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."