Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 16: "God Isn't Fair"

+ 16th Sunday After Pentecost – September 24th, 2017 +
Series A: Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:12-30; Matthew 20:1-16
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

Image result for laborers in the vineyard parable

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

We’ve all heard it (or said it) before. On the playground, in the classroom, or at the dinner table…that famous phrase, second only in our early childhood vocabulary to the word NO!

That’s. Not. Fair.

We say it at work, home, school. We say it when we watch news, sports, or our neighbors. We say it when we’re outraged, offended, or scandalized.

That’s not fair.

We hear the same complaint from the workers at the end of Jesus’ parable of The Laborers in the Vineyard.

‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ 

Did you hear it? We worked longer, harder, and accomplished more than those 11th hour bums. That’s not fair.

This parable reveals yet another shocking, outrageous truth: the Kingdom of heaven isn’t fair. But that’s a good thing. Fairness is the Law – you get what you deserve. Grace is Gospel, Good News of outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners – you get what you don’t deserve. And that’s the Kingdom of heaven. If fairness is what gets us into the kingdom of heaven, then it’s all on us. But if God’s grace is what gets us in, then that’s Good News. Salvation is God’s gift for you. The last are first. The guilty go free. Sinners are justified.

When Jesus tells this parable, the fairness police, or the Law-hungry Pharisee within each of us, is offended by this parable. It doesn’t fit into our way of thinking. “You get what you deserve. You reap what you sow. A day’s work for a day’s pay.” That’s how we think. That’s the way of the world, we say. And we expect God to play by our rules. To be fair.

This parable reminds me of another story, C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When the Pevensie children are in Narnia, having supper with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. The dinner conversation quickly turns to Aslan, the true King of Narnia, who would come to defeat the White Witch. When Lucy Pevensie finds out that Aslan is a Lion, she asks, “Is he safe?” Mr. Beaver replies, “Of course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. And he’s the king, I tell you.”

So, what about the Landowner in this parable, is he fair? Of course, he isn’t fair. But he is good.

Listen to the way Jesus begins his story:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. (Think something like 6 AM) Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,  and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went.

Whatever is right, our English translations say. Better said, whatever is good, righteous, or better yet…justified. Remember that word later.

Again, the landowner goes out and does the same thing at noon and 3 PM (the 6th and the 9th hour). He found some laborers still hanging around and hired them for some unspecified just wage. And they agreed. At 5 o’clock, as the sun was setting, there was still work to do. So, he goes to a local bar where some deadbeat losers were hanging out all day doing nothing because no one hired them.

He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
6 PM finally arrives. It’s beer-thirty. The workers head to the steward to receive their money. And here’s where the fun begins.

The vineyard owner lines them up in reverse order, from last to first, from the eleventh hour losers to the first hour workers who agreed to work for a denarius a day. When they eleventh hour workers opened they pay envelope…surprise! A shiny denarius! Wow! One hour’s work and a full day’s wage.
Imagine what happens as the other workers start to hear the news. “He’s paying a denarius an hour!” The twelve hour workers at the end of the line are busy rubbing their hands together. Hmm…a denarius an hour. This is great! But as the workers are paid, reality kicks in. Everyone gets one denarius.
The workers are bumfuzzled at the Landowner’s behavior. But they’re also livid. “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat. Imagine a youth soccer league where the last place team gets the same big trophy as the undefeated first place team, in that order. That’s crazy, ridiculous, not to mention…it’s not fair!
And then the vineyard owner pops the Gospel cork and pours a strong one. “Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me for a denarius a day? Take what belongs to you and go. It’s my money and I do with it what I please. If I choose to give these last ones a full day’s wage, what’s that to you? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
You see, this parable is a story of Judgment and grace. Judgment for those who resent and reject God’s grace. And God’s grace given to all who least deserve it.
Like the workers, we expect God to be fair. But here’s the rub. If we want God to be fair, to deal with us according to our works, our achievements, our accomplishments and all the things we do, then we will be condemned. That’s fair. Those are the terms of the Law. The wages of sin is death. We love to keep score and carry our spiritual punch cards around with us, always comparing and measuring ourselves to others, especially their faults and sins. Thank God I’m not like that murderer, adulterer, homeless guy, illegal immigrant, and so on down our list.

It’s not fair, we say. How can God forgive someone like that? But he does.

Think about it…if God was fair, we’d all get what we deserve.

Thank God that his thoughts are not our thoughts, Nor our ways his ways,” as the prophet Isaiah reminds us. Thank the Lord we don’t get what we deserve.

Thank God, he’s not fair. Because if there’s room in the kingdom of heaven for hookers, murderers, and tax collectors; for Peter the denier and adulterous David, for doubting Moses and faithless Israel, the thief on a cross and 11th hour workers – then there’s room in the kingdom of heaven for me and you.

Like the 11th hour workers in the parable, we live off of the work of another: the Landowner who was crucified at the 3rd hour, who from the 6th hour was hanging on the cross under the heavy burden of our labors, as darkness covered the land, and at the 9th hour he cried out “It is finished” as he died to save you. By the 11th hour Jesus was taken down from the cross and laid in the tomb for you, his work on the cross complete for you.

Image result for christ the vineWith God we receive equal salvation for unequal work. A denarius just for being there, regardless of what you did. Everyone receives the same death and resurrection, the same Baptism, the same Body and Blood, the same forgiveness. All by grace through faith for Jesus’ sake.

So the last will be first, and the first last.

With these words “The first shall be last” – Jesus takes away our pride, and then takes away our despair by promising “the last shall be first”.

We’re the 11th hour workers, the last ones, the losers and failures, the broken sinners who make it into the kingdom by the skin of our teeth.

And this laborer, our savior Jesus, worked his hands to the bone and the nail for you. He worked himself to death for you. He rested from all the labors that he had done for you.
We who are the last ones are made first because He who was first became last for us. In his mercy, Jesus does not give us what we deserved – the wages of sin is death. And in his grace, Jesus gives us what we don’t deserve, the denarius of his forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Scriptures repeat this promise:

God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness. Romans 4:5

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10

Is it fair? No. He’s not a fair God, but he is good and righteous and in Christ you are justified.

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

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 14: "Greatness in Weakness"

Image result for who is the greatest in the kingdom

+ Pentecost 14 – September 10th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:1-20

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

 “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”, the disciples asked Jesus.

It’s a rather odd question if you think about the context. Jesus just finished telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer an be killed and raised on the third day. “What does this mean?”, the disciples wonder. Jerusalem? Suffering? Death? No, no, no Jesus. That’s sounds so depressing. Let’s change the subject to something happier. Let’s talk about the kingdom of heaven instead. And who do you think will be number one?”

It sounds so foolish and oblivious, and it is. But before we utter a collective sigh and plant our face firmly in our palms, remember that we’re really no different from the disciples. We ask this question all the time.

“Who is the greatest?”

Lately, athletes have been quoted saying, “ I want to be the GOAT. Now, they’re not talking about hooved barnyard animals – they want to be the greatest of all time. We think of great athletes like Michael Jordan, Serina Williams, or the Great One Wayne Gretzky, who dominated the court or the ice. In business, we think of Steve Jobs, Warren Buffet, or the Forbes top 100, men and women who build huge companies, employ thousands, and are worth billions. In politics and history, the great figures change the course of events, for better and worse.

We sing along proudly with the song of the times: you can be the greatest; you can be the best. You can be the King Kong bangin on your chest! In one way or another we’ll all like the wicked Queen in Snow White, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” We think of greatness in terms of achievement and accomplishment. Greatness is winning, not losing; success, not failure; power, not weakness.

That’s greatness, at least in the kingdom of this world. But what about greatness in the kingdom of heaven?

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Greatness in a child? Seems like a rather foolish, weak, and lowly example of greatness. You see, in the first century children were considered lowly, and utterly dependent – the opposite of great in most peoples’ minds.

But the kingdom of heaven isn’t measured by achievement. It’s not about the greatness of our religious works or accomplishments, but the greatness found in the weakness of the cross. And so, Jesus teaches his disciples then and now that in the kingdom of heaven greatness is found in littleness.

Little children don’t have much in the way of achievements. They live by grace through faith (trust) in another. They’re “giveable to,” on the receiving end of everything, utterly dependent.

This makes a child a perfect picture of faith. The greatness of faith, trust in Jesus is found in what He has done for you and what He gives to you, that’s greatness in the kingdom of heaven.

Unless we turn and change our way of looking at things, unless we become little we cannot know the greatness of the kingdom of heaven. It’s the greatness of humility, of becoming as nothing. As C.S. Lewis writes, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” As John the Baptizer declares, pointing to Jesus, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

But this was the disciples’ problem; it’s ours too. We want to increase. We want to be great. We want to be kings of our own kingdoms, whether it’s in Christ’s kingdom, or in our daily kingdoms we live in in this world. In other words, we want to be god. We fear, love, and trust in ourselves.

Such is our sinful delusion of grandeur. We are only the greatest at one thing: the greatest of all sinners. We are the lost sheep in the parable. We are curved inward on ourselves, in love with our own sinful thoughts, desires, and deeds. We are dead in our trespasses and sin. We are the ones who deserve to have the millstone hung around our necks and be cast into the depths of the sea.

Thankfully, the kingdom of heaven isn’t about our greatness, or our anything at all.

It is completely unexpected. In the Kingdom of heaven, Humility and weakness are greatness. Little and lowly ones are exalted. Lost are found. Losers are winners. Failures are victorious. The last are first. The least are the greatest. The guilty go free. We who are dead in sin are made alive in Christ. Sinners are justified.

Jesus drives the point home with a parable. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes away, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go searching for the lost one?” Well, what do you think? The world would tend to write that one sheep off as dead.

And yet it’s the joy of the Good Shepherd to seek and to save the lost. He is restless until we are found safe and sound, not wanting one of these little ones to perish.

This is why Jesus became a little child for you so that in his dying and rising he would call you children of the heavenly Father. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for you. Jesus became the least, the last, the lowly, and the loser to place you at his table in the marriage supper of the Lamb.

Jesus became the stumbling block, the stone the builder’s of Israel rejected. Jesus died the cursed death so that you, baptized and believing as one of His little ones, might enter the kingdom of heaven through the small and narrow door of His death and resurrection. Jesus took the millstone of death and our lawlessness and hung it around is own neck, so that he would cast all your sin into the abyss of his tomb.

Jesus sought you in His death and He found you. He baptized you. He absolves you. You feeds you. He sustains you. He carries you to the flock of His Father’s kingdom with the joy of a shepherd who has just found His favored, lost sheep.

This is what true greatness looks like, Jesus crucified for you. The love of God in Christ revealed in the shepherd who is willing to lose everything in order to save one who doesn’t deserve to be saved. You’re that sheep. He came to save you in your helplessness, lostness, death. For the joy set before Him, for the joy of returning you to the Father’s fold, for the joy of forgiving you, for the joy of your salvation, Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame. Jesus wins by losing; accomplishes victory for you by defeat; and brings us his great salvation through weakness and humility.

This is greatness in the Kingdom of heaven. God’s outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners. Greatness in weakness. Greatness in humility. Greatness in forgiving others as God in Christ has forgiven you.

And that brings us to that last part of today’s Gospel reading, greatness in forgiveness, especially among God’s people in the Church. The Church, as Luther said, is a “mouth house of forgiveness.” A place where this seeking, saving love of God in Christ comes to bear on sinners. We have a charge. If your brother or sister sins against you, go to him. The world would have you go to get even. Christ would have you go to forgive as you have been forgiven. Go to him. Tell him with the intent and purpose of forgiving. If he refuses, bring a couple of others. The whole church, if necessary. Can you imagine congregational life if we did this? Can you imagine the impact of the church in the world if we actually forgave one another and sought out opportunities to forgive? Sadly, it doesn’t happen all that often. We leave. We avoid. And in the end, we only cheat and hurt ourselves.

Go to your brother or your sister who has sinned against you. This is what the Church is to be about – binding and loosing. Binding Sin. Liberating sinners. Forgiving; being forgiven.

Jesus is bound to His Church as Bride and Groom. They are one flesh. What she says in His Name, He says. What she does in His Name, He does. And even as small a gathering as two or three in the Name of Jesus has the promise that He will be there too, right there in our midst.

Two or three may not seem like much of a congregation. Certainly not a great one by today’s mega-church standards. But it is a holy quorum in the eyes of the Lord. Jesus is fully present here in the humblest of gatherings with the fulness of His gifts.

Who is the greatest? A little child, a lost sheep, a congregation of two or three, a crucified Savior who comes in the humility of simple water, spoken words, bread and wine. All for the joy of seeking and saving you, a sinner redeemed by Jesus.

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

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 12: "Who is Jesus?"

+ Pentecost 12 – August 27th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 51:1-6; Romans 11:33-12:8; Matthew 16:13-20

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

Identity is one of the buzzwords of our day. Businesses and institutions promote their identity to consumers. Identity politics runs wild on both sides of the political aisle. Many of us have online identities of our real selves on social media. Still, many others self-identify as something or someone else they desire to be. In many ways society is going through a collective identity crisis. Who am I? Who are you? Who are we?

And the more the world continues its death spiral, the more often we, the body of Christ, his baptized people, find ourselves asking similar questions. What is the Church’s identity?

But if we are to know our identity as Christ’s bride, the Church, we must first know the identity of our bridegroom Jesus. If we look to ourselves for answers, we’ll only come up empty, but if we look to Jesus crucified and risen…as St. Paul says, all God’s promises find their yes in Jesus.

And so Jesus asked his disciples:

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

If you walked around Jerusalem, conducting one of those late-night talk show “Man on the Street” style interviews, you’d have plenty of material. The disciples’ initial answer to this question reminds me of that old joke about opinions and peoples’ noses. Everybody has one.

The rabbis of Jesus’ day would say that the “son of man” is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament; some say it’s just another name for human being, while others say it’s a more Messianic title. In the general population, answers would vary even more. Some thought the Son of Man was a great prophet like Jeremiah, Isaiah, or John the Baptist come back from the dead; others thought the Son of Man was a priestly figure, a new Moses or Aaron. Still, others looked at the Son of Man like royalty: Hosanna to the King of David!

If we asked Jesus’ question today, many would answer: “Well, he’s a moral example, an obedient Jew, a miracle worker, an exorcist, a wise teacher, a liar, a lunatic.” Some have even made the ridiculous distinction between the Jesus of history - the carpenter rabbi who was crucified - and the Christ of faith, the guy the church made up. But that’s rubbish. As St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, if Christ is not crucified and risen from the dead, then we are of all people most to be pitied. The “historic Jesus” is the “Christ of faith.”  They are one and the same.

If you think about it, a person’s answer to this question will tell you a lot about what they believe (or what they don’t); it’ll tell you a lot about where their faith, hope, and trust are grounded.

Jesus’ question confronts the disciples with the very essence of the Christian faith. Who is Jesus? Is Jesus just another moral teacher or is he, as he claims, the Son of God come in human flesh to save us from sin and death?

Think about it another way…if you’re drowning in the middle of the ocean, do you need Olympic gold medal swimmer, Michael Phelps, to give you some tips on how to swim a better butterfly stroke? No. You need a big orange Coast Guard helicopter to drop a rescue swimmer, and save you. So, in this world of guilt and shame, sin and death, do you need a life-coach, a guru, or a guide to show you how to save yourself? No. You need Jesus who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried for you.

We need rescue. We need the real Jesus that Peter confesses to save us from our real sin and death.

Jesus turns to the disciples more pointedly and asks. Who do you say that I am? And like that one kid in class who’s always first to raise their hand, Simon Peter speaks up for the disciples, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Though he doesn’t know the full weight of his words, nor understand entirely what Jesus is doing until after his death and resurrection, Peter makes a faithful confession.

And Peter says a lot in this short confession. You are the Christ. You are God’s anointed, his chosen One. You are the Messiah, foretold by the prophets. You are the fulfillment of all God’s promises in the Old Testament for his people Israel and for the world. You are like Moses and the prophets, but greater, for you are the One, true Mediator between God and man. You are the Word of God made flesh, the Son of the living God. You are like Aaron the priest, only greater, for you yourself will be the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. You are like David the king, only greater, for you will reign forever as King of kings from your throne on the cross to the throne room of heaven.

And like all of God’s servants in the Old Testament – the prophet Moses, Aaron the priest, and King David – Jesus is God’s anointed. And this means Jesus is anointed to for a purpose. Peter not only confesses Jesus’ identity – that he is true God and Man – but also that Jesus has come to reveal what the Christ must do, for Peter and for all. To die and rise again for Peter, for you, and for all.

This makes Peter’s confession our confession too. “To confess” means to say back what you have heard, to say the same thing. So, we confess our sins – saying what God says about our sins is true. We confess the Creeds – saying for ourselves and our neighbor what the Scripture teaches and what we believe, teach, and confess as Christians. We confess in our hymns, prayers, bible studies, and preschool, and everything we do in this church and school – Jesus crucified for you. And confession is always God’s gift, just as it was for Peter.

Peter didn’t come to this conclusion by his own reason or strength. Jesus declared, Blessed are you Simon bar Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.

We say the same thing in the Small Catechism: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified me in the one true faith.

But we don’t always confess this do we? No. We do the opposite. We deny. We deny Christ both with our lips and with our lives. With our lives by our attempts to justify ourselves, to be Christ for ourselves, to live as though God did not matter and as if all that mattered was Me. We deny Christ with our lips when we refuse to sing His praise, to confess His Name, to pray, praise and give thanks for what He has won for us. When our worship and prayers falter. We deny Christ in our thoughts, words and deeds.

For these, and for all our sins, we need Peter’s confession. After all, Peter’s confession wasn’t for Peter alone, but for the whole Christian church, for you.
On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Peter’s confession, like his later work as an apostle and the letters he wrote, points us to Jesus, the foundation of our confession and Peter’s. Jesus, our Savior, Redeemer, the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus is crucified and not once does he deny us, but takes all our denial, and Peter’s, along with him to the cross. Jesus, the Christ is anointed to be our sacrifice for sin, so that we would be chosen and called children of God in his cross, through our Baptism into his death and resurrection. Jesus is enthroned on the cross for us so that his kingdom would come to us in his saving word, his comforting absolution, and his healing body and blood.

These words, this saving message gives you a new identity. No longer are you a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve, but you are God’s own baptized child. No longer does God look at you and see denial, sin, and, in Jesus, the Father sees the blood of his only Son, shed for you. Jesus’ crucified is the key that opens paradise for you, and for all. This is your identity: baptized, redeemed, and beloved by our Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Sermon for Pentecost 10: "The Divine Drama"

+ 10th Sunday after Pentecost – August 13th, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Job 38:4-18; Romans 10:5-17; Matthew 14:22-33

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

If you’ve ever been to see a play – perhaps at the Gem Theater – there’s a familiar pattern. The scene is set in the beginning – like Dorothy in Kansas. The following acts and scenes lead the audience to the finale – a romantic tragedy like Romeo and Juliet or a joyous ending like Beauty and the Beast.

In many ways, Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water is like a well-crafted drama. But unlike the stories we enjoy at the theater or read about in books, the divine drama happened, not in a galaxy far far away, but in the playhouse of human history. All the world’s a stage, and in Jesus, the playwright became entered his own play to save man from the great tragedy of sin and death.

And so, Matthew’s purpose isn’t entertainment or to teach a moral lesson. Rather, Matthew reveals who Jesus is and what he has come to do: to save sinners incapable of saving ourselves. Matthew wants us to see how utterly foolish, weak, and dead in sin we are so that in Jesus crucified we might see the fullness of God’s glory, his boundless grace and mercy to save even us.

And so, Matthew sets the scene:

After hearing the news of his cousin John’s beheading, Jesus looked for solitude and prayer. Finally, the crowds are gone. The disciples row their boat. Jesus is alone. Then a notorious evening wind kicks up on the Sea of Galilee. The water is white capped and wind chopped. The disciples struggle against the wind and waves, 3 strokes forward, 2 strokes back. The harder they pull the oars, the harder it is to move. Perhaps life feels that way some days. As Dr. Rosenbladt used to say, “the hurrier I go the behinder I get.”

Already Matthew has introduced the plot and direction of this event. It begins with separation and distance – Jesus on the mountain and his disciples in the boat on the sea – and it will end with nearness and worship.

Meanwhile, the disciples row, row, row their boat wearily in the sea. Exhausted. Fatigued. Then afraid. Around the “fourth watch of the night” (3 AM our time), they see a figure walking on the water towards them.

Now, the disciples were sane and rational men. Four of them were experienced fishermen, not the type to scare easy. They knew that men don’t walk on water. “It is a ghost!” they cried out in fear. Can you blame them? Alone in a boat. In a storm. With a strange figure walking towards them on the water. Who of us wouldn’t be afraid?

Well, seeing isn’t believing, but hearing is. As the apostle Paul reminds us, “faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.” Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.

This isn’t Jesus saying, “Hey you guys! It’s me, chill.” No, these are important, often lost in translation. When Jesus says It is I, he’s saying Ego eimi in Greek. Jesus uses the divine name of YHWH. I AM. The one who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. I AM who I AM.

Jesus is saying, “Have courage. I AM the Lord. Don’t be afraid. And he says it immediately. Take heart. I AM the Lord. Do not be afraid. YHWH in human flesh – whom the wind and waves obey – is Jesus, their Master. In his reassuring word, Jesus gave them everything they needed. Jesus’ Word is enough.

That’s something the church today needs to hear as well. Jesus’ Word is enough. Jesus’ Word and promise in Holy Baptism. Jesus’ liberating verdict of forgiveness in Holy Absolution. Jesus’ presence and salvation in his body and blood. Jesus’ Word is enough.

And yet, like Peter, we doubt his word. We want something more. For Peter, Jesus’ word was not enough. He wanted something more bizarre than Jesus walking on water. Peter answered Jesus and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

What would it take for Peter to believe? Headstands on water? Surfing without a board? No. Jesus’ Word is enough. What does it take for us to trust Jesus’ Word? A church where all the pews are full and the offering plates are spilling over? A bank account full of money and a house full of stuff? A healthy body, good self-esteem, and a perfect spiritual life?

Jesus’ Word is enough.

Jesus spoke one word to Peter. “Come.” But this was no ordinary word. It is the Word from the Word Incarnate. The Word that laid the foundation of the earth, that shut the sea behind its doors, that made the clouds, and said to the proud waves of the Deep “thus far shall you come and no farther.”

So, when Jesus says to Peter “Come” that’s all it takes to bring him out of the boat and walk to Jesus on the surface of the deep.

The sea is a personification of Death, the abyss. In Israel, fishermen feared the sea. The sea was full of the great sea monsters, the Leviathan. It was a picture of death that swallowed you up whole and didn’t spit you out again. So when Jesus walks on the water, He shows not only His lordship over creation but also His lordship over Death.

“Come.” Jesus said. That one word carried Peter from the boat, across the water, to Jesus.
Now don’t try this in your swimming pool or down at Bolsa Chica. We don’t have that word from Jesus. But you have a better word spoken in your Baptism. Justified. Declared righteous before God. Forgiven. Holy. Jesus word does what he says. You don’t walk on water, you live in the water of your Baptism. Drowned in forgiveness. And raised to new life. Jesus’ word in your Baptism is as sure as the word that propelled Peter out of the boat to Jesus across the choppy Sea of Galilee.

And there was Peter, standing next to Jesus, defying everything that Archimedes ever said about floating objects. He looked around at the white caps, and heard the wind. He was afraid. He started to sink. The first time Peter doubted whether it was really Jesus; this time he doubted whether Jesus could do what he said.

This is what happens when we turn away from God’s Word. We sink into Death. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. That’s where Peter’s eyes needed to be – on Jesus. Not the wind, waves, or boat. Jesus. Nothing but Jesus.

Same for us. Look at the world around us, inside yourself, and doubts will rise, fear will grow, and we’ll sink like a stone. That’s why we’re here every Sunday to hear the Word, to receive the Supper. Life is full of countless distractions. Sinking doubts. Paralyzing fears. The folly of our sin. When we lose sight of Jesus in His Word, His Supper, in the gathering in His Name, then we drown.

We drown in despair, in guilt, in fear. We drown in our doubts, our skepticism, our failings and weaknesses. We drown in Sin and Death.

Lord, save me. That’s all Peter could say… That’s the best thing he could’ve said.
That’s all we can say too. Lord, save me. And he does. Immediately, Jesus reached out His hand and took hold of Peter. Whose grip matters the most? Jesus’ hands. The hands that pull you out of the abyss of the grave by being pierced and crucified for you.
Jesus doesn’t say to Peter, “Well, you did ok for a while; but what you really need to do next time is trust me more and have a little more faith.”

Jesus does rebuke Peter, but gently. Oh you of little faith, why did you doubt?
We’re no different than Peter. We’re doubt, despair, and are afraid. Does God’s Word really work? If Jesus is Lord over the wind and sea, will he save me when I call upon him? What if I doubt or despair and have little faith like Peter? What if my faith isn’t even the size of a mustard seed? Will let me sink and give me what I deserve?

No he won’t give us what we deserve; it’s the other way around. Jesus gives us what we don’t deserve: Jesus saves you, like Peter, by grace.

You see, Peter’s faith isn’t given as an example to follow but rather to show that he is weak and sinful like us, so that Jesus’ identity and his grace and mercy are seen more clearly.
And now, the story that began in separation and distance ends in nearness and worship. The disciples worshiped Jesus. Truly you are the Son of God. Jesus would not let the disciples sink or Peter drown.

Jesus won’t let you drown either. Take heart. It is I AM. Do not be afraid.

Jesus comes to us in the fourth watch of our day, when we are weakest. When we can’t pull our oars any longer. When the depths of Death overwhelm us. And He speaks a sure and powerful Word to us: Forgiven. You are God’s own beloved child. You stand justified before God’s judgment seat because He says so. The same Word who caused Peter to walk on the water will raise you up to dance on Death and the grave. You can count on it. You have Jesus’ Word; and that’s enough.

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

Funeral Sermon for Charles L. Gralewski: "Life in Jesus' Word"

+ Funeral Service for Charles Louis Gralewski: November 4, 1936 – July 1, 2017 +
Isaiah 43:1-3, 25; Romans 5:1-11; John 3:16-18
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

For Chuck, words were his life. Like the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul, Chuck spent many years preaching and teaching God’s Word. In his 43 years of sales he used words as he served others in the food industry. And he never tired of reading and studying God’s word, whether it was something from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, or inwardly digesting God’s Word in the book of Romans.

More recently, he shared his love and joy of words with Audrey in their daily life together, their love of receiving God’s Word together, and their conversations and adventures to Hawaii, among many other places. And of course, Chuck’s unforgettable, joyous words of greeting, “Hey, brother!”

Yes, Chuck had a love and joy of words. And yet, as great as these words were, God’s Word was his greatest joy.

That’s because he believed, taught, and confessed, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, that “There is no human word of comfort strong enough to those who have been afflicted by death. It is God’s own word alone which helps us to the right vision of things and which gives us a brave and quiet heart in such troubled times.”[1]

In life and in death, God’s Word was Chuck’s life. The Scripture readings we hear today proclaim God’s salvation, promise, comfort, and life that belongs to Chuck, and to each of you, in his Word. 

God’s Word calls us by name, just as he did Chuck. By water and the Word, God placed his saving name - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – upon Chuck in Holy Baptism, as he does in your Baptism. As the Lord created and formed us in the womb giving us earthly life, so too, he creates and forms us to be his children giving us eternal life in body and soul in those blessed baptismal waters. In Baptism you are, as Chuck is, a new creation in Christ. As the prophet Isaiah declares to Chuck and to you: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

God’s Word calls also us to a life of repentance of our sin while revealing our Savior from sin in Jesus, just as St. Paul declares in Romans 5:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 

Chuck knew that God’s word had plenty to say about our sin; that it separates us from God and from each other; that the wages of sin is death; that we indeed are great sinners. But he also knew that God’s Word had even more to say about our salvation in Jesus, a Savior greater than our sin. A Savior who took our weakness, failures, sin, and death upon himself. The cross is the path to victory. The cross is his triumph over suffering [and our sin and death] (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 92).

For Chuck, and for you, “God is a God who bears. The Son of God bore our flesh, he bore the cross, he bore our sins, thus making atonement for us. In the same way, his followers are also called upon to bear…and that is precisely what it means to be a Christian” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 92).

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

This was the confession Chuck made at his confirmation, throughout his life, and at the end of his life. God’s Word gave Chuck life.

And yet, that is not the end of God’s promises for Chuck or you. God’s Word will continue to be Chuck’s life as well. As God’s Word declares in John 3:

God loved the world in this manner, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

God’s Word is eternal life for Chuck and you as well. For God’s Word is unlike any other word. I may command the lights to turn on but they won’t; I may yell at the stoplight or the referees on TV but it won’t turn green any faster and the ref won’t reverse their call because of my word. But God’s Word, on the other hand, well, his Word does what he promises. God’s Word says let there be light; God’s Word calms the storms, heals paralytics, and raises the dead. And it happens. Jesus speaks and gives life to Chuck and to you.

God’s Word is Chuck’s life and yours yesterday and today…but also tomorrow and every day after, even to eternity.

God’s Word and promise of eternal life is the hope that Chuck died in, and the Word that will raise him and all the faithful in Christ on the Last Day. Everything Jesus did, he did for Chuck, and for you. He died to set you free from sin and death. He rose so that in him you will rise again. And just as the Lord called Lazarus forth from his tomb by his Word, so too, he will call Chuck and each of us from death to life…by his Word.

To quote Bonhoeffer once more…“The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day…I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ…Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own history.”[2]

This is our hope and comfort. We live our life together under the Word of the cross awaiting with our dear brother Chuck, and all who rest from their labors, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, that great and glorious endless day. And in the meantime, God speaks and delivers his strength, healing, and life in his Word; hope, comfort, and salvation in God’s Word; pardon, peace, and promise in God’s Word.

God’s Word is Chuck’s life, and yours - today, and always.

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

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, vol. 13, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007, p. 409.

[2] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, NY: Harper Collins, 1954, p. 54.