Monday, July 31, 2006

Sermon - Pentecost 8b - Amos 7:10-15

Pentecost 8 – (July 30th 2006)
Amos 7:10-15
“Don’t Kill the Messenger!”

“Don’t kill the messenger!” Look, you may not like what I am telling you, but I am just relaying the message. I didn’t cause the problem. I’m just telling you how it is. It wasn’t up to me, I’m just passing the info along. You may not like it, but “Don’t kill the messenger”.

No matter what that unwanted message is, I think we can all relate to the feeling. Both of being the bearer of unwelcome news, and of not appreciating the one who brings US the bad news. Is it a doctor telling you the diagnosis? Is it a friend filling you in on one of your own flaws? Maybe a family member trying to mediate a conflict. Don’t kill the messenger! They are only trying to help!

I suppose that’s sort of how Amos felt when his message was not so well received. I don’t think he was surprised. After all, when you start predicting the death of the king and the destruction of your nation – that’s not the kind of message that people want to hear, especially the king. And so they tried to silence Amos. The tried to make him leave. But Amos would not stand down, soften his tone, or use a better choice of words. His message was not his own, you see, he spoke for the Lord.

When we think of a prophet, we usually think about someone who tells the future, and Amos did do that. But strictly speaking, a prophet is one who speaks for the Lord. He is a representative. A messenger. Often this message involves predicting the future, but it is just as often about a word of God for the present. “God is displeased with you NOW. He wants you to repent NOW”. Amos followed in this long line of prophets who spoke a message from the Lord himself. So really, it wasn’t Amos that the king and his servants wanted to silence, it was the Lord. After all, Amos wasn’t even a prophet by heritage. He was a farmer and a shepherd. He had no special expertise, no great wisdom. He spoke – but he spoke only for God, as God instructed him.

Now sometimes, the Lord has a kind word for his people. A word of hope, a word of promise. But sometimes, the message is one of disapproval, condemnation, judgment. And we humans need to hear both. The bad news is that we are sinners, and that each of us has turned from God and deserves his punishment. But the good news is that our God is a merciful God, who does something about our sins through Jesus Christ. This word of God – both law and Gospel – is the message of the prophet.

The people of Israel in the time of Amos needed the hard word of the law. They needed to repent, to be shown their sin, to hear God’s disapproval. And had they listened, Amos would just as surely have spoken God’s word of peace and forgiveness to them. Sadly, too often, the hard words of the prophets like Amos fell on deaf ears and hard hearts. They killed many a messenger, thus rejecting the message, and the one who sent it. And so it went with those Old Testament prophets.

But biblical prophecy finds its fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. Not only because he was the one the prophets predicted would come, but because he himself is the greatest prophet ever. Remember, a prophet speaks for God. Certainly Jesus with all his great teaching and preaching did just that. He spoke on behalf of his Father. He gave to his disciples as the Father gave to him. But Jesus is more than just a messenger.

He is the very message. He is the very Word of God made flesh – who was with God in the beginning, the Word by which all things were made. The word who became flesh and dwelled among us. The word they tried to silence by putting to death on a cross. But the word which could not be held in death and spoke again, alive, in Easter glory. Jesus brings the message, but Jesus IS the message.

That is, the content of our faith is Jesus Christ: who he is, and what he does. That he is true God and true man, who takes our place before God – to live a perfect life – to shed his blood and die in our place. Talk about “Don’t kill the messenger!” But that was his mission! To face death, to endure it, to defeat it, and bring us life. By believing in him and his message – we live, even though we die.

Now, like all prophets, sometimes Jesus had a harsh word to say. He did not shy away from calling out sinners. Though we think of the Pharisees as bearing the brunt of Jesus’ criticism, our Lord also addressed the sins of others. He would not let the Samaritan woman at the well off the hook for her many husbands. Even his own disciples – He criticized their lack of faith, He even called Peter “Satan”. And most of what we know about Hell comes from Jesus’ own teaching. Jesus actually raised the bar on many of God’s commandments, showing how even sins of thought make us unworthy to God.

But Jesus word of forgiveness was the point of his message. “Neither do I condemn you”. “Father forgive them”. “Son, your sins are forgiven”. Jesus who won the forgiveness of our sins, applies that forgiveness. He charges his disciples to continue forgiving sins. Jesus offered a word of forgiveness also through baptismal water and in sacramental meal. And he still does today. And this word of promise, this word of love, this word of hope – will never fail or disappoint, it will never pass away. He means what he says.

Not all believed Jesus’ message. And Jesus knew it too. When he sent out his disciples in our Gospel reading from Mark today, he told them some whole towns would reject the message. And they were to “shake the dust off of their feet” “as a testimony against them”. Jesus wasn’t, and still isn’t, universally embraced. Some rejected even his good news. The final rejection of Jesus ended him up on a Roman cross. This seemed like foolishness, insanity to his disciples. But God’s victories are often found in seeming defeats. His purposes are often accomplished, even when it seems like he is getting nowhere fast.

Sometimes we in the church get down on ourselves because we don’t see the “success” we all dream of. We would love to have super-human powers of persuasion, to win converts to the faith by the truckload, and see our church grow by leaps and bounds. But guess what, not everyone likes what we teach and believe at Grace Lutheran Church in Racine. Some don’t like the law we preach. Some don’t care for the Gospel either. Christ and his Cross are foolishness to some, and a scandal to others. It’s always been that way.

But we are not ashamed of the gospel, for we know it is the power of God for our salvation. We dare not silence the prophetic word of Christ to accommodate the likes and dislikes of our fickle modern society. We speak what God gives us to speak, Just as the disciples spoke what Jesus gave them, and let the chips fall where they may. We are called to be faithful. God promises the word will do what He wants it to do. The results are his concern, not ours.

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” Hebrews 1:1-2

No longer does God speak through the Old Testament office of prophet. No longer do we hear Christ’s voice, from his very mouth, as he has ascended to his rightful throne in heaven. But God does still speak a prophetic word through the pastors he calls to serve his people. And may that prophetic word for today always be grounded in Christ, who is the means and message of our salvation.

Your pastors should always preach to you a prophetic message. Not predicting the future, but proclaiming God’s word. We should, we must speak words that are sometimes hard to hear. But please, “don’t kill the messenger”. It is necessary that sinners are reminded of our sins. That we are called to repentance and that we hear how dead and helpless we are without Christ. That we deserve temporal and eternal punishment.

I have often half-joked that a terrible thing for a pastor to hear about his sermon is, “Boy, pastor, did you really give it to THEM today!” God forbid we hear sermons which only point to the sins of OTHERS and leave us with a smug self-righteousness. Instead, may God’s prophetic word of law cut our own hearts. May it point to our own sin. May he instill in us the judgment’s dread alarm, so that we are properly prepared to hear that other prophetic word.

Your pastors should always preach to you about Jesus, and what he has done, and what he continues to do for you. This prophetic word of forgiveness is Christ’s own message. His dying and rising for us. The promise of the resurrection, the life eternal, our adoption as sons and daughters of God, the blessings granted in our baptism, and received in the Lord’s Supper.

This is the message he has given us, this is the message we proclaim to you. This prophetic word. Some congregations don’t like it though. They too, want to kill the messenger. Or at least get him fired. Or send him somewhere else. Not everyone likes to hear their own faults, but not everyone cherishes the Gospel either. Time and again, we hear stories of faithful pastors being shown the door because the itching ears of the people were unsatisfied.

I thank God for you, the people of Grace Lutheran Church. For in my experience, you receive the message with gladness. You know your sin, and the guilt it brings. But you also know your Savior, and the forgiveness he brings. You know the prophetic word of Jesus – both law and Gospel – and you expect it from your pastors. Never stop expecting it. Never stop hearing it. And never stop believing it. For it is the power of God for salvation!

Amos brought a harsh word to the Israelites, and they found it hard to swallow. Jesus brought judgment and forgiveness, and still some rejected his message. To you is also spoken that same prophetic word. You are a sinner. But don’t kill the messenger! For in Christ, your sins are forgiven. Now go and sin no more, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Colorado Pictures

From my recent trip with our youth to "The Feast", in Colorado Springs, CO.

Here's our group at "Garden of the Gods".

This is at "Helen Hunt Falls".

At the "Flying W Ranch".

A view from Colorado College to the west,
a typical afternoon thunderstorm by the mountains.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Feast - Presentation

The Feast is over. What an excellent conference! As expected, Pastor Zill and the folks from Higher Things did an great job providing solid, content-rich, truly Lutheran enrichment for our young people. I can't reccomend the work of this group enough.

As promised, here is my presentation from "The Feast", entitled, "The Lord's Supper on the Lord's Day". It is a Power-point presentation.

When I get home, I will also include some of the bulletin inserts we used while studying the move from "every-other" to "every Sunday communion".

I will also be posting some of our photos from the trip. AFTER I catch up on my sleep, of course.

EDIT 7/25/06: To the pastor who was inquiring about our bulletin inserts we ran as our congregation was studying the issue, I am sorry but I was unable to locate those. Apparently the got deleted along the way.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Off to Colorado....

I will be attending THE FEAST, a Higher Things youth conference in Colorado Springs, CO. We leave tomorrow morning out of O'Hare, and arrive in the afternoon.

I will be assisting with the distribution of Holy Communion, as well as leading a breakout sectional on "Every Sunday Communion".

Please pray for the 1500 or so participants in what should be an excellent conference!

Lutheran Carnival

Lutheran Carnival 28 is up and runnning.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

How I Became a "Doctrine Monster"

I was reminiscing the other day about those who encouraged me to become a pastor. I loved my religion classes, and studying the teachings and ideas of the Bible. The abstract concepts were really intruiging to me.

One early influence then, was a Lutheran High School Religion teacher, who had much advice to give. At one point, I told him I wanted to be a Religion teacher in a Lutheran school too. He said I should instead go to seminary, because, "The collar has all the power in the Missouri Synod" and also it would give me the felxibility to teach or do other things. Well, he convinced me. (This was the same teacher, by the way, who invited a select few of us to his home to listen to Tony Campollo lectures)

A caveat, though. He cautioned me, espeicially considering my personality (which I would have compared, back then, to Mr. Spock), that I was at risk. "Don't let them [the seminary?] turn you into a Doctrine Monster". This was his advice. "Doctrine" seemed almost like a dirty word to him. Perhaps he meant "legalist"? Anyway, I took the warning under advisement.

Now certainly, there was no danger of this happening to me at college. This teacher had encouraged me to go to Seward, because Bronxville had "no spiritual life" (which I found to be all too true at the time - although it was as much my own fault as anyone's). I often wonder if I even completely lapsed in my faith while going through my "questioning" (partying) time at college.

But then as I arrived at the Seminary, life changed. I had to shape up, of course, and act more reponsible. To be sure, the environment was different. My peers were different. And I was a little older. And, as I became engaged to be married, more and more, responsiblity seemed the way to go. I started to "put away childish ways".

But it was also there, at the seminary, that I learned and learned and learned theology. God's word. What it really means, and how to apply it. I experienced a personal "reformation". I learned that the teachings of the Bible, of the Church, and of Christ (all the same) were not simply abstract ideas for my own amusement and other's enlightenment. Instead, these teachings (this DOCTRINE) was a gift from God himself - which had a practical application - which had rich depth and wide breadth. I learned that doctrine mattered - to me personally - to my faith. I heard the Gospel anew and with clarity - crystal clarity - for what seemed like the first time.

To me, this was directly opposed to the advice of my former teacher. How could I NOT embrace such teaching, such doctrine? How could I not become a "Doctrine Monster"!? Or, as I call it now, a "faithful pastor".

Well, my former teacher went on (got "promoted") to teach in the Concordia system, and I understand eventually pursued his own "collar". From what I hear, he is a major, major advocate of contemporary worship in the LCMS today. But I thank God for the encouragement he gave me, though certainly imperfect, which God used to help bring me where I am today.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

"Does it PLEEEASE God?"

Once, while discussing Closed Communion with a skeptical LCMS member, she asked me "Do you think it PLEEEASES God?"

Having to think on my feet, I answered something like this:

"No, I don't think it pleases God that we (Christians) can't all commune together. It's a sign of our disunity and the many false teachings out there. But neither would it please God if we swept such differences under the rug, acting like they don't exist. Christians are to be loving AND truthful, and acting like there aren't important disagreements is neither truthful, nor truly loving."