Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009, Quinquagesima Luke 18:31-43

And having taken aside the 12, He said to them, "Look, we go up into Jerusalem, and all things will be completed, the ones written through out the prophets concerning the Son of Man. For to be given over to the Gentiles, and to be mocked, and to be ridiculed, and to be spit upon. And having flogged, they will kill Him; yet in the third day He will arise. And they, none of these things understood, and this saying was hidden from them, and they did not understand the things spoken. And it happened, He, in the approach into Jericho, a certain blind man sitting along the road, begging. And having heard a crowd walk through, he asked what this might be. And they answered that Jesus the Nazarene is coming along. And He cried out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" And those leading him forward rebuked him in order to silence (him), yet he all the more cried out "Son of David, have mercy on me!" And Jesus stood, and ordered him to be brought to Him; and having come near, He questioned him, "What do you wish I do to you?" And He said, "Lord, that I see again!" And Jesus said to him, "See again, your faith has saved you!" And on the spot He saw again, and was following Him, glorifying God. And all the people, seeing, gave praise to God.

Sometimes we are tempted to question the mercy of our God. Why does He seem to allow millions of babies to be aborted, while so many childless couples wanting to adopt wallow on some hopeless waiting list? How can it be that He appears to let the rich get away with squandering government bailout money, while so many who are truly in need are left high and dry? Why does He seem to allow heartless people to have almost perfect health, while some of the kindest folk become deaf, or ill, or blind.

We must be careful, not to misunderstand God's mercy. For His mercy isn't about eliminating all suffering, but rather, in embracing it! Suffering is not is actually good! It certainly feels terrible, but remember that feelings are often misleading. In its nature, suffering is actually a good thing. For suffering allows us to rely on God in faith. It builds character in trusting believers who have no other choice but to cling to God for help. Suffering is really a blessing in disguise, as an opportunity for God's mercy to shine.

The blind man doesn't choose to wallow in the plight of his own suffering. He will not be hushed by his friends and family members who suppose a Rabbi like Jesus cannot be bothered by such a lowly person. He ignores their rebuke, instead, boldly and confidently confessing his faith in Jesus as David's Son Who was promised to come by the prophets. He knows just who Jesus is, and He trusts in this Messiah to be God, and therefore to bring God's mercy directly to him. So he cries out, not once, but twice, "Son of David, mercy me!"

What a great faith this blind man had! He had many more reasons than most to want to give up on God's mercy...but he didn't. Without seeing Him, still he saw by the eyes of faith that Jesus was nearby, and beggar that he was, he begged for mercy. Jesus had mercy on him. He not only cured him of his blindness, but also blessed him further by the gift of grace. Jesus tells this blind man that he not only has his sight returned, but has salvation as well! His eyes and soul are both healed at that moment!

You are much like that blind man, in that you cannot behold Jesus today when He comes near to you. But you trust your pastor who tells you that Jesus is here today, speaking from this pulpit His words of Gospel love, that He has also saved your soul too by giving up His life for you on the cross to forgive you your sins. He proclaims your sins completely, totally, and absolutely forgiven in the sacrament of Confession, from the pastor as sure and certain as it would be from Christ Himself.

You resemble this blind beggar when you trust that Jesus is there invisibly in the sacrament of Holy Baptism. You couldn't see His hand come down from heaven to cleanse your heart that day, but you believe it was there. Through water and word, sinful you was washed clean to the cross, crucified there and buried with Christ into His death. That just as He rose on the third day, so too you rose in Him through baptism to walk now in newness of life–in His mercy of life everlasting in heaven above!.

You have much in common with the blind man when you come to the Lord's Table to receive Jesus, hidden there. At the rail, you touch and handle things unseen, but you know that the body and blood of Jesus are there in the bread and cup, respectively. His mercy is there for you in His real presence in the sacrament of the altar; there to forgive you your sins. And you know that where He is hidden there to forgive you your sins, His mercy is also there to bestow to you life everlasting, and the salvation of your soul.

Yes suffering is good. It is an opportunity for God's mercy. His mercy manifest for you in Jesus' Own suffering at the cross, and delivered to you where Jesus passes you by, in His word proclaimed and in His sacraments received. Rejoice that Jesus has answered your prayer, and has had mercy on you, time and again in this place. Amen.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#452 O Perfect Life of Love
#849 Praise the One who Breaks the Darkness
#841 O Son of God, in Galilee

And, being the Sunday before Lent begins, the Alleluia banner was removed from the sanctuary as the congregation sang #417, Alleluia Song of Gladness. The Banner and Word "Alleluia" will return Easter as we celebrate the Lord's Resurrection April 12.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sunday, February 15, 2009 Sexagesima Luke 8:4-15

And a great crowd having come together, and those according to their cities were coming upon Him, He spoke through a parable: "The Sower went out to sow His Seed. And in the sowing of It, some fell along the pathway and was trampled, and the birds of the heavens consumed it up. And others fell upon the rocks, and growing, it withered through the lack of having water. And others fell in the midst of thorns, and the thorns grew up, choking it. And others fell upon the perfect earth and grew, making fruit a hundred-fold." Having said these things, He called out, "The one having ears to hear–let that one hear!" And His disciples were questioning Him, what this parable might be. And He said, "To you is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; to the rest–in parables, in order that seeing, they may not see, and hearing, they may not understand. And the parable is this: The Seed is the Word of God. Those along the pathway are those, having heard, then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their heart, so that they don't believe and be saved. And those upon the rocks–they are whoever hears, with joy to receive the Word, yet these have no root, who for a season believe, yet in a season of temptation–to fall away. And the one into the thorns fallen, these are the ones, having heard, and on cares and riches and pleasures of life they go, choked, & they do not mature. And the one on the perfect earth, these are the ones in heart, good and noble, having heard the Word they hold it fast and bear fruit, standing firm.

Most people get this story of the Sower completely wrong, even though Jesus explains it! But that's by design, according to Jesus. Most folks hear this parable, but don't understand it...probably because they don't know the rest of the bible. It's a story that most hearers try to comprehend as though it is an earthly tale, although it makes no worldly sense whatsoever. No farmer would ever be so careless and foolish to scatter his precious seeds willy nilly. But that's God's plan anyway!

To some are given the ability to understand this parable, by faith. You are just such believers, to whom are revealed the mysteries of God's kingdom in this heavenly story. But for you to comprehend the point of this parable, it is necessary for you to recognize what this Seed is all about, and how it is that this planted Seed is the very Word of God which bears much fruit in you even now!

The notion of a Seed has been around since the beginning, from the very first book of the bible. Eve's Seed was promised to one day come, so that he could strike the death-blow on that snake-in-the-grass tempter, once and for all. That same Seed was also promised to Abraham, as the Seed through Whom all the nations would one day be blessed. This Seed is but one singular Seed, whom St. Paul identifies plainly to the Galatians as Christ Himself. Jesus is the Seed planted in you!

"But Pastor, doesn't Jesus explain the seed of the parable as the word of God?" Indeed He does, as does St. Peter in his 1st epistle, when he reminds us we are born again of the seed of the Word of God. But just what is the Word of God? Biblicists among us might say that it is but *holy scripture*. But biblicism is not for us, for we, like Ferris Beuller, don't believe in *isms*. The Words of God are indeed those of the Bible, but the Word of God, singular, is something different, something more...

St. Peter gives us a clue when he describes this Seed, this Word as a living Word, one which cannot perish, but which abides forever. Isaiah describes this same Word as coming down from heaven to refresh the earth like rain, and then to return back again, having accomplished its purpose. This is a Word that is not simply letters forming sentences on the printed page. This Word has personality, and does the very work of God Himself! This Word is the Seed of Eve & Abraham, Jesus Himself!

As John says in the opening chapter of his gospel, the Word was with God, and God was the Word. Then the Word also became flesh and tabernacled among us. Jesus is that living, imperishable Word who became man to suffer and die for you at the cross. He shed His blood for you, so that your blood would never have to be shed in payment for your sins; He gave up His life for you, so that your life would never have to be given as forfeit for your iniquities.

Through word and sacraments this Word is planted in your good and noble heart. Not that your heart was very good or noble beforehand; it wasn't. Jesus' Own Spirit entered into your heart to cleanse it of sin in baptism, to work faith therein so that you could hold fast to Him, clinging to Him for dear life–life eternal. He keeps you standing firm in the faith to everlasting life. You have ears. You are blessed to hear the Word. For the Word is Jesus, God's Son, the listen to Him! Amen.

Hymns for today from LSB:
#577 Almighty God, Your Word is Cast
#823 May God Bestow on Us His Grace
#921 On What Has Now Been Sown


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sunday, Februray 8, 2009 Septuagesima Matthew 20:1-16

For the kingdom of heaven is like a Man ruling a household, Who went out at early dawn to hire workers into His vineyard. And having agreed with the workers for a denarius (for) the day, He sent them to task into His vineyard. And having gone out around the third hour, he saw others standing in the marketplace, idle. And to those He said, "You go also into the vineyard and whatever is right, I will give to you." And they went forth. And again, having gone out around the 6th and the 9th hours He did the same. And around the 11th, having gone out, He found others standing and He says to them, "Why are you standing here the whole day idle?" And they say to him, "Because no one hired us." He says to them, You also go into the vineyard." And evening having come, the Lord of the vineyard says to His steward, "Call the workers and deliver to them the pay, beginning from the last, up to the first." And having come, those around the 11th hour, each one received a denarius. And having come the first, they assumed that they would receive more; and each one of them also received a denarius. And having received, they grumbled against the ruler of the household, saying, "These, the last ones, only worked an hour, and you have made them equal to us, the ones who bore the burden of the day, and the heat!" And He, answering one of them said, "Friend, I am not being unrighteous with you; Didn't you agree with me on a denarius? Take what is yours and go. But I wish to give to these, the last, as also to you; Isn't it lawful to me to do what I want with what is Mine? Or is your eye evil because I am good? Thus, the last will be first and the first last.

Today we have another one of Jesus' parables that just doesn't make any worldly sense. But that's OK, since His kindgom is not of this world, nor are the Lord's teachings compatible with worldly ways. In the story, it surely seems that the vineyard owner is not being fair. He's overpaying those who worked very little. Such things just don't happen in these tough economic times. Nor did they occur often back in Jesus' day. But that's precisely Jesus' point in this parable. God's ways are quite a bit different.

How sad it is for so many within Christendom today that they fail to understand this parable's point. The rewards of the kingdom of heaven do not depend on whether you work a lot, or hardly at all. Heaven is not attached to human work whatsoever. It is all about the good gift Giver, and His gracious will to give generously, regardless of our human efforts. For the kingdom of heaven comes to you when God breaks and hinders every evil counsel and will which would not let His Name be hallowed, nor His kingdom come.

Many Christians, including not a few Lutherans, get this all wrong. A recent Barna poll indicated that almost half of Lutherans assumed they would get into heaven by trying to be good enough. Nothing could be farther from the truth! For Jesus had just been asked by His disciples, "Who can be saved?" He responded, "with men, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible!" It is not possible for man to contribute even the tiniest bit to his salvation. That's why we are not co-Saviors. It is all up to Jesus!

"But Pastor," you might be thinking, "don't the workers in the story have to work for their wages, at least a little bit?...don't they have to do their part, however small?" While on the surface it might appear that way, if we look closer, we find that there is nothing in this parable about *earning*. Only about giving. The Lord of the vineyard chooses to give what is *right*, but not what is merited. What is given is given according to the promised word of the Lord of the Vineyard. Agreed to or not, the Lord gives from love.

. . Through St. Paul, the Holy Ghost makes it clear that all the works which justify man and which qualify you for heaven are finished by Jesus at the cross. You are saved by grace, through faith, not of your works, lest you boast. No one can be saved by obeying of the works of the Law...Yet the saved do work. They run the race given them to run. But the works God gives you are not of the burden of the Law. They are sanctified works which Christ does through you, using you as a instrument or tool for loving others.

Still other well-intentioned Christians feel that they must do their part in faith after God has finished with grace. They foolishly assume that since Jesus did the saving, now they must do the believing. Yet they fail to realize that even their faith is a gift of God. Like breathing, they are only believing because of what God does within them. Since your baptism, God's Holy Spirit has made you reborn as a believer, and He remains in your heart to keep you in the one true faith along with all other believers in Christ Jesus.

Strugglers and strivers here on earth, hard-workers and hearty laborers of this world, and those who try with every effort to get ahead may be first in the here and now. But those who trust their own works in the kingdom of heaven, will find themselves last. For Jesus' kingdom is different. It is where God does all the washing, all the giving of His Word, and feeds you with His Own Body and Blood for your forgiveness. Amen

Today's Hymns from LSB:
#555 Salvation Unto Us Has Come
#566 By Grace I'm Saved
#785 We Praise You Oh God Our Redeemer Creator

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Sunday, Februrary 1, 2009 Transfiguration Matthew 17:1-9

And after six days Jesus took along Peter and James and John his brother, and took them up into a high mountain by themselves. And He was transformed before them, and His face shown as the sun, and His garments became white as the light. And look, appeared to Him Moses and Elijah speaking together with Him. And responding, Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is excellent for us to be here; If you wish, I will make here three tents, for You one, and for Moses one, and for Elijah one." He still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and look, a voice out of the cloud saying, "This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I have been well pleased! You, be listening to Him! And hearing, the disciples fell upon their faces and were greatly afraid. And having come forward, Jesus also touched them; He said, "Arise, and stop fearing." And having lifted up their eyes, they saw no one, except Jesus Himself, alone. And they, having come down out of the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell to no one the vision until the Son of Man is risen from the dead.

Like Miley Montana, (or was it Van Halen) we always seem to be hoping for the best of both worlds, a little bit of heaven here on earth. Paradise seems so far away at times, and we (like Belinda Carlisle) wish that heaven were a place on earth. Jesus' disciples were no different. Imagine their surprise when those very hopes were realized upon the mount of transfiguration. Jesus manifested his heavenly glory with two of the residents of paradise above, before the very eyes of Peter, James and John! The caught a brief glimpse of heaven come down upon the earth, and they not sure what to do about it.

Much to do has been made about the appearance of Moses and Elijah on transfiguration mount. Some see Moses as representing the Law, and Elijah the Prophets, but what of the writings? Where is Psalm-writer David or Proverb maker Solomon? Others stress the importance of these men having physical bodies in heaven, Elijah carried up behind the fiery chariot, and Moses' body being won for heaven by the archangel Michael. But what of Enoch who walked with God, and then was not? Couldn't he come too?

The point of these men coming down to speak with Jesus is simply that they were heavenly personages. Conversations Jesus could have had with them in heaven before His incarnation were now able to continue. The Lord spoke with them about the things of heaven, in particular, how He would give Himself up unto death on the cross so that the many rooms in His Father's heavenly mansion would be filled with new residents of paradise, along with Moses and Elijah. Heavenly words for heavenly citizens.

Yet, Peter thought he had a good plan. He wanted to somehow extend these heaven-on-earth moment indefinitely, by erecting tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah to reside in for a while. Foolish Peter. What did heaven-dwellers need with earthly habitations? Yet we sympathize with Peter's sentiment, wanting this glorious event to continue on longer in this valley of tears and sorrows called planet earth. You might even feel a longing yourself for that kind of heaven on earth event to take place in your own life.

But it might surprise you to realize that God has heaven on earth moments for you in your life already! The first one was probably at your baptism, where Jesus Himself came down from heaven to cleanse you of your sin in the font, and to make your born again as an eternal resident of paradise above! Oh, I know that you didn't see Jesus' glorious face that day, but He was there speaking and acting just the same. His words gave to you the Name of the Triune God as your own, now and forevermore!

Many other heaven on earth moments have occurred in your lifetime, sometimes without you realizing it. In the Word of God read to you by parents and SS teachers, Jesus Himself came down from heaven to speak to you in the most loving and caring words of salvation directly to you. In confirmation and Bible classes Jesus came to teach you from that same Word, to catch your head up to where your heart has been believing. In sermons like this one, Jesus has come down to proclaim you forgiven on Calvary.

Perhaps the most amazing heaven on earth moments are the intimate experiences at the communion rail. The ever-living body of Jesus comes down from the right hand of His Father's heavenly thrown for you to eat in the bread; and your Savior's life-giving blood which flows now in His veins above comes down to quench your thirst for righteousness as you drink from the cup. Jesus is really present for you in the Lord's Supper–there to forgive your sins, and thus save you and give you life everlasting.

You have the best of both worlds. You have heaven-on-earth in Jesus' Word proclaimed and in His holy Sacraments given and received. Rejoice that it is excellent to be here with Jesus in worship today. Amen.

Hymns for the day from LSB:
#537 Beautiful Savior
#413 O Wondrous Type! O Vision Fair!
#414 How Good Lord to be Here