Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sermon for September 3-4, 2011 Trinity 11

Trinity 11                    September 3-4, 2011   Luke 18:19-14

In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray. One man came down justified.

This parable was spoken to some who trusted in themselves. They thought themselves to be righteous. They despised others.

The parable is a warning. Two go up. Only one comes down justified. The other one is damned.

Those who would find mercy must despise themselves.
Mercy is only given to those who don't deserve it. That is what mercy is. Only criminals are pardoned.

The mistake of the Pharisee was in thinking he was disqualified for mercy, in thinking he didn't need it. Even though he credited God with making him so good, he mistakenly thought the blessings he enjoyed - including the blessing of having been spared the worst and most destructive vices of men - extortion, injustice, adultery, greed. He knew that God had blessed him. God had even made him wise and generous enough to tithe from all that he had. But those blessings aren't faith. Thus they became curses, tools of Satan. For they deceived the Pharisee into thinking he had favor with God and that his works were good enough.

No man except Our Lord Jesus Christ is righteous in himself. We are all unrighteous. We have all sinned. Even our good works are tainted. We've never done anything with absolutely pure motives. For we've always wanted to be noticed, to be honored, to be recognized. We've always wanted credit. But that is not the worst of it. It is not simply that when we've done good things we've had some less than perfect motives. We've also sinned. We've lied. We've cheated. We've stolen. We've wasted.
We've been negligent. We've lusted. We've been angry. We've gossiped.

Think of a single morning at work or school. What skirt swooshes by or flash of skin is glimpsed and your mind stays focused? What petty insult is breathed by a co-worker or boss, a comment of no consequence, and your heart does not fume with anger? How many new cars do you pass in the parking lot without a twinge of  envy in your heart?

Sins are no stranger to us. We sin in our minds and hearts at an  alarming rate but excuse them almost instantly. We say, “I am only human.”

Repent. Humans are supposed to keep the law. Sins destroy faith. Sins destroy families. Sins destroy countries. You endanger everything you love, everything that is good in your life, by sin. What if your boss found what was on your computer or got your cell phone bill? What if your wife did? How about your mother or friends or children? Repent.

Prayer the sinner's prayer. Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Trust not in yourselves or in your wits or in your family or in your fortune or in your Church. Trust in Christ. He is righteous. He has kept the Law. He is merciful and His mercy endures forever. You have no right to it. You cannot earn it or buy it. You cannot make it. But He gives it as a gift, out of grace, because He loves you.

Here is the great the irony of Christianity: those who are without sin, those who have been Baptized, Named by Him, belong to Him, such as you and the believing tax-collector, feel their sin. They have no sin in Christ. But they feel their sin. It hurts. It is shameful and awkward. That is why you struggle. You do what you do not want to do. And you say: “Amen” to God's Law. You confess you are a sinner. But those who are in sin, who embrace it and seek to justify themselves, like the Pharisee, like Larry Flynt and Hugh Heffner, like most of Hollywood, they are satisfied and comfortable. The devil doesn't bother them.

That is how it is in the Kingdom of God. It is a Kingdom of reversals and irony. God became Man. Life became Death. He who knew no sin became sin. The instrument of tortuous execution is made from dead wooden limbs. It has become the Tree of Life. The King of this Kingdom does not send soldiers off to die in struggles meant to enrich himself and enlarge his territories, like the kings of this world. This King, this Good Shepherd, dies. He gives up His life to enrich rebels and the traitors who spoke against Him!

This loving Shepherd looks at a pool teeming with man-eating piranhas, and, mystery of all mysteries, He loves those slimy, scaly, teethy monsters: He loves us. He lies down in the pool. He gives His life to and for them. He allows them to destroy Him and accepts that as payment for the crime. That glorious Death makes piranhas into lambs. They do the greatest evil to Him. They murder Him, steal His live. And in exchange He gives it to them as a gift. He does good for their evil and exchanges His life for theirs. This God, this merciful, long-suffering Lover of mankind, makes something from nothing. But this happens through reversal, through Grace.

For it is only the blind who are given sight, the sick healing,
sinners mercy, and the dead life. It is only the repentant who are forgiven. It is only sinners who become saints and go to their homes justified.

This parable was spoken to some who trusted in themselves, that they were righteous and despised others. Beware! We've heard this parable so many times we might be tempted to despise the Pharisee, to think, “Oh, he is so arrogant and self-righteous. What a jerk!” Despise him and you've become the Pharisee's Pharisee. Our Lord died also for him. It is the like the irony of the accusation “Holier than thou.” You can't make that accusation without being guilty of it. In making the accusation you condemn someone for thinking he is better than other people, which he isn't, unlike you, who would never do such a thing. You don't think you are holier than other people, except for him, of course. You are holier than him. You are better than Larry Flynt or Hugh Heffner. Hypocrite. The accusation of judging is the same thing. If you accuse someone of “judging” you are judging. It is like that old saw your mother told you point your finger at your neighbor and three point back at you.

We have committed the sin of the Pharisee. We have despised others. We have looked to our pedigree, to our works and abilities, to our financial statements, the success of our children, and felt vindicated and justified by them. How many times have parents sought to justify themselves by saying, “that is not how he was raised?”

Repent. Be emptied. The Kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are not ashamed to keep company with the tax-collectors and  Pharisees, who know they've committed hypocrisy and behaved badly, to those who despise themselves and love Jesus.

Come, then, O Sinners! Tax-collectors and Pharisees alike, hypocrites and doubters, come and feast on Christ the Lamb. And become His lamb in the eating.
Come like the tax-collector, with your pain, your fear, your worries, your shame, your loneliness, your failures and disgrace.

Come to where God promises to be, where He extends His mercy, where He gives Himself to you. Come to the Temple made without hands, torn down by men, but rebuilt by God on the third day. Have that Holy of Holies, that embodiment of the Mercy Seat, placed into your mouth.

In that Holy Communion become the Temple of His Holy Spirit. Go home justified. You're in good company. Your righteousness is not your own, but it lasts forever and no one can take it away.  

In X Jesus' Name. Amen.

Daily Readings for September 4-September 10, 2011

Isaiah 29:17–24
2 Corinthians 3:4–11
Mark 7:31–37

Faith Comes from Hearing
A man who was deaf and therefore also had an impediment in his speech was brought to Jesus (Mark 7:31–37). In the same way, all are by nature deaf toward God and therefore also unable to confess the faith rightly. For ―faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Rom. 10:9–17). Jesus put His fingers into the man’s ears, and He spat and touched His tongue. Even so in Holy Baptism, water sanctified by the words of Jesus’ mouth is applied to us; and the finger of God, that is, the life–giving Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:4–11) is put into our ears in the hearing of the baptismal Gospel. Jesus’ sighing ―Ephphatha opened the man’s ears, and his tongue was loosed to speak plainly as Isaiah prophesied of the Messiah, ―In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book (Is. 29:18–24) So also, He who sighed and breathed is last on the cross for us has given us to hear and believe in Him and has opened our lips that our mouths may declare His praise.

Readings for the Week of 11th Sunday after Trinity
September 4 Parable of the Pharisee & the Tax Collector—Luke 18:9-14
                                             2 Samuel 11:1-27, 1 Corinthians 11:17-34
September 5                    Paul Is Arrested in the Temple—Acts 21:1-17
                                               2 Samuel 12:1-25, 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
September 6                   Paul Preaches to the Mob—Acts 21:37—22:16
                                       1 Kings 1:1–4, 15–35, 1 Corinthians 12:14-31
September 7        Paul Is Protected as a Roman Citizen—Acts 22:17-29
                                                    1 Kings 2:1-27, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
September 8   Paul Appears Before the Sanhedrin—Acts 22:30—23:10
                                                      1 Kings 3:1-15, 2 Corinthians 1:1-22
September 9                                The Plot Against Paul—Acts 23:11-35
                                                1 Kings 5:1-18, 2 Corinthians 1:23–2:17
September 10                                    Look ahead to Sunday's Readings
                           Isaiah 29:17–24, 2 Corinthians 3:4–11, Mark 7:31–37

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sermon for August 29-30, 2011

The Beheading of St. John the Baptist
Mark 6:17-29
August 29 – 30, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The Tetrarch in an incestuous marriage was full of disgusting perversion and lust. Thus He vainly boasted that he'd give that craven woman anything. And then, when she asked for the head of the prophet, when she asked that John be executed without charge, without trial, simply for having offended her mother by speaking the truth, mighty Herod was afraid. For that fiery desert preacher was unquestionably a man of God, a man from God, a man for God. Killing him to please her would surely bring down God's wrath. Even Herod could see that. But the weak and wicked Herod, like his father, the murderer of the boy martyrs from Bethlehem, was more afraid of looking bad in front of his guests than he was of God's wrath. Driven by lusty pride and in the false name of honor, as though he were a man of his word, he unjustly and illegally executed John to please the daughter of a harlot who was not his wife.

The world could not bear John, even as they could not bear his companions, Zechariah, Jeremiah, or Isaiah, before him. Nor would they bear the One He foreran, the One who saves His people by His own unjust martyrdom. The fact is John was mercifully removed from this shallow world of lies and vanity. He was brought early to the joy and bliss that Christ won for him. He who leaped for joy in his mother's womb at the Word of the Lord, now leaps in heaven where that Word is ever before his face and the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world removes his tears.

But what of us? Are we on the side of John, calling down the world's wrath by our intolerance of immorality, warning everyone of the coming Day of Judgment, and fearlessly pointing to the living Lamb slain from the foundation of the world to make men His again? Or are we on the side of Herod, hiding in the shadows of pretend respectability, turning a blind eye for convenience sake, washing the charger stained with the prophet's blood and meekly protesting about our given "vocation?" Repent!

Above all other sins we've been lukewarm, afraid to commit, without conviction, weak-kneed cowards watching for the signs of the times and desiring to hang out with the winners. Oh, that the urgency for joy that John felt would infect us once more! That we would be the beacon of Truth in the midst of the ecumenical prostitutes who peddle Satan's doctrines to line their own pockets and make themselves famous with men. That we would turn our backs upon the institutions, the bank accounts, the beautiful things and be satisfied with locusts and camel's hair coats for purity of Doctrine and the presence of the Triune God's actual forgiving love.

Repent. Synod, Congregations, buildings, and people have meant more than Church. The Kingdom of God is here, not in the cloth or the gold or the brick but in the simple bread and wine. These things are nice. They advance the faith so long as they are counted beautiful because of what they hold and represent the best we can offer. But they are not proof of anything. The Mormons have fancy buildings, too. Herod's Temple was held to be the most beautiful building in all the ancient world. It was burned to the ground and will not be rebuilt. The true Temple, the One that other was to foreshow, was glorified when He was crucified. He rebuilt Himself and deigns to dwell in the hearts of those who believe in Him. That is what matters. That is what lasts. The hour of salvation is now. Rejoice and be glad in it.

Let the world hate us, mock us, kill us. It harms us none. The One whom John anointed in the Jordan, the One upon whom the Holy Spirit descended, and about whom the Father spoke from heaven, "This is My Son in whom I am well-pleased," He has made us sons in whom He is well-pleased. He is our Advocate, our Protector, our Benefactor. So what of bank accounts and buildings and campuses? He tells the Truth and His words will never pass away. He tells the Truth of the Sacrifice made, the ransom paid, and the Blood He shed for Justice sake, that has purged us of our lying sins. He feeds us with that martyred, risen Flesh which cannot lie, and brings us into Him in eternity where moth and rust do not destroy.

This is the joy that John knew on earth and knows now perfectly in heaven. It was enough for him to face his death without flinching. He knew what was to come. Forgiven men who know the Grace of God in Christ Jesus have nothing to lose, they have everything to die for, and nothing to fear. That is why he was so stouthearted, so unbending, so courageous, and so gallant. May God give us the strength of conviction, the courage born of compassion, the zeal forged in the reality of this same Grace to follow in John's example, that Zealous Preacher of repentance, that pointing Forerunner, who points not to our many sins, but who points to our Redeemer, the Lamb of God, the Messiah who saves His people. May He fix our eyes there and let them never be moved.

In + Jesus' Name. Amen.