Monday, April 29, 2013

Sermon - Easter 5 - Acts 11:1-18

Sermon – Easter 5 – Acts 11:1-18
Grace and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Bear Creek, WI
"The Same Gift - Repentance that Leads to Life!"

We turn our attention to the reading from Acts. I don't know about you, but I haven't heard a lot of sermons on Acts over the years, nor have I preached on it much. But now, as a missionary, this account of the early years of the Christian church holds new interest for me. It was very much a missionary time for the early Christians, as the apostles shared the Gospel beginning at Jerusalem, but then to Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

And Peter's struggles in those early days were an important part of the story – as he, along with the rest of the Jewish disciples, struggled with the idea that Gospel was for the gentiles, too. How did this message of Jesus Christ – crucified and risen from the dead – how did it relate to these outsiders? These people who maybe didn't know of the Old Testament, who ate unclean foods, and who after all, weren't even circumcised!?

I suppose some preachers would start with a harangue about how we Christians need to be more welcoming to the outsider. That we're like the Judaizers who think that Jesus is only for us. That we think we're the only ones who deserve God's grace. And that we better shape up in our attitudes and actions and get busy reaching out and welcoming the unbelievers. That maybe we should even drastically change the way we do business for the sake of the lost – you know, like Peter had to eat new foods and all – that we Christians should get out of our comfort zones and our tired old ways of worship and practice... and... well... I'm not going to do that.

Nor am I here to pat us all on the back for being so wonderful. To the extent that we are welcoming and reaching out, thanks be to God. To the extent that we do support God's work here at home, and in far away lands, thanks be to God. And even if we have to turn a poor pastor from Minnestoa into a Packers fan to do it, it's a price we're willing to pay, thanks be to God. No seriously, thanks be to God for the good work that he does among us to support his mission. He deserves the thanks and praise for any good work that we do, any gift we bring he first gave to us, any love we show is a reflection of his love for us.

Of ourselves, we are like Peter and the early church – confused, self-concerned, inwardly focused. But in joyous response to the Gospel of Jesus Christ – everything changes. For in his death our sins are paid, and in his resurrection our new life comes to light. Easter changes everything, and by God's Spirit at work in us, we are new creations, children of God, heirs of eternal life.

And friends, this is what the mission of God is all about - that the outsiders, the unbelievers who come to Christ – that they receive the same gift that we have. We receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ! We receive the gift of a rebirth in the washing of renewal that is baptism! We receive all the benefits won by the precious blood of Christ, shed for us in his innocent suffering and death. It's all about the gifts. And the gifts for God's people in Christ are all the same. God's love, his eternal, everlasting, sin-and-death-destroying love – shown in the death of his own Son on a cross long ago. Gifts which come to us, millenia later, through humble means of word and water and bread and wine.

This is why our mission work, as Lutherans, centers on these gifts of Christ. This is why we're going to Singapore to plant a Lutheran church – meeting weekly around the Word of God and the Sacrament. Yes, we're just going to do church – but oh what a gift that is! And it's the same gift, the same gifts, that you treasure here each week in Bear Creek.

We have no magic formula for foreign missions. We have only the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the preaching of him, crucified for sinners. We have only his washing and his meal, to which he attaches his word. But these gifts are enough. They are the gifts that bring repentance that leads to life.

When the other early Christians heard about God's work through Peter to bring these gifts to even the gentiles, they rejoiced. They glorified God, saying, “Then to the gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Repentance that leads to life. This is the very Christian faith. This is what it's all about, repentance that leads to life. That each day we would see our sins in the mirror of the law, and that each day we would return to the font of our baptism in repentance, and that each day we grow in faith – knowing that our sins are covered by the blood of Christ. And by the Holy Spirit working in us, grow also in love toward our neighbor, for we have been so loved. Repentance that leads to life. The same gift God gives to you, he gives to all who would believe in Christ by his grace.

May God grant repentance to all who hear his word, and now also to those who hear it through us, even in Singapore. For the same Jesus who died for them, died for you, who lives for them, lives for you, who gives his gifts to them, gives gifts to you, even today, in word and meal. Receive them, in repentance that brings life, in Jesus Christ, amen.

Friday, April 19, 2013


Rev. Mark Preus got me thinking about my hymn-writing campaign about 8 years ago, and as I went back to look at some I realized they weren't all in one place (or they were, but the link is broken).  So I thought I'd put together a post which gathers them up again.

I may also start writing some hymns again.  I don't know.  It was fun, but I did get tired of it after a while.  We'll see how it goes.

"Gathered in Your Name Most Holy"

"Lord Jesus, By the Spirit Led"

"Jesus Came to Jacob's Well"

"Grant, Lord Jesus, Those in Blindness"

"There is No Condemnation"

"A Journey to the Valley"

"As the Crowd at City Gate"

"Peace Be With You, Jesus Said"

"The Road to Emmaus"

“Lord, Faithful Shepherds Grant Your Sheep”

"Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled"

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sermon - Easter 3 - Acts 9:1-22

The Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 9:1-22
Peace Lutheran Church, McMurray, PA

“The Chief of Sinners; The Greatest Missionary”

It is fitting, perhaps, to host a missionary visit on this Sunday in which our reading from Acts is the conversion of St. Paul. Paul, many would argue, was the greatest missionary ever. He traveled the world-as-they- knew-it, preached in synagogues and temples and marketplaces, to Jew and Gentile, boldly proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only did he establish numerous congregations in his travels, he also wrote letters of instruction and encouragement to them, many of which we regard as Holy Scripture. I've even heard some argue that Paul, because of his missionary efforts, is the most important person in history, apart from Jesus Christ himself.

Big shoes to fill for someone like myself, an aspiring foreign missionary and church planter. My scope won't be so broad, planting only one congregation, and not planning to write any Holy Scripture. But still there is much to learn from the great missionary, and not just for another missionary like me. Also for all of God's people.

In a way Paul isn't that different from you or I. Look at where he started – a pharisee's pharisee, an enemy of Christians, breathing out murderous threats, zelous for Judaism but quite zealous against the Lord. Paul (or Saul) was present at the stoning of Stephen, the very fist Christian martyr, he held the outer garments of those who threw the stones, you know, so they didn't get blood splattered on their nice clothes. And Saul gave his assent to this.

You came from just such a place. Oh yes, even life-long Christians, even cradle LCMS Lutherans, “you were once enemies of God” as Paul told the Colossians. Our understanding of original sin makes it clear – we are born, even conceived in sin – we inherit it from birth – and even cute little innocent babies are enemies of God, corrupted by sin, and destined for death.

Paul called himself the “cheif of sinners”, and marveled that Christ would call someone like him. You and I are also “cheif of sinners”, if we look honestly and deeply into the mirror of God's law. We will see our lives stacked up against the commandments, and be horrified at the image. I don't just break his law, I shatter it and stomp on it daily. Cheif of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me...

Like Paul, we are converted. Like Paul, Jesus knocks us off our high horse, calls us to repentance and meets us at the font. Like Paul, we are baptized into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And like Paul, we are re-born.

Oh there's still a little pharisee in all of us. There's still the daily struggle with our zeal for sin. And so the catechism reminds us that the Old Adam in us is daily drowned by repentance and faith. We return to those baptismal waters, and splash around in God's grace anew.

Paul wasn't the only one called by God in this account, however. There's also old Annanias. He wasn't to sure he wanted anything to do with Paul, whose reputation preceded him. But Jesus assured him that he would use Paul for his own purposes, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name."

You see both Annanias and Paul, and you and I for that matter, not to mention all of God's people, are Christ's own instruments for getting his job done in this world. While he could do it all quite without us, in His grace, he calls us all to a part in his kingdom. To be his body in this world. To be his masks, according to our vocation.

Some are called to be pastors and missionaries. Preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments near to home or in a far away land – the Good news of Jesus Christ is the same. The washing of sins in Holy Baptism is the same. The feast of forgiveness in Christ at his altar is the same. The absolution pronounced in the stead and by the command of Christ... the same.

But others are called to serve as parents, teaching our children the faith and raising them in the fear of the Lord. Some are called to be spouses, daily dying for our other half as Christ died for his body the church. Some are called to be bosses or employees, citizens or government officials, or soldiers. Some are called to be friends and neighbors, and to simply give a cold cup of water to one in need. We are baptized people of God in Christ, new creations, called not to struggle against God, but to be his instruments, and yes, even to suffer for the name of Christ.

Christ, who really is the chief of sinners. What? You say? But Jesus never sinned? True enough – but listen to what Dr. Luther says concerning Christ taking our sin: (From Luther's commentary on Galatians)

“All the prophets of old said that Christ should be the greatest transgressor, murderer, adulterer, thief, blasphemer that ever was or ever could be on earth. When He took the sins of the whole world upon Himself, Christ was no longer an innocent person. He was a sinner burdened with the sins of a Paul who was a blasphemer; burdened with the sins of a Peter who denied Christ; burdened with the sins of a David who committed adultery and murder, and gave the heathen occasion to laugh at the Lord. In short, Christ was charged with all the sins of all, that He should pay with them with His own blood. The curse struck Him.”

Jesus Christ, the true chief of sinners. And the true chief of sinners is also the greatest missionary. That title belongs, not to Paul, but to our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus was sent, by the Father, on a mission: To take on human flesh; to live up to every expectation of the law; to submit to His Father's will in all things; to fulfill all righteousness; to be baptized as a sinner, though he had no sin, and take all sins onto himself; and to drink the cup of God's wrath over sin; to bear the chastisement that we deserved; to be forsaken by the Father; to shed his blood; to hang on a cross; to die. To destroy death by death. To finish it all, for you. Mission accomplished. The greatest missionary ever.

And to rise again to pave the way out of the grave for you. And to return to his throne to rule all things for our good. And to come again in glory to bring this age to a close and bring us, resurrected in our bodies, to a restored creation and eternal glory.

In the meantime, though his mission was accomplished, his mission continues on. We live in the now and the not yet of Christ's salvation – enjoying the blessings won at the cross in a foretaste of the feast to come. We join with the heavenly hosts that sing, “worthy is Christ, the lamb who was slain” because by our baptism we are already part of that heavenly company. And we want others to share in these blessings, to know the forgiveness and life and peace that we receive in Christ, to be reborn and renewed and reconciled. It may entail suffering, and even death... but life by faith is life that trusts the Lord of life no matter what comes our way.

We pray that the greatest missionary will use us all, according to our callings, as his instruments. For we are baptized and belong to him. We daily die and rise in him, and look forward to a resurrection like his. 

Monday, April 08, 2013

Sermon - Easter 2 - John 20:19-31

The Second Sunday of Easter
John 20:19-31
St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Oconomowoc, WI
“Signs and Wonders”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

I've just returned from my first visit to Singapore, where I will be serving to establish the first LCMS congregation. And while I can tell you plenty about the place, one of the things its known for are its strict laws. There are signs posted everywhere, it seems, telling people what to do and not do – watch your step, don't litter, don't smoke, no chewing gum, don't eat food on the train or in the taxi. And these signs often carry a warning – that breaking the rules brings a fine, $100, $500, even $1000. It's so prevalent that entrepreneurs sell souveniers proclaiming Singapore a “fine” city – and listing some of the more humorous fines - “don't feed the monkeys - $500 fine”.

We're familiar with signs, too... telling us what to do and not do. One old rocks song laments, “Sign, sign, everywhere a sign - Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind - Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?” Signs tell us what to do, and what not to do – Stop, Yield, Watch, No firearms allowed. Unattended children will be given espresso and a free puppy....

Signs. Signs in our world are often an exercise of the law. They curb disruptive and chaotic behavior. They keep the peace, to an extent. They enforce the will of the authority. But where there is a sign, there always seems to be someone who wants to break the rule.

In a way, the law of God is a sign. The ten commandments tell us what to do and not do. Have no other gods. Remember the Sabbath. Thou shall not murder or steal or commit adultery. These sorts of signs not only tell us what to do, they show us what we fail to do. They are a sort of mirror into which we can look and see ourselves sinning. They leave us in quite a predicament, for they show us our sin. The law always accuses. And its proclaims what we deserve – death. These are the signs of the law. And they are signs that leave us all without hope.

But there are other signs – like the signs and wonders mentioned in our readings today. In Acts, the apostles performed signs and wonders which confirmed their testimony concerning Christ. But as the angel said, the main job of the apostles was not to perform the signs, but, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

Likewise in our Gospel reading, John makes this tantalizing comment at the end, that “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples”. One wonders what wonders he showed them. Curiousity begs to know. But the Holy Spirit decided it was enough for us to know the ones that were written, for the purpose of the signs and wonders is not to wow us with Jesus' power, or satisfy our curiousity But the purpose is that we might believe and have life in his name.

This was always the purpose of everything Jesus did. That we might believe and have life in his name. The signs and wonders he performed, the healings and miracles, were never the main thing. They were the calling cards of the Messiah, they were fulfillment of prophecies, they were theh Savior simply acting in character and having compassion on people. But they played a supportive role to his chief activity: proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, the grace of God for sinners, and the salvation that he himself was to accomplish at the cross.

Some of his detractors wanted a signs: Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:38-40)

The resurrection itself is the chief sign of Jesus. It is the sign that confirms all of his signs and wonders, and especially his words. It is the seal of the Father's approval on his sacrifice. It is the proclamation of his victory over death and the grave. It is the promise of resurrection for all who die in Christ and will rise again in glory on the last day.

It is the sign given that you may believe and have life in his name. It is the sign of the Gospel, the good news, that in Christ there is life for you.

And there are other Gospel signs, too. The cross itself is a sign, but much more – a symbol of Christ's great sacrifice, but a blessed reality rooted in a historical event with everlasting ramifications. Christ crucified for sinners like you and me. A sign never separated from his resurrection, really, or else neither would mean a thing.

And there is baptism – by which you were buried with Christ into death and raised again to new life. A sign – but more than a mere symbol. Baptism actually saves you. It is the washing of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. It is a blessed reality, a faith-generating gift of God, that he who believes and is baptized shall be saved.

Another sign - the Holy Absolution.  Forgiveness by the authority of Christ himself, "If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven".  A sign which proclaims us free and clear of sin, as if Jesus himself said it.  And therefore the same peace he breathed on his hiding disciples, is a peace that rests upon us. 

And there is his Supper – a sign and wonder we too often take for granted. Much more than the mere symbol some Christians sadly believe it to be, here in this great sacrament Christ is truly present for the forgiveness of sins and to give life to you, his people. His body and blood are purest gospel, good news for the dying sinner.

For Luther, the Word of God and the Sacraments were the “marks of the church”. These precious signs, but so much more, are where you can find the people of Christ. These gospel signs are the banners around which the church militant gathers, the means by which God delivers to us the blessings of salvation in Christ.

Though the signs of the law proclaim our sin, and that we deserve death, the signs of the Gospel, the word, the sacraments, rooted in the cross and resurrection of Christ – these signs are written that you might believe, and believing have life in his name.

These are the signs proclaimed here at St. Paul's, and throughout the world, in any place where God's people gather around his gifts. Signs that bring life. Believe in these words. Trust in these signs, and live. In Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.