Saturday, November 25, 2017

Sermon for Thanksgiving: "Contentment in Christ Crucified"

+ Day of Thanksgiving – November 23rd, 2017 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Deuteronomy 8:1-10; Philippians 4:4-20; Luke 17:11-19

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

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

At first it sounds like Paul is joining the chorus of clichés we say to comfort ourselves or others in times of need. No doubt you’re heard it or said it before: “Don’t worry; be happy!”; “Que Sera Sera”; “Hakuna Matata”.

To be sure, comparing Paul’s words, which are the Lord’s words, to coffee cup platitudes is like comparing your grandma’s homemade cranberry sauce to that imposturous red gelatinous substance in a can.

And honestly, if we’re looking to Bobby McPherrin, Doris Day, or Timon and Pumba for comfort, we’re going to end up about as happy as a turkey on Thanksgiving.

And yet, so often we trip over Paul’s words in Philippians 4:

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

What does this mean?

We can certainly understand how Paul would say this in good times. It would have been easy to rejoice when he was baptized, and his eyesight restored; or after he made it safely through the shipwreck on Malta; or when Christians in Philippi provided for his needs in the work of spreading the Gospel.

But Paul didn’t sit down to write his letter to the Philippians after a good meal and a glass of wine, resting in his easy chair, with chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

No, Paul was most likely in Roman captivity, imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Before being locked in chains to sit in a cold, cramped, dark, damp jail cell, he would’ve been stripped, beaten, and humiliated. And yet, surrounded by the stench of blood, sewage, and death, Paul writes.

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Paul's not upset, he seeks no revenge, he doesn’t even complain. He rejoices.

I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

After the persecution, mockery, and suffering Paul endured, how can he say that?
We wonder the same thing as we read this section. How can we say that? Teach us your secret of contentment, Paul.

After all, it’s easy for us to rejoice and be content when we’re enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner-coma with family and friends; when our loved ones are healthy and well-provided; and when we can gather together in the Lord’s house to receive his bountiful goodness at his banqueting table in peace and quietness.

But we know that life, especially around the holidays, isn’t always a picture fit for a Hallmark card or a scene from a Lifetime movie. It’s far more difficult to rejoice when there’s one more empty chair at the dinner table than there was last year; or when we and our loved ones battle cancer, disease, and despair; or when we look at the world around us and see see suffering, sorrow, and sin running rampant.

There’s no platitude or cliché in the world that will give us any lasting contentment, comfort, and consolation.

So, what do we do? Being the sons of Adam and daughters of that we are, we all too often take matters into our own hands.

We look for contentment within, our desires of the flesh, our selfish wants, our self-serving thoughts, words, and deeds. This is what Martin Luther called navel-gazing; sin has starved us of true contentment and joy, and yet in our sin we are so warped and twisted that we only look to ourselves for contentment and joy.

Like the children of Israel in the wilderness (in our OT reading), we promise to be faithful children of God and then by the next chapter (or in our case the next moment, thought, and breath), we’re busy building our own little golden calves.

Paul’s words are so tough to hear because when he says, Rejoice in the Lord always, we’re reminded that we don’t always rejoice in the Lord, but rather in ourselves.

Where, then, is contentment and joy to be found? Not within us, Paul says; but rather, outside of us.

Rejoice in the Lord, he says.

Humanly speaking, Paul appeared to have had every reason to boast in himself: If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more; circumcised on the 8th day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church, as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

And yet, Paul’s confidence, contentment, and joy were not in his flesh, but in Jesus who took on our human flesh to save us. Same is true for you. For us and for Paul, our contentment and joy are in Christ. In the Lord, he says. The Lord is near, he promises. The God of peace will be with you.  

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
    and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
    but the Lord delivers him out of them all. (Psalm 34:18-19)

Paul points us to Jesus crucified and risen for you and boldly proclaims: there is your confidence, your comfort, your consolation, and your contentment; there is your peace that surpasses all understanding; there is your true joy.

Paul was no Pollyanna. He knew that further suffering, and eventually death, awaited him at the hands of the Romans. But more importantly, he also knew that none of that could rob him of Christ, that no one and nothing can remove him from Christ’s hands. Same is true for you. You belong to Jesus as surely as Paul did, by grace, through faith, in Christ crucified.
That’s how Paul could declare, against the devil, the world, and his sinful flesh, that I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

True contentment is given to you in Christ who though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, so that you, by his poverty might be made rich.

True peace is given to you in the fullness of time, when God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, burn under the Law, to redeem you who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

True joy is given to you in Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross and scorned its shame to bear our guilt, shame, and sin.

Paul is content in all circumstances because his contentment isn’t grounded in his circumstances, but in Christ crucified. And so is yours. God gives you his everlasting contentment, peace, and joy in Christ Crucified.

This Thanksgiving, you may feel like Paul did, alone and in a dark prison, tempted by despair. And yet, contentment is yours in Christ. Paul shouts into our darkness: The God of peace will be with you. The Lord is near. You are baptized; you are God’s beloved child; you are marked by the cross; you have his promised Holy Spirit, comforter.

This Thanksgiving, you may feel weak, tired, and worn out from living in this weary world of sin, suffering, and death. Paul cries out: Christ crucified is your strength! And he strengthens you with a promise that rests – not on our feelings of joy or contentment, but upon his shoulders on the cross for you, his word of pardon, healing, and forgiveness.

This Thanksgiving, your savings account, table, or chairs may be lacking. And yet again, Paul declares: God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Today Jesus spreads his banqueting table of forgiveness, life, and salvation is spread before you today. Today, the Lord is near to you in his body and blood for you, bringing you eternal contentment into our discontented lives. Today, Thanksgiving Day, and every day, your contentment in Christ Crucified.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

A blessed Thanksgiving to each of you…

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sermon for All Saints' Day: "Church Family Reunion"

+ Festival of All Saints (observed) – November 12th, 2017 +
Revelation 7:9-17; 1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12
Redeemer Lutheran, HB

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

Who are these clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?

John’s vision in Revelation reminds me of our own Schuldheisz family reunion every summer on the Oregon Coast. Who are all these Schuldheisz’s and from where have they come?

At least in our family, reunions are a great time to catch up after months or years apart, eat way too much food, relive old memories and make new ones, and simply spend time together. It’s a little glimpse of the joyful reunion we wait for and long for in the resurrection on the Last Day.

And that’s a good way to think about All Saints’ Day.

Today we remember, and give thanks to God for those who have departed in the faith and now rest from their labors. We remember, and give thanks to God for adopting us as his children in Holy Baptism. We remember, and give thanks to God, whether we’re here on earth, or asleep in Jesus that he calls us all his saints, his holy ones.

Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what you are.

Hearing that, it sounds like All Saints’ Day is a great, big family reunion. Here God gathers his saints in heaven and earth for a feast, not around a buffet table, but at the Lord’s Table; we sing, not silly campfire songs like “The Old Family Toothbrush”, but the all saints’ family chorus: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!”; and we’re clothed – not in matching neon T-shirts – but in glorious robes made white in the blood of the Lamb.

And no family gathering would be complete without a group photo to remember the present, a little reminiscing with aunts and uncles around the photo album to remember the past, and conversation that quickly turns to wondering about the future.

The family reunion around the throne of the Lamb in Revelation 7 is no different. In John’s vision we see two family photos: one of the past and present, and one of the future.
The past and present photograph shows the church militant, the church on earth marked by tribulation, trial, and suffering.

John’s vision reveals that those who belong to God, from the Old Testament down through the New are sealed, chosen, marked as his own. Covered by Jesus’ promise just as you are in Baptism. God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has been fulfilled. No one is left out of the church family photo-op. Yes, the saints of old faced countless trials, brutal persecution, and gruesome martyrdom…they lived as we do, under the cross. But together with the faithful departed, we are not alone in bearing the cross. For our Lord, the Lamb on the throne, bore the cross first, for us all.

In this world we will have trouble, but fear not, Jesus says, for I have overcome the world. In this world we will suffer, but fear not, Jesus has suffered for you on the cross and suffers with you still. In this world we will have tribulation, but fear not; Jesus has borne all our tribulation, disease, and death in the great tribulation of Good Friday.

Sin and suffering, persecution or pain, death or the devil – they have nothing on you because you belong to Jesus. You are his baptized ones, his holy ones, his saints.  Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what you are.

Suffering and tribulation, disaster and distress may come. But none of that can take away Christ’s promise from you, nor take you away from Christ the crucified and risen one. You are not abandoned. You have hope. A future.

And that’s what the second family photo in John’s vision of Revelation 7 reveals.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying:
“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom,
Thanksgiving and honor and power and might,
Be to our God forever and ever.

John shows us the great family reunion of the church triumphant, the saints surrounding the Lamb on the throne. Though this life is marked by suffering, we are also marked by the one who suffered all things for us. So, John’s vision reveals that we are also marked by Christ, adorned in white robes, made white in the blood of the Lamb.

And once again we’re not alone. The Lamb is at the center, surrounded by the once suffering, now joyful saints before his throne, some of them we know by name and remember today: Chuck, Sandy, and David; and yet a great multitude that no one could number.
“Who are these arrayed in white robes, and from where did they come?”

“These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

So much is summed up in that little word, tribulation.

These are the ones coming out of the ICU, hospice, and the nursing home.
These are the ones coming out of a lifelong battle with cancer, mental illness, or any other number of diseases.
These are the ones coming out of ugly divorces, broken families, and abuse.
These are the ones coming out of still births, miscarriages, and childless homes.
These are the ones coming out of church massacres, school shootings, and terrorist attacks.
These are the ones coming out of suffering, persecution, and beheading all because they bear the name of Jesus.
These are the ones coming out of earthquake, war, famine, and bloodshed.
These are the ones, who, like you, are clothed in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
You see, this is what makes you a saint: not what you think or feel or because you deserve or earned it, but simply by the blood of Jesus shed for you. We’re adopted into God’s family by simple water and word. Jesus feeds and nourishes us, his children, with simple bread and wine that delivers us forgiveness in his body and blood given and shed for you. That same body and blood that was given for us on the cross, the greatest tribulation of all. God the Father gave us his only begotten Son so that in Jesus we might be called children of God. And that is who you are. Jesus declares you to be his saint, his holy one – and not only on All Saints’ Day…but every day.

Even on days of suffering, tragedy, and tribulation. Someday, you too, will come out of this great tribulation. For the Lamb who sits on the throne dwells among you. You shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike you, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the midst of the throne will shepherd you and lead you to living fountains of water. And God will wipe away every tear from your eyes.

A blessed All Saints’ Day to each of you…

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

CUI Chapel: November 9th, 2017

Theme: Joy in all circumstances

Text: Psalm 66

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

The Psalmist declares:
Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
   sing the glory of his name;
    give to him glorious praise!
It’s easy to have joy in all circumstances life is going well
When you’re hanging out with your roommates or friends.

When you’re celebrating a Holiday with family, not that anyone is counting down to Thanksgiving break here, though, right?!

When a tough final or presentation is done and you’re celebrating a victory dance – it’s ok to admit it; we’ve all done a little happy dance at some point.

Yes, when life is good, it’s easy to join the Psalmist and shout for joy to God, to sing the glory of his name, and give him thanks and praise.

But, of course, we know that life isn’t always like the end of our favorite Disney movie. It’s much harder to have joy in all circumstances when circumstances in life seem about as far from joyful as you can get.
            When …it feels like hope and joy are gone. 

When the world – so broken, so full of disease, terror, tragedy, sin and death – seems to be crashing down upon you.

When we grieve the death of loved ones, and lament our own sin and guilt. 

Joy in all things? That doesn’t just sound hard to do; it sounds down right impossible.
And in fact, it is, if we’re only talking about our own joy. After all, if joy is like our feelings and happiness, it will come and go. If joy is something that is only in the stuff of this world, then it’s fleeting at best. And if joy is something we must search for within ourselves, we’ll always be left looking to our thoughts, desires, and actions instead of Christ, where, the Psalmist says, true joy is found.
And so, the Psalmist gives us a brief history lesson of Israel’s rescue at the Red Sea:
5 Come and see what God has done:
    he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
6 He turned the sea into dry land;
    they passed through the river on foot.
Israel’s true joy was found in YHWH’s salvation. Our true joy is found in YHWH’s salvation in Jesus; in the awesome deeds he has done for us on the cross. And where there’s Jesus, there’s joy.
Joy in the Good News that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Joy in God’s gift of Baptism where he washes away our sin.
Joy in the Lord’s Supper where we are filled with the joy of sins forgiven.
Joy in Jesus’ crucified for you, where he took all our unjoyful thoughts, words, and deeds, our sin and death itself all upon himself on the cross for you.
True joy, - yes, even joy in all circumstances – is found in Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

And that means, as the Psalmist declares, that God will never remove his steadfast love from you – not when we’ve forgotten him in good times, or when we cry out to him in tough times.
Jesus’ cross and resurrection for you is your joy, today, tomorrow, and always.

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Wedding Sermon for Don Jones and Addison Griede: "Sacrifice"

+ The Rite of Holy Matrimony – November 4th, 2017 +
Donald Jones and Addison Griede
Genesis 2:7, 18-24 and Ephesians 5:1-2, 22-33

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

At the heart of some of our favorite stories there is a sacrifice.

Harry Potter goes to the Forbidden Forest to face Voldemort and save the wizarding world from evil.

Against overwhelming odds, Matthias saves Redwall Abbey from Cluny the Scourge by putting himself in harm’s way.

Aslan lays down his life on the Stone Table to save Narnia from the White Witch.

Frodo and Samwise deliver the Ring of Power into the heart of Mordor, and at great cost to themselves and their friends.

Odysseus spends 10 years and endures countless dangers to get back to his wife Penelope.

Even our modern-day Superheroes (whether you prefer DC or Marvel) would have no story without sacrifice. Spiderman runs in front of a moving train to stop it. Superman sacrifices himself to save Metropolis.

And now you two know why I asked you earlier this week what some of your favorite books were…

Seems like all the good stories have a sacrifice at the center. The story of Christianity is no different. “Greater love has no man than one lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus says. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”…for you…for all. “God shows his love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus’ death and resurrection is the center of the story of Christianity. Without Jesus crucified and risen, there is no story, no Christianity, and no hope. And yet through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we receive all good things: God’s gifts of daily bread, family, and home; true joy in life and death; forgiveness of sins; even God’s gift of marriage comes to us through the cross, for Paul says that Christ loves us, his bridegroom, in his sacrifice for us.

And while this story is like many other stories, there is one major exception. Unlike the sacrifice of Harry Potter, Frodo, or Superman, this story happens to be true. Christ’s sacrifice for us didn’t happen in a comic book, a fairytale, or in a galaxy far, far away, but in human history. Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

Right in the middle of Paul’s teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5, he points to Christ’s sacrifice:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

What is Paul’s great secret to a Christian marriage? In a word, Sacrifice.

Marriage is about many things: daily chores and life-long goals, home and family, work and leisure, communication and finances, love and intimacy, and the list could go. What do all these have in common? Sacrifice. Denying ourselves for the sake of another.

And this is no small task. As one of my good friends said when he got married. “I never realized how selfish I was until I got married.”

Thankfully, marriage is sustained by Christ’s sacrifice for us, and not our own. Sacrifice in marriage only happens in, and through, and because of Christ’s sacrifice for you. You love because Christ first loved you. You sacrifice for each other because Christ first sacrificed himself for you. You live and care for each other each day because Christ lives and cares for you in his death and resurrection.

As husband and wife, be loyal to one another as were Samwise and Frodo. Cherish one another as Odysseus cherished Penelope. Befriend one another in thick and thin like Ron, Hermione, and Harry. And above all, live in Christ’s sacrifice for you. Pray together. Read and hear his Word together. Live in His forgiveness together.

And so, today, Don and Addison begin a new chapter in the story of their life together; Jesus’ sacrifice fills their marriage with his love and sacrifice.

Today is a certainly a happily ever after kind of day. But know that even when it doesn’t feel that way, you have true joy and contentment in Christ’s sacrifice.

Today, you may not know how your story will go – what twists and turns life will take - but you know the most important part: Christ died and rose for you.

As your married life together begins, know that Christ’s love revealed on the cross for you and for all, is the greatest, true, and never-ending story.

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