Monday, March 24, 2014

Lent 3 (A)–Sermon

Third Sunday in Lent– Sermon
3/23/14–Year A

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

Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did…. Now I don’t know about you, but in reading and hearing these words from the Samaritan woman I am struck in by how bad they are.  As far as a mission strategy or an evangelism tool, they are incredibly weak and if I may be so honest really rather terrible. There is no, umph behind them. No appeal or attraction to them.  Had she spoken first to others about her suggested opening line and proclamation on the walk back to the viliage, I imagine they would be standing there shaking their heads with such words.  “How is that going to bring in the youth,” they would question.  “Woman, don’t you need a rock band to accompany that message and theater lighting,” others might prod as she neared the gate of her city.  “Woman, don’t you need a speech writer or maybe some more time crafting a more inspiring message. Something more upbeat and positive,” the would jeer.  Yes, indeed looking at these words from the woman they are all to uninspiring, all to plain, and really simply all too bad.  

They are bad not only from their un-enthusiastic, un-hip, and understated message, but they are even worse if we think about them.  Let’s read it again and listen carefully to what the woman says, “Come, see a man WHO TOLD ME ALL THAT I EVER DID.” Think about that, all that I ever did.  Do you know a better way to scare the lost and un-churched people, who don’t know the Gospel, than to tell them to encounter and meet a man who can tell them everything that they have ever done?  Especially, if I were the woman, I’d want to make sure that the townspeople stayed far far away from such a man.  If someone knows my deepest darkest thoughts and sins, words and deeds, I’m pretty sure I don’t want anyone else to know who he is.  Especially the people that I have to see every day of my life in my tiny home town.  Think of the looks, the judging gazes, people would give you, if they knew everything you had ever did as well.  

That is even more a reason why they are terrible words, because reading this encounter with Jesus and the woman at the well, it’s in all likelihood the people of Sychar already knew everything that this woman had done.  Before the office water cooler to gather around, there was the town well.  The women would make their daily march in the morning and again at evening to fetch the water needed for the day.  They would leave early in the cool of the morning or in the shade of evening, but they would rarely if ever go at noon, in the middle of the day, in blazing heat of the noon day sun.  That is unless they were avoiding running in to people, avoiding those judgmental gazes from the towns folk, and being shunned and mocked by the other women there.  Her life, her deeds, her husbands in that small little town of Sychar would not have gone unnoticed by her neighbors. What became news to her at the well, news that she had to run into town leaving behind her water pitchers to tell the people, had likely already been the town gossip for years. 

Because having lived in a small town, let me tell you news, especially gossip, travels at break neck speed. It was only 3 to 4 days after Alicia had gall bladder surgery after the birth of Justin, when we got a call from the former pastor of St. Paul who had just heard about Alicia’s surgery. Maynard, Iowa to Estes Park, Colorado is 845 miles.  In a mater of days they knew out there, can you imagine then how quickly the news traveled just around town! I imagine it was faster in Sychar as they saw this woman move from man to man to man. 

Yes, thinking about these evangelic words from the woman to her fellow Samaritans, they are indeed terrible, bad, bland and boring, but they the only words she knows how to speak. For unless she was an ISTJ, like myself who analyzes and is hyperactive in self-reflection and self-examination, the words from Jesus at the well regarding her life was a true and holy revelation for her. What might have been old news to the townspeople, was true news to her. For the first time in her life, she is encountered with the truth. How common is it just for us to go through the daily routine of life, living out our sins unchallenged, unknown, if only unknown to us and go about life as usual. The day begins and it ends, rarely without any divine intervention from above or below at the water cooler. We tend to be well versed in knowing the sins of brothers and sisters, but rarely are we told or do we have revealed to us our own. In fact, I would say we’d pay good money and expend good energy to make sure no man or woman ever knows ALL that we have ever done. 

Perhaps that is the reason we only make it to church 1.3 times a month as Christians. 

Perhaps that is the reason we have Bibles in our homes, kept on the shelf, and never read.  

Perhaps that is the reason we fill our time and our weeks with anything and everything unrelated to God, His Word and His worship. 

Perhaps that is the reason we might think these words from the woman are bad and need to be replaced by hipper, cooler, and youth attractive ones, whatever that means.         

Because we fear meeting a man who knows all that we have ever done.  

  Yet, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the Truth is not in us.  The words from St. John’s epistle, begin our confession each week.  And they maybe found boring, old and terrible, un-hip and un-cool, but they like the woman’s are words of life.  For this woman at the well, calling her townspeople to see this one who knows her deeds, runs to them in pure and total joy. Her words are the exclamation and the breaking freedom of the Gospel that has taken hold of her life. Her deeds, her husbands, and all that she has ever done is made known to her in Jesus Christ, and they are drowned in the water of life that He speaks to her. The shackles, chains, and sins of her past are removed by the rushing water of life in Christ Jesus. 

Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.  Can this be the Christ?  Yes He can.  Yes He is as should believes as do the rest of her town as they too encounter and abide with Jesus Christ.  I imagine they too, were confronted with the truth of their own lives during those two days, as He told them all that they ever did and imparted to them that same living water. It is the same Jesus, the same truth that we encounter every time we come, splash, and drink from His everlasting water of life.  The water that flowed from His side, the water that stirs in the Christian font, and the water mixed with wine at Holy Communion. For we are met not only with the Truth of what we have done, but with the truth of what He has done, is doing, and promises yet to do.  In bland, un-hip and boring words, But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  From His mercy and His grace the well-spring of His love for us flows in and through us.  For where we encounter His Law, which is nothing more than the word of His Truth, we will always encounter His Gospel and His Grace.  Just as the patient must learn the truth from his doctor in order to begin to be healed, how much more so than the samaritan woman of today’s gospel lesson, how much more so for us. 

Therefore, let us never fear, but with great joy continue to meet this Man, this Christ, this Jesus not 1.3 times per month or even once a week to get our allotment of religion out of the way, but let us daily meet Him, who will tell us all that we have ever done, but will even more tell us what He has done in spite of ourselves. Let us daily drink from the water of His life, in Word and Holy Sacrament. And yes, let us invite, our husbands, our neighbors, and our friends, to come and see this Man, this Jesus Christ, who knows all that we have ever done, but who loves and forgives us just the same.  


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lent 1 (A)- Sermon

First Sunday in Lent—Sermon
3/9/14—Year A 

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

Bread.  It would have taken nothing more than the the mere mention of the word bread, for the devil to throw his greatest tempt at our Lord.  Just the world alone would have sent hunger pains raging through his body as he flirted with starvation in the wilderness.  For biology is biology is biology and Jesus did not escape it, but rather entered directly into it.  And I know having grown up in a family of good cooks and bakers, that there are times when the mere mention of what they are making begins that craving in my stomach.  Followed by my mouth starting to salivate.  How much more true of Jesus, whose own mother would have spent her day not only preparing the family meals, but baking the family’s bread.  How many times would he as a child have helped Mary mix the flour and kneed the dough?  How often would have the scent of bread wafted throughout their small house as the oven created its daily offering.  A scent which even for us today still brings us to salivate and hunger when confronted with it.  There is nothing more decadent than opening the front door of a bakery and letting the smell of bread surround and fill you.  Even for those who need gluten-free, they too still know the joys of bread or pancakes as we found out on Tuesday at lunch.  All of those memories would have flooded the mind of Jesus as he grew up in a home and a faith built upon bread for daily meals and daily life.  From hearing about the manna (the bread of heaven), to the bread of the Presence, to the grain offerings, and the Passover meal, bread was a continual part of his life.  Given the devil’s craftiness and flare for the dramatic, I wouldn’t put it past him that even his words were spoken with the breath of baked bread.  This temptation strikes the hardest as it hits Jesus where he is most vulnerable and weakest, in His flesh.

  Yet our Lord knew His Torah.  He knew the same weakness that Israel had shown throughout the wilderness and life in the Promised Land.  He knew they did not heed the words of the Lord.  That they did not receive their bread with faith, but were consumed by the need to be fed by other things; other foods, other nations, and other gods.  Thus choking down the constricting pains and speaking louder than the rumbles of His stomach, He cries out with the words of His Father, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Having overcome the devil at this turn at his weakest the other temptations seem to fail in comparison, yet they are undoubtedly true temptations as well.  Tempting Jesus to use His power not for the glory of the Father but for His own.  Here the devil seeks to drive a wedge between the Father and the Son, who are one, by getting Jesus to do something apart from the Father’s will.  To use His divine power not for the sake of those for whom He came, but solely for Himself.  A temptation that will be echoed again by the masses as they shout for Jesus to come down from the cross and save Himself.  And again Jesus know that this is what Israel failed to do as it sought its own glory and power, while neglecting the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the alien.  Where Israel sought its own will, Jesus keeps to the Father’s, “you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.”  He will make that even more clear to the devil as He rejects his third temptation, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve.”  

The devil wrought his worst, and where he had succeeded so many times in the past with countless men and women, he now departs defeated and rejected waiting for another opportune time to strike: the Garden, the trial, and the cross.  Watching him breathe his last breath, he will foolishly think he has won and as Jesus dies.  He will descend into hell, this we confess, though not as a captor, but a liberator.  He will defeat the grip of death and the kingdom of the evil one, as the Father who is one with His Son will raise Him up and vindicate him.  He will clothe him with the life that He is and give it back to the body that was broken.  The Father will call forth his angels to bear Him up, just as He sent them to minister to Him after His first successful defeat of the devil.  By the Resurrection of Jesus, the devil’s kingdom and his power is forever broken and shattered, where sin will be forgiven and the Father will bestow life upon those who persevere in the faith of His Son to the end.      

Yet that is not to say, even with the devil’s defeat, that we ourselves do not face our own temptations in a similar way as our Lord.  We too are tempted when we are weakest by the hungers of the flesh, the pursuit of our own will, and giving our worship to others who are not the Lord our God.  This is why, I think, Jesus’ temptation always follows immediately after his baptism, for we too after having been baptized are put on devil’s radar screen.  It is after Jesus is proclaimed as the Son of God, that the devil tempts, “If you really are the Son of God.”  How much truer is it of us, who in our own baptisms are claimed as sons and daughters of God, and our tempter asks, “are you really God’s”?  Throwing our sins in our face, luring us to behave and speak outside of God’s will and intent, and giving us a world filled with other gods and things to worship and occupy our time with, the devil tempts us.  Not simply in bread, power, or worship, but our faith in who and whose we are.  It is the temptation to forget our God given identity.   The devil seeks to shake us from the belief that we are loved sons and daughters of God.  Yet that is exactly who we are.  As we are baptized in His name, God has put the full weight and power, glory and splendor of His kingdom and nature on the line by attaching His name to ours.  God’s name and his kingdom given to us in that water is what the devil truly wants to rob us of.  Seeking to devour us as a roaring lion, but by Christ he does so as a toothless lion.  

This is not to say he can never lead anyone astray, but rather that one little word subdues him.  That Word is Jesus Christ.  It is the Word Jesus spoke to the devil in Holy Scripture and it is in the very Word of His flesh, that Jesus is our shield and defense.  For though we cannot conquer, He has.  For those we fall into temptation, He has not.  For where we have sinned, He has covered with mercy and forgiveness.  Where we have wondered astray from the path, He has sought us as a shepherd looking for His lost sheep.  Therefore it is in His very life that we Christians are defended against the devil’s tricks.  Through His Word and His Holy Sacrament we are given and we are made to live in the Word that will subdue ever attack against our identity as God’s own beloved.  Luther writes of this necessity to avail ourselves this Word in the Large Catechism, “If you could see how many daggers, spears, and arrows are aimed at you every moment [from the devil], you would be glad to come to the Sacrament as often as you can.”  Jesus is the only bread, the only Word by which will truly live.

  It is our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters made known and given the assurance of HIs promise in the Word and Holy Sacraments, that is the foundation and sure defense, because of that our new council has spent our meetings talking about our identity and who we are at RLC.  We can not move forward until we know and are assured of who and whose we are.  I know others have made comments that the devil has been at work among us for some time, if doing nothing else but causing turmoil, anxiety, and worry.  For we are at a weak moment and that is fertile ground for him to stir the pot, cause us to be more anxious, lose sleep, and begin to forget whose we are.  But my brothers and sisters, one little word subdues him and breaks his work.  It is in to that Word that we spend this season of Lent being reassured of our identity.  Through Bible study, private devotion, and often reception of Holy Communion, God is making us His own and confirming our identity as His.  An identity upon which God has staked heaven and earth, even His own Son, upon.  It in that Word that we may rest from the devil’s anxiety and taunts for it is only His word that His church will persevere. 


Ash Wednesday Homily

Ash Wednesday Homily

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

Curious words we hear from the prophet Joel today.  Blow a trumpet.  Sound an alarm.  Alert FEMA and the FCC to issue an Emergency Broadcast.  This one though is not a test.  It is the real deal.  From the height’s of Mount Zion in the Holy City the shout must go out.  For a real and dire emergency announcement needs to be made.  For a day upon which even the most seasoned of weather reporters would want to cover is coming.  A day of pitch blackness, thick clouds and hanging fog, so dense that it obscures even the most powerful of the sun’s rays.  It is a dark and dreary day of which Joel speaks, indeed, for it is the Day of the Lord. 

Joel warns Israel, the Lord is coming and He is bringing with him His judgment upon the people.   They have turned away.  They have ran after their false gods.  Thus the verdict from God is guilty and the sentence death.  It is the judgment pronounced from of old.   Eat of this and you shall die.  He ate and we have received the due fruits of our betrayal, death.  And now Joel comes to warn the people of their impending fate at the hands of the pure and Holy One of Israel.  Therefore sound the trumpet and ring the alarm and proclaim from Zion.  Yet the message of Joel continues in a curious way contrary to our natural  inclination from impending doom.  Hollywood has shown us that whenever impending doom threatens and disaster strikes, we run away.  We run to the farthest spot away from it as possible.  If the day of darkness is falling upon Israel, one might think South America would be a nice place to visit that time of day.  Fight or flight is woven into the fabric of our biological nature and when confronted with such darkness, fleeing feels and sounds right.  

That is not what Joel is given to say to Israel, but rather a curious word.  Do not run away.  Do not seek to flee from His judgment.  And do not fight or resist Him who comes, but rather rend your hearts and turn towards Him.  Do not run away from Him, but run to Him.  The prophet’s word tells them to go against Israel’s nature or first reaction, like the unnatural response of turning the steering wheel into a skid.  Neither flee nor fight, Israel, but turn and repent.  For the Day approaches and brings darkness, gloom and your judgment, but it is also brings His grace and mercy for you.  

Curious words, which could be said of the whole of Ash Wednesday.  We heard curious words from our Lord Jesus as well.  At the sermon on the mount He tells His disciples when they fast to wash their face.  Today marks the beginning of Lent and with it our own season of fasting and we have begun Lent by making our faces dirty.  He also tells them, not to do acts of righteousness for others to see.  Yet here we are gathered together in a public place, to make public confession, from which we will leave marked for the public to see where we have been.  Rather curious indeed!  So why this day of dark words, dark foreheads, and dark ashes?

Our Lord’s word to us is clear, that we are to be careful to not practice our righteousness for others to see as a spectacle of our religiosity.  And if that is what these ashes represent, then His injunction would be binding upon us and we shouldn’t be wearing them.  Yet that is not their true function or at least that is not what they are intended to be.  They show no sign of our righteousness, but rather our unrighteousness.  They are the sign of our judgment, a token of the prophet’s words warning about the Day of the Lord, as they are coupled with God’s word to Adam.  “You are dust and to dust you shall return (Gen 3:19).”  This is God’s express judgment to Adam and to all who are born after him.  They are the Words of the Lord.   

Our dark foreheads today do not show our righteousness, but rather that the dark words of our Lord have fallen upon us.  That according to our flesh we are united to Israel and under the same Divine verdict and sentence, guilty and death.  For all who are here will find themselves in their own grave of deep darkness, overtaken by death, and returning to the dust from which we came.  Thus the ashes proclaim our judgment and the darkened Day that draws near for us.  Yet if I have done them right, you should leave here not only with a dirty forehead or black smudge, but with the image of the holy and life giving cross imprinted upon your brow.  Covering over the same cross that was traced upon your head at Holy Baptism.  Yes in ashes we receive the sign of our judgment, but curiously enough they come to us in the form and shape of our redemption.  

The prophet’s word fulfilled as the day of the Lord draws nigh, but it comes with mercy and healing.  The blackened cross—which we Lutherans should be incredibly familiar with as it is the foundational piece of Luther’s rose—is the sign of death.  But it is the sign of death’s death.  In the cross we find that Jesus proves the words of Joel true.  His patience, His loving kindness are there as he relents and delivers His people from their fate.  By His death, he destroys death and sin.  Taking upon Himself our condemnation, our sin and our sentence.  To all He gives life through the offering of His own life.  This is why on Luther’s Rose the black cross is set upon a red and vibrant heart.  For the dark and deadly cross gives us life to those who turn to receive from Lord not His judgment, but instead His grace and mercy.  Those who have not rent garments, but their very hearts, lamenting with St. Paul, “who will save me from this body of death?”  That is what is given in these ashes today.  Though we might think them an insignificant thing, the ashes on our brows are a rather powerful sermon spoken directly to our lives.  And also through them we becoming walking and living sermons for the world to see.  Bespeaking a righteousness that will never come from ourselves, but only comes to us from the righteousness of another.  

Cruciform ashes become the proclamation from God, which shapes the whole of these 40 days and the whole of our lives.  We are all Dead Men and women Walking and the Day of the Lord is coming, but He is coming to bring mercy to the sinner, liberty to the captive, and life to the dead.  For the same God who forbade us to eat from the fruit of the tree in the garden, also curiously enough says to us “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.”  We ate from the tree of death and have died, we eat now the bread of life and drink from the the cup and we live.  In Christ, in His Cross, in His bread and wine our life is restored.  For that is the true purpose our Lord comes, not to curse but to bless.  Not to condemn or let us perish, but to save, rescue, and restore us to joys of paradise.    

Therefore let us enter into these 40 days turning with hearts rent and yet full of faith i taking seriously the prophet’s call and responding to the goodness he brings.  Neither fleeing nor fighting, but running to Him.  Turning aside from being filled by the passions, desires, and riches of this world and flesh and to be filled with the mercy and love of God given to us in Jesus Christ.  That is the true purpose of Lent, returning to the Lord our God who again shows to us how truly gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, He is, both to Israel and to us.