Sunday, July 23, 2006

Trinity 6 - Ezekiel 2

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Trinity 5 - Mark 5

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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Trinity 4 - Job 38:1-11

You probably think you know a thing or two about God. You probably are of the opinion that you’ve been around long enough, experienced enough of life, and are special enough a thinker to have figured God out. Sure, you won’t say you’re expert. In fact, no one’s an expert, for, after all, who can know the mind of God? But, since no one’s an expert, what you think probably ranks pretty highly on the reality scale of who God is and what he does.

Now, you probably have a few ground rules that you picked up somewhere at church. Something like “God is love” and “Believing in Jesus get’s me to heaven.” But beyond that, who can say? That’s really all you need to know anyway, right?

Then why are you here? What are you doing listening to me? Are you hoping in all of my rambling and story-telling you’ll find some little point you agree with so that you can take it home, pat yourself on the back and consider yourself a spiritual person? Is it a good work you’re doing, being here? “I give God some of my time and he will bless me.” Maybe you don’t know why you’re here, wasting your time listening to one more hothead’s opinions about what he thinks God is like. Or maybe you’re not listening at all. Maybe your parents made you come.

We all have our reasons. And I’m pretty confident that none of them are completely pure. I know mine aren’t. But I can tell you this without any reservation:

If you don’t think that somewhere, somebody knows the one and only Truth, and that this truth can be enfleshed with human words and put down, once and for all, with unquestionable clarity – if you think that the Church is a beast of human opinions some of which are true but some of which we’ll just have to wait and see about – then I can tell you without reservation that you are wasting your time here.

You’re wasting your time because if you can’t know truth without a shadow of a doubt, if you can’t pin it down, write it out, speak it again and again and have it always be the same answer, then the reality remains that you simply can’t know truth at all. And if you can’t know truth at all then the Church and everything to do with it is a big, fat lie. You’re better off sleeping in, eating out with the fifty dollars you put in the offering plate, and waiting for death to take you somewhere else, wherever that might be.

That is a life without truth. That is a life without faith. And make no mistake: we’re all faithless. It’s not just our postmodern culture and it’s claims of "relativism. " It’s our human nature, sinful and unclean – that means, without faith. That means unable to believe the Truth even when the Truth is staring you in the face, like Job and his friends, sitting around together, spouting our opinions about what we think God is like, all the while admitting that we don’t really know anything, but going on to pool our ignorance anyway as if this somehow does us any good.

Do you know what it does? It makes God angry. Listen to his Word to Job when Job, righteous man, decided to think he knew a thing or two about God. God said: Who are you that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?...Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me…Who determined its measurements—surely you know! …Who shut in the sea …and prescribed limits for it …and said, 'Thus far shall you come, and no farther? …You [must] know, for great is your [wisdom.]

Do you know these things? I don’t. I haven’t the foggiest clue. But God knows these things. He knows these things and a whole lot more. And because He is God, when He decides to reveal the answers to these questions or any others, then it's probably a good idea to listen.

But that’s hard for us Americans. That’s hard for us human beings. We’d rather cling to our opinions. We like our ideas. We like them so much that if we try hard enough we usually can find a way around what God says. And that, right there is the cause of all division in the world. Error which refuses to believe the Word of God is the sole author of discord and disunity. Of course, who gets the blame for the discord? Surely not our lofty opinions. We blame the Truth, or the person who speaks it. We blame “theology” and "doctrine," as if these things were not God’s gifts of His knowledge of Himself, given to us for our own good. We find ourselves acting like God is the problem, rather than the answer.

And who do you think is hurt most by this unbelief? Not God. We are. Without the Truth of God’s Word we are impoverished. We are empty vessels. We are dying animals. And that’s all we are. Look around you at the world. Next time you walk through Shop Rite or Wal-Mart, look at the people, the empty vessels, the dying animals. Look at them and see in their eyes, in their faces, the lack of truth. The lonely, hurting, confused opinions that barely keep them running, like a car coasting on fumes, sputtering and puttering to the end of the line, which is nothing other than an open grave.

And who can help them? Who can give them answers? Surely no congregation that thinks “theology” is a matter of opinion and that our guess is as good as anyone else’s. If that’s the case, then every one of us should hop on a train to S***** R****** Community Church, because they’re already doing this “growing congregation” thing far more successfully than we are. And if we don’t have real, true answers to the false answers being taught there, then, frankly, who do we think we are encroaching on their turf with our opinions?

But theology is never a matter of opinion. There is a man who knows the answers to all questions. There is one man who knows where the sea’s boundaries lie, who can even stand up in a boat and say to the hurricane, “Peace, be still!, and it is! There is one man whose every word is a word which gives life to the dying animals. There is one man who broke into the chaotic whirlwind of our opinionated, impoverished world to bring us the few but absolute answers that he believes are the ones we need most.

Jesus Christ came to give us Truth. Jesus Christ came because he is Truth. And the Good News is that you, right now, are receiving that Truth. That is why you’re not wasting your time here this morning listening to me, because Jesus Christ is Truth. That is why you put $100 in the offering plate this morning, because you know that this is the one place where you can be certain to receive Truth, the real, unshakable answers of authentic Christian theology which creates faith by filling you with the name of Jesus.

Jesus, who doesn’t just have the power to stop the rain from falling, but who has the power to give you words you can believe without reservation. Jesus, who didn’t just speak louder than those around him about what he thought might be right, but who claimed he was right incarnate, and then he took himself as right straight to the grave that was supposed to kill right once and for all. And just as the enemies of all that is right laughed their loudest, thinking they had won, he showed that life, when it is a life lived with the power of Truth, is stronger than death.

This is your Lord, who rose from the dead to prove once and for all that there are answers. And every time you hear these answers your faith grows stronger.

Such is your confidence! When Almighty God gives answers his answers are plain. No matter how much or how often error insists upon causing division by dissenting from the clear and the obvious Truth of the Holy Scriptures, the foundational teachings of the prophets and the apostles, given in the name of Jesus, are a doctrine that drips with the waters of life. Having tasted such nectar, how could we eat anything else ever again? Having come to the fullness of Truth, how could we ever depart from it? Having been raised from the dead, you, already in our Lord Jesus Christ, how can we not also believe that every answer he gives us are the very words of eternal life?

The grass withers, and the flowers fade; but the Word of the Lord stand forever. Amen.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Trinity 3 - Ezekiel 17:22-24

So when did you stop being Church?

I’m serious. When did you stop being the Church? I know it happened, some time ago. I don’t know when, or who is most responsible, but I know that this congregation gave up on being the Church. You sold out. You chose something else. You became a club, or a religious institution, and a sub-culture – I don’t know what – but you became it. You chose to be it instead of the Church. It's easy enough to do. All it takes is to be completely selfish by thinking of this place as your right, as your “church.”

In our text for today from the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord is pretty clear about how things work in His Church. He takes it and He plants it and He builds it and it becomes great, noble. It bears His fruit. Like the parable of the mustard seed, the Church is the greatest of all trees, and from the world around everyone comes to it and there alone they find sanctuary, hope, and a haven from their woes and tribulations. It’s a great and beautiful thing, this Church of God's, this flourishing, healthy, active miracle.

But it seems there’s something of that missing here, in this place, doesn’t it? We don’t look so hot. We look tired, beat up, burned out. I wonder why. I suppose we can blame our location, or other congregations who haven’t treated us fairly, or the problems at the district or with the Synod. I suppose we can point the finger out at others and away from our own comfortable bellies, and we can accuse the entire world of being set up against us. After all, the culture oes grow more pagan by the day, hostile to the faith, and people my age are too busy forwarding thier careers and playing with expensive toys to listen to much good reason. And the boomers, and everyone in between, seems pretty darn content to run the world so long as they can take two vacations a year. Yes, we will point the finger at anyone and anything to give a reason why this congregation appears to be failing. We will point the finger anywhere except the one place it ought to be pointed first: me...and by that I do mean you.

There is only one person in the world who could do this to the Church. There is only one person with the power and control to cut off branches of the people of God. Listen to Ezekiel again: I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree... [I] dry up the green tree.... I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

Punishment comes from God. And when the Church is punished, as we have been, as we are being, then there is only one reason for it. Our God has seen us in our gluttonous, lazy, self-contented, luke-warm unbelief - he has seen that we have forgotten who we really are - and he has ordained from on high that we who have thought so highly of ourselves are to be brought low, to be pushed down, crushed, withered, broken and finished off, because that is what he has sworn from ancient times that he will do to people like us.

So when did you stop being the Church? What idol was it that lured you away from your identity, not just by yourself, but with an entire congregation of the baptized? What made you think that you were safe to live however you pleased so long as you kept Sunday morning mostly sacrosanct at least for an hour and a half?

What idol have you set up in this place? The building? The budget? The Christian community? The savings acount? The old pastors? The new pastor? Who did you set up in place of God?

I don’t know. I really don’t. But I know that it has happened. It happens so easily. We turn our heart from the Lord if only for a second and suddenly we don't even realize how long we've been standing in jeopardy, because we are so blind to the rotten fruit we create that we can't even comprehend what has happened. But there we stand, under judgment. There we stand, and if God is merciful there we find His wrath bearing down on us with such a vengeance that it wakes us up before it's too late.

Is it too late here? Is it too late to repent? Is it too late to cry out, “O Lord, have mercy on us, sinners?” Is it too late to come back to this font, this table, this place of proclamation and there find life? Is it too late to be raised up from where we have been brought low?

No. It is never too late to repent. Not until the last trumpet sounds and the archangel shouts. Not until the font sits waterless and the bread and wine cannot be found. Not until the preaching Office stands empty altogether. For let me tell you the answer that God has sent me to give to your predicament:

Thus says the Lord God: "I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar ... and I myself will plant it on a high...mountain...and [it will] bear fruit.... And under it …in the shade of its branches birds of every kind will nest.

That is God’s promise to His Church, and for all of your efforts to back your way out the door, you haven’t stopped being the Church yet. How do I know? The Lord sent me here to prove it to you. He sent me here to preach to you the reality that is as simple as the water in that font and the bread and wine on that table. It’s as simple as this pastor in this Office and the word coming out of my mouth telling you that Jesus Christ is the mustard seed. Jesus Christ is the tree that is greater than any other tree. And it is His name, His proclamation, His planting that will bear fruit. It is Jesus Christ who will grow His Church.

For on a mountain long ago on the heights of Israel, the tree of Jesus Christ was planted with iron spikes and a hard hammer. Tender baby born in a manger, finest of all the shoots of the cedars of the sons of men, highest Lord of heaven and earth, He was brought low. He was made dry so that he cried out in thirst. He was killed. And this was done because you were not Church but it was his desire to make you so. So he died, carrying that sin of the world on his shoulders, carrying your self-reliant pride and contented worldly-security, your idols and your unbeliefs.

And low though he was under that weight, dry though he was, His story, our history, does not end there. He was not left low, but was lifted up. He was not left dry, but sprouted anew. His withered body, His broken body, the body of Christ has since become the source of life.

And for that reason the Church will never perish, for her dear Lord defends her, guides her, sustains her and cherishes her to the end. Though there are those that hate her, both the heathen without and the false brethren within, against both foe and traitors alike, she shall prevail because the Church is the planting of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

This is the Word of the Lord! This is the proclamation that I have been sent to give to you. It does not guarantee that this congregation will grow. It does not bring with it the certainty of a comfortable lifestyle, a balanced budget, an active sunday school and a fun-loving community. In fact, it holds no guarantees at all except one, but what a guarantee: Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, and as surely as your are baptized into his name, when that trumpet calls and the angel shouts, you too, will be lifted up, made green and caused to flourish, forever and ever, because that is what it means to be the Church.

The grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Amen.

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