Monday, August 17, 2009

Harrison on Marriage

Rev. Matt Harrison has some excellent thoughts on marriage. (Click for the whole article)

Three key points from this piece:

The first secret of joy in marriage is that it is God’s own act.

The second secret of a joyful marriage is that marriage is an act of the will.

The third secret to joy in marriage is that with the deep conviction that God has put a couple together, and that couple wills to be together– come hell or high water – the feelings of love and joy, over time, will emerge in a way more powerful and surprising than any words can

possibly express.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 11 - Proverbs 9:1-10

Sermon – Pentecost 11
August 16th, 2009
Proverbs 9:1-10

"Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
mreprove a wise man, and he will love you.
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and qthe knowledge of the Holy One is insight." (vv. 7-10)

God's wisdom, is, of course, unlike the wisdom of this world. God's wisdom is higher and deeper. It is pure and undefiled. The Old Testament book of Proverbs focuses intently on godly wisdom, as the pursuit of every man of God. It depicts two characters, Wisdom and Folly, both women, and it describes their works and words.

In the first 6 verses of our reading, Wisdom builds a house and throws a feast. It is an invitation for all to hear and learn the wisdom of God. And especially in the context of our readings from John 6 over the last several weeks, we think of the bread Wisdom provides... and ponder the Bread of Life himself, Jesus Christ. What can be wiser than knowing and believing in him? What could be better than being fed by him – in His word and sacraments? True wisdom, the key to understanding the proverbs, is found in Jesus Christ.

But our reading also shows, especially in verses 7-10, that sometimes the wisdom of God is a word of correction or reproof. In other words, true wisdom takes seriously the law of God, in all its severity. And a truly wise Christian will heed the law. That doesn't mean we will follow and do what it says, oh no. For we are sinners all, rotten to the core. But the law shows us our sin and drives us to a despair. A recognition that we are lost and dead and blind and needy. The law slashes our paper walls of self-righteousness, burns down our flimsy house of excuses, exposes us as frauds, and drives us to our knees.

It is then that the Gospel does its work. Only when we are still stinging from the Law does the balm of the Gospel sooth and heal. Only when we've tasted the bitterness of our own sins, does is the Gospel's sweetness savored.

The by the death and resurrection of God's own Son, we are snatched from the jaws of the devil, rescued from the fires of Hell, and carried in the wings of his mercy to the clouds of heaven forever. What could be better than to learn this good news, this message of salvation in Christ?

The Gospel, too is the wisdom of God, and it begins with faith in Christ, or as Proverbs puts it, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight”. True wisdom is to fear the Lord, true wisdom is to know the Holy One. This is faith talk, and it's talking about Jesus Christ.

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus had spoken some hard words to a crowd of increasingly skeptical followers. So hard, in fact, that they deserted him and went back home. (Which by the way, is a great comfort to faithful pastors and church leaders – knowing that even Jesus couldn't convince or convert everyone. Today as well, people can choose to reject His wisdom).

Jesus asks if his own disciples wish to leave him too, and Peter confesses his faith, “Lord to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (words we still sing today when we hear the Gospel). And Peter goes on to say, “we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God”. The Holy One of God is the same title mentioned in Proverbs, it is the designation that Jesus is the ONE set apart by God to do the work of our salvation.

And wisdom starts with him, and in him. You want to be truly wise, wise unto salvation? Then fear, love and trust in the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ. He whose own wisdom flew in the face of common sense, and still does: Love your neighbor? Turn the other cheek? Forgive my brother when he sins against me? Even 70 times? Wash my neighbor's feet? Take and eat and drink what? Take up my own cross and follow.... wait a minute Jesus, let's not talk foolish.

Ah but that's what Peter did when Jesus started talking about the cross. He rebuked Jesus and tried to talk him out of all that suffering and dying. But Jesus rebuked Peter, even called him Satan. For the wisdom of this world that says avoid suffering at all costs – that is the talk of Hell. Jesus and his followers bear crosses. He finished all the work at his, and won for us all of heaven's blessings... but we still bear our own cross – as I said last week, “who ever said being a Christian was easy?”

And part of what's so hard about it, is hearing those wise words of correction, without ourselves becoming a scoffer. Hearing the reproof of God's Word, without hating the message or the messenger. But this is true wisdom. To accept the discipline of God's word, applied to our lives, and humbly confess and try to do better. This is wisdom, to know the Holy One who took our punishment and guilt and shame, and now gives us the new life of a child of God.

Such wisdom and instruction can only be found in God's Word. We will, of course, be tempted to look elsewhere for wisdom. We'll make all sorts of appeals to all sorts of other things. We will rationalize and excuse, we will equivocate and shrink from its certainty. We'll listen to the advice of learned men, or give ear to the tune the world around us is singing.

One of the most dangerous words to say after God's clear word is, “but”.
As someone has said, “The gray areas are the Devil's playground”. We'll tell ourselves, “I know God's word says thus and so... but....” And so the Devil's lies gain a foothold, climbs in and sows his seeds of doubt and destruction.

God warns us for good reason. It's all too easy to take the easy way. Hearing the reproof and correction of God's Word and knowing true wisdom is hard. It's all too tempting to do what we want, what our sinful flesh wants, and not what God's word requires and commands. It's no fun to turn from your sins, put off your old self, believe in Jesus for your forgiveness, and live a life worthy of our calling. But God's Spirit calls us and empowers us to do so. And there is great blessing in it.

The blessings of a clear conscience – knowing our forgiveness is secure in Christ. The blessing of God's smiling face, showing you approval not for your own sake, but because Jesus says, “This one's with me”. The blessing of knowing God's promises that while life is short and full of misery, we have a mansion waiting in heaven, with our name on it. The blessings of serving our neighbor and so expressing our faith with kindness. The blessings of receiving his gifts for assurance and peace.

And the greatest blessing of knowing the wisdom, the true wisdom of God in Jesus Christ, the Holy One of God, who gives us the words of eternal life.
Remain in him and with him always. Amen.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 10 - Ephesians 4:17-5:2

Sermon – Pentecost 10
August 9th, 2009
Ephesians 4:17ff

Whoever said being a Christian was easy? The truth is there is a great struggle going on inside of every believer in Jesus. There is daily battle between two natures, two men, two selves... each one vying for control of our thoughts, words and deeds.

Paul encourages the Ephesians, and us, in this battle. “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

You see, the Ephesians were not always Christians. Many, perhaps all in that young church had grown up under pagan religion. Paul describes what that life looked like for them as godless gentiles – using strong terms such as “callous, sensual, impure, corrupt, deceitful” and having a “continual lust for more”. Not a pretty picture of the life without and before Christ.

And you were there, once, too, Christians. Maybe it wasn't very long – if you were baptized into the faith as an infant. Maybe most of your life was lived like a pagan from Ephesus. Or maybe you were raised in the faith, and at some point fell away, coming back later. Anyway, it doesn't matter where you've been or what you did, you're a Christian now and past all that impurity and sin, right? Wrong.

The Ephesians had been pagans, and were now Christians. But Paul still tells them to put off their old self and put on the new self. So it's not quite so simple as, “once you're a Christian your problems are over”. The Old Self doesn't go away so easily. In fact, until we die, our old sinful self is a constant weight dragging on us, a constant festering wound, which needs continual tending. Only when this physical flesh dies is our old self no more. Until then, we struggle.

There is the New Self, which scripture also calls the New Man or the New Creation or the New Adam. It's the spiritual reality that even though we sin, we are saints. Even though we are fallen, we are holy. Even though we are broken and dead and hopeless, we are whole and alive and well. In Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave himself up as a fragrant offering to God. Yes the blood and sweat and agony and shame of the cross were pleasing to God – because there his Son's sacrifice made atonement for us and our sins. There Jesus, the Second Adam paid for the sins of the First Adam, and all Adam's children, to make us God's children forever. There, Jesus put away our old selves, nailed our old nature to the cross in his own flesh – and won for us a new self.

It happened there on Calvary. And it comes to us today – through the word. Or as Paul says, “you learned Christ”. The Gospel, the good news, the message of Jesus Christ – it is the power of God for salvation.

The New Self also comes to us through baptism – where elsewhere Paul talks about being buried and raised with Christ in those waters. And Luther says the Old Adam is drowned daily in repentance, as the New Man arises. Baptism means the daily conversion or renovation of the heart – a daily return to our knees in confession and a daily assurance that the waters of forgiveness flow deep and strong in Jesus Christ.

Or we call it the robe of righteousness that is ours in Christ. “Put on Christ” scripture encourages us. Let him and his righteousness cover you, so that God sees only Christ in you, and on you. And so too, the world, when it sees us, may see Christ.

So put off the Old Self. Put on the New. Turn away from, repent of all that is sinful and wicked in your life. Turn toward God in faith, through Christ, by the power of the Spirit. And live the new life he has called you to.

And don't give the Devil an opportunities (as if he needs any). He's already trying to prop up the corpse of our old self, that we must drag around. He'd like to convince us that is who we truly are, and not who God says we are in Christ! He'd like to have us live according to the flesh, not the spirit. He wants to rob us of the assurance and blessings that come from putting on the new self. Not so fast, Satan!

The Christian strives, with the power of the Spirit, to live a life worthy of our calling. In faith, we do what Paul says – we put away anger, malice, falsehood, corrupting talk. That's old self stuff. Instead, by God's grace we speak kindly and are tenderhearted and forgiving, even as Christ forgave us.
The New Self, it's clear, is an imitator of God.

I'm sure you've seen the WWJD bracelets, “What would Jesus do?” And you've probably also heard me and other Lutheran pastors say, We should really be asking what DID Jesus do. And that's still the most important question. But there is a place for imitating Christ, for being Christ-like. There is a place for good works in the life of a Christian.

That place, of course, is after the Gospel. Because of it. We imitate Christ's love because we know it. We imitate his forgiveness because we have received it. We do what Jesus would do, because we have Christ in us, by his Spirit who empowers us. We can't boast about our justification, nor can we boast of our good works. If we do anything good at all, it is God who works in us. But God does work in us – in our New Self.

So put off the old self – repent of your sins daily, and put on the new self – trusting in Christ for forgiveness and strength to be an imitator of God. In his holy name, Amen.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Sermon - Pentecost 9 - Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon – Pentecost 9
August 2nd, 2009
Ephesians 4:1-16

Unity, Truth and Love. Three key ideas in Paul's letter to the church of Ephesus. Three Christian virtues we sinners struggle to uphold. Three important words with meaning and application for each of us individually and as a congregation. What does God say to us, through St. Paul, about Unity, Truth and Love?

Unity – Paul prays that we would be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

There is a unity, a one-ness to the church. The first thing to note is that this unity is a gift of God, not a human achievement. Paul simply prays that we would be able to maintain this gift, in the bond of peace. We sinners aren't always so good at that. But we would join in Paul's prayer that God's church may be united.

There is unity in the church, even while there is division. We look around and see Christians of other denominations with different and confusing teachings which don't line up with Scripture. There are many divisions.

And yet there is a unity to the extent that they believe in the one Lord Jesus Christ, through the one Spirit. We also share one baptism. We Lutherans have distinguished between the many church confessions, which show great fracture and disagreement, and the “universal church” which includes all who hold saving faith, even if they also believe some wrong things.

One day, we will be perfectly united, not only in saving faith but in all things – when we attain to the fullness of Christ. But until that day when Jesus comes to bring his Church home, we struggle to maintain what unity we can on earth – always giving God thanks for the blessing when it is found.

But unity doesn't just mean we all “get along” or like each other. It's not an emotional or sentimental state. For Christians, unity is a oneness that is based on something – the truth. A common faith – and a common confession of it. That we hold Jesus Christ as True God and True Man. That we believe he died for sinners and rose victorious to give us life. That we believe in the doctrine taught in his word. That we practice and apply his word of both Law and Gospel faithfully. Unity in the truth means calling sinners to repentance and freely bestowing his grace through Absolution, Proclamation, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.

Paul says we should not be, “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes' but rather, “speak the truth in love”

The truth is, there are a lot of lies out there. And such deceits and winds of false doctrine work against our unity. And don't think you're not susceptible to these falsehoods! We live in an atmosphere thick with the winds of false teaching – telling us that truth is relative, that biblical morality is outdated, that all religions lead to heaven, that each should choose for himself what is right or wrong, and that just about the only sin left is telling someone else they are wrong.

And these winds can toss us about like children in an inflatable raft on the sea in the midst of a hurricane. We would be defenseless against the devil's bag of wind were it not for our anchor of Truth, in Jesus Christ. Were it not for the chart and course laid out for us in Holy Scripture, and delivered to us by the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers.

We pray, as Paul prayed, for the Truth to win the day. That our unity would be kept and maintained, even as we continue to speak and believe the Truth, in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Finally, Paul instructs that Christians speak the truth in love. And here, too, we may have a definition problem. For many caught in the winds of false teaching, the word “love” has all kinds of baggage. What does it mean, for the Christian, to be truly loving? What does it mean to speak the truth in love?

Does it mean always being nice and polite and sweet-as-pie? Certainly not. For Jesus and the Apostles, the Prophets and the saints before us show by example that sometimes a harsh word is in order. And this word, this “no” is usually not received as love. It may mean saying no to your child for their own good. It may mean saying no to a friend who wants you to join them in some sin. It may mean saying no when you are asked to sign on to something apart from the Truth. Speaking the truth in love, sometimes means “tough love”, a harsh word of law that is as tough to say as it is to hear.

We should all know that love, because we need to hear that law, too. We need to have our noses rubbed in our sin. We need someone to knock off our armor of self-righteousness and expose the rot within us. We are poor miserable sinners, and facing that fact hurts. It doesn't feel loving when someone tells us so. But it is.

Speaking the truth in love also means speaking the truth Of love. Of God's love. Speaking and telling, rehearsing and proclaiming the awesome and wonderful message of the Gospel – the good news of Jesus. He who said, “greater love has no one than this – that he lay down his life for his friends”. He who said it, did it. He laid down his life for us all to make us his friends. He who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He who brings us Unity with God, and Unity with each other through the cross.

One final thought, that in this Church, we maintain our Unity by speaking the Truth in Love, and through serving each other as God has equipped us to do. Thus the body is built up, and grows toward our fullness in Christ.

And so we, the body of Christ, the church, hold these things dear: Unity, Truth and Love. All are gifts from the Lord. All are ours through Christ our Lord. When we fail – when we are divided, when we are caught in falsehood, and when we fail to love each other – we come in humility again to the cross, and are reunited with God and each other in the truth and love of Christ. So we hear, and so we speak. So we believe and live. In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.