Sunday, September 10, 2017

Becoming Children

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the fhell3 of fire.
10 “See that you do not despise gone of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So lit is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed6 in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:1-20)
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus loved little children. Let me rephrase that Jesus loves little children. Jesus died for little children. It’s why he wants them to be baptized. It’s why he wants them to be raised up in the faith they are given in baptism. It’s why the church always has such concern for little children, because we are the body of Christ, here to do his work in this place, at this time. So we have Sunday school started today. We love it.
But I think we idealize children from time to time, and we let that get in the way of understanding what Christ has to say here. Children are not innocent. Most parents can tell you this of their own children, but they lose sight of this when it comes to the concept of children. Children need to be instructed in the faith because children are just as much prone to sin, to selfishness, to guile and so forth as adults. There probably isn’t a one of us in here who can’t tell of the embarrassment they caused their parents at the grocery store when mom told us we couldn’t have the candy bar, so we just stuck it in our pockets and walked out, only to be brought back in by our mom’s and having to return it to the grocer who let us off the hook because as children our good looks could let us get away with anything. But we knew it was wrong, that’s why we were so secretive about it. So it is that Jesus is not pointing to any virtue in children when he says we must become like one if we are to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Children, there was no difference between a child and slave, except that if the child wasn’t sold as a slave the child would eventually be free. Children were told to do things that no one else wanted to do, and they took orders from everyone. They didn’t have time to think about being great, greater or greatest. That was the point. Children weren’t great. Jesus is telling the disciples to stop their stupid game. They aren’t serving God, they aren’t making themselves great in the kingdom of God. They are making themselves great in the kingdom of men, and in their own eyes. They become haughty. And God humble the haughty. He despises the haughty, the self-righteous. But he loves the humble.
The game is still played. This game that the disciples played. The who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The real problem with it is it is self-defeating. It shows who the person really being loved is, and it is not your neighbor. That’s the hard thing with this game, trying to earn rewards in the kingdom of heaven, to be better than the person next to us and be recognized for it, by our neighbors or by God.
This isn’t to say that we should shun any recognition for good works. Life is full of paradoxes, and one of them is sometimes the humble have to receive thanks for the good they do.
The question is, what’s the motive? Good works done for selfish reasons are not good in anyone’s eyes. Now thankfully for us, motives can’t be seen by us. They can be suspected from time to time, but they cannot be seen. They can be seen by God. And so we have this conundrum. How do we do them? How do we do good works? How do we serve God in a God pleasing way? Well, we become like little children, and stop worrying about ourselves. We recognize ourselves to be unworthy servants who have never gone above and beyond what God has demanded us with his law of love.
Love is not selfish, arrogant or rude. Love is selfless. Love is not concerned about itself, but about the person it loves. So love does not take care of the poor in hopes for reward either temporal or eternal.
See this was a thing in medieval society before the reformation. The poor were needed and the needed to remain poor, so that the rich would have a way of earning their salvation! So you did just enough to help them stay poor so you could have some way of getting yourself out of your jam. You weren’t helping them, but yourself. This is one of those things that got Luther to see the whole hypocrisy surrounding the Medieval Catholic system of salvation. He began to see that good works done in such a manner were not good.
So it is that when people are told that they increase their sanctification by works, or that they receive extra rewards in heaven for their works the motivations appealed to ruin the chances for good works. Their sanctification isn’t increased by such efforts, it is decreased! Christians taught such things are actually robbed of their good works by the very people admonishing them to do good works.
So it is that out of his selfless love, Jesus Christ makes us all into children, children of the heavenly Father. He purchases us out of the kingdom of the law, the kingdom of death, the kingdom of the devil that promises rewards and punishments, offers us the carrot and beats us with the stick. He does this by dying for us on the cross. He purchases us not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death. He pays the price for all out sins. He washes us clean and makes us white as snow. And he does it so that there is nothing left for us to worry about. And I mean nothing! He totally levels it for us. And this is how we become children in his kingdom.
This isn’t to say that while we live in this world he won’t discipline us from time to time, and reward us from time to time. The law is still at work in this world and in our lives. But death can no longer claim us, and we are freed from worry, from anxiety, from having to wonder if we have done enough, or playing some game with other about who is doing what, who is better than who. We live in his grace. We live in his love. We love in his love. And from that love and for that love we love others that they might know the love of Christ, who with no hope of reward, who with no care for glory suffered and died even for those who despise him, who reject him, and who still find themselves playing games to see who is greatest in the kingdom of God.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Just Live

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance6to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life7 will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. 28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Then Jesus told his Disiciples, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Deny himself, pick up his cross, follow me.
 In the gospel, Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, the son of the Living God. Then Jesus begins to tell them what that actually means. He will god to Jerusalem. He will suffer. The elders, the Chief Priests and Scribes will kill him. On the third day he will rise again.  
It wasn’t the concept Peter had of the Messiah, the Christ. It wasn’t what anyone thought of the Messiah. It is one of the reasons that Christ was hesitant to identify himself as the Messiah while he worked in Galilee. He would silence the demons that would identify him as such. He would ask people not to speak about what he had done.
But now the disciples have identified him as the Messiah, so he has to let them know what this means. And Peter isn’t having it.
The disciples have understood the Messiah in terms of earthly glory. He was supposed to become king. And it was all of this that Jesus continually rejected.
He would rather deny himself. He would go to Jerusalem. He would suffer and die. And only then would the disciples see his glory, and come to understand the true nature of the Christ and his Kingdom in the resurrection. In losing his life, he would give us opportunity to find ours.
So what is this? What does it mean to deny one’s self? To pick up your cross? To follow him? How do we try to save our lives?
Of course behind all of this is the cross. There is the willingness to accept martyrdom if that be your plight, and accept life if you be inflicted with it. To live with persecution humbly, and accepting your crosses when they come.
Crosses when they come. There are those who go looking for crosses to carry, and hills to die on. They chase martyrdom. Most often they turn Christianity into some sort of political movement or Cultural Revolution. They go about with a look at me Christianity, that loses its focus on Christ and forgiveness. Look at what a strong Christian I am! And Paul warns not to be to proud lest you fall.
There will come time enough when a stand will have to be taken. Martyrdom isn’t Martyrdom if you chase it. It’s just suicide. Martyrdom, the word means witness. It is supposed to be something we do that makes a confession of Christ. And yet it is something that Jesus tells us to avoid if we can. “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.” Avoid if we can. But if we can’t?
Because it would be so easy to avoid it if we simply didn’t confess him. It would be so easy to avoid him, if we simply didn’t let his life, his death and his resurrection have its way with us and makes its stamp upon our own life. But he rose from the dead! And with that he offers so much more than this world could ever offer with all its glory, or the fame of martyrdom! He didn’t come to reform this world as so many wanted him to do. He didn’t come to set up a better government, or give a better set of laws. He came to put this world to death by dying to it. Think about it! The author of life he is called. God. The Son of the Living God. The creator of the world. He died, and with him so did his creation. It’s dead. It has nothing to offer now. Not this world. But then he rose, the first fruits of the new creation. Now we who die with him. We who lose our life for his sake? Where? In Baptism. That’s our martyrdom, this is where we die for his sake. He puts his seal upon us. He stamps our life. And there we rise again to walk in the newness of life, rejoicing in the forgiveness of sins as if we were dancing in the midst of a Spring shower. Now we simply get to just live. Just live.
And the world can’t let us do that, because the world is dead. The world is darkness that refuses to know the light. But you, you can just live, because the Creator, the Author of Life who died for your sins, he lives and you have lost your life for his sake. He took it, that you might find it in him because outside of him, outside of the forgiveness of sins there is no life. So now he offers you his life in the bread and the wine through which we proclaim his death until he comes. It is the only living thing you will eat, because he is not dead but is alive. He is not dead but lives. And now, so do you.

You don’t have to chase glory. You don’t have to chase earthly riches. You don’t have to justify your existence to the world, or God. You can simply enjoy the life you are given. Because when you live this life here, when you suffer the crosses that come your way in the sure hope that Jesus rose from the dead, when you enjoy the joys that are left in this world as gifts from a God who loves you? Well, then you live the life that God has given you. Unlike the world. You get to just live.  

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Jesus Loves the Little Children

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. [7] 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:25-30 (ESV)
Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
This is how Jesus describes the little children to him the Father in heaven has revealed the kingdom. They are those who labor and are heavy laden.
The wise and understanding, these are the people who think they have it figured out. In Jesus day these were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The learned, the upper crust of society. Today you find these types in every stratum of society. They are people who find God immoral. They know better than him.
That one is always sort of strange to me. The Ten Commandments have had quite the impact on our society. Jesus Christ has had quite the impact on society. Here we have a man who died for the sins of the world. He shed his blood for people of every stripe. Jesus died for the cultured and the uncultured. He died for the rich and the poor. He died for blue collar and white collar. For the healthy and the sick. The Albert Einsteins of the world, and for those suffering every form of mental illness, or downs syndrome. “Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight,” I remember singing those words as a four-year-old in Ft. McMurray and simple understandings like that have transformed society’s notions of right and wrong, of justice and of mercy. Oh, it hasn’t put an end to racism and try as I may to understand another person’s culture and concepts of polite, I can still find it awkward, or rude. But when people think that Christianity is the problem, I find most often they are not aware of just how much Christianity is responsible for even what is left of their morals, even shaping the problem. Sure the Bible didn’t outlaw slavery. It can be hard for us today to read what the Bible has to say about such things. But I will tell you this, we wouldn’t have any qualms with slavery if it wasn’t for the Bible, if it wasn’t for the fact that Jesus died for the sins of the world. We would care less about racism if it wasn’t for the fact that we could teach our kids to sing “Red and yellow, black and white they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
The little children of the world, to whom the Father has revealed these things. This was a phrase Jesus would use for his disciples. Little children, oh how society has changed in that department. In the first century, little children were synonymous with heavy laden, this was before child labor laws. My parents knew of no such legislation. I remember being excited when I first learned my mom and dad were buying lake property until we pulled up to the three acres of thick woods bordering the swamp and learned that my brother and I would be helping my dad clear it. I thought fire made sense and would probably be the best way until I learned you actually had to control the burn. Ten or eleven, those five-gallon buckets were about half my size but they were the only way to get water to the property line, two at a time. I was lucky, I mean it wasn’t the way I really wanted to spend my weekends, but at least my dad was too busy during the week to make us work like that on a Monday. Though my dad did know how to farm me out to old timers in need of firewood. Kids in the first century were pretty much slaves. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It sounds so nice. But the truth is anyone in the village could lord it over the children of the village, make them watch the cows in the noonday heat, fetch the falling figs in the midst of a rainstorm, and in general do anything an adult sees needs to be done, but doesn’t care to do himself. And the kid would be paid in room and board if he or she was lucky.
Oh, Jesus really and literally meant that the kingdom, the mystery of Jesus Christ, was revealed to little children. The little children that were brought to him to bless, when the disciples were enraged. But he also meant it figuratively to mean the simple in the land who simply saw who Jesus was. They weren’t so invested in their theories as to who God should be, or what God should do to miss seeing what it was God was doing.  These were the type of people who most often didn’t have time except perhaps on the Sabbath to study God’s word. The Pharisees, the Scribes, the Sadducees represented a lifestyle of leisure. They had money, they wore fine robes and looked down on the rags other people wore. They could sit around and study God’s word and pay someone else to plow their fields and make them breakfast. I mean when I think about this I think about waitresses at restaurants, the single mom who can’t hardly afford not to work on a Sunday morning when all the people like to go get breakfast after church. And then the good majority of those same people complain that a person shouldn’t work on the Sabbath, but aren’t you glad they do, if at no other time than when you are on vacation and there isn’t any other option? It was that kind of relationship these people had with one another. You couldn’t be a Pharisee if you were poor. But it was to the little children, the overworked and heavy laden to whom the Father revealed the kingdom in Jesus Christ. They were the one’s who flocked to see John the Baptist at the Jordan. They were the ones who gathered to hear the Beatitudes when Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount. They humbled themselves like little children before their Father in heaven, and then they saw what the Father was doing, then they found the rest they were looking for.
So it is that the kingdom is one of rest. No not the kind of rest the Pharisees had from physical labor, but rest for the souls of those who have tried their hardest to live up to God’s law and have failed. This was the chief difference between the little children and the wise and understanding. The “wise and understanding” used here with a bit of tongue and cheek, had thought they accomplished God’s law. The little children could not afford such luxurious delusions. They knew their sins, and the Pharisees piled on more. The yoke of the law can be heavy if you are going to try to earn God’s favor by pulling it. But the yoke that Jesus has is light. It isn’t a matter of earning God’s favor, but experiencing his love, his grace, his mercy, that which he poured out upon you as little children at the baptismal font. It is there that he assures you of his favor so that you no longer have to worry about it. Then we live in his love and living in his love we learn to love as he loves, even as he loves all the little children of the world.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Persecuted for Righteousness Sake

Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant [4] above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign [5] those of his household.
26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. [6] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? [7] And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:21-33 (ESV)
“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake but the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Jesus gives his disciples a pep talk. He is sending his twelve out to preach in his name. He was hated by the world. He is hated in this world. He exposes our sin. He destroys our delusions of grandeur. Even in his day, he was hated. He warns the disciples. “It isn’t going to be any easier for you.” “It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher and the servant like his master.”
This is why Christians can find a certain amount of comfort amidst the persecution. If no one hated us, would we really be Christian? Of course, today we live in a culture that is still greatly influenced by Christianity. Much more so than one would think. Sometimes the influence is a little twisted and confused, but it is still there. Things people take for granted today are developments that would not have happened in any other society. Freedom of Religion is one of those things. We take it for granted. We know that no one can be forced to believe the gospel. So we don’t try to force it. We preach it. We shout it from the rooftops as it were. When this was being written the rooftops were often used as pulpits in small villages where perhaps there was no synagogue. Somewhat the same way the pope will often address crowds gathered at the Vatican from a window on the second floor. Jesus taught the disciples in the dark. He preached to the crowds, and then he explained what he had said to them as they walked. He instructed them concerning the gospel as they walked, as they gathered around campfires, as they sat by the roadsides. He instructed them in the way that fathers were commanded to teach their children in Deut. 6. And he regarded them as his children, as he does all his disciples including you. What they had been taught on a personal level they were now to proclaim to the world, but just as their teacher was hated, so they would be hated.
But it can be an odd thing to take comfort in your persecution. A person has to be on guard against a persecution complex, like Jehova Witnesses who think they are doubly blessed by the stranger slamming the door in their face. Peter says it:  “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.” (1 Peter 4:15-17 (ESV) I had a professor for missions once, Dr. Douglass Rutt. He once said it to the class like this. “You will be hated for the gospel’s sake. But make sure it is for the gospel that you are hated and not because you are just a jerk.” That’s probably a paraphrase, but it hit home.
We can often just be jerks even when it comes to the gospel. It comes about when we have no patience with others who may not understand the faith the same way we do. Or perhaps in overzealous enthusiasm, we rush out to get into a fight or a debate about some particular article of faith. Perhaps we argue Creationism vs. Evolution with little to know understanding of the church’s own historical teaching concerning the nature of creation, and even less concerning current scientific research. It’s not anything new, Augustine in the fourth century complained about Christians doing that very same thing. Maybe it is that we try to force other people to live in the manner we think we should be living, even though we ourselves fall way short of that goal. Of course, we can’t help that people will judge us based on their past experience with Christians either. But there was a time when Christians were actually persecuted because they believed in the forgiveness of sins. Now, this is something it seems only garners persecution from other so-called Christians. The world hardly knows that Christians believe in such a thing because about all they experience from Christians is judgment. And they know there is something a bit off about this when Jesus is known for having said don’t judge. That you will be judged by the same measuring stick with which you judge others.
But let it be known, the world will still persecute you for believing in the forgiveness of sins. You don’t have to be a jerk to be persecuted for Christ’s sake. It will come. It will come from those who refuse to understand how a sinner like you can go to church on Sunday. They don’t believe you should judge others, but they will call you a snob for having sinned all week long, perhaps absentmindedly snubbing them at work, or losing your temper, maybe you gossiped and slandered them, and you still have the gall to get up on Sunday morning and act as if your toilet smells of roses. When in fact, the reason you come is the complete opposite, or at least it should be, it isn’t because you think you have been perfect, but because you know you have fallen short of the glory of God in life, you haven’t reflected the love of Christ for sinners in your life, at least not as perfectly as you would have liked. And you know there is only one answer to that, to confess your sin to God, and receive the forgiveness of sins from Jesus, that you may grow in faith and love having been nourished by his word, and being strengthened in the faith and the forgiveness of sins, would even be able to forgive those who persecute you for the sake of righteousness, praying with Jesus himself from the cross, “forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” And then it is because you are the body of Christ, the disciple of Jesus, that they persecute you as they persecuted him. But hold fast for in him alone is their salvation.

Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Laborers for the Kingdom

Matthew 9:35-10:8
35 And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38 therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
10:1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; [1] 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, [2] cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. (Matthew 9:35-10:8 (ESV)
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
It’s at this time of year, when the school year is finished. The leases on the apartments in Ft. Wayne and St. Louise are up for renewal that the Lord sends laborers into his harvest. He does it at other times and in other places too. But I imagine that the reason this text comes up here today is that in our church body, in our Synod this is one of the more common times for the harvest to receive new laborers. It will be good to remember them in our prayers as we pray “thy kingdom come.” His kingdom that “comes when he gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe his holy word and live godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” It is this kingdom that Jesus Christ refers his apostles to, telling them to go to the Lost Sheep of Israel and proclaim that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is through this proclamation that the Lord gathers his sheep into the fold. The people who are now like sheep without shepherds, that is they are lost, without hope, without peace, harassed and helpless.
Perhaps we even feel that way from time to time. Today there are many who believe they can live just fine without the gospel, without the forgiveness of sins, without God. There are many more who don’t even know that this is what they long for. It’s often easy for us Christians to be critical of the culture we live in, to look around in horror at what society looks at as normal, to cringe at the things they laugh at. I’m always left with this thought; “false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice,” “lead us not into temptation.” These are the things encompassed by temptation, false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. And it is this temptation we are spared when from the Father and the Son the Holy Spirit proceeds, enters our lives, causes us to believe his holy word, his gospel the forgiveness of sins, peace with God and good will toward men, that we are led to repentance a true repentance that is faith in God who has led us into his kingdom of forgiveness and love, and out of our spiritual Egypts, out of our slavery to sin death and the devil. A slavery that kept us ignorant of our Creator, our Savior, our Sanctifier, ignorant of the love of our Father which far surpasses that of any earthly father who knows how to avoid buying scorpions and serpents for their children. A slavery that kept us bound in false belief that led to despair and then caused us to perform so many shameful acts like circus monkeys for the evil trio of sin, death and the devil in their three-ring show. This is what we see in so many sectors of society today. These are the temptations that plague our own children. And even when we have the gospel, even when we know the love of the Father for us children, even when we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins, we have a hard time avoiding the temptations and traps of the devil, to avoid taking center stage for his amusement. We know the law, so does everyone around us. They know right from wrong. Listen to them. Most of the time it is with the law that they accuse Christians relentlessly with the accusation that we are hypocrites, and not without reason. I’ll leave the disputed things out, like why there aren’t more Christian environmentalists as Louis C.K. chastises us for. I mean he’d be right about what our actions should be if in fact, the claims of the green movement were entirely true. But then he doesn’t quite seem to get the nature of sin.
See that is the problem for most of us. We tend to think of sin as something we can overcome. Sure we might be able to avoid this or that particular sin. We can avoid being rapists, murderers, we can perhaps avoid reviling our parents, at least on Mother’s day and Father’s day, or can we? “The good that I would that I do not, the evil I would not that I do.” The apostle Paul wrote that. He was aware of his own hypocrisy. And when we think of sins of society that we cringe at? Do we even contemplate the fourth commandment? Honor your Father and your Mother? Does that even make sense in a society whose gospel, whose path to contentment for your soul and everything you wrestle with is little more than “blame your parents.”
Jesus has another way. He didn’t blame. He obeyed. He obeyed his Father even to death on the cross. He chose to love God even more than Mary and Joseph.  He followed the will of our Heavenly Father, from whom he was begotten before all worlds. But it was there on the cross that he won forgiveness for the world. And it was there on the cross that he showed what this forgiveness was like when it came to parents. He forgave his mother and entrusted her care to one of his Apostles. He didn’t shun her for thinking he was crazy early in his career, for showing up with a delegation of brothers to take him home. He forgave her. Even as he forgives you, that you might be able to do the same with your parents, and with your children. They are human like you, sinners in need of forgiveness. They don’t do everything right, and they have a hard time forgiving one another too. But these are all tricks of the devil by which he harasses helpless sheep who have no shepherd. We have a shepherd, the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep and even now cares for them by sending in laborers for the harvest that they might know forgiveness, peace and the love of their heavenly Father.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday

16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in [2] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
It’s Trinity Sunday. The whole Sunday revolves around a doctrine. It is the only Sunday in the church year to celebrate a doctrine rather than an event that teaches a doctrine. But the Trinity is important enough to merit this because without it there is no salvation for mankind. It is essential that Jesus be both God and man if there is to be forgiveness of sins, life and salvation found in his blood. Thus it was the great controversy of the early church as it debated with the Jews over the divinity of Jesus, over and against the gnostics and other concerning his humanity, and with each other as to just how it was possible for both the Father and the Son to be God, and what about the Holy Spirit.
Careful reading of the Scriptures show that all three of these persons are to be regarded as God. Perhaps the biggest clue is a careful look at Christ’s words, go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
To understand this you have to understand the meaning of the name of God in Scripture. It was more than a moniker or a label. It was he himself. The temple was built as a place for His name to dwell. So the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, all three mentioned by name here share one name into which we are baptized. This is the divine essence and being of God. And it is because Jesus Christ shares this divine essence and being that all authority on heaven and earth can be given to him.
He has it now. He had given it up to take on our flesh, to bear responsibility for our sins. Yes, he was certainly still able to do the miraculous, and show that he was God in the flesh, but he did not make full use of his divine powers. He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but took on the form of a servant to be obedient to the Father even onto death. Well that is the other place you start finding the Trinitarian formula and its relation to Christ and our salvation hammered out. Philippians chapter  2.
He was equal to the Father, but he gave it up for our salvation. It is the exact opposite of our sin. In our sin we want to be equal to the Father. This is the sin with which the devil tempted Eve, you will be like God and know good from evil. That is you would be able to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong, and not only in the moral realm. The problem, the greatest problem man has with the Trinity, the idea that Jesus could be God, is we think we are too smart for that. It doesn’t jive with all the other things we think we know about God, his omnipotence, his omniscience, his omnipresence. How could God take the form of a man? Take the form of a servant. It runs counter to everything. It is a repudiation of everything we think we know. We think the greatest good is to have power and authority, to rule the world and make others our servants. We dream about this in childhood fantasies, or perhaps as we walk to the store to buy lotter tickets trying to imagine what it would be like to have 484 million dollars! And that is just earthly riches. It doesn’t compare to what Jesus gave up to save man. But this he did. For you for me. And then he as God, and as man died. This is really at the root of the trinity, the deep divine mystery that the God who created this world, and made you and I would be able to die. God died. It’s absolutely incredible.
But now Jesus who won salvation for us. He resumes his divinity, receives all authority in heaven and on earth, that he as God and Man could continue his work of salvation among us. That he who won salvation for us, would keep winning us for salvation. That he would be able to continue making us disciples by baptizing us into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Resumes all authority in heaven and on earth that he could continue to be God with us, in and through or baptism, guiding and directing our ways to life everlasting, now and forever, Amen.

Now the peace of God that Surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

River's of Living Water

37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as [6] the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39 (ESV)
As the scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)
Generally, water that is moving and thus the waters flowing in a river are considered to be living. The waters of the numerous creeks and mountain brooks feeding the Sea of Galilee in the mountainous area of Galilee where Jesus grew up. In the spring you could see them bubbling up, and feeding the lush mountain meadows where the sheep would graze in the mountains of Bashan and Gilead. It was living water because it brought life.
We don’t know exactly which verse Jesus was speaking of when he said that out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. Perhaps paraphrasing this one from Jeremiah, or perhaps summarizing the Biblical concept that that God is the source of life and salvation shall flow from his own being.”
“If anyone thirsts let him come to me and drink.” He says here at the feast of booths. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” This was really the point of this last day of the feast, in which gathering water from the pool of Siloam they would dance around the altar in the temple and pour the water out upon it, singing the words of Isaiah, “With Joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Jesus has the audacity to claim that the whole feast is about him. The wells of salvation are in him. He is the source of living water, the Holy Spirit that proceeds from the Father and the Son.
“He had said this about the Spirit whom those who believed in him were to receive. For as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.”
Jesus was not yet glorified. He had not yet been crucified to shed his blood on the cross for the sins of the world. He had not yet been raised from the dead, for our Justification. He had not yet ascended to the Father. But it was 50 days ago that he rose from the dead. It was 10 days ago that he ascended to the Father. And now he sends the Holy Spirit, the living waters of salvation, and the Spirit is poured out upon all flesh, and in just that day 3,000 are saved. This is what we celebrate today. And without a baptism, we rejoice as two young men of this congregation affirm the faith that was given to them in Holy Baptism. Can we know a greater joy than this, to see brothers and sisters in the faith drinking from the wells of salvation, Jesus himself, and the word of God through which he sends to us the Holy Spirit? To see the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the young and old alike?
I’ll tell you it is easy to forsake the well of living water, God and his word through which the Holy Spirit comes. It’s easy to do this as an individual when you think you don’t need God, and life gets to busy and frantic. Church seems to be one more source of stress in life. Just another thing you are supposed to do, but can’t seem to find the time for. Something to feel guilty about. It’s easy to do this as a congregation when we are looking for “results” and are blinded to the work that is being done. We want to see three thousand baptized! We want tongues of fire dancing on our foreheads! We associate the Spirit all too often with feelings that come and go. There was a day after Pentecost. The new disciples gathered to worship in the temple, and then they broke bread in their homes. Or as it says in Acts 2:42 they devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles, to prayer and the breaking of the bread, a euphemism for the Lord’s Supper they shared together. Why? Because they knew that here was the source of Living Water. Here was God himself. Here was Jesus the source of their salvation. He was among them when they came together in his name to drink and receive their righteousness. Here they received the work of the Holy Spirit the forgiveness of sins, and it sustained them in their faith as they met the hardships and tribulations of this world, and life together in the church.
It wasn’t really any easier for them than it is for you. They didn’t see explosive growth either. Not everyday anyway. 3,000 on the day of Pentecost was spectacular. It was nothing compared to the tens of thousands that would have been pouring into the city that day for the Jewish holiday known as Pentecost. And the next day? Well there isn’t any record of how many were or weren’t converted. But the people had joy in that they saw the Spirit at work anyway, when Joe who couldn’t make it yesterday, came back today.
Do we see the Spirit at work today? Yes. If you have eyes to see. I see it in the nursing homes when in the midst of agony and the face of death, the only thing wanted is for me to read another psalm, sing another hymn, and pray another prayer. I see it when a mother, who perhaps hasn’t been in church for a while, brings a new born child forth to receive the Spirit in Holy Baptism. I see it in the old familiar faces who wouldn’t know what to do with their Sunday morning if there wasn’t church for them to go to. I see it in a congregation that just continues, when the world around them looks and compares them to this and that church over there, and says why do they bother? Why? Because the Spirit is at work? Don’t believe it? Just attend confirmation class with these kids. Oh, we have our moments when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Perhaps I’m tired and worn out, and they more so. But then I can’t tell you what a joy it is when I look back over the three years I’ve had these kids in class with me. When out of nowhere they have the right answer! Or better yet, they have the right question and just want to hear what God has to say. Today they will make a confession before us. That is the work of the Holy Spirit apart from whom no one can say that “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep Your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.