Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 5 – 2017

16 July 2017

Text: Luke 5:1-11

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In today’s Gospel, we hear the very first prayer St. Peter offers to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Before we knew him as St. Peter, the world knew him as Simon.  Before we knew him as the leader of the apostles and the first bishop of Rome, the world knew him as a common fisherman.

And here, Jesus crosses paths with this Galilean fisherman, borrowing his boat as a sort of portable podium.  It is morning, and Simon has been fishing all night, but caught nothing.  And so he cleaned his nets while the rabbi preached.

After the sermon, the preacher Jesus suddenly tells Simon, “‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’  And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing.  But at your word I will let down the nets.’”  And here is where something extraordinary and miraculous happened: not just the remarkable haul of fish, but the revelation of Jesus and the realization of Simon of just who Jesus is.  Simon has just learned that this rabbi with unusual fishing advice is none other than God. 

And so he kneels before God and prays.  And what is this prayer?  Is it a praise, a thanksgiving, a request for healing, or of some wish for a miracle?  No, Simon the fisherman’s first prayer is completely unexpected.  He makes his petition on His knees before Jesus, saying, “Ἔξελθε.”  The Latin translation of a form of this word is seen on the walls of this church.  It’s not a word that the church placed here, but rather the government.  You’ll see this word over the doors: “EXIT.”

The very first prayer uttered by Simon Peter to the Lord Jesus Christ is: “Exit.”  He prays for Jesus to “Go away.”  He is pushing God away from him.  That’s his prayer.

Now, many people do this very thing today: they push God away.  Some people reject God because they think belief in God is unscientific, that science has disproven God’s existence.  However, the scientific method involves hypotheses and proof through observable experimentation. What experiment in a laboratory disproves God?  To assert this is to miss the entire point about science.  And in fact, modern science was the creation of Christian men.

Other people push God away based on logic and reason.  Belief in God is not rational, they argue.  But it is actually the opposite.  For a painting logically requires a painter; a sculpture logically requires a sculptor; a book logically requires an author, and creation logically requires a Creator.  This kind of critical thinking and use of reason has been a hallmark of Christian wisdom and education for centuries. 

Others push God away because they are angry at Him.  Often it involves a prayer that was not answered the way the petitioner wanted, or a tragic event in life.  This often makes for a curious kind of atheist, not one that simply doesn’t think there is a God, but who rather refuses to believe in Him because the person is angry at Him.  This not only makes no sense, but it blames God for the mess that we poor miserable sinners have made of the world.  And as Scripture clearly teaches, God’s ways are not our ways.  We pray that His will be done, not ours. 

And so we see St. Peter pray for Jesus to leave Him.  This is his prayer, which Jesus answers with a firm “No!”

For St. Peter’s reason to pray to the Lord to “depart from me,” is not based on a belief in science or human reason or in a refusal to let God call the shots.  It’s actually for a good reason: “Depart from me,” says Simon Peter, “for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Simon realizes that Jesus is God, and that he, Simon, is sinful.  He understands that God is holy, and sinful men are not.  He understands that he is not worthy to be in the presence of God – like Isaiah, who, when he found himself before God, protested, “I am a man of unclean lips.”  For Simon knew the Ten Commandments, that he has not kept them.  He knew his unworthiness to look God in the face.  He knew that according to the righteousness of God, he had no right to be in the Lord’s presence. 

So He asks the Lord to leave.

Jesus answers his prayer, but not in the way Simon expected.  Instead of exiting, the Lord Jesus abides with him, and declares Simon to be worthy to be in the presence of God.  For He tells Simon Peter: “Do not be afraid.”  And he further tells the fisherman that he will be casting a different kind of net, and will be catching men instead of fish.  Thus Jesus does not exit, does not depart from Peter, and moreover, Simon “left everything and followed Him.”

The Lord Jesus would nickname Simon as “Peter,” which means “Rocky.” For Peter was to confess Jesus as Lord, and was to become an apostle, one sent to preach.  Jesus says that he was to build the church upon the rock of Rocky Peter’s confession and apostolic ministry.  This Simon the fisherman was to become Simon Peter the Apostle, Bishop Peter of Rome, and St. Peter the martyr.

And Peter’s life was to be a rocky road.  He was not always the Lord’s rock.  For he would deny Jesus three times as the Lord was led to the cross, only to be forgiven three times and restored to office after the Lord rose again.  And more than thirty years down the road, St. Peter was to be led and nailed to a cross of his own by the government who would demand Peter’s exit from life on this side of the grave. 

And though Peter will make that exit, he will rise again, as will we, even as the Lord Jesus made His own exit at the cross on Good Friday, but entered once more in the empty tomb on Easter Sunday.  Our Lord Jesus has exited this world at the ascension, but He will come again at the end of time, even as He continues to come to us in His Word and Sacraments!

And though we may feel the desire to push Jesus away because of our sin, even beginning our divine services with the acknowledgment that we too are sinful men, our Lord Jesus does not depart, does not exit, but rather absolves us, loves us, and says to us: “Do not be afraid.”  The Lord Jesus abides with us to the very end.

And Jesus calls all of us to follow Him, each in our own way. Our Blessed Lord has taken away our sins at the cross, and delivered this forgiveness to us at the font.  And no matter how rocky our own road, no matter what crosses we must bear, no matter how much our own sins grieve us, the Lord Jesus abides with us, refuses to depart from a sinner who confesses, like Peter, that “I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Our Lord answers the humble sinner’s prayer with these words of comfort: “Do not be afraid.”  The Lord Jesus abides.  Glory be to Jesus, now and evermore!

Amen.


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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Sermon: Monday of Trinity 4 – 2017



10 July 2017

Text: John 1:9-18

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Dear brothers and sisters, it goes without saying that we live in dark times.  The light of our culture here in America is indeed a dimly burning wick, and around the world, the lamp of those who hold to goodness, truth, and beauty grows ever dimmer.  The holy Christian church on earth is surrounded by deep shadows of hatred and restlessness and resentment.

That which is good is called evil.  That which is evil is called good.  And any attempt to shine the light of the Gospel upon the darkness of this world is met by resistance, and in some cases, violence.

“In the beginning,” before there was light, there was the Word.  He was “with God, and the Word was God.”  And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”  And in Him, the Word, “by whom all things were made,” there “was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”

This struggle between light and darkness is more than just the cyclical rotation of the earth that brings us night and day.  Nor is it a struggle between two equals.  This contest that pits the chaos of darkness over and against the goodly order of light is the history of the universe.  It is the story of man.  And it is the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over evil.  

For even in our fallen state of sin and of our dark night that seems to have no end, there is good news: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  And this world, dear friends, was so smothered by the darkness, that “it knew Him not.”  His own people, darkened by sin and the specter of death, “did not receive Him.”  And yet, in spite of the rejection of the light by a people who “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,” some did reach out in faith through the murky shade toward this Light, and to those who received Him, who “believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God.  

And when light chases away the darkness, we see ourselves as we are: broken, sinful, in a state of decay, of ourselves with nothing to look forward to but the eternal darkness of death and hell.  Perhaps this is why our base instinct is to reject the Light and those who bear witness about the Light.

But something else happens, dear friends.  This illumination has not come only to expose our blemishes, and certainly not to use them to condemn us, but quite the opposite.  For “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  And in the midst of this blazing Light, this eternal Light, this uncreated Light who created light, “from His fullness we have received grace upon grace.”

We are truly enlightened.  The darkness that clung to our souls to drag us down to the grave and to hell itself, has vanished, being vanquished by one single Light: for “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.”

We are transformed into being creatures of light ourselves, reflections of the Light who is Christ.  And our blessed Lord sends us into the darkness where He sees fit, to obliterate the darkness, bringing the light of Christ to those whom we find in this dark and dreary world.

His glory is His cross, and His cross illumines men’s souls and ignites them with forgiveness, life and salvation.

Yes indeed, we live in dark times.  We are surrounded by darkness.  But this just means that the darkness has nowhere to escape!  

For “Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.  Stay with us Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.  Let Your light scatter the darkness and illumine Your Church,” O “joyous Light of glory.” Amen.


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

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Sermon: Trinity 4 – 2017

8 July 2017

Text: Luke 6:36-42 (Rom 8:18-23)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

I recently saw an internet cartoon that featured today’s text with all of the words crossed out, except for two: “Judge not.”

The reason this is so witty is that this is how a lot of people treat Scripture: they grab hold of two words and ignore the entire passage.  And the reason that “Judge not” is so popular is because we live in a society that refuses to use the Bible – or even nature and common sense – as a means of sorting out right from wrong.  Because to say that something is wrong is to “judge” – and didn’t Jesus just say, “Judge not?”

Didn’t Jesus just say not to exercise judgment in matters pertaining to life in this world?  Didn’t Jesus just say all lifestyles, thoughts, words, deeds, religions and worldviews are equal?”  Didn’t Jesus just encourage Supreme Court justices, circuit court judges, and justices of the peace to quit their jobs?

“Judge not.”

According to those who repeat these words of Jesus (without the rest of His words), we should not say that anything is wrong (well, except for being judgmental, that’s wrong, along with violations of political correctness, that’s wrong too).  But to make use of Dr. Luther’s question from the catechism, “What does this mean?”

Well, if the Judge-notters are correct, then what about religion?  We cannot distinguish between idolatry and the worship of the True God. So there goes the first commandment.  We can’t render a judgment concerning the appropriateness of cursing with the name of God or Jesus, as that would be to judge.  Number Two is gone.  And we shouldn’t judge the practice of avoiding weekly worship, despising preaching and His Word to binge-watch TV or stay on bed.  There goes the first table of the law.

Similarly, we should not judge those who dishonor parents and other authorities, or judge between the killing of a mosquito and a human being, judge between sexual practices, judge between stealing and not stealing, judge between telling the truth or lying, or judge the practice of coveting.

There goes the entire ten commandments, which is most convenient for those who wish to break them.  To those who cling to the Lord’s command to “judge not,” we are to look the other way when people are being bullied or robbed or raped or beaten.  We are to accept anything and everything – no matter how destructive, unnatural, or harmful to children – without criticism.

Do such people really think this is what our Lord Jesus is teaching us to do?

But if they were to read beyond these two words, they would see the context of “judge not.”  We are to be judicious when we do judge.  We are to “be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  And we are to forgive – which presumes that there is something to forgive, which presumes that there are sins, which presumes that we need to judge whether something is sinful or not.  Indeed, Jesus says we are to judge, but we are not to judge in such a way that indicts ourselves.

For a judge that sends a person to prison for being a crook, but is himself taking bribes, is not a good judge; he is a hypocrite.  Don’t judge like that!  A judge who makes a great show of wanting to “throw the book” at an unfaithful spouse, all the while he is himself unfaithful, is not a good judge; he is a hypocrite.  Don’t judge like that!

In fact, if it isn’t your job to pass sentence on someone, don’t.  But this is not to say that we are not to tell the difference between right and wrong, or that we are not to confess publicly that there are universally true morals, or that we should not teach our children to be upright and obedient to God’s Law.  But the Lord does say to be careful, very careful indeed: “For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Jesus doesn’t say that we should all just throw our hands in the air and accept the secular worldview that all religions are equal, all systems of morality are the same, and that we should simply embrace immorality as a virtue.

But he does say that we have a primary responsibility of self-judgment.  “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye?”

And here is where Jesus Himself becomes very judgmental: “You hypocrite,” He says, “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

Our blessed Lord is in no way saying that every human action is morally equal.  Far from it.  And in fact, He wants us to help our brother with that speck in his eye, to serve him in love, not in hatred or mockery or smug self-righteousness, but out of a genuine desire to help bring our neighbor to healing and wholeness – the kind of help that comes from a life led as a struggle to keep the commandments and to strive for righteousness. And we can’t help our brother by pretending that he has no speck in his eye.

But we can’t look to others until we look to ourselves, until we repent, until we take the logs out of our own eyes.  This is the danger of hypocrisy, dear friends.  Hypocrisy chases people away from the church and repels people from the glorious Gospel by which Jesus has come to judge us “not guilty” and forgiven.

This brings us back to the beginning of our text: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”  For our Father was merciful to the point of sending His Son to the cross on our behalf, to rescue us from the judgment of death and hell.  Instead, by the only Man who is not a hypocrite, by the only Man who is sinless, by the only Man who is God, our merciful Father judges us, and that judgement is that we are freely forgiven and brought graciously to the blessing of eternal life, for by this judgment, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

That is the Lord’s judgment, and it should be our desire that all men are so judged!

And so let the Lord’s words not be crossed out, but rather let them go forth and work the miracle of redemption.  And let us judge not as hypocrites, but as forgiven sinners, seeking to humbly and lovingly share the Lord’s favor with all others who, like us, “sin and fall short of the glory of God,” and yet, by God’s merciful judgment, have obtained that gift of God, which is “eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Thanks be to our merciful Judge, now and forever.

Amen.


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

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Sermon: The Visitation – 2017

2 July 2017

Text: Luke 1:39-56 

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

The visitation between Mary and Elizabeth looks like something very ordinary.  And it is.  Two cousins, both pregnant, enjoying one another’s company, visiting, and sort-of comparing notes.

To the world, this looks entirely normal, and it is.  It is a beautifully ordinary image of humanity: two mothers, one young and one old, both carrying what they were told are boys.  And yet, in this visitation, we see something even more extraordinary about our mutual humanity, for we see the divine will in action, the miraculous, the love that God has for each one of us – even though the eyes see nothing more than two ordinary pregnant mothers.

And yet, one of these mothers, Mary, is the mother of God.  She is a virgin, or more accurately, she is The Virgin, the one prophesied by Isaiah who would miraculously bear the Messiah: the one who would save His people, yes, even save all of humanity.  For in her womb, is God Himself, in His fetal humanity: Son of God and Son of Man, the One who will rescue Adam and Eve and avenge mankind from the crafts and assaults of the devil.

The other mother, also pregnant by means of a miracle, is the once-barren Elizabeth, the elderly wife of an elderly priest, who endured the shame of having no children, but now, her shame has been lifted by the merciful Lord.  And in her womb is John the Baptist, the one Jesus would thirty years later call the greatest of men born of a woman.  John was to be the last of the prophets, the baptizer of the Christ, and the one who will introduce the world to her Savior.

Four remarkable and miraculous people clothed and cloaked in the ordinary flesh of ordinary humanity.

In this visitation, mankind is visited also by the Holy Spirit, who fills Elizabeth with the confession of her cousin, the Blessed Virgin, and her cousin’s Holy Child: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,” even as the fetal John leaped in his mother’s womb as an expression of joy: joy of humanity in the presence of humanity’s human Savior.

And the Holy Spirit also inspires the Blessed Virgin Mary to sing the song that she has given humanity as a gift, her song known as the Magnificat: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The Blessed Virgin acknowledges and confessed the very Lord that is her unborn Son, even as she confesses her own need for that Son to be her Savior, even her Son whom she confesses to be God in her womb.

She acknowledges her humble estate as the Lord’s handmaiden, and yet is exalted by the mercy of her Lord and God.

And what a picture of all of us, dear friends, we of humble estate, we poor miserable sinners, we who deserve nothing but death and hell, and yet we rejoice with Blessed Mary, indeed, our spirits rejoice in God our Savior, who was brought into the world by this “mother of my Lord.”  For because she is blessed among women, we are blessed among not only all of humanity, but even among the angels in heaven.  We are blessed because we are exalted – even exalted to the Godhead, because one of us, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, our brother according to the flesh, is very God of very God, and is to be worshiped.  

And what’s more, He is God who takes flesh, who dies on the cross, who gives us the free gift of eternal life, and who continues to give us His gifts, his mercy, the strength of His arm, filling the hungry with good things, by preaching and absolution, by baptism, and by the sacrament of His very body and blood, the very same body carried by Mary in her womb, observed by Mary upon the cross, and who appeared to Mary triumphant from the tomb.

This remarkable and miraculous meeting of these two mothers and their two sons took place thirty years before the ministry of both of these men would change the world.

Both would preach the Gospel.  Both would make powerful enemies.  Both would be executed as criminals as a result of evil and petty men exercising corrupted power.  And both will rise from the dead: Jesus on that first Easter, and John, who will walk out of his own grave when we do, when His holy Cousin comes again to judge the world and to reign forever.

This is the cause of Elizabeth’s excitement, John’s rejoicing, and Mary’s holy song.  For each of them are responding to the youngest among them (yet who is eternal): the baby Lord Jesus, the one who will save all of them from sin and death, and who has come to deliver the world and remake creation as a free gift: a human being come to redeem humanity.  And because of this Man all the vault of heaven also rejoices.

Dear friends, it is fitting that we remember this scene of visitation, the otherwise ordinary-looking visit between two pregnant cousins – for it is a glimpse into the wonder of what it is to be a human being, a creature made in the image of God, a sinner unworthy of life by virtue of our sins, and yet saints worthy of eternal life by virtue of the One in the womb of Mary: Jesus, our God and Savior, the One whose name is holy, the one who comes in mercy, and yet who is mighty, with strength in His arm, the scatterer of the proud and the One who brings down the haughty, the One who exalts the humble, fills the hungry, casts out the avaricious, helping His people, the very selfsame God who speaks to Abraham and who speaks to us by His Word.

So, dear friends, with St. Elizabeth, we honor Blessed Mary and her Son; with St. John, we leap for joy that our Lord draws near to us; with the Blessed Virgin Mary, we sing the Magnificat and offer praise, thanksgiving, and adoration to our God and Savior, to Him who has taught us what it means to be truly human.  And indeed, our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our Savior.

Amen.


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