Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon for Trinity 5: "At Your Word"

Trinity 5 – June 30th, 2013
Historic Lectionary: Jeremiah 16:14-21; 1 Peter 3:8-15; Luke 5:1-11
Guest preaching Trinity Lutheran, Covina, CA

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 Actions speak louder than words, we say. We’ve all said the same thing to our kids. Or yelled the same thing to our politicians on TV. Or  thought about it at a church voters’ or council meeting or a Sunday service.  Some days that dog you tell to sit, doesn’t sit.

And that’s the difference between our words and Jesus’ words. Our words don’t bring a chaos of toys into order or solve the world’s problems or answer all the challenges that come up in your congregation.

But at the Word of God…Now his word is quite different. At the Word of the Lord, creation came into being. Let there be…and there was. The Lord speaks and things happen. His Word bears authority. His word speaks louder than actions. In fact it is action. The Word of the Lord is an event. It creates and speaks the very thing God commands.

 Jesus’ Word is no different. At the Word of Jesus: the wind and waves are hushed. Nets full of fish. The sick healed. Sinners forgiven. Dead men raised.  And Peter’s fear is cast away quicker than the nets on his boat.

When Jesus stepped into Simon Peter’s boat that day he stepped into a floating pulpit. The Word of God made flesh come to speak and declare the word of God.

For Jesus’ teaching was more than a lesson on fishing. If Jesus was giving fishing lessons, he would’ve been thrown overboard. Even an amateur fisherman like me knows that you don’t find fish in the middle of the day (especially if you’ve come up empty all night). And you certainly don’t throw your nets in deep water. Net fishing requires shallow water.

And here, everyone thinks the miracle is the fish. And it is. But that’s not the only miracle.  I count at least three. The many fish. Jesus’ Word that made it all happen. And the fact that Peter believed it, heard it, and listened.

Jesus called out to Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Can’t you just hear Genesis 1 in the background…Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures. At your word, Lord.

We do well to heed Peter's words, “Lord, at Your Word.” Not my word. Not your word. The Lord’s Word. Don't rely upon your own word or the words of others to tell us what's true and right. Listen to the Words of him who is the Word and he who speaks the word of life to you today. Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

 Peter let down the nets. And they came up busting the nets full. Flipping and flopping splish-splashing all over the place. Breaking the nets. Sinking the boat. There were so many fish they had to call in their fishing buddies from shore to bail them out. And even then, both boats began to list and began to sink.

 In the face of death by drowning, Peter saw that it wasn’t the fish that were sinking him and his friends. It was the Lord who was sinking him. He fell down at Our Lord's knees. Now Peter saw clearly. He no longer called Jesus Master, or Rabbi, but Lord. And rightfully so. Peter saw that the Lord was catching more than fish. The Lord had caught him.

  “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”

 The presence of the Lord is dangerous. He is not a tame God. And Jesus’ Word of Law ensnares us in the nets, catches us the same way it did for Peter. “I a poor miserable sinner…” We confess our sins like Peter. And the miracle of that is found in one little word. Sometimes we say it so quickly we overlook it. Amen. Don’t forget that little word. Because when we confess it’s not as if we’re saying,  “I, a poor miserable sinner…no, no I´m not.´ No, we say, “Amen”. ‘Yes, that´s right.´ The Law reveals God´s own truth, about Himself and about us. ‘Yeah, that´s right, I am a sinner, I have failed.´

At times we may feel like joining Peter in crying out, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

But here’s another miracle for you. Jesus didn’t depart from Peter…or you. Jesus stayed. Jesus brings Peter and his companions and the fish safely to shore, a miracle equal to the catch itself. And then Peter forsakes all. He leaves the boats, the nets, the men, the prestige, the wealth, and the livelihood. He follows Jesus who did not depart, who remained faithful to him, who showed him the end of worldly things, and promised him a Friend with God, and safe harbor in the wounds of his crucified flesh. For Jesus did not depart from Jesus even when Peter would depart from him.

 And so it is for you. Jesus does not depart. He brings you safely to shore. He is Master of more than simply waves and wind, fishes and loaves. He is the Master of Hell. He has entered into its fiery tomb and taken all it had to demanded of you and more. He has paid the price, suffered the defeat, been emptied of Himself to death that He might bring you safely to shore. And there again on the cross, Jesus’ Word is an action: Salvation won. Sins forgiven. Atonement made. Sacrifice complete. All God’s promises kept and fulfilled in a word. It is finished. For you!

 Jesus does all of this so that this boat, His Church, won't sink. For He is here in His risen Body and Blood poured into the hearts of His people. Jesus gathers you from the depths of your sin His consoling, forgiving Word and His sacred benediction.  You were caught in the nets of Water and Word and brought out of your watery graves into the boat.

 Into Christ’s Church, your ark, your ship of salvation (that’s why the interior of the church is called the nave, it looks like a boat because it is).  Your crucified Captain went down with the ship on the cross only to raise it back up from the dead and bring you along with him. Out of the depths. Into the shallows. You’re caught in His nets…all at His Word. By the Word and the water. By the Word and His body and blood. By the Word that declares I forgive you all your sins.

 Jesus has further words for Peter and for you. Besides "Let down your nets," there is, also, "Fear not!" "Fear not, for the Son of Man did not come to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through Him. Jesus comes with mercy. Jesus wears your flesh to be a Sacrifice worthy of the stern demands of the Law. Jesus is your Atonement, He reconciles you to the Father. removes your sin. You are His. Do not fear.

Do not be afraid. From now on you’ll be catching men.  Not by bait and switch or hook or spear. But by that same, simple, clear Word of Christ that speaks and creates life. You may not understand everything Jesus says or does – Peter sure didn’t. But at your Word, Lord. I will let down the nets. At your Word, Lord, we will believe, teach and confess. At your word, Lord, we will baptize and teach the nations. At your Word, Lord, we’ll spread the net of your gospel over every neighbor, friend and family member we come into contact with.

That is how Jesus fishes for disciples in the Kingdom of God. God simply lets down His nets, His lowly, earthen vessels, with nothing more than His Word, in unlikely places, at awkward times, and hearts, like ours, are sunk and raised up again.

All by the Word of Jesus.                                                             
  In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 5: "Strange But True"

+ 5th Sunday after Pentecost – June 23rd, 2013 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C, Proper 7: Isaiah 65:1-9; Galatians 3:23-4:7; Luke 8:26-39
(Special thanks to Pastor Bill Cwirla for the "weird" idea. I was thinking the same thing as I read Luke 8)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

It’s okay to admit it. I know you’re all thinking it. I sure am. Today’s Gospel reading is weird. Jesus hits the beach after calming a storm and immediately he’s confronted by a demon possessed man.  And not just one demon, but a legion – that’s 4-6 thousand by Roman counting. So there’s demon possessed men, a strange conversations, and demon pigs rolling in the deep. Well, it all sounds a little creepy. Weird. Downright strange.

And the story of this man is just as weird and creepy. For a long time, he ran around naked, which, in the Gospels, is almost always a sign that something isn’t right. Recall in John’s Gospel, that young who fled Gethsemane on the night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest and ran off naked. Streaking may be a funny college prank but, it’s no joke in the Gospel. 

But his story gets stranger.  He lived – not in a house - but among the tombs, with the dead. Apparently things were so bad off he was frequently bound in chains and fetters – probably because he ran around naked cutting himself with rocks. But a metal straight jacket was no match for the demon legion that possessed him. So they drove him out into the desert, to the caves of the dead. The wilderness.  Where Satan tempted Jesus. It’s the devil’s playground. 

In Luke 8, Jesus steps foot onto the devil’s turf. It’s D-Day for this legion of demons. Jesus lands on enemy occupied territory loaded for Beelzebul. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.”

It’s true, the demons know Jesus’ name. A good confession, for a demon, I suppose. But that’s the problem, in the devil’s hands, the truth is always a lie. The Devil loves quoting Scripture to you. Remember Jesus’ temptation? He’ll twist Scripture any which way just to get you to jump, to bite, or to bow down. In the hands of the devil, the Bible will always be used in service of the lie. He’s a liar and the father of lies. So as a baptized child of Christ, don’t be afraid to call him what he is.

Because in addition to being a liar, the devil –and his legions - is also conquered. Destroyed. Defeated.
Jesus came to undo the works of the devil and his demons, to cast them into the eternal pit, which is what hell was prepared for by God. Not for people. For the devil and his demons. And the devil was defeated by Jesus dying on a cross and descending into Death. Christ stormed the prison like a divine Burglar, bound the devil and freed the captives – you and me and the rest of humanity. 

That’s why Jesus says to the man, “What is your name?” Knowing the name is synonymous with power over them. After all, he is their Lord too and they know it. They’re terrified. And for good reason.
They beg Jesus not to send them into the “abyss,” where they belong. They know what Jesus is there to do: to destroy them. That’s exactly what he does. In a strange turn of events, Jesus sends the demon pigs plummeting to the abyss. It’s a picture of the Last Day – the unclean, the demons cast into the abyss like Revelation 20.

And then the herdsmen find he formerly demon possessed man sitting with Jesus. He’s clothed and in his right mind, and he wants to join Jesus’ followers. But Jesus sends him back to his own people as a living testimony to God’s mercy. And what a testimony it was! A demon possessed man who used to live among the tombs and cut himself now goes all around the ten cities of the Gentiles, proclaiming the good news.

I told you this was a weird story. Strange…but true. And oh, so wondrous.

For in Jesus, you can resist the devil. In Jesus you stand firm in midst of temptation. Jesus is stronger than the devil and his legions of demons. Whatever darkness plagues you; whatever way the devil seeks to tempt you and lead you astray, you are safe in Jesus. And no one – not a horde of demons or the devil himself – can snatch you out of Christ’s hands.

But don’t be fooled, the demonic realm is real. The devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking to devour you. C.S. Lewis was right when he said that there are two equal and opposite errors in which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors… (Lewis, Screwtape Letters, p.3). 

Apart from Jesus, we don’t stand a chance. And just because the devil doesn’t show himself like this all the time doesn't mean his work isn't all around us. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes subtle. But it’s all around us.

This story, strange as it is, actually happened. It’s also a reminder to us that the spiritual realm is both wonderful and terrifying. And the only firewall protecting us and saving us is the death of Jesus, His blood, His baptism, His victory. Christ is your rock, your refuge, your mighty fortress. And your Savior.
Jesus went to the tomb for you, the living One among the dead, for the dead. He was scarred and wounded– not by rocks – but nails and spear and the cross, for you. He died naked in humiliation for you so that by his suffering and death…you are now clothed in His righteousness, joy and eternal life. His scars heal all your sinful wounds. But there’s more.

What Jesus did for the Gerasene man in Luke 8, He does for you in Baptism. He speaks His Word and the devil is cast out. You go down into the water a crazed, naked demoniac hell-bent on destroying yourself and others, but you come out of the water a new man, clothed in Jesus’ death and resurrection for you, and you sit at his feet in your right mind, the mind of Christ, who gave everything that you might be his own and live under him in his kingdom. Your transfer papers are complete: out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light. Out of death into life. Out of slavery and bondage to sin, death and the devil, and into freedom, life and service in Christ. 

The devil’s reign over you is ended. You have a new King and Lord: Christ the Crucified. And what Jesus did to that legion of demons that day in the Gerasenes is a picture of what He will do at the end, when He comes in power and glory and might. He will make His victory won on the cross visible, and bind the devil and his demons forever and cast them into the lake of fire prepared for them.

And as we wait for that day…there is nothing to fear for you who are in Christ Jesus. He’s got you covered. You’re baptized, covered with Christ, filled with His Spirit, safe in His death and life. His wounds are your healing; His cross is your victory; His righteousness is your clothing. Your sins are put far away from you, as far as the east is from the west. As far as that legion of demons from the poor man.

It’s all in Isaiah: “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to found by those who did not seek me. Those who sit in tombs and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig’s flesh and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels.” The gentiles. The outsiders to Israel. You and me. How strange and wondrous it is that one of Jesus’ greatest and weirdest displays of divine power and authority didn’t even occur in Israel but across the sea, in Gentile territory. The same happens here today...once again Jesus is doing marvelous work by His Word in Gentile territory, by the sea, here.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

But these words aren’t for your ears alone. They’re for your neighbor’s, your family and friends’ ears. Do not be afraid. Christ goes with you.

“Return to your home, and declare how much Christ has done for you.” You’ve been rescued from sin and death and every evil simply by that weird and strange work of God in the water, word, bread and wine. You are at Jesus feet, clothed in his death and resurrection. Yes, it’s all rather strange, but true…and weirdly, wonderfully so.                                  

 In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

For the Local Paper: What Christians Believe About the Holy Trinity.

Note: This was the third part of a series on various chuch year holy days that ran in our local paper, The Huntington Beach Wave, under the faith and values section. The series began with Ascension, followed next by Pentecost, and was completed with a doctrinal treatment on what Christians believe about the Holy Trinity. As usual, these articles for the local paper are brief, 430 words to be precise. However, I recall one of my seminary professors saying that the more we try to explain the Trinity, the more likely we are to run into heresy regarding the Trinity. Perhaps there is an advantage to brevity after all! In any event, thank you for reading and enjoy.
  Do Christians believe in one God or three gods? Do Christians claim Jesus is God himself or merely a son of God? Who or what is the Holy Spirit? And what do Christians mean when they say, “We believe in the Trinity?”

 Christians use the word Trinity to describe how God reveals himself in the Bible. Although the word “trinity” isn’t found in the Bible, the teaching is. The Bible reveals a paradox – not a contradiction – about the Trinity. There’s only one God; and this one God exists in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Christians confess in the Athanasian Creed, “We worship one God in Trinity and the Trinity in unity.”

 When it comes to the nature of the Trinity, many would agree with Dorothy Sayers, who whimsically wrote, “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the whole thing incomprehensible.”

 No wonder people try explaining the Trinity with clever analogies: A three-leaf clover, or three forms of H2O (water, steam, ice), and so forth. However, all analogies break down and result in false teaching if pushed too far. The problem is we’re trying to explain the inexplicable. After all, a God we could understand perfectly would be a pretty poor excuse for a God (think of the Greco-Roman gods and goddesses).

 That’s why Christians confess, “I believe,” rather than, “I fully comprehend.” And that’s okay. We operate this way daily. For example, you can fly on an airplane without knowing physics or drive a car without being a mechanic (thankfully in my case!).  We may not understand how these things work but we trust them anyway. Similarly, we may not be able to explain how there is one God who exists as three persons; yet we can believe and confess this teaching based on God’s word.

 Moreover, although we can’t completely understand the Trinity, God has indeed made himself known to us. How? Not by analogies, but in time and space in human history, as we’ve explored in previous articles.

 The incomprehensible God made himself known in the person of Christ. The untouchable, unseen God took on human flesh. The play-write became part of the play. God was born in a manger. God was seen, heard, and touched. God bled, suffered, and died on the cross. God rose from the dead. Why? For you and your salvation.

 The love of the Triune God is revealed for you in Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection.  The Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - created, redeemed, and now makes you holy through his word. And that’s what the Trinity is all about.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Sermon for Pentecost 2: "The Unworthy Declared Worthy"

+  2nd Sunday after Pentecost – June 2, 2013 +
Redeemer, HB
Series C: 1 Kings 8:22-24, 27-29, 41-43; Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10

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

 Luke 7 is full of one remarkable, ironic surprise after another. First, Jewish leaders are sent by a Roman centurion to a Jewish teacher, Jesus. And even though the Jewish leaders consider the centurion to be worthy because of his love and works…this Gentile centurion acknowledges himself unworthy of Jesus’ presence in his own home. And then the most remarkable thing of all: God marveled at a human being.

 But what exactly was so marvelous about this Roman centurion? Was it because he was a man of wealth? Commander of 100 Roman soldiers? Because he was virtuous and of exemplary character. Because He had love and works to show for? If you listen to the Jewish elders in this reading, you might be tempted to think that too. This man is worthy to have his servant healed. He’s earned it. Look at all he’s done.  He loves our nation…he’s done some great work in the community rebuilding synagogues…he’s an officer and a gentlemen.  If faith in Christ was like the TV show, The Bachelorette, that Roman centurion would’ve been a shoe-in.

However, none of these things made this centurion marvelous in God’s eyes.
So, what did Jesus marvel at then? Simple words like this: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” The centurion confesses his own unworthiness. And what Solomon prays for in the temple in 1 Kings 8 is fulfilled. A foreigner, a Gentile, a Roman soldier no less, confesses faith in Christ. He finds favor before the Lord. “Only say the word and let my servant be healed.”

“And turning to the crowd that followed him, Jesus said, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith."

 What a strange thing…that our Lord praises this man’s faith. What credit did he deserve for that? His faith wasn’t his own.

And that’s the whole point. The centurion doesn’t get credit. His faith was a gift, just like yours is.  This is the central doctrine of the Christian faith: the Father gives credit to us for works performed by the Son and the Son takes the punishment of our sin.  For our sake God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The Lord gives the centurion faith and then praises him for it.  And so he deals with you.
We too confess our own unworthiness. This is a trustworthy saying, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” “While we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly.”  Christ died for you. 

The strength of that centurion’s faith was Christ. Christ was the foundation, the walls, the frame and the whole house of this man’s faith. The centurion makes us ask the question: what – or who – is the foundation of your faith? Jesus or you? Rock or sand?
It is the way of this fallen world and this sinful flesh of ours to focus on ourselves, our love, our works instead of Christ’s love and Christ’s work for us. That’s what the Jewish elders wanted Jesus to look at: this man’s love and works. That was the “other Gospel” Paul warned the Galatians not to follow. Many had been bewitched into believing, Jesus Crucified + works = salvation.

But it’s a lie, not truth. Slavery, not freedom. Death, not life. The emphasis is on the wrong syllable. It is not your love and works that save…but Christ’s love manifested on the cross for you. Christ’s work in life and death and resurrection for you. “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, that faith is credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:5). Or as Paul writes later in Galatians: “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law through faith in Jesus Christ…” 

That’s why we join the Roman centurion in looking not to ourselves, to our own words, or our love but to Christ and his words and his love. Cling to His authority to cleanse, heal, forgive sin, and even raise the dead. The power of Jesus’ spoken Word still creates what it says and the faith to receive it.  That’s the two-fold emphasis in our reading today: the faith of the centurion and the power of Christ’s spoken word. You can’t have one without the other. No Word, no faith. Wherever Christ’s word is, there He creates faith. Christ is the strength of your faith as well.
Rejoice! Like the centurion, Christ declares you who were unworthy worthy. You are worthy by the blood of the Lamb, worthy by his death and resurrection, worthy in baptism, worthy to receive His supper. Jesus says the word and you are worthy.

For Jesus was also a man under authority. The Father says, “Go.” And he goes to be born of a Virgin, born under the Law – that Law that the centurion and you and I cannot keep – to redeem us from the Law. To give us adoption as sons. The Father says do my will, suffer on the cross, die for their sins. So, Jesus does the Father’s will – for you. Jesus goes – for you. Jesus is under direct orders to invade our fallen world. Seek and destroy our enemy, Satan. To take captive our sin and death. To rescue you. To win victory for you and all sinners.

Jesus does all of this for you and gives you the credit, just like the centurion.

And just like the centurion, you come before Christ on behalf of your neighbor’s well being in prayer requests or with a helping hand. Say the word, Lord, and bring mercy to those in need. Say the word, Lord, and help me share the gospel with my friends, family, and neighbors. Say the word, Lord, and make us good stewards of the financial and physical gifts you have given us at church and home.
Christ our Lord says the word and we who were unworthy are declared worthy. Christ says the word and your faith is declared great. It’s like Genesis all over again…let there be faith in Christ! And behold, it is very good.

Jesus continues to speak His remarkable, astonishing, abundant Word of life upon you just as He did for that Centurion. And what a joy it is that God also marvels at you through His Son, Christ Crucified.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Pentecost Article for the Local Paper

This article was originally published in the Huntington Beach Wave, our local paper here in HB, CA, on May 23.

The Protestant reformer, Martin Luther, once said, “The Christian Church is a mouth-house of God.” So, whose words will the Church speak? Jesus’ words to be exact. Words like the ones Jesus gave his church at ascension.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

But how do Jesus’ words come to us? Enter the Holy Spirit and Pentecost.

The name “Pentecost” comes from the Greek word for “fiftieth.” In the Old Testament, Pentecost was a harvest festival, the ingathering of winter wheat (known as Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks). It began on the fiftieth day after Passover. It was also a day to celebrate Moses receiving the Law and God’s Covenant on Mt. Sinai amidst wind and fire.
In the New Testament, Acts 2 records the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. Once again there was a mighty rushing wind, fire, God’s word, and a harvest. Only, this time, the fire came in flaming tongues over the disciples’ heads. God’s word was declared by St. Peter to thousands gathered in Jerusalem from around the Mediterranean. Each person heard in their own language that Jesus had died and rose for them. It was a joyous harvest – not of wheat for winter – but of people, from all nations for eternal salvation! After all, God shows no partiality or racism. Jesus died for all nations. These were the signs that the Holy Spirit had been sent to the Church as Jesus promised (John 14:15-26 and 16:12-14).

Today, Pentecost is a day for hearing that Jesus died and rose again – for you! It’s also a day for speaking this good news to others. If the Christian Church is to speak God’s word, breath is needed. No breath, no words. At Pentecost Jesus sends, or rather breathes, the Holy Spirit upon his Church.
The Holy Spirit’s job is pointing people to Jesus’ death and resurrection, calling people to faith in this gospel, and breathing faith in Jesus into your hearts. In other words, the Holy Spirit makes you holy by giving you the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for you on the cross. Pentecost is a yearly reminder that the Holy Spirit gives you ears to hear God’s word and mouths to pray, praise, and give thanks. God speaks and we hear the word of God, each in our own language: Jesus died, rose, ascended, and sends the Holy Spirit for you!