Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sermon for 12/31/11 "Who's on Duty?"

Sermon “Who's on Duty?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I remember many years ago, early in my Christian walk, the people in the church tradition I was following would typically have what they called a “watch night” service. They would gather for hymn singing and prayer until midnight on December 31, welcoming the new year in and praying that God would pour out his blessing on them and their community.

I suppose we are doing something like that this evening. We've gathered in fellowship and celebration, rejoicing in our friendships and the blessings of God throughout the past year. People have been playing games and eating and drinking. They've also been talking and laughing. There have been some very good times in the past year, times when we've seen our Lord and Master working in ourselves, in our families, in our church and community. There have also been some difficult times. There are people who are missing this evening but might have been here in prior years. There are people who have developed serious health problems in recent times. There are people whose families have been under stress, sometimes very serious stress.

Maybe you are one of those people who can start to worry about what's happening in your life. Maybe you are one of the people who can lose a night's sleep because you keep wondering how you might have dealt with your family, your co-workers, your employer better. Maybe you wonder if you are going to have a job next week. Maybe you spend time wondering how you alienated someone else in your family. There are plenty of situations that we can tie ourselves into knots over. Many of them are serious, though some are trivial.

I don't want to spend much time in this sermon though. I'd rather we spent more meaningful time in prayer. But I want to point out that in all of our Scriptures for this evening God is presented as the one who is on guard duty. He is the one who constructs the wall of protection for his people, keeping the enemies out. He is the one who equips us with all we need to stand guard in his house, while he prepares to come home unexpectedly and throw a party for his guards. He is the one who is able to watch over his people and keep them safe from every danger.

What can separate us from the love of God? None of the dangers lurking around us. Yet there is a dread danger that we need to be aware of. In our unwillingness to trust in the Lord, our dependence on our own power and plans, our exaltation of our own will above God's will, that is what condemns us. If we trust in ourselves, eventually God allows us to trust in ourselves, though we will come to ruin. If we trust in God, he will bless us and keep us in his protection, not our own protection.

Who is on duty? The Lord, God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – he is on guard duty. And he is able to keep his people in perfect peace and safety. If we were to trust in ourselves we would surely be doomed. But as we look to our Lord and Savior we find we are kept in perfect blessing.

Now may the Lord of all peace grant us his peace, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Retooling for 2012

We'll be doing a little retooling for 2012. You can expect a little interruption at first. Don't worry, the Marmoset is not sinking (we hope). Here's what's in store for this upcoming year.

First off, after following the lectionary through the Church year for several years and having come to love that framework for my life and teaching, I'm seeing a need within my local congregation. We have people who, though they have been walking as Christians for many years, have not read through the Scripture. This is not the best way to be nourished in Christ. So at Faith Lutheran Church we are celebrating 2012 as the Year of the Bible. We will be encouraging people in reading through the entire Bible during the year. This project will involve reading about five chapters a day on five days a week. I hope my readers will join us in the challenge.

Instead of a daily lectionary post, then, I'll plan on posting the day's reading and a few (hopefully) thought provoking questions or observations.

My preaching will be a little different as well. Though our congregational readings will continue to follow the three-year lectionary, I will pick a passage from our reading challenge for the week which is also related to the theme of the time of the church year, at least as much as possible.

It's shaping up to be a very busy time in life during the upcoming five months. In addition to wrapping up my last full-time year at The Potter's School and my first nearly full-time year in pastoral ministry, I have two seminary classes to complete. I have to question whether I can read as quickly and as well as I will be required to. But it's all part of seeing how God's providence will work in me despite challenges. Though I am not prepared for the challenge I know my Savior is.

While giving updates, by the way, I should observe that during the month of December we hit a new record for page views in a month. It's less than 700, which may make people roll their eyes thinking nobody ever comes to this blog. But I appreciate each person who spends a moment looking at what I'm laying out on the blog. I pray that somehow I can be an encouragement to you, even though I probably have no idea who you are. May the Lord bless you and keep you!

Psalm 111:1-6, 10, Isaiah 60:1-22, Luke 1:39-56 - Lectionary for 12/31/11

Today's readings are Psalm 111:1-6, 10, Isaiah 60:1-22, and Luke 1:39-56.

God's works are great indeed! This is the message that we receive as we read over the Psalm and Old Testament passages for today. It is very easy to focus on what God has given us as his blessings yet overlook the very God who gives the blessings. Yet we are called again and again to look at creation as a reflection of some of the glory of God, who is much greater than all he has made.

Where do we find this blessing in our reading from the Gospel? We find that God the Son, Jesus, even when unborn, is able to bring realization of his presence to his cousin, John, who is also unborn. See how Elizabeth greets Mary as the mother of her Lord. We see that God has blessed Mary by making her the one who would bear Jesus, the true Son of God, the one who will save his people from their sins. This is another example of God himself being present in creation, a creation that he is much greater than, yet blessing his creation with his presence and his care.

Do we trust that our Lord will bless us with his presence and his care? He has done so in the past calendar year and we can have confidence that he will do so again in the year to come. Thanks be to God for his care for our world.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Psalm 89:1-4, 14-18, Isaiah 58:1-59:3, 14-21, Luke 1:26-38 - Lectionary for 12/30/11

Today's readings are Psalm 89:1-4, 14-18, Isaiah 58:1-59:3, 14-21, and Luke 1:26-38.

We often talk about what it takes to be fully dedicated to God. We talk about all the giving we could do, all the ways we can grow in grace, all the ways we could bring the knowledge of the Gospel to our world. Yet when we look at ourselves honestly we are ambivalent. We have our moments of dedication and seeming wholehearted commitment. Then there's the rest of the time.

What is God's answer to our ambivalence? We are to look to the Lord in hope and trust. We are to delight in what he has given us. We are to care more about showing his love and care to our neighbor than about showing it to ourselves. Then we are doing the work the Lord has placed before us. Then we see that we are blessed by God.

May the Lord show his favor upon us by using us to bring his blessing to our communities.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Psalm 78:1-7, Isaiah 55:1-13, Luke 1:1-25 - Lectionary for 12/29/11 - Commemoration of David, King of Israel

Today is the commemoration of David, King of Israel.

Today's readings are Psalm 78:1-7, Isaiah 55:1-13, and Luke 1:1-25.

We read today of God calling all nations to himself, by his Word, that they may receive forgiveness, salvation, and the joy of the Lord. This salvation comes through the person of Jesus, born for us. He has come into the world through miraculous means. He has pointed all people to himself, and he calls them to himself, the living Word of God.

Do we look for our Savior in the Scripture? Do we look for him as we receive him present in and through his promises in the enacted Scripture in baptism and communion? This is the mighty Lord of all heaven and earth. Jesus is the savior who has been promised. Let us seek him, delighting in his ways and his thoughts, trusting that his Word will accomplish his purposes.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Psalm 9:11-14, Isaiah 52:13-54:10, Matthew 2:13-23 - Lectionary for 12/28/11 - Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs.

Today's readings are Psalm 9:11-14, Isaiah 52:13-54:10, and Matthew 2:13-23.

This is the day when the Church has traditionally celebrated the deaths of innocents - both those who bore sin but were killed in their early youth and the one who bore the sins of the world on our behalf. In this day and age much is made of the abortion debate. And it is a serious debate. There are serious personal, social, and economic issues involved in life issues.

We see in our readings for today that Jesus, the "servant" of Isaiah 52-54, is the one who has borne the sins of the world. He has carried our sorrows. He suffered for us, without complaining, making an effectual offering for sin and guilt. What is the result of that offering? We see that God's covenant of peace will not be removed. His righteous wrath for sin has been satisfied, and it has been satisfied in the person of God the Son.

Does this really mean that God the Father cares for our safety more than he cares for the safety of God the Son? Certainly it means that God the Son loves our safety more than his own safety. And since the Lord is one God, yes, it means that God loves us more than he loves himself. He desires that we should be freed from his anger more than he loves himself. He wishes to love and forgive us because that is his nature. He himself is our redeemer.

What does that mean for those children, probably twenty or so, who were killed in the region around Bethlehem at the time when Joseph was fleeing with Mary and Jesus? It means that our Lord died for those children as well. As they died when Jesus himself was the target of Herod's goon squad, we trust that our Lord had made known the love of God to them as well. What does this mean for those who killed the children, or for those who have killed their own or other people's children today? With abortion being rampant around the world, we have to ask the question about the consequences. This is a major problem with very severe consequences. In Russia more than 50% of conceptions end in abortion now. In this country it is less common, but it has accounted for more loss of life in the past forty years than we saw among all participants in World War 2. Over 90% of babies with Down's Syndrome are aborted. And we see abortion facilities predominating in lower-income, majority African-American neighborhoods. That segment of the population loses ground in a terrible way, with 13% of American women being in those minority categories but accounting for nearly 36% of abortions.

We realize that God has given life as a gift. We confess it. We try to defend it. What will we say about people who are fighting against life? What will we say to those who have stamped out lives of others, even lives of their children? By the time they come to us they are often burdened, heavily burdened, with guilt. What will we say to these people? Just as Jesus died for the people who killed the children as he was fleeing to Egypt, he died for us and for our sin. We do not need to bear that sin and shame, because it has already been carried to death in the person and work of Jesus Christ, dying for us.

As he was put to death for us, may he also put to death our guilt and shame, leading us in repentance to trust in his perfect love for us, moving us beyond the hurtful things we have done into a life which protects life from beginning to end.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sermon for 12/27/11 "How Big?"

Sermon “How Big?”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Did you ever wonder just how big Christ's work on the cross was? Did you ever stop to contemplate how great his mercy and grace are? What about how far his atonement for sin will reach? The Scripture boldly proclaims Jesus as the savior of the world. He is the one who gave himself to redeem the world from sin and shame. And when he redeems us to himself, he does it all the way. There is no going back. There is nothing that Jesus has left undone. There is no doubt that Jesus himself has accomplished all we need to live in him.

Today, the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, we have readings from Revelation, from 1 John, and from John's Gospel. They all testify not to John, but to Jesus. How great is the Lord? John apparently had a long time to think about this, as the resurrection was probably sometime around the year 30 and John didn't die until some seventy years later. During that time he had time to learn that Jesus had borne all his sins, every last one of them, including those he committed purposely, including those he had already repented of again and again, including those he boldy condemned in his preaching and teaching. Jesus' death is sufficient to cleanse us from all sin. It's that big. John also knew that Jesus' mercy and grace was infecting all the world. He came to give us life, abundant life. And that life was as abundant for the man in his nineties as it was for the man in his thirties or for the child. He knew that God's grace was ready for everyone, and that as they received the grace of the Lord they would make his joy full as well.

How big is our Lord? He is great enough to watch over us for as long as we are here. He is great enough then to watch over us in eternity. He is great enough that he can take our sin and shame upon himself and still remain the Lord who is victorious over that sin and shame. And he is full of abundant grace.

So now may the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

Psalm 72:1, 4, 10-15, 18-19, Isaiah 51:17-52:12, Matthew 2:1-12 - Lectionary for 12/27/11 - Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

Today is the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist.

Today's readings are Psalm 72:1, 4, 10-15, 18-19, Isaiah 51:17-52:12, and Matthew 2:1-12.

How often do we think of drunkenness and of God at the same time? It's probably pretty rare. Yet in our reading from Isaiah today we see that people who are under God's conviction are drinking from the wine bowl of God's wrath. They have come face to face with themselves like a drunk man who feels sorry for himself. What does God do? He takes away that bowl. He removes the sorrow and mourning from us as we are repentant, and he gives that sorrow and mourning to those who have oppressed us. Even in their evil, they are God's servants to bring us and others to repentance. Their turn will come.

How do we then treat those who oppress us? We should treat them with dignity and respect, knowing that God will work to judge them as well. How has God judged sin in these last days? We read all about that in Matthew 2, where we see that the Christ is born in humble surroundings but is the king that all the heavens have proclaimed. May the Lord show his mercy and grace on us, making us to look to him rightly.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sermon for 12/26/11 "Mourning for Jerusalem"

Sermon “Mourning for Jerusalem”
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

We gather today to remember our brother, Stephen, the one whose name means “crown” and who was a crown of glory for our Lord and Savior. Stephen, a person very much like you and me, followed Jesus and proclaimed that Jesus was the lord of all. He proclaimed salvation only through faith on Jesus' finished work on the cross. What did Stephen get for it? He is remembered today as the first martyr of the Christian period. He is the first person we have recorded who lost his life for his testimony of Christ.

I hesitate to say this in a day when we try to make Christianity attractive to people, but it needs to be said. Things have not gotten a whole lot better for those who believe on Christ. To this day we see persecutions directed against Christians. In fact, in many places of the world, this is a very dangerous generation to live for Jesus. I wonder how many of us realize the picture of this situation which is found in international politics in the founding of the newest country on the planet, South Sudan. The southern Sudanese people are predominantly Christian. Those in the north are predominantly Islamic. And the northerners, in the part of the country which had the political capitol, tend to be of the militant type of Islam which strives to impose religious rule over everybody. The people in the southern part of the country were given two options. They could covert or they would be plundered and killed. It was a dangerous situation. This dangerous situation was made more complicated by the frequent efforts of the southern Sudanese to evangelize in the northern part of the country. The Gospel of Christ, the proclamation of Jesus' perfect life, death, and resurrection on our behalf, the message of salvation by grace through faith, this was such a powerful motivator that the Sudanese Christians were effectively giving their lives to follow Jesus.

In the past year there was another move, but it's one which you probably never read about in the newspaper or heard about on the television or radio news. The people of southern Sudan formed their own government and seceded from the rest of the country. This move was not without cost, both in finances, political capital, and lives of combatants in disputed territories. Yet we now have a republic of southern Sudan, which attempts to be a safe haven for Christians. They are still persecuted. They are still under attack from their neighbor to the north, as well as neighbors around them. Yet they are still standing.

That's a story of a victory. There are also stories of defeats. The last hundred years have been the most dangerous in history for Christians. Our world rejects Jesus' work on its behalf. Our cultures want to make their own truth instead of trusting that Jesus is the way, the life, and the truth. Our society has pushed Jesus away, though he has longed to shelter us and care for us. Yet where people refuse to trust in themselves, where people refuse to push Jesus away, we see that we can stand, like Stephen stood, firmly holding the Gospel, God's good news that he has dealt with sin and that we can enter eternity with no fear. In this country, at least for now, we are able to take that stand in safety. There may come a time when it is more dangerous. Yet, as with Stephen, we also are perfectly safe from all harm in the hands of our Savior. We can stand with him, proclaiming Jesus as the savior, knowing that even if people should choose to take our lives we will still live on in the blessed protection and salvation of Christ's perfect death on our behalf.

May the Lord bless us to hear him, to trust him, to let him shelter us according to his desire. Amen.

Psalm 34:4-10, 19, Isaiah 49:22-26; 50:4-51:8, 12-16, Matthew 1:18-25 - Lectionary for 12/26/11

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, Martyr.

Today's readings are Psalm 34:4-10, 19, Isaiah 49:22-26; 50:4-51:8, 12-16, and Matthew 1:18-25.

In our readings today I especially want to point out Isaiah 50:5-7. This Messianic prophecy points right past the incarnation to the day of the crucifixion. At the very same time that we are celebrating the birth of Christ on this second day of Christmas, we also celebrate Jesus' first martyr, Stephen, who gave his life for Jesus after the resurrection. Today in our Gospel reading we see Jesus called Immanuel, God with us. We see that this baby to be born is coming to save his people from sins. And we know that he has done this for all peoples (Isaiah 51:4-5).

God's work to redeem the world to himself in the person and work of God the Son, Jesus, is not limited to a little celebration about a sweet baby in a manger and a big celebration about a lot of presents we can give each other. This is the time to look to Christ the King, the one who has come to turn this sinful world upside down. Let us look to him in faith and love.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Sermon for 12/25/11 "God's Word Made Flesh"

“God's Word Made Flesh”

May the Word of God dwell in us richly. Amen.

God's Word dwelling in us. How many of us want to be people of the Word? I hope we all do. Look around you now. Can you find a copy of God's Word? I'm sure we can. Some of us bring our own Bibles, some of us want to use the one in the pew. And we confess that the Scripture is truly the word of God. But do we find God's Word somewhere else? We sure do, at least we will, here today, in a few minutes, we will be gathering around the Lord's table, a time to receive what we might call God's “incarnate word” - the word of God made flesh.

We read it in the beginning of John's Gospel. God's Word was with him in the beginning, creating all things. This “word” we read about is not like the words you write on a grocery list or a thank-you note. It's got a stronger meaning than that. The Greek λόγος is a word which may refer to a word on a piece of paper, but often refers to a reasoned account, a lasting command, or a ruling principle. Think of the “Word” as God's account of his essential nature and you're close to what John is saying.

While we could get all excited about describing God's essential nature by talking about Jesus' knowledge, holiness, love, forgiveness, immortality, etc., I think I'd rather point us a different direction today. After all, it is Christmas. We are thinking about gifts, food, drink, and family today. So I'd just like to point out those few elements of Jesus, the living word of God.

What is the greatest gift we can ever receive? It isn't a football. It isn't even new socks. It is forgiveness of sins, life and salvation – the gifts brought to us by Jesus, God's word, living among us. These are the gifts he gives to all who believe him. Where there is forgiveness there is also life and salvation. And the forgiveness of God is something we could never deserve. It is truly a precious gift.

We think about Jesus also in terms of food and drink. In John chapter six we see that Jesus presents his body as true heavenly food. He presents his blood as true heavenly drink. As we eat of his body and drink of his blood in communion we receive forgiveness and nourishment to eternal life – that is as often (not as rarely) as we receive communion. Jesus has given himself as a gift, as food and drink, and finally as a family.

To all who received him he gave power to become sons of God. What is this adoption? Jesus himself, the eternal Son of God, has given us his position as the son. He has called us his sons, for we are partakers of his body and blood, partakers of his very nature. Jesus is our brother, not because we chose him, but because he chose us.

Jesus, God's Word made flesh, has come – he dwelt with us, and we saw his glory. We see it still in Word and in Sacraments. We looked for a copy of the Word of God earlier. But in the later part of today's divine service we receive the true and living Word of God – not a copy, but the very real presence of Jesus Christ in body and blood. May the Lord be glorified among us now and always. Thanks be to God for his precious presence among us, for giving us to receive him in truth. Amen.

Psalm 96:1-5, 11-13, Isaiah 49:1-18, Matthew 1:1-17 - Christmas Day

Today is Christmas Day

Today's readings are Psalm 96:1-5, 11-13, Isaiah 49:1-18, and Matthew 1:1-17.

This is the day that Christians around the world proclaim Christ's birth. We welcome our newborn king, lord of all. In our readings on this day we see all creation singing the praises of God. We see that God has delivered Israel from bondage through the child, the servant of Israel, born to bring Jacob back to the God who is his refuge. We see that the Lord has comforted his people and will never forget them. And we see in our reading from Matthew that Jesus is born of the lineage of Abraham, the one born to be a blessing to all nations, redeeming them from the curse.

Thanks be to God the Son, the deliverer of all who trust in him! He who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but humbled himself has come to take on our sin and shame, giving us his divine nature.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Sermon for 12/24/11 "Immanuel, God's Wonder"

SERMON “Immanuel, God’s Wonder”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Well, we're here again. We have gathered in church this Christmas eve, once again. Just like last year, just like every year, we've gathered. We sang some hymns, probably some we've sung on a lot of Christmas eves. There's the candle thing. Many people are wearing red and green. And there are a few people who are wearing a tie just like every Christmas eve. Dare I even say we have a few people here we only see at this time of year? I can't say for certain but no doubt there are a lot of people in this world, if not in this room, who are in church this day of the year and only this day of the year, just like always.

Same hymns, same decorations, same people, same clothes – it seems pretty commonplace, doesn't it? Yet there are some elements here, amid all the blinding sameness, which we cannot dare to see as commonplace. There are three essential elements we need to look at without fail. And they are right here in our Gospel reading.

First, people need to be saved from sins. Do we know how radical that statement is in our feel-good, bootstrap world? Let me repeat it so you can soak it up for a moment. People need to be saved from sin. Now before we all nod our heads and agree that all those other people, the bad ones, need to be saved, let's consider the reality of sin. Sin is any accidental or deliberate falling short of God's perfection. In Adam we have all sinned. And we go ahead and play the part of sinners quite well each and every day. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The wages of sin is death. And God has seen fit to love us while we were yet sinners. We can't save ourselves. Dead people don't raise themselves. People, that is, we, need to be saved from sins. We are corrupt in the sight of God. There's no reforming ouselves, no being good enough. We are the sinners who need to be saved.

Note to myself – put up a church sign that says “for sinners only.”

People need to be saved from sins. Now, next, the message you expected. Jesus is born this day. Does this seem like a commonplace event? Let's run over the details. His birthplace and lineage were mentioned by the prophet hundreds of years before. He is born of a virgin – no father but the proclamation of God in her ear. He is born of a woman who is under sin like the rest of us, but he inherits no sin. Jesus is, in fact, the only perfectly righteous person ever to live. He's fully human yet shows that he is also fully divine. Jesus is the perfect man. His birth is heralded by angels. He has stars that call people from a far country to come and worship.

Jesus is no ordinary baby. He is no ordinary person. He does not simply live a good life. He is God in the flesh. He is God with us. Nothing commonplace about it.

People need to be saved from sin. Jesus, God in the flesh, is born this day. What is our third point?

This is one of the most misundrstood aspects of Christmas. Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, come to save us from sin. This is, after all, what we need. Remember the sign, “for sinners only”? We don't need Jesus as an example of God's love. We don't need Jesus as a person who shows us how to be faithful. We don't need a Jesus who showed us the way to heaven. His showing us things doesn't mean we can do them. We're dead in sin, remember? We don't need another example. If Jesus just came to be an example we may as well hang it up and go home. We dead people don't need examples. We need a savior. We need someone to bring us to life from the dead. We need someone to kill our sin. We need someone to put his perfect righteousness upon us.

This is exactly what God the Son is. He is the one who saves us. He cleanses us. He forgives us. He renews us. And by faith in his name we who were dead in trespasses and sin have passed from death to life. We have been changed by him. We are no longer dead, but by faith in Jesus' work for us we become light and life in Jesus.

Jesus has come to save us from our sins. That's what we need, that's what he did.

Now may Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, grant us his mercy and redemption, creating faith in our hearts that we may receive the light of the Gospel, Christ crucified for sinners, and that we may walk in that light, bearing the righteous, redeeming love of Jesus with us, wherever we go. This I pray in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 98:1-6, 9, Isaiah 44:21-45:13, 20-25, Revelation 12:1-17 - Lectionary for 12/24/11 - Christmas Eve

Today is Christmas Eve.

Today's readings are Psalm 98:1-6, 9, Isaiah 44:21-45:13, 20-25, and Revelation 12:1-17.

Our readings today are about deliverance. God is delivering his people from their bondage. He is pouring out his righteousness and his mercy. In Revelation he protects the male child who is under the attack of the serpent. We see in this conflict that it is God and God alone who has worked salvation. He is the one who has revealed himself. He alone makes and keeps his covenants with his chosen people. He is the only true judge.

In the judgment of God it is necessary that there be distinctions between good and evil. That which is blessed of God is blessed and remains. That which is not blessed of God is not blessed. It is going to be destroyed. What is the distinction between that which God favors and does not favor? At first glance it looks like it is the choice of God. That is clearly what brings God's favor. But what brings his displeasure? We see in Isaiah 45:22 that those who do not turn to God in order to depend on his mercy find themselves as the people in darkness, the people who are not his people.

As our Lord has called all people together in Christ Jesus, the Savior of the world, may we turn to him and be saved. He is God, there is no other.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Psalm 39:4-8, Isaiah 43:25-44:20, Revelation 11:1-19 - Lectionary for 12/23/11

Today's readings are Psalm 39:4-8, Isaiah 43:25-44:20, and Revelation 11:1-19. We like to say that we have a pluralistic society, that there are many acceptable constructs. This is fine in some areas. You like one thing, I like another. We are free to have different clothes, different forms of housing, different occupations, different attitudes toward many of the things of life. But the Scripture is clear that there are some areas where pluralism doesn't work. We can look to the true God or to other gods. We can look to eternal relevance or to something that we have created. We can look to the creator or to the creation. There are not more than two possibilities and one of those two is absurd. We cannot look to creation as if it is the creator. If we do so we are surely doomed. May the Lord have mercy on us, for we look to ourselves and our own abilities time and again. May our God shine his light on our foolishness and bring us to repentance, that we may receive his forgiveness, not looking to our own means of grace, but only to his.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Psalm 115:1-8, 11, Isaiah 43:1-24, Revelation 9:13-10:11 - Lectionary for 12/22/11

Today's readings are Psalm 115:1-8, 11, Isaiah 43:1-24, and Revelation 9:13-10:11. In our passage from Isaiah we read that God has chosen his people and will not forsake them. Yet look at the response of God's chosen people. They have rejected God. They tire him with their disobedience. They do not obey the commands of God. They do not honor God. Their sins are a burden to God. They are wearisome. What is our desire? What should the desire of all Christians be? Surely not to burden God. Surely not to weary God with our disobedience. If we are called according to the grace of God, if we are partakers of God's promises, our response should be one of grateful obedience. We should turn from the sin he has taken upon himself. We should look to our Lord in hope. May the Lord grant that we respond like the Psalmist. Give glory to the name of the Lord, not to ourselves. May we look to the living God in trust, knowing that he is indeed our help and shield.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sermon for 12/21/11 "Grace for Me Too"

Sermon “Grace for Me Too” Lord, let us be faithful, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Today, the last Wednesday in Advent, we also celebrate the feast of St. Thomas, the apostle. From the red paraments you know something about Thomas, that he died for his faith. Early Christian tradition says Thomas traveled to the East after Pentecost, finally reaching India. To this day there are Christians who call themselves “Christians of St. Thomas.” We hear that Thomas died for his faith at the point of a spear. What happened to this Thomas? What changed him from being the apostle who, though he had been with Jesus for so long, fled and was hesitant to believe the resurrection? I would venture to say that Thomas is a lot like we are. In ourselves, when we look to our own resources, we have no confidence that Jesus is raised from the dead for our justification. We may doubt his promises. We may doubt whether he is making effective intercession for us. We are very much like Thomas. Why would I say this? You may say that there must be something wrong with my faith in God. I’d say you are right, but that is beside the point. You may say there must be something wrong with my theology. I’d say you are right, but again that is beside the point. Maybe there’s something wrong with my head. No doubt about it, but that’s not what we are talking about right now. The reason I say this is that I hear it from people I visit. We pray a prayer of confession and prior to the absolution I ask them if they believe Jesus forgives their every sin. I can’t start to count the times people have said they hope so. We’re like Thomas. We hope Jesus is good enough. We hope Jesus forgave our sin enough. We hope Jesus’ resurrection is great enough, that his love is broad enough, and that he will remember to forget our sins. But somehow in the back of our minds we have this nagging sense that Jesus’ forgiveness depends on some righteousness we have. We think it depends on how complete our repentance is. We think it depends on our ability to stop all sin and live a perfect life of holiness, following Jesus our savior. We try to mediate salvation on our own behalf. We, like Thomas, decide that we are the judge, jury, and executioner for how real Jesus’ resurrection is, how complete his salvation is, how perfect and lasting his pomise is. I have news for you. It’s the same news I have for you day after day, week after week. And I’m not going to quit giving you that news as long as we find ourselves doubting as Thomas did. Jesus Christ has come with grace and mercy. He has lived a perfect life so that we could be forgiven for an imperfect life. He has died a perfect sinless death to be the lamb slain on our behalf. He has risen from the dead as the firstfruits of the resurrection of all the dead. And he has appeared, showing that his promise to be present for us in the power of the resurrection is absolutely trustworthy. Jesus himself has lived, died, and risen again for you and for me. There is no doubt about his work. There is no doubt about his being able to bear all our sin. There is no reason in the world to doubt whether he has accomplished salvation on our behalf. None at all. But what if we don’t trust? What if we are scared. What if we wonder if Jesus’ blood and righteousness are sufficient for us? I don’t think it should be a surprise that many of the people who find themselves doubting are those who are in physical and mental distress. They have come face to face with the reality that they are struggling with their age. They are looking death in the eyes. They have found that they are frail. They see their need for a savior and wonder sometimes if they were mistaken about Jesus. And that can be a picture of each one of us on any day of the week. We find ourselves secure in our faith and then something shakes it. We are confronted with a surprising reality. We don’t know what to expect next and it makes us uncomfortable. What then? I’ll simply ask if Jesus came just for the other disciples or if he also came for Thomas. In fact, Jesus had already appeared to the other disciples. He seems to have made a special trip for Thomas. Why would he do that? The only way I can explain it is that Jesus Christ, our Savior, is full of mercy and grace. He is full of mercy for the people to whom he was going to send Thomas. He is full of mercy for Thomas himself. He does not give up on those whom he has chosen. He will also come for us whom he has chosen. And he comes tonight in Word. He comes for us when we receive the Sacrament of the Altar. He comes to us also in confession and absolution as we confess our sins before him and receive the forgiveness that he has granted. Jesus is here for his people, for us who are like Thomas. We do not know his purpose in it. We only know that we are weak, weary, sinful, and faithless. And where we are presented to our Lord he gives us his grace, making us strong, lively, righteous, and faithful. There’s grace aplenty for you and for me. Our Lord and Savior, we thank you. Mercy and grace abound in you. Let us see again your wounds of love for us. Let us see you in your resurrection. Create in us a clean heart and restore us to walk in your paths, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 102:24-28, Isaiah 42:1-25, Revelation 9:1-12 - Lectionary for 12/21/11 - Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle. Today's readings are Psalm 102:24-28, Isaiah 42:1-25, and Revelation 9:1-12. Our Psalm today observes that God's creation will perish but he will remain. Our world is wearing out. I've noticed this a lot in the past six months in the parish where I'm ministering now. Our congregation is rather elderly. Among those old people, and also among the young people, we find people who seem to be wearing out. We come face to face with our mortality. We know that we are temporary. Who lasts? it is God, the creator and sustainer of all, who lasts. He alone does not wear out. He alone does not pass away. What does this say for us? What is our hope? Our hope is that God by his grace has clothed all who believe with his immortality. This mortal being has put on immortality, and it is the immortality resident in God the Son. He has clothed us and will keep us to eternity. In Christ we no longer pass away. We may wear out in this earthly life. But Jesus Christ, the resurrection and the life, gives us true eternal life, life which will never wear out.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Psalm 119:25-32, Isaiah 40:18-41:10, Revelation 8:1-13 - Lectionary for 12/20/11 - Commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther

Today is the commemoration of Katharina von Bora Luther. Today's readings are Psalm 119:25-32, Isaiah 40:18-41:10, and Revelation 8:1-13. In our times of turmoil we do not need to fear. Unlike the pagans, who make gods in their own images, we serve the one who has shown himself as the true and living God. He is not the work of our hands or of our imagination. The God of the Bible is the creator of all, not subject to any of our whims, but able to accomplish his purposes by his mighty hand. Again today we see that this characteristic of God is a comfort for those who trust him but a terror for those who do not. Do we realize that Jesus has given himself to reconcile people to God? Do we see that he took our disobedience and its penalty on himself, becoming sin for us and suffering on our behalf? May the Lord of all mercy and grace grant us to trust in him. The work is done. We no longer bear our sin and shame. Jesus has done it for us.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Psalm 103:11-18, Isaiah 40:1-17, Revelation 7:1-17 - Lectionary for 12/19/11 - Commemoration of Adam and Eve

Today is the commemoration of Adam and Eve. Today's readings are Psalm 103:11-18, Isaiah 40:1-17, and Revelation 7:1-17. For those who trust in God, his coming is not a terror, but a delight. In his wisdom our Lord has created and understands all things. So how complete is his knowledge of his people? The God who has exhaustive knowledge of us all is also perfectly prepared to care for us. Not only do we see ourselves protected from all harm, we are also to receive the blessing of God. In the last day, then, let us look to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who has cleansed us from all sin and shame, who leads us as a shepherd, who wipes away all our tears. Jesus is the one who knows and loves us. He is the one who will keep us in his perfect love and grace forever. Thanks be to God for his great mercy.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Psalm 119:81-88, Isaiah 34:1-2, 8-35:10, Revelation 6:1-17 - Lectionary for 12/18/11

Today's readings are Psalm 119:81-88, Isaiah 34:1-2,8-35:10, and Revelation 6:1-17. In Advent we are confronted with our need for Jesus to come as the Savior. We have a particularly clear example of that today as we see the inhabited world turned into a wasteland. This is a frightening thought. We like to think the world of natural beauty, peace, prosperity, and free-flowing milk and honey would be the signs of the Lord's coming. Yet we see the world under the curse of sin is coming apart at the seams. When our Lord comes, he comes to judge and condemn sin. This is no Sunday school picnic. It is judgment. What is an appropriate response? If we are in Christ we are new creations. We have no need to fear. As I have the opportunity to remind people on their deathbeds, those whom our Lord has called in Word and Sacrament are his own prize possession. Even if they die they are perfectly safe in the hands of their Savior. It is only a fearsome time for those who trust their own righteousness rather than God's righteousness, that of Jesus, given to all who believe. Come, Lord Jesus! Make us confident in you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Psalm 40:1-5, 16-17, Isaiah 33:1-24, Revelation 5:1-14 - Lectionary for 12/17/11 - Commemoration of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men

Today is the commemoration of Daniel the Prophet and the Three Young Men. Today's readings are Psalm 40:1-5, 16-17, Isaiah 33:1-24, and Revelation 5:1-14. Who is worthy to stand before God? We see in our Psalm and in our reading from Isaiah the blessings on the one who is righteous, who walks in the ways of the Lord. And we can all aspire to having such a walk. We can all desire righteousness. However, in the final analysis, we all fall short. God requires nothing less than perfect obedience, all the time, in every way, in thought, word, and deed. What will we do? Who will be found who can proclaim God's grace? Who will be found to proclaim God's glory and mercy rightly? The righteous one, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is the one who is worthy. He is the one who can stand before God in his own righteousness and approach the Lord, for he has walked in the ways of the Lord perfectly. All praise be to Jesus Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, who has "ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and {who has} made them a kingdom and priests to our God" (Rev. 5:9-10, ESV).

Friday, December 16, 2011

Psalm 149, Isaiah 32:1-20, Revelation 4:1-11 - Lectionary for 12/16/11

Today's readings are Psalm 149, Isaiah 32:1-20, and Revelation 4:1-11. As we approach the end of the Church year we are confronted with the unspeakable joy of the Lord's presence. Look especially at our Psalm for today. We see that the Lord is pleased with his people, recreating them as people who praise him. See our reading from Revelation, where God is surrounded by his people who now live to praise him. What do we say about our lives in this age? We are not filled with the praise of God. We are not filled with joy in God's presence. Yet we see that Jesus has come to redeem the world to himself. May he show himself as the one who has done exactly what he said he would. May our cry be that of the elders in Revelation 4:11 (ESV), "Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created."

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Psalm 146:1-7, Isaiah 30:27-31:9, Revelation 3:1-22 - Lectionary for 12/15/11

Today's readings are Psalm 146:1-7, Isaiah 30:27-31:9, and Revelation 3:1-22. The dark days have come. We see the kingdoms of this world falling in destruction. We see people trying to hide from the presence of our God, that presence which is a consuming fire, destroying all that is faithless. In our reading from Revelation we are confronted with our own faithlessness. We are called quite forcefully to repent and overcome. Yet how will we do that? What can we do, we who are sinful, we who are weak and weary? We do not have the strength to overcome. Even as God confronts us with his Law, see how by his Gospel he tells us that he will come to us, he will sit down with us to dine, he will make us conquerors in his name, as he himself has conquered sin and death on our behalf. How do we overcome? We overcome through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is of the Lord, not of our own ability. Let us therefore look to Jesus, the coming king, who will make us to sit with him on his throne.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sermon for 12/14/11 "Speak, O Lord"

Sermon “Speak, O Lord” Speak to us, Lord, that we may hear your gracious words of Law, convicting us of our sin, and of Gospel, proclaiming your great promises, in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. In our Gospel reading from Luke 1:26-38 we catch up with a young lady. She’s probably not very different from many of the young people we know. We don’t know much of her family. They are of the line of David, but don’t seem to be prominent. We can’t tell that she is wealthy or outstanding in any way, except that she believes in the Lord. She’s following her culture’s expectations for her – grow up, get married, and live a life that should show faithfulness before God. She’s engaged to a good guy, who is in business, not an outstanding high-power career, but just a normal guy. Nothing seems too spectacular here. Nothing, that is, until the Lord sends an angel to visit her. What news is there? The angelic messenger comes and says she is highly favored before God. This is shocking. This is troubling. What is God’s favor going to do? The message of God is unmistakable. There is a holy one to be born. And he’s going to be born of you. What does that mean? Mary doesn’t know. She can’t begin to imagine what God’s word will accomplish in her. She can’t imagine what this holy one to be born of her will do. Yet in verse 38 she replies, (ESV) “May it be to me as you have said.” We who are in Christ know the rest of the story. We know that the child to be born is named Jesus, for he will save the world from its sin. He is called Emmanuel, God with us. He lives a life of perfect righteous obedience before God. He dies a death on our behalf, atoning for the sin of the world. He rises victorious over death, rising to save the world and to kill death itself. He ascends to heaven where he is in unity once again with God the Father, always making intercession for our sins, placing his victory over death upon us who believe. Do we respond as Mary did? Though we can’t imagine the enormity of God’s salvation, do we turn to our Lord in faith, knowing that he will accomplish in us what he desires? This is exactly the response we give Sunday after Sunday. Yet what will we do when God begins to show himself as the holy one who is in our midst? What will it mean? How will it influence our individual lives, our local church, our community, and our world? Speak, O Lord! We wish to hear from you. And the Lord speaks to us in his words of Law, condemning our sin. His words hurt. He condemns us as those who have sinned against him. Our thoughts are evil, every day. Our words which could bring healing and life are used for destructive purposes. We do not speak his peace and comfort, but seek our own glory. We work against him, not for him. We who are redeemed by the Lord do not obey him but rather pursue our own self-interests. So we confess that we have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, in what we have done and in what we have left undone. We confess that we have not loved him with our whole heart. We see and confess that we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. God’s word of Law has condemned us. Yet we confess that the Law is good, for without God’s Law we do not know our need for a savior. But God is not done speaking to us when he has spoken his word of Law. He has yet to speak his word of Gospel, that which he has done on our behalf, that which he does to fulfill the Law for us. And in these last days he has spoken to us. There is a holy one, born of the virgin, born to carry our sorrows, born under the law, born to fulfill the law. He has come to fulfill all righteousness. And this Jesus has done. He is the Lord our righteousness. He is the one who speaks all the grace we need. And in his mercy he does not leave us to our own devices. He corrects us. He rebukes us. He trains us in righteousness so we may be prepared for every good work. What would our Lord use us for? As we see Jesus, born in us, drawing us to himself by the Holy Spirit, how is he using us in our families, in our local church , in our community, in the world? Can he use us to bring his peace to those we live with? Can he use us to show his grace in our workplace? Can he use us as leaders in our community, within the vocations he has given us? Can he speak through us, showing that he is the redeemer of the world, including being the redeemer of those people we don’t get along with? How would the Lord of all use all our lives, all our resources, all our hopes, all our dreams, even all our fears? We have only ten days of the Advent season remaining. May the Lord move us to repentance, to see that we are unworthy of standing before him, that he is the one enthroned on high, that we have need of a savior, as does our whole world. And may the Lord give us grace to see how we can be his instruments to reveal him to this world, a world of pain, a world of sorrow, a world of death and destruction. How would the Lord use us? I come before you today without answers. I don’t know how he would desire to work in us. I don’t know how he desires to change our world. But I know he is not finished here. He is not absent. He is not finished speaking to us. He is not finished bringing his grace and peace to our world. In these last days, as our Lord wills, he will use us, his Church, as his hand reaching out to our world. May we have his grace, grace to walk in his ways, grace to trust him, grace to say, as did Mary, “May it be to me as you have said,” grace to see the opportunities he has placed before us and to take them. Lord, let us walk in your paths. Give us your light, and shine your light through us. Transform us by your grace so that we may be used to show you, the Savior of the world, to our world, which needs a savior. This we pray in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 27:1, 4-5, 11-14, Isaiah 30:15-26, Revelation 2:1-29 - Lectionary for 12/14/11

God's word today is for those who suffer adversity. We see that hardship about us in all ways, small and large, from the defeats we suffer in business, games and personal relationships to the loss of possessions, property, our right minds, or our lives in this fallen world. No matter the adversity we face, whatever form suffering comes in, we can rest in the arms of Jesus our savior, knowing that he has borne our sorrows, that he is well acquainted with our grief, and that he has given himself for our sakes, to redeem us through all our suffering, bringing us safely to his perfect, everlasting kingdom. In this time of Advent we call upon our Lord to come. We know that Jesus is the redeemer promised by God. We know that from the foundation of the world Jesus is the lamb of God slain for us, appointed to make us holy, to bring us to God. May the Lord bless us as we look to his great promises and anticipate his coming.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Psalm 89:20-29, Isaiah 29:15-30:14, Revelation 1:1-20 - Lectionary for 12/13/11 - Commemoration of Lucia, Martyr

Today is the commemoration of Lucia, Martyr. Today's readings are Psalm 89:20-29, Isaiah 29:15-30:14, and Revelation 1:1-20. God promises to set his son, David, on a throne that lasts forever. Yet David the king himself does not last forever. We must look to another ruler, a son of David, a son of God, who rules forever and ever. This ruler we find in the person of Jesus, son of God and son of Man, descendant of David, conqueror of sin, death, and hell. He is the one who has died and now lives forever. He is the one at the right hand of the Father. He is the one who is seated on a throne which will not perish. In these last days of Advent, let us look eagerly to the coming of our Lord. May we truly desire his coming to bring deliverance from death. May your kingdom come, your will be done.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sermon for 12/11/11 "This for That - Trade You!"

SERMON “This for That – Trade You!” audio link (1 Cor. 1:3) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We often want to make trades, don’t we? I know when people do something nice for me I want to do something for them in return. Sometimes there’s an obligation involved, of course. I want groceries, the grocery store wants money. You want piano lessons, the teacher expects you to pay. And there are non-cash expectations sometimes as well. They happen all the time in our families. I do the cooking, you get to do the cleaning up. I mow the yard, you get to vacuum the carpet. And sometimes these obligations are good and right. Granted, we can carry them too far, making demands on one another without considering the good of the other person. But when we enter into service to one another and we consider the good of the other person as more important than our own good, and especially when all the people involved in the relationship do that, we find we have teamwork, cooperation, and good will. But so far I have been talking in terms of our human relationships. I’ve been bringing up purely earthly examples. I have one thing and I give it to you because it would be good for your to have it. And you do something that you can do in return. But what of the relationship of our Lord and his Church? What about what Jesus has done? As we look eagerly to the Christmas season, starting in just under two weeks, we are begging for the coming of the Savior of the world. What is it that Jesus does in his coming? What do we bring? What does he bring? What kind of trade does he make with us? I want to remind you of just the first four verses from Isaiah 61. “1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. 4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” So what did we bring? We have brought poverty, brokenheartedness, captivity, darkness, mourning, grieving, despair, and ruins. Some gifts that we bring our Lord and Savior! Yet those are the gifts that our sinful hearts and lives can bring. We are poor before our Lord, the one who created all things, who governs them by his mighty hand, who has redeemed them all by coming to claim them as his own. What do we have to give back to the eternal, almighty, all-wise Lord? We have a little time, a little money, some praise and worship, and some service to our neighbors. Yet it is God who has created all these things and has granted that we can have some of them to use. Though we may seem rich, though we live in the country that possesses more wealth than most of the rest of the world, we are all poverty-stricken before our Lord. What has our Lord done for us? He who sees our poverty has granted us good news. We consider our lives to be precious. We even say that soldiers who have died in action have paid the ultimate price for their country. Yet what price has Jesus paid for our lives? He has given his life, a life unstained by sin, a life unbroken by evil, in order to redeem our broken and poverty-stricken lives. Jesus has given a priceless life for our lives which, despite our best efforts, are cursed and ruined. This is his good news, the Gospel of the Lord, that he has given himself to redeem us from the curse of the Law. He has purchased us out of our sin, bringing us into his righteousness. Thanks be to God. We give him poverty. He gives us riches. What else do we bring? We bring brokenheartedness. Have you been disappointed? Have you had desires that are not fulfilled? Maybe you see a lot of the work in your life as thankless. Maybe your children have rebelled and departed from the faith. Maybe you have lived with a husband or wife who has rejected the Lord and has even abandoned you. Maybe you have had a relative who has fallen into dementia and no longer recognizes you. Maybe that person whom you loved for years and years is now hostile toward you. We find that those people who are closest to us are able to harm us the most. They are able to break our hearts. They know our weaknesses. Do you wonder about that? I’ll give you some news, if you’ve never thought about it before. There are many people in this congregation who could do things which are hurtful to me. A pastor always wants to have good relationships with the flock. And some of you would have the power to do things which could hurt rather a lot. Yet there is only one person in this room who knows how to devastate me instantly. That’s my dear wife, who would never choose to do so. The one who is closest to us is the one who knows our weakest places. Some of you have been broken. Your hearts have been crushed. They may have been crushed by those most dear to you. We bring broken hearts before our Lord. What does he do with those broken hearts? Like the good doctor he binds up our broken hearts. He brings healing. He heals us and restores us. He stops the bleeding. He puts what is broken back together. Jesus Christ has come to bring forgiveness and healing. The sun of righteousness has arisen with healing in his wings. And he promises to bind up the brokenhearted. This our Lord brings to us. He brings us the gospel in exchange for our poverty. He brings healing in exchange for our broken hearts. What else do we bring? What would we like to trade to our Lord? We confess that we are captives to sin. In our poverty, in our broken state, we enter boldly into sin. Quite a few great theologians of the past have observed that part of the curse of sin is that we sin more. We find we are captives, we are prisoners, we are in the darkness of sin and we are actively trying to shut off the lights. When we see the light of the Gospel we refuse the light. We turn to the darkness. We prefer the captivity of sin to the freedom of the Gospel. We glimpse the light and cover our eyes. We prefer salvation made by ourselves to salvation made by God. Do you doubt me? Think about the kind of books that we find in Christian bookstores and in the inspirational section of other bookstores. A few years ago when the whole Forty Days of Purpose craze was going on I borrowed that book from the library. I’d heard a good deal about what the author, Rick Warren, was doing. So I thought I’d give the book a read. It claims to be all about the gospel, about what God is doing for you. Then day after day it tells you what you are supposed to do. Warren insists that Christ for you is not enough. He insists that though Jesus gives forgiveness, life, and salvation, the quality of forgiveness we receive is directly tied to the quality of our repentance, that our life and salvation is tied to how many good works we do. The book ends up being not about what God is doing but about what we must do to be pleasing to God. It’s all about the law. It’s all about making ourselves righteous by works. This kind of teaching is counter to all the Scripture says about our salvation. It says that we earn our own salvation and that we are able to clean ourselves up and present ourselves as holy offerings before the Lord. This we cannot do. This teaching brings either self-righteousness or despair. It may bring both. It’s dangerous and untrue. We are not free to have a purpose-filled life. We are not free to live our best life now or any day. We are not captivating, we are captives. We are wild at heart and not in a good way. We are in darkness. And the more we try to earn our salvation the more we plunge ourselves into captivity and darkness. There, I’ve told you what I think about the ideas of several popular Christian authors. I should get plenty of chances to defend myself as you spend the next six months asking me about other best-sellers that I think should never have been published. But in place of that captivity and darkness what does our Lord give us? He gives us freedom. He gives us his light. And that freedom, that light, is that we no longer have to try to earn our righteousness. We no longer wander around in the dark trying to mediate our salvation but unable to see the depth of our need. In place of that, Jesus, the light of the world, has come. He shines in the darkness. He proclaims freedom for us captives. He proclaims that we are released. In response we no longer try to earn our salvation. Rather, we try to get used to the fact that he has saved us. We try to walk as free people, no longer as prisoners. He whom the Son has set free is free indeed. There’s more to this story, though. Not only has Jesus traded his good news for our poverty, not only has he traded his healing for our broken hearts, not only has he traded freedom for our captivity, not only has he traded release for our imprisonment, he has taken our mourning, our grieving, our despair and he has provided us comfort, a crown of beauty, a garment of praise. When we see in the light of the gospel that we have been redeemed from the curse, then we find ourselves mourning for our poverty. We find ourselves grieving for our brokenness, our missed opportunities, our sin against our neighbors. We look at our obedience in light of God’s commands. And we see that we have no hope to live according to his righteousness. We may well despair if we depend upon ourselves. What is God’s reaction to that mourning, that grieving, that despair? Jesus himself has come to dwell with us. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He has come to bear all our sorrows. He has come to place his crown of glory on our heads, taking for himself a crown of thorns and a coronation of shame in his death on our behalf. He has taken on the mocking and ridicule which belongs to us and he has given us praise in the heavenly realms, rejoicing in heaven. He has called us kings and priests before God. This is what our Lord trades for our failings. In short, he takes the ruins of our lives and builds his temple, a temple of the Holy Spirit. He builds his Church upon Jesus the rock of salvation. This all comes from God’s good favor. It is his good pleasure to send Jesus, the Savior of the World, coming to live a perfect life of righteousness, to suffer and die in our place, to rise again in victory over death, and to ascend to heaven, living forever, making intercession for the saints. This is the great exchange. This is the trade that our Lord makes for us. He takes us as we are. And he changes us into his image, from sorrow to glory. Come, Lord Jesus. Show yourself to us. Create us anew, giving us yourself, according to your promise. Amen.

Psalm 106:1-5, Isaiah 29:1-14, Jude 1-25 - Lectionary for 12/12/11

Today's readings are Psalm 106:1-5, Isaiah, 29:1-14, and Jude 1-25. We receive an exhortation today to contend for the historic Christian faith, that faith which is solidly rooted not only in the writings of the New Testament but which was delivered to the prophets by God in the Old Testament. We see that all Scripture points us to salvation from sin in Jesus Christ. And our Lord warns us throughout the Bible that we should never neglect that salvation. God has given us life and salvation through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. It is a life worth fighting for. Would we rather pursue something new? Would we rather see innovations in our faith and practice? Let us beware lest we neglect this great salvation by trying to improve on it. May God grant that we look to him as he has revealed himself all these many years. "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen" (Jude 24-25, ESV).

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Psalm 5:1-8, Isaiah 28:14-29, 1 John 5:1-21 - Lectionary for 12/11/11

Today's readings are Psalm 5:1-8, Isaiah 28:14-29, and 1 John 5:1-21. Theologians use strange terms sometimes. There's one in Isaiah 28:21. Sometimes they talk about the "alien work of God." Here we see that term. What is God's alien work? It is the work which is somehow foreign to God. And that alien work of God is his work of destruction. When he cleanses the world, sweeping out all that is evil, that is God's alien work. It is not in his primary nature to be destructive, for he is the God of creation and redemption. Yet to redeem he must also cleanse evil. How does our Lord cleanse evil from the world? He lays himself a cornerstone in Zion, that Rock, Jesus Christ, who is the foundation of our faith, the one in whom we find redemption, mercy, grace, and love. Then he sweeps that foundation free of all the works we might try to do, works to earn our salvation, works of self-righteousness as well as works of overt evil. He cleanses the foundation and then he builds on it, one living stone at a time, as he places people into his kingdom by faith in his name. As opposed to the "alien" work of God, we see God's "proper" work - the work which really belongs to his character - the work of redeeming and restoring his people.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Psalm 86:1-7, Isaiah 26:20-27:13, 1 John 4:1-21 - Lectionary for 12/10/11

Today's readings are Psalm 86:1-7, Isaiah 26:20-27:13, and 1 John 4:1-21. Isaiah tells us to take shelter in the arms of God, to avoid looking at the destruction which the Lord will bring upon the earth at the end, knowing that our hope is in God, not in this world. But we love to look at destruction, don't we? When there's a tragic disaster on the news that's what we are all watching. Why is that? There's a part of us, a big part of us, which is attached to this world. We find ourselves, as people of this age, looking to our surroundings without noticing the Lord God who has surrounded us with his mercy and grace. What is our security, though? Lest we become afraid, consumed with our frailty, let us realize that our God has placed his love upon us and we can abide in him. We see his love for us and we realize that we are the beloved of God. We know he has given us his Spirit and therefore we live and breathe in him. How do we respond to this calling, this security that our Lord has given us? As 1 John 4:21 says, we love our brother. Let us show that kindness of God to our brothers, then, not rejoicing in their tribulation, but rejoicing in the God who loves them and cares for them.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Psalm 17:6-15, Isaiah 26:1-19, 1 John 3:1-24 - Lectionary for 12/9/11

Today's readings are Psalm 17:6-15, Isaiah 26:1-19, and 1 John 3:1-24. Isaiah is full of psalms. Have you ever noticed it? I hope so. See today how the people pour out a lament and receive comfort from God. What we have tried has accomplished nothing good. God will bring healing and grace, which is sufficient to accomplish all good. John reflects on the same idea. God has poured out his love on us, calling us his children. This is his great glory, that he can adopt sinners such as we are and make them his children. What is our response? Forsake sin! Yet we can't do that. As we try and fail, we also turn to our Lord in repentance, seeking his forgiving grace. We know where God's grace dwells he takes away sin. He gives us instead a love for God and for one another. Seeing what our Lord has done, let us walk in his love.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Psalm 11, Isaiah 24:14-25:12, 1 John 2:15-29 - Lectionary for 12/8/11

Today's readings are Psalm 11, Isaiah 24:14-25:12, and 1 John 2:15-29. Today we see God coming in judgment. It always interests me that in doing away with death and destruction our Lord judges and destroys those who oppose him. To create perfection in eternity all that is imperfect must go. So how do we get away with the assertion that people who believe in Christ's work on their behalf are somehow perfect? That's the only way we can say that we would remain in eternity, but it doesn't take long to find problems with any theory of our perfection. Yet the Scripture says that if we are trusting in Jesus' righteousness, not our own, he calls us his own children. He makes us perfect. That confronts us with a question which we find dealt with in 1 John. How do we know we are trusting in God well enough? What if we are as fallible as we think we are? Worse yet, what if we are as fallible as others say we are? John reminds us that by faith in Christ we have confidence. We can be sure he has placed his love on us. We have no fear. So let us trust in our Lord and see that he has made us over in his image for his glory.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sermon for 12/7/11 "Pointing to the Christ"

Sermon “Pointing to the Christ” Our Advocate, speak on our behalf before the Father, pleading the cleansing of sins, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Just who do you think you are? That question has rung in my ears more than once. How about yours? Who do you think you are, some sort of expert? I remember once, long ago, when I worked as a bill collector, in a position of considerable authority in the office, that I picked up the phone and was greeted by someone who immediately said he didn’t want to talk with some peon, he wanted me to give him to someone in charge of something. Though I could have helped him considerably he refused to talk with me, assuming that nobody who was in a position to help him would ever answer the phone. But when we talk of spiritual matters, when we talk about Jesus and his work, people might ask us who we think we are. What kind of authority do we have? Why are we able to make up this rule that says Jesus is the only one who can forgive sin? Why are we able to come up with this dogma that says everyone is guilty? Our unbelieving culture always brings up the idea that these forceful distinctive statements of the Christian church were made up by a bunch of power-hungry men who wanted to oppress women and everyone else they could bring under their control. Who do we think we are, anyway? Who did John the Baptizer think he was? He was the one pointing the way to Jesus. He was the one announcing that salvation was coming from God, and was coming in the person and work of Jesus. He was the one saying that Jesus was coming to cleanse people from sin and to give them the Holy Spirit. He denied being the Christ. He even denied being a prophet who was worthy of honor. He simply said he was pointing the way to Jesus. So who do we think we are? May we be found as the people who point the way to Jesus, the one who has redeemed us from sin. May we be found as the people who look to Jesus who lived a life of perfect righteousness, a life which we can look at and say definitively that we could not live. May we be found as the people who ask Jesus to guide us through life and even through death, because he is the one who has been through life and through death without any sin. May we be found as the people who ask that God’s will may be done, not our own, knowing that it is God who is the perfect judge, the perfect creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all. May we be the people who are found to look to our Lord for his loving kindness. May we be the people who confess our sins to our Lord, not so we can seem more holy, but so that he may put his holiness into our lives. May we be the people who do works of righteousness, not so we can profit, but so our neighbors can profit. May we be the people who are found faithful, walking in the way Jesus walked. May we be the people who walk in love, fulfilling the commandment to love one another. Who do we think we are? Not the Christ, but people who wish to look to the Christ. May his word abide in us richly, building our lives up in this precious faith, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 25:1-7, Isaiah 24:1-13, 1 John 1:1-2:14 - Lectionary for 12/7/11 - Commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter

Today is the commemoration of Ambrose of Milan, Pastor and Hymnwriter. Today's readings are Psalm 25:1-7, Isaiah 24:1-13, and 1 John 1:1-2:14. We read today of Jesus Christ, the Just one, the Advocate, who pleads in our behalf before the throne of God the Father. And what is his plea? As we have confessed our sins, he has forgiven us all our sin and cleansed us from all unrighteousness. What if we sin some more? He has died for that sin as well, so we have no need to be brought to justice. And what if our sin is committed on purpose? Has that made Christ's death of no effect? Not at all, for as we confess our sin he forgives it again. Our sins have been forgiven, not for our name's sake, but for his name's sake. Our sins have been forgiven because he has overcome the evil one. Our sins cannot abide in us because he calls us to repentance and himself delivers the forgiveness which he has promised. May the Word of God abide in us richly.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Psalm 56:1-2, 5-11, 13, Isaiah 14:1-23, 2 Peter 3:1-18 - Lectionary for 12/6/11 - Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, Pastor

Today is the Commemoration of Nicholas of Myra, Pastor. Today's readings are Psalm 56:1-2, 5-11, 13, Isaiah 14:1-23, and 2 Peter 3:1-18. During this season of Advent we continue to look forward to our Lord's coming. Yet we are warned today that we should be prepared. At his coming our Lord will be like a consuming fire. He will destroy all that is unrighteous. How then will we stand? We stand only as we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ himself, who will come to rebuke all sin. It is only as we look to our Lord in faith, trusting that he is our righteousness, that we can stand before him. To that end, let us look to Jesus in repentance and faith. Let us seek to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18, ESV). Then and only then do we stand before him in confidence, knowing that he has redeemed us from the curse of sin and purchased us to be his special people.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Psalm 49:5-12, 15, Isaiah 11:1-2:6, 2 Peter 2:1-22 - Lectionary for 12/5/11

Today's readings are Psalm 49:5-12, 15, Isaiah 11:1-2:6, and 2 Peter 2:1-22. One of my friends, when confronted with the liberty of the Gospel, has often asked me, "Is it really that good?" I have news for you from our reading in Isaiah today. Yes. It's really that good. The blessed realm of Christ in the last days will go against everything we have ever known. It will take predator and prey and make them playmates. It will take that which is destructive and make it beneficial. All sin will be finally broken down. Nothing but good will remain. And that's absolutely as good as it gets. While we live in this sin-cursed world we will engage in evil. We'll suffer for it too. Yet in that last day all the sin will be cast away. For those who are trusting in Jesus, there will be nothing remaining but his mercy and grace. The savior is really that good. So good that we will never understand it, at least not until the very end. Advent - the time of looking forward to Christ's coming - may the Lord come soon.

Sermon for 12/4/11 "The Beginning of the Gospel"

SERMON “The Beginning of the Gospel” Audio Link Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Prepare the way for the Lord! That’s our call through this season of Advent. And as we prepare the way for the Lord we realize that there’s a certain amount of house cleaning to be done. We hear the voice of John the Baptizer calling out to us, calling us to repentance. We realize that nobody except those who have been cleansed of sin may stand before the Lord. And he is coming. He is coming soon. John calls us to repentance. And we have great need for repentance. How have we sinned against our Lord today? How have we sinned against our Lord in this very hour? We were called in our epistle reading to try as hard as we could to be found blameless. Peter tells us to live a holy life. When God comes he will destroy all that is unholy. This kind of call to repentance ought to leave us shaking in our boots. It proclaims boldly our worst fears. When our Lord comes nobody can stand before him. We are all unholy. We have all sinned. We have all come short of our Lord’s perfection. How have we come short of God’s perfection? There may be a few people here who would like to ask that. There may be a lot more people in our community who would have the same question. What have we read in our catechism segments for last week and this week? We looked at the first commandment – have no other gods. We are to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Have we done that? Or have we looked in hope and trust to something or someone other than the triune God revealed in the Scripture? And we are not to misuse the Lord’s name. How do we try to use his name and authority? How do we try to use God’s blessing? Do we assume that something is all right with our Lord because we happen to want it? Do we deny our Lord or hope to use his authority to bring down curses upon people he would bless? We have surely come short of God’s perfection. I could go on, and you know that. But those few examples should be enough for now. Whatever God has said, whatever he has commanded in the Bible is his command for you and for me. And he expects perfect obedience, all the time, no ifs, ands, or buts. Our obedience on one occasion doesn’t make up for any failures in the past or in the future. He demands perfection. Yes, we have failed. We have sinned before our Lord. If he were to treat us as we deserve we would be consumed by his wrath. There is no doubt about it. So this doesn’t sound very much like the sermon title, does it? I’m supposed to be talking about the beginning of the Gospel. Yet all I’ve done so far is to condemn myself and everyone else. There’s no good news there, none at all. There’s only a call to repentance. But look what the forerunner, John the Baptizer, did when he called people to repentance. He washed them. He called them to the water and he washed them of their sins as they confessed to God. Maybe you are a parent and you know the gentle washing that you will give to your injured child’s knee. You know it hurts. You already pulled a bunch of gravel out of the wound. Surely there’s more sand in there, but you’ve been kicked enough times. But you want to get some of the dirt off, so you hold the ankle firmly and wash the skinned place gently with water. And as you wash it with water you realize that our Lord washes you with water, but it is a water of forgiveness, for it is done in accordance with his word. You wash your child tenderly. “It’s all right that you tore the knees out of your new jeans. It’s all right that your bicycle is twisted. It’s all right that you landed in my favorite flower bed. It doesn’t matter that your glasses are broken. It’s fine that you got blood on my clothes and that we tracked dirt into the kitchen. Right now it’s time to wash you.” This is the way our Lord washes us. He brings us comfort. He speaks to us tenderly. He cleanses us from sin, preparing us for his coming. And he is the one who must do it, because we will not be able to cleanse ourselves from sin. We are like grass. We are like lost sheep. We are helpless when the Lord comes in his glory. So he gathers us to wash us in baptism, creating repentance and faith in our hearts. He gathers us to sprinkle us with his blood, the blood of the sacrificial lamb who cleanses us from sin. He comes, the one after John the Baptizer, the one who is greater than John, the one who baptizes us with the Holy Spirit. And when he has poured out his Holy Spirit upon us, as he has washed us in the water and in the blood, as he has anointed us with the oil of the Spirit, we have been prepared for his coming. Have you been baptized into Christ? Then he has washed you. He has cleansed you. He has purified you. He has made you ready to live a life worthy of him, a life of repentance and faith in his forgiving grace. Have you been a partaker of the Lord’s Supper? Then he has promised you forgiveness, life, and salvation, as he delivers his forgiveness. He has made you a partaker of Christ, a participant in his life, his death, and his resurrection. And just as he delivers us his grace in baptism once, he also delivers us his grace in communion time after time, as many times as we come, feeding our faith, nourishing us to eternal life. Has our Lord set you apart for his service? Then trusting in your Lord’s ability to impart faith to you in baptism and in communion, as well as through the hearing of the Word of God, walk in the righteousness he has placed upon you. He has begun the Gospel in you and he will continue working out his Gospel, his good news of grace, mercy and peace throughout your life. So now, as we are celebrating communion on this second Sunday of Advent, we see that he has begun the work of the Gospel and that he is continuing it. At the same time we look forward to our Lord’s coming and we pray that he would come soon, that he would find us faithful, and that he would see us as his people, prepared for his coming. Now may “he who began a good work in you...carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1.6, NIV), in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Psalm 145:1-9, Isaiah 10:12-27a, 33-34, 2 Peter 1:1-21 - Lectionary for 12/4/11 - Commemoration of John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter

Today is the commemoration of John of Damascus, Theologian and Hymnwriter Today's readings are Psalm 145:1-9, Isaiah 10:12-27a, 33-34, and 2 Peter 1:1-21. It is easy, in our determination that people should live a holy life, to bypass the power of the Gospel. We often look to Jesus' atonement for sin as a starting point but then encourage people toward perfection through changing their behavior. Yet our reading in 2 Peter shows this to be a wrong-headed idea. Rather, we are to direct our eyes to Jesus in his power and majesty. Does this mean that we have no concern about behavior? Not at all. We strive toward good conduct, knowing that it is pleasing to God. Yet we realize that whatever our conduct, Jesus remains the savior, the one we need every minute of every day. We realize that our very best conduct is full of selfish motives and calls for forgiveness. We realize that our very best intentions are mixed, ultimately falling short of God's glory. So as we cast our eyes on Jesus we are not only moved toward conduct which is pleasing to God, but we are also moved to repentance for our failure, our sin in thought, word and deed. We see that we need a savior and always will. And when we see that we find that we are clothed in Christ's righteousness, not our own sinfulness. Thanks be to God who has given us a savior, not just a list of rules.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Psalm 55:16-23, Isaiah 9:8-10:11, 1 Peter 5:1-14 - Lectionary for 12/3/11

Today's readings are Psalm 55:16-23, Isaiah 9:8-10:11, and 1 Peter 5:1-14. We run across the idea of biblical eldership frequently here. Today in 1 Peter the elders are exhorted to shepherd God's flock well. Is this a job which pertains only to pastors? Not in any way. Throughout the New Testament those men who are godly, who have a good understanding of Scripture, and who are able to teach are identified as elders. Their job, in cooperation with the apostles, prophets, and evangelists, is to shepherd God's flock. We seem to have created a distinction between elders and pastors which may not be warranted by Scripture, which rarely uses the term "pastor" except as a verb. The pastoring is a function of elders. Does this mean that we should allow leaders to emerge and direct the church willy-nilly? Not at all. The elders are to be qualified. This may or may not include an extensive formal education or a "full-time call." But it definitely involves training, dedication, oversight, accountability, and consistency. It's a serious office, the most clearly spelled-out office of the Church in the New Testament. How do the elders shepherd God's flock? They care for their needs. They are there to provide them with biblical counsel. They are present to encourage and to rebuke. They are there to bring God's words of Law and Gospel to the saints. They are there to lead the younger believers, training them up to be elders themselves. May the Lord raise up many elders in our midst, elders who will be good shepherds, following Christ the true good shepherd.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Psalm 119:105-112, Isaiah 8:9-9:7, 1 Peter 4:1-19 - Lectionary for 12/2/11

Today's readings are Psalm 119;105-112, Isaiah 8:9-9:7, and 1 Peter 4:1-19. We need only to look around us to see a world in tumult and at war. The "Arab Spring" uprisings which have allegedly brought freedom to various people have also brought persecution upon Christians. It is increasingly dangerous to live as a Christian in this world, where intolerance is growing generation by generation. What hope do we have then? We have great hope. In today's reading from Isaiah we see that the Lord will come, the one who will bring peace, the one who will govern rightly. Christians have long interpreted this passage from Isaiah as a Messianic prophecy. It doesn't seem much like it has been fulfilled as yet. Jesus came and we live in a world full of turmoil. Yet as we spend the Advent season looking forward to Christmas and the promised coming of Christ, we remember that our Lord will come again and complete all that has been said about him. At that time he will make everything right. No matter what kind of political or cultural turmoil we face, let us look to the Lord, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Psalm 34:11-18, Isaiah 7:10-8:8, 1 Peter 3:1-22 - Lectionary for 12/1/11

Today's readings are Psalm 34:11-18, Isaiah 7:10-8:8, and 1 Peter 3:1-22. As we look at the end of our reading from 1 Peter we see that Jesus is the sole mover in salvation. He suffered for sins so that we would not have to bear the wrath of God. He is the righteous one, we are the unrighteous ones. He is the one who brought us to God. He is the one who makes all who believe alive in the spirit. He is the one who delivers his people from death. Baptism here is shown as a true means of grace, that which delivers us from death. As Noah and his family were brought through the water, not due to any righteousness of their own but because Noah believed God, so we are brought through the water of death not because of our righteousness but because of the righteousness of Christ our Savior. We are washed, not with water, but with the death of Jesus on our behalf. Salvation is of the Lord, not of ourselves. Therefore we cannot claim that baptism is our work, our testimony, our anything. It is rather that which God has applied to us as he cleanses us. What of people who have believed before they are baptized? Should they still be baptized? Certainly. This is the example of Acts chapter 10, where people who had not been baptized were baptized because it was clear they already believed. Yet that is not the pattern we see in other passages of Scripture, such as this one. Here the baptism seems to create faith. It is a means of grace, a way that God's grace is applied to our lives. May the Lord call many people to himself, washing them with water and his Word, creating faith in their hearts. And may we always be faithful to nurture that faith so it lives to eternity in every believer.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sermon for 11/30/11 "How Will They Hear?"

Sermon “How will they hear?” May we see Jesus, the Lamb of God. Amen. Today is the feast of St. Andrew, the apostle, the first of the apostles Jesus called. Tradition tells us that Andrew was crucified on a Greek cross, in the shape of the letter X, and that he suffered on that cross for over three days. When his followers wanted to take him down by force he told them it was not necessary to revolt against the government, that God would take care of him soon enough. Andrew was a man who left everything to follow Christ. And through his following Jesus, through his proclamation of God’s Word, many others became followers of our Lord as well. The proclamation of the Gospel by his servants is so important, in fact, that our season of Advent, the beginning of the Church year, begins on the Sunday which is closest to St. Andrew’s day. The growth of the Church, after all, depends on the proclamation of the Gospel. How do we believe? Faith comes by hearing. Hearing comes by the Word of God. And how does the Word of God go forth? It goes out through his faithful servants, those who are called by him and appointed to proclaim the good news of Jesus crucified for sinners, died and risen again for your sins and for mine. I think we want to be sure we are aware, though, that the job is not done. Just because we have a pastor in our church, someone to try to proclaim God’s words of Law and Gospel faithfully, day after day, does not mean that everyone has heard. And just because the Word of God is available to people in this country quite freely we cannot assume that it is being applied correctly, that people are hearing, that sins are being forgiven and that they are receiving life and salvation. We can’t assume it. It isn’t happening. Our culture is not by and large Christian in its makeup. Our culture is not eager to hear the Gospel. Even in a part of the country where the majority will claim to believe in God we have no assurance that they believe in the true, triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, nor that they understand that Jesus came to live a perfect life, die a perfect death, and rise again from the dead so they can be partakers of that life, death, and resurrection. We have no reason to think that the job is done. The battle is over. Jesus has died for the sin of the world. Yet the battle is not over. The battle against unbelief, the battle against sin does not end until the last day when every eye will see, every knee will bow, every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God. That is when the battle is ended. Until then we have a holy commission. We are called, each and every one of us, to bring the Gospel to all those around us. Some will receive callings as pastors. Some will not. But every believer has a responsibility before God to allow others to hear the Word of God. This can be as easy as bringing ourselves and our families to church regularly. It can be as easy as reading the Scriptures in our homes. It can be as easy as supporting the local church and its missions outreaches. It can be as easy as talking openly and freely about Jesus and his work on our behalf when we visit with our friends and relations. Yes, it may be more difficult as well. It could lead us to long hours, adventures among foreign people, even opportunities to bring the Gospel to people who will kill and eat us. Yes, they still exist in the world. While we don’t know what our Lord will lead us into, we do know this. First, we know that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Second, we know that God uses people like you and like me to bring his word to our world. Third, we know that our God will supply all our need. If he wants you to do something in his kingdom, he will make it possible. If he wants me to do something in his kingdom, he will make it possible. And he will never leave us, never forsake us. He is with us, in the power of his resurrection, even to the end of the age. Lord, make us faithful in our hearing of Your Word. Give us a desire to bring your word to our community. Draw people to yourself by the power of your Holy Spirit so they too may hear and believe the Gospel. We pray this in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Psalm 123, Isaiah 6:1-7:9, 1 Peter 2:13-25 - Lectionary for 11/30/11 - Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle

Today is the Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle. Today's readings are Psalm 123, Isaiah 6:1-7:9, and 1 Peter 2:13-25. The idea of Christian submission to government is a difficult one, especially in the United States, and particularly in the past fifty years or so. We as a culture find it difficult to submit to authority. We like to think we are rugged individualists who shake off the bonds of tyranny and boldly blaze our own trails. And there's something to that philosophy. There's a right time to stand up for a point of view. And there's a right way to do it. Yet in our reading from 1 Peter we see that we are to submit to authorities placed over this. Does that mean that we lie down and let our governmental leaders trample on everything no matter what? Not in any way. When there are means by which we can take a stand for what we know is right as opposed to what our leaders may think, we take that stand. When our leadership commands us to do something which we know is opposed to God's Word we refuse to do so, and we accept the consequences of our refusal. When we have the opportunity to influence people toward what is good and right in the eyes of God we take that opportunity. And in all things we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, the giver of all good things.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Psalm 118:19-24, Isaiah 5:1-25, 1 Peter 2:1-12 - Lectionary for 11/29/11 - Commemoration of Noah

Today is the Commemoration of Noah. Today's readings are Psalm 118:19-24, Isaiah 5:1-25, and 1 Peter 2:1-12. Today we read Isaiah's parable of a vineyard. See how in this parable the walls are built to keep intruders out. They are walls which create safety and peace inside, an environment where the vines can grow and the grapes thrive. What happens when God's people choose to run their own ways, making up their own ideas of right and wrong? God breaks down the wall with which he has been protecting them. He allows all manner of evil to come upon his people whom he leaves unprotected. But there's more to the story than that. He has not left his people unprotected. He is still there. Wherever we call upon him in faith he builds that wall of protection, guarding us against every destructive force. Wherever we look to him for provision we find that he is there meeting our every need. Our Lord has built a vineyard. May we grow and flourish there, trusting in him rather than in ourselves.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Psalm 102:13-17, Isaiah 2:1-22, 1 Peter 1:13-25 - Lectionary for 11/28/11

Today's readings are Psalm 102:13-17, Isaiah 2:1-22, and 1 Peter 1:13-25 God's word remains forever! This is the good news that Peter tells us. Yet while the Bible proclaims an unchanging revelation of God, always relevant to all people in all times, our culture wants to erode this idea. We seem bent on the concept that everything needs to change. We seem obsessed with change to the degree that any old ideas are immediately discarded out of hand. What an irony, though, when we see politicians come up with new ideas which we can trace to Greek philosophers some 2500 years ago. What an irony when we want to do something new in ministry and come up with a plan which was tried and demonstrated to be a heresy some 1700 years ago. Why is it that when we try to do something new it is invariably a form of something quite old? Why our dissatisfaction with that which is tried and true? Thanks be to God who has revealed his good news in the Word of God who never changes. Let us look to the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Sermon for 11/27/11 "Lacking Nothing"

SERMON “Lacking Nothing” Audio link (1 Cor. 1:3) Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s here. At long last, what we have been looking for in these past weeks, we have begun the new Church year. Advent has begun, the time for self-examination, the time for repentance, the time to look eagerly to the coming of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. It is the time, not for celebration, but for humbling ourselves before the Lord, looking to his mercy and grace, and asking him to come and deliver us from our sin, for we see that our sin is always before us. At the start of the Church year we who are adult converts to Christ remember the start of our Christian walk, as the Lord convicted us of sin and called us to himself. And we can relate to the encouragement Paul gives to the new Christian community in Corinth. This Christian life, as we read in 1 Corinthians 1, is evidence of the grace of God given in Christ Jesus. But sometimes we wonder about this. Our lives in Christ don’t always seem full of the grace of God. We don’t always see beyond the thorns and thistles of life. Especially at this time of year, when we are surrounded by our culture’s version of joy – mechanized, electronic, well-marketed and beautifully packaged joy – we find ourselves deeply disappointed. Our merchandising culture would tell us that the day before yesterday started the most beautiful time of the year. It’s the time to get up altogether too early in the morning. It’s the time to fight crowds, sometimes literally fight them. It’s the time to try to grab those bargains which cost so much you break your budget. It’s the time to save so much money you can go bankrupt bringing all this love and joy to your family. It’s the time of year when wishing someone grace, peace, and the lasting cheer of Christ’s redemption won’t go far enough unless you have spent $29.95 for that “inexpensive” stocking stuffer. It’s the time of year that your family celebrates togetherness by running from one social engagement to another without stopping. It’s the time of year when you are faced with the fact that your beloved relatives who are no longer with you will not be with you at yet another family gathering. It’s the time of year when all your living relatives will gather, possibly out of obligation rather than joy. The packages that you spent too much to purchase and too much to wrap become objects of contention, the labor you put in to make everything beautiful is reduced to tatters in a matter of minutes, and everyone was so excited to see what was inside his own present that he couldn’t enjoy seeing others receive their presents. And if that’s all our culture can give us in the name of Christmas we may as well put it off and change our name to Bob Humbug. In the Church we have something a little different. We can see that our joy does not consist in the possessions we have. Our joy does not consist in the opportunities to buy something and spend months paying for it. Our joy does not consist in becoming impoverished once again. Rather, our joy is in Christ who has enriched us. He has given us his bounty. He has filled us with every good thing that we need. Does this mean we will be wealthy? Does it mean our bank accounts will be full? Not at all. That would be very nice, and we hope and pray that everyone will be healthy and prosperous, well supplied with money, food, clothing, shelter, and every good thing. Yet we will not always find ourselves enriched in the ways our accountant can measure. How has Jesus enriched us then? He has enriched us in speaking and in knowledge, confirming his testimony. We find that as Jesus’ testimony is confirmed we have all the spiritual gifts we need. We look to our Lord’s coming, his revelation of himself, as our great hope and joy. How does our Lord enrich our speaking? As God’s word dwells in our hearts and minds we find that we always have something to talk about, and it is God’s truth that we find on our tongues. We realize we can look to the promises of God and was are always ready to speak out. Does this seem unlikely? I know some of us think the Scripture is the last topic in the world we would be able to talk about. And with some people this is true. It’s very difficult to talk about God’s word with someone who has decided God doesn’t have anything worth saying. Yet among our family and friends who trust in the Lord we should always find that we can talk about the loving works of God. There should be no hesitancy there. Have you ever tried talking through a passage of Scripture? Maybe it’s a foreign idea to you. Here’s what I encourage you to do. Take the Bible reading schedule I print in the bulletin each week. And when you read from it, take one of the passages, maybe start with the Psalm or the New Testament reading, they are often easier to deal with, and tell yourself what God has said in your own words. Take the ideas he’s talking about in the Scripture and pray about those things. Pray specifically. Ask the Lord to help you understand what his desires are as well as what he has done for you, revealed at this place in the Scripture. As you practice that you will get better at it and you’ll be able to speak the word of God to all your situations. This brings us to the second way the apostle says the Lord has enriched us. He has enriched us in knowledge. This is shown as we understand the Word of God better. The more we read it the better we will understand how God has given us his Word, and that Word is the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. All the Bible is about Jesus. As we read the Bible carefully we see him on every page. This is part of knowing about our world. Knowing Jesus through the Bible gives us a perspective, a framework through which to view our world. As we look to our Lord and his mercy we see that he has given us all the gifts we need. We see gifts of people, like the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers Paul talks about in Ephesians. We see gifts like the elders and deacons we can read about in Scripture. We see gifts that are not so much bound up in individuals – gifts like the fruit of the Spirit, like prophecy, healing, administration, helps, gifts of charity, and various verbal and knowledge-based gifts. Above all we see that God has supplied all our need through Jesus Christ, who has come to dwell with us, fortifying us, strengthening us, guarding us in this position of forgiveness he has given us. This is what we need, then. We need Jesus. He is all we need. He is the one who sees to it that we will lack nothing. And he is the one whom God the Father has promised to send, the one we long for and call upon during the time of Advent, the one who will be revealed to us on Christmas, in less than a month. This Jesus is the one who comes to be born a perfect birth, without sin. This Jesus is the one who comes to live a perfect life on our behalf, a life of perfect fear, love, and trust in God. This is Jesus who has promised to give himself as an atonement for sin, taking our sin once and for all, upon himself, so we should not have to bear it any more. This is Jesus who did all he promised by dying on our behalf. This is Jesus, whose death broke the power of sin, defeating death itself. This is Jesus, the one we are not worthy even to follow, who has adopted us as his sons, heirs in his kingdom by faith in his name. And this is Jesus, the one before whom we can stand boldly, clothed in his righteousness, standing faultless before God the Father. We are lacking nothing. He who has Jesus has everything. Our Lord, keep us blameless to the end. Thank you for calling us into fellowship with your Son. Thank you for being the faithful God who loved us and gave yourself so we could have life, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.