Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon - Pentecost 6 - Luke 9:51-62

Sermon – Hope Lutheran Church, Friendswood, TX
Pentecost 6c
June 30th, 2013
Luke 9:51-62

It's not just in other countries that there are challenges for the Christian church. This week we've seen how the unbelieving world disregards scriptural teaching on marriage, and continues to support the evil of abortion, contrary to God's holy word. But it's always been this way – people rejecting God, and Christ, and his word. Even when Jesus himself came to visit the Samaritan village in Luke 9 – they wanted nothing to do with him or his teaching. They would not receive him.

And just as the disciples were outraged and wanted to call down fire, to destroy those unbelievers like in the days of Sodom and Gomorrah – we may be tempted to wish for God's wrath on the unbelievers in our day. I would humbly suggest that as Jesus would rebuke the disciples', he might say something similar to us, in our day. I'm not saying we shouldn't exercise our vocation as citizen, but we must take care to do so without sin. Christ came to call sinners to repentance, to seek and save the lost that they might have life. We should pray for our enemies – not hate and despise them.

So the world rejects Christ and his word. Always has, always will, somehow or another, until he brings this age to a close. Jesus doesn't seem concerned that some reject him, but instead knuckles down and moves on to preach elsewhere – wherever he will be heard.

Elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples not to take it personally when they are rejected – that the world will hate them, because it first hated Christ. The Samaritans were caught up in their ethno-religious pride. We won't support you if you're going to Jerusalem! But there are all kinds of reasons people use to turn away from Christ, and turn the Gospel away.

Sinners will be sinners, and even those who would follow Christ are prone to excuses. “let me follow you – but as long as I have a comfy place to rest.” “Let me follow you, but let me bury my father – you see, Jesus, family comes first.”

Following Jesus doesn't necessarily mean leaving behind your house, your family, and moving to a far off land. But it does mean leaving behind the old ways, the ways of death and sin. Like Lot's wife who turned back to look ruefully and perhaps longingly at the wickedness behind her, there is no turning back for Christians either. Even when following Christ means bearing a cross of our own, being persecuted for righteousness' sake, being hated by the world that hated him. Still he calls us to follow.

Now, it's not so easy to turn away from the sin and death behind us. But it is part and parcel of our faith. Another word for this is, “repentance”. A change of mind and heart that entails both sorrow for sin, and also trust in Christ our savior. Turn away, look away from what is behind you. Throw off the sin that so easily entangles, and turn your eyes to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross...

Confession and absolution. Law and Gospel. Sin and grace. Drowning the Old Adam daily, and seeing the New Man arise. This is what it means for us, as Christians, to not look back. It means looking to Christ.

And looking to the cross – which really isn't a very pretty sight. Some think it's foolish, and others say it's a scandal. But Christ crucified for sinners is the very wisdom and power of God. There in the wounds of Christ, does he bleed away his life for your sin. There in the shame of his humiliation does he take your guilt and shame. The cross, ugly as sin, where he who had no sin was made to become sin for us... let us never turn back, or turn away, from that blessed vision of Jesus dying for you and me.

The farmer who plows and keeps his focus ahead – is more likely to plow a straight line than the farmer who looks back. In fact, that's what Jesus did. When he came down from the Mt. of Transfiguration, he “set his face” toward Jerusalem. He set his sights on the cross. He would not be deterred or diverted. Though surely Satan tempted him, and the world begged him to be some other kind of Messiah. He would not be stopped from his mission. His hand was to the plow. He would not look back. He came to die. For you.

No looking back. so too, with the faith. May the Spirit grant us a laser-beam focus on Christ – who saves us by grace through faith, that we may follow the narrow way that leads to eternal life. That way is only, always, Jesus Christ – the way, the truth, the life.

And with a future secure in him, why would we ever want to look back? With a promise of a place with him, why would we ever make excuses? Why would we hold on to our sins, when he so freely forgives them? Why wouldn't we receive him eagerly as he comes in his word, and by his sacrament, for our great blessing?

The world hates Christ. Our sinful flesh is in rebellion, too. But thanks be to God in Jesus Christ, that by the power of the Spirit, working in the word to create faith in us, that we are snatched from death for eternal life.

And it is this Gospel of Jesus Christ it is our privilege and joy to proclaim. Pastors preach it – here and abroad, even in Singapore. All God's people give witness by our words, and show his love by our actions. And it is our fervent prayer that many others would come to look to Christ, look only to Christ, and never look back, even to eternity.

In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sermon - Romans 3:21-24 - Presentation of the Augsburg Confession

Sermon – Messiah Lutheran Church, Kenosha, WI
Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (observed)
June 27th, 2013
Romans 3:21-24

Dear Friends in Christ,

June 25th, 1530, in Augsburg, Germany, something quite remarkable happened. German princes stood before Emperor Charles V, and for 2 hours straight read aloud a document which publicly confessed their faith. They took their lives in their hands to do so, for the man who began this reformation of the church some 17 years earlier, Martin Luther, had been placed under the church's ban as a heretic and could be arrested on sight to face certain execution. By professing the same beliefs as Luther, they placed themselves at peril with both the powerful church and state.

Why should we care what it says, learn its history, or pay attention to what it teaches? What does a document that is 483 years old have to do with you and me? Hopefully today we can answer these questions.

The Augsburg Confession is a series of 28 articles – topics – that cover the chief teachings of the Christian faith and also a number abuses that needed to be corrected in the church. The first portion, on Christian doctrine, covers God, Sin, Christ, Salvation, the Church and its Ministry, Baptism, the Lord's Supper, Repentance, Good Works, and other topics. All things we continue to hold as important teachings, even today. And there is a timelessness about it because the Augsburg Confession is rooted in and clearly proclaims God's word.

This 483 year old document matters in much the same way that the 2000 year old New Testament matters – it informs our faith, it shows us God's Word, and confesses and explains it clearly. The articles are careful not only to confess truth, but also to condemn errors. And what a refreshing approach in today's climate of so-called-tolerance. Where the only thing people think is wrong is to say someone is wrong. The AC has no problem saying what is true and what is false – and we can both agree with what it says and learn from its approach.

If there's one article that best summarizes what the whole thing is about, it's probably article IV, on Justification. It's short enough, so I'll read it to you:

[Our Churches] teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ's sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in His sight.

If you've been around enough Lutheran preachers, that should sound very familiar. If you've heard enough Lutheran sermons, it shouldn't shock you. We pastors swear a solemn vow to uphold the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions, including this Augsburg Confession – because they are in accord with God's word. And we take those vows seriously. The Confessions show us not only what it means to be Lutheran, but what it means to be Christian.

These are not just ideas that Luther made up. This is a clear expression of what Scripture teaches. Hear it again, from Romans 3:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (Romans 3:21-24, ESV)

For all of its fascinating history. For all of the drama in the story. For all of the Lutheran-identity patriotism it inspires and the rigorous doctrinal clarity if professes.... The Augsburg Confession is about Jesus Christ. It is about Christ who accomplishes salvation for you because you can't do it yourself. It's about “salvation by grace through faith” in him. And that's not just a slogan. It is the heart and soul of the confessions, of the Lutheran faith, of the rightly understood Christian faith... it is the chief message of the Bible.

Or to put it even more simply, Jesus died for you.

Of course, as sinners, we have a hard time with this simple truth. We want a part in our salvation. We want, by nature, to think we deserve heaven by our good works, or our sincere commitment. But Romans is clear, all of us fall short of the standard – the glory of God. We cannot earn heaven, we do not merit God's favor, we don't and we can't deserve anything but punishment.

But thanks be to God for Jesus Christ! Who became man for us, fulfilled all righteousness for us, suffered and died for us, and rose victorious for us. He gives salvation as a gift, for his own sake, on his own account – freely, fully, eternally. And we receive it with joy.

His sacraments are the same – free gifts of pure grace – a lavish flood of mercy and grace in Baptism – and a rich meal, generously feeding all his people with forgiveness, life and salvation.

If you want to better appreciate these blessed truths, I have a few suggestions for you. I don't usually put “how tos” in a sermon, but I think you might find these helpful. How to know better the teachings of the Augsburg Confession, and therefore, of Scripture:

  1. Read it! It's won't take you that long. And if you do want to dig deeper, read the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, which is like the expanded version. You don't need to be a professor of theology or even a pastor to benefit from an encounter with this important piece of our church's heritage. And if you've already read it – read it again every so often.

  2. Attend church! Your Lutheran pastor preaches and teaches in accord with the AC. Give thanks to God for faithful pastors who rightly do so! Here you will hear sermons and teachings that re in accord with this central truth of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. A blessed truth that we need to hear again and again. You will hear proclaimed what is true, according to God's word. And you will hear warnings about falsehood on the same basis. You will hear that you are a sinner, and you will hear of your salvation in Jesus.
  1. Always look to Christ! If you would believe and live the faith expressed in the AC, it means you trust in Christ alone. Always. Never yourself or your own works or supposed goodness. Confess your sins. Repent. Believe in Jesus Christ for your salvation. He will never leave you without his grace.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sermon - Pentecost 4 - Luke 7:36-8:3

Pentecost 4 – June 16th, 2013
Luke 7:36 - 8:3
Trinity, Millstadt, IL
"Big Sinner. Big Savior"

The contrast couldn't be clearer. The self-righteous pharisee and the sinful woman, grieving at the feet of Jesus. The parable is a no-brainer, who loves more? The one with the bigger debt that is cancelled.


The Pharisee didn't honor Jesus as he should have, but the woman showed him persistent, humble, heartfelt honor.

So the point is be more like the woman and less like the pharisee. Amen. Sermon over. There's your food for thought for the week. Right?

Not so fast. It's true, we would be like the woman, though we are often more like the pharisee. And if we truly know it, it should drive us to tears as well. Maybe it's the straight-forwardness of this account that lends to us so easily passing if over, without a very personal application. But since I'm a guest preacher, and I can maybe get away with some things more easily, I'm going to be a little more straightforward today, too. And I'm not going to let us get away with it. In fact, I'm going to talk to you – but just understand that as I do so I am talking to me, too.

You – you are a big sinner. You're like the pharisee in this way – that you think your sins are small. But they are a mountain, squashing you like a bug. You may look at the sinner next to you and think that guy is really far worse. You're not THAT sort of sinner. But don't be fooled. You're just as bad.

And how do you know it? Just look at your life and compare it to the 10 commandments!

The first commandment – have no other gods. It would be funny if it wasn't so sad – how often you break it. How many little gods you parade around in your life, all far ahead of the true god. Your job, your family, your hobbies, your comfort, all these things you put before the true God, all these things you fear and love and trust more than him. All these things, good things that God gives you, you turn into idols. You might as well be bowing to a golden calf.

You misuse God's name. Oh you might not utter the big G-D, but you find other ways. You bear the name of Christ after all, so when people see you sinning it reflects poorly on his name. And you don't call upon his name as you should in prayer and praise and thanks.

The sabbath day – well, I'm here, aren't I, pastor? I come to church every week! Sure. And you can pat yourself on the back for that as you continue to despise the preaching of his word even from the pew. When the sermon's a little boring, when you're more interested in what's for lunch. Or even on non-sabbath days, when you act like doctrine doesn't matter and why can't we all just get along?

And we've just scratched the surface of sins against God. Your sins of thought and word and deed – the things you have done and left undone – it's not just a nice little formula for the beginning of the church service – this is a humbling confession that our sins against God are so inclusive and expansive that we just couldn't list them all.

And if sinning against God isn't enough for you, there's plenty of sins against your neighbor. Your despising of authority, whoever it is in life that you have to listen to. Your boss, your government, your parents, even your pastor. Your sinful nature balks and chafes at this. You want to be in charge. But you'd rather do without God's gift of authority. You think you could do it better on your own.

And you murder. Sure, you might not have ended a human life. But you tear away at life. You harm others and fail to help them. Often it's the people you are closest to that you hurt the most! And then there's your own life. You don't take care of your own body as your should. You drink too much, smoke too much, eat too much, exercise too little. What a nice way to honor the temple of the Holy Spirit.

And adultery. We're good at keeping these sins secret. But imagine if all your sexual sins were put on open display, here, today. Then you might get a taste of what that woman was feeling at Jesus' feet.

Theft. Your neighbors possessions – you don't care about them, or your neighbor as you should. You'd rather have them yourself. Your greed for things leads you to dishonest gains and stingy-ness. Things are a problem for you, too, even though you might not have committed armed robbery.

And words – the way you talk about other people. The way you rationalize gossip about your neighbor as genuine concern. Or maybe you don't even play that game and just hope they won't hear you talking behind their backs.

And coveting – a sin of thought – wanting what's not yours, and not being content with what you've been given. Sins of the heart are so hard to see, and so maybe we're fine if we just keep them to ourselves? No. Those count against you, too.

Well that was exhausting. And it was only a short glance at each commandment compared with our lives of sin. You may not be in tears, but I hope it poked some holes in your conscience, as it did mine. Perhaps now we can once again join the woman at the feet of Jesus. For only there can we find comfort. Only there can we find an answer to the sins which plague us, and which we ourselves plague upon others. Only Jesus. A big savior for big sinners like you and me.

Jesus. Who does all things well. He actually kept all those commandments. He actually loved God fully, entirely, completely, perfectly. Never put anyone or anything ahead of his Father. It could only make us feel like more of a failure unless we realize all this he did for us! His perfect righteousness was for us! His keeping of the law was for us! So when God looks at us, he sees not our laundry list of sins, but the pristine record of perfection that is Christ's! Jesus kept the law for us, born under the law, to redeem us who were under the law.

And furthermore, he takes all that gunk of sin, and you know it well, Christians, he nails it to the cross. Every pointing finger that ever rightly accused you of evil – points instead at Jesus on the cross. Every time you've coveted another's wife or house or things – Jesus has it covered. Every time you've talked smack about your friends or enemies, Jesus has it covered. Every time you've stolen or lied or cheated, covered. Every unchaste and impure thought and deed. Covered in his blood. Every hurt and harm you've done to yourself or another – he was bruised and smitten for those transgressions. Every little rebellion against authority, he has the authority to forgive, and he does. Every time you've turned your back on his word, he is quick with a word of pardon. Every time you've dishonored his name or dragged it through the mud, he will point you to his gift of washing it away in baptism. And all your guilt for all your little idols and gods– all of that is put away in the cross of Jesus Christ. Where the Father's forgiveness is won, and where sin and death are finished.

Jesus isn't a little savior, just dealing with some of your sins. He is a big savior, for all of your sins. His blood is a flood of mercy and grace that covers every tiny little sin and every elephant in the room sin. Even that one deep dark sin, that you've struggled with for years, that you wonder in the dark of the night, “can God forgive me even for this?” Yes. He can, and he does, in Jesus Christ.

His words to the woman are his words to you: “Your sins are forgiven”

And let us not pass over these lightly either. “Your. Sins. Are. Forgiven.” Not my words. Jesus' words. No caveats. No conditions. No buts about it. Words of pure grace.

Words spoken to you by your pastor in Christ's stead. You hear them often. But they are more than just reminders. They are the powerful and active promise of Christ, effective and real. They are proclaimed here at this pulpit week in and week out. Words of forgiveness that never get old, that are always a joy to hear. Words also attached to bread and wine, and a promise of his presence, also for your forgiveness.

The woman who wept, she came to Jesus, weeping over her sins which were many. Your sins are many, too, dear Christian. And they should grieve you just the same. But fear not, for the same Jesus who spoke forgiveness to the poor sinful woman, is the Jesus who speaks a kind word of forgiveness to you, even you, even today. Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sermon - Luke 7:11-17 - Pentecost 3

Pentecost 3 – June 9th , 2013
Luke 7:11-17
Immanuel, Hodgkins, IL
"Jesus Saves Widows, Dead Guys, and You"

If you've ever suffered loss... you probably know how well meaning people can say some of the least helpful things. Things that they intend to help you feel better. But things that might even make you feel worse.

Sometimes it's hard to know exactly what to say to someone grieving, and sometimes it's better just to say nothing at all. A warm embrace, or your mere presence can be of some comfort. Maybe.

But I think most of us would be hesitant to say, to a woman who's just lost her only son, “Don't cry”. And someone who does say such a thing surely seems to know little about suffering and grief. Someone who says such a thing seems to have little compassion for what this poor woman is going through. Maybe someone who would say this is insensitive. Maybe he's just mad. Or maybe, just maybe, he's the Lord of Life and Death, and he can actually do something about the cause of all her tears.

Jesus, of course, knows just what he's doing, and what he's saying. He is the Savior of widows, of dead guys, and of you. Let's take each one in turn.

This poor widow. Grief upon grief was added to her. She had lost her dear husband who knows how long ago. And while that is hard today, it was far harder back then and there, when a woman had to rely entirely on the provision of a man. But at least she had a son to care for her. Until just now, when the young man also died, leaving his mother without family, and without worldly support. She might end up begging for her daily bread. She might not make it herself. When Scripture encourages Christians to care for the “widow and the orphan”, we are being directed to some of the neediest of the needy.

Not only did she feel the pain that any mother would feel at such a loss- but this was her only son – and now, she was really all alone.
Even in the crowd of mourners who accompanied her, she was singularly alone in her suffering.

So here comes Jesus, crashing into the scene, with no invitation and no plea from the poor woman or anyone else. Not like the centurion in the last chapter who pleaded for his servant. Not like so many others who come on behalf of their loved ones for Jesus' help and mercy. Jesus takes the initiative. He comes first, he breaks in to the conversation and stops the funeral procession cold.

And he says to her, “don't cry”. And in this outrageous little sentence is hidden a promise. Don't cry, because you will soon have joy. Don't cry, because your son will rise. Don't cry, because Jesus brings life to the dead.

It's not a power-of-positive-thinking encouragement. That if you tell yourself everything is ok that it somehow will be. It's not a mind-over-matter manipulation of your emotions. It's not a denial of reality. It's a deeper reality, revealed in this miraculous moment, and revealed more fully on Easter Sunday, and yet to be revealed in its fullness at the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

When Jesus raises her son, he gives her back more than just her son. He gives her hope.

And this hope is also for the young man. The man who isn't named. Cause of death unknown. Well, we know the root cause at least. It's the same disease that affects us all. A self-inflicted, self-perpetuated illness called sin. The law's diagnosis is clear, we are dead-men walking. In our sins, we are already dead, as dead and helpless as the young man in Nain, being carried to his grave. We can't decide to be alive.

But again, there's Jesus, who comes and touches death and speaks to the dead man, “arise”. And it is so. By the power of his word, he commands life to return, and the Lord of Life gets his way. No one asked for this, or decided on this but him, Jesus, the savior.

And then there's you. Are you a victim of suffering, like the widow? At times, to be sure. Maybe yours even seems worse than others. Maybe you are tempted to grieve without hope. Or are you like the young man, if you will admit it, on your way to the grave because of your sins – however hidden or blatant they may be? Like a condemned death-row inmate, guilty as sin, because of your sin, your own most grievous sin?

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves. If we say we are alive, we are liars. If we say we are just fine, we're the lunatics. We are lost, helpless, and hopeless – and we deserve everything we get and worse – without Christ.

But Jesus Christ crashes into all that. For the widow, for the dead guy, and even for you. The only Son of the Father, comes to restore the widow's son and all sons and daughters of wrath. The one who suffered and died on Calvary is the man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. As Mary, another widow, watched her son die under Roman orders, for crimes he didn't commit, the salvation of all was accomplished. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one who speaks, “Father, forgive them” and “It is finished”. And he proves without doubt his lordship of life and death, when he leaves death in the dust, stone rolled away, and only the sins of the world left behind.

The one by whom all things were made, who knit you together in your mother's womb, makes all things new, and will raise you on the last day. The one whose voice called the widow's son to rise, has called you to arise already. In the call to faith, proclaimed in the Gospel, your sinful flesh dies, and you live. In the washing of rebirth, your Old Adam is drown, and your New Creation bursts forth. In the gifts of his table, he brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. His word of promise assures it. And as he would say to the widow, “don't cry”, he would speak words of comfort to you. Your sins are forgiven. Your future is secure. He who lives and believes in me, even though he die, yet shall he live.

We long for that day, when from this vale of tears we depart. We pray for his coming, for the fulfillment of all his promises. We press on toward the eternal hope that is so clear in his word. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. And as we stand in our flesh and see him, with resurrected and glorified eyes, no more harm or pain or suffering or sin or death can assail. And God will wipe every tear from our eyes.

Yes, Jesus himself wept at the grave of his friend, Lazarus. And so he shows us that death is not to be laughed at. It is no friend, but a sad wage of sin. Yet for those who trust in Christ, the resurrection and the life, we see in death the gate to eternal life. And so Paul says we grieve, but not like other men who have no hope. We cry, but ultimately we rejoice. We suffer, but we know comfort. We face our old enemy with a peace that passes understanding.

For the Lord of Life crashes in to our grief. He speaks words of comfort, even to widows, even to dead men, even to you. Believe it, for Jesus' sake. Amen.