Sunday, July 06, 2014

Sermon - Pentecost 4 - Romans 7:14-25

Pentecost 4
Romans 7:14-25
St. John's Lutheran Church, Beloit, WI
Who will rescue me?”

The Christian life is a life of conflict. We are at war. The battle is for the ultimate prize, your eternal soul, and so this is serious business. The Devil is out to get you. The world that hated Christ hates you too, Christian. And if all of that is not enough. You are at war with your very own self. Even St. Paul himself was. And there is only one that can rescue us from this body of death, Jesus Christ! Thanks to him for the victory!

Paul sets up a contrast for us in Romans 7 that is universally instructive. Every Christian should read and mark these words carefully.

On the one hand Paul speaks of his “mind”. By this he means the new man or “new Adam”. The new creation in Christ that began at Holy Baptism. The Christian, the saint, the believer, the child of God. According to this nature, our new nature, we want to please God and follow his commandments. According to this nature we are righteous, holy, and without sin. This is the man that has been crucified with Christ in baptism and raised again with Christ. This is the man that clings to Christ, follows his word, and does good works with the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the man that delights in the law of God. This is our “inner being”

But Paul makes a distinction. As Christians, we are not only “new man”. But we also have this sinful flesh which clings to us. Our “outer being” if you will. The flesh, is that which we see. And not only the outward skin and bones, but that part of us that is still subject to sinful desires and words. “The Flesh” is our old nature, our “Old Adam”, which wants nothing to do with God and his word and his ways. This is the man who rebels against God at every turn. This is the one that still sins, sins daily, and sins much. This is the man apart from God, apart from Christ, and without the power of the Holy Spirit. There is nothing good that dwells in you, according to the flesh. “Wretched man that I am!” Paul says. Or you and I might just say of ourselves, “what a mess!”

You want to be kind to your family members, but the sinful flesh finds them so downright annoying! You want to listen to the sermon in Church, but the sinful flesh would rather plan your shopping trip. You want to honor your parents, but your sinful flesh convinces you that you always know best. You want to be faithful to your spouse, but your sinful flesh has eyes for anyone else it can fantasize about. You want to be generous, but your sinful flesh is all scrooge. You want to be content with what you have, but your sinful flesh thinks what that guy has is far better, and you deserve it far more. And you want to fear, love and trust God, but your sinful flesh always seems to have other ideas. What a wretched man I am! What a mess we all are.

And so we live in this tension. As Christians, we want to do good, trust God and love our neighbor. But as sinners, we are caught in this “body of death” as Paul calls it, with a war constantly raging inside of us.

Why is this helpful to know?

For one, it helps us understand what otherwise makes no sense. Some, it seems, even some Christians, think that when you come to faith – all sin suddenly stops.

Or that once you come to faith, you should at least be making measurable progress. And that if you stumble and fall along the way, it means you aren't really saved, don't really believe, and are destined for damnation.

Or some would say that God gets you started, gets you to the point of believing, but the rest is up to you, friend. Good luck. Then what happens when your life exhibits more fallenness than faith? Are you a back slider? Are you not an authentic Christian? Do you need to take it to the next level (and how do you know when you get there)?

All this could lead us to despair. Either God's a liar, or I'm a failure. For we do continue to sin, and we can't do it on our own, and our lives never exhibit the holiness and righteousness that God declares upon us.

But do not despair! Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, tells us otherwise. Sinning doesn't mean you're not a Christian. It means you are still a captive to the law of sin, and will be until this flesh goes into the ground. Your sin is not the ultimate reality about you. It's not what matters in the end. What matters is that you are baptized, you do have Christ's word of promise, you do belong to him, and your future is secure.

Mind you, none of this is an excuse to go on sinning. Paul asks and answers that question in chapter 6, “shall we go on sinning? By no means!” No, the struggle continues as we grapple with our flesh, till death do us part.

Secondly, understanding this distinction lets us know we're not alone in the fight. You think you're the only one who's struggled with sin? No, instead, you are in the good company of all God's people who are of the same flesh, from the same father, Adam. Abraham, the liar and coward. Jacob the schemer. Judah who sold his brother into slavery. Moses, a murderer. Rahab, a prostitute. David, an adulterer and murderer. Jonah, a reluctant prophet. Matthew, a tax collector. Peter, a denier. And even Paul, persecutor of Christians.

But in each and every case, the faithful of God trusted in his salvation, made known and completed by Christ. For all the saints who've gone before us, their laundry list of sin and death was washed in the blood of Christ, and only in Christ. But in him, they – and you – receive the crown of victory. In Him who conquered death, we too look past the grave to a resurrection like his, and the glory yet to be revealed.

Thirdly, all this reminds us that the only salvation is in Christ. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Christ alone. Thanks be to him. You can't do it yourself, nor should you try. If you did try you'd either fall flat on your face, or live in a lie of self righteousness. If you thought you could rescue yourself, you wouldn't need Jesus. The war is too much for Paul, and it's too much for you. Sin is always close at hand. But Jesus is closer. Death is breathing down your neck. But Jesus is the death of death.

And Jesus died for your sins, all of them – before baptism and after. Jesus covers you with his blood, forgives your sins, reconciles you to his Father, and squashes death and the devil under his bruised foot.

Jesus rides to your rescue. He rides on a donkey, he rides the cross to its bitter last stop. He rides to hell and back, through an open grave, to the right hand of God. And he'll ride again on the clouds when he comes to the world's final rescue, all his angels with him. He will rescue us all from death forever.

So any time you struggle with sin, remember your baptism! Remember you are in Christ! All is not lost. He will never leave or forsake you. And he will come again in glory, to bring it all to fulfillment. Thanks be to God, we say with St. Paul and all the other sinners and saints – who are victorious - in Christ alone. Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord! Amen.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Sermon - Pentecost 2 - Matthew 10:5a, 21-33

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me. So the childhood saying goes. But I found it to be hollow, when I was teased as a child. Names hurt. The ridicule of man has an effect on man, or else the ridiculer wouldn't do it.

Jeremiah knew it. He says he was a “laughingstock” and even his close friends denounced him. Christians know it today, too, as even our own family members can mock our faith. Oh, you're not one of THOSE people, are you?

And sometimes, verbal scorn can turn to action. Christians can bear the brunt of persecution that does bring sticks and stones, and breaks your bones. Jewish tradition has Jeremiah stoned to death in Egypt. We know for sure that the first Christian martyr, Stephen was stoned to death. And many Christians, to this day, would die for the faith. It seems we read more of it in the news every day.

We ought to pray for the persecuted church, especially that they remain faithful unto death, and receive the promised crown of life. There but for the grace of God go you and I. Even when we are not persecuted to death, still, there are crosses to bear. Still, your faith doesn't solve all your problems, make your life easy and successful, or chase all the clouds away with bright shiny rainbows. You may well suffer for Christ, for your faith, for the truth – even if you don't suffer unto death.

Do you think you are any better than Jesus? They called him the devil, Beelzebul. They mocked him and treated him shamefully. They stripped and whipped and beat and spit on him. They crowned him with thorns in a sham coronation. They gave him a scepter and royal robe to kneel down in false worship. Sticks and stones? They put him on two sticks to die, and he was buried behind a big stone.

Truly, a servant is not greater than the master. The world hated him. The world hates you, too, Christian. What Jesus got, you will get too, somehow, some way, sooner or later.
I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news, but this is the hard truth the word puts in front of us today. We preach what Luther called a “theology of the cross”, not a “theology of glory”.

I went to a mega- church here last Sunday and heard plenty theology of glory. God wants you to be successful, healthy, wealthy, happy. And if you believe rightly, and think rightly, you will have God's favor. And good things will happen to you. Nevermind the fact that every day faithful Christians are struck down by disaster and disease. Nevermind that the faithful are mocked and persecuted. Or that they die in anonymous poverty. Oh, but this church building won an architectural award, see how God favors us!

Are you better than Jesus? No. Far worse, a sinner. The good news is not that Jesus takes all the suffering away. The good news is that he has taken your sin away. The good news is not that Jesus makes your life better, or even good, now. The good news is that Jesus has swallowed up death in his victory, and brings abundant life. The gospel of Jesus Christ stands in the midst of all that is wrong and broken and perverted and dying in this world – and speaks a contrary word of hope. Even though you die, yet shall you live. “He who lives and believes in me will never die.”

So have no fear. No fear of the persecutor, the oppressor, the enemy. Even the one who can destroy your body. For the Lord knows his people, even the hairs on your head. He who knows every time a sparrow dies, knows and values you far more than a sparrow. He knows your suffering. Jesus knows all suffering. And he will not forsake you in it.

Have no fear, for you already know what is out there: a world that hates Christians and a devil that would like nothing more than to devour us. To see us turn from God in despair, shake our fist at the heavens in anger, and join the true Beelzebul's company of misery. But have no fear, he can harm you none. He's judged, the deed is done. Christ has the victory, even when it looks like we are defeated.

And Jesus will confess you before his Father. He will say, “Father, this one belongs to me. And so this one belongs to you. I have shed my blood for this one. I have conquered death so this one might live. The world hates this one, but this one I love. The world has called this one all sorts of names, but I have called this one by my name. This one is baptized in your name, Father, and mine, and the Spirit's. This one is ours forever.”

No, you are not better than Jesus. But Jesus is far better than you and I, thanks be to God. And what is his, is ours. His suffering, yes, in which we participate. He had his cross, and we have our crosses. But we share in his righteousness, his holiness, his resurrection and his victory. God will not abandon us any more than he would abandon his own Son. And that is true comfort, even in suffering and persecution.

He is coming again, and until that time he has not left us forsaken. He remains among us by his word, and in the blessings of his holy meal. His true body and blood are present for our forgiveness, and to strengthen us in all the trials and crosses we bear.

And even by receiving this sacrament, we proclaim him – and his death, until he comes. As we gather to receive him, we confess him before men. We say, “I, a sinner, am saved by the promise and gift of my Lord Jesus Christ. Who gave his very body and blood on the cross, even to death - and gives his very (resurrected) body and blood- for my salvation, even now. I confess with all these other sinners, that He is the only savior. The way, the truth, the life. That all his words are true. That all his promises are forever. And I look for the fulfillment of these, when this foretaste gives way to the eternal marriage feast of heaven”.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Sermon - Luke 24:13-35 - The Third Sunday of Easter

St. Paul Lutheran Church, Havelock, NC
The Third Sunday of Easter
Luke 24:13-35

The Road to Emmaus. One of those Bible stories that captures our imagination. It actually happened ON Easter Sunday – the same day of the resurrection. Precious few of those accounts are recorded for us. Like in the other accounts, Jesus appears, alive, but does some mysterious things. They don't recognize him at first. He's going incognito. And for that matter, we don't know much about who these 2 Emmaus disciples were, either (one is named Clopas, and a pastor friend of mine believes the other was actually St. Peter). I am particularly intrigued by Jesus interpreting the Old Testament to these men, “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”. Oh to be a fly on that wall, well, buzzing somewhere down the road with them, at least.

But as a Lutheran, I love this text most because already on day ONE of the resurrection, we have sacramental theology. Jesus took bread, blessed it, and gave it to them... and their eyes were opened. Later it tells us, “he was known to them in the breaking of the bread”. The Lord again presides at the Lord's Supper, their eyes are open, and they see him. This is so incredibly profound.

Doesn't it seem that some interesting things happen to God's people “on the road”? You have this, the Road to Emmaus. You have Saul's conversion to St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Phillip met and baptized an Ethiopian Eunuch along a road. The parable of the Good Samaritan happened on the road. The woman with the flow of blood was healed on the road, while Jesus was going to raise Jairus' daughter. And the crowd spread their cloaks on the road on Palm Sunday.

Perhaps all this action on the road isn't really about the road, itself, but that God acts in ways and at times we least expect, even “along the way”.

Who knows what any of Jesus disciples thought in the bewildering blur of events on that first Easter. They were certainly talking, rehearsing, “all that had happened”. But they didn't understand, especially from the Scriptures, that this had to happen. This was the plan all along. They still couldn't get their brains wrapped around this: that the Messiah had to suffer and die, and rise on the third day.
And my friends, my baptized and and believing Christian friends, I suggest you and I are no different. What Jesus said to them, he could surely say to us, even to us pastors:

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”

So often we like to think we have it all together and we can look at those foolish disciples with the benefit of hindsight and, let's face it, far greater wisdom and faith. They were bumbling idiots, but after all, we are LCMS Lutherans! And Pastor Daub, you even went to seminary! A lot of good that does you. “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” The Old Adam in us, the sinful nature in all of us is foolish and unbelieving. Our new nature in Christ, of course, sees and believes. But we are, in this life, both Old and New. We are both sinner and saint. Righteous and scoundrel. And we struggle, even to believe what the Word of God says about Jesus the Christ.

Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. Oh it sounds so simple. We all say we believe it. But we certainly act as if we don't. And how little trouble it takes to make us doubt the love of God in Jesus Christ. Some suffering in life comes, and we're convinced he's forgotten us. Some plan of ours falls to shambles, and we think he's punishing us. Or maybe you harbor some guilt for some sin that you know he died to forgive, but even though Christ's blood was shed for it – YOU can't let it go.

No, we are foolish and slow to believe. We could go even further, and admit we have false beliefs at times, and we are ignorant of much. Which of us knows the scriptures as we should? Even lifelong study can't bring us to the depth of appreciation for God's word we ought to show. “But, pastor, I learned all that in Confirmation class 50 years ago.”

To all of this, all I can say is, repent. Repent of your slowness to believe. Repent of your foolishness and carelessness with God's holy word. Repent of thinking you know better than what God actually says. Repent of hanging on to your guilt when Christ has come to set you free.

And Christ does. For even though he chides his disciples for their foolishness, he doesn't desert them on the road, nor will he desert us. Even though they are slow to believe, he is patient and kind, and lovingly teaches them, opening the Scriptures to them. Just as he gives us pastors and teachers even today to continue opening his word, and opening our eyes to it. Thanks be to God for the gifts of his word, and the testimony of that word to his Son, Jesus Christ!

For Jesus is the fulfillment of the Scriptures, from Moses – through all the prophets. He is the Lamb of the passover. He is the pillar of cloud and fire that leads and protects us through the wilderness. He is the rock from which they drank, and we drink. He is the captain of the heavenly host, who for us fights, the valiant one. He is David's son and David's Lord. He is the wiser king than Solomon, the more prophetic prophet than Elijah, and the more priestly priest than Aaron or Melchizidek. He is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. He is the temple of God – the dwelling of God with man. He is the Son of Man, whose own new life will bring life to all the valleys of dry bones there ever were or will be. He is the one of whom the Psalmist writes, “My God, why have you forsaken me... they have pierced my hands and feet.... dogs surround me.... they divide my garments among them.... my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth”. But he is the Holy One who would not be abandoned to the grave. Nor will he abandon you.

And yes, he continues to teach us in his word, even today, who he is and what he has done for us, and what he still promises to do. But even more. He feeds us. He is made known to us in the breaking of the bread.

Why did Jesus only flip the switch when they had broken bread? Why was he only known to them at the table? Surely, as a sign also to us – to seek him where he promises to be. For you can go to Jerusalem today and see the places where he walked, the roads are mostly buried or lost, and I don't think Emmaus is around any more either. Or you could try to find Jesus in your heart, but good luck sifting through all the other garbage there to find him. Or you could even try to find Jesus in your neighbor, but remember the sheep were surprised, themselves to hear he was present in the least of these. No, instead, Jesus promises to be found where he has made himself available and accessible to us. Where he says he will be. In the bread and wine. This is my body. This is my blood. For the forgiveness of your sins.

You see, Jesus does nothing by accident. And the Holy Spirit doesn't inspire the Gospels to record these events for his own amusement. These things are written that you may believe, and believing have life in Jesus Christ. We are meant to see Jesus with these Emmaus disciples. We, too, are meant to meet him in the breaking of bread. We see him made known to us there, through the eyes of faith, by the power of the Spirit.

And faith gets it right. For faith is not of ourselves. Of ourselves, we are foolish and slow. Of ourselves, we are wandering the roads of life aimlessly. Of ourselves, we are alone, confused, guilty and struggling. But Jesus comes along, and in his mysterious ways, teaches and feeds us. And it is enough. He assures us of his grace and mercy. He sets our hearts on fire with a yearning for his gifts: a love of his word, and a deep appreciation for the sacraments. It's not a pious, feel-good burning of hearts, a but a deep desire born of repentance and faith – a work of the Spirit.

His disciples would carry the word and sacraments of Christ down many more roads. They would share the Gospel in Jerusalem and Judea, to Samaria and to the ends of the Earth. I don't think any of the apostles made it to Singapore, though tradition holds Thomas preached the gospel in India. And so the church, as she goes, brings Christ with her. Or maybe it's Christ, as he goes, brings his body along. Brings his word, brings his meal.

I have no special expertise in starting churches, my friends, but that's not what is needed for Jesus to be made known. He opens eyes and hearts through the preaching of his word, in the water of baptism, and the breaking of bread. The same as your faithful pastor does here in Havelock, your missionary to Singapore will do, by God's grace and with your prayers and support.

May the joy of Easter enliven our hearts, here and now, and down whatever road we go. And may the peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Sermon - Easter 2014

The Resurrection of Our Lord
Easter Sunday, 2014
Matthew 28:1-10

Christ is Risen! (He is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

What a difference 3 days can make. Not even three days, by our modern way of reckoning. Friday afternoon to Sunday morning. Not even a whole weekend. But that's all the rest in the tomb Christ would take, before rising to life again at Sunday's break of dawn. What a difference between Friday and Sunday.

On Friday, there women mourned him, but on Sunday they were first to hear the good news.

On Friday, two thieves flanked our Lord in his dying breaths. On Sunday, two angels at the tomb appeared to announce he is alive!

On both Friday and Sunday were earthquakes – but for very different reasons. Friday's earthquake was part of creation's groaning at the death of the creator. Sunday's earthquake accompanied the stone rolling away, no heavy earth or stone could keep this grave sealed.

On Friday, soldiers had their way – even dividing up his garments as he died. Sunday – it was soldiers who were as dead men, and Christ who was alive. He left his grave clothes behind, by the way...

On Friday, nails pierced his feet and fastened him to the cross. On Sunday, the joyful women fell at those feet and worshipped.

On Friday, they went away beating their breasts. On Sunday, they departed quickly with fear and great joy.

On Friday it seemed like the end. On Sunday it was a whole new beginning.

And yet Friday and Sunday go together. You can't have one without the other.

Without the victory of Easter joy, without the triumph over death and grave, without the vindication of Christ in all things – Good Friday would not be so good. Sunday shows that Jesus' word is true, even when he talks crazy about coming back from the dead. So too when he speaks of your resurrection, dear Christian. Sunday shows that God the Father accepts his Son's sacrifice, indeed, it is the “well done, good and faithful servant” seal of approval on all that Jesus did for us. God's wrath is satisfied, by Christ, for you and me. And Sunday gives us a taste and glimmer of what our own resurrection will be. A glorious day when all the dead in Christ rise, bodily, and see him face to face – in my own flesh, with my own eyeballs – to paraphrase Job.

And without Good Friday, what does Easter mean? Bunnies and Chicks? Candy and chocolate? Brunch with the family? Sadly many have reduced Easter to this, perhaps because they get to Sunday without regarding Friday. Christ's resurrection makes no sense apart from his death – where he atoned for all sin. But the dark tunnel of death he passed through on Friday makes the bright morn of Sunday all the more radiant.

For us, many days feel like that Friday. Not the “thank God it's Friday, the weekend is here”, but “The sun just got dark and the earth beneath me is shaking. Judgment is hovering over me and death is breathing down my neck.” Fear rules the day, and sadness and suffering mark its passing. Many days end with what seems like little hope. We cause so many of our own griefs, but we are also subject to the brokenness of creation. Life's toils and troubles heap onto our guilt and shame. It's enough to make anyone cry out, “My God, have you forsaken me?”

But Easter reminds us that in Christ, Friday is tied to Sunday. Suffering will be vindicated. Death is not the end. Even on the darkest of days, there is still hope for us. We may not see it until we, too, pass through the grave. But faith believes it at his word, and rests secure. And you can trust a guy who rises from the dead and calls his shot ahead of time. You know he's got your future in his hands, too. And that's the best place for your future to be.

For the Christian, every day is a Sunday. Every day is a day in which Christ lives. Every day is a day in which he's still got his crushing foot stomped down on the serpent's head. Every day is a rebirth and renewal, a return to our baptism where we were not only buried with Christ but raised with him. Every day we live in the new life that is already ours. Every day is a Sunday, a new creation.

Christian theologians have made an interesting point about Sunday – you know it was the first day of creation. God started, not on a Monday, but on a Sunday with “let there be light”. And then he rested on Saturday, the real last day of the week. So Christ rests in the tomb on Saturday, and at break of dawn on Sunday, the one who created light and is the Light of the World, returns to bring life and light to all men. It's a pretty powerful connection.

And others have gone on to say, that in a way, Easter Sunday is the “8th day of creation”. That is, on Easter, the renewal of creation in Christ is revealed – brought forth first in his own person. And we now live in the time of transition between that 8th day of creation and eternity. Or to put it another way, Easter is the Sunday that never ends.

However you look at it, give thanks to God for the blessings of this Holy Sunday. May your faith be strengthened in the knowledge that he who paid your price on Friday, rested in your grave on Saturday, also Rises for your resurrection on Sunday.
Alleluia. [Christ Jesus] abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Alleluia.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sermon - Palm Sunday/Sunday of the Passion - Philippians 2:8

Sometimes I think God asks too much of me. I mean, really. What is he thinking? I can understand giving some general guidelines to follow, some flexible rules to kind of give me an idea of which way to go in life. But commandments are a different story. The law of God is just so... oppressive! What do you mean I can't have ANY other gods? What, you expect me to be kind and loving ALL THE TIME? I wouldn't argue too much if there were some qualifications on all of this. A sort of, “do unto others in the same way they do to you”. Or just, “be nice most of the time”. But he says, “Do as you would HAVE them do to you”. And “love your enemies, even pray for them”. And that's a whole lot harder to do. Sometimes it just doesn't seem fair.  Of course all this is my Old Adam talking.

And then there's Jesus. We know he was like us in every way, yet without sin. And I have to say, I can't imagine what that must be like. No sin of deed, or word, OR thought. I can't even roll out of bed for a couple of minutes without some sinful thought dumping out of this brain. I'm sure you are the same. But Jesus, though human, was also God. He was different, special, holy. He was the only one who could do this. Walk the walk, perfectly. Talk the talk, think the think – of one without sin.

And so he was perfectly obedient. As Paul says, right? Though he was God, he didn't think much of that. He listened when his Father sent him to take on human flesh and leave his heavenly throne behind. He obeyed perfectly, fulfilled the law – honored God, honored his name, his day, his parents. He loved his neighbor with a compassion you and I can only dream about having. It's like they said about Jesus, “he has done all things well!” He cast out demons, healed the sick, he even raised a man from the dead. But there was one more thing God would ask of his Son.

“He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

I want you to go to Jerusalem, and there you will die. You'll hand yourself over to those pompous hypocrites, and they will put you, the judge of all things, on trial. They, sinners from birth and sinners to this day – will judge you as a criminal, innocent though you are. And they, dead in their sins, will condemn you to death – by the shouting jeers of a bloodthirsty crowd, the cynical machinations of jealous and power-hungry men, and the cowardice of the one who was given authority from above.

Yes, all of this will happen, and it will all happen in spite of your holiness, my son, and you will die, and die a miserable death for them all. And I have to say one more thing, I can't even be with you at the darkest moment. When you take their place, I have to turn my back on you. I can't just wink at sin, you know, it must be condemned. And it will be condemned in your body, as you die, on that cursed tree. You'll bear the brunt of it, my condemnation for all sin, for all people of all time and place. This is your mission. This I ask of you. I am sending you to do it.

And Jesus said, “Thy will be done”. Even in the garden, with death so imminent it made him sweat blood, he prayed, “Thy will be done”.

Truly no greater love has someone than that he lay down his life for his friends. Jesus Christ laid his perfect life down not for friends, but for his enemies, to make us his friends, his people, God's children.

In this holy week, we will meditate on his sacrifice for us. In a way, it began even before he was born. But his passion puts a fine point on it, and crescendos to Calvary, where it is finished. Jesus takes the place of Barabbas. Jesus takes the place of all sinners – condemned to die – apart from God. Even in his tomb, he is our substitute. He goes in our place.

And you, forgiven sinner, go in his place. You go to resurrection. You go to an inheritance. You go to the throne room of the Father, and receive a crown of glory. You receive what Jesus has, what he deserves, what he gives freely, by grace, through faith in him. Trust in him all the more, for it is finished. In Jesus' Name.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Sermon - Lent 5 - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Lent 5
Zion Lutheran Church, Marengo, IL
Ezekiel 37:1-14

Lent is a good time to think about death. As good a time as any.
It's a topic every man must face sooner or later. A topic we like to put away, out of our sight, far from our minds. Try as we might.

One of my favorite songs by a group called the “Counting Crows” has this line,

“I got bones beneath my skin, and mister...
there's a skeleton in every man's house
Beneath the dust and love and sweat that hang on everybody
there's a dead man trying to get out”

Death is universal and unavoidable... like, well, death and taxes. No matter how we try to get out of it. For us Christians, in some ways it's the same, and in some ways it's different. Death is still an enemy. It still brings tears, even to the eyes of Jesus at the grave of Lazarus. Death is a separation from loved ones. And it is the great leveler of all men – after all, whatever wealth you have in this life, you can't take it with you.

But death for Christians is not the worst thing that can happen. For Christians, like Lazarus, there is Jesus with the answer to death. For us, death is not the end, nor is it to be feared. Where, oh death, is thy sting? Indeed, it is through his own death that Jesus brings salvation, and through his resurrection that he brings life. And so we grieve death, but not without hope.

Ezekiel's vision of the valley of dry bones shows hopelessness turned into hope. It shows us the power of the word. And it points us toward the Christ, whose death destroys death and who will resurrect his people to eternal life.

Take a look at that valley with Ezekiel. A vast army of dead, very dead people. Not freshly slain soldiers, among whom you might find some living but injured survivors. No they are quite dead. Not merely dead, but really most sincerely dead. Dead and decayed, just bones left, and dry ones at that. They are not even close to alive.

Kind of like you, in your sins. In fact, just like you, in your sins. Sometimes visions like this paint an even truer picture of reality than our eyes do. Just like the Israelites of Ezekiel's day were a hopeless and defeated nation with no life left in them, exiled to Babylon, powerless, hopeless, as good as dead. So are you, and so is every sinner, who may look alive but is very much dead in sin.

That valley of dry bones is the human condition apart from God. Just as dead and hopeless. Just as far from life and breath as anything. Might as well be a rock or some dirt. Your everyday experience tells you you're alive and just fine. But God's word shows the true reality. Sin brings death. It clings to us. It infects every part of us. We are dead men and women walking. Because we are sinners who sin daily and sin much. And no matter how hard the skeleton tries, it can't come to life. No matter how hard, you, the sinner, try, you can't come to life. What we need is a miracle. A divine intervention.

And God is in the business of doing just that. From death he brings life. From the cross, first and foremost. There in the hopeless, helpless, death of Jesus on the cross, he brings help and hope and life to all people. There in the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus dies to bring the light that chases away death forever. And as his dead flesh would rise to life again, so does he bring life to dead sinners who die in him.

Ezekiel's vision wasn't without hope, because he had God's word. The prophet spoke, by God's command and promise, to the wind, that is, the Spirit. Who came and brought life to those lifeless bones. Just as the pastor speaks the word of God to lifeless sinners, and the Spirit works through that word to bring life to you again. The valley of dry bones is a vision of how God works in all times and places, bringing life to the dead, through word and spirit, because of the life from the dead won by his Son at the cross.

As pastors, we could look out on you, the people in our care, and see a pile of bones – sinners who are hopeless and struggling with all their own faults and failings, grieved by the sorrows of living in a world where death reigns. You tell us your troubles, and we listen, but usually can't do anything much about it. It's like Ezekiel looking at a femur and a skull. The troubles can be so much. And I am just a man.

But the pastor has one thing for you, and it is enough. Not a man's word, but Christ's. So now hear this, you dried up and dried out dead people: Jesus Christ has died and Jesus Christ lives and Jesus Christ promises you new life. So hear the Gospel, now, and live! Hear the life-giving word of the Spirit, who creates life where there was only death. Hear the life-renewing hope and the sin-forgiving declaration. You are not dead. You are not lost. You are forgiven. You are in Christ, and Christ is alive. So, too, do you live through him!

You are baptized. There you first rose from the death of sin to new life in Christ. And one day your flesh will die, only to rise again because of the promise of Christ. The fanciful picture of dry bones coming back together, and breathing the breath of life again – is not so fanciful compared to the promise of the last day. That at the trumpet call of God the dead in Christ will rise and meet him face to face, in a glorified body, and see him as he is, being like him. This is our hope. This is our destiny.

Son of man, can these bones live? Yes. Can Christ conquer death and live? Yes. Can he, does he, promise the same for you? Yes. So believe it, and live in him always. Amen.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sermon - John 9:1-41

Lent 4
March 30th, 2014
John 9:1-41
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Whitefish Bay, WI

It is part and parcel of our sinful nature to get things wrong. Turned around. Backwards, even.

We make ourselves God, and try to make God answer to us. We tell ourselves that God somehow owes us, and we live in denial that we owe him everything and more. We think we please him with our good works, rather than trust that Christ has pleased God with his good work for us.

We have a keen sense of justice when we are wronged, but are quite lax and flexible with the law applied to ourselves. We selectively apply the rules of politeness, kindness, and regard for our neighbor. We know our neighbor's sins all too well, especially those sins against us. But when we sin, we are quick with excuses and rationalizations.

We think we know, when we are ignorant. We think we hear, when we are really deaf. We think we see, when we are truly blind.

The Pharisees were no different. Oh, their pride. “You were steeped in sin at birth, and you would teach us!” We are the teachers of Israel! We are the children of Abraham! We are the disciples of Moses! We are the ones who keep the 613 laws! We are the clean, and you are the unclean. We give to the temple treasury (didn't you hear the trumpets?) We aren't like those sinners – those prostitutes and tax collectors, those lepers and outcasts. We're not steeped in sin like this man born blind. And we would never do work on the Sabbath, like that sinner, Jesus.

And so such spiritual chest-thumping goes. But it is madness, and blindness. And it is us.

We are all the man born blind. We are all conceived and steeped in sin. We are all children of our father, Adam. We are sinners who sin, who can see only own spiritual navels, curved in on ourselves, who cannot see God. We are all the pharisees, blind to our blindness, but convinced we see it all, know it all. We think the good people prosper, or deserve to. And that the bad people suffer, and deserve to. And of course, we are good.

It is part and parcel of our sinful nature to get things wrong. Turned around. Backwards, even.

But God's way is different. Mysterious to us. But far better, in fact, divine.

One seminary professor, Dr. David Scaer, puts it this way:

...The divine economy is different from ours. You cannot come to a conclusion about the morality and sanctity of any person by the amount of suffering he has experienced. The suffering sinner turns out to be God’s saint and the hawkers of holiness are rejected by God…Human suffering is not only an opportunity for God to show that He is and remains the creator; human suffering is the place where God shows His glory. Jesus dies so that through the resurrection God might finally demonstrate to the world who He really is. The Son of Man is lifted up so that all men may be drawn to him, not in the magnificence of creation, but in the glory of the suffering of the cross…God approaches us through what we find reprehensible.”

It is in Jesus that all of this senselessness makes divine sense.

So Jesus is the light. Jesus came to take the darkness away. He makes night into day. He makes blind men see.

No one has seen God except He who came from God. But in Jesus Christ, we do see God. No one comes to the Father but by Jesus. But Jesus is the perfect image of the Father, the exact representation of God, for He is one with the Father, and He is True God from eternity.

Jesus came into the darkness, born under the law, to redeem us under the law. In the dark Judean night, the Light dawned. And on a dark, but good Friday, when the sun was blotted out and the Lord of Life hung on a cross, dying... salvation came to light. It was finished, then and there, for all, forever.

And so this one “Sent by God”, sends the blind man to the pool of Siloam, which means, “Sent by God”. No matter that it was the Sabbath, for Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is the Sabbath-rest of God, who gives us rest from our sins. He who washed the blindness away for that man, also washes us clean and new in Holy Baptism. And the scales fall from our spiritual eyes, as faith comes, and we see and believe.

The little pharisee in our heart finds it hard to believe. But the eyes of faith see it plainly. The Old Adam in us fights against it. But Christian baptism drowns that one daily, in repentance and faith. And so it goes – and so it goes, as the old and the new continue to struggle and muddle through this life, growing in faith toward God and love toward neighbor, but always in Christ, always looking to his light, the only way we can see.

You have seen him, but with the eyes of faith. You see him in his word. You see him at the font. You see him on the altar, under bread and wine. You see him who speaks to you, and faith says, “I believe.” So turn your eyes away from your neighbor's sin, and forgive freely. And turn to see your own sin, yes, but fix your eyes on Jesus, who takes that sin to the cross. In him, we see forgiveness, life, salvation, and the peace of God which passes all understanding. May it guard and keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.