Monday, December 28, 2015

St. John, Apostle & Evangelist [Christmas 1; St. John 21:19b-24]

As we continue to celebrate Christmas, we hear this day of the Feast of St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist. We know him as the fourth Evangelist, having written the fourth gospel. We also know him as the youngest of the disciples and even that he did not die like the other 11, but got to live to an old age.

And what we hear tonight, from this blessed Apostle, is the command to follow Jesus. Jesus says this three times in this gospel reading and the funny part is Sts. Peter and John were already following Him, but Jesus makes the point here that constant repentance and conversion is needed for the Christian.

So what does it look like for you today to “follow” Jesus? Well, we have talked about this before and have concluded that it is not enough just to ape Jesus, we must literally follow Him; see where He goes; see what He does and why He does it. One of the told the Church uses for such an endeavor is the Lectionary.

A lection is a reading of texts and in our case, it is a collection of texts which we cycle through each year. Along with this yearly Lectionary come traditions, ceremonies, and ways of celebrating each certain time.

Christmas and Easter, being easy to see. Advent and Lent, the next easiest with candles, extra services, and a darker tone to the readings. In this, the Church employs every sense of the Christian: sight, smell, touch, hear, and taste in order to follow Jesus through His life and see how He will accomplish salvation for us.

This Lectionary has been carefully created, reformed, and handed down through the centuries to finally get to you. The readings which you hear and the way they are presented has been found to be the best way to get the message across.

With this kind of importance attached to it, it is no wonder that it becomes are target of Satan, for at no other time of the year than at Christmas do you hear the words: saturnalia, sol invictus, Mithras, or Horus so often.

These arte just a few of the “old” pagan holy days that unbelievers accuse Christianity of taking over and converting to Christina holidays and Christmas is no exception. It is said that Dec. 25 is not really the date of Christ’s birth, but was the celebrations of these other gods proving two things: 1) if you’re a real Christian you shouldn’t celebrate and 2) because Christianity copies these, Christianity is false.

Even though this is used against the Church, the world knows about ceremony and celebration. It even knows about lectionaries, because it has its own, but it is not original. The lectionary of the world is a corruption of church’s and thus is a rhythm of natural things.

Satan gladly uses any and everything to distract you from the Son of God. If there is something better to celebrate on any given Sunday, it is there in your head and it keeps you away instead of here. Because, here is just the same old stuff that has nothing to do with my life.

You demand lectionaries. You demand that the surgeon have a manual and knows what he’s doing each time you visit. You demand that the doctor understand medicine and how best to treat you, every time. You demand that your clothes fit, that your food nourishes, and that your brain works to understand it all. And the Church lectionary is a burden?!

Come, let us reason together. If Jesus handed over the Church to you and told you to feed His flock, how would you go about it? Would you just do whatever anyone wanted to do each day? Would you allow any and everything that is popular, at the moment, to be let inside? What about after that gets old, then what?

The Church is unhelpful and unproductive without a lectionary. The Church becomes a prostitute of the culture when she has no culture of her own. The Church becomes a liar, a salesman, and a swindler when the Truth is not in her.

Jesus tells us to follow Him and yet all He gives us is Sts. Peter and John. No one is waiting for us in Bethlehem. No one is waiting in dark Gethsemane or light Gethsemane. There is no cross on Golgotha and I’m sure the empty tomb has long since crumbled away.

Christmass-time gives us the answer. Since time began God has continued to work the same way towards salvation. He handed over all things to Adam and gave him instructions. He left all 8 remaining people on the earth in the hands of Noah. Jesus gave responsibility of the entire population of the Church to one old man, Abraham, through his one and only son, Isaac.

The Lord continues to work through men throughout history. Jesus does not simply interact with these men spiritually. The way they knew and the way everyone else knew that the Lord was there was by His Word, for either it came true then and was written down, or it came true later.

The written Word now comes directly from the mouth of God Himself, In Christ. God loves the lectionary because He wrote it. It is not about teaching you how to be a good person or invoking feelings of nostalgia, it is about Jesus and His work done for you.

This is what happens in the Church: it has the entirety of holy Scripture, as you do today in the Bible. It has plenty of time,, because whether Christ comes back today or many todays from now, it doesn’t matter for she has been made ready already. So, she takes her time, goes through each major event leading up to the Resurrection and what comes out is the lectionary.

It is a natural progression from having the Word of God to following Jesus and the Lectionary allows you fulfill this command. For in the Lectionary we do just that. We follow Jesus, not to the exclusion of every other part of the Bible, but to its fullest expression.

It is only in Jesus that we conclude that human and earthly things are holy, for Jesus came as a man, forever sanctifying humanity and earthly things. God did not create all things just to leave them behind and neither did He give all things to us only to have them turn into lies.

Jesus sets us in the fortress of His true Body, giving us a right spirit, in order to hear His Word and believe it, even if we were only to celebrate Christmass every Sunday of the year, we would still hear the entire counsel of God.

But the Lord, and we, are more creative than that. Plus, we love to hear as much of what Christ is doing as possible. God loves pure doctrine and the only way to that is through the Word. Simply by believing in and loving the Word, the Church already keeps out so many lies and false teachings that it would be impossible to list them all.

In being made man, Jesus gives us more than simply a wonderful and heart-touching story about Himself. He gives us Christmass and He gives us St. John, both of which, take all of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation, and feed it to us, repeatedly. For St. John has taken us on the wings of an eagle, in his gospel, shown us the beginning and the end; the alpha and the omega.

St. John, a man redeemed by Christ, has written words, in Christ, that we may believe, in Christ; that we may be baptized into Christ and that we may eat and drink of Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins.

Through men, even becoming a man Himself, God has spoken to us of His Son Who was conceived, born on Christmass which we await through Advent, reveals Himself as the God-man in Epiphany, suffers for us in Lent, dies on Good Friday, rises again on Easter and ascends into heaven. He gives us His Holy Spirit on Pentecost and governs and keeps the true Faith in His one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church on earth, during Trinity, to which He will come again as our judge.

Jesus is coming. Jesus comes. Jesus reveals. Jesus suffers. Jesus dies. Jesus lives again. Jesus ascends. Jesus gives. Jesus works today and will come again. This is the cycle holy Scripture presents to you and this is the cycle that the Lectionary keeps you in, year after year, in order that you hear what is written and believe that Jesus is the Christ.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Key

The first Sunday in Advent, the King of kings humiliated Himself by riding on a donkey towards His coronation. The Second Sunday, He brought comfort by shaking the heavens and causing the seas to roil. Last Sunday, He took control by letting others control His destiny.

This Sunday, Jesus appears to cause more trouble and confusion by sending John out first, making it look like he is the one to come.  In fact, the message Jesus comes to bring so infuriates believers and non-believers alike, that all you hear can be summed up by author George Orwell when he said:
“War is peace; freedom is slavery; ignorance is strength.”

In Mr. Orwell’s usage, this is a derogatory statement, meant to reveal the evils of government gone mad. Whether or not you are familiar with his book 1984, this truth still holds today. Lies sell newspapers, gain ratings, and win elections.

War is peace. The excuse goes that if we don’t fight evil overseas, soon we will find it on our own doorstep. So, the lie is that we must continue to fight fruitless, murderous wars in order to keep the world safe. That, somehow, if we send enough bombs and drones and boots on the ground, we can force the world to accept democracy and peace, or else.

Freedom is slavery. This lie says that if we don’t give up some of our liberty, we will forever be in danger and never live in peace and safety. Thus, we must allow others to control most aspects of our lives like what we say, what food we buy, and how much money and private property we can have and keep. Somehow, if everyone has an equal share, then true peace will exist and no one will steal or murder or do evil anymore.

Ignorance is strength. You can hear the talking heads drooling over their turn to denounce Christianity once again, as the true evil in the world. That the Church hides so many secrets and controls so many puppet strings, that no one who is involved knows how to think for themselves. Yet, the intellectual elites are doing the same thing to their own audiences.

Whether in the church or in society, someone always wants you dumb because that is strength; not for you, but for them. The less you know, the more likely you are to believe the next filth that drips from your betters’ mouth.

The great offense of Christmas is that it promotes these same ideas. Jesus advocates for exactly this kind of belief. The reason so many people hate Christmass and Christianity is that Jesus advocates for warfare, their slavery, and their ignorance.

To the sinner, Jesus seems to create war. He comes, as we have said, stirring up dissension. In fact that is one of the accusations the priests accuse Him of on Maundy Thursday. Jesus says things like, “Tear down this temple” and “hate your life” and “leave your father and mother behind” among other anarchist propaganda.

Jesus demands allegiance and intends to wipe out any and all opposition. But not just allegiance, worship; as in He is the master and you are the slave. You get no say, you get no vote, and you must follow His way. Jesus does not reveal everything to you, but simply says to trust Him, even though you are in ignorance.

Repent. In some ways, it is easier to swing your sword at a monster of flesh and blood than at a monster of the imagination, or propaganda. The monster of flesh and blood provides real resistance to nerve your arms. The monster of the imagination doesn’t. It is now here, now there, now this, now that, flickering in and out of existence, like the incoherent course of a dream.

Hearing God’s Word is hard enough. Seeing it made flesh is an impossible.

Yet it is a glorious impossible. The glorious impossible of an unknowable God making Himself known as a man. The glorious impossible of myth and legends coming to life in a manger, making it all true. The glorious impossible of your salvation through war, slavery, and ignorance.

War because the Son of God does battle with sin, death, and the devil. Slavery because Jesus takes on God’s will and your sin, and yet serves you eternal life, faithfully, without complaint. Ignorance, for now your sin and your guilt are no longer remembered. God has blotted them out from memory, turning a blind eye and a blind mind to all transgressions.

In Jesus, the bound donkey is released in order to serve the true Master. In Christ, you are set free from the bondage of sin, death, and the devil. Your mistaken definitions of these things are revealed as false and Jesus places true definitions in your mouth.

The human definition of war is a false corrupt thing, misapplied. It is God who fights and God who wins. Slavery is also falsely seen by you and only exists negatively because of sin. It is not horrid to bow to the will of God, in fact it is to your eternal benefit that God’s will, which is to send His Son to die for you, be done and not your own.

Then is the idea of knowledge. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is evil. What would sinful you do if God told you how the stars worked or what blue tastes like or why water is wet? In our corruption, we would corrupt such things. In God’s forbearance, He would use them as a means to an end; He would use them to accomplish your salvation.

The ideas of evil, corruption, and oppression are human ideas. They come from our flesh striving to be gods and from our minds attempting to overtake the throne.

Christ is the key to undo all of this. Christ is the key to understanding what true peace, freedom, and strength are like. Christ is the key that unlocks holy Scriptures to us in order that we find all of these things in Him alone.

For in order to be true God, He must become man, suffer and die. In order to be true man, He must be assumed into the Godhead. In order to be the Christ, Jesus must become sin in order that you will come to know no sin.

In the great reversal, the guilty are set free and the innocent is lead away to be crucified, for you. In the great and wrathful day of the Lord, Jesus dies on a cross as He alone participates in that day. On the day of the Lord’s visitation, Jesus ransoms captive Israel.

On this day, that the Lord has made, Jesus shows us the path of knowledge, gives us His Gospel, frees from Satan’s tyranny, closes the path to misery, disperses the gloomy clouds of night, and bids our sad divisions cease. Not by the sword or coercion or confusion, but by His Sacraments.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Angel-ed [Advent 3; St. Matthew 11:2-10]

Whenever you hear a word in holy Scripture like tell or message or report, it is almost always the word that literally reads: “angel”. What angel really means is message or messenger; one who has a message to tell.

The Gospel is such a message. We could even call it the message of the angels, for their only message is of Jesus. This message is what St. John was given to preach. As he was preparing the way of the Lord, he reported the Gospel message.

There are only two human reactions to the Gospel, when it is preached to you. The first is idleness and the second is violent opposition. If we remember what happens to St. John the Baptist after this, we would know that Herod liked to listen to John, but did nothing about what he said. Herodias, on the other hand, listened to John, but had John’s head served to her on a plate, for it.

That’s it. Your human condition is so utterly corrupted, that you only have those two choices, for you cannot by your own reason or strength believe or come to belief. So what is it that you do, exactly? What is your reaction to the Gospel?

Upon hearing this, you should break out in song at all times of the day, as we have been talking about on Wednesday evenings. You should be publicly confessing what you believe to everyone everyday. You should be investing all of your earthly treasure in it, looking forward to a heavenly treasure. You should have zero time to do anything else except to listen to and hear this message.

John the Baptist has the message of the angels and he speaks it to your as an angel. Rotting in prison, his sin gets the best of him. He sees Jesus not baptizing in fire, not bringing wrath, and not saving him. So, he appears to lose it.

In fact, St. Luke says that the disciples John sends come back as angels to John, meaning they come back to retell the Gospel to John in prison. They return because the Gospel needs to be preached. Comfort needs to be spoken to you.

There is nothing else in the world to hear. When the breath of the Lord blows, the grass withers and you are the grass. Your iniquity needs pardoning. Your stewardship needs to be accounted for. That which you hide in the dark recesses of your heart must be brought to light. Those who are in prison, must be freed.

You are in prison. You are a slave to your bellies and yourself. You return to the same sins that you thought had been done away with. You look for salvation in distraction yourself or in others. Finding none, you continue to look for it in those same places; again and again.

You want God in control and yet He is not controlling your life. You want your problems solved and yet they continue, endlessly. You want to love Jesus, but you find that to be one more struggle, day to day. You want out of your prison, but it would take too much of your effort and time to breakout.

Darkness is upon us all, whether we admit it or not. We would rather do nothing when we hear God’s Word, because rejecting it outright, in front of everyone, would be embarrassing.

It beats the alternative. That would be belief that all this is real; that you actually have to do something about this Jesus person. That you can’t sit idle and that rebelling against God is wrong and the fact that you must struggle with this everyday means you are not doing it.

So what do you do? Is God really just making the blind see, the lame walk, cleansing lepers, making the deaf hear, raising one or two of the dead, and speaking nicely with the poor people 200 years ago? Is this just another metaphor?

If you continue in sin, preferring your own judgments and emotions, then yes, this is all a metaphor and nothing to do with you whatsoever. However, Jesus is in control and He is doing something. That something is actually losing control and doing nothing.

Yes, Jesus loses control! This Christmas you will hear of God who is a baby; vulnerable, subject to parents, and dependent. This Lent, you will hear of the God-man who allows His enemies (you and me) to arrest Him, scourge Him, and kill Him. Jesus hands over control to you, does nothing about it, and suffers and dies.

God is in control precisely because He did not take control. God is active, because He rested in order to be handed over. Jesus preaches and shows us this on the cross, but you and John the Baptist don’t like it.

You don’t like that there is suffering, yet Jesus suffered. You don’t like that there is injustice, yet Jesus was falsely convicted. You don’t like that there is capitol punishment, yet Jesus was condemned to it. The opposite of what you and St. John want, Jesus is doing, for you all.

This is the Gospel that is continuously preached to you. Jesus releases those from the prison of their sin, death, and the power of the devil, by becoming the prisoner. Jesus heals perfectly with His true Body and Blood, by giving His Body and Blood over. Jesus forgives by allowing Himself to be the Unforgiven One upon the cross.

Jesus, the creator of the angels, brings this message of Himself to you. Because you are idle in your sin, Jesus gives His spirit which is never idle, especially when hearing the Word. Because you violently react against God in sin, Jesus takes on that violence upon Himself, almost as if He is letting you vent it all out on Him.

Giving you Faith, and by that faith alone, there is now a third Way to react to the Gospel: Rejoicing. You now rejoice in the midst of your suffering and death, because Jesus has taken their guilt and power away from you. Though they do their worst, which is kill, not even death can hold you because it could not hold Jesus.

Being baptized into Jesus, you are now where His Body is and wherever it goes. Yes, it ascends in to heaven to sit at the right hand of God, but it comes to dwell among you in the flesh. The Body of Christ gathers around the Good News of salvation, preached at this Altar and given in these sacraments.

God is not in control because your life is in control. God is in control because you find forgiveness of sins on earth. God is not acting because you feel happy. God is acting because you hear of Jesus crucified for you.

God is not working because peace in the world is growing (its not). God is working because Peace with God has been made and is being handed out for free, only in Jesus. Through faith you remain in this world to receive forgiveness. By grace you are justified in the middle of committing your sins. For Christ’s sake you are made a holy saint though you remain a sinner.

You doubt because God’s ways are not your ways and a cross looks like a horrible instrument of peace and comfort. However, the God your soul longs for, to save and commune with you, acts only in this way to remove idleness, violence, and all sin from you that you might live and hear His Word of forgiveness.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Muted song [Advent 2 Wednesday Vespers; St. Luke 1:76-79]

How many of you remember the story of the birth of John the Baptist? How St. Zacharias was struck dumb for unbelief and unable to speak even when it came time to name his very own son?

St. Elizabeth, however, was not dumb. She was still speaking and even though her husband failed to believe, she knew her son’s name and proclaimed it. But it wasn’t just John’s name she proclaimed, but the promise made to her that was fulfilled in his naming.

This promise made to Zacharias causes his mouth to open in song, that is, the Benedictus. The Church sings his song during morning prayer services.

Last week we introduced what singing in the Church should be. That it should be doctrinally sound, meaning full of Christ and His Gospel, not our actions towards God. This is for 2 reasons: 1) these are the songs of heaven and 2) in heaven, there are only songs of and about Jesus.

This does not mean you are excluded. This does not mean that you can’t enjoy and heart warming rendition of one of your favorite Christmas carols. It does mean that you should want to be very careful and specific when singing in Church, because you never know when you will be made mute.

And yet, you are mute right now. When it really comes down to it; when you are put on the spot to defend your neighbor and speak well of him, you are mute. You may talk a good game, but your heart is far from your neighbor.

Jesus tells us that it was music and song that drove away the evil spirits from the kings of Israel (1 Sam. 16:23). What does it mean when we stop singing? What does it mean that we sing any old thing in front of our crucified and risen Lord, in the flesh?

It means that in your sin, you do not have the right to sing. In sin, your only preference is for yourself and so what you bring before the Lord is only filth and rubbish. Every prayer, every song, and every confession you make should fill you with trepidation.

As is the case with Zacharias. He sided with the world and believed when it sang to him that he and Elizabeth were too old to have children. He sang the world’s song of old age and death to an angel trying to tell him differently.

You are made mute, because you do not know that the Scriptures speak only of Christ and the power within is the power of the Gospel for salvation. Worldly songs of lust, disease, and death have no part of the kingdom of heaven.

The real music your soul longs for and the true song your body aches for is the song of Christ. The Church’s song proclaims the Church’s Lord, given and shed for you. St. Isaiah says that the Lord is his strength and his song ((12:2). Dr. Luther writes that he has no one to sing and chant about but Christ, in Whom I have everything (AE 16:129).

The true music that opens St. Zacharias’ tongue is the life Jesus gave to his son and Zacharias’ response is naming that life. I’m certain that St. Zacharias, his tongue having been released from its bondage, sang a strange song all day, the only lyrics being: His name is John.

Our hymn of the Day teaches us the same thing. We cry for the Lord to open our lips into the correct song and “O Savior rend the heavens wide” is what comes out.

A savior from the heavens comes down to unlock heaven through death. True life from heaven, and yet from the virgin’s womb. True God and true man, which is why the hymn speaks of these earthly hills and dales being watered by heaven. The darkness of sin and death only last until the Fount of Hope and the Morning Star breaks upon it.

You can not sing heavenly songs if you are not heavenly people. You can not sing of Christ if you do not first have faith in Christ. From the exile of muteness, we are led to the open mouth of the baptismal font. In Christ we sing forever and forevermore.

Jesus is our only hope. If His song is not enough; If His Word is not enough; If His sacraments are not enough, then we are doomed and will be left as orphans.

However, with song we give voice to hope. With our own great hymnody, we loudly proclaim the Gospel of salvation which alone satisfies man’s deepest need: communion with the incarnate God.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Anti-glory [Advent 2; St. Luke 21:25-36]

Jesus speaks to you today, in His Gospel, saying,
“So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.”

The Alleluia Verse also spoke to us the words of Jesus saying that all the powers of heaven shall be shaken and the Son of Man will come with power and great glory. Even the Introit and the Collect; all of our Propers this day point us to the time when the Lord will come to shepherd us and cause His face to shine upon us and save us.

We have plenty of proof that the world is going to hell, for earth and even heaven will pass away, saith the Lord. But is this what Jesus was talking about that we need to be watchful for? Do we really just need to hang on to every news story from Fox or the 700 Club in order to be ready for the Coming of the Son of man?

According to most news outlets, God isn’t fixing what is wrong. We pray, but that doesn’t seem to change anything. We can act, but there’s always something else. One after the other. As soon as we try to turn our lives around or try to love our neighbors as ourselves, there is always too much to do. Maybe God is tired like us.

How many of you know what a manger is? You know, that thing we lay Jesus in every Advent. We have farmers in this congregation, so maybe it is somewhat familiar, maybe not. In any case, it is a feeding trough.

In Bible times mangers were made from clay mixed with straw or from stones held together with mud and we have heard of mud and straw before when the Hebrews were slaves under Pharaoh. Jesus is born and is laid in the symbol of the slavery of His people.

Our word, manger, comes from the Latin meaning to chew. This is not a clean item. The spot where animals feed is popular and heavily trodden. You can imagine the mud, the slobber, and the waste. All to welcome the King of Kings on the night of His birth.

You see, great power and glory do not look like a manger to you. To you, great power and glory is a Superbowl win, or a big check in the bank, or maybe even a complete stop to all evil in the world, especially mass shootings. Perhaps you are more humble in what you think power and glory are so they could be providing for others, financial freedom, or good health. If you think small enough, then maybe you can see God working.

Repent! So what is the opposite of great power and glory? Failure? Poverty? Homelessness? A dysfunctional family or disease? Whatever your idea of it is, by pointing it out in others, you simply judge yourself. Do not think that simply because you know good and bad, that it gives you the longer end of the stick.

However, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come.” (Bonhoeffer)

Jesus tells us that the world is passing away. You should not be comfortable here. You should not want to keep a summer house here. Most of all, you should not expect a world that crucified its Creator to be at peace.

God’s thoughts and way are not yours, but at least you know them. Yes, you know what God is thinking and what He is doing about all this evil: He is bringing it to an end.

In Jesus, you find the thoughts and actions of God. God is not idle, but He doesn’t do things the way you want Him to. As God allows Himself to be placed in a manger, that symbol of slavery and oppression, He is bringing things to an end.

By being born of a virgin; by become just like you in every way, except without sin and by riding donkeys to crucifixions, Jesus makes a way. The Glory of the Son of God is the fact that He becomes a servant. The Glory of the Son of God is the fact that He is humiliated. The Glory of the Son of God is the fact that He dies.

Jesus teaches us and the whole world what it really means to be fighting and winning against evil and that is dying in order to forgive all sin of all people of all time. The glory of the world is a hero in shining armor, making laws to ban all evil wherever it may be found.

Jesus is the true hero and He is to be found in the shining white clothes of the resurrection, which begins in the filthy rags of birth in a manger. For our true enemies are not found in far away countries, domestic congressional houses, nor in prisons or mass shootings.

The real enemy is found within our hearts. It is there that we find, in the deep recesses, the same potential to unleash evil as anyone else on the planet. It is in that heart that we find the same filth that surrounds the manger and swaddling clothes of Jesus.

But it is to that exact place that Christ arrives. In the manger of your enslaved and festering heart, wrapped in the swaddling filth of your death, and sleeping in peace amid much evil, Jesus comes. He comes to make and end of your suffering and death in the bondage of sin. He comes to bring peace.

God does not desire sacrifice. God does not desire submission. God does not desire anything you can give. The broken and contrite heart, Jesus comes to replace. The poor in spirit are to be served abundance. Those hungering and thirsting for glory will find a meal prepared for them in a manger. The Glory of God hangs on a cross.

There would be no point to removing all evil in the world if it still existed in the hearts of men, for it would just rear its ugly head once more. No law or act of kindness can prevent evil, because the very people who make those laws and act kind are the ones with evil in their hearts.

So even though we remain on an evil earth with evil hearts in the midst of a people evil hearts, Jesus comes to serve His clean heart and His right spirit, even to all evil people. Jesus comes for the unrighteous. Jesus comes for sinners. Jesus comes to replace the evil with Himself, Body and Blood.

For this reason, we do not trust in princes or gun control or any laws. We trust in the Gospel which is the power of God for conversion, for salvation, and for hope. We trust in the only tried and true weapon against evil that doesn’t look like a weapon at all.

That is the Good News that Jesus, born in a manger, offers Himself as the food and drink of forgiveness, in order to fix that which is irreparable. Jesus speaks His Word to create a heart of flesh where only stone exists. Jesus baptizes the filthy rags in order that only the robes of the resurrection remain with you.

So when you see God coming in great power and glory, then lift up your heads, for salvation is nearer to you now, than when you first believed and though we walk through the darkness of Advent, the never ending light of Easter dawn is already breaking in the Star of Bethlehem, shining on an infant, Who was once laid in a manger.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Sing a song [Advent 1 Wednesday Vespers; St. Luke 2:29-32]

As we heard of donkeys being sung to, this past Sunday, tonight we see that singing is no small thing that happens only once in awhile. For, we just heard of singing in three different places in holy Scripture: the Psalms, which were always sung, Simeon, who sang to us our Nunc Dimittis, and St. Paul who tells us that the Church sings.

The founding father of all of the Lutheran churches in Indiana, Friedrich Wyneken, says this about singing, when he first arrived in America: “ America is a strange place.  Outside of church I still haven’t heard anyone sing.  I still can’t believe that Americans can travel and work in such a beautiful forest and not sing.” (His first letter to Haesbeart on October 1, 1838)

Even Dr. Luther says that “next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.”

Though we do not need these wonderful men of God to tell us something that Jesus has already told us, that if we were to be silent, even the very rocks would cry out! (Lk. 19:40) So, if you don’t want to sing, Jesus will have someone or something else sing.

As Lutherans, we believe St. Paul when he wrote to the Romans, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  And so, throughout our liturgy on Sunday mornings, we hear and respond with a faithful confession.  We listen to the sermon, that is, the preached and proclaimed word of God into the ears of the hearers.  The sermon is faith being preached. To that end, faith is edified and grows.  Hymns, simply put, are sermons set to music.

Thus, as we sing the beautiful language of the hymns of our forefathers, we combine our voices with theirs, throughout all of history. Not only those faithful people, but also with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.

What did heaven do at Christ’s birth? Sang. What did heaven do at the Resurrection? Sang. All the times in between and since has been filled with singing. And ours are to be no different.

The prophets of the Old Testament did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology they did it not with geometry, cook books, games, or astronomy, but as music (AE 49:428) so that you would hear what is profitable and more deeply impress true doctrine upon your souls.

What we sang this evening is no different. From the 4th century A.D., St. Ambrose’s words still preach Christ crucified for us. They are still as fresh and relevant today as they were 1700 years ago.

In 8 stanzas he practically confesses the entirety of what faith believes in. Faith can not help but sing out these wonderful truths about Jesus. If it can’t sing, it will at least speak the words.

So we hear the venerable bishop of Milan and believe that the Lord chose to be born of a virgin, the Christmass miracle. That it was by the Spirit, in order that Jesus be free from sin and yet still be a true man.

We believe that it is a mystery how the virgin remained a virgin, yet in her womb Jesus sat upon His throne, thus sanctifying being pregnant and all stages of fetal development. It is Mary’s womb, that pure and kingly hall, from which Jesus steps forth headlong towards the cross.

Being God He healed many, even riding a donkey to His death. But hell and death could not hold Him. Jesus rose and is able to take back the throne and crown of Life. Only the Father’s Son could do this, not spiritually or figuratively, but in the flesh. And it is in the flesh that He is able to heal us all perfectly either in life or in death.

This heroic course begins in a womb and a manger, a feeding trough for unclean animals. Full of slobber and mess, the Light of the World shines forth. Darkness is dispelled in this way and no other. Faith is given by this man in this way and none other.

The Word of Christ, not the word of man, richly dwells within the Church in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Col. 3:16). And where the Word of Christ is, there Christ Himself is, doling out His blood-bought gifts.

So, it is vital not just that a congregation sing hymns which are technically error-free; the hymns must proclaim Christ and His benefits; in a word, the Gospel.

Thus, you sing; 7 stanzas, 8 stanzas, or 15 stanzas. Rhythmic or isorhythmic. Plainsong or sing-song. Easy or difficult you sing with gusto and joy, knowing that all is for the proclamation of the Gospel for you, not your proclamation to God.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Bit and bridle [Advent 1; St. Matthew 21:1-9]

On this first Sunday in Advent, Jesus speaks to you saying,
“If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once.”

Consider the donkeys. They are not parade horses or Rolls-Royces. They are not flashy or attractive, yet Jesus frees one and rides one in order that it be known that He is King of kings. Yes, we are to see that this humbles Jesus, but what does that mean?

The hymn of the day will give us our first clue. As printed on your bulletin, Jesus is on His way. He comes from the Father and returns to the Father. His road goes down to hell, but He returns to the right hand of God. Partly by using this donkey.

Consider this donkey who worked for a gardener. Because the gardener made the donkey work very hard but gave him very little food, the donkey prayed for another master, so the donkey was sold to a potter. The donkey also found this situation unbearable, since he was forced to carry even heavier loads than before. He prayed again, and this time the donkey was purchased by a tanner. When the donkey saw the kind of work the tanner did, he said, 'Oh, it would have been better for me to have kept on working for my previous masters in a state of starvation! Now I have ended up in a place where I won't even get a proper burial after I die.' (The donkey and his masters)

Repent! Even though the crosses you bear are from God Himself as good for you to have, you wish to be free of them. You turn to sin in order to blind your eyes from burdens you may carry saying, “Let someone else worry about it” or “I have to take care of myself”. In this sense you have much to be freed from.

In the second half of the Gospel reading, the donkey is freed only to be ridden. Now, that seems a might backwards. You’d think freedom would be getting to do whatever you want and not what someone else wants to do.

In fact, another parable comes to mind about a donkey that had turned aside from the main road and was heading for a cliff. The driver shouted at him, 'Where are you going, you wretched beast?' He grabbed hold of the donkey's tail and tried to drag him back from the cliff, but the donkey did not stop and instead kept going forward. So the man pushed the donkey even harder than he had pulled him back and said, 'Go ahead then! You can take the worthless victor's crown in this blasted contest.' (The driver and the donkey)

Repent! Had you been born a donkey, you would have been happier having at least the excuse for being stubborn and selfish. Yet, since you are human, you consider it your right to be such a person, diving head-first into sin, especially in front of those whom you despise.

With all this in mind, Dr. Luther compares humanity to donkeys. Really, the scripture does so, but in a nicer way. Isaiah says that we are all like sheep and have gone astray (53:6). That means: away from belief. Dr. Luther puts it in a harsher tone. So strong is the desire to sin in your bones that you need to be ridden in order to be free.

Thus you are either ridden by the devil or ridden by Christ.

Dear Christians, can you now see that having Christ as your master is true freedom? Satan does not even ride you, he simply binds you up and leaves you in your sin, watching as you destroy yourself in it. “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle…” (Ps.32:9)

However, it is not enough just to cut the rope, for a loose donkey is still a donkey. No, the donkey must be changed in order that he see clearly, think clearly, and act clearly.

Jesus becomes a man. He is born of a virgin into the bondage of sin and death; your sin and death. He takes on your chains of burden and torment that steer you towards a cliff and bathes you in His glory, allowing all those near to shout “Glory to God in the Highest!”

Christ baptizes you into His majesty. By becoming bound by our sin and dying, He opens the kingdom of heaven to you. Jesus leaves His pure and kingly hall to ride around on a donkey in order to take back His kingdom through the cross. God of God yet fully man, Jesus unties the sinner in His sacraments.

The sinner made saint is not ridden in slavery, but ridden in love. Such love our Lord has for us, that He gives us a right spirit and a clean heart in order that we hear only good news from His lips. This is neither slavery nor bondage, it is true freedom.

To hear the Word of God and believe is faith-giving. To hear the command of Jesus, to be baptized and believe, is salvific. To hear the invitation to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins is not oppressive, but liberating.

True life is found only in Christ and true freedom is only given out by the only Son of God. As slaves of Christ you have been untied from sin, death, and the devil. As bearers of Jesus’ Gospel, you have been made to see, talk, and think clearly. As recipients of all that Christ has won for you on the cross, you are free.

The truth is, we are not neutral. We either have one master or the other and Jesus makes it so that the choice is easy and that all the work associated with it is accomplished. For, as He comes to take on the flesh of man, He comes to set you free.

Jesus came in the flesh, as one of you, yet with out sin. He came humble and riding on a donkey, heading towards the cross. Through this, Jesus accomplishes the mighty task of salvation, which we prepare to see the beginning of at Christmass.

Thus, with the whole Church, and the donkeys, we wait to hear of this wondrous love that elevates a lowly donkey to a noble steed; that glorifies you as the object of Christ’s love so much, that He hands Himself over to death, in order that you see, smell, taste, touch, and hear the holy things of God.

G.K. Chesterton writes this poem from our friend the donkey’s point of view:
When fishes flew and forests walked   
   And figs grew upon thorn,   
Some moment when the moon was blood   
   Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
   And ears like errant wings,   
The devil’s walking parody   
   On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
   Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,   
   I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
   One far fierce hour and sweet:   
There was a shout about my ears,
   And palms before my feet.

In Advent, we wait for our hour that Jesus gives to us. The hour when the Son of Man is glorified. The hour when God is reconciled to sinners. The hour when Christ takes on human flesh, dies upon the cross and frees us from our bondage of sin.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Bridal care [Ultimate Sunday; St. Matthew 25:1-13]

On this, the final Sunday, we once again find ourselves faced with the End of all things as Jesus returns one final time and says to you today,
“And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.”

The hymn of the day, which you just sang, is a wedding hymn. The wedding hymns which we sing, reveal a Bridegroom and a Bride. There is nothing about love, care, equality, vows, or commitment.

You all used to be in agreement that marriage was about Christ and the Church, but you didn’t like that, so marriage has become what we make of it. When was the last time you heard hymns at a wedding? When was the last time you heard about Christ and not the couple, at a wedding? When was the last time there were virgins at a wedding?

You can say that it’s a sign of the times and you can say that it was better in the old days, but that is just an excuse. There were the same problems then as there were now, its just that the internet wasn’t around to air out every body’s dirty laundry.

The reason there is even a wedding in the first place is because there is marriage. The reason there is marriage in the first place, is because there is a Bridegroom and a Bride and they must get together, thus saith the Lord.

In God’s first words to Adam, He says that it is not good to be alone and so the first marriage was officiated and we could say that there was a wedding. That wedding was very plain. There was no reception, no vows made, no music, no mention of the couple doing a thing. There was only God and His Word.

Compare that to a modern wedding. The focus is on the couple for the wrong reasons. The focus is on their love for each other, their commitment to each other and their words to each other. We say it is “their day” and so whatever they want goes.

And boy does it go. At least most people still are getting married, to each other, as man and woman. There is no end to what marriage has become today, since it is just something we made up and nothing to do with God at all: same sex couples, three or more people, relatives, animals, inanimate objects.

It is time to separate the permanent from the passing. To burn away the chaff. To say to the world, “You have taken what is God’s and have run too far with it.”

But, you don’t. You don’t want to get rid of anything that is fun, or that your friends think is fun, or that you’ve been taught is fun. You are the foolish virgins who not only fail to bring oil, but turn instead to the worldly merchants to determine what is valuable and what is not.

Repent. The true pain of being turned out to the merchants is that your lamp is not good enough to hold true faith. The real disappointment of trying to prepare yourself for God is finding out that everyone falls asleep. Even you.

Yes our lamps go out and we seek other means to light them. Similarly, we get bored of waiting and watching the same old weddings day in and day out, that we need to spice things up a bit, even going so far as to leave the church out altogether.

The point is, we are not supposed to be involved in Church. We are not supposed to be able to participate in weddings, marriages, or even births of other humans. These things all belong in the realm of the divine, for God has created all these and He still takes care of them.

What you miss in all things is the Bridegroom. There is only a Bride, because there is a Bridegroom. In this case, the reason there is marriage at all is because of Jesus and His Bride, the Church. The only reason there is any cause for celebration is because the Bride was dead, but now she is redeemed.

The 10 virgins are not praised for their lamps or the amount of oil in them. They are not even praised for staying awake. They are praised by being in the presence of the Bridegroom. The fact that any of this takes place, is all because of Jesus.

You see, when Jesus gave Adam and Eve in holy matrimony, He wasn’t simply bored and thought, “hey, this oughta be fun to see.” He was showing us Himself and what He was about to do. However, where Adam and Eve enjoyed their experience, Jesus did not have a pleasant wedding, by earthly standards.

For one, Jesus had to coordinate His own party, which consisted of enemies and false accusers. Then, He had to make His own garments, which happened to be His own blood. Thankfully someone else made the decorations: crown of thorns and the cross, but He did have to give Himself away and give His mother away.

You have a Lord who became man, suffered, and died so that you would know that He is a man, that He has created a Bride, the Church, and that they are married. In Love, Jesus gave us marriage and by grace He lets us participate in it.

In Christ, you are given god-like powers. You are allowed to give birth; to create! You are allowed to get married, a state reserved only for Jesus. You are even allowed to forgive and be forgiven.

In Christ, we worry not about lamps, for Jesus has filled ours to the brim. He has filled our lamp, filled our reserves, trimmed them, and stays awake for us. His wonderful gift of salvation ensures you that His Church will be at the right place at the right time.

For, remember, this is the Church getting hitched and you are a part of the Church, by baptism. Therefore, where the means of Grace go, there the Church goes. Where the Church goes, you go, for we follow the voice of the true Shepherd: “Take and eat”.

Where our attempts at godliness fall far short, Jesus has completed these for us. You don’t have to worry about imperfect ceremonies angering God. You simply have to rejoice in what Jesus has given to you and be thankful that marriage is not what you make of it, but what Jesus perfects it as.

You neither know the day nor the hour, but the Bridegroom knows you and has put His Name upon you, clothing you with His wedding garments. You are already a guest at the feast; you are already a participant, not in the work-up to it, but in the completed victory celebration.

Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Thou saint [Feast of All Saints; St. Matthew 5:1-12]

Jesus speaks today, in your hearing:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

It is no small thing that All Saints day is celebrated with White, symbolizing the resurrection, and the Reformation celebrated in place of a dark day of Hallow’s Eve. For, the people that in darkness sat, did so without the Gospel and without an understanding of justification by faith alone.

Thus, we have the light of All Saints in opposition to the darkness of sin; the promise of the Resurrection of all the dead set against the necessity for thick books of Concord and closed communion; the true light of Christ set in opposition to the Law.

And that light is heard in our Small Catechism where we say that it is the work of the Holy Ghost to call you by the Gospel, enlighten you with His gifts, and sanctify and keep you in the one, true faith. This doctrine points to the Beatitudes.

Jesus opens His mouth to teach His disciples. And contrary to all popular belief and teaching on the Beatitudes, they are about Jesus. They are not simply about Jesus, but they are only about Jesus, even though He speaks in the plural, which we’ll get to in a bit.

For now, Jesus is He who is poor in spirit. He is stricken, smitten, and afflicted for no sin of His own. He is abandoned and forsaken, even by God upon the cross. Jesus mourns, not just for His own city, but for you in your fatal sins.

Jesus is meek and mild, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Mt.11:29). Jesus hungers. Jesus thirsts on the cross. Jesus is Righteousness itself, thus He is merciful, pure, and the creator of peace.

And for His own sake; rather, for His Name’s sake, He allows Himself to be persecuted to death. Reviled, falsely accused, and hung on a great evil tree, Jesus’ truly is the Son of God inheriting all His Father has prepared beforehand, for Him. Thus far the Beatitudes.

See what kind of love the Father has for Jesus! Not only do you get to see and follow Jesus to the cross, but that you, too, call Him Father and see the God of all Life emptying Himself, for His Name’s sake in order that He justify all by grace, through faith, for the sake of Christ.

This is so, because nothing is impossible for God. It is not impossible for God to become a man, suffer, and die yet still retain the title of Almighty and Ever living. It is not impossible for God to be so weak that crucifixion could kill Him and yet still be found as the Lord of heaven and earth. In fact, it would be impossible for God to call Himself sovereign if He did not do so.

It would also not do, for God to leave you in corruption. It would also not do for God to lose even one of whom He has called. Nothing is impossible for God.

Only a sinner can be a saint and it seems that Jesus has an entire race of sinners that find themselves not so poor, not so mournful, not so meek, not so hungry, not so merciful, not so pure, and not so peaceful.

Dear saints at St. Luke, The Feast day of All Saints does not just celebrate those who have died in the faith who you will meet again; it does not just celebrate your own blessings. All Saint’s Day celebrates Christ and Him crucified, in which you hear of the righteousness of God and His love for the Son.

Being baptized into the Son, you find the great love of God directed at you, for the sake of Jesus. Blessed are you, for you are children of the most high. You are God’s children, NOW. This day. This moment. And you know, because Jesus is on the cross for you, that when He appears we shall be like Him, but even now, we are like Him. We are Christians.

Not just little lambs, but little Christs. You are now the sons who will inherit all the Father has created and recreated in His Son’s Name. Because you are justified in the sacraments the Holy Ghost gives, you are Christ-like: poor in spirit, mournful, meek, hungry and thirsty, merciful, pure, peaceful, and persecuted.

These Beatitudes describe Christ and now also describe you who are baptized into Christ. There is no distinction that the Father makes between you and Jesus. In Christ alone, these Beatitudes are promises Jesus is making to you; promises that He accomplishes and perfects, for you.

For you cannot by your own reason or strength come to Jesus nor can you believe in Him. With this impossibility to be overcome, the Lord of impossibles overcomes. In His Christian church on earth, the Holy Ghost daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers, by faith alone.

Reason, strength, or action have nothing to do with your salvation and this is why: do you know why All Hallows Eve has become Halloween, a celebration of all things evil and dead? Because the world gets it. The world knows that, in order for all Saints to happen, there must first be evil and death.

So, more than Jesus declaring blessings to us in Christ as we remember the dead in faith, they are not dead! Christians do not remember the dead, but we remember the living. For behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a twinkling of an eye.

When that happens, then shall come to pass the saying, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (I Cor. 15)

The sting of death is stuck fast upon the cross of Christ and the victory has been stolen and given to us. Jesus is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living (Mt. 22:32). This takes place the moment you receive faith. This takes place the moment you receive salvation by faith alone.

You were once of the evening; dead in your sin and harboring the seat of all evil in your heart, and in baptism you died to that sin and evil.

And in the light of the dawning of this day, Christ has baptized you into His resurrection. Thus, you are dead, and yet you live. You are a sinner, and yet you are a saint. You suffer in your sin and the world’s sin here, yet there a place is already prepared for you.

A room in a mansion, furnished with milk and honey blest, where, on the table at the bedside, there is not a Gideon Bible, but a page from the Book of life. A souvenir, if you will, of when the Lamb of God read your name from it.

You hear it today as Jesus calls all of you to His Feast of forgiveness and salvation, with all the Saints, for by Faith alone you are justified. Nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification. It is not, in any way necessary that you be prepared and disposed by the movement of your own will.

It is only by Christ alone.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Christ alone [Feast of the Reformation; Romans 3:19-28]

You have been justified freely, by grace for the sake of Christ, through faith.

This is a phrase you need memorized so that you may call it to the front of every conversation, thought, and deed you have. In deed, this is what was fought for and won by the Reformation: the clear proclamation of justification; in other words the Gospel.

God gives what He demands, in Jesus Christ. God demands justice. God demands Judgment. God demands knowledge. God demands witnesses. God demands righteousness. God demands belief. God demands Faith.

From the portion of Romans we heard this evening, these are a few of the demands of God’s Law that the sore and oppressed conscience can pick out. At the very start, the Lord stops our own mouths, because we are the ones who hear the Law speaking to us.

Remember, the Law is any and all commands coming from the Father, Son, or the Holy Ghost, so good works done by us also fall under this jurisdiction of the Law. For it is not just by the Law, but also by works of the Law comes the knowledge of sin. Meaning, whatever you do, you feel the press of God’s demands upon you to do more.

Let us pull out the main ideas from this reading: faith, justified, and righteousness and we believe that the exact righteousness that God demands is not to be found in the Law. Although we will hear of it, the Law does not give it to us, because, again, only sin comes by the Law.

What is this righteousness? It is Faith. Faith alone saves you, because all have heard the Law speak to them and so all have sinned. Yet, justification is a free gift by Grace alone. The proof of this is Jesus Christ; true man and true God, offered on the cross, in your place.

You do not discover this truth on your own, no matter how much seeking you do. God shows you; He proves it to you by His Word and faith comes by hearing, therefore it is by Scripture alone that we hear and believe our salvation in Jesus.

Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone. This is all for you and all to prove to you God’s righteousness which consists of Him flagrantly turning a blind eye to our sins. Passing over them as if they never happened. God is God and this is how His Word says He works.

Not through us talking about ourselves at all, but us listening; sitting at God’s feet and listening to all that He has accomplished for us. Being reminded, again and again, that He is Just and Justifier. He is Just because He does what is right in punishing sin and sinners; Justifier, because He metes out judgment upon His Son, in our place.

Boasting, then, or talking about ourselves and how great we are doing with God on our side, is not just excluded, but it is excommunicated. There is no room in Justification for any testimony from you.

This is the meaning of Faith alone, Grace alone, and Scripture alone. This is the key to understanding that you have been justified freely, by grace for the sake of Christ, through faith. This is how you can sum up the Reformation, Lutheran doctrine and all of Church practice in two words:

Christ alone.

That’s it. For as thick as the Book of Concord is; for as difficult as the Athanasian Creed is; for as impossible as the Trinity is and as miraculous as the two natures in Christ are, all things are summed up in Christ alone.

All the answers to your prayers are in Christ alone. All of God’s promises are “yes” in Christ alone. The fate of the Church and the destiny of the Baptized are found in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ alone.

You have been justified, by grace, through faith for the sake of Christ alone. The righteousness of God is Christ alone. It is all about Jesus and it will continue to be all about Jesus, because the Gospel is free to everyone, even those who do not believe. For Jesus did not come for the righteous, but for the sinner. (Mt.9:13)

Monday, October 26, 2015

The donkey's bray [Trinity 21; St. John 4:46-54]

Jesus speaks to you in His Word, saying,
“The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”

Last week, we talked of the Lutheran difference. That there is something that distinguishes St. Luke from the rest of the Rensselaer churches and that is Christ alone. Now, at first that doesn’t sound all that different, but what we believe in is what Jesus says about Himself. When His Word proclaims that He is working among us, physically, faith agrees.

This physical act of forgiving sins is called “sacramental”. Many religions only have a hard claim on the “spiritual”, meaning they can’t prove their god is working, but they can just feel it, or they just know it. Jesus, while also working spiritually, does not discard His body anymore than He neglects yours, thus He continues to work in His Church physically, or sacramentally.

Where your difficulty comes in, is in trying to understand a loving God even though there is so much suffering in the world. You try to believe Jesus can do miracles, but see so many people in poverty, in fear for their lives, and dying in hospitals.

You try to give them St. Paul’s words and tell them to put on the whole armor of God, but you don’t know how that works. You imagine it is some sort of mind-set that one must be in or a kind of complete submission to God. It never crosses your mind that St. Paul is speaking of a physical armor.

St. Paul speaks of “putting on Christ”, in Romans 13. That this is the “new self” (Eph.5:24) which God creates in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

St. Paul, here, and in many other places is simply commenting upon Jesus word when Jesus said, 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17)

If Jesus is simply being spiritual, then you have nothing to worry about. The entire Bible is just one big metaphor and you can make up how to interpret it as you go. In that thinking, you must also conclude that this son in today’s Gospel was not really raised from the dead. He may not have even been dead. He may just have been sick and, with the passing of a bit of time, got better.

It is easy then, to attribute that ‘miracle’ to Jesus, simply because He spoke about the son becoming well at the same time. Coincidence. Metaphor. Parlor Game.

But that is not what’s going on here. Jesus is healing this boy. He is bringing him back from the dead. This is not a myth. It is not a pick-me-up story and it does not mean that you just have to fall into Jesus and you too will be made well, spiritually.

We may liken this to a donkey who “put on the skin of a lion and went around frightening all the animals. The donkey saw a fox and tried to frighten her too, but she had heard his voice first, so she said to the donkey, 'You can be sure that I too would have been afraid, if I had not already heard the sound of your bray.’”

The donkey is caught in his own metaphor. Literally, he is unclothed by the fox. Even though the donkey had the right appearance and the right skin, he was not a lion. His view of things failed him, because he took “being a lion” to simply be a matter of interpretation.

Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:56). And in another place, “…believe [my] works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father. (Jn. 10:38). The command from Jesus is that we be found in Him. In a real and physical body, that He has, and not just a spiritual one. Jesus demands that we be in the full armor of God; actual, physical armor.

Putting on a show of superior spirituality or of good works no more makes us “in Christ” anymore than a lion skin makes an ass a lion.  What you need is concrete, touch, smell, see, hear and taste armor of God. The spiritual stuff doesn’t help in times of need, but a true Body does.

Dear Christians, hear this true and concrete promise from your Lord and Savior who has suffered, died and risen again. He says, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal.3:27)

Here is the answer to your question. What started with the creation of a real, physical world and concluded in the God-man, Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, is still being accomplished in your sight, even today. The way you fall into Jesus; the way you believe in Jesus; the way you have your life and being in Jesus is through baptism.

It is in this physical act of God that you are placed squarely into the true Body of Christ. Not a spiritual or metaphorical, but a real, living body. The armor of God is nothing else except the Body and Blood, given and shed for you upon the cross, of Christ.

This is the sacramental act of God. This is how God heals, preserves, and strengthens His people in our time: through His Sacraments. As God created a real world, so He creates real salvation through the real Body of Christ, that He still has!; (Remember Easter and St. Thomas!) in a real Church.

Sacramental: The combining of a promise of God to physical means. This is God’s presence in the world to forgive sins and this is Christ’s presence among us, in the Divine Service. This is the source of your comfort, your joy, and your strength, because now you do not have to manufacture the feeling of being saved or a life that has it all together.

These are now gifts that you can “fall into”. The free gift of baptism holds no requirement. You don’t have to be perfect beforehand. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual. Best of all, you don’t have to be dead or dying, in order to receive this gift. Jesus creates His Church by His blood and spirit in order that you are reminded that, the Lord Who created all things, creates free salvation in front of your face.

We know our sin actually kills us. We know our actual heart is full of actual evil. What good does a metaphorical clean heart or a spiritual right spirit do us? If this official’s son was not really raised from the dead; if the armor of God did not truly exist; if baptism and Communion were just symbols, then why did Christ need to die for a metaphor?

Christ died for the ungodly. Jesus died so that by His true Body and His True Blood, He might tear off the foul lion’s skin we have draped upon ourselves and replace it with Himself. And it is in the sacraments, that we can touch, smell, taste, see and hear this Promise, know it is for us, and return to it in times of trouble. Spiritual or otherwise.

It is easy to say to someone that the only thing you need to do to be forgiven is to return home to your heavenly father, but where is He and where is home? If all I need to do is turn to Jesus, where is that left turn? If that place is somewhere other than the sacraments, you are not dealing with the one, true God.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What's the difference? [Feast of St. Luke; St. Luke 10:1-9]

Jesus speaks to you today saying,
“And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you.”

God does not let you choose Jesus, in order to be saved. No matter your intentions, the things that Jesus is doing in your life today, is not the Gospel. The things you are doing for Jesus no more makes you a son of peace than it makes you a Christian. You do not choose to be a son of peace, Jesus makes you a son of peace.

“At this point, what difference does it make” has become a famous saying, recently, and even though it was said in complete disregard of duty and decency, it makes a point.

We have the internet, so what difference does it make if I write a letter or an instant message? We have government run social programs, so what difference does it make if I neglect those in need? We have over 25 “churches” within the city limits of Rensselaer, what difference does it make which I, or anyone else, go to?

Familiarity breeds contempt. You have so many options that you begin to treat the true Church with contempt. Day after day, Church does the same thing. Maybe you need to spice Sunday up a bit and go somewhere else. What difference does it make?

Life is the same way for you. Will you go to college or some other school, after High School? Will you buy or build your house? Will you get married or remain single?

Life has become a smorgasbord of “what difference does it make” and no one is going to tell you what to do or how to do it. Don’t tell me how to live my life. Just because you think I’m wrong doesn’t make it so. What’s true for me may not be true for you.

With this same mindset, you come to Church and you read the Holy Scriptures. Religion becomes a big buffet table where you take what you want because you like it and leave what you want because you don’t. But, Christianity in America is so far down the rabbit hole, at this point, what difference does it make?

What do you say about your church, the LWML, or the Synod to others? Or better yet, what do others say about St. Luke? Is it enough to be open, warm, and caring? Is it just ok if someone comes and feels welcome? Is it good enough that the programs we put on all look the same as everywhere else?

If St. Luke wants to look like everyone else then there is no point in the doors remaining open. If the evangelist had nothing new to say, then he had no business writing a third Gospel. If Christianity, indeed, Lutheranism is no different or doesn’t have something more special to offer, why are we here?

Repent! The Apostles knew they had something different; something that the world would hate and kill them for and yet they preached Christ Crucified loud and proud. St. Luke didn’t try hard to be different, exclusive, or marketable. All he did was present the Gospel which is more than enough to reveal sin and reveal the Savior.

Jesus is different. He has come to kindle a fire that is completely different than anything the world gives and He comes to give Peace very much UN-like the world has to offer. That is because this fire and this peace comes through suffering and through the cross.

Jesus is the Son of Peace Who is made man, suffers, and dies in order that the Gospel reach you. Not the gospel of a wonderful life or the gospel of having it made in the shade. This is the Gospel of the one, true God Who offers up His Son in your place, reconciling you with God.

Where we need 2 or 3 witnesses. Jesus witnesses of Himself. His Word tells us He is born of a virgin, that He is true God, and true man. His Word reveals to us a Law that has been transgressed and a Savior that has freed us from that Law.

It is only by the Word of Christ that pastors have anything to preach. It is only in the Word of the Cross, that true faith is given. It is only in the preaching of the Gospel that salvation is produced in you.

What St. Luke offers in his gospel account and what St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, the LWML, and the Synod have to offer Rensselaer is Christ crucified. What we want people to walk away with, when they visit, is, “those folks sure do talk about Christ a lot. They must be Christian.”

Do you see? Did you hear? A true son of peace is only recognized by the fact that all he talks about is true peace found in Jesus. Likewise, the community will know we are Christians by our Christ and His Word and Sacraments.

If we only talk about Bibles and verses, they would call us Biblicists and Verseasists. If we only talk about good works and love, they would call us social workers and hippies. If we would only talk about ourselves and God doing good things to us, they would call us narcissists.

Thank God for the Gospel. Thank God for Christ. We do not have to talk about anything other than Jesus, for He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the giver of every good and perfect gift from above. He is the true Baptizer, the true Speaker, and the true sacrifice.

I count all but loss that I Christ may obtain and this is so important, that the Church created the Small Catechism and the hymnal for just this purpose. That in those you may find simple truths that truly separate a son of peace from a son of perdition. The difference St. Luke, the LWML, and the Synod can make in this community is very simply speaking the plain words of the small catechism, not just to others, but to our own families as well.

So, what difference does it make? It is the difference between life and death. We do not want to throw around God’s Word as if nothing happened when we did. In fact, each time we speak a part of Holy Scripture, God is speaking and something is generated. God’s Word is a two-edged sword that should not be taken lightly.

The Lutheran difference; the Small Catechism difference is that God has given His Word in the 10 Commands, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. That God has shown us salvation in Baptism, Confession and Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

Most importantly, Jesus has revealed that this is the only way God is working in the world: through the Word. If you can not find it in the Word, God is not doing it. If you can not hear it from the Word, God is not speaking it. Your feelings and decisions are not in the Word; Jesus is.

Jesus gives Himself to this community by His Word and Sacraments. We ought to, too.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Visiting the Sick [Trinity 19; St. Matthew 9:1-8]

Jesus is speaking to you, from His own Gospel, saying,
But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’—he then said to the paralytic—‘Rise, pick up your bed and go home.’”

Last week, we heard that the Greatest Commandment was to love God and love your neighbor as yourself and what that meant was belief in Christ. For, belief in Christ fulfills not only loving God, but also loving your neighbor, because the best you can do for your neighbor is preach the Gospel to him that he might be saved.

Which is exactly what Jesus is doing today, in His own visiting of the sick. Jesus is visited by this sick man, preaches forgiveness of sins to him, and then seems to leave the man in his paralysis. What kind of loving, neighbor is that?

However, holy Scripture is full of the mandate to visit the sick and relieve them of their illness. Jesus speaking on the Sheep and the Goats tells you of those who were sick that you have not visited (Mt. 25). Even St. James calls for the elders of the Church to visit, pray over, and anoint them in order that they be restored by the Lord (Jas. 5:14-15).

The duty of a Christian is to visit the sick. Think of how you would feel if you were to be sitting alone in a strange bed in a strange place for hours, with nothing to do except contemplate your own possible death, in light of your illness.

If you truly love your neighbor as yourself, then more people than the pastor need to be visiting those who are sick among us. Being a Christian means being motivated by the Holy Spirit and that motivation reveals itself in acts of love.

You know where the hospital is, don’t you? You know where your sick friends live, right? This is not rocket science.

Jesus, likewise knew a neighbor in need when He saw one and so did St. James. St. James says, “…and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.

Now that’s funny. Its funny because St. James says that this prayer will restore the sick person to health, but he also says the Lord will raise him up. Almost as if it is not the prayer itself, but the one Who is prayed to. Then he concludes with the forgiveness of sins, which has nothing to do with illness, according to most.

One of the popular, misleading sayings today is “Preach the Gospel, if necessary, use words.” Another is like it: we need to stop preaching and do more. We need to show that we are Christians by the love we can do, instead of the love that is preached.

Again, very true, condemning words coming from our neighbors and from God Himself. The Holy Ghost is not idle so neither can a Christian be idle.

Repent. You are idle. You have more time to complain about unnecessary things, than you do to visit your neighbors. Or maybe its because you feel you have nothing to offer and doubt the Word of God in its healing promises?

This would make more sense seeing as how you haven’t really seen a miraculous healing and if you were to accomplish one, personally, it would probably scare you to death. Thus, you leave the sick to the sick, because it seems like there is nothing you can do.

Dear Christians, this is what St. James and Jesus are telling you. St. James is not giving you a magical recipe for healing all disease; it just doesn’t happen. Neither is Jesus allowing for it to happen that way. Jesus is showing us that even if we were to speak over a paralyzed man, he would not recover and neither could we forgive his sins.

But who can?! Jesus can. How does He heal? Through the cross.

Jesus says that in order that you know the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth. This means that the healing of the paralytic was only done so that you could see that Jesus is God and that He is not only going to suffer and die, but rise again three days later.

Jesus illustrates this by his question to you: which is easier, to say “your sins are forgiven” or to say “Rise and walk” to a sick person? In fact, both are impossible. You can say them, but they accomplish nothing.

St. James then brings this point home by stating that it is the Lord Who will raise up the sick. The prayer of the righteous man availeth much, but not without Christ and His cross.

Take heart, dear Christians. The Jesus who says, “Rise and walk” is also the crucified and resurrected Jesus who says “your sins are forgiven”, to you. If Jesus was making a way to heal everyone we pray for, it is a broken way. He is not. He is making a way of salvation that transcends illness and transcends doubt.

Jesus places Himself on the cross and prays for your forgiveness as He is dying. And it is in His dying that we find both impossible questions fulfilled. One of the reasons we keep crucifixes in Church, crosses with a body on it, is because that is where forgiveness and healing comes from; at that moment.

Thus, the Son of Man has authority to heal and forgive sins and the authority to lose His life and pick it up again, making all His claims about Himself, the world, and you truer than true.

Jesus has defeated sin, death, and this diseased world. Which is why the Church continues to pray for healing in the midst of death: because Christ is true healing and He is true life. The implication being that the paralytic could have stayed paralyzed and still have been resurrected to paradise, with His Lord and Savior.

The same is true for you. You are paralyzed unto death in your sin and yet all your doubt and neglect has been crucified upon Jesus. Though we look healthy, we are just as bad off as the terminal wing of the hospitals. If we don’t have a Savior Who can heal and forgive and rise from the dead, we die in our sin.

The Good News for the sick that you visit cheerfully and often is that Christ has conquered their sickness, will guard their faith through it, and will relive them and heal them perfectly in a death like His.

If God wants to relieve us of our temporal pain and suffering, He can and maybe He will. But His promise is in His Son who has all authority in heaven and earth and chooses this way to teach you the way of salvation. That is through suffering as He Himself suffered for us.

The Good News for the sick is not that you send them good thoughts and positivity, but that you send them the Word of God, their pastor, and the sacraments in which we hear of our true savior healing and forgiving in the only and best way: His Way: through the Gospel of Christ crucified.

You have already been baptized into death to live a new live before God. Take heart, death has no more dominion over you. This is the Word of Christ.