Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sermon for August 23, 2009


32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
In the name of Jesus:
A psychiatrist advised a henpecked husband to assert himself. "You don’t have to let your wife bully you," he said. "Go home and show her you’re the boss."
The husband decided to take the doctor’s advice. He went home, slammed the door, shook his fist in his wife’s face, and growled, "From now on you’re taking orders from me. I want my supper right now, and when you get it on the table, go upstairs and lay out my clothes. Tonight I am going out with the boys. You are going to stay at home where you belong. Another thing, you know who is going to tie my bow tie?"
"I certainly do," said his wife calmly. "The undertaker.”
Our text for today is the well known passage from the pen of Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, on the topic of marriage. I have chosen just one verse, verse 32, which reads: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.” Marriage, Paul states, is a profound mystery. That shouldn’t surprise us in this day and age, with the recent debates on the definition of marriage and the misunderstanding as to the roles in marriage. Scripture defines marriage as the union of husband and wife and that the husband is the head of the wife. One would think that this would settle the issue, but it sadly doesn’t. Why wouldn’t this settle the issue? Because the world, in its sinful state, doesn’t understand marriage nor the things of God. Today, in the human scheme of things, marriage is the union of two people. Modern, secular wisdom, promotes an ideology which, it is said, is based on love. Love between two people. Love between two consenting adults. Unless you have been living on a different planet, you know that the big push today is for same sex marriage. Same sex marriage proponents argue that, since two adults can consent to live together, they should then have the ability to be married. Liberal so called Christian denominations agree. You don’t have to look far to see so called Christian churches endorsing same sex unions today, under the guise that, seeing as God is a God of love, it would be cruel to deny same sex couples the same rights to marry as heterosexual couples have. They even argue and go so far as to say that it is the Christian duty to work toward same sex unions, because this is the loving and merciful thing to do. Christianity seeks to serve one’s neighbor, and seeing that the gay community is part of the world’s population and a part of our communities, it is imperative that Christians seek to endorse same sex unions.
This type of thinking and reasoning is down right sinful and an abomination to God and His Holy Word! It takes God’s Word lightly, changes God’s Word to fit the whims and occasion of the day. These proponents of same sex marriage have a warped view of Christianity and of God’s Word, and of the estate of marriage. Sadly these people have the loud voices today and the rule of thumb is that whoever can scream the loudest gets the most attention. Those of us who stick to God’s inerrant Word are called unloving and even worse! And sadly, our culture and society is slowly beginning to accept the ideas of same sex unions, as proponents of same sex unions slowly yet persistently wear down their opponents so as to achieve their goal. It is much like the example of how to cook a frog. You remember how to cook a frog, don’t you? You place the frog in a pot of lukewarm water. Slowly you turn up the heat, and the frog boils to death, without even realizing it! So too, opponents of God and His Word, proponents of same sex marriage and homosexuality persistently turn up the heat, wearing Christians and society down, until they achieve their agendas.
Now much can be said and probably should be said about this state of affairs, but I will try to limit myself due to time constraints for the Sunday message. Our text deals with this issue straight on. Paul says marriage is a profound mystery. It is a mystery that needs to be revealed to sinful minds and hearts. Sinners can not get their arms around this mystery of marriage because their wills are bound to sin, their eyes are blinded by sin, their ears are closed by sin, and their reason captivated by sin. One of the reasons why our society is going down this road of same sex marriage is because the fool says in his heart that there is no god! Humanity is dead in trespasses and sins and God’s truth is not in the sinner’s heart. The truth of God and His will must therefore be revealed to sinners, and God reveals His will in His Holy Word.
You have known from your youth that God has inspired holy men to write down the Word of God. God breathed into His prophets and evangelists His will which is without error. We call this Word the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, God’s holy and inerrant Word. God reveals to humanity that all have sinned and fallen short of His glory, that all have sinned and fallen from God’s grace. And yet, God has mercy on the sinner, and desires not the death of the sinner, but that sinners turn from their sinfulness and repent, believing in God’s Word. God’s call to sinners is to repent, to change the direction of their lives, seeking not their own will, wisdom and glory, but the wisdom, will, and glory of God.
And what is this will of God, simply this, that all people be saved and come to know the truth of God’s love in Jesus Christ. God wills not the death of the sinner, but that all turn to Him and live. He seeks the salvation of the sinner, and He has accomplished salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten son, who lived His life in love by giving Himself in life and death, so that sinners would be forgiven. Sin is paid for; salvation IS accomplished, because of Jesus’ innocent life, His suffering, death, and resurrection. You have been saved by a free gift of God, through faith in Jesus.
This relationship that God has with sinners is described by God Himself as likening to a marriage relationship. Throughout the Scriptures God calls compares His love to one of a groom, and He calls His Church His bride. The sad story of the Old Testament is one of how God created Israel to be His own people, one whom He would always love, and yet, Israel repeatedly rejected God and His love for them. It wasn’t enough to be the people of God; they wanted to be like all of the other nations, worshipping idols, listening and following the conventional wisdom of the day, all the while rejecting God and His mercy. In the book of Hosea, this relationship is typified in the relationship between Hosea and his wife Gomer. Hosea loved Gomer, but Gomer was found to be unfaithful. She was a prostitute and continued to prostitute herself and reject her one true love in her husband, Hosea. And yet Hosea loved Gomer and did whatever he could to bring her back to himself.
So too God has called humanity to come to Him in love, for He has loved sinners with an everlasting love. His Son Jesus, who knew no sin, became sin for the world, suffered Hell and damnation for all, so that all who believe would be forgiven. Sadly today, sinners seek conventional wisdom and popularity, all the while rejecting God and His will. Humans today continue to be unfaithful to God, prostituting themselves and rejecting God who truly loves the sinner. And in love God calls the sinner to repentance.
Marriage, therefore, is to be a living example of the love God has for people. God binds himself in love to the sinner on account of Jesus. God will always be faithful. He has shown this faithfulness in Jesus. And just as God has shown His faithfulness in Jesus, so too now marriage is a Godly estate, whereby married couples are to reflect the love God has for them in Christ.
This takes place within the Christian home and in the Christian marriage. As both husband and wife have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, they are to reflect this love in their lives as husband and wife. Both husband and wife are to have specific, God given roles and responsibilities which are to be carried out in the marriage estate. This is God given and God driven, it is the expressed will of God. The husband is to be the head of the wife, and the wife is to submit to her husband. But what does this mean?
It means, in the light of Christ, that the husband is to be head of the wife even as Christ is head of the Church. Unlike the story which I told in the introduction, the husband has the God given responsibility to model and reflect the love of Christ to his wife. Look at Jesus, and how He loves and loved His bride, the Church! How did Jesus show His love for the Church? Jesus loved the Church so much that He sacrificed Himself for the life of His Bride. Husbands are given the God given role to love their wives so much that they will be willing to die for them even as Jesus died for His bride, the Church. The husband is to love his wife so much that he thinks not of himself, but of her, placing her interests before his, living his life in service to his wife and family. He does so freely, out of love and not coercion. So too, the husband loves his bride because his will has been renewed in Baptism and the Word. He loves his wife, not because of feelings, but because he is motivated by the love of Christ. He loves his wife, not because he feels like it, but because it is his duty to love his wife, even as Jesus loves the Church.
To “rule” his wife implies that there is an oneness between the husband and wife, treating his wife as he would treat his own body. No one ever abuses his own body; therefore his wife should not be abused, at any time or in any way. The husband really isn’t taking good care of himself unless he is taking good care of his wife, which is a part of his own body. If he lives for himself, he lives to the determent of himself and his wife. But, if he lives to bless his wife, then he will be blessed.
God speaks honestly and pointedly to husbands here, taking seven verses to explain the role the husband has in the marriage. He is the head of the home, and as such, God says that the buck stops with the husband. God holds the husband accountable. He is to love his wife, as Jesus loves the Church.
And yet the wife is not without responsibilities as well, for the woman is to love her husband as the Church loves Christ. Let me put it to the wives this way, and I ask this question in our pre martial counseling sessions. Women, if you had a husband who would love you enough to be willing to die for you, how would you respond? Without exception, when I ask women in premarital counseling this question, the answer is always, “wow, if he loves me that much, he must really love me.” And the response is that wives will love their husbands in return.
Do you see how this works? Just as Jesus loves us so much that He died on the cross for our sins to forgive us, for He is our only Lord and Savior, so too husbands are to be Christ like and love their wives from their heart, sacrificially, as Jesus loves His Church. And even as the Church loves Jesus because of His sacrifice, wives are to respond in love to their husbands.
The estate of marriage is a Godly estate, between a man and a woman, it has been ordained and established by God and God will not change nor compromise this estate. Christians are called, not to change the estate of marriage by acquiescing to the pressures of a sinful culture to allow same sex marriages. Rather Christians are conform to God’s will, by repenting of sin, confessing sin, receiving forgiveness in Christ, and then powerfully living out God’s will in the estate of marriage. And His will is expressed concerning marriage in our text for today. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." [32] This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. [33] However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Amen

Sermon for August 16, 2009

JOHN 6:68

Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

In the name of Jesus:
There was once a Mexican bank robber, Jorge Rodriguez, who operated along the Texas border around the turn of the century. He was so successful in his thievery that the Texas Rangers deployed a whole extra posse along the Rio Grande to try and stop him. Sure enough, late one afternoon, one of the special Rangers saw Jorge slipping quietly across the river into Mexico. So he trailed him at a discreet distance until the bandito returned to his home village. He watched as Jorge mingled with the people around the town well and then went into his favorite cantina to relax.
The Ranger slipped in and managed to get the drop on Jorge. Pointing a pistol to his head, he said: "I know who you are, Jorge Rodriguez, and I have come to get back the money you have stolen from the banks in Texas. Unless you give it to me, it is my intention to blow your brains out."
There was, however, one flaw with the marvelously conceived and (to this point) exceedingly well-executed plan. Jorge Rodriguez spoke no English and the Texas Ranger spoke no Spanish. They were two adults at a verbal impasse.
About that time, an enterprising little Mexican approached the Texas Ranger and said: "I am bilingual. Would you like me to translate for you?" The Ranger nodded, whereupon the bilingual Mexican told Jorge Rodriguez who the Ranger was and why he was pointing a gun at Jorge's head. Nervously, Jorge answered back: "Tell the big Texas Ranger that I have not spent a cent of the money. Then tell him to go to the town well ... face north ... count down five stones ... find the loose stone ... pull it out ... reach behind ... where he will discover the money. Please tell him quickly."
Nervously, the Ranger inquired: "What did he say? What did he say?" Leading the bilingual Mexican to respond in perfect English: "Jorge Rodriguez is a very brave man. He says he is ready to die."
Not a very trustworthy sort do you think? I don’t think I would be telling any secrets to that person! But that raises in my mind this question, just WHO is trustworthy today? Who is worthy of our trust, for this life and into eternity? Sadly, many don’t trust in others today. Having been burned by others, they would rather rely on self rather than someone else. Much like the ad that ran in the newspaper which read: “A newspaper carried the following help-wanted ad: "Need co-author for a book on self-reliance."
Who needs a co-author for a book on self-reliance? This is a contradiction that hits home, doesn’t it? We have been described as the most individualistic people on earth. We celebrate the loner and the non-conformist. But in our pursuit of self-reliance, we have ignored our need for someone else, the need to belong. Part of the God’s design was that we would need others; we would need God and others in our lives. We have a need to be in communion with God and with other people.
But because of sin, that communion is fractured; it is beyond our ability to repair it. Our lives show our separation from God and from one another. We think that we can solve all of our own problems, including but not limited to our problem with God. If only we can get our act together, we think, and then God will act differently. If only I would do something good in my life then God would love me. We think we can act apart from God, and by our actions influence God’s will and nature towards us. But we can’t.
Not many people enjoy going to the doctor, but in London, 1994, a 63 year old man needed surgery but could not overcome his fear of doctors and hospitals. So, he did in his mind what was the next best thing, he performed surgery on himself. Tragically he got an infection and died. The coroner wrote in his report: “Unfortunately his drastic remedy went wrong. A simple operation would have solved his problem.” Just as the man didn’t trust hospitals or doctors, many people don’t trust God. In their self reliance they destroy themselves. In our sinfulness we destroy ourselves. God threatens to punish sin and we deserve His punishment, for we have all fallen short of God’s will for each of us. We are, as we confess in our common confession at the beginning of our worship service, a miserable lot, we are poor, miserable sinners who deserve no good thing from God.
We cannot go to ourselves, or to any human being who is trustworthy enough for our lives here and into eternity. But there is ONE who is trustworthy, whom we can go to and will provide our every need. This One is Jesus. God’s only Son, sent from heaven to be our Savior. Jesus is trustworthy because He is God’s Son, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a Savior. Jesus is trustworthy because God is trustworthy. God has kept His promises in Jesus.
When humanity fell into sin through Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God promised a Savior: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." When Israel was searching for when and in what manner this Messiah would come, God promised that: “ But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days,” and “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This One, God with us, would do God’s work in that: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. [2] For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. [3] He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. [4] Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. [5] But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. [6] All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [10] Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand., for he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”
This One of whom the prophets of the Old Testament pointed to is Jesus. Jesus reveals Himself to the God’s promised one, when He says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Jesus today offers Himself to you, in His Word, and in His Supper. Here He guides you, here He feeds you. He does this so that you will have everlasting life, not by trusting in yourself, but by trusting in Him. In Baptism the Holy Spirit has given to you faith in Jesus. That faith is nurtured and fed today. That faith clings to Jesus for help in time of need, for the forgiveness of all sin, and for the certainty of eternal life.
The disciples followed Jesus, in spite of the majority leaving Him. Jesus asked His disciples in the midst of the world rejecting Him: “Do you want to go away as well?" But Simon Peter knew better. He trusted in Christ. Having been brought to faith in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter confessed: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, [69] and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."
You have come to know that Jesus is the Holy One of God. You have tasted and seen that the Lord is good and that His love never ends. God now calls you to share this message with others. To share this good news is called evangelism, it is good news that we share because we know that God keeps His promises in Jesus. We are beggars before God’s throne of grace. As beggars, God calls us to point other beggars where they can obtain eternal life. Only in Jesus can this happen. Only in Christ is this possible. By grace you have been saved through faith, so that you may tell others of what Jesus has done for you.
Why would anyone reject this gift of Jesus? God brings us to faith, and He gives us the means to keep us in the faith, His Word and Sacraments. Many come belong to Christ and His Church with good intentions. They take membership classes, become confirmed members in the church and state publically that they will always believe in Jesus. But where are they? They drop out due to lack of interest, a lack of love for Jesus, and because discipleship and following Christ is too much of a commitment. We see it on Christmas, Easter, and on special occasions where people are caught up in the emotion of the day, and then are not to be found the remainder of the year. The question Jesus asked His disciples is one He still asks today: Are you going to leave Me as well? More pointedly, the question is asked today: To whom can we go? Is there really anyone else or anything else we want to exchange for Jesus? Can anyone offer a better alternative?
The answer is no. Jesus’ offer still stands in the 21st century. He keeps His promises now and forever. I like how David H. C. Read, a Christian clergyman, has put it: “I have heard, as a pastor, hundreds of reasons for quitting the church, but never has anyone said to me, I'm leaving the church because I've found someone better than Christ.'
"Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, [69] and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."
Lord, make us faithful even as you are faithful.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sending a Message?

The ELCA in its General Assembly has voted to affirm homosexuality and same sex marriage. Sadly, it has once again turned its back on God and His Word. About the same time of day, when this measure was being voted on, a tornado roared through the area. Was God sending a message? All I know is that the cross which stood high upon the steeple was knocked over. Here is the picture http://www.centralmpls.org/news_2009/storm_081909_01.php.

I understand that proponents of the measure likened it to the Spirit blowing on Pentecost. Of course, this comes from the same people who don't believe in miracles, deny the virgin birth of Jesus, and view the stories of the Bible as myth.

Others viewed this as a message from God. Certainly God in Scripture has done similar things in the past. He sent fire from heaven so He most certainly could send a tornado to get people's attention. But God most clearly speaks to sinners in and through His Word, the Holy Scripture. On the basis of Scripture let there be no doubt that the ELCA's action in its general assembly is wrong. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Homosexuality is an abomination before the Lord. The call of God to each of us is for repentance, to turn from sin, and believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Our prayers go out to those in the ELCA, that their church leaders would repent and stand upon the inerrant Word of God. On Christ the solid Rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand.

The Useful Sinner

I was on vacation for the first two weeks of August. When I am on vacation, I have the opportunity to read many books. One book of interest was "The Useful Sinner" by J. David Hawkins. It is out of print but I picked one up for a donation to the Mockingbird ministry web site. The title of the book sums up the piece quite nicely, sinners become useful to God because of God's grace shown in Jesus Christ. Hawkins tells his story of unfaithfulness to his wife and of her forgiveness. Hawkins shows the effects of sin (which in his case was quite damaging, ruining friendships and a career) as well as the effects of God's grace. It is a short book, yet a wonderful portrayal of the realities of sin and grace. The sinner becomes useful to God because of God's forgiveness in Christ. Hawkins learned through his ordeal that God is merciful, just, forgiving, and in control. God's way is always best. May we walk by faith and in Christ be useful sinners as well!