Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Sermon - Mark 6:35-56

Tuesday – Lent 2
Mark 6:35-56
Sermon for Pastors Circuit Meeting (Winkel)
February 23, 2016

There's an old story about a husband and wife waking up on a Sunday morning, and the wife is busy getting ready for church, but the husband is sort of lolly-gagging.  She warns him, “Come on, honey, you're going to be late if you don't get moving.”  

“I don't want to go to church today” he says.

“Why not?”  she asks.

“Because I'm tired.  Because church is boring.  And frankly, nobody there likes me anyway”

“Well, I'll give you three good reasons you should go to church” the wife answers him.

“One, you're a sinner.  Two you need God's forgiveness.  And three, you're the pastor!  Now get dressed!”

Friends, you know that this office we bear can be a burden.  There is so much to do.  There are so many people with so many needs.  Sometimes you don't even like some of those people.  And frankly, sometimes they don't like you either.  We must make difficult pastoral decisions dealing with sinners in messy situations.  We see people sometimes at their best, but often at their worst, their weakest, their lowest.  Often they don't come to you until all the damage is done and you can't help anyway, it seems, and can do nothing but stand there gobsmacked with them.  Offer a shoulder to cry on.  Say a prayer.  You give and it's never enough.  The work is never really finished.  At least, this side of heaven.

And there are crosses.  The sick.  The suffering.  The grieving.  They are not yours, but sometimes you get splinters from their crosses as you shoulder it along side them for a time.  And there are fears.  Fears that you didn't do enough.  That you did too much.  That you should have said this or that, or what the hang am I going to say to THIS person?  Will we make budget?  Will this conflict ever resolve?  What will my legacy be in this place?  Have I just been wasting my time?  Am I wasting my breath?

Well, friend, I am here to tell you that you are not Jesus.  But Jesus, too, knew the burdens of ministry.  He knew what it was like to have 5000, no probably more like 15,000 hungry mouths to feed.  He knew what it was like to be rejected, even betrayed by those closest to him.  He knew what it was like to be opposed by the religious people, by the bread-hungry or blood-thirsty crowd.  He knew even the opposition of demons.  He felt the burden of hordes of desperate people with dropsy and leprosy, blindness and deafness, a flow of blood and even a dead little girl.  Wherever he came in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment....  it all sounds so... exhausting.

Perhaps we do well to follow Jesus' example, and find times of rest and prayer.  Jesus withdrew to a solitary place to pray.  Go up on your mountain now and then.  Pray.  Fast.  It's Lent, after all.  Good enough for Jesus, good enough for you and me.  But still.  This is a temporary reprieve.  He would soon be back at it.  

And now with his own disciples.  The ones that should have known better.  The ones that should have known him best.  They heard his word, day in and day out.  They got the inside scoop on decoding the parables.  They had front-row seats to all the miracles.  If anyone should get it, they should have! Three years in such close proximity to Jesus was the best seminary training ever.  

And yet.  AND YET.  “Jesus, don't you care that we die?”  “Jesus, are you NOW going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  “Holy smokes, it's a ghost!”  Their hearts were dark, and their heads were hard. Their fears rules them.  They didn't yet understand the loaves.  They didn't understand a lot of things. Oh they of little faith!

You wonder if Jesus grew frustrated with them.  If he let out one of those signature sighs.  Did he do a Jesus face-palm?  Maybe we feel like we can relate to that frustration.

But as I said, friend, I am here to tell you that you are not Jesus.  Sure, it's your job to bring Jesus to the crowds, to the little children, to the hospital bedside.  To the hungry and thirsty for righteousness. It's your job to preach Christ crucified for sinners to all sinners who have ears to hear.  It's your calling to reprove, rebuke and teach, with patience and kindness and gentleness and respect.  To call a sin a sin.  And to point weary sinners to the cross.  But you are not Jesus.

But you are just as much a part of that needy crowd.  You are just as much a bewildered disciple, oh you of little faith!  You are just as much oppressed by the devil, the world, the sinful flesh.  You are just as much in need of Jesus as they are.  Being a pastor doesn't make you need Jesus less.  If anything it makes us need him more. And Jesus is for you just as much as he is for the 5000, for the sick, the demon-possessed, and for the people of Peace, Crown of Life, or Messiah.

Jesus says, “Take heart.  It is I.  Do not be afraid.”

“Take heart.  Be encouraged.  Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust God.  Trust me.”  What a kind and simple word of comfort that is surely not just meant to the blokes in the boat.  Take heart, pastor.  It's Jesus.  He's here.  Oh, not as a ghost or a phantom.  And not just in some abstract symbolical way.  Christ is present here in his word.  He is present when two or three gather in his name.  The living word from eternity, the living word once made flesh and whose human body reigns from heaven, this living word speaks to you this day and says, “Take heart!  It is I!”  There's no one else who can say “take heart” and it mean so much.  For it is he.  It is Jesus.  Here, for you.

And he says, “Do not be afraid.”  And again, the words mean more than just “I'm not a ghost you nincompoops”  His perfect love drives out all our fear.  That love shown to us when he gave himself into the punishment we should fear, the death we ought to die, the hell and wrath that is ours by rights.  But fear not.  It is I.  Jesus.  The Savior.

You are not Jesus.  But Jesus IS Jesus.  And he is Jesus for you.  He comes to comfort and console you.  He comes to heal and lift you up.  He comes to forgive you of your sins, by his word of absolution, by the washing in his name, and the meal of his institution.  In these we take heart.  In these, we are made well.  In these, we are fed, cleansed, sustained, encouraged.

I don't know what struggles you face, dear pastor.  But I suspect they are like my own.  I don't know how you handle the stress, but if you're a sinner you probably don't do as well as you should.  The burdens are great, and we are weak.  But take heart, for our savior is strong – stronger than the devils, stronger than even death.  He bears all burdens.  He shoulders all sins and hurts and sorrows.  Even yours.  Even your sins.  Even to the cross.

Take heart.  It's Jesus!  Do not be afraid.

Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Sermon - Transfiguration - Luke 9:28-36

Luke 9:28-36“Going Out in a Blaze of Glory”

“Going out in a blaze of glory”. What do you think of when you hear that phrase? A race car driver, crashing his car on the final lap? A soldier, charging into the fight, shouting his battle-cry? An astronaut whose rocket explodes shortly after lift-off? An old Quarterback hoping to win a Super Bowl and ride off into retirement? A 1980's Bon Jovi song? Maybe you think of Elijah or Moses, or even Jesus! Maybe, or maybe not.

Today is Transfiguration Day. It is the climax of the Epiphany season – the season of revealing light – in which the spotlight has been shining on the babe of Bethlehem, and our readings have been shedding light on just who this God-man Jesus Christ really is.
From his Baptism, when God declared, “This is my son”to the visit of the wise men who confessed him as king,to the wedding at Cana where he showed his power as the true bridegroom,
All this leads up to his transfiguration,
up to the mountain where his glory shone like flashes of lightning,
where the great men of old came to testify and “hold converse high” and where God confirmed again, “This is my Son”.

And once Jesus gets to the mount of transfiguration, it’s all downhill from there. Downhill to Jerusalem, to arrest, to suffering, to the cross, to death.
The Transfiguration of our Lord is an important event.
Transfiguration Sunday puts us, liturgically speaking, halfway between Christmas and Good Friday. Here we are at the mountaintop, so to speak. And after this, it’s all down hill to Jerusalem, and to the other hill where Jesus would be crucified.

The mountains are in the background today, as Moses stood on Mt. Sinai to receive God’s law, and on Mt. Nebo to view the promised land. Elijah’s great competition with the prophets of Baal took place on a mountain (Carmel), and he too heard God’s voice on Mt. Sianai (Horeb). Now, both great men of old appear on the mountain again, this time with Jesus Christ in glorified form, once again to hear the voice of the Lord.

Glory. That’s another important idea today. We sinners, who so like to glorify ourselves, we wouldn’t mind being the center of all things. That’s what we do when we put ourselves before the Lord and before others. We imagine our own little mountain with ourselves as “king of the hill”. As if it’s all about me and my wants and my great qualities, and my glorious glory. What a sham. What a farce. We sinners are the furthest thing from God’s holiness. We deserve a pit, not a mountain.
But God glories in dealing with us sinners, according to his mercy in Christ. Just as Peter and the others, fools that they were, sinful men in the presence of glory – so too we find our pitiful selves at the top of the mountain today. And just as Jesus didn’t zap Peter for even being there, but had purposefully brought him to see such glory, so too Jesus’ glory is made known to us and for us today.

The Transfiguration account appears in 3 of the 4 gospels. And while Mark and Matthew don’t disagree with Luke, our reading today adds a few extra details. One of those details is the content of the conversation Jesus had with Moses and Elijah. He was talking about his departure. Literally, his “going out”.

The Greek word for “going out” is actually “exodus”. It seems appropriate, then, to have both Moses and Elijah there with him on the mount. Each of them knew something about “exodus”.
Moses lived through THE Exodus. When God’s people got to “go out” of Egypt, “in a blaze of glory”. Well, more water than fire, actually, as “Israel’s host triumphant go, through the wave that drowned the foe”. Moses led the people to the promised land… out of bondage, and into glory, so to speak.

But Moses himself was not allowed to set foot inside the boundaries of that land – until he meets Jesus here on the mount. This reminds us, perhaps, that only with Christ may we ourselves enter the promised land.

Elijah knew something about going out in a blaze of glory too. His departure from this world was unique in all of history, as God sent a fiery chariot down to take Elijah heavenward. Elijah’s “exodus” was perhaps one of the most spectacular of all time. But it was surely less impressive than standing in the presence of the transfigured Christ himself.

Jesus’ own departure was at hand. He had an exodus to face, but it would not be in a blaze of glory. It would be in the shame of a cross. Christ, here glorified on the Transfiguration Mountaintop would soon face ultimate humiliation on the Hill of Calvary. He who shined and flashed like lightning itself would soon see the very sun darkened as he faced his last hours.

And yet in the humility of the cross, we see God’s true glory. His power which is made perfect in weakness. His justice meets his mercy. Life won by death. There as Jesus “goes out”, he brings us in to his Father’s arms. Exiled sinners bound to be cast out of his presence become sons and daughters, and are given a place in the Father’s house. His “exodus” from life is our “exodus” from sin, and our entrance into eternal bliss.

What will be your exodus? How will you go out from this world? Because one way or another, you will go out of it. Your tent here is a temporary dwelling, and one day it will be rolled up as you move on. Jesus looking forward to his own death, setting his face toward Jerusalem, might well make us think of our own time which is also coming soon – perhaps sooner than we think. Your exodus is also at hand.

The Transfiguration of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is a powerful witness to those three disciples, and to all of us, about who Jesus is, and what he’s come to do. If we “Listen to Him” as the voice of the Father commands, we will hear great and good news. Listen to him speak with Moses and Elijah about his departure, which makes our departure so different. Listen to him as he goes to Jerusalem for that final blaze of glory in the dark shame of the cross.

Listen to him as he gives his own body and blood with simple bread and wine. Listen to those words – “for the forgiveness of your sins”. Those words spoken long ago but still echoing with the same power and authority. Listen to him. And then, make your exodus from this place, from his house, from his presence. Go forth in peace knowing that your sins truly are forgiven in Jesus Christ.

to the many healings and miracles that were signs of his power….

While most of us would like to die peacefully in our sleep, some wouldn’t mind “going out in a blaze of glory”. Perhaps it’s best that we don’t get to choose how and when we go. But it’s not as important how or when we go as where and to whom. We’re going out from this vale of tears, into the arms of our Savior. We’re going out from this poor reflection, as in a mirror, to see our Lord face to face. We’re going to the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will wipe every tear from our eyes. That’s the promised land that makes our exodus a joyful one, no matter when and where and how it happens.

Jesus has prepared a place for us, and he promises to take us there. Just as he led the Israelites in their exodus, so we also have nothing to fear in ours – for the Lord is with us the whole way. He went first into death, and took away its sting. Now, for us, it is the gate to eternal life. Now, for us, it is a restful sleep from which our bodies will awaken to glory at the last trumpet. Then, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Sermon - Sexagesima - Luke 8:4-15

St. John's Lutheran Church, Frisco, Texas

January 31st, 2016
Luke 8:4-15
“The Parable of the Sower”

Now here is a parable of Jesus – and a most blessed example – in that he actually spells out its meaning. Thanks be to God that we have this opportunity. Thanks be to God that Christ explains his parable to the disciples, and through Luke's Gospel, also to us.

The key element of the parable is the seed – which is the word of God. Like other parables, such as the mustard seed, in which the beginnings of God's kingdom start small. A seed – which may seem dormant, even dead, but holds the potential for all sorts of life to sprout forth. A miracle of latent power in each seed, really, and so an apt metaphor for the word of God. We will see this seed in action when we get to examining the various soils.

And the sower – Is it the Father who sends out his word via the apostles and prophets, or the Son – who preached freely to all about the kingdom that was at hand and had arrived in him – or is it the pastor, who even today, preaches and proclaims the word of God – the whole counsel of God, law and gospel, treasures old and new? Probably the answer is yes, all of the above. Take your pick.

But not all have ears to hear. And so not all will hear. There are, sadly, different kinds of soil. And not all of it is good. Why doesn't the preached word of God always flourish? Why isn't the Gospel always received with great joy and to marvelous effect? Why doesn't every mission congregation that preaches the good news of Jesus grow into a sprawling megachurch brimming with parishioners and bursting with baptisms, weddings, and filling its coffers with offerings?

What's wrong with the seed? Is it bad? No. But there are different kinds of soil. In fact, the same good seed is sown – even recklessly so – on all kinds of soil. And yet the mystery is that some receive and some do not. Some believe, and some do not. Some seem to get it, yet fall away – either lacking deep roots, or choked by the cares of the world. So it goes, and so it goes...

One purpose of this parable appears to be to set our minds at rest on this question, “why do some believe, and not others?” And while he really doesn't explain it, Jesus does show the way it works, how it happens. There are spiritual forces that hinder the word of God. So don't be surprised. There are different kinds of soil, and so the seed, that is, the word, does not always produce the same. There are different kinds of people, in different situations, with different reactions to the word, and so the seed sprouts differently here and there.

And another thing. Just because some of the seed doesn't become full grown plants, doesn't mean there's something wrong with the seed. Nor does one lay blame upon the sower. Rather, it is the soil that is not fertile. It is too rocky, to weed-filled, or what have you. In other terms, when the Gospel is rejected, it's not God's fault or desire. When men refuse to hear and believe, when we close our ears, let the cares or riches or pleasures of the world overtake us, it's on us. So when people fall for the devil's temptations and disbelieve or despair, it is our their doing, the blame is on them, not the sower, or the seed.

But thank God we are the good soil, right? Thank God we always hear the word with a noble and good heart! Thank God we always keep his word and have all these wonderful fruits of faith to show! Thank God we have such patience and, well, too bad for all those other bad soils out there.

Does anything sound wrong to you about such talk? It should! Jesus doesn't mean to puff up our egos here with his parable – to give us a sense of spiritual superiority over all those other kinds of soil.

But part of the mystery is also this: That you and I can be all of these sorts of soil at one time or another!

Some seed falls aside the road, is trampled, and quickly snatched by the devil. Sometimes the devil's wicked machinations are successful in turning our attention away from the word of God. Sometimes he distracts us, and we let him. Sometimes he twists the scriptures or sows doubt with his age-old question, “did God really say?”. He loves to brew his concoctions of truth mixed with error and then get us to take a swig or two. And if he could, he would snatch the Gospel away entirely, and leave us with nothing but false pride or despair. Sometimes the Word appears to fall on deaf ears. The seed of its teaching never takes root, never grows, and is gone quickly. The Devil can't stand the idea that it might yet sprout, so he does what he can quickly to interfere, and snatch that word away.

Dear Lord, protect us from this foe! And he does. For the same thing that Satan would snatch away is itself the weapon that defeats him – one little word can fell him – if that word is the Word of God. The foe is defeated by Christ in the wilderness. The foe is defeated by Christ at the cross. The foe in triumph shouted when Christ lay in the tomb, but lo, he now is routed, his boast turned into gloom. Christ lives! The battle is won. The word proclaims it. Let our hearts believe it.

Likewise the temptations and the cares of this world, we sometimes let pollute our soil. Persecution or the fear of it may choke out the word, if we let it. Riches, too, can be a hindrance – for all too often the soil that thinks it is rich is poor, and only the soil that knows it is poor needs what the good seed brings.

And no, friends, we have no time to stand around criticizing our neighbor's soil, pontificating on why his plants aren't bearing more fruit, and what he could be doing to improve. We have plenty of problems in our own backyard, in the garden of our own life, the weed-patch of our own hearts. Repentance is always in order.

Deliver us, Lord, from being unreceptive to or distracted from your word! Keep us from comparing our lives to our neighbor, but ever only to the perfect standard of your word. Remind us, then, not only of our sin, but of our Savior, who intends to sow in us his good word, that we may be fruitful. Amen.

How often Christians emphasize “being in the word”, and “you need to be in the word”. But the picture here is different. The word is planted in us. Even this is God's doing, not ours. When you hear Law and Gospel preached – for your repentance and forgiveness – the Spirit of God is blowing those seeds toward you. When you are convicted of your guilt but comforted by Christ's forgiveness, the Spirit plants that word in your heart once again. And when the Spirit brings you to faith, and to deeper faith by his own mysterious working of that word – then does it bear the abundant fruit, the hundredfold that Jesus promises. When sinners are brought to repentance and faith in Christ.

And Christ's gifts of forgiveness and mercy are distributed even more freely than the reckless sower scatters his seed. Oh what of that, and what of that? He is no respecter of persons, but died to save all – Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. Big sinners and little sinners, lifelong church people and those who've just arrived. He casts the same good seed to all.

To you, friends in Christ, it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God. To you, the good seed of His word has been cast. In you, the Spirit works to sprout and grow that word planted in your heart, that it would flourish and flower and bear fruit a hundredfold.

But he does it not by making you strong and successful and glorious. He does it by death and resurrection. He does it by suffering, cross-bearing, and refinement in fire. He buries you with Christ in baptism, drowning Old Adam each day, as by grace the New Man arises. May it ever be so by God's grace in Christ. Let us continually receive his word, as all his gifts, with thanksgiving.