Psalm 61:3

Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; for You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Full Sermon from 12 / 30 / 12



There have been a few times in our history when we have been exposed to what we might call “true evil”.  The bombings of Pearl Harbor, the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, September 11, and this most recent school shooting in Connecticut come to mind.  These are horrible, awful, tragedies.  

                And when we encounter them, our first inclination as a society seems to be to attribute these atrocities to a kind of evil that the rest of humanity is simply not capable of.  These murderers are simply not like the rest of us.  They are “true evil”, or they are mentally disturbed.  But they are not normal.  They can’t be, can they?

                We are very quick to say that these mass murderers are of a kind that we are not.  They are the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Bin Laden, but they are not like us.  They are not normal people, good people like you and me.

                But what about ourselves?  America does not have clean hands in its history.  We, as people living today, are not as good and normal as we might like to think.  What about the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II, or the atomic bombs dropped on 2 Japanese cities killing hundreds of thousands?  

                We might try to justify these acts saying that they were necessary, perhaps even necessary evil, but they are evil non-the-less.  It is evil committed by a nation that is arguably the most Christian-influenced nation in the Western world.

                We are outraged by the slaughter of twenty innocent children in a school building.  And we should be.  But are we equally outraged by the murder of some 3000 children every single day by their own mothers and doctors who are duty bound to protect them?  We are eager to stop the violence in schools.  Are we as eager to stop the slaughter of innocent babies through the massive evil of abortion?

                The problem is not that there are a few evil people out there in the world somewhere.  We do not need to try and stop the Hitlers of the world.  The real problem is that the seeds of this sort of evil lie within each and every human heart.  And it must be suppressed, driven back, within us.  This evil must be fought inside of every human being.

                It is only by the grace of God that evil is not just completely rampant everywhere across the earth.  If it were not for God’s Law holding back evil through the work of parents, teachers, and governments, then we would see far more Hitlers arise.  We would see more massive shootings, more bombings and devastation.  “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

                I guess what I am trying to say is that if Hitler was not human, if the young man who killed those children and their teachers was not human, if there was something wrong with them, then there is something wrong with you and me.  We are not human, at least we are not the human beings that God intended us to be from Creation.  You are not human.

                There is, in fact, only one man who was, and remained truly human His entire life long, throughout His entire existence.  Of course Adam and Eve were human when God created them.  They were exactly what He made them to be.  But they forsook all of that to be something He never wanted.  They gave up their humanity in the lust for evil.  

                Only Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God the Father, is truly human.  We learned this from the Small Catechism when we confess that Jesus Christ is True God, but also True Man.  It is not simply true that Jesus is human like the rest of us.  He is Human like the rest of us are not.

                The gospel lesson from Luke 2 illustrates this well.  Jesus keeps the Law of God by being dedicated to God, “redeemed” as the Jews would have said, by His earthly parents.  And He continues this perfect keeping of the Law for the rest of His life.  

                Jesus actively does good wherever He goes.  He also passively submits, both to God and to earthly authorities.  The ultimate example, of course, is found in the cross.  Jesus submits to God’s will by dying as a ransom for the sins of the world.  He submits to the human authorities by allowing Himself to be condemned to death by the Roman rulers of the day.

                Through the life and death of Jesus we see what true humanity is to look like.  We see that it is not at all what we look like.  Jesus Christ is human, and we are not.  

                And so our humanity must be given back to us as a gift.  It is the grace of God that restrains evil on the earth.  More so, it is the grace of God that restores our humanity, not to the fallen image of Adam, but to the flawless image of God found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

                In Colossians 3 Paul teaches the people to “put on” the virtues of God.  They are to put on like a garment compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and love.  Just like a garment, like an article of clothing that you might have received for Christmas, these virtues do not come from within us.  They come from God as a gift.

                It is not merely that Jesus has shown us what true humanity looks like and now it is up to us to follow His example.  The virtue of Jesus, His active love and His humble submission, has been given to us as a gift to “put on” like a new Christmas sweater.

                Earlier in chapter 2 Paul tells the Colossian Christians that they have been crucified and raised with Christ through baptism.  They are alive, truly human, because they have been clothed with Jesus Christ at the font of baptism.  God’s Word has made it so.

                And because God has now put upon us the image of His Son, He will continue to produce within us the virtues of a true man or a true woman.  He will drum up within our hearts love for our fellow Christians.  He will move us to forgive as we have been forgiven.  He will sustain us through trials and temptations, all the while giving us the motivation to be what we are re-created to be: Truly Human.

                Of course this side of the resurrection from the dead none of us will be a perfect reflection of Jesus Christ.  That is why Paul entreats the Colossians to let the peace of Christ rule in their hearts, to let the word of Christ dwell richly within them.  

                It is through the Word of Christ delivered to us from fellow Christians, from pastors, from hymns and songs, from the Scriptures themselves, that we are brought back to life time and time again.  Just like Adam and Eve, we will fall from perfection.  

Only the Word of Christ can restore us.  And it will restore us to the true humanity that is our in Christ.

The problem with the world is not “everyone else”.  It is not just a few crazy or deranged individuals.  The problem with the world is the lack of humanity in it, the lack of humanity within each and every one of us.  It is the sin which dwells within.

That is why the solution must come from without.  The solution is to be forgiven by the blood of Christ and restored to our humanity by His resurrection.  We must be covered by the gift of Christ’s virtue, taught by His peace and His Word to forgive and love one another.

May the peace of Christ, and His Word which alone give real life, dwell in you richly today and every day.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Red Herring of Tragedy

The murder of children and their teachers is horrible.  It is unthinkable.  And we have been rightly led to mourn the loss life in Newtown, CT.

But there is a red herring in the reporting of this story.  It is a touchy subject.  It is "gun control".

This is not an defense of the NRA or a pleading for the government to leave us with unlimited access to firearms.  I believe that gun control needs to be discussed realistically, yet I do not think that it will solve the problem. 

Take all the guns out of the hands of every man and woman in the United States and you are left with the same problem on a smaller scale. (And perhaps a larger scale.  Don't forget that we live in a world where people can manufacture bombs with directions off the internet.)

Almost every media outlet has jumped on the idea that now is the time for congress to debate gun control and so "fix" the problem of large scale violence.  They report that this is what President Obama was driving at during his remarks to the memorial service in Newtown.

(Which, by the way, does not seem to be what he was talking about when he said he would use the power of his office to talk with teachers, medical professionals, and law enforcement officers about solutions to the problem.  What do medical professionals and educators have to do with gun control?)

Take the guns out of the equation and you are still left with a man in China who attacked and injured 22 people with a knife, hijackers who destroyed thousands of lives without a single firearm, and a society that defends the murders millions of innocent babies through abortion.

Here lies the real question and the real issue.  Do we truly value human life?  Harry Reid, Brian Williams, and countless others have lamented the slaughter of these young innocents.  And they should.  But do these same men shed a single tear for the loss of innocent life through abortion clinics?  Does the idea that millions of pre-born babies are being slaughtered make you lose any sleep at night?

We cannot create a society that values life outside the womb until we learn to value it inside the womb. 

We cannot see the value of life until we see it through the eyes of God.  Each life is one that He created.  More than that, each life is one for which He shed the truly innocent blood of His Son.

Alas, we shall never value life as much as we should.  And for this we must all repent.  Repent and trust in the blood bought forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  Repent and fight for the life of EVERY human being, born or unborn, rich or poor, young or old. 

Repent and continue to pray: "Come quickly Lord Jesus!






Friday, December 7, 2012

I'm not making this stuff up.

Really, I am not an original thinker. 

If you have been reading this blog, especially if you have enjoyed the "We Stand for.." entries, then you are getting and earful, not of my words, but of the Lutheran Confessions.

No, I did not quote them directly.  I did, however, take each article of the Augsburg Confession and explain it for a modern day audience.  Only the last 3 or 4 posts were "free-form".

The Lutheran Confession of the Christian faith is not outdated, nor is it irrelevant.  It is as applicable today as ever.  Perhaps even more so.

So Lutherans, read your Bibles.  Read your confessions.  Know what you believe so that you can give a proper defense for the hope that is in you.   

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Playing at Holiness.



There is a scene in the movie “Back to the Future III” that shows us just how different our lives are from those who lived even 50 years ago or so.  As the title of the film suggests, it is about a young man who travels back in time, in this particular film it is to the wild west.

                One character from the future is trying to explain what living in the 1980’s is like to a person living in the 1880’s.  He mentions that people have motorized carriages and flying machines to travel all over the world very quickly.  

                The man from the old west laughs and says, “Don’t people walk anywhere, or run anymore?”  The man from the future replies, “Yes, of course, but for fun!”  TO which everyone erupts in laughter.

                People in our day run for fun.  (Yes, I am aware that I do this myself.)  But isn’t that a bit odd?  People in our day and age have the luxury to go for a walk, or run a few miles, just for the heck of it.  

                There are all sorts of things like this, that people who lived 50 or 100 years ago did out of necessity, and we are just playing at it.  There are men who do blacksmithing as a pastime.  They hammer metal into shapes for pleasure.  People garden for fun.  They sew clothes and make blankets as a hobby.

                But how serious are these tasks?  If your garden fails this year, what are you going to do?  Go to the grocery store and probably spend less money there than you did on your garden.  If you sew a dress poorly you can simply go to Wal-Mart or any other retail store to buy a replacement.  

                We play at things that our ancestors had to take seriously.  We can pretend that it is really important that we do these things, but it is not nearly as important for us as it was for those who lived and died by what they made with their hands, what grew in their garden.

                Advent is the time of preparing our hearts and lives to be ready for the second coming of Jesus Christ.  And we do not want to be caught “playing” at living holy lives when He returns.  We don’t want Jesus to come again in glory and we are twiddling our thumbs.  Neither do we wish to be found playing at holiness as if it does not really matter, as if there were no need for us to live holy lives, we just do it for fun.

                Paul encourages the Thessalonians in this in our epistle lesson.  “May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless, in holiness, before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”  

                And you know what, the Thessalonians were pretty good people.  They were thriving in their faith.  Paul rejoices over their faith.  He is filled with joy at the report he receives from Timothy concerning these new Christians.

                But what does Paul want to do?  He wants to see them again, face-to-face, so that he can teach them a few things that they have questions about and so that he can encourage them in holy living.  He does not say, “Oh, you guys have got this.”  NO!  He encourages them not to slack off, not to keep doing the same as they are, but to increase, to abound in love for one another.

                If Paul can say this to the Thessalonians, people about whom he has such great confidence in their faith, people over whom he has such great joy, how much more could he say this to us today?  We treat holiness, godly living, as if it were a pass-time, something to be played at, but never taken too seriously.  Wanting to be holy is ok, but don’t hurt yourself trying to get there.

                Part of it is just the curse of living in such a wealthy and advanced society.  We live lives of relative ease and luxury compared to most of the world.  So it is pretty hard for us to take anything as a life-or-death situation.  We just aren’t used to that.

                But it is to our shame.  Love for the neighbor, holiness, godly living, is not a trivial thing.  It is not a pass time, something to be played at.  

                Your holiness was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Christ has made you holy in the sight of God.  Now act like it!

                Baptism into the death and resurrection has set us apart from the rest of the world.  That might sound a bit arrogant, but it is merely recognizing reality.  This is what it means to be a royal priesthood.  We are men and women who are in this world, but we are not of this world.  

To us has been given the unsurpassed gift of faith in Jesus Christ.  Our sins have been removed.  Our life has been restored.  Our own resurrection has been guaranteed.  All this is done with the bloody sacrifice of Christ.  The babe to be born in the manger will make His way to the cross and make you holy.

In Jesus Christ you are made holy.  And you are made holy for the sake of others.  Jesus has set you apart by the power of His Word, not only because He loves you, but also because He loves the world.  

When God wants to save the world He does not play around.  He gets to work and does the deeds that need to be done, no matter what the cost to Himself.  When He wants to spread the Gospel He does not leave it in the mouths of men, but fills those Apostles with His Spirit, with His Word.  And He takes the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

When God wants to help other people, He does not leave it up to us.  He sets apart a people of His own choosing.  He forgives their sins, fills them with His Spirit, sanctifies them with His body and blood again and again.  And He gets to work through you.

Nothing that you do can possibly make you more holy in God’s sight.  You have been set apart, cleansed of your sin already by the sacrifice of Jesus.  

Yet this is not an excuse for laziness, for playing at holiness.  There are people in this world whom God cares about, whom He loves, and He has placed you in their lives to serve and care for them.  He has made you holy by the blood of Jesus for the sake of the world; for the sake of your own family, neighbors, and co-workers.

There are plenty of things that we can play at these days.  Let us not play at holiness.  Christ has made us holy.  May He make us increase and abound in love for one another, may He establish our hearts blameless, in holiness, before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.  Amen.      

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jesus is coming!



Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus is coming. The festive cry had gone out through all of Jerusalem. Jesus was on his way. This famous worker of miracles was coming to town. This infamous preacher was marching on the city. 

“There He is. No, not that one. Over there. He is the one riding on the donkey. Yeah, that’s Him. Hosanna!” the people cry. “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus is coming.

The excitement filled the air. The people genuinely wanted to meet this Jesus. They wanted to see him, touch him, be healed by him, be ruled by him.

But be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

You see, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is no regular visit. This is not his vacation. He is coming to Jerusalem on business. And he has two different, yet related items on his agenda. He intends to confront and upset the comfortable. And he will comfort the upset and the confronted. Jesus is coming.

He is coming to show those Pharisees and Sadducees who is boss. Long enough have they been theological oppressors. The Pharisees need to learn that they are not so hot. They are not perfect. Their sins are just as great as the adulteress or the thief. They are as much in danger of the fires of hell as those they would not stoop down to help.

The Sadducees were not so great either. They were the high and might ones. They were the intellectual snobs. They were too smart to believe in silly things like the resurrection from the dead. But when Jesus was done with them, they would not be so secure in their knowledge. They would not be so proud of their advanced learning, the letters behind their name, their many titles. Jesus is coming.

And then there is the poor widow. This woman had nothing in the world, only two small coins. The Pharisees and Sadducees would have laughed to see such a useless contribution. Jesus sees the trust in God it took to give all that she had to the Lord. And He praises her faith. For the sake of this penniless woman, Jesus is coming.

Or the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with ointment. This woman had probably saved her whole life to buy that ointment, and she pours it out at Jesus’ feet. Her faith did not go unnoticed. She had prepared Christ for his burial. For the sake of this generous woman, Jesus is coming.

And Jesus is coming back. He has died and risen. He has ascended into heaven to sit on his throne. And we are here waiting. Like those people in Jerusalem, we have heard of this man, and we are waiting for our glimpse. We are waiting to see him, touch him, learn from him. But remember; be careful what you wish for.

Beware. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were not so pleased with their encounter with the Christ. We may not be either. Jesus is coming with business in mind. As it was for Jerusalem, so it is for us today. Jesus is coming.

If you feel that Church is just something people do, if you think that just by showing up here every Sunday, or at least once every few weeks, you are going to impress “the man upstairs”, if you believe that you have covered all your bases, been pretty good, said the right things and known the right people, then beware. Jesus is coming.

If you think that you are too smart to get sucked into this whole religion thing, if you believe that religion is the opiate of the people, something to keep dumb people’s minds occupied, if you are sure that God is simply wishful thinking on the part of every culture in every time and place throughout history, then beware. Jesus is coming.

If you think that you’ve got it all, that life will be smooth sailing for you, if you think that you have done all your hard work, you have secured your success, you have taken every precaution, if you think that for one minute you are in control of a single thing in this universe, then beware. Jesus is coming.

The content ones will be upset. Those who have grown accustomed to their fat and lazy lifestyle, will be confronted. Those who prey on the innocent, as well as those who claim to be innocent, will be stopped dead in their tracks and exposed for what they really are. Beware. Jesus is coming.

However…

If you are guilty; if this message has just scared the daylight out of you and you don’t want to be one of those guys; if the sins of your youth are weighing you down, forcing you to wonder if you deserve God’s goodness; if you are looking for forgiveness, cleansing, and peace; then take heart. Jesus is coming.

And if you are sad and lonely; if you walk down crowded streets by yourself and pray to God that one of these people might take notice of you; if you wonder if even God Himself cares for you; then take heart. Jesus is coming.

If your heart is broken; if your courage is failing; if your faith seemed so much stronger a few years ago because the woman you love is no longer here; if you are waiting patiently, ever so patiently, for the Lord to take you home; if you are looking ahead to that great and glorious day when there will be no such thing as a cemetery; then take heart. Jesus is coming.

Jesus is coming for the sick and the poor, for the weak and the oppressed. He is coming for the men and women who cry out in faith, “Hosanna! Save us Lord!” He is coming to right every wrong. He is coming to forgive all sins. He is coming to wipe away every tear from your eyes. He is coming to gather his sheep, to fulfill his promises, to establish his kingdom forever, to raise the dead. Jesus is coming for you. 

Jesus came into this world a swaddled infant, lying in a manger. He came into Jerusalem riding on a common donkey. The next time, however, things won’t be quite so small. He will come with all the pomp of the God of gods and Lord of lords. He will come to judge the quick and the dead. He will come to separate sheep from goats. He will come to bring to you and to me the full and abundant life that He has promised. Behold, He comes quickly. Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Monday, December 3, 2012

We stand for Worship!

We do not gather together on Sunday mornings to worship God.

That might sound a bit extreme, but it is true, entirely biblical.  Read through the New Testament and find how many times the early Christians are told to gather for worship.  There really aren't any.

Rather Christians are told to worship God every second of every day.  They live lives of living sacrifice (Romans 12:1), living worship.  Everything that you do in life should be an act dedicated to the glory of God to the service of others.

So why get together on Sundays, or any day of the week?  If God doesn't want me to come to church and praise Him then does He want me to come at all?

YES!  But not for the reason that you might think.  God calls you into a gathering of the saints each week so that you might receive the teaching of the Apostles [found in the Bible], for fellowship, for prayers, and for the breaking of the bread [the Lord's Supper] (Acts 2:42).

In other words, God invites you each week to come and feast at His table, to receive His gifts, to be forgiven of your sins and filled with His righteousness.

He does not call you in to have you tell Him how awesome He is.  [He already knows that!]  He calls you to gather with the saints so that He might tell you what He promises you in the life, death, and resurrection of His only Son.

But isn't it a little selfish for me to come to Church just so God can give me His gifts of Word and Sacrament?

No.  It is just being honest.  Is the homeless man being selfish when he shows up at the soup kitchen?  I don't think so.

On the contrary, thinking that I have to go to church on Sunday so that I can give God something, anything, is rather arrogant.  God does not need anything from you.  So show up empty and be ready to leave filled with His Word of Promise.

Does this mean that we will not worship God in the Sunday service?  Is there no element of praise and thanksgiving?  Of course there is!  But that praise and thanksgiving is only secondary.  It springs forth naturally from the proclamation of God's Word.

A service that is only praise is basically a waste of time.  You could do much better to praise God by going out and serving your neighbor.

A service that is filled with God's Word is necessary for the Christian's faith to survive in this sin-filled world.  We need what God has to offer us in Jesus Christ.  There is no shame in showing up to get it.