Monday, September 30, 2013

Sermon - St. Michael - Rev. 12:7-12

St. Michael and All Angels - Matins
Trinity Lutheran Church, New Haven, MO
September 29th, 2013
Revelation 12:7-12

Grace, mercy and peace.... Introductions, etc...

Today we observe an unusual day in the church calendar, St. Michael and All Angels day. We are in some ways, perhaps well acquainted with angels. At least culturally speaking:

We have “Touched by an Angel” and “It's a wonderful life”, books and movies, and a song by Aerosmith. We have angelic precious moments figures, and a guardian angel motorist club. Angels are all around us, but just how biblical are these cultural images and uses?

Scripturally speaking, an angel is a heavenly being which speaks and acts as an agent of God. The good angels are numerous and powerful, and they are ministering servants sent to help God's people in various ways. They are not to be worshiped, nor do we become angels when we die.

In our reading from Revelation, there is pictured in John’s vision, the war in heaven... Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon, that is Satan, and his angels.  The good angels of God are victorious, and win the day.  The enemy is strong, but the enemy is defeated.  Thanks be to God!  And though the devil still inhabits the earth, we know his time is short.

But perhaps the most important thing to know about angels, is simply what the word angel means – literally, “messenger”. It's the same word which makes up the ev-angel of evangelism – the good-message or good news. Angels are messengers. And as such, it's not so important who and what they are as it is what they do and especially what they say.

Especially in the New Testament, when God's plan of salvation in Christ takes a major step forward, angels make an appearance, as if by their very presence to highlight the importance of the message: “Glory to God in the highest, for born this day to you in the city of David is the savior, Christ the Lord.” Angels minister to Jesus in the toughest moments of his work for us, in wilderness and garden. Angels bookend the empty tomb and proclaim the Easter message, “He is not here. He is risen, as he said!” And the voice of the archangel and the trumpet call of God will announce Christ's second coming, when all his angels accompany him, and the final victory celebration is announced.

To be sure, there are false angels, with false messages. Satan himself, a fallen angel, is the father of lies. He wants nothing more than to distort and pervert the true word of God, and turn the good news into bad news. He would tell you that your salvation isn't sure. That it depends on your own good works. And that your sins are too terrible even for God to forgive. He would pollute the Christian message with all sorts of mixed messages to unfix our eyes from Jesus. And his goal is ultimately to drive you to despair and unbelief. Preserve us from the evil foe, oh Lord! Send your angels to strengthen us, and keep us steadfast in your word.

If an angel is a messenger, and what's important is not so much the messenger, but the message, then there's another way to think of angels.

Pastors, are God's angels – his messengers, to you, his people. In fact there is some good reason to think that when John writes, in the book of Revelation, to the angels of the seven churches – he is really addressing their pastors. Now, I've known Pastor Erhard long enough to tell you that he is certainly no angel, but I also know the message he preaches is Christ crucified for sinners like you and me. I know you will hear that message week in and week out, a message of Law and Gospel, sin and Grace. A message which keeps Christ always before you, and which points you to Christ's means of grace: word, baptism, supper. He is your minister, your servant, in this place, to bring you a crystal clear, life-saving, life-changing message of salvation in Christ alone.

But others need to hear this message, too. Some who live in far away places, other continents, even in Singapore. There God also sends messengers so that Christ's message can be proclaimed. The same message to people who have the same problem of sin and death. The same savior crucified and risen for all.

And you people of Trinity, like all of God's people, also bear the message. You do it in a different way than a pastor or missionary or heavenly angel – but you witness and give answer for the hope that is within you. You speak a message when you confess your faith with other Christians, kneel to receive Christ's body and blood (you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes). And your actions of Christian love and service speak sometimes louder than words about the love that you have first known in Jesus. God has called you to various stations and roles in life – parent, friend, worker, citizen, spouse. In all these callings you are God's agents and messengers to bring his message and his gifts to your neighbor. In this sense, you are angelic. Thanks be to God.

But there would be no angels were it not for Christ, the chief messenger of God. The agent of creation, the living word of God, the original (though uncreated) angel. He appears in the Old Testament as the “Angel of the Lord”, and accomplishes God's purposes. In Jesus Christ, the word, the message, is made flesh and dwells among us. Thus he is both the messenger and the message, the author and fulfiller of our faith, the content and the conveyer of our salvation. It's all about Jesus. And Jesus is all about procuring and proclaiming our salvation.

And both for angels, and for us, we can do nothing apart from Christ.  We can win no victory apart from him and his message.  Read again from Revelation 12, verse 11...  concerning that great war in heaven, “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony”.  

They conquer Satan and his evil forces.  They conquer sin and death itself.  As do we... Not by strength of arms.  Not by cleverness.  Not by novel approaches and fancy programs.  Not by excusing sin or rationalizing it.  Not by living in denial.  Not by trusting in the princes of this world.  Not by intellectualism, nor by emotional experience.  Not by the will of man or by any decision we make.  Not by my own reason or strength in any possible way.

But only, and always, by the blood of the lamb.  Only, and always by the word of testimony - to what Jesus has done for us, in his death, in his resurrection, and what he will do when he comes again in glory, all his angels with him.  We are more than conquerors, as are the holy angels, always, and only, through Christ.

What a joy to share this message with you today. What a blessing to know we believe and proclaim the same message. That together with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven... with pastors and missionaries and all the people of God on earth.... and through the blood of the one who is both messenger and message, even Jesus Christ himself, we have heard, and we believe, and we will live and praise him forever. In Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sermon - Pentecost 18 - Luke 16:1-15

St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, Lexington, MI
September 22nd, 2013
18th Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 16:1-15

Grace mercy and peace....

Today we come to a difficult Gospel reading.  I have to tell you that I have talked with at least 6 other pastors about this reading from Luke 16, the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, and it was unanimous that no one was looking forward to it.

And it’s not just because this is a passage about money.  Which is bad enough, by the way, for most faithful pastors.  Of course, it’s easy to go wrong when we touch on the topic of Christian stewardship.  But even worse, it’s not something most church people like to hear about either.  And why is that?

It could be, quite frankly, because the truth hurts.  It could be that we are more materialistic than we’d like to admit.  It could be that when Jesus tells the pharisees that no one can serve two masters - you cannot serve God and money - it could be that he’s hitting a little too close to home.

Just as it was in Jesus day, so it is with us today.  And so it is, by the way with many people where I am going, to Singapore.  There, the love of money is expressed in an handy little way - that every Singaporean is intent of acquiring the “5 C’s”.  Cash, Credit, Condo, Car and Country Club.  Of course, that’s a softball if a preacher ever heard one - there’s one more “C” that everyone needs, one that is our true need - Christ.

But to the extent that Jesus’ hard words about money apply to each of us this morning, and I suggest that is to a great extent - let us repent.  Repent of our idolatry of the dollar.  Repent of our putting things before God and our neighbor.  Repent of our unrighteous use of wealth, our poor stewardship of his riches, and of exalting in our lives what is an abomination to God.
And find in Christ our true riches.  There’s plenty of that in this parable, too, though it’s harder to see.

I think the other reason this text is so difficult a passage (aside from the fact that it talks about money), is that it may seem on its surface that Jesus is commending dishonesty.  Of course, he isn’t.  We don’t read scripture in a vacuum, and we know from other places that thou shalt not steal.  His point about the use of money is to use it shrewdly, yes, but is there something more here?

Take a close look at the master in the story - the rich man.  There are some clues here that something just isn’t right with this master.  Sure, he’s about to fire the dishonest steward for his wasteful management.  But even in doing so, he is merciful.  He asks for an account, but he gives the man time - time the steward uses to set himself up for the future.  The master asks for an account, but he never ends up demanding repayment (even from those who the steward gave a discount on their bill).  And strangest of all, the master commends the dishonest steward at the end of the story - even though he’s been dishonest and wasted and given away the wealth of the master!

Who would act like such a master?  Who would show such mercy, and forgive such malfeasance?  Who would show such patience, and commend even the dishonest, the wicked, the one who had stolen from him?  Our God and Father, that’s who.  On account of his Son, Jesus Christ.

For in Jesus Christ, God does things even more outrageous and surprising and nonsensical - at least to the judgment of this world.  The Father sends the Son, not to demand an accounting from us, who idolize things and money and fail to worship the true God as we should.  The Father sends the Son, not to collect on our debt of sin which we surely owe, a debt deeper than we could hope to repay.  The Father sends the Son, not to threaten us to shape up or else.  No.  He sends his own son that whoever believes in him would not perish, but have eternal life.

And Jesus, for his part, is just as surprising.  He does the work that we don’t do, and can’t do - the fulfilling of the law. The righteousness of Christ is accounted to you.  All the good he did and does - you get the credit.

 And he dies the death we deserve, in our place, for our sake. He accomplishes his mission by paying the debts we owe - not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood, and his innocent suffering and death. He takes what you have - only debt - and writes you far more than a 10% discount.  He gives you freely of his grace, all the riches of heaven.  And a promise of eternity in his presence, in the bejeweled heavenly Jerusalem, with gates of pearl and streets of gold.

Does that sound like a lot to promise?  Of course it is, but he who is faithful with little is faithful with much.  And he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him for us all - how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

So maybe this parable isn’t so bad after all.  Maybe a periodic reminder to repent of our love of money is in order.  And certainly we can give thanks for the mercy of the master, shown to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  To him be the glory forever, amen.

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Total hat tip to Rob Olson (there are some who call him, "Tim") for this:

What are the oaths/vows you have taken in your life, and do you still consider them binding?
A short list of mine:

Baptismal (by proxy- sponsors and parents)

For me, the above, all completely binding and still in force.  I hold these to a higher standard than the rest, promises of a solemn and lifelong import.

And then there are pledges:
The American Flag
The Christian Flag
Boy Scouts?
Cub Scouts?
other societies/organizations?

I can't remember or think of all of these, though I am sure there have been more.   Rob, I would like to hear more about your thoughts on the history of the "pledge of allegiance" and the book you mentioned.  In any case, this whole exercise was good food for thought, and I would encourage others to think it through as well.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sermon - Mission Festival - Luke 24:44-53

Mission Festival
Grace Lutheran Church, Strasburg, IL
Luke 24:44-53
September 8th, 2013
“Another Missions Sermon”

Grace and peace to you...  an honor to share the Word of God with you on this Sunday, your “Mission Festival”.

There’s a lot of talk about missions and being missional in the church today.  Everyone seems to agree that missions are good.  And everywhere I go people love to hear from a missionary, and learn about missions.  It seems appropriate to have a missionary as a guest preacher on a Sunday highlighting missions, and so here we are, and here I am.

But I have to be honest with you.  I don’t preach a lot of “missions” sermons.  I don’t have one canned sermon that I repeat everywhere I go, using the same Scriptures, telling the same stories.  I know some people told me that’s the way it should be done.  But I don’t.

And I also have to admit that I don’t have any special expertise on “doing missions” that I can impart to you today.  I don’t expect my visit will drastically change your congregation, what it does, or even how you all feel about “missions”.

What I will do, however, is proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  And with the Gospel reading appointed for a “mission festival”, we can together give attention to Jesus’ teaching about missions.  His mission.  And the mission that he carries on through his apostles, and through his church.  The mission that he continues even today, even here, through you.

A missionary is one who is “sent”, especially having to do with the activity of the church in the world.  Or as Jesus puts it, “repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed... to all nations” And while usually we think of pastors, there are others who are sent in many capacities, all in support of this central goal.  Usually we think of missionaries going to foreign countries, though some are sent right to our own back yard.

All pastors are missionaries, in a sense, sent to a particular corner of the world.  Sent, or called (really two sides of the same coin), to a local congregation or context, and given the authority to preach and teach in that place.  Sent and called to administer the sacraments and proclaim publicly the forgiveness of sins, exercising the keys of the kingdom on behalf of the congregation, in the stead and by the command of Christ.   So may I introduce you to the missionary to Strasburg, Pastor Michael Mohr.

Perhaps the important part is not so much the people who are sent, or to which location they are sent.  But why are they sent?  In the case of Christian missionaries, it is the message that is most important - and that message is always the message of Christ.

The words of Christ - the whole counsel of God, that is.  For we believe that the entirety of Holy Scripture is a testimony to Christ.  These things written about him “in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” which were fulfilled when he appeared in the flesh.  The same things that are written of him in the Gospels and the Epistles of the New Testament.  All Scripture which is profitable and trustworthy for the man of God to read, and learn, and understand.

There is a proclamation aspect, then, but also a teaching aspect of the message.  There is the public, formal, announcement of the Gospel, but also the patient teaching, and the individualized instruction of those who would learn of Christ.  As Christ opened the minds of his apostles, so do servants of the Gospel open the scriptures to his people today.

And these words, this message of Christ, is two-fold.  There is a polarity.  There is the preaching of repentance, but also the forgiveness of sins.  There is law, and there is Gospel.  We proclaim and teach both, for the scriptures do;  for Christ does.

The law has been preached to you, that you are a sinner.  Your faithful pastor reminds you regularly of your failure to fulfill God’s law.  The liturgy of the church helps us all to frame our confession in scriptural and comprehensive terms:  We have not loved God with our whole heart, nor our neighbor as ourselves.  We sin in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and left undone.  And therefore we deserve temporal and eternal punishment.

If the message of Christ was only about what we should do or must do, though we fail to do it - we would be in a sorry state, indeed.  If all we heard from those who are sent to preach is the harangues and how to’s and the “practical” an moral encouragement, it would lead us either to false pride or despair.  We’d either convince ourselves we are good enough for God, or we’d see clearly that we never can be.

But Christ’s word doesn’t stop with the law.  The Gospel, the good news, is really the point.  The message of forgiveness and salvation in Christ.  The proclamation that your sins are not counted against you.  They are washed away in the flood of your baptism.  They are paid off by the blood of Christ shed at the cross, and his body there broken - and distributed to you from His altar.

This is what was written, “that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise again”, and this is what Jesus fulfilled.

He came not just to talk about salvation, nor even to simply promise it, but to accomplish it.  This was his mission.

And so Christ himself is the greatest of all missionaries.  Sent on a mission from God, to save the world.  To live and die and rise for all the sinners that ever sinned, to pay for each and every one.  His mission was and is for you.  You are why he came, and did everything that he did.

And the Christ who was sent, also sends.  “As the Father has sent me, so also I send you” he said to his apostles.  The mission is his, the work is his, the praise and honor for anything good that he does through us - belongs only to him.

And one last major point - not all are sent, or called.  At least not all are called or sent the same.  Yes, all Christians are called to repentance and faith in Christ.  But not all are missionaries - in the sense of public proclamation.  Not all are prophets, apostles, evangelists or pastors.  We understand that God gives us all various vocations, godly callings, in which we daily serve him.  Some are parents, some are children.  Some are workers, some employees.  Some citizens, friends, teachers, students -  some pastors, some hearers.

All are witnesses.  All can give answer when asked for the hope within us, when opportunity arises.  But not all are called to preach.  Most of us probably wouldn’t want to anyway.  But we thank God for the faithful proclamation of Christ we have heard, and we want all nations to share this treasure with us.

And this, friends, is why we do missions, and why we support missions, and why we host missionary visits and have mission festivals.  This is why Lutheran congregations do Lutheran missions, and why Lutheran missions lead to Lutheran congregations.  That we may honor the mission of Christ, beginning where we are called, and even to all nations, to the ends of the earth.
Notice throughout this passage, Christ is driving the verbs.  He speaks his words to them.  He opens their minds.  He suffers.  He dies.  He is proclaimed.  He leads.  He blesses.

And in joyful response, what do his disciples do?  They worship him continually.  They gather in his house.  And the bless God, who has blessed them in Christ.

So when you hear the sermon next week, or next month, you are really hearing another mission sermon.  When repentance of sins and forgiveness are preached here, week in and week out, his mission is advanced.  Thus receiving the blessings of Christ, in the word and in his sacraments, there is great joy for all his disciples, and for you.  In joyful response to his mission for us, and his message to us, we love God and serve our neighbor.

A blessed mission festival Sunday to you, and continual blessings in Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Sermon - Pentecost 15 - Luke 14:1-14

Luke 14:1-14
Pentecost 15
September 1st, 2013
Christ the King and Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Racine, WI

Sinful pride.  Selfish, sinful pride.  This is one way of describing what Jesus observed as he was invited to the pharisee’s dinner party.  Who knows what kind of subtle and not so subtle jockeying for position occurred as each pharisee sought the best seat in the house, the place of honor.  Because surely, each one thought, he deserved it.  I imagine Jesus shaking his head in disappointment as he watched this all play out.  How prideful, how arrogant, how full of themselves those pharisees must have been. 

“Oh Lord, I’m so glad I’m not like those pharisees” we might say to ourselves.  Just like the pharisee who prayed, “Oh Lord, I’m so glad I’m not like that tax collector, that sinner, over there”.

The truth is, we are no better.  The truth is, we are just as sinful.  The truth is, there is a prideful little pharisee inside of each of us, an Old Adam, a sinful nature, that really really thinks highly of himself.  But he’s a hypocrite and a liar.

Let’s put it this way.  Do you think you’re a good person?  Maybe you’ve been Lutheran long enough that you know better than to say yes.  But somewhere in your heart, you think you are, don’t you?  You’re a good citizen.  You pay your taxes, you mow your lawn.  You try not to treat people poorly - or at least you mind your own business.  And you come to church, which most people don’t even bother to do anymore.  Maybe you’re here every Sunday.  Maybe you give generously and serve willingly.  Maybe you’re even the pastor. Or even a missionary.  And I suppose each of us could pretty easily tally up all the reasons that we are pretty good.  

And it’s not too hard to look across the pew and think how that person over there is worse than I am.  Sure, nobody’s perfect, but that one’s a gossip.  That person is rude.  Oh her?  Her children are terrible, have you seen how they behave?  And that guy - he’s the laziest person I know.  Who’s this person darkening the door of the church?  Oh, another c&e Christian...  and don’t judge me, but I’m secretly judging you - not so much because I care about you but to reinforce my own notion that I am good and you are bad, and I may not be perfect but at least I’m not you.

The pharisees are alive and well today, and their sinful pride thrives in the sinful heart of all of us.  We must be honest.  The law of God silences us as it does them.  Jesus would kick the pedestal out from under us and have us see our sin.

Humble yourself.  Take the lowest seat.  It’s not Jesus as miss-manners.  This is a spiritual truth we do well to follow.  We need to compare ourselves, our lives, our works - not against others but against the standard of God’s holy law.  Do I love the Lord with all my heart, soul and strength?  Do I love my neighbor as I should?  Do I keep the 10 commandments?  Do I honor God, his name, his word?  Do I care for my neighbor’s possessions and life and good name?  Am I chase in everything I say and do?  If the law of God doesn’t humble you, sinner, you’re not listening too carefully.  If the commandments of God don’t show you your lowly, sorry, state, then your ears are plugged with rationalizations and lies.

The truth is we don’t even deserve the lowest seat at the table in God’s kingdom.  We deserve nothing but temporal and eternal punishment.  We deserve to be cast out of the banquet where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Christ should say to us, “depart from me, I never knew you!”

But Christ has come to humble proud, but also to elevate the humble.
He is a doctor for the sick, not the healthy.  He is a savior only for those who need saving.  But he is the savior.

And he knows humility.  He’s the only one who really knows what it is to humble himself.  To come down, to be made low.  We’re starting out from a position of already poor, crippled, lame, blind.  Dead, even, in our sins.  But Christ, the Son of God, left the highest seat of his heavenly throne, and humbled himself to be born of a virgin.  He lived a humble life, and died a humble, shameful death.  If you want to talk about the “lowest seat”, look to Christ on the cross.  He humbled himself thus, for you, and for all.

And God exalted him.  He raised him from the tomb, and glorified him in resurrection.  He proved his victory over death for 40 days, and then reclaimed his heavenly throne, ascending to the right hand of the Father, to reign over all things.  His rightful seat, once again.

And this too, for you.  Having paid for your sins, died your death, taken on your burdens and griefs and shame, paid the price for you fully - his resurrection paves the way for yours.  His Ascension leads the way for your own passage to heaven.  And his reign on heaven’s throne is also a foretaste of the glory to come for us.  In heavenly glory, the saints of God participate in his reign, are awarded the crown of righteousness, and yes, even thrones (Rev. 4:4).

So seek not the highest place, the honor and glory that your sinful nature desires.  Think none too highly of yourself, your merits, your works.  Don’t compare yourself to others, but to the standard of God’s holy law.  And repent, dear Christian.  Repent and confess your sins.  Humble yourself before the Lord.  

And he will lift you up.  For the sake of his Son who was lifted up on the cross, you will be lifted into righteousness.  Lifted up from the dust of death.  Lifted up from the grave, in the resurrection of the just, lifted up to heavenly glory forever.

And in Christ, we begin to learn humility.  Seeing our sin and our savior, and by his Spirit, we begin to humble ourselves not only before God, but before our neighbor.  Never perfectly, and never to earn favor or puff up our own pride, but always in joyful response to his humiliation and exaltation for us.

The Christian, for example, is not too proud to be corrected.  The Christian doesn’t say, “I know it all.  I went to Confirmation 50 years ago.  I don’t need to keep growing in the word”.  Rather, the Christian humbly learns from the word taught and preached in truth and purity.

The Christian, for example, is not too proud to serve a neighbor.  Even a neighbor that doesn’t “deserve” it.  For what do we deserve, after all?  And the Christian can, and does, humbly share the hope within him, not because he is so great, but because Christ is.  “Let me tell you why I need Christ, why I need to go to church - because I sin a lot and I need Christ’s forgiveness.”

So we come today, in humility, in confession of our sins, even to kneel... and Christ will lift us up.  As we receive his gifts here in bread and wine, body and blood, we depart in peace from the banquet.  We are lifted up in the forgiveness, life and salvation that we receive.  And we go in the hope of an even greater glory to come.  In Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.