Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If Kindgom of God is a Theatre...

What do you think about this analogy?

If Kindgom of God is a Theatre...

God the Father is the owner.... founder....

God the Holy Spirit is the.... stage hand.... the usher.... operator of the spotlight....

Jesus Christ is the star of the show.

(obviously all human analogies break down somewhere... )

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sermon - Lent 1 - Luke 4:1-13

First Sunday in Lent
Luke 4:1-13
“IF and IS”

Our bulletin cover today highlights a small but key word from today’s Holy Gospel reading. “IF”. It is a word the devil used in the wilderness temptation of Jesus. But Jesus counters the devil at every turn, and defeats him with words of His own. Today we see the antidote to the devil’s “IF” is the Savior’s “IS”. Another small word with lots of meaning and punch – a Gospel word connected to Christ and his work. Consider this morning, “IF and IS”, as we join Jesus in the wilderness…

“If you are the Son of God” do thus and so… “If you worship me” I will give you this and that. It’s a little word that makes a big difference. “IF” is a word of instability and uncertainty. “IF” means “maybe; maybe not”. “If” can also be a word of doubt, which goes along with another favorite word of Satan’s, “really”. “IF you REALLY are the Son of God…”

Remember when Satan tempted Eve and Adam to eat the forbidden fruit? “Did God REALLY say, you shall not eat of it?” He suggested that the truth was not truth. He planted the seeds of his lie with a seemingly harmless question. Those seeds didn’t take long to mature into full-fledged deception, as he lied to Eve, “you will not die…” And the fruit of that sin in the garden turned our entire world into a wilderness, a wasteland of death.

But it is there in the desert that Jesus defeats the devil and fights back his temptations. It only took one attempt to deceive the first Adam. But the Second Adam frustrates the foe three full times. That’s because Jesus has a better 2-letter word than “IF”. Jesus has “IS”.

Each time the devil assailed our Lord with an “IF”, Jesus answered with an “IS”. “It IS written”. He quotes the scriptures. Those words of God which ARE a greater reality than the tempter’s twisted attempts. “IS” and the other forms of the verb, “to be” like “ARE” and “AM”. These seem to be some of God’s favorite words. These words express a reality. And when God speaks, his word does what it says.

Let there “BE” light. And light was. The very creation and providence of this world rests on God’s word which calls it to be so.

God’s personal name, “Yahweh”, which means, “I AM”. He is the ultimate ground of existence. Nothing is without him. Nothing happens apart from his will. He always was, always IS, and always will be.

And even though Lent has begun, we have those Epiphany words ringing in our ears, “This IS my son”. The disciples and many others confessed, as we also do of Jesus, “You ARE the Christ”.

And what does that mean? That Jesus came not only to defeat Satan’s temptations for his own sake, but to bring a new reality for sinners like you and me. When Jesus gave up his life on the cross, and when all was accomplished, he declared, “It IS finished”. And in those three small words – really just one word in the Greek – all history finds a pivot point, all creation sees it fulcrum, all reality is turned upside down. And sin is finished. Death is finished. The Devil is finished. No IF’s, ands, or buts about it.

And though defeated, our adversary still prowls around looking for someone to devour, deceive, or draw into doubt. Satan loves to bring a sense of “iffyness” to our relationship with God – and make us doubt God’s word – whether command or promise. “Did God really say?”

“Does God really expect you to be perfect? It’s such a high standard. Don’t you think God’s more reasonable? He knows you’re not perfect. He’ll make some allowances. Just try not to be TOO bad, and I’m sure he’ll wink at those little sins. Really. If God is so loving and powerful, I mean, Come on! He’s gotta let you get away with a little bit of fun” and so the lies might go… so the law of God is undermined and minimized. But the truth IS that God expects, even demands perfection. And no law-breaking goes without punishment.

Of course, we know, that Jesus IS the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. That means that he is our substitute. He takes our place and our punishment. He does what we can’t do, in defeating the devil, living a perfect life, and paying his own innocent blood for our bloodguilt. But Satan wants to make all that iffy too.

“IF Jesus even existed… IF he really was the Son of God. IF he died for sin. What makes you think he died for yours? And what makes you think that’s enough? Do you REALLY believe God can forgive a sinner as bad as you? I mean, imagine if the people here in church knew what you do when no one is looking, or what you think in the dark recesses of your thoughts. IF that got out… well. Then everyone would see what a sinner you are and why God can’t possibly forgive you, and…” Enough! Enough of the lies, Satan! Enough of your “Ifs” and “Really?”

For it IS written… “God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

It IS written, “As far as the East is from the West, so far has he separated our sins from us.”

And it IS written, “neither angels nor demons,[m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation…” (and that would include you, Satan) “will be able to separate us from the love of God that IS in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Martin Luther knew all this when he wrote that favorite hymn of the Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress”. “This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will… he can harm us none, he’s judged the deed is done. One little word can fell him” Luther doesn’t say what that little word is. Some have said the word is, “Liar!”. Others say the word is “Jesus”. Perhaps even a smaller word can fell him: “IS”. Actually, any word of God will do. For Satan IS already defeated.

And now, dear Christians, come near for one more blessed assurance. For there is one final “IS” we haven’t mentioned. There is one further reality God creates for our blessing today. Jesus once said, “this IS my body. This IS my blood.” And here in his Holy Sacrament, we find once again this promise. “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God”. We receive with our mouths more than “bread alone”. We are nourished with the Bread of Life, according to the promise of the Living Word. And with our sins thus forgiven, we put away the IF. And we rest assured in the IS. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Sermon - Ash Wednesday - Exodus 20:1-17

Ash Wednesday
Exodus 20:1-17
“10 Laws and 1 Law-Keeper”

A blessed Ash Wednesday to you, as we begin our annual 40-day pilgrimage to Calvary. This year, we will spend each of our 6 Lenten Wednesdays meditating on one of the 6 chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism. The Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Holy Communion, and Confession. These 6 topics, Luther suggested, form the basic teachings of the Christian faith.

The church’s ancient observance of Lent provides a time for us to reflect seriously on our sin and guilt and shame, and the consequences thereof. Particularly on Ash Wednesday, we come into the presence of the Lord in great repentance (as ashes symbolize such sorrow over sin). It seems a fitting time, then, to take up our first topic from the catechism: The Ten Commandments.

We would surely all agree to the importance of the Ten Commandments. Christians nod in agreement when someone extols the virtues of the 10 Commandments. And we are rightly offended when someone attacks these holy laws of God or marginalizes their significance.

The Ten Commandments have become a political football as of late. There was the judge in Alabama who lost his job in a controversy surrounding the monument of the Commandments. The Supreme Court has even heard arguments about how and when the commandments may be displayed (and don’t ask me to explain the nuances of their decision). Some want the Commandments posted everywhere for all to see – I even know of one home in our area which has them displayed in the front lawn.

But what do we Christians do with these commandments? Besides using them as a symbol in the culture wars, do we use them in our lives? Do we try to live by them? Do we apply them to our own lives? Do we even know them, by heart, and in order, as every Christian should?

I suspect most of us would say we generally try to live by them. And that would be a kind of pious lie. Our Old Adam, anyway, our sinful nature, HATES these laws of God. We don’t like being told what to do and not do. In fact, we despise it. We want our own way. We want to be the captain of our ship, the master of our fate. We want to set the rules for ourselves, our own personal commandments.

But for the sake of appearances, perhaps, or from fear of punishment, let’s just say we generally try to obey God’s rules. Generally. Mostly. Kinda sorta.

But God doesn’t say, “Thou shalt mostly have no other gods” or “Thou shalt not have too many other gods.” He doesn’t say, “Thou shalt not steal – unless you really want the thing or think you deserve it.” He does not command, “Remember the Sabbath Day, whenever you get around to it”. There is no “generally” or “mostly” or even “try” about the commandments. They are commands. That’s how God’s law works. He commands, he demands perfect obedience.

And we fall so short. We don’t keep them when we try. We don’t even really want to try, by our nature. And so like our parents in paradise, who broke God’s first command, we too fall under the curse of the law. We too earn the wages of sin, and pay the price of death. Because we break the spirit of every one of God’s commands every day.

We deserve to be consumed by the fire of God’s wrath. And so today, Ash Wednesday, we sit in ashes (metaphorically, of course). We put on, in our minds, the sackcloth of repentance. We confess our sin. And we beg for mercy before the righteous law-giver and judge.

And he is merciful. He shows mercy, because of His Son. Jesus Christ did what we have not done and cannot do. He fulfilled the law. He kept the commandments. He was like us, in every way, yet without sin. He pleased the Father by his perfect life. He had no other gods. He always remembered the Sabbath. He didn’t ever kill or steal or bear false witness or covet or lust. He kept God’s name holy. And he honored his Father perfectly.

Christ’s perfect life of law-keeping is part of his work for us sinners. Just as important as his death for us, so is his life for us. His death takes away our sin. But his holy life makes us holy. His righteousness becomes ours. So that, in Christ, we can stand before the Father’s throne without fear of judgment. We can say, “I have not kept those commands, but my Savior and Substitute Jesus Christ has kept them without stumbling a step. And I lean on his promises and on the salvation he offers freely to me.”

So what are the 10 commandments for us, Christians? They are useful in summarizing God’s law. That law is useful in showing us our sin, and need for our Savior. But those commands bring us nothing without Christ – who fulfills the law and pays for our infractions with his blood.

Forgiven and recreated as we are, the commandments of God become a model for the new life in Christ. They guide us in Christian living. What a blessing to be shown the way God would have us live. For the new man within me wants to please him. The Holy Spirit leads us in the way of these commands.

That we would not only refrain from murder, but help our neighbor in every bodily need. That we would not commit adultery, but live in purity and decency and love our spouse rightly. That we would not despise the preaching of God’s word on the Sabbath day, but gladly hear and learn it. The commandments become a privilege for us in fulfilling the law of Love.

Jesus summarized the entire law this way, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself”. For those of us who know the love God first showed us in Christ – the law of love becomes the rule and norm for our daily life. Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, growing in our faith, we also grow in adherence to God’s commands.

And so this Ash Wednesday, we dwell on our sins, reflecting on how we break God’s commands and commandments. But we look, in faith, to the one perfect law-keeper, who gives us his own righteousness. And by His Spirit, we look forward to living the law of love, and in accord with his commands. Always in his grace, and to his glory, not ours. A blessed Ash Wednesday, and a blessed Lenten season to you, in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sermon - Transfiguration - Luke 9:28-36

Luke 9:28-36
“Going Out in a Blaze of Glory”

“Going out in a blaze of glory”. What do you think of when you hear that phrase? A race car driver, crashing his car on the final lap? A soldier, charging into the fight, shouting his battle-cry? An astronaut whose rocket explodes shortly after lift-off? Maybe you think of Elijah or Moses, or even Jesus! Maybe, or maybe not.

Today is Transfiguration Day. It is the climax of the Epiphany season – the season of revealing light – in which the spotlight has been shining on the babe of Bethlehem, and our readings have been shedding light on just who this God-man Jesus Christ really is.

From his Baptism, when God declared, “This is my son”
to the visit of the wise men who confessed him as king,
to the wedding at Cana where he showed his power as the true bridegroom, to the many healings and miracles that were signs of his power….
All this leads up to his transfiguration,
up to the mountain where his glory shone like flashes of lightning,
where the great men of old came to testify and “hold converse high” and where God confirmed again, “This is my Son”.
And once Jesus gets to the mount of transfiguration, it’s all downhill from there. Downhill to Jerusalem, to arrest, to suffering, to the cross, to death.

The Transfiguration of our Lord is an important event.
Transfiguration Sunday puts us, liturgically speaking, halfway between Christmas and Good Friday. Here we are at the mountaintop, so to speak. And after this, it’s all down hill to Jerusalem, and to the other hill where Jesus would be crucified.

The mountains are in the background today, as Moses stood on Mt. Sinai to receive God’s law, and on Mt. Nebo to view the promised land. Elijah’s great competition with the prophets of Baal took place on a mountain (Carmel), and he too heard God’s voice on Mt. Sianai (Horeb). Now, both great men of old appear on the mountain again, this time with Jesus Christ in glorified form, once again to hear the voice of the Lord.

Glory. That’s another important idea today. We sinners, who so like to glorify ourselves, we wouldn’t mind being the center of all things. That’s what we do when we put ourselves before the Lord and before others. We imagine our own little mountain with ourselves as “king of the hill”. As if it’s all about me and my wants and my great qualities, and my glorious glory. What a sham. What a farce. We sinners are the furthest thing from God’s holiness. We deserve a pit, not a mountain.

But God glories in dealing with us sinners, according to his mercy in Christ. Just as Peter and the others, fools that they were, sinful men in the presence of glory – so too we find our pitiful selves at the top of the mountain today. And just as Jesus didn’t zap Peter for even being there, but had purposefully brought him to see such glory, so too Jesus’ glory is made know to us and for us today.

The Transfiguration account appears in 3 of the 4 gospels. And while Mark and Matthew don’t disagree with Luke, our reading today adds a few extra details. One of those is the content of the conversation Jesus had with Moses and Elijah. He was talking about his departure. Literally, his “going out”.

The Greek word for “going out” is actually “exodus”. It seems appropriate, then, to have both Moses and Elijah there with him on the mount. Each o them knew something about “exodus”.

Moses lived through THE Exodus. When God’s people got to “go out” of Egypt, “in a blaze of glory”. Well, more water than fire, actually, as “Israel’s host triumphant go, through the wave that drowned the foe”. Moses led the people to the promised land… out of bondage, and into glory, so to speak.
But Moses himself was not allowed to set foot inside the boundaries of that land – until he meets Jesus here on the mount.

Elijah knew something about going out in a blaze of glory too. His departure from this world was unique in all of history, as God sent a fiery chariot down to take Elijah heavenward. Elijah’s “exodus” was perhaps one of the most spectacular of all time. But it was surely less impressive than standing in the presence of the transfigured Christ himself.

Jesus’ own departure was at hand. He had an exodus to face, and it would not be in a blaze of glory. It would be in the shame of a cross. Christ, here glorified on the Transfiguration Mountaintop would soon face ultimate humiliation on the Hill of Calvary. He who shined and flashed like lightning itself would soon see the very sun darkened as he faced his last hours.

And yet in the humility of the cross, we see God’s true glory. His power which is made perfect in weakness. His justice meets his mercy. Life won by death. There as Jesus “goes out”, he brings us in to his Father’s arms. Exiled sinners bound to be cast out of his presence become sons and daughters, and are given a place in the Father’s house. His “exodus” from life is our “exodus” from sin, and our entrance into eternal bliss.

What will be your exodus? How will you go out from this world? While most of us would like to die peacefully in our sleep, some wouldn’t mind “going out in a blaze of glory”. Perhaps it’s best that we don’t get to choose how and when we go. But it’s not as important how or when we go as where and to whom. We’re going out from this vale of tears, into the arms of our Savior. We’re going out from this poor reflection, as in a mirror, to see our Lord face to face. We’re going to the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will wipe every tear from our eyes. That’s the promised land that makes our exodus a joyful one, no matter when and where and how it happens.

The Transfiguration of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is a powerful witness to those three disciples, and to all of us, about who Jesus is, and what he’s come to do. If we “Listen to Him” as the voice of the Father commands, we will hear great and good news. Listen to him speak with Moses and Elijah about his departure, which makes our departure so different. Listen to him as he goes to Jerusalem for that final blaze of glory in the shame of the cross.

Listen to him as he gives his own body and blood with simple bread and wine. Listen to those words – “for the forgiveness of your sins”. Those words spoken long ago but still echoing with the same power and authority. Listen to him. And then, make your exodus from this place, from his house, from his presence. Go forth in peace knowing that your sins truly are forgiven in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Transfiguration Ruminations

I was thinking today, that the Transfiguration (according to Luke's account) is in a way, the "anti-Gethsemane" event. Notice the similarities/contrasts:

1. Peter, James and John go with Jesus

2. They are sleepy

3. Jesus is praying

4. At the Transfiguration: light like crazy. At Gethsemane: "the hour of the power of darkness"

5. The 2 ancient messengers of God (Moses and Elijah) converse with Jesus, while in Gethsemane, angelic messengers minister to him.

6. In both cases, Jesus is specifically concerned with the events of Good Friday - "his departure" and "this cup"

7. At the Mt. the Father speaks. In the Garden, Jesus specifically adresses the Father.

Am I on to something here?

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Temple was Where?

Fellow Racine resident Texas Hold'em Blogger points out an interesting story about the archaeology of Solomon's Temple:

This is interesting, especially if you are into End Times prophecy.

An Israeli professor believes he has found the actual location of Solomon’s temple and it isn’t where tradition has it: where the current Dome of the Rock stands.

Using maps created in 1866 by a British explorer and passages from the Jewish Mishnah, an Israeli archaeologist and professor at Hebrew University says he has pinpointed the location of the sacred Jewish Temple, twice built and twice destroyed in ancient times.

While popular consensus places the Temple, built by King Solomon in the 10th century B.C. and rebuilt by Jews who returned from Babylon in the 5th century B.C., on the site of the present Muslim Dome of the Rock, Prof. Joseph Patrich says archaeological remains show its exact location – and the consensus is wrong.

According to Patrich, the Temple, its corresponding courtyards, chambers and gates were oriented in a more southeasterly direction, sitting diagonally on what is the modern Temple Mount. The difference in orientation and the placement further eastward varies from the east-facing orientation of other scholars who believe the Temple was closer to today’s Western Wall.

Many Christians believe that the Temple must be rebuilt before the Second Coming of Christ.

Here is some
information on the building of the Third Temple. The Temple Institute is a group dedicated to the rebuilding of the Temple. The Institute’s webpage is an interesting look at Jewish tradition and the group’s preparation for the day the Temple is rebuilt.

Of course we Lutherans know the True Temple was rebuilt on Easter Sunday (just as He promised). And therefore, while historically of interest, it doesn't really matter where the bricks-and-mortar temple is or was.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

False Alternatives in the LCMS

I heard about a bunch of LCMS students the other day discussing some terms which have become common lingo in certain quarters of our synod. The phrases are "Mission Outpost" and "Maintenance Station".

I don't know where these terms come from, but they are embraced by many in the LCMS today even though they present a false alternative. The idea is this - that every church should think of itself as less a "Maintenance Station" and more of a "Mission Outpost". That "Maintenance Stations" are dead, cold, boring, dying, stodgy, traditional types of congregations, while "Mission Outposts" are growing, thriving, innovative, contemporary, responsive, loving, and just about every other complimentary adjective to boot.

At one of our pastors' circuit meetings last year we were asked to rate our own congregations on a "scale of one to ten", with "Maintenance Station" being 1, of course, and "Mission Outpost" being 10. Subtle, huh?

My problem is not with the terms, per se, but with the false alternative they present. It's a simple flaw of logic that a congregation can't be concerned both about "maintaining" and also about "mission". In fact it works best, I believe, when a congregation does BOTH. When they are concerned about BOTH.

I contend that a church CANNOT be a "mission outpost" WITHOUT being also a "maintenance station". The two are inseparable. If we don't "maintain" (our own members, the Gospel, our doctrine), then what are we offering when we "do missions"? If we only seek to "maintain" (well, I don't know of any congregation that purposely eschews missions), then how are we actually being faithful to the Christ who calls us to share the Gospel?

A very similar false alternative is suggested by a certain group who dubs some in the LCMS as "missionaries" and some as "guardians" (though if I recall, that distinction was a little kinder to the "guardians").

Other dubious terms are the phrases, "mission-minded" or "having a heart for mission". I find this kind of thing is often used to contrast some who think of themselves as "more mission-minded than that other guy".

I think the best term to encompass all of this - maintenance and mission, guarding and reaching out, mission-mindedness and doctrinally-sound - the best term is simply "faithful". Is your church faithful? Is your pastor faithful? If they are, and if he is, everything else falls into place.

Of course none of us is perfectly faithful. Yet we live under the Gospel. But I think you get my drift here.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

"Preaching is an Assault"

At Christ Lutheran Acadamey's 2007 Pre-Lenten Retreat, the keynote speaker was Pastor Peter Berg. His paper was very helpful - some good ruminations on Lutheran preaching. For a teaser, here were his section headings:
  • Preaching is not a Bible Class; It's an Assault
  • It's all about Jesus, Stupid!
  • In Spite of what the Defectors are saying, the Law/Gospel Nexus Must be Maintained
  • Don't Be Afraid to Say, 'You'
  • It's No Laughing Matter
  • Children, Don't Try This at Home
You can find the full text of the keynote in various formats, as well as some other good stuff, at Christ Lutheran Acadamey's website, under the Resource page.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dungy Superbowl Comments

Tony Dungy, coach of the Super Bowl winning Colts, during the post-game ceremonies, was asked about the "social significance" of his winning today.

Understanding the question, he said he was proud to represent African Americans, and that it was a great day for America. But then he said, that for him and for Lovie Smith (his counterpart) that it was "more significant" that they were both Christian coaches.

Good show, Tony.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Good News for Packers Fans

Brett Farve has seen his shadow, and thus will play at least one more season. And there was much rejoicing in cheeseland.