Monday, September 25, 2017

Sermon September 23-24, 2017

Title: Thank God, Christ is not fair with you!
Text: Matthew 20:1-16

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

Over the triple doorways of the cathedral of Milan there are three inscriptions spanning the splendid arches. Over one is carved a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, "All that which pleases is but for a moment."

Over the other is sculptured a cross, and there are the words, "All that which troubles us is but for a moment."

But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, "That only is important … which is eternal."

If we always realize these three truths, we will not let trifles trouble us, not be interested so much in the passing pleasures of the hour. We should live for the permanent and the eternal.

Source Unknown.

As we think about the gift of faith and eternal life we also look at that which we could never earn, our salvation, but which is still given not as a merit or a wage but as a gift and that is … Christ’s forgiveness … freely given!

Thank God, Christ is not fair with you or me and gives us what we deserve.

In the gospel reading for today we see the work of daily labor compared to the Kingdom of heaven. In the story Jesus says that:

20 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

The master of the house sends laborers into the vineyard to work for the day. They agree to a denarius for the days wage and go to work. This continues on as throughout the day the master returns and hires more laborers at the third, sixth and ninth hour. At the eleventh hour he also hires laborers for his vineyard and agrees to pay the same denarius for their work.

Saying to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’

All who have been given work are happy and agree to the terms of their employment.

Finally the day is done.

8 And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’

Those who were hired last were paid first and receive the denarius promised. Those who had been hired first expect more than what they agreed too … as they had labored in the vineyard all day, twelve hours in all. But, they too receive a denarius.

11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’

So if we look at this situation from a human and sinful perspective we see the inequity of the master. One worked twelve hours and one worked nine hours, another six hours others just three hours while some only worked one hour … yet they were all paid the same.

Or … they received the same.

If we place this situation into the world and the court system one might expect a law suit to determine fair compensation, even though those who were hired first had agreed to the wage. In fact all agreed to the wage not knowing what the others had been hired for. The inequity seems large and is … as much as twelve times the wage for those who were hired last.

When you look at the story in perspective to work, yes it seems unfair, and I’m sure there would be a class action law suit directed at the master for unfair labor practices. But all agreed to the wage and when you put it in that perspective … as the master says:

Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?

This is the real analogy here, where those who have been brought to faith and raised in the faith for their whole lives, having been baptized as infants as it were, and having the blessings of God, they may see it as unfair for those who were apart from faith in God … and are in fact our enemies of God for their whole lives, and even up to the last hour of their life, where they may then be brought to faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, even on their death beds; having been given the same gift of faith in Christ given the infant in baptism where they both receive the Kingdom of God for all eternity.

The master says …

I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ 16 So the last will be first, and the first last.”

The truth of who is the active agent in salvation is real simple. It is God alone who moves and brings to faith. It is through the means of grace of word and sacrament that God turns us from God’s enemies and makes us His children by faith through the working of the Holy Spirit.

For we who are redeemed by faith and the working of the Holy Spirit we too are sent into the lord’s vineyard to work. For some long and hard and for others just for a moment, yet the gift of our loving God in Christ is the Kingdom and eternal life. We all who have received faith receive the gift and what it promises.

The prophetic word is still alive today. It is proclaimed, it is taught and it is received and by the Spirit’s work … Christ is made known; for some as infants and for others on their death beds but all receive the same promise of God’s Kingdom in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Thank God, Christ is not fair with you!

In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!

Amen

Monday, September 18, 2017

September 16-17, 2017

Title: Forgiveness is …for you!
Text: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

In his book, Lee: The Last Years, Charles Bracelen Flood reports that after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, "Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it." It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain, let bitterness take root and poison the rest of our life.

Michael Williams.

“That is the mystery which is rich in divine grace to sinners: wherein by a wonderful exchange our sins are no longer ours but Christ’s and the righteousness of Christ not Christ’s but ours. He has emptied Himself of His righteousness that He might clothe us with it, and fill us with it.
And He has taken our evils upon Himself that He might deliver us from them [and] in the same manner as He grieved and suffered in our sins … while we rejoice and glory in His righteousness.”

–Martin Luther, Werke (Weimar, 1883), 5: 608.

Martin Luther understood that:

Forgiveness is …for you!

In the gospel reading for today Peter asks Jesus a probing question.

“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?”
And then quickly answers that question himself with what he thinks is a good answer.

“As many as seven times?”

It’s easy to see that Peter believes himself to be quite generous in his view of forgiveness. Maybe even thinking that at some point certainly after seven times, I’ll be able to just whack my brother and end this nonsense.

To this Jesus replies:

“I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

It is not the Lord’s intent to show a definite number of times where forgiveness is to be delivered but that for God’s people who have been forgiven by grace, may understand that the content of their hearts should contain only … God given love and forgiveness.

But for we who are Christians, saved by the mercy and grace of our Lord, we live daily within that tension of being both saint and sinner. Both, brought forth in iniquity, and conceived in sin as Psalm 51:5 reminds us, yet justified by faith, receiving God’s peace through Christ’s work by the power of the Holy Spirit. Rom. 5:1

We have received in essence, the favor of God on account of Christ through this blessed exchange, our sin … for Christ’s righteousness.

“The idea is not simply that we have been forgiven, and therefore ought to forgive [others], but that God Himself, in Christ, has forgiven us, and therefore our debt is truly incalculable. No matter how much has been done against us, it is little compared with the offense we have thrown in the face of our Lord.

Yet God in Christ has forgiven us. If we know anything of [our own] forgiveness, if we have glimpsed anything of the magnitude of [our own sin] and the debt we owe to God … our forgiveness of others will not seem to be such a large leap.”

–D.A. Carson, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2002), 80-1.

Ill.

20 years ago as I wrestled with the aftermath of leaving the church of my birth [Roman Catholic] and I was also confused at the time with some of the doctrines and teaching from the nondenominational church I was then attending [Heart of the Hills Christian church]. I happened upon the radio program, the White Horse Inn. May be you’ve heard of it? The program and its hosts discuss theological issues from a reformed and Lutheran understanding and perspective.

In the episode that I was listening to the hosts had their producer go around the hall of a Christian Booksellers Convention asking people in attendance;

It has been said:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God. … not even one.” Rom.3

To this the respondents replied:

“Gee that’s harsh!”

“You’ve got to be kidding me, I don’t believe it!”

One man even asked, “Who said that, a Neo orthodox theologian?”

To which the reporter replied, “The Apostle Paul in Romans 3.”

The radio went silent. “Oh … ?”

The truth is that as sinners we have a very high view of self and a very low of sin. To that end, the indebtedness that we owe to Christ for our rescue is devalued and you either see your sin as really not all that bad or … even worse … Christ’s forgiveness and rescue as really not all that good or necessary.

But, apart from God’s action and working, every one of us would remain, dead in trespass and sin. And like Lazarus who was unable to free himself from the bonds of sin and death, and the tomb, until the voice of Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!” We too would remain entombed in our own sin, dead to God, forever separated from the love of Christ found only in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The wages of sin is death. Paul tells us in Romans 6. Rom. 6:23a

And death is real whether it is in Syria or Iraq, or Charlottesville North Carolina; whether it’s by one’s own hand in suicide; or a senseless murder of mother shot in the back in our own Waterford. For all of these … death is real.

23 but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom. 6:23b

Ill.

I thought about this when President Matthew C. Harrison was first elected president of the Lutheran Synod. There was quite a bit of tension and a pretty dramatic scene back in 2010. He was elected on the first ballot and this in of itself was a bit out of the ordinary. While Dr. Gerald Keishnick was visably surprised and disappointed he displayed a great amount of grace as he invited President –Elect Harrison to address the assembly. President Harrison said: “You have kept your record intact of electing a sinner to be president of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod. I will sin against you and ask for your forgiveness and if any of you have sinned against me … I forgive you.”
Christ’s mercy for we who deserve death is a pure gift. Even one sin would separate us from the love of God in Christ, not to mention our complete corruption from the fall for we who are born sinful and unclean.

But, because Jesus is the mercy and peace of forgiveness; we who have been given faith in Christ can joy in that forgiveness!

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”

God has had mercy upon us for the sake of Jesus, who paid the debt of our sin. He has [freed] us from the imprisonment we deserve and He has forgiven the debt. Therefore we have the obligation of gratitude resting upon us that [as you and I who have been forgiven] we gladly forgive our fellow-men what they have sinned against us. Even if such a [sin] great in the sight of men, it cannot come into consideration in comparison with the debt which God has mercifully forgiven [you and me].

Luther – Kretzmann NT pg. 103

May Christ Jesus’ bountiful mercy and peace comfort you, as you joy in the forgiveness won at the cross and given to you freely by faith in Him who was and is and is to come.

While I know all too well that I have sinned against you here at Peace I ask for your forgiveness and if you have sinned against me … I forgive you.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!

Amen

Monday, September 11, 2017

Sermon September 9-10, 2017

Martin: The man! Video series Session #4
Title: Fear not! Here I stand! In Christ!
Text: Romans 10:26-28

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

The tension continues. Luther is called to give a response. How about you or me? What responsibility do we as Christians have in our own day?

We too live in tension between the secular and the holy. What God has said versus what man and the world says.

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. This first line from God’s word in the book of Genesis, which means beginning of something, is put in tension between man and science that says creation began or was the result of no creator … but only because of a bang of cosmic proportions that set all things in motion.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures …

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.”

Darwin’s theory of evolution on the other hand says that there is no creator but only natural selection which over time changes and adapts from one kind into another called Macro evolution. As Christians we understand micro evolution or changes within kinds and adaption to environments.

In a May 13, 2015 posting on Live Science “What is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution” Kar Than writes:

In the first edition of "The Origin of Species" in 1859, Charles Darwin speculated about how natural selection could cause a land mammal to turn into a whale. As a hypothetical example, Darwin used North American black bears, which were known to catch insects by swimming in the water with their mouths open:

"I can see no difficulty in a race of bears being rendered, by natural selection, more aquatic in their structure and habits, with larger and larger mouths, till a creature was produced as monstrous as a whale," he speculated.

https://www.livescience.com/474-controversy-evolution-works.html

God’s word again says:

7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

God creates life. He gives man and animals the same command to be fruitful and increase in number.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Man says, on the other hand … it is only a fetus and that life begins at birth so pay no attention to the prenatal care that the medical community calls for, it is your right and your decision to remove that inconvenience and to take that life, in the womb. Or … as the activists call for on demand and without apology.

The conflict in our day is much the same as Luther’s. What does the word of God say and do we stand on the word of God or on the word of man?

Luther’s theology started to develop even as early as 1518. It started to go beyond the paying of indulgences to free those in purgatory, to the theology of the cross and the understanding of God’s mercy not earned by what we sinners do - but that God’s mercy is purely a gift, given to you and me by faith in the suffering servant Jesus Christ, who by his sinless life, substitutionary death and glorious resurrection paid the price for the sins for the whole world.

Psalm 51:16-17 (ESV)

16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The night Jesus was betrayed both Judas, who betrayed him, and Peter, who denied him, ran off with broken hearts. Judas turned inward and being overwhelmed with guilt killed himself. Jesus appeared to Peter and restored him. (“Follow me” John 21:19b)

Lutheran Hour Ministries Study Guide Session 4 pg2

Luther had to answer the questions posed to him. “Martin Luther, are these your books?” “Yes.” “Will you recant all of these writings?”

So he gives an answer without “horns or teeth” … a straight answer.

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”

Martin Luther, Diet of Worms
April 18, 1521


We too need to take a stand in our day and time being captive to the word of God. To do so we need to know the word and be in the word. Our little book a simple explanation of Christianity can be a great help. It can make us captive to God’s word – what he demands, who he is, what he has done for us, and how we can call on him, in prayer, praise and thanksgiving as he unites, feeds and sustains us

We learn of the Father’s creative power making all things; and the redemptive power of the word made flesh, Jesus Christ, his only begotten son a who lived, died and rose again for you and me; and the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers and the lives and intercedes in the lives of his children … you and me, sustaining us and keeping us in the one true faith.

In our our gospel reading for today we read:

18 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

In humility and love as god’s children … speak the truth. Love the Lord your God with all your heart mind soul and strength and you neighbor as yourself.

Here we stand … we can do no other … so help us God. 

Amen

Monday, September 4, 2017

Sermon September 2-3, 2017

Title: Dropping dead in Jesus!
Text: Matt 16:21-28

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

Death is part of life. It’s heartbreaking. We see those we love … no more.

At times we can anticipate death and prepare for its arrival. Other times death is thrust upon us when we least expect it - leaving little or no time to prepare for the loss, confusion, and sorrow that is left behind.

At times death is met by denial.

No way! I don’t believe it! I was just with them!

Or … it is met with the sad question, “What’s in it for me?”

In our gospel for today and immediately following Peter’s confession of faith from last week 21 … Jesus began to show his disciples [and to prepare them for death … his death] that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

Death was real for Jesus. He knew it would come; he knew his purpose in our redemption … but his disciples didn’t yet fully understand.

Certainly Peter didn’t. For what a change we see in Peter, as he goes from confessing: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Receiving praise from Christ for his good confession revealed by the Father to in the span of 4 short verses saying: “Never, Lord!” … “This shall never happen to you!” So much for building the church on Peter the man as the stern rebuke of the Lord confirms …

23 … “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; But also for each one of us (you and me) as we too wrestle with the Saint / sinner dichotomy within us both redeemed in Christ and bound in sin.

So, Jesus tells Peter: You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

Human concerns though, are real; especially when they affect us and we’d rather not think about the one major human concern that we all have - death and the consequences it brings.

As one loved one said to me after the funeral of her deceased boyfriend:

“We didn’t make plans for this. This was so unexpected.”

We are a self aware people and many look to self when death is near. For me as a pastor and for those under my care, it can be heartbreaking. Driving as I often do to visit shut-ins I am always reminded of those blessed departed souls that are no longer on my list to visit having departed to be with the Lord.

Planning for a funeral for we who remain has changed in our day as well, as many who take care for the affairs on the deceased are no longer active church members themselves or at times even believers so the emphasis has gone:

From the pastor and the church - to the funeral director and funeral home

From the reality of death seen in light of Christ and his resurrection - to a simple celebration of life

From death as our enemy - to death as our friend at times even over age and sickness

From the congregation of the saints - to simple family and friends

From the resurrection of the body imperishable - to the immortality of the soul

From burial - to cremation

Rev. William Cwirla Reformation Insights into the Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying

These are just some of the changes I’ve seen inside and outside the church and as one who gets to proclaim Christ, at member and nonmember funerals alike, the trend has become similar.

Death becomes sanitized, life accomplishments heralded, and pictures of a life well lived celebrated. 

It is good to celebrate life, it is a gift of God ... but so is eternal life.

But Jesus says in our gospel:

26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?

For the Christian, sin and death has been killed with Christ’s death. And we who have been brought to faith in Christ have been raised with him in his glorious resurrection to a life eternal. So as we deal with the impending death of a loved one or think about death and that reality that waits in our own lives, how should we think?

Martin Luther in a letter to his dying mother thought this way and wrote in this way:

“Dear death, dear sin, how is it that you are alive and terrify me? Do you not know that you have been overcome? Do you, Death, not know that you are quite dead? Do you not know the one who has said to you, “I have overcome the world?”

Luther’s letter to his dying mother (Letters of Spiritual counsel)

Death is not good. Death was not God’s plan … for you. Death is a result of sin and the fall and we are born in sin and born to die. How else could we understand the lunacy that is this broken and corrupt world where we live? But there is good news for we who hope in Christ and have overcome death because Christ has overcome death for you and for me triumphing over it at the cross.

Dropping dead in Jesus was a workshop on pastoral care that I attended at the, Liturgy, Preaching and Church Music conference in Chicago the past July. Our church, like the whole Christian church on earth, is a dying church; and I don’t just mean declining members that we see in the pews in the earthly sense, because for us - death – closes the temporal exposing the immortal.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. 1 Cor. 15:42-44

Our hope is in Christ, whether we depart this life to be with the Lord at death or the Lord returns to gather you and me, the wheat into his barns, we will be and we have the guarantee that we will be raised with the Lord and will be with the Lord forever.

Those whose hope is not in the Lord … have no hope at all.

As Luther writes in his preface to the Burial Hymns:

“Since they are beyond the pale of faith in Christ, they must either, cherish this temporal life as the only thing worthwhile and hate to lose it, or expect that after this life they will receive eternal death and the wrath of God in hell and must fear to go there.”

LW 53:325-326

It is in keeping with the text of our gospel today where Jesus says:

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life [in this temporal and broken world] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake [being made God’s child by the working of the Holy Spirit] will find it.

In keeping with that joyful understanding of losing our life for Christ’s sake and receiving life eternal as we in this life take up our own cross, let us sing together the 3rd verse of Hymn #708 from our Lutheran Service Book, for your convenience written in our bulletin.

Lord Thee I Love With All My Heart.

3 Lord, let at last Thine angels come,
To Abram's bosom bear me home,
That I may die unfearing;
And in its narrow chamber keep
My body safe in peaceful sleep
Until Thy reappearing.
And then from death awaken me
That these mine eyes with joy may see,
O Son of God, Thy glorious face,
My Savior and my fount of grace,
Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend,
And I will praise Thee without end.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit!

Amen