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.