Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31, 2010 - The Festival of the Reformation - St. John 8:31-36

Today is the Festival of the Reformation. So what? Why is it important? Why do we celebrate it? Because it's the story of how the Lord brought the Good News of the forgiveness of sins for Jesus' sake back to the center of the church's life and faith. And He did it by a man named Martin Luther. Here's the really, really short version of the story: Martin Luther was a monk. He prayed seven times a day, studied the scriptures and scrubbed the floors of the monastery. He figured that by living that way, he could make up for his sins. He tried and tried but never felt at peace. His sins always troubled him. One day, his father confessor told him, “Martin, just believe that Jesus died for you already!” He then sent Luther to become a college professor and teach on the Psalms As Martin Luther read the Bible, he began to realize that God wasn't out to get him but save him through His Son Jesus. On October 31, 1517, he nailed the 95 Theses or Statements on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany in order to call others to debate the topic. The gist of these these was this: If Jesus died for our sins, you can't buy forgiveness! Well, when the Pope got wind of that and tried to get rid of Luther but the German princes, convinced of the truth of God's Word, defended Luther and confessed that they also believed salvation was only through Jesus Christ. It went on from there and eventually Luther was thrown out of the Roman church by the Pope. (And put under order of execution, too, but it never happened). The thing to remember is this: Luther never LEFT the church. He was in the church because the church is where the Gospel is preached. The Popes and bishops over the years had left the church by their wrong teaching. Luther called them back, but they ignored him.

So what? What's the point? Well, the thing the Reformation taught us, was that the heart and life of the church is Jesus Christ and what He has done for us. And Luther dared to do what no one else usually does. He not only preached repentance for our sins, He preached repentance for our good works! Or to put it another way: The Word of God calls you to turn away from your sins. Your not loving God. Your not loving your neighbor. Repent of it! Be sorry for it! But more than that, the Word of God also calls us to repent of being self-righteous, too! If you think that you are somehow better than someone else because of how you live or act, repent of that too! God's Word teaches us to repent of thinking that we are good enough or can BE good enough to cancel out our sins and overcome God's judgment against us. Martin Luther reminded us from the Scriptures that our whole life as Christians is one of repentance. That is, we are so ruined by sin that we could never get ourselves straightened out, could never get rid of our sins and could never please God and love Him. Only one thing will save us: not our good works, not our efforts, not our intentions, not money spent on indulgences (pieces of paper that said your sins were forgiven because you spent money)--none of that! Martin Luther taught from God's Word that the only thing that can save us is Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior.

Martin Luther taught from the Scriptures that the heart and center of our faith and life as Christians is Jesus Christ. He who is true God and true man is our Savior from sin and death. As Jesus says to the Jews in today's Gospel: You will know the truth and the truth will set you free? What is the truth? Jesus is! The truth is that He has come and lived for us and suffered and died for us and risen again from the dead. His suffering and death paid the price for our sins. Not only that, He paid for our self-righteousness too! The Good News of the Reformation was the Good News that was preached ages before by Jeremiah and fulfilled by Jesus Christ. God says, “I will forgive their iniquity and I will remember their sins no more!” Did you hear? God doesn't remember your sins! Because Jesus died on the cross, your sins are forgotten! We remember our sins and they trouble us. We like to remember other people's sins to throw them back in their face. But when it comes to the Lord, there is no remembering your sins. Big or small, what you've thought, or said or done, it is forgotten for the sake of the blood of the Lamb of God who gave himself into death for you. Martin Luther was troubled because he kept remembering some other sin he had done. What joy when he discovered in God's Word that God Himself has forgotten all those sins for Jesus' sake.

But Martin Luther also made sure that people knew where they could be certain about this Lord who has forgiven them! He could not say enough to praise and rejoice in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, preaching Christ, and the Holy Supper. He constantly emphasized, as your pastor should, that we are certain that God has forgiven our sins only where His Word is faithfully preached, where Baptism is received as a gift and where His Body and Blood are present in the Sacrament of the Altar. Luther taught that we are saved by grace through faith, but that faith isn't just sort of “out there.” It's faith that lives daily confessing sins and receiving forgiveness. It's faith that daily marks us with the sign of the cross to remember our Baptism. It's faith that takes every opportunity to feast upon Christ's flesh and blood. It's faith that runs to do good works for others as its fruit and result. Luther had not patience for those who learned the Gospel and then stopped coming to church or who never bothered to learn their Catechism or study God's Word because all that says is that such people don't really believe. But Luther saw, as we do today, that we suffer many things in this life: sickness, trouble, anxiety, worry, doubt and fear. Against all these tricks of the devil, Luther and the pastors who preach what he preached, will point you in your tribulations to these gifts of Christ. You are baptized. Absolved. Fed with the Supper of Christ's Body and Blood. All of these gifts are God's promise to you that He has truly and forever forgotten your sins.

Now, Martin Luther didn't accomplish these things all by himself. Do you know who helped him? Godly laymen who stood up for the Gospel! The Reformation wasn't just about the preachers preaching the right thing. It was also about all of God's people learning the Word and supporting and defending it. That's why, as a Christian, God gives you two main tasks in His church. The first is to hear and learn the Word of God. That's for your comfort and salvation. Again, I urge you, that if you know nothing more than what you vaguely remember from Catechism years ago don't fell bad or embarrassed; just repent and begin learning more and growing in God's Word. Come to Bible Study. Come to Catechesis on Wednesdays. Read your Bible every day and your Lutheran Confessions. Take the responsibility the Lord has given you to know what His Word says and to make sure that's what your pastor is preaching! But secondly, the Lord has given you the task of making sure that the Gospel is preached and has a place to be preached. Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Gospel and Sacraments are life-giving treasures and the Lord has given to you the duty of making sure they can be given out. What joy it is to have such a treasure here! And such a church with a building and property where this Gospel can be preached! Rejoice, brothers and sisters that the Lord has made you a part of this church and congregation so that you can know the certainty of your salvation and live with many opportunities to bear fruit in caring for each other! Martin Luther couldn't have done what he did without the support of godly laypeople. Your pastor can't preach and teach without your support, either, and that means for our whole life together as God's people!

Repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus' Name. That's the message of the Reformation. That was what Martin Luther preached. Because that's what the Scriptures deliver. Repentance for our sins and faith and trust in that forgiveness that is given to us for Jesus' sake. He tells the Jews who believed in Him, “If you abide in my Word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” Christ has died and risen for you. He has baptized you. He has forgiven you. He has fed you. And He will keep doing so that you may always know that the Son has set you free indeed! Thanks be to Martin Luther and every other faithful preacher before or since who has delivered Jesus faithfully by preaching and the Sacraments so that God's people would have life. Happy Reformation in the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 27, 2010 - Wednesday of Trinity 21 - Ephesians 6:10-17

Unless you have family or close friends deployed with our military, it's easy to forget there's a war going on. Sure, the news has reports of soldier deaths or some action we're fighting in Afghanistan or somewhere else but it is still easy to be so wrapped up in what's going on here at home that we don't really pay attention to what's going on over there and far away. And if it's so easy to pay so little attention to a war that is brought into our living rooms on TV, how much more so a war we cannot see! I'm talking about the spiritual warfare of which we are a part. St. Paul reminds us that our battle is not against flesh and blood. It's against the evil powers in the heavenly places, that is, against Satan and his angels who seek to tear us away from Christ and bring us down to hell. Pay attention, brothers and sisters! This battle is real. And it involves you and those you love and those around you. For the Devil seeks to destroy you any way he can!

Yes, the Evil One is alive and well and has your destruction as his goal. He, along with your sinful flesh and the world around you, work hard to rob you of your faith in Jesus Christ, of salvation and eternal life. They seek to bring you into prideful self-righteousness that no longer needs a Savior or else dark despair in which you think the Savior couldn't possibly save you. The powers of darkness work in any way they can upon you. Perhaps its the temptation to some particular sin: a constant worry after money, a vicious and hurtful temper, lusts that are inflamed by looking at filth when no one else is around. The powers of evil can combine to assault you with sickness, disease, trouble and sadness. Most of all, the devil seeks to stir up in you a complete indifference to your sin, so that you have no need of repentance. Or else such a terror over your sin that you cannot imagine your Savior could take it away. Physically and mentally and spiritually, the evil powers of darkness are working to destroy you and bring you down into eternal death and the judgment of God under which they exist. What we so often attribute to others is really just the devil using others to stir us up to sin!St. Paul is not joking around when he tells us that these are the real source of our battles in this life.

So how do we fight? How do we survive against such enemies. St. Paul tells us: “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” We don't fight with OUR strength and OUR might. We stand in Christ and in His power. And that is the power of the Son of God who has defeated sin, death and the devil. Jesus came and fought the devil and defeated him for us. He was tempted in every way yet without sin. He battled the devil in the wilderness with no weapons other than His Word. On the cross, Jesus knew the despair and forsakenness that comes from the judgment of the Father against sins and He endured it for you. By shedding His blood for your sins, Christ has robbed Satan of his ability to accuse you. By His defeat of the evil one, the Lord has accomplished a victory in which you stand, having power over the evil one. By His triumph over death, Christ has made even the end result of sin a weak and powerless thing. When Paul says to stand in the strength of Christ, this is what he means: all that Christ has done for you to defeat sin, death and devil is yours. It is your strength in Christ.

So put on the armor of God! The armor that He supplies is all the gifts of Christ. Clothed with Christ in Baptism, you have the armor of God on. The Gospel, salvation, righteousness, faith—all of these gifts Christ gives you to defend you against the evil one. When the devil assaults you and tries to tell you that you have no salvation, that your sins aren't forgiven, that you are not a Christian, you have the helmet of salvation and the breastplate of righteousness, Christ's righteousness that say otherwise. Your Baptism and Christ's Body and Blood and the Absolution deny the devil his lies. When sickness and death and trouble are sent to harm you, the shield of faith extinguishes those flaming arrows as we trust in Christ and in our heavenly Father. Whatever the devil can throw at us, it cannot truly harm us because we are shielded and protected by Christ's gifts.

But there is offense too. And for that we wield the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. The Roman sword, which St. Paul probably had in mind, was the gladius, a short sword used by the Roman soldiers for up close and personal fighting, using it to deadliest effect by thrusting it up under the enemy's ribcage! Sounds violent! But then so is our battle against the forces of evil in the heavenly places! But the Sword of the Spirit is the Word of God. To speak God's Word is to drive the devil away. In times of temptation, sickness, trouble and even death, the Word of God not only defends us, it sends the devil and his angels running. “I am Baptized! My sins are forgiven! Christ's Body and Blood is in me!” The Word of God that is preached, that declares your sins forgiven and that has washed and fed you—that Word is what you use to fight off and beat back the attacks of the evil one. Whether they are of the physical type or mental or spiritual, the Word of God drives Satan back and prevents him from truly hurting you, no matter what you suffer. Satan can throw everything he has at you and still you can block and parry and fight back with God's Word, driving him away. God's Word drives off the devil. That is the power of Christ who is the Word made flesh. The Sword of the Spirit is Christ Himself who, through His Word, once again battles and defeats Satan and wins for you.

Our fight is not against the things of this world. The things of this life that we think are the enemy are just the tools and agents of the evil one who wants to overthrow God's kingdom and destroy you. But he has no power. It's been taken from Him by our Lord Jesus Christ. But he thinks we don't know that and so he comes after us, trying to trick us into thinking we are weak and powerless against him. But stand! Stand in the Lord and the power of His might. Stand in blood of the cross. In the empty tomb. In the water of your Baptism. In the words of Absolution. In the Body and Blood of Jesus. In the Holy Scriptures. Stand in those things and you cannot be toppled because the devil cannot topple Christ. And He cannot topple you who are in Christ. Christ's victory is your victory now and forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 24, 2010 - The 21st Sunday after Trinity - St. John 4:46-54

God's Word does what it says. Think about that for a second. If the Lord says something, it happens. If the Lord declares something, then it is so. If the Lord speaks, it is accomplished. His Word doesn't wait for our faith. It doesn't come with conditions or strings attached. When the Lord speaks, that is what is so. Parents and kids know what this is like a little bit. A parent says something to a child and the child asks “why?” And the answer? Mom or Dad says, “Because I said so.” Just because Mom or Dad said it, that makes it so. How much more God's Word which speaks creation into existence and which declares our sins forgiven. How much more God's Word doing what it says when it condemns to judgment or pronounces a “not guilty” verdict for Jesus' sake?

Brothers and sisters in Christ: Never think God's Word—either in the Bible or preached and taught—is an idle Word. A Word that doesn't do anything or doesn't matter one way or the other. Everything depends on God's Word doing what it says and being true. You know, there are two ways to look at God's Word. One way, the WRONG way is to think of God's Word as just facts and ideas. Just so much more “information.” Take it or leave it. The choice is up to you. What is the Bible? What is the sermon? Some would say it's presenting some facts for you to learn and say, “Yes, I believe that” or “No, I reject that.” But that's not what God's Word is. Not just facts to learn. God's Word is what He speaks to accomplish what He wants done. Consider the creation. How was it done? God spoke and it was. “Let there be” and it came into existence. When Jesus says, “Your son lives,” then the man's son lives, from the very moment that Word is spoken. And that is the Word that creates faith, for when the man saw that the Word did what it said, he believed. That's how His Word works: He speaks and it happens. St. Paul calls God's Word a sword. It can slash and hack and fight off the enemy: Satan and our sinful flesh.. God's Word isn't just words on a page; it's the power of God by which He does what He does.

God's Word can do something else that facts and ideas can't do. God's Word can become flesh. The eternal Son of God, the Word of God from all eternity, became flesh and dwelt among us. Christ is God's Word. If you want to know what God has to say, pay attention to Jesus. If you want to know what God is up to, pay attention to Jesus. If you want to know what God says about you, pay attention to Jesus. And so we look at Christ and what do we hear the Lord saying? He says He has come to seek and to save the lost. He says He goes to suffer and die and rise again. He says He goes to prepare a place for you. He says that He has come to do the will of the Father which is to save sinners. He says if you eat His Body and drink His Blood, you will live forever. He says that you are saved by what He has done. He says your salvation is finished. He says He will come again. What the Father says is not hidden or difficult but simple: that for the sake of His Son, Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven and you are a child of God.

But His Word doesn't stop there. After Christ's ascension, His apostles and preachers went into all the world, bringing that Word that does stuff. The Word of God says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That Word doesn't just say something ABOUT you. It actually DOES something in you and to you, namely, forgive your sins and put God's name on you. “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” That is not just some fact, “Jesus died for you. Accept that.” No, absolution IS God's Word which actually wipes away your sins and declares you “not guilty” before the Lord. “Take eat; this is my body, given for you. Take drink; this is my blood, shed for you” doesn't just relay some historical facts. Those words actually bring Christ's Body and Blood along with the bread and wine to your mouth so that you can eat and drink the flesh and blood of the One who promises to raise you from the dead on the Last Day. The preaching of Christ isn't just some history lesson. A sermon is the very proclamation by which the King says something to you that is true and happens: you have a Savior. Your sins are forgiven. Just as much as that man's son was healed by Jesus at the very moment He spoke, so your sinful flesh is put to death by the Law of God and so your sins are taken away whenever Christ's Word is spoken to you. Because the Lord's Word does what it says.

Now you know, many people like to say, “If only God would speak today. If only He would give a sign.” Some even listen for God. They think that if they are quiet enough or meditate enough, they will hear God speak. There are churches that have a “quiet time” during church for you to listen for God. There are churches that do signs and miracles so you can know something about God. There are churches where you can learn to listen to God actually whisper in your ear! But these are all looking –and listening—in the wrong place. Jesus says, “You will never believe unless you see signs and wonders.” So what does He do? Does He go and heal the man's son? No, instead, He teaches the man to trust in His Word by speaking His Word and leaving it at that. “Your son lives.” And from that moment, the son was no longer dying. There is a great temptation to wonder about the things in life and how they point to God or not. People are easily persuaded that coincidences must somehow be interpreted as signs from God. I heard of a lady after Hurricane Katrina whose neighbors' houses were both destroyed but hers wasn't because she had prayed. What's the sign? Her faith was strong? I know others, a pastor even, who lost most of what he had. What does that sign mean? Your cancer went away: what does that mean God is doing? Your cancer came back: what does THAT mean. Don't look at the things that happen in your life to see about what God says. Rather, look to the Word and signs that Christ has actually given us. Hurricane or no hurricane; cancer or no cancer; Your Baptism says you are God's child. Money or no money, problems or everything's going great: Christ's Body and Blood say you will be raised up on the Last Day and live forever. Christ's WORD is what is sure and certain because it does what it says. And His Word says you are His, no matter what the world says.

God's Word does what it says. That's Good News. It's Good News because it means that when He gathers us here in His church, it isn't just to learn some facts. It's not just to pump us full of knowledge. Here, in His church, Christ comes to us to actually do stuff. To forgive. To renew. To make us a new creation that glorifies Him and loves and serves our neighbor. Here, the Lord speaks and actually does what He says, bestowing upon us the forgiveness of sins, salvation and everlasting life. We are bombarded every day on TV and radio and in school and our jobs with “information.” But here there is much more than information. Here God's Word speaks and life is given to you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 20, 2010 - Wednesday of Trinity 20 - Isaiah 55:1-9

“My thoughts are not your thoughts and My ways are not your ways,” says the Lord. No kidding! Was there any doubt that the Lord doesn't do things the way we do them? Was there a question that the Lord's thoughts aren't the same as ours? When we see someone who is sick, we want them cured instantly. The Lord may not do that. He may even let them die! We see problems and conflict and we want it straightened out right away. Sometimes it ends happily and other times it doesn't. Something goes wrong and we want God to make it all better, right now, whatever it is and often He doesn't do that at all. We pray and pray—our will be done—but then the Lord does something else! But here's the thing. Do we really want the Lord's thoughts to be our thoughts? Do we want His ways to be our ways? Do we really want God to think and act like we do? Do we want the Lord to pay us back the way we like to pay others back when they do something against us? Do we really want the Lord holding onto our sins the way we hold on to other people's sins, carrying grudges and looking for the right time to give them what they've got coming? What if Jesus put Himself first? What if He only acted as if He were the most important person ever? How could we be saved? What if God only liked us or paid any attention to us when we made Him happy? Thanks be to God His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways or we'd be doomed!

“My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways,” says the Lord. Our thoughts and ways are about how we can be like God. How can we be in charge. How can we do and fix everything ourselves. How can we get others to pay more attention to us and give us the attention we deserve. Our thoughts and ways put us first and God last. But the Lord's thoughts and ways put us first for our salvation. The Lord's thoughts are about how He can become one of us to save us. The Father's thoughts and ways are centered on sending His Son to save us. The Son's thoughts and ways are to take on human flesh and to suffer and even die to take away our sins and bring us back to God. Even though He is God, Jesus never considered Himself to be the big deal. Rather, His preaching and teaching and dying and rising are for this purpose: not Himself but us. You. Your forgiveness and salvation. Our Lord's thoughts and ways rescue us from our thoughts and ways for His only thought is to obey His Father and be your Savior.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways,” says the Lord. Our thoughts and ways are to throw a party and only invite the people we like. Our thoughts and ways are to be glad we're in the church and look with raised eyebrows on others who aren't as faithful as we are. But the Lord's thoughts and ways are all about throwing a wedding feast to which everyone is invited! It is a feast with no cost and no price, a salvation with no strings attached. And where does the Lord invite us? To His feast of salvation. The celebration and delivery of His forgiveness in His church. Our thoughts and ways would make church all about ourselves but the Lord makes worship to be about what He has for your. Water and the word to wash away your thoughts and ways. Absolution to blot out your thoughts and ways of sins. His Holy Supper of Body and Blood to give you a meal you would never have thought of but which gives you forgiveness, life and salvation. Where we would make worship all about what we do for God, He has made life in His church all about what gifts He has for us.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways,” says the Lord. Our thoughts and ways, soiled by our sinful flesh, turn always to ourselves. But the Holy Spirit, working through the gifts of Christ's Word and Sacraments works in us such a new life that our thoughts and our ways become as the Christ's own thoughts and ways as He lives in us. Here we begin to learn to say and do things we would not have before. Here the Lord teaches us new thoughts and new ways which seek the good of others first. Here we learn to set aside the sins of others so that our thoughts are not corrupted by grudges and revenge and hatred and our ways of anger and payback are replaced with gentleness, forgiveness and love. With the thoughts and the ways of the Christ in us, we learn to seek the good of others before ourselves and to help and support them in whatever ways they need us to. And there is yet one more thought that is the Lord's and not ours, for we so very easily give up and think we cannot do what it takes to live as Christians. Or we mess it up and think there is no way we can still be Christians. And there is the Lord's forgiveness, wiping out our sins and turning us in repentance and faith to Christ.

“My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways,” says the Lord. And thanks be to God for that! The Lord's thoughts are so much higher than ours and His ways so much higher than ours that His thoughts and ways save us. Rescue us. Forgive us. Renew us. Guide us. The thoughts and ways of God can all be seen in Christ in whom God's thoughts of mercy and pardon are made a reality in the forgiveness and life He brings. It enough, as St. Pauls says, to fill our hearts with melody to the Lord and to cause us to give thanks to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 17, 2010 - The 20th Sunday after Trinity - St. Matthew 22:1-14

A King prepares a wedding feast for His Son. The King of course, is God the Father. His Son is Christ. This is the feast of salvation which Jesus celebrates because He has been slaughtered for His Bride and yet He is the Bridegroom! Throughout the Bible, God's kingdom is often pictured as a great feast, a wedding celebration. Christ has come down and given His life for His Bride, the church. He has washed her in His blood which He shed for her on Calvary. He has made her spotless and blameless by His death so that she stands before Him as holy and blameless in His sight. That means that YOU, who are in His church, who are His Bride, stand holy and spotless and blameless before the Lord. Here, in the church, we celebrate the feast of salvation! We are clothed with the wedding garment of Christ in our Baptism and we feast upon the slaughtered Lamb, Christ's own Body and Blood. The Lord has prepared this feast for you. It's the feast of salvation.

But understand that many don't want this feast. The Lord has sent His preachers and prophets out into the world. They have told people: This is the FREE feast of God. This is a celebration and delivery of His salvation. Here is the forgiveness of sins! Here is the Lamb who was slain for you. And some people just don't care. They don't want forgiveness. They don't care about eternal life. The things of this life, their jobs or toys or themselves, are just more important to them than having the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. To put it another way: The reason some people don't come to church and aren't Christians is because they just don't care. They just don't want what the Lord has for them. But some are worse. Not only do they not want Jesus, they hate anyone who does. And so they killed those prophets and apostles. Even today, all around the world they continue to kill Christians who confess God's free forgiveness in Jesus. That's the world. On the one hand, it couldn't care less about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. On the other hand, it hates an despises Christ's church and seeks to get rid of it!

But the church also has those within it who despise Christ and His forgiveness. In Bible times, when a king threw a wedding, he made sure to provide a wedding garment for everyone. It'd be kinda like the father of the groom providing everyone who RSVPed a tux or dress. But one man didn't want to wear it. He despised the hospitality and generosity of the King and decided he didn't need to follow the dress code. That man represents those who are in the church, at least visibly but who don't want to actually wear Christ and live in His forgiveness. These are the ones who may even have been baptized but have cast off Christ and yet still presume to take part in the feast. These are the ones who want their name on the rolls of the church but don't ever want to come. Or maybe they are the ones who come but learn nothing from God's Word over time. They want a Christians wedding or a Christian funeral but they really despise Christ and don't trust in Him for the forgiveness of sins. They want to claim the name “Christian” and “church member” but don't want to have to actually mess with all that believing and trusting in Jesus stuff.

And here's OUR repentance! We can mention those outside the church who hate it. We can mention those inside who aren't really Christians. But the warning for each of us is this: Don't ever cast off your wedding garment! The Bible tells us that being baptized means being clothed with Christ. To be baptized is to have the robe of Christ's righteousness on you. It is to have the forgiveness of sins and faith in Christ. Dear Christian: the Lord has made this feast for you and He makes sure you are dressed for it too! Just think for a moment about this wedding feast, about the Christian church. It is prepared and made by God. Accomplished by Christ on Calvary who has died and risen for you. It is given to you before you could even accept it, at the font with water and the Word. It is celebrated over and over as Christ's Body and Blood are given you to eat and drink. This is truly the feast of salvation with no strings attached. No requirements. Nothing for you to do to earn it or deserve it. Here, in the church, the Lord has called and gathered the good and the bad. Sinners are brought in and saved. Rejoice in THAT, brothers and sisters, that the Lord has made a feast for you and made sure you are dressed.

So if this feast is so great and so free, how could we ever refuse it to anyone? How could dare to tell someone they may not receive the Sacrament? Here again, the Lord's parable answers us for our comfort. What happens to those who rejected the King's invitation? The King sent His soldiers to burn and destroy them and their city! There will come a day when our Lord comes again and all those who have rejected Him will be destroyed! That's frightening. But more than that, what happens to those who want to party but not wear the wedding garment provided? They will be bound hand and foot and cast out into outer darkness! Brothers and sisters in Christ, we practice closed communion at the feast because we believe there will be a day of judgment! We want to make sure that those who come to the Lord's feast are clothed with Christ and His garment of righteousness. We tell some that they may not yet commune because we don't want ANYONE to be speechless on the Last Day. Rather, we want them to learn Christ's Word, to learn what that wedding garment is and to wear it with joy and thanksgiving. And we DO want them clothed with Christ so that they are welcome guests on the Last Day! And that garment is given by God's Word and so we teach God's Word first to those who desire to receive Christ's body and blood. How awkward would it be if one of the bridesmaids came to a wedding and was wearing a completely different dress than the others because no one told her what to get? Just so, we want no one to celebrate the feast wearing the wrong clothes but rather wearing Christ.

For those who despise the King, the feast is no good news and the consequences of rejecting it are terrible! But for you, who have been clothed with the wedding garment of Christ, there is the promise of an eternal celebration at the Kings feast which has no end. Now, as we celebrate this feast in the church, we rejoice in the forgiveness and life and salvation. We rejoice to be the Bride of Christ who is cherished and loved and treated like royalty by her Bridegroom. And there, in eternity, we will rejoice to be with our heavenly Bridegroom forever! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

October 15, 2010 - Wedding Sermon for Nicholas Fellner and Jennifer Conner - St. Matthew 19:4-6

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife and they will be one flesh. Three times we heard that! We heard it on the day when the Lord brought Eve to Adam and instituted holy marriage. We hear it repeated by St. Paul as he teaches us how holy marriage of a man and woman is a picture of Jesus Christ and His bride, the church. And we heard it from our Lord Jesus Himself who adds these words: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate.” Three times we've heard this. Anything three times in the Bible means, “Pay attention! Listen up!” Nick: today you are leaving behind father and mother and being united to Jennifer who will is your bride. Today, Jennifer, you are being united to Nick who is your husband.

Jesus tells us that this is not Nick and Jennifer doing this but the Lord Himself. What God has joined together, let no one separate. This means that your marriage today is a gift. A gift from your heavenly Father. Jennifer, your heavenly Father's gift to Nick. Nick, your heavenly Father's gift to Jennifer. And both of you, a gift to Landon and Taylor and the little one who is yet to be born. That's because marriage is all about the Lord's gifts! To stand here today before the Lord is to acknowledge that what is going on here is the Lord's work, not yours. This is a gift. It is given graciously by your heavenly Father. It is a gift that Christ comes down to make the church His bride by dying for her sins. It is gift when the Lord gives us His Word and the Holy Spirit so that we believe and trust in Jesus. It is a gift when Nick and Jennifer are joined in holy marriage and it is a gift that the Lord has given you children and a gift for those children to have parents to love them and teach them the faith. It's all a gift!

So when Jesus says, “What God has joined together let no one separate,” He's warning us not to despise His gifts. Nick, the Lord is giving you a gift today in Jennifer. Beware of not putting her first, of not treating her like the precious gift she is, of not putting her up on that pedestal and giving her the top place in your life right under the Lord Himself! Nick, the devil, the world and your own sinful nature want nothing more than to tear apart what God is joining here. Beware of this. Watch out for the selfishness that so easily causes hurt and conflict in a marriage. And Jennifer, the Lord is giving you Nick today. Beware of not treating him as a gift but instead taking him for granted and putting yourself first. Watch out for that same selfishness that loves to be the most important without also loving him as the most precious gift you have from your heavenly Father. And both of you, beware of neglecting the gift of your children. They are a precious gift from the Lord. Beware of that same selfishness that is so deadly to marriage that is also so hurtful to our little ones when it doesn't receive them as the treasures and gifts that they are. Beware of anything in your marriage that has the potential to separate what the Lord has joined together. But even more than that. Beware of your inability to fix those things yourselves!

The Lord is giving you to each other as a gift in marriage. But His gift giving does not stop there. Long before you were being married, the Son of God was joined to human flesh and became man to be our Savior. St. Paul tells us all about it, how the Lord Jesus came and gave His life for us. How He died for our sins on the cross. How He has washed us in Holy Baptism to make us pure and spotless and blameless. So that He doesn't see our sins and faults but only our holiness in Him. You need this Savior if you are going to be married. For you need to know, Nick, that every time you treat Jennifer as something less than the Lord's gift to you, you have sinned. But more than that, you need to know that Jesus, our bridegroom, has given His life for you and so forgives you your sins. Jennifer you need to know that when you act as if Nick is no gift but a nuisance, your Savior has answered for that too and forgives you your sins. And together, as you raise your family and bring up your children, you both need to know that the blood of Jesus on that cross was spilled also for every sin you will have against your children. In short, in this marriage, know that Christ is your Savior. He who has come to take a bride for Himself also promises to bless this gift of marriage with the gift of His forgiveness.

And it is that forgiveness that you receive in His church, by your Baptism, by Christ's Body and Blood, by your pastor forgiving you—it is that forgiveness that will be the strength and foundation of your marriage. When you put those rings on each other in just a few minutes, that is what you are pledging. Not your perfection, because we know that's not possible in this life. Rather, you are pledging to deliver to each other the forgiveness that Christ gives to you to each other. Nick, when you place that ring on Jennifer's finger, you are promising that when she is not the perfect wife, when she falls short, when she doesn't at all seem like a gift of God, that you will not leave her or forsake her but love her, forgive her and keep cherishing her as if she has no sins and faults! And Jennifer, the ring that you place on Nick's finger today is your promise to give to him the same forgiveness Jesus gives you. It is your promise that when he is no gift of God but an annoying and sinful husband, you won't bail, but stand with him, forgiving him and loving him and treating him as the gift he is from your heavenly Father. And that same forgiveness is also yours for your children. Teach them too what it means that their sins are forgiven. That you won't hold their mistakes against them but love and cherish them too.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife and they shall be one flesh. So what God has joined together let no one separate. Marriages are separated all the time in this fallen world. That's why you're here in Christ's church today, Nick and Jennifer, because you are acknowledging that the only strength and foundation of marriage is Jesus Christ and His forgiveness. But with that gift, the gift of marriage is truly a holy institution. Today, Nick and Jennifer, you are gifts to each other and to your children. The Lord richly bless you your whole life long as together you live by His grace and His gifts in Jesus Christ. His gifts and promises and blessings are all for you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 13, 2010 - Wednesday of Trinity 19 - Ephesians 4:22-28

Should being a Christian change us? Should it make us a new person? Or is it just business as usual? St. Paul tells us in the Epistle Lesson to throw off the Old Man and put on the New Man. Look at Jacob in the Old Testament reading. He begins as a man who has tricked his brother out of his birthright and then runs away from his vengeful brother. But then He encounters the ladder to heaven, which is Christ, and awakens having heard the promises of God to protect and preserve him and give him the Promise. Consider also the man in the Gospel Reading. He can't even come to Jesus Himself but is carried by His friends. But how does he leave? He leaves walking with his sins forgiven! Here is the thing: contact with Christ changes a person. Heals them. Forgives them. Makes them something they were not. It is as Paul writes, an old man to a new man.

But going from Old Man to New Man is too often laid down as something WE do. If you love God, then you'll change. Give up your old habits, stop making bad choices, start living a godly life. Many preachers will lay that upon you that if you are not changing and do such and such, that is proof you are no Christian. Now let's understand something. As Christians, we are called to act differently, to live differently than the world does. We are called to love others even when they don't love us and to help others even when they don't care or appreciate it. We are called to have nothing to do with the silly philosophies and religions of this world and worship the true and living God. As a Christian, you SHOULD fight against sin. Avoid situations where temptation abounds and tries to pull you down into sin. Battle against your temper, your anger, your gossiping, your coveting. Strive to be in God's Word and learning it and applying it. DO all those things! But repent of thinking that such work is your own. Don't live thinking that putting off the Old Man is your work any more than putting on the New Man is something you can do. To go from Old Man to New Man is Christ's work. It is The Spirit's work in you through the Gospel which delivers the forgiveness of your Savior.

To think we can change ourselves is to think we have to get ourselves to God, that it's on us. In our sinfulness, we could never get to God. So God comes to us. He sends His Son. When Jacob slept at Bethel he saw the ladder connecting heaven and earth. In the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus say that the ladder is Him. HE is the connection between heaven and earth because He is God in the flesh and man who is true God. In Christ, heaven and earth are connected, God and Man are united. The Lord comes to us to save us from our sins. Jesus comes to take away our sins. To suffer for us. To shed His blood for us. To die for us. To rise for us. And He gives us that forgiveness and new life not in some abstract way. Your sins are actually forgiven. Your old way of life is actually crucified with Jesus.

When the Lord washes you with water and the Word and Spirit at the font, you are actually born again, born from above, a new creation. This is not some abstract theoretical religion. This is a real drowning of the Old Man and a rising up of the New Man. That's what our Baptism means. The Catechism says it very clearly; let's take a look: “It indicates that the Old Adam should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” That's God's work. YOU can't do that. The Lord does. And He does it through the forgiveness of sins that He gives to you in Holy Baptism. This is how the Lord changes us. This is how He throws off our Old Adam and puts on us the New Man in Christ. This is where the real and genuine change comes about. When you struggle against sin, the answer is never “try harder.” It's always, “More Jesus. More forgiveness. More living in your Baptism.” How do you do that? How do you “live in your Baptism?” You do it by daily acknowledging yours sins. Reflect on the Ten Commandments to show you where you have not loved God and your neighbor and confess those sins! Be sorry for them. Then hear again your Baptismal promise: Your sins are forgiven. It's what Jesus told the paralytic. It's the most important thing in the church: the forgiveness of sins. You see, the key to conquering your sins isn't overcoming them yourself. Then the devil just has ammunition to prove to you how bad a Christian you really are. Rather, to conquer your sins is to live in your Baptism which says that God has forgiven your sins and the devil has no power over you. To live in your Baptism is what throwing off the Old Man and putting on the New Man is all about. And you can never do that apart from the church where Christ and His forgiveness are being preached and His Body and Blood are being given for that purpose of strengthening the New Man.

Now why does the Lord do that? Why does He change you from Old to New? Why does He throw off your Old Man and put on the New Man in Christ? Not for YOUR sake! He does it so that you will be a blessing to others. Look at what St. Paul says next: “Speak the truth in love; don't let the sun do down on your anger. Don't give place to the devil. Work and labor so you have something for those in need.” Your salvation isn't for YOUR sake. It's for those around you. The Lord rescues you from your old, evil self because your husband or wife and kids and family and coworkers need you to be the New Man, otherwise their lives will be miserable. Repent of wanting a Baptism that just saves YOU! Rather, recognize that in and through Holy Baptism, the Lord is doing something in you for the good of others. The Old Man is all about you. So he dies and drowns at the font every day. The New Man in Christ is all about others. What they need. What helps them. What comforts them and puts a smile on their face. And that is the LORD'S work in you. Try it yourself and you will fail. But live in your Baptism and the forgiveness of sins, and the Lord does it in and through you.

So does being a Christian mean being changed? Absolutely it does! It means that the Old Man who wants to live like the rest of the world dies every day. Hold him under the water of your Baptism until he stops moving! And the New Man is brought forth by the Word of forgiveness. That is the Holy Spirit's work in you. What the Lord does in you He does. You don't. God comes to us. He works in us. He saves and forgives us. He turns us into something good for others. To live in the gifts that God gives is to live in true righteousness and holiness. That is to live in Christ. That is Christ living in you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, October 08, 2010

October 10, 2010 - The 19th Sunday after Trinity - St. Matthew 9:1-8

Let's grab a theme from a few weeks ago when we asked the question, “What do you say at a funeral?” Let's broaden it out and ask: What do you say to someone who's just landed some bad news on you. “My kids are in trouble. My marriage is falling apart. They told me it was cancer. You're being let go. You've lost everything.” What do you say to such a person? You know what I would say? “Your sins are forgiven you!” And you might reply, “But Pastor, that doesn't make any sense! How is that relevant? How can that be of any use to someone in the midst of their trouble?” Well, ask Jesus. They brought Him a paralyzed man and the first words out of our Lord's mouth are “Be happy! Your sins are forgiven!” I'll bet that the man was hoping the first words out of Jesus' mouth would be “Get up and walk.” But that's not what Jesus says first. And that teaches us that no matter what else, the one thing we need the most of all is the forgiveness of sins. If something awful and terrible happens to you: your sins are forgiven. Your despair that such a thing is taking place. Your doubt of God's goodness. Your anger and lashing out at others. It's forgiven. The Lord doesn't count it against you. You have eternal life and a clean slate before God. Because the worse thing is never the tragedies of this life but to die and perish apart from Christ and His forgiveness.

Notice that Jesus doesn't even wait for the man to ask for forgiveness. They bring the guy to Jesus and He just says it. “Your sins are forgiven you.” There's a bad notion that people get into their heads that you can't get forgiveness unless you ask for it. If you do something wrong, you have to ask for forgiveness or else you can't be forgiven. Some churches even teach that if you were to die before you asked for forgiveness, you would go to hell! What horrible, frightening and WRONG teaching! What does Jesus do? He forgives the man before he even asks! That's how the Lord does things, you know. Before we ask. If forgiveness only came when we asked for it, do you think Jesus would ever have come to die for sinners? If forgiveness was only available upon request, would our Lord ever have come into this world? As if the Lord was just sitting up in heaven thinking, “Well, I'd really like to forgive them but not until they ask me nicely!” God forbid! Our Lord doesn't wait on us! He comes because we are dying, perishing, dead in our sins. God the Father sends His Son to go to the cross and save us before we even dreamed we needed it. Before we would ever have asked because we would never have asked. And so our Lord forgives this man's sins because that's what He needs, even more thank being able to walk. Jesus just does it. Understand this, brothers and sisters in Christ: When Christ died on the cross, He wasn't making available the possibility of forgiveness. His death IS the forgiveness of sins. It is a death for you to wipe away your sins, before you even knew to ask for such a thing!

So Jesus tells the paralytic his sins are forgiven. That man can be unable to walk and still have eternal life. But he can't have eternal life if his sins aren't forgiven. He'll perish eternally if he has to stand before the Lord and answer for what he's done. So Jesus forgives him. The religious leaders don't think He can do that. So Jesus heals the man too, to show that He has the power to forgive sins. But why does Jesus have the power to forgive sins? Because He is the One who has forgiven them by His death on the cross. Jesus can throw forgiveness around because He's the One who's going to get that forgiveness by dying for this paralytic and for you and me and everyone. Jesus takes our sins away by His death and so He is the One who can declare to this man that His sins are forgiven. Again, without anyone asking, Jesus was born to do the will of His Father and save sinners. On the cross, Jesus has effected a healing that goes beyond this life. Forgiveness means that nothing we've done against God or others, no thought, word or deed will be held against you. Can you imagine what would happen if you had to answer for every wrong thing you've thought or done? Eternal death! Sin condemns us to death. Jesus gets rid of sin. You can die lame or deaf or even blind or crippled. And in eternal life, you'll run and leap and sing and dance. But without forgiveness, you'll be doomed. So Jesus, by His death on the cross brings such a healing and medicine to take away our worst disease: sin, the one that would keep us from God.

The forgiveness Jesus has for this paralytic is delivered by the words: “Your sins are forgiven you.” So it still is. The Lord calls men to be His preachers to speak those words to you, too: “I forgive you all your sins. Your sins are forgiven.” Your most pressing need is this: the forgiveness of sins. Here in Christ's church, that's what is delivered. When you turn from God, when you abandon your neighbor, repent! Flee to Christ's church where your Baptism is preached, where your pastor is forgiving you, and where Christ's body and blood are. I'll challenge you even further. When you are sick, what do you do? You go to your doctor. When you sin, come see your pastor. When the things you have done trouble you, come and hear from your pastor the Good News that your sins are forgiven you. And yes, I'm talking about private confession and absolution. There you have the chance to unload all that truly burdens you, for God alone to hear and forgive. In that way, by the absolution and care of your pastor, by the pronouncement of forgiveness and the application of the salve of God's Word, you will be healed, just as this paralytic was.

And there's more! This forgiveness that is given by Christ, is given for you to give out and give away! You, Christian, have been given authority by Christ to forgive others. And here is how we repent and learn to live as Christians. Don't wait for someone to ask you for forgiveness. Give them forgiveness. When those around you sin, be ready to dish out this gift of Christ: forgiveness of sins. Don't say, “I'll forgive them as soon as they're sorry. As soon as they get their act together. Just as soon as they apologize and realize what they did!” No, forgive like Christ does: without being asked, without being prodded, without expecting anything in return. The world teaches us to put conditions on everything, to pay what is owed and give back what you got. But Christ is teaching us to give freely that one gift that the world can't figure out: forgiveness. And such forgiveness isn't just SAYING “I forgive you.” True forgiveness is as the Lord does it, not actually treating you like your sins deserve. When you tell someone you forgive them, don't just say it. Act as if they have not sinned against you. Treat them as one who has not wronged you. That is to forgive as the Lord does for remember: it's not YOUR forgiveness to give out. It's Christ's. Just as Christ's Word made the paralytic well, so His Word also truly forgave sins. When you speak the forgiveness of Christ to someone, who knows what that Word will do because it's the saving Word of Christ by which the Holy Spirit works in hearts.

So what do you tell someone who's got terrible news? Who has heard bad news? What is there to say to someone whose family is a mess or job is in danger or life is at an end? Tell them their sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake! What do you say to someone who has wronged you? Tell them their sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake! When you are troubled by your own sins, what should you do? Come and hear your pastor tell you your sins are forgiven for Jesus' sake. It doesn't matter what the situation is. What we need more than anything else in the world is forgiveness for our sins, the promise that God does not hold against us what we have done. And that forgiveness is yours. Jesus said to the paralytic and he says to you: Be happy! Your sins are forgiven you! So arise and walk away today as one whose sins are forgiven, because they are! In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

October 6, 2010 - Wednesday of Trinity 18 - Deuteronomy 10:12-21

It sounds easy enough. “What does the Lord require of you other than to fear and love God and walk in His ways?” Or as the Catechism would put it: to fear, love and trust in God above all things. Jesus summarizes it this way: Love the Lord with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. That's all there is to it, right? Love God. Love your neighbor. But if you read through the Old Testament, you will see the story is the same: The Lord's people constantly NOT loving Him and each other. The Lord's people constantly wandering after other gods and treating each other like dirt. Then Jesus comes and distills the entire Law down to just two commandments: Love God and love your neighbor. And ever since...well, same thing. Even in Christ's church we find that we have all sorts of false gods. Maybe they're not wood and stone now but printed with green ink or powered by electricity or built with our own hands. Our idols are the things we love more than the Lord. Whatever it is that makes you not study and learn God's word. And as for our neighbor, that's not kept either. We put ourselves ahead of others all the time and if we do do something for others, we expect thanks and praise and recognition. Love the Lord and love your neighbor. Israel didn't do it. Neither do we.

So why is the Law given? What did the Lord expect to accomplish by telling us to love Him above all things and to love others as ourselves? Did he think we would actually do it? Did the Lord suppose that if He just told us something that we were supposed to do we'd just do it? How does that work for your kids? How does that work for you? We might do it under duress. To get a paycheck or avoid trouble. But we don't do it because we love the Lord with our whole hearts and love others as ourselves. Let's be very clear about something: The Lord does not give the Law because you can keep it. He gives the Law as St. Paul says so that our sin will be multiplied and exposed. God gives us His commandments to show us our sin. To demand that we love Him so we see that we cannot. To teach us to love others so that we can see clearly how we don't. The Lord gives us the Law to so completely demonstrate to us what utter sinners we are and that if the Law is the way of life, we are doomed. Finished. Dead. Love God and love your neighbor. It's just that easy. Just that easy to be doomed to death!

When Jesus comes, He comes to do what we cannot. We heard Sunday and it's in our Gospel lesson that all of the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. But the Law and the Prophets means Jesus. So Jesus hangs on these commandments when He hangs on the cross. He fulfills the Law by loving His Father above all things and by loving His neighbor by dying for you there on the cross. Jesus came to keep the Law because you don't. He came to keep the commandments that you break. To love God the Father above all things and to love others as Himself, yes, even more than Himself. The Law for us is a mirror of condemnation. For Jesus it is the way of our salvation. By doing what we cannot do and dying for what we have done, He saves us. His salvation is that He lives the life you do not live and dies the death you deserve. Forgiveness of sins means not only setting aside the things you have done against God's Law. It means patching up where you haven't done it. Jesus comes to keep the Law and to obey the commandments for you and to suffer the consequences of our breaking them. In life and death, Jesus takes up the Law and saves us. And our salvation is in Him, never the Law.

It is in this way that what the Lord says in Deuteronomy comes to pass. He is the Lord who administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, who loves the stranger and gives him food and clothing. In Christ, who has kept the Law, we now have a Father. God is our Father in Christ. The church is His bride. He clothes us with His holiness and Law-keeping in the waters of Holy Baptism and He feeds us with His own Body and Blood, the Bread of Life. It is by these gifts that you can be certain that wherever you have fallen down against the commandments, you are forgiven. It is by these gifts that you may know for sure that what you have failed to do has been covered by the blood of Jesus. When the Law stares you down, showing you that you are a sinner, these gifts of Christ declare that the Lord is not counting your transgressions against you. The Lord is not going to give you what you deserve for not loving Him or your neighbor because in Christ, delivered by His Word and Sacraments, that's been taken care of. Finished. Fulfilled. Forgiven. For you.

So what now that we're Christians? Now we learn how to view the Law and commandments the Lord gives us. First of all, we know that the Law shows us our sins. God demands that we love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourself. These commandments show us clearly what we are supposed to do and don't do. They teach us we are sinners and that our only hope will be the Christ who has kept them. Put another way: Christians know that the Law points them to their need for a Savior. Always. We never stop needing that Savior because we never stop sinning in this life. But also as Christians who have been rescued from our sin, we learn to view the Law as a gift from God which teaches us how to live. Here in the commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor we have a lifetime's worth of work to learn how to love God, learn His Word, and to pray. We have a lifetime's worth of work figuring out how to honor and care for our parents, be respectful of others, speak well of others, and love our spouses and children and families and others. For the Christian, the Lord's Law is a treasure in which He teaches us how to live. And most of all, we are rescued from that false way of viewing the Law in which we use the commandments to see how well we're doing with the Lord. By yourself, you are doomed. In Christ, you have kept all things perfectly. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you must know how well you're doing based on how well YOU are doing! Rather, the Law shows us our sins and guides in living but it is Christ who is our life and salvation.

So it sounds easy: Love God and love your neighbor. But we don't. It's impossible. So our Savior comes and hangs on that Law, hangs on that cross and keeps the Law and forgives us our sins. Apart from Christ, the Law condemns us and dooms us. But in Christ, we have kept all the commandments and are holy and perfect in God's sight. In Christ, we love God above all things and we love our neighbor as ourselves, even as we learn to actually do that as the Spirit works in our lives. In Christ, the Law is kept. And you are not doomed. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

October 3, 2010 - The 18th Sunday after Trinity - St. Matthew 22:34-46

If someone were to ask you what is the most important thing in the Christian faith, what would you say? Is it the Ten Commandments? Is it the rules of how we live that we're supposed to follow? Is it the Golden Rule that we're supposed to do unto others like we would have them do unto us? Is it something about Jesus? If so, what? Is it that He is a great teacher who teaches how to live the right way? Is it that He teaches us not to drink or smoke or dance? Is the most important thing the Spirit working in you by making you feel a certain way? What is it? What's the big deal? The most important? The central and highest teaching of the Christian faith. Someone asked Jesus. "Teacher, which is the great commandment?" What do you think? Not coveting? Not committing adultery? Having no other gods? Jesus answers the expert in the law. But the answer, as it always is from Jesus, point us to Him and not to ourselves.

Jesus tells him the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart and soul and strength and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself. "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." So, Jesus is saying that everything hangs on loving God and loving your neighbor, right?. Is that it, then? The central teaching of the faith? The most important things: loving God and loving your neighbor? Well ask yourself: How's that going for you? Do you love the Lord with all of your heart and soul and strength? The answer is you don't. You love lots of thing way more than God. You spend your time and energy on far more interesting things than learning God's Word and praying, don't you? And what about loving your neighbor? Oh you probably do some nice things for some people but why? To make yourself feel good? So people will thank you? If you have to have a reason for doing good things for others, you aren't really doing it for them but for yourself because you love yourself most of all. Love God and love your neighbor. Jesus says the Scriptures hang on those two commandments. Does your life hang on those two commandments as the most important thing? How's that religion working for you?

But when Jesus says "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments," He isn't saying that everything depends on the Law. We must pay attention to Jesus' words more closely than that! First of all, He says "All the Law and the Prophets." What does He mean by that? He means everything written in the Scriptures, specifically the Old Testament. But what is the whole Old Testament about? It's about Jesus. It's about the Savior promised to sinners. It's about the working out of the Lord's time and plan to send His Son into the world to save sinners. So when Jesus says, "All the Law and the Prophets" He means Himself! And He says "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Hang. In the Law, and St. Paul quotes it again in Galatians, it says, "Cursed is everyone who HANGS on a tree." If you read in the book of Acts, the apostles preached about Jesus who was "hung" on a tree. So let's put this all together. "All the Law and the Prophets HANG on these two commandments." Law and Prophets means Jesus and He HANGS on the cross, punished for our sins, hanging on the Law and its accusing us of not loving God or neighbor. On the cross, Jesus is both loving God above all things, for He does the will of His Father and He is loving His neighbor because He is dying for you. There, on the cross, the Son of God HANGS on the Law, punished for your sins while doing what you could not. Keeping what you could not keep. Paying what you could not pay. Dying the death you cannot die. Saving you who cannot save yourself. Get it? When Jesus hangs on the cross, He's hanging on the Law for you.

Now if it were just anyone hanging there, it wouldn't do us any good. So Jesus goes on to teach the teachers about who He is. He's David's Lord. But He's also David's son. How can that be? How can Jesus be both the one that David calls "Lord" and the son of David, a descendant of David. The Bible experts don't know, because they refuse to see that the Scripture is really all about Jesus. But if they read the Scripture and understood it to be about Christ then they could answer the question. Jesus is David's Lord because He is the true Son, begotten of the Father from all eternity. But He is David's son because He is true man, born of the virgin Mary. Jesus is true God and true man in one person. And that's why HIS hanging on those two commandments, His hanging on the cross saves you. Only someone who can die like us can suffer the punishment we deserved. Only someone who is true God can be a sacrifice that counts for everybody everywhere of every time and place. The Bible experts have it all wrong. They want to make the commandments the main thing and the Savior to be another Moses, another Lawgiver. But Jesus is teaching them, in today's Gospel reading, that the most important thing is this: The Savior, who is true God and true man, fulfills the Law and hangs on the cross for sinners.

Let's say it again. The most important, highest, central thing in the Christian faith is this: Jesus, who is true God and true man, keeps the Law and hangs in death for sinners. No matter how long you are a Christian, that will never stop being the most important thing because that is your salvation. Now beware, brothers and sisters, because the world is filled with churches and preachers who think the main thing, the big deal is the commandments in and of themselves. Whole churches are based upon and preachers love to spend all their time preaching about how you are supposed to live. What you are to do and not do. How you are to demonstrate YOUR faithfulness. What to wear and not wear, say and not say, drink and not drink, eat and not eat and on and on. There are churches that say your effort and good intentions are the most important thing. There are religions and philosophies that say that all ways to God are valid; what matters is your sincerity. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I'm telling you, again, what Jesus says. Not me. Jesus. The most important thing, the big deal, the center and substance of what it means to be a Christian is this: Jesus, true God and true man, fulfilled the Law and hung on the cross for you. If any preaching or teaching or talking or writing or sermon or devotion or makes anything else the big deal then beware of it! Run away from it! Flee from it to the Savior who as true God and man has loved both God and neighbor and saved you from your sins!

So if someone asks you what the most important thing in the Christian faith is just say it again: Jesus, true God and man, keeping the Law for you and hanging on the cross for you. That is what saves you. It is by Baptism that the Savior claims you. It is by His Body and Blood that He forgives and feeds you. It is by the word and preaching that declares to you His saving work that you are saved. Love God. Love your neighbor. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. Therefore Jesus hangs on these two commandments when He hangs on the cross. And because He is true God and true man, His hanging there and dying and His rising again to life saves you. That is the center and substance of our faith. It's what makes the Christian faith Christian. It's what makes you a Christian. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.