Monday, October 17, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 22: "Divine Persistence"

22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 16th, 2016
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Genesis 32:22-30; 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Luke 18:1-8

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

And he told the disciples a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 

Not lose heart.

Seems easier said than does these days.

We watch this current election year unfold and we lose heart in politicians and earthly governments.

We hear the news reporting the unthinkable number of children murdered by abortion, the constant change of human sexuality and marriage, in ways we never imagined…and we lose heart in our culture and humanity.

We see the Christian Church on earth plagued with errors, deception, and apathy – not to mention just plain goofiness…and we lose heart.

And if all that wasn’t enough, friends and loved ones die, disease ravages our bodies and our minds, our own sinful flesh and the devil look for every chink in our armor, waiting to launch fiery arrows of doubt and despair our way. And we lose heart in ourselves – in our standing before God. If this parable teaches us to be persistent in prayer, I’m a failure. The only thing I’ve really been persistent at is being a sinner.

Yes, it’s easy to be discouraged and lose heart in this life.

That’s why Jesus tells us this parable. And unlike other parables, Luke tells us right from the beginning what the parable is about. It’s about prayer and God’s promises. It’s about persistence. Certainly the persistence of the widow, which Jesus wants to teach us as the way to pray to him. But not as a method of earning his favor or appeasing him, rather because he is even more persistent in divine mercy to you. If the widow is persistent in prayer, our Lord is even more persistent in his love for us.

This parable – like all the others - is all about Jesus. He’s at the center of it – not really our persistence and prayer – though that is part of his purpose in this parable. But Jesus gives us this parable so that we may not lose heart.

 In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man.

Admittedly it’s a bit of an odd parable at first reading. This judge neither feared God – meaning, he was not a believer in Yahweh; he was a gentile. And apparently one who didn’t care too much for his fellow gentiles either.

In a great stroke of story-telling genius, Jesus uses the example of this bad judge to illustrate the goodness of God. Jesus uses the unjust judge to reveal the great mystery of God’s justice in Christ’s death and resurrection. Jesus uses this parable of the unrighteous judge to teach us about his great righteousness in his death and resurrection for you.

But the unjust judge isn’t the only character in this parable.

There was also a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’

Now we might think the widow an odd choice for a main character. Compared to the judge, the widow had little power or prestige in ancient Israel. She was vulnerable, helpless, and would have been considered by many to be a loser or better off dead.

But she had this going for her. She was persistent. Over and over she kept coming to this judge, who had no regard for her or for justice, but she persisted because he was the only way that she could be vindicated over her adversary. Even when the judge kept postponing her case, she just kept coming to court. 

She wrestles with this judge like Jacob wrestled with God. She won’t not be given to. Reminds me of something Martin Luther once said about taking God’s promises and rubbing them in his ears when we suffer.

But as persistent as this widow is, or Jacob was…Jesus is even more persistent. It is good to be persistent in prayer, but that is a fruit of faith, not a foundation for your faith. Your faith does not rest in your prayer but in Jesus who prays for you, and more than that…died and rose for you so that all your prayers might be heard, so that you are God’s dear children and call upon him as dear children call upon their own father.

And how did this unjust judge respond to the widow’s persistence?

For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’”

The Greek in this last part is far more exciting. I will give her justice – or vindicate her - so that she will not keep coming until the end and give me a black eye.

This is why he’s called the unjust judge. When he finally does decide to take this widow’ case, he doesn’t do it because it’s right or just or because of duty and calling. No. He’s tired of the widow bringing her case to his courtroom day after day. He’s worried she might haul off and give him a black eye. He takes the case just for his own convenience just so the widow will leave him alone.

Again, Jesus uses the example of this bad judge to illustrate the goodness of God. Jesus uses the unjust judge to reveal the great mystery of God’s justice in Christ’s death and resurrection. And it’s an argument from the lesser to the greater.

God is not a corrupt or crooked judge. He is righteous and holy and infinitely wise. But if the unjust judge, who only worries about his own convenience and couldn’t care less about this widow does give her justice in the end - how much more will God who is just and righteous forgive our sins and justify the ungodly? If the unjust judge vindicates the widow, how much more then will Jesus who judges in righteousness vindicate us by his dying and rising? He will. He does. Speedily. For you.

And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?  I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. 

What kind of Judge is Jesus? Just. Righteous. Infinitely merciful to you. He is Gracious and slow to anger; abounding in steadfast love for you. He is not bothered by our persistence but welcomes it. He is not worn down by our prayers and petitions, but promises to hear them.
More than that, he has already fulfilled them all. That doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed an answer to every prayer – at least not the answer we want. Our prayers are not like a baseball batting average, scoring God’s performance based on how well we think he answers. Rather, we pray, “Thy will be done”. We pray knowing we have a righteous judge in Jesus.

For if God did not spare his own Son how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things?! He will. He has. All for you in Jesus’ death for you. That’s the kind of judge you have – the kind who was judged in your place. Jesus bore the punishment of sin and death for you. Jesus is not pestered by our prayers and petitions, but calls us to wrestle him like Jacob, rub his promises back in his ears, and refuse to let go until he blesses us.

And he does. Jesus brings rescue to you speedily. Even as he told this parable he was dead set on going to Jerusalem to die for you. To pray for you on the cross: father, forgive them for they know not what they do. To vindicate you in his death and resurrection. To rise from the dead for you. To ascend for you and plead and pray for you before the Father day and night. You have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one, who was judged for you. Case closed. The verdict is in. You are not guilty. You are forgiven. You are released from sin and death. You are free.

And today the righteous judge Jesus brings rescue to you speedily. He declares you righteous and holy in his Word of absolution. He covers you in the robes of his righteousness. He bursts the bars of death’s prison from inside the grave for you. And he feeds you with his righteous, justifying body and blood here.

And so, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?

Yes. He will. Jesu gives you faith and persistence to pray to him at all times. And the Son of Man, your righteous advocate and justifying judge comes today to feed you, heal you, forgive you, and vindicate you.

Yes, it is good to be persistent in prayer. But do not lose heart. For Jesus is all the more persistent in saving you.

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 20: "You Are What You Eat"

+ Pentecost 20 – October 2, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, proper 22: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:1-10

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

It’s church picnic day here at Redeemer. Today we’re reminded again that all of God’s gifts from his table to ours, comes from him. Give us this day, our daily bread, we pray. And he does. God gathers us, feeds us, and provides for all our needs. First the food of God’s Word, then the food that fills our stomachs and gets us ready for a Sunday afternoon nap.

In fact, all this food talk reminds me of something we’ve all heard before – parents, grandparents or others…

“You are what you eat.” 

Our parents were right all along. Biscuit and Gravy flavored potato chips and a cold, crisp Coke may taste great, but it’s no steady diet. What goes into our mouths may not corrupt our hearts spiritually, but it certainly may affect our health. What we eat matters.

But this isn’t a sermon on the next greatest Christian dieting fad; and I’m not called to and ordained to be America’s next Food Network Star. For man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Yes, even at Church, you are what you eat. 

And if what goes into the mouth matters, what goes into our ears matters even more. Words matter – specifically God’s Words to us. And so the words we use in our teaching and preaching matter.  The words in the liturgy and music matter.

This is how and where God feeds us -  with His very own Son in flesh and blood. Jesus, present for you in the Word that turns ordinary water into a sin-cleansing flood. Jesus’ Word that feeds you with his body and blood in and with ordinary bread and wine. Jesus’ word that takes an ordinary sinner like yourself and gives you his pardon and absolution. You are forgiven all your sin. This is the main course that God calls Redeemer to serve up week after week, whether we’re gathered in the park or in our pews back on Springdale St.

Follow the pattern of sound words, St. Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy. It’s like when you cook: follow the recipe. Follow the pattern.

And so we listen to Jesus’ words, even when they are hard to understand – as they are today.

“Temptations to sin are sure to come but woe to the one through whom they come!” 

When you hear “temptations to sin” think of the word–scandal, offensive, stumbling block.  Scandals of faith will surely come.  They are as sure as the devil, the world and our old sinful flesh.  Where there is faith, some kind of scandal or temptation will seek to lead you astray.  Where the Lord gathers you, his flock, there’s a wolf trying to devour the sheep.

And that wolf also loves to use words. Word that are twisted, full of lies, half-truths, and despair. Jesus warns us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. It was by twisting and changing God’s Word that the devil first tempted Adam and Eve as well.

So Jesus warns us again…

“Woe through whom these temptations come…It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” 

This is why at ordination, pastors vow to conduct all our preaching and teaching in conformity with God’s Words and the Lutheran Confessions. It’s why at your confirmation, each of you confessed that you would suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from the confession of faith in Christ – in his Words.  That’s how serious Jesus is about His Word. His Word is your life.

  “Follow the pattern of sound words.”  Follow the recipe. Hear the Words.

And yet we know how hard this can be. It is much easier to preach a Christianity without mentioning those ugly things like sin and death than it is to confess that I am a poor miserable sinner. I have sinned in thought, word, and deed. It is far easier to follow the pattern of best-selling authors and hear about positive thinking or victorious Christian living than it is to join Paul in confessing: We preach Christ Crucified. It is far easier to listen to words like we’ve all heard before: “Jesus was a good teacher, but not God”…or…”That’s not what I feel God’s Word says about __________.” – than it is to follow the pattern of sound words in Scripture. Yes, a Christless, crossless, sin-free Christianity is easier to talk about, think about, and worship. But there’s just one problem.

It’s not the Gospel any more than Twinkies and hot-pockets are a source of good nutrition.
Jesus isn’t Jiminy Cricket. Jesus isn’t a new Moses with 10 laws for a better Christian retirement portfolio. Jesus isn’t a spiritual coach or guide or a great moral teacher, your homeboy or your cheerleader. He’s your Savior. Redeemer. Lord.

“Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the pattern of sound Words for eternal life.”

Jesus says, “Temptations to sin are sure to come”. In other words, “Sin happens.” And it would be better if a huge millstone were hung around our necks and we were thrown Godfather-style into the ocean than if we were to cause someone to sin. True, our sin needs rebuking. Repent…and rejoice. For God’s love for you is greater than your sin. He forgives you all your sin.

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

Did you catch that? You will forgive him. Like St. Paul’s words in Romans 5: “Now the Law came to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” What’s greater – your sin or Jesus’ atoning death on the cross that covers your sin? It’s Jesus’ blood, cross, and death – every time. It’s no accident Jesus uses the Biblical number 7 – the same day that creation was completed and called perfect and whole. Or like the disciples ask Jesus, how many times shall I forgive my brother, “seventy times seven.” Forgiveness without limit. Forgiveness that makes you whole and restores you in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

This is why God has placed Redeemer Lutheran in Huntington Beach; it’s why he’s placed you in the communities where you live. This is why we have a preschool, Bible studies, and weekly confession and absolution – public and private. This is why we baptize adults and infants and everyone in between. This is why we want to celebrate the Sacrament of the Altar more and more. Because more hearing and more receiving of Jesus’ Word and body and blood means more receiving forgiveness. And the more we receive God’s word of forgiveness, the more we want to speak that forgiving, life-giving word to others.

These two things – repentance and forgiveness – these are what the church is given to do –all day, every day, every week, every service, in every age at in all places for all people. Repent and hear the Gospel. Repent and receive his absolution, his body and blood, his mercy and grace. It’s like your shampoo bottles: rinse and repeat. Follow the pattern of sound words.

And with the disciples we pray, Lord, increase our faith.

And the very faith you need, Jesus gives. You see, to be a disciple of Jesus isn’t to ask for the faith to work the kinds of miracles Jesus did. Nor is it to look at your faith and say, “Wow, that’s impressive. What a good Christian I am.” Rather, to have faith in the miracles worked by Christ is to see that Jesus gives you the greatest miracle of all – faith in his Word. Life by his Word. Strength to live by his Word.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. All of your rebuke, Jesus bore in crimson stripes so that you would receive forgiveness, not once or twice, but 7 x 70.  Jesus cannot deny Himself. He loves, saves, and forgives you. Jesus, who knew no offense of sin, became the most despicable sinner for you. Jesus redeems you from the curse by becoming the curse for you. For us unworthy servants Jesus took a servant’s form. Your life is buried and risen in Him: heaven, life and salvation, carved out for you in the flesh and blood of Jesus, your Savior.

All of our sin – our boasting in our own faith and our lack of faith – it sinks to the bottom of the font. Jesus took that millstone that was around your neck and threw it around his own for you. Jesus uproots your sin and plants you in the tree of his cross, your tree of life.
Follow the pattern of sound words, Jesus’ words for you.

Jesus’ Word that proclaim: You’re forgiven. Jesus’ word that washes away all your sin. Jesus’ Word that declares you righteous by faith in Christ. Jesus’ Word that fills your hungry sin-ridden bodies with His body and blood. Jesus’ Word puts the devil to flight and quenches your sin-parched lips with the cup salvation dripping. 

In Jesus, you really are what you eat.

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

Monday, September 26, 2016

Sermon for St. Michael and All Angels: "With Angels and Archangels"

+ St. Michael and All Angels - September 25th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Daniel 10:10-14; Revelation 12:7-12; Matthew 18:1-11

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

We read and hear about angels throughout Scripture. In the Old Testament they were sent into battle ahead of Israel’s army, they surround God’s throne room and sing His praise in Isaiah 6.

In the New Testament an angel announces Jesus’ birth to Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist’s birth to Zechariah, and a whole heavenly host appeared to the Shepherds by night to proclaim the birth of a Savior for them and for you. And later, at Jesus’ resurrection, an angel sat on the stone and declared Good News: He is not here; he is risen!

Do you see a pattern there? Angels are God’s messengers. Angels are God’s servants. Angels point God’s people to Jesus. Angels speak, sing, and proclaim Jesus.

And so…today the church is not celebrating “Touched by an Angel” day, nor are we celebrating “Angels in the Outfield” day, or even “Charlie’s Angels” day. It is the lesser known and perhaps even lesser celebrated festival of St. Michael and All Angels.

Admittedly, it’s a bit of an unfamiliar church festival. St Michael isn’t one of the disciples, though he does our Lord’s bidding. He isn’t an evangelist, though he is a messenger of the Good News. And he’s not like the saints of old who were martyred for the faith, though he is a witness to Christ all the same. St. Michael is an angel.

Every Sunday we confess God’s creation of the angels in the Creed. God is the make of all things visible and invisible. And that includes the angels.

And just so we’re clear, angels are nothing like the cute, cuddly pictures we see on Hallmark cards or TV. Isaiah didn’t run up and pinch the cherub’s cheeks and St. John would never have dreamed of giving a noogy to the seraphim. No, angels are not the romanticized creatures we see in most paintings or cartoons. They’re really a bit more like Jedi Knights, or the elves and good wizards of Middle-Earth, or perhaps the Army Rangers or Navy SEALs. They evoke a sense of fear and reverence, awe and holiness whenever they appear.

That’s why the first thing out of their mouths is almost always: “Do not be afraid.”
And the next thing they have to say is some kind of message. After all, that’s their job. Angels waste no time talking about themselves. They have a message to deliver. Angels want no worship or attention focused on them, only that we hear the message.

Like Zechariah who heard the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth. Or Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds who heard the good news that a Jesus was born to save us from our sins.
And so, just like every other major or minor festival day of the church year, today really isn’t a day to celebrate St. Michael just for St. Michael’s sake; it’s about Jesus. There’s a ranking. Michael and all angels understood that, Satan did not. Jesus is the Lord God of Sabaoth, the commander in chief of the heavenly armies. Jesus gives the orders and the angels do his bidding. That’s their job. They’ve no action apart from God’s bidding. God sends. The angels speak. Their task is simple: declare the gospel, and defend God’s people.

Sound familiar? It should. That’s why God calls and ordains pastors to serve his church. God sends and we speak. We’re his messengers sent to do his bidding. Declare his Gospel. Defend the faith. Jesus is our captain and we are his foot soldiers. And our orders are simple: we preach Christ crucified.

But of course, angels and pastors aren’t the only ones called to be messengers of the Good News. As the Apostle Peter writes, we are always being to be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).

So, God sends you to your neighbor, friend, or family and you speak. In your callings – your various vocations – God sends you to do his bidding, to declare the Gospel. Defend the faith. To love others as he has loved you in Christ. To forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. To be messengers of God’s mercy in word and deed. Jesus is the Captain, and you are his soldiers. He is the head and you are the body. He is the bridegroom and we are his bride. O Lord, open our lips and our mouths will declare your praise.

After all, we cannot and do not slay the dragon. Jesus has already done that for you. The devil may scowl fierce as he will; he may fool you into thinking you’re alone on the battlefield, that you’re not the good Christian you promised to be at your confirmation, that you’re better off like Elijah hiding in a cave or Moses stuttering away in fear, or that when God’s Word is declared nothing is happening. But he’s wrong, dead wrong. And besides all that, Satan is still an angel…and a liar…and he’s defeated.

Michael fought Satan and won because Jesus is the boy the devil had feared ever since the Garden of Eden.

We too fight – not against flesh and blood – but against the rulers and authorities of this present darkness. We fight against the devil’s cunning as he sends wave after wave of false teaching. We fight against the devil’s assault on marriage, human life, male and female, and a host of other battlefields. We fight against the devil’s insurgence in our pews, our homes, and his attempts to capture the throne room of our hearts.

But this is St. Michael and All Angels day. And that means you are not alone in the foxhole.
For… the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.

Satan is conquered. Your sin is defeated. Death is destroyed. And you are victorious, just like Michael was…all because of Jesus.

And so the closer we are to Jesus, the closer we are to his angels. That’s what we sing every Sunday too, isn’t it…with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven…
You want to see angels? Go to the Lord’s Supper. Search the scriptures. Hear the absolution. Receive the forgiveness of sins. Remember and live in your Baptism. For there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than a thousand who need no repentance.

Today we rejoice in God’s gift of angels. And we rejoice all the more in the message they bear: Jesus born for you. Jesus crucified and risen for you. Jesus ascended for you. Jesus living and reigning as the Lamb who was slain and lives for you. Today really is about Jesus, the one to whom all angels, all pastors, and all people look to as Lord, Savior, and Redeemer.

Do not be afraid. Behold I bring you good tidings of a great joy that will be for all people. For unto us is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus the crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, just as he said.

A Blessed Feast of St. Michael and All Angels to each of you…

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

Monday, September 12, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 17: "For the Love of Losers"

+ 17th Sunday after Pentecost – September 11th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 19: Ezekiel 34:11-24; 1 Timothy 1:5-11, 12-17; Luke 15:1-10

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

We don’t like losing. Oh, sure, we’ll be polite and say things like “It’s only a game”, “better luck next time,” or “at least you had fun”. But deep down we don’t like to lose: not a card game with friends, not a rivalry game with our favorite sports team, and especially not when we lose something a bit more important like a job opportunity or an important client.

And then there’s all those times we lose our car keys and search the house in frustration, or can’t find your phone, or worst of all, your child’s favorite toy or blanket is missing and pandemonium sets in until it’s found.

No. We don’t like to lose.

And the whole of Luke 15 - all three parables - is about lost things: one lost sheep, one lost coin, two lost sons.

These three parables are stories of grace through and through. Not a word of earning or merit, not even a breath about rewarding good behavior or self-improvement. Not even the slightest hint of being a Christian super-hero and or positive thinking. There is only the outrageous, gracious, saving determination of the shepherd and the woman and the father – all figures of God - who raises us from the dead, finds us in our lostness, and gives us victory though we were losers.

St. Paul says it this way in 1 Timothy: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

And this is precisely what upsets the Pharisees so much at the start of Luke 15.
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

The Pharisees were the A-listers. The celebrity pastors of their day. Respected. Revered. Religious. And…they also didn’t like to lose. And they certainly didn’t like a guy running around claiming to be the Messiah who happened to make a regular habit of eating and drinking with losers, outcasts, sinners, and lawbreakers. They were healthy. They were the righteous ones. They were the winners. Or so they thought.

But we’re not all that different. The prophet Ezekiel was right about us. We muddy the clear water of God’s Word with all kinds of dirt – from our thoughts and feelings. We push with side and shoulder against one another till we get our way. We butt heads with our horns against the weak – no perhaps not physically but certainly in the way we treat one another, and definitely in how we think about others around us. Like the Pharisees, we don’t like losers, and we consider ourselves to be big-shot winners. Don’t think so? Seems like that’s all the more evidence that we are.

This is why when we confess our sin we aren’t admitting our mistakes and promising to be on our best behavior. Church isn’t a rehabilitation facility for sinners. It’s a hospital where Christ heals us in his body and blood and, a rescue center where the lost are found, the dead are brought to life.

Thankfully, we have a God who loves losing; and loves losers, sinners, and outcasts like us even to the point heading straightway to a losing, outcast, cursed death on the cross for you.
It may sound strange, and it may be the opposite how we think. But that’s how God works – opposite of what we expect, deserve, or think.

God specializes in rescuing the lost. In raising the dead. In snatching victory from the jaws of death. All for you.

Think about it in the context of the Luke 15 parables. The lost sheep would be considered dead. A lost coin is a dead asset. And a lost son is a deadbeat son who wanted his father dead. Lostness and deadness go together in these parables.

That means that the entire rescue operation for you – just it was in both stories for the sheep and the coin – is found in the determination and work of the shepherd and the woman to find the lost. Jesus seeks, finds, and rescues you.

What do we contribute to our rescue? Our lostness, deadness, and sin. Jesus does it all, accomplishes all, completes, fulfills, and makes it all happen for you.

And to make his point even clearer to the Pharisees and us, Jesus tells a parable:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?  And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.

Notice that the sheep didn’t do a blessed thing other than being lost. And more importantly, the shepherd does everything. Finds the sheep. Rescues the sheep. Carries the sheep home. And throws a party. So it is for us. All we do is lose, sin, find ourselves in need of rescue. And along comes Good Shepherd Jesus. He finds you in your lostness. Rescues you from sin. Carries you home. And throws you a party. The angels rejoice in heaven. And we rejoice with them.

But there’s something unexpected about this shepherd. If you’re looking at this parable as a how-to guide for running a successful sheep-ranching business, you’re missing the point. Think about it: 1 sheep out of 99. What’s so important about the one sheep? He has 99 others. Most fishermen would call that dead loss. Why leave the 99 in the open country where they could run off too? One lost sheep is no big deal. But it is to Good Shepherd Jesus. It’s personal. You matter.

 “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?  And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’  Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Again, the saving, rescuing, and finding is personal to Jesus. One sheep. One coin.
1 coin out of 10? What’s so important about that one coin? It’s not like it was her last mite. She had 9 others. Even us who don’t like to lose would consider that an acceptable profit loss. But not Jesus.

You matter enough for him to come and rescue you himself. You matter enough that he refused to write you off as dead loss or a dead asset, but instead makes you the object of his seeking, saving, and life-giving love. God turned over every rug, looked under every pillow, sofa cushion, and turned over his grave stone to find you in your lostness. Your value is not in how you see yourself or even how other see you. Your value is not in whether you are a winner or a loser, but in Christ Crucified, in the cross where Jesus finds you. Seeks you out. Rescues you. Delivers you. And carries you home.

These are parables of 200 proof, radical, outrageous Good News for undeserving sinners like us. We might even call the Gospel here absurd. Not absurd in a silly, Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory kind of way. But absurd as in the unexpected; the opposite of what we think.

It’s the happy ending of a story you didn’t see coming. It’s getting an A when we deserved an F. It’s the prodigal/lost son who gets the shoes, the signet ring, the family robe, the inheritance, and a party on top of it all.

It’s Jesus, the Shepherd, who lays down his life to rescue us lost sheep.

It’s Jesus who loses his life to find you.

It’s Jesus the rich one who becomes poor so that by his poverty you are made rich.

It’s the God who loves you with an all-consuming love that drove him to the cross to save you.

And so today the angels rejoice as we rejoice in losing – losing our sin, losing our life, losing our death – and being found by Jesus. We rejoice that the Pharisees were right about this: Jesus eats and drinks with sinners. We rejoice in the God who loves losers enough to become one for us.

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

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 15: "The Feast"

+ Pentecost 15 – August 28th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 17: Proverbs 25:2-10; Hebrews 13:1-17; Luke 14:1-14

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

Whether it’s a Superbowl party, a Star Wars marathon, a church potluck, or even a smaller dinner with friends – say something like dinner for 8 here at Redeemer - we love a good opportunity to gather around the table or tailgate or the TV with friends and, of course, a feast. Feed them and they’ll come is more accurate!

God hard-wired us this way: to live in communion and fellowship with one another, and most of all with him. Think about his promise to Adam and Eve before the fall into sin:

 “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 

And though our gatherings can also be places of stress, conflict, pain, and sin against one another – at least this side of Eden – the simple truth remains. God loves a feast. God loves to give and loves when we receive his gifts. He loves to give us daily bread at our kitchen tables and especially at his table.

No wonder, “the Feast” is a recurring picture of heaven throughout Scripture.

 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
From Genesis to Revelation, from our tables at home to the Lord’s Table at church, God is the host and we’re his guests.

Many of Jesus’ parables end the same way. When the lost sheep is found – there’s a joyous party. When the woman finds her lost coin – there’s joy and a party. When the lost (or prodigal) son returns, the father kills the fatten calf – you guessed it – there’s a joyous party.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus tells us he is known in the breaking of the bread – one of many New Testament ways of saying Jesus is present for you in the Lord’s Supper.

And recall how the Pharisees wag their fingers at Jesus: He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. And thank God for that.

Jesus’ words in Luke 14 today follow this similar pattern.

Jesus is dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees. On the Sabbath. And just as everyone is enjoying the appetizers and drinks in walks a man with dropsy – or edema in today’s medical terminology, swelling caused by fluid in the body.

Now we might think that the proper table etiquette in this event would be to have this poor fellow moved outside. Wouldn’t want anyone to lose their lamb over it. Then Jesus could’ve healed him without making a scene. And from the Pharisees perspective, that’s exactly what Jesus does.
Is it lawful to heal a man on the Sabbath, or not?

Jesus’ question would’ve thrown the Pharisees into a legal mind-storm. Let’s see…there’s 613 dos and don’ts. 32 kinds of work to be avoided on the Sabbath. Is this one of those things? Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

You can just imagine the ruler of the Pharisees swiftly grabbing his scroll of the Talmud, checking the table of contents under “healing” to see what the rabbis have said. All the while, the internal hamster wheel of the Law is hard at work: “Is it work or not? Well, it depends who did it, I suppose. If I do it, then it’s work. If God does it, then it isn’t work. But if God does it through someone, well…. hmm….not so sure about that. Best not say anything at all. That would be safest.”

And that’s exactly how they responded. Twice. They remained silent.

That’s what the Law does. It stops our mouths. It shuts us up. Yes, the Law serves as damage control, a diagnosis or mirror of our sin; it shows us God’s way of discipline. But the Law cannot heal. The Law cannot give life. The Law will not make you a better person. The Law will not get us an invitation to the wedding feast.

So, Jesus pushes the table conversation into super-awkward mode.

Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?

What do you do? Ignore the man and you break the 5th commandment. Heal him and you break the 3rd commandment. That’s life under the Law: caught between the rock of the 10 Commandments and the hard place of Sinai.

It’s easy to point our fingers in accusation at the Pharisees. But the truth is, there’s a little Pharisee in each of us. A larger than life hypocrite who – like the Pharisees – is dead silent when it comes to God’s Word, and yet who sings like a song-bird when it comes to the good in ourselves, and better still, all the bad in someone else.

There’s a little Pharisee in each of us that wants to be the ruler of the Law and pick and choose how to follow and listen to God’s Word like we choose our favorite dishes in a buffet line.

There’s a little Pharisee in each of us that’s so afraid on the one hand to proclaim the Gospel to our neighbor because it might offend them or be awkward, and yet on the other hand remain silent because we’re worried about saying the wrong thing. When it comes to the Christian faith, silence is not golden.

And that’s how the law works, it’s a trap…there’s no winning – we’re all losers according to the Law. We are guilty of all sins in thought, word, and deed.

All of our accusations and excuses are stopped, our mouth is closed, left gaping wide open. We have lived as if God did not matter and as if we mattered most.

There’s no healing their – only a mirror that reveals our brokeneness. Our prayers and worship have faltered…and our love for others has failed.

We know what the Pharisees did. But what do we do? The only thing we can do. Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

And this is precisely where Jesus wants us. This is exactly how we get to the table – not by our own invitation, but his. We’ve come at last to the main course.
Jesus healed the man.

Jesus heals you. And not just one day a week. But every day. You are baptized, like Simon this morning. That means you’re God’s own child. You’re part of the family. You’ve a seat at the table. You’re washed, fed, and nourished by the fruit of the cross in Jesus’ words, water, body and blood. Jesus still loves to eat and drink with sinners.

Jesus calls, rescues, and heals sinners, losers, and outcasts like us. Jesus gathers us to his banqueting table where your name is written in the only guest book that truly matters: the Lamb’s book of life.
Jesus takes us, broken, dead, and sinful though we are, and becomes for you the broken, dead, and sinful one on the cross. All to heal you.

Jesus takes our mouths, that were shut up by the Law, opens them, and fills them with heavenly food, the bread of life, the medicine of immortality. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.

Jesus calls to each of us from the head of the table: Friend, move up higher. “In my humility you are exalted. In wounds you are healed. In my suffering and death you receive joy and life. Come, the banquet table is ready. It’s time for the feast!”

For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.
This isn’t Jesus’ party planning advice. It’s good news of a great reversal. A joyous exchange. A marvelous flipping of the tables in your favor. Jesus is humbled and you are exalted. Jesus is brought wounded so you are healed. Jesus frees you from the Law by taking the curse of the Law upon himself. And now you are free from sin and death. Free to love others.

That’s what humility means after all, not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less (C.S. Lewis). Which is exactly what Jesus has done for you in his death on the cross.

Jesus is free. Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath and the Lord of creation for you. He brings healing like no other healer can for his cross is the Source of all healing. What He did for that man with dropsy, He does for you by His dying and rising, by his body and blood, by your baptism. He bears our infirmities, our sicknesses, all the ways that Sin has ravaged our lives. He became our Sin. Our sickness too. “By His wounds we are healed.” Washed. And ready for the feast.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.