Monday, July 15, 2019

Sermon - Luke 10:25-37 - 5th Sunday after Pentecost


5th Sunday after Pentecost, July 14th, 2019
Luke 10:25-37
"Who Is My Neighbor?"

There’s a lot of law in today’s readings.  You look at Leviticus and it’s like the second table of the 10 commandments written in an expanded form – with law about sexuality, stealing, courtroom justice, and more.  It sums it all up, “Love your neighbor as yourself”.  And amidst the pleasantries of Paul’s greeting in Colossians 1, there’s some fine law, too, including the encouragement to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord”.

And then you come to today’s Gospel reading, in which we have the famous parable of the Good Samaritan. We will get to that in a minute.  But first notice that Jesus tells this parable in the context of a conversation with a young lawyer about – the law.  The man asks that universal question of the human soul, “What must I do to be saved?” and Jesus refers him to the law – something he is, as a lawyer, well familiar with.  He sums up the law perfectly, too – in much the same way Jesus once summed it up – Love God, and love your neighbor.  Jesus even commends him for answering correctly. 

But then the hitch:  “Do this and you will live!”  And here’s where the man should have stumbled.  Here’s where he, and all of us, could fall down under the crushing weight of the law’s demands.  Where we can and should admit, “I haven’t done this.  I can’t do this.  And for the most part, I don’t even WANT to love God and my neighbor as myself.  I mostly want to love myself.  Me first.  You second, and only if I have time and if it makes me feel good.  But I know that’s not right, and I know I should do better.  If I have to do this law to live?  Where does that leave me?  Where can I go for help, consolation, mercy?  Or am I simply doomed to die?”

But not this guy.  Instead he does what sinners so often do:  he seeks another way out.  A loophole.  An addendum or exception by which he doesn’t really have to do what the law demands.  He seeks to define away, “who is my neighbor”.  He presses Jesus on the question.  And so Jesus answers with the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Now, many preachers and theologians have treated this parable from a rather law-oriented perspective.  They see this Good Samaritan character as an example for us to follow, a standard of treating our neighbor in kindly ways when even the supposedly “good” people of the world do not.  Loving the unlovable, those people who we don’t really identify with – as Jews and Samaritans were like oil and water.  And so the sermons and bible studies that run this way end up heaping on more law, digging you further into the grave, because which of us can say we’ve been a good Samaritan?  Which of us can say we’ve loved our neighbor even close to this?

But there is another perspective from which to see this parable.  And that is to consider Christ.  Where is Christ, you say?  Well look a little closer at this figure of the Good Samaritan.
Here’s someone who comes from the outside.  Here’s someone who brings healing, binds up wounds, shows compassion.  He takes the poor man to the inn and provides for his ongoing care.  And he promises to come back.  Do you see Jesus? 

And then think again about the man left half-dead in the ditch.  Maybe you can identify with him.  For we are beset by enemies far worse than robbers.  We are under the assaults of the devil, the sinful world, and even our own sinful flesh.  We are far worse off than half-dead.  The ditch in which we lie is far deeper. 

And yet our Good Samaritan comes and pulls us up out of the muck and mire, heals our every wound with the balm of his grace and mercy, and brings us to the church, where his appointed servants care for us.  And Jesus doesn’t pour oil on us, but he does wash us in Holy Baptism.  And he gives us wine and bread that are his true body and blood.

In fact our Good Samaritan goes even further, for he takes our place.  He becomes subject to beating and theft and indignation in our place.  He goes to the cross, obediently, in our place.  He becomes the one who is beaten and bloodied and left for dead, in a borrowed tomb.

All this to show his mercy to sinners.  All this to win for us healing and wholeness.  Thanks be to God!

And seeing Christ and his work for us first – and coming to the parable in a Gospel framework – now the example of the Good Samaritan can stand for us – not as a terrifying indictment of our failures, but as an encouragement to do likewise for so Christ has loved us.

So who, then, is your neighbor, Christian?  We now ask the question again, but not from the stance of, “How can I wiggle out of this?” but in faith, “how can I serve, who can I best serve, who would God have me love and serve?”  And the answer might surprise you.

Some Christians might answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” by simply saying, “everyone!”  And while there’s a good intention there – and I think it’s well-meaning, it isn’t quite right.  In fact it makes the word “neighbor” mean nothing.  Rather, your neighbor is simply whoever is near you.  That’s the only qualification.

While in a very tenuous sense the starving beggar thousands of miles away who you don’t know or know of is your neighbor – for he’s a fellow human on the same planet – he’s not nearly your neighbor like the needy friend down the street, or coworker in the next cubicle, or your fellow church member, or even family member.

We might want to qualify who “deserves” to be our neighbor, but that’s not how it goes.  Don’t love people because they deserve it anymore than we deserve Christ’s love.  But we do it simply because we are given to do it.  The Samaritan in the parable didn’t plan on helping the man who was robbed – but God placed him there and so he did what he could.  What neighbor has God placed before you?
And then think also of the question, “who is my neighbor?” through the lens of vocation.  This can help us discern not only who is my neighbor, but how I might serve him.  Am I a father, husband, brother or friend?  A mother, daughter, co-worker, or citizen?  A pastor or hearer, an office or magistrate, a solider or nanny?  Each vocation has its appointed neighbors to serve, and its way of serving.

I saw a bit of humorous wisdom this week:  a sign said, “Forget world peace; visualize using your turn signal!” 

And maybe the point is made well:  Christian love and mercy for the neighbor begins with the simple, the everyday, the lowly forms of love and service.  It means caring first of all for your family, raising children in the fear and nurture of the Lord.  It means supporting the grieving, encouraging the fearful, even just listening with a friendly ear.  It might mean a denarius out of your own pocket here and there, or a little of your own oil or wine.  But whatever the means of service, and whoever the neighbor, you’ll never do it better than the author of the parable who is the ultimate Good Samaritan from above. 

Which really brings us back to Paul’s prayer for the Colossians, and a good prayer for you and me, that we would “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Sermon - Luke 10:1-20 - 4th Sunday after Pentecost


Luke 10:1-20 - “Life in the City”

Are you a country boy or a city slicker?  Do you like life in the great big open sky, or does the hustle and bustle of people and traffic really ring your bell?  Are you more like “welcome to the jungle” or “take me home, country roads?” 

Today our readings set before us a number of different cities – Chorazin and Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon, Sodom, and Jerusalem. And in each of these cities, Holy Scripture instructs us in matters of faith.  Let’s consider this morning, “life in the city” from a biblical perspective.

The first city mentioned in Scripture was founded by Cain.  After he killed brother Abel and was cursed to wander, he eventually settled down and build the first human city – naming it after his firstborn Enoch.  Once a farmer, and we saw how that ended – now the children of Cain are described for their achievements and inventions.  But what they lack is the seed of promise – that inheritance now passes through Seth.  And so for all of his notoriety, and for all of his descendant’s successes – they end up missing that one thing most needful.

The next city mentioned is Babel, with its tower.  Another exercise in human pride that brought the judgment of God and now the scattering of peoples and confusing of languages.  So far cities aren’t doing so well in Scripture.

There’s Jericho – a city of pagans that God’s people conquer by God’s action alone – knocking down the walls with trumpet blast.  It is the first of many pagan cities to fall as the Israelites conquer the promised land.

There’s Nineveh “That Great City”.  Capital of the infamously cruel Assyrian empire.  The prophet Jonah is sent there to preach a short sermon, “yet 40 days and Nineveh will be destroyed”.  Only four words in the Hebrew!  And yet, these wicked people declared a fast from the king to the peasant and even the livestock.  And God relented of the disaster he had planned for them.

There’s Babylon – another imperial capital, where the Jews were taken in Exile.  It boasted of many wonders, and was known for its famous  Hanging Gardens.  But it, too, becomes a symbol of wickedness and opposition to God’s people – “Babylon, the whore” as she is called in Revelation.
Athens, Corinth, Rome – so many cities in Scripture, we can’t mention or describe them all.  But few are as infamous as the two Jesus mentions in Luke 10: The Jewish cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida.  Cities near Capernaum in the north, and those three together are sometimes called the “gospel triangle” for there Jesus focused much of his teaching and preaching.  Indeed, he also did many miracles among them.  You would think that such familiarity and the blessings of miraculous signs would mean they embraced Jesus with great faith!  But you would be wrong.  On the whole, they did not receive him.  On the whole, they did not believe.  So much so that Jesus takes this very unusual step of placing a curse on them.

He remarks that if he had done all the miracles that he did there, in say, the gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, that they would have repented long ago!  And Capernaum!  Don’t think you get off easy.  You, too, will receive your share in the judgment, and be brought to Hades!

History knows little of Chorzin and Bethsaida, beyond this, that they rejected the Christ.  Actually, they’ve done some archaeology in Chorazin, and unearthed a synagogue with some strange carvings there – it seems a representation of Medusa was carved into the synagogue wall.  Thus, at least at one point, it seemed they mixed their Judaism with Greek mythology.  Perhaps this is a hint of the spiritual problems from which they suffered – seeking to be like the world, rather than receiving the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ?

In a similar way, the villages and towns where the 72 preached – some received the word with joy!  And some rejected them, and were subject to the shaking off-of-foot-dust.  What was the difference?  Repentance and faith.  Yes, the disciples did heal and cast out demons.  But this doesn’t impress Jesus.  He’s rather concerned with people having their names written in the book of life, in Heaven.  He wants sinners to repent and be forgiven, to turn from sin and live in him.
And so, in the most general sense, when Scripture speaks of a city, a town, or a village, it’s really focusing on a gathering of people there – who many times act as one.  And what’s always most important about them is spiritual.  Either repentance, or unbelief.  Either in receiving Christ, or rejecting him.  And we all know which side we’d rather be on.

But if there’s one city worth studying in all of Scripture, it’s Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets.  The city that would also condemn and crucify the Christ.  Jerusalem, the home of the temple – but also of kings who though themselves greater than the King of Kings.  The city made into a capital by King David, and the city which hailed the Son of David with their “hosannas”.
Jerusalem. Built on Mt. Zion.  It stands, in Scripture, for the sum total of God’s people.  And depending on whether the passage is speaking in judgment or mercy, showing forth law or gospel, the tone of Scripture can really change.  Take our Old Testament reading from Isaiah, which compares Jerusalem to a nursing child, comforted by her mother, carried on her hip.  Rejoicing.  So it is for God’s people in Christ.  But that same Jerusalem can also be a byword, a curse, smoke in God’s nostrils, when they turn away from him in faithlessness and sin.

Jerusalem, finally, serves as a picture of the Church in her glory – as we saw not too many weeks ago in our Easter readings from Revelation.  The Bride of Christ, the Holy City, beautifully adorned for her husband and presented to him, Jesus Christ, for an eternal union.  What a picture of our future, Christians, in that holy city.

It’s not surprising, perhaps, that the secular world has picked up on this imagery and used it in service to civil religion.  And maybe that’s not too far from our minds on this 4th of July weekend. 
Some have borrowed this language about Jerusalem and sought to apply it to these United States: The “City on a Hill”, for instance. To speak in terms of America as they imagine it should be – or maybe is – a bright gleaming example of goodness for the world to see. 

And while it’s certainly no sin to love your home country, or to be patriotic, some would go so far, to make national pride into a idol itself, or blur the distinction between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.  Make no mistake, the Church of Christ has existed long before the USA and will exist and remain long after.  Nations rise, kingdoms fall.  But the word of the Lord remains forever.

And when we see with clear eyes the many flaws of our nation – not just the deteriorating culture and morality, killing the unborn, sexual perversions, but also the shrinking churches and declining number of Christians – perhaps we ought to be more concerned.  For if Jesus curses Chorazin and Bethsaida for their unbelief, what would he say about a nation that has been blessed as we have, and yet seems to appreciate so little? 

Pray, Christian, for your country, your state, your town, your church, your family – whatever “city” you find yourself a part of – pray that we would all repent of our sins, turn from our wicked ways, receive Jesus Christ and live.  Individually, and as a whole!
Some years ago, Brenda and I drove through a small town in the southern part of Michigan.  And upon entering, a large sign proclaimed this town’s “claim to fame”:  “Home of the 1989, Division 2, Women’s Volleyball 3rd place finishers” (or something like that – the story has been exaggerated over the years). 

I wonder what Keller, Texas might be known for.  I wonder even more, what Messiah, Keller might be known for.  What’s our claim to fame?  May it be this:  that we are repentant sinners whose names are written in Heaven, written in the blood of Jesus Christ crucified.  That’s worth noting.  That’s worth rejoicing over.  That’s why this place matters.  For in this gathering, we are gathered into Christ.  And in Christ, we have life, forever.  Let us therefore be that city on a hill for all who would come here, and as we go out from here.  Gathered to Christ, there is always “life in the city.”

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Sermon - 3rd Sunday after Pentecost - Luke 9:51-62


Luke 9:51–62

“No Looking Back”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the mission of the church, and those workers in his kingdom, are always on the move.  You look at the Gospels, and Jesus doesn’t set up shop in one place and make everyone come and hear him there.  But he goes from town to town, village to village, preaching the kingdom.  He says, “that is why I have come”.

 It’s not like the Old Testament temple, where Jews would come from hundreds or even thousands of miles away to make their pilgrimages.  Jesus discussed this with the Samaritan woman at the well – since Jews and Samaritans argued over which place was the proper place to worship.  And Jesus told her that a time was coming when people would worship in spirit and in truth. 

The Christian faith has never been about sitting on our hands, resting on our laurels, keeping what we have, and simply being comfortable.  Rather, we have a mission – and we plant churches, send missionaries, and seek to fulfill the great commission – making disciples of all nations, even to the ends of the earth.  We give witness to Christ in our own vocations, to family and friends.  By our words when we can and by our actions in all things – we send a message, we live a message, that proclaims and exhibits the hope within us.  People ought to, and many people have, become open to hearing more about Christ because they’ve seen the love and faith-in-action of Christ’s followers.  Of course it can’t just stop there, but it’s always good to remember.  And so, no one is a private Christian.  All of this happens in full view of the world.  We confess Jesus before men, and he confesses us before his Father who is in heaven.

But it’s not always easy.  Look at Elijah.  He had just had this great success.  A moment on the mountaintop – both figuratively and literally – as he defeated the prophets of Baal in spectacular fashion.  Their idol-god was silent, but Yahweh sent down fire from heaven.  A miracle.  A triumph of faith.  Glory be to God!  But then wicked queen Jezebel found out about it, put a contract on Elijah’s life, and he fled into the wilderness in fear.  Now hunkered down in a cave, he throws himself a pity-party and wallows in the false idea that he’s the only one left.  Poor Elijah.  Boo hoo.

Yahweh has no time for such drama.  He has work for Elijah to do.  Speaking not in the wind or earthquake or fire, but in the tiny whisper, God sends Elijah back and gives him his marching orders.  Anoint this one, anoint that one, and get your successor Elisha ready.  Swords will be drawn.  Blood will be shed.  There’s no time for this despair, Elijah.  God is on the move.  Full forward.

And then you get to our Gospel reading, where Jesus is gathering followers.  He sends his disciples into a Samaritan town, and they are rejected.  James and John do not take this well.  They want to start dishing out the judgment.  They want fire and brimstone.  They want this town to get a whooping.  How dare they reject us, Jesus?!  Do you want us to call down fire from heaven, like Elijah did?  Can we go all Sodom and Gomorrah? 

But instead, Jesus rebukes them.  We don’t know the exact content of that rebuke, but knowing Jesus, you can imagine it.  Don’t be so quick to judge, James and John.  Don’t be so quick to condemn.  For with the measure you apply, it will be measured to you.  And you’re not free from sin, either.  You don’t follow me like you should, either.  You deserve your own portion of that fire and brimstone.  And of course we all do.  Rather than beat a dead horse, harangue sinners who’s hearts are already hardened, Jesus just moves on.  He keeps preaching.  He casts the seed into other soil, where perhaps it will take root and produce a harvest.  No looking back.

There’s much to learn here, for us individually, and as a church, even a church body.  Don’t be surprised when Jesus is rejected, when people spurn the Gospel.  Don’t be too keen to mete out the judgment that belongs to God alone.  But don’t get bogged down when they reject you, or the Bible, or common decency, for they’re really rejecting Jesus.  And don’t dwell on the failures of the past, the sins of the past, the unfinished business.  The kingdom of God moves ahead; it has an aim, a hope, a future. Faith looks forward.

And then Jesus sees these other people, who at first, at least, want to follow him – but with strings attached.  “I’ll follow you wherever you go!”  Oh, will you?  Where do you think I’m going, to a palace?  To a great throne?  Of course you’d want to follow there.  But I don’t even have a home to rest my head.  This following may not be what you’ve cracked it up to be, friend.

And then there’s the fellow who wants to go bury his father, and Jesus gives what seems like a callous reply.  Did he mean, let me wait around until my father dies? Perhaps.  It was considered the oldest son’s duty to bury his father, and then to receive the inheritance.  Or was he interested in waiting around for a year to re-bury the bones, as was the custom of some Jews (and as is even done in New Orleans today)?  Even though the 4th commandment teaches us to honor our parents, the 1st commandment tells us who ought to come first.  Following Jesus is more important than following the traditions of man, however honorable they may be.

And finally there’s the one who just wants to go back and kiss his family goodbye first.  And even for this man there’s a gentle rebuke from Jesus!  “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God!”

Jesus sees the heart.  He knew what each of these men needed to hear.  Of course he answers well, even if it seems strange or harsh to us.  But the Holy Spirit also inspired Luke to write this dialogue for us, and for all Christians.  We, too, need the reminders to put Christ first, to let the dead world bury its own dead, and to keep our eyes forward and hands on the plow for service and life in his kingdom.

Of course, we don’t do so well.  Quite often, we’re like Lot’s wife, looking back to our former way of life.  Like a dog that returns to his vomit, we, too, return to the sins from which Christ has freed us.  To the sin that so easily entangles us.  The Old Adam and the New Creation in us strive and struggle for supremacy.  Who will win the day? Who will set the agenda?  Will we go forward, or are we stuck looking back?

Enter Jesus, the one who never looks back.  The one whose face is set toward Jerusalem.  And he’s not just going there for a picnic.  He’s not going there even to celebrate a solemn feast with his disciples, or teach in the temple.  And he’s certainly not going there to call down the lightning and fire of judgment.  He knows what lies ahead for him.  And so do we.

Jesus is dead-set on the cross.  His hand is on the plow, even when they drive in the nails.  His face, sweating blood, never turns aside from his mission.  He will not pass this cup to any other.  Jesus Christ, Son of God from eternity, has an appointment with death just outside of Jerusalem.  And he will not be deterred, distracted, talked out of it, or hindered in anyway.  Not even his beloved disciple Peter can turn him aside from that cross, instead he says, “Get behind me Satan!”  No, Jesus is only going forward, forward, ever forward to Calvary, Cross, and death.

For all your turning back and turning away, Jesus stays the course.  For all your conditions and strings attached – Jesus gives his grace freely.  For all your half-hearted, hard-harted, self-righteous and self-deluded attempts to find your own way – you can come up only lost.  But Jesus knows the way.  And he rescues the sheep.  He cries out to us in a clarion call of mercy that invites us forward with him.  “Follow me”.

“Follow me” is not just an invitation to go for a walk, or even on a long journey.  It is the call to faith.  But it also entails going where he goes, at least in some sense.  Jesus goes forward to his cross, but he also calls us to take up our own crosses.  Jesus passes through the grave and gate of death, and so do the sheep who follow him.  But Jesus also leaves death in the dust, breaks open the grave, and rises never to die again.  So too we those who live and believe in him – even though we die, yet shall we live.  And Jesus even promises a place for us in the mansions of his Father’s house.

Follow Jesus.  Believe and trust in him.  And never look back.  Your future is secure in Christ.  May your eyes ever be fixed on him.  Amen.


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sermon - Pentecost - Acts 2:1-21


Pentecost
Jun 19th, 2019
Acts 2:1-21
Telling mighty works of God.”


A Blessed Pentecost Sunday to you all.  I have fond memories of this Sunday in the church year, especially as a child.  It meant summer was beginning, school was probably just out, and vacation time was here.  It was also a fun story to imagine – what must it have looked like, sounded like – this miracle of God?  The tongues of fire on the disciples’ heads.  The various people from so many different nations.  The sound of the mighty rushing wind.  And the cacophony of dozens of different languages being spoken.  It was a sight to see and a sound to hear.  A miracle unlike any other.  But we must also ask the question that some of the onlookers asked in verse 12, “What does this mean?”

I have to admit, as a kid, I didn’t quite get it.  I knew it had something to do with the Holy Spirit.  It seemed like, somehow, this was something pretty important.  Like a step forward.  But I couldn’t quite articulate just what was going on.  And I have to say, that after formal seminary training and 20 years of teaching and preaching – I still have some wonderment at this whole thing.  But one thing I’ve learned over the years is this.  The best place to go for answers about Scripture – is – Scripture itself.  And today, we don’t have to go too far to get started. 

First off, the reading itself points us in the right direction.  It tells us the content of all the multi-lingual conversing that was going on.  They weren’t just talking about the weather, or comparing different customs, making small-talk or anything like that.  They were “Telling the mighty works of God” Ah, but which mighty works might those be?

The people gathered here from the various nations were already quite well-versed, we should think, in the Old Testament.  They were God-fearing Jews from all over the world.  And they must have taken their faith seriously to come all this way on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  It’s not crazy at all to assume they knew what God had revealed through Moses and the Prophets.  That they knew the creation account.  The stories of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The Exodus from Egypt.  The conquest of the Promised Land, and the glory days of monarchy under David and Solomon.  The sad days of the exile, but also the joyous return and rebuilding of the temple.  And of course, all along the way, the covenant promises of the One who would bring salvation.  The one who would crush the head of Satan.  Be born of a virgin.  Be born in Bethlehem.  Suffer and die for the people.  Be raised on the third day, and reign over his enemies in ultimate triumph.

They would have, they should have known all of this.  So the mighty works they’re hearing about must be something even more.  It can only be the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The one who fulfilled the Scriptures, accomplished salvation, and conquered even death for the life of the world.  The apostles were witnesses of these things – all that Jesus taught and all that Jesus accomplished.  Here, at Pentecost, their work of proclamation begins in earnest.  Here, at Pentecost, begins the disciple-making of all nations.  Here, by the power of the Spirit, who works through the Word, and calls sinners to faith in Christ.

The people were perplexed.  They wanted to know, what does this all mean?  And so Peter interprets further:  This event is what the prophet Joel foresaw.  This miraculous pouring out of the Spirit on “all flesh” – or at least on a representative portion of all nations – this special revealing of prophecy and vision – the beginning of the signs and wonders that would confirm the apostle’s witness is all driving toward one purpose:  that “everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”

And that Lord is Jesus Christ. 

And so we see, in the context of the New Testament, and of the Gospels, and of the witness of the apostles, that the whole point of Pentecost is not to wow us with wind and fire and spirit – but that the name of Jesus must be proclaimed so that all can hear, believe, and be saved.  In this way, Pentecost is really not that different than any regular Sunday morning at church.  It’s really not that different from any time the Gospel of Jesus Christ is set before sinners from any and all corners of the earth, so that the same Spirit works through the same word to bring the same salvation in the same strong name.

So, Christian, you who were born 2000 years after Pentecost, halfway across the world, you might as well have been there.  For the same Jesus that was proclaimed there is proclaimed to you here and now. 

Scripture also interprets itself for us when different passages are placed side by side.  And today, we can see the wisdom of those who selected the appointed reading from the Old Testament – the Tower of Babel.  At first, you might think there’s no rhyme or reason to go digging around in Genesis for this strange story.  Where the pride of mankind sought to build a tower to heaven, and make a name for themselves.  Where God came down in judgment and confused their language. 

But then it starts to make sense when we see these two events – Babel and Pentecost – side by side.  It’s as if they are mirror images.  Babel is judgment, Pentecost is blessing.  Babel is confusion of language, Pentecost overcomes the confusion.  Babel is a scattering of peoples, Pentecost is a bringing together – a unification of various peoples in Christ.  And if Babel was all about “us” making a name for “ourselves”, Pentecost is all about calling on the Name of the Lord.

At Babel they sought to raise themselves up to heaven by their own will, their own work, and their own strength.  But at Pentecost it’s all God’s action – the Holy Spirit comes down – and gives them the strength and ability to do His work – not for themselves, but for others.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ, you see, is the ultimate antidote for the ultimate ailment of sin, and in Jesus we have the reversal of all things harmful right down to death itself.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ, who was crucified for sinful human flesh, to raise that same flesh up with himself.  The only name under heaven strong enough to save us, the only message of salvation worth our attention, the only promise you can stake your life on, even your eternal life.  The message of the Spirit, the message of Pentecost, the message of the church today, the message that will continue for eternity – Jesus Christ died for you, rose for you, lives for you.

And he builds his church.  A far grander and more impressive structure than any measly tower humans can put together.  The Church of Christ, the whole people of God, with Christ as our cornerstone.  The Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies this church.  The Lord Jesus reigns over it with divine providence.  And the building continues, living stone after living stone, as more believers join our ranks by baptism and in faith.  As more sinners come to repent and believe.  As the Gospel continues to go forth making disciples, even unto the ends of the earth, and Jesus is with us to the end of the age.  This church which he builds – the gates of hell cannot prevail against it – against us.

A Blessed Day of Pentecost to you.  May the same Spirit who was poured out on that day strengthen you and your faith, as you continue to grow in the word, and trust ever more in Jesus Christ.  For you have heard the mighty works he has done, and you have salvation in his name.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Hymn - "With Sound of Violent Wind"

With Sound of Violent Wind
Tune: St. Thomas
(Hymn # 296 from Lutheran Worship, “I Love Your Kingdom, Lord”)
Based on Acts 2:1-21 (Joel 2:28-32)


With sound of violent wind,
The Spirit came from heavn’
And fifty days from Easter bright
The message would be givn’.

As tongues of fire came down,
A-lighting on their heads,
To pilgrims from both far and wide,
The Gospel message spread.

They spoke of Jesus’ death,
His rising and his word,
As each in his own native tongue
The blessed message heard.

Then scoffers sought to claim,
“They’re drinking too much wine”,
But Peter testified that day -
The message was divine.

“They are not drunk,” he said,
“Joel’s prophecy of old,
Showed how God’s Spirit would be giv’n,
The message was foretold.”

Pour out your Spirit Lord,
This day of Pentecost,
To point to Jesus Christ your Son,
Whose message saves the lost.

© Thomas E. Chryst, 2005.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sermon - Easter 5 - Rev. 21:1-7


Rev. 21:1-7
Easter 5
May 19, 2019
“All Things New”

I think most of us can appreciate when things are “new”.  A new baby is a joy like nothing else.  A brand new article of clothing.  That new car smell.  A new job.  A new home.  A new store.  Even a new friendship.  There’s an excitement when something is new. A whole new set of possibilities is opened up.  But also, in contrast to something old, there’s no baggage.  That new baby hasn’t made the mistakes of life we have.  The new car hasn’t had anyone spill coffee all over it yet.  I like the new Walmart where everything is still relatively clean and fresh.  The new friend doesn’t know all your flaws and failings, and wasn’t around all those times you did something embarrassing.

And in spiritual terms, it is much the same.  When God made the world, when everything was new and fresh – it was perfect.  Creation was without a flaw.  God even declared it “very good”.  He made everything and every creature according to its kind, and with perfect purpose.  And finally he made man, and also a helper suitable for him.  A perfect match.  There was no sin – and so there was no disease, no corruption, no chaos.  Nothing broken down and in need of repair.  Nothing worn out.  No crying, no pain, no death. 

Furthermore, their relationships were also unbroken.  They had perfect communion with God and each other.  There was no sin or shame to mar the “very goodness” of it all. 
It’s hard even to imagine such a world, what it must have been like.  “Paradise the blessed” we sing about it, but we can barely conceive of it.

Because our everyday experience is with the broken world that followed.  We know only the corrupted and chaotic world that is stained and shattered by sin.  This old thing.  Age has not been kind to this creation, now under the yoke of death.  Nothing good seems to last forever.  Things wear out.  Things break down.  So much of today’s world is disposable – we just throw things away when we’re done with them.  You drive a new car off the lot and it instantly loses much of its value.  You start a new job and you find out it’s not all you’d hoped it would be.  You marry a spouse and you start finding out they aren’t always so easy to live with.  Or you buy a new home and you find yourself longing for the place you left. 

Jesus describes this phenomoneon so poetically in the Sermon on the Mount, where we warns us not to get too attached to this world: 

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)

It’s true.  This side of heaven, moth and rust destroy things.  Thieves break in and steal things.  Nothing good seems to last forever, but it fades, it falls, it breaks, it dissolves. 

And you and your coffee mug might say, “some things get better with age!”  And of course it’s true.  Wisdom comes with age, sometimes.  But so does the accumulation of a lifetime’s sin and that thing we call regret.  Experience and confidence may come with age, but so do the aches and pains of a body that is giving in toward the grave, inching ever closer to its end.  So while there are joys and blessings of old age, they are tinged with bitterness and marred by decay and imperfection.
What it comes down to for us, is that our predicament is so bad that we don’t just need a spiritual makeover.  We need a complete and total do-over.  We need a full and perfect renewal that is just as thorough as the corruption under which we labor.  

Thank God we have a Jesus who does it for us.  And by the way, the promise of Jesus in our Gospel reading - to send the Spirit who will declare the things to come - is fulfilled, at least in part, by our reading from Revelation 21, where John is blessed to see in his vision a future day when all things are made new.  And that day is the day of Christ’s return:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Along with Christ’s second coming, the final judgment, and the resurrection of the dead – we have this other detail about the last day: This world will pass away.  Scripture speaks in various ways about it.  The world will “pass away” (our text), also Matthew 24:7, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

“The heavens vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment” (Isaiah 51:6)

2 Peter 3 puts it this way:  “then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.” 

But far less important than exactly how it happens is that this broken, fallen, corrupted world will not simply be “fixed” or made better.  It won’t be healed or patched up.  God is starting anew.  Afresh.  From scratch.  So complete will be the change, it is an entirely new re-establishment of creation – and we will live there with our resurrected and glorified bodies, in perfect communion with our Triune God forever.  The pictures of John’s vision continue:

And I saw athe holy city, bnew Jerusalem, ccoming down out of heaven from God, dprepared eas a bride adorned for her husband.

What John sees next is a strange but joyous thing – a mixed metaphor of sorts – it is a vision of the church as both a city and a bride.  All of this is simply a picture of the church in her glory.  The sum total of all believers in Christ, ushered into our blessed eternity.  A New Jerusalem – and just what was wrong with the old one?  It was corrupt.  But not this one – as John later sees its magnificence – pearly gates, streets paved with gold.  And adorned as a bride – the Bride of Christ, that is!  Holy, blameless, without spot or blemish.  The entire people of God united with Christ for eternity.  And if an earthly wedding is a time of great celebration, how much more the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom that has no end?  And by the way, also, we get a foretaste of this in the Lord's Supper even today!

 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, fthe dwelling place1 of God is with man. He will gdwell with them, and they will be his people,2 and God himself will be with them as their God.3 

Perhaps the greatest sadness of the fallen creation is that it separated us from God.  But now all that is changed, reversed, overturned.  In the New Heaven and Earth, God dwells with man once again.  They are his people, and he is their God – without anything to get in the way of it.  Perfect unity.  Perfect communion.  A perfect relationship and the privilege of his perpetual presence.

hHe will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and ideath shall be no more, jneither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
All the troubles that flow from sin are wiped away with the very tear from your eye.  And what a tender and intimate picture, of God wiping away your tears – like you’d dry the eyes of a little child.  All the hurts are now “former things” and they are passed away – never to bother us again.

And khe who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I lam making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for mthese words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, n“It is done! oI am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. pTo the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. qThe one who conquers will have this heritage, and rI will be his God and she will be my son.

He reiterates these promises – he who makes all things new – that is, the Alpha and Omega, that is, the beginning and the end, that is, Jesus.  The one who declared “it is finished” at the cross, is the one who declares here, “it is done!”  For us, it’s a future promise as good as done – we rest so secure and sure in the promise of all things new – because we have heard the news of Jesus – who conquered death by death and brought life that death cannot destroy. 

And of all the things he makes new, it begins with you.  The New Creation that he has made you in baptism.  The daily renewal he works in you by repentance and faith.  The New You still wrestles with the Old You, and that’s nothing new.  But it won’t last.  A time will come when even our Old Adam is entirely destroyed, and only the New will remain.  Whether by the gate of death, or should we live to see the last day – either way – God will bring us to this fulfillment.

Far better than that new car smell is the promise of the new heaven and earth.  Far better than this old corrupt creation is the eternal home God will provide for us all.  A blessed promise from Jesus, who makes all things new.  John saw it, and we believe it.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.