Saturday, August 16, 2014

Funeral Homily–David Hasheminejad 8/6/14

Funeral Sermon-David Hasheminejad

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the risen Lord and Savior,
 Jesus the Christ.  Amen.  

Having been an avid sports fan throughout his life, David, certainly would have encountered “the sign” that usually accompanies every sporting event. One sees it in almost every game, from hockey to baseball, to football and sports in between.  Sometimes, in rare moments, it’s even broadcasted on live television. For those who know sporting events well enough and heard the Gospel lesson read on this day, you likely know where I am going with this. The sign is usually white with plain black letters held by a random fan at the game bearing that verse of today’s gospel lesson, John 3:16, a verse from sacred scripture that has become so common that one not even need be Christian to know it. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. To this, verse seventeen should also be added, because it is equally as powerful a witness to our Christian faith as verse 16; For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. In these two verses stand the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our own beloved Martin Luther, after whom we Lutherans are named, called these verses, “the heart of the Bible, the Gospel in miniature.” Thus all that the Bible speaks to us of is the love of God, who withholds nothing from His children, not even His own Son. That in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Eternal Father born of Mary, fallen humanity with its sin and its death, is forgiven, healed, and given life everlasting. We Christians cling to this most gracious and holy promise of God, because in these moments when death surrounds us, we grieve and mourn, as St. Paul writes to the Church at Thessalonica, not as others do without hope. But, rather that in Christ, in His death and in His resurrection, we are a people of great and everlasting hope, even in grief. We have the hope of the Almighty God who does not wish His children to perish, but to live with Him forever in His kingdom. For this He sent His Son into the world. For David, He sent His Son into the world. For you, He sent His Son into the world. 

As well as we might know or be familiar with these verses from St. John’s Gospel, we likely are unfamiliar with their context. They have been so singled out and lifted up before the world that we forget the story in which they are spoken. Jesus is not simply speaking to the crowds or to the masses in a big block of teaching that we might find, say from St. Matthew’s Gospel. Nor is Jesus speaking to his disciples privately as we find him doing in other places, teaching them about the Kingdom of God or of the fate that will befall Him in Jerusalem, he will suffer, be killed, and on the third day rise again. Rather our Lord is speaking to the unlikeliest of men, He is speaking to a man of the Pharisees, Nicodemus by name. The story of Nicodemus and his relationship to Jesus becomes one of the subplots of John’s Gospel. In total we hear of Nicodemus three times: here at the beginning of chapter 3, then once more in chapter 7, and lastly in chapter 19.  

Here at the beginning of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus under the cover of darkness, at night to ask Him questions about what He has been teaching and preaching. He comes at night to protect himself against the watchful eye of his counterparts. He comes at night to avoid their ridicule and their shame. To Nicodemus, Jesus seems like a true rabbi come from God, but he knows others do not see things that way. Thus he seeks out Jesus and inquires more from Him. Hidden away at night, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the new birth, the birth of water and the Holy Spirit, the birth of holy Baptism which opens the eyes of men to see the Kingdom of God at work in Jesus Christ. He speaks to him of the work of the Holy Spirit who blows where He wills, bringing the Spirit of Life to all those upon whom He lands. Jesus speaks to Nicodemus of the fate that must befall the Christ, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up. Lifted up upon the wood of the cross for all the world to see—like the bronze serpent in the book of Numbers who healed all those who looked upon it—so too does Jesus heal all those who look upon Him crucified for us and for our salvation. Lastly, Jesus speaks to him the words of the heart of the Bible and the Gospel in miniature that we heard earlier. In this opening conversation, Nicodemus comes to learn of Christ and to hear His Word. It is the beginning of his relationship to Jesus Christ, one of seeking and finding, asking and answering. 

Looking to David’s life, we might see a parallel in this beginning relationship of Jesus and Nicodemus. I do not know for certain, and I will have to ask Salme this later, yet I’m going to wager that both their relationship with each other and their relationship together in the Church of Jesus Christ began in a similar way: under the cover of darkness, not in secret, but rather in the dark of unknowing. I can imagine there was much asking and answering, coming to know Jesus throughout his life from this odd bunch Christians, called Lutherans. And even odder than that, Finnish Lutherans, with their pula, coffee, and other Lutheran things like hot dishes, potlucks, and a love for all things jello. I can almost hear those perhaps nightly conversations David and Salme had about us Lutherans: who we worship, how we worship, and what a Small Catechism is. David’s own life of faith began like Nicodemus’, by hearing about Baptism, the work of the Holy Spirit who brings faith in Jesus Christ, who upon the cross has shown the Father’s love and redeemed the world. A life of faith that began not only by his questions, but by questions asked of him, “Do you believe in God the Father? Do you believe in God the Son? Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?” Then, being born anew by water and the Spirit to see the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God mirrored in the relationship of bride and groom, of Salme and David. In their love for one another, David and Salme in their over forty years of marriage, with their joys and sorrows, their care and dedication for one another, showed us the Kingdom of God and the love of God for us His bride, His people. 

    A few chapters down the road, we again encounter Nicodemus: this time in chapter 7 where he no longer appears under the cover of the night’s sky, but rather is found in broad daylight. There he stands, this time not with Jesus, but rather surrounded by his fellow Pharisees. They are arguing among themselves about what is to be done with Jesus. Should he be arrested, tried, denounced, and condemned? The prevailing thought amongst the chief priests and Pharisees is yes, yet in the brightness of day, Nicodemus stands up and defends Jesus before his brethren. In only a single verse, Nicodemus is lifted up by John as one who now speaks openly and in defense of Christ. He becomes not only a seeker of Christ, but a teacher of the scriptures, and one might say a meek and humble proclaimer of Jesus. 

Here again we find a counterpart with David’s own life as His marriage blossomed and bore fruit: two sons, and later, grandchildren. There in their home, David and Salme raised their sons in the faith. They taught them and spoke to their sons of Jesus and His love for them. David taught them in his humble way to see God throughout the splendor of His creation as he took them camping and vacationing to parks all over the country. As he traveled with them to visit new lands, including going to Finland to see what Finnish Lutherans are like in their native land, he exposed His sons to the world and the goodness that is found in all people and the love that God has for us all. He undoubtedly even had to defend Jesus to them, as parents have to do with each of their children when they ask, “Do we have to go to church this Sunday?” Having three kids of my own, let me say that no parent, not even clergy, are immune from such questions. Throughout those years he taught his sons what it was to be a man, to be gentle and humble and to be faithful. He taught them the Bible, often pointing to Jesus’ words in Matthew, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, as the source for why he never won the lottery.  

Here, in all of those ways, Daniel, Kia, Tiffany, Lola, and Leia, David taught you of God’s love for you. Through his care, play, teaching, and gentle spirit, He showed you in his way the Father’s love for you all. In his humble and caring nature, he showed and taught you the humble and caring nature of the Son, who loves you and is with you always to the close of the age. Who is with you now in this time to comfort you and remind you of the hope that we have in Him and in His resurrection. 
Lastly, Nicodemus appears for the final time on Good Friday after the crucifixion, After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. The one who had come in secret at night, who had stood up for Jesus among his brethren, now lovingly takes care of this rabbi sent from God. Here at the end of the gospel, Nicodemus walks with Jesus into the tomb. 

Today, in sadness and grief, David walks with Jesus at the last into the tomb. Death is the great enemy of God and of man. It is that which separates us from one another, that which causes this body to fall apart and to fail. It hushes the breath of God that breathed the breath of life into us when we were born. The tomb is death’s victory over man, but it is not the victory over God. For David’s tomb is Jesus’, and that is the place where God speaks and acts and shows His great love for us in the raising of His own son from death. Jesus’ death, his tomb, undoes death, so that the apostle writes, “neither death nor life…will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It is the place where God acts with all power and love, shattering death, removing the failings of this body, healing and making whole his creation that he loves so much. Death becomes not the condemnation of man, but the gate by which we enter life-everlasting. O Death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Today we walk with David and will this afternoon carry him to his own tomb, but we do so knowing that it is the place where God acts with the power of His love. In death David now knows fully the goodness of John 3:16-17.  

And we who walk with him to the grave, go too with our Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that the good byes we say this day are only good-byes for now. We know that in the glory and splendor of the resurrection, Jesus’ bursting from the tomb on the third day, we too by faith shall be raised with Him, with David, and with all the faithful. For God sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. For God sent His Son into the world so that death would no longer have the final word of our lives, but rather that we might have life. Life eternal. Life forever united to our beloved father, grandfather and husband. Life together with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit now and ever and unto the ages of ages.  Amen.     

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Seventh Sunday after the Pentecost Sermon- 7/27/14

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost-Sermon
7/27/14- Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

Have you understood all these things? [Yes.] Good, still jet lagged from my travels this past week I could use a Sunday off, especially when it comes to explicating and exegeting these numerous parables from our Lord this morning. For we’ve had in succession over the last weeks Gospel lesson after Gospel Lesson from chapter 13, the chapter of the Kingdom parables. It has been a trinity of Sundays for us hearing each week from Jesus “The Kingdom of heaven is like…”, but for the crowds and for the disciples it was likely a single day’s teaching from their rabbi. Parable after parable on the kingdom of heaven, that indescribable reality of God and His Christ, which we can only glimpse by illustration and analogy. If this was, as Matthew depicts it for us, a day of parables then this question put forward by our Lord–the question I put forward before you–and answered by the disciples takes a comedic twist. Having sat through many a college and seminary day’s lecture, let me just say that when the professor asks you if you’ve understood everything, you say YES. You do not hesitate in your response and you reply almost with the same haste as the disciples did this morning. Having taught many a confirmation class, let me also tell you that I’ve heard this rapid reply before from my confirmands. In my best guess the “Yes” of the disciples comes not because they’ve understood with Solomonic like wisdom, but rather because Jesus' words makes their brains hurt. They, not unlike me and perhaps even you, are mentally fatigued from wrapping their minds around seed, soil, wheat, weeds, pearls, treasure, mustard, yeast, the dragnet, and their explanations. Unfortunately, they could not be saved by the bell, but rather found an opening from Jesus and took it. Or at least that’s how my cynical mind reads the closing from today’s conclusion to this Thirteenth Chapter. But seeing as you are already here and I am already here let us, as St. Paul commends us, press onward and run with endurance the race that our Lord has set before us. 

It is helpful to us when we study the parables, especially these from Matthew’s gospel as they are all clustered together, to find the common themes and threads that link them all in a chain of parables. There are several books written that seek to do this, to find those red threads that hold the parables together and show commonality between them. This morning I’ve found one that my rural colored lenses have spotted. Is it just me, or has Jesus talked an awfully lot about fields? For it seems to me fields keep popping up throughout these weeks. Again I am aware how my culturally formed eyes might pick this up more quickly then some, because open fields were the very first thing I missed when I moved from Iowa to Southern California. I am also keenly aware that I might not be bringing anything new to your attention as well. You’ve probably already noticed this and are well ahead of me. For those who might not be or maybe weren’t here these last couple of weeks, a quick review might be needed. Today, we heard about the field in which treasure was hidden and mustard seed sown. Two weeks ago we heard about the various soils upon which the seed of God’s word fell, rocky, thorny, hard paths, and good ground. Now the word field was never mentioned, but if there’s good soil and you’re planting in it, well a field by another name would grow as well. Coming from Northeastern Iowa let me also tell you fields can be quite rocky as one of the pre-planting rituals of the northeastern Iowa farmer’s kids, and usually their friends, is rock-picking. Last week we heard of another field in which not only was good seed sown, but bad as well. It was a field filled to the brim with God’s good grain and the devil’s deceitful darnels and dandelions. We’ve heard much about this parabolic field, which Jesus himself finally defined for us and for the twelve as the world, oJ ko/smoƟ, the cosmos.  

The field, the world, the entirety of the cosmos is the place where the good seed of God’s word is scattered graciously and abundantly. The world is the place where that seed grows and bears fruit, showing itself as wheat and shining forth as the sun in the Father’s Kingdom. The world, the cosmos is the place where the mustard seed will grow and become the a tree, greater than any other shrubbery. Birds will come and make a nest in its branches and it will give relaxing shade to those underneath its leaves. It is this world where a treasure is hidden, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Normally we first interpret this parable in terms of us. The Kingdom of Heaven is like we who are the man who finds Jesus and then gives all and does all to purchase Jesus, the treasure, hidden in the world. Yet this seems a backwards interpretation of the parable or at least a secondary reading of our Lord’s word, because it seems to destroy the thread which hold all of these parables in order, that we are not the farmer, the sower, or the finder, but rather that we are the field, the soil, the seed, and the treasure. 

Reading the parable this way, do we not hear echoes of St. John’s famous gospel line, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him?"  

Do we not also hear the words of St. Paul, "you were bought with a price?"  

Or the words of the Catechism, "I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true?   

You my brothers and sisters are the priceless treasure of God, you are the pearl of great price that God has risked everything, sold everything, given everything to have forever and ever. In the parable of the treasure hidden in the field, we see the Kingdom of God not as our ascent to Him, but rather the joy and love with which our God looks upon the world, upon the field, upon His good soil and seed, upon His wheat and gives His all for, that He gives His son for. There we see the true treasure of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not that we have purchased or found or own God for ourselves, but rather that He has purchased, found, and welcomed with joy into His barn us sinners and saints. Jesus Christ is the man who has purchased and won us for God, through His cross and passion, through the forgiveness of our sins. He did so on calvary and He does so each week as we gather around this table and have his life giving body and blood placed in our hands. This is the Good news! This is the Gospel of our salvation! This is the seed of God’s word that has been planted in the world long before its creation. It is the mustard seed which grows ever taller and richer and fuller in our hearts as day by day we cling to nothing but Jesus by faith, holding His word, His life, in our hearts and minds. It is the yeast which permeates our entire lives, leaving no batch of flour, no lumpy parts of our world, our homes, our bodies, and selves unaffected. Rising and maturing in us and in the world by faith. It is that Gospel, the outstretched arms of Jesus upon the cross, crucified for us, which is the dragnet by which the church on earth humbly and faithfully proclaims drawing into its embrace the whole cosmos, fishing for men. 

It is only in knowing this, that God has loved you so very much that He would give His life for yours by faith that we can see that not only are we His treasure, but now He is ours. The Gospel of Jesus Christ received by faith, becomes our treasure in this world that we sinners stumble upon. Christ, together with the Father and Holy Spirit is by faith our pearl of great price whom we seek after in Word and Holy Sacrament to listen, to receive, and to then offer up our treasure, ourselves, our time and our possessions, the very signs of His gracious love to us. Faith in this very Gospel, moves us to continue to mine the Word of God each day to hear his word for us and to hear His Word proclaimed every Lord’s day. Faith moves us to spend our time with Him who moves mountains, forgives sins, and loves us to the end. It is faith alone by God’s grace alone that allows us—even when we struggle, confronted by conflict and pain, dealing with our own sins and brokenness, and even when our heads hurt seeking to wrap our minds around what is going on around us—to say, “Yes, Lord.” Yes, we understand, that at times we don’t understand, for our mind and our will is not yours. Yes, Lord, we understand, because we simply trust that your forgiveness will be always bigger than our sin, your mercy greater than our stinginess, your love more perfect than ours, your truth richer and deeper than we could ever fully comprehend this side of the grave. Yes, Lord, we understand that we can only see Kingdom in glimpses, parables, and shadows, but we know that despite our lack of sight you work all things for our good and at the last will reveal all for all for you love of all. Until that time we simply pray, “Yes, Lord”, your kingdom come, your will be done. Amen.   

Sunday, July 20, 2014

6th Sunday after Pentecost (A)-Sermon

Pentecost 6–Sermon
7/20/14–Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

We know weeds. Growing up in the midwest on the farm in a house surrounded by almost 8 acres of grass one learns the difference of weeds rather quickly. Surrounded by that much green grass and fertile soil, made sure that there were plenty of those little yellow flowers dotting our verdant carpet. Dandelions were the play thing of many days growing up on the farm. Many times they were plucked for a lovely little yellow bouquet for my mom or grandma. Next to gathering them for the important women of my life at the time, the best was when they went to seed and were these little white puffs on a stem. Holding them, we made a wish and like the wind blew until all those little seeds had blown all over the grass. I’ve since learned now why we had so many dandelions. As I got a little older, I remember gathering dandelions with my friends. We’d hold one tightly between our index finger and incant, looking back on it a rather dark and morbid saying, “mama had a baby and her head popped off.” As soon as the word “head” was recited we’d flick our thumbs and pop off the dandelion’s golden mane and watch it tumble to the ground. 

From there play turned to pursuit and mission. The days of childhood games gave way to chores. Dandelions were no longer a toy, but an enemy. An enemy that threatened the very verdant blanket around our house that we prized and cherished. Weeds became pests in need of chemical warfare. From Roundup to other more potent things, the grass would be sprayed until not one little yellow bouquet remained. If chemical warfare didn’t do the trick, then we brought in the heavy artillery, especially around the house. Indeed one of the very signs I knew I had reached manhood was when my grandfather handed over to my care our gas powered Weed Eater! Pulling the trigger the cords of that head would dice up weeds better than any samurai sword. For more strategic and selective targeting, there was of course the harder and less fun work of using the weeding fork and uprooting them by hand. Weeds in Iowa, like I am sure they are in California, were only good for one thing, their removal. We see them, in our grass, in our garden, and we terminate with extreme prejudice. 

In Jesus’ parable this morning we hear again about the farmer, who seems even more careless than last week by allowing weeds to invade and permeate his wheat field. Let them both grow together until the harvest, he tells his hired hands. Farming today, we’d say that’s a terrible idea for protecting your harvest and at the very least it just looks bad with wayward weeds jetting out from a perfectly and strategically lined row of beans. The one thing we don’t do with weeds, is leave them be. Yet that is the order our farmer issues to those who work in his field. Don’t uproot them. Don’t spray them. Don’t pull out the heavy artillery and weed eat them. Let them be. Let them grow. Let them remain in place for now in the wheat fields of Galilee.   

For there is a weed prevalent among wheat fields in that part of the world, very likely the same weed our Lord speaks of today, called the darnel weed. It, unlike the bright yellow dandelion, is a much more subtle and deceptive weed. So much so that while growing it looks no different than ordinary wheat. The plants are so closely related in appearance that it is given another name, “false wheat.” It isn’t until their ears open that the difference between them is revealed. Wheat, ripe and ready for the harvest is as we know brown. Darnel is black. There only at the last, when its fruit is revealed is the wheat so readily distinguishable from those pesky weeds, sown by the evil one. In the wheat fields of Galilee the foolish farmer is shown to be wise and discerning in his patience, in his endurance, in his long-suffering of the enemy’s dirty tricks. For in doing what we would do with weeds, he would lose his precious wheat either mistaken for weeds or because the root systems of the both are intertwined beneath the surface. In removing weeds, He would lose that good seed that He had planted and he would rather suffer the weeds than allow even one ear of his grain to perish. Thus no arial support spray, no weed eater, no plucking just for fun only patience, mercy, and long-suffering for this Lord of the harvest. 

Though He knows about Galilean wheat farming, our Lord really isn’t talking about that today, nor of fields, nor of wheat, nor weeds. He speaks of something much more precious than the clothing of the field, the withered grass, or fading flower. He speaks of His good creation, the world, the people He fashioned before the foundations of the world. Those born anew of water and the spirit and those awaiting their adoption as sons and daughters of God. He speaks to us and of our life in the church and in the world a place of both wheat and weeds. As wheat we know the weeds of the world, the dandelions with their bright and unmistakable displays of sin, evil, and lawlessness. Those who persecute the Church and try to silence the Gospel’s proclamation by force. Those weeds who harm their fellow brother or sister for the sake of their own selfish use. Those who shoot down planes from the heavens and take innocent blood upon their hands. We know the weeds and our weed-like nature knows what to do with them. Yet every generation has encountered such evil from the foundation of the world. So that in every generation it is asked why does the Lord permit this to be so? The answer to that is found in the parable and it was there proclaimed in the psalm. You, O Lord, are gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth. The Lord is patient, merciful, and long-suffering with his whole people with his whole creation. He suffers the weeds of this world, not only for the sake of the wheat, but for the sake of the weeds themselves. Where we would rush for the spray can or weed-eater, God showers down rain upon both the evil and the righteous, the waters of His mercy and of His forgiveness. Yes, even for those most heinous of dandelions. 

For He can do what we can not, where we see nothing but weeds destined for our attack, He sees the potential for new wheat. Not only does He sees that potential, it is His gracious will that all might come to know His goodness, lay down their evil ways, and receive His forgiveness. It is the very reason He planted His good seed Jesus Christ into the world. By the cross of Christ He forgives all and has forgiven all. It is the work of the shed blood and broken body of Jesus in the flesh, that redeems all flesh both the wheat and the weeds. For the wheat and for the dandelions the Father has offered up His Son, thus our God suffers. He suffers with patience waiting, hoping, and longing for their redemption, the day when they will be wheat and shine like the sun in the Father’s barn.  

As it is for the dandelion so it is for the darnels. Those unassuming weeds that grow hidden among the wheat, those who are like the wheat in every way except for one. One that only the Farmer in his keen and fatherly heart can see, discern and judg: their fruit, their faith. Looking out in the congregation I see such wheat and weeds, indeed looking to my own heart I see such wheat, such weeds. Good seed planted in his Kingdom, nurtured by water and Word, Wheat and Wine for growth, maturing, and fruit bearing for the harvest. Yet more often than not I look not unlike that darnel weed growing its own way, in need of mercy. In need of the patience and long-suffering of a good and gracious Farmer who is swift to forgive and wait, and rain down upon me, up on us all, the salvation of his life-giving baptismal water again. Thankfully He does, restoring we errant weeds to fruit bearing wheat. For He indeed is gracious and full of compassion, slow to anger, and full of kindness and truth. He is with the weeds, and he is with the wheat, and he calls his servants to be the same. 

He calls his wheat to show mercy, to be long-suffering, and to forgive. Not to be like our fallen nature and destroy the weeds throughout our life in this field but allow both to grow together. That is the word he speaks to the servants in the parable, interestingly enough though that is not exactly what the word in Greek is. The word is actually aphihmi, the word means “to forgive.” Forgive them to grow together until the harvest. As we live in the Church and in the world we are reminded to be like the wise and good farmer. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. For if God can forgive the dandelions and he has by the blood of His Son, and if he can forgive the darnels and he has by the blood of His Son, then surely we too can forgive one another for our weedish behavior and tendencies here in His field, His kingdom. God has forgiven us our sins, surely we can forgive and bear with one another in their weakness as well. Surely too, we like the wheat of the Lord of the Harvest can shine the graciousness, compassion, kindness, patience, long-suffering and truth of the one and only Son to the wheat and weeds around us. 


Monday, June 23, 2014

2nd Sunday after Pentecost (A)- 7/22/14

Second Sunday after Pentecost-Sermon
6/22/14-Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

There was a name that I remember from my youth that I knew what it denoted, but not the etymology from which it arose.  Growing up with grandparents in the midwest, let me just say there were many such idioms and expressions that boggled my mind. I could use them, and use them correctly, but I had absolutely no idea where they came from and outside of their figurative usage, what they literally meant. For example, whenever something needed to be fixed, Mom or Grandpa would declare themselves to be a regular Patch Adams. Now the name itself hits at the definition and so it didn’t take me long to figure out that a Patch Adams is one who patches things, be they bicycles, lawnmowers and tractors, or even scraped knees healed and mended by a mother’s love. Yet it took me several years, and really not until the Robin Williams’ movie, to realize that Patch Adams wasn’t just an expression like a Johnny-Come-Lately, but rather a real live person. Not only is Patch a real person, but the name is indeed indicative of his vocation, a doctor. 

The movie, by the same name, chronicles in Hollywood fashion (meaning more fiction than fact) the story of his journey through medical school and to becoming a doctor. In one of the more poignant subplots to the movie, Patch, rather courageously and foolishly tries to build a relationship with one of the patients, Bill, who is dying from cancer. Bill is angry and grieving. He is so filled with anger that he routinely yells and screams at the nurses and doctors, gladly hurling his bed pan at them every chance he can get. Patch himself receives such treatment, over and over again. Each time going in hopeful that he will get through to Bill, and release him from the anger and pain that is affecting every relationship around him, even with his family. In one of the more poignant scenes of the movie, Patch enters Bill’s room one last time adorned with angelic robe and wings and says, “Death. To die. To expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, Demised, departed And defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. Dead as a mutton. Dead as nits. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God's way of saying, "Slow down.” To which Bill responds, “To check out.  To head for the happy hunting ground. To find oneself without breath. Buy the farm. Cash in your chips.” In naming death, in speaking of it, even in a humorous way, Patch is able to release Bill from the pain, anger, and fear that until that moment held him captive. From the moment of his diagnosis to that moment, he though still alive was dead, after that moment though dying he was filled again with laughter, life, and peace. 

It seems to me that is the same thing that is going on in our second lesson from Romans this morning and the Apostle Paul. This passage is a foundational one for us Lutherans as it helps to comprise our baptismal theology and also our funeral rite. If you were listening carefully you would have heard in 11 verses, St. Paul speak of death, died, dying, or dead 13 times! Over and over St. Paul in repetitive refrain speaks of the reality of baptism in the life of the Christian. It is death. It is the death of death, the death of sin, the death of the devil, the death of the powers of this world. But why speak of these things on this Sunday, the 2nd after Pentecost? For on the Day of Pentecost a few weeks ago we spoke of the power of the endless life of God, through the Holy Spirit, pouring out upon the disciples and upon us. Last week on Trinity Sunday we spoke of our life being lived in the life of God. This Sunday, we seem to be going backwards a bit in hearing from St. Paul about death. Yet it seems to me the reason that we hear from Romans 6 this morning is found in its paring with the Gospel Lesson. 

At the end of Chapter 9, Jesus is there standing with his disciples and he asks of them what will be a rather ironic thing. He tells them, The harvest is truly plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. In rather rapid fashion, in the very first verses of chapter 10, the Lord of the Harvest responds by calling His laborers to His side to work in His field, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Thaddaeus, Simon the Cananite, and Judas Iscariot. The irony is found in that those disciples that were praying for laborers, turn out to be the very laborers for which they were praying. For Jesus sends them out with the word of His power, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” Our Lord sends out His disciples with the power and gift of faith to do His work in the world, to be harvesters of His field bringing life to death. His words this morning from Matthew are the continuation of that instruction to His disciples, warning them of the fate that will likely befall them for being associated with Him. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they call those of his household. They are words of loving warning from Jesus to the reality of the Gospel in the world. It will be rejected, mocked, spit upon, denied, crucified and pierced. Just as the world will do to Christ himself. So will His disciples too find themselves mocked, derided, spat upon, crucified and pierced either by the instruments of persecution or by the words and looks of their peers or even their own family. 

What sin, death, and the devil do to the very Son of God, the Father himself will undue. For the Father knows the very number of the hairs on the head of His beloved Son and he will not let Him go un-vindicated or without justice. He will raise Him from the dead. He will clothe Him with life. This the Father does for all those who confess Him before the world. This He does for all the disciples of His Son, those who by faith cling to the mercy and grace of the cross. In this both Jesus and St. Paul reiterate that the final word for the Christian is a word of resurrected life. Thus St. Paul writes, consider yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus Jesus repeats in three-fold refrain, Do not fear. For though the world will reject your message and though your family might reject you for your faith, the Father will never let you out of His grasp. Being dead to sin, death, and the devil, you are forever God’s, a child in his kingdom and a laborer in his field. 

This is why these words come to us on the second Sunday after Pentecost, as the focus of the Church’s calendar and year has now switched, from following closely the events of our Lord’s life to the life of the Church. It is why the color has changed from white to green, the color of the growing branches in the vine of Christ, the color of the verdant work of the Holy Spirit among the life of the faithful. The time after Pentecost, follows naturally having celebrated the Victory of our Lord’s defeat of death during Eastertide and having celebrated the church’s clothing with power and life from the Holy Spirit, to the work of the disciples in the harvest of the Lord, preaching the kingdom, healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and raising the dead. This is the mission, the commission of the Church from Jesus himself as we heard last week. It is the natural praise of Christ and the sharing of his word that follows naturally from having received everything from Him. It is the gift and work of every disciple. 

I know many of us having been praying for Reformation, for her growth and outreach, for her ministries to continue to thrive and be faithful, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that we are like those 12 men caught unawares of who they were truly praying for. For in praying for the work of our congregation, for people come and join our congregation and work in the kingdom, in Christ we find that we are praying for no one else, but ourselves. It is not someone else’s calling, it is our calling. It is not someone else’s job, it is our job. It is not someone outside to help grow our congregation, but rather it is our own names that Jesus himself calls to His side and calls to his work of laboring in His field, working in his harvest. Thus the Gospel of the Lord is read this morning and proclaimed to us all, Do not fear….you are alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For though we may find His word a fearful thing, there is nothing to fear for God in Christ has defeated every enemy. Though we may find His word to go out into all nations, even out into our own homes to share His Gospel hard difficult and painful, it is the only true and everlasting joy we will ever know. Though we may even die, push up daisies, buy the farm, and kick the bucket for His sake and the sake of His gospel, we will nevertheless find our life with His, died, buried, resurrected and ascended to be with Him and the Father and Holy Spirit forever and ever.  Amen.     

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost Sunday Homily- 6/8/14

Pentecost Sunday- Sermon
6/8/14-Year A

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. Some of you may remember a handful of months ago Bishop Bradosky came and spoke to our congregation. I don’t remember whether it was in his homily or in one of his addresses where he spoke a poignant word about our Christian life. He said, "apart from the Holy Spirit there is not one thing that a Christian can do in the life of faith." Again, I don’t remember specifically whether or not he referenced the Apostle Paul’s words, but the sentiment is the same, “No one can say Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit.” There is nothing in our lives of faith that does not include the work or movement of the Holy Spirit. The Bishop is right and St. Paul is right, yet for some reason or another we seem to diminish and underplay the life of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We Lutherans are known for being 2nd Article people, that is Christ focused and centered people when it comes to our theology and worship. It is even one of our four values of the NALC, Mission Driven, Congregationally Focused, Traditionally Grounded, and Christ Centered. Our great gift to the whole Church catholic, as Lutherans, is our theology of the Cross. That everything we talk about theologically, biblically, and pastorally finds itself interpreted and understood by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We Lutherans take St. Paul seriously, “we preach Christ crucified.” Yet all of that has been stirred in our preaching and teaching, and blown into our tradition, by the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of Life. 

But for some reason or another we seem to be bad about speaking of the Holy Spirit. In fact one of the worst Pentecost sermons I’ve ever heard, and as pastor trust me we know we preach bad sermons, but it came from a Lutheran pastor in a Lutheran congregation. At each and every time this pastor wanted to use a pronoun for the Holy Spirit in his sermon, he chose “it.” As if the Holy Spirit were a thing, an object, or some mystical force akin to the power of the Jedi. This is not what we believe and confess regarding the Holy Spirit, although the lightsabers would come in handy from time to time. The Holy Spirit is person, a person of the Godhead, three-in-one and one-in-three, proceeding from the Father and the Son. He is worshiped and glorified. He is God, the witness of the love between Father and Son. The witness of the love of Father and Son to us.  He is Lord. He is the giver of life and that is from the biblical witness, from Genesis to the end. The Holy Spirit is there at work bring life. We remember the creation, where the Spirit of God hovered about the waters. We see in Genesis 2 as God breathes the breath of His life, the Ruach Adonai, the Spirit of the Lord into the clay man, Adam. We see Him again in the Exodus as He fills the various artists and builders with the gifts they need to see that the tabernacle, the altar, the ark, the lampstand, the table of the bread of the presence, the vestments, and all the other things used in the worship are completed and used in communion with God. He is there breathing into the lives of David the King, Solomon the Wise, inspiring their psalms and wisdom.  He is there breathing into the Prophets, His prophetic word for the people, the judgment and salvation, the Law and the Gospel of God. He breathes words of life and hope for a hopeless Israel. He brings them the comfort of God and the assurance of the Lord’s redemption. As Isaiah speaks, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Words that will find their fulfillment in Christ, upon whom the Holy Spirit will descend to do this very thing. To heal, to proclaim liberty, to give sight, and preach the gospel. He, the Lord and Give of life abides and remains with Christ throughout His ministry, the Son and Spirit joined in the one work and will of God. Giving life to creation. 

In our Gospel lesson we see Him again do that very same thing, in almost the same fashion as Genesis. Where God in Jesus Christ takes men, lifeless men in their fear and guilt and self-imprisonment, and does what He did to Adam of old, He breathes the breath of life, the breath of God, the Ruach Adonai into them and giving them peace and the power of His life. He did it to the ten in that locked room. He did it to the rest of the church on Pentecost, all 120 who had gathered in the upper room and out the windows and around the house in flames of fire, with the sound of a might and rushing wind, the Sound of the breath of Almighty God. He breathes His breath of life into you. At Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit, the Lord the giver of life, gave life to you. Filling you with His gifts, drawing you into the waters of the font, and clothing you with faith. The Holy Spirit breathed into you the life of God, drawing you further into God’s life by point you to Jesus Christ and the free gift of salvation, hung upon the cross and bursting forth from the tomb. He fills you with His gifts for the building up of the whole Church in service to the Kingdom of God. God Has clothed you with the Holy Spirit and with His power made you a priest in His kingdom. On this day the Church celebrates the Spirit giving life to her, but today we also celebrate that through her He, the Lord, has breathed and given life to you.  

Today is not only a celebration of the Church’s birthday, but of yours and of your faith. For even at this moment God continues to bless you with His presence in the Holy Spirit, of whom the apostle writes, you are a temple. You carry within you the Spirit of God who intercedes on us with God. Who brings us to faith each day to Christ Jesus and who continues to speak His same words that he spoke to the prophets in you, of Law and of Gospel, of joy and liberty, of sight and healing, of peace and everlasting hope. For the Holy Spirit has called you through the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian Church He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and to all believers in Christ.  This is most certainly true.  

Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.   


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)-Sermon

Seventh Sunday of Easter-Sermon
6/1/14-Year A

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

This past week I had the opportunity to sit in on a theology class at Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, where our own Wes Bareford teaches and field questions from high school juniors. I would ask you to continue to pray for these kids and their school community as they mourn the loss of one of their own. The subject of the class was on the “last things” or “end times.” Now I confessed to them, as I confess to you, that I am not a scholar about these things, but being relatively familiar with the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature in the Bible, I fielded their questions and answered what I could. Of course the first and most asked question amongst them was “when?” When will the end be? When will all those things we read of take place? I fear I may have let them down when I answered, IDK. I don’t know. I truly don’t know other than that the end times are lived each day as the Church waits for Jesus Christ to return. We live amongst wars and rumors of wars. We see creation in turmoil and the Church continues to go through tribulation and persecution.

Next in popularity to the question of “when” was “what?” What will it look like? What will happen? What will heaven be like? What about the new heaven and the New earth? Going through the symbolical language of Revelation, we see and hear fantastic images of heaven, the four beasts, the angels and elders, the streets of pure gold clear as crystal, and the pearly gates. It is wonderful imagery that our minds simply cannot comprehend.  Yet, we are regularly in the pursuit of wanting to know more about this heaven. Thus the kids continued to ask about their bodies in heaven and what the resurrected flesh will look like. They asked about what they will do in heaven; will there be work or will they have jobs? Unfortunately to most of those questions again I could only respond, IDK. For they are yet to be revealed and we will know once we get there. Their curiosity about heaven though, I think is one that is mirrored not only by us adults, but by even the culture. We as people are fascinated by this place. 

The Hollywood film, What Dreams May Come, depicts heaven in ways that Christians, unfortunately, might also talk about heaven. In the movie it is a place that is really the creation of the person. The main character of the movie, Chris, played by Robin Williams, is given his own little corner of heaven where he is the creator of his own domain. He is given poetic and creative license to make it whatever he wants, just by the will of his own imagination. Ask a Christian about heaven and more often than not, he or she will tell you a world that is not much different than that movie. It is a world like the one they live in, but only better. Where they will catch that big fish in heaven, that got away on earth. Where they will ride that big harley in the sky, that they couldn’t afford to purchase down here. They will play cards with aunt Bernice, just like they did in the old days, only this time they will win. Heaven and life after death seems to become a place of imagination; the creation of the minds of those who think about it. Life after death seems most of all to be about a place where dreams come true and if that is true then the universalists are right all paths do lead there. 

Unfortunately that is not what our Lord or the Scriptures reveal to us about the life to come. As we said certainly there are wonderful depictions about heaven in the book of Revelation, but relatively speaking they are few in number. For scripture and our Lord life after death has very little to do with a place. So little in fact that true Christian teaching would say that the end of the Christian life is not about a place at all, but rather a person. This is what Jesus reveals to us this morning in His prayer to the Father. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. This is the eternal life, the heaven that we speak about as Christians, we talk not of a place, but of a person: God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The end of the Christian life is Christ through whom we know God. Heaven, depicted in Revelation, though beautiful as it is is simply the space where the saints gather around the throne of God and praise Him, day and night. It is only a place where we know God. 

This knowing of God is not mere academic or head knowledge. “To know” in the Bible is rarely only an exercise of the mind, though it definitely includes the mind. It is rather a sense of intimate knowledge. One of unity of heart, mind and will with another. It is why the word in the Old Testament is used to depict the conception of a child. It is complete intimate knowledge, where two become one: the Lover with his beloved, the Bridegroom with His bride, the Lord with His Church, the Father with His children. The knowledge of God that Jesus prays of is becoming one Him in an eternal bond of love. It is to be one with Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Eternal life is eternal communion (one with) with God. As Christians then to speak of heaven, without primarily speaking about fully knowing and loving God and being completely one with Him, is not to speak about heaven at all. For eternal life has little to do with a place, but everything to do with a Person.    

It is this eternal communion with God that Jesus prays for His Church and for which He gives thanks to the Father. An eternal communion, which they will experience in part as the church continues in this world without Him. A communion, which itself will not be on Mt. Gerazim or in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in Truth, wherever the Church assembles to hear the Word proclaimed and to celebrate the Sacrament of that very eternal life which is ours here and now: Holy Communion. The meal of the altar is the marriage feast of that Lamb. It is where we are met by the eternal and living God and are made one with him (communion). Bread and wine eaten and drank for forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation is the unveiling of heaven on earth. This is the truer depiction of heaven that we see in the Bible, where the saints gather not primarily in a place, but chiefly around the Lord Jesus Christ, to know Him and be known by Him.

With this eternal communion with God, which we receive and participate in each time we gather around the Lord’s table, there is another communion of which we must also speak. The communion of which our Lord Jesus fervently prayed and continues to pray for His church, I pray for them…Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. Communion with God is communion with His children, we brothers and sisters. It is what we pray for in the Eucharistic Prayer, that by the Holy Spirit we might be one, as we share in the one bread and one cup of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are prayed for by our Lord in heaven to be one with Him and to be one with each other. For we all share as the apostles writes, one Lord, One faith, One baptism, one God and Father of us all. As we discuss and discern our future together as a parish it is this eternal life that will bind and hold us together, the oneness we share in the confession of our faith and the oneness we share in union with God. A unity and a communion that we experience here on earth as heaven opens before us and we know God gathered not in a place, but around a person, the victorious Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Lamb of God who takes away our sin. The Lamb of God who grants us peace.  

May He grant us peace and increase in us the bonds of fellowship and unity in Him as with one heart and one voice we live our eternal life and cry aloud, “Alleluia Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!” 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Easter 6 (A)-Sermon

Sixth Sunday after Easter-Sermon
5/25/14-Year A

Alleluia! Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed! Alleluia! 

Ma nishtana ha lyla ha zeh mikkol hallaylot? [Why is this night different from all other nights?] These words begin the Jewish Seder meal and are spoken by the youngest member of the family. They are a call to order so to speak of all that will transpire on that Passover night. This call to order, this call to remember is mirrored not only by the other questions that will follow it, but will be seen in the meal itself. A meal of matzah bread only, of bitter herbs dipped in salt water, and roasted lamb. The meal accompanied by the questions and their answers not only tell the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt’s hands, but reenacts it. So important is this question to the Seder that even if one was forced to celebrate it alone, he is to ask and answer the question himself. Because the night of the passover, and the night of its remembrance is truly unlike any other night. It is a meal of haste, a meal of bitterness, a meal of celebration, and a meal of victory. In participating in the Seder the people participate in the story of Israel’s redemption from the bondage to slavery. In keeping the words and the story of that sacred night, Israel shows her love for God’s deliverance. 

Now why am I talking about passover? Dear Pastor, some of you might be thinking, has lost it again. He’s lost track of time, doesn’t he remember Passover was about 6 weeks ago, and we’re long past that! It’s Easter, actually the 6th Sunday of Easter with 2 more to go and I can reassure you that I haven’t lost it. I bring up the seder and the meal of remembrance because though we have not traveled back in time, our gospel readings have so to speak. The words we hear from our Lord this morning are not words of the resurrection. They are not words spoken by Jesus on the shore or in the locked room, but rather they are spoken in the upper room on the night of His betrayal. It is Jesus gathered together with His disciples to remember why that night is different from all other nights, but not in the way they normally would have. It is a night that He would reinterpret the passover meal, making it a new meal with a new focus. Taking into his holy, precious, and yet to be pierced hands bread and a cup, He makes it a new passover meal, one of His own sacrifice. This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me. That Passover night, Jesus made it different from all other Passover nights, because He gave to them not the sacrifice of an earthly lamb, but the sacrifice of himself for them, for Israel, and for all. 

But the meal of remembrance, the meal of Christ’s haste, bitterness, celebration and victory was not the only thing different about that night than from all other nights. For it was filled, as St. John records for us, His final words to His disciples. They are the last and most important things that He wished to tell them about Himself, and about discipleship in His name. Not only did He give to them His body and blood, He washed His feet and gave to them a new commandment one that until now had not been heard before. Love one another, as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Here our Lord speaks old words, but makes them new. To love one another had been known throughout Israel’s life and faith, but Jesus as he is known to do intensifies this love, not to love one another as best we are able, but to love one another as Christ has loved us. The new command to love is to love one another with the very love of God. A command insurmountable to our weakened sinful flesh. A command that is the divine goal for our lives, but one that we always and forever will fall short of. 

This He knew, and thus a new commandment was not all that He spoke of that night different from all other nights. For it was also filled with words of promise and of gospel to the apostolic band on the eve of their sorrows. I am going to prepare a place for you. I will take you to myself. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I will give you the Helper to be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. The world will not see me, but you will see me. Here in Easter 6, we remember as we stand on the verge of Pentecost Sunday that all that Jesus spoke of that night, different from all other nights, is fulfilled. That his promise to the Church has been fulfilled. The Helper came with sound of rushing wind and of flames of fire. In Him the Church has been made alive and blessed with faith and new life in Jesus Christ. He has given to us, His disciples these 2000 years later that same faith with the same gifts, not orphans abandoned by Christ, but by the Spirit’s power adopted as sons and daughters of the Father of Jesus, and brothers and sisters of our Lord. Baptized into the name of God, into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Church empowered by the Holy Spirit remembers, truly remembers Christ and His salvation. 
It is why each Sunday we take bread and wine, as Christ took bread and wine, and celebrate that night different from all other nights and that Passover meal different from all the other Passover meals that had come before it. Each week we are called to remember through this holy and life giving meal all that our Lord has done for us, and the depth of love that he has for us. Such love that willingly and freely sacrifices Himself for the sake of us, for Israel, and for all the world. In the meal we participate and make present the story of God’s love for us, His redemption through the offering of His Son, and the unity, the communion we now have with God. In the celebration of the meal of Jesus, the eucharistic feast of victory, the Church shows her love for God’s redemption and for His word. Christ’s meal lovingly given to us, is the very meal of our celebration and love for God, by keeping it in remembrance of Him and with the eyes of faith given by the Helper, we see Jesus present before us. 

This is how Jesus’ words “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” can truly be understood. It isn’t a legalism that Jesus demands of his disciples if “x”, then “y”. For we cannot love Christ, except for the love by which He has loved and redeemed us. It is His victory that becomes our victory. It is His meal that becomes our meal. It is His death and resurrection, that becomes our death and resurrection. It is His love that becomes our love. It is His forgiveness that becomes our forgiveness. It is His Spirit, that creates in us clean and right spirits. It is His life that becomes our life. Thus we keep, treasure, His commandments by celebrating His feast and all that he has done for us. For we can never participate enough in communion with God and we can never remember enough why this meal, the Sunday, is different from all other days. The day of His love, His victory, and our union with God a foretaste of the banquet that awaits us in heaven. 

Though our Lord’s meal is the highest and most important celebration and meal of remembrance the Church can ever have, it is more than likely not the only celebratory meal that we will have this weekend. This weekend is undoubtedly filled with vacation plans, and barbecues. An extra day given from the rest from our daily toils. Yet Monday, Memorial Day, is not unlike the Lord’s day in that it is given for the purpose of remembrance. The meal tomorrow or today with family and friends is a good celebration, but it lacks its purpose if it is not accompanied by a call and word to remember. Like the Seder, we to might want to ask of ourselves and our nation, why this Monday is different from all other Monday’s. As citizens of the Kingdom of God keep before us always the memory of God’s love and sacrifice for us upon the Cross. As citizens of this land, far below the majesty and splendor of God’s kingdom, we still ought keep before us the the memory of those who have given their last full measure of devotion for our country and for our earthly liberty. It is a day for us Christians to render unto caesar, so to speak, the respect and honor and thanksgiving that is due to our fellow brothers and sisters, those who have died defending our nation and those who still suffer from the tragedies and wounds of war. Let it be a day to keep their memory alive in your own hearts and families as you share the stories of loved ones who have served. Let it be a day to lament war and pray for Christ to come and make all wars cease. Let it be a day to honor and pray for those who continue to serve our nation. Let it be a day and a meal, to remember and hope for the peace of Christ to reign throughout the world.


Easter 5 (A)-Sermon

Fifth Sunday of Easter 
5/18/14–Year A

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

  Who are we? If we think about it that might seem to be a relatively odd question or at least one that we rarely consider. The more popular question in our age of self-fulfillment and self-discovery is “who am I?” This is a central question for modernity on our fool-hardy quest to know ourselves better. Yet it is the question that drives our age and at least has a central place within each age group we find ourselves in. As children we wish to know who we are apart from the other kids on the play ground. As we grow older kids segment themselves into groups. They identify as jocks, nerds, artsy or theater types. They look for an identity that they can cling to and yet can share with a common group of those like them. In college those groups become majors and we likely have heard kids say, “I’m pre-med” or I’m a music major.” Out of college those majors become the companies or industries that we work for more often than not  unrelated to our college degrees. As some get married and have a family they take up new answers to the question, “I’m a mother.” “I’m a grandfather.” Though even as adults some of us of a certain generation still find an answer to the question in the play of our youth, with depend voice and lowered brow we announce, “I’m Batman.”

As Christians, we have another set of answers to that question that identifies us not from within ourselves, but from without. As Luther once said that when the devil tempts you proclaim with all boldness, “I’m baptized.” Each of us washed in the water of the font are proclaimed by God as His baptized sons and daughters. Each of us who confess Christ, who believe in Him are called Christians, washed by His saving sacrifice. His death and His resurrection from the dead give us the hope and faith to believe and confess “I am a Christian.” I am saved. I am redeemed. I am forgiven by the One who can forgive sins. Each of us have a strong sense of our individual identity in Christ. We know who we are as individuals in relation to Him.  I am His. 

Yet that is not the question with which I began. I asked who are WE, because I wonder at times if we know who WE are. We often over look the very communal nature of the Christian faith. We overlook that the life of faith is not simply a me and Jesus alone sort of a thing. Yes we are individually baptized into His name, but we are also baptized into His body, His bride, His Church. The Apostle Peter has a rather definite answer to this question, an answer that I’m not sure many of us would acknowledge or accept, yet one that is biblically true. As you come to him…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. A holy and royal priesthood, a holy nation, a chosen race, this is God’s answer to the question of who we are as the body that gathers together in His name.

We gather on every Lord’s Day as the Church to be a holy and royal priesthood and to offer to God through Jesus Christ our spiritual sacrifices. Borrowing from Exodus, the apostle, brings forth this imagery that was to be the destiny of Israel. The Lord proclaims in Ex 19 that she would “be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” For Peter what has been done by Christ in giving new and everlasting life to His sons and daughters and calling forth His body the Church, God has now fulfilled what He promised long ago. That we together are now His royal and holy priesthood. 

We fulfill this very word of God to Moses in the Exodus and the very identity that St. Peter describes for us when we worship God in Christ and offer up to Him our  spiritual sacrifices. For that is what priests do, but these offerings are not for the forgiveness of sin. They do not win us God’s favor or by them do we gain brownie points in the Kingdom. For there is only one sacrifice that restores man to communion with God, the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone could offer to the Father the one and only sacrifice to restore humanity from the pit of death and to forgive sins. Christ’s life-giving sacrifice is the once-for-all, true, complete, and eternal offering of Himself to the Father on our behalf. Dying in our place, so that we might rise with Him in His. There is nothing, not one thing, that we can add to what Christ has done for us. We can not save ourselves, but only trust in the mercy of Christ and His salvation that He freely gives to us. For there is nothing that we can offer to God that is without the taint of our sin. As the line from the Eucharistic Prayer makes abundantly clear, “we give thanks, not as we ought, but as we are able.” We can only give thanks and offer up our spiritual sacrifices to God through the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ who redeems our brokenness, who lifts up our prayers with His own to the Father in the heavenly temple. 

So what are these spiritual sacrifices that Peter urges us to give? The liturgy is filled with these moments where we as act as priests, chiefly we see that in the offering. There we give to God, as the ordinary prayer says, “what He has first given us ourselves, our time, and our possessions signs of His gracious love.” The offering plate is not big enough to contain all of what is meant by our offering. It is not to be the check alone that we put into the plate, but it is ourselves, our gifts and talents, our hearts, our very lives that we offer to Him. It is rather easy to cut a check and be done, but God calls us to more than that. He calls us to live with Him in His kingdom in all innocence, righteousness, and blessedness. 
As a kingdom of priests, then we live each day and especially on the Lord’s day offering to Him what He is due, not just what is in our wallets, but our very selves in lives, songs, and hearts of thanksgiving and praise for all that He has done.  This is why the communion part of the liturgy is called the Great Thanksgiving, the Great Eucharistia, as we lift our hearts to the Lord and give thanks for all that He has done. 

Not only then do we serve as priests offering up our thanks and praise for what God has done, but there is also another dimension to our priesthood that we rarely think about. We also serve as priests to the world. When we pray the Kyrie, we pray for the peace of the whole world, because we have come from the world and live in the world. We come to worship God, carrying the world with us and what we have gone through in the past week. We bring with us the brokenness of the world and all that has transpired in these last days, the wildfires, the kidnapping of 276 girls from Nigeria, the death sentence of a Christian woman, the loss of a job, the diagnosis received, the heart broken, the family in need, the poor and suffering. We carry all of these things from the world into the temple of God and through Christ offer up our prayers for the world. We come to the place, in the words of Alexander Schmeman, “where the world is done right,”—where life, peace, love, and joy reign in the Kingdom of God—to intercede for a world not done right, broken by sin. In this we act as the priests of the world, bringing into God’s house the very problems of the world to be healed and redeemed by God. 

One of the complaints that people often make about coming to Church is that “they don’t get anything out of it.” To which I usually have two responses: First, is to ask them whether or not they heard that their sins were forgiven and whether they received Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. If the answer is yes to both of those questions, then I ask to make sure they want to stay with their original complaint. For if having received the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation, and Jesus Christ the Lord and God of the universe is not “getting anything out of it”, I’m not sure what exactly could please them. Second, is to ask what did they bring or offer in worship to God in Christ. If they don’t participate in the liturgy, sing the hymns, offer the prayers and add their loud “amens” (which is something we need to work on), but just rather sit there and wait to be entertained, well there are many many better places to do that then at Church. Because to be at church and to be the Church is to come, be active and engaged in that very task of offering prayers and spiritual sacrifices to the God who has given us everything. Who has freely called and chosen us to be His royal priesthood, His holy nation, and His chosen people in the world. 

Having received everything from God, He then sends you back as priests out into the world, to be in it, but not of it and to proclaim that He alone is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He sends us to declare His wonderful deeds. Luther talked about this in His preaching and teaching as the priesthood of all believers. You are made by God to be little Christ’s in the world, no matter your station, no matter your vocation, because you carry Him with you. His word Has been spoken upon your lives, that you are His forever, and His very live, His body and blood is in you in Holy Communion, you are now called and made by the Spirit’s power to be His witnesses to the ends of the world. To offer up prayers for others at work or at home. To walk with someone in need and offer up our the spiritual sacrifice of ourselves, our time, and our possessions for them. Because that is what God in Christ is making RLC to be, for we are His, people His Church, His Spiritual House, His Holy and Royal Priesthood all by complete grace to live and serve with our Great-High Priest Jesus Christ in His Kingdom.       

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!  



Easter 4 (A)-Sermon

Fourth Sunday of Easter- Sermon
5/11/14- Year A

Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!

This morning we come to Good Shepherd Sunday, always the 4th Sunday of Easter on the Church’s lectionary calendar, and I admit I’m always a bit reticent to preach on this Good Shepherd Sunday. It is undoubtedly the most popular image of our Lord depicted throughout Christian Art and iconography. The image of Christ the Good Shepherd is so popular within Christianity that if the world knows anything about Jesus its likely that they know and remember Him as the Good Shepherd. They’ve seen the windows or the icons, and they’ve heard the psalm depicting His relationship to His people, The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want. For these reasons, one might think that preaching Good Shepherd’s Sunday is a joy, and let me assure you it is! It is truly good news and another sign of His love and compassion for us. There is much joy in preaching of Him who leads us beside the still waters of the font, and prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies in the Eucharistic Meal. I am not reticent about proclaiming and heralding that He is indeed our Good Shepherd, but rather about what that means for us: it means we’re sheep. 

We more than likely know sheep are not the brightest of God’s critters. Yes they may look sweet and innocent, wooly and cuddly, because that is about all there is to them. Sheep if they get caught it a fence will not work to free themselves, but rather will stay there until the worst happens. Sheep are not the likely candidates to win nature’s survival of the fittest contest. They rather quickly and easily fall prey to the wolf. For sheep have no natural defense against predators who seek to steal, kill or destroy them, except for two things 1) being faster than sheep next to them, and 2) the crook of the shepherd watching over them. Being called sheep, isn’t really a boost to our self-confidence. Humanity, the height and pinnacle of creation, the top of the food chain with big brains and opposable thumbs, are God’s dumb sheep. In a culture built on self-affirmation, self-confidence, and self-esteem Good Shepherd Sunday comes like a steamroller every Easter to humble us and flatten our self-interest, self-security, and our sense of self-importance. For though we think we are mighty we are no better in the eyes of God, in the eyes of Christ than sheep. 

Fortunately though, despite their inability to defend themselves against the wolves and their tiny brains roughly 10% the weight of and about 1/3 the size of ours, sheep do have at least two redeeming quality, besides being tasty. Back in Iowa, I knew a couple of shepherds and one of them, a trusted friend, told me that sheep are actually quite good in their ability to hear. They can discern their own shepherd’s voice from any other voice in a crowd. For instance, if there were two shepherds calling to their flocks who were mixed together in the pasture land, the sheep would actually be able to discern which voice was their own shepherd’s, separate from the other sheep and follow him. They can easily discern the voice of their shepherd’s because it is familiar to them, one that they’ve heard ever-since they were a little lamb. 

How fitting then that this Good Shepherd Sunday falls upon the culture’s celebration of Mothers, because it is that ability to hear a voice and discern whose it is that we humans and the sheep find their true connection. I think all it would take is but a few seconds for most of us to close our eyes and think of our mothers an instantaneously hear her voice. Perhaps she is saying that saying that she always said. Perhaps it is the voice of her calling us by name, or by two names, or feeling the anxiety build our first middle and last names. Perhaps we hear that voice speak a word of love to us, and for some, unfortunately, the voice of their mother is burned into their memories, but for other reasons. But a good mother like, The Good Shepherd, speaks words of tenderness that become a transformative and definite sound wave pattern imprinted upon our brains, and branded onto our hearts. For like sheep, the kids lost in the moment at Disneyland always know which voice is there mother’s calling to them.  

Hearing isn’t the only redeemable trait that sheep have, there is still one more. Sheep not only have a natural ability to hear and to discern voices, but they also have an innate proclivity to follow. Sheep are natural followers. If one goes, they all go. If the shepherd calls, they follow. For sheep hearing and following go hand in hand. They naturally respond to the commands of the shepherd. They step where he steps. They go where He leads. Humanity does the same, though more often than not rarely is it the voice a Shepherd that we follow. For as we know the world is filled with many loud and clanging voices attractive, appealing, and alluring. Not only is the world filled with such noise constantly surrounding us, we are also constantly burdened with the sound of our own neurotic voice as well. Indeed we are all too quick to replace our Lord’s voice with our own or with another’s. Because sin has so disordered our hearts and lives we sheep are quickly fooled, stolen, deceived, killed, and destroyed by these other voices. We like our four legged companions are defenseless. 

Defenseless against ourselves and defenseless against the voices of the world Christ our Good Shepherd knows we need His crook and His voice to shelter and protect us. Thus, He never stops speaking to us. For He has given His word to us to hear and to be shaped by. He has given us His sacraments, His very life as a constant voice to the sheep: you are mine, you are beloved, here I call you by name to save and redeem you. Our Lord speaks to us this morning, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”  An image that John’s gospel beautifully depicts as our Resurrected Lord, calls the mourning Mary by name, and at once she knows who exactly is speaking to her, and follows Jesus from grief to unending joy, from death to abundant life. 

It is that abundant life that Christ bids us and gives to us in His Word to hear and by it to keep ourselves within the comfort and safety of His pasture. How else do the sheep know the shepherd’s voice or the young child his mothers?  But that they’ve heard and listened to it over and over and over again.  It is so familiar to them that nothing could be confused with it. So too must God’s holy Word, the true and loving voice of Jesus Christ become for us that we can not mistake it for anything else. Through the noise of the world, Christ speaks so that we might hone in on that one lone voice who calls us by name and go where He leads and follow like sheep. It is the very reason we stand and sing and herald the Gospel’s reading, “Lord to whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life.”  Because there are no other words, no other voice that gives us life, but His. He alone is the gate. He alone is the door. He alone is the True Good Shepherd through whom alone we have eternal and abundant life.  

Alleluia!  Christ is risen.  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!