Monday, January 26, 2015

Spirit's Gift [The Transfiguration; St. Matthew 17:1-9]

Once again Jesus reveals His almighty, holy power. Once again He covers it up and once again we are left with the question, “Well, now what are we supposed to tell everyone?”

In regards to this question, it seems we have many options. We could tell of this Transfiguration, but Jesus says not to. We could tell of Jesus healing people, but Jesus says not to. We could tell about people Jesus has raised from the dead, or how He made our lives better, or even how He makes us happy.

But Jesus says,
“Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Indeed, O man. Hold your tongue. Do not babble about useless and transient things such as miracles or emotions, because God is speaking. God will give us the words to say and these are they:

“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Jesus speaks in His Word and no where else. Any visions you have will conform to the Inspired Word of God. Any whispers God gives to your hearts, will have already been spoken and written down in Holy Scripture. Any gift or revelation or vision will come from the Holy Ghost, Who only speaks of Jesus.

Yet, there are some who say that you must experience the gift of the spirit. That it can not be simply a doctrine you cling to, but a life changing event that you must show evidence of, by having a heart of praise and obedience.

Sts. Peter, James, and John had this experience; praised and obeyed Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration; and Jesus silenced them.

The problem with experience is that it is subjective. It is true for one person, but not necessarily for the next. The bigger problem with experience and “achieving” gifts of the Spirit, is that it replaces what Christ has done in His death and resurrection.

For what is the point of gaining gifts of the Spirit? So you can use them for the greater good of all, right (1 Cor.12:7)? No, the gaining of these special power gifts is always for the sake of one’s self. Not just to help you face your “goliaths” in life, but just in case you need to tell the Good News in a powerful way.

When you violently seeks to gain holy gifts by your sheer force of will, it is only for yourself and your “deeper walk” with God. Although, when you pit your will against the Almighty, there is only one thing that you will find and it ain’t gonna be heaven.

Repent. Why is it that you need something else in your life? Why is it that there has to be something more than Jesus or something after Jesus? Why can’t you just be content that the Lord and God of all creation has revealed Himself to you in order to save you?

The Epiphany season is here for this one simple reason: to show you Jesus Christ. Jesus is all God and all man, using all of His power and might to redeem you by His Word. The Transfiguration ends the season to reveal to us that the real, true, and only gift of the Spirit is the Word of God.

Contrary to the gaining, achieving, or enabling gifts, the Word of God is objective. Objective is the antonym of subjective, meaning that if subjective has everything to do with the private individual, then objective has everything not to do with that.

Being objective means that it does not depend on the person, place, thing, or emotion that something is spoken to; it depends on the speaker. Since the Word of God is objective, that means that no amount of work (grace-infused or otherwise) is going to help you get to it. It has to be given, or rather, it must be spoken to you.

Transfiguration reveals this by showing off the chosen three disciples. They get to see the glory of the kingdom of God. They get to have a unique experience that puts them above every other Christian on the planet. Their personal experience and our personal experience tells us that we need to either be like them or ask them to give us that thing.

Instead, dear Christians, Jesus says, “Let’s go”. Your experience of Christianity or the gifts of the Spirit is not where you are to stay; nor is it what is important in the life of one redeemed by Christ. What is important is that the Word of God is speaking to you today of Christ crucified for you and you believe it.

This belief is a gift. With this gift, you understand tongues; meaning you understand when God Himself speaks to you and declares you objectively justified. With this gift, you understand spirits; meaning you hear and believe when the Holy Ghost talks about Jesus to you. You also understand prophesy; meaning you see and taste the Word of God fulfilled right in front of you, for the forgiveness of sins.

From outside of you, Christ works His salvation out upon the cross. From outside of you, Jesus creates His Church in order to lavish gifts of life, forgiveness, and salvation upon Her. Objectively, the Word is spoken to you and you believe, as St. Peter tells us,

“…we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.”

Better than the 6 days of creation; better than all of the adventures and visions of the Old Testament; better than actually being there to witness every miraculous event in Jesus’ life and better than every single amazing gift listed in the New Testament is the Word, now more fully confirmed to us today, in the Resurrection. (Phil.3:8)

For the objective Word of God is the greatest power in the entire universe. It spoke all things into being; it appeared to the prophets of old; it became flesh and dwelt among us and it binds up fallen creation and destroys sin, death, and the devil for you.

You may have individual gifts of the Holy Ghost; there is no denying these things because the Word of God tells us so. But the real gift; the real power comes in these things: that in faith, you can remain as a son or daughter and it is a holy work. That, in faith, you can be a husband or a father and find strength outside of your own self, to do your duty.

These seemingly small gifts do not come with popularity or fanfare. In fact, these and others, are the first to be trampled on by the world, because it is easy to do. Honor your father and mother? Bah, what have they ever done for you? Cling to your wife as one flesh? She doesn’t deserve me.

Believe and be baptized? Keep the Word of God and believe? Eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins? All are disdained and yet the Lord chooses to use these means of Grace. The Holy Spirit enlightens us with these gifts and they are cast aside by unbelief.

However, having nothing to do with our say-so, our thoughts or opinions, or our feelings; Jesus says so and it IS so. Jesus speaks and, having been called by the Gospel, we believe. Though water, word, and bread and wine are insignificant in the world’s eyes, they have now become everything to the Christian, for Jesus speaks.

He promises salvation here and we know because of His Word. It is there, in the Word of God and either we believe, by the gift of the Spirit, or we do not, by the gift of the devil. When it comes down to it, the mother that loves her child; the wife that loves her husband; and the employee doing exceptional work, because Jesus has saved them from sin, do a more holy work than any prophet, tongue speaker, or faith healer has ever done.

For THE most holy work the Christian does is to receive what the Lord comes to give Him. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Lack [Epiphany 2; St. John 2:1-11]

Jesus speaks to you, today, revealing His will and desire for your life, even as He says,

“When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’”

Now I am going to do one of the things I said I would never do in a sermon. I am going to run with an analogy. The analogy here is that the wedding has run out of wine; boo-hoo.

As pithy and ridiculous a problem as this seems, I am going to extrapolate. Not only is this wedding feast out of wine, but they are severely lacking in it. A necessary component of a wedding party is not there and when you knock the keystone out of an archway, the arch falls down.

This lack, the human nature possess. The keystone; the image of God GIVEN in Creation, is not there. In your sin, you do not have a leg to stand on. Thus, your life and everything in it is crumbling apart.

For today, we will stick with the strength of man and how it is crumbling. (I said I was extrapolating). Among the things which humans lack, is the Image of God, lost in the Fall into Sin and now passed down from parent to child. This corruption of your very DNA, inhibits any and all basic goodness you try to enact upon the world.

As St. Paul says,
“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”(Rom7:19)

You see this in the sad estate of marriage. First of all, even in Jesus’ time, a man could not even keep his wife from adultery. Thus, he makes the excuse of divorce. In our time, this still happens, but we are so weak that now it is the law of the land. Before, it was for infidelity, but now it is for any and every reason imaginable.

Another example, in their own failure at keeping their children safe, the families of Newtown, CT have filed two lawsuits: one against the school and one against the firearm company who made the gun that shot up the school. As if those children deserved any worse, their parents are too weak to take responsibility and so they sue, sue, sue. What they miss is that its not just one person or company that’s to blame; everyone is.

And the list goes on. Any and every excuse you can think of, gets you out of your responsibility, because you are lacking. You are lacking in strength, among other things, and so your love for God and others has failed.

Thus, in your lack, you attempt to make up for it either by substitution or misdirection. You are not strong enough to continue to love your children, so you place other people in charge of them. You do not have what it takes to continue to be a husband, no matter what, so you blame others for your failures.

Repent. This severe lack corrupts your entire being and everyone else’s as well. However, it is not just something that can be magiked away. You can not just make a law or pass a judgment to cover it up neither can you work at to get better.

No, this wedding at Cana was in dire straights, as all weddings are. One night of happiness and then a lifetime of failures. Jesus was a part of the celebration, telling us that marriage is something to celebrate and that we should be glad.

But, Jesus was also a part of the lack. In fact, He took on the form of a servant; the form of one lacking. He was born of a virgin and made man. Thus, this lack in you, Jesus takes upon Himself. As God’s Son, He was:
“…born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal.4)

Being born and baptized to fulfill all righteousness, Christ comes to serve us His holy redemption, in that He buys us back from this corruption within us. All of our sin, all of our failures, all of our weakness is His and He makes His way to the cross to destroy it forever.

This is the great Epiphany. That Jesus is doing something new; something foreign to our thinking and acting. That God is speaking as one of you so LISTEN TO HIM.

Listen to the true Son who obeys His parents and God in all things. Listen to the true Husband, who lays down His life for His Bride that she might be pure and undefiled. It is not that this wedding was lacking in wine; it was lacking in the cross.

This wedding; incomplete without the true sacrifice of the true Bridegroom, did not have the Blood of Jesus sanctifying every inch of ceremony and celebration. The sacrifice of Jesus, offered to you all here, is the promise in marriage fulfilled.

The redemption that Jesus works out on the cross, is given to you, redeeming your lack in every sense of the word. Thus, in every sense of the word, you are full. The Lord “prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Having been baptized in the righteous waters of the Font, the overflowing streams of Living Water flow through you and death is washed away. Having heard the Gospel and believed, lies and false hope are burned away by Truth. Having feasted upon the true Body and true Blood of Jesus, perfect fullness courses through your body and you are forgiven.

Dear Christians, you are witnesses to the Lord’s Epiphany. For it is here, in front of you His people, that He manifests Himself in the flesh. It is here, in His Word and in His Sacraments, that we find true fullness and forgiveness for all that we lack and fall short of.

There is no sense in running after false ideals, blame, or comfort in tragedy. For all things come from God and God has sent His Son to us. Jesus has been sent to speak to us, to wash and bind our wounds, and to take on our transgressions, even in the midst of our acts of sin.

 What the wedding and the entire world lacks, is Jesus. You have Jesus fully and Satan does not understand, but all you suffer in this life has an end. Not just on the last day, but in Christ crucified today; given and shed for you.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What Grace is [Epiphany 1; St. Luke 2:42-52]

As usual, I begin the Sermon with an offering of grace or rather a declaration that grace has come to you. But, what is grace and how does it relate to our relationship with God?

Jesus speaks today saying,

“Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”

This is Jesus graciously responding to his mother’s plea for an excuse. She has just berated the young Lord for disappearing, stating that His father and mother have been in great distress in their search for Him, these last three days. This same “great distress” Rachel felt whilst weeping for her children, because they were not.

Indeed, our first thought, upon discovering our own child missing, is “death” usually within a matter of three minutes, much less three days. How much distress that must have been? You can relate to that. This was not a very gracious thing for Jesus to do to His parents.

When you need to define grace, maybe you turn to the old stand-by: Amazing Grace. Probably the most popular folk hymn in the world, now, uses our word, grace. Though, as you might not expect, as much as the song mentions “grace”, it doesn’t really shed light on what it is. Rather, when sung, we only hear about what grace does, not why or how.

Hopefully, the second thing that pops into your Lutheran head when you hear the word grace is Ephesians 2:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”

By this, we can see that maybe grace is not so much a “what”, but a how. The difference being: we can use a “what”; it is like a tool or a means to get something, but we can not “use” a “how”. Instead, a “how” is used upon us. Grace is not what God gives us, but how He gives to us.

“Free and unmerited” is how we define grace. Maybe the Library has the corner of the market on this, but only for a couple days. The rest of the world does not understand grace, obviously with sayings such as, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch” and “If you want something done, do it yourself”. Free and unmerited are as unfamiliar as ancient Israeli culture.

But we know those words. We understand them in their absoluteness. Free: something unearned, unpaid for, without price, and without obligation. Unmerited: something not worked for, not worthy of.

Thus we find St. Mary and St. Joseph searching for their child. We also find St. Rachel doing the same thing and even Herod joins the crowd of seekers. These four people, seek and do not find. Herod does not find Jesus, Rachel does not find her children, and Sts. Mary and Joseph do not find Jesus.

Why is this so important? Because if any of these were to have found the Christ child, it would not have been by grace. Rachel would have earned her children by hard work and desire for them. Herod would have been worthy of being king, in finding the usurper and Sts. Mary and Joseph would have found salvation on their own.

Free and unmerited by the human race, Jesus was born of a virgin to take on the sin of the world. Jesus entered a world with no room for Him and no love for Him. In a state of complete rebellion, creation takes one look at its creator and crucifies Him.

Free and unmerited, Herod is placed on Israel’s throne, but it is by grace that Jesus flees. For in taking refuge in Egypt, He lives to make it to the cross. Thus, Jesus’ answer to His mother and father is very gracious, for He points out that it is very obvious where Jesus must be found: in His Father’s House; on a cross.

Repent. Your sin creates in you this false notion of “yours by rights” and “hard work pays off”. That may work with your neighbor, but in front of God, your hard work gets you nowhere and earns you nothing, as did St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s.

By grace, Jesus is born of a virgin. By grace, Jesus dies and rises again. By grace, you receive His life and forgiveness. Jesus graciously allows Himself to be found. He graciously speaks His Gospel to us and graciously accomplishes all things for us.

Thus, it is by grace that you find Jesus. It was not by an ember that was fanned to flame, inside you. It was by the Holy Ghost that baptized you in fire and Spirit. While you were yet dead in your sin, the Gospel was preached to you. While you were unworthy and in debt, Jesus dies for you and redeems you.

The ox or the child that falls into the pit on a Sabbath, do not earn their rescue. The man born blind, does not merit sight. But it is given all the same. It is given by grace, through faith, for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Grace means free and undeserved, so if you are saved by grace, it is not of your own doing. The Gospel is free. It is unconditional and complete. It is given to you fully and by it God loves you. In Jesus, God can not love you any more, you can not be more holy, and you can not be a better Christian than you already were made to be.

Jesus, by grace, allows us to be with Him today. He comes to commune with us, not because we said the right words or did the right dance. By grace, we too find Jesus. We find Him among His Father’s things at His Father’s house.

Holy Baptism was here before you were born. By grace, you were baptized. The Gospel was finished even before America was colonized and Holy Communion was planned and instituted long before anyone thought it a good idea. By grace, you hear and commune today.

The point is, salvation is already here and already at work. Saying you accepted it is like pouring a bucket of water in the ocean and claiming you filled it up. This is not to make you feel bad about yourself, not being able to accomplish anything, rather it is to make you grand.

It is to you that the one Who filled the ocean, gives the kingdom of heaven. It is to you that God gives His Service. He is God and all glory belongs to Him, even the glory of getting salvation to you.

Your relationship to God is one of grace. By grace, the Lord creates His relationship between you and He and it is one of Giver and receiver. The Lord gives; His kingdom, His creation, His Law, His life, and His Love, and you receive; by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith.

By Grace, Jesus is already there for you and has already forgiven you. By grace, in the midst of your sin, sorrow, and despair you find Jesus, again and again, in His Father’s house, among His Father’s people. That is, where He has promised to forgive your sins.

Indeed, Grace, Mercy, and Peace have been here, are here today, and will be here; world without end.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Backwards [Christmass 2; St. Matthew 2:13-23]

After the flight to Egypt, last week, in order to avoid Herod’s sword, we hear of the holy family returning from Egypt, as the Angel said,

“Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.”

This is a mite backwards. Israel has already been brought out of Egypt once before. God’s people were enslaved and unable to worship the Lord, so He led them out through the Red Sea. In this flight, it was from sin to freedom.

So why is St. Joseph told to go back to the land of enslavement? Israel is in such a sad state, that there is more solace in that type of country, than in its own country.

The second thing that is backwards here is what St. Jeremiah speaks about Rachel. In Genesis, Rachel is the one who dies giving birth to Benjamin (Gen.35). She is unable to weep, because she is dead, but her children and husband weep for HER.

Before she dies, she does desire to name Benjamin, Ben-oni (son of my sorrow). So, it seems as if Rachel is weeping for herself in this case and not her children.

However, St. Jeremiah is probably speaking of the forgiven and resurrected Rachel; the Rachel with a clean heart and a right spirit who now weeps for the suffering of her children in their sin and in their own homeland.

The third backward prophesy happening in this pericope is the command from the Lord to go to Israel, yet St. Joseph goes to Nazareth. Again, the last place one would think of when told “Israel”. To the northern-most area of ancient Israel St. Joseph goes; past Jericho, by the Jordan river; past Shiloh, and past Samaria.

This is the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is how afraid St. Joseph is of Herod’s son. That St. Joseph would run to the land of the Tribes first exiled and had never returned to the Lord; the land that set up a second capitol city instead of Jerusalem.

Worse than finding no room at the Inn, St. Joseph finds no room in Israel for Jesus. Yet, Jesus is kept safe by Egypt and He is raised by Nazareth. No room at the Inn?! There is no room for Jesus anywhere on earth.

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matt.8:20)

There is no room for Jesus in your heart. In your backwards, sinful thinking, you think that since you can have many things on your mind and many things and/or people you care about in your heart, that one more, Jesus, should be no problem.

There is no room for Jesus in your heart, for Jesus is not content with just one small section. Christ will not sit idly by as the rest of your heart goes after something or someone else. Jesus demands the entire heart, the entire life, and the entire mind.

Repent. This is sin and sin says no to that. Your sin says that every thought, desire, word, and deed must be opposed to God’s Law. Your whole human nature is corrupted, by sin, beyond repair. Original sin has been passed down to you from your parents and brings guilt and condemnation.

Thus, your every action, good or bad, is corrupted. Your fear, love, and trust in God is corrupted, so much so, that you believe a tiny place in your heart, your sin-filled heart, is good enough for the Son of Man.

Jesus thinks otherwise. Your heart is not good enough, but instead of killing you and taking over, Jesus begins a backwards work; the work of making all of Creation and having to re-make it; the work of making a people for Himself that turns against Him; the work of creating a clean heart and a right spirit, for you.

Jesus is born to die for sinners and to seek and save the lost. So what does that mean you need to be, in order to be saved by Jesus?

Christ is born of a virgin in order that He is separate from the sin of Adam. In other words, Jesus is sinless and yet, He goes through life as if He were sinful. He attends the Temple Services for forgiveness. He offers sacrifices for sins. He obeys His father and mother. He is baptized. He eats and drinks and the whole host of other things He does that makes Him just like us.

Yet, He does them without sin. Jesus is just like you, but without sin. Christmass happens so that the sinless child of St. Mary would be filled with your sin and die on the cross. Your condemnation is Jesus’ condemnation. Your punishment is Jesus’ punishment. In, what is known as the Great Reversal, the sinless is destroyed for the sinful.

The places we think are free from sin are not: the holy land, St. Luke’s, our hearts, etc. By fleeing to Egypt, Jesus shows that no where on earth is “holy” in and of itself. We also think that death is the worst thing to happen to someone, yet Rachel and everyone else in heaven, weep for us, because it is sin and the loss of faith that is worse.

It may seem like St. Joseph is not going to Israel, as commanded, but he is obeying just perfectly. For not only will Jesus be of Nazareth, but He will also go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed, and rise up on the third day. It is only backwards to sinful eyes.

Jesus is ridding you of your sin and the Gospel of Jesus is the only place God offers forgiveness of sins. This is the utter necessity of Jesus, His birth, His life, His words, His death and resurrection. There is no other place in which God is reconciled to man. Not in nature, not in the stars, and not in your heart.

God gives His Son freely and fully. Maybe Egypt enslaved the Hebrews once upon a time, but the Gospel is offered to them now. Maybe Rachel was weeping for the wrong reasons, but she is comforted by her Savior.

All sin is forgiven, in Christ.

So you are filled with sin and evil thoughts. So, you can not save yourself and are lost. So, you must face suffering, sickness, and even death.

You are baptized into Christ. These things harm you no longer.

Friday, January 2, 2015

At the Name [Eve of the Name of Jesus; St. Luke 2:21]

A blessed 7th day of Christmass to you all. A day truly marked only by, once again, hearing of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Yet, today, once again we run into the mystery of God, for we hear that God is circumcised and that He has a human name. Truly, as St. Paul tells us,
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!”

This is the true miracle of Christmass: that God was born of a virgin and made man. That He has not only appeared to us, but has spoken to us His Gospel of forgiveness, which He pays for on the cross. In order that, by Faith, we may say that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father.

Is this how we are to understand the Introit for this evening? Is God really just a universalist, allowing any and everybody into heaven, if they just bend the knee at the Last Day?

How we understand this is as important as life and death. Giving glory to God means letting Him be God. It means that we stop trying to sugar coat His Word and His actions. It means that we simply believe and receive His words and work, especially when it comes to Christmas and Easter.

For it is in those two miracles that we truly see God at work, in order that we may confess that He is Lord. This means that whatever God does, we acknowledge as good and right. Born of a virgin? Jesus is Lord. Murder of the Holy Innocents? Jesus is Lord. Betrayal, scourging, and death on a cross? Jesus is Lord.

The tongue can not confess Jesus is Lord without acknowledging that these things the Lord does for our salvation. Simply saying, Jesus is Lord, is not the key to heaven. Because you have that little phrase where Jesus says, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven”, that gets in your way.

Repent. In the depths of your sin, you are deluded into thinking that you have a hand in salvation; that you have earned, decided, or chosen to be converted or born-again. Or, even worse, that this year will be the year that you do better. This year will be the year that you really will be a Christian.

Dear Christians, in the disobedience of your unbelief, Christ chooses you. Jesus decides to follow you, being born as a man. Jesus chooses you to receive what He has purchased and won on the cross. Jesus accepts you as His own child, drowning you and bringing you to new life in Him.

Yes, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, but to what benefit? If God is not "God for you"; if He has not been born of a virgin, suffered, died and rose again for you, then what good is a knee or a tongue?

If your knee is not bent at the reception of Jesus in His Holy Supper, then it will not bend at His Second Coming. If your tongue is not literally filled with the Word of God; if you have not tasted the Lord, Body and Blood, and seen that He is Good, then it will not confess Him when He returns.

Thus, we repent that we may be forgiven. We repent that we have not been a good person at all, this year, and that next year will be no different. We repent that we must continue to beg for forgiveness from man and God, in order to continue living here. We repent that we doubt God’s Word and work in ridding us of the guilt and condemnation of sin.

So, we are here, at the end of the civil year, repenting of sins, known and unknown, that we would be forgiven. For Jesus casts out sin and enters in. Jesus washes us in His saving Baptism. He declares us justified before God and fills us with Himself, feeding us salvation.

In this way, through the crucifixion, Jesus places His most Holy Name upon you. Jesus sends His Holy Spirit to convert you and give you the “Lord, Lord” that gets you into heaven. In repenting of your sins, you are made to be comforted, not just because they are forgiven, but because you believe they are.

You believe because you have heard that the Word is in your mouth and in your heart. You believe because the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, and has sanctified and kept you in the one, true Faith.

You have the Name of Jesus because He has given it to you in Baptism and that means of grace is true, because the Word of God has spoken it and at the end of this civil year and every other "end of the year" you see, it will still be true, for nothing separates you from the Love of God in Christ Jesus;