Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 30 and 31 - Luke 1:26-56

I preached as if I were Zechariah, Elizabeth and Mary this Advent.  Here's the sermon "from" Mary, based on this meditation by Rev. William Weedon:

There is just so much to treasure in your heart when the Son of God is in your life. I remember my childhood years, my father and mother taking me to the synagogue and traveling to the Temple for the Lord’s Festivals. We heard the stories of Moses and our people Israel leaving Egypt and traveling to the Promised Land – and that Moses promised a new Prophet was coming after him from among us to lead us all to the eternal Promised Land of Heaven. I heard the stories of how they built the Tent of Meeting, the Tabernacle, and how centuries later King David thought he would do God a favor by building a Temple to replace the old Tabernacle. However, God said no. David’s son would build God’s House. And more than that, God would establish a son of David on the throne forever – a promise that the eternal Messiah would come from David’s family. I learned the stories of our people’s rebellion against God, and how He sent foreign armies against us to destroy or capture everyone and everything – even Solomon’s Temple. But the angel Gabriel appeared to faithful Daniel to assure him that God was still with our people. And sure enough, our people returned to this land and built a new Temple to the Lord. I never dreamed that that same Gabriel would appear to me, to announce that a new Temple of the Lord, not made of bricks, but of human flesh, would arrive. That the Prophet Moses promised was about to arrive to lead us. That in fact, I, a virgin and a descendant of David, would give birth to the Messiah who would wage war against the enemy Devil and win the victory for us.

I remember how my heart pounded when the angel Gabriel first told me what was about to happen! When I heard about angels in the Bible, I thought I would not be afraid if I saw one. However when you stand face to face with their beauty and holiness, it makes you feel all the ugliness of your sin. Yet he assured me that I had found the Lord’s favor. God’s grace, His undeserved kindness was given to me despite the lowliness of the evil in my heart. God’s Love in the flesh, His only begotten Son, the Jesus who would save us all from our sins – I was blessed to carry Him in my womb for 9 months. My heart burst with great joy at the angel’s gracious words! I rushed off to Zechariah's house, where somehow Elizabeth knew my secret! And so did that baby John inside of her, leaping for joy. What relief to talk to someone else about what was going on inside me, someone who understood and would not treat me like I was out of my mind, someone else who knew what it was like when the Lord does great things for you - and you cannot contain your joy, but you feel like everyone else demands that you do.

I remember the first movements Jesus made inside my womb. I realized that God was quite literally alive inside of me – and my body was His temple. Soon after came the anxious time when Joseph did not know what to believe about the source of my pregnancy. But God's angel let my beloved know the truth and our wedding was back on.

I remember leaving Nazareth on that difficult journey to Bethlehem, knowing my baby could come at any time. Except that I knew it could not be the right time until we arrived there – for according to Micah's prophecy, the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem.

I remember being told there was no room in the inn, but there was the manger. And soon after that for the first time I saw Christ's face and touched His hands. I looked into Joseph's eyes, and it suddenly became so real to us.

I remember when the shepherds appeared at the entrance. And you know, under ordinary circumstances I might have been surprised to see them. But after being visited by an angel, and greeted by Elizabeth, I began to expect the unexpected to happen around my Son. These shepherds said angels had visited them too with songs of glory to God and peace on earth. I could still hear them talking excitedly as they walked away from worshiping Christ.

I remember when we brought Him at 40 days old to the Temple for my rites of purification. And those two old saints rushed up to us with joy. Dear widow Anna let everyone know that the Redeemer was here as she gave thanks to God. Simeon took my baby in his arms, praising the Lord and saying he was ready to depart this world in peace. Then he told me that not everyone would be so excited to see my son in the future. Their responses would cause my soul pain. Being the mother of Jesus would be harder than I thought. Yet, as I had said to Gabriel, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as He has said” – for I knew God would strengthen me to do His will in those hard times.

I remember sometime later when the wise men from the East arrived at our house. They bowed before my Son with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh while the Star they followed still shone upon us. But that glory was gone quickly, and Simeon's prophecy of pain began to come true. Joseph woke me before the morning dawn so we could escape ahead of Herod's terrible sword, which killed so many of our friends' baby boys. Yet God frustrated the proud king's attempts to keep his throne at all costs. When the Lord brought Herod down in death and it was safe for us, we took Jesus back to our little hometown of Nazareth.

I remember a later trip back to Nazareth, when 12 years old Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem's Temple. I was so afraid. Those of you who have ever lost your child know how your mind races through all the terrible possibilities of what might have happened, and how powerless you are, and how you wish you could go back and do the day differently. But there he was, safe in His Father's house. It is sad how easy it is to get confused about who Jesus really is, even for me.

I remember the wedding we were invited to – and that time I did not forget who my Son really is. I did not know what Jesus would do, but I knew when they had no more wine He would do something about it. So even after His response to me sounded rather cold, I instructed the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. And soon the water they gathered was turned to the finest wine, an unexpected little taste of Heaven.

I remember His ministry as an adult and the crowds that followed Him and were as dear to Him as His own flesh and blood – even those who accused Him, and tortured Him, and crucified my Son. The Prophet Micah (6:7) had asked, “Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” Yet I knew I did not choose to give my Son this way. He tried telling us He gave His life willingly…

And then I remembered the words of old man Simeon in the Temple echoed in my mind as it felt like a sword cut right through my soul when I saw my Son dying. Yet even in that moment, during such a horrifying time, He showed Himself to be the God of Ruth and Naomi. He who restored a family to them provided for me in my widowhood. John, the son of Zebedee, stood next to me as Jesus said, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then He said to His disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And for the rest of my days John cared for me as if I had been his own mother. When the light from the eyes of Christ disappeared, John tried comforting me the same way Jesus did when my beloved husband Joseph died. But it was different. My heart sank beyond what words could express.

I remember those three hopeless days, when I did not trust my Son's promises like I should have. However, though my faith failed, He remained faithful to His Word, and rose from the tomb. A few of my friends and relatives were the first to witness that His life conquered death. Joy flooded my heart. His followers and I became more convinced of what I had always known – that Jesus is Lord and His Word of promise is true. That He was born of me not just for me, but to save the world of sinners, to forgive even my slowness to believe all He says.

I remember how, after Jesus ascended into Heaven, our little group of believers gathered together, and a new apostle was chosen. And as we prayed, the Holy Spirit who conceived Christ in me before now landed on each Apostle in wind and flame. And this was just the first of many times that the good news of my Son was brought to the world. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is preached in Christ's name, just as the God of Abraham says, to bless the world. Some still will not receive Him and believe it. But I welcomed each one who did believe, each one who became God's child. And I treated each one as a brother of my Son. And as you believe, you are the brothers and sisters of this same King who reigns forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30 - Isaiah 6 and 7

Isaiah stained glass window at St. Matthew's L...Image via Wikipedia
Isaiah 6:1-7 is so stunning that I rarely consider verse 8 and following.  Moreover, I had never considers how 6:8-13 flowed into Isaiah 7, where King Ahaz keeps on hearing, but does not understand; keeps on seeing, but does not perceive.  His heart is dull to the promise of the virgin with child called Immanuel, the holy seed and stump that remains after the the oak of Judah is felled.
Have mercy on us, O Lord, that we may not be abandoned in the darkness of our dull hearts, but may see in the Light of Your Son who takes away our guilt and atones for our sin.

November 29 - 1 Peter 2

Elsewhere pastors have commented on how perfectly the Treasury's writings work for devotions before meetings.  It is one of those nights in these parts as the councils of my dual parish meet to discuss their work together.  Neither could afford to sacrifice what it would take to have their own pastor, and so each congregation makes sacrifices of requests of my time to work with each other and share me as a pastor.  1 Peter 2 gives a good reminder that as God builds us together as living stones to be His spiritual household, these sacrifices are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  Without these sacrifices of time, talent and treasure, both congregations would cease to exist - but together we are a royal priesthood whose sacrifices are made on behalf of our local community, and even the world as both congregations well support missions in our country and around the world.  (And, may I add, without their sacrifices, I would not be able to write these words you are reading right now.)  In this way we "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" so that many more may glorify God on the day of visitation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10 - Matthew 25:14-30

(which also happens to be this upcoming Sunday's Gospel reading in the three-year series - thus the reference to 1 Thessalonians 5- so here's my sermon from 3 years ago)

After hearing Christ’s parable about His return, what is your reaction to Him telling you not to sit idly by waiting for Him, but to be busy with the work of our Master?  Do you hear His parable and swallow hard – because you know the Day of reckoning is coming, when “God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14)?  Do you see yourself to be too much like the third wicked and lazy servant?  Are you afraid that you will hear the same words, “Cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30)?
If so, then find comfort in St. Paul’s grace-filled words: “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him” (1 Thessalonians 5:10).  God does not want you in the outer darkness of eternal sorrow.  Your Master wants you to live with Him and share His joy forever.  Therefore, He places within you His Holy Spirit so that you no longer want to live for yourself.  Because of Him, you want His kingdom to spread – and yet your wicked greed and laziness keep trying to bury His kingdom as they keep burying you.  But the Lord raises you again to new life when all the debts you owe to God are forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
However, what about if these words and deeds of Christ do not move you?  What if you do not hear Christ calling you to live a changed life?  What if you groan when you heard today’s parable because it meant another sermon talking to you about your money?  If this is true, then woe to you unless you repent.  Before the end comes and it is too late.
First off, this parable is not about money.  This parable speaks to everything that our Heavenly Master has entrusted to us.  All that is good in your life is there only because God has donated it to you, as the Scriptures say, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).  Though sin tempts us to see God as stingy, taking away more than He gives, the Small Catechism teaches us to “believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all that I have.”
What do you have that you did not receive from God?  Well, besides your sin that has produced all the not-good things in your life.  Yet this highlights that we cannot take credit for the good gifts in our lives.  God gives these things as free gifts to you, “only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me.”
He did not give your body and soul to sin with, but to use them in thankfulness and praise to God, in our obedient service to Him.  He did not give you eyes to see images and words that inspire filthy fantasies, but to consider His goodness in the beauty of His Creation.  He did not give you ears to hear deadly lies and gossip, but to hear the Truth of His life-giving Word.  He gave you a mouth, not that it would be filled with cursing, deceit, and threats (Psalm 10:7), but that your mouth would declare His Name – to say “O my God” in the only faithful ways of prayer, praise, witness, and thanksgiving.  He gives you family and friends not to tear one another down and definitely not to murder in deed, words, or thoughts, the way the children of the darkness do.  But as children of the light, God gives you the people in your life to care for, and to be cared for by, that together you may serve the Lord and others as long as you shall live.  You do this especially when you “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “and all the more so as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).
While God gives the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation equally to all Christians – for all receive the same Christ Jesus – God does not give out other gifts equally.  But no matter whether that talent is 1, 2, or 5, small or large, Christ makes a claim on you, asking you to use it in faith.  And yes, whether we like it or not, money is included – given to us by God both to support this body and life by paying for such things as food and drink, clothing and shoes, home, land, animals – even hospital bills and taxes and charity.  Further, money is not just to be invested in this body and life, but also to work towards the life to come by financing the spread of Good News to you and your children and people around the world, the Good News of free forgiveness in Christ’s name and the resurrection of the body.
That gets us back to the parable, where Christ speaks – not ultimately about money, but in terms of money – about our Master’s return after a long delay, to encourage us to do works of love for God and man while we wait.  When the day of reckoning comes, the Master honors the first two servants for their stewardship of doubling the 5 and 2 talents entrusted to them.  In faithfulness, they had made the most of the gifts the Lord had given them to use, taking risks according to their abilities.  In the end we find out that what is good for the Master is good for the servants, as they are welcomed to enter His joy – just like what benefits Christ, benefits Christ’s people, and vice-versa, because we are members of His body.
The third servant is not faithful.  You might understand his actions if he really was afraid of his Master’s response, as he claims to be.  But the Master sees right through that excuse, and condemns him as wicked and lazy.  The servant refused to work for the welfare of His Master.  He loves only his own neck, so he buries the gift in the ground as if it were a dead corpse.  He even blames the Master for his evil lack of work, claiming that the Master is a hard man (v. 24).  But the Master was more than generous in giving one talent, which was aomewhere in the neighborhood of ¼ million dollars.  A lot could have been done for the good of the Master with that.  But the wicked servant does not want the responsibility.  To him it is a curse, rather than a blessing.  He can’t get rid of the gift fast enough.  “Here you have what is yours.”  No worse (nor better) than when you gave it.  His attempts to justify himself lead straight to the judgment of being stripped of his gifts, and cast out of the Master’s presence.
This parable certainly calls each of us to re-consider the gifts that God has given over to our stewardship.  Have we been like the first two workers, or have we been like the third?  The answer is yes.  Have you been obedient, faithful and hard working?  Yes.  But have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy?  Yes, that too.  There is definitely room for improvement in each one of our lives.  And these questions we ask ourselves individually must also be asked of us as a church – how faithful have we been in using the gifts our Lord has bestowed upon our congregation?  How have we done at laying up treasures in Heaven?  Are we putting God’s Word to work among us, or are we treating His Gospel as if it has no power to save the lost world, hiding and burying God’s gift as if it were a dead thing?
Yet, we take the wrong message home from this parable if we leave here thinking, “I do not want to go to Hell, so I am going to start doing good.”  For one thing, that change will only last until we numb ourselves to being scared of Hell.  Besides, when punishment motivates us like it did the third servant, we are loving our own necks – not God nor our neighbor.  Furthermore, this point of view sees God as a hard man.  But He is a generous God, for no hard man would give His Son to save us.  Jesus is the only Servant who always put His gifts to work for the good of His fellow man, and always in faith toward His God and Father.  Despite His innocence and perfect obedience, Jesus will die only a few days after telling this parable, treated as if He was the wicked, lazy and worthless servant.  Thanks be to God that He obeyed the Father, whose will was to send His Son to the darkness outside the gates of Jerusalem with His Cross, placed under God’s wrath against our wickedness.  Amidst the weeping and gnashing of teeth, Christ cried out with a loud voice and died.  This greatest gift of God was buried in the ground, only to return from the dead with blessings too numerous to count in His Resurrection.  For not only did Jesus lose nothing that was entrusted to Him (John 18:9), He increases the wealth of His Kingdom with the salvation of sinners.  He restores you to God, filling Heaven with the angels’ rejoicing over your repentance and faith.  For even as He is raised from the dead and now sits at the right hand of God, so also you will be raised to enter His eternal joy and live with Him forever.  As a guarantee of this promise, He overflows the treasures of Heaven into your life here, entrusting to us His own holy body and His blood more precious than gold or silver.
In this gift of the Son, the Father teaches us to know that He gives us all good things.  He gives you His Holy Spirit, so that you would believe the sins of your past – your wickedness, laziness, neglect, greed, and your fears of risking loss – are all left behind you, buried as dead things in Christ’s tomb.  So we also get this parable wrong if we refuse to let Christ’s words and deeds change us, that is, if we treat forgiveness as a free pass to return to our old wicked ways.  No, the Holy Spirit teaches us to hate those sins, and in the knowledge of God’s holy will to no longer treat His gifts as dead and buried in the sand, but that we might press these gifts into service for the Lord, freely and faithfully to His glory and the good of our neighbor.
God grant that as today you hear Christ say to you, “My child, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2, New King James Version), so also at the end of your days you hear His words, “Well, done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Master.”  Amen.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

November 6 (All Saints 2011, transf.) - Psalmody

on this festal day when the light of the resurrection breaks into our darkness of death and we hear Jesus say to us, "Blessed are the...", Psalm 118:26 reminds us of the One who makes us more than just poor in spirit, but declares us blessed - "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!
We bless You from the house of the LORD."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

October 31 - Keeping and Treasuring the Word - Road Edition

Psalm 46 - what a good Psalm to have for Reformation.  We spoke it yesterday at church, a Word that is very good for this man to live by.  You see, I'm typing this while in the car with my parents and sister, while my wife is busy trying to get Halloween-hyped kids to calm down and get ready for bed.  My parents health has gotten to the point where they needed to move out of the family home after over thirty years there.  So needless to say, it's been an emotional weekend, saying goodbye to people and places and things, something that came far too soon for my tastes.  For their's too, I know.
In the ten years since I left California, things have changed.  Businesses have been built up, torn down, opened and closed and replaced one another.  My best friend got married and has a wonderful son.  My high school's football team has become a powerhouse, winning three statewide championships.
And my home church has grayed tremendously.  It is no exaggeration to say I saw no kids at church yesterday.  A few high schoolers, but that was about it.  A lot of those who were there when we moved to town in 1979 are still there, though some have left town.  We used to have as many there in each of the two services as were there for the only service yesterday.  But the pastor is bi-lingual and also conducts a Spanish service on Saturday nights, so that is good.
My mind ran wild with memories during the service.  Over there was the space which, before the remodel, was the sacristy where Pastor Rauschek asked me to consider becoming a pastor in 1986.  There my dad and the president of the congregation talked to my confirmation class about their work on the Church Council.  There, at that very altar, beneath that stained glass of our Christ praying in Gethsemane, was the place where I was fed the first of many times with my Savior's body and blood.  In this sanctuary, between mother and father, I learned to sing such great hymns and canticles as we sang yesterday - "A Mighty Fortress" of course, and "Let the Vineyards be Fruitful Lord" and "O Lord, We Praise Thee" and "Thy Strong Word" - which also rang out as I approached that altar with the lovely and gracious Miss Laura Lee Schulz, and pledged before God and the witnesses present to love and cherish her all my days.  I later stood next to her over there in the current sacristy with Pastor Moon looking on as she signed her name Laura Leistico.  And then a year later I stood in that pulpit to preach my first sermon after becoming a pastor - and then less than a week later, my second as I had the privilege of officiating at my sister's wedding.
Pastor had an excellent sermon on Romans 3, with a little Matthew 11 sprinkled in.  Amazing I remember much with all the talking my heart was doing.  But the Word of God cut like a sword through all of it to give me the anchor of eternal things as I was grieving the loss of things temporal.  And this a charitable donation from God to us (Pastor said that was the best synonymn he could find using Microsoft Word since he felt like he had said "free gift" too much.)  Surely God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in my time of trouble.  And though my parents' residence has changed, and I can't go home again, at least not to my boyhood home, there is that eternal city of God made glad by the river of life.  That is my home, the thing I long for, where sorrow and sighing flee away, and the word "goodbye" never need be uttered again.  Until then I take heed as my wife's favorite Bible verse is placed within my heart again - "Be still and know that I am God."

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23 - Writing

all I can say is, "Wow."  Bonhoeffer nails it.  Church, be Church.  Christ builds, we confess.  Take time to read it if you haven't - and you can read it here on Rev. Albert Colver's blog, as he ties it to the recent history of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia!

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17 - Deuteronomy 16

I'm intending to write more, but for now - it was interesting that we read today God's warning of how bribery affects justice after I read this article online about a Congressman who stood up and named names concerning how lobbyists have corrupted justice being done in our Legislative branch.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

October 15 - Psalmody

Psalm 119:37 is truly appropriate as a prayer before going on the Internet, among other things.

Verse 40b causes me to think, and rejoice, as well, but that will have to remain my own thoughts until later when I can set aside time to reveal them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rev. Weedon provides an excellent summary of the retreat we attended (officially it was a District Pastors' Conference... but SID is a special district.  I am blessed)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Homily for Pentecost 16A (Proper 22) - Matthew 21:33-46

Another Sunday, another parable from Jesus about how it is with the Kingdom of Heaven.  And again it works in a way that no one on earth would ever do it.  I mean seriously, pretend you are the landowner.  You set everything up perfectly – whether it’s assembly line machinery and raw materials for your factories, or tractors, barns, anhydrous and the best seed for your farm.  Nothing more could be done to give your business a greater chance at success.  You hire managers at generous salaries to do your business as you need to travel overseas.  Time passes and your workers are raking in your profits.  So you send your advisors back home to do an on-site visit.  And they beat the one, murder another and shoot another.  If it was my business, I would be calling the cops at this point.

But Jesus says this business owner sends more servants, with the same deadly results.  And then, then he believes they will respect his son?  What in the world is going on?  But he is not the only one thinking crazy thoughts.  The wretched tenants actually believe if they murder the son, they will get the inheritance – as if they would go unpunished and get away with their crime!  Who would be so dumb as to think that?

Of course, that is part of the point.  Sin is dumb.  From Adam and Eve hiding in the bushes from God through these Pharisees on to us and those sins we regret because we know better than to do them, it is a bunch of foolishness.  Living as if it is better to sin than to avoid it, as if God does not care whether we obey Him in all things or not, as if there will never be a day of reckoning.

Christ and The PhariseesImage via Wikipedia
And for as ridiculous as this parable is, you know it did happen in real life.  Just a few days later, in fact.  On Holy Tuesday, Jesus tells this parable to the chief priests and Pharisees who will do everything necessary to murder the Son of God.  They have confronted Jesus in the Temple.  “What right do you have to overturn the moneychangers’ tables?  Who gave you the authority to teach in God’s House?”

And Jesus looks them square in the eye as His words teach them.  He knows what they are up to.  Their hearts’ deepest, darkest secrets Jesus knows.  They claim to honor God, saying they will obey the Lord in every way – and then ignore the commandments.  They say God’s Old Testament Prophets must be listened to, all the while these enemies fail to recognize that the Prophets speak of Christ and His forgiveness of sins.  Their ancestors had done exactly what Jesus describes in the Parable.  Jeremiah was mocked, arrested and thrown into a well.  Elijah was wanted dead or alive by the king of Israel.  The king of Judah ordered the prophet Zechariah be stoned to death right around the same place where Jesus stood that very moment in the Temple.

God had been patient with the Chief priests and Pharisees up to this point.  But that time is quickly coming to an end.  If they carry out their deadly plans against Jesus, God will put these wretched servants to a miserable end.  And the Lord will hand His vineyard over to new tenants, to the Apostles who will give the Lord the fruits of faith and thanksgiving.

Yet even in this note of Judgment, see that Jesus is still opening the door to mercy.  “That judgment does not have to fall on you.  It is not too late for you who sin against me.  Turn around.  Get off this deadly path.  Repent and find your salvation in Me,” Jesus says.  Not just once, but again and again throughout their life.

So how does this text apply to you?  I mean, I know you are not the chief priests or Pharisees of Christ's day.  You do not have plans in mind to kill Jesus.  You do not have a way to get rich off of teaching man's rules in God's Church to benefit yourself.  However, if the Lord only meant these words for the people on Holy Tuesday, He never would have inspired Matthew, Mark, and Luke to write this event done.

All that being said, it certainly applies to pastors as the parable warns me that I must serve Father, Son and Holy Spirit – not me, myself, and I.  The Lord makes clear here that if I keep going down this selfish path, not only will He take the Holy Ministry away from me, He will also put me to a miserable end.  So what does that have to do with you?  Well, what should you do any time someone faces danger?  When they go into a risky surgery, you pray for them to survive.  Likewise, where I face the risks of not only losing my faith, but also leading you astray for my own selfish gain, I need your prayers.  Ask God to strengthen me so that I would be His faithful servant.  And I thank you for saying prayers along these lines in the past.

Second, do not mistake God's patience for approval of your sin.  There is a point of no return, a day of reckoning for all of us.  Not one of us knows when it will be.  And do not think you can get away with saying to God, “But I did not do something so bad as those Pharisees and chief priests.  I love Jesus – I do not want Him dead.”  Hebrews 6:6 warns that those who fall away and hold Jesus up for contempt “are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm.”  Ignore these warnings at your own risk.  God is serious when He lets you know about sinners heading to a miserable end.

Finally, find comfort in God's merciful actions in this parable.  To those caught in sin, God does not send His servants only once.  He sends His Word again and again.  For our merciful Lord is patient toward you, not wanting you to perish.  He will do everything necessary for you to reach repentance.  He is at work to restore the joy of salvation to you, so that you once again bear the fruits of faith that He looks for.

And consider how hard God works to do it!  Jesus tells this parable in an attempt to turn the chief priests around from their sin before they kill Him in Holy Week.  He shows that He knows all things – and so any plot of the devil to take Jesus away from you will fail, just as this one did.  For even though the chief priests and Pharisees were successful in arresting and killing God’s Son, you know that He did not stay dead!  On Easter Jesus bodily rose from His grave.  Christ proved that He worked Himself to death so that what the wicked tenants tried taking by force – the riches of the father in the parable – you get to have for free.  For by that death of Christ, by grace He has granted you to inherit God’s Kingdom.

Because those Jewish religious leaders set themselves so against Christ, even to the point of bribing the tomb guards to say that the Disciples had stolen the dead body of Jesus, because they stubbornly remained unfaithful after many warnings and rebukes, God took His Holy Ministry away from them.  God wanted you in Heaven with Him so much that He replaced them with workers who would tell you that Jesus is risen indeed.  The Lord chose other servants, fishermen like Peter and tax collectors like Matthew, 12 men who had no chance on earth of being rabbis or rulers of the Jews.  Christ appointed these apostles so that you would hear of and know and trust in the Jesus whom Matthew tells you about today – the Jesus who comes to confront your ongoing sin.  To turn you around.  To forgive you those sins and give you the inheritance of God’s Kingdom.  Amen.

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September 27

Fascinating how the Responsory (TDP pg o-69, right column) is an actual response to the OT and NT readings!

Malachi 3:6-4:6 (especially 3:6-15) is summed up nicely by Psalm 34:9.
Matthew 4:12-25 (especially 15-17) by Psalm 43:3.
And the Responsory's antiphon of Ecclesiastes 12:13 works well with it all, and again especially with Matthew 4:17.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12 - Collect and "He Remembers the Barren"

I had the privilege of going to a presentation on barrenness by Katie Schuermann and my friend Ben's wife, Rebecca Mayes.  Katie (or was it Rebecca) commented that she has been paying attention to the Collects for the Day lately.  The one assigned for September 12 specifically caught her ear when it was prayed in Church a few Sundays ago.  Her heart in her barrenness may focus narrowly on the desire for her own biological child.  Yet she found joy in the Collect's reminder that God has prepared good things that surpass our understanding and exceed all that we desire.

Here is Adriane Dorr's write-up of the night before at the Seminary.  I heard the St Louis South County's Lutherans for Life bought copies of her book for all seminarians who attended her presentation, so kudos to them!
You might also check out their blog,, as well as these posts - and the following comments - by my dear sister-in-Christ (and fellow Dodger fan), RPW:

Homily for Pentecost 13A (Proper 19) - Genesis 50 and 9/11/11

(adapted from Rev. William Cwirla's sermon from three years ago.  Credit for the concluding sentence goes to Rev. Thomas Fast.)

            I had thought I would say not much about the significance of today – that maybe you would be tired of hearing about 9/11 by now, hearing of it from TV, radio, the internet, sports events, friends and family.  However, few of those will say anything about it from God’s perspective.  And if the Church does not speak God’s point of view, who will?  Now, if you are tired of hearing stories of 9/11, do not worry – I will not be telling those.  That is the job of the media, and they are doing it well.  This sermon has to do with more than just today – it is about how we see all evil that happens in life the way that God would have us see them, through the life of Joseph.
His story takes up the last quarter of the book of Genesis.  Joseph’s brothers had wanted to kill him when he was 17, but brother Reuben thought better of it.  Instead they threw him into a dry well, sold him to the first bunch of slave traders that came along, and convinced their dad that ferocious animals killed him.  Meanwhile in Egypt, the Pharoah’s official named Potiphar bought Joseph to be a servant.  After Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of violating her, he ends up in an Egyptian prison.  But Genesis notes that the Lord was with Joseph even during this dark time.  He was put in charge of all the prisoners.  And, it took a while, but thanks to God’s gift of interpreting Pharoah’s dreams of upcoming drought years, Joseph was both released from prison and put in charge of the whole grain supply of Egypt.  It was no coincidence that when the famine hit back in Israel, Joseph was in the right place at the right time to help his father, brothers, and their families – just as God intended.  Joseph has no hard feelings as he is reunited with his brothers and restored to his father Jacob.
In today’s text, dad has just died, and the brothers are terrified that Joseph has been nice only because dad was around.  They beg forgiveness for all their evil.  They hope that by invoking dad’s name, they can stop Joseph from taking revenge.  They even go so far as to try to bargain with him.  “We are your servants.” 
But Joseph refused to accept their deal.  “Am I in the place of God?” he asks.  How could he fail to forgive them when God had forgiven Joseph so much?  Peter, the disciples and the rest of us might need Jesus to tell His parable so that our minds get shaken up and we stop putting limits on our forgiveness, but Joseph does not need that.  The King of the Universe has forgiven us, His servants, an absurd amount of debt – think almost 1000 years of wages, more than we could repay Him in multiple lifetimes.  Jesus warns us not to be like such a wicked servant who was released from such a burden, only to go and demand the puny amounts owed by fellow servants.
The key to understanding Joseph in the OT is the key to understanding the Gospel parable.  Who forgives first?  The Lord.  Who is forgiven first?  The servant owing bazillions of dollars.  We will not get life together with fellow sinners right until we get this right.  God forgives us first – and we owe Him big time!  What others do to us is small change compared to what we do to God.  This is the problem with our failure to forgive, the reason Jesus tells His parable to shake us up.  We deny how much God has forgiven us and forget He sent His Son as a descendant of Joseph’s brother Judah to forgive the sins of the world.  And then we turn around and stop His forgiveness short with our desires to get even.  Worse, we are taking the place of God, condemning those who do us wrong to be cut off from forgiveness. 
“Am I in the place of God?” Joseph asks.  And in a mysteriously wonderful sense, Joseph was.  And I am.  And you are.  “In the stead and by the command of” – or “In the place and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ,” under His authority, I forgive your sins, a reality as true on earth as it is in Heaven.  Likewise, you also stand in the place of Christ to give this same forgiveness of the Lord to your spouse and family, to your friends – and yes, to your enemies too.
Now comes the line in Scripture that should be burned into our brains, the verse that has everything to do with 9/11, and any other evil in every day.  “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Genesis 50:20).  You meant it for evil; God used it for good.
Do we really dare believe that, dear brothers and sisters in Christ?  Can we really trust that when the world throws evil at us, the very evil that our friends and family do to us, that God will take it into His own hands and make it to be good? 
Look to the cross of Jesus, dear friends.  Men meant it for evil.  They wanted to silence and destroy the Son of God, get rid of Him for good.  They schemed and lied and perverted justice to get Him crucified.  It was evil piled on evil.  And God used it for the good of your salvation, my salvation, the salvation of Joseph and his brothers.
At times of great suffering, humans want to know why.  Joseph in prison could have wanted to know why God was letting all that happen.  Now in hindsight we can answer that – so that he could keep his whole family from starving.  But with 9/11 God has not told us why He allowed that.  However, we can focus on the “what” question.  What does God promise?  He promises that whatever evil happens to His people in the world, He will make to be good.  And that is a matter for faith, because He does not promise the good will always be as clearly seen as rescuing famine victims.
Helmut Thielicke was a Lutheran pastor in WWII Germany.  His congregation met amidst the sound of air raid sirens.  They worshipped in a parish hall after their church was bombed to rubble.  He writes, “We must therefore not simple say: ‘God’ sends death, ‘God’ sends cancer, ‘God’ sends multiple sclerosis.  The existence of these powers is radically contrary to God’s plan of salvation.  He allows it, and He undoubtedly is thinking His own higher thoughts when He does so.”  And sometimes, even with sinful and small minds, we can figure out what God is up to when He does.    “But then there is this other fact which is just as true – the totally new fact, which no man could ever discover by himself.  Everything God permits the dark powers to do must first pass in review before Him.  Everything is examined and censored by His fatherly eye to see whether it will really work ‘for good for those who love Him’” – as He promises in Romans 8.  “Everything must first pass by Him, every bomb that may strike me, every shell-splinter that may take my dearest away from me, every intrigue or [deception] that men may inflict upon me.    “And since it must first pass by Him before it can strike me, there happens what always happens when a thing or a person is looked upon by the eye of God: a great transformation takes place: Sufferings become trials which are meant to be endured in order that I may be purged and refined like the precious metal of gold. The great time of terror, in which the furies of man’s brutality, blindness, and [pride] are unleashed, become times of visitation.  Death, the ‘last enemy’ becomes the ‘desire to depart and be with Christ’ (Phil 1:23).”  The valley of the shadow of death becomes the place where I learn to rest under the Good Shepherd.  The anxieties that torment me becomes the raw material God uses to build my trust and my faith...“It is as if God intercepts these originally evil and disastrous missiles of fate, catches them in His fatherly arms, and sends them in the direction He wants them to go for the benefit of His children” (Our Heavenly Father, p. 27-28).
Joseph says his brothers meant it for evil.  God has used it for good.  That is faith talking.  God intercepts the missiles – and airplanes, and all hurtful words and deeds – all that are intended to destroy us.  And He redirects it all for our good.  It all goes through the crucified body of Jesus and His shed blood for you.  God has made peace with the world, and with you, His baptized child, on that day 2000 years ago that was otherwise far more horrific than what happened ten years ago. 
How can we not forgive?  How can we not let go and leave it be?  How can we not die to all evil done to us, knowing that God has first forgiven our evil, and then turned the sin done against us to be a blessing in His way in the end?  Life in salvation by the forgiveness of sins – not just 7 times, but 70 X 7 beyond what you can keep track of.  The death of 9/11 is overcome by the life of Jesus in 70 X 7.  Amen.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

September 3 - 1 Kings 19

A statue in the Cave of Elijah. The cave is lo...Image via Wikipedia
Old sermons stick with you, in this case one of Rev. William Cwirla's on 1 Kings 19 back during my college days (a friend of mine was a member at Holy Trinity LC). 

He reminded us from Elijah's despondency that "You are not the only one." We get ourselves into great trouble when we think we are soloists in the Kingdom, rather than a part of an orchestra playing our parts so that God's great symphonic music might be produced.

September 2 - Ephesians 2 and Ephesians in general

An early Christian ichthys symbol carved into ...From some ruins of Ephesus, Image via Wikipedia
been busy with other stuff, good and bad... and ashamed to say haven't been keeping up on my own devotion schedule that I would like.  On the other hand, I have put into practice "a little is better than nothing" and grabbed a quick read of TDP's Psalm for the day on the way out the door.  Amazing how that little bit can sometimes be like hitting the reset button on your brain.

Anyway, Ephesians 2 contains so much mystery upon mystery and grace upon grace, but I want to focus in upon one in particular - that Christ "came and preached peace to you".  But when did He do that?  We have no record of the Ephesians having traveled to Galilee during the life of Jesus, nor of Jesus traveling anwhere near Ephesus.  Ah, but in the great mystery of the One who says to His preachers, "He who hears you, hears Me" and to His hearers, "Whatever you have done to the least of these brothers of Mine, you have done to Me" Jesus did in fact go - in person and in the persons of His servants - to deliver peace personally to Ephesian Christians.  And this day, when my heart is anxious and troubled by many things, that same Christ came and preached this peace to me in the words Paul wrote down.  And now, in the bits and bytes displayed as words on your computer monitor, Christ is with you, saying, "Peace."

I wrote some other stuff about Ephesians 2 last year here.  I'll add that this year Issues, etc 24 had Rev. William Weedon on for 2 hours about Ephesians - and listen for my question about Ephesians being a treatise on the ascension of Christ!
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Monday, August 15, 2011

Homily for Pentecost 9A (Proper 15) - Matthew 15:21-28

            This Jesus seems so wrong – no matter how many times we hear today’s text, no matter that we know how the story ends.  After all, we hear this Jesus call unfaithful Peter to walk on water to Him.  We hear Jesus refuse to send the 5000 away, making miracle bread so the crowd can stay with Him.  We hear Jesus scold the Disciples because they got in the way of the little children coming to Jesus.  But today Jesus sounds so foreign, cold, and distant to this Canaanite mother who brings her little daughter to Jesus in prayer. 
            She is not asking for a nicer house, more money, or better friends.  Her daughter is in the clutches of Satan.  The pain of knowing your child hurts is one thing.  But can you even imagine how terrified you would be if a demon possessed your little girl?  So she prays, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matthew 15:22).  She looks to the One stronger than demons, the Son of God who comes to destroy the Devil’s work.  I ask you, was there ever a request so pure?  A more noble request than this?
            And all the more noble since this is a Canaanite confessing Jesus as the son of David, the Messiah.  King David fought battles against the Canaanites.  They were descendants of Cain, the son of Adam who murdered his brother.  Israelites and Canaanites had a mutual hatred.  Jewish people referred to them as filthy dogs.  We do not know what the Canaanites called the Israelites.
Some might think that she is simply at her wits’ end, that she has tried everything else and figures this is her daughter’s last chance.  She has heard others praise and honor this Jewish miracle worker, and works to butter Him up by repeating what they say.  But no, as Jesus tests her, we see that this woman has honest-to-God faith.  She is a better student than the Disciples as she recognizes the Son of God!  “But He did not answer her a word.”
            She prays without ceasing.  She will not give up.  The Disciples cannot take it anymore.  They beg Jesus, “Just give her what she wants so she will leave us alone.”  She is an embarrassment the way she cries out.  But, by an accident of birth, she is not an Israelite.  She has no standing, no claim to make on Jesus.  Jesus says this in one of the most brutal declarations He ever makes, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 
            She refuses to go home disappointed, angry and self-righteous over what one might take as an insult.  She is now more determined than ever.  As surprised as we are to the way Jesus acts in this text, no less surprising is how she responds.  The harsh, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” drives her to worship Him on her knees before the Lord.  She will not release her grip on His Word, not matter how foolish or hard it seems.  She trusts Jesus is good.  On her knees she begs, “Lord, help me!”
            And Jesus still does not give in.  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  What do you think would happen if you called some strange woman a dog to her face?  It was no less an insult back then. 
            But, you know, if the all holy Lord calls us a dog, that is actually a compliment.  We deserve far worse.  He has every right to call us filthy no-good, dirty, double crossing cheats and swindlers and liars and murderers.  Damned sinners, every one of us.  We have earned that.  We have no right to approach God.  He owes us nothing but eternal destruction, torment in the presence of the demons.  Do not think that He is impressed by you and your intentions.  You have behaved disgracefully, as wickedly as I have.  God says, “I gave you everything, and yet you rebel, seeking love and help and hope from worthless idols.”
            What do you and I say to that?  We really have only three choices, but the end result is the same for two of them.  You can get depressed and give up on God, and walk away, angry at yourself.  Or you can walk away angry at God, denying that He is right.  In self-righteousness you can say, “Who does Jesus think he is?  I’m going to find a better god that suits my tastes and says what I want to hear.”  You can proudly proclaim, “I will show you God!  I’ll cut myself.  And in my temper tantrum, I’ll choose Hell over worshiping You.”  And if you do, you will join the demons sooner than you expect.
            That is the common way to respond to God’s harsh Truth of His Law.  But there is a better way, the way that causes the holy angels in Heaven to rejoice.  You can repent.  You can agree that God’s Law is right.  You can confess, “Yes, Lord, I am a dog.  I wish I were not this way, but I am guilty and ashamed.”  That sorrow is the first step of repentance.  The second is trust in God’s mercy.  Without the second half of faith, it is only sadness and despair, only self-pity and anger at yourself.  Therefore our holy confession continues, “Yes, I am a dog.  I have no merit or worthiness in me.  I have justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.  But I believe that You are the Christ who has mercy upon us.  That You forgive.  That You are slow to anger and abound in steadfast love, therefore You will not cast me away from Your presence, nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.  I believe that through the death on the Cross, You will restore to me the joy of salvation.”
            That is not only how you respond to the Word of Christ, it is also how the Canaanite mother responded.  She throws herself upon His Word, even when it is harsh.  Like a bull-dog, she grabs on and will not let go.  “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”  She knows God is exactly as Isaiah and Paul describe todau – a God who has mercy on all.  He brings even foreigners to His holy mountain.  His House is called a House of prayer for all peoples.  She knows Jesus is the Son of David who has not come for the righteous, but for sinners, to seek and save the lost.  With that faith she asks Him to save her daughter.
            And Jesus does.  Her daughter was healed instantly.  And this mother becomes a hero of the faith that the world has seldom seen.  That is what the Lord was up to, why He seems so strange to us in this text.  He was making an example out of the mother, a good one.  Our dear Lord Jesus is not willingly afflicting her, torturing or tempting her.  He was exercising her faith, strengthening her, teaching her to live by the Word of God and not by appearances.  In her suffering, Jesus draws her – and us – closer to Himself.  For in the end, Jesus does more than relent and give in to what she asks for.  Not only is her daughter saved, but she is given a lively faith that has been recorded as an inspiration for Christians everywhere.
              Demons still haunt our children and lead them away from the Lord.  Why do you think the chaos London is happening?  In part because the parents have swept their homes clean of God, and the demons have rushed in to make their homes.  Churches are empty and being used now as art galleries, restaurants, warehouses, or worse.  Better parenting and police action might help to make things better on earth, but in the end there is only one thing that will overcome the darkness we face – that is the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is stronger than the demons. 
            Last week at my Doxology conference, Dr. John Kleinig said that in Australia Christian parents and grandparents face the same problem as here – they feel guilty because they cannot get their kids to church.  They see their family members trusting the Devil’s lies that life is better apart from God, and these Christians want to know what to say.  Dr. Kleinig answers that we must not badger them.  He points to today’s text and says just like this mother carries in prayer her daughter to Jesus, so can we prayerfully bring our wandering and erring loved ones to Him.  As you pray for God to change their hearts, see yourself piggy-backing your loved one here to church, to the Lord’s Altar, and leave your loved one here in His presence.  From now on, if you would like me to specifically name your loved one among the lost, wandering and erring during the prayers of the Church, just let me know – even if you would just like me to use only part of their name, so others do not know.  But God will know. 
            You are not the only one who sorrows and struggles with this Cross.  Let us pray to the Son of David for our children with as much determination as this Canaanite mother.  Let us pray our “Lord, have mercy”s.  Trust as she did that Jesus will help and save.  For He does not ignore her, nor is He deaf to your prayers.  He came for sinners like you and me who could not stand on our own, who can do nothing to free ourselves from our sinful condition.  Jesus came to destroy the Devil’s work, to heal your wounds, bind your broken heart, and free you from Hell.  You now hear His word and He takes away your guilt, shame and regrets.  Receive His righteousness, holiness and innocence, especially as He invites you once again to come to His Table, to eat the Bread of His Body and the wine squeezed from His heart at the Cross.  Forgiven, renewed, sanctified and blessed, Jesus gives us far more than crumbs that fall from the table.  He gives us Himself.
            God grant each of you a bull-dog like grip on Jesus – faith like this Canaanite mother had – so that with your whole heart you firmly believe His Word and promises.  Amen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

August 8 - 1 Samuel 24

(under the rubric of "better late than never")

The honor and integrity of David has impressed me in this text from the first time I heard it in Sunday School.  This is not the way man apart from the Spirit works.  Revenge!  Yet if David had filled Saul's grave, there best be a grave dug for David too.  God protects not only our possible victim, but also ourselves, by saying to us, "Vengeance is mine.  I will repay."  Those seeking vengeance may kill another person's body, but in doing so, they do worse damage to their own soul.

Back to the text at hand - on Monday I saw Christ in this text for the first time, the King of Kings who has us dead to rights.  How often is He in our presence and acts without us being aware of it?  How often have we sought after the death of the Son of David - and His Father?  We have, like Saul, been jealous of Jesse's Son, felt He threatened our power and popularity.  And this despite that we have nothing to fear - for He is loyal to us.

And yet He spares our life!  More than just slicing off a corner of our garments, He removes from us all the fig leaves and filthy rags of our supposed righteous works.  But not so that we would be unclothed, but so that we would be clothed in the flesh of Christ, great David's greater Son.

To Him be all glory and honor, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.
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Monday, August 1, 2011

Homily for Pentecost 7A (Proper 13) - Matthew 14:13-21

        With the Lord there are no accidents.  He leaves nothing to chance.  Just think how doomed you would be if something could catch Him by surprise.  You get to the Judgment Seat and He says, “You know, I died to save you from all your sins I knew about.  But I NEVER expected you to sin the way you did on July 30, 2011!  So since I did not expect it, I did not pay for it.  Therefore, sadly, I am going to have to say you have to depart from Me.” 
          Rest assured, that terrible conversation will never happen, not with our all-knowing Lord and Savior.  Nothing surprises Him.  The Lord is in control.  Even during His earthly life, from the manger through the Cross to the Ascension, even when it seems as if everything is spinning out of control, Jesus is on top of it all.
          We need to learn this, especially after a week of things we cannot control – like debt ceilings and death.  The news of John the Baptist’s death had sent shockwaves throughout the region.  King Herod had arrested John and then ordered, “Off with his head!” because John dared to preach against his adultery.  When Jesus heard this, it caused Him to withdraw from the crowds who had listened to His parables. 
          I always thought it was to be by Himself.  And then, poor Jesus, His plans for quiet time get disrupted by thoughtless people who cannot let the Guy have a moment to Himself.  That just shows how much I need to learn that Jesus is in control at all times and never caught off guard.  The crowds following Him and demanding His attention were all according to His plan.  Jesus does not want them to go away because they are right where He wants them – so that He can do and speak and give the compassion His flock needed the most at the time of John’s death.
          The sheep who followed the voice of their good Shepherd are far less prepared.  They gave no thought to grabbing some bread and water for their journey – not even for the children.  No sippy cups or baggies of Cheerios.  They just came as they were – and Jesus knew that they would.
          As prepared for stuff as we like to be, as self-reliant and in control as we think we are, as ready for anything that we try and make ourselves – what happens when we are not?  When the unexpected disaster, disease or death catches us unprepared?  What happens when we are out in the wilderness, that desolate place, and the sun is going down, and we have no place to go?  What then?
          Then Jesus has compassion.  He does not lecture the people that they were dumb for not preparing.  No common sense wisdom talk about the value of planning ahead, which is probably what the Disciples had in mind.  Send the crowds away!  But not Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  He does not lead His flock into the wilderness unprepared.  He is prepared at all times to care for His sheep.  And this, His Disciples need to learn.
           We need to learn this too.  That when we are stuck in our wild and desolate places in our lives –feeling alone, forsaken, worried, vulnerable – that our Lord has not left us.  And more importantly, that we are not in that place by accident.  Our Shepherd has a plan for us precisely where we are at, in that unexpected place, to learn of Him and His care.  That we would not to rely upon ourselves, but on Him.  That we would trust that wherever our Shepherd leads us, it is good.  It is what we need.  For the Lord is still in control of it all, especially when it seems as if everything is going out of control.
          The Shepherd tells His sheep to recline and rest in the green pastures by the quiet waters, and He spreads a table before them.  Out here the troubles of John the Baptist are far behind.  The hustle and bustle of life becomes a distant memory.  Out here, worldly politics and power struggles do not interrupt the taste of Heaven that breaks into Earth.  It is just the Shepherd and His sheep.  And it was just five loaves and two fish.  Yet that is more than enough for the God who “opens His hands and satisfies the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16) on a daily basis.  It is more than enough for the God who fed His people with manna for 40 years in the wilderness.  It is more than enough – 12 baskets of leftovers after everyone had their fill!
          When Matthew tells us the five thousand men, besides women and children, “were satisfied”, it means more than that they could not eat another bite.  They were filled not only with earthly food, but with the Bread of Life.  They were not sheep harassed and helpless.  They were at peace.  The flock at the feet of their Shepherd.  There was nowhere else they would rather be.
          Sometimes it takes the wilderness, the desolate places in our lives, to get us to understand that there is no better place to be than under Christ’s tender care.  Certainly we hear this – we hear it from this pulpit, we read it from the Word during devotions.  But do we ever really believe we are helpless until we have to face it?  Until we have tried and failed to get ourselves out of the mess we are in?  The hard truth that we try to deny is that we are just as weak and vulnerable and helpless when life goes well, when we are cozy in our beds, with full tummies and refrigerators.  How easy it is to fall back into self-confidence and self-reliance.  Looking to ourselves for what we need, instead of looking to our Shepherd.
          And so out to the wilderness, the desolate times and places the Shepherd leads us – as individuals, as a congregation.  Right where He wants us.  Not to punish, but to have compassion.  So that we can see we have nowhere else to go, and look to Him for all that we need.  To turn the wilderness into green pastures, and the desolate times into His hour of blessing.
          With the Lord there are no accidents.  Nothing surprises our all-knowing Savior.  Even when it seems as if everything is spinning out of control, Jesus is on top of it all.  The Lord is spinning everything for us and for our salvation.  As we heard last week, everything, even all that tribulation, distress, persecution and death stuff, along with the nicer things in life – everything is being worked by God for our advantage, weaved by God into a beautiful tapestry of good for those who love God.  When He humbles us, it is so that He may exalt us.  When He takes, it is so that He may give.  He kills to make alive.  He uproots to plant.  He tears down to build up.  To do all of this, God calls us to repent.  To repent of our pride, our desires for control, our feelings of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction.  To repent of all that we are, for we are nothing without Christ. 
          And the Christ who leads us to this place of repentance does not send us away empty or leave us there to fill ourselves.  He has compassion.  He who will not leave His flock alone in the wilderness to fend for themselves, He goes alone to the desolation of the Cross.  Not caught by surprise, not out of control, but in control, willingly, speaking of His free sacrifice ahead of time.  For the purpose of taking our sin away from us, to give His life to pay for ours, so that we may not only avoid punishment, but also live – with sins forgiven and death defeated through the very same body and blood that feeds us in this life at this Table.  That we may live knowing we are never alone with the Good Shepherd leading us through it all.  That we may live not with bellies full here for a while, but live forever in Paradise, the Kingdom which has no end. 
          For one day Jesus will lead us through the valley of the shadow of our own death – and He will draw others out to the desolate place of your funeral, so that once they are away from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, Christ would feed them with His Word as He has fed you.  And even during your funeral, He will be with you, and you with Him.  This is the reason He came to our world, to come to you and go through death and into life for you, to bring you, His sheep, from death to life.  That you may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  So rest in this peace, knowing that the Lord has left nothing to chance.  Amen.

Homily for Pentecost 6A (Proper 12) - Romans 8:28-39

(With thanks to Rev. William Cwirla for the thoughts in this sermon)

        “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  As we continue this summer’s journey through the book of Romans, we come to a text that is about everything and about nothing.  It is about nothing in all this world being able to separate the baptized believer from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.  Nothing, not even tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, nor sword.  Not even death.  And this text is about everything working out for good in Jesus.  Everything, even all that tribulation, distress, persecution and death stuff, along with the nicer things in life – everything is weaved by God into a beautiful tapestry of good for those who love God.  And nothing can separate us from His love.
          Do we actually believe this?  In the face of real troubles and distress and danger, do we as God’s baptized children trust that God will make everything wrong in our lives to be right in the end?  Do we actually live as though God has given a divine purpose and meaning to our sufferings? 
          If you have ever wanted to know why God allowed something to happen in life, I have good news and bad news for you.  The good news is that He gives the answer in Romans 8.  The bad news is that you are going to have to stay with me here, because we are going way beyond the simple Sunday School Bible stories of God making it all right in the end – we are heading into the deep waters of God’s wisdom and love.
          Paul writes that those whom God foreknew, He also destined in advance to be conformed to the beautiful image of His Son, in order that Christ would be the firstborn of many brothers (8:29).  What does it mean to be predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son?  It means that the Father looks at Jesus and sees in His Son perfected and glorified humanity.  In the beginning, God made man through His Son to reflect His Son’s image into the world. 
          Adam epically failed as he let temptation separate him from loving God and listening to His Word.  That sin drew us into all this tribulation, distress, danger and ultimately death in a Hell that was never intended for human beings, but prepared for the Devil and his demons.  Adam stopped reflecting Christ into the Creation.  Sin brings about God’s wrath, and He is plenty angry over it.  Your sin deserved damnation, and we must not think that we can talk our way out of this mess with some excuses and good deeds.
          Especially since the Father has already embraced our sinful humanity in this way – “He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all” (8:32).  Despite the world being filled with sinners like you and me, He gives His only begotten Son to die, so that whoever believes in Him, trusting in life through death and resurrection, you will not perish in Hell one bit, but will have eternity with God.  This is your destiny that God gives you in Christ, a destiny the Lord worked out before He began creating the world.
          It all happens in Christ who undid what Adam did.  In Christ you were foreknown by the Father.  Apart from Christ, the Lord at the gates of eternity says, “Depart from Me.  I do not know you.”  In Christ, even before you existed you were destined to be conformed to the image of Christ, who is the image of God.  That divine plan was worked out long before you had any say in it, the Holy Trinity's plan from all eternity to save the world in the death of God's eternal Son in our flesh.
          In Christ it is all a done deal.  You were called in Christ, baptized into His death and resurrection, having heard the good news of Jesus which has worked its good way with you.  And that good news is that you are justified.  The blood of the Son takes away your sin.  Therefore the judgment from God’s throne is that you are innocent.  All you can say to that not guilty verdict is “Amen.”  So be it.  Do not bother arguing, trying to excuse your sin.  You do not have a case.  Besides God has said that in Christ any need you have for justifying yourself is taken away.  If God says you are innocent, that settles it.  This very moment, as I speak, you stand before the all-holy Judge, who is a consuming fire.  You stand before Him spotless and blameless.  For you are clothed with the perfect life and death of Jesus.  That is what it means to be justified.
          Apostle Paul does not stop there with that blessing, so neither can we.  “Those whom [God] justified He also glorified” (8:30).  Note that all these verbs are done by God, and they are in the past tense, done deals.  He takes everything eternal out of your hands.  He foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified.  Even as you sit here with all your earthly distresses, you are now already seated in Christ at the right hand of the Father in glory as Ephesians 2 declares.  You are glorified in the glorified risen flesh of Jesus.  He embodied you in His perfect life, death and resurrection – and now He embodies you in His ascended glory.  As Paul says elsewhere, your life is hidden in Christ.  When Jesus appears again, then your glory will be seen by all (Colossians 3:1-4).  You see that all by faith.  But sight sees you in yourself, and it is not all that glorious.  In your self, you suffer, you sin, you die.  But in Christ you are glorified, pure, and holy.
          Because all the above is true, because you are foreknown, destined, called, justified and glorified in God’s beloved Son, what on earth can mess you up?  You are safe in Christ, wearing Him like a spiritual bullet-proof vest – or bodysuit, really.  If God is for us – and He is in Christ – then who can be against us?  If God gave us His own Son, how will He hold back on giving us the lesser things of everything else?  If we are justified by God, declared righteous with all charges laid on Jesus, who can condemn us?  Jesus was literally damned on the Cross in our place.  He who hung to death with our sins now lives to intercede with the Father for us.  He never lets the Father forget those nail-marks which He still bears.  And Jesus never lets us forget the wounds that earned our salvation either, as He gives us that gift in His Body and Blood.
          So who can condemn us?  Satan is left with no true charges to bring against us.  Who else can condemn us?  The world?  We ourselves?  Yes, it certainly happens that the human mind condemns us – but only because people get it in our heads that we are greater than God.  For when you say, “I cannot forgive myself” in reality you are trying to overrule God.  The Bible says not one word about forgiving yourself because that is not the way it works.  True and holy forgiveness always and only comes to you from others.  So repent.  God forgives you.  See yourself as God sees you in Christ, not as you see yourself.  Stop disagreeing with Him.
          “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (8:35).  Do you actually think it is possible to make Christ stop loving you?  Throw everything at His love – tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword.  Bad childhood.  Broken marriage.  Failure to be wholly devoted to God.  Sickness.  Think of anything – even death, devil, angels, earthly governments; the past, present and future.  High things, low things, any and every thing.  The Apostle tells us that in all these things we more than conquer – we literally “hyper-conquer”.  Not by ourselves.  But in Christ who loved us enough to conquer these things for us with His painful death.
          On this side of our graves, our victory can look an awful lot like defeat.  That is why Paul emphasizes the “in Christ” stuff so much.  It must be trusted and believed for Christ’s sake.  In this world, you must walk by faith in Him and not by sight.  For the victory Jesus gives looks like a Cross and a tomb.  No matter what other people say about the victorious Christian life bringing success for all the world to see, most of the time it looks nothing like that.  Paul describes it as being filled with failures, tribulations, distresses, persecutions, famines, nakedness, dangers and violence.  Paul makes sure we know that this is not just his idea, but that the OT people said it too.  Psalm 44 describes the godly life as facing death all day long.  The sheep following Good Shepherd Jesus are seen as sheep being led to the slaughter.  Hardly what the world would describe as victorious.
          Thus Paul emphasizes how important it is for us to be in, with, and under Christ.  For only there is your destiny, your justification, your glorification a done deal.  At your baptism, God put you into the safest place there is – the death and life of Jesus.  Only here is everything worked out for your good.  Only here can you say to your dying day: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Amen.