Sunday, December 27, 2009

First Sunday after Christmas Luke 2:22-40

And a branch comes forth from the stump of Jesse, and a sprout from its roots bears fruit. And leads upon Him the Spirit of Yahweh, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of Yahweh. And He is pleased to smell upon the fear of Yahweh, yet not in the sight of His eyes does He judge, and not in the hearing of His ears does he pass sentence. But He judges in righteousness, the poor, and He decides in fairness toward the afflicted of the earth. And He strikes the earth with a rod of His mouth, and in the breath of His lips He slays the wicked. And righteousness is a belt of His back, and truth a belt of His waist.

There are some wonderful smells at Christmas. The fresh pine scent of a live tree, the aromas of food cooking for Christmas dinner, the fragrant holly of the Christmas wreath, and the sweet smells of baked treats fresh from the oven. In today's Lesson, Isaiah describes a different smell, one that is pleasing not to us, but to God. An odd aroma, one we wouldn't think would be so pleasant. It is the smell of fear! But, for some reason, the aroma of our fear of the LORD is a fragrant aroma to Him.

For us to understand this, we have to back up a bit, all the way to the very first commandment. There, God forbids us from fearing any other god but Him. "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." From the Hebrew, God is forbidding any other god from being placed, literally, *before His nostrils*. Why? Because all other gods stink in the nostrils of the One true God. Likewise, all those who fear those false idols as though they were real gods are themselves a malodorous offense to God's nose!

So...have you been smelling badly to God? Whenever you fear, love, or trust anyone or anything more than God, you are an offending odor to the LORD. Have you loved money and the Christmas gifts it can buy, more than you've loved God recently? Have you craved authority, responsibility or power more than God's love? Have you placed your wants, your ideas, and your plans above God's will? If so, your loving, fearing and trusting other things or people has been an unpleasant odor to Him.

Not unlike a familiar Christmas figure, God sees you, and knows if you've been bad or good. He has heard your sinful grumblings and complaints against His providing, and has seen your following the earthly gods of mammon. He has plenty of evidence on you for His fair judgment. He could easily pass sentence against you condemning you to dwell eternally with the prince of this sinful world, since you've so often fell into his temptations and followed his evil ways of sin and death.

But that's when God surprises you. He could (and probably should) judge you according to the sins His eyes have seen you commit. He could (and probably should) pass the sentence of condemnation upon you for the gossip, lies, and hurtful words He has heard you speak. But instead, He chooses to look past the sins He has seen you do. It's as though He chooses to turn a deaf ear to those reputation destroying words He has heard from your mouth. With a new righteousness/fairness He judges you!

How? Through that young sprout from the stump of Jesse's tree, Jesus. Though so young so soon after His birthday, He would grow strong with the very Spirit of the Lord upon Him. He came to fix the problem of your sinfulness by becoming sin, your sin, on the cross. There He took the burden of your sin completely on Himself, bearing all your guilt and punishment in full on the tree, even though that meant being forsaken by His Father, for there He became the very stench of all your sin and mine.

Yes, you were the afflicted of this earth, suffering the horrible afflictions of sin, that eternally deadly disease. But Jesus came to decide in your favor by means of a new kind of fairness, giving up his innocent body unto death in your place, and shedding His blood for you so that you could live on! This same body and blood which He willingly paid as your ransom price at Calvary is given to you this day for your forgiveness, for your eternal life, and for your everlasting salvation from sin and death.

You were the poor, completely destitute of God-pleasing righteousness, in and of yourself. So Jesus judged you with a new righteousness, His very Own, credited to your account by faith. You were blessed to be created in Christ as a believer at your baptism, one who by faith, since that day, now has the fear of the LORD! And as a believer who fears Yahweh, you have been made by Jesus into a pleasant aroma to His nostrils, for you are blessed to fear no other god than the LORD, Jesus!

Indeed, the priest Simeon is right as He speaks of this Righteous Branch, that through Him, hearts would be revealed. He reveals the hearts of all believers to have the fragrant fear of the LORD.

Hymns from LSB:
#381 Let Our Gladness Have No End
#389 Let All Together Praise Our God
#937 Lord Bid Your Servant Go In Peace

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009 Advent IV John 1:19-28

A Prophet from among you, from your brothers, like me, He will raise up for you–Yahweh, your God; you will listen to Him. Like everything which you requested away from Yahweh, your God on Horeb on the day of the assembly saying, "May I not take in to hear the voice of Yahweh, my God; and this great fire, may I not see any more, and I will not die." And Yahweh said to me, "It is good, what they have spoken. A Prophet I will raise up for them, from among their brothers like you, and I will give My words into His mouth, and He will speak to them all which I command Him. And it will be, the man who does not listen to my words which He will speak in My name, I, Myself will demand from him.

It would seem that John the baptizer is not 100% clear on exactly who he is, according to scripture. Jerusalem priests ask him, "Who are you?" and he immediately answers, "Well, I'm not the Messiah." So far so good. Then they ask him if he's Elijah. There he is somewhat muddled, for John actually was the promised return of Elijah, preaching with Elijah's own spirit as Jesus testifies to on more than one occasion. Then they ask him if he is The Prophet. To this, John answers correctly: No!

How can John not be The Prophet? Didn't Jesus say that there was no man born greater than John? No other prophet of this earth can compare to John can they? Of course not. John is the greatest of all the line of OT prophets who preceded him. His is the culmination of OT prophecy concerning the Christ. John is by far the greatest of all the prophets of old, pronouncing prophet with a distinctive small *p*. But John is not The Prophet with a capital *P* predicted in the days of Moses.

There is only One superior to John, as far as Prophecy goes. That One, of course, is none other than Jesus. Jesus is the perfect Prophet, for every word uttered from His mouth is, by definition, God's word! The prophet Moses prophesies about this great prophet, that He would be Yahweh, your God; but Moses also predicted that he would be from among the Israelites, from their brethren. How can this be? Because Jesus is God who took upon Himself the human flesh of a prophet.

How humble was John, to downplay His own role as the one who prepared the Lord's way, recognizing that the great Prophet to come would far surpass anything he would do. This humility is a lesson to us all this day. For each and every one of us must learn to be slow to speak, and quick to listen to the Prophet, Jesus. For if you fail to listen to Jesus' prophecy spoken in His Father's name, God will demand from you what you cannot ever pay to Him, and that wouldn't bode well for you.

You must be humbled by God's Law so that you realize, like John, that you are not the Prophet. You may think that this is a sin you would never commit, but don't be too sure. If you love to talk about what you think is best for your church, and if you make it a priority to convince others of your opinions, then you are acting as if you are the Prophet. You act as if Jesus isn't the Prophet when you make excuses to avoid those God-given opportunities to come to His house to hear Jesus' word.

The voice of the Prophet Jesus convicts you of your sin for the purpose of bringing you to repentance so that you can be forgiven. His comforting voice proclaims all your sins to be forgiven, including those of trying to talk in His place, or acting as if His word doesn't matter. Jesus declares you to be forgiven, blameless in His sight, and righteous once again for His sake saying, "Father, forgive them." For whenever your Pastor forgives you in God's name, it is done in heaven just as here on the earth.

Part of being humble is knowing when to use our ears to listen to Jesus, our Prophet. Not just hearing, but really listening in such a way as to heed Jesus' words so that they can make changes in your life. For if you do not pay attention to the words Jesus prophesies to you, in the end, you may find yourself in trouble. On the last day, when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead, you may be called on the carpet, so to speak, for your lack of listening to the words of your Prophet.

For those who don't hear the words of the Prophet in faith, demands will be made of them by God. Not so for you who believe, for all of the Fathers demands have already been met for you in Christ Jesus at the cross. There, He suffered all of His Father's wrath against sin in your place, receiving in full the punishment you deserve. So that in blessed trade, you now receive the blessings Jesus alone earned for you by the giving up of His body on the tree, and by the shedding of His blood.

A great Prophet has arisen for you, Christ Jesus, who proclaims your sins to be forgiven, Who has cleansed you at the font, and Who nourishes your soul with His body given, and blood shed for you.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Dec. 13, 2009 Third Sunday in Advent - Gaudette Matthew 11:2-10

Comfort, comfort, My people, says your God; speak from the heart to Jerusalem and call out to her, for completed–her warfare, for pardoned–her iniquity, for she has received from the hand of Yahweh double, in all her sins. A voice calls, "In the wilderness prepare a way of Yahweh, straighten in the desert a highway to our God. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be made low; and the uneven ground will be to level, and the rough places to a plain. And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all flesh will see it, together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken. A voice says, "Call out!" And I said, "What will I call out?" "All the flesh is grass, and all all its beauty as a flower of the field; the grass withers, the flower fades, for the breath of Yahweh blows on it; truly the the people is grass. The grass withers, a flower fades, yet the Word of our God stands forever.

Now that it is late fall, most of us have put up our lawn mowers until the Spring. Once the first frost hits, we retire our flower gardens for the winter as well. The grass has withered, and the flower fades. But God isn't talking here about lawn care or gardening. He's talking about His people, you and me! We are like grass, in that our time is short here on earth. Most of us live 70 or 80 years if we have strength, and then our life is over. Such a brief time really, compared with eternity.

God used John the baptizer to proclaim this very message to prepare the way for Jesus' ministry in his first Advent. His message was simple: The time is short for repenting, because the kingdom of heaven is coming soon! But this message is just as poignant as it was in John's day, as it prepares Christ's Way to us that we also may repent of our sins before it is too late. Yes, you are like grass, fading away quickly. You don't know how many days you have left on this earth before Jesus returns.

So how is your time-management as you await Christ's second Advent? Probably not so good. Most likely you are caught up in the everyday, mundane things of life in this world, and spend very little time preparing for the world to come. Oh, you can manage to give God an hour of time per week, on Sunday morning to focus on the things of His kingdom, but it's like pulling teeth to find any more time.

Yet God pardons your iniquity of neglecting to put Him and His Word first. Ironically, He forgives your avoidance of His Word with His Word. He proclaims your sin removed from you by the Word of His Gospel love, that in Christ Jesus God was reconciling the people of this world to Himself at the cross. Just as He declared from Calvary, "Father, forgive them..." so too does He declare you forgiven in God's name as you hear it from the pastor, as sure and certain as Christ forgiving you Himself!

So, how is your perspective on Christ's second coming? Probably not what it should be. Do you wake up each morning hoping that today will be the day Jesus returns? Do you go to bed each night praying that Jesus will come back soon? Or, instead, do you assume that you are safe at least until the year 2012, or even much longer, since Jesus hasn't returned yet in almost 2000 years.

Yet God finds a way to keep you in the right perspective, by His Word. Not the word of the bible, exactly, but the Word Who is God. That Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. You know that Word as Jesus Who stands forever. He died for you on the +, then rose for your justification so that buried with Him by baptism into His death, you are now raised to new life in your baptism to stand in Him forevermore! As He stands at the right hand of His father in heaven, so do you!

So how high a priority is the imminent return of Jesus for you? Probably not as high as it ought to be. When you think of the future, your first thoughts are probably of retirement. You worry whether social security will still be there for you down the road, if your pension and savings will hold out, and you may doubt that there will be affordable health care in your old age. But what of your eternal security?

The LORD takes care of your everlasting welfare, beginning here and now. He does it by filling in the valleys of your pits of despair, and removing the mountainous burdens that would impede His way to you. Jesus levels His path to your rescue by removing the stony sins of your heart and by filling in the ruts of your sinfulness with His mercy. For this forgiveness of your sins, He gave up His body and shed His blood for you, giving you that same body to eat and that same blood to drink in His Holy Supper.

Yes, these words of the prophet Isaiah do indeed teach you to number your days, to bless you by the Word of God which stands forever. Jesus, the Word of God constantly readies you by His forgiving word proclaimed, by reminding you of your baptism, and by feeding you at Holy Communion. Amen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

1st Sunday in Advent Jeremiah 23:5-8

"Look, days come", says Yahweh, and I will raise up to David a Branch–a righteous One, and He will reign–a King, and He will act wisely, and He will enact judgment and righteousness in the land. In His days will be good tidings for Judah, and Israel will live in safety. And this–His name, which He will be called: ‘Yahweh, our righteousness.' Therefore, look, days come" says Yahweh, "and they will not say any longer, ‘Of the life of Yahweh which brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt.' Indeed, ‘Of the life of Yahweh which brought up and which led forth the Seed of the house of Israel from the land, at midnight, and from all the lands which I had driven them, and they will live in their land.

What's with all the branches? Today we hear the familiar Palm Sunday story as the residents of Jerusalem greet their Savior, Jesus, with branches from palm trees in their hands, and spread along the road. As a child, I had always assumed that they didn't have any flags or pom-pons, so they substituted these branches for waving purposes. But in reality, this whole *branch* thing had to so with something the Israelites were expecting from the promises of old. That a Branch would come!

We know that Branch to be Jesus, just as the Jerusalemites hoped this coming would be the one foretold by prophets like Jeremiah. But they were very disappointed. They expected Jesus to take charge of the capital and establish his throne there from which to rule a new Israelite kingdom. But He didn't. This first arrival of Jesus simply didn't fit the prophecy of the Branch of David. In fact, Jesus makes that clear when He weeps over the destruction of earthly Jerusalem which soon would occur.

Perhaps you share a bit in the frustrations of Jerusalem's residents. Jesus indeed did come to rule His people as that righteous Branch, but you, like they, may not always like the way He does things in His church. Just as they wanted the earthly problems fixed immediately, perhaps you are tempted to view the church of God as part of this world. You may find it easier to see the church as an earthly entity over which you can have at least some control. But God's kingdom is, for now, other-worldly.

That's why one of Jesus' jobs is to enact judgment in the land. His Law convicts us sinners of our unrighteousness, so that we will stop being navel-gazers and begin to look outside of ourselves for the help we need. That's when Jesus proclaims you to be forgiven in His Name. The command of your King declares all your sin & it's consequences--removed. This gospel message for you becomes good tidings, that you won't die for your sins, but live in safety from God's wrath forevermore! +

You may be impatient like the Jerusalemites because you want the fullness of the King's reign over you now! This "already, but not yet" is not an easy thing to live with. Yes, you know you are residents of heaven, for that is your new address, but to wait so long for *moving day* can be frustrating. You may begin to forget that the "days are coming" soon for Christ's return, and let your mind and heart begin to drift toward those worldly temptations which will distract you from your coming King.

Remember that Jesus reigns over you now, even as you await the new earth paradise which He will restore on the last day. Jesus gives you a foretaste of that feast to come of the heavenly banquet when He gives you holy communion. Jesus comes with His body in the bread, and He comes down with His blood in the cup for your forgiveness from the cross of Calvary. But He also comes down, again and again in the Lord's Supper as a reminder of that final arrival whose days are coming.

What may bother you still is that things seem left *unfinished* by Jesus. Sure, He came to do all the earthly work that was needed to save you, but He has not taken you to heaven yet. The work of His first arrival is complete, but it seems to be taking a long time for Him to finish His prep work for our heavenly home. (Is he busy installing cable tv in your room of the heavenly mansion, or what?) Alright, already, it's time for Jesus to get a move-on, so we think, and come back again!.

Remember the heavenly work of Jesus continues down here on earth. He is not finished yet bringing subjects into His kingdom. Oh, He fulfilled all righteousness (like He told John at His baptism) by living a completely perfect life on earth in our place. But His work continues to deliver that righteousness of His to others. At the baptismal font He did that for you, exchanging your sins which He bore on the cross unto death for His righteousness credited to your account by faith for life eternal!

The days are coming when the Seed of Israel returns as the Righteous Branch at the midnight hour!


And it happened in the journey into Jerusalem, and He was going through between Samaria and the Galilee. And as He was entering into a certain village ten leprous men met Him--they stood far off. And they raised voices saying, "Jesus, Lord have mercy on us." And seeing them, He said, "Having gone, show yourselves to the priests!" And it happened as they went they were cleansed. But one of them, seeing that he was healed turned back with a great voice glorifying God, and he fell upon his face at His feet thanking Him; And He was Samaritan. And answering, Jesus said, "Were not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not found (any), having turned back to give glory to God if not this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Having arisen, go. Your faith has saved you."

Thanksgiving is 1 of 365 and 1/4 days of the year set aside in our nation to give thanks. That's only .0027% of the time! That sure doesn't seem like much. Add to that how few of our regular members are now here in God's house to give thanks, and we are doing much worse than the 10% of lepers who return to thank Jesus. The hard truth is, we just aren't very grateful people, by nature. We rarely take time to thank.

Just how often should we render the sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord for all His benefits to us? Is once a week enough, like on Sunday morning? Actually, God requires much, much more gratefulness from us. Our worship as Lutherans gives us a clear answer to just how thankful we ought to be as Christians, in the words of the proper preface the pastor sings just before communion: "we should at all times and in all places give thanks to you, holy Lord, almighty Father, through Jesus Christ, our Lord..."

One reason we fail to be very grateful is that we don't give God the credit for all that He does. You work hard all week, put in a strong effort, and assume that you yourselves have earned good things for you and your family. But you fail to see that all your abilities, your jobs, your talents, your opportunities, and your very existence are things which God Himself has provided from His goodness and mercy.

So we do well to cry out with those lepers, the words of the kyrie: Lord, have mercy upon us. Jesus had mercy on those poor sick and dying individuals by speaking forth the words of healing for their disease of leprosy. He has done the same for you, as the message of His gospel love for you from the cross has cleansed you from the eternally deadly disease of sin as He proclaims to you, "You are forgiven in My Name" that you may show yourselves today in God's house to be fully healed in Christ's mercy alone.

Another reason we fail to be as thankful as we ought, is that we don't always trust God. How quick you may be to forget that this is God's church, instead, focusing your attention on what the people are doing or not doing. Satan loves to distract you away from the words and workings of your God, creating doubts like "Did God really say...?" or "Wouldn't you like...? Relying on God to provide for His church isn't easy.

That's why God provides you with the wonderful gift of faith, just like He worked it in the heart of the one grateful, Samaritan leper. You too have been provided with a trusting faith that recognizes God at work in all your blessings. The first works of God it recognized were most likely at the Baptismal font, where God brought you out of the darkness of this sinful world into the marvelous light of His Kingdom. There, your sins washed from you to the cross, Jesus welcomed you as a believer into His eternal family!

A third problem we have in our thankfulness is that we don't always focus on God's blessings. Like the nine, we take the good and gracious gifts of God for granted. Oh, you are happy with the nice things you receive from the Lord, but do you always stop to actually see them as blessings from above? Or instead, do you foolishly consider yourself a pretty good person who deserves such good things to happen?

To refocus us, God provides perhaps His richest, most intimate gift of all called the Eucharist. This word means "Thanksgiving", and is one of the terms for the Lord's Supper. The Communion meal is truly one of great thanks-giving, since what Jesus is giving to us is the most priceless gift of all. Not all the gold and silver of the world is equal to His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death that paid the price of your salvation at Calvary. Jesus gives you His body in the bread, His blood in the cup to save you!

Yes, there are many, many blessings for which we give thanks today, and regularly: clothing shoes food drink, house home, spouse children, fields animals, and all we have. But God gives us even better gifts for which we can thank Him always: His mercy on us that forgives our disease of sin, His gift of faith given in Baptism that we become God's children, and His body and blood given to save us in the Eucharist.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday of the Fulfillment (Last Sunday of the Church Year) Matthew 25:1-13

Then the kingdom of the heavens will be like 10 bridesmaids, who having taken their lamps went out to meet the groom. And five of them were moronic, and five wise; for the moronic having taken their lamps did not take with them oil, and the wise took oil in the vessels with their lamps. And the groom delaying, all of them became drowsy and were sleeping. And in the midst of the night a cry came, "Look, the groom; you get going in to meet him!" Then all those bridesmaids rose and lit their lamps. And the moronic said to the wise, "Give to us from your oil, because our lamps are going out!" And the wise answered, saying, "No way! There isn't at all enough for you and for us; You get going, rather, to the salesmen and buy your own." And while they were going away to buy, the Groom arrived, and those ready went in with Him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. And afterward, the remaining bridesmaids come, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" And He, answering said,"Amen, I say to you, I do not know you!" You keep watching, then, because you do not know the day or the hour!"

A while back, I needed a flashlight to go fix something. We found some soon enough, but none with batteries that worked! All the flashlights my family found were utterly useless, since there was nothing to power them. That's the problem these five foolish bridesmaids had. They had their lamps but there was no oil to power them. They were as unprepared as I was. Their lamps were useless to them.

Now, the first thing we want in this story is some sort of compromise. We expect that the wise virgins will share some of their oil. But there wasn't enough. We might want the bridesmaids to pair up, with each of the five lighted virgins entering with one of the in-the-dark ones. But that solution isn't offered. Why? Because it's all about the lamps and their light. If you have no Light, you can't get into the heavenly wedding banquet, plain and simple. On your own, you are only bright enough to be a moron.

Jesus is the Light of the World! With Him burning bright, your path is an enlightened one, and you will know the Way to the marriage feast. The enlightenment from God's Word for you is this: Jesus is the church's Groom, and you enter the marriage feast only as His bride! Always a bridesmaid, and never a bride? Not for you! It is for you that the Bridegroom has actually come! For Jesus gives Himself as the feast, dying for his beloved at the cross, giving His bodyand shedding His blood for the wedding meal.

As we hear this story, we want to point fingers at these 5 bridesmaids for being so foolish. We don't think we would ever be such morons as they were. But be careful. You may think that you are quite enlightened, but actually find that you are sometimes greatly in the dark! Are you very knowledgeable about the things of God? Do you search your bible daily for the signs that point to Christ's imminent return? Do you wake up each day wondering if this is the day Jesus will come back again?

The LORD tells us that His word is a lamp for our feet and a light to our path. His word is that shining light that brought you out of the darkness of your sin when the Holy Ghost brought you to faith through the gospel message of Jesus' love for you. His word which enlightened you to faith in His first coming to live a perfect life, suffer, die and rise for you and your salvation, is a word that continues to enlighten you about His second coming, that you watch for Him with the God-given eyes of faith.

As you listen to this story, you may try to reassure yourself that you will not be like those foolish brides-maids. You'll prepare yourself, and make sure that you have oil in your lamp for Jesus' return. But preparing is not something you can do, in and of yourself. How are you ever sure that you are ready *enough* for Judgment Day? Are you really sorry enough for your sins? Have you committed yourself sincerely enough to being a disciple Jesus? Have you served Him enough here on earth?

The oil that fills your lamp is not your doing, but God's. It is the working of the Holy Spirit, Who prepares your heart and mind, so that it is ready each and every day for Jesus' return. By daily contrition and repentance, He creates your heart anew by drowning your old Adam of sin in the waters of your baptism, and by raising you up anew to live before God in His gracious righteousness and purity forever. For you are pure in the cleansing of your baptism, and now have Jesus righteousness!

So by faith, we keep watch, joyfully awaiting our Savior's return, knowing He has filled our lamps, that He has enlightened our way, and returns to bring us into His eternal wedding banquet in heaven.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

23rd Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 22:15-22

Then, having gone the Pharisees took counsel how to trap Him in a statement. And they sent on a mission to Him their disciples with the Herodians saying, "Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and the way of God in truth, you teach, and you aren't concerned about (the wants of) anyone; for you don't look into mens' faces. Speak then to us, what it seems to you: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" And Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said, "Why are you tempting me, hypocrites? Show to me the coin of the tribute." And these brought to Him a denarius. And He says to them, "Whose is this portrait and the writing upon it?" They say to Him, "Caesar's." Then He says to them, "Give over, then the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God."

Politics makes strange bed-fellows. Two days before Jesus' arrest and trial, the Herodians supporters of the Romans puppet King-Herod conspire with the fundamentalist Jewish Pharisees in attempt to trap Jesus. They think they've backed Him into a corner forcing Him to choose between serving God or a heathen ruler. Which will Jesus choose to serve, God or Government? Jesus chooses *Yes!*

Take out a quarter: You render unto Washington... and unto God... Seems simple enough–pay all your taxes to the government, and put at least 10% of your income in the offering plate, and you'll be fine, right? Not exactly. Jesus is talking here about much more than simple finances. For rendering means giving back what never really belonged to you in the first place. It's about giving what you owe as you would have to pay back all your debts. Rendering to Caesar or to God isn't so simple.

What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits to me? The truth, and you might not be able to handle the truth, is this: You owe God everything! You had nothing before God created you and brought you into this world, and you can't take a single thing out of it. There will be no U-Hall hitched to your hearse. Everything you have, including your life, is a gift from God, including your very life itself! Yet we want to gripe and complain about giving back to God such a small percentage in our offerings.

Truly we are worse at rendering to God than we are rendering to our government. But that is not all the truth there is. Jesus is your Truth. His word is truthful, and it is the truth that sets you free from your sins of greed and ingratitude and all the rest. His word of Gospel love declares you forgiven for your failure to render as you ought, as Jesus Himself prays for you, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." In God's name (not Caesar's) all your sin is gone as your pastor absolves you!

Sometimes we become as hypocritical as the Pharisees and Herodians, normally sworn enemies. They try to give Jesus a trick question in order to trap Him–either He chooses to support the Roman occupiers, or the occupied Jews. You too find yourself asking all the wrong questions. You may be tempted here to be asking, "Just tell us what we are supposed to be rendering to God, and we'll do it" as though this story is all about you and the things God needs from you. But your God needs nothing!

Since you can't give God anything He needs, it is He Who gives you the *things of God* that you need! "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving...I will take the cup of salvation..."

You render to the Lord at the best thanksgiving meal this month–the Holy Eucharist! There you eat that thanksgiving feast, and drink from the cup of salvation, Jesus' body given for you, and His blood shed for your forgiveness, life and salvation!
In false flattery, Jesus' enemies claim He can't be distracted by the man's desires, nor influenced by public opinion. Jesus sticks to the plan, but the same can't be said of people like us. God's ways are not always our ways. You find yourself thinking that you know best, and then you scramble to find a good rationale for why God ought to agree with you. There is a way which seems right to a man...but it leads to ruin, to destruction. Instead of wanting God on our side, we should try things His Way!

He Jesus is your Way, the only Way, really. God's Way is worship, but that may not be what you think. Worship for us Lutherans is all about faith, a gift of God given in Baptism by the Holy Spirit. By faith you trust Jesus to wash your sins to Himself on the cross, and by God-given faith you receive rescue and salvation from your Lord. For believing is receiving. The image you receive isn't from a coin, but the restored image of God, lost in the Garden, but restored to you in Christ Jesus, the image of God!

Render unto God what He has given you: Your ears to listen to His saving Truth, your mouths to feast on His gifts of life, and your hearts to believe and trust in His salvation! For God first gives all He requires.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Sunday, November 8, 2009 Trinity 22 Matthew 18:21-35

Then, having come forward, Peter said to Him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me and I forgive him; up to 7 times?" Jesus says to him, "I say to you not up to 7, but up to 70 x 7! Through this the kingdom of the heavens is like a man, a king, who wanted to settle a logue with his slaves. And he, having begun to settle was brought to him one owing about 20 million dollars. And he, not having (enough) to pay, the Lord ordered him to be sold, the wife and the children and all, everything he had, and payment be made. Having fallen then, the slave worshiped Him saying, `Be patient with me, and everything I will repay you.' And gut-wrenched, the Lord of that servant freed him, and the debt He forgave to him. And having gone out, that slave found one of his fellow slaves, who was owing him a few month's wages, and having grabbed him, he choked (him) saying, `Pay if you owe anything!' Having fallen, then, his fellow slave begged him, saying, `Be patient with me, and I will repay you.' And he was not willing, but having gone away he cast him into prison until he might pay that which he was owing. Having seen what was happening, then, His fellow slaves were greatly grieved, and having gone, they explained to their Lord all that had happened. Then, having called him forward, his Lord said to him, `Evil slave, all that debt I forgave you when you begged me; Wasn't it needful also for you to show mercy to your fellow slave, as I Myself showed you mercy?' And angered, His Lord delivered him to the torturers until he give over all that he is owing. So also My heavenly Father will do to you, if ever each one of you does not forgive his brother from your hearts.

In Lutheran circles, Matthew 18 has become known as the *church discipline* chapter, since it is cited in almost all church constitutions under that heading. This is unfortunate, since a much better title for Matt 18 would be the *great forgiveness* chapter. For these words of Jesus not only teach us about how we ought forgive others, but they also show us the source of forgiveness in the heavenly realm–from God Himself. The LORD forgives us that we, in turn, may forgive as we've been forgiven.

But forgiving from the heart isn't so easy. Peter tries to limit forgiveness to only 7 times. He thinks he's being generous, since 3 times seemed to be the OT limit. But Jesus shows him just how limited his forgiving heart was. Likewise, these words of Jesus convict you. Could you put up with someone committing the same sin 490x against you? Hardly. You'd give up on that person long before that.

So Jesus tells a parable about forgiveness, showing just how different it is in God's kingdom. While the slave in the story proves himself to be a very lousy forgiver, the King of the heavenly kingdom shows Himself to be a compassionate Lord indeed. He forgives the debt completely, without strings attached. Christ Jesus has done this also for you at the cross. Your debt paid in full, not with the King's gold or silver, but by the body of the crown prince given, and His blood shed for you on the cross.

As we look at Jesus' parable, however, there seems to be something too-good-to-be-true about it. You might think that King should at least take the slave up on his initial offer to at least try to pay back some of the enormous debt. You may expect the King to let the man and his family pay as much as they can first, or for the King to cancel most of the debt, leaving only a small amount to be repaid.

But that's simply not how your God and King operates. He doesn't expect you strive to do your part first, so He can make up the difference. He doesn't even leave you with some of your debt to be dealt with at the end. He cancels it all. He forgives you all your sins. He washes your debt-slate clean in the waters of holy baptism, cleansing your conscience, and giving you a completely clean heart. As the prophet Micah writes, "God hurls all our iniquities in the depths of the sea" in the waters of baptism.

Yet we still aren't fully convinced that a cleansed heart can be gotten for free. Even if you are willing to accept that God cleanses your heart by canceling your sin-debt in full, you may still think that you have to do something first, since it can't be so easy. Perhaps you think that it's all up to you to get the ball rolling, that you must first show God how sincere, or how worthy you are for His forgiveness.

But all the sincerity in the world is useless toward such an un-payable debt. No lender is convinced by even the greatest desire to pay if the source of income is lacking. Such it is with you. It isn't your begging of God to be merciful that merits anything. It is his compassionate nature that prompts him to remove your sin-debt from you. He gives you the gift of repentance turning you from sins toward His gracious forgiveness, as your Pastor proclaims you forgiven in the Name of the Triune God.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Sunday, November 1, 2009, All Saints, Matthew 5:3-12

And seeing the crowds He went up into the mountain, and (upon) His sitting, His disciples came to Him; And He opened His mouth (and) was teaching them, saying, "Blessed--the poor in the spirit; because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Blessed--the mourners; because they will be comforted. Blessed--the humble/gentle; because they will gain possession of the earth. Blessed--the hungerers and thirsters of the righteousness; because they will be satisfied. Blessed--the pitiers; because they will be pitied. Blessed--the clean in heart; because they will see God. Blessed--the peacemakers; because they will be called sons of God. Blessed--those having been persecuted for the sake of righteousness; because theirs is the kingdom of the heavens. Blessed you are whenever they insult you and persecute and speak all evils against you {falsely} for My sake. Rejoice and be elated, because your reward (is) great in the heavens; for (this is) just as they persecuted the prophets, those before you.

Today we honor those believers who have gone before us to heaven. We recognize the holiness of these saints, which was not from them, but from God alone. The holiness God provided for His saints came to them in the form of everlasting blessings which they enjoy forevermore in heaven. This wondrous blessing of holiness isn't just for them, but for you as well. So, when you hear all these *blesseds* of the beatitudes from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, note how they are for all saints, including you!

The first couple of blesseds describe us when we are pretty low–poor in spirit and mourning. How can that be a blessing? When you are feeling down in the dumps, you hope somebody will help *lift* your spirits, don't you? Yet Jesus says that it's actually a blessing to be poor in spirit, and to mourn on account of death. For only when you are so low will you recognize the lofty blessings of God's kingdom above!

God makes you poor in spirit when you sin. He gives you a sorry and guilty conscience, working contrition in your heart. The Spirit drives you to admit you are a poor miserable sinner who deserves nothing but death. When you start to mourn your *own* sin-earned death, that's when God has you right where He wants you, so that you can be comforted by His word of absolute forgiveness in Christ Jesus, your Savior. Your Pastor tells you that your sin is gone to the cross, and the kingdom of heaven is now yours!

A couple more of these blesseds talk of righteousness. Oddly, you first learn that you don't have any! How does this make you blessed? Once you realize that the works which save are not something that you can do for yourself, you will no longer strive to be self-righteous by all the prideful things you think you can do to please God. You hunger and thirst for an alien righteousness from outside of yourself.

Jesus Himself satisfied your hungering and thirsting for righteousness by giving you His Own righteousness from the cross. There, when the spear pierced his side, the pure water of His righteousness flowed forth into the baptismal font. Your Savior took your sins and their wages of death upon Himself at the cross, and gives you His holy righteousness in exchange at your Baptism. His goodness, His perfection, His right-ness in all He thought, said and did are now credited to your account by faith in the kingdom of the heavens!

The remaining blesseds are wimpy by this world's standards. Being meek, merciful, clean-hearted and a peace-maker don't make anybody much of a hero here on earth. How are you blessed to have these looked-down-upon qualities? You won't have much to show for these attributes here and now. Instead you will be made fun of, ridiculed, mocked, and picked on if you show forth these characteristics regularly.

The blessings connected with these beattituded aren't found in this life, but in the next. But don't the meek inherit the earth? Yes, but not this polluted, decaying and dying world. You are blessed to inherit the world to come–the paradise above! There you will see God with your own eyes! There you will be counted as Sons of God! There God's mercy will be yours, and you will find lasting peace in the foretaste of that feast to come of the Lord's Supper–Jesus' body and blood held forth for you as His Peace!

As Jesus teaches all these blesseds, He reveals the source of all lasting blessings–Himself! Rejoice! In Jesus you are blessed to be comforted by His word of forgiveness. In Jesus you are blessed to be washed clean of your sin and filled with His righteousness. In Jesus you have the eternal peace of heaven.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Festival of St. Luke the Evangelist

And after these things the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them on a mission in twos before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. And He said to them, "On the one hand, the harvest is great, but on the other hand the workers, few; Beg, then, the Lord of the harvest that He throw out workers into His harvest. Be going! Look, I am sending you on a mission as lambs in the midst of wolves. Do not carry a money bag, nor pouch nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. Into what ever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house'. And if ever is there a son of peace, your peace will rest upon him; but if not, upon you it will come back. And in that house remain eating and drinking the things from them; for worthy is the worker of his pay. Do not be changing from house to house. And into what ever city you come and they receive you, eat the things placed before you, and keep healing the sick in it and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near upon you.'"

Today is the festival of St. Luke. He was not an apostle. He wasn't a pastor either. He wasn't even a church-worker. Luke was a physician by trade, and an amateur historian by hobby. But God called upon this man to record the history of church workers, starting with Jesus and his disciples in the Gospel that bears his name, and the apostles and deacons of the church in the Book of Acts.

On the one hand, there is a harvest. It is a great harvest of souls which Jesus describes as the grain which is left behind during the threshing process, as the chaff is blown away to be burned. You are blessed to be part of this great harvest of God. Your soul and spirit will be harvested heavenward. The harvesters of this great harvest will be the angels who will take those saved souls to heaven one day.

But what of the workers in the meantime? In Jesus day, along with the 12 disciples were 72 others sent on a special mission to proclaim the coming kingdom of God! With this message, they planted seeds, watered and fertilized the young sprouts, tended to and pruned the mature plants up to harvest day. For you, this has been your Pastors and those who have assisted them in the church's ministry.

Now, you might think that you don't need much help to thrive in God's vineyard. You like to consider yourself self-sufficient, able to maintain your faith pretty much on your own. But think again. What if you were never taught the faith in its truth & purity when you were young? What if no pastor was there in tough times when you needed comfort from God's word? How long would you survive?

But God has provided you workers, tossing them out into His harvest so you would grow, blossom and bear Him fruit. He provided a pastor who baptized you to wash you clean from all your sins. Your pastor continues to forgive you in that same name in which you were baptized, because baptism is a gift that keeps on giving. God reminds you constantly, through your Pastor, that you are a baptized child of God, that you may be washed at the cross in your daily bath of baptism for your forgiveness.

Perhaps you have not valued the work God does through His workers. If you only see your pastor for an hour on Sunday, you might think that's all he works. Such a mindset keeps pastors humble to be sure, with little to put in their money bags, if they carried them. You might think that in the big scheme of things, the work of the church-worker isn't very important, compared to other professions.

But the work God does through the Pastor is invaluable. Doctors like St. Luke give a small measure of peace when they do their jobs. But through the ministry of your Pastor, true, lasting peace is given to you. The Pastor feeds you with the very body and blood of Jesus for your forgiveness. That means everlasting peace between you and your heavenly Father. That's why the pastor elevates the body/bread and cup/blood saying or singing, "The peace of the Lord be with you" and you say "Amen."

Maybe you think that the job of God's workers is an easy one. Everybody likes a Pastor, you assume. With God on his side, what enemies would a church-worker have? They work for the King of heaven, after all...But it isn't easy. God's workers are sent as sheep among wolves, with the devil, the godless world, and the sinful flesh of people as his constant enemies. Many refuse his message of peace.

But to you who have heard the message of God's peace in Christ Jesus, a message of great hope is also given. Just as the 72 were called to proclaim that the kingdom of God was coming in the visits of Christ Jesus to these towns of Perea, so too is your Pastor privileged to preach to you that God's kingdom comes to you today. For Jesus visits you, here and now with this message for you, saying, "I died for you on the cross so that you may now live forever with me in the kingdom of heaven." Amen.

Hymns today from LSB:
#830 Spread the Reign of God the Lord
#810 O God of God, O Light of Light
#518 By All Your Saints in Warfare (insert stanza 26)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Trinity 18 Matthew 22:34-46

And the Pharisees, having heard that He (Jesus) silenced the Sadducees, they gathered to themselves. And inquired, one of them (a expert in the Torah) testing Him. "Teacher, which precept is greatest in the Torah?" And He said to him, "Love (with God's Own love) the Lord your God in the whole of your heart and in the whole of your soul and in the whole of your mind. This is the greatest and first precept. The second is like it: Love (with God's Own love) your neighbor as yourself. On these the two precepts the whole of the Torah hangs, and the Prophets. And the Pharisees, having gathered, Jesus inquired of them, saying: "What does it seem to you concerning the Christ; whose son is He?" They say to him, "The One of David." He says to them, "How then does David, in the Spirit, call Him ‘Lord' saying, ‘Yahweh said to my Lord, sit on My right until I place the enemies of yours under your feet?' If then David calls Him ‘Lord', how is He his son?" And no one was able to answer Him a word nor did anyone dare from that day to inquire of Him any longer.

It is two days before Jesus' trial before the Sanhedrin council. Jesus is in the midst of his deposition, answering questions from the Temple priests first, and now the leading laymen of the synagogues make their inquiry. Clearly, these are not questions of students who want to learn from the Teacher. These are posed to gather evidence against Jesus to be used against Him at His trial. The Pharisees send an expert in the first five books of the Bible in attempt to trap Jesus in His Own words. It fails.

The trap went like this: force Jesus to pick from one of the 613 laws found within the Old Testament. Then, they could accuse Him of neglecting the others. Jesus doesn't take their bait. Instead He selects total Love of God as the #1 precept of the bible. That's a whole lotta love! Who can love God so completely? Although the Pharisees tried, even they failed. So do you. Your heart desires selfish pleasures, your soul is satisfied with worldly things, and your mind wants to ponder foolish matters.

But this agape love of which Jesus speaks is not a feeling or an attitude. It is an action, and the One they questioned was love in action, if only they'd notice. He is God's love personified in His actions of healing, forgiving, and caring for those in need. He is God's love toward you given to you as a free gift. Three days from this questioning He would give up His life for the world on the cross. That same body given to death there; that same blood shed there, is given to you to eat and drink for your forgiveness.

Interestingly, Jesus will not be bound by the parameters of the question. He's told to choose one precept; instead, He selects a second in addition: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Even tougher than the first. At least God is love-able. Many neighbors are not. Yet Jesus bids us even to love our enemies! Even if you would condescend to show a small bit of kindness to those who hurt you, would you be able to love them as much as you love yourself? Hardly. Such love is impossible for man...

Yet with God, all things are possible! That is why this is God's Own agape love with which you can love your neighbor. For the God and Lord of both you and your neighbor is Jesus. He loves all mankind enough to give His life for the whole world. It is He who loves others through you, just as He has loved you with the washing of water and His word in Holy Baptism. He cleansed you at the font to make you His holy possession, placing the true enemies--sin, death and the devil--at His feet forevermore.

Jesus doesn't just give an extra answer, but actually turns the tables on His inquisitors by asking *them* a couple of questions. "How is the Christ both *son* of David, yet also David's *Lord*?" Well the answer was clear: because the Messiah is both God and man at the same time. But the Pharisees could not bear to admit that. You can relate. Oh, the fact of Jesus being God and man you know, but do you act like He is your God and Lord, or do you often do what you please, ignoring His will for you?

The truth is that Jesus is your Lord and Master. He reigns over you from the powerful right hand of His heavenly Father's throne. His rule puts all enemies underneath His feet. But He doesn't consider you an enemy, even though you have failed to follow His commandments. Because Jesus' rules over you not with rules for you to obey, but by the love of His powerful right hand. In that hand is the powerful scepter of approval, for His word has proclaimed you forgiven for your sins, worthy to reign with Him!

Yes, a whole lotta love is required by God. Loving God with the whole heart, mind, spirit and strength. It is more than we could ever accomplish. But in Christ Jesus, those precepts are met, and He also loves you His neighbor, even more than Himself, exchanging your death for His life everlasting!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009 Trinity 17 Luke 14:1-11

And it happened in His (Jesus') coming into a house of a certain ruler of the Pharisees on a Sabbath to eat bread, & they were watching Him closely. And look, a certain man who was suffering edema was before Him. And answering, Jesus spoke to the law-experts and the Pharisees saying, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to heal, or not?" And they kept silent. And having taken hold, He healed healed and sent him away. And to them, He said, "Who of you, a son or an ox into a well having fallen, and you would not immediately pull him out on the day of the Sabbath?" Yet they had no strength to reply to these things. And He spoke to those invited, a parable, noting how the foremost reclining places, they were choosing, saying to them, "Whenever you are invited by anyone to a wedding, do not recline into the foremost reclining places, lest one more honored than you have been invited by him, & having come, the one who invited you & him say to you, `Give this man place' & then you will begin with shame the last place to hold. But whenever you are invited, having gone, fall into the last place, in order that whenever the one inviting you comes, he will say to you, Friend, go up higher! Then there will be to you glory before all those reclining with you. Because every one who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one humbling himself will be exalted.

In today's Gospel, we have two things going on which seem unrelated at first glance. First, a question of healing on the Sabbath which Jesus answers by healing the swelling of an ill man. Secondly, there is the question of banquet seating which Jesus answers with the parable of the embarrassed wedding guest. But don't think these two issues have nothing in common. For both situations have man's sinful pride at their heart. Jesus uses each of these circumstances to show the Sabbath way.

So we should be sure to understand the Sabbath before we look at Jesus' words and actions. The law-experts and Pharisees hadn't a clue what Sabbath meant. Perhaps you don't either. You were probably taught that the Sabbath is a day of rest. But it really isn't at all. If it were, you would still be tucked into your bed this Sunday morn. Sabbath means *stop*–that you stop doing your thing so that God can do His special thing, just as God stopped creating to proclaim His good words and to bless creation.

The Pharisees and law-experts were prideful concerning the Sabbath, thinking it was all about them & what they refrain from doing. Perhaps you too mistakenly think that Sunday morning worship is all about what you do. Do you pride yourself that you are here this morning, unlike those church-skippers out there? And is your focus this morning your praying, your singing, your paying attention, or your money in the offering plate, or the service you render to others in God's house today?

Remember the Sabbath is not about your work or lack thereof, but about what God does. That's why Jesus took the bait of the trap laid before Him healed this swelled-up man on the Sabbath day. He did it to show them and you that the Sabbath day is about God's work to declare things good again, and to bless. He made the ill man well again, and sent him away blessed. Today Jesus proclaims sinful you forgiven, and blesses you with His holy righteousness in exchange for your sins He bore on the cross.

These law-experts and Pharisees were prideful when it came to their places of honor at the table. We are the same. No doubt you've been to a wedding reception with the honored places for the wedding party at the head table, compared to the loser table in the back corner. Who wants to be relegated to the lowly spots at that far table? Who isn't envious of the honored places up front? Or here, what if a stranger came in and sat in your pew today! But, oddly the honored Lutheran seats seem in the back.

Jesus gives you the place of honor here in worship. He is the host of the Lord's Supper in this, His house. He invites each one of you to come to the one and only head table to the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. You have the most honored position of all, for the church is Christ's holy bride, and that's who you are in this wedding banquet. You feast on His body given in the bread, and on His blood shed in the cup for your forgiveness, for your salvation, and for your eternal life!

Jesus sums up these two incidents with words about being humbled and being exalted. He makes it clear that if you try to exalt yourself it won't work. Who can sprout wings and lift himself up to heaven? And we may try to be humble, but quickly become proud that we are more humble than others. So what's a body to do? Remember that the Sabbath is not about our works, but about God's. His Law is sufficient to humble us sinners, buried with Christ by baptism into His death, and His Gospel works to exalt us to the honor given to us who are raised in Jesus through baptism to new, glorious life! Amen.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trinity 16 Luke 7:11-17

And it happened on the next, He went into a city called Nain, and His disciples were going along with Him, also a large crowd. And as He came near the gate of the city, and look one who was dead was being carried out the only-begotten son of his mother, and she a widow, and a great crowd from the city was with her. And having seen her, the LORD was gut-wrenched for her, and He said to her, "Stop crying." And having come toward, He touched the casket. And the ones carrying stood still. And He said, "Young man, I say to you, arise!" And the corpse sat up and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother. And all of them were taken by fear, and they were glorifying God, saying, that A great prophet has arisen among us and that God has looked upon His people. And the word went out in all Judea concerning Him and in all the region.

In today's Gospel we have a perfectly good funeral procession. The pall bearers have already lifted the casket, and they are heading out to the burial plot, a large crowd gathered to comfort this grieving, and now son-less widow. Everything is proceeding as is expected, that is, until Jesus does His Robitussin impersonation. He interrupts the proceedings and stops the coffin in its tracks. How rude! He then spoils a perfectly good funeral completely by raising the corpse back to life again!

Just Who does Jesus think He is? None other than the LORD Himself, the God of both life and death. He amazes them with this miraculous resurrection, but the people don't see Him for Who He really is. They think he's a great prophet, but not yet do they know Him as God THE Prophet. They acknowledge that God has indeed visited His people through this miracle, but they don't recognize Jesus as God Himself. They just figure he is like Elijah or Elisha from the Old Testament.

Just Who does Jesus think He is? He is an instigator for starters. But folks don't want God to start anything up with them. Often you yourselves might prefer to have God leave you alone, and only have Him respond when you need to call upon Him. But He's not your beck and call God. Jesus is an instigator. He doesn't wait to see if you want Him to speak/act. He does His thing without permission.

But that's just Who Jesus has been for you from the get-go. You were once dead in your trespasses, not unlike this corpse. Jesus didn't wait for dead folks like you to call on Him for help, since dead people do no calling. He was an Instigator. When you were dead in sins, He raised you up in Himself, by water and the word of your Holy Baptism. He not only buried you with Him by baptism into His death at Calvary, but He also raised you up in Him on Easter Sunday to walk now in new, eternal life.

Just Who does this Jesus think He is? He is a prophet. Yet folks really don't want to be prophesied to all that much. You may not want to hear what Jesus wants to say to you in Sunday School or Bible class, finding every excuse not to go their to listen to His Word. You may think that you know enough about the Bible already, so you no longer need a prophet to proclaim to you from God.

But Jesus is The Prophet promised of old Who would declare God's Word to you, whether you think you need it or not...because the truth is that you do. Jesus proclaims your sin and its cure, the gospel here, from the lectern and pulpit each Sunday and festival day. He proclaims His gut-wrenching love for you, no less than for that poor childless widow. His love for you was so great that He took your place in death on the cross, giving up His life unto death so that you now live forevermore in paradise.

Just Who does Jesus think He is? He is the one who stops all weeping. Some folks will say that this is rude of Jesus to forbid crying at a funeral. Grieving people need a good cry, don't they? But remember that Jesus Himself cried at His friend Lazarus' funeral before raising Him from the dead. Yet you yourselves might resent it whenever Jesus tells you what to do, and what not to do.

But in Jesus' words to that grieving, childless-widow, Jesus is tell her to stop crying so she could clearly witness this miracle. Her only-begotten Son was restored to life before her very eyes. Yet another only-begotten Son would also die, giving up His body in death, and shedding His blood for you on Good Friday for the forgiveness of your sins. You eat His body and drink His blood, but not as a cannibal would eat a dead person. You feast on the ever-living Jesus, risen from death to life eternal!

Just Who does this Jesus think He is? He is your God, your LORD, and your Savior. He has saved you from the eternal death of your sin, and has raised you to life in Him forevermore. He returns you to your heavenly Father through word and sacrament, so you may life with Him eternally in heaven.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Trinity 15 Matthew 6:24-34

No one is able, two lords to serve; for either the one he will hate and the other he will love, or the one he will cling to and the other he will despise. You are not able to serve God and mammon. Through this I say to you, stop worrying on your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor on your body, what you will clothe it. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? You look into the birds of the heavens, that they neither sow, nor harvest, nor gather into barns, yet your Father, the heavenly One, feeds them. Aren't you, yourselves worth more than they? And who of you worrying is able to add upon His height one cubit? And concerning clothing, why do you worry? Observe the lilies of the field, how they grow; they do not labor nor do they spin. And I say to you that Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself as one of these. And if the grass of the field being today, but tomorrow into the furnace is thrown, God so clothes, not much more for you, of little faith? You do not worry, saying, "What will we eat?" or "What will we drink?" or, "What will we throw around ourselves?" For all these things the nations seek after; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. And keep seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not worry into tomorrow, for tomorrow worries for itself. The day has sufficient evils of its own.

Anxiety, stress, worry; it's a big problem. Oh, some say that it's parents' prerogative to worry about their children, but that's not really true. Concern is fine, but worry is sinful. That's why Jesus says "don't worry" and "stop worrying", because it's never productive. It can't add any time to your life, but too much stress may take years off your life So what is the solution to worrying? God's gift of faith.

Trusting your heavenly Father to watch over you and your loved ones alleviates anxiety. Relying on God to provide, food, drink and clothing is better than worrying about how you fail to obtain it all by yourself. Believing God will give you more than just earthly needs is a comfort that reduces your stress. But replacing worry with a trusting faith is not so easy for us overly-concerned human beings.

First, we worry about our life, though we shouldn't. How long will we live? How healthy are we currently living? Your diet and exercise regimen probably could use some improvement. So, do you get on nutri-system and join a gym to begin a new work-out plan? You could, but you'd still die from something eventually. It seems that your life is not really in your hands at all...

Jesus reminds you that your life is really in His hands after all. "Seek first the kingdom of God" Jesus tells you. You are only a resident alien here on earth now for a short while. Your real, lasting home is in heaven with God!. Your life here is temporary, but in Christ Jesus your life above is eternal! For Jesus proclaims you forgiven of your sins, and made worthy of everlasting life in heaven because He died for you, in your place, at the cross. His gospel declares you will live forever with Him in paradise!

Secondly, we worry about what we eat and drink, although we ought not. "You are what you eat" people say. But that doesn't make you Colonel Sanders or Dr. Pepper. You watch the price of groceries go up, while your monthly check doesn't, and you become worried. How will you be able to feed your family? How quick you are to forget that your life is more than your food and drink.

Jesus reminds us that God feeds the birds of heaven each day, without their worrying about it. He feeds you too, but not just your daily bread. He gives you the Bread of Life to eat–the body of Jesus in the Lord's Supper, and His blood in the cup for you to drink. And you need not fear that you will become ill this cold and flu season, for no poison can be in the cup your Physician sends you. For healing from the deadly disease of sin is given you in Jesus' body and blood for your life everlasting!

Thirdly, we worry about what we wear. "Clothes make the man" (or the woman) we are told. But no matter how fancy a terrorist or a serial-killer is dressed in the courtroom, such people are still evil. Yet you worry about your work outfits, or school clothes for the children. You are quick to forget that this life is much more than clothing. For the raiment that God provides is always superior!

Jesus reminds your faith to seek His righteousness as your clothing. Your sin-stained garments are washed clean in Holy Baptism, all of your unrighteousness poured out on Jesus at the cross, where He bore your sins. In their place, you now wear His holy righteousness, a pure white garment as your clothing. That white robe of Christ's righteousness is your eternal raiment for your life in heaven.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#419 Savior, when in Dust to Thee
#760 What God Ordains is Always Good
#732 All Depends on Our Possessing

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Trinity 14 Luke 17:11-19

And it happened in the journey into Jerusalem, and He (Jesus) was going through between Samaria and the Galilee. And as He was entering into a certain village ten leprous men met Him--they stood far off. And they raised voices saying, "Jesus, Lord have mercy on us." And seeing them, He said, "Having gone, show yourselves to the priests!" And it happened as they went they were cleansed. But one of them, seeing that he was healed turned back with a great voice glorifying God, and he fell upon his face at His feet thanking Him; And He was Samaritan. And answering, Jesus said, "Were not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not found (any), having turned back to give glory to God if not this foreigner?" And He said to him, "Having arisen, go. Your faith has saved you."

Today we have the familiar Gospel of healing of the ten lepers. It is often read and preached at Thanksgiving focusing on the surprising reaction of the one, Samaritan leper. But there is a lot more to this story than just being grateful. This is also an account all about blame and credit. First, blame is assigned for the misfortune of these lepers. Then credit is accounted for the miraculous healing these lepers received. But if you misplace either the blame or the credit in this story, you will miss the point Jesus is making.

We begin by looking at the blame. Now, some of these lepers were Israelites–God's children. As such they probably expected the LORD's favor upon them. Instead, they contract leprosy, in some cases at what appears to be no real fault of their own. We would not be surprised if some of these lepers would become angry at God for allowing some of His children to become so ill. They might have questioned how a loving God would allow such pain and suffering for His Own children. But is God really to blame?

A noted Rabbi asked the question "Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?" That's a bad question. There are no good people. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Oh, I know that you might think that you are pretty good as compared to terrorists, murderers, and the like. But God makes no such comparisons. A sinner is a sinner, period, no matter how many or which commandments are broken. That means that each and every one of us deserves leprosy and more, even eternal death as the wages of sin.

But there was One *good* Person to walk the face of the earth. Only one, the second Person of the Trinity. He was good in every way, for He was both God and man. As a man, under God's Law, Jesus alone could keep all the commandments perfectly. He was as good as good can be. But then God did the unimaginable. He allowed the very worst things to happen to the only Good One, who suffered and died on the cross, bearing your sin, its blame and punishment unto the death of forsaken-ness and condemnation.

Yes Jesus took your blame at Calvary for your salvation. Which takes us now to the question of w(W)ho gets the credit. No doubt, Jesus alone gets the credit for the miraculous healing of these 10 lepers. They cried out for God's mercy, and Jesus provided it. But what about salvation? Who gets the credit there? Some would look at the last words of Jesus to the grateful Samaritan leper "Your faith has saved you" as somehow crediting this man...after all, it is his personal faith which Jesus credits for his salvation.

But what is faith? Is it your personal decision to believe in Christ? No! Is it your invitation to Jesus to come into your heart? No! Is it your sincere determination to live a life in service to the LORD? No! Is it your willingness to make Him the LORD of your life? No! Is it your choice to surrender your heart to Jesus? No! God's Word says that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. It is God's gift of believing by the power of the Holy Spirit, that you may trust in Jesus for your salvation.

Faith saves you only because it is the God-given means for receiving His gracious gifts. Your faith is not your action, but your passive receiving of God's gifts. The gift of faith received in baptism prompts faithful parents to bring their children to the washing of water and the Word of the font to receive faith there. Faith draws you to hear God's love in Jesus Christ preached to you from the pulpit this day. The Spirit gathers you by faith around the Altar to receive the body and blood of Jesus in communion for your forgiveness.

So, in this story of blame and credit, things become quite clear. Like the outcast lepers, you deserved all the blame as a sinner before your holy, righteous God. But Jesus took your blame in full at the cross, suffering your death so that, in blessed exchange, you receive His eternal life. All credit for the grace which saves you goes to Christ Jesus, Who did everything under the Law to earn life for you. All credit for your faith also goes to the LORD, who gives you the gift of believing, so that you may be receiving salvation!

Today's hymns from LSB:
#865 Lord, Help Us Ever to Retain
#849 Praise the One Who Breaks the Darkness
#846 Your Hand, O Lord, In Days of Old

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sunday, September 6, 2009 Trinity 13

And look, a certain law-expert stood testing Him, saying, "Teacher, by doing what will I inherit eternal life?" And He said to him, "In the Law, what has been written? How do you read?" And answering, he said, "Love the Lord your God of the whole of your heart, and in the whole of your soul, and in the whole of your strength and in the whole of your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And He said to him, "You have judged rightly; do this and you will live." But he, wanting to justify himself said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" Taking it up, Jesus said, "A certain man was going down from Jerusalem into Jericho and fell among robbers, who both stripping him and striking blows went off, leaving him for dead. And according to coincidence, a certain priest was going down in that road and seeing him, went along the other side. And likewise, also a Levite having come down to the place and seeing, went along the other side. And a certain Samaritan travelling came down to him and seeing was gut-wrenched, and having come forward He bound his wounds, pouring oil and wine, and setting him upon His own beast, He brought him into an inn and cared for him. And upon the morrow, having taken out two denarii, He gave to the innkeeper and said, `Care for him, and whatever you may overspend, I Myself, in My returning I will give you.' Which of these three does it seem to you became a neighbor of him who fell among robbers?" And he said, "The one doing mercy on him." And Jesus said to him, "Go and you yourself keep doing likewise!"

The Good Samaritan parable is told to a single person, but its message is for all, including each of us. It's Law is clear: "Go and do likewise", but its Gospel is the Good Samaritan Himself.

The 1st problem the Law-expert had was his approach to Jesus. He wanted to test Jesus. Oh, he calls Jesus *teacher*, but he hardly acts like a student. He's a know-it-all, and assumes he's Jesus' teacher, and so gives the Lord a test. He wasn't even a nice teacher, since he was hoping Jesus would fail the test, and the law-expert could prove himself to be the superior teacher. Repent of those times you have thought that you knew so much that you didn't need to consult God as your Teacher.

Even though this man was not acting like a good student, Jesus took time to teach him anyway. Christ does the same for you, instructing you with His Word in Sunday School and in Bible Class. He comforts you with His Word in your daily devotions in the Scriptures. Jesus is such a kind Teacher that He even proclaims you forgiven for your poor attitudes toward learning, for He went to the cross to suffer for your rebellious attitudes, punished in your place there for your unwillingness to learn.

The second problem this expert-in-the-Law had was that he was all wrapped up in himself. His initial question reveals this, "What must I do..." As he read the scriptures, this man thought that they were all about him, so he searched God's Word thoroughly for all the Laws it contained. He forgot that this was not *his word*, but God's word. He failed to notice the merciful acts of God by which the LORD would save him. Repent of those times you too have thought everything was all about yourself.

Jesus answers the Law-expert's question...but with two questions of His Own. This man's response to Jesus is half-right. Only by loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and by loving your neighbor as yourself can everlasting life be merited. What he doesn't realize is the only One capable of living life with such perfect love is standing right before him! Jesus kept the Law perfectly for you, and then refused to keep the eternal life He earned, but gave it up at Calvary as a gift to you!

The third problem this Law-expert had was about neighborliness. He asked Jesus who his neighbor was. A 3 year old watching Sesame Street knows this–its the people that you meet each day. But this man wants to limit the # of those who receive his own love. God is perfect and deserves his love, but are sinners and unbelievers (like Samaritans) worthy to be loved? He doesn't think so. Jesus says love them anyway. Repent of those times you have withheld your love for others in need.

So Jesus tells the Good Samaritan story. You would expect the foreigner to be the one in urgent emergency at the side of the road (to test the Law-expert to see if he considers him help-worthy) but Jesus makes the Samaritan the hero. Jesus turns the tables on the Law-expert changing his question into "Who is most neighborly?". Jesus Himself is the Good Samaritan, Who, finding us left for dead in our sins, pays the full price to restore us to life again at the cost of His body given and His blood shed.

Hymns for today from LSB
#887 God, Who Made the Earth and Heaven
#683 Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me
#848 Lord, Whose Love through Humble Service

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday, August 30, 2009 Trinity 12 Mark 7:31-37

And again, having come out of the region of Tyre, He (Jesus) came through Sidon unto the Sea of the Galilee into the midst of the region of the ten-cities. And they brought to Him one deaf and thick tongued and they called Him along in order that He lay the hand on him. And He took him apart, from the crowd, privately He thrust His fingers into his ears, and having spit, He touched his tongue, and He looked up into the heavens; He sighed, and said to him, "Ephphatha!" which is, "Be opened!". And immediately his ears were opened, and was loosened the bond of his tongue and he was speaking plainly. And He ordered to them, that they tell no one. But as much as He ordered them, the more abundantly they kept proclaiming it. And they were abundantly amazed, saying, "Excellently He does all things; and the deaf He makes to hear, and the speech-less to speak!

As the summer draws to a close, vacation time ends. It did for Jesus as well, Who, prior to our text, was able to take a break in the non-Jewish lands of modern day Lebanon. But he returns from His brief respite to the Jewish lands of the Galilee, and quickly He is back to the old grind, as folks begin to come to Him for healing. His time of busy-ness begins with a man with two problems. First, he's deaf, but secondly, he also has an unrelated speech impediment. He truly needs God's help.

His friends and family members have a plan. They want Jesus to lay His hands upon this man to heal him in a way they knew Jesus had done before. But Jesus has a different idea. He could have simply touched the man's head as they asked, or let the man touch His Own garment to channel the Divine energy of healing to him, but He doesn't. Instead, He gets right in there, shoving his fingers into the man's ear canals, and taking saliva from His Own holy mouth to touch it to his speechless tongue.

And what do you know, God's plan works! Even though it was different from the plan this deaf/mute's friends had for him, God's ways proved once again to be the best! And this serves as a lesson to us, in several ways. First and foremost, it is a reminder that our ways are not always the best. We need to pause and consider what God's Word says about His ways of doing things. When we do, we might be pleasantly surprised about how God's plan is so very far superior to ours!

It can be a dangersome thing for us to try to plan out for God how He will do His work in His church... as though it really our church...which it isn't. God wishes to work to cure our ailment of sin through the holy actions of His sacraments. Yet we find ourselves tempted to speak against these forgiving works of God, that they shouldn't be offered too often, or that God should not deliver them in the ways which He wants to give His good and gracious gifts. But they aren't our gifts to give–they're God's!

It appears that we have a deafness of our own, failing to really listen to God and to His revealed will from the Bible. We find excuses to not attend bible classes, or to avoid daily devotions in God's Word, or to not bring our children, grand-kids, neices and nephews to Sunday School. We close our ears to those things God would have us hear and pay attention to. Our ears need Jesus' healing.

Your ears are indeed healed whenever they hear the forgiveness of Jesus proclaimed. You are forgiven each time you hear the message of the Gospel proclaimed from this puplit, for Jesus loved you so much that He willingly went to the cross in your place, dying there in your death, so that you now live forever in heaven. But you don't have to wait till Sunday for your ears to hear this forgiveness. You may come to your pastor and hear the words of Absolution whenever your heart is heavy in sin.

It also appears that we have a tongue problem. Not that it doesn't work, for it finds ample opportunity to gossip, to brow-beat, to lie, and to curse. It is bound to say all the wrong things. It needs to be set free from that bondage by Jesus, so that your tongue can be free to speak what Jesus' Own tongue speaks. That's why Jesus took saliva from His tongue to place it on the speechless man's tongue.

Jesus cleanses your tongue this day by placing more than just His saliva on it. He places His body, given to death on the cross, upon your tongue in the bread; and He places His holy, precious blood, shed for your salvation, upon you tongue when you drink from the cup of Holy Communion. This cleanses your tongue of all its sins, forgiving you, and setting your tongue free to speak what Christ's Own tongue says. This is your confessing, which means to say together, with Jesus, what He says.

Yes, Jesus alone does all things excellently, including opening your ears to hear God's Word of truth regularly, and by cleansing your tongue to confess that truth for yourself, and before others. Amen. .