Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Old Sermons...

Pastors, do you ever look back at your old sermons?

I just finished updating my "Sermon Index" (see the sidebar). I've been blogging my sermons since 2005, and every so often I update the index - it makes it easier to find an old sermon than by slogging through the blog archives.

But in the process of doing so, I had a chance to glance over many of these old sermons. It's been an interesting experience. Sometimes I will be disappointed at the direction I took. Or I'll think a sermon was awful. But then there are some old favorites that I remember fondly.

I suppose it's natural and good to grow in your skills as a preacher, as with any profession. I hope I'm a better preacher today than yesterday.

It's also been interesting to sort of see what texts I have preached on many times, or that I have preached a LOT on John and Luke, for instance.

Hopefully soon I can start uploading audio or maybe video again - we'll be updating our A/V system here at church, soon, too.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sermon - Revelation 2:12-17 - Midweek Lent 3

(While indexing my sermons, I realized I never posted this one at the time)
Sermon - Midweek Lent 3 - 2009
Revelation 2:12-17
“Jesus' Letter to Pergamum”

So far we've read the letters to Ephesus and Smyrna. Ephesus was criticized for her lack of love, and Smyrna for fearing persecution. But both at least kept their teachings straight. The Ephesians rightly rejected the false teaching Nicolaitans, and the Church of Smyrna, stood firm against opposition from non-believers.

Today, we come to Pergamum, where all is not rosy. The Christians here had already faced persecution, such that a prominent Christian named Antipas was already put to death for his faith. And yet they remained in the faith... some of them, anyway. Others were caught up in sins and false teachings. Once again Jesus called them to repentance.

Some were holding to the “teaching of Balaam”. And to understand what Jesus means by this, we need to look in our Old Testament. Balaam was an oracle, a seer or fortune teller – that Balak king of Moab wanted to get on his side. He figured if he could get Balaam to curse the Israelites, then he and the Moabites could defeat God's people in battle. But the Lord told Balaam not to do so, and instead to bless the Israelites. Balaam's sin, which Jesus refers to here, is really an attempt to play both sides – to serve two masters. And it will never do. It's a false teaching.

False teaching is dangerous because it leads to false faith and false living. It robs of us the truth, and confuses us with lies. False teaching is insidious and subtle more often than not, lulling us into a comfort zone of self-indulgence or self-importance or self-focus in which we don't sense the danger. It turns us away from Christ as our Lord, Master, and Savior. Jesus holds against this church the false teaching of Balaam and the false teaching of the Nicolaitans.

He's not content to “agree to disagree”. He won't equivocate by saying they have the “main things right” and everything else is just a minor issue. Jesus cares about the doctrine taught in the church of Pergamum and the church everywhere.

The Christians at Pergamum – some of them – sought to have the best of both worlds. They wanted the honor and wealth and approval in the eyes of mankind and at the same time to remain in the Christian faith. But just as Balaam's sin ended in disaster, so to is it disastrous to try and serve both God and money, or to live as a child of God and a child of the world.

This was not a new teaching of Jesus. Perhaps more than any particular sin, Jesus criticized materialism and the love of money as a root of evil. He told the rich young man to sell all his possessions. He told parables which made rich men look like fools, or warned of the dangers of greed.

Not that money or wealth or material things are evil in themselves. Like all things God gives us, there is a good purpose, and a right use. But we abuse these things by making them gods and masters, and therefore turn from our true God and Master.

For no one can serve both God and money. Jesus is so black and white about this, isn't he? We like our little world of gray areas. We like compromise and a middle-ground. It makes us feel enlightened and wise, balanced and sensible to find that balance. Or at least, the idea that we can deceives us. We aren't as good at balancing as we think. When we compromise our faith, we are really just giving it away, and turning our back on God and his way.

Jesus says, “repent”. Turn around. Turn away from that sin, and return to your true Master. The same call to repentance given to all the churches, and to all Christians. Repent.

In this season of Lent, we have lots of reasons to be repentant, for we all have lots of sin. Repentance is a way of life for us Christians, a continual turning and returning to God through a daily visit to the baptismal waters, and a thorough drowning of our Old Adam. In response to his call, we confess our failing and our need. We are sinners. And he is the Savior.

Jesus describes himself here as the one holding the sharp two-edged sword. And this sword symbolizes his authority to judge, and even his very word. Paul uses the sword as a symbol for the word in Ephesians 6. Do the two edges of this sword remind us, even, of Law and Gospel – the two types of teaching in Christ's word? One, a word of judgment against sin – a word of punishment.

But another edge - meant for God's enemies and ours, a word of hope that the victory is ours. The Good News of that Gospel that Jesus calls sinners to repent is the same Jesus who was crucified for sinners. To us he gives the victory that he won over death and the grave.

Two more promises to Pergamum, and to us - “To the one who conquers, I will give of the manna which has been hidden, and I will give to him a white stone, and upon that stone a new name”.

These promises are phrased in language which recalls Jesus' gifts to the church – the sacraments. In Baptism, we receive a new name – the very name of God is placed on us, and our new identity as a child of God is sealed forever. And in his Supper, a hidden-ness – Christ's true body and blood are present, but hidden from view. Still, they are as real and certain as his word of promise, “This is my body... This is my blood”. Just as certain as the forgiveness and life that they bring.

Here in the sacraments he gives us a share in his victory, a hope in time of trouble, and strength to remain in his teaching, faithful to the end.

The letter to Pergamum reminds us to watch our doctrine and our living, and to repent when we need to. It also shows the grace of the one who bears the sword, and gives us a share in his victory, by grace. In Jesus' name, amen.

Sermon - Matthew 10:34-42 - Pentecost 2

Matthew 10:34-42
Pentecost 2
June 26th, 2011
“Swords and Rewards”

So much of who Jesus is, and what he does is unexpected. Is it because he is mysterious and beyond us, or is it because our sinful flesh has warped expectations of God? Perhaps both. But in today's Gospel reading, Jesus shatters some expectations – at least puts some hard truths before us, concerning “swords and rewards”. But he also gives promise, and hope.

First, the Prince of Peace shocks us with talk of violence. What? Isn't this Jesus who teaches “turn the other cheek”? Isn't this the one who told Peter, “if you live by the sword you will die by the sword”? Isn't this the Jesus who isn't a military messiah but a humble donkey-riding king whose kingdom is not of this world? Yes, to all of that. But how do we reconcile these seemingly contradictory statements? Is he a peace guy or a sword guy?

Perhaps Jesus' own life is a starting point. For though he preached good news, healed the sick, and never thought of rebellion – violent men found him anyway, and pierced him with thorns and nails and spear. He didn't bring the sword, but his words and actions brought the sword down upon him. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, so our Lord was taken. Like a robber they came to arrest him with torches and clubs at night, though he taught openly every day in the temple.

We might be reminded of the momma-always-said bit of wisdom, “no good deed goes un-punished”. Or to put it in more biblical terms, Jesus suffered violence for doing good. He was persecuted for telling the truth. He made enemies by loving people. Who would have thought?

No the world isn't fair that way, because the world is sinful and full of sinners. And if it was that way for Jesus, it will be all the more for us, his people. So he warns us, he came to bring a sword. Following Jesus does not mean peace – at least in the sense of a peaceful coexistence with the sinful world around you. In fact, being a Christian might even mean trouble for you, even in your family. Holding to Christ's word may bring a sword – it may cut you, or cut you off from those you love in ways you don't expect.

Is it any wonder, though, when the Christian is even at odds with himself? St. Paul talks about the struggle between the good that he wants to do and the evil he finds himself doing. Wretched man that I am! We could all say the same. Who will rescue me from this body of death? Jesus Christ alone!
The peace that Christ does bring is a true peace – with God. Not an outward, false peace. Not even an emotional peace. Sometimes it doesn't feel peaceful. But he declares it to be so – and his word of forgiveness is the greater reality. You are forgiven. You are righteous. You belong to God, in Jesus Christ who died for you. You are at peace.

So whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Christ will gain it. If you think you are just fine, if you think you are without sin, if you think you are at peace – Jesus comes to say otherwise. But if you are lost, if your life is a mess and fading away, if you confess your sin – Jesus brings a peace that passes understanding.

And he brings rewards. Here after all the hard words of warning about sword and trouble and family turmoil – he does not leave us without hope. He never does.

So whoever receives Jesus receives the Father, and whoever receives a prophet, receives the one who sent the prophet – namely, Jesus. This is why we hear the word of God. To receive that reward. To know that blessing. And we receive the righteous person – we care for, and love one another – righteous saints of God, even as we are already righteous in Christ.

Yes, there is reward enough in doing what is right. But when this world rewards your faithfulness with hatred, your trust in Christ with ridicule, and your works of Christian love with derision – know that your reward isn't ultimately here, but in Heaven.

No, we don't deserve these rewards – unlike earthly rewards. These are not dessert for cleaning your plate at dinner, or a paycheck for a hard day's labor. The rewards Christ promises are always of grace.

Our “just desserts” would be scary. We're sinners. But what we truly deserve isn't what he promises. Instead he gives us his own righteousness. His own blessedness. His own life – a resurrection and a glorious eternity. A kingdom that never ends. Another great surprise, eh?

Jesus never said being a Christian would be easy. No, he talks about crosses, and suffering, and swords. There's no promise of peace this side of heaven. But for the faithful, the reward awaits. The hope endures, always, only in him, who by his cross has conquered, and by his word sustains us. Believe in that word, come what may. And look for that reward, for it is sure. In Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sermon - Genesis 1:1 - 2:4 - Holy Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4
Holy Trinity Sunday
June 19th, 2011
“Creation and Recreation”

A blessed Holy Trinity Sunday to you. The Christian Church sets aside this Sunday, the week after Pentecost, to particularly confess the biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Bible teaches us about our God – one God in three Persons. And while it is clear enough, it is still a great and wonderful mystery.

The Athanasian Creed is a historical statement of faith the Chruch has used to clarify just what the Bible teaches about our Triune God. It came from a time when the teaching of the Trinity was under assault. There was great confusion that needed to be corrected. Since then, we have regarded this creed as a good and true statement about our God, who he is, and what he does. By the way, this creed uses the word “catholic” with a small “c”, which means “universal”. It's not saying we are Roman Catholic, but that we believe in the Trinity along with the universal, catholic church of all time.

When we talk about the work of the Father, Son, Spirit, we often mention Creation, Redemption and Sanctification – ascribing each person of the Godhead his respective work. But the truth is all three persons are involved in all three of these works. And today, we can see in particular, the Trinue God active in Creation. Our reading from Genesis shows it clearly – God the Father speaking the words of creation. God the Holy Spirit moving over the waters, and breathing life into, especially, the first man, Adam. John chapter 1 describes how God the Son is the agent, the very word of creation, by whom all things were made. And so the Triune God is certainly at work here, even in the beginning.

Perhaps as much as the doctrine of the Trinity used to be under assault, today the doctrine of Creation is much the same. It's something we need to hear more about, especially in the Christian church.

And since four is the biblical number of creation – like the four winds or the four points of the compass – let's consider four problems we have when it comes to creation, and also four blessings from our Triune God in regard to the same.

1) Some of us don't believe it.
Yes, even though the Bible clearly teaches that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, and made all things, and made man in his own divine image – some, even some Christians, doubt it. Of course there are those outside the church who put forth theories of godless evolution. But the trouble comes when well-meaning Christians try to shoehorn Genesis into this atheistic worldview of Evolution. They end up with something that is not of Darwin and neither is it of God. If we can't simply believe what the Word of God says about what really happened, then how can we trust that same word to inform us about our own sin, and what death means, and even how these are overcome in Jesus Christ? The first problem with Creation is that some simply don't believe what God says about it. If you are one of those who seeks to compromise, beware! There's no compromising God's clear Word.

2) The second problem with Creation is that some of us mistreat it. We misuse and abuse our environment. We are wasteful and destructive. We don't care as much as we should. Even when it comes to our own bodies, which are part of Creation, we fail and sin. We need repentance.

3) The next problem with Creation is that it's broken. It doesn't work like it should. Disease and disaster and death, grief and sadness, pain and misery – none of these belong in this world. They're not part of the creation God created. They are invaders, interlopers. It's amazing this world still functions at all with all of the brokenness we see around us. Some have even come to the conclusion that this world is a living hell itself. But of course, the ultimate Hell is far worse. Still it's easy to see that creation itself is fallen, and like a woman in labor, has its fits of pain and trouble. And some of that comes home to your own doorstep from time to time.

4) The fourth problem with Creation is that that it's our fault it's broken. No, we can't just lay all the blame at the feet of Adam and Eve (though they certainly started it). But you and I are children of sin, and just as responsible for its perpetuation. Our own sinfulness brings continued brokenness to creation. We share in the blame. We would do no better than anyone else. We are part and parcel of this fallen creation by our own fallen nature of sin. We need something, or someone from outside to come and save us. We need Jesus Christ.

Of course, there's good news when it comes to Creation, too. Here four points will also do.

1) God created! Let's not let it pass by, that God didn't have to make our world. But he who loves and is love, created and object of his great love. And so the heavens declare his handiwork, and we find ourselves here because he made us, gave us life, and gave us this wonderful world to live in.

2) God sustains his creation! He doesn't just wind it up like a clock and walk away. He keeps it going. He keeps US going. He even provides for the wicked. We too receive our daily bread. Though it's a broken world, he still upholds it with his mighty hand. For this we thank and praise Him.

3) Ah, but he doesn't leave our creation broken. He doesn't leave us to our own failed devices. Through Jesus Christ, our Triune God redeems all of creation. Jesus is the Second Adam who fixes what the First Adam broke. Not just our relationship with God, but with each other. Even the physical world which is broken – Jesus died to redeem. He takes away our guilt, shame, and rightful blame. His cross and resurrection do the job. And by the Spirit, he claims again what rightly belongs to him, and to his Father.

4) He promises to re-create it. Jesus says “Behold I make all things new”. We are promised a new heaven and earth after the former things melt away.
Even our sad, fallen, sin-stricken bodies which lay in the dust of the earth will be raised to glory like Christ was raised – to live forever. How much more will he not give us a place to live in that body – a place with himself forever. Some have even seen the fact that Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday – as a hint of that new creation. Since the first creation began on a Sunday, we now recognize Sunday as the 8th day, or a day of new creation in Christ.

Yes, our Triune God creates, but He also recreates. For Jesus Christ lived and died redeem and to save, to salvage, to make all things new. And that includes, first of all, you. You are recreated by faith in his word, by the water of promise, and in the meal of forgiveness. And he who has begun this good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is faithful, and he will do it. Amen.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"Son, you don't know what love is..."

I was telling our Sunday Bible Class the other day about one of those pearls of wisdom that somehow stick with you over the years....

It was about 1993 when a wise old professor type at Concordia College, Bronxville decided to razz me and my girlfriend at the time, young Miss Brenda Miert. I don't remember the full context of the conversation, but he was teasing us because Brenda was a bit older than I. "Robbing the cradle" or something.

I must have said something like, "Ah, but age doesn't matter when you're in love".

But he certainly said exactly this: "Son, you don't know what love is until you've been married 30 years".

Well today, we're half way there. Happy 15th Anniversary, to my cradle-robbing love!

And that crotchety old guy was kinda right. I think what he was really saying was that love grows. I know our marriage has deepened and grown these 15 years in ways I couldn't have predicted or imagined. Parenthood, too, has added a dimension to marriage that grows that love in grand and sublime fashion.

And I trust it will grow even more in the next 15. I'm looking forward to seeing it. As Brenda said to me the other day, "It still feels like we're just getting started!"

Our God, who instituted and established marriage certainly knew what he was doing. And as the years go by, Brenda and I have found more and more blessings in it, and grown in our love for God and each other. May we continue to do so, by his grace.

And maybe one day, years into the future, I will find some youngster and repeat the quip... "Son, you don't know what love is..."

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Sermon - John 17:1-11 - Easter 7

John 17:1-11
Easter 7
June 5th, 2011
“Jesus Prays”

We usually think it's a little strange when someone talks to himself. So how can God pray to God? Here's another one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith – part of the hidden nature of the Triune God. One God, in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture teaches that both the Holy Spirit and Jesus, God the Son, pray to God the Father on our behalf.

The Holy Spirit does so with “groans that words cannot express” and prays for us when we don't know what to say in our prayers. But he's always been the mysterious person of the Trinity, anyway. Somehow we can shrug when it comes to the Spirit's unsearchable workings.

Jesus, on the other hand, is like us. He is one of us. He is True Man, even while True God. So is it any wonder that he, too, should pray to the Father? That he, too, should petition God for those things he desires? The imagination wonders at Jesus praying in Gethsemane, “Let this cup pass from me, yet not my will, but yours be done?” Or in the solitude of his wilderness temptation, or in some other quiet place.

In John 17, we have the longest prayer of Jesus recorded – we call it his “Great High Priestly Prayer”. Our Gospel reading today is just the first half of it. And yet, it's a prayer so full of truth that sermons could be preached on each verse. Here in this prayer we see teachings about Jesus' relationship with the Father - his glory and what it means – the Divinity of Christ – the election of his people – the truth and power of the Word – the relationship of that truth with faith – the contrast between the world and those that belong to Christ.

Jesus prays for us as a priest. That's what a priest is, someone who represents you before God. As pastors, we serve in that role to some extent – remembering you in our prayers. Often because of a special request, but sometimes when you don't even know it. Your pastors pray for you, our people. (And we don't mind if you return the favor either). But Jesus is our true, our great, our high priest – the one mediator between God and man. All of our priestly prayers are prayed in his name, and for his sake.

You see, without Jesus, we have no access to God anyway. Our sin prevents it. Surely God knows all – even the thoughts and prayers of the most wicked unbeliever. But apart from Christ, why should he hear them favorably? Why should he pay any attention? Why should he answer with anything but punishment and judgment?
But Jesus prays for us, those given to him by the Father. And he prays not simply on the basis of who he is – but also on what he does.

He accomplished the work he was given to do. He healed people and cast out demons. He demonstrated power over nature. He miraculously fed the crowds. He even raised the dead. But best of all – he preached. He brought the good news of the kingdom. The forgiveness of sins. The favor of God. The promise of the Gospel. Only Jesus could accomplish all this – and it is why only Jesus can approach the Father on his merits.

And he was about to accomplish his greatest work – which was to die. To suffer and die for the sins of the world. So that those who believe in him would not perish but have eternal life. His humility would know no boundaries, the depths of sorrow he would see. This, too, is to his priestly credit. For a priest offers sacrifices. And he, the High Priest, is also the Once and For All Sacrifice. The one whose blood counts where all the blood of beasts falls short. A sacrifice, literally, to end all sacrifices.

All this priestly work for you. His life, as your representative. His prayer, as your go-between. His death, in your place. A holy substitute.

In the knowledge and joy of his work for us, we now work for him. Not to gain a thing – all is already ours. But simply because that's what Christians do.

We pray. We pray for ourselves, for others, for the world. We pray for our church and its mission. We pray for people to know the truth and to live in it. We pray for true unity, not based in outward things, but unity in the truth. We follow the example of the Great High Priest in our prayers. We want what he wants – what could be better?

And we sacrifice. Our High Priest gave his all. We strive for the same, halting and failing as we are. We offer sacrifices – not for sin – but sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. Offerings of joyful response for his sacrifice. Gifts returned from the many gifts we've received. Even our bodies are living sacrifices to him.

And as we believe in him, and as we live for him, Jesus' own prayer is answered! What a thought. That God the Father answers Jesus' prayer each time you repent and are forgiven. Each time someone is baptized. Every time you receive forgiveness in the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus' prayer is answered. “Keep them in your name... that they may be one”. He does just that. And we are just that – one, in Christ our Lord.

Give thanks to God for Jesus Christ, our Great High Priest. And you, his royal priesthood, live for him, and believe in him always, who has done all things for your good, on your behalf. In Jesus Name, Amen.