Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Sunday Revelation 14:6-7

And I saw, and look, the Lamb–standing upon the mount of Zion and with Him 144,000 having His name and the name of His father written upon their foreheads. And I heard a sound out of heaven as a sound of much water and as a sound of great thunder, and the sound which I heard as harpists harping on their harps. And they sang as a new song before the throne and before the 4 living ones and the elders, yet no one was able to learn the song, if not the 144,000, the ones purchased from the earth. These are the ones–with women not defiled, for they are chaste. These–the ones following the Lamb wherever He goes. These–having been purchased from men–first fruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was not found a lie; blameless, they are. And I saw another angel flying in mid-heaven, having an everlasting gospel to gospelize upon those sitting upon the earth and upon every nation and tribe and tongue and people, saying in a great sound, "Fear God and give to Him glory, because has come, the hour of His judgment, and worship the Maker of the heavens and the earth and the sea and the springs of waters."

The Lutheran Reformation was all about freedom. The Roman church of Luther's day had kept men in shackles. The people were burdened by guilt for their sins, and the emphasis of the church was constantly on what *they* should do about it. Indulgences were sold so folks could purchase their own forgiveness. Relics were revered for their supposed ability to give merits to people. Everywhere the emphasis was on man's duty to God. Even worship had become an obligation for man.

When Luther and others re-discovered the sweetness of the Gospel, they began to taste freedom once again! God didn't want men to remain shacked with the burdens of the Law. So for their liberty, He set them free from a religion of obligation to one of God's free grace! No longer did men have strive to be "good enough" for God to love them. Instead, they could believe the gospel message that God was fully pleased with them in Christ Jesus, His Son, Who paid their redemption price cross in full!

Luther and the other evangelicals had their eyes opened to a new way to view God's judgment. Luther and many like him had viewed God as an angry Judge Who only condemned sinners. But they had been missing out on the other half of God's judgment–the verdict of "not guilty" which He freely gives to believers in Christ Jesus! For when the Father condemns His only-begotten Son at the cross, the price is paid in full by Jesus Who bears the burden, guilt and punishment for your sinning!

Indeed, you have been set free by Jesus' once-for-all sacrifice at Calvary. So don't re-shackle yourself with the burden of the Law. You would never do that, right? Yet you do. Whenever you try so hard to do what is God-pleasing as though your life depended on it, you shackle yourself. If you dread God's judgment on the last day, fearing that you haven't done enough, you remain shackled. If you ever think that the things of the Church are primarily about what *you* do, you are shackled.

OK, so we all shackle ourselves in one way or another. What can we do to get ourselves free? Nothing. That's God's job...and that's what worship is all about. Worship is God's favorable judgment for you. You come as a shackled-sinner each Sunday, and God forgives/removes your sins from you with His proclaimed word! For He has cleansed you by water and the Word, freeing you from all your sins in Holy Baptism. He has judged you worthy to come to the wedding banquet of His body and blood.

Don't you see, you are those who follow the Lamb wherever He goes! He's washing you from your sins at baptism, and you are there! He is there in His word proclaimed to gospelize you, and you are there to hear it!. Your heart is heavy with the guilty burden of sin, and Jesus proclaims it absolutely forgiven through your Pastor's voice. The Lamb is really present with His body given unto death for you, and His blood shed for you at the +, and you are at the communion rail to eat & drink it!

So, there is no reason whatsoever to fear God's judgment. None at all. Because He judges you to be forgiven, set free from sin, death and the devil by His victory at the cross! You are judged not as goats, but as sheep of His flock! You are judged not as chaff to be blown away and burned up, but as the grain He stores in His everlasting barns. The water of judgment saves you in the ark of your baptism, as by daily contrition and repentance your sinful self, that Old Adam drowns and dies with all sins and evil lusts.

Yes, Reformation Day, is all about freedom--your freedom. This liberty God gives to you in Christ Jesus, that your worship always be about His freeing Word–the great sound of the recovered gospel!

Hymns today from LSB:
#661 Onward Christian Soldiers
#656 A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
#555 Salvation Unto Us Has Come
#655 Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trinity 21 Genesis 1

In beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was empty and void, and darkness on the face of the depths. And the Spirit of God was swooping on the face of the waters. And God said, "Be light!" and light was! And God saw the light for good, and God distinguished between the light and between the darkness. And God called the light "day", and the darkness He called "night". And there was evening, and there was morning. Day one. And God said, "Be a dome in the midst of the waters, and be a separation between waters and waters." And God made the dome and separated between the waters which were below the dome and the waters which were above the dome; and it was so. And God called the dome "heaven". And there was evening, and there was morning. Day two...And God said, "May the earth emit living souls in their species, behemoths and small animals and living creatures of the earth in their species"; and it was so...And God saw it for good. And God said, "Let us make man in our image, as our likeness, and may they rule over the fish of the water, and the birds of the heavens, and over the behemoths and over all the earth, and over all the small animals which flock on the earth."...And God saw all which He made and look, much good; and there was evening and there was morning. Day 6.

God speaks, and stuff happens! Yet we have trouble believing it, sometimes. Some doubt that only God's voice was involved in creation. "There must have been some pre-existing material, or primordial soup, or something" they ponder. Others assume that God could do so much in just 6 days. "Each ‘day' must really mean millions of years" they postulate. Still others disbelieve that God made so many different creatures. "It all must have evolved from one very simple life-form" they think.

But God spoke and made everything there is out of absolutely nothing! It wasn't...and then it was! He made every single species there is without the help of any kind of evolution, and even caused them to reproduce after their own species! And all this God did in 6 regular, evening and morning, 24-hour days. Why should this astound people? With God, all things are possible! He could have created it all in an instant...but chose to take 6 days for our sake–so that we would have a weekly schedule.

So, if God could create the entire universe with just his voice in 144 hours time, surely God could take care of simpler things nowadays, right? But not everyone is quick to believe that either. When the royal official's son was sick in Capernaum, folks expected Jesus to come quickly from Cana to do some exciting, miraculous sign for them to gaze at. They just couldn't believe Jesus could heal the boy from such a distance, with only His words. But He did. And amazingly, the official believed it!

God says it, and it happens! God tells living creatures to live on the earth, and they do! Jesus says that the official's son will live, and He does! Wow! We have a God Whose very words hold the power of life and death! God could say, "Die" and you would die. In fact, God has every right to do so. You doubt Him so often, relying on yourself or trusting other means which you think gives you a satisfied life. He could speak, "Die" and in an instant, your heart would stop beating, and your breath would stop.

But that's not what God likes to do. By nature He is a "Creator", not a "destroyer". God just loves to speak words of "life", and when He does, things live! He speaks words of life to you this day, declaring your deadly sins forgiven so that you may live forever! He proclaims the gracious love of Jesus to you, Who gave His life as a forfeit for yours at the cross, suffering your death so, in exchange, you have life eternal in heaven. Your pastor speaks such words of life to you often.

And you know that when God speaks, stuff happens! When God connects His word to simple water, it becomes a gracious water of life, a living water which quenches your thirst for Christ's righteousness, which He gives you in trade for your sins which He bore in His body on the tree of Calvary. When God places His word into the voice box of your Pastor, he hears your confession and proclaims you to be absolutely forgiven, as surely and certainly as Jesus' Own proclamation to you.

When God takes the words of institution Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, and they are spoken over simple bread and wine, those elements become the body of Christ given for you, and His blood shed for you at the cross for your forgiveness. These words of Jesus' death become for you words of your life! God speaks, and life is created. Jesus speaks, and life is restored. Your Lord speaks to you and your life is renewed forevermore. His word proclaimed, and sacramental word in action give you life! Amen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Trinity 20

Alas, all who thirst walk to the water, and those who have no silver, walk, purchase, and eat; and walk and buy without silver, and without price, wine and milk. Why do you weigh silver on what isn't bread, and your labor for what doesn't fill? Listen, listen to Me, and eat well! And enjoy fatty (food) –your souls. Bend your ear and walk to Me; listen, and your soul may live; and I will cut to you an eternal covenant–the loving-kindnesses of David, the faithful ones. Look, a witness to the peoples I have given, a sovereign and a command to the peoples. Look, a nation you do not know, you will call; and a nation that does not know you, to you will run; for the sake of Yahweh, your God, also the Holy One of Israel, because He glorified you! Seek Yahweh while He is found, Call Him while He is near. Forsake–the guilty one--his way, and a man of unrighteousness–his thoughts; may he return to Yahweh, and He will take pity on him; and to our God, for He will greatly forgive. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways–declaration of Yahweh. For as high as the heavens from the earth, so higher are My ways from your ways, and My thoughts from your thoughts.

One thing that separates liberal from conservative candidates is their view of welfare. Liberals tend to believe that the government is under obligation to provide the main safety net for the disadvantaged, while conservatives tend to seek family, friends, church and self for help in times of need. I suppose it is good, then, to have both liberals and conservatives in every Christian congregation. Conservatives to keep the church's teachings and practices pure, and liberals to freely love with the gospel.

At first glance, it seems that God is a pure liberal, from our text. He provides food free of charge! Better food than food-stamps could buy too! It doesn't matter if you have not one silver coin in your pocket, or if you've lost your EBT card. God promises to give you food that will fill you up, fatty food that won't raise your cholesterol, eternal food and drink that blesses your soul forever! No cost at all. No work-fare to earn it by your labor. It is a free gift of God's loving-kindness alone! What a real liberal!

But as we read further, it seems that God may be a conservative! As sovereign Lord, He gives us some commands: He calls on the guilty ones among us to change our ways. He addresses the unrighteous people even to change their thoughts! He reminds us that the way's we've been going aren't anything close to His ways, and our thoughts are so very far from His way of thinking. Sounds like our God wants us to straighten up and fly right! Indeed, God must be a real conservative.

So which is it? Is God a liberal or is He a conservative? The answer is "Yes!". On the one hand, your God has some important expectations of those He invites to the heavenly wedding banquet. You had better treat His servants right, or You will pay with fiery consequences. And when you attend you better have on the proper wedding attire. On the other hand, your God opens up His wedding feast to you & folks from all walks of life, from the downtrodden and homeless to the utter riff-raff of society.

How can God seem to lay down the Law in a conservative fashion, yet extend abundant grace in a liberal manner? Well, this only make's sense when we pause to look at the covenant God cuts with you. He cut it with David, promising that the young King's descendant would someday come to save all mankind. He cut it with you the day that you were baptized in the name of that Savior from David's line. It is the one-sided covenant of loving-kindnesses that God cut into Jesus' Own body on the cross.

"A one-sided covenant?" you wonder. It sure seems like it has both a liberal and a conservative side. Indeed it does, one part for God, and another part for man. But in Christ Jesus, Who was both God and man at the same time, this covenant of your salvation was completed by your Savior alone! Jesus was the only One to think His heavenly Father's thoughts at all times, and the only One who walked in His Father's ways continuously. And He is the only one to give of Himself freely to satisfy you!

Jesus was the only "righteous" One under God's Law. He is the Holy One of Israel, where no others could be found. He strove to accomplish your salvation, and His work-ethic paid off at the cross. He earned the eternal life this covenant expected. But that's when Jesus does the most unexpected thing. He invites undeserving riff-raff like you to His heavenly banquet. You aren't righteous and you know it, but Jesus gives you the holy white robe of His Own righteousness to clothe you for the feast!

Yet Jesus has lost His wedding clothes. His righteousness is gone, in exchange for the unholy garment of your sin, in the form of a scarlet robe and crown of thorns He wore as your Savior. Jesus is driven from the feast, forsaken by His Father, and cast out into the outer darkness of hell in your place at the cross. Yet He feeds you at that feast with the food which satisfies–His body given ad blood shed for your forgiveness. For you, it is without cost...but for Him...well, it cost Him everything! Amen.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trinity 19 Genesis 28:10-17 "How doe we react to the awesome works of God?

And Jacob went out from Beer-Sheba and walked to Haran. And he encountered on the place and camped there because the sun had gone down; and he took from the stones of the place and he placed it for his head, and he lied down in that place. And he dreamed, and look, a ladder was set on earth and its head reaching the heavens, and look, angels of God going up and going down on it. And look, Yahweh stood over it and He said, "I–Yahweh, God of Abraham, your father, and God of Isaac; the land which You lie down on it, I give to you and to your seed. Will be, your seed, as the dust of the earth, and you will break through to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and will be blessed in you all the watered lands of the earth, and in your seed. And look, I–with you, and I will safe-guard you in all which you walk, and I will return you to this land, for I will not depart from you until which when I have done that which I spoke to you." And Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Truly, Yahweh is in this place and I, myself did not know." And he feared, and he said, "What awesomeness–this place! Is this not the house of God, and this–a gate of the heavens!"

Our God is an awesome God. But in the words of Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride, "You keep on using that word...I do not think it means what you think it means." Indeed, God showed Jacob a spectacular sight in the ladder to heaven. Likewise, Jesus did a couple of amazing things by healing and forgiving a paralytic in to day's Gospel. God reveals His awesomeness to us, His chosen people, by what He chooses to reveal to us. Yet, the awesomeness of God surprises us more times than not.

In a contemporary Christian song, Michael W. Smith sings about an awesome God, giving lip-service to His mercy, grace and the cross. But while he "hints" about God's awesomeness, he never quite delivers it. For God's awesomeness isn't found in thunderclaps and lightening. God's awesomeness isn't found in an earthquake, in a violent wind storm, or in a great fire either. Your awesome God is found in a baby born in a stable, it is found in a criminal sentenced to die on a cross in your place.

"But Pastor" you want to interject, "doesn't God cause all these fantastic natural phenomena to occur?" Yes...but it's not in these glorious-appearing things that God's true awesomeness is found. "But Pastor, isn't it just awesome that God created and controls the entire universe?" Certainly these acts of God are note-worthy, but they pale in comparison with the actual *awesome* things that God does for you in His Son, a carpenter from the small town of Nazareth by the name of Jesus.

We are tempted to think that the glorious-appearing things are the most awesome. But they aren't. You like to consider the most exciting things, the most captivating events, and the most intriguing notions as those that are the awesome-est. But they aren't. You are using that word "awesome" in the wrong way. It doesn't mean what you think it means. Because you are considering things of worldly glory to be those which are "awesome" in your sight. But God calls other things "awesome".

Now, the dream Jacob had was indeed "awesome". But if any of us had such a crazy dream, we'd chalk it up to that late night pizza we ate. In Jacob's case, we are tempted to blame his foolish choice of a rock for a pillow. But this dream was amazing, for a simple reason: God was there, and He was doing stuff! God was in that place, so Jacob named it Beth-el, "House of God". But when Jacob opened his eyes, He couldn't see God. Awake & listening, he couldn't hear God. But God was there!

Likewise in the miracles of today's Gospel. They thought Jesus was blaspheming, claiming to do what God alone could do–forgive sins. But not only did Jesus forgive the paralytic–He also healed him! All to prove one important thing–that God was really there, in the person of Jesus, and God was indeed doing awesome stuff! God was keeping His promise to forgive, to save all people, and to be the one "Seed" of Abraham Who would bless all people by doing what God promised He would do.

So...just where do you find your awesome God in action today? Not so much in climactic events and astounding miracles which may or may not happen. But in where He has promised to be and act. You find an awesome God proclaiming your sins "Forgiven!" in holy absolution. Your awesome God is there in your daily bath of baptism which drowns your sinful flesh and raises you anew each day. You know your awesome God is there in the flesh, feeding you with His body and blood in Communion.

Now these things on the surface don't seem too awesome. Simple words. Plain old water. Ordinary bread and wine. But in these means of grace, Your Awesome God Jesus is there to forgive and save you! Your God is so awesome that He would chose to become a man, and take your place under God's law. He was cursed with the blame and punishment for your sins, and your God was so awesome that He chose to die on the cross, so that you, His beloved children, would have life. Jesus, the Gate of Heaven came down that ladder to die for you so that you now live forevermore in heaven above. Amen.

Today's Hymns from LSB:
#659 Lord of Our Life
#708 Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart
#533 Jesus Has Come and Brings Pleasure Eternal!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Trinity 18 Deuteronomy 10:12-21 "Is What We Do the Most Important Thing?"

And now, Israel–what does Yahweh your God ask from you, unless to fear Yahweh, your God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him, and to serve Yahweh your God in all your heart and in all your soul, and to safeguard the commandments of Yahweh and His obligations which I myself am commanding you today to your good? Look, to Yahweh your God–the heavens and the heaven of heavens, the earth and all which is in it. Only on your fathers–desire of Yahweh, to love them; and He chose in their seed after them--on you, from all the peoples, as this day. And circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and your neck, stiffen no longer. For Yahweh, your God–He, God of the gods and Lord of the lords, the God, the great One, the strong One, and the awesome One, who does not lift up faces, and he does not take bribes. He does justly for the orphan and the widow, and He loves the foreigner to give bread and clothes. And show your love to the foreigner, for foreigners you were, in the land of Egypt. Yahweh, your God, you will fear; with Him you will serve, and in Him you will hold on, and in His Name you will swear. He–your praise, and He–your God, Who has done to you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen.

If you go to look up the ten commandments in your bible, you won't find them in only one place. Yes, they are found in Exodus 20, but they are also found in Deuteronomy 5! Why is God's Torah given twice? In the book of Deuteronomy, which means "second giving of the Torah", the ten commandments are repeated. You see, the Israelites had wandered in the Sinai for almost forty years since Moses first showed them the two stone tablets. Now, the younger generation would receive the Torah too!

You've probably noticed that I have purposely not called this the giving of the Law, but of the Torah. That's because, while the Torah teachings do include God's Law, that's not all that the LORD revealed to His people through Moses. You might be surprised, for instance, to know the very first words on those stone tablets. "I am Yahweh, your God, Who brought you out of slavery in Egypt." This is no "commandment" of what we must do. First and foremost is Who God is and what He does!

What the Israelites saw with their own eyes, you and I do well to comprehend today, so we don't get all caught up in God's Law. We like the Law, since it's all about us. There's a tiny pharisee in your heart who wants to do the right thing to feel good about yourself for doing it. So you try to live by the Law, becoming stiff-necked with satisfaction for what you do, looking down your nose at others who fail where you seem to succeed. But the danger is that you become self-righteous–your own savior!

That's why Moses cautions the Israelites to circumcise the foreskin of their hearts. For that's the body part from which sin emanates. Now, you don't want a surgeon with a stiff neck to perform such an operation, do you? So you, being stiff-necked, are not qualified. That's when the Great Physician, Jesus performs your heart surgery through Holy Baptism, removing the hard-hearted foreskin of your sin from it through the water and the word of the font. Your unrighteousness is removed–gone forever!

God gave the Israelites the Law and the Gospel so they would understand who they were, and who God is. You too are blessed to know that you too were rescued from slavery. Not to Egyptians in your case, but slaves to sin and that tempter, the devil. Jesus came to set you free from sin, which He bore on the tree of the cross. His body was given for you there to death, and His holy, precious blood was shed for you at Calvary; that you may eat and drink Jesus' forgiveness in Holy Communion.

For you were chosen to belong to God without any merit or worthiness of your own. You didn't bribe Him to love you. He didn't lift up your face and say, "I guess I'll die for this one." It wasn't because you are so lovable that God chose to love you. In fact, despite yourself, Jesus loved you. While you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Jesus chose to love you anyway, because He is God, and God is love. It isn't your righteousness that impressed God, it was Jesus' holy righteousness that matters.

So now you are called by God to safeguard His commandments. But you are not going to be able to keep them, perfectly. No matter how hard you try, your sinful flesh will get the better of you at times, and you'll fall into temptation. But His commands remain to restrain your sinful flesh so that Christ Who lives in you may succeed in loving your neighbor through you. Even the foreigner who speaks only Spanish you may help, since you were once foreigners to God before you believed in Him. But even though you will fail at times, God loves you anyway, in Christ Jesus who proclaims you forgiven.

Today's hymns from LSB:
#852 O God of Mercy, God of Might
#694 Thee Will I Love, My Strength, My Tower