for you to throw around the Lord's forgiveness because your position with the Master is already sure! So when someone sins against you, go ahead and cancel that debt, forgive that sin, as if it's no account to you! Because it's the Lord's account that is paying for it! What would others think of you if you were quick to forgive and overlook their sins instead of hating and holding a grudge? Go ahead and forgive them and tell them they're forgiven and just watch as the Lord has to forgive them! Just watch as the Lord makes good on His promise!

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what joy it will be on the Last Day to stand before the redeemed people of God and see those people pointing to you and saying, “There is one who forgave my sins! Who canceled my debts. Who passed on the Lord's forgiveness to me as if it was his to pass on!” It will be a great joy on that day to stand before God who can deal with you in no other way than as His baptized child in Christ and before others who receive you into everlasting habitations with their grateful thanks! Brothers and sisters in Christ: you have the forgiveness of sins! Go now and spend it wildly! “Waste” it on others! Throw it around like there's always more! Because there always is! Because it's from Jesus. For you and for others. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.