Monday, October 31, 2005

Christmas Hymn - “Treasured By the Virgin Mary”

“Treasured By the Virgin Mary”
Tune: "Guide Me"
(TLH #54 “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah”)

Treasured by the Virgin Mary,
Christ Our Lord’s nativity,
Pondered in her heart the story,
Jesus born for you and me,
What a treasure!
God of Heaven born that day.

He was born in humble stature,
We in waters are reborn.
Once he drowns our sinful nature,
We are his forevermore.
Infant Holy,
Making new each child of God.

Swaddling blankets, wrapped by Mary,
Held the child of Bethlehem,
Later wrapped in cloth to bury,
When they executed him,
Born to offer,
His life for the life of man.

Mary's first-born, son of promise,
Also first-born of the dead,
In the wine gives blood shed for us,
Risen body under bread,
Holy Supper,
Feeding and Forgiving all.

Ponder we, the infant Savior,
Treasure of a priceless worth,
In his swaddling love to keep us,
In his life we find rebirth,
From the Manger,
To the Cross and Empty Tomb.

Copyright Thomas E. Chryst, 2005

Sermon - John 8:31-36 - Reformation Day

Reformation Day (obs.) – October 30th 2005
John 8:31-36
“Free Indeed”

I. Introduction –
Emancipation Proclamation – September 22nd, 1862
Declaration of Independence – July 4th, 1776
95 Theses – October 31st, 1517
Good Friday – 14th of Jewish month of Nisan, around 33 A.D.

What do all these dates have in common? Freedom. With the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln freed all the slaves in the confederate states. Of course the Declaration of Independence announced our freedom from England’s reign. The 95 Theses showed that forgiveness couldn’t be purchased, but was given freely. And of course, Christ’s death on Good Friday set us free from sin. Freedom is an important idea, not only for us modern Americans, but for many who have gone before us. Even the ancient Jews had their own ideas of freedom.

On this Reformation day, in which we celebrate the freedom of the Gospel, and give thanks for those who re-discovered the truth of God’s teaching, let’s consider the Gospel reading from St. John, and see how the truth sets us “free indeed”.

II. Unknowing Slaves
“We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been slaves of anyone!”

What were these ancient Jews thinking? They have never been slaves to anyone? For certainly they had been slaves. The greatest day in their history was when they left their slavery in Egypt – it was their day of national independence, still celebrated with a Passover festival. They were too slaves – who had been set free.

And now, they were not slaves per se, but they were under the thumb of the Romans. They were not free, at least the way they wanted to be. So how can they stand there and tell Jesus they have never been slaves of anyone? Were they trying to say to Jesus, “we see the deeper reality here, that even though foreigners rule over us, we are free in our hearts. We are free, in our own minds, from these oppressors. We understand the greater reality, Jesus. We’re thinking deeper.”?

But Jesus always sees deeper, and understands better. Whether free or slave according to earthly government or economic condition, whether free or slave in one’s own mind – none of that matters when it comes to the slavery of our sinful nature. “Anyone who sins is a slave to sin”, and therefore since everyone sins, everyone is a slave to sin. At least from where we start. This is the deeper reality that the Jews were blind to. This is what God’s law is always driving us to see.

At times, we know our slavery to sin well. Other times, we are deceived. At times the guilt and shame of sin are clear to us – strikingly so. Other times, we feel self-righteous or simply are not mindful of such things. When this happens, we need a wake-up call. We need God’s terrible anger at sin to be made known. We need to hear the law.

John Tetzel, a Dominican monk in Germany, was very good at awakening in the sinner the fear of judgment. He would preach to the German peasants about the fires of hell, the closeness of death, the anger of God at sin. Tetzel made people aware of their sorry state. But his solution was not from God. It was from Rome. He sold indulgences, documents offering forgiveness from sin’s punishments. This is what bothered the young monk Martin Luther and lead the posting of 95 statements for debate, and eventually, to the entire protestant reformation. It was the effective preaching of sin by Tetzel, but the wrong answer on sin’s solution.

But what is Jesus’ idea of a solution?

III. Holding to the Teaching
“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples”

Some would hear this statement of Jesus as further telling us “what to do”. “Hold to my teaching” must mean “moral living”. And it’s certainly true that Jesus had a lot to say about morality. How we treat our neighbor, how we handle our money, how we show humility, even how we view marriage. Jesus’ teaching included excellent teaching on morality and holy living. But if all Jesus taught was that we should “be good”, then he wasn’t all that different from John Tetzel. Jesus taught more.

“Son your sins are forgiven”, “I am the Good Shepherd… I know my sheep”, “The Son of Man will die… and on the third day rise again”. These are not moral directives, but they are teachings of Jesus. When he speaks of himself and what he does for us, Jesus has Good News to tell. We call it “Gospel”.

And the heart of the Gospel is that Jesus died on Calvary’s Cross to set sinners free from their slavery to sin. “Holding to my teaching” means “Holding to the Gospel”. It means knowing and believing that Jesus Christ died to save you, and you can do nothing, NOTHING, to add anything to that.

No good works, not giving enough money to church, not helping little old ladies across the street, not holding the door for the other person, not tipping the waitress well, not donating your kidney, not adopting a troubled child, not joining the peace corps, not working at a soup kitchen, not sacrificing things for your children or being faithful to your spouse, not even coming to church every Sunday. NONE OF THIS frees us from sin. Only Jesus’ blood shed for us can do the job. That’s the gospel. That’s the teaching of Jesus.

IV. The Truth Will Set You Free
“Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”

In a sense, the truth is the good news of the Gospel. But the truth is also Jesus himself. The two are inseparable.

The same St. John who records these words of Jesus, also tells of a time when the risen Jesus announced, “I am the way, and the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” Only in the truth of Jesus and his Gospel can we be free from our old master, sin, and come to our Heavenly Father.

In Luther’s day, the truth was obscured by those who taught that you had to buy or earn your way out of sin’s slavery. In Jesus day, some Jews couldn’t even see their slavery to sin until Jesus pointed it out. Both are forms of blindness that exist even today.

But today, truth itself is even under attack. Instead of one truth and many lies, today we have many “truths”. What’s “true for you” may not be “true for me”. Each “truth” is given equal value and respect and honor, and you are not allowed to disagree with anyone else’s truth, because “that’s not very open-minded or nice”. What would Jesus say to that?

He didn’t say you will know “a” truth, but “the” truth. He didn’t leave the door open for many ways, but only one way. And he is the way. He didn’t allow for many truths, but only one truth, and He is that truth. And only in Him can we find freedom and life.

Martin Luther is quoted as saying something like this, “Truth at all costs. Peace if possible”. In a day when so many have exchanged the truth of God and the Gospel of Christ for a shallow, outward peace, Reformation Christians who know the only truth that sets people free – we must hold to his teaching.

For it is only the Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen that sets us free from the guilt and shame of sin, from the wrath and punishment of God. It is that same Gospel that empowers the Christian to follow Jesus’ moral teachings, and to do good works for the sake of Him who has already saved us. Yes, Jesus does want us to “be good”. But he wants sons and daughters, not slaves. He frees us to serve him in joyful response to his great love.

Freedom. It comes in many forms, doesn’t it. On this Reformation day let us thank God for the most important freedom we could know – freedom from sin. That freedom which is found only in Jesus Christ, who is the way the truth and the life.

Lord, may we always be your disciples, holding to your teaching, for you have set us free indeed. Amen.

V. Conclusion
The Reformation was about freedom – freedom to hold to the teachings of Christ, to know the truth, and to be free from sin. As sons and daughters of God through Christ, we are free indeed!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Science of the Bible???

Gems of "wisdom" from 'Science of the Bible: Was Jesus Really a Healer?"

The National Geographic Channel's "Science of the Bible".

What an exercise in the historical-critical approach to the Bible.

I have been watching this series, as someone interested in both Science and the Bible, for a few weeks now.

Today's episode questioned the veracity of Jesus as a healer.

"Did the Gospel writers stretch the truth in order to recruit new followers?"

Uh. No.

"Jesus' control of the forces of nature is not something we can investigate with science"


"but we can probe the other type of miracle he performs..." (healing)

oh, really?

(they re-tell the miracle of the healing of the paralytic - you know, the guy they lowered through the roof)

"was this a miraculous event, or just a powerful story? here is where the rift between believers and nonbelievers begin... our goal is to bridge that gap"

let's examine the veracity of digging through a roof: the evidence indicates the roof part is "historically believable"

"Could the healing itself be equally real and effective??"

"the exaggeration of a zealous follower, or the account of a genuine healing...?"

"to understand what Jesus' healings meant to the people of Galilee, we have to know what diseases they suffered"


Ancient toilet paper. A sponge on a stick.

Mortality rates high. 50 50 chance to make it to 18. Almost no one lives past 50.

"Contagious diseases might have influenced the rules of Jewish Law"

i.e. Holiness code and quarantine. Lepers ostracised.

"Jesus touching a leper would have been a bit of a social shock to people"

Today leporosy has anti-biodics. We understand, of course. But then, the same word was the one for mildew in houses.

So now, they think, Jesus maybe was curing Excema or Psoriasis?

Some archaeaolist finds some old bones in a tomb, finds the cause of death is TB. Evidence that the person was a leper too.

"But what did Jesus have to offer that other healers didn't??"

How did science and faith meet, in the quest to relieve human suffering?

all they had was herbal remedies.

Then there's Sepphrois (the big fad to talk about in Jesus Childhood). Where they would use bloodletting. And skull drilling.

But surgery could not treat most illnesses. Jesus healed by means of faith. The most popular method at his time.

Some Greek cult is compared to Jesus, in the healing of chronic illnesses.

There were many other faith healers. What set Jesus apart?

Jews believed sickness caused by the supernatural....

Demons - exorcism - I stopped paying attention for a while here....

Jesus does not invoke the secret name of any angel to drive out demons....

he doesn't need it, he has the "finger of God"

Then there's the woman with the menstrual flow.

Jesus is "charged up with the healing power of God"

"But the Gospels date to about 50 years after Jesus died."

We're about "To solve the mystery of how Jesus REALLY performed his miracles"

Healings as a sign that he was the Messiah...

"Some scholars argue that this religious agenda was added into the Gospel accounts..."

Then, of course, there's the account of the raising of Lazarus...

"many people of faith accept the miracles of Jesus...."

"but our quest is to see how the mircales fit into Jesus' day to day ministry..."

So what is their conclusion???

"what do we know about the way Jesus healed???"

he used his authoritative voice and presence.

no "medical clues" about how he healed.

You would hear sparse details of Jesus' methods, over the years.

"Jesus may have used props like mud on a regular basis"

but many of these details may have been lost.

"We can't even be sure that Jesus was always successful in his healings"

those failure stories would "drop out"

today, physicians agree "faith can have an effect on a patient"

the placebo effect.

But something else Jesus did... he touched them. A "radical approach"

Jesus' willingness to touch people was a social statement

"his support for the underdog"


Can't prove or disprove. All we know is that "Jesus became known as a healer, as he is to this day"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


The following meditation is the "Pastor's Page" for our congregation's November newsletter:
Revelation 21:3-5


My 3 year old daughter knows that her bedtime story is never complete until I say the magic words, “THE END”. Most children’s stories (and some grown-up stories too) end with those very words. But what about in terms of our faith? Do we ever say, “THE END”?

Many thought Jesus had met “THE END” when he was sentenced to death. But death could not hold Him, and the cross was not “the end” of Him. It was Jesus who said “It is finished” (the end?) – and announced the completion of His victory over the forces of evil. They met their end at the cross of Christ. What a great day for us! Still, we look forward to “the end” in another sense…

November brings us to “the end” of the church calendar year. With the season of Advent just around the corner, we also start to think about “the end” of this age and the second coming of Christ. You will notice this emphasis on “the end” times in our lectionary readings, our hymnody and such.

In our children’s stories, we often hear that the characters lived, “happily ever after”. And I suppose the same could be true of the church. For when Christ DOES come again, and when it finally is “THE END”, we will be with Him for eternity in heaven, free from all pain, sorrow, and tears. We will live in the presence of our God, and be His people forever. The Christian faith is always focused on “THE END”. We’re always looking forward to that great and glorious day.

Finally, “THE END” is not, as common wisdom might suggest, simply the beginning. The last day is not our first day of life with God. That begins when we come to faith. Our new life in Him begins in our baptism. When the Old Adam drowns and the New Adam rises from those waters, our eternal life with God begins, and we are born into heaven. Later comes “the end” of our earthly life. Later comes “the end” of this age. But NEVER comes “THE END” of our life with God, in Jesus Christ. That’s forever.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lutheran Carnival IX

The Latest in the series....

Sermon - Matthew 22:34-40 [41-46] - Pentecost 23

23rd Sunday after Pentecost – October 23rd 2005
Matthew 22:34-40[41-46]
“Passing the Test”

I. Introduction –

Train A leaves the station at 7 PM and arrives at 9 PM traveling at 90 MPH. Train B leaves at the same time from Albequerque, traveling 75 MPH and arrives in Boston 2 days later. If both conductors make 3 stops of 90 minutes each, and train A passes train B at midnight, what is the distance from Train A’s station to Albequerque? HUH?

Tests. Test questions. If you’re done with school, you’re probably glad to be done with questions like this. But even then, real life itself brings some pretty tough questions our way from time to time. When someone asks me, as a pastor, a really tough question like, “how much should I give to church?” or “will my dog go to heaven” my favorite answer is always, “Go ask Pastor Poppe”.

But what about the questions in your life? It may not be about 2 trains leaving a station, but about how I deal with a personal conflict, or a family problem. These are the real thorny questions in life. But there are more…

II. Tough Test Questions
Jesus himself was faced with tough questions from time to time. But he always passed the test, didn’t he? Last week, we read about the Herodians and Pharisees asking him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caeser?” A loaded, trick question. Immediately after that, in Matthew 22, the Saducees try to stump Jesus with a question about who you are married to in heaven. Each time Jesus dazzles the detractors with a timely, clever, truthful and thought-provoking response.

And today’s reading follows on the heels of all that. The expert in the law wants to “test him”. And so comes the curveball, “Which is the greatest commandment?”

Some might have expected him to say, “the one about murdering people. That’s important. As long as you keep that one, you’re ok!” or maybe some commandment about which sacrifices to make or rituals to observe. But no, Jesus thinks bigger than that. He shows a true understanding of what God expects of us. “Love God with ALL your heart, soul, mind…Love your neighbor as yourself”. And he summarizes the 10 commandments, and all of God’s law in this short sentence. Good answer Jesus. You passed the test.

III. Missing the Mark of Love
But in that very answer, Jesus hints at another test. How do the Pharisees score on God’s grading scale, if the greatest commandments are “love God and love neighbor”? And how do we score? Do we measure up? Do we pass or fail?

According to our sin, we can do nothing but fail. None of us loves God with ALL our heart, soul, or mind. I often wonder if I do ANYTHING with ALL my heart, soul, or mind. We are distracted, we are half-hearted, half-minded. God becomes, so often, an afterthought in life – rather than the Lord of our life. He is rarely treated as our #1 priority, first on our list. In fact, we find ourselves putting God on the back burner and loving him only when life starts to boil over.

Likewise, we aren’t so great at loving our neighbor as ourselves. We are easily annoyed by the idiosyncrasies of others, and quick to find excuses NOT to love them. They are too… rich, too poor, too much of a know-it-all, we just don’t have anything in common, they can help themselves, I don’t trust them, I was busy, I forgot, they don’t deserve my love…

But none of this takes away from the command to love our neighbor, our fellow man. And none of it hides the fact that we don’t do it like we should. We miss the perfect mark, that’s what the word sin means, “missing the mark”. We fail the test of God’s perfect will.

All of this should have been a rude awakening for the Pharisee. He had hoped to stump Jesus with his test question, but Jesus turned it around on him. I wonder if the expert in the law even realized it. That now HE was being put to the test.

Still there is more here than Jesus’ clever answer, and the self-examination that we do in response. The question remains, “can anyone love God and neighbor perfectly?” You know the answer of course… only the Christ, Jesus himself.

IV. The Son of David Makes the Grade
Jesus challenges the whole group of Pharisees with one final question, “What about the Christ, whose son is he?”

Their pat answer, “David’s” is not sufficient. For Jesus points out how David called the Messiah his Lord. This confounds Jesus’ opponents and silences them. But we know the answer. Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior – he is David’s son, according to his human lineage, and David’s Lord according to his Divine lineage. Both God and Man, the Christ is unique. He alone is like us in every way, yet without sin. He alone is qualified to be the savior. For he alone can pass the test.

He alone can love God so completely and fully that he fulfilled the greatest commandment. He loved God with all his heart, soul, and mind. Jesus put nothing ahead of his devotion to his father’s will. He even submitted his own life to death on a cross – because of his love for the father.

But the cross was also about his love for man. Jesus doesn’t only love us AS himself, he loves us MORE THAN himself. He gave himself up so we would be spared. He died so that we would live. He suffered all of God’s wrath so we would know God’s love and mercy.

And his love was so great that even death could not contain it – and his resurrection shows that love. Even his ascension to God’s right hand is done in love for us – for there he rules and reigns not for his own benefit – but for us, his people.

Yes in all these things, Jesus passes the test. But he does so, always, in order to give us the credit. He makes us righteous, holy, clean and just. It’s like having the smartest kid in class take your test for you, and you get the “A” grade. Only it’s not cheating – it’s God’s plan for our salvation from before the world was made.

So Jesus passes the tests of his enemies, wisely answering and turning the tables on them. But in his answers, there is always more…

We sinners aren’t so good at “passing the test”, as we fail to love God and our neighbor. But Jesus turns the tables on our failure, and by his life and death makes the grade – always for us. In His Name, Amen.

V. Conclusion
Though we fail God’s test in our sin, Jesus always passed the test. Because of his life and death and resurrection, we make the grade with God!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"The Law is but a Mirror Bright..."

One day, as part of my vicarage duties, I led a devotion at a local nursing home. About 30-40 residents were brought in each Wednesday to hear my short message, most of them in wheel chairs, many of them sleeping through the entire thing.

I was trying to make this point about how the law shows us our sin, and I had a mirror as an object lesson. As I looked into the mirror, I began to recite some of the things I saw that I didn’t like… the shape of my chin, a blemish on my face, or the color of my eyes.

And just when I thought not a word was getting through to my hearers, one patient cried out from the back row, “And your nose is too big, too!”

That’s the voice of the law. Telling us, without apology, what is wrong with each of us. Where we have sinned, or as Paul says, “Fallen short”. And just when we think we've seen it all, the law has "one more thing" to show us....

Monday, October 10, 2005

Sermon - Matthew 22:1-10[11-14] - Pentecost 21

21st Sunday after Pentecost – October 9th 2005
Matthew 22:1-10[11-14]
“The Wedding Planner”

I. Introduction –
Ah, weddings. Perhaps, in our culture, the grandest celebration of them all. Not the birth of a child, not graduation, no other life event brings such expectations of a big – well, party. Ok, a reception. Whatever you call it, weddings are a big deal for us Americans. So much so, for some people, that there is a whole new profession called “wedding planner”. People whose job it is to organize and plan the wedding, in all its many details. In fact there was even a recent big-budget Hollywood production called “The Wedding Planner”. Weddings have really become a “big deal”.

I wonder what God thinks of all this. I suppose some people go too far and take their wedding day over the top. But for the Christian, it seems proper for a wedding day to be a celebration. Certainly God is in favor of marriage. Even Jesus himself attended a wedding in Cana – it’s where he did his first miracle turning water into wine. And Jesus tells the parable that we read today - comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to… a wedding.

As we read it, and unpack its meaning, we will see clearly how God prepares the banquet, invites his people, and makes us ready for the festivities. For God himself is the original “Wedding Planner”.

II. The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…
“The Kingdom of Heaven is Like…” Any time Jesus uses this phrase, we know we are in for a parable. We know there will be characters and things standing for other things, and a heavenly meaning slightly hidden in the earthly story.

Here the king is, of course God. The banquet is for the wedding of his Son, Jesus. The bride is, for now, anonymous. But the wedding guests first invited are the people of Israel, the Jews. Later, other guests, gentiles are invited, and populate the wedding hall. The wedding banquet itself stands for the kingdom of heaven, the church on earth, and ultimately in heaven.

So here, God, the king, is the wedding planner. He makes everything ready. The hall, the food, (the D.J.?). And he sends out invitations. As his servants describe the event, they show that the king has spared no expense in throwing a party that would be one to remember.

One recent study claimed that Americans will spend $125 billion on 2.1 million weddings in the year 2005, for an average cost of $26,327. That’s a lot to spend – more than some people make in a year. But it pales in comparison to what God has spent preparing the wedding feast of His kingdom.

The cost for this heavenly wedding is paid in blood. The blood of Christ, that is. In reality it is not the fatted calf that is slaughtered, but the Lamb of God who is slain. Jesus crucified for sinners, this is cost of our gathering together with God. Truly the King spared no expense.

III. Those Who Ignore, Those Who Insult.
In the parable, the king had prepared a magnificent celebration, yet, shockingly, some ignored the invitation. They had better things to do – work in the field, tend to the business. How strange, how rude, ignore the king’s invitation for the monotony of everyday life. Even when they heard the lavish feast described, some simply ignored it.

Others, even worse, insulted and mistreated the messengers – and by so dishonoring the invitation enraged the king. So much so that he wiped them out, burned their city. There is no middle ground, no neutrality toward the king. Either you are at his party, joining him in celebration – or you are on the receiving end of his wrath.

This parable was told to the Jewish leaders who ignored the message of Jesus, insulted the messenger, and eventually had him put to death. Clearly here Jesus is also predicting the destruction of Jerusalem – which came true just 40 years later. But after the Jews, as a whole, rejected the Messiah, others would listen, others would be invited. The Gentiles are welcomed to the marriage feast. The kingdom, the wedding celebration must go on!

Sometimes, you and I do ignore the king. Sometimes we even insult the messenger and the message by our sin. Oh, how patient our king is with us. But the real difference between those inside and outside of the banquet hall is one of faith. Those who believe the invitation are those who receive the blessings. And they are– and we are – saved.

Through faith in Jesus Christ we are saved from the burning anger of God. We are forgiven for our inattention to his will, and indifference to his ways. God does not send his armies to destroy us, as we deserve – instead he prepares for us a rich feast. He invites us to his party. Through his word and in his sacraments, God gives us mercy, not judgment

IV. The Bride, The Robe, The Feast
This parable is special in a way. For there are some connections which are screaming to be made. They are not part of the strict meaning of this particular parable. But they are connections that we simply must make concerning the Bride, the Robe and the Feast itself.

For one, the identity of the bride. In Ephesians and in Revelation, and in other parables of Jesus, God tells us that Christ is the bridegroom and we, the Church, are the bride. It’s a profound metaphor that helps us better understand the relationship between Christ and his people. The hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation” develops this scriptural theme marvelously. “From Heaven he came and sought her, to be His holy bride, with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.” Those who say that Jesus never got married - they need to read a little more carefully. As the bride of Christ, we, the church are joined with him in a bond of love that will last even beyond death – into eternity.

This parable also has a little epilogue. The king comes in to the party and finds a man not dressed properly. As wedding customs change over time, and the attire changes too, still what seems constant is that wedding clothes are special. In our day, it’s a white dress for the bride and tuxedo for the groom and groomsmen (and usually something extremely unflattering for the bridesmaids). But in ancient times, custom held that a white robe was the only proper attire for a wedding. And if you couldn’t afford one, the host would provide the garment for you.

This is key to understanding Jesus’ meaning. For the man improperly attired was one who sought entry into the kingdom on his own. It doesn’t work that way. The king threw him out. We can only join the party if we do so wearing the robe that HE provides – and now we must draw on other scriptures again. Revelation 7 speaks of heaven’s residents wearing white robes “washed clean in the blood of the lamb”. Paul tells us to “put on Christ”, whose righteousness covers us like a garment.

While on the robe, we must also speak of baptism. There is a reason that a white robe or gown is the traditional baptismal attire. Some churches even provide the garment themselves. What a wonderful picture of the righteousness of Christ that is provides us in our baptism, which guarantees us a place in his kingdom, at His wedding banquet.

Finally, the feast. What Lutheran hears about food God has prepared without thinking of the Sacrament of the Altar – Holy Communion. For here, God prepares for us a rich feast of Christ’s own body and blood – spiritual food which nourishes our souls with the forgiveness of sins, new life, and salvation. Is that what this parable is about? Yes and no.

Perhaps most directly, Jesus was speaking of the timeless celebration of simply being in his kingdom. But certainly scripture points us forward to the final banquet, the consummation of the kingdom. When Christ comes again and all his people are gathered together into the banquet halls of heaven. What a celebration that day will be.

But while we wait, here on earth, we have a “foretaste of the feast to come”. Each time we gather and kneel at his altar, and receive the sacrament, we are getting a sample of what’s in store for us one day. A glimpse, a slice of heaven, and the marriage feast of the Lamb.

Perhaps you are not married, but hope to be some day. Maybe you have already been married for many years. Or perhaps your spouse has already been called home to the Lord. Regardless - we can all celebrate here on earth the great marriage of Christ to his church – and celebrate with all the faithful one day at the great feast in heaven. Properly attired in his robe of righteousness, washed clean in the blood of Christ, receiving mercy instead of punishment. This is the feast.

And so today, as always, the invitation of the king goes forth. Come to the wedding feast. Come today. Come always. In Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

V. Conclusion
The kingdom of heaven is like a great wedding feast – prepared by the king. What a blessing to be part of the festivities – now, and forever!

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sex in the City... of London

London Getting 'Sexual' Theme Park

This from the capital of a country, according to our friend Gregory S. Paul, which is less religious and therefore less dysfunctional?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Sermon - Pentecost 20 - Philippians 3:12-21

20th Sunday after Pentecost – October 2nd 2005
Philippians 3:12-21
“Winning Heaven – And More!”

I. Introduction – Whether you are a football fan or not, you’ve probably heard that the Green Bay Packers are having somewhat of an off year so far. For a team which is used to winning most of its games, especially those at home, Brett Farve and company have not looked so good in these first few weeks of the season. Of course, it goes without saying that the goal of any football team is to win – and hopefully, maybe even make it to the Super Bowl – the big game. It’s what they strive for all season – and for many players – their whole career. It might already be too late for the packers this year, but in sports, “there’s always next year”.

A common sports proverb holds that “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”. And in the Christian faith, winning is important too. Paul often uses the metaphor of competition to explain aspects of our faith. We have a finish line, we are competing against foes, and there is a prize awaiting us at the end. Paul encourages us today to look forward – to winning Heaven, and more!

II. The Goal of the Christian Faith
Paul uses the imagery of competition here to instruct the Philippians (and us) about the forward-looking nature of our faith. That we should be, like Paul was, focused on the goal, the prize, the future. The finish line, if you will.

There is much in this life that would keep our eyes looking downward. The cares of worldly life want to direct our attention away from the goal. Paul is aware of this struggle – he uses words like “press on” and “straining” to indicate that it is not always easy to stay focused.

This forward looking mentality is how a mature Christian thinks. As we grow in our faith more and more, we see clearer and clearer the insignificance of this world compared to the magnificence of the world to come. More on that later…

Finally, notice the connection of the goal with the one who makes it possible. Paul hopes to take hold of “that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. In other words, Christ came so that we would reach the goal, the finish line of heaven. God has “called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus”. Without Jesus, talk of our future is meaningless. But with Jesus, and his cross, we have a future. Still, there are enemies who oppose this…

III. Enemies of the Cross of Christ
Just as in any sporting competition, we too have an opposing team. The captain, of course, is our old adversary the Devil. But the “enemies of the cross of Christ” abound. Paul sadly notes that many are against Christ – and are more concerned about earthly things.

These are the ones who are not looking up to the Cross, to Heaven and to Christ. But downward and inward, to their own selfish wants (their god is their stomach), to their own sinful pleasures (their glory is their shame). And so their goal, their destiny, is destruction. Enemies of the cross of Christ are OUR enemies too. Those who seek to silence Christianity. Those who ridicule and mock believers in Christ. Maybe even in our own families, there are some who, however subtly, oppose Christ and his cross. Enemies abound. Paul isn’t just trying to make us paranoid.

The fact that there are enemies is a problem. But the solution is not for us to carry out. Instead, the cross itself, and Christ himself bring the solution. Sin, Death and the Devil were defeated at the cross. As for human enemies of the cross – they are handled in two ways. Either they are destroyed at the final judgment, or they are destroyed in the waters of baptism – where God makes his enemies into his friends, sinners into saints, and haters into dearly beloved children. Once, we too were enemies of the cross of Christ. But now we, like Paul, have been called heavenward. We are now on the winning team.

I remember at my small college in New York, our soccer team struggled in division, what, 5 or 6? Anyway, for some reason there was a European student studying at our campus, and he joined the team. He was amazing. He could have started for a division 1 school. He probably could have become a professional. When he wanted to, he could pretty much, single-handedly win a game for his team. I don’t know if that school will ever have a player like that again.

Jesus Christ is our team’s “secret weapon”. He’s the only player that really matters on this team. In fact he is not only the captain, but the coach and owner, the offense and the defense. He is the star player who was once “injured” but can’t be kept off the field.

And just when it looked like he was losing, he was winning – the greatest victory of all time. In fact he wins through losing – he pardons by being condemned, he gains life by dying.

This is what Lutherans call the “Theology of the Cross” – the idea that God’s best and most important work of winning souls, is done through weakness, and shame, and “losing”. And so with us, Jesus says, “he who would seek his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake, will gain it”. Winning by losing. Making enemies into friends. This is God’s way in Christ. This is the pattern for us to follow too.

It means that Christians don’t have to be “winners” to win. We don’t have to have the biggest house, the fastest car, the best job. We don’t need to attend the trendiest church with the fanciest sound-system. We don’t need to be famous, or wealthy, or super-educated. God takes the “losers” of this world and makes them “winners” in Christ. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do our best in life, but it does mean we keep our eyes on the finish line, and let God be concerned with winning us the victory.

IV. Heaven – and More!
There is no super-bowl trophy in the Christian faith, but there is a prize. And it’s even greater than you might think.

For one, let us not too quickly pass over the benefits Christ brings us IN THIS LIFE. For right here and now, we have forgiveness in Christ. And that forgiveness brings the believer a peace that the world cannot give. A quiet conscience, a calm assurance that God is on our side – and that in the end, everything will work out for the good of His people. Even more - Paul says we are already citizens of heaven! Even before we get there. That promise also brings us comfort and peace. Part of the prize is ours already, right now! But there is more…

Most Christians know from an early age that when we die our spirit goes to heaven. That’s great, and it’s true. But is that really as good as it gets? Is that, ultimately the prize we are looking for? NO! There’s more!

Certainly Paul mentions being called heavenward in Christ, but he goes on at the end of this passage to tell even more of what we have waiting for us: “Jesus Christ, who by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body”.

You see, the promised prize for Christians is not just some dis-embodied existence of our spirit or soul floating around somewhere with God (as great as that will be). We have something better awaiting. A new body, a glorified body, a resurrected body – like the one that Christ has!

He is the firstborn of the dead, and like him, there will be many more born from the dead. You and I and all believers will enjoy eternal life in our bodies – perfected bodies – but physical bodies, living forever. This is something we don’t talk so much about in the Church. We get stuck on heaven – and as good as that is – we still look forward to “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting”. That’s the real prize! If heaven is the division title – The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting – that’s the super bowl.

Since Paul’s time, Christians have been looking forward to the goal. And today the advice for us is the same. Look heavenward, to the finish line, where Jesus Christ has called you.

And since Paul’s time, and long before, the enemies of Christ have loomed. But we have the star player, Jesus Christ, who defeats all the enemies.

And when that final day comes, and Jesus returns from his heavenly throne, we get the final reward – the prize – a glorious, resurrected body to live with him forever. With Paul, we press on – toward this goal – In Christ our Lord, Amen.

V. Conclusion
Paul encourages Christians to press on toward the prize – a citizenship in heaven we already have, and a glorious body which will be ours at the resurrection. We take hold of all of this only through Christ, who won it for us.