Friday, May 22, 2009

Racine Lutheran High School
Graduation Day Service
May 22, 2009
John 10:14
“It's Not What You Know”

Dear friends and family, parents and teachers, Mr. Baganz and the Board of Directors, honored guests, and especially you, the Racine Lutheran High School class of 2009. Grace and peace to you.... Amen.

It's my honor and privilege to preach this evening for this special occasion. I myself am a graduate of a Lutheran High School (in Baltimore). Years ago I sat where you sit now... anxiously waiting for all the ceremonies to be over, so that the party could begin. Looking forward to my summer off from school, to college, and to life in the “real world”.

These four years for you have been a time of great growth. When you came here as Freshmen, you were not the young adults you are now. When you came here to a new school, you hadn't made all these friends – some of whom will last a lifetime.

And when you came here 4 years and 60-something credits ago, there was much you didn't know. You've learned a lot. Algebra. Biology. Computer technologies. Social Studies. Even Theology.

You have amassed quite a bit of “book knowledge” from your studies, and our prayer is that it will serve you well. After all, that's what an education is about – learning.

But there are some who see all this as a hoop to jump through. A formality – just something that people do. That all that learning really isn't what makes for success in life. That a diploma and a degree are just pieces of paper. That it's not about what you know, instead it's about WHO you know.

And for some people that seems true. We hear of the “success stories” don't we – people who accomplish great things (or at least seem to get far in life), and have little education. They make their way perhaps through determination and talent, but perhaps sometimes because they have lots of connections – and for them, it's really not what you know – it's who you know.

But anyway....this is not just any school you are graduating from. It's a Lutheran High School. So there's more to your learning that the three R's. You've gotten much more here than book learning and a piece of paper. Your daily adventures in this place have really not been all about what you know. They've also been about who you know. And who knows you. Jesus Christ.

“I know my sheep and my sheep know me”, Jesus says. He is the Good Shepherd. He, our Savior, lays down his life for us, the sheep. Jesus died on the cross for sinners like you and me. He died to take away your sins and mine. That's a message you've heard over and over again here at Lutheran High. Jesus died for you.

While your studies have prepared you well for what lies next – while your piece of paper really does represent an achievement of great importance – while your friends and family should all celebrate on this important occasion... Still, it's not what you know. It's who you know, and who knows you, that counts the most.

“I knew you before you were born” The Lord said to Jeremiah. And we believe that God has a plan for each of us whom he knows. That plan is first of all to forgive our sins and promise us eternal life in Christ. But it's also a plan for us to live as his people on Earth – in the meantime. Whether that plan means that you are to become a professor or a mechanic, an entrepreneur or a stay-at-home mom, a salesman or a brigadier general, it will all unfold in time. Whatever you do, do to the glory of God and in thanks and praise for his many blessings.

Through it all – it's important to know things. God gives us this gray stuff between our ears for good reason. He expects us to use it. So keep studying and learning! If you're off to college, hit those books hard! If you're done with school for now, don't think your learning is over either. Each day is a new day for us to grow and mature. Even Jesus himself grew in “wisdom and stature” before God and men. So keep learning!

But salvation is not between the ears, it's in the heart. In the faith that trusts in his promise. In the spirit that clings to his word. Baptized and believing children of God – knowing him and known by him – this is what matters for eternity. He knows you better than you will ever know yourself.

Scripture says that God even knows how many hairs you have on your head! He cares so deeply and intimately about you, he knows you so well... Yes, its not so much about what you know as it is who you know. And for us, it's not even about who we know, as much as it is about who knows us.

We know very little about God and his business. He tells us what we need to know in Holy Scripture – but much about him and his ways is a mystery. But all-knowing God has you totally figured out.

He knows you are a sinner, who does things everyday that are just plain bad and wrong. He knows that you are weak, and that you can't do anything to save yourself. That all your best intentions are still flawed and failing. He knows your limitations, your personality flaws, your deep dark secrets. And the good news is, knowing all that, he loves you anyway!

“I know my sheep, and my sheep know me”. You've heard of some people so ugly – they've got a face that only a mother could love? How about someone that's so sinful, only our Savior could love? That's all of us. He knows our sins and loves us anyway. That's because in Christ our sins are put away. It's not what he knows, it's what he forgives! As far as the east is from the west – and he remembers our sins no more.

You've learned a lot here at Lutheran High. You've made some good friends too. But in the end it's not what you know. And it's not even who you know, that counts. It's who knows YOU. And we know who that is – the one who loves us, the one who died for us, the one who is with us wherever life's journey leads. Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd. May we, may you especially (graduates as you move on from here), continue to listen to his voice.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension Day, 2009
“The Power of God”
Ephesians 1:16-23

We humans are obsessed with power. Who's in power in the halls of government. So-and-so's a strong woman. So-and-so's a take charge kind of guy who gets things done. He's got so many people working under him. There's the power of persuasion, the power that comes with money, and the power to get what you want from people- bending their wills through intimidation and force. I think of Donald Trump and his catch phrase, “You're fired”. Our world glorifies that kind of power.

If we only had the power to solve all our problems, heal our diseases, make people treat us with respect, get everything done that we want. But a little honesty will show us that we're not so powerful at all. And so we feel powerless, hopeless, despondent.

Power is something most people want. Power – in its many forms – makes us feel in control. Power makes us feel, well, like God. That's the original temptation Satan put before Adam and Eve, and he still puts it before us each day. “Have it your way”. You set the rules. You have the power. You can be like God. In fact who needs God and what he says, anyway, when you have the power? You don't need to bow to his power, his control, his law. Be your own man or woman. Make your own choices, set your own agenda. And the more power you have, the better you can do all that... right?

Wrong. The lie behind it all – the great deception of power, is that we have ANY power. In truth we sinners are quite powerless. We can do nothing on our own – except sin. We're not in control. Rather, we are bound and chained in the Devil's power, until Christ claims us as his own. We would be lost forever unless Jesus delivered us. We would be hopeless, helpless... powerless, without him.

Christ has all the power. St. Paul speaks eloquently in our reading today about that power – the glory, the authority, the dominion that belong to him. His name is greater than any name. His throne is higher than any throne. The church celebrates Ascension day to mark that event in our Lord's work in which he, Jesus, takes back his full and supreme power over all things – sits in his rightful throne on high, and rules over everything for our good. He has the power, all power- and he wields it for us!

That power was shown in the glory of his resurrection. “ his great might 20that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places”

Raised from death's power, he lives forever triumphant. And because he lives and reigns, we will live and reign.

Jesus, our forerunner, goes through all of human life and redeems it for us. He is born, he grows, he is baptized, he even dies – all experiences of the human life – he humiliated himself to walk the walk, walk our walk, and do it perfectly.

But in the resurrection and ascension, he begins his exalted work for us – and shows us what our future looks like. He exercises his power – over death, over sin, over Satan. He descends into Hell to announce his victory, and he ascends into heaven to reclaim his rightful place. In him, we have power – and only in him do we have power – over sin, death and devil. In him we have life even after death. In him we will reign on high forever.

True power, the power that Christ gives, is not power to make people do things. It is not the base and low sinful exertion of your will over someone else's. Christians are not about bullying. But true power is found in Christ and his word. The Gospel is “the power of God for salvation”. True authority is that authority that he gives for forgive sins. True might is the strength to serve others and show love, even laying down your own life for another.

That's what Jesus did, after all. He came not to be served, but to serve. He taught his disciples to do the same. The rulers of the gentiles lord their power over people, but it shall not be so among you! In Christ we have great power, true power, but it is not a power that seeks selfish gain. Rather, it is a power like his own – a power to help and heal and love and nurture. A power to die for someone else – in little or big ways. A power to live not according to the flesh, but according to the spirit. Yes, the Holy Spirit is the one who empowers us to live in Christ.

And his power is made perfect in weakness. Think of the cross – how helpless and weak he was on that dark day. But there when it seemed all was lost, when they jeered him and taunted, “save yourself if you can!”. There his power was made perfect – there he was saving not himself, but the world. The men of worldly power thought they had won the day, but the man who was also God was exercising true power, in weakness. And the glory was soon to come.

There is a sinful lust for power alive and well among us. But in reality we are powerless – powerless to save ourselves. Powerless in the face of death. Powerless even to reach out for God's help.
But Jesus Christ has power. He made his power known in the weakness of the cross, in the glory of Easter, and now exercises that power fully in his ascension. He does it all for us – so that by HIS power we are forgiven, enlivened, and empowered to live as his people now and forever.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sermon -- Easter 6 - 1 John 5:6-8

Easter 6, 2009
“Water, Blood, Spirit”
1 John 5:1-8

Water, Blood, Spirit. Three ways in which Christ comes. Three testimonies which all agree. Jesus is the Christ. He died for sinners, he rose in victory, he ascended and reigns on high. Water, Blood, Spirit. Three timeless concepts from John's letter which still apply to us, even today.

Water and Blood... came from Jesus side. You remember when Jesus was crucified, St. John was there to see it. The only disciple to remain. And one of the things he witnessed was when the soldiers came along to bring a speedy death to those on the crosses. The two thieves at Jesus' side – well the soldiers broke their legs to hasten death. But Jesus was already dead. And so they didn't break his legs. They did a less invasive check, to make sure he was dead. A soldier pierced his side with a spear. And blood and water came flowing from Jesus' side. John saw it happen, and he took note of this important detail.

Water and Blood, John writes about these, many years later in his first epistle, our text for today. He must have had Good Friday in mind, and the strange sight he saw when Jesus' side was pierced. But what does it all mean to us?

Water – that universal substance upon which life depends. As common a thing as you can find. A basic purpose for water is cleansing. What better element for God to use in cleansing us from sin? Yes, water, the water of Holy Baptism which establishes us as God's people – a blessed means by which God gives us his grace.
Water joined with his word of promise – a never-ending river of life.

And Blood – the “stuff of life”, in a way. We speak of the “lifeblood” and we know that without our blood, we soon die. Jesus gave his blood to win eternal life for us – and he gives us his blood and body in a blessed sacrament, another means of grace – Holy Communion. Bread and wine, so simple and common, become vessels for Christ's real presence, which he gives us to take and eat, and take and drink, for the forgiveness of our sins.

Water and Blood... that's how he comes. He fulfills all righteousness through the water of his own baptism in the Jordan. And he satisfies God's wrath by shedding his innocent blood at the cross. Jesus comes, that is, he completes his mission in water and blood.

And he comes to each of us, personally, in water and blood – in Baptism and Holy Communion – he comes bearing gifts and blessings too profound to appreciate. He dies for the world, of course. But he comes to you in particular, in this time and place. He calls you by name, washes you, touches you – in the water and the blood.

Some have said that when Jesus side was pierced, that it was a picture of the church's birth. Born of water and the spirit, and sustained by the blood of the new covenant – the Christ church is established by Jesus - taken from the side of this Second Adam just as the first woman was born from the rib of the First Adam.

But John mentions three – water, blood and Spirit. And the Spirit is the truth. Jesus comes by, in, through – his Holy Spirit.

And the Holy Spirit works in the Word. God's word is the most precious gift, the most important means of his grace. It is the truth. Without it, we know nothing of Salvation in Jesus Christ. Without the word, we wouldn't have baptism but just plain water. Without the word, we would have only bread and wine, and no promise of forgiveness. Without the word, we would have nowhere to look for the Spirit, no sure foundation upon which to rest our faith.

And so, the Spirit testifies, the water and the blood tesitify... to Jesus. And they all argree - that he is the Christ. That he died and rose again. That he comes to ransom sinners – and not just any sinners, but you and me.

We need the waters of baptism, to wash away our sin. For the word also shows us ourselves, it is a mirror for us to see our sin. We'd have much to answer for, did he not wash it all away. And that washing is a daily renewal – an ongoing flood of blessing.

We need the sustenance of his blood and body, the spiritual meal which keeps us nourished. For the world saps our strength, and our enemies abound. But his blood is our lifeblood, and sustains us in all things.

Christ has loved us, and so we love each other. Christ has overcome the world, and so we become more than conquerors. Christ has called us to keep his commandments, which we do in love for him and by the strength of his spirit. A spirit which always brings us back to him for cleansing and feeding, for forgiveness and life.

Water, Blood, and Spirit. All for you, in Christ Jesus. Amen.