Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sermon - Trinity 12 - Mark 7:31-37

Trinity 12
Messiah Lutheran Church, Kenosha, WI
August 26, 2012
Mark 7:31-37

Grace, mercy and peace.... greetings to the people of Messiah, etc.

Today's Gospel reading from Mark 7 relates one of the miracles of Jesus, the healing of a deaf-mute man. It happens before the “secret is out” so to speak, and so Jesus does it privately, and tells him to keep quiet about it (at least for now). The time wasn't right yet, though soon Jesus would be telling his disciples to “go and tell”.

It is, like Jesus other miracles, a “calling card”. His miracles are not why he came – but they point to him like a big flashing sign that says, “here's the Messiah”. They fulfill some of the prophecies about the Holy One of God in the midst of them, and also show Jesus' great compassion for people.

But they also teach us about the true character and nature of this Jesus. He is always giving out blessings, in word and deed, healing, forgiving, making whole.

And how precious few are the times the New Testament quotes the actual words, the vocables, of Jesus. There aren't many. “Talitha Cum” Little girl, arise. “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani”, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And today we hear what Jesus said to the deaf man, “Ephatha”, that is, “be opened.”

The powerful word spoken by the Living Word of God, the word that does what it says, gives what it commands. The same word that spoke creation into existence – let there be light, there there be this, and that – is the word and the speaker that recreates this man's broken sense of hearing.

But the problem and the solution are deeper. Illness, disease, deafness, and death are all fruits of the same tree – wages of the same work, and that is sin. The root cause of all our suffering and trouble in life. Sin. If you are struggling with something, stressing about something, feel bad about something, if there's anything wrong in your life – you don't have to look far to see the connection to sin.

Often, it's our own sin. I cause many, maybe most of my own problems in life. And as I look in the mirror, well, St. Paul says it best – the letter kills. The letter of the law. The truth hurts. I am conceived and born in and struggle with my sin, and will until I die.

But sometimes it's the sin of the world around us, the brokenness of creation. Sometimes people are born broken, and sometimes disease takes away our health later in life, and sometimes cancer strikes even the young, bringing suffering and trouble and even death.

But sin always meets its match in Jesus Christ. Sin and its wages of death, disease, trouble, hardship, curse, brokenness, blindness, deafness – all are made right again in Jesus Christ.

For God turned a deaf ear to his own Son, suffering on the cross, “why have you forsaken me?” We know why. Your sins, mine. Jesus Christ, the savior, came not just to heal and have compassion, but to give his life as a ransom for many. He came to suffer and die to take away suffering and death. He came to defeat death once and for all.

And when Jesus was buried, God showed that his sacrifice was acceptable, and he said, “Ephatha” to the tomb, rolled away the stone, and raised Jesus to life in a glorified body. So, too, as the firstborn of the dead, will Christ speak, “Ephatha” to our graves, raise us from the dead to a glorified body, to live with him forever in righteousness and holiness.

This is the light at the end of all tunnels for the Christian. This is the promise that no matter how bad life gets here, there is a better day ahead. No matter how deaf God appears to the sounds of our cry, in Jesus Christ, he hears, and he will answer, will restore, and give us eternal blessing.
By his word, even now, he has opened your ears and your heart, his Spirit speaking that “ephatha” to bring you to faith. For spiritually we are all blind, deaf, utterly helpless, unable to see or hear or know of God on our own. But his grace and mercy come to us in a powerful word and perform a miracle – bringing faith and life where there was only sin and death.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear – and by faith you do. By faith, God gives you the ears to hear his word, the heart to believe it, the eyes to see what is unseen, and the hope to grasp his promises. He gives it in word, and in bread and wine, and in water. He gives and gives, always giving, always blessing.

He opens what is closed. This is our Jesus, opening the ears of the deaf. Opening the graves of the dead. And giving health and wholeness and life, freely and forever. In his holy name, Amen.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sermon - Trinity 11 - Luke 18:9-14

Trinity 11
Lamb of God, Pleasant Prarie
August 19, 2012
Luke 18:9-14

Grace, mercy and peace....

Dear Christian friends from Lamb of God, what a joy to be with you this morning. Many of you know me, as our lives have touched somehow along the way. I've served as a pastor in Racine for the last 13 years, and my children have attended your school. As I look around I see many familiar and friendly faces here, and I thank you for having me here this morning. If you'd like to hear more about my new work as an LCMS missionary to Singapore, please stop by for the presentation following the service. I look forward to telling you more at that time.

You know, looking at the texts for this morning, a common thread jumps right out (as if often does in the lectionary). And that theme is this: There are two kinds of people in the world.

In the Old Testament reading, you have the contrast between Cain and Abel. Some are more like Cain. Some are more like Abel. And in our Gospel reading, we see the contrast of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Some are more like the one than the other.

It's pretty obvious that we want to be the one kind and not the other. The contrast is instructive as we explore the different aspects of these two kinds of people.

The Pharisee – the good, upstanding, holy man. The guy who follows all the rules. A pillar of the community. A role model of decency and godliness. A man respected for his stature in all of Israel.

And then there's the Tax Collector – the symbol of all that is wrong in the Roman empire. A turncoat to his own people, notoriously corrupt, growing fat on the backs of others like a parasite on a dog's behind. You want to really insult someone, call them a tax collector. Ouch.

And when the Pharisee prays, he says what everyone thinks about the tax collector, “Lord, I thank you that I'm not like that guy over there. What a sinner he is. Blech. But me, I tithe on my income, and I fast twice a week.” Or today he might say, “I go to church every Sunday. I keep up with my offering envelopes. I pray before meals and read my bible once in a while. I don't do anything too terribly bad, and I try to be nice to people...” and the self-righteous self-deception goes on and on.

But the tax collector, he knows his hands are dirty. He prays, far away – looking down – beating his breast. The sense of sorrow and shame is palpable. Here is a man in touch with his sinfulness. And he prays, admitting and confessing it to God, even as he asks for mercy. No flowery words. No high-phalutin' mumbo jumbo. Just, “God be merciful to me, a sinner”.

And God is. Because of Jesus Christ who shed his blood for sinners and tax collectors of every kind and flavor of sin – yes, even for pharisees, yes, even for you. No matter what your sin, how small or big, how deep or dark. There is no stain so foul that the blood of Christ cannot wash it away. Christ Jesus died for sinners. Christ Jesus forgives sinners.

“God be merciful to me, a sinner”. That's the prayer of a Christian. The prayer of one who is justified. As Jesus says, only the tax collector went home justified. The pharisee, not so much. Not before God, but only in his own mind, in his own little world he had created. He didn't see any sin in himself, so what is there to forgive, anyway? He didn't need a savior.

So then there is you – and if there are two kinds of people in the world, the secret is this – you are both of these. And so am I. The Old Adam in us is a pharisee. Self-righteous and self-deluded. Every time we rationalize away our sinful actions and thoughts and words – every time we pridefully consider our own works to be worth something before God – every time we look with disdain on some other sinner, and forget about the sinner in the mirror. The pharisee in us rears his ugly head.

But what is more important about you is that you are the tax collector – every time the law of God rubs your nose in your sin. Every time you are broken down and humbled by it. And each and every you look to the cross, and the Christ, and sigh, “God have mercy on me, a sinner”.

It happens when you confess your sins corporately or individually, and the pastor announces the mercy of God on you, the sinner. It happens when you gather and kneel and confess at the rail that this bread and wine is not simply bread and wine, but it is the body and blood of the God who has mercy on sinners.

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled. By Christ, the righteous judge who will have none of that self righteousness. The self-righteous man will finally be found un-righteous, unjust, and judged of the sins he never confessed nor believed were forgiven.

And everyone who humbles himself will be exalted, in Christ. Christ who regarded the lowly offering of Abel, made in faith. Christ whose mother Mary was also regarded, though a lowly handmaiden. Christ, who regards you, his lost and condemned creature, now purchased and won with his holy precious blood, and innocent suffering and death.

Christ, in his state of exaltation, will have mercy, exalt all his people at the resurrection on the last day. Even lowly tax collectors and sinners. Only lowly sinners like you and me.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sermon - Farewell - Revelation 7:9-14

Pentecost 11
Farewell Sermon
Revelation 7:9-14
Dear Christian friends, since today is my final sermon as pastor here at Grace, I wanted to share some concluding thoughts as my ministry here comes to a close, and I begin a new phase of service to the Lord.

We've been through a lot together. I began here as a young pastor 13 years ago. When I came, as you recall, my wife Brenda was very ill, and Grace was extremely supportive as she was hospitalized, and as she returned to health. You rejoiced with us as we welcomed our three daughters into the world, and into God's kingdom through Holy Baptism.

I've baptized your children, presided at your weddings and the funerals of your loved ones. I've visited you in the hospital, and kept you in countless prayers, both in the struggles and joys of your lives.

As I've been a part of your lives, you have been a part of mine. You've seen me through some of my best and worst moments, in the hard times and the good. You've suffered through my worst sermons, and there have surely been some clunkers. You've supported me and my ministry in your midst faithfully, and I thank you.

Special thanks to Pastor Poppe, a faithful servant of Christ, in whose capable care you will continue to receive healthy doses of Jesus Christ. It's been a pleasure to serve alongside you, pastor, and I wish you the best as well.

But now it is time for me to depart from you, officially. As I serve God in a very different context, I will draw on the experiences I've gained here, and I am sure I will continue to grow. I hope above all that you consider my new calling less a matter of losing a pastor, but more like you are sending a missionary. As a new congregation is established in a new country, Grace Lutheran, Racine, will have played a huge part in it, as I will carry you all in my heart even there.

I thought of using some scriptural farewell sermon as our text today – Moses' farewell address, St. Paul's concluding remarks, or even words of Jesus saying his goodbyes. But I am not Moses or St. Paul, and I am certainly not Jesus Christ.

Instead I thought I would call your attention to one of my favorite passages of Scripture, one that has been a comfort to me as I have served here, and along with you these 13 years. It's a text I've often preached at funerals, but it also seems fitting for today. From Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
(Revelation 7:9-14 ESV)

As I think back on the great multitude of people I've met and shared life with here at Grace Lutheran Church, Racine, I will remember you. And there are certain things I can say about you all.

One, you are sinners. Like me, you struggle through life with your own self-inflicted guilt and shame, bearing the burdens of suffering and sorrow that life in this broken world brings. You're not perfect people, as there is no such thing this side of heaven. And I don't expect to find perfect people where I am going.

You are sinners, but you are my kind of sinners. You are people who live repentant in your baptism, gathering here each week to receive God's Word of forgiveness, and the life-giving body and blood of Christ. You are redeemed sinners, people of the multitude pictured here in Revelation. You are among those who have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.

We live in the great tribulation, trying times for God's people. We've been through many struggles together – personal, and as a congregation. Life in this world is hard. Tears flow. Even Jesus wept. We grieve over our sins, and over the effects of sin – diseases, troubles, even death. In so many ways we are all the same... stumbling through from one crisis to another, looking for help wherever we can find it. We bear each others burdens, but that isn't enough.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, that he gives you all good things. God sends his Son to your rescue. The Father and the Son send the Spirit to help you, comfort you, and keep you, even through the valley of the shadow of death. So fear no evil.

You are baptized. You are washed in the holy waters of his promise. You live by a daily drowning of the Old Adam, and a daily arising of the New Man. You are sealed in those waters for eternity with a promise that keeps you ever fresh and clean. A multitude of white-robed palm-branch waving, victorious people, pure and righteous and holy in Christ along.

You are beggars, as am I, who live only by the generous hand of God. He who fed the 5000 with bread and fish feeds the multitude clad in white with his own body and blood. As you gather each week at this rail and receive what is far more precious than gold or silver, know that we remain in that one holy communion of all the saints. We are one body, one holy Christian church, united in Christ alone.

And as I go forth to preach in a new land, pray with me that many more will hear of Christ crucified for sinners, and join that great multitude washed in the blood of the Lamb. For the message will be the same – Law and Gospel, Sin and Grace. Jesus Christ, who died for you and me. Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns, for you. Jesus Christ, our righteousness, our sure defense, our only hope.

And may they, too, hear and believe and join us at the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom that has no end. In Jesus' Name. Amen.