Monday, November 10, 2014

Pentecost 22 Sermon: "God Loves A Party"

+ Pentecost 22 – November 9th, 2014 +
Series A, Proper 27: Amos 5:18-24; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If there’s one thing you can tell from hearing Jesus’ parables, it’s that God loves a party. Time and time again, Jesus teaches about a wedding feast, a great banquet, or a Master who threw a party. God is shown as a gracious, abundant host. Heaven is a grand feast – fine wines and rich food. And all are invited.
Today’s parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins is no exception.
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.
Where are these 10 young ladies heading? A party. Why? Because there’s a bridegroom. And where there’s a bridegroom there’s a wedding. And where there’s a wedding, there’s a feast.
This is Jesus’ way of talking about the end-times.
The Day of the Lord is near. The Bridegroom is coming! Jesus spends a good amount of time during Holy Week dishing up three end-times parables for his disciples, leading up to the main course: his own death and resurrection. His crucifixion signals the beginning of the end. But an end we need not fear, because Christ has been judged in our place.
And so the church follows her Lord; these last three Sundays of the church year feature an extra portion of end-times teaching.
Jesus teaches us that his coming will be at an unknown and unexpected time; that Christ’s return – like the Bridegroom in the parable - is delayed; and therefore we should be ready, watchful, and awake in anticipation of Jesus’ coming. For his coming is a joyous occasion.
Jesus’ parable prepares you for his coming. Prepares you for the party.
After all, God doesn’t want a party of one. Our heavenly Father is the God of fellowship. His party needs guests and people to receive and rejoice in his saving gifts.
Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 
Notice that even before the description of “wise” or “foolish” is given, they’re all invited. Jesus’ heavenly banquet, Christ’s death and resurrection that leads to eternal life, is for all people. It would be foolish to reject such a gift. And yet that’s precisely what Scripture says happens.
Wise and foolish in the Bible are ways of saying “believing” and “unbelieving”; faith and unfaith. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
The foolish ones follow the wisdom of the world, the live-by-what-you-see wisdom. They come off as cool and with the times, like they have it all together. “Oil? We don’t need no stinkin' oil. I’ll buy it later. I’m not carrying around all that extra oil. Look at how silly those other girls look.”
Such is the way of folly in this sinful world. The foolish look cool and confident. The wise ones look foolish to the world. We who trust in the Christ, the Bridegroom and have faith in is return are mocked and ridiculed. Because we long for a better party in heaven we are called fools or worse.
And so we’re tempted to join the foolish girls club. We delude ourselves with the world’s wisdom: “Oh, it’s fine; I’ll repent later.” But our foolishness goes deeper. We delight in the wisdom of the world because it’s easier to live that way, and if we’re honest, more enjoyable too. We love our sin. We enjoy living foolishly. We want to get along better with the world; we want the foolish girls to like us. What foolishness. Later may never come. There is a point of no return, when it’s too late, when the Gospel is no longer preached; a time when you can’t go and get oil, when the doors will be shut forever. Five virgins fall asleep and are shut out. Repent. The Bridegroom is coming.
As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 

Everyone is surprised by the Bridegroom’s midnight arrival. It’s unexpected and unknowable. Who would’ve figured that the Bridegroom would be delayed? Who would’ve figured that the bridegroom would show up at the crazy hour of midnight? That’s no time for a wedding party.
Like the Bridegroom’s arrival, Jesus return is also unexpected and unknowable. You neither know the day nor the hour. Jesus’ return may be delayed, but he will come. There will be an end. The Bridegroom is coming.
It’s the Bridegroom’s arrival that shows the wise and the foolish for who they truly are.
Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’
Finally, when the Bridegroom arrives, the wisdom of the wise and faithful is apparent. They had oil to spare. They lived in expectation of the wedding party. They let nothing get in the way, including those terribly unfashionable bottles of oil they were toting along with their purses. They listened to the word of the Bridegroom. They looked and longed for his arrival.
Not so the foolish girls. They look to their own readiness and lamps. The foolishness of the unbelieving is also revealed as they run around looking for oil that can’t be found, and finding a closed door to a wedding party at which they had a place. How sad! How foolish! How unnecessary!
They had trimmed their lamps. Their lamps were low but they were burning. Had they not heard that the Lord would not snuff out a smoldering wick? The problem wasn’t the oil or the lamps. It was that they did not trust the cry that the Bridegroom was really coming. They had everything they needed to greet the Bridegroom and go in. Their lamps were burning even though they were low, but they refused to believe it was enough. They had a place at the wedding party. Christ died for all without exception. They had a seat at the table with their name on it. They were invited to the party. And yet in their foolish figuring, they lost out, they are unrecognized. The door is shut. “I don’t know you.” They sought to prepare themselves to meet Him by their own means, they did not dare to meet Him in their foolishness. This is the height of folly.
The wise, on the other hand, believe the cry. They rise to meet the Bridegroom with rejoicing despite their failure to keep watch. They do look not at their own readiness or their lamps. They look to the Bridegroom and He keeps their lamps burning. They trust the Bridegroom. He will bring them in.
And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’
This is partly why Jesus teaches us about the end times. It’s a warning. Yes, the Bridegroom is delayed. But Jesus will return. The Bridegroom is coming, and soon. When? We don’t know. Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
But Jesus’ end-times teaching also a gives us a great promise…Just as Paul says: Christ died and rose again, even so through Jesus God will raise the dead when he returns in glory…and we will always be with the Lord.
The world’s end may look and sound terrifying but not for you who are in Christ. For you it is joy. We welcome and pray for Christ’s return. We wait in eager expectation for the Bridegroom. And where there’s the Bridegroom there’s a wedding. And where there’s a wedding there’s a party.
God is the consummate party planner. Everything is prepared. God has spared no expense. He has given his costliest gift for you, His Son. Your invitation is sent by the Father, penned in the crimson ink of Christ’s blood, and sealed by the Holy Spirit.
It is the wisdom of the crucified Jesus that saves you. It is the wisdom of his death and resurrection that makes you one of his wise ones, preparing you for His return. A bleeding, suffering, dying man on a cross may look like utter folly to the world, but there is God reveals his greatest wisdom and your great salvation. There Christ becomes the fool to give you his wisdom. There Christ becomes your sin to give you his righteousness. There Christ, the Bridegroom lays down his life to make you his bride, pure and without blemish, holy in his sight. Christ’s death for you guarantees your place at the table. Your name is on the guest list. You’re in – just like the 5 wise girls – by grace alone.
Behold, the Bridegroom is here. Come and meet him.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Funeral Sermon for Delores Pergrosse: "Citizens of the New Creation"

+ In Memoriam – Delores Pergrosse +
June 13th, 1930 – October 25th, 2014
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-7; Luke 2:25-32

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

Jesus once declared that, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
When you look at Del’s life it’s not hard to find what she treasured; and where her heart dwelled.

She treasured her husband and family. She treasured her extended family of animals those she called her own and those adopted. She treasured her work and time in the naval shipyards as well as her countless hours of work for the border patrol and homeland security. She treasured her work around the church, from helping in the office to playing bells and thousands of things in between.

She treasured all of these things because what she treasured most of all was Christ’s gift of faith given her. She treasured so many things, not because of selfish pride, but because God had so generously provided for her in body and soul.

Del treasured our Lord’s death and resurrection for her because on the cross God reveals how he treasures us. In Jesus’ death and resurrection he declares Del, and all people, his greatest treasure. And just in case we’re tempted to forget what Christ has done for us. He gives us the gift of Holy Baptism. As water, Word and Spirit were poured upon Del her Baptism, God was busy declaring to Del: “You are my treasure.”

In Jesus’ death and resurrection, God declares that we are his own people, purchased and won from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. In Jesus you are redeemed by his holy, precious blood and his innocent suffering and death so that we might be his own and live under him in his kingdom. And there is no greater treasure than that.

There’s no doubt that Del was thankful that she was a citizen of this country. She loved this country. She was a patriot.
But there was another country she loved even more.

17 “For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;

Isaiah promises an everlasting kingdom. An eternal country. It is has no borders that need protection and no wars that need navy ships to be built. It is a new heaven and a new earth. No more suffering, sorrow, or sounds of weeping. No more sin. No more death. The former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

Del is a citizen of this kingdom, God’s kingdom. She is a citizen of Christ’s holy nation, his people, redeemed by his death on the cross. She received her citizenship papers in her Baptism, signed in the blood of Jesus, sealed by the Holy Spirit, and stamped with God’s holy name. Holy Baptism is a passport through death. For in Holy Baptism Del – and all the baptized – are united in Christ’s death and resurrection.

So, in Baptism Jesus’ death is yours; and Jesus’ resurrection is yours. Jesus’ death and resurrection forever changes your eternal allegiance. He gives you asylum from sin and death. You are no longer a refugee, lost in the wilderness of this fallen creation. You, and Del, and all who belong to Christ, are citizens of the new creation.

For Del, and for you, Jesus was born as a child in order to make you God’s own child.

For Del, and for you, Jesus made his home among us so that we would have an eternal home with him.

For Del, and for you, Jesus took all of our sin and uncleanness and death so that we might be a holy people, without spot or blemish.

For Del, and for you, Jesus bore our sin, died our death in order to wipe away every tear from our eyes, to bring death to an end.

For Del, and for you, Jesus rose from the grave, so that when we go to our graves we have hope that in Christ, we too shall rise. We too shall join Del, and all the saints, in that everlasting country where Christ dwells with us and we with him.

For Del, and for you, Jesus the King declares: Behold, I make all things new. Jesus’ death and resurrection guarantees our citizenship in the new heaven and the new earth.

That was Del’s hope. This is our hope today. Even in our grief, we rejoice in Christ’s death and resurrection, for Del and for each of us – there is no greater treasure. Today we join in Simeon’s song: Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation.

These words – Jesus’ promises to Del and to you – are trustworthy and true. Jesus is your greatest treasure and you are his. For in Jesus’ death and resurrection you, along with Del, are fellow citizens in Christ’s holy city, the communion of saints.

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


Monday, October 27, 2014

Reformation Sunday Sermon: "Free Indeed"

Reformation Sunday - October 26th, 2014
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Rev. 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

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

 Why do you celebrate Reformation day?

Is it because it’s fun to wear red and play pin the 95 theses on the door? Well, no. Though festive ways of remembering the Reformation are good. But the Reformation wasn’t about fashion statements even if Luther did let his hair grow back on the top of his head.
Is it because it’s a day to pat ourselves on the back for all we’ve accomplished in the last 497 years? No. The reason Luther is such an important teacher of the faith and the reason the Reformation is still celebrated and still needed, is because Luther wanted the church to abide in the word of God, not the works of man.

Is it because it’s like church spring cleaning; time to smash the stained glass windows, topple the statues, remove the crucifixes, and stick out our tongues at the pope and declare our liberation from the papacy, right? No, not at all. Remember, Luther didn’t set out to start a new church; but to reform the church. To bring the church back to abiding in the Word of God. Not a restart, but a return to the true catholic confession of faith. Luther didn’t want a riot, but a reformation. Luther taught Christian freedom, not anarchy. Now, some did riot and revolt; it’s called the radical reformation. They smashed and burned, huffed and puffed and tried to blow the whole house down. They wanted revolution. Luther wanted reformation.
This is why Luther kept, and Lutherans to this day still keep and treasure the practices and ceremonies of the church, things like chanting, vestments, processions, singing hymns, using the liturgy, stained glass windows, and other works of sacred art. Why? Because all of these things point us to Christ when they are taught and used rightly. Luther was a conservative reformer, correcting what was wrong; preserving what was right.

Is it because the Reformation is over and it’s time to party? Well, no. Not exactly. The Church is always and ever being reformed. The Lutheran churches. This church. It’s not simply a once and done deal where you can kick back and relax. There’s always error, always drift, always a little sideways current or wind that blows the Church slightly off course. We too are ever in need of reformation. It’s not about once confirmed always Lutheran or whatever other false security blanket we try to wrap ourselves in. Rather, rejoice in your Baptism. It’s a daily gift, a daily dying and rising, a daily reformation.

Why do you celebrate Reformation day? Because of God’s promises in these words:

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.
For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. 

It doesn’t get much clearer than that. There’s the heart of the Reformation. And the heart of the Christian faith. You, a sinner, are justified, saved by Christ’s death on the cross, apart from the works of the law. Free gift. By grace you are saved. You live by Christ’s mercy, not your merits.

Now that sounds like a reason to celebrate. But there’s more.
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

God’s Word is the common denominator. God’s Word is an eternal gospel, proclaiming that all nations are saved by the Lamb who was slain and lives. God’s Word declares that you are justified by faith apart from works of the Law. God’s Word sets you free from slavery to sin.
Everything is founded on the Word of God. Here I stand – upon God’s Word. So, your Faith in Christ is born of the Word. Faith is fed by the Word. Faith is sustained by the Word. And without the Word, faith dies. Apart from Christ the Vine you, his branches, wither and die.

The Jews answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
What irony. Even as this conversation was taking place, the Jews were enslaved to the Romans. And before that there were the Persians, the Assyrians, and the Babylonians. Oh, and don’t forget that “little” extended stay in Egypt.

How soon they forgot. How soon we forget. As bad as the Egyptians were, there is a worse master: Sin and Death. The truth is, you are a slave to sin, just as Israel was once a slave in Egypt. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.
Whether you’re a son of Abraham or Luther, it doesn’t matter. We are born slaves; captive by Sin and Death. And it’s not just our thoughts, words and deeds. No, it’s much deeper than that. Capital “S” Sin. We’re stuck. We’re enslaved. And we’re powerless to liberate ourselves. Any attempt at self-emancipation only make matters worse. It didn’t work for Luther. It won’t work for you either.

The Law is more than a mirror that shows us our sin; it’s a magnify glass. It reveals and exposes our sin and then silences all of our excuse making and “but it’s not fairs” and our wagging our fingers at the sin of others. By the Law every mouth is stopped, and the whole world is held accountable to God. As Paul goes on to say, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…
But don’t forget to read the next verse. Commit it to memory. And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

It’s true. You are a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sinner. Just like the Jews in Jesus day. Just like Luther. Just like me. But it’s also true that God took your terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sin and placed it all upon His holy, perfect, innocent, and righteous Son Jesus.
The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever.

The Son came down to us. The Son joined us in our humanity. The Son stood side by side with the slave to free us. He paid for your rescue with his own precious blood. He was not enslaved by Sin, He was Lord over Sin. And as Lord, He came under the Law that accuses us, that gives our consciences no rest, which kills us. He took up our Sin and our Death and nailed it all to His cross.
God does not hold you accountable for your sins. Jesus entered our captivity to rescue us. Jesus was bound in death’s chains to bring you life and freedom. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the end of your slavery to sin. For the Son became the slave so that the slave might become the son. And if the Son sets you free, you are free as free can be.

This is what Luther discovered: The joy of hearing that Jesus was not a righteous judge, but one who was judged in order to give us his righteousness; The good news that Jesus came to bestow God’s undeserved kindness and favor upon us, not to be an example of earning God’s favor; The truth of Scripture that grace is not something earned, but given freely.
And today Luther’s joy is our joy.

In Jesus you are free. Free from the obligations of the Law. Free from the Law’s condemnation. Free from enslavement to Sin. Free from Death. Free to live before God as a justified sinner. Free to serve your neighbor in love. The slave is made a son. Should you ever doubt this or wonder if it applies to you, remember you are baptized. Baptism is your adoption paper. Rejoice! You are no longer slaves; but you are sons with the full rights of inheritance. You have a permanent place in the house. And you have a place at the table. Come, eat and drink. Abide in the Lord’s word and promises as his body and blood abide in you for your forgiveness. You are forgiven. You are free.

This is why we celebrate.

A blessed Reformation Sunday to each of you…
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lego Bricks and Apologetics: Imagination, Art, and Sub-Creation, Part 1

Part 1

Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories[1]

Every child builds. Some build castles out of wooden blocks handed down from an older sibling. Some construct forts out of blankets, chairs, and miscellaneous living room artifacts. Some erect mansions and small municipalities out of Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, or any other plaything their grandparents or parents saved for them to enjoy one day. As fun as those pastimes were, my medium of choice has always been Lego bricks.[2]

I received my first Lego bricks from family friends in Michigan when I was two years old. They gave me three five-gallon buckets full of these plastic treasures. And though I wouldn’t get my hands on them for a couple more years, when I finally did, my imagination was awakened by them, captivated by these little bricks with endless building possibilities. Those three buckets were my child-hood equivalent of stepping into a magic wardrobe or the TARDIS. Pieces led to imagination. Imagination led to building. Building led to storytelling. I spent hours in my room and around the house acting out the stories I told with my Lego sub-creations. I followed instructions. Sets were built. Sets were deconstructed. New ideas and creations were built and the cycle repeated. Whole worlds were brought into existence and complex stories formed a strong undercurrent to these creations.[3]

The import of using Legos can be seen well beyond the realm of childhood fantasy. Math teachers use Lego bricks for learning fractions. Engineers and artists use Lego bricks for architecture and design in various scales and styles. Building toys also have positive benefits in the development of a child’s fine motor skills and dexterity, as well as social interaction with other children and adults, stimulation of creativity, and play. And for the visual learners among us, there is always the multi volume The Brick Testament.

But the point here is not to extol the many uses of Lego bricks, but to highlight their importance for the imagination. This is why I enjoyed The Lego Movie so much. The entire movie was about the imagination. And without getting into too much plot detail, in the midst of adventure, humor, and a well-told story, more than one man’s imagination is unlocked or opened – I think “freed” would be the best word – by an act of sacrifice. Yes, I think there is a Christ figure in The Lego Movie. And I’ll give you a hint: this character’s name means ‘truth’.[4] Moreover, there’s a similar progression in the plot of The Lego Movie to what I experienced growing up. Pieces led to imagination. Imagination led to building. Building led to storytelling.

Before the imagination can be used in Christian apologetics the imagination must be set free. Not free to do as we please, mind you. After all, that’s not freedom; that’s anarchy and lawlessness. No, freedom to use the imagination in service to Christ. Many of the 20th Century’s greatest authors did this. J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Dorothy Sayers are just a few that come to mind. Now, the point is not that all Christians need to become best-selling authors in order to use their imagination as an apologetic for the Christian faith. Rather, in our various vocations (or hobbies) God’s gifts of intellect and imagination are put to use to serve the neighbor and declare and defend the Gospel.

A great place to start, or whet the appetite for construction, would be to read Gene E. Veith’s book Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature, or Francis Rossow’s fantastic tome Gospel Patterns in Literature.

And in discussing the writing process, no one describes his own writing in fantasy better than Tolkien. Tolkien defined his own composition, such as we find in the pages of The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion, as a work of Sub-Creation. That’s because he saw himself as a Sub-Creator. Human beings, Tolkien says, do not create things out of nothing. That is God’s work in creation. He alone is the Primary Artist. Man is a Sub-Creator. In his poem Mythopoeia¸ Tolkien describes this idea of Sub-Creation this way:

            Though all the crannies of the world we filled

            with elves and goblins, though we dared to build

            gods and their houses out of dark and light,

            and sow the seed of dragons, ‘twas our right

            (used or misused). The right has not decayed.

            We make still by the Law in which we’re made.[5]


For Tolkien, Sub-Creation is a derivative mode, or aspect, of creation. We make by the law in which we are made. Using Imagination and Sub-Creation, we’ve begun to construct a tool for the apologetic task. In this first segment we find an important first piece – a baseplate – for a tender-minded means of defense, the imagination. The next piece is to examine further Tolkien’s use of imagination and its connection to Sub-Creation. For then we will see how fantasy can clearly reflect reality.


[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, On Fairy Stories, in Tree and Leaf. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001. p. 56.
[2] For the record, the plural of Lego is Lego Bricks, not Legos. And yes, I am that nerdy.
[3] This is similar to the way that C.S. Lewis created and developed the rich background story to Boxen which prepared the way for The Chronicles of Narnia.
[4] Emmet appears to be a variation of the name Emmeth, similar to the character in The Last Battle. Emmeth is also an English transliteration of the Hebrew word for truth.
[5]  J.R.R. Tolkien, Mythopoeia, in Tree and Leaf. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2001. p. 87.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sermon for the Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist: "The Doc is In"

Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

October 19th, 2014 (observed)
Isaiah 35:5-8; 2 Tim. 4:5-18; Luke 10:1-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

In many ways, St. Luke picks up his Gospel account where the prophet Isaiah leaves off. Listen to Isaiah’s words again…

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.

Sounds like a medical transcription report. People can’t see. Can’t walk. Can’t speak. Diagnosis. Prognosis. Treatment. Isaiah depicts the Lord as a divine physician, as the Healer of the Nations.

And so does St. Luke, who we commemorate today. The Good Physician whom Isaiah foretells, Luke records in his Gospel. From Luke’s perspective, the moment Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the sign on the stable door where Jesus is born reads: “The Doc is in”. Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecies. Jesus heals the blind. Jesus opens the deaf ear. Jesus tells the lame to get up and walk.. And Jesus speaks peace, because he is the peace of God in human flesh.

And that’s why he instructs the 72 in Luke 10 to say, “Peace be with this house” as he sends them out as apostles of his peace. Jesus gives his peace won for us on the cross. Reconciliation with God. This peace forgives sin. This is the peace he sent the 12 and then the 72 out to proclaim. This is the peace that Luke writes about in his Gospel. Jesus is a physician of peace.

Now peace may be the last thing on your mind when you go to the doctor’s office. You may not find the medical waiting room a very peaceful place. Oh sure, it might be painted with soothing colors, decorated with toys, magazines, or TVs. But for many, a trip to the doctor causes anxiety, fear, and loathing.

But not so with Jesus, the Good Physician of body and soul. There’s no white coat syndrome with Jesus. No need to fear your Savior. Yes, he knows your history. He knows you are sick. He knows you are a sinner. He knows you are unclean. But none of that stops Jesus. You are precisely why he was born, why he lived, suffered, bled and died.

Yes, your sin causes you fear – and well it should. We can’t say, “But…I’m not quite dead yet”. We’re dead in our trespasses. Cold and lifeless on the operating table. But what is greater, your fear and doubt or Jesus’ cross? Your sin or Jesus’ death that atones for your sin?

Jesus walks in to the waiting room of our fallen world to breathe our poisoned air, and to take our disease of sin and death upon himself, to restore your life forever. The Doctor dies for the patient in order to bring you back from the dead. Jesus becomes the curse of sin for you in order to give you a clean bill of health. All of your sin and death are quarantined in Jesus’ body on the cross. It all dies with Jesus. You are forgiven. You are restored. You are at peace.

And the more we examine our lives, the more we see our sinful condition; and the more we realize we need healing. We need peace.

But in order to get the proper treatment, we need the proper diagnosis. And that’s one of the reasons we give thanks to God for His servant Luke, the evangelist. Luke’s job is to bring Jesus to you through God’s living and active Word.

God’s Word is the scalpel of Jesus, the Good Physician. And he’s an expert Surgeon. With precision his law cuts you and “kills” you, in order to heal you and make you alive.

Each commandment is an accurate incision of the Law.
We have not feared, loved, and trusted God above all things.
We have failed to use God’s name properly and call upon him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.
We have despised God’s word and preaching.
We have not honored our father or mother or other authorities God has given us.
We have not helped our neighbor in support of their physical need.
We have not led a sexually pure life in all we say and do.
We have been dishonest and poor stewards of our possessions and income.
We have not spoken well of our neighbor and explained everything in the best and kindest way.
We have coveted more things and people than we can even remember.

The diagnosis isn’t good. In fact it’s terminal. But Jesus does not delight in torture or punishment. Jesus, your Good Physician cuts with the Law in order to heal with the Gospel. He kills you in order to make you alive. The Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds (Ps. 147:3). All of those commandments you have broken, Jesus has kept for you.

Jesus perfectly fears, loves, and trusts the Father for you.
Jesus called upon God’s name for you.
Jesus heard and spoke the Word of God for you.
Jesus honored father and mother and all authorities for you.
Jesus helped his neighbor in ever time of need for you.
Jesus led a sexually pure life, void of lust and desire and sin, for you.
Jesus was a faithful steward of all God’s creation for you.
Jesus explains everything about you in the kindest way he can, through the lens of his suffering and death. Not a commandment broken for you. All your sickness of sin, Jesus has made his own.

Strange as it sounds, Jesus your Good Physicians turns the scalpel on himself. He stands under the two-edged sword of God’s Word for you. He bears the Law for you. Keeps the Law for you. Suffers the punishment of the Law for you. All so that he can heal you. Jesus is bruised for your iniquities. And by his wounds you are healed.

Jesus is the Great Physician that Luke, the beloved physician, was called to write about and proclaim.

“Peace be to this house”. The 72 give as they receive. Jesus gives them peace. The same peace of God that comes to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, all given to us in Luke’s Gospel.

In Luke 2 the angels sang:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased.

Simeon held the 40 day old peace of God in his hands and declares he can depart in peace.

Jesus entered Jerusalem on his way to the cross amidst the cry: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Jesus makes peace between God and man by his death on the cross.

Jesus spoke to his disciples as he appeared before them resurrected from the dead: “Peace be with you”.

But don’t think that Jesus’ peace is absent from us today. He is not. Thanks to Luke and the other evangelists. Thanks to the 72. Thanks to faithful pastors who are also sent. The peace that Jesus won for you on the cross by shedding his blood, by dying your death, by rising again – all of that is given to you here.

Christ’s Peace be to this house. Peace be with your house. Rejoice! This doctor makes house calls!

Christ’s peace is here. We sing it and say it around the Altar: “The peace of the Lord be with you always”. The peace of Christ comes to you here. Take and eat: Christ’s body. Take and drink, Christ’s blood. Here is the medicine of immortality, an antidote for your sin.

The peace Jesus gives is no placebo. It is real. Tangible as bread and wine, water and words. It is not temporary like our vain efforts at peace. Jesus does not appease sin and death. He destroys it. And in Jesus’ death you live. Jesus takes on your sickness you are restored. You are made well.

And so today we give thanks to God for Luke, the Evangelist. For Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry and for Jesus’ life in the life of the Church in the Book of Acts. But most of all we give thanks to God for Luke, the beloved physician, who points us to the Great Physician of body and soul, Christ our Lord.

For today, the same promise given by Jesus to the 72 also comes to you.

 ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ Peace be with you…and all who dwell here.

A Blessed Feast of St. Luke to you all…

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

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "Old Story, New Ending"

Pentecost 17 – October 5th, 2014
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A, proper 22: Isaiah 5:1-7; Philippians 3:4-14; Matthew 21:33-46

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

Have you ever listened to a song on the radio and thought to yourself…I’ve heard this before (and not déjà vu). Like Vanilla “Ice Ice Baby” and Queen / David Bowie “Under Pressure”. Musicians call it sampling. Old and familiar stuck with the new.

Or when you read a story or watch a movie where The Prince gives up his life for the Princess. The hero dies to save the world. Good overcomes evil. And then you think to yourself: “I’ve read or watched this story before. This sounds familiar.”

Well, that’s what Jesus is doing. He’s sampling an old song from Isaiah “The Song of the Vineyard”. The first verse goes like this:

Let me sing for my beloved
    my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

Fast forward 700 years or so and listen to what Jesus says.

“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country.  When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit.  And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Finally he sent his Son.

Did you hear it? Jesus picks up right where Isaiah left off. Isaiah records YHWH’s song for his vineyard and Jesus sings the same tune in his parable. Jesus tells an old story, but with a new ending.

Jesus told this Parable of the Wicked Tenants right on the heels of his entry into Jerusalem. In fact it’s part two in a trilogy of parables told in rapid fire succession.

There’s The Parable of the Two Sons (the one says he’ll work and doesn’t; the other says he won’t work and doe). The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (where they beat the Master’s servants one after another and then finally kill his son). And the Parable of the Wedding Feast (the king throws a party and invites everyone).

Al three parables this in common: faith and unfaith. Receiving Jesus’ teaching and authority or rejecting it. Falling on Christ the cornerstone in repentance and faith or being crushed by it.

And so this is a parable of judgment. But judgment of what? Of whom?
It is not…A class judgment: rich or poor. An ethnic one: Jew or Gentile. It’s not a labor dispute: about one’s goodness or badness, what they’ve done or failed to do.

No it is quite simply a judgment of faith alone. Faith in Christ or unfaith. Belief in Jesus or unbelief.

When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth? That’s the question. And that’s the basis upon which Jesus tells this parable.

The Pharisees were right when they perceived that Jesus was speaking against them. He was speaking against them. And against the world too. For Jesus stands in judgment against anyone who will not accept his acceptance of the world by faith alone. In other words, judgment is there only for those who would seek to justify themselves, only for those who would look for a righteousness apart from Christ, only for those who put their fear, love in trust in themselves.

That was the problem in Isaiah’s day. That’s why YHWH called Israel a bunch of wild grapes. They had been unfaithful tenants. They abandoned the Lord’s Word and promise for faith in idols of all kind. They were unfruitful tenants as well, neglecting the poor and those in need. They had born fruit of rebellion and unbelief instead of repentance and faith.
This was the Pharisees problem too. They challenged Jesus’ authority at every turn. Disbelieved his miracles and teaching. Abandoned the Word of God for the words of men. Produced the fruit of rejection and rebellion instead of repentance and faith. They wanted Law, not grace. They wanted to be judged by what they did, rather than what Christ was going to do for them on the cross.

How sad. All Jesus wanted was for them to believe, to give up trusting in themselves and trust in him. To abandon all hope of self-justifying and find true hope in Christ who justifies the ungodly.

But no, they wanted to be in control. To tell the Master of the Vineyard to go pound topsoil. Take a hike. Find other tenants.

So he did.

He found you. Jesus took us, wild shoots and non-Israelites that we are, and grafted us into the living branches of his body on the tree of the cross. Just a little water and Word and that’s all it took. Your Baptism plants you firmly into Christ’s death and resurrection. Baptism grafts you into the vine who is Christ. I AM the Vine and you are the branches, declares the Lord.

So, what kind of tenant are you? Faithful or unfaithful? Fruitful or unfruitful? Truth be told, we are both. In this life we are saint and sinner. Like the Pharisees and the Israelites of old, we’ve abandoned the Lord’s Word in favor of the words of men. And though they sound comforting and enticing, they bring only death. We have been unfaithful tenants of the Lord’s vineyard: our prayers and study of God’s Word falters. We have not loved others as ourselves. All we like wild grapes have grown sour in our life and conversation with our neighbor. Instead of bearing fruit in love for our neighbors, in caring for their needs or giving them a word of Good News, we’ve born fruit to devour for our own sinful appetite. Sin is a deadly appetite for destruction. In Adam we are all dead, lifeless, unfaithful, unfruitful branches fit only for the fire.

But in Christ you are alive, a living sacrifice for your neighbor, faithful to the Lord, and fruitful in good works that Jesus prepares for you to walk in. In Christ you are faithful tenants who listen to His voice and hear him faithfully. You hunger and thirst for righteousness from Jesus’ Word and Jesus’ table. In Christ you bear the good fruit of love and humility towards your neighbor, not asking what you’ll get in response but simply for the joy of giving. In Christ you are humble and selfless because you are alive in him and he is alive in you through the first fruits of the Spirit given to the Baptized.

And so this parable is both warning and promise for us.

Warning us not to be unfaithful tenants. Warning us to flee the fruit of unbelief and rebellion and rejoice in the fruit Christ provides: repentance and forgiveness.

And also a promise. What more could the Master do for you his vineyard? He sent prophets and apostles. And finally, he sent Jesus, his Son. For you.

Here’s the new twist to the old song, the new ending to the familiar story.

“Let’s kill the son,” they said, “and the vineyard will be ours.” Those wicked tenants were right! The Son of God is killed and his inheritance is yours.  Christ’s rejection for your reconciliation. Christ’s faithfulness to cover your unfaithfulness. Christ’s fruit of salvation from the cross to forgive the fruit of your iniquity.

Jesus takes the punishment of Israel’s sins, of the Pharisees sins, yours and mine – he takes it all on himself as he is thrown outside the vineyard walls of Jerusalem, beaten, and killed. The Son is devoured in death and destruction for his vineyard. The precious Vine withers and dies to give life to dead branches. Jesus is the faithful tenant for you. Jesus bears good fruit for you, and sends the Holy Spirit who works in you to keep on bearing fruit with repentance.

This is what Jesus wants more than anything: to give you his vineyard, fruit, and wine, the joyous harvest, his bountiful goodness and steadfast love.

Jesus excels at giving. He died to give you life. And he lives to sustain your life. His holy fruit is your sustenance: Holy Baptism is your divine irrigation, a water tower flowing with forgiveness to cleanse your sin. Holy Absolution opens the kingdom of God to you; you are a forgiven and faithful tenant. Holy Communion is your banquet table: taste and see that the Lord is good as you eat and drink his body and blood.

And the wonderful thing about these gifts - the fruit of Christ’s victory from the cross to you, the Good News that we are found in Christ not having a righteousness of our own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, that we are given the righteousness from God that depends on faith – well, that is the one story that never gets old and never ends.

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