Thursday, September 30, 2010

September 29, 2010 - The Festival of St. Michael and All Angels - St. Luke 10:17-20

What amazing powers the disciples had! They could heal the sick and cast out demons! Who wouldn't be impressed? But that's not what Jesus tells them to be glad about. “Rather,” the Lord says, “rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” This is an admonition by our Savior that the big deal is not what is going on behind the scenes but what He has accomplished for them. On the day we celebrate the Lord's gift of angels, it's good to remember that. All around us, angels are made into more than they are and they are described and pictured and thought about in ways that are contrary to God's Word. Angels are portrayed as cute little babies with wings or else as spirits that whisper to us and talk to us and tell us things we couldn't learn anywhere else. Angels are seen in ways as mild as figurines and decorations all the way up to dangerous as some in some false religions and spiritualities in which communicating with angels and listening for angels is the big deal. On this, the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels, let us thank God for His angels but give all glory and honor and praise only to our Lord Jesus Christ.

The world has all kinds of false notions about angels but the Bible teaches us clearly what angels are and what their purpose is: they are ministering spirits, created by God, for the purpose of serving His church. Behind the scenes they do battle with the evil one's forces and they protect us from harm and danger. In some important places and times, the Scriptures reveal the presence and preaching of the angels: in battles of God's people against their enemies in the Old Testament, announcing that Mary would be with Child, singing the birth of the Savior, ministering to Jesus in His battles with Satan, announcing the resurrection of Christ, and setting the apostle Peter free from prison. But notice in all of those instances, that the angels aren't simply doing random things. They are serving God's people so that the witness of the true God remains, so that God's Word is proclaimed and preached and believed. Angels don't care for us just because; they care for us because the Lord has commanded that we be looked after because the devil is trying to draw us away from Jesus.

When the preachers came back to Jesus, they were pretty impressed with themselves that even the devils submitted to their authority. They could cast out the devil and his demons! But notice what Jesus says. He turns them away from being impressed with themselves, even from being impressed with their power over the evil one, and turns them to rejoice in their salvation. Christ says that He Himself saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. The big deal is how that happened. What caused it. And that is the Gospel, the Good News. And that Good News is simple: The Son of God—not an angel—became man and gave Himself into death on the cross for our sins and then rose again the third day. It is Jesus, and Jesus alone who has accomplished our salvation. The angels announced it. But all they did was point people to Jesus' Word. The big deal, even for the preachers Jesus sent out, is that by His death, their names were written in the Book of Life. As the reading from revelation says, they overcame the devil by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of their testimony. It is the preaching of this crucified and risen Son of God that delivers us from the devil and his evil ones.

We learn from this that the messengers aren't the big deal. Today, we thank the Lord for His angels who guard and protect us and serve His church. But we don't worship THEM. We rejoice that the Lord's salvation has come to us through His Son Jesus Christ. Now that you are baptized, your name is written in the Book of Life. Your name is written in heaven as one of the Lord's own dear children. And to those who are His dear children He sends His holy angels to guard and keep, to watch over and protect. Here is our repentance, on the one hand: thinking the Lord isn't watching over us and giving His angels to care for and protect us; thinking that angels aren't real or not important gifts from our Father in heaven. On the other hand, we ought to repent if we give glory and importance to the angels beyond what the Lord has given. The Lord provides His holy angels for us because we are His people and He wants to keep us in the faith. It is not by the angels that we are kept in the faith but in the Word. Ye the angels fight for us to keep away the evil ones who would tear us from Christ's holy Word. So rejoice today in the things you are always to rejoice in: your crucified and risen Savior, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, the preaching of the Gospel and the Holy Supper of Christ's body and blood. These are the gifts that save you. And because you are receivers of these gifts in Jesus Christ, know also that you have the Lord's holy angels ministering to you and protecting you, guarding you from harm and danger. Without the holy angels to protect us, can you imagine what more terrible things would happen in our lives each day? But the Lord has given His angels to care for us.

We must realize, as Christians, that when something bad could happen but is prevented, that is the work of the Lord's angels to guard and keep us. Away with all such notions of “luck” and “coincidence” as if the Lord isn't caring for us. When some disaster is averted, we ought to stop and thank God for the protection of His holy angels. It's true, though, that bad things do happen. There our Lord is simply teaching us to trust in Him all the more. But above all this is the Lord's one goal: your salvation. That your sins are forgiven in Christ and He brings you to heaven, carried by the holy angels on the day of your death into paradise with Jesus Christ. St. Michael's day reminds us of these two things: First of all, by the power of the Gospel and the fighting of the heavenly armies of angels, Satan's power has been thrown down. He has been cast out of heaven and He can't accuse you anymore. And secondly, your names have been written in the Book of Life. It is for you that the angels care, because the Lord has made you His own. Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ for these holy angels by which His church is protected and served as we await our Lord's glorious return. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

September 26, 2010 - The 17th Sunday after Trinity - St. Luke 14:1-11

Jesus is such a Savior that He would even heal someone on the Sabbath! It's illegal, you know. Doing any work on the Sabbath. Says so in the Law. In Exodus. If anyone profanes the Sabbath, they are to be put to death. Jesus is at dinner with the Pharisees and experts in the Law. They know Exodus. They know the penalty for breaking the Sabbath. Here's their chance to get the goods on Jesus. A guy comes in with dropsy. It's like edema, swelling, too much fluid in your body. Makes you weak and it hurts. Will Jesus heal this guy? On the Sabbath? If he does, there's the proof. There's the evidence that He's no Messiah. No Christ. He's a lawbreaker. A God despiser. A theological crook and charlatan. If He does it, then they'll have the proof they need to drag Him in front of the whole Council and vote for a death sentence. Because the Law is clear: profane the Sabbath and you die. What's he going to do? They're watching.

And of course Jesus is going to heal him. After all, if the Pharisees had an ox or a donkey that fell into a pit wouldn't they rescue it? Even if it was the Sabbath.? If your kid skinned a knee on a Sunday, you'd put a bandaid on them wouldn't you? Salvation doesn't wait for any day. It comes where Jesus is. If it's the Sabbath and a man is sick, Jesus heals Him. Simple as that. But, as those who came to Catechism on Wednesday learned again this past week, the Sabbath isn't about what DAY you worship. It's about hearing God's Word. It's about being where Christ is, healing and saving and forgiving. Christ isn't breaking the Sabbath, He's keeping it by healing a man who suffers from dropsy. That's what the Sabbath is: having Christ's Word heal us from our sin. Forgiveness. Life. Mercy. Salvation. The reason the Sabbath was so important in the Old Testament was that the Lord wanted His people to know Him and learn His Word. Those who broke the Sabbath weren't just breaking a rule; they were despising God's Word, saying “I don't care to learn God's Word.” And I'm sure they had all the same excuses we do: other plans, sleeping in, on vacation, obligations, etc., etc. It doesn't matter. The funny thing is this, although it's not really so funny: The commandment to keep the Sabbath was not given so that we could judge others. It was given so that we would learn to love God's Word as the most precious and holy treasure. By trying to find a way to get Jesus in trouble, the Pharisees weren't keeping the Sabbath; on the contrary, they were breaking it by showing just how much they despised God's Word, even His Word-made-flesh!

That's how we use the Law too. As a measuring stick not really of how well we're doing before God but of how much BETTER we're doing than someone else. We grab hold of the commandments not learn our sins, but to point out the sins of others and make ourselves feel better. It's like that old complaint that “Stores didn't used to be open on Sundays.” Do we say that because we're concerned that those who have to work need to still hear God's Word? Or are we just patting ourselves on the back because WE go to church on Sundays and those people don't. Pick any commandment. Do we learn that we don't love God and that we don't love our neighbor? Or do we learn that we love God and our neighbor a lot more than “that guy” over there. It's a shame, isn't it, that the guy was caught stealing from his job. We shake our heads as we rob God and put scraps into His offering plate. We shake our heads at how that person's kid acts because we know we've raised ours so much better. We fight with our spouses because they don't measure up in our marriages; they don't try like we do to make things work. And on and on it goes. Whatever the commandments say, we're sure we're keeping them and someone else isn't. In fact, if it were us at that dinner, we'd be offended at Jesus too. We'd kill Him. He doesn't do what we know He should. We'd cry for Him to be crucified! And we do with our sins wherein we judge others and don't repent ourselves.

That's why Jesus gives us the religion He does. The religion that humbles the exalted and exalts the humble. He who is the most exalted, first of all, top spot, Son of God, has all honor and authority, comes to take the back seat on the bus. The low spot at the feast. The place not of honor but of dishonor, the kid's table, the back room. The cross. There, the cross, Jesus is not first of all but least of all. Despised, mocked, looked down on. Look at the Lord nailed to the tree! That's what happens to Sabbath breakers! But Jesus doesn't die because HE broke the Sabbath. He dies because you did. He dies because you despise God's Word. He dies because you think you're better than others. He dies because you think you can keep the commandments and are sure no one else is even trying. Yes, He dies because you want to kill anyone who isn't like you. As good as you. As holy as you. As perfect as you. As obedient as you. But Jesus, on the cross, is as SINFUL as you. In fact, He IS your sins. Not His. Yours. And there, on the cross, death for yours sins. The Sabbath is kept. The Law is kept. The Law is fulfilled. Your sins are covered with blood and washed away. There, on the cross, the swollen dropsy of your sins is relieved by the water that gushes from Jesus to wash you clean in the font. On the cross, Jesus goes to the bottom, to bring you up to the top.

That's right. Your sins put you at the bottom. Our judging others is the way in which we like to scramble to the head of the table and say, “I'm the most important.” But your sins put you last. They would bring the Lord to say, “Not at MY table! Get out of here you filthy mooch!” But now, by the blood of Jesus, by the washing of water and the Word in Baptism, by Absolution and the Gospel, Jesus is saying to you: “You're way down there? Because of your sins? I've taken care of your sins. Come up here, to the place of honor, the most important place, with Me at the right hand of the Father! Come on! I've reserved this spot for you!” It's why we practice Closed Communion, you know. Because no one can just come and take a spot at the table. You don't just show up and claim a spot. No, you are invited. Beginning in your Baptism and by the instruction in God's Word, hard-boiled sinners who learn that they are no better than anyone else, but in fact, worse—such sinners are invited to come to the place of honor, around Christ's altar, where they are given the holy feast of Jesus' Body and Blood. In learning that we are sinners, that we confess our sins, that we don't put ourselves above others and that we deserve nothing from the Lord, we learn to expect the low spot. And the Lord says, “No. The high spot. The place of honor. My place. You are last in your sins but now you are first because I became last for you. Come up higher because I am your Savior.”

Jesus heals the man with dropsy because He is the Savior. But He also does it in front of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to show what the Sabbath is really all about, knowing full well that they are going to use that against Him to kill Him. He knows that it is really they who are breaking the Sabbath and that He is the One who is going to pay the consequences. And that's what it means that He is our Savior. He knows that because of our sins, He will die. And He does it because He loves His Father and because by doing so He's going to take you from the low spot at the Lord's table to the high spot. Jesus knows that by Him keeping the Sabbath, your breaking the Sabbath will be forgiven. In fact, His keeping all of the commandments means all of your breaking them is going to be wiped out. Jesus knows that by humbling Himself, He will exalt you. That's what makes Him your Savior. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

September 22, 2010 - Wednesday of Trinity 16 - St. Luke 7:11-17

This poor woman! She trusted in the Lord's promise to provide for her and the oil and flour didn't run out. And then her son died! Why did the Lord save them only to let her son die? Was it because of her sin? Did she do something and so Elijah came to show her she was a sinner and let her son die? We think like that. We think God watches what we do and when the time is right, pays us back what we deserve. We think that when something's wrong, God is punishing us. And we make bargains. "Lord, if you make them better or make me better or make it work out how I want, I promise to go to church more or live a better life" or whatever. Our sinful flesh is afflicted with the idea that that is how the Lord operates: if you do bad, He'll punish you and if you do good, He'll reward you. So what did that woman do? What was her sin? Wrong question because that's NOT how the Lord works. He's NOT that kind of God.

What does St. Paul tell the Ephesians in our epistle lesson today? He wants them to know the love of Christ which passes all knowledge! He wants them to know how the Lord can do exceedingly abundantly beyond all they can even ask! When Paul writes to the Ephesians, he's reminding them of God's love for us in Christ. There's nothing bigger than that. There's nothing bigger than Jesus being sent to die for our sins. There's no payback that's coming. There's no retaliation by God. There's no keeping score. The fact is, God doesn't operate the way we do! Rather, His love is unfathomable in Christ. How can the Son of God become man and then die? And how can that death take away our sins? The widow is half right. The Lord doesn't kill her son to show her her sins. But He does suffer His own Son to die because of OUR sins! The Lord would never pay the widow back for her sins by letting her son die! But when the widow's son does die? That is for the Lord's mercy and glory to be shown!

What does Elijah do? He pleads for the widow and then the Lord answers his prayer and raises the boy from the dead. When the boy is dead, there is the Lord's chance to do beyond anything the widow can hope or desire. When there is death, the Lord brings life and that is far more than we would ever have expected the Lord to do. Consider the widow: she can figure that the Lord would kill her son because of some sin she has. But would she dare to hope the boy would be brought back to life? Just so, it is easy to think that death is a part of life. That the Lord is out to get us for our sins. That's our sinful flesh talking. But we could never in a million years imagine that instead of paying us back for our sins, God would send His Son to become man and die for them. And death DOES remind us of our sins, since it is because of sin that death is in the world. But we could never imagine in a million years that the Son of God who would die for our sins would then rise again on His own and have victory over death. Even Jesus' disciples whom He told that He was going to die and rise didn't believe until they had seen it! But there it is: The Lord raises the widow's son to life and He rises from the dead after taking away our sins!

Then what does the woman say? "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the Word of the Lord in your mouth is truth!" The miracle points her to the Word. Just so, Jesus' resurrection, His being alive, being seen by eyewitnesses, is our testimony that His Word is true. We haven't seen it with our own eyes but God, doing more than we can possibly imagine, gives us faith in this Jesus through the Word. By what appears to be ordinary water and bread and wine, the Lord gives us life where there was only sin and death. We would never imagine in a million years that the salvation accomplished for us by the dead and risen Jesus could be given to us as a gift with the splashing on of water and the word. We would never imagine that by bread and wine, we could eat and drink the flesh and blood of the Lamb of God. When we look at our lives and see our sin and death, God is not paying us back or punishing us. Rather, these afflictions are His opportunity to save us and demonstrate the height and width and depth of His love in Jesus Christ. Does death remind you of your sins? Do your sins trouble you? Then that's where the Lord is ready to save you. And He does, through His Son.

God is not a "gonna pay you back" kind of God. He is the merciful Father who has sent His Son to be our Savior. He didn't kill that widow's son to get her back for something. Rather, in the boy's death, His Word was glorified and shown to be the saving Word that it is, the Word that gives life. Just so to us. He is not waiting around to pay you back and give you what you've got coming. He's taken care of your sins in Christ. Now, by His Word, He gives you life and rescues you from sin and death. As St. Paul teaches us to confess: To Him be all glory in the church by Jesus Christ to all generations. Amen.

Monday, September 20, 2010

September 19, 2010 - The 16th Sunday after Trinity - St. Luke 7:11-17

When someone dies, what do you say? You get to stand in line at Searby's and then you finally get to the family and what stumbles out? “It'll be OK. Time will dull the pain. It's OK to cry. I'm sorry for your loss. We're praying for you. My condolences.” (What exactly ARE condolences anyway?) The fact is, when someone is dead, it's just uncomfortable and often we just try to say SOMETHING to be polite or caring or whatever. The truth is, death throws us for a loop. When it's a young person, it's all the more grievous. When it is an older person, often the sorrow is from the living's memory of a long life. When a person isn't a Christian, it's really tough. Even when they are it can still be awkward. And then there's Jesus. Jesus walking along with a crowd and his crowd bumps into a funeral procession coming out of the town of Nain. A widow no less whose loss of her only son is matched perhaps only by the sorrow that her husband is dead, too. So what does Jesus say? “Don't cry.” Are you kidding me? He had compassion on her and He said, “Don't cry?” What kind of compassion is that? I'll tell you. Jesus is the one person that can tell a widow who just lost her son not to cry and mean it. Because Jesus is the one person who really knows what's in store for death!

First of all, look what Jesus does. He stops the funeral procession and tells the young man to get up. His Word does what it says. Even His Word has power over death. But why? Because this is the One who gives life. But He doesn't just give life. He gives life because He defeats death. The time will come for Jesus to die, bloody and forsaken on a cross. And Jesus doesn't even get a nice funeral procession, just a quick wrap-Him-up and get Him in the grave before the Sabbath starts burial. Jesus has compassion on this woman because He knows what it will be for a mother to see her Son die! He knows the power of death because He will taste it Himself. And as the young man was carried out, so Jesus will be carried out and put into the tomb. But He does this for the young man. He does it for you. Jesus dies so that this young man can sit up and be given to His mother. He dies this young man's death instead. He dies your death instead so that He can raise you up on the Last Day. But He does it because He gets rid of our sins and then tramples down death. Our sins are left in the tomb on Easter. Christ is arisen and death runs away scared! When Jesus comes, death flees. It runs away. It has no power. It can't hurt. It is transformed into sleep, a nap until our Lord's return. This is what is going on here in Nain today. The Lord of Life, the One who will face down death and send it scurrying is the One whose word wakes a dead young man.

But as with so much of what Jesus does, His raising of this dead man and giving him to his mother also pictures something else. It pictures what He has done for you. You were born dead in trespasses and sins. But Christ has stepped up to your coffin, your body, and said, “Arise!” By the water and word of Holy Baptism, Christ has raised you from the dead and handed you to your Mother, who is His holy church. Just as Ashley and Noah today were raised from the death of sin to new life in Christ. This young man and his mother are given a second-chance at life by Jesus. His compassion overcomes her sorrow and gives her her son again. So in this life, we are given a second-chance. Rather than be born and die in sin, our Lord's compassion is to raise you to new life in the waters of baptism and give you another chance to live with your mother who will do the work of giving you Christ's forgiveness and getting you ready for a proper burial when you die, ready to be raised to life again on the Last Day. And what the crowds said when Jesus raised this boy has come true for you: A great prophet has arisen and God has visited His people. Yes indeed, a great prophet, the Son of God Himself has arisen. Not just showed up but risen from the dead! God has visited His people not only because He stood in their midst in His flesh but because He comes to us and visits us. Here, in His church by water, word, and body and blood, the Lord is among us to keep us in His faith and make us live by His promise of eternal life when He comes again on the Last Day and says, “I say to you, get up!”

So now, being Christians, we know how to answer the suffering of death. How can you have compassion when someone loses their loved one? What do you say when someone dies? What do you say when you come up to the family in that funeral home line? You look them in the eye and say, “Christ is risen!” For this is our confession, our triumph over death, that Christ has been raised and has destroyed death's power. To say “Christ is risen” is to throw into a room filled with death and sorrow, the one thing that destroys death's grip and sadness. Rock beats scissors and Jesus beats death and nothing beats Jesus. Against all the sadness and despair that death brings, we shout, “Christ is risen! Take that, death. Go ahead and put us to sleep. We'll wake when our Lord returns and then what? Life eternal. Yes, take that, death!” And what if the deceased is not a Christian? Then tell their loved ones the same thing: “Christ is risen!” For that is the only hope for anyone against death. When someone you know faces death, tell them, “Christ is risen!” When you face the death of a loved one or friend, hear that confession even in the midst of your tears: “Christ is risen!” And when death comes for you, and you are ready to fall asleep, then shout in death's face: “Christ is risen! Now I shall sleep but He will awaken me and I will be risen along with Him forever!”

You've heard, perhaps of “Christmas in July?” Well the story of the raising of the widow of Nain's son is Easter in September! Death is sad. Death is awkward. Death is tragic. Death brings tears. But death also brought the compassion of our Lord which means not only that He raises this widow's son but also tastes death Himself and rises on the third day to throw death down. “Don't cry,” says Jesus. And He means it. Because He knows that death is finished. And now, because death is finished, you won't be. You will rise from the dead and live forever by Christ's power that defeated death. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

September 15, 2010 - Wednesday of Trinity 15 - 1 Kings 17:8-16

What a strange thing! A selfish thing perhaps? Elijah needs taking care of, so the Lord sends him to a widow who is about to bake the last bit of bread she has before she and her son sit down to starve to death. And Elijah, rather than helping her and giving her some food or some money instead tells her: “Make me some bread first.” Who does Elijah think he is? Well, of course, he's a prophet. He's a man of God. She's just a poor gentile woman. Of course she ought to provide for him. No, that's not what's going on. Rather, the Lord is making sure this woman has a preacher of God's Word. And He is making sure the preacher is taken care of. The Lord wants His Word to be proclaimed in Israel so he makes sure Elijah is provided for. But He also makes sure that the woman is able to provide for him. And so there is the promise: the flour and oil will not run out. And they didn't. There was always more. Enough for Elijah and the widow and her son. The Lord provides.

Let's make sure we understand what's going on here. The woman teaches us faith. St. Paul says to share all good things with the one who teaches us the Word. Jesus says to seek first God's kingdom and righteousness and all the other stuff will follow. Elijah and the widow are NOT demonstrating TV preacher theology. That's the kind of preaching that says IF you give God something, He'll give you even more back. IF you are faithful, then God will repay your faith with lots of blessings. It's on you. You give it up for God and He'll look out for you. That's not what giving offerings and supporting God's preachers is all about! Rather, it's the exercise of faith. The widow doesn't feed Elijah because she'll get a new car out of the deal. She feeds him, trusting that if she gives up that little bit of flour and oil, He'll still provide for her. It's the same way with our offerings. We don't support the church because we hope to get something in return. We do it to exercise faith, trusting that if I give my ten percent to the Lord's work, He'll make sure the rest will be enough to provide for me. And notice that the widow doesn't get all kinds of riches and material things. She just gets enough flour and oil to take care of her each day. Her daily bread and Elijah's.

But this story is more than just a nice story about offerings. No, we look closer to see in this the picture of Christ caring for His church. Here you have a woman and her son and the Lord makes sure that the flour and oil never run out. When our Lord goes to the cross for our sins, the blood and water that flow from His side don't dry up! Rather, He provides for His church water and blood that continue to flow into the font and into the cup to feed us until the famine of this life is over. With the Lord, there is always more. Always more of the forgiveness and promises of our baptism. Your baptism doesn't expire, just as that jar of flour didn't run out! Always more Jesus in His body and blood. The body and blood of Christ never get used up. They are always here and available to feed and strengthen us, to forgive our sins and to give us the promise of being raised up on the Last Day.

Look at the situation with Elijah and the widow. There was a famine in Israel. Elijah was one of the few left who preached the Lord's word faithfully. During that time, the Lord made sure Israel had a preachers and the preacher was taken care of and that the woman had her daily bread. Whether it was Elijah or the woman and her son, the Lord was the one taking care of them. Just so today Christ's church finds itself in the midst of a famine where God's Word is hardly heard in the world and the world hates those who preach the Gospel. And just as the Lord provided for the widow and her son, so He provides for the church and her sons and daughters—you! The Lord sent His Son to die for your sins and even if the world doesn't care one bit, the Lord makes sure that forgiveness is being given out in His holy church. Here in the church is the place where the Jesus who died and rose for you makes sure you have enough forgiveness to last for forever. While the world around us hates Christ and has nothing to do with God's word, the Lord provides for His people. While outside His church, there is a famine of God's Word, nothing to give the world life and keep it alive, yet in His church, the Lord provides flour and oil, that is, forgiveness and life through His Word and Sacraments to give us such food as to forgive our sins and strengthen us even unto life everlasting.

The widow caring for Elijah is reminiscent of when the Lord, on the cross, gave His mother into the care of St. John and John into His mother's care. There is a picture of Christ caring for His church and preachers. The preachers preach the Gospel to the church, delivering to her the gifts of forgiveness that Christ has won for her. The church, in turn, cares for her preachers, providing for them and caring for them. In this way, the Lord is taking care of all of His people. That's why we don't have to worry about what we eat and drink and all that, as Jesus said in the Gospel lesson. After all, if God did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not make sure we've got some daily bread to keep us going? This, dear Christians, is what our Lord has in mind for us: not to worry and get all worked up over the stuff of this world because He gives to us eternal gifts which last long after this world has passed away!

It seems rude or even crazy that Elijah would ask a starving woman to feed him first. And yet what's even more unbelievable is that she does! That is the faith that comes from the Lord's promises. Sure, she's not so certain at first; she tells Elijah she's got nothing. That's a great confession. I've got nothing. The Lord teaches her and us to say, “I've got nothing.” And then He makes sure the flour and oil never run out, the forgiveness never quits, never runs out, never dries up. Yes, with the Lord there is always more and He is always making sure we have enough. Enough for this life. Enough for the life to come. The Lord grant us faith as this widow to trust in our Lord to provide, knowing He does provide all things to us in His Son, knowing that the Lord's gifts never run out. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September 12, 2010 - The 15th Sunday after Trinity - St. Matthew 6:24-34

Mammon. You can't live with it. You can't live without it. Or something like that. Jesus says you can't be a slave to God and to mammon. And oh, aren't we slaves to our mammon. What is “mammon” exactly? I think we can use the technical translation of the word “mammon:” “stuff!” We are slaves to our stuff. Our Lord tells us not to stop worrying about our mammon, our stuff. Our clothes. Our food. Our homes and cars we try to keep repaired and in shape. We're just not supposed to get all worked up about all that stuff. Perhaps the answer is to get a little bit more mammon. You know, if we just have a little more money or stuff, we'll be comfortable. Not true. Remember when you didn't used to make as much as you do now? We worried about our stuff back then and we worry now. OK, so maybe the answer is to have less stuff. Get rid of some of it. That way there's less to worry about. Except we need our stuff don't we? Some of us worry because we don't have enough cars to get everyone where we need to go. Some of us worry how we're going to pay the insurance on that third or fourth car. The fact is this: it doesn't matter if we have a little bit of stuff or lots of stuff. No matter how much we have, we're going to worry about it. You know why? Because the problem isn't our stuff. The problem is us. Our lack of faith. Our unbelief. The sinful fear that the Lord isn't going to take care of us and so we'd better work it our for ourselves.

The reason such worry is sinful is not because mammon is bad. Money. Houses. Boats. Boardgames. Hunting gear. Cell phones. Computers. Clothing. Food. None of that stuff is bad. What's bad is that we worry about it. We get consumed by it. We daydream about it. We worry about how we'll get more of the stuff we love. We worry about how we'll afford and keep the stuff we have. The reason our worry is sinful is not because our stuff is bad. Our worry is sinful because we make the stuff more important than the Lord. Because we don't trust in the Lord to give us what we need. Because we worry more about our stuff that we do about the God and His Word. Because we spend more time worrying about our stuff than using our stuff to help and serve others. At the root of it, our problem is our unbelief. If we truly believe the Lord takes care of us, we'd never worry a minute about our bills or bank accounts or our stuff. We would rejoice in whatever the Lord gives us and instead live like the lillies and the birds, not paying any attention to that stuff at all but trusting in the Lord to take care of whatever we need. So repent, dear Christians! Repent that you don't live like a lilly or a bird. Repent that you worry about your stuff. Repent that you don't seek the Lord's righteousness and kingdom as the most important thing!

What does Jesus say? He says, “You can't serve two masters. Therefore don't worry about all that stuff. Don't worry about clothing and food and mammon.” Oh, sure, easy for HIM to say! But let's consider WHY Jesus says not to worry about all that stuff. The reason we don't need to worry about it is because He Himself rescues us from our worrying about mammon. The Bible says, “If God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not graciously give us all things?” And elsewhere, “He was made poor that we might become rich in Him.” The truest, bestest, most lasting treasure that God has for you is that He sent His Son to live and die and rise for you. The Good News of what Christ has done for you is the most valuable treasure you can have. And it's not something you have to worry about or work for or earn or hoard. Your Lord's life, death, resurrection and forgiveness are His gift to you. His saving gift. The Lord rescues us from our love of mammon by being winning for us the treasure of the forgiveness of sins. A treasure so great it even covers up and wipes out our love of mammon!

So now, brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoice in your clothes and your food! NOT the clothing and food of this life. The Lord's got that covered. Rather, let the big deal be the clothing and food that the Lord gives you in Christ. Who cares about the latest fashions when you have been clothed with the robe of Christ's righteousness in your baptism? There are no clothes in this world that can match the beauty of the garments with which the Lord dresses you in Christ. The Lord doesn't care whether you are clothed in Georgio Armani or what was on sale at Wal-Mart! He delights that you are robed and covered in Christ, so that when He looks at you, He sees His Son, and sees you as His child. And food! The food of this world satisfies for awhile but then we need more. It can't even come close to the holy food of Jesus' Body and Blood that He has given us to eat and to drink. Our Lord doesn't care whether you're eating an expensive meal at a gourmet steakhouse or whether you're munching on a value meal. What He's most concerned to give you is His Son's Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. A Big Mac won't make you live forever but Christ's Body and Blood have the Lord's promise that when you eat and drink it He lives in you and you in Him and He will raise you up on the Last Day. Your Baptismal robe and the Body and Blood of Jesus: there's clothing and food that lasts forever and is more valuable than anything you'll eat or wear in this life. There is clothing and food that makes you more beautiful than the lillies and more satisfied than the birds.

So having that Savior, having that forgiveness, having such clothing and such food as Christ gives you, STOP WORRYING! OK, now wait a minute. That's easier said than done, isn't it? How do we stop worrying? Jesus tells us: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” What does that mean? Seeking God's kingdom is nothing other than living in your baptism. Confessing your sins—including your worry and mammon-loving—and living in the forgiveness of Jesus. It means daily putting on that baptismal robe and coming often to feast upon that food that gives life and salvation. In short, seeking first God's kingdom means nothing other than living from the Lord's gifts: your Baptism, His absolution, His Supper, His Word. The more you receive those gifts, the more the Spirit will turn your heart and trust away from your stuff to faith and trust in Christ. And then all the rest of that won't bother you. The Lord will take care of it. Live, then, dear Christian, in Christ's church, dressed with Jesus and fed with Jesus.

Finally, our Lord says, “Don't worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough of it's own trouble.” Brothers and sisters in Christ: You have a Savior. And because of Him you have a heavenly Father. The same Lord who makes the lillies beautiful and makes worms pop up for the little birdies is the same Lord who has sent His His Son and made you beautifully dressed in Him and feeds you with His Son's flesh and blood. Seriously? Clothing and food? Mammon? That stuff is nothing compared to the surpassing riches and glory that you have been given in Jesus Christ! Live like the lillies and the birds. For after all, you are way more valuable to your heavenly Father for you are the ones for whom the Lord Himself came to live and die and rise. So give thanks for the stuff God gives you. And live in the gifts He gives you in Christ. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

September 8, 2010 - Wednesday of Trinity 14 - Galatians 5:16-24

(Remember, different sermons for Wesdnesdays than for Sundays!)

There's only one thing for you because of your sin. Death. You've got to die. You've got to be crucified. Your sinful flesh is selfish: All those works of the flesh that St. Paul lists, adultery, hatred, envy, jealousy, murder, and all that—it's all selfishness. It's all about you. And the solution to that selfishness is not a self-help program. The answer for all your hating God and hating your neighbor isn't try harder. It's not fix yourself or twelve steps of anything. Only one thing is going to get rid of it. It's got to be killed. You see, the Lord isn't in the business of changing sinners. He kills sinners. That's what sin brings. Sin means death as the direct curse and punishment from God Himself. So you're a sinner. You have sinful flesh. Born dead and corrupt, unable to love God and unable to love your neighbor. There's only one solution: kill it. Crucify it. Make it dead. God kills sinners. When His Son took upon Himself all the sins of the world, what happened? He died. So it must go with your sinful flesh. God kills sinners. But He does it even by making them alive in Christ Jesus so that the death of your sinful flesh is not the last word but the life that He gives you in Christ.

St. Paul says, “You have crucified your sinful flesh with its passions and desires.” This death has already happened. Crucifixion is nasty business. It was a torturous form of death. But crucifying of your sinful flesh begins with Jesus' death for your sins. He is crucified as a common criminal to show that He was “numbered with the transgressors,” that is, treated not like the Son of God but like a common thief and sinner. On the cross, the Father beheld His Son not as pure and holy but as a sinner, covered in YOUR sins; but on that cross, they were HIS sins. His idolatry, adultery, greed, murder, and every other sin and wickedness. On that cross, not only our sin but our death was His. The very curse of sin which we are under was on Jesus so that He not only suffered terribly, He also died. And that is the beginning of our sinful flesh's crucifixion, when Jesus undergoes being crucified.

But St. Paul writes in the book of Romans that when we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into His death and resurrection. That means that because you are baptized into Christ, the crucifying of your sinful flesh doesn't happen on a cross but at the font. There, with water and the Word, just as your sins became Christ's so His crucifixion becomes yours. Your death of sin is given to Jesus and His death of salvation is given to you. And as He had power over that sin and death by rising the third day, so your Baptism gives you new life and makes you a new creation in Christ. God doesn't change sinners, He kills them. He killed your sinful flesh at the font by water and the Spirit. And He raised you to new life by that same Spirit who comes to you through water and the Word. By crucifying your sinful flesh, and making you a new creation in Christ, the Lord is saving you from sin and death! As Paul says, those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. So the Lord gives you His Spirit in Holy Baptism so that by Christ you will triumph over that sinful flesh. If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law that condemns and kills any longer!

Now, all those fruits—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control—these are what the Spirit is at work in you bringing about. And notice something: Just as the works of the flesh are all about selfishness, so the fruits of the Spirit are worked in you by the Spirit for the good of others. Anger, for example, is all about you: you don't like someone or something and you're upset about it. But patience, longsuffering, is about your neighbor, bearing with them in love and not holding their sins against them. Adultery and fornication come as the result of our lusting and desiring to have things our way. Self-control, on the other hand, is worked in us by the Spirit so that we don't run all over others by our selfish living. Idolatry comes because our flesh hates God. But faithfulness is worked in us by the Spirit so that we trust in Christ and live from His forgiveness and good gifts. And so it goes. The works of the our sinful flesh are obvious: they are the things that please us and don't care about anyone else. The fruits of the Spirit, however, are the Spirit's working through us. And how does that happen? When the flesh is crucified, killed, and gotten rid of and when we are given the Spirit. Where does that happen? In Christ's holy church where each day that Old Adam drowns in our Baptism. Where the Absolution delivers us from the judgment of the Law by proclaiming that we are forgiven. By the Body and Blood of Christ by which our Savior ourselves dwells in us with the holy and sinless flesh by which He Himself saved us from our sins.

The Christian life isn't about figuring out what we do wrong and trying to fix it ourselves! The Christian life is about repentance and faith. True repentance cries out for the Lord's mercy to rescue us from the works of our sinful flesh which makes us not do what we want to do! And true faith clings to Christ who, by His forgiveness, works in us by His Spirit to produce those good fruits in us. There is the Christian life: to have our sinful flesh crucified over and over. That guy's gotta die! And to live by the Spirit, which means to live by the Word and Sacraments where forgiveness is given out and the Spirit works in us to glorify God and love and serve our neighbor. You have crucified your flesh. Because Christ was crucified for you. And you are Baptized into Him. And now the Spirit dwells in you. And your fruits are His, and they are good. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

September 5, 2010 - The 14th Sunday after Trinity - St. Luke 17:11-19

When people hear this story, they often think that the Samaritan was thankful and the other nine lepers weren't. They suppose that the Samaritan has the good manners enough to come back and say thanks to Jesus. And, they suppose, that's what Jesus wants: people to come back and show Him some good manners. But that's not what Jesus says. He says, “Did only one come back to give glory to God?” Give glory to God? What is that? Does that mean the Samaritan came back and told Jesus how great He is? Is that giving glory to God? Telling Him how great He is? A lot of what passes for “worship” in the church today is just that: people getting all worked up and telling God how great He is. Is the Lord really so vain? Does He really need us to remind Him of how awesome and wonderful He is? Is the Lord so insecure that He has to wonder why only one guy came back to tell Him how great He is? Of course not. But that means that giving glory to God means something other than us just complimenting God and having good manners. No, to glorify the Lord is to come and receive what He has for us because He always has more for us. He never stops giving and our receiving His gifts is what His glory is all about. You, receiving from the Lord's gracious hand, forgiveness, life and salvation, are what God's glory is all about. God is most thanked, most glorified, when you receive and enjoy the gifts He has for you!

The problem with the other nine isn't that they aren't happy or satisfied or thankful. They were healed of their leprosy, after all. Do we think they didn't know that? They got from Jesus what they wanted. But the sad thing about them is not that they didn't write Jesus some thank-you notes but that they didn't seem to realize that Jesus was the one with more than just healing. He also had forgiveness and life. The thing that the other nine miss out on is the joyous proclamation that Jesus spoke to the Samaritan: “Arise, go, your faith has saved you.” What the nine lepers who didn't come back missed out on is the absolution for their sins that Jesus had for this Samaritan who was confessing that there was more to Jesus than just curing their leprosy. Yes, they got what they wanted. They were made better. They were healed of the awful disease of leprosy. And that was enough for them. Or else they didn't think Jesus had any more beyond what they wanted. But with the Lord there is always more. With the Lord it's not: receive what you need and then go on your merry way. With the Lord it's: receive His healing. Receive His forgiveness. His life. His salvation. Everything and more that He has for you!

Jesus has healed you. He has healed you by dying for you. On the cross, Jesus was afflicted with the leprosy of your sin, that is, covered in your sins and under the burden of God's judgment. As a leper must be kept away from people, so Jesus was hung outside the city while people kept their distance and shouted at Him and mocked him like a common criminal or dirty leper. On Calvary, Jesus became the man no one wanted to be around, the one who was unclean with our sins. And by taking on human flesh to suffer and die, the Son of God cleanses us from our sinful flesh, healing us, making us new and making us clean. In the waters of Holy baptism, Jesus speaks the word that we are healed. By absolution and the Supper He cleanses us from our sins. Over and over. Not just once but your whole life. God's glory isn't that He lays upon you the burden of telling Him how great He is all the time. His glory is that you are saved! Rescued from sin and death. Cleansed from the leprosy of sin. It is the glory of Almighty God, His very delight, that you have come to faith in His Son and live by His Word and gifts. And that is our life as Christians, to live as this leper: to receive from the Lord His gifts and keep coming back for more. Each Sunday. Now on Wednesday. Wherever and whenever His Word is preached and His body and blood given out, come and receive it.

So what about the other nine? What about them? Are they saved? Are their sins forgiven? I don't know. All I know is what the Gospel says: The Samaritan came back and Jesus told Him He was saved. As for the other nine? The Bible doesn't say anything else about them so how can we? What we can say and know for sure is that the Samaritan was saved because Jesus' word told Him that. What then of those who come to receive something from Jesus and then disappear? What of those who have been baptized and taught the faith and confirmed and they just stop coming? What of them? I don't know. There are many who will tell you they believe in Jesus and are Christians and yet they never come to the place where Jesus is saying, “Arise, go, your faith has saved you.” There are many who claim they've gotten something from Jesus and yet they never come back to glorify God by receiving more. I can't say anything about them other than that they aren't here and so they can't hear the absolution. But for you who are here, here is more Jesus. Here is the absolution that says you are saved through faith in Christ Jesus. Here is the preaching that declares that you are the Lord's. Here is the clean and pure flesh of Christ given you to eat and His blood to drink to cleanse you from all your sins. And after that? After today? There's always more. Always more Jesus with always more of His forgiveness and gifts of life and salvation. To live as a Christian is not to get what you need from God and go your merry way. It is to be called back to Jesus over and over because He is the One who has all that you need for this life and the life to come, given to you as a gift.

Today we rejoice that the Lord has brought these new members into His church and into this congregation. But He's not doing it so that we can yell how great He is even louder. As if the Lord needs more cheerleaders! Besides, Jesse is a football player, not a cheerleader! No, He has brought them to us because they, like us, need what the Samaritan leper needed: healing from our sickness, healing from our sins. They, like we, have been gathered here by the Lord to hear these words of Good News: “Arise. Be alive. Be clean. Your faith has saved you.” Jesus has saved you. Now we kneel at the Lord's altar as the Samaritan did, to give thanks, that is, to have the Eucharist. And that is to glorify God: to receive from Him the good things He has for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.