Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sermon for Easter 5 St. John 15:1-8

This Sunday and the for the next two we shall concentrate on this all important topic that the Gospel presents to us this morning - the Word of God. This morning we hear our Lord speaking, “You are already clean because of the Word I have spoken.” 
Jesus says this in the context of one of His “I AM” statements. Like last weeks, “I AM the Good Shepherd,” this week we hear, “I AM the true Vine.” If a branch is not producing good fruit it is cut off of the vine. This was the problem of the Jews of Jesus’ day. They were not producing the fruits of faith. And so the warning is clear and unambiguous - they will be cut off. To be cut off from the Vine is to therefore not have life - it is to wither away. It ends with being thrown into the fire and burned - destruction - hell. Such is the end of those who have been freely attached to the Vine that is Christ but refuse to - will not bring forth the fruits that should should naturally flow when one is attached to Him.
But this does not mean that those attached branches who do bring forth the fruits of faith go untouched. Jesus says that that branch is pruned, or perhaps more accurately “cleaned” so that it will be even more fruitful and bear even more of the fruit of faith. He tells the disciples, “You are already pruned/clean because of the Word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you.” 
There are all manner of ways in which our Lord prunes us in this lifetime. And the fact is that don’t like that very much. We don’t like it when our Lord takes to pruning us - to cleaning us. Because from our vantage point, the Lord’s pruning is really only just pain and suffering. Look at how the Lord pruned Job. He stripped him of everything - took everything from him - his cattle, his wealth, his health, his children. It certainly did not look to Job like the Lord was pruning him - cleansing him - to bring forth even greater fruits of faith. When he was in the midst of it - it only looked like pain - like sorrow - like suffering. But the Lord is always the Lord. And all things are always in His hands. We cannot accept only things as blessings that we love, that we enjoy, that give us pleasure. As those who belong to Christ and know salvation in Him through suffering and the cross, we must also accept those things as blessings that neither look nor feel to us like blessings at all.
But for Job, as for the disciples, as for you - it is ultimately the Word of Jesus that prunes - that makes clean. The Word that Jesus speaks - the Word you hear - is that which keeps you connected to the true Vine that is Jesus. That Word is always a blessing. That Word is always life. That Word always cleanses you. That Word is what brings forth from you much fruit showing you to be a disciples of Jesus the true Vine.
Jesus is not only your “justification,” that is, the One Who by His life, death and resurrection makes you just and right - able to stand before the Holy God spotless and clean, covered in His own righteousness. He is also your “sanctification,” that is, the One Who dwells in you through Baptism and Holy Communion and brings forth all good works from you every day in all of your different vocations. Whatever you do as a Christian, from the smallest act to the greatest, is a good fruit of faith before God, because it is Jesus in you producing such fruit.
St. Paul says as much when he writes, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” What a branch that is connected to this true Vine brings forth - it brings forth because it is connected to this True Vine. What you as a Christian do in service to your neighbor because of Christ is done because you are connected to Christ and He lives in you through the cleansing Word and He works in and through you. 
So remain in Jesus and in His Word. That is to the Father’s Glory, after all. Continue to hear it proclaimed to you. Continue to receive it in and with His Body and His Blood. Have the confidence that whatever pruning/cleansing might come to you, you need not fear it, for you have been cleansed by the Word - the Word of Christ. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sermon for Easter 4 - St. John 10:11-18

What exactly is it that makes something “good”? Is there an objective standard that you can measure something against to declare it without any doubt to be ‘good’? What makes a movie good, for example? Is it ‘good’ because you enjoyed the story? Is it good because it made you cry or laugh? Those are very personal, subjective measurements. Perhaps the movie is ‘good’ because it had ‘good’ performances. But then we are right back to the question of what is it that makes the performances ‘good.’ Ultimately, it seems that it is always personal opinions that determine what is ‘good.’
At a more personal level, we might ask: What makes a ‘good’ father? Is a father ‘good’ if he watches the children now and then, plays with them, and provides for them financially? Is he still a ‘good’ father if he is not married to his children’s mother and lives apart from them? Is part of being a ‘good’ father that a man honors the commitment to the family blessed by God called marriage? Can that be declared to be an objective standard by which we can measure a father to be ‘good’? Is there ever any objective measurement to determine when something is ‘good’ or is it all purely subjective?
How about when Jesus calls something ‘good’? When Jesus says something is ‘good,’ He is not making a subjective statement or merely giving a personal opinion of whether or not He thinks something is nice or pleasant. When Jesus says ‘good’ He means something very objective and concrete. He is making a declaration that the thing is morally pure, free from defect, perfect for its intended purpose. It is objectively beneficial, salutary, pure, and right. 
The problem of humankind - of you and me - is that we are not good. You are not good. And that is hard to hear and even harder to bear. It is the Law of God and the Law always accuses of our sin, which we do not like. And, not only do we not like it, but it flies in the face of the entire “self-esteem” industry that sells books and DVD’s, holds conferences and promotes pricey motivational speakers telling people exactly that they are inherently good, moral, pure, and upright. And the reason people are told this over and over again is so that they will come to believe it, because intrinsically, deep down, they know that it is a lie. People are willing to pay in order to be told that they are good. They so desperately want to hear the lie over the truth.
Because what you know is true about yourself is that what comes from you - from your heart - is not good. Your gossip is not good. Your hatred is not good. Your self-righteousness is not good. Your lust is not good. Your lying to your husband, your unfaithfulness to your wife, your disobedience toward your parents, your self-excused stealing from others, your rampant idolatry of things and leisure, your indifference to injustice, your greed, your despising Christ’s Sacrament and Word. None of this is ‘good,’ no matter how you dress it up in robes of your own righteousness.
Jesus declares, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” Jesus alone is morally pure, free from defect, perfect for the intended purpose for which His Father sent Him. And He says what that purpose is three times in the Gospel: “The Good Shepherd lays down His life... My life I lay down... I lay down My life.” There is the purpose of His coming in a nutshell: He Who is truly, absolutely Good came into this fallen world to lay down His life in the dust of sin and death for you who are not at all good. He lay it down, taking upon Himself all the badness that dwells in you - taking upon Himself all the badness and the sin of this bad and sinful world. 
He Who is truly, absolutely Good came to rescue you from the ravening maws of the wolves of your enemies - you who rightly deserve to be chewed up by those monstrous jaws and teeth. That is why Jesus is the Shepherd Who is called ‘Good,’ and who is ‘good.’ 
He is no hireling who runs away in the face of your enemies: the wolves of sin, death and hell, who so gleefully would destroy you. No, this Good Shepherd stays and dies for His flock - for you. And not only does this ‘Good’ Shepherd lay down His life for you, willing giving His throat to the jaws of the wolves in your place, but He takes it up again, “I have power to take it again.” And taking it up again, He slays those wolves for you so that you need not fear what they can do to harm you anymore.
St. John wrote in the Epistle for this morning, “By this we know love, that He laid down HIs life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers...Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth...whenever our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” When your heart condemns you over your sin, over your lack of goodness, remember that Jesus is greater than what your heart tells you. He is greater than your guilt - He is greater than your sin - He is your Good Shepherd Who laid down His life and has taken it up for you. He makes you good, by giving to you of His goodness. 
So little children, having been thus freed and forgiven - having thus had your enemies conquered - love not in word or talk, but in deed and in truth.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sermon for Easter 3 - St. Luke 24:36-49

What is so important about a piece of broiled fish that St. Luke thought it necessary to record it in his Gospel? The fish that would have been caught in the Sea of Galilee in the time of Jesus were nothing special. The main staple that was fished from the sea were sardines. The other was a fish known as the Barbel for the barbs at the corners of their mouths. So that is probably what the fish were. And the method of cooking them - St. Luke even records that. Broiling is, of course, nothing more than cooking something over/under direct heat - in this case, the fish. So broiled fish - no big deal - nothing very earth-shaking - sardines and bread - a basic meal among the people of that time. No doubt they had eaten that exact same meal in their lives thousands of times.  And that is what the disciples were doing on that Sunday evening - the Sunday of the Resurrection – they were making dinner – having something to eat: some regular old broiled fish. What else, after all, was there really to do?
Even in the midst of the most extraordinary events going on around us: the everyday, mundane things of life keep going on - they have to. Life happens - it doesn’t end when something extraordinary happens. We have to sleep, we have to get dressed, we have to go to work. We have to broil fish and have something to eat to feed our children, to keep ourselves alive. Such is life – day in and day out – it is the menial tasks – the mundane things – that make up so very much of our lives.
So it was for the disciples. Even after all that had happened - life had to go on. But into the menial tasks of the disciples’ lives - into their cowering together in that room, pondering the strange news they had heard, and making themselves dinner - suddenly Jesus was there. 
Jesus Who they betrayed and deserted. Jesus Who was whipped and beaten. Jesus Who was tortured and nailed to a Roman cross. Jesus Who was dead and buried. Jesus Whose heart was pierced with grief and a Roman spear. There He was. And they are terrified for they think He is a spirit - a ghost - perhaps even seeking vengeance. 
But He tells them to look at His hands and feet - to feel His Body - that it is flesh and bone. And then the most menial of things becomes desperately important - a piece of broiled fish. “Have you any food here?” He asks them. And taking the piece of fish He ate it before them to calm their fear. The most menial of things reveals that Jesus is not a spirit - His Resurrection is very physical. He is there with them like He had been - in the flesh - risen just as He said. The extraordinary is revealed in the most ordinary.
Into the ordinary - the mundane - the menial things of your lives, Jesus comes too, and assures you that He is risen for you just as He said - that He is no spirit - no ghost, but your living Savior: true God but also true Man of flesh and bone Who comes to you to calm your fears.
In fact, Jesus comes in such menial, mundane ways, it is very easy for us to despise them. We want God to come to us in grand, flashy, amazing ways that knock us over. And there are churches and pastors that are more than happy to try and meet people’s sinful desires to have a ‘god’ like that. 
They might put on a flashy rock and roll floorshow, complete with videos, a light show, and dancers. They might tell you to look for miraculous healing or great gifts of wealth that show that you really are faithful and ‘god’ really is blessing you. They might tell you that if you aren’t getting these great blessings - that you are doing something wrong - not being faithful enough - or lacking something that you have to figure out, somehow, to get them.
But God does not reveal Himself to us in the grand, the flashy, and the amazing. He does not promise us health and wealth in this world. He reveals Himself in Suffering and in the Cross and, indeed, He promises us that we will have troubles and crosses to carry, too. 
But it is precisely right in the midst of those troubles and those crosses - that He is present for and with you - He Who bore the Cross of all your sin. And it is precisely in the mundane, menial things of life that He is found: in the man who witnesses of Christ’s love while he is dying of heart disease - in the woman who joyfully changes her child’s diapers because of Christ living in her - in the teacher who works for next to nothing in a Christian school so that children might learn of Christ - in the woman who forgives the friend who hurt her because she believes in the forgiveness of her sin at the cross - in the soldier who quietly does his duty with honor because he recognizes the authority that God has placed him under.
In all these things: the ordinary, menial, mundane things of life - the joys, and the sorrows and the crosses - there is Jesus revealing Himself risen for you - forgiving, loving, comforting and calming you. He shows you in these things that He is risen - that He is living - that His forgiveness is for all the nations - it is for you. He gives dignity and joy to all the little things of your life - even grilling a piece of fish.