Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent I Matthew 21:1-9

And when they came near unto Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany to the mountain, the one of olives, He (Jesus) sent two of His disciples on a mission and He says to them, "You go into the town, the one across from you, and immediately entering into it, you will find there a colt, upon which no person has yet ridden; You untie and bring it. And if ever someone says to you, ‘Why do you do this?' you say, ‘the Lord has need of it." and immediately he sends it again here." And they went and found a colt tied to a door, outside, upon the road, and they free it. And some of those standing there were saying to them, "What are you doing, freeing the colt?" And they spoke to them just what Jesus spoke, and they permitted it. And they bring the colt to Jesus and they throw upon it their clothes and He sat on it. And many spread their garments onto the road, and others branches they cut out of the fields. And the ones led before and the ones following were crying out, "Hosanna! Blessed-the One coming in the Lord's name. Blessed–the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna on the highest! And He entered into Jerusalem, into the Temple, and having looked around at everything, since it was already being the hour, He departed unto Bethany with the twelve.  

Arrivals are happy times! Going to the airport to watch someone's plane come in, or to the station to see somebody's train arrive are exciting times. There's a certain anticipation as you await your loved one's return. A hopeful expectation in your heart for the one coming to visit. That's just how Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem with garments strewn, palm branches waving and shouts of praise.

The first shout notes that Jesus comes "in the Lord's name". Yet you don't always like the focus to be on God's name instead of yours. It's all about you, right? I thought that at my narcissists' anonymous meeting when nobody else showed up but me. But it isn't about you and your good name. Your name is mud. For you have sullied your own name, your reputation tainted by your rebellious way.

So God, knowing your bad name gives you a brand new one. Jesus comes in the name of the Lord to you in your Baptism, giving you a brand new name–the name of the Lord. You are truly blessed in baptism as the name of Father, Son & Holy Ghost forgives your sins, delivers you from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to you. You are named now with the Lord's own name, baptized into Christ, now a part of God's Own Royal family, each of you a prince, a son of God by the Son of God!

The next thing the people shout is about the coming kingdom of their father, King David. Israel was in its hey-day when David reigned as king. Many people hoped Jesus would establish an even greater Israelite kingdom in the holy land. He didn't. You likewise fall into this same trap, with so many of your prayers about making your life in this world better, instead of realizing that Jesus' kingdom is of a world yet to come. There is no "heaven on earth" that you may seek. Yet you search for it all the same

When you pray, "Thy Kingdom come" as Jesus taught, you are really asking God to give you His Holy Spirit. This is the Spirit Who called you to faith in the first place in the Gospel. The blessings of being in God's Kingdom now are that you keep believing God's holy word which proclaims to you, "You are redeemed from sin, death & the devil for Jesus sake, since He gave His life to ransom you on the +." Filled with faith in your Savior, your new life in Christ has begun, here in time and hereafter eternally.

The final shout of the crowds was "Hosanna on the highest!" Most people misunderstand this as being loud boisterous praising which is able to reach way up high all the way to heaven. You are tempted to think this way yourselves, wrongly assuming that you have to do enough, with sufficient oomph to get God's attention so He will bless you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Hosanna on high is not about what you are doing for God at all. It's actually a humble pleeding which relies on Jesus alone.

"Hosanna" means "save us, we pray". It's a desperate plea of people who are helpless & hopeless to help themselves. And "on high" is simply the description of Who God is and where He is. He is the highest, and reigns over us from heaven above. So you sing "hosanna in the highest" right before communion, realizing that Jesus will answer your prayer by coming down from heaven with His ever-living body in the bread, and with His life-giving blood in the cup for your forgiveness & saving.

So it is fitting to begin this Advent season with the story of Jesus arrival in Jerusalem. For He Who once came to the shouts of Hosannas and blessed is Hes, is the one who comes to us today in word & sacrament, and Who promises to come again in glory on the last day to establish paradise.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Festival of Saint Bartholomew Luke 22:24-30

And there came to be a contention among them, which of them seemed to be the greatest. And (Jesus) said to them, "The kings of the nations lord them and the ones having authority over them are called ‘Good-workers'. Yet you are not so, but the one greatest among you, may he be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant. For who is greatest, the one reclining, or the one serving? Is it not the one reclining? But I Myself, in your midst, am as the one serving. And you, yourselves have stood, remaining with Me in My testings; and such as I confer to you, just as My Father conferred Me a kingdom, that you may eat and drink upon My table in My kingdom, and you will sit upon thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel."  

OK, so I know what y'all are thinking. Just what is St. Bartholomew's day all about? If you've ever heard of St. Bart's, it's as a reference to an exotic Caribbean Isle. But today is the Festival of this seemingly obscure Saint of whom very little is known. What little we do know about him is by his first name, Nathaniel, and even that's not much. So why don't we know a whole lot about St. Bart? Most likely because he did his job well, serving in his work as a humble slave of His Lord Jesus Christ. 

No, St. Bartholomew is no "St. Peter" or "St. Paul" or "St. John". But he was an Apostle who served Jesus' church all the same. We don't know any specifics at all about exactly what he preached, or where he went, or what he did for the church. But it just doesn't matter. Because St. Bart's job wasn't to make a great name for himself. Quite the opposite. His job was to make the name of Jesus the Christ greater. The very fact that we know almost nothing about Bartholomew bodes well for him.

You would prefer to be a "St Peter" or a "St Paul", wouldn't you. Admit it, you want folks to hear you name and think of somebody who's accomplished great things. You want to be thought of as the Greatest. But you can't, since Muhammed Ali has already claimed that title for himself. Actually, it is your rabbi, meaning "my great one", Jesus who is the Greatest of all, as shown by His service to you.

Our worship is a Divine Service because Jesus comes to be your Servant today. He comes to you in the same name He first came to you in your baptism. That day, Jesus came in water & word to wash you from all of your sins at the font. He comes today for the same reason, to cleanse you from your unrighteousness and to forgive your sins, even those of pridefully wanting to be greater than you are. In this way Jesus humbles Himself as the lowest servant washing even your feet to make you holy.

You yourself would also prefer to be the one with the authority. You desire to be the master, not the slave. You'd rather be the boss in charge than the low level employee to be bossed around. Face it, you embrace this world's way of determining greatness. Those with the most power, at the highest level are those who get all the credit for the success. They're labeled "good-workers", being in charge.

But don't be deceived. The one in authority is not the one most blessed. The waiter or waitress who serves you may appear to be "in charge", but you are the one blessed to lean back and eat a fine meal! A simple servant like Bartholomew fed thousands upon thousands with the Gospel word He preached as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus. You are likewise fed, week in and week out, with the message: "Jesus loves you, gave His life for you on the +, that by His death, you now have life!"

You still would rather be the leader than a simple follower. You'd prefer to be outspoken St. Peter taking charge among the 12 than to be a nobody like Bartholomew. Even our own district keeps on foolishly trying to make its pastors into the kind of leaders one finds in the corporate world. But repent of seeking out such leadership, for God has instead called Christians to be servants instead.

Bartholomew preached faithfully of the greatest Servant of all, Jesus. Jesus promised to come as the One Who is serving. He serves you with the greatest gift of all, His holy body given unto death at Calvary, and His precious blood shed for you from the +. He invites you to eat & drink upon His table in His kingdom, brought down from heaven to earth this day, that you eat His body & drink His blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life & salvation.  

So on this day, you will not depart singing the praises of St. Bart. Instead, you are blessed to praise, honor & glorify Jesus Christ your Savior from sin, death & the power of the devil.  Because of the humble service of St. Bartholomew and others who have preached Christ-crucified for you, and who have through God's word & sacraments, have forgiven you, saved you, and given you life everlasting.

Hymns from LSB:

#877  God, Who Has Made the Earth and Heaven  stanzas  tune
#583  God Has Spoken by the Prophets  stanzas (click "Christian Worship" on the right)   tune
#518  By All Your Saints in Warfare: Saint Bartholomew  text  tune

1 By all Your saints in warfare,
For all Your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blest!
For You have won the battle
That they might wear the crown;
And now they shine in glory
Reflected from Your throne.
(for St. Bartholomew, Apostle)
23 All praise for him whose candor
Through all his doubt You saw
When Philip at the fig tree
Disclosed You in the law.
Discern, beneath our surface,
O Lord, what we can be,
That by Your truth made guileless,
Your glory we may see.
3 Then let us praise the Father
And worship God the Son
And sing to God the Spirit,
Eternal Three in One,
Till all the ransomed number
Fall down before the throne,
Ascribing pow'r and glory
And praise to God alone.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Matthew 11:25-30 9th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14

And immediately (Jesus) compelled the disciples to go into the boat and to go ahead of Him unto the other side, until which He may set free the crowds. And having set free the crowds He went up unto the mountain according to privacy to pray. And evening occurring, He was alone there. And the boat was far off, many stadia from the land, being tormented by the waves, for the wind was against. And in the 4th watch of the night He came to them, walking upon the sea. But the disciples having seen Him upon the sea walking, were troubled saying that it is a phantasm, and from the fear they cried out. And immediately Jesus spoke to them saying, "Be taking courage, I AM; you, stop fearing." And having answered, Peter said to Him, "Lord, if you are, command me to come to You upon the waters; and He said, "Come." And having stepped down from the boat Peter walked upon the waters and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became fearful, and having started to sink, he cried out saying, "Lord, save me!" And immediately Jesus, having stretched out the hand took hold of him and says to him, "One-of-little-faith, unto what have you doubted? And they, having gone up into the boat, He stopped the wind. And those in the boat worshiped Him saying, "Truly, God's Son You are!"
Immediately! Not once, not twice, but three times this word describes Jesus' actions in this story. When there's a problem, Jesus acts immediately. The same is true for you. When you have a true need, not a want, but something absolutely necessary, Jesus will act for you immediately. God's timing is that way for you in the storms you encounter as a Christian. Jesus' rescue for you is immediate.

The first "immediately" is Jesus sending away the disciples so He can dismiss the crowds. This immediate "Get Lost!" is just what the disciples and crowds needed. Jesus just fed 5000 miraculously, and the response wasn't good. They wanted to make Him a bread-king, to eat fish-wiches ever day. This was not the reason He came. If you don't want Jesus as He is, He will send you away too.

Now, just because Jesus sends you away from Him doesn't mean He won't come to you. He has, after all, promised to be with you always, to the end of the age. When your faithless desire for a false Jesus Who tolerates your shenanigans is rebuffed, that's when the real Jesus comes to you in the storms of your life to remind you that He has come to you in your baptism, and in His name Jesus continues to dwell in you as your Savior from sin, from death, and from the powers of the devil.

The second *immediately* occurs as Jesus walks on water to the disciples. They cry out in fear, foolishly thinking He's a ghost. Right away Jesus tells them just Who He is, to quell their fear. How foolish of these disciples, believing in ghosts. Disembodied spirits of dead people don't float around the earth haunting people. They are in heaven or hell. Period. It's wrong not to see Jesus for Who He is. 

When you fail to recognize Jesus, He comes to your aid anyway, just as He did to the disciples in their boat. He came to them not as a disembodied spirit, but as a flesh and blood Savior. Jesus comes to you the very same way, giving you His very body to eat, and His blood to drink in His Supper. He comes to feed you with Himself today, the very Forgiver truly present to deliver the forgiveness of your sins which you need. And where there is forgiveness, there is also life and salvation.

The third *immediately* occurs while unbelieving Peter starts sinking in the sea. In desperation, Peter cries out, "Lord, save me!" and without delay Jesus reaches out His hand to rescue foolish Peter. Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, and looked at the waves instead, and he was sunk. You too are tempted to take your faith off of Jesus, and look to other truths, other ways and other ways of life.

When you follow the ways of the world, or get engrossed in what you think is right, you end up following the will of the devil, and then you are sunk. But Jesus comes to your rescue at once, proclaiming you forgiven of your faithless wandering eyes. You confess your sins and promptly Jesus provides His holy absolution for you, that whenever your heart is heavy with your sins of faith-straying, He will remove those sins to Himself at the cross, where He bears them and their punishment.

Yes, Jesus is with you, right now, as you worship Him, just as the disciples worshiped Him in their boat. He truly is the Son of God, whose immediate salvation is apparent for you, just as it was for Peter and the rest. For Jesus has proved Himself to you, being your Savior from sin, from death, and from Satan's torments. He does this through His Word and sacraments, Christ's love proclaimed to you and delivered through His means of grace, as immediate deliverance and rescue for you. 

Hymns for today from LSB:

#522  Lord God, to You We Give All Praise  stanzas  tune

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Proper 10A Gospel: Matthew 13:1–9, 18–23

In that day Jesus, having gone out of the house was sitting along the sea; And great crowds came together to Him, so that, having entered a boat, He sat down. And all the crowd was standing upon the shore. And He spoke to them many things in parables, saying, "Look, the seed-planter went out to plant seeds. And in his seed planting, first, some fell along the path, and the birds came and consumed it. But next, some fell upon rocky places where it didn't have much earth; and immediately it sprouted; on account of not having much soil and the sun having risen, it was scorched and on account of not having root, it dried up. But then some fell upon the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it off. But finally some fell upon the excellent earth and gave fruit; some 100, others 60, and others 30. The one having ears--Hear!" 
Clearly, Jesus reveals His heavenly Father to be a crazy farmer in this story, at least by this world's standards. Anybody knows you put seeds into the best soil. But God the Father plants in the road, on rocks, and in thorny weed-patches. Non Christians read this story and figure our God is a whack-a-doodle. But you know better. You are believers in Christ Jesus, and you receive this story of Jesus by faith, trusting that God the Father knows exactly what He is doing, and that it's the best thing!

Now Jesus makes it plain that this isn't a story about seed-planting, exactly. It's about God the Father placing the seed of His word into people. But you also realize that you are not ordinary Christians. You are not generic protestants who hear "Word of God" and immediately think only of the "Bible". No, you are Lutherans, and you know that the promised "Seed" of Eve, and of Abraham is Jesus. You know that Jesus is the Word who became flesh and tabernacles with you. This seed/Word is Jesus planted.
You know also just how Jesus is planted in you. And just in case you forgot, Jesus reminds you. He says "The one having ears–hear!" Do you have ears? Then let those ears God created do their thing and listen as Jesus splains it to you Lucy, just what this parable means for you. This story is about people with ears, just like you. Some just won't listen. Some listen for a time, then stop for various reasons. But you keep on listening to Jesus; or at least you know you should. Sometimes you don't..
The first ear-problem is those whose ears work perfectly fine, but they refuse to listen. You are like this at times. You tune out your pastor on that topic from God that you don't care for. But there is grave danger in this, pun intended, for those who don't gain the insight God gives, lose its benefits! Those who think, "this message from Jesus just isn't for me" forfeit its blessings! They are like those for whom Jesus comes into one ear, but then right out the other. The devil has snatched such folks.
Though you stop your ears from hearing Jesus at times, God places His only-begotten Son in your ear anyway! Not because God is foolish, but because He is patient and persistent. Again and again God the Father offers His only-begotten Son to go right into you ear through the sacrament of Holy Absolution. "He who hears you, hears Me!" Jesus says. When your pastor proclaims your sin forgiven in the name of you Triune God, it is a sure and certain as if Jesus were speaking it into your ears Himself!
The second ear-problem is described with the next two sorts who start off hopefully, but don't last. These are the kinds of folk who shouted "Hosanna!" on Palm Sunday, only to join in on the "Crucify Him"s of Good Friday. You are this way at times yourself, believing while it is convenient, but wimping out when it comes at the cost of suffering a cross for your faith. You can be a fickle Christian, going as the wind blows, believing in fair weather, but falling away in bad. Worries & distractions make you fruitless.

Though God knows you doubt like Thomas or deny Him when the going gets tough like Peter, God plants the Word/Seed Jesus firmly into you anyway! Is God nuts? No. He is love, and kindly disposed to you even when you aren't so toward Him. This is why He baptized you, to cleanse you of your sinful fears and former unfaithfulness. He gives you Jesus at the font, to bless you with His death & rising, that each day, by baptismal repentance, sinful you drown & die, and new you arise to new life in Him!
God the Father gives the Word/Seed Jesus to die for the unloving & unfaithful because He wants all to be saved & come to know the truth. By the gift of faith, you have come to know Jesus your Savior, that by the Holy Spirit you keep on listening, keep on trusting in Jesus Who gave Himself up to death, the Seed planted in the tomb so that He might bear fruit. You are that fruit of Jesus. He makes you fruitful by His body given & blood shed for your forgiveness. He bears His Spirit's fruit in you now!