Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sermon -- 5th Sunday after Pentecost (June 28, 2015)

LUKE 9:18-24 
In the name + of Jesus. 

     It is common to talk about people who are making news, whether that news is good or bad.  Bruce Jenner, or Caitlyn if you insist, is going to have people talking.  Some will praise him; others will scorn him.  But either way, people will talk about him.  Of course, in light of Friday's Supreme Court decision, people have moved on from Jenner already to the next big story.
     Jesus was making the news in Galilee and Judea.  Stories were being told of his miracles and his teachings.  Whether they were saying good things about Jesus or bad, people were taking about him.  So Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” (Luke 9:18-19)  For the most part, the crowds were complimentary.  But note this: They were also wrong.
     Then Jesus asked his apostles: “But you--who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered on behalf of them all: “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)  The word “Christ” means anointed one.  Whenever a man was established into an office, oil was poured on his head and he was given the authority of that office.  Aaron was anointed as the high priest.  David was anointed king.  If Jesus is THE Anointed, then what is his office?  What is he anointed to do?
     Jesus is the Christ, and that means a cross.  He said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9:22)  Jesus was anointed to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  This was not optional for him.  Jesus said that “it is necessary” that he suffer, die, and rise.  This is what he was anointed for.  By doing this work as the Lord's Anointed, Jesus redeemed you from all your sin and guilt.  He has covered your shame with his righteousness.  He assures your eternal salvation.  That is what it means that Jesus is the Christ.
     Peter confessed, “You are the Christ of God.”  Jesus received the title “Christ,” and it was not honorary.  It meant the cross.  Likewise, you also bear the name of Christ, for you were baptized into it and are now Christians.  This is no honorary title for you either.  Many people say that they are Christians.  But confession is not made with the mouth alone.  It is also made by one's life and actions.  Aaron was not only called the High Priest, he performed the work of the High Priest.  So also with David as King and Elisha as prophet.  So also with you.  Being a Christian is not something that merely is claimed.  It is lived.
     Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)  Jesus wants you to recognize that you are a sinner, and that you cannot improve your situation.  You can try to behave better.  People may even motivate you by asking if you are doing what Jesus would do or if you are doing great things for Jesus.  That might stir you to behave better for a while.  But it does not stop you from being a sinner.  It will also burden you with tremendous guilt when your efforts to live like Jesus only prove that you are not like Jesus, or when you realize that doing great things for Jesus is still driven by a selfish desire for glory.
     Your sinful nature reveals itself in simple, everyday things, such as whenever you get in the car to drive.  You do not have patience for other drivers.  You call every other person on the road an idiot.  If there is an accident, your initial reaction is, “Great!  Now I'm going to be late!”  You lament that someone else's ruined vehicle and ruined day is an inconvenience for you.  The sinful nature cannot tamed.  It must put to death.
     “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.” (Luke 9:23)  Jesus is the Christ; that means a cross.  You are a Christian; that means a cross.  The sole purpose of the cross is to put something to death.  So, we put our sins to death day after day by contrition and repentance.  We do not make excuses for our sins.  And we certainly do not make ourselves comfortable with them.  Sadly, even Christians are lulled into embracing sins by appealing to how common they are, or by insisting that, because certain actions are legal, they are now also moral.
     If you will call yourself a Christian, then everything in your life must submit to Christ and his word.  If you cannot or will not submit to Christ's word, then you cannot bear his name or rightly call him “Lord.”  God always sets the standard.  God defines good and evil, and God is not swayed by popular opinion or court decisions no matter how supreme the court is.  Therefore, when God's word exposes our sins to us, we acknowledge them, we despise ourselves for our evil, and we renounce them.  Though our sinful nature will always delight that its cravings are being fed, the sinful nature desires to destroy us.  Therefore, it is imperative that we deny giving our sinful nature the sins it craves.  It is necessary to daily put our sins to death.
     Jesus is the Christ.  You are a Christian; that means a cross.  If you want to follow Jesus, then you will hear his word and seek his will.  But you may discover that you never live up to your desires.  No matter how diligently you strive to do what is good, you will still sin.  When doing what is good costs you money or effort, you may hate it.  When doing what is right means that you have to suffer for it, you may want to give up.  Bearing the name of Christ does not mean that everything will be easy or that life will be glorious.  Your glory comes after the resurrection, just as Jesus' did.
     Still, you bear the cross.  You submit to God because he is always good even when life is not.  No matter how many pleasures Satan promises you for doing whatever your sinful heart desires, you know that leads to death. Such a life is not worth saving.  Such a life is to be denied and crucified.  Nor is such a life dismal.  When you follow Jesus, you have the assurance that your are saved, that your guilt is pardoned, that your death is temporary, that your God loves you, and that you shall have everlasting glories and pleasures in heaven.  For, after the cross comes the resurrection and glory.
     Jesus is the Christ.  You are a Christian; that means a cross.  Bear yours, knowing that it drives you to Jesus day after day.  You repent of your sins and put them to death each day.  And each day, Jesus raises you up anew to live before him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.  But do not fear that your salvation is not based on how well you are bearing your cross or denying your sin.  As diligently as you strive to live as children of God, your confidence is not that you are living up to your end of it.  Your confidence is that God acknowledges and claims that you are his children.  Your salvation is based on the fact that Jesus bore his cross for you.
     Jesus is the Christ; that means a cross.  Jesus fulfilled his office by being the atoning sacrifice for your sins.  You are forgiven.  You are baptized into Jesus, and that means you are already holy and blameless in God's sight.  You cannot improve on that, no matter how many good things you try to do for Jesus.  All the good you need Jesus has done for you.  Jesus is the Christ, anointed to be your Savior.  He forgives all sins.  He bestows all righteousness.  And he marks you, dear Christians, as his own.

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

A Pastoral Concern: God's word matters

While it is disappointing that the Supreme Court has determined that all states must allow same-sex marriages, it did not come as a surprise to me.  Not even remotely.  It was wrapped in the mantle of "freedom," and "equality," and "love," and if you are even 1% American, you are obligated to stand up and cheer for that.  For that reason, it was a foregone conclusion that the Supreme Court was going to make the decision it did.  (I was surprised that the verdict was 5-4.  I thought the margin would have been wider.)

If you are interested in reading formal responses from some Lutheran leaders, the links follow.  The first is from WELS (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod) president, Rev. Mark Schroeder (no relation).  You can read his remarks here.

Equally good are the remarks of LC-MS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) president, Rev. Matthew Harrison.  His remarks are here.

The decision, the spirit of our society, the concern of many Christians, and the fears or foaming at the mouth of many people give me plenty of reasons to pray.  I have heard and read too many articles or comments to process.  Nevertheless, I will offer mine.

I will limit myself to encouraging Christians to hold to matters of sex and marriage as Scripture speaks of them.  That means first of all that strive to uphold our own Christian marriages first.  We do not give ourselves over to fornicating, cohabiting, extra-marital affairs, divorce, or other sins which fail to keep the marriage bed pure.  This is the best advertisement and endorsement for traditional marriage we can have.  After all, no one has to answer for the sins of others.  Each of us has to answer for our own.  Nor can we force people to live godly lives.  Each of us can only strive for godly living on our own--and if that means repenting of sexual sins, then we repent of our own sins, flee from them, and find forgiveness from Jesus.

After that, it is best not to resort to rational arguments why following God's word is good and why defying it is bad.  For example, don't argue that children are raised best by a mom and a dad and that's why traditional marriage should be supported and same-sex marriage is bad.  In response, you will hear stories about completely messed up, dysfunctional, or abusive mom-and-dad homes while the children adopted by some wonderful gay couple are thriving and contented.  And just like that, your argument gets thrown back in your face.  Reasonable arguments will always be countered by reasonable arguments.  Anecdotes, generally, prove nothing.  Statistics are also often useless.

God's word matters.  Our hope, our confidence, and our salvation all rest on sacred Scripture because sacred Scripture always stands true.  Others may hate it and reject it, but the Scriptures will still confess and state divine truth.  If the Scriptures are rejected and hated, the problem is not that we have failed to find a solid argument; the problem is that there will always be people who despise God and his word.  As much as we would like to see that change, it will never change for some.  Perhaps even for many.  In the days of Noah and Elijah, it was even for most--but the word of God still endures.

God's word matters, but it is alarming to see many Christian churches try to explain away the Bible and its testimony.  Some claim it is outdated, is misunderstood, or has been corrupted.  Others simply dismiss or ignore the parts of Scripture which are unpopular or which personally call them to repent.  This is simply a matter of unbelief.  Those who dismiss the Scriptures on certain teachings are confessing that they reject the word of the Lord.  Perhaps it comes from a desire to be loved by the world.  But a church which desire to be loved by the world will have to forsake God's word to do it.

Still others will confess a made-up god.  See if any of these sound familiar: "The god I worship would never find fault with nice people who simply want to love."  "Jesus never condemned anyone.  He told us not to judge or we would be judged."  "God is about love, not hate."  Such a god does not exist, because the Bible does not reveal a God who only loves.  Again, this probably comes from a desire to be loved by the world.  But people who desire to be loved by the world will have to deny the Jesus revealed in Scripture to do it.

God's word matters.  God's word sets down the standard of right and wrong.  God demands us to live up to it (Matthew 5:48).  God hates sin and all who are guilty of it (Psalm 5:5).  That means we are all worthy of God's wrath.  We are guilty, and the guilty deserve punishment.  But God revealed his love through Jesus.  Jesus absorbed all of God's anger on behalf of all sinners when he was crucified.  But, that crucifixion also shows us that God does hate sin.  Jesus endured total rejection from God the Father and suffered the divine curse for us and for all sinners.  The guiltless died for the guilty so that sins could be paid for and the guilty could be pardoned.  This isn't true because we want it to be; it is true because God has said so in his word.  God's word matters.

Those who invoke Jesus' name as the reason for engaging willfully in their sins (and it does not matter what the sin is) will not find forgiveness from him.  They are despising his sacrifice, rejecting his call for repentance, and denying the Scriptures which urge us to flee from evil and pursue righteousness.  Again, this is unbelief--no matter how much such people insist that they are devout Christians.  Though many will claim that Jesus delights in them while they willfully sin against his word, they are worshiping a made up Jesus.  God calls willful defiance evil, and God hates evil.

(NOTE: If you have read this far and are struck with fear because you are struggling with your sins and recognize that you keep on doing them, that is NOT willful defiance.  Those who are struggling are still fighting against their sins.  Flee to Jesus.  Come to church to hear the word.  Go to your pastor for confession and absolution.  You need not be devoured by your sin and guilt.  This is precisely what Jesus came to pay for and to provide strength to fight against.  Those who willfully engage in their sins do not struggle against them.  They cherish their sins.  They will not repent of them.  And they want their sins approved.  Though many will encourage them in their sins, the Church will still plead for them to repent so that they do not perish.)

God's word matters.  It is our only way of knowing right and wrong, good and evil.  It is our only confidence that our own sins, which are many, have been forgiven.  It is our motivation to flee from wickedness and pursue righteousness.  It is our only comfort when we are plagued by the guilt and fears our own sins still inflict on us.  It is the only source of mercy for anyone who lives.  And therefore, it must be preached and confessed and upheld in all points by God's people.  Many will still hate it and despise it, but some will believe it and receive priceless and everlasting comfort through it.  And that matters.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Defiant Hymns

The hymns of the Christian Church come from all levels of the emotions.  I suppose that most people gravitate to the happy, up-beat songs since they are, well, happy and up-beat.  These are often praise songs or may be the jubilant hymns of Christmas and Easter.  While such hymns are fun to sing, they don't capture the full range of emotions or difficulties that Christians face.

This particular entry would have you consider what I think of as "Defiant Hymns."  These are the kinds of hymns that are sung like a fight song or even angrily.  They express the Christian faith in terms of a confidence that defies everything we experience.  They spring out of such circumstances as grief over a loved one's death, personal tragedy, great temptation, or despair.

Paul Gerhardt (March 12, 1607 - May 27, 1676) was exceptional at writing these.  They came out of all the pains and sorrows he endured in his life--and they were a lot!  A short biography can be found here.

Normally, hymns written in the first person are flawed.  They are written by an individual who seems to sing about "What Jesus means to me," which usually does not speak for everyone.  In some places, they are practically loves songs to Jesus.  If you can replace every "Jesus" with "baby" and sing that song to your boyfriend/girlfriend, that song is not a Christian hymn; it is a love song.  Men, in particular, have a hard time singing a song to Jesus that they could just as easily sing to their wife.  And if a hymn cannot be the confession of every Christian, it is badly flawed.  Christian truth is true for every Christian.

Consider, however, how well Gerhardt expresses the Christian faith.  And consider how Gerhardt's confession, though personal, is true for every person who would sing it.

Why should cross and trial grieve me?
   Christ is near     With his cheer;
Never will he leave me.
Who can rob me of the heaven
   That God's Son     For me won
When his life was given?

When life's troubles rise to meet me,
   Though their weight     May be great,
They will not defeat me.
God, my loving Savior, sees them;
   He who knows     All my woes
Knows how best to end them.

God gives me my days of gladness,
   And I will     Trust him still
When he sends me sadness.
God is good; his love attends me
   Day by day,     Come what may,
Guides me and defends me.

Since I know God never fails me,
   In his voice     I'll rejoice
When grim death assails me.
Trusting in my Savior's merit,
   Safe at last,     Troubles past,
I shall heav'n inherit.

Gerhardt does not sugar coat the realities that life is full of difficulties and grief.  Our refuge in these painful days is not to paste on a happy face and pretend all is well.  Our refuge, confidence, and joy in the midst of earth's sorrows is that God has extended promises to us that earth cannot destroy or diminish.  So, we sing defiantly, "Why should cross and trial grieve me?" (Christian Worship, 428)

Another hymn worthy of more attention and familiarity is "God's Own Child, I Gladly Say It." (Christian Worship Supplement, 737)  Again, this is a hymn that is best sung with a defiant attitude.

God's own child, I gladly say it: I am baptized into Christ.
   He, because I could not pay it, Gave my full redemption price.
Do I need earth's treasures many?  I have one worth more than any
   That brought me salvation free, Lasting to eternity!

Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ.
   I have comfort even stronger; Jesus' cleaning sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me Since my baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood, Sprinkling me with Jesus' blood?

Satan, hear this proclamation: I am baptized into Christ.
   Drop your ugly accusation; I am not so soon enticed.
Now that to the font I've traveled, All your might has come unraveled,
   And, against your tyranny, God, my Lord, unites with me!

Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ.
   When I die, I leave all sadness, To inherit paradise!
Though I lie in dust and ashes Faith's assurance brightly flashes:
Baptism has the strength divine To make life immortal mine.

There is nothing worth comparing To this lifelong comfort sure!
   Open-eyed my grave is staring: Even there I'll rest secure.
Though my flesh awaits its raising, Still my soul continues praising:
   I am baptized into Christ; I'm a child of paradise!

Imagine having this hymn sung at your funeral.  It makes an outstanding confession and trumps any eulogy out there because it is based on divine promises, not personal opinions or feelings.  (Note: You can be fond of any loved one who has died.  But no one is saved by our fondness, only by Jesus' promises.)  With this hymn, we defy sin, Satan, and death.  They have no power against us because our baptism has united us to Jesus.  Rather than fear our enemies, we sing of our victory over them!  In fact, we defy them because they cannot harm us.

Defiant hymns provide great comfort to us--not because we are so strong to overcome, but because Jesus has.  That is the Christian truth.  It is true for all Christians at all times.  And that is what makes such hymns so good.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sermon -- 4th Sunday after Pentecost (June 21, 2015)

LUKE 7:36-50 
In the name + of Jesus. 

     The woman had built a reputation for herself, that’s for sure.  She was most likely a prostitute.  Regardless of what her sin was, she was well known in the whole town as a sinner.  She came into the house where Jesus was reclining at the banquet table.  She was not invited, and she did not go unnoticed.  She placed herself at Jesus’ feet which were extended out from the table.  The host of the banquet, Simon the Pharisee, saw it and thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)  Simon thought that decent and noble people, especially anyone who claimed to be God’s prophet, would scrape this kind of woman off and shoo her away.  Simon was disgusted by the woman, and he was disgusted by Jesus for showing her any kind of approval at all.  After all, she was a sinner, and she had not even been discreet about it.
     I suppose most people would think that Simon was reasonable in his judgment.  This woman had made a mess of her own life.  She was not a victim of slander; she had built her own reputation.  It isn’t hard to find people like that.  They have messed up their lives, and their mess is of their own doing.  No one forced the alcoholic to start drinking.  No one made the young man tell lies.  No one made the young girl resort to prostitution or exotic dancing.  These are all choices—bad choices with bad consequences.  Sins often carry consequences.  The recovering alcoholic will always be tempted to have another drink.  The liar may never be considered trustworthy again.  The community may assign the scarlet letter to the pole dancer for the rest of her life.
     Simon the Pharisee assumed that Jesus was like him—that Jesus should never let this sinful woman live down who and what kind of woman she was.  She should always be branded.  She should always be shunned and shamed.  Simon, of course, assumed that he had nothing to be ashamed of.  Now, to be fair, it is probably a safe bet that Simon was an up-standing citizen.  He was likely a faithful worshiper at the synagogue and a regular pilgrim to the temple for the prescribed feasts.  Simon probably would have considered his life an open book.  Certainly no one could impugn his reputation.  This woman was well-known as a sinner.  Simon was not.  Her life was a mess; Simon was clean.
     Therefore, Jesus told a parable about a money lender who had made sizable loans to two people.  One debt was 500 denarii and the other fifty.  A denarius was a day’s wage, so to translate: One debt was a month and a half’s wages, the other was a year and a half’s wages.  Neither debtor could repay.  The moneylender did not work out payment plans for either person.  He simply canceled the debt of each.  A month and a half of wages and a year and a half of wages—gone!
     You and I shake our heads at a money lender who wipes out such tremendous debt.  He gets none of his investment restored.  He absorbs the loss as if it were his own.  We might even wonder, “What sane man would loan so much to these kinds of people?  The money lender sounds like a fool.”  Simon must have thought so.
     But Jesus did not ask Simon to assess the business sense of the money lender.  He asked Simon to consider the gratitude of the debtors.  Jesus asked, “Which of them will love him more?”  Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (Luke 7:42-43)  Jesus did not disgrace the sinful woman.  No matter how great and how many her sins were, Jesus’ grace upon her was greater.  Jesus did not excuse the woman for her sordid and seedy life.  He did know what kind of woman she had been.  Rather, he took up her sins and endured the punishment on her behalf.  Jesus loved her, but his love was not based on who and what kind of person she was.  His love is based on who and what kind of person he is.  Jesus loves that which he has created.  Instead of destroying what is corrupt, Jesus seeks to restore it.  Even if people make a mess of their lives, Jesus provides cleansing for all their impurity and forgiveness for all their iniquity.  He does not excuse and he may not erase the consequences of your sins, but he does pardon the debt of sinners.  Jesus has paid the debt we owe, no matter how great it is.  He paid a debt that he did not owe because we have a debt that we cannot pay.
     Jesus truly loves much.  Consider this: If you committed only one sin a day—which is impossible—how many sins have you racked up in 20 years?  Or 40?  Or 60?  Or more?  This is your debt to God.  You owe him for your lack of compassion, patience, and love.  This is the debt Jesus paid for you by his sufferings and death.  He did not wait for you to prove your worth.  To Jesus, you are worthy.  To Jesus, all are worth it.  Though all are sinners, all are redeemed by the blood of Jesus—so great is his love for you.
     Jesus’ love is not without effect, either.  The woman who had come to Simon’s house demonstrated her love for Jesus.  She had been forgiven much; therefore, she loved much.  She washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair.  She smothered Jesus’ feet with kisses.  Finally, she anointed his feet with ointment.  That should not be lost on you.  This woman had been a prostitute.  The ointment she had would have been used to doll herself up for her lovers.  But she would not need it any longer.  Her repentance was genuine.  Her love for Jesus was real and proven by her joyful obedience in God's word.  She forsook her immoral life.  No longer would she seek lovers or look for value in selling herself.  She would instead love and serve the one who redeemed her, who forgave her iniquity, and who showed her that she is invaluable to God.  He who is forgiven much loves much.
     Simon, on the other hand, offered no apologies and confessed no faults.  Therefore, he had little love for Jesus.  He did not even extend the normal courtesies you would usually show your invited guests.  He thought nothing of God’s mercies, because he did not believe he needed them.  For that reason, he had no mercy on anyone else, least of all on those whose sins have made a mess of their lives.
     He who has been forgiven much loves much, but he who has been forgiven little loves little.  Simon lived by the creed that people get what they deserve.  Simon foolishly believed that he deserved God's love and his place in God's kingdom.  We do not know what became of Simon after Jesus' rebuke.  But if he did not repent, sadly, Simon did get what he deserved because of who and what kind of person he was—a sinner.
     He who has been forgiven much loves much.  The sinful woman fell at Jesus’ feet to pay him honor and to show her love for him.  She did not care how it looked to others.  She did not care about Simon’s attitude toward her or his opinion of her.  She would confess Jesus as her Savior.  She would demonstrate her love for him no matter what anyone thought of her.  She would renounce her sinful way of life, even if it cost her all of her expensive perfume and income.
     Likewise, the Lord Jesus has forgiven all your sins.  Indeed, he continues to forgive much—no matter who or what kind of person you have been.  That is why you love Jesus and continue to come to God's house to hear of his love again and again.  He who has been forgiven much loves much.  Your love for Jesus cannot help but overflow in your dealings with other people.  You get to be merciful even to people who have made a mess of their lives.  You can argue that they do not deserve mercy, but mercy is never given because it is deserved.  It is given because it is needed.  The Lord has been merciful to us.  He has demonstrated great love for us.  He has forgiven us much.  Therefore, we love much.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Walt Disney World

Last week, we embarked on what might very well have been our last family vacation.  We will take more vacations, but the likelihood of having all of the kids available for a trip like this continues to become more remote with each passing year.  So, we decided to make this one memorable and went to Walt Disney World.

We had been at Disney World back in 2002.  Caleb and Peter were still in a stroller, so they don't really remember anything from that trip.  Peter, of course, was not even born yet, so this was all new to him.

We spent Tuesday at the Magic Kingdom, Wednesday at Epcot, and Thursday at Disney's Hollywood Studios park.  We camped at Fort Wilderness for four nights.  The rest of the time was driving there and back.

Our first stop, however, was the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Faith was eager to visit and to have her picture taken with a Pat Summitt (former Tennessee Lady Vol's coach) statue by the U. of Tennessee arena.  Due to some renovations at the Hall of Fame, we got free admission, but we missed out on a few features they had.  Faith was not too broken up about what we had missed.

We had a lot of rain at Disney World.  Don't let the photos below fool you.  Tuesday was rain on and off throughout the late afternoon and evening.  Epcot had rain pretty much all day on Wednesday.  But at least it was still 80 some degrees, so we chose to get wet and still go through the park.  It would have been nice to eat at all the countries which were featured there, but time, money, and calories made that impossible.  On Thursday, we had bright sun all day, and it got pretty toasty, too.

I had taken over 500 photos for our trip.  I am only posting six.  Enjoy!

NOTE: The Pluto had that Nathanael is wearing was purchased back in our 2002 trip.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 14, 2015)

LUKE 7:11-17

In the name + of Jesus.

     The only way in or out of the city of Nain was through a gate.  Otherwise, the city was surrounded by a wall which protected them from any would-be attackers.  But no wall could keep death out of the city.  A funeral procession made its way out of the gate.  A woman in it had made this sad journey before.  She had already buried her husband; today, it was her only son.  She was not only devastated, she was also now destitute.  Death had swept away her family.  The citizens of Nain wept with her and for her, but they did not have any answers for her.  They would offer sympathy, but they could offer no solutions.
     On the way into Nain was another procession—this one led by the Lord of Life.  A large crowd accompanied Jesus because he had performed deeds of mercy and had words of consolation.  Jesus had healed the sick and the dying.  In last week's Gospel, Jesus had healed a man at the point of death.  But the young man being carried out of Nain was way beyond sick or dying.  He was already dead.  The two processions, bottle-necked by the narrow gate at Nain, met—one led by the dead, the other led by Life.
     It is a custom in our day to pay respect to a funeral procession.  Drivers yield as the deceased is driven to his final resting place.  Of course, selfishness can get the better of you when this happens.  If you are like me, you can become irked by this custom.  I want to get my errands done as fast as possible, but then I find myself bothered that I must be inconvenienced because someone else has died.  But if we must wait for a funeral procession to pass by, let’s put that moment to better use and pray for the widow and the children or whoever is now without their loved one.  Who knows what pain and grief and inconvenience those people now face?
     Jesus did not step to the side out of respect for the deceased.  Rather, the two processions confronted each other.  When the Lord saw (the mother), he had compassion on her. (Luke 7:13)  This translation understates it.  I don’t know if there is a good way for the English language to convey the Lord’s compassion for this woman.  The idea is that his guts were ripped up and churning in mercy for her.  Jesus knew the bitterness that death brings into the world and the pain people endure when death invades one’s home.  Jesus had presumably seen his earthly father, Joseph, carried out to his grave by this time.  He was not immune to sorrow.  He was not unfazed by death.
     When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her. (Luke 7:13)  Jesus’ guts ached for this woman in her grief.  There is no way you can pretty up death.  That is because it is the consequence and curse of sin.  Sin has cut us off from God.  Death cuts us off from our loved ones.  The grave cuts us off from life.  Death clings to you, and there is nothing you can do about it.  Just like the crowd from Nain, you can only offer sympathy.  You have no solution.  You can’t fix the death of a loved one.  You cannot escape your own.  The wages of sin is death, so the only way to escape death is to be free from sin.  And yet, you aren't.  You go on sinning.  You continue to be self-absorbed—unconcerned about the pain and the struggles of others, but perturbed when others do not give you recognition and sympathy for your own pain and struggles.  Your curse is earned.  Your death is deserved.  God should have no sympathy for you.  Repent.
     God should have no sympathy for you; and yet, he does.  When Jesus came to Nain and saw the grieving widow and her dead son, his guts churned with compassion for her.  Jesus confronted and overcame death.  The Lord … had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.”  Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. (Luke 7:13-14)  Jesus touched the coffin.  According to Levitical Law, this would have made him unclean.  That which demonstrated man’s corruption, such as leprosy or death, made a man unclean when he came into contact with it.  But Jesus did not hesitate.  In the sight of the crowds, he went up to the coffin and touched it.  Rather than becoming unclean by rubbing against corruption, Jesus cleansed that which was corrupt.  Jesus confronted and overcame death.  He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.”  And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7:15-16)  Death and Life confronted each other, and Jesus, who is the Life, overcame death.
     As amazing as Jesus’ miracle is, you may be left feeling a little empty hearing about it.  After all, we still make funeral processions to grave sites.  Our world still knows widows and widowers, grieving children and heart-broken parents.  Jesus may have gotten a widow in Nain to stop crying, but our tears still flow.  The grave still seems to have the upper hand.  Death still marks us and mocks us.
     Fear not, dear Christians.  Your Lord has not forgotten you.  His guts still churn for you in mercy.  Jesus confronted and overcame death for you.  He became man to suffer what all mankind deserves.  Remember that sin is the cause and the curse of death.  So Jesus has taken your sins from you.  In his body, he bore your sin and the curse and consequences of it.  Jesus confronted and overcame death.  A procession left the gates of Jerusalem led by the Lord of Life who went out to put and end to death once and for all. He confronted death for you willingly.  He did not avoid the cross.  His flesh was pierced for you.  His blood flowed for you.  Death received its full wages when Jesus died for you.  His body was laid in a grave to sanctify the grave for you.  But on the third day, he rose from the grave.  Death swallowed Jesus' body, but the belly of the earth could not keep its prey down.  That’s because the belly of your Savior churned in mercy for your salvation.  Your flesh and blood Savior has risen to show you that your flesh and blood will, too, rise from the grave.  Your body will never again know sickness, disease, weakness, or death.  Heaven knows no funerals or mourners, cemeteries or hospitals, pain or sorrows.  For Jesus is risen.  Death is done.  And Jjesus gives you everlasting life.
     Jesus raised the young man from Nain by touching him.  He personally confronted death and personally applied his life-giving touch to the young man from Nain.  It is much the same today.  Jesus touches you and personally applies to you the forgiveness of your sins and the deliverance from death and hell.  He has attached his word to the waters of baptism to make baptism more than merely symbolic.  When the sacred water was poured out on you, the Lord Jesus touched you and made you his own.  He took away your sins.  He made you a new creation, a saint.  Death no longer marks you for you are the Lord’s.  You will still go to a grave, but that is because these bodies are still corrupt.  They still get sick, weak, and fragile.  They will break down and give out.  The Lord, however, has in store for you a body which is incorruptible and immortal.  The grave may hold you, but it does not own you.  Jesus does.  For Jesus has confronted and overcome death, and you are the spoils.
     Jesus has confronted and overcome death.  The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (Luke 7:16)  And so it is with you.  Jesus has delivered you from sin and death and has made you alive.  Your Lord has entrusted you to your mother, the Church, to discipline, sustain, comfort, and encourage you for the rest of your life.
     To do this, Jesus has attached his word to the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.  Here again, Jesus touches you personally.  Here, you get to receive the body and blood that has overcome death and the grave.  Here, you receive the medicine of immortality.  Here is your salvation, given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins, for eternal life.  The feast of heaven is here already.  Death has been confronted.  The grave is overcome.  And now you and all the Church follow Jesus in the procession that will enter heaven.

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

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday after Pentecost (June 7, 2015)

LUKE 7:1-10 
In the name + of Jesus. 

     Anyone who has raised children has uttered the words, “Because I said so.”  These words are not a cop out.  Parents use these words because they are the God-ordained authority of the household.  Parents are responsible for the well-being of the house and the people in it.  They have to make and enforce the rules.  Children may buck the rules and challenge the parents.  They will demand to know why curfew is at 11 PM, why they have to dress up nice for a meal, or why they have to clean their rooms.  Parents reply, “Because I said so.”  It is a valid response.  It reinforces the rules.  And for what it is worth, it is still a valid response even when your children crack 20 years old.
     If children chafe under their parents' authority, it is because the children are sinners.  This is the very same reason we chafe under God's word.  God sets the standard of what is good and evil, what is right and wrong.  God tells us to embrace the good and to do it.  God tells us to abhor the evil and shun it.  Our sinful nature, however, likes what is evil.  And since we don't want to be judged or condemned for doing what is evil or failing to live up to what is good, we choose to redefine what is good and evil.  Basically, our standard comes down to this: If we like it or want to do it, it is good.  Our gratification trumps God's word.  And so, we defend our family, our friends, and ourselves when we cheat, fornicate, lie, or neglect God's word and sacraments.  To further soothe our consciences, we assume that God has adopted our new standards of good and evil.  We reject God's, “Because I said so,” for our own preferences.  This is unbelief.  It is rejection of God's word.  And there is no hope for any who reject God's word.  Repent.
     A Roman centurion understood the power of an authoritative word.  He had a highly-esteemed servant who was at the point of death.  He had heard about Jesus, and he sent elders from the Jews to Jesus so that Jesus might come, lay his hands on his servant, and heal him.  But the Roman officer had a change of heart.  He did not pull rank on Jesus, explaining that he was a Roman and an officer.  He said, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.  Therefore I did not presume to come to you.  But say the word, and let my servant be healed.  For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Luke 7:6-8)
     The Roman centurion understood the power of an authoritative word.  He was answerable to officers in command of him, and he himself had 100 men in his charge.  When orders were given, they would be followed.  As an officer, the centurion did not have to back up his commands with, “Because I say so.”  His rank and position gave his word its authority.  This Roman centurion recognized that Jesus is the Lord.  He is the Creator of heaven and earth.  Just as Jesus brought all things into being by his say so, so also he could simply give the word and heal the centurion's servant.  Since Jesus is the Lord, his word has all authority.  If Jesus would merely give his, “Because I say so,” the servant would be healed.  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.
     For the only time in the Gospels (in a positive sense, anyway), we hear these words: Jesus ... marveled at him. (Luke 7:9)  Jesus was amazed that this Roman did not seek a performance from Jesus, just a word.  Jesus' authoritative word would be enough.  It would accomplish what Jesus said it would.  Turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” (Luke 7:9)  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.  The centurion believed that when God speaks, everything he says is true.  When God gives the word, it is so.
     The reason that we must cling to all that God says is for our own salvation.  We do not have the right to dismiss parts of God's word because they are difficult, restrictive, or damning.  If we do not believe God's judgment and wrath are real, why should we believe that God's mercy and love are real?  If we don't believe the part that exposes our sins is true, how can we believe the part that forgives our sins is true?  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.  When God exposes us to be sinners, God is right.  When God calls us to repent, it is right to confess our sins and flee from them.
     The Roman centurion approached Jesus with great faith, but also with great humility.  Even though his friends insisted, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue” (Luke 7:4,5), the centurion did not share their assessment.  He confessed, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy....” (Luke 7:6)  The centurion did not make demands of Jesus.  He sought nothing but mercy—and not even for himself!  He eagerly yearned for a word that would save, and he was not disappointed.  Great faith takes the Lord at his word.
     You also have such an authoritative word which saves you.  The Lord Jesus has delivered you from your sins.  He paid the price for sinners who chafe under God's commands and who have turned against God's word.  Jesus did not chafe under God's judgment, however; he willingly submitted to it.  Even though it was not just, Jesus endured the damning punishment for sins he did not commit.  It was not just, but it was grace.  Jesus took up your sins so that he could deliver forgiveness to you.  Jesus suffered your hell so that he could deliver salvation to you.  Jesus died your death and conquered it so that he could promise to you your own resurrection from the dead to everlasting glory.
     Jesus Christ has delivered this salvation to you through his word.  He has attached that word to water where he has washed you clean of all sin and clothed you in garments of salvation.  How can water do such great things?  It is certainly not the water which does such things, but God's word which is in and with the water and faith which trust this word used with the water. (Luther's Small Catechism; 3rd part of Holy Baptism)  He attaches that word to bread and wine where he summons you, “Take.  Eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.”  How can eating and drinking do such great things?  It is certainly not the eating and drinking that does such things, but the words “Given” and “poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luther's Small Catechism; 3rd part of Holy Communion)  It is as he said: “for the forgiveness of sins.”  The Lord speaks through the mouth of his minister to the penitent who grieve over their sins.  And through his minister, Jesus declares, “I forgive you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  In this way, the Lord brings forgiveness to you.  This is as valid and certain in heaven also, as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself.  For Jesus says, “Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed—that is, forgiven—in heaven.” (Luther's Small Catechism; Ministry of the Keys, part 2)  Forgiveness, salvation, and God's love are yours because God has decreed them.
     Great faith takes the Lord at his word.  You have his “Because I said so,” and therefore it is so.  His word is greater than your feelings.  His word dispels your doubts.  His word puts an end to your fears.  His word even overrules the devil who tries to convince you that your sins are too great or your faith is not strong enough.  To that, Jesus says, “Nonsense!  I forgive you.  I have saved you.  I have marked you as children of the resurrection and heirs of the heavenly kingdom.  It is so, because I said so!”  And great faith takes the Lord at his word.
In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Graduate

The proud grad!
 On Thursday, June 4, our youngest child, Peter, graduated from Kindergarten at St. Peter's Lutheran School in Plymouth.  He is officially a First Grader now!

Nevertheless, he does not advance to a new room or get a new teacher.  He will still be taught by his mother and my lovely wife, Laura.  I hope that Peter will not put her to the test too much next year!

Way to go, Peter!!!

The whole family, including Charli.