Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sermon: Reformation – 2015

25 October 2015

Text: Matt 11:12-19 (Rev 14:6-7, Rom 3:19-28)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, the world has been the very opposite of what it was created to be.  It fell from being a paradise, becoming instead a war zone.  Conflict is everywhere.  Man fell out of favor with God, men fell to other men, and even the natural world fell into becoming a bloody place of predators and prey. 

The red on our altar and in our sanctuary today is, in part, a reminder of this, because red is the color of bloodshed.  Red is the color of martyrdom.  And indeed, red is the color of the Reformation.

The Reformation was a sad and sorrowful time of violence.  The areas in Germany where the reforms were first being made in the churches became places of violence, places of conflict, places of bloodshed.

Confessors of the faith, pastors and lay people alike, were imprisoned and put to death.  Families were devastated. Books were burned.  The peasants had a bloody revolt, and the princes put it down with vicious cruelty. Governments were overthrown.  Armies clashed in the fields as the emperor tried to force Lutherans back under the pope at the point of a sword – something we today associate more with radical Islam than with the religion of the Prince of Peace.

Although today we remember the incident of Martin Luther quietly nailing an academic paper to the church door, something that was nothing more than an ordinary debate between Latin-speaking scholars at a remote university, the fallout of this event would change the world.  Dr. Luther’s paper was translated and published.  Ordinary people were reading it.  And before long, the streets would run red with the blood of people from every walk of life who believed that salvation is by grace alone, through faith, and that the bishops of the church were under the authority of the Bible, and not the other way around. 

And yet, in remembrance of this monstrous time of bloodshed, our church is bedecked in the festive color of red, and we are celebrating.  To be sure, we do not celebrate cruelty or war, violence or bloodshed.  Christians are lovers of peace, even as our Lord is the Prince of Peace. But we do celebrate courage and steadfastness, faithfulness, and the witness of the testimony of the saints who loved the kingdom of God more than they loved their dear life’s-blood itself.  For at no point in history has the Church’s life in this fallen world been peaceful. Christian blood has run from our veins and dyed the earth red since the very beginning of the Church. And all of the enemies of the cross, outside the church and inside, all who have sought to muzzle the Gospel, have ended up in ruin.  But yet, as St. Peter the apostle wrote, citing Isaiah, “The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord remains forever.”

The armies who defended the Lutheran territories from the pope’s armies had the letters VDMA on their flags, Latin for: “Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum: the Word of the Lord endures forever.”  For as all Christians know, all flesh is indeed like the grass.  It is like a flower.  Like all things in our broken world, everything is temporary, everything except the Word of God.  And that Word is worth dying for, and it is worth living for.  For the Word-made-flesh Himself died to give us life.  And He, Jesus, is the heart of the confession that makes people so angry and filled with hatred and rage so as to want to spill our blood.

As our Lord said: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.”  We are a sinful people who are never happy.  We grumbled at John the Baptist for not eating and drinking.  We grumbled at Jesus for eating and drinking. We beheaded John. We crucified Jesus.  We are most certainly poor, miserable sinners for whom Christ died.

And indeed, the red in our sanctuary stands for the blood of the saints and martyrs, but also for the blood of the One whose blood sets us free from death itself: the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, the blood of Him who saved us.

For our Lord’s blood ran from His veins at the cross, and His blood covered the whole world’s sins. This is the confession of our forbears who would at some point be called “Lutherans” by their attackers.  Being saved from sin, death, and the devil is free – it is a gift.  You don’t need a pope to interpret or even mangle the words of the Bible.  You don’t need to buy an indulgence or attempt to earn your way into the kingdom of heaven.  For the kingdom of heaven suffers violence whenever the work of our Lord on the cross is minimized or obscured by false doctrine or by false prophets.

It took Dr. Luther and the so-called Lutherans to remind the world what the Word of God actually says: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith…. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.”

Dear friends, this is not some kind of “Lutheran” doctrine, it is the Christian faith in a nutshell.  It is the Word of the Lord, and it endures forever. It is the Gospel testified to by the blood of every holy martyr, including the holy confessors of the Reformation.

For just as the grass withers and the flower fades, and just as all flesh is grass, everything in this fallen world is temporary, dear brothers and sisters.  The things we love and hold so dear are all temporary: our homes, our country, our vehicles, our friendships, our hobbies, our heirlooms, our treasures – all of it.

Bloodshed is also temporary and will cease, as swords will be beaten into plowshares.  Conflict is temporary and will cease, as the lion will lie down with the lamb.  Sin, death, and the devil are temporary and will cease, as the Lord Jesus Christ defeated all three by His own death upon the cross, and promises to cast them all into the lake of fire. 

And that victory, the victory of the cross, belongs to you, dear friends, to each one of you who have been baptized and who believe this Gospel.  That victory is a free gift. For the word “Gospel” simply means “good news.”  The war has been won.  The enemy has been defeated.  Our own sinful flesh that is in rebellion has been recreated anew by the flesh and blood of the Savior. And He speaks to us today in His Word that endures forever, and His flesh becomes your flesh through eating and drinking of the Lord’s Supper: His very body and blood given and shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, and eternal communion with the Triune God, with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven.

And so, yes, dear friends, we are so bold as to celebrate, even festively decorating our church in the red of the blood of our fallen brothers and sisters.  For that blood is also Christ’s blood, spilled for our behalf and given to us in a saving communion with the One who created a perfect conflict-free world in the beginning, and who has saved us by that same blood at the cross, paying for something that we could never earn or afford, and sharing it with us free of charge right here in this sanctuary. 

And He promises us an even greater Reformation: the reforming of heaven and earth, one that will endure forever.  Amen.

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

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sermon: Trinity 21 – 2015

11 October 2015

Text: John 4:46-54 (Gen 1:1-2:3, Eph 6:10-17)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

“In the beginning, God created…”

Once more, dear brothers and sisters, we have heard the account of our origin, of the world’s origin, of the universe’s origin, from the very Word of God itself, from the Word Himself.  For there was a beginning, and there was a creation.  There is a Creator, and there are creatures.  God created time and matter and energy from nothing, and the will of God created the laws of the universe, by which all things move and have their being.  Our existence is purposeful, meaningful, and holy.

The Creator, moreover, is no mad scientist, no tinkerer.  He is a Father.  He loves His creation, even to the point of granting us freedom: freedom to love Him or reject Him.  He created matter and energy and time, and set them into motion according to the laws of nature.  But He gave us minds by which we can act with a will of our own.  We are free to love God, and we are free to reject our Creator, even to the point of self-destruction.

Dear friends, we all know what happened with our first parents in that “very good” creation, that perfect creation.  We invited disharmony and discord.  We invited disease and disfigurement.  We invited death and damnation.

And with that He was wounded with the cruelest blow of all, with betrayal and unrequited love, with treason and treachery. And yet, nevertheless, He loves us.

The world hears this and laughs, mocks, rages, and hates.  The world patronizingly pats us on the head as though we believe in genies in lamps and leprechauns in the woods, but it rages against us with raw hatred and maliciously seeks to cut off our heads.  Our brothers and sisters are, at this very moment across the world that God created, suffering in lonely cold prison cells, being tortured, being beheaded, and worse.  Even here in a liberal, free, civilized society, Christians are jailed for conscientious objection to rulings that defy the laws of nature and the laws of the people.  Christians are subjected to brutal and cruel fines from unelected commissioners who have admitted that they are motivated by hatred.  Christians are gunned down methodically in schools.  All the while, those who hate us mock us and assure us that we are not being persecuted.

Tell that to confessors Pastor Saied Abedini and Mrs. Asia Bibi – for whom we have been praying for years.  Tell that to confessors Aaron and Melissa Klein.  Tell that to the nine martyred students at Umpqua Community College who were shot after confessing their Christian faith.

The betrayal that we feel at the hands of our fellow men, whom we love and for whom we pray, is a small taste of the cross of our Lord, whom we betray by our sins, whom we deny when it is inconvenient to confess, whom we ignore when we look for other gods to serve.

And yet, dear friends, in spite of our sins, in spite of our betrayals, in spite of our persecution of Jesus Himself, He endures the shame of the cross; He suffers death; He permits His dead body to be sown into the earth like a seed.  And that seed, the Seed of the Woman, blasted through the shell of the tomb, like a plant-yielding seed, that is for us, the very Tree of Life.  He rises from the death we deserve, even as He shed the blood we ought to have shed.

This, dear brothers and sisters, is the meaning of the miracle of the healing of the son of the official of Capernaum.  For officials understand the power of the word. One little word with the seal of an important enough official can give life to a condemned prisoner, or send an innocent man to his own execution.  But this official at Capernaum knew that all the signatures and seals and fancy parchments in the world were powerless to save a dying son.

This official goes to where true power resides and is wielded, to the One who has more than a fancy letterhead or luxurious robes of royalty.  This official of Capernaum has true faith, for he knows that he is powerless in the face of death, but knows One who is to defeat death and the grave: Jesus.  This man prays.  He asks the Christ: “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  And the man “believed the Word.”

For Jesus is the Word.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” “In the beginning God created...”  “And God said, ‘Let there be… and there was…’”

Our Lord Jesus is not a creature, but the Creator. He is not the word that is spoken, but the Word that speaks.

He came to set the tottering creation right.  He came to heal the broken universe.  He came to restore harmony: peace between God and man, between man and man, and between man and nature.  He came to love us even though we are unlovable.  He does not betray us, though we betray Him.  He comes to hold out the olive branch from the nail-pierced hand of God Himself, so that we might find not just requited love, but unconditional and eternal love.

“Go; your son will live” – even as the Son of God likewise lives, though He was crucified.  

Jesus has come to give His life as a ransom for the world.  Nobody is excluded from the Father’s grace. Though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” He “so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” And yet, even then, most people opt out of the gift.

Many find the creation account repulsive.  Many refuse to believe in objective truth as we Christians confess. Many simply hate us because they hate Christ – and as Jesus asks, can a disciple be above his teacher?  If they crucified Christ, how can we expect to be treated by the world?

How has the world treated the confessors Pastor Saied Abedini and Mrs. Asia Bibi?  How has the world treated the confessors Aaron and Melissa Klein?  How has the world treated the nine martyred students at Umpqua Community College who were shot after confessing their Christian faith?

Dear friends, it is not an easy thing to be a Christian.  St. Paul encourages us to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  For our fight is a spiritual fight.  Behind the madmen with bullets and fanatics with swords and malicious bureaucrats with power to levy fines are “spiritual forces of evil.”  We must look past our comfortable modern American lifestyle to see, with the eyes of faith, the pitched battle being waged in the world that we confess in the creed that is “invisible.”

Gird yourself with truth, dear friends.  Never give in to the lie.  Wear the breastplate of righteousness, never fight this battle in an unrighteous way.  Shoe your feet by means of the readiness of the Gospel, a Gospel of peace, and never forget that we are the people of peace and the people of good news.  Don’t neglect to shield yourself, dear friends, not with anything in this material world, but with faith, faith in Christ, the faith of the official of Capernaum and his household who believed.  Wear as a crown for your head the salvation given to you as a gift, and avoid the temptation to be crowned with the worldly honor of this crooked generation.  And do not forget, dear friends, your one offensive weapon in this spiritual warfare, your sword, the sword of the Spirit, the very Word of God.

We know what that Word is, what that Word says, and most importantly of all, who that Word is.  He is the Word who created us, the Word who redeems us, the Word who declares us righteous, the Word who loves us, heals us, saves us, and recreates the universe anew.  

“In the beginning was the Word…” Amen.

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

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Sermon: Wednesday of Trinity 20 – 2015

7 October 2015

Text: Matt 22:1-14 (Isa 5:1-9, Eph 5:15-21)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

God invites all of mankind to a feast, and our sinful flesh thinks we have better things to do.  There are other feasts: parties, festivals, sports events, rest and relaxation, flashing screens and shiny things, or even just staying in bed.

Why does our sinful flesh behave this way? 

One would think that free food would entice us, or perhaps the opportunity to be near the king.  Of course, if nothing else there is a political advantage, and the opportunity to be seen.  Even in the world, if the boss throws a party, we are wise enough to attend, or at least put in an appearance.

Indeed, the invitation should get our attention: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price…. Delight yourselves in rich food.”

It sounds like the opportunity of a lifetime, or even of eternity.  God Himself is offering to throw an eternal and magnificent banquet, and admits us to the head table.  And in the case of this banquet, it includes a complete pardon of every sin we have ever committed in this life; it includes citizenship in the kingdom of God and fellowship with God Himself.

And yet, the excuses for not showing up are legion.  They are also weak and unconvincing.  For the real reason people turn down the offer is that they think they can hold the ticket in their back pockets and use it any time.  Meanwhile, there is fun to be had and a self to serve.  For in the minds of the sinful flesh, wisdom can wait.  Now is the time to walk unwisely, “because the days are evil.”  There is time to be foolish, to “get drunk with wine” and “debauchery” or with any number of hobbies and diversions from God’s gracious invitation.  For there will always be time later for “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” and “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  I am baptized, and therefore, I can repent later, so says the sinful flesh.

The prophet Isaiah warns us: “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call upon Him while He is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

For the sinful flesh ignores the invitation. It refuses to come to be where the Lord invites us to be.  The sinful flesh focuses upon the self instead of the Savior, paying mind to the clock instead of the cross.  The sinful flesh is even capable of murdering the prophets and treating the king’s messengers shamefully.

And to those who refuse to repent, the King becomes angry.  He eventually revokes the invitation and sends forth the Spirit to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify others into His holy Christian Church, those who participate in the wedding feast of the Son through all eternity.  God calls others instead of those who continue to harden their hearts.  Some of the refuseniks even become violent: murdering the prophets, shooting up schools and churches, mangling the institution of marriage, killing children and planning the profits of the sale of their yet beating hearts over glasses of wine.

The Lord sends His servants to the main roads, gathering in those who repent, who heed the call of the Gospel, those who are baptized and saved and participating in the pardoning feast of the Lord’s Supper, hearing the prophetic word, and enjoying a seat at the head table with the Lamb and the Ancient of Days and the Spirit, reigning with them unto all eternity.

And so here we are, dear friends.  It may not look to the eyes like a grand banquet hall, but that is exactly what it is.  It is a sanctuary, an embassy of heaven.  We gather here around a bowl of water, a lectern, a pulpit, and a table with wafers of bread and a cup of wine that we share.  It is not course after course of decadent and expensive foods, and yet it is the richest meal in history: the body of Christ.  It is not the most expensive and exclusive of drinks, but it is the choicest of all in the universe, for it is the blood of Christ.

The banquet starts here, but it never ends.  It begins in time, but will continue into eternity.  To the eyes of the world it looks like a pathetic affair: a handful of people with aches and pains and ailments hobbling to a wooden rail to be hand-fed a tiny piece of bread and poured a sip of wine by a guy in what looks like robes.  Some words are said.  An old book is read. 

But what a banquet this is, dear friends!  For God Almighty, the Creator and King of the universe, is here with us physically and intimately in space and time, joining us at this table, which by His presence, becomes the head table, the Holy of Holies, the divine throne.  He declares us forgiven and worthy by the cross and the empty tomb, to be regarded as righteous and able to sit with God at a never-ending feast.  He fills us with food that always satisfies, and drink that always slakes.  He transforms us by His mighty Word and by His ever-present transformative Spirit.  He packs His banquet hall even with the likes of us, “both bad and good,” forgiven sinners, redeemed saints, men, women, and children from every walk of life.

And for us men and for our salvation, He has prepared His dinner, dear friends.  The Lamb Himself has been slaughtered, and He is risen!  The bread of life has come down from heaven.  His flesh is bread for the life of the world.  By His Word, we are made alive.  By His stripes we are healed.  By His cross we are reconciled.

And though His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways His ways, and though the heavens are higher than the earth, and though His ways and thoughts exceed ours, He has nevertheless filled His heavenly banquet hall with us, dear friends, with each one of us, with believers of every time and place, with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.  

We are at this banquet because we have been invited.  We wear the baptismal garment.  We have been called.  We have been chosen.  And this is why, dear friends, we can receive this admonition from St. Paul with joy: “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Our sinful flesh has been crucified with Christ.  We have been invited, the bad and the good, we are clothed with the wedding garment, we are here to buy and eat, without money and without price.  Welcome to the feast, dear brothers and sisters, now and even unto eternity! Amen.

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