Monday, December 16, 2013

December 16 - Revelation 4:11

“Worthy are You, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for You created all things,
    and by Your will they existed and were created.”

Martin Luther, Large Catechism, Article 1 of the Apostles' Creed:

Therefore, this article ought to humble and terrify us all, if we believed it. For we sin daily with eyes, ears, hands, body and soul, money and possessions, and with everything we have, especially those who even fight against the Word of God. Yet Christians have this advantage, that they acknowledge themselves in duty bound to serve God for all these things, and to be obedient to Him [which the world knows not how to do]. 
We ought, therefore, daily to practise this article, impress it upon our mind, and to remember it in all that meets our eyes, and in all good that falls to our lot, and wherever we escape from calamity or danger, that it is God who gives and does all these things, that therein we sense and see His Paternal heart and his transcendent love toward us. Thereby the heart would be warmed and kindled to be thankful, and to employ all such good things to the honor and praise of God.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent 1A - Matthew 21:1-11 Homily "The Lord Needs Them"

(based on this sermon by Rev. Todd Peperkorn)
The sermon this morning is based on the Gospel reading, particularly our Lord’s instructions to the Disciples as they go fetch Him the donkey and colt.  “If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them.’”
As the old Church year came to an end in November, the Scriptures spent time preparing us for the end of the world.  Today the start of the new Church Year makes us see the Almighty Judge and King coming to you – and He is “humble, mounted on a donkey.”  It is out step with where our lives are this month.  These Scriptures clash so much with the world around us that is busy setting its sights on happy holidays.  In the midst of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, you probably were not expecting to come and hear about Palm Sunday.
Yet centuries before this became a season of shop-til-you-drop, Christian leaders thought it wise to start
a new Church Year not with some pre-birth of Jesus Scriptures, but with this one.  That is not a bad thing.  You and I are more likely to remember something the more unusual and unexpected it is.  Furthermore, if you ever want evidence that God’s ways are not our ways, Palm Sunday certainly proves that point.
This is a time of contrasts for us Christians.  On the one hand, the themes of love and family and gift-giving and charity are certainly great things that we should encourage in all people.  And yet some nagging feeling inside us says there should be something more, that the wrapping paper and trees are hiding more than just gifts.  Behind it all, things are not right.
Jesus knows what our world is trying to hide.  His understanding of you and me is far deeper than we can imagine – so deep that it would TERRIFY US, for if the Lord kept a record of sins, who could stand?  However, with Him there is His forgiveness of our sins.
Jesus knows what you suffer.  He knows the brokenness that you see in your world, in your loved ones,
in your own self.  He knows how evil grieves you – both the evil others do against you and how you have hurt them.  The Lord knows that November to January are the hardest part of the year for more people, with more spikes in depression than other times.  He knows that people try to show Christmas cheer, but that mask hides some serious sorrow underneath.
What are you trying to bury out of sight and out of mind this holy season?  The deaths of loved ones? – or are you already grieving ahead of time because you know their time is short?  Is there a marriage in trouble – or one that ended long ago that still eats at you?  Financial problems or problematic personalities?  Conflicts at family gatherings?  Fear of unknown troubles that might come your way in the future?  All of these are pretty likely to hit people this month.  Life has a way of getting in the way when all we want to do is to forget.  If you try to use alcohol, or food, or shopping, or illicit affairs, or the computer to forget... well, it might work for a short bit – but in the end it makes the problems worse.  As St. Paul reminds us that our salvation is nearer to us now, the Apostle WARNS us that waiting for the Lord does NOT go together with works of darkness like “orgies and drunkenness, ...sexual immorality and sensuality,... quarreling and jealousy” (Romans 13:13).
Getting back to Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, just a few days before His death at the hand of sinners, Matthew sets the scene up in Bethphage.  It is just one short mile from the Holy City.  Think of it in terms of baseball – Bethphage was the dugout and on-deck circle for the priests of the Temple.  They prepared for their service in God’s House here and rested after their sacrificial service was done.  Now here is Jesus, getting ready to do the ultimate service of sacrifice.  He gives the disciples the job of bringing back the donkey and colt from town.  And “if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them.’”

God has a way of pressing things into His service, using them in ways that we never intended nor could have imagined.  Random moments in life, our joys and charity – but even also our sorrows and hardships and sins are pressed into God’s holy service.  However broken and troubled you are, our Lord with gentleness takes all of the scattered pieces of your crazy life and mine – and God says to you quite simply, “I need to have this.  It fits perfectly into My plans to show mercy.”  It is as if God takes inventory of all the junk in your life, everything you want to toss out as too hard or too painful, and it is those things He wants to use for His holy purposes.
One of the hard things that He wants to take and use from my life is that I struggle because I want to see what God is up to!  I want to be able to pull back the curtains of Heaven, look to the end of your stories, and tell you exactly what good He will bring from specific hardships.  I really do not want to walk by faith – I want to walk by sight.  And the stuff we see – so often they look like
impossible messes.  How can Christ use all this junk to prepare people for His appearing?  I do not know how He will do it in your life, and I certainly do not know how in my own.  BUT I do know what our Lord and Savior says to you and me today – that the Lord has need of it all.  All you and I have and all that we are, Christ takes it all and presses it into His service.
Now this goes much deeper than simple, cheesy “God has a plan for you” talk.  What God wants for you at this time, and every time, is that through His Word and Spirit, you recognize what is really going on around you.  St. Paul’s epistle put it this way, “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11-12).
Our Lord does not ask you to go get Him a donkey and colt today.  He asks you to wake up!  Remember who you are as a baptized child of God, holy and beloved by your Heavenly Father.  Remember that our Lord’s coming to this world is all about you, about your salvation.  Remember that salvation is right here, right now.  Christ’s Word is here.  And He does not simply ride past you on a donkey in parade.  Now He rides INTO you on a donkey with His Body and Blood here to bring you forgiveness, life and salvation.
Like those people lining the streets of Jerusalem so many years ago, you are here waiting to greet with Hosannas in the Highest the Savior who comes in the name of the Lord.  And your waiting will not end in disappointment.  For the Savior is coming.  Indeed, Jesus has already come for you.  He is here already releasing you from the chains of your sin and brokenness.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer used that imagery to describe
Advent, as he explained, “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes – and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, this is not a bad picture of Advent.”
The door to your freedom has been opened in the birth, perfect life, sacrificial death and glorious resurrection of your Advent King, the Lord of Heaven and Earth.  Be free.  Shout and rejoice, daughter of Zion, for our King is coming to You.  Sing with faith in your hearts as we cry out with the people of Jerusalem, with angels and archangels and all the company of Heaven - “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
He is coming to be your Savior.  He is coming now.  With healing in His wings, to set you free.  Blessed is He who comes.  Believe it for Christ’s sake.  Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Homily - Complain to God? Yes, He Commands It (Luke 18)

[Much of the material for this sermon is adapted from Rev. John Kleinig's book, Grace Upon Grace (Concordia Publishing House, 2008).  Artwork is "Proper 24 - Luke 18:1-8" by John Hrehov via his Facebook page]

Think about a person who is never happy, always getting the short end of the stick in life, nothing goes right – and they constantly complain about it all.  Jesus says you should do what that person does 
Proper 24 - Luke 18:1-8, by John Hrehov
          Shocked?  Well, true, Jesus is not saying to be like them in every way.  Especially if they forget about God.  But the same way such a person pesters the people around with their problems, so are you to pester the Almighty with your problems.  Only He does not count you as a pest.  God is not bothered by you.  He loves you.
And so last Sunday Christ in this place gave us the encouragement to cry out, “Lord, have mercy” through all our trials and troubles – and to pray it for our neighbor in the midst of their personal disasters.  God promises to hear those prayers in Psalm 34:17, “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
However you had to live this past week.  And face all the large and small injustices of this world – health problems, relationship troubles, job stress, the attacks of sin, the march of death.  Whether you never started praying, or started praying and stopped, or still are going, but you are getting a bit weak-kneed and questioning if you should give up on prayer – things might just be worse for you today than last Sunday.  God has not appeared to deliver from all evil.  Sicknesses have gone without healing.  There has been little defense for injustices at work.  Relationships have gotten more strained.  So have finances.  When we need Him the most, God seems to go silent and offer no help.  Some people have come to the conclusion that He is not gracious, does not care, is ticked off at us and has finally left us for dead.  As a result, we get frustrated with life, feel disappointed with God – and maybe even angry at Him.  However, should we really complain about these things to the Lord?  That does not feel right.  It feels disrespectful, unholy.
If that were the case, if we were not allowed to complain, then how can we explain all the Psalms – like 13, 27, 42, and 142 – that lament to the Lord?  The Psalms are filled with thanks and praises to God.  However, most of the Psalms are complaints either from one person or from all the people of Israel.  Does that surprise you that there are MORE complaints than thanks?  I would never have guessed that.  And these complaints are brutally honest.  In them God's people confront their troubles head on and do not mince words with God.  There are angry words, bitter arguments with the Almighty.  And yet, the Church has tended to ignore the complaint Psalms because it feels unholy and disrespectful to be angry and moan and groan.              
This is why Jesus today tells this “parable to the effect that [you] ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  When God seems to be silent and unresponsive, be as persistent as the widow, day and night (v 7).  Injustices were done to her.  The court of law sided with her unfair adversary against her, even though she was the innocent victim.  Yet she does not give up.  Outside of court, she directly demands justice from the judge against her adversary because she knows the judge is a vain mawho likes the comfortable life.  He cares about his reputation.  While the English translates that the judge fears that she will beat him down by constantly pestering him, the Greek gets much more vivid, literally saying he is afraid she will give him a black eye if he ignores her complaint.                
Now keep in mind that God is different from that judge.  The earthly judge does not care about the woman – he only cares about his own ease of life.  God in Heaven, on the other hand, does care about you.  He baptismally claims you as His child.  He exercises grace and mercy in declaring us innocent of our guilt, apart from our observing His holy and eternal Law.  He even has declared you innocent of all the times you and I have given up on praying to Him – or never even started!               
For you and your salvation, He sent His only Son to live this life filled with injustices.  When you do complain to high Heaven about what goes on in your life, do you imagine Jesus responds by saying, “You think you have it rough?  Just think about how bad I had it.  I never did wrong to anyone.  I just came here to love them.  And what thanks did my goodness get me?  Hatred, insults, personal attacks.  Falsely accused.  Arrested and beaten.  Cold and crude metal spikes nailed into My hands and feet.  Hoisted up in the air on a dead tree for all the world to see.  And then the Justice of God puts all your guilt and the Hell it deserves on to Me.  And you think you have life rough? ”              
NO!  Jesus does NOT say that to you.  He does not stop your complaints to God, but actually encourages them.  So that you “always pray and not lose heart” He tells this parable.  Jesus actually commands you to moan and groan to God.  Daily.  Copy the widow.  Trust God to deliver you from your adversary the Devil who seeks to accuse, devour, and destroy you.  Your complaints are evidence that you have faith because your prayers are built on His promise to listen – despite that God may appear to be silent, turned against you, indifferent, ignorant to your situation, unresponsive, and unhelpful.  For the Scriptures tell your faith to trust that the Lord is actually none of those things.  God is truly just and gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in eternal love.   
Therefore, dear brothers and sisters of Christ, children of the Heavenly Father, use such Psalms of complaint as 13, 27, 42 and 142 and so many others in your prayers to God.  Refuse to accept disaster, but protest to God against it.  Appeal to God’s justice in the face of injustice.  Appeal to God’s grace in the face of wrath.  Despite your troubles, take God at His Word and know for certain He is still involved in your life and committed to you.  Like the persistent widow, refuse to be quiet until He intervenes and deals with your problem – no matter how long He takes, for today Jesus told you this "parable to the effect that [you] ought always to pray and not lose heart."  Amen.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Homily Proper 10 - Luke 10:25-37, July 14, 2013

"… wanting to justify himself..."
            I had a good reason for doing what I did.  Or did not do.  You understand, right?  But she hit me first.  They don't pay me enough for my work, so I helped myself to some of the money.  I’m sorry - I did not get enough sleep.  God forgives me anyway, so it does not matter what I do.  Compared to those evil people, what I do is not that bad.  Everyone else does it.  I mostly do the right thing and so my few mess-ups are not that big of a deal.  It’s not my fault.
            Justifications.  We know them.  We hear them.  We have said them to justify ourselves.  To make what is wrong appear right.  Interesting that the religious expert was first trying to test Jesus, to make the right Christ look wrong.  The Savior turns the tables – “Well what do the Scriptures say is necessary to earn eternal life?  You know the answer to your question.”  And suddenly the hunter finds himself trapped.
           He figures he loves God enough.  But he knows he does not love every person the same way he loves himself.  So there has to be a limit, right?  Who is my neighbor?  Let's be reasonable here, Jesus.  There are some people whom I do not have to love, right?  I mean, they do not deserve it.
            You hear the justification in his words.  His love does not measure up.  And so where he does not have love for his fellow man, well, God understands and does not expect that from him. 
            Do you hear the justifications in your own words?  Those who know we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works will right away hear what is wrong with the man’s question.  “What must I DO to inherit eternal life?”  How ridiculous, right?  You cannot earn Heaven.  You can never do enough right to get yourself in, to make up for the sins you have done and the good you failed to do.  And besides, Jesus did it all – everything necessary to earn our place in Heaven.  By Christ's death, we inherit eternal life.
            So why do you and I still justify our evil?  Why do you and I even spend time coming up with ways to explain it should not be a problem when we do the wrong – or fail to do the right?  Why do we find reasons that our spouse, or friends, or family, or the stranger we just happen to come across on our journey deserve less than our best?  “They need to put up with my rudeness because I am having a rotten day.”  Or any of the other excuses we give as we try to justify our actions.
            Why do we not simply apologize?  Confess our sins and ask for forgiveness?  “Well, the person might not forgive me.”  That is true.  But you know God does not say you only have to do the right thing if you know the other person will respond the right way.  He expects us to love Him with all our heart and all our strength – and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And I know I do not care for it when others try to give me lame excuses for their bad behavior, so why do I do it to them?
            Sin beats us senseless.  When we look at our thoughts and actions in the light of Christ, it makes no
sense.  We might not see how our sin hurts anyone, but the Lord assures us it victimizes our neighbors – and ourselves.
            Along comes God the Samaritan, the Christ from the faraway land of Heaven to this unholy world so foreign from the Paradise God created.  He finds us along the side of the road, robbed by sin.  Beaten up and left for dead by the evils we have done and the evils done to us.  His love and compassion go all the way
to the depths of His spirit.  In our language we talk about our hearts being moved, feelings from the hearts, tugging at our heartstrings and so on.  But the Greek word for compassion is splachna – your spleen, in your guts, the depths of your stomach is where they said you feel this deep care and concern.
            Moved by this deep love, Christ sets to work healing our wounds with His Gospel, cleansing all the infections of unrighteousness, washing away the filth with Baptism, forgiving us, feeding us with His Supper to nurse us back to health and wholeness, raising us up to live our new lives in Him to the glory of His Father.  Just as the Samaritan promised to return and take care of everything, so also that is what Christ Jesus promises us.
            When you have received such great love it moves you to compassion for others too.  We love because God first loved us – not just doing good for others, but actually caring about them.  As 2 Corinthians 1 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” 
            You can see how Christians throughout the centuries have responded to the comfort God has given them by sharing that comfort.  How many hospitals or orphanages were started by Christians out of
compassion for the stranger in need because Christians took the Good Samaritan to heart?  And in our own day it is impossible to count all the different ways Christians work to relieve suffering and hardships.
            Of course it does not have to be some great big work that will last for years like building hospitals.  You do not have to worry about going out and finding people to help.  You have plenty of opportunities to show mercy to neighbors as you simply go about your day and God puts them in your path.  In some cases you might fix their problems.  In other cases you simply will not have the ability, the knowledge, the money, the skills to do it.  In short, you are not the Savior.  It is sad that while we try all sorts of ways to get out of doing what we can do, we feel bad about things we cannot do.
            However, though you are not the Savior, you know the Savior.  In any and every circumstance what
you can do is pray.  So often we fail to take that good work seriously, to take it for granted, to see it as not doing much.  However, the God who grants us the privilege of praying to Him – He certainly takes it seriously.  The Lord sees it as such a good thing, such an important thing, that He commands it, and promises to receive our requests for our neighbors.  And so on their behalf we take their concerns to God's throne of mercy through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
            Now here is the thing.  As I talk about our good works of mercy, Sin is already at the door of people’s minds, going to work, getting people to think about the works and forget about our Savior’s work - like the religious expert who tested Jesus.  He wants to know, “Who is my neighbor” because he is thinking about his works and afraid that everyone is his neighbor and knows he can’t do good works for all of them, so he is hoping for a smaller number.
            However, did you notice Christ’s question is not, “Who is your neighbor?”  His question is who “proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  And that answer is NOT everyone.  Only one Man proves Himself to be a merciful neighbor without exception or excuse.  Only one man loves God with all His heart and with all His soul and with all His strength and with all His mind.  Only one Man is neighbor to everyone, loving all His neighbors as He loves Himself – loving us to His dying breath.  “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Only the Son of God paid to restore you from the wounds of sin.  And the Son of God promises to return to care for you through His death and resurrection.  On account of Christ, true God and true Man, all of your evil excuses are also forgiven.  Amen.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thursday of Easter 2 Psalmody

O Lord, You know better than I that I have made a wreck of the life and love You have given.  Enlarge my heart that I may be evermore faithful to You and serve my neighbor in love.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Lent 2c Homily - Luke 13:31-35

(a revision of Rev. Richard Stuckwisch's 2010 sermon)

         “You shall die” (Jeremiah 26).  Those are stark words on the bulletin cover.  “You shall die, Jeremiah, unless you stop talking against us,” said the leaders of Jerusalem 600 some odd years before Jesus was born, because they did not like what Jeremiah said.  His sermons got in the way of their good and comfortable life.
“Herod wants you dead, Jesus” said the religious leaders, because they did not like how Jesus spoke against their religion.  So they camouflaged it a bit, hiding their hatred under a fake concern for Christ’s life.  “If you stick around here, you shall die, Jesus.  So why don’t you leave our town and get away from Herod.”  Self-preservation makes sense.  It’s perfectly acceptable.
But that is not the way of Christ the Crucified.  Of course, it is not that He is suicidal or enjoys pain.  It hurts Him.  He even prays there might be another way.  Yet the Son of God goes willingly and knowingly to His death.  He voluntarily puts Himself in harm’s way, taking the bullet of our punishment to be a human shield for sinful you and sinful me.
Where others might fight, or flee, or change their stories to stop people from being outraged at them – Jesus, when He is insulted, does not insult in return.  He continues to entrust Himself to God the Father.  He turns the other cheek to those who strike Him, to the point where He hands Himself over to the Cross.  And even then Jesus forgives all those who shamefully attack Him.
That is why God’s Son comes here in the first place – to pour out His innocent blood; for Herod and Jerusalem; for Jeremiah and his enemies; and for you.  To pay for the sins of the world and to reconcile you to God.
However, this is more than a history lesson about what happened in the past.  This is also God’s map for your life.  You shall die.  Not just die before we have your funeral, but die daily to sin by the power of your Baptism.  For you are marked as one belonging to Christ the Crucified.  Disciples of Jesus are to take up their crosses and follow Him.  And crosses are used for just one thing – to kill.  In this case, to put to death the evil in you and me that seeks self-preservation at all costs – even sacrificing godly love for our neighbor in order to save our own skin.  But taking up our Crosses is the way of self-sacrifice, of self-giving and service instead of selfishness.  You are to love others – whether they are family or enemy – because God first loved you, even while you behaved as His enemy.  When your life makes them uncomfortable because you are doing and saying the godly things, and they tell you, “You shall die” – that is, when they threaten to end your friendship, or to make life miserable for you – well then so be it.  In the same way they persecuted our Lord Jesus before us.
And do not for a moment think to yourself, “That is easy for you to say, Pastor.”  It is not easy for me to say.  I do not want to hear it either.  I want to get along with everybody and avoid making people mad – even if though that often means keeping silent about God’s Truth.  Way down inside the sinner in me cares more about what people say and think about me than what God says and thinks.
However, their thoughts and words are temporary.  God’s thoughts and Words endure forever.  Furthermore, yes God says, “You shall die as you take up your cross.”  But His last word on the subject is that “Though you die, yet shall you live.”  For as Christ has died and is risen, so you shall rise too.  You live because the sacrificial and bloody death of Jesus forgives you all your sin.  And your neighbor that God calls you to serve, whether they are a friend or an enemy – Christ’s bloody death also forgives their sins.
Therefore you and I, as Christ’s disciples, shall die to holding their sins against them.  We must forgive those who trespass against us.  Bear their burdens patiently.  Even turn the other cheek when they insult without striking back, for our Lord Jesus did not insult in return.  He loved those who hurt Him, prayed for them and laid down His life for them.
Ultimately we have to ask ourselves, “What will I really lose if I die as I seek to love others with God’s love?”  What can you lose since your “citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body, by the power that enables Him even to subject all things to Himself” (Philippians 3:21).  You travel here through this earth today and tomorrow (or maybe not, as only the Lord knows how much longer you have here.)  But whether you live or die, you belong to the Christ who rises from the tomb on the Third Day.
In today’s Epistle, St. Paul is torn up with sorrow as he tells us about those who “walk as enemies of the Cross of Christ” (3:18).  Obviously he is describing those who attack the Christian church, promote immoral lifestyles, laugh at the Bible, and say all sorts of evil things about Jesus and His people.  However, St. Paul talks about those whose gods are their bellies – the people who seek out their own greatest comfort and self-preservation in this life – especially at the expense of others.  They will tell lies, withhold forgiveness, or whatever… if they believe it will somehow make their lives better.  And you should be aware that this is your natural instinct also – to fight or flee, whatever it takes to preserve yourself.
That is the very opposite of faith in Christ and His love for others, the opposite of the eternal life He gives to others.  For when we set our minds on earthly things and obsess over our appetites, our selfishness is self-destructive.  As our Savior Jesus says elsewhere, “Whoever would save his life will lose it.”  Refuse to walk with Jesus, put your cross down and go your own way in order to protect your own skin and you shall not only die here in time, but you shall die forever in Hell.  Paul speaks with tears in his eyes about those whose god is their bellies because they have a sad life, always having their rumbling tummies force them to go all over the place to try and fulfill desires that constantly change.  And that ends in shame and destruction as they perish like the very food you eat.
Remember how it went for Jerusalem, the city where the Lord caused His great Temple to be built!  Yet the people hid horrific lives under very religious actions.  They practically dare God to stop them from killing the prophets – and then when God sends His own Son, they kill Him too.
Certainly a few people in Jerusalem were different and were happy to see Christ arrive.  Yet most of the citizens failed to recognize Jesus as their Savior.  Whatever they thought of Him, bad or good, they did not welcome Him as their God.  While some plotted to trap Him, discredit and destroy Him, even those who loved Him did not understand His Cross.  Not even His disciples, until afterward.  Not even you nor I, except by God's grace, as you are being taught by His Word and the Holy Spirit.
All sorts of people and things try to get in His way, and there is a lot of confusing things that might get in the way of you understanding what today’s text is all about.  However, this much is absolutely clear – Jesus is determined to do what He came to do.  No one can stop Jesus – not the Pharisees, not Herod, not even the Devil in the wilderness as we heard last week.  God's Son comes for just one reason, with only one holy desire – to love you, to save you, to gather you to Himself.  As a hen gathers her chicks, Jesus would bring you under His wings of mercy, and nestle you close to His heart as His children.  He comes to use His Cross to shelter you, protect you, feed and comfort you.  Jerusalem would not have it.  Will you?
He goes to Jerusalem anyway, despite the signs of danger, and does what He does no matter what anybody else says or thinks about it because He loves His Father and His Father loves you and Jesus loves you.  Jesus endures your pain – not only how others make you suffer, but also the pain you inflict.  He endures your insults in peace.  He bears your sin and death to remove them from you forever.
See God's strong arms stretched wide open on the Cross in love, to gather you to Himself and protect you in peace.  Listen to God's Son here in the Gospel as no one will stop Him from saving you from all your sins.  Truly, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.  And in Christ, blessed are you.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

February 11 - Gospel

O Christ, as You invited the Samaritan woman to bring her husband, so You would have me bring to You those to whom I have witnessed or about whom I have prayed.  Like that woman, I must shamefully admit that I have not been faithful in witness of words and godly life.  And my prayers for others have even faltered.  As there are those who would have let her status as a Samaritan or her sinful life get in the way of their love for her, so also I have let such things as status and sin get in the way of my love for my neighbors.  Forgive me.  I want to do better.  May this upcoming season of Lent be a time of renewal, of death to my old self and new life in You as I take up the cross your Father gives so I may follow You more closely through Good Friday to the Day of Your Resurrection.  Yet remember that my frame is dust.  I am weak and even scared of how hard following You will be.  Let me never forget that You are the One who sought out the sinful Samaritan woman at the well and dealt with her compassionately.  And likewise You are the Savior who seeks me out to save me.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

January 9 - Writing

In case you were wondering what words were replaced by the ellipsis for number one in today's TDP writing:

"A person who wants to live like a heathen or a dog and does not publicly repent should not expect us to administer the sacrament to him or have us count him a Christian. Let him die as he has lived because we shall not throw pearls before swine nor give to dogs what is holy [Matt. 7:6]. Sad to say, there are many churlish, hardened ruffians who do not care for their souls when they live or when they die. They simply lie down and die like unthinking hulks."

Martin Luther, telling it like it is.  Thank you to Rev. David Juhl for doing the research.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

January 6 Gospel - Luke 3

When Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him like a dove, and the voice of God the Father announces, “You are My beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.”  It sounds like all that stuff is good for Jesus, but actually it all is good for us too.  Because if Jesus had not stepped into the Jordan River, then our Baptism would be meaningless, nothing but an empty ritual, and we would never be with Christ, but would burn in Hell.  But since Christ submitted Himself to baptism, Christ was there with you in yours.  As St. Paul says, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His” (Romans 6:3-5). 
Baptism joins you to Christ, and He to us, so that all that is ours becomes His, and all that is His becomes ours.  He takes our shame, and trades it for His glory.  He takes our death and gives us His life.  He takes our slavery and gives us His Sonship.  When the water splashed on you, Christ baptized “you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16) – not to burn and destroy you, but to cleanse and purify you to make your body His temple.  And on that day, Heaven was opened as Christ’s Father became your Father, who said to you, “You are my beloved Child; with you I am well pleased.”

Saturday, January 5, 2013

January 5 Gospel - Luke 3 (and Isaiah 65)

     The One John proclaimed as coming, He still comes to us and works in us today – to give us gifts of joy, to provide our lives with meaning and purpose, to fill in and raise our dark valleys of despair, to tear down the mountains of our pride, to straighten our crooked ways.
     What exactly will that look like in your life? It means different things for different individuals. John lets us hear that with his instructions for specific groups. The tax collectors were to stop cheating people out of money. The soldiers were to be content and not bully people until the soldier got what he wanted. And for everyone it means generosity, compassionate charity – giving food and clothing to the less fortunate for Christ’s sake. So what does it mean for you – as you live out such God-given roles as friend or father? Mother, neighbor, boss, brother, daughter, worker or retiree?  
     Whatever it may mean specifically, in general living out these God-given roles will be difficult. There will be unexpected twists and turns you never saw coming – over rough roads and rocky terrain and other places you would rather not be. The road of faith may even lead you out to some desert wilderness where it seems like you have to walk alone. You will work, and will not see any success for all your effort. Others who did not work might even get more benefit out of it. However, the Day is coming, declares the Lord, when
"They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of My people be, and My chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity, for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them" (Isaiah 65:21-23). 
     As you journey to that new heavens and new earth where you will rejoice forever, you will never be by yourself. Psalm 139 says that even if I cross the farthest seas, even there God’s hand shall lead me and hold me. For this God has given us our faith, the God who baptized you with the Holy Spirit and fire. He has given you His Word so that you can be certain that He is with you always to the end of time, our Immanuel. He who gives His body for food and His blood for drink – He promises to do for you what you cannot do; not only there on the Cross when He earned Heaven for you, but also goes to work in your heart – to change you, renew you, and even straighten you out. And already now He promises that even though you may never see the results of your work in the Lord, your labor will never be in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Friday, January 4, 2013

January 3 Gospel - Luke 2

(A revision of a sermon by Rev. Rick Stuckwisch)

            Simeon was at the Temple of the Lord that day looking to see Christ.  And after Anna sees the little Lord Jesus, she talks to all who are looking for redemption.  What are you looking for?
            Behind all your plans and pursuits, resolutions and wish lists; in all the movies you watch, games you play, books you read, music you listen to, and dreams you dream, what are you looking for?
            When you come here, to our smaller version of the Temple of the Lord, what are you looking for?
            Behind all of our short and long term goals, our choices, and voting, and the way we spend our cash and our time – behind it all is our desire for peace.  Not just an un-easy cease fire, or the absence of arguments – because then you worry about when the next outburst of conflict will come.  But real, honest to God peace, contentment, satisfaction in who you are and why you are here, true friendship with God and your neighbors.  The peace your restless heart looks for – because God created you to live that way with Him and each other. 
            In Colossians 3, today St. Paul tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.”  The almighty Judge who could destroy you for your disobedience, instead chooses in Christ to redeem you with such a great forgiveness of our sin.  The only right way to respond is to praise Him and to drop our grudges, replacing our hatreds with trying to live at peace with others – as far as it depends on us.
            If you do not have Christ’s peace ruling your hearts, nothing will satisfy you for very long.  You cannot control your inner turmoil – or even truly understand it.  And you soon find that it is controlling you like a puppet on strings.  Not a real boy or girl.  Not a real man or woman.
            Look for inner peace… and you will find it the same place that Simeon and Anna did – in the Temple of the Lord; in the Christ child, the Babe, the Son of Mary, who found no peace as He carried His cross for you.  You find it by the Spirit of God in the Word of God.  This is where you find what you are ultimately looking for, as your eyes see God’s salvation – the Peace of God that goes beyond anything you can understand, which guards your heart and mind from the Devil. 
            So how do you live this peace?  Well, for starters Romans 6 says that I have died with Christ in Baptism that I may now live with Him as an instrument of God’s righteousness.  And even though I will die, yet shall I live beyond the grave. 
            While we know the peace will be far better in Heaven with Christ, God still has His reasons for your life to go on here on earth.  He does not tell you all the details, but the Lord still gives a purpose to your life in this time and place, even as He gives you Christ’s peace.  For, as Philippians 1 says, whether you live or die, you are the Lord’s.
            That is the first key to our Gospel text today, and to the peace that we share with Simeon, Anna, Mary, and Joseph – You are the Lord’s, because He has created you and yet more wonderfully redeemed you by Christ’s sacrifice of His body and by shedding His own blood at the Cross.
            It is why Mary and Joseph were there at the Temple in the first place, why all Jewish parents of those days went there with the firstborn son – to confess that their whole family belongs to the Lord us as they present their children in the Temple for life in the world to the glory of God.
            You and your children also belong to our Creator and Redeemer, as all the good things you have ever received are yours only by His grace.  And God sanctifies you for a life of service to your church and your world.  In whatever place God puts you, He calls you to live life not for your own sake, but for the sake of our Christ who died and rose again for us.
            Simeon tells Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34-35).  The conflict and lack of peace in man’s heart that we try to keep hidden – it will violently show itself against Mary’s son for all to see.  Good Friday reveals the evil secret thoughts of how much man hates God.  And the Cross reveals the secret thoughts of the sin in your heart too.  It shines the light of Christ’s selfless sacrifice upon your selfishness and mine.  The Cross says that we need a better righteousness than our own because our goodness is not good enough – and our pride does not like that one bit.  As His cross puts our sin to death, you may be surprised by the monstrous ways you behave.
            However, it is Christ’s Cross.  And He has given Himself over to death ahead of you, to pay for our monstrous behavior, and to rescue you – or, actually better to rescue us from it forever.  For St. Paul tells us to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” so that you can live in the one body of Christ that is the universal Christian Church. 
            The peace that you look for is not only for your own comfort and calmness.  Anna speaks to all about the redemption of Jerusalem, and Simeon says Jesus is for all people – the consolation of Israel and salvation’s Light for the Gentiles.  You find the peace you look for in your neighbors, in your brothers and sisters in Christ, babies and old people.  As you love Jesus, you love them.  When you love them, you are loving Him – for whatever you do for the least of them, Jesus says He counts it as though you did it for Him (Matthew 25:31ff).
But what does it look like to love this way?  God’s Word is what guides us as Christians, so – for starters – we can see some examples in today’s Gospel reading.  God’s Word is what brought Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph with their baby to the Temple – and likewise the Word has brought parents with their children to this House of the Lord.  Parents, you are to raise your children to know the Scriptures, for they teach us Christ and His salvation.  Bring them to this House and present your children to the Lord in Baptism.  Let the Word of Christ dwell in them richly – not just here, but in your homes with family devotions, starting out with children’s Bible story books, morning and mealtime and bedtime prayers.  Teach them psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, prayers and thanksgivings to Our Father, and to Jesus who was once a little child like they are.  Prepare them to receive Christ in His Body and Blood.
If you are a husband or wife like Joseph and Mary, then live with your spouse in peace, until death parts you.  If you are widowed like Anna, then worship the Lord with prayer night and day, and you will strengthen God’s people as He answers your requests.  If you are a young man, or old like Simeon, see in today’s text how masculine it is to be in church, to pray and praise and wait for the Lord to answer in His time.  It is a manly thing to care for your family if you have one – and to care about what happens to the children of others, and even bless them as gifts of life from God like Simeon does here, happily taking the little Lord Jesus into his arms.
These are only a few ways that love acts as seen in today’s Gospel text.  There are so many other ways our Christian love should go toward God’s people – being patient with them, helping them through their troubled times, sharing their burdens, compassionately forgiving whatever good she failed to do or whatever evil he did do. 
There is peace and life and love in this forgiveness because it is the forgiveness that lives in Christ’s heart and flows out from Him to all members of His Body.  It flows to us even though you and I have not been righteous and devoted in our worship nor prayers.  Even though we have not faithfully sung His praises, spread His Word, nor shared His peace.  Even though you and I have failed in every relationship – from honoring our parents to cherishing spouses to caring for children to loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We have made a mess of it all. 
Yet nonetheless here is this little One, the Babe, the Son of Mary is your Peace.  He has performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, fulfilling the command to love perfectly, as we ought to love.  And in order to save you, Christ gives you the credit as if you lived in total obedience to God.  You will be received into Heaven – for, according to His Word, Christ has redeemed you from death as He bears all your guilt.  So now bless God, depart in peace, and live.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

January 2 - Gospel Luke 2

It's been a while, so here's something to get going again - the sermon I preached for Christmas, using a lot of thoughts from a Rev. William Weedon sermon.  Christ's blessings this Christmas season -

            Throughout Advent, we did not sing the “Glory to God in the Highest” at the start of the Church service.  But today we join with the angels we have heard on high in sweetly singing Heaven’s joy.
            The congregation that night was pretty pitiful – just a  few rough and smelly shepherds.  If they had been struggling to stay awake, that was soon not a problem.  Dangers to the sheep lurked in the darkness around them.  But in an instant, Heaven’s light brightly shone down on them and they no longer worried about their sheep.  They were terrified of losing their own necks.
            That is repeatedly the response of fallen man when confronted by Divine holiness.  The angel who confronted them came from the presence of the Holy God, and so he shared in that holiness.  The shepherds wanted to get away – but there was no escape.  And you should remember that they had no reason to escape as the angel speaks to them.
            “Fear not!  For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people.  For to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you.  You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
            The angel had not come to frighten them, no matter how scared poor sinners get around that which is holy and godly.  The angel had not come to destroy them, but to bring them joy, to announce that God was giving them the One who would rescue them from destruction.
            Fear not!  For the Lord comes now to you as a little child, a weak and helpless baby.  Who could be afraid of such a little one?  God comes down to earth to reveal to the lost children the deepest truth of all – that God has never been against us, that He has always loved us, that He has desired nothing but salvation and eternal life.  And so God dares to come in poverty and helplessness, behind enemy lines, to lead His enemies from fear to friendship, from terror to peace.
            As the poor shepherds are trying to get over their shock and wrap their heads around it all, God cranks it up a notch.  Suddenly that angel is no longer by himself – but there are myriads, hundreds of thousands, shining and singing the “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
            The glory of God here is not so much about His power but in His strong love.  Love so great that He risks rejection as He becomes man to raise us to be children of God.  The glory of God that Adam lost in Eden, and so mankind began our foolish and senseless running away from the Giver of all good, our only Hope and Life – that glory is restored and shown in Bethlehem.  For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.
            And then the angel adds his prayer for peace on earth.  And that peace has something to say about the weapons nations use to blow up and shoot down each other, inspiring fear and terror.  But also the horrifying weapons you and I know how to use on each other – the cutting word, the biting look, the poisonous anger.  The angels pray that all of it is laid aside and peace would really be upon the earth.  That we would come to love each other with the same sort of love that lives and reigns in Heaven, where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in love for each other – and for the whole creation!  A peace the holy angels live in, a peace the evil angels rejected to their own destruction.
            And there is more to it, because this very Christ Child does not simply bring peace.  He is our peace between God and man, for in Him the Divine and Human is one, united for all eternity.  A Christian poet (Paul Gerhardt) wrote it well –
“Shall we still dread God’s displeasure
Who to save                             Freely gave
His most precious treasure:

To redeem us He has given
His own Son                 From the throne
Of His might in Heaven.”

            This Christ Child does not change how God feels toward you, rather He shows how God feels towards you.  He lets you know that God has loved you with a love that never stops.  Certainly if you insist on meeting God apart from the gift of the Christ of Bethlehem and the Cross – well then you will face total destruction.  But that is not what God really wants for a single soul, for He gives this Child for all.  The angel sang that this is “Good news of great joy for ALL people,” and he meant ALL people!
            Good will toward men is what God shows us in this Babe of Bethlehem – to us bunch of rebels who go on in our disobedient sins as if there was no judgment against our guilt, as if no answer had to be given to God for every one of our evil words, deeds, or thoughts.  To us comes this Gift from the Father’s love – Jesus the Savior!  Sent to forgive our sins, sent to free us from our hell-bent wanderings, sent to bring us home to the Father.
            And that is what causes the angels’ great joy that Christmas night.  They are absolutely giddy because God’s lost children are beginning to be rescued and restored to the family home.  And they honestly are thrilled that they get the privilege of serving God’s children – of protecting and shepherding us through this life until we share with them eternally in glorifying God as we live forever with them in Heavenly peace, enjoying the good will and love of God.  Amen.