Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

9th Sunday after Pentecost – July 25th, 2010

Luke 11:1-13 (Genesis 18:20-33, Colossians 2:6-15)

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

Lord, teach us to pray. No wonder the shelves of so-called Christian bookstore are full of books with such enticing titles as: Prayers that Bring Change, The Yada Yada Prayer Group, Becoming a Prayer Warrior: A Guide to Effective and Powerful Prayer and of course…The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life.

And those are just a few of Google's 5000 top books on prayer. Not to mention prayers to St. Christopher for all of your summer vacations, prayers to St. Thomas Aquinas for all of your university and academic needs and my personal favorite – if, let's say, you have a caterpillar problem in your garden - prayers to St. Magnus of Fussen.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy (or false piety) and empty deceit according to human traditions, according to the elemental spirits of the world…and not according to Christ.

God is not your vending machine. But too often we pray as if He was… Hmm, let's see, what shall I pray for today, God…Ah, I've got it…insert Scripture passage here, press A1, eh not the Lord's Prayer again…oh, wait, no C4, yes, that's the one. Drop. Clink. And you're on your way. Vending machines are great because they give us exactly what we want (most of the time) instantly. Our old nature loves instant gratification and we're tempted to think prayer works the same way, press a button here, say a few words there and God will dispense our desired outcome. And with the Vending Machine you don't even need to say thank you. You can just keep on devouring those Funyuns, I mean praying, and have no relationship whatsoever with that vending machine, I mean God.

Prayer is not a cold transaction or some kind of bargain with God. Prayer is God talking to Himself through you. Prayer is saying back to God everything that He has already said to you in His Word. The Bible is full of prayers. John the Baptist prayed. Abraham prayed. And Jesus is always going off by Himself to a hill or the wilderness or a garden to pray. Learning to pray means learning to pray what the Lord's Prayer says. And the prayer Jesus teaches is all about Him.

Lord, teach us to pray. For we do not pray nearly as often as we ought and our Heavenly Father is always more ready to hear us than we are to petition Him. Teach us to pray – why? It doesn't come naturally, at least not anymore. Not since Adam and Eve took to thinking that God's Word wasn't true. They wanted to get the last word, unfortunately, sin and death and Satan had the last laugh. As a result, we don't make time for prayer or maybe we brush it off. And if/when our old sinful nature does pray it's a broken record: My kingdom come, my will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The problem with our prayer-life is us and our terminal case of My-arreah.

But if we just believed in the power of prayer, after all, God won't do something if we don't ask. And if we don't pray perfectly, eloquently, and really really really hard, God won't think we mean it.

You may say think you pray enough and you mostly for the right things. Repent. Our Lord commanded us to pray and yet You have not prayed without ceasing. Repent. You have not prayed for the things God has given you to pray for. Repent. …these are all symptoms of the same problem…for out of the heart come evil thoughts, false prayers, no prayers, selfish prayers.

How can such poor miserable sinners like ourselves ever be called children of God? How could we, selfish, self-serving people, ever be taught to pray to God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and call Him Father?

The answer is not in our prayer, but in Jesus prayer. The Prayer Jesus teaches is all about Him. Our selfish prayers, our sinful prayers, our lack of prayers, our prideful prayers – they're all forgiven in Christ's death on the cross as He prayed, Father forgive them for they know not what they do, as He prayed, Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit. All those times Jesus went off to the wilderness or up on a hilltop or in a garden at night – He went there for you. He prayed for you. He still prays for you. your Great High Priest.

He's the reason you start every prayer with "Our Father." For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, shared in His death and resurrection and in Christ you are sons of God through faith. You belong to Jesus. You are Christ's and if you are Christ's then you are heirs according to the promise and if you are heirs, you are blessed to call God, Father. He loves being called Father, like a proud parent. He looks at you and He sees Jesus on the cross for your sins. And when He hears your prayers He hears Jesus' prayers on your behalf.

Lord, teach us to pray. And He does. Father, Hallowed be Your Name; Your kingdom come. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who owes us. And lead us not into temptation. The Lord's Prayer is the perfect prayer; it is shallow enough for young children to wade and play and splash in its waters and yet it is deep enough to drown an elephant. What could you possibly pray that isn't in the Lord's Prayer? It's the summary and source of all prayers.

Last week Mary and Martha taught us the proper way of worship: simply receiving. Right Worship begins and ends with God giving and you receiving all He has to give. Prayer is no different. Prayer begins and ends with the Giver and His gifts. It is the richness of the Word of God that determines our prayer, not the poverty of our heart. O Lord, open my lips and my mouth will declare your praise.

He who gave David the Word of the Psalms; He who gave Abraham the promise; He who taught the disciples, also gives you, His beloved children His perfect prayer. In this way we are taught in the catechism that – Our Father – God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. You see, children learn after they have been spoken to. God speaks we listen. God proclaims His Word, washes us in His font, feeds us at His table and we pray on the basis of those gifts. Prayer is the voice of faith. So pray, boldly, confidently. Because you have been given a bold confident trust in Christ, by grace through faith in His death and He knows exactly what you need even before you ask Him. He who promised is faithful.

So rather than talking about the power of prayer or how prayer changes things Jesus teaches us to receive, proclaim and rejoice in all that He has done for us. To pray on the basis of who God is and what Jesus has done for us. And so Abraham stood before the Lord …suppose there are 50 righteous in the city. Will you sweep it away and not spare it? Far be it from you to put the righteous to death with the wicked…what about 45 or 40…30, or 20, or 10?"

Ever wonder why Abraham stopped there? Why didn't Abraham talk Him down to one believer? Maybe he didn't think God would go that far. But God does. Our Heavenly Father does spare the wicked for the sake of One Righteous Man – Jesus Christ. For the faithfulness of this One, God does not call down punishment on us or destroy our cities as in the days of Sodom. Instead He pours out His punishment on His Son Jesus destroys the power of death and therefore God has cancelled the record of debt that you owed Him, forgiven you your trespasses as you trespass against Him. He has set your sin aside and nailed it to the cross. And so you are free, free to ask. Free to pray. Free to knock.

For which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he will answer from within, "Do not bother me; the door is locked, my children are sleeping, I cannot give you anything? I tell you, even though he will not get up to give him anything because he is a friend, yet because of his impudence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs.

Most of you probably don't go running to your neighbor's for bread at midnight. You'd go to the 24 hour Ralph's down the street. But in Jesus' day, you didn't refuse your neighbor or cause him embarrassment in front of his guests no matter what time of the day it was, even if you were in your pajamas!

Maybe that kind of hospitality doesn't exist anymore, but that's how it is with God. He invites us to come to him any time, day or night, and to ask not only for daily bread, but for anything else that is on our minds. He invites us to knock at his door. It's never locked. It's never too late. He's never too busy.

His invitation is always backed with a promise. Not a limited warranty, but a promise. "Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened." We're not guaranteed we'll receive exactly what we ask for. Nor that we'll find what we are looking for. It doesn't work that way, and praying harder and believing more won't change that. God is still God. He doesn't always give what we want. That's why you have vending machines. No, God gives better. He gives what we need. For while we were still weak and at the right time Christ died for the ungodly and greater love has no man than this, that One lay down His life for His friends, better yet, His dear children.

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

Monday, July 19, 2010

Don’t Just Do Something, Sit There.

8th Sunday after Pentecost – July 18, 2010

Text: Luke 10:38-42

Grace mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.
Don't just sit there, do something! We've all been told that before. Usually it's mom and dad telling their children to remove their lazy summer behinds from the couch, turn the TV off, stop complaining about how bored you are, and do something.

The story of Mary and Martha seems simple. Martha is indignant that Mary is sitting with Jesus and not helping her in the kitchen. Then Martha complains to Jesus, expecting Him to send Mary to help out. But there's a surprise ending – Jesus is always throwing curve balls – always eating with tax collectors and sinners, always forgiving prostitutes who fall at his feet, always preaching about the unlikely Samaritans showing unlikely mercy to others. Instead of scolding Mary for her indolence, He rewards her and admonishes hard-working Martha. But this story isn't really about Martha, or Mary – it's about Jesus, but we can't get ahead of ourselves yet…

Because Jesus is coming over to Mary and Martha's for dinner. What hospitality, what a host – enough to put Martha Stewart to shame.

So, you don't get out the Dixie cups, the paper plates that crack when you load them up with too much food, the plastic forks that break in your chicken. No that won't do for the Lord. You don't just get out the 99 cent frozen pizzas and dilled pickles in little plastic individual cups for Jesus. Even Grandma's china isn't good enough. So much to do.

Vacuum. Dust. Sweep. Wax. Polish. Repeat. Cook the meal. Pour the wine. Grill the steak to perfection. Mash the potatoes to perfect fluffiness, slice the artisan bread, top the salad with walnuts and cranberries and those pre-packaged crumbles of blue cheese. Martha's running around makes the chicken without a head look silly. But she thinks she's doing her best to serve the Lord.

My, won't Jesus be impressed with all her hard work?! "I do it all for you Jesus! I'm giving you my all, unlike someone over there, just sitting like a lupus. Lord, why don't you tell her to do something, don't just sit there. but, to Jesus be the glory. It's all for you Lord!"

This is what we do – we pull a Martha, believing our highest form of worship is to serve Jesus. To give Him our best efforts. To give Him our lives.

We're busy people. Living life in the fast lane, the rat race, the daily grind – whatever you call it, it's crazy, running here and there. Camp-outs and cookouts. Boy scouts and Girl scouts. Sports and Leisure. We spend more time in the car during a week than anything else. Then there's work to be done, quotas to be met, bills to be paid, household chores to finish, and then you get up tomorrow and press the repeat button. Yes, we are busy people.

And our congregations are no different. There is always work to be done, and always too few people to do it. Programs to run; property to care for; bills to pay, meetings to go to and on and on. The work piles up so much that it overshadows worship. Say it ain't so. Worship always comes first in the Christian congregation. It's why God gathers a congregation in the first place, so that we can sit at the feet of Jesus and hear His Word. Any work that takes the place of worship, no matter how honorable or important it might otherwise be, is idolatry. When we're so busy we can't pause to hear God's Word, we can hardly turn around and ask God to bless what we're so busy doing.

Our old sinful nature loves anxiousness and busyness – do this, do that. Do is a Law word. Do is a command. Now, there's a place for the Law; but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the Law gets us anywhere closer to Jesus. The Law is but a mirror bright, to bring the inbred sin to light that lurks within our nature.

This is why Jesus' words seem rather shocking, offensive, even outrageous: Jesus is the real host. He's the one giving. He's the one doing everything for you. He's the one serving, dishing up His daily forgiveness for undeserving sinners. He's the one pardoning the unpardonable, eating and dining with sinners, declaring them saints by His gracious promise.

Martha, Martha. You are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary – Me. Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest, an everlasting Sabbath. Thankfully, what Jesus says you need to do – He goes out and does it for you. Last week the Good Samaritan – be merciful, go and do likewise. Sounds like Law. It is, but then Jesus goes out and does it for you – now that's Gospel. Sweet, for you, nothing deserved, no merit of your own, Gospel. Jesus is the one thing necessary. And all that we need His hand provides from the dinner table to the His own table – it's all gifted to you in Jesus' Name. Jesus did not simply teach divine truth, He is truth. He did not just teach how to live, He is Life. He is hospitality for hard-hearted sinners. He is always giving of Himself.

Which always upsets our old sinful nature who is never content to Let God be God and Let Jesus do what Jesus does best: give and give and give. But Martha did all that work! And Mary just sat on her rear. How scandalous! All the meetings, all the programs, all the fundraisers all to the glory of God and Jesus doesn't even care?! We are hurt, maybe even offended by Jesus who doesn't seem to care at all about our good works for Him, how we've toiled for Him. Our old Adam stands insulted that our good works count for nothing before Him. We're so blinded by sin that we don't even know what the good portion is, even if we could choose it.

This is how we miss out on the one thing that's most needful: Jesus and His Word – His teaching, His forgiveness. His body and blood. Mary simply sits and listens. But this is not yet the Good News. The Gospel is not, Mary chose the better part…now you go do likewise! Go get Mary faith. No, that's Jesus + works. That kind of preaching is popular, but it only kills faith. Whenever you have Jesus and, or Jesus but, you're right back in the Law, right back in the curse, right back in the kitchen with Martha.

You've heard it said that God loves a cheerful giver. Well, it's true He does. Serving others is good, but it's not the Gospel. You commit no sin when you do good for others. But it is better, actually, best to receive. Jesus loves a cheerful receiver. Here's another shocker, you don't come to church to love God. Worship isn't about you or me. Thankfully, worship is all about Jesus and His gifts being poured out for you.

And today, you've been brought to the feet of Jesus not because you did anything spectacular or live a really busy productive life like Martha, not because you are super pious like Mary but because Jesus has taught you, brought you here, sat you here by His feet to receive His gifts and then He keeps on gifting you everything He has to give: His life, His death, His resurrection, His baptism, His Absolution, His Supper.

All of this Christ has done for you. He forgives your sins; He opens heaven for you; His Word is preached to you; your sin, your death and the devil's temptations are conquered, buried at the bottom of the font – all before lunch! Jesus is the better part – take eat, it's Him. You are forgiven; it's Him. You are baptized; it's Him. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many, for you.

He is your rest. He lived the perfect life you run around so busily trying to accomplish – in your stead. He was crucified, died and was buried…and on the third day He rested from all His labors so that He could give you an eternal rest from all of yours. Jesus lives to give Himself for us even in spite of the busy, anxious, sinful mess we call daily life.
It's Sunday morning and you are forgiven.
You are brought to the feet of Jesus, not because you're more like Mary than Martha, but because Jesus has done everything necessary for you, for your salvation. He is your good – no your best – portion. He has chosen you. And you will not be taken away from Him. So don't just do something – sit there, at the feet of Jesus.

Nothing have I, Christ, to offer, You alone, my highest good. Nothing have I, Lord, to proffer but your crimson colored blood.
Your death on the cross has death wholly defeated and thereby my righteousness fully completed; salvation's white raiments I there did obtain, and in them in glory with You I shall reign. (LSB 536:4)
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Milda the Professor

You may graduate seminary, but you never leave the classroom. There I was sitting at the bedside of frail, thin as a WWII POW, member of our congregation named Milda. The Scripture being read was Psalm 139 which, oddly enough, I found in the abortion section of the Pastoral Care Companion (a great resource btw). Not that it's an odd psalm to read for someone who has either considered or suffered an abortion - it's actually quite suited for that situation - but it was odd because Milda is dying. She was formed in the inmost parts of her mother's womb and even before that, the Lord knew who she was who she would be. And even now, as the Psalmist says, her frame is not hidden from the Lord of heaven and earth. The Lord of death and life. Only I didn't say the word death, at least not initially. I told Milda how the Lord protects us from birth all throughout our earthly life and even afterwards. Yes, I know that was terribly vague. And the best part was, Milda called me on it. "Oh, you mean death, don't you pastor?" She said it so matter of fact. "Yes, Milda, that is what I meant." It wasn't intentional, it just came out that way. In the future, I'll be more intentional about mentioning the d-word .

We like to dress death up: cutsie skulls and cross bones with pink bows; we say things like, "he's ceased to be; he's expired and gone to meet his maker, kicked the bucket, passed on, bereft of life, a stiff...and so on." Or worse yet, we hear things like this: "death is natural; it's all just part of life." No, it's not natural. Sadly, it is part of life now, but it wasn't always this way. This was not how the Lord created us to be. Not how He intended His creation to look:

O God, O Lord of heaven and earth,
Thy living finger never wrote that life should be an aimless mote,
A deathward drift from futile birth.
Thy Word meant life triumphant hurled in splendor through Thy broken world, since light awoke and life began, Thou hast desired Thy life for man. (LSB 834:1)

There is a "deep magic." The wages of sin is death. But there is a "deeper magic," namely, if an innocent victim who has committed no treachery, no sin, no treason against heaven, no rebellion against God - if such a victim, nay a sacrifice is made, the tomb is cracked and death itself starts working backwards. We have such a willing victim, a suffering servant. The Lord Jesus Christ, who holds the keys to death and Hades. He is the Lord of death and life. "Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!" (Psalm 139:7-8). He's even the Lord over hell itself, for all things are put under His feet. Satan is crushed. The serpent is dead. And the tomb is empty. Christ is Risen - for Milda, for you, for me, for the world. The last enemy to be destroyed is death and He's conquered that too.

Thou camest to our hall of death, O Christ, to breathe our poisoned air,
To drink for us the dark despair that strangled our reluctant breath.
How beautiful the feet that trod the road the brings us back to God!
How beautiful the feet that ran to bring the great Good News to man! (LSB 834:3)

Thanks to the stroke a year ago, she may only have stories to tell about days gone by on the farm. But from the first "Our Father," she's right there with you, praying every word. She is already a saint for she knows that Jesus is her Savior - especially at the hour of death. "It's coming soon," she replied. It is for all of us, Milda. Even so, come, Lord Jesus. "But don't worry, Milda, you've already died - in baptism. Died and risen with Christ." She taught me not to be ashamed of the word death. Yes, we can be angry at sin at its chaotic effects in this life; we can curse its curse; we can even lament that death is a damned shame. For we should not shy away from calling it what it is: not the great beyond, not the afterlife, death. But now it is death, conquered by the Lamb of God. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning because of Easter morning. For Christ has burst His three day prison. And our faith is not in vain. Now is Christ Arisen, arisen, arisen. And now is Christ arisen. And because He is risen, so too will He raise Milda and you and me. Today, Milda was a professor, a true doctor of theology and her bedside was my seminary classroom. Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace + Amen.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Dare To Be Lutheran

It's not just a clever title; it's a way of life; it's who you are as a baptized believer in Christ. To be Lutheran is to be Christian. The two are synonymous.

It's also the motto of Higher Things, a Lutheran organization whose sole purpose is to assist parents, congregations, and pastors in cultivating and promoting a Lutheran identity among youth through conferences, retreats, publications, and the internet.

Logan, Utah may seem like a strange place to dare to be Lutheran, but that's exactly where our youth group spent a week at the end of June, on the campus of Utah State University attending GIVEN 2010, this year's Higher Things conference.

You've all heard the cliché - the youth are the future of the Church – but most clichés have a grain of truth in them (oops, sorry, another cliché). Of course the youth are the future. That's kind of like living on a farm and saying, "These cows and chickens will be my dinner." Duh, thanks captain obvious! All kidding aside, the youth will grow up, go to college, get married, have kids of their own, settle down, go to church like good little Lutherans – oh, wait, that is, unless their professor, boyfriend or girlfriend, friends (or a host of other things) give the devil a foothold in high school or college by telling them things like, "You're faith is a joke; Christians are such fools. How can you believe in the Bible, it's full of errors? How can you believe in Jesus, there are plenty of people who claim to be God?" And on and on and on and on.

This is why the Church must dare to be Lutheran. There are plenty of temptations to be something or someone else in the world around us. Sadly, this perception has crept into the Church as well: the temptation to be something other than what Christ has called His bridegroom the Church to be, namely, a Church that confesses Christ Crucified boldly through hymn and chant and song, that preaches and teaches the Word with such clarity that the scandal of the Gospel is plain to all, that rightly administers the Sacraments, and is merciful to the neighbor in need. Let's face it; being Lutheran isn't always very popular. Thankfully, daring to be Lutheran isn't a popularity contest. It's about seeking, knowing, learning and sharing the truth: Christ Crucified for you and for your sins.

This is why we give the youth something to grow into, not something to grow out of. Read that again; it's worth repeating, even memorizing: The Church must give the youth a confession of faith to grow into, not a confession and faith they will grow out of.

Higher Things does exactly that. At GIVEN, they boldly and loudly sang hymns from Lutheran Service Book. They gathered for services following the historic liturgy and even sang along after 4 hours of sleep (at best). They sat through and enjoyed "catechism" classes on a variety of topics from the Theology of the Simpsons to God, Marriage and Sex, from YouTube and Colossians to God's Gift of Vocation and they soaked it all in, even the incense that rose during Evening Prayer. So much was given at GIVEN, from opening to closing Divine Service our youth were fed with the hymns and services that have nourished the Church for millennia, taught the Gospel and its doctrine in Break-Out, In-Depth and Plenary sessions. And they also had a lot of fun along the way, because of, not in spite of, the rich treasures of the Lutheran Church.

At Logan it was evident that our youth are not only the future of the Church, they are much more. I was humbled by their dedication in attending chapel and the teaching sessions. I would dare to say that they put a lot of us "life-long-old-Lutherans" to shame by their enthusiasm for the Gospel and how it comes to us in Word and Sacrament. At GIVEN, the youth proved to be leaders, capable of showing the rest of the Church how to Dare To Be Lutheran. It's not that difficult, as one pastor said at the conference: "At Higher Things, we follow the three W's: Worship, Word and Fun."

Worship. This is where it all begins; and by "it" I mean God's divine serving of sinners with His saving gifts in Word, Absolution, Baptism and Communion. Worship is not about you or what you bring to God on Sunday, Wednesday or any other day. Hopefully this doesn't burst too many bubbles, but you don't come to church on Sunday morning to love God. For the Christian life, everything begins at the altar and returns to it. You love God by serving your neighbor in the places He's called you – your vocations. When you come to Church, Jesus is doing all the work. Yes, you respond with thanks and praise, but who do you think opened your lips that your mouth might declare His praise?

The gifts Christ gives in the liturgy lead us to Jesus and His forgiveness. The Divine Service, Evening Prayer, Matins, Morning Prayer, and Vespers – the services attended at Higher Things – are all about Jesus and His gifts being given to us. The liturgy proclaims the Gospel, teaches the faith, orders our services, protects us from error, connects us to the whole Christian Church throughout the world (a.k.a. the church catholic) and even better, we are joined in song with the angels and archangels and all the saints who have died in Christ. Worship is all about Jesus and Jesus is all about giving His gifts to us in Divine Service.

Word, the 2nd "W," is all about teaching and preaching. Faithful worship leads to serious and engaging study of God's Word. In fact, what we believe, teach and confess says a lot about how the services at our congregation will look and sound. Flip it around and it's still true…how we worship also says a lot about what we believe, teach and confess. So, we attended a lot of catechesis at Higher Things. For those of you who don't "sprechen sie Latin," that means teaching. That's how we get the word "catechism." And our youth will be the first ones to tell you that confirmation is not graduation from catechesis, but the beginning of the catechetical life (yes, you can use that phrase to impress your friends). This is exactly what Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19…teaching them to keep, guard, treasure everything that I have commanded you. Yes, Jesus loves doctrine and so do our youth. Just ask them about some of the amazing Break-Out and In-Depth sessions they attended.

And Fun, the third "W." Everyone likes to have fun. Just as we take worship and studying God's Word seriously, so too, we take our fun seriously, no kidding! And Redeemer's youth are a lot of fun. You'll have to check out the pictures and watch the video for a better idea of what kind of sanctified mischief we can get into. Who would have ever thought that a 12-15 hour van ride could be fun, but it was. Whether it's laser tag, roller skating, bowling, comedian hypnotists (no minds were altered), t-shirt swaps, or silly made up games and songs – we had it all, even a little gravy on top just for good measure. Because everyone knows you can't have fun without food. These young Lutherans were fed by Christ in His Supper and sermons, His hymns and liturgy, His Word and teaching and then received their daily bread with joy from In N Out, yes even in Utah and Angies (it's where the locals eat); and special thanks to the Aggies' Dairy Science Department at Utah State for the great ice cream. Fun, like food is a gift of God's creation. God gives us these gifts to enjoy and to rejoice in the life He's given us. For on account of Christ Crucified, we are a new creation and we've received all the gifts of heaven and even the gifts of His creation: laughter, fun, food, and after the conference, sleep. Everything we have in this life – from the 1st to the 3rd article - is a result of Christ's all sufficient saving death on the cross.

At GIVEN, the youth of Redeemer – and all 500-plus gathered – were given a treasure trove of God's riches. The best gifts we can give to our children are the same gifts Christ has used to sustain and grow His Church throughout the centuries: the historic liturgy and hymns, the catechism and the Scriptures. Our Lord taught us that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). The treasure of the Church is Christ and His gifts GIVEN to us: Holy Scripture, Holy Baptism, Holy Communion, and Holy Absolution. These are the treasures that are GIVEN to our youth – in Logan, Utah (and next year Las Vegas!) and here at Redeemer, Huntington Beach. Rejoice in these gifts. Treasure these precious jewels.

It's not just a clever title; it's a way of life; it's who you are as a baptized believer in Christ. Our youth will show the way: Dare to be Lutheran.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Though Devils All the World Should Fill"

4th Sunday after Pentecost – June 20th, 2010

Luke 8:26-39

Grace Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ + Amen.

How does this Gerasene demoniac – a man possessed by a legion of demons, tormented, driven him out into the wilderness as an outcast, naked, covered in self-inflicted wounds - a dead man living among the dead. How does this man, so abysmally seized by demons, wind up, fully clothed, fully sane, sitting at the feet of Jesus attending catechism class from the Lord of Life?

This is Jesus doing His Messiah work, - healing centurion's servants, forgiving harlots, calming storms and now binding up and casting out the strong man…Jesus releasing, liberating, and forgiving that which was bound, oppressed and accused by Satan. What Satan binds in sin, Christ releases by His death on the cross. Jesus is doing exactly what He was sent to do:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me; He has anointed Me to proclaim Good News to the poor; liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed." (Luke 4:18-19)

If there was anybody who needed liberty from oppression it was this Gerasene demoniac. This wild man who made the graveyard his home makes today's goth kids look like Carebears. Go ahead, try to cuff him. Shackle him. Wrap chains around him tenfold. Post guards. Try to police him or domesticate him. Do all that you can. It won't do a bit of good. The demons take control of him and he's fifty times worse than a UFC fighter on steroids. He breaks the chains and fetters like cheap Wal-Mart made in China wristbands.

We are no match for the devils. This old evil foe means deadly woe. On earth is not his equal. We've no time for fairy tales or costumes with pointy horns and pitchforks. The demonic realm is real and they do nasty, gnarly, demonic things – miracles, possession – the reality is nothing like a new cartoon on TBS: "Neighbors from Hell" – sorry: h e double hockey sticks. This demonic stuff is dark. It's ugly. It's real and it's deadly. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness.

Luther clearly taught what we perilously ignore: "though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us." Luther wasn't just a paranoid of the paranormal monk. He knew that we live in a chaotic world – a world where popes and Turks threaten the Church; a world where oil spills and floods, disease and violence leave God's people frustrated and powerless.

And Luther also knew that no one loves this chaos more than Satan himself. Scripture teaches us where this chaos comes from – from the fall flows all death and destruction. All false religions outside the church – all false teaching in the church – flows from the same sulfuric abyss and leads right back to it. No wonder that Gerasene was so oppressed…with might of ours can naught prevail.

As our Lord as lands on the shores of pagan infested lands of Gerasa – this man on whom the hounds of hell had been released confronts our Lord. He comes out against Him to do battle - but falls on his knees – that's all the demons can do before Jesus. "What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me."

The demons are powerless in the presence of the Son of God. He takes them on mono y legion. And Jesus wins. He always wins. Good Friday will demonstrate that, as Jesus shakes the broken pieces of Satan's skull off his pierced feet.

But for now, those demons had to go somewhere. They will no longer torment this Gerasene or you…yes, you are more like the Gerasene than you are willing to admit. According to your old sinful nature, you are powerless to admit just how far into the dark you've traveled, just how sinful you really are. As Isaiah declares, we are a rebellious people who walk in a way that is not good, following our own devices. It's a wonder this world isn't in more chaos than it already is in – but for the grace of God.

And this is why Christ must rescue you, must fight for you, must cast out the devil from you and cast His Holy Spirit into your hearts and mind. This is what He does for you in your baptism.

The Word of God teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death and everlasting condemnation. But the Father has sent His Son Jesus; for us fights the Valiant One …He baptizes you victorious in His victory over sin and death. And now that to the font you've traveled the devil's might has come unraveled. For at one time you were darkness…but now you are light in the Lord, baptized by Water and the Word, reflecting this Light of the World.

As the Gerasene was, so were we: fast bound in Satan's chains we lay, death brooding darkly over us. But it is Christ who holds the field victorious. Satan's judged the deed is done – the Word made flesh has fell him. And now you are as the Gerasene became – free. forgiven.

Jesus' casting out of the Legion signals the end for the demons. that's why they beg Jesus not to command them into the abyss. So instead Jesus sends them into a herd of swine that march like lemmings into the sea. Someone alert PETA, Jesus cares more about this one man than a whole herd of unclean swine, a fitting place for unclean demons. Though They may not perish in the sea of Galilee, they will be tormented day and night in the lake of fire in Revelation. For their end is coming soon enough – Calvary – the Son of Man's d-day.

There the devil is undone– by Christ's substitution for us in the shadow of death. What Satan had bound in the fall – Christ releases by taking on our fetters of sinful debt, strapping Himself in our own prison and suffering our verdict. I thirst, for you. I live for you. I die for you. It is finished for you.

Satan's accusations are hollow before our Heavenly Father's ears. He only hears the obedient voice of His Son, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. It's true, we don't know what we do – sins too many to number, a world in chaos too overwhelming to comprehend. It appears that the devil wins. But he does not. He cannot. Not then, not in the Gerasene man, not today.

Christ is the One who fights for us…and He never loses. And just to make sure hell knows its defeated, Christ descends to hell to proclaim His victory – because Jesus is Lord even in the depths, there's no place He isn't Lord.

And now Satan lays chained, like an old junk yard dog with a well worn track around the hitching post. Don't underestimate the bite, stay away from the voodoo, the occult – it's not harmless, no matter what your friends tell you. Do not wander, dabble or even flirt with the darkside. Remember who's holding the leash – always choking satan back. The devil is always God's devil.

So Fear not! In Christ, You have the Light of the World – in whom there is no darkness, which means there is no darkness in you, His newly created, Holy Spirit enlightened saint. Christ is your Light, and His Word and Water, body and blood, are your light in dark places when all other lights go out.

What will sustain us in the dark chaos of this fallen world? Not religious enthusiasm, not a cheerleader faith – with might of ours can naught be done. None of these worked for the Gerasene either. Today you were brought here by His Word, to sit at His feet and hear His Word and to recline at His altar receiving a feast of His body and blood. This is where you hear the Scriptures read, where you sing and pray the Scripture saturated liturgy; where you are fastened to the bedrock of catechism, where you are planted as an unshakeable a tree thriving from the living streams of God's Word.

– so come what may – take they our life, goods, fame, - come hell on earth or high water, economic ups and downs, political change and unrest or heresy's distress – you are a forgiven, baptized sinner; you have been delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of the beloved Son, in whom we have redemption and the forgiveness of sins. And now you sit at Jesus' feet clothed in His death and resurrected robes of Baptism, clear of mind renewed by the Holy Spirit.

Sadly, Luke reports, this presence of Jesus is met by most with rejection. One man received (with no one to thank except Jesus) and the others reject (with no one to blame but themselves). And having rejected Jesus, they swiftly arrived at the same place the demoniac was in not too long ago. And then comes the scariest part of this story…when they ask Jesus to leave - He does. tell Jesus to bugger off, and He just might.

But thankfully for those people in that region, Jesus sent an evangelist. One who knew firsthand the great power of the devil and the greater power of Christ. What he received as gift from Jesus, he went proclaiming throughout the region – everything that Jesus had done for him. Receive and Respond. This is the rhythm of the Christian life –from the Gerasene to the Californian.

This is why evangelism – declaring the Good News of Jesus' victory over sin, death and the devil for you – flows from the Divine Service here at font and pulpit and altar. And then it begins at home – which reminds us on this father's day – fathers, teach your children the small catechism as the head of the household should do. Pray the hymnal and catechism, read the Scriptures together with your families in the home.

For it is you, God's children, like the Gerasene demoniac turned evangelist, who take this Good News with you to work, to the golf course, to the beach, to the mall, to school, to the neighbor in need. Telling them everything that God has done for you. He has forgiven you. Raised you. Freed you. Fed you. Clothed you. Given you heaven and an inheritance in all His glory.

So much to receive. So much to tell.

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

"In Like a Wolf, Out Like A Lamb"

6th Sunday after Pentecost, 2010

Luke 10:1-20

In the Name of Jesus + Amen.

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Therefore pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. This sounds a bit ironic. Weren't there some 30 young men at our seminaries who did not receive calls? It sounds more like the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are more plentiful - sounds like a problem of supply and demand. But that's not the case. Our Lord will place these men in congregations. Our Lord will send out His Word to do everything He has promised. Christ is always the bridegroom of His Church and He always provides exactly what she needs - it may not be what we design or plan or conceive - the Church will always have what she needs - His Word, His Sacraments, His Crucified and Risen presence.
The same was true for the 72 (or 70) Jesus sent out on Luke 10. This is the way of things in Christ's Church. As the Father sends the Son, the Son sends others. His sending of the 72 is one of the hallmarks of the Office of the Ministry. A hallmark you hear every Sunday - as a called and ordained servant of the Word I announce the grace of God unto all of you and in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins...He who hears you, hears me. You have Jesus' word on it.
And so the 72 are sent ahead of Jesus: Behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Yes, that's right, wolves. In other words, I am sending you out to be devoured. Carry no wallet, bag or shoes. I am sending you out as dinner and food for the hungry, ravenous wolves. The Office of the Ministry is often the Office of Wolf-Feeding. For surely a servant is not above his master - and neither are the 72.

You see, it's not their Office they bear. It's not my Office; It's not Pastor Harmelink's Office. It's the Office of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Yes, 72 men were sent out, but Jesus did not send out 72 individual lambs, for He is the singular Lamb that all 72 - and all Pastors of the Church - bear. Therefore it is God's voice absolving you of your sin. God's hand baptizing you at the font. God's hands and feet distributing the Lord's Supper. This is why the Church should always see her pastors as shepherds and pastors should always see themselves as servants - mess up the Biblical way of things and you've got a real snafu. For he who hears them, hears Jesus; he who receives them receives Jesus - and the opposite is true too - he who rejects them, rejects Jesus.

This is why the most dangerous place to be in the Church is often in the pulpit. Isaiah was sawn in two; Elijah was hunkered down in the wilderness and all but one of the apostle's died a martyr's death; the reason the church is built on the blood of the martyrs is because the blood of Christ redeems them - redeems you.

The message Jesus sends the 72 out to declare is not popular, some receive and many more reject. They were not sent out to preach purpose driven, pop-psychology sermons on all the Biblical principles you need to have a better 401k, a better sex life, a better BMI rating, or whatever. The Christian Gospel and Life are not about prosperity and success - at least not the way our old Adam counts it. And there wasn't even an Internet ticker to see how many lives were touched by the 72, no program, no guarantee, just a promise.
I am with you to the very end of the age...The Church plants the seed, the Church waters with a bold confession and daring mercy and God gives the growth where and when it pleases the Holy Spirit.
A promise and a proclamation:
Peace be to this house. The Kingdom of God is near. They were sent to heal the sick. and this healing and preaching of peace - what is it but feeding the hungry with good things, placing life itself within the mouths of sin starved people? What is meant by preaching other than feeding wolves the Lamb, whose very flesh and blood alone can satisfy?

In the same way the Kingdom of God comes near to us. His Word diagnoses, reveals and exposes our desperate need for His Kingdom, His healing and peace. We are more like wolves in sheep's clothing than innocent lambs. Just ask the person's reputation you devoured with your gossiping tongue. Just ask the family member you chewed out simply because things weren't going your way. Just ask anyone who has seen you bear your fangs until you got what you wanted the way you wanted it when you wanted.
Repent for the Kingdom of God is near. Repent - for the sheep's clothing you wear is really the emperors robe of your old Adam.
But fear not. There is peace when the Lamb of God comes to sit down with wolves. For though your sins were as scarlet, they are white as snow; though they were red like crimson, you shall become white as wool - better yet, Jesus' little lamb, ever glad at heart.
There is peace with God the very moment His absolution is spoken into your ears. There is peace with God as water and Word are splashed on your forehead marking you in His Name. There is peace with God as you eat His flesh and drink His blood for the forgiveness of your sins. This is how He turns wolves into sheep and sinners into saints. All this He does for you, so that you might receive all the good He is and has for you. Peace. Shalom. Wholeness. Forgiveness by the Lamb of God who was sent to the cross to bear your sin and be your Savior. He who hears you hears me. You have Jesus' Word on it.
So, if you were one of the 72...would you sign up?! Be honest...probably not. No way, send him, not me! But even Moses stuttered. Thankfully, Jesus was sending out the 72, not you. You are not the 72. Yes, He does send you out, but He doesn't call you to leave house and home, to travel without wallet or an extra pair of shoes or to live off the hospitality of others. You have your own calling - your vocation as father, mother, son, daughter, citizen, member of this parish, member of a board or committee, neighbor, worker, friend and on and on and on. These too entail risks and dangers and sometimes we don't feel like being there either.
But for you, the baptized, everything begins and returns to the altar. This is where everything is Given, for you. This is where God puts His amazing died-and-risen-for you love. You don't really come to Church to love God - oh, you may think you do - but not really. He's the one doing everything for you here. No, you love God by loving your neighbor. And where Jesus sends you He also promises to bless you - not prosper you, not make you an overnight success - but to be a baptized blessing unto others.
In your daily vocations, you are God's masks. And so you are called to the sacred tasks of wiping baby bottoms, driving kids to sport's practice, paying the bills, sitting behind a desk punching numbers for "the man," teaching ankle-biters and window-lickers and so on. This is your daily divinity. Wherever God has placed you, that's your vocation, your station in life - and you have dozens of them. Vocation is God's mask, His appointed means for providing people with what they need in daily life.
Therefore the policeman on a drug bust is doing God's work; the truck driver staying up long hours to deliver groceries so we could eat breakfast this morning is doing God's work; the soldier laying in a fox hole in the farthest corners of God's green earth is doing God's work. The government - rulers, legislators and magistrates - are God's ministers and deacons in the kingdom of the left.
God works through these means, especially through you, to serve the neighbor in need, to give a reason for the hope that is within you, to speak the peace of the Kingdom of God.
Today and always, the peace of His House is with you. His Kingdom is near and His healing Word and medicine of immortality are yours:
For the Sower sows His reckless love, scatters abroad the goodly seed, Intent alone that all may have the wholesome loaves that all men need.
Preach you the Word and plant it home and never faint; The harvest Lord who gave the sower seed to sow will watch and tend His planted Word (LSB 586:3, 6).
In the Name of Jesus + Amen.