Monday, October 31, 2016

Sermon for Reformation Sunday: "Free Indeed"

+ Reformation Sunday - October 30th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Revelation 14:6-7; Romans 3:19-28; John 8:31-36

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

Free shipping from Amazon. Buy one beer get another free at happy hour. Free gifts for the kids on game day at Angels’ Stadium.

I think it’s fair to say that most of us love the idea of something free, something for nothing. No matter the product or place, attaching that little word “free” onto an advertisement gets most people excited…unless of course it’s all the junk mail and political ads freely distributed to our mailboxes.

Problem is, there’s always a catch. Free shipping…but only on orders over $35. “Buy one get one free” might be a good deal, but it’s not really free; you still have to buy something. And free giveaways at sporting events are fun, but they could run out or it might just be a stuffed rally monkey for the kids.

Like our grandmothers used to tell us. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. There’s always the fine print. There are terms, limits, or conditions.

Not so in Christianity. The Gospel is the exception to the no-free-lunch rule. All other world religions tell you to achieve, ascend, be worthy, obey, submit, follow the rules, and so on. and only then do you earn, merit, or deserve salvation. Not so in Christianity. Christianity is free. Jesus justifies the ungodly. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for us. In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us. Jesus gives you a righteousness and justifies you apart from works of the Law. If the Son sets you free you are free indeed.

That’s what the Reformation was about. What it’s still about and why we still celebrate it: Jesus crucified for you.

Your freedom from sin, death, and the devil is not found in gold or silver, nor it is found in indulgences or anything we do or feel.  

To be sure, our salvation cost something… But we didn’t and can’t pay it. Jesus paid that price for you. Jesus redeemed you and sets you free by his death for you.

 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

This is the freedom Martin Luther longed for. Before the Reformation, Luther saw Jesus not as a gracious liberator, but a fearful judge. Jesus was not a merciful Redeemer, but a merciless example to follow. Luther was captive to an endless merry-go-round of indulgences, works, and man-made traditions – each one promising freedom from sin, but only further tightening the chains of slavery.

True freedom – Luther discovered – is found in Jesus Crucified who sets us free. True freedom isn’t found by looking at what we say, do, think, or feel, but what Christ has done and still does for us in his death and resurrection. True freedom isn’t found in our righteousness, but in his redemption that declares you righteous.

This is the freedom Jesus teaches us in John 8.

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,  and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 

To be free in Jesus…to be Jesus’ disciple is to abide in Jesus’ Word. All other words promise freedom but fail to deliver. Abide in Jesus’ Word. Be connected to Jesus by hearing His Word, by taking the time each day to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest his Word. Abide in Jesus’ Word where he promises to abide with you, here in the Word made flesh of the Lord’s Supper. Abide in the Word and Water of your Baptism that sets you free. Abide in the Word of Absolution that declare: you are forgiven. You are free.

Jesus uses that little same word “abide” when he declares that we are the branches and he is the Vine. We the branches abide in the Vine; our life and health and growth flow from Jesus the Vine to us his branches. Cut us off from the Vine and we are fruitless and dead branches. Cut off from Jesus’ Word, we become fruitless and dead too.

More than that, when we don’t abide in Jesus’ Word we will find other words to abide in.
Like Israel, we rebel against God’s Word and fashion golden calves for ourselves. Our sinful flesh is an idol factory with a full-time assembly line running through our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Like Israel, sin blinds us to our captivity. We’re offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Like Israel, we are slaves to sin, unable to free ourselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.

Truth is, we are slaves to sin. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
But that’s not the only truth that Luther set free in the Reformation.

The truth is, Jesus sets us free. Jesus dwells with us sinners. Jesus, the Son of God becomes the Son of Mary, so that we can become children of God. And that is who you are.
Yes, all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God…but you are justified freely by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

Yes, the wages of sin is death…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Yes, we were slaves to sin…but Jesus sets you free from your captivity. Jesus became a slave to all our sin to set you free. Jesus entered our captivity to rescue you. Jesus was bound in death’s chains to release you from death. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

Therefore, Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God (1 Peter 2)

You are no longer slaves to sin, but God’s free children. You have a place in his house, a seat at his table, and the victory feast is ready. Come, eat and drink the free forgiveness in Jesus’ body and blood.

Now to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Sermon for Pentecost 22: "Divine Persistence"

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

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

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

Not lose heart.

Seems easier said than does these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 3, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

“You are what you eat.” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Jesus warns us again…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Jesus, you really are what you eat.

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