Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween and Blessed Reformation

A Reformation Sermon from 2005:

TEXT: Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:34-36

A HAPPY HALLOWEEN and BLESSED REFORMATION DAY to you beloved and baptized children of God. While Halloween, as it is observed and celebrated today is anything but a Christian celebration, I believe it still holds great value for us if we examine it in the light of God’s Word and the Reformation we Lutherans rejoice in on the very same day, October 31st. It is also ironically fitting that Halloween and Reformation are celebrated on the same day.

C. S. Lewis in his preface to The Screwtape Letters: "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

Senior devil Screwtape to junior devil Wormwood in the same book: "The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method in confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you."

Herein lies the value for Christians in celebrating Halloween: rejoicing in our freedom from sin, death and the devil won by Jesus on Calvary and evidenced by His resurrection – rather than ignore or fear it, we can look at the very real evil the devil works around us and know and proclaim Christ’s victory. Given that Jesus died to defeat the devil, we do not see him as some comic book figure, nevertheless, we can indeed laugh at the devil and his schemes to ensnare us and chase him away by the authority of the One who set us free and made us sons of God rather than slaves of sin and its author. Speaking on the Treatment of Melancholy, Despair, Etc., Luther said, "But I resist the devil, and often it is with a [breaking of wind] that I chase him away. When he tempts me with silly sins I say, ‘Devil, yesterday I broke wind too. Have you written it down on your list?’"

So if Luther can break wind at the devil, certainly a little Halloween celebration is not out of order if we remember our status as God’s dear children. But let us also remember that as long as we are in this world, we still must recognize our sinful natures and never forget that though we are certainly free from bondage to sin and its eternal consequences as sons of God we are not free to break the Law and act as if nothing is sinful any longer. Sin is still sin. Idolatry is still idolatry. There is no way to know God apart from Christ and we should not join in prayer or any kind of worship that is not centered in who Christ is and what He has and continues to do for us. Murder is still murder. It is not for us as individuals to decide whose life is viable and whose is not based upon convenience or our idea of quality. Adultery is still adultery. One man and one woman united by the bond of Holy matrimony is the only context for sexual relations blessed by God.

That we are saved by faith, not works, means that we should not boast of our works because, if they are truly good, they are not our own anyway, but the works prepared in advance for us to do as members of the body of Christ. Furthermore, faith in our eternal salvation through Christ is not license to disregard the Law. "Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17, NIV) Part of that message is Law, for without it we would not have the mirror that shows us for who we are, sinners condemned to hell in desperate need of a Savior.

Truly it is not the devil we need fear, but the wrath of God apart from Christ. "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matthew 10:28, NIV)

Thanks be to God He doesn’t abandon us to His wrath.

"I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." saith the Lord. (Luke 5:32, NIV)

But for this to be known and truly believed requires one to understand and believe that God does have wrath that condemns sin. As Luther puts it: "But now we hear that Christ was sent to make these same people saved who are judged and condemned.... WHOEVER DOE NOT BELIEVE THAT HE IS A SINNER AND CONDEMNED WILL BELIEVE MUCH LESS THAT HE IS SAVED THROUGH CHRIST."

We see this close up all the time. How many of our dear loved ones, brothers and sisters in Christ, have we said goodbye to over the years as death makes its presence known among us? As sweet, gentle, kind, and loving as we may remember these dear saints of God and loved ones of ours to have been, the fact that we gather for their funerals is constant reminder that they were and we are still sinners. For all of the fond memories of kind words and helpful deeds, in the words of God through the prophet Isaiah, these like "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)

And if Isaiah himself, a faithful and beloved prophet of God, counted himself among those who "have become like one who is unclean" and "[his] righteous acts [were] like filthy rags" before our Holy God, let me tell you that none of us here stands a snowball’s chance in Saudi Arabia of eternal life with the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost in his heavenly kingdom.

"But, [thanks be to God], now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:21-24, NIV)

In our text today we see the Pharisees pride in who they were and the holiness of their lives kept them from seeing who it was that stood before them. It also caused them to run roughshod over the less righteous among them creating a sens of despair in those who just could not measure up. Jesus came to set that situation straight. To condemn sin, to call sinners to repentance and to free sinners from the consequence of sin – death and eternal damnation.

At the time of the Reformation, Luther was sent by God to proclaim these very things Jesus had done. The religious leaders had once again become pompous in their superior righteousness and caused the general populous to live in despair at their own hopelessness and unrighteousness. The Reformation was and still is about calling us to faith in what God has done in Christ and conquering both self righteousness and despair.

And its not just those Pharisees, those Catholics, those LDS, those liberals out there. It is us right here. We, in our sinfulness, all at various times and in various ways become subject to both self righteousness and despair.

Just as "There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils," so also are there two equal and opposite errors awaiting us as we ponder sin.

1. We stand above it, laughing and pretending it no longer exists for us in our Christian superiority: As Luther preaches regarding the Pharisees of our Gospel, in their self-righteousness the Pharisees say, "We are the seed of Abraham." Thus here they also rub this under Christ’s nose and say: "You may claim to be able to do this, but You might as well cross out Your words. To be Abraham’s seed involves blessing, kingdom, government, and inheritance. We shall reign and rule. And now You come along as a heretic who joins the false prophets in disputing the reality of our freedom. You are causing many to fall prey to this heresy when You deny that we are Abraham’s seed and imply that the promise given to Abraham does not pertain to us." They alone want to emphasize that they are free men. And since Christ will not proclaim this, they soon take offense at Him—especially the mighty among them—and fall away, although they had believed in Him before.

2. We become preoccupied with it and fall to its temptation all over again. As Luther says again: "So it happens. At first people adhere to the Gospel, expecting to become great popes, bishops, princes, and lords. They want to yield to no one and to be as free as the birds. But when they recognize the truth, one after another falls away. These are disgraceful disciples; they flock to the Gospel for carnal freedom and temporal benefits. And when they do not find what they are looking for, they abandon it.

That is a danger for all of us as well, when we think of our faith and Baptism as things that make us somehow like supermen impervious to sin, or free us to do as we please as if it no longer applies. In truth, faith and Baptism free us from bondage to sinful desire and cause us to rejoice in living according to God’s command.

Please remember, children of God. Jesus suffered and died because you are a sinner who needs to be set free from that sin. Now that you are His children it is not for you to ignore either the Law or the Gospel of His Word for as Jesus tells us in Matt 5:14-18, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished." (NIV)

We are no longer slaves to sin but sons of God in Christ. And so let us rejoice in Christ and leave sin behind. Let us neither become arrogant and think ourselves above the Law nor hopeless in despair of our own inability to keep it. Thank God He has given us the victory in Christ and made us His sons and heirs of His kingdom forever. Though we deserve it not, that is "How great the love the Father has lavished on us [is], that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are" [1 John 3:1] all because we are forgiven all our sin -- in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

DON'T Fall Back Sunday!

With tongue only just a little bit in cheek --

Let me be the first to tell you NOT to set your clocks back this coming Sunday!

Yes, you read me right. DON'T set your clocks back this Sunday when the nation returns to Standard Time. Leave them right where they and get up at the usual time for church.

Go to church and surprise your pastor! He (and I do mean he) will be delighted to have someone there to fill the seats and study the Scriptures with him. There is nothing more disheartening to a pastor than empty seats for worship or Bible study.

Who knows? You might even learn something worthwhile and find you can actually enjoy studying the Scriptures and getting to know your pastor better!
Then go home and reset your clocks so you don't get to work or school too early. And enjoy the extra hour of sleep you got. :^)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Violence of Grace

TEXT: "And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" Matthew 11:12-15

Dearly beloved children of God,
The Reformation we celebrate today came amidst a storm of violence in an already violent age. The Islamic Turks were taking over the civilized world by force, threatening to absorb all of Europe and conquer Christianity. The Holy Roman Empire was almost constantly at war with someone and even amongst themselves, with political intrigue and assassinations instrumental even in appointing leaders of the church.

And into the violent fray, our Lord sent one frightened little monk to be, as we hear in Rev 14:6, “another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth.” (NKJ)

Like the prophets of the OT to the days of John the Baptist, the disciples of Jesus, and of course this Christ Himself who were harassed and killed by the very people God sent them to save, the life of Martin Luther was constantly under the threat of violence. For also like all of those, Luther posed a threat to the power of the religious authorities of his day.

Of course, since the fall into sin, it has always been so. Violence is the law of the land. And God’s saving grace has always been accompanied with violence, because “the wages of sin is death. [And] the gift of God that is eternal life” in the kingdom of heaven, is ushered in by the death of sin and all that is now under its reign of violence. For you see, sin goes neither willingly nor quietly. It is a raging, relentless taskmaster that recognizes no master of its own – except greater force. Like the bully on the playground, the gangster in the street, or the terrorist among the crowd, sin is defeated only by overwhelming power.

God’s shedding the blood of innocent animals to provide clothing for the first sinners, and stationing the cherubim to wield a flaming sword as recorded in the third chapter of Genesis were only a beginning of the violence to come.

The worldwide flood.
Gen 7:11, 23 “In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. . . . So He destroyed all living things which were on the face of the ground: both man and cattle, creeping thing and bird of the air. They were destroyed from the earth. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark remained alive.” (NKJ)

The Exodus from Egypt.
Exod 12:29 And it came to pass at midnight that the LORD struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of livestock. (NKJ)
Exod 14:27-28 And Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and when the morning appeared, the sea returned to its full depth, while the Egyptians were fleeing into it. So the LORD overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. Then the waters returned and covered the chariots, the horsemen, and all the army of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them. Not so much as one of them remained. (NKJ)

The taking of the cities in Holy land of Canaan by God’s chosen people, Israel.
Josh 8:24-26 And it came to pass when Israel had made an end of slaying all the inhabitants of Ai in the field, in the wilderness where they pursued them, and when they all had fallen by the edge of the sword until they were consumed, that all the Israelites returned to Ai and struck it with the edge of the sword. So it was that all who fell that day, both men and women, were twelve thousand-- all the people of Ai. For Joshua did not draw back his hand, with which he stretched out the spear, until he had utterly destroyed all the inhabitants of Ai. (NKJ)
The time of the judges, perhaps most memorably Samson.
Judg 16:27, 30 Now the temple was full of men and women. All the lords of the Philistines were there-- about three thousand men and women on the roof watching while Samson performed. . . . Then Samson said, "Let me die with the Philistines!" And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life. (NKJ)

The time of the kings of Israel and Judah: 1 Sam 18:7"So the women sang as they danced, and said: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.’" (NKJ)

And we cannot forget the temple rites and bloody sacrifices by which God forgave sins and in the midst of which he dwelt with His people to deliver them.

These acts of God, as bloody and cruel as they were, also were necessary for the sake of the deliverance and protection of His people.

There can be no mistake about it, “the wages of sin is death. [And] the gift of God that is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” was the bloodiest and most cruel of all violence that ushered in the kingdom of heaven once and for all.

Today, even our baptism is violent, though an unseen violence in the spiritual realm. Our Old Adam is put to death there, drowned in the waters of the font as we are buried into Christ’s death to rise with Him in His resurrection. But even as we are given peace with God, we become enemies of Satan with a bullseye on our backs.

Oh, most of us do not have to fear suffering the same kind of violence that stalked the prophets, the apostles and our Lord Himself. But we certainly do share in His cup of suffering, for the sake of the Gospel and the dear people God sends it to save.

While there is severe, physical violence being ravaged upon certain Christian outposts in Africa, we here have largely exchanged physical force for manipulation. We see it every day as the news and entertainment media, and even increasingly the laws of the land seek to tempt us away from the way of our Lord. It is as if His Word is less compassionate and more dangerous than the ways of our world of politics and entertainment, even though it is the Word of God that kills sin making children of His enemies and gives us life and hope in its place, while it is politicians and superstars that give us every sin as virtue and kill life especially of the most innocent and helpless.

But the most destructive violence of all is that which raises it’s head amid God’s own people of His Church. Virtually everybody in "Christendom" would agree that you cannot force anyone to believe, even to the point where teaching the catechism and memorization of Scripture, hymns, etc. is considered to be forcing belief. But rather than just teaching and preaching the truth and letting the Spirit work, we now do violence on the sly. Rather like the classic Jewish mother and feminism, church leaders likes to wield the sword of guilt and shame in order to get their folk to do what they want them to do.

Psychologists call this passive aggression. And in therapy sessions they bring their patients to understand that though it is passive, it is aggression still the same. In other words, it is violence born of hatred and a desire to control.

But God hates nothing but sin and those who insist upon practicing it and imposing it on others.

That hatred He took out on His Son in all its violence, so that those who believe in Him will never have to experience it themselves. You see, God has no desire for control, because he already has all authority and power. But in His mercy He backs away from forcefully controlling us in favor of showering His grace upon us. Indeed, God uses guilt and shame Himself in the preaching of the Law. Although in a different way than sinful men seeking to control. God uses guilt and shame to kill the sin, not manipulate the sinner into doing His will. He uses these things to draw us to the cross, our Savior, His love, and His kingdom of heaven.

Therefore by definition, since it is not born of anger or a desire to control, God’s grace and love is always resistible. And since it always addresses the sinner and sin, it is never exactly pretty or desirable to the flesh.

Thus, when the world does not come clamoring to hear and fill the church to overflowing, men want to do something to make it more successful. Sadly, that is precisely where men resort to violence. Some by the forceful aggression of the sword or other earthly punishment, some by the passive aggression of manipulation.

The Gospel of our Lord, however, does not use our very real guilt to manipulate us into obeying the Law. It confronts our guilt head on, conquering it with Christ's fulfilling of the Law and pouring His righteousness upon us.

So though we suffer the violence of the devil, the world, and even our own sinful flesh, we never need fear the violence of our Lord. That has been fully taken out on His dearly beloved Son – and “It is finished!”

As children of God, you are forever shielded from the anger of God in the mighty fortress of His Church as it wields the Sword of the Spirit that slays the old evil foe, forgives you all of your sins, and keeps you with Christ now and forevermore --
... in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Friday, October 24, 2008

What the law Demands, The Christ Delivers

TEXT: ". . . remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God." 1 Thessalonians 1:3-4
"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:21

Dearly beloved children of God,

There is no doubt about it we are a disobedient people.

In preaching on this Gospel, Luther said, “[Everyman thinks himself an emperor], “that’s why I can do what I please.... Conditions are becoming so shameful and lamentable that I no longer really care to preach, for in spite of the gospels bright light, both rulers and subjects are becoming worse by the day.”

So you see there is nothing new under the sun. We bemoan the lack of respect among us and how the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but it has ever been thus.

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
(Judg 17:6 NKJ)

In truth no one wants to "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." We sinners all think we are our own Caesar and our own God. But we need a Caesar precisely because we sinners do not do things for the benefit of others, but what is right in our own eyes – i.e. rights not right.

Children are disobedient to parents. But how can they not be? For they see their parents being disobedient to the laws, law givers and law enforcers of the land that are gifts of God for their own welfare. And if that is not bad enough, these children also see their parents being disobedient to those God has called to oversee them in His kingdom of heaven on earth, the Holy Christian Church, ordering rather than receiving, and even modeling how to come up with every excuse under the sun as to why they don’t have to go to church on any given Sunday.

To us the Law has become, “You’re not the boss of me now.” And the Gospel has been reduced to “Don’t worry, be happy.”

"Both the civil government and the Church are responsible directly to God for duties God has assigned to each: to the civil government is given the responsibility for the physical welfare and protection and to the Church is given the responsibility of the spiritual welfare of the people." – Pastor Doug May, Socorro, New Mexico --

Luther summarizes these responsibilities in the Small Catechism Table of Duties:
Therefore, an overseer [pastor] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive. He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (1 Timothy 3:2–4, 6; Titus 1:9)
In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel. (1 Corinthians 9:14)
One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches. (Galatians 6:6)
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” (1 Timothy 5:17–18)
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)›
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1–4)
Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22:21)
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.… Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed. (Romans 13:1, 5–7)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1–2)
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work. (Titus 3:1)
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. (1 Peter 2:13–14)

These duties and responsibilities are commanded by God for the sake of good order and the general welfare of all His people – for their life both in the church and in the world. And, of course, they find their perfect fulfillment in His One and only Son, Jesus the Christ, as He takes the burden of the Law and turns it into the blessing of the Gospel, which is what the Apostle Paul is writing about in his letter to the Philippian Christians:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil 2:5-8, NKJ)

God is the boss of you now and forever. And He is definitely soooo BIG. He is the God who died for you and elected you. knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God. 1 Thessalonians 1:4 "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:21

While presented as Law there is wonderful Gospel that lies behind it, just as the proclamation of God in the garden seemed Law to Adam and Eve because of the temptation of the devil:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." (Gen 2:16-17 NKJ)In fact, before sin reared its ugly head, that was the greatest gospel truth to save them from eternal condemnation and give them eternal life.

You are not forgiven and saved to be free from the Law itself, but free from the consequences of breaking it and thus free to see it for what it is, the precious Word of God given for the benefit of His called and chosen people – YOU, the dearly beloved and baptized of God. Truly you cannot save yourself by your own DOING of the Law, that is because the doing of the Law is all the work of God.

Today while the Ten Commandments loom over us as law, there is One who stands behind them -- God the Father; there is One who was born, suffered and died to fulfill them -- the One and Only Son of God, Jesus Christ; and there is One who comes from the Father and the Son to deliver their blessings to us -- the Holy Spirit.

This One God is here by the promise and certainty of His Word and Sacrament today to tell you once again: “I, the Lord your God, have baptized you and forgiven you all your sins” ...
... in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Called, Chosen, and Clothed

Good morning dear baptized, dearly beloved and blessed children of God,

A few years ago, in fact the last time this text showed up as our Gospel lesson for the day, there was one of those silly news stories that sticks with someone like me. Especially now that I have been volunteering as a chaplain with the Layton City Police Department, I can’t help but remember and get a chuckle out of it whenever I come across our Lord’s Parable of the Wedding Banquet. The story according to the police report says that a man was arrested on a Friday night for shopping at the 7-11 here in Clearfield.

Well, he wasn’t really arrested for shopping. He was arrested for shopping without wearing shoes or a shirt – or anything else. Yes, he was naked.

Funny word, naked. I see many of you giggling at the word even now – or maybe you are giggling at the picture of someone sauntering in to the local convenience store in the all-together. What a picture. It is reminiscent of the story we all read as little kids, "The Emperors New Clothes."

While such an adventure, a grown man purposely parading around in public as naked as a jaybird is rather silly sounding, it is also sad – and plain wrong. There really is no place one can go without being properly [however we define properly these days] clothed without being arrested, is there? While being properly clothed has become rather passe these days, if you were to pop over to the Golden Corral in your birthday suit, you too would find yourself handcuffed in the back seat of a police vehicle – maybe even wearing one of those lovely white coats with the formal sleeves that tie behind the back.

In today’s Gospel lesson Jesus tells a parable about someone just as daft as the 7-11 streaker.
"But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless."

Now the guest may not have been naked, but he might as well have been. At best he was like someone wearing a Halloween costume or sweaty, torn and dirty work clothes, because "Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

This man, and all who present themselves as friends of the Lord based upon who they are or what they have done rather than upon who He is and what He has done for them, are those of whom Jesus also said, "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matt 7:23, NKJ)

And this was no new teaching for the Jewish religious leaders even though they still didn’t seem to get it, because the prophet Isaiah, whom they revered and whose words they studied and taught, spoke the same message as the parable: But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. Isa 64:6 NKJ

The parable they heard is again an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. This particular parable is at the same time about the history of God calling His people Israel and the continuing story of His church today. The heavenly banquet is closed to those without the wedding clothes of faith, which are none other than the robes of Christ’s righteousness we receive in Holy Baptism. Pretenders, those come to celebrate themselves rather than the groom are not welcome. These are the ones without the wedding garments. This by the way, is why we require our pastors in the Lutheran Church to make sure that everyone who comes to the Lord’s table is taught and examined lest they end up like the man without clothes – snatched away in the middle of the feast as a pretender and cast away with the unbelievers.

Of course there are many in this world today, just as in the days of Jesus and before who don’t care to be at the banquet at all – these are they who declined the invitation, some to play in the fields and others to tend to business and still others even going so far as to persecute those who bear the invitation. This sinful attitude, sadly also shared by many who have even been given the precious wedding clothes of Baptism, is what our Lord is speaking of when He gives us the Third Commandment:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. What does this mean? We should fear and love so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.

But some Lutherans may ask, if we are saved by grace through faith and not by our own works, are we not now free from this commandment and at liberty to do as we please on any given Lord’s day? This is the same question and problem the church faced in Luther’s time, to which responded in the Preface of the Small Catechism:
"Since [works righteousness among us] has been abolished, people are no longer willing to go to the Sacrament, and thus they despise it. here again encouragement is necessary, yet with understanding: We are to force no one to believe or to receive the Sacrament. Nor should we set up any law, time, or place for it. Instead, preach in such a way that by their own will, without our law, they will urge themselves and, as it were, compel us pastors to administer the Sacrament. This is done by telling them, 'When someone does not seek or desire the Sacrament at least four times a year, it is to be feared that he despises the Sacrament and is not a Christian, just as a person is not a Christian who does not believe or hear the Gospel,' for Christ did not say, 'Leave this out, or despise this,' but, 'Do this often as you drink it' (1 Corinthians 11:25), and other such words. Truly, He wants it done, and not entirely neglected and despised. 'Do this,' He says."

Again, why do this if we are saved by grace and nothing we do, including going to church can save us? Very simply because, as our dear Lord Jesus tells us in our text, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!"

It is not our going to church or what we do there that saves us. Going to church means that we are going to the place where God is feeding us with the bread of life – that is, "every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God" for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Six days a week you live in a world that is doing its best to convince you that God doesn’t exist -- or if He does that He is a God whom we have to fear and figure out a way to satisfy by doing enough good stuff so that He isn’t angry with you anymore.

But on the seventh day, God calls you to a day of rest. And this not a day simply to rest from our earthly labors and do nothing but what is fun and entertaining and distracting from your troubles, but a day to rest in the tender loving care of your Lord and your God. It is a day to rest from the labor of trying to please Him or hide from Him and to enjoy the good things that only come from Him through His Word. You see, without hearing the Word of God for the forgiveness of sins, your rest and recreation is really no rest at all.

That is why Luther goes on to say in his Preface:
"Now, whoever does not highly value the Sacrament shows that he has no sin, no flesh, no devil, no world, no death, no danger, no hell. In other words, he does not believe such things, although he is in them up over his head and his ears and is doubly the devil’s own. On the other hand, he needs no grace, no life, no paradise, no heaven, no Christ, no God, nor anything good. For if he believed that he had so much evil around him, and needed so much that is good, he would not neglect the Sacrament, by which evil is remedied and so much good is bestowed. Nor would it be necessary top force him to go to the Sacrament by any law. he would come running and racing of his own will, would force himself, and beg that you must give him the Sacrament. Therefore you must not make any law about this.... Only set forth clearly the benefit and harm, the need and use, the danger and the blessing, connected with the Sacrament."

That, dearly beloved of God, is what the parable in our Gospel lesson does for us today – it "sets forth clearly the benefit and harm, the need and use, the danger and the blessing, connected with the Sacrament. [So that] then the people will come on their own without you forcing them. But if they do not come, let them go their way and tell them that such people belong to the devil who do not regard nor feel their great need and God’s gracious help. But if you do not urge this, or make a law or make it bitter, it is your fault if they despise the Sacrament."

This week is Utah Education Association week, which for one thing means with Thursday and Friday off, Disneyland will be loaded with Utahns this weekend. Imagine somehow I was able to offer everyone in attendance at Trinity Lutheran Church today free Disneyland passes, lodging, and clothing. We would be packed and there would be a sea of black ears. Since we are not packed, does that mean we should make our church more like Disneyland?

Dear people of God, the kingdom of God is what this parable of the wedding banquet is all about. As Martin Luther teaches us, the kingdom of heaven "is what we call the Christian church on earth." Or as St. Cyprian, a third century church father, pastor, and author of "Church Unity’ succinctly states: "He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother."

The whole reason that God is so adamant that you Remember the Sabbath Day by hearing His Word is to invite you to the wedding banquet of Christ to His church, and to clothe you for it. To stay away from the banquet as it is set before you is to decline the very gift of heaven itself. And to come without wearing the wedding clothes of Christ is to invite punishment. In other words, to avoid church for whatever reason is to separate yourself from God and His kingdom.

But, "Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" clothed in beautiful wedding garments at the invitation of our heavenly Father.

Dear people of Trinity, the Lord brings this glorious and marvelous message to you today for your benefit and to save you from great harm. He wants you to know He is ALWAYS here, even to the end of the age -- to feast with you as He feeds you with the bread of His life and the blood of His forgiveness. This means that you are called, chosen, and clothed by God to live in His heavenly kingdom now and forevermore.

He also tells you this today because you all know someone who is abstaining from the table of the Lord because they have better things to do. Business or pleasure, it doesn’t matter, neither has the earthly benefit or the heavenly blessing that is served in the most generous of portions at the banquet table of our Lord.

"Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God!" This heavenly wedding feast is prepared for you by the Father, for the sake of His Son by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Welcome to the wedding feast you blessed of the Lord! Enjoy, take comfort and be strengthened by the very presence of our Lord at the table with us, clearly revealed in His Word spoken into your ears and mysteriously hidden under the bread and wine He places between your lips. You are indeed blessed as you eat bread in the kingdom of God, for you are clothed in the wedding garment of the Lord that is your Baptism into His Word that forgives you all of your sins...
in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Sunday, October 5, 2008

You Are a Nation Bearing Fruit

Dearly beloved of God,

The Gospel for this 21st Sunday after Pentecost, which as the first Sunday in October is LWML Sunday, concludes with these words of our Lord:

"Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. Matthew 21:43 nkj

These words of the Son of God, as ominous and threatening as they are for the chief priests and elders of the Jews, actually speak of a great gift for you –– for you are that nation bearing fruits of which Jesus speaks. We know this to be true because among you, "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins is the center and cornerstone of Trinity Lutheran Church, the LWML, the LC-MS and the whole Christian Church on earth. And on this cornerstone the very kingdom of God is built.

But our Lord Jesus Himself warns us here that the kingdom of God will be taken from any who reject the Son and the means by which the Spirit of God bears Him into the world. That is the curse placed upon the unfaithful leaders gathered in the temple courts before the very Temple of God who is Jesus Christ. These leaders even recognize and rightly conclude what will happen to the vinedresser tenants.

Yet what they fail to recognize is that they are the evil tenants, who following in the footsteps of their fathers who beat one, killed one, and stoned another of God’s messenger servant’s, even as Jesus spoke were the ones of the parable

Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.'

"But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, 'This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.' So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.
"Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?"

They said to Him, "He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons."

This curse upon those unfaithful leaders of the Jews in Jesus’ day serves also as a warning to the new vinedressers of the vineyard – the Holy Christian Church, the baptized children of God, that is, you and me.

According to an oft used quote from Luther, “whenever a cathedral is built, the devil builds a chapel next door.” Worse yet, he seeks to establish a foothold within the very walls of the cathedral as we see in the case of the temple leaders of the Jews.

And it is no different today. The way the devil sneaks in and gains a foothold as he did with the Jewish leaders, is to make us tenants think the temple of our body, the vineyard of the church and the work done in and by them belong to us rather than to the Lord. There is no work of Pastor Hering. There is no work of Trinity Lutheran Church. There is no work of the LWML. There is no work of the LC-MS. There is no work even of the Holy Christian Church. Just as there was no work of chief priest and elders of Israel. There is only the work of the Lord.

“Even though we experience much good from other people, whatever we receive by God’s command or arrangement is all received from God. For our parents and all rulers and everyone else, with respect to his neighbor, have received from God the command that they should do us all kinds of good. So we receive these blessings not from them, but through them, from God. For creatures are only the hands, channels, and means by which God gives all things.” Luther’s LC, 1st Commandment

While God uses all people of the world to deliver earthly blessings such as food and clothing, shelter, civil order, it is you He uses to bring the good news of salvation in Christ to the world.
For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ....Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. (1 Cor 12:12, 27 NKJ)

But woe to us if we ever think that it is we who are the givers rather than God using us as the members through which He distributes His blessings to a sinful world.

The chief priests and the Pharisees had been given the task of delivering the kingdom of God to His chosen people, Israel. It was the people of Israel to whom it was given to know the forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial system of the temple. By accepting the animal sacrifices brought by the people and offered by the priests, God revealed His presence among them was for the purpose of forgiving them, not destroying them. It was not the proper act of sacrifice by which the people gained God’s attention and won His favor, but it was God who was inviting His people to come into His presence and discover His all consuming love for them. But the love of God had been turned into the deeds of men – a special holy caste of men who alone knew how and were able to please an angry God who would otherwise bring vengeance upon them. The priests had become no different really than the pagan priests who offered up even human sacrifices to an angry God. And the Pharisees were no different than those spiritual coaches and guides today who would tell you what you need to do to give your heart to God and devote your life to Him in order to fulfill your purpose or guarantee the success of God’s mission.

It is true enough, God was and is angry over sin. But not because he wants to get even with those who have hurt and insulted Him. His anger over sin is that of a Father who knows and sees how that sin hurts His children and prevents them from receiving all of His blessings in time and eternity.

It is also true that God has a purpose for you and a desire to spread the reign and the joys of citizenship in His kingdom through you, the people of His nation. But this not because of the passion and efforts you add to His grace for the completion of His work, rather because of His passion and the work He has already completed for you in His Son Christ Jesus that springs forth from you like grapes from a well tended wine.

Today, since the eternal sacrifice has been given once and for all on Calvary in the bloody suffering and death of God’s one and only Son, and we know it has been received and accepted as sufficient by His glorious resurrection and ascension to the Father, God reveals Himself in love to us in a sacramental system. Rather than priests who alone came before the Lord to offer the sacrifices on behalf of the people and teachers who were to reveal what those sacrifices meant for the life of God’s people, God now sends pastors who are to deliver the forgiveness of sins through the preaching of the Word, Baptism, public and private absolution, and the Lord’s Supper – and teach you how these are the things in which God is actually present here and now to save you, and love you, and shower you with His eternal gifts.

There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit.

What a blessing to be a tenant and vinedresser in the vineyard. We are planted in God’s vineyard, the holy Christian and apostolic church, where:
• We are hedged around by the heavenly hosts for our protection from the evil one.
• We are given a winepress with an unlimited supply of grapes for the harvest – the holy ministry that pours forth the means of grace by which God is truly present with us
• And the Lord Himself inhabits the tower in our midst as He rules over the heavenly nation He has gathered together to forgive all our sins and sends forth to make disciples of all nations...
in the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen