Tuesday, December 25, 2007

All Wrapped Up

Pastor was delivering his last chapel sermon to the students in school before Christmas break. He was describing Baby Jesus in the manger wrapped in swaddling cloths, and linking that to the Sacrament of the Altar. Jesus was laid in a place where animals eat, and we eat of His Body and Blood in the bread and wine at the altar. “There was Baby Jesus,” he said, “all wrapped up like a burrito.”

Afterward one of my students said to me, “In Baptism we are like burritos, too. We are all wrapped up in Jesus.”

That’s a pretty fair exposition of Gal. 3:27.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Word Games

A student in Richmond, VA, has the ACLU on her side. They say she is facing unconstitutional censorship for being asked to cover up, remove, turn around, or otherwise hide a t-shirt she was wearing. The shirt, claims the student, is her favorite. It has a logo on it, two female symbols intertwined. Its lesbian overtones are important because the student declares herself to be a lesbian. Obliterating the message of the t-shirt is said to be silencing the political message “that lesbian identity should be celebrated and is a source of pride.”

"I don't feel like I should have to hide my sexuality," said the girl who was asked to hide her t-shirt. The ACLU agrees and is fast approaching court-speed against the teacher and the school on this one.

Give me a break. The girl wasn’t asked to strap down her breasts or stuff a rolled up pair of socks in her pants. She wasn’t asked to make herself appear to be something she clearly wasn’t. Her femaleness and what that mean with regard to sexual functioning was abundantly apparent whether she wore her favorite lesbian t-shirt or one with Hannah Montana on it. She’s a girl, for pity’s sake. She admits to that. Doesn’t run from it at all. It’s a God-given, created-in-the-womb, unalterable fact. She’s a she.

The school rules are simple: "The school's dress code prohibits 'bawdy, salacious or sexually suggestive messages.'" That would seem to include iconic symbols indicating a student's personal (and what ought to be private) preference regarding sexual intercourse. If not, I can imagine all sorts of icons that would eventually be allowed representing the same. At what point does an iconic symbol become political instead of merely bawdy or sexually suggestive? When it's homosexual instead of heterosexual? The irony is, homosexuals won the constitutional right to live together as a couple without legal incrimination in Texas by arguing that the government has no right to pry into the bedroom. Now why are the activities of the bedroom a political statement to be proudly displayed on the chest rather than one's own personal privacy? Is the defining line only when one wants to make a statement about one's homosexuality or lesbianism?

Is it possible that the incidence of free speech is being unfairly tipped toward a certain sector of society? If so, then there is more at play here than one woman’s right to free speech regarding her chosen style of sexual intercourse. What of the rights of other students to express their "political rights" regarding their preferences in sexual intercourse—such as misogyny? That one still exists in the minds and hearts of every male informed by and subscribing to the siren call of today’s media. Males are taught to bed as many women in and out of wedlock as they can. That’s the highest disregard for the welfare of women and any sacred duties of fatherhood. So how about a symbol of the male sign interlaced with several female signs?

Now let’s not leave the ladies out. Paris Hilton, Britney Spears and her younger sister, Jamie Lynn, have given a whole new interpretation to the model young woman. Marriage is passé. Bedding men early, often, and as publicly as possible is the new propriety. Women have learned to use men as well as men have used women. Call it misandrony for lack of a better word and in want of something that sounds fancy. So for these women, let’s fashion ourselves a female symbol with a whole mess of male symbols intertwined—and don’t forget the little tiny male and female “hangers-on” indicating the babies that come from these various unions.

Does anyone suppose t-shirts of these sorts would be viewed as political and not sexual? We could even get more specific. My granddaughter’s friend is pregnant at 16. She’s tried every sort of sex. Her t-shirt would include not just male intertwinings, but also female. I’m not certain she has yet decided what her so-called "sexual identity" is, even though it is obvious by her swollen belly that God knows what it is.

Word games. That’s what it is. Word games to hide, obfuscate or otherwise confuse the issue. God created sex. Sexuality comes from the sex God created and gives to each of us. Ripped from that realm, sexuality is an abusive tool used against our neighbor and ourselves. The word games are necessary to hide that sin. God’s work to bring us to repentance is a miracle in itself.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Who's Coming to Town?

“It’s like the song, ‘You better not pout, you better not cry, Santa Claus is coming to town.’”

The kid is what we lovingly call “a mess.” Homework at his level is fairly rote: Spelling, Math, History Litany (a chronological list of events with dates and scripture references), and Reading. Each day he’ll write it down in his student planner. The Math and Spelling pages go into his Homework folder, the one with the green sheets on which the litany is printed so he can copy it out. Each day he’ll leave school with his student planner stuffed inside his desk, or left on top of it. The next morning he’ll have an excuse for why his homework isn’t completed—usually in the form of someone else to blame, or “I forgot.” To be fair, this is a problem he is lately overcoming with a mighty effort. He has done himself proud at completing his homework for the past two weeks.

“I forgot” is his favorite excuse. Not paying attention is his favorite pastime. He’s had to be moved away from any window in the classroom. The temptation to gaze outside is too great. His desk was once turned sideways to the room. He spent so much time with his head on his hand lost in dreamland it was the only hope of getting him to look toward the front of the room and the board where the lesson is going on. During Latin Pastor will gently bring him back to the game with a song, “One of these boys is not like the others; one of these boys doesn’t belong. One of these boys isn’t on the same page; one of these boys isn’t playing along.”

Yet here we were, engaged in a conversation on the end times. The chapel reading that week was Luke 21:25-36. The changing seasons alert us to when summer is near. In the same way, distresses upon the earth—among nations, between people, and in the weather—signal changes of another sort. Some will become faint with fear. Others will expend their lives foolishly. But Jesus says to do none of these things. Instead He says to look up, “For your redemption is near.” Jesus reminds us to put our hope in that which is real: Himself.

With the insight and sanctified memory of an eight-year-old, my mess of a student said, “It’s like the song, ‘You better not pout, you better not cry, Santa Claus is coming to town.’ Jesus is coming with His Gifts of Baptism and His Body and Blood. So we don’t have anything to worry about when the world is falling apart.” And this one knows a good deal about worlds falling apart.

Little things this one forgets, like homework. Big things he remembers, like chapel sermons from his pastor. Pastor uses the “Santa Claus is coming to town” illustration every year at this time to bring home the point of difference between what Christ gives and what the world gives at Christmas.

What is Math and History compared to what the Holy Spirit teaches this one at school? This child is a precious treasure, wrapped in Christ and fed by His Word.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Commanding Obedience

The History course in my class begins at the beginning—with God speaking, “Let there be light.” It’s simple enough, but not so that original sin can’t tangle it up. The curse of that first sin shows up in the answers of Second Graders who continue in the pattern of forefather Adam. Blame is the game.

The test question is: How did Adam and Eve fall out of fellowship with God?

Answer given: They ate the bad fruit from the bad tree.

It takes a few reminders, “God looked at all He created and saw that it was very good.” The tree wasn’t bad, nor was the fruit. Adam and Eve sinned because they disobeyed God’s commandment regarding the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sometimes they don’t like this answer. It’s too close to another one they don’t like to hear. “Why do we have to?” Because I said so.

Luther writes of it this way:

And so when Adam had been created in such a way that he was, as it were, intoxicated with rejoicing toward God and was delighted also with all the other creatures, there is now created a new tree for the distinguishing of good and evil, so that Adam might have a definite way to express his worship and reverence toward God. After everything had been entrusted to him to make use of it according to his will, whether he wished to do so for necessity or for pleasure, God finally demands from Adam that at this tree of the knowledge of good and evil he demonstrate his reverence and obedience toward God and that he maintain this practice, as it were, of worshiping God by not eating anything from it. (LW 1:94)

Thus a twofold temptation is put before Eve, by which, however, Satan has the same end in view. The first is: “God did not say this; therefore you may eat from this tree.” The second is: “God has given you everything; therefore you have everything in your possession; therefore this one single tree is not forbidden you.” However, each aims at the same end: that Eve be drawn away from the Word and from faith. This command about not eating from the tree, which was given them by God, is a convincing proof that even if his nature had remained perfect, Adam, together with his descendants, would have lived in faith until he would have been translated from this physical life to the spiritual life. Where the Word is, there necessarily faith also is. Here is the Word that he should not eat of this tree; otherwise he would die. Therefore Adam and Eve ought to have believed that this tree was detrimental to their welfare. Thus faith is included in this very commandment. (LW 1:153)

Consider Luther’s language here: demands; obedience; command; commandment. Why, he sounds positively Reformed!

NOT! He sounds particularly Lutheran, with a particularly Lutheran understanding of man’s relationship before God.

My students have taught me this lesson repeatedly. If I use the word “hell” to speak of it, one might say, “Oh! That’s a bad word. You shouldn’t say that one.” Oh really? You say it every day in chapel. Their eyes grow wide with wonder. “We do? Where?” So we stand and recite the Apostles’ Creed. There are no bad words, just words used wrongly.

It is the same with the words “commandment” and “obedience.” Now and again I hear in email conversations that this is “the language of the Reformed. We Lutherans simply don’t speak that way.” Since when? Since we Lutherans contracted a phobia of all things Reformed, perhaps?

I’ll grant that the Reformed and we Lutherans have a different understanding of these terms, and that we have differing applications of them with regard to our relationship to God and His relation ship with us. I will also grant that the manner in which the Reformed use these words will send a good Lutheran diving into the waters of his Baptism for relief. However, that does not mean that these words should fall out of use in the vocabulary of the Lutheran. They are good words, properly used. Good words improperly used need not be sent to the dust heap; they need to be washed off and put to good use.

Consider the fact that the Law is placed first in the Catechism. The anticipated use of the Catechism is for those who are of the family of God: those who are baptized or who are preparing for Baptism. This means the First Chief Part is teaching us to live within the Law, as well as to show us where we have fallen short of its demands. Each Commandment has both the positive and the negative aspect to it: This is what a child of God does not do; this is what a child of God does. From this we hunger for the Gospel.

The Commandments make us aware of our need for a Savior and the Means of Grace through which He comes to us. Are we not to use them daily for self-examination? Further, because Christ has united Himself to us in Baptism, because we are all one Body in Him, how we treat each other is how we treat Him (Ro 12:5). When we sin, we make Christ a participant in that sin with us (1Cor 6:15). The child who defies his parent or teacher is not angry at that one alone, but at his heavenly Father. The one who hits another child also injures Christ. There is no nebulous rationality and lengthy discussion regarding why we obey our God. We do it because He says do this, and we, as His children obey Him. What is a life of repentance all about if there is nothing by which we can judge ourselves? Commandment, obedience, repentance, and forgiveness, that’s what a Lutheran is all about.

Luther treats it this way in the Close of the Commandments:

God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore, we should fear His wrath and not do anything against them. But He promises grace and every blessing to all who keep these commandments. Therefore we should love and trust in Him and gladly do what He commands.

The first two sentences are clearly Law, burdening with punishment and the knowledge of an impossible demand. The third sentence gives relief at last. When God promises grace and blessing, He is speaking only of Jesus Christ. He is the only one who kept these commandments, and He did it for our sakes. Because we are baptized in His Name and now have His righteousness imputed to us, we are inheritors of what Jesus did for us. It is only through Jesus that we are able to keep the First Commandment, which requires us to love and trust God above all things so that we are able to keep all His commandments.

When a Lutheran speaks of his obedience, he recognizes the fact that he is dead in his sins and can do nothing to free himself from that situation. Jesus likes talking to dead people. They can’t do anything for themselves. All a dead person can do is what Jesus’ words say. “Lazarus come forth!” and a stinking body comes out of a grave. “Young man, I say to you, arise!” and the man sits up. Neither one of these men had enough wits about him to decide a thing. The dead do what the dead are told to do by the Lord of Life. Christ's word is effective because it is His word. It is the means whereby things happen. When Christ gives a command—Arise!—He also gives the means to obey that command within the word He speaks.

Creation was like that. The Resurrection will be like that. God spoke into the darkness and there was light. The darkness didn’t create the light. God’s speaking created light. John’s Gospel tells us all things were created in and through God’s Son (Jn 1:3). Specifically, John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). In the Resurrection Jesus will speak, and the dead in Him will arise. Now there is command and obedience for you!

If others want to believe that they can now be obedient to God’s commandments as Adam and Eve could have been prior to the fall in the Garden; if they want to think their relationship before God is right now something besides that of a dead man—that they can decide to accept or choose Jesus as their Savior—why should that scare us Lutherans off from using two perfectly good words in a right, proper and Lutheran way? We Lutherans certainly haven’t stopped ourselves from using the sign of the cross, crucifixes, genuflecting, incense, the liturgy and all manner of so-called too Catholic thingy-dingies.

God’s commandments are not abolished, and we are called as Christians to obey Christ (2Cor 2:5). Where the Lutheran must begin, however, is in his presupposition regarding these terms. We stand before God as beggars, with nothing in our pockets. We have nothing to give Him. We have not kept His commandments; we have not been obedient to Him. Furthermore, we are as dead beggars. We can’t even reach into our pockets to turn them inside-out to shake them one more time to find that one itsy-bitsy to redeem ourselves in good favor with our heavenly Father. Forget that… someone’s even stolen our clothes!

Who can save us? Thanks be to Christ Jesus our Lord! For it is He who clothes us in Himself, making us obedient according to His obedience to His Father’s every word and will.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Emi Takes a Friend to Sunday School

Last weekend both sets of Emi’s grandparents were gathered at her house in preparation for her sister Lianna’s baptism. I had brought an old CD player with me —a purple one, her favorite color alongside pink. Emi was thrilled. We were upstairs in her room (Oy!) listening to the St. Paul’s Children Choir CD and playing doll house while the others were having a good time “visiting”. Emi was singing along. “O Lord, open Thou my lips… Away in a manger… I am Jesus’ little lamb…” The liturgical hymns were familiar and comfortable to her. She was in heaven! She soon designated one part of her room as “church” and the other “room.”

“Grammy,” she asked, “will you come to Sunday School with me? You can be my friend.” I agreed we could work that out. She danced around with joy.

When we finally went downstairs to join her parents and the rest of the grandparents we found they had been making other plans. Sunday School began at 9:30. They wanted to meet at Shoney’s for breakfast at 9. That meant Sunday School would have to take a pass on Lianna’s Baptism Day if that plan stayed as it was.

I put the question to Emi. “Emi, do you want to go get pancakes at Shoney’s, or do you want to go to Sunday School?” She loves her pancakes, and she knows what going to Shoney’s is all about.

Emi didn’t hesitate. “I want to go to Sunday School.”

“Even if it’s blueberry pancakes?”

“No, Grammy. I’m going to Sunday School and you’re going with me. You’re going to be my friend.”

Plans changed. We met at Shoney’s at 8. Emi got her pancakes and then went to Sunday School with Grammy as her friend. Afterward her baby sister Lianna slept through her baptism.

It was a joy to see Emi so eager to go off to Sunday School. I asked her later what she learned. “Jesus,” she replied. Then she busied herself with preparations for her sister’s baptism. I was wearing a pin remembering my own baptism. On it are a crucifix, a shell with my baptismal birthdate, and a crown with crosses. Emi was especially enthralled with the crown, so I explained that she has one, too. It’s the Crown of Life that Jesus gave her in her baptism and will give her one day. Lianna was going to receive hers when the water hit her head and Pr. Peters said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Emi was fascinated. So much so that when the first bit of water hit her sister’s head she gasped. Throughout the service “crown” references continued to come up. If I didn’t catch it to point out to Emi, she pointed it out to me: “He said crown!” Later she asked Pr. Peters, “You know what Lianna has? A crown.”

Emi will be four in November. Catechesis happens when parents and other authorities take the time to see that it rightly does. It’s a part of her life, not an interruption into it, postponing the regularly scheduled daily programming. For Emi, catechesis is her habit of life.

We have found in our school that children who pray the Catechism daily and learn to judge their actions by its teachings also learn to think differently. They not only place their own actions under the Catechism, they evaluate the world around them by the same. For example, when they read books they make assessments of the characters and their values according to the Catechism. This becomes a valuable tool. Padraic Column’s Children’s Homer proves that in war there are noble men among both friend and foe. Yet, when none worships the true God, there are no good deeds at all. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The House in the Big Woods repeatedly demonstrates the deviltry that lurks behind disobeying one’s parents.

Invariably there is an expectation of forgiveness from my students for characters who have erred and repented in their readings. When it is not forthcoming the students immediately notice and are dismayed. On the other hand, the students also recognize that an oft-repeated “apology” for the same offense without the demonstration of a lesson learned means a lack of true repentance.

Even while watching movies one or another will exclaim, “Hey! That’s like what Jesus does for us.” or “They treated him like Judas. They didn’t forgive him.” Sometimes it takes a bit of work to get to what their connection is, but eventually it can be seen.

Because the Catechism is foremost in their minds, it is that which shapes their thoughts. These children begin at the age of four not just memorizing the Catechism, but also applying it to the way they work and play at school.

Two brothers ran down the hallway. One slipped into my classroom through one door and out the other, slamming it behind him. He was playing hide-n-chase with his younger brother. So I called the older one over. He’s my student.

I explained the facts of life to him: I’m nearly 99 years old and already use a cane to get around. His slamming of the door just jars my old arthritic bones even more. Does he want to break them with all that slamming and jostling?

Well, of course he didn’t. He just wanted to hide from his brother. By then the younger one had joined us.

So did he want to slip up and fall and crack his head open? Or did he maybe want to catch his brother’s fingers in the door and hurt them?

Well, of course he didn’t. He just wanted to play with his brother.

Playing with his brother is great, but this wasn’t the place for it. That was for outside, not inside. Inside someone could get hurt, and getting hurt was what commandment?

“You shall not commit adultery,” he replied.

“I don’t think so,” I answered. “You aren’t married yet.”

He nailed it the next time. So he and his brother repeated the Fifth with meaning, and then the Fourth because they’d been told already not to run in school. And then the First, of course.

After the apology came the forgiveness.

This, too, is how Emi is learning to live. Jesus gave her a crown in baptism, and holds it for her forever. Not even when she sins does she lose this crown. We caught her saying “I lost my crown” after she had gotten into trouble. I didn’t make connections until after a while she said, “I got my crown back again.” So I explained to her, “Emi, Jesus holds your crown for you forever. You never lose it, no matter what you do. You are baptized. Jesus holds you as His own. Jesus holds Lianna as His own. You are both His special princesses, and He has your crown forever. Baptism means you never lose your crown.”

We catechize because we baptize. Can’t have one without the other.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Seven? Now Eight

God Grant It, is a series of devotions written from C. F. W. Walther’s sermons. Last Thursday’s spoke to resisting temptation. Walther writes,

One of the greatest and strongest dangers and temptations for Christians to depart from the path of godliness is the evil example of the children of this world. It is easy enough to see that, for the most part, it goes well for the children of the world in their sinful life. They hurry from desire to desire, and from pleasure to pleasure. . . By this enticing appearance of earthly happiness, which surrounds the children of the world, many a pious person is blinded, deceived, and tempted to fall into sin.

For this reason, Saint John admonishes his spiritual children: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1John 2 15-17).

Countless people in the midst of the severest temptations of the world have remained faithful to their God. The Bible offers some examples. Lot… Joseph…Moses. [Moses] might well have fallen away from the religion of his fathers and become ashamed of his despised Israelite brethren according to the flesh. But it says of him in the Epistle to the Hebrews, “By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. “He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (11:24-26).

Gregory the Great (540-605) is credited with codifying the Seven Deadly sins. This was not to suggest that some sins are more damnable than others, for the wages of [all] sin is death. For the sake of catechesis, Gregory emphasized those sins which were tempting, yet could be resisted, but too often were not. These were sins of habit, leading to a lifestyle (habitus) from which it was difficult to free oneself. These sins are known as, by both their Latin names and their translations, saligia: superbia (pride), avaritia (greed), luxuria (luxury, later lust), invidia (envy), gula (gluttony), ira (anger), and acedia (sloth). C. S. Lewis addressed these sins throughout The Chronicles of Narnia. For example, Edmund personifies gluttony in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which Jadis exploits to her advantage with Turkish Delight.

An eighth deadly sin can be added to this list: abdicatus (renunciation). This is the sin of accommodation, and it is the worst of them all. It is the one that finally says that not only can temptation not be resisted; it must be entered into for our own good and human betterment. Moreover, abdicatus is especially heinous because practitioners are quite adept at using scripture to support their cause—just not all of scripture. Abdicatus is conformation with what Walther calls the children of the world so that scripture is used to support their ways and habits, rather than to mark and avoid them. Often the Gospel itself is used as a shield. By this means, one’s own baptism is renounced for he willingly enters into what God has not granted, and yet claims God’s permission upon it because he is baptized.

Abdicatus says that the world has changed, and so must the church. This is as much as to say that the church can no longer withstand temptation, but must accommodate herself to every whim of culture that come along. Let’s ask the question foremost on the minds of theologians in churches that do not ordain women: If all those other churches do it, why can’t we?

Why don’t we press this another direction. There was a time when it was uncommon for couples to live together before marriage. This is no longer true, even among Christians. Sometimes the fact is not even hidden, or is supported by the couple through their own scriptural and theological examinations.

Now, there is scriptural basis for chastity, just as there is for the all-male pastorate. However, society accommodated itself to thinking of virginity as a burden and marriage as a curse. Then "true" liberation was found apart from these things. Marriage was a societal necessity only “for the sake of the kids,” or financial reasons, etc. Marriage, as an icon of Christ and His Bride, is—from the beginning of scripture to the very end—wrapped in Christ. Marriage and sex are sacred, sacramental. The sanctity of marriage is lost when emancipation is found in extra-marital sex and society and the church as a whole embraces this idea.

So what are we to do with any other of the articles of the doctrines of the church? Shall we concede to the temptation of the world and renounce the Apostolic Faith when we do? That is what happens when the church accommodates to the surrounding culture instead of resisting the temptation it presents. The world and its apparent happiness, its growth in numbers, its wealth, all appears to be a success. Still, God has His own way of measuring success. Success for God was measured in His Son’s death. We can’t even begin to imagine how much love that took for Him to send His own Son for our sakes, and yet how painful it was to have His Son die as a sinner. The contrast is blindingly impossible.

We have not even begun to resist our temptations as Christ did, to the point of blood in His own perspiration. He neither gave into temptation, nor did He accommodate Himself to the culture of His day. Christ was obedient to His Father in all things. He told His disciples to be about the business of “baptizing and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19b-20). He also says that His disciples are those who remain in His word (Jn 8:31). It is a foregone conclusion: abdicatus, (renunciation, accommodation), is not the way of the Christian. In fact, accommodation to temptation says that the Gospel is powerless in the face of the devil. James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7). The latter follows the former. Those who have first been submitted by God to Him are able to resist the devil and all his temptations. The Gospel overcomes the devil and his ways.

"I am baptized" is the answer to all temptation, not the reason for accommodation to sin. St. Paul writes, "Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Ro 5:2-5). If there is a corresponding virtue to abdicatus, and one supposes there must be, it is virtus (character).

We often think of virtus as virtue, but it is not limited to that. It also means courage, manliness. St. Augustine wrote that his mother Monica was a woman who had the faith of a man. By that he meant she had the courage to withstand the temptations life threw before her, and treated them as chastisements from God. She trusted herself to be a son of God by virtue of her baptism into Christ. Temptation was wrapped in the form of freedom from suffering for her
however briefly it might have been. Isn't that true for any of us though? Sexual temptation is suffering for the teen; ordination for some males only causes suffering for some women. Giving in to these things (sex without marriage, women's ordination) as if that's the way things should be is abdicatus. The courage of a manly faith that is Christ's alone, given in Baptism to every Christian is that which resists these temptations.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Emi and VBS

Emi’s been to Vacation Bible School. She’s three and then some now. Ask Emi about Bible School and her big blue eyes sparkle with delight and her feet start to jiggle in her “wiggy-wiggy” dance. She’ll sing for you, too.

Jesus said… Jesus said,
I am the Way,
And the Truth,
And the Life,
No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

When she doesn’t want to sing, she repeats the verse, daily and much.

Emi already had an extensive repertoire of songs: Eensy Weensy Spider, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Where is Thumbkin. However, none of them have been as affecting as this one has. Emi has heard about Jesus since she was born. But now she realizes Jesus is someone she should listen to, so her ears are freshly opened to hearing what He might say to her.

“Let’s go to church,” she asked quite suddenly one afternoon.

Fortunately it was a Wednesday. Vespers was only hours away. So we went. Emi sang along with the liturgy as best she could: “Your word is lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” She listened to the readings, especially after being told, “That’s Jesus’ words speaking to you.”

Still, it was the singing of the liturgy she loved the most. She stood by my knee and looked at every line, studying each one as if she could read. She chanted the psalms, tried to make the sign of the cross, and worked her way through it all. Did I mention she only sang one inarticulate word throughout until we got to the one she recognized fully, “Amen”? Amen is enough for now. The rest will come later.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Sawyer Sermon

Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

John 16:12-22/Acts 11:1-18/Easter5.07

Children . . . the One Who labored hard for you to bring forth life, to deliver you, His little ones, from sin, death and the power of the devil, the Lamb Who laid His life down for you to raise you up is so concerned about the ones He saves that sometimes, He doesn't say as much as could be said. He spares us.

In this morning's Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." He will leave something for the Holy Spirit, through Whom the work and Ministry of Jesus still goes on.

Jesus says the Holy Spirit will take what's His and make it known to us. So, the Ministry of handing out repentance and forgiveness? That's the Spirit's work, because it's Christ's. Baptizing in the Name of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? That's the work of Jesus, so His Spirit carries on by means of it, delivering us from all our sins. Same with Holy Absolution and this Supper. PLEASE! Jesus couldn't make it any clearer. "He will take what is Mine and declare it to you." So, when your pastor takes the bread and says, "This is My Body," and the Cup and says, "This is My Blood," right there, the Holy Spirit is taking Christ's own flesh and blood and declaring them to you!

Don't let anyone or anything prevent you from saying "Amen" to that, and receiving the extra things that Jesus says He wants you getting. But be honest. The things that Jesus has to say are sometimes more than we're prepared to hear. They were for His disciples, before the sending of the Holy Spirit. And even then, Christ's men were sometimes on the wrong end of the learning curve.

In today's first reading, Peter confesses how he'd never eaten certain kinds of foods. Peter was raised, like all the other disciples, like Jesus Himself, to observe the dietary regulations of the Old Testament. According to what God had laid down for His people, Israel, some foods were clean and some were unclean. All that pulled pork barbeque you love? Unclean. All those crawfish boils you have, those crabs, shrimp, even that lobster? Unclean.

God never told US we couldn't eat such things, so go ahead and pork out! Work your way through bottom feeders like catfish and mudbugs. 'Tsgood eats! God only told Israel - before Jesus - to keep themselves from such wallowing, slimy, crawly things, not because they're bad, but to teach them self-restraint, repentance, some awareness of their sins and set-apartness. If God says, "Eat this," eat it. If God says, "Drink this," drink it. If God says, "Don't," then don't. And by that, God was teaching Israel faith, leading them to Jesus.

Before Jesus, Peter had always been told, "Don't eat this or that." Now, since Jesus, God was saying, "Kill and eat." That's the vision Peter got. "I observed beasts of prey" - unclean! "and reptiles" - unclean! - "and birds of the air" - unclean! "And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat!'" And that just went against the grain for Peter.

Time for Pete to go to school, to learn some repentance and faith! So the voice said from heaven, "What God has made clean, do not call common," or unclean. This happened three times, to the one who had denied the Lord and been restored, after breaking fast with Jesus by a charcoal fire.

Peter was learning to live from God's Word, from the Promise of the Gospel. If God says sinners are forgiven, don't go calling them unclean, unacceptable, unworthy of consumption. They're clean.

A man named Cornelius and all his household got the Holy Spirit preached to them because of that. They were Gentiles, people who stuffed their faces with things that turned poor Peter's stomach! Things like Rabbit, bacon, ham, pulled-pork barbeque, catfish, shrimp, crabs and crawfish.

Peter was obviously learning that even Mississippi's not beyond salvation! Part of the "many things" that Jesus left for the Holy Spirit to pass on. Taking from Jesus, Who died and rose for all, the Spirit gives out heaven - proclaims it - through a man like Peter, so even bottom feeding folks like us can hear the Gospel, be baptized, and partake of the holy, heavenly things of God!

That's why this little church exists, and others like it, where the Gospel is preached purely and the Sacraments are handed out according to Christ's institution. Jesus died to save the world. There isn't anyone for whom He hasn't shed His blood. So, don't go saying SOME folks aren't quite up to having you or me kneel down beside them and partake of heavenly treasures. Holy things for Holy Ones; for God's baptized, instructed, examined and absolved. Who and what the Lord calls holy, forgiven, don't you call unclean.

That's got all sorts of things to say to us about our living peaceably with one another, doesn't it? About not rolling our eyes when certain people come our way, not shutting out the ones we figure aren't acceptable. Jesus died for them. He wants them rescued from their sinful ways, washed clean, forgiven, wrapped up in the saving work of Jesus and His Holy Spirit. Wants them eating and drinking CLEAN things here with us!

So, Peter's gonna have to get beyond his life-long aversion to Gentiles, to hanging around with folks who eat like they were raised in Belzona! He's gonna have to remember what he said when Jesus said what all His Jewish hearers thought was so repulsive: "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day." No good Jew would EVER eat a human's flesh. And no good Jew would eat the flesh of ANYTHING - even clean things - as long as it still had its blood in it. We've learned that from Leviticus, remember?

People raised a certain way, according to God's Law, found what the Word of God Made Flesh was saying too repulsive, hard to bear. Read John 6. They turned away. And when the Savior asked His men, "Will you leave me also?" Peter answered: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." So, even though he'd NEVER tasted flesh with blood, Peter stuck with Him Who gave His Flesh and Blood for us, not only on a cross, but here for us to eat and drink in bread and wine. "You have the Words of eternal life."

Dear ones . . . Children . . . The Lord is patient. He spares us. That's why He gives His Holy Spirit. That's why we have the teaching and the preaching of God's Word today. It's hard, sometimes, for people coming into church and seeing how much different all this is from anything they've seen or heard before. Give 'em a break. Encourage them. They may call unclean what God calls clean! Let's pray and help them stick around and learn with Peter.

The liturgy is clean. It's not the unclean thing that people seem to mean when they say "formal," "boring," or - even "Catholic." It's Christian.

Infant baptism is clean, though many Christians find it as hard to swallow as St. Peter did the thought of eating Delta-raised catfish. Baptism is no common, ordinary thing. As the Catechism teaches, it is "not just plain water, but it is the water included in God's command and combined with God's Word." That makes it a holy and life-giving washing, which makes YOU holy and living, set apart from a world of unbelievers. It makes you clean.

Individual absolution does the same. It too is clean. Even Lutherans have a hard time hearing that! Read John 20. Read the Catechism. Individual Absolution is no more to be despised than is making the sign of the holy cross! You mean, THAT'S in the Catechism too? Yes, and by it, remind yourselves each day that you are clean, not common, not made for the trash heap.

The Bread we break is also clean. It is Christ's own Body. A little boy told me this week, "We never chew the Body of Christ. We let it dissolve on our tongues." Well, even though Jesus only said, "Eat," that boy's piety regarding how one MAY, in freedom, consume the Flesh of Christ is instructive. If only we treated fellow MEMBERS of Christ's Body in such a gentle fashion, instead of ripping and tearing through the Body of Christ!

Maybe a little reverence before the Blood and Body of our Lord in bread and wine will teach us holiness in how we treat each other! So, bow and say "Amen" to the Holy Things that make you holy ones. Take your gum out, children, before communing. These are Holy Things, not to be chewed on for awhile and then spit out, the way we do our gum, or seem to do to others when they've lost their sweetness and their flavor - for shame!

The Chalice too is holy, clean, despite some common, ordinary fears of modern people. The Chalice is full of Jesus' Blood in wine. Yes, wine. That's a clean thing according to God. Jesus says it's clean. Do not call unclean what God calls clean. That would be a sin, to reject God's saving Gift because of how some people feel about alcohol. God told Israel not to eat things like catfish. He NEVER told His people - OR us - not to drink wine. In fact, Jesus took wine, blessed it, and said, DRINK! In the Old Testament, God included wine in the gifts that Israel was to bring. If GOD accepts wine as gift, it's clean. If the Holy Spirit says that God will set a feast for ALL peoples, even catfish-eaters and crawfish-suckers here in Dixie, giving us the best of meats - namely, Jesus' Flesh in bread - and the finest of WINES - namely, Jesus' Blood in this Cup, then, eat and drink! 'Tsgood Eats! In fact, it's GOD's own Feast, laid out to give us a foretaste of heaven. Please, do not despise it.

Even though our children in this country grow up never drinking wine, here they ARE to drink - even before the age of 21, if they would be Christian. Even when man's law prohibited the use of wine in the last century, still, GOD'S people set their lips to what the Lord has given. What God calls clean, do not call unclean. We live from God's Word! That's faith. And God's Word tells us, "He took the CUP - not cups - after Supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave IT to them, saying, 'Drink ye ALL - of IT.'"

Please, do not call the COMMON or shared Cup of our Lord's Blood common, ordinary or unclean! I'm not saying we can't use the little cups that men have introduced, but do not call what Jesus gives unclean. He will not give you what is to your harm. We may LIVE in Dixie, but Jesus didn't give us Dixie cups! He gave the CUP of our Salvation. Only unbelief and unrepentance - not germs - can turn this to our harm. People didn't die in Corinth because they drank the Cup and caught a cold. They died because they ate and drank in unbelief and unrepentance, treating the Bread and Wine as ordinary, not recognizing Jesus' Flesh and Blood, not recognizing and fleeing their wretchedness and sin, not remembering that Jesus gave His Body and His Blood for us and gives them to us in this Meal, to eat and drink for our salvation.

Children, I don't want to tell you more than you can bear. This Cup is filled with what preserves you, not for heaven only but for now, in time, on earth, for those around you, to do them good. Eat and Drink and learn not to call unclean what God calls clean. Rising then from your salvation handed out in what appear so ordinary - bread and wine - which God makes extra-ordinary when He says they are His Flesh and Blood - Rising up from that, as the Holy Ones He calls you through such Holy Spirit Gifts, receive the neighbors God now places next to you. Receive them, with all their germs and foibles and failings and sins, along with all the circumstances in your life, good and bad - even those that draw a tear. Receive them as if God only gives good things, as if they are clean because of Jesus. Receive them as if YOU are clean and therefore all your life is clean; as if the Son of God died even for the likes of bottom feeders here in Mississippi. He did. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Friday, June 15, 2007

Trinity 1

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

Luke 16:19-31/Trinity1.07

Dear Baptized, you are rich, in more ways than you imagine. You have money to spend on luxuries you don't need. You can afford servants to clean your house and servants to raise your children while you pursue more wealth. You hire servants to tend your yards and change your oil and teach and coach your kids. You have servants you don't even know by name, who bring you food. No, the ones that come on Friday night are not named Domino and Caesar! And there are many others whom you have on hand, as I do, to entertain you - to bring you music, movies, art and literature. Yes, we are a wealthy people.

What then are we to hear today from our Lord, who speaks the way He does about a rich man? Believe me when I say the Lord speaks about several rich men in this text. He speaks of the man who is rich in this life but poor in faith, poor in compassion, poor in any sensibility toward his own sins - greed, selfishness, indifference not only to his fellow man but, more importantly, to Moses and the prophets.

And our Lord speaks also of the man named Lazarus, who possesses nothing but sorrow in this life, sores and a few dumb animals to lick his wounds. But he also has a name. The rich man doesn't, at least no name that GOD will ever mention. But Lazarus? His name means, "the one whom God helps!" That makes him rich, rich in the ways of heaven; rich in the Lord's forgiveness and salvation; rich because his only hope is that the Lord has mercy in Christ Jesus.

While Lazarus had nothing in this life, nothing to impress either God or men, he receives what all men need. With nothing to boast in, He has only God's help to sustain him, and this one is gathered into the riches of heaven. While the rich man dies and goes to hell, Lazarus, whose help is in the Name of the Lord, is gathered into Abraham's bosom; gathered into closest communion with the saints, even rich men, like Abraham. Abraham, as you remember, had wealth in this life, which he possessed in faith, though his greatest wealth was in the promises of God for Jesus' sake. Our Lord today is not preaching that being rich is the fast track to hell. Nor is He preaching that poverty - that is, lacking earthly wealth or health or kindness - is the fast track to heaven. Rather, as Luther put it on his death bed, "We are beggars. That is true."

Abraham was wealthy in this life. Read a bit of Moses this week. Search in Genesis how God poured earthly blessings out on Abraham. That patriarch was rich. But he possessed his wealth in faith, which means, in view of God's Promise. In view of God's Promise of a Son, a Savior, Abraham did not consider even his son Isaac of such value that he would not trust even more in what God said. As Scripture tells us, Abraham trusted that God could even raise up Isaac from the dead if He wanted. And so, when told to lay his son upon the fire heap, that rich man did - in faith - confessing that His help was in the Name of the Lord. He put it this way, "The Lord will provide a lamb for sacrifice."

God did. A ram caught in the thicket. So Isaac went free. A picture of all poor beggars who have no hope but that God shows mercy, sending us His Son, to die in our place. In such faith, Abraham, a rich man, taught his son to trust in God's faithfulness and mercy for Christ's sake, while even on the fire heap. And in such faith, Abraham, a rich man, had mercy on the likes of Sodom and Gomorrah. After the Lord had visited him beneath the oaks of Mamre, Abraham petitioned God to spare those wicked cities, who could only use their wealth for evil.

Abraham is enough to show that wealth is not the evil, not the reason that the nameless man this morning goes to hell. The nameless man's help was not in the Name of the Lord, not in God's Promise. It was, rather, in his wealth. He had no thought for any but himself and ignored the poor man at his gate. The dogs show mercy. This man does not. Yet, he begs for mercy from the one he could not spare a few poor crumbs to ease his pain. From Lazarus, whom he left to rot, he wants a single drop of water to ease his agony in hell. And Abraham, who boldly pleaded for those two godless cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, says, not even that small mercy can be allowed the rich man now.

What will we learn from this today, dear Baptized? I hope we learn how close to the flames we really are! So easily do men find comfort in this life, in wealth, in health, in their possessions - in their being different or having different circumstances than another. We rush past the poor all day. They may not be sitting by our driveways, licked by dogs. I dare say, most of us would likely not ignore a person in that kind of plight. Such things are just too rare for us, while long ago - before ER's admitted anyone who walked in off the street, before Social Security, Red Cross, and whatever other helping agencies there are today - before the network that we have in our country, it was not uncommon for the genuinely needy to be lying at a rich man's gate, hoping, praying.

Today, we are never sure when helping someone out if we aren't
helping him to drink a little more, smoke a little more, work a little less and just go on demanding others do for out, while he does nothing for himself or others. I suppose that was maybe in the mind of that rich man, too. And I'm sure Abraham knew well enough the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah. Do you think that Jesus knew the laziness and vice of men for whom He lived and died and rose again? What vices have WE got, which we pretend are virtues? Does anybody even know what selfishness, indifference, callousness and greed are anymore? On occasion, even this world can't stomach rank abuse of God's good gifts, and those we call celebrities get hauled to jail or rehab. Such shame! But, how we all continue to pursue the lifestyles of the rich and famous!

Who is Lazarus today, dear people? Well, take comfort in this: YOU ARE - because CHRIST is! That's the Gospel. Of all the poor, none emptied Himself out more than Our Lord. None took a deeper Poverty, a greater Shame. Not even His own disciples, who boasted so in themselves, their courage, their fortitude and faithfulness, would show Him any comfort, mercy or aid. Only a few women attended His wounds when Jesus died a beggar's death.

In Christ, we are only beggars before God, longing to be satisfied with crumbs from the Master's Table; licked by dogs in this life, that is, the poor, miserable Ministry and means which God provides us for our comfort, which most men just despise. We have Holy Baptism. The vast majority of men are far too rich to think that's worth receiving. If a poor dog of a pastor wants to lick the wounds of dying sinners with God's Name in Word and Water, most will whisk themselves away, disgusted, taking little children with them. This world is far too wealthy to subject itself to such a lowly kind of Medicine. Most are far too rich to need a pastor's absolution! They can dress themselves up well enough in purple and Armani and don't need any pastor saying, "I forgive you all your sins." Most are not impressed with Moses and the Prophets. They won't be moved by the preaching of Him Who rose again and now is working in His Holy Office. So, no surprise that most are fat enough that they don't need to beg for what the Master places on His Table - the Body and the Blood of Him Who died to save us.

Lazarus, whose only hope was in the Lord, received the closest communion of all, in Abraham's bosom. That is where St. John resided - in the bosom of Jesus - on the Night When Jesus instituted His Communion. Most simply do not need such comfort in this life. But having, ourselves, such comfort, such a Blessed Communion, such Everlasting Wealth, do we ignore the beggars at our gate?

Dear Baptized, you are both beggars who have NOTHING but God's help and mercy in Christ Jesus, and you are also God's highly favored children, upon Whom He has lavished all the luxuries of heaven. Don't now make the same mistake the rich man made - as if you could just rush in and out, enjoying all you have, remaining heedless of the poverty and need of those around you. Does that mean to use your earthly wealth for good and not for selfish gain? Of course it does. Don't think, for a moment, that you have no sin. You make sure you have the things you need, while others go without. Repent. Give alms. That means, let go a bit of the god you love the most - money - and help out others! There ARE poor people in this world. There ARE those whom the Lord has given you to help in times of need, so help them.

The Lord is certainly not providing you the things He does - earthly blessings or the eternal blessings of His Word and Sacraments - so you may live now only for yourselves! Do you receive your paycheck as if it's just for you? Do you come here Sunday mornings as if all this is just so YOU can go to heaven? That's selfish. It's sin.

If you're coming to church just to do your good deed, just to hear that all is well with you: "Your name's in heaven, so, relax!" - you're only being like that nameless rich man. God's forgiveness means to move you out in works of love, in living for your neighbor, in forgiving as you have been forgiven, in handing out the riches of God's grace to all the beggars at your feet!

I know you get tired of me saying it, but I'm not quitting: "There's a world of poverty around you!" Yes, people don't have enough in life. Help them. But there's a world of people who don't have enough to lift them up in angels' hands and rest them in communion with the saints. Children, all around us, are left in poverty, with no one telling them the Gospel, no one carrying them to the healing font of Holy Baptism. Our own children are left lying at the gate, because we parents are too lazy, too self-absorbed, too busy with this life to bring them - not just here to Services and Sunday School - but too busy ogling this world to bring them consolation of the Gospel in our homes.

If we only give them what we waste, our crumbs, a few minutes a day, which we would otherwise spend catching up on Paris Hilton, that would be more than they are getting! And what about our friends and family and neighbors? Open up your mouths and give them crumbs, at least. You are RICH, dear people. God has sent His Son and He has died for you. Risen again, He has washed you, clothed you - and that is better than wearing purple or Armani. It guarantees your names are known by God in heaven. In fact, they're written in His Book of Life. In view of that, I forgive you all your sins. And He Who gave His Life for you, FEASTS you with His Body and His Blood in bread and wine. That makes you rich. Rich enough that no one in your life need go without the sound of treasure being cast their way, of comfort being given - not from the tongues of dogs - but from the mouths of God's own Beggars saying, "We are close to the fire ourselves! We worship what will burn and ignore the Beggar in our Midst - both the One Who died and rose for us and those He's given us to help. We should be nameless, but we aren't. We have Baptism and Absolution and this Supper and the preaching of Christ by Moses, the Prophets, the Holy Evangelists and Apostles. Because of that, we have a Name to trust in, above all other names. Indeed, our help is in the Name of the Lord!" In Jesus' Name, Amen

Easter 7 sermon (Maiya's baptism)

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

John 17:20-26; Rev. 22:1-20/Easter7.07

The Lord prays for you, children. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, but before He went away - before He ascended above all heavens that He might fill all things and so be with you always - He prayed for you. He thought of you. He asked His Father that you be saved from YOU and all the ways you want to spin off into the abyss.

Our Lord does not comport Himself with modern notions of individuality. This godless age instructs us to think only of ourselves, to follow our hearts, wherever they may lead us. If you don't feel a certain way, then go whatever way delights you, strikes your fancy, floats your boat, rings your bell, gratifies your lust. Nothing new in that. The devil got that going in the Garden, and Eve, when she saw for herself - contrary to the Word of God - that the fruit was good for eating, she took some and she ate.

The oldest religion after what God laid down when He first spoke to Adam, the oldest religion Satan sowed within man's heart, says: "Every man for himself." At least, "Every man to his own religion, his own feelings, his own opinions and interpretations." Jesus prays against all that. He prays for you, saying, "I do not ask for these only," meaning His Twelve, "but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us." He prays that we may be "perfectly one."

Now that just blows apart the way that men so often speak. Even Lutherans tell me, "Well, not every Lutheran believes EVERYTHING that we confess, Pastor." If not, then stay away. If you don't want to give Jesus His prayer today, and don't want to be "perfectly one" in everything He says, then you must stay away from this Communion. Come talk to me, though, and tell me, "I don't want to give Jesus His prayer. I have my own opinion about things, so, clearly - I need more prayers, pastor, for repentance and faith; clearly, I am on the verge of needing excommunication, so that I take seriously what Jesus desires. Forgive me, father, for I have sinned. Please, help me to do better."

That's the ONLY thing that I can tell you, dear Christians. Because Jesus is just so all-fired sure there's NOTHING more He wants in all the earth than to have us all together in the one true Faith, in the same confession, the same Gospel, the same Jesus. Please, get a-blaze over that.

That's the way that true evangelism goes, isn't it? Nothing lukewarm, saying it doesn't matter what people believe, but fired up over all that Jesus says! Remember, this same Jesus sent His Church out to make disciples of ALL nations, baptizing them into the One Name of the One True God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, adding that we teach "them to hold to EVERYTHING I have commanded you" - as if He really wants what He asks His Father for!

This Thursday, when a few of us were all together for Ascension Day, and this Friday, when this place was packed with about 130 for our school's graduation, the Word of God said this, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all nations." So, I pointed everyone here to Holy Baptism. I preached that Christ is present FOR us in the Holy Absolution and the Supper. Apart from this, Jesus doesn't do us any saving good. Jesus asked His Father that we would all be perfectly together in the same Faith, didn't He? So, who am I to deny Him what He asked for?

What a delight it was, then, to hear the older students read their essays on the importance of the Catechism. Now, I realize that almost NEVER do Lutherans equate the Catechism with evangelism. Even the CATECHISM doesn't seem to - and by that, I don't mean the part that Luther wrote, who was on the same page with Jesus and true unity of Faith. I mean the part somebody in our Synod put together. For the most part, they do a decent job. But here's the big boil on our Synodical nose that shows how apt we are to cut it off to spite our face. After Luther's Catechism, which so deftly lays out the Christian Faith - the Ten Commandments, by which we know God's will and how we are to live as Christians, by which we also come to know how miserably in sin we are - the Creed, by which we come to know God's will toward us, the Promise of the Gospel on account of Jesus' death in place of every sinner - the Lord's Prayer, by which we learn to speak as those Baptized in Christ the language of Faith, of dear children begging their dear Father - all of which is provided us, completely free, through Baptism, Absolution and the Supper of our Savior's Flesh and Blood in bread and wine -

After all of THAT, the newest printing of the Small Catechism has a little page in the back which provides a so-called "Salvation Outline." It reads, "The following seven points summarize basic information about the human condition and God's saving grace." Then, it proceeds to say - in seven points - SOME of, but LESS than what the Catechism just said in SIX! It says we're sinners, deserving of God's wrath. Ten Commandments. It says how God loved us in giving us His Son, who died and rose again for our salvation. The Creed. That's points 1 through 5 of the Outline. It's Parts One and Two of the Catechism. Then, the Outline says that Jesus offers us forgiveness of sins, but says NOTHING of the Means of Grace. The CATECHISM speaks of faith, in the Third Part on the Lord's Prayer, and then of the MEANS OF FAITH in Parts Four through Six; Baptism, Confession and the Lord's Supper.

Now, I'm not here to bash the new edition of the Small Catechism. As has been the case recently, our publishing house has given us another fine tool. But it seems we're still missing the point. Jesus prays that we may all be one - perfectly one - in the one true Faith. And we have inherited a fine little outline of that Faith in the Small Catechism. It's not the ONLY little outline we could use, for sure, but let's at least USE it, so that, as Jesus prays, "the world may know that" the Father sent Jesus, and that He loves us as He loves Jesus.

That's what one little boy confessed this Friday in his essay on the importance of the Catechism. He said, "People need to confess the Catechism so they don't think God is against them." What insight! And he's only in the 4th grade! He added, "They don't want to think that way - that God is against them - because then they can become evil." Whether he realizes it or not, he is getting close to saying the very thing that led Jesus to pray that we may all be one, perfectly together with Jesus and the Father and their Spirit in the Gospel!

What's the alternative? That we are left to our evil selves! That was aptly stated by another student when he started off his essay saying, "The Catechism is important to keep us from going crazy." Yes, because apart from the Faith outlined therein, we will only spin off in our own interpretations, our own ways of thinking and believing, and that's insanity. It is the evil that the other boy was speaking of, which leads us to the hurt and harm we do to one another ever day. It leads us to forget the Baptized children that we are, how God is now toward us in Jesus, and to put ourselves back under judgment, under wrath, to living like pigs and lying down with dogs.

The Revelation that we hear from today warns us, in no uncertain terms, how insane we are to frustrate Jesus' prayer, to go it on our own. The angel said to John, "Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy." That is, let those who want to run the show keep running it - all the way to hell. But those who, like the children who confessed this Friday night, recognize their need of being bounded by the Word of God, wrapped up in what the LORD has said and given them in Jesus and His saving Gifts, let them remain in the Faith given them in Holy Baptism and Confessed so plainly in the Catechism.

The Lord is coming soon, He says. Blessed are the ones wrapped up in Jesus and His Faith, in Jesus and His prayer that we be all together in the Promise of His Gospel. "Outside are dogs" - the ones Jesus says not to give what is Holy, His Body and His Blood; the ones who rip and tear at others; the ones whom Scripture says "return to their own vomit," loving evil, never learning, always going back to sin. "Outside are dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood."

That's the evil we are left with when we're left to ourselves. So, Jesus prays that we be rescued from all of that; that we be one with Him and one another in His Faith. That's the ONLY way that we are safe from all that we deserve. So, the Revelation says, "Blessed are those who wash their robes," who make them white in the Blood of the Lamb. They have the right to the tree of Life, the Foretaste of which we eat and drink today in Bread and Wine.

If left to ourselves, we dogs, we wishers and dreamers and believers in things other than God's Word and Promises; we idolaters and adulterers and murderers and thieves would be left out. Damned. Blessed are the Baptized and believing, however; the ones who are washed in Christ's death and resurrection. Blessed are you! Blessed are you who return to the waters of your Baptism daily through repentance and contrition, drowning your Old Adam, arising to live before God in righteousness and purity - that is, in this: "I forgive you all your sins!" Blessed are the Absolved, who confess they are dogs but desire what The Master has for them at His Table - His Body and Blood in bread and wine. This is the Tree of Life for you until you eat and drink of it in all its fullness in His Kingdom. Remain in that, dear Blessed Ones, and point all people to it.

Today, Maiya-Elise Beata Koenigs-Pruett joins the ranks of the Blessed Ones who are washed in the Blood of the Lamb! Such a big name for such a little girl, but today she receives a Name that's Bigger still: the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Today, Maiya-Elise is gathered together in the Faith of Jesus, which makes her TRULY blessed - Beata. For CHRIST believes her sins are now forgiven. HE believes that she is His and He is hers, and all her life will now be growing up to learn that this is so and what this means. Catechesis!

Many remain apart from such a living, active Faith, saying that Maiya is not old enough to DO what must be done by SINNERS if they hope to get into God's City. Such falsehood, attempting an end-run around the Gate, the Shepherd of the Sheep. Let those who insist on being the cause of their salvation go on in such evil. But let those who are righteous - SOLELY for Christ's sake - continue to wash their robes and live from the Tree of Life. Maiya-Elise, you are Baptized and believing because CHRIST died for you and pours out heaven here! Let the dogs bark, the MASTER has spoken! And He has prayed for you, and here today His prayer is answered. He continues praying, that you do not stray; that your parents keep you steadfast in the one true faith, and never - as so many others do - keep you from the One Who loves you so. Maiya, He loves you like this - not only does He pray for you, but He COMES to you, in answer to the Spirit and the Bride, who both pray, "Come."

Today, He did - for Maiya. And today, again, He does - for you and me, absolving us, and teaching us, and feeding us His Supper. He will come again, to take His washing ones into His City. Yes, I said "washing" ones. You see, as the children said this Friday night, "it is obvious that everyone needs to say the Catechism daily." That's washing - the present, active, going on in Jesus' Faith, in being ONE as He has prayed; confessing sins, confessing faith, beseeching God as children do their Father, believing that Baptism really saves, that Absolution is the Voice of Christ to save us, and that here - here in Bread and Wine, Jesus goes on feeding us the Tree of Life, His Body and His Blood, until He answers all our prayers and comes again in glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Holy Trinity

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

John 3:1-17/HolyTrinity.07

There's a saying: "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Well, today, our Lord tells one old dog, "You can't be saved otherwise." That is, "Unless one is born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God." And Nicodemus asks, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"

Our Lord's teaching on the necessity of Holy Baptism apparently seemed like some new-fangled trick to Nicodemus. Our Lord does His own share of marveling. "Are you a teacher of Israel," he asks, "and yet you do not understand these things?"

Dear Children, Baptized into the Name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, today is Holy Trinity Sunday. Learn again the New Things of God's Spirit, the New Things of Christ's Gospel, which are the fulfillment of all that God had put before His people. Things that Nicodemus knew about but didn't get, for they are only received from above. Things like the bronze serpent lifted up by Moses to point God's people to the Son, Who would be lifted up in death for our salvation.

When Our Lord says we must be born from above, He is saving us from that religion of the dust, religion of the flesh corrupted by the Serpent, inherited through Adam. That religions says, even though God's done His work of making us in His own image, in the image of God, male and female, in the likeness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit - even if the Holy Trinity has finished such work, the religion Adam gave us goes like this: "Still, we have to do SOMETHING to be like God."

Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, says Jesus. You must be born of the Spirit. That is being born from above, not from the will of man or any decision of a sinner, but born of God! So, Jesus condemns as false that belief so prevalent today that our salvation rests on something that we do. You must be born from above, says Jesus.

"From above" is a better way of translating the Greek, by the way. Usually, we hear, "born again." Born again Christians usually boast that they have given their lives to Jesus; that they have made some big decision for Christ, and so, have been born again.

When I was on vicarage in Green Bay, WI, a lady heard me preach. She apparently mistook me for whatever she was looking for in a preacher, so she asked me, "When were you born again?" I told her, "April 16, 1961, when my parents brought me to the font of Holy Baptism." She said, "No, when did you give your life to Jesus?"

Jesus speaks of entering the Kingdom and being born from above, as if they go together. No one is born dry. We are all born wet, being raised out of our amniotic fluid into the light. No one enters the Kingdom of heaven dry either. You must be born of Water and the Spirit, Jesus says, and that is Holy Baptism. At the Font you were named with the Triune God. He called you His. He gave you the Name which is above every name, the Name of Jesus, which is His alone to give out as He pleases, and He gives it out like this: "Go, therefore, and make disciples - baby Christians, newborn babes who crave pure spiritual milk - make disciples of ALL nations - young and old, male and female, adult and infant - in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." That's being born from above.

We all are born into God's Kingdom wet with the Water and Word, and thereby drowned and raised again. St. Paul says in Romans chapter 6, We were buried with Christ through Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may walk in newness of life. Washed in Jesus. Clothed in Jesus. His life, death and resurrection laid on you. HIS work, not yours; given to you. Like life and love and your parents' name were all given you freely on the day that you were born from below.

Do you marvel at this, that such being born of God in Holy Baptism is necessary? Don't be such an old dog that you can't learn something new from Jesus. Nicodemus, according to John's Gospel, comes around to such a heavenly way thinking and believing. By the end of the Gospel, he is asking for the body of Christ.

That is always the direction of believing, from the font to the Body and Blood of Jesus, so please, don't go drying off Christ's Words today and making them a desert. That's what people do with that well-known verse, John 3:16. There is great comfort there, for sure, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. But please, don't pull believing out of Jesus' Word and Water. That's like yanking fish out of the fish bowl. How long will they survive?

When Jesus speaks of believing, He means, "Believe in My Word. Believe in My Gifts. Believe in all that I have given you through Word and Water, Bread and Wine." That's believing all wrapped up in Jesus, in what He says and does and gives.

Read John 1 thru 4 this week. In John 1, the Baptizer is baptizing in the Jordan. He testifies to how he saw the Spirit descend upon the Son of God - wet with His baptism - as the Father spoke from above. In John 2, Jesus changes plain, ordinary water into the finest of wine. In John 3, Jesus speaks about Baptism to Nicodemus. By the end of that chapter, we read that Jesus is baptizing more people than the Baptist, who is explaining how those who are born from above all leave him to follow Jesus and His Baptism with water and the Spirit. Finally, just before Jesus points a woman to His living water, John 4:1 tells us, again, that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than the Baptist.

When John 3:16 uses that little word "believe," don't think that Christ is drying off our faith. No way! Faith is always in Jesus, in the Word of God IN THE WATER! It is always in Christ's suffering and death GIVEN TO US. Believing is wet with Jesus and His saving Gifts.

It's easy, if we think that we are something in God's eyes, to dry faith off, to pull it - and ourselves!- away from God's saving work in Holy Baptism, or His saving Gifts at this Table. We no longer need our ears wet with God's promises or our lips wet with Christ's Blood, when we think that we are something before God. That can only get us - well - what you get when you pull fish out of water. So pay attention! When Jesus says, "God so loved the world," He isn't saying that God was just so head-over-heels in love with you and me He had to save us, but that God loved the world THUSLY. In THIS way, God loved the world - that He gave His only-begotten Son, Who died for us and rose again.

Now, that doesn't mean that God - Who is love - didn't love the world. He does. So, don't go being an old dog and refuse to learn a new thing today. By reading John 3:16 the way we should, we run the heart of God through Jesus, not through ANYTHING we are or do. It's not that God saw something good in us, something savable in us, something that made His heart go pitter-patter. That, finally, is what leads so many to think that faith is all dried off from Holy Baptism, doesn't have a thing to do with being baptized, absolved or Body and Blood fed. When people think God just went ga-ga over us and so He saved us, they think: "Why then must I be baptized, or my children? God is just as ga-ga over babies as we parents are, so why do they need Baptism to save them from their sins?" Old dogs refusing new tricks.

Jesus says, "Unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven." BELIEVE that! Whoever believes that will never perish but have eternal life. Whoever does not believe will be condemned, and Jesus didn't come so that we're all condemned, but so the world is saved through Him. All nations. Baptized and instructed in the One True Faith. Bar none. That's what Jesus came for.

And that's the catholic Faith, dear Christians, which we confess and teach. Ah, there's a new one: We believe the holy, CATHOLIC and apostolic Faith! Apart from the catholic Faith, confessing that God the Father loved the world like this - He gave God the Son to die upon a cross for us, and now, God the Holy Spirit buries us in that through Holy Baptism, bathes us in it, raises us up in it, gives us faith in it and all the Gifts that go along with it! Apart from that, we can't be saved.

We confessed the catholic Faith in the Athanasian Creed this morning. Lots of Lutherans have their heads spinning right about now. They didn't realize we're catholic, that is, in step with the faith and practice which the Church has always held. They thought this wasn't our grandfather's synod anymore! Holy Trinity Sunday is always such a wakeup call for Lutherans!

I wish we'd all wake up a bit more and learn not to take for granted what we have. We have the Name of God the Holy Trinity upon us. You are holy ones because of that; your whole lives are holy because of that, so treat each other as if it's fearful to abuse the holy things of God. It is!

Isaiah trembled to be in the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy One of Israel. Hear how the seraphim confess the Trinity? Hear how we, with angels, confess the same each time we gather in the liturgy of Jesus' Supper? The ancient liturgy of St. James, which we're looking at on Wednesdays, teaches us anew that Christ is the two-natured coal, True God and True Man, Who was consumed in sacrifice for us upon a cross. Here, that coal of double nature touches your sinful lips, as He did Isaiah's, and He takes your sins away. He makes you holy, cleansing you, so you might be about your lives of holy living.

You'll never get old enough to find an end to learning what that means, your standing before God in Jesus and what it means for your living before each other. Your guilt is atoned for. See, this takes your sin away. Though unworthy and unclean, the God Who made you makes you right in God the Son, Who sends His Holy Spirit so you are comforted, so you believe, so you put off your sins, confessing to each other and setting aside your differences. So reconciled, thusly united to God and one another, you bring your gifts: your sins, your prayers, your lives of loving one another. And rising from the unsearchable riches of God's grace in Jesus, you live from Him, through Him, and to Him, for the benefit of everyone around you. In Jesus' Name, Amen

Easter 6 sermon (Mother's Day)

Pastor Rick Sawyer
Shepherd Lutheran Church
Brandon, MS

Rev. 21:9-14, 21-27; John 16:21-33/Easter6.07

She is a lovely Lady, and no matter how long we live, how old we get, She remains as beautiful as the Day we were born - from above, that is. No, I am not speaking of our earthly mothers. We'll get to them. I'm speaking of the Mother from Whose Womb we have eternal life, and at Whose Bosom we are succored in this life, until the Life to come. I am speaking of the Mother Whose Voice is the Voice of Christ; the Holy, Catholic - which means universal - and Apostolic Church; the Bride, of Whom we hear this morning in God's Word.

St. John, on the isle of Patmos, saw a vision of that Holy and Precious Mother. One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came to St. John, saying, "Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb."

Call her Mother, for that is what She is. Read Genesis 3 and learn how She is the One Whom Eve was pointing to, as Adam pointed all the world to Christ. Out of Adam's side the Lord brought Eve while Adam slumbered. While our Lord was sleeping that Great Sleep of death upon the cross for us, a soldier pierced His side and out flowed blood and water, witness of the Bride and how she bears and succors children.

Jesus speaks about the agony of bringing forth the Church, His children. As Isaiah put it, "His Name shall be Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting FATHER, Prince of Peace." Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the World! His Wife, His Bride, is the Church, and She, by Him, is the Mother of all the Living.

That's what Adam called Eve, remember? when she had been brought from Adam's side. Learn from that today to dispel whatever lies men speak against the Gospel. And they speak plenty, even twisting the glory of Christ's Church into shame.

We all know how it goes when men take wives. They propose. They try to win a girl, who then considers the offer and gives her answer. And young ladies - BE PICKY! Choose a man who is faithful, dependable, responsible, upright. Choose one who is godly, who will not compromise your integrity, virginity, your chastity or faith. If you falter in any of that, make sure he is one who will go WITH you to your pastor for forgiveness. And if he isn't yet a Lutheran, make sure he is willing, or at least that he doesn't get in the way of YOUR being one, or hinder your bringing your children TO the womb of Holy Mother Church and then UP on Her knees, suckled on the Word and Sacraments of Jesus.

In terms of earthly betrothals, ladies, you DO make a choice, so make a good one, and pray God's strength to help you keep the choice and promise that you make. Young men, you do the same. But in terms of our heavenly betrothal, READ GOD'S WORD! The Bride of Christ is heavenly, from above. She is brought from Jesus' side through Word and Water, Bread and Wine; created in His image by Holy Baptism and Holy Supper, the very Blood and Body of our Savior.

Eve did not DECIDE to be the wife of Adam. The Church did not DECIDE to be the Wife of Christ. Read Ezekiel 16. We were BETROTHED to Him, as God brought Eve to Adam and ADAM said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Eve was united with Adam by the Giving of the Father and the speaking of her husband.

So, the Church is bone of Christ's bone and Flesh of His Flesh. She is Christian, because She has Her life, Her image, from Christ. As the Virgin Mary WAS betrothed - presumably by her parents - to be married to Joseph, the Church is betrothed by the Father to be the Wife and Bride of His Son. And by that Son, by His death and resurrection, by His agony and Bloody sweat by which He toiled and labored on the cross for our salvation and the reconciliation of this world - by that, the Church brings forth Her children. Such joy!

Children, you were brought forth by the actions of others, by the love of your earthly father and mother. Today is Mother's Day and it's good to be reminded that we didn't have a thing to do with our conception or birth. Mom - YOU DID IT ALL! You labored, you agonized, you pushed, you brought me into this world and brought me up in the same! THANK YOU!

If children start to talk the way so many preachers do, that THEY had to WANT to be your children, had to DECIDE to be your children, had to ACCEPT you as their mother - Moms, if you aren't a practitioner of corporal punishment, I hope you become one - fast! at least to stem such a tide of thankless pride and rudeness! Make sure your children learn that life is GIVEN them. They receive it JUST because somebody said it's theirs. They accept it and live it, as those who know how to receive in thanksgiving, not twisting life and love into some horrendous excuse for the godless ways men go about destroying one another and themselves! God forbid! Life is such a precious gift!

Children, JESUS labored for you on the cross. HE agonized and sweated and THAT brought you life. You will find a LOT of preachers who will tell you, "Sure, Jesus did HIS part, but what decides that you're a child of God is what YOU do with it." God will punish such liars in His own time. Don't have a thing to do with them.

I actually heard a mother recently admit that her church believes you have to accept Jesus in order to be saved. I said, "My daughters never accepted me, yet they're my kids. I gave them life. And now, they make me proud, which is as it should be. They have become fine young Christian women who confess God's work in Holy Baptism, even to strangers, and remain in the receiving of God's Word and Sacraments."

The lady said, "Well, I think we're all just saying the same thing in different ways." That's when her little boy walked up. I put my hand on his head and told him, "If you haven't accepted your mother as your mother, she is not your mother. If you haven't decided, with all your heart, that you want to be her son, then you are not her son." I looked at that mother and said, "Is THAT the same as what you tell him?" It was not.

Ladies, pick men who know the Gospel. If they don't yet, bring them here to me. If they refuse to come, then pray they do not hinder you in any way from living, as the Bride of Christ, from the side of your Husband Jesus; from His Promises to you and to your children in Holy Baptism; from His tender voice that calls you forgiven; from His Body and His Blood for you in bread and wine. These are the engagement ring He places on the finger of His Church. Let no one rob them from you!

If your household won't be Christian with you, pray for them. Ask the Father Who has given you to Jesus, ask Him in your True Husband's Name, and He will answer. It is His desire that your joy be full. If only we were more desperate for such joy, to have the ones we love this side of heaven safe and secure in the Bosom of the Mother Who raises up Her children in the Confidence of being God's sons, teaching us to storm the throne of heaven, expecting God to pay attention!

Pray that God make you a Lydia, so that your whole household dwells within the Bride of Christ, raised upon Her knees, learning how to sing and confess the Voice of Christ. Such a sweet lullaby by which God teaches us the way He is toward us, and how we are to be toward one another, serving in love, suckled and succored and strengthened in Christ, until we join the saints around the throne of the Lamb in His Kingdom, the foretaste of which we have today.

But be careful. Having brought your children to the Womb of Christ, the Font, do not neglect to feed them, or be fed yourselves. Mother's Milk is a good defense against infection and disease. That is why St. Peter writes, "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk." Crave the hearing and receiving of God's Word, at any age, mother, father, child, whoever you are! Grow up in it - not only on Sunday mornings - both in the Divine Service and in Bible Class - but also in your homes. YOU ARE NOT TOO BUSY for the Word of God!

If those you love were dying, would you say, "We're just too busy to get them help. The hospital's far away. And we're busy"? Then don't pretend that you can't manage to provide your children and yourselves the Colostrum you need (look it up!), which God provides in the pure spiritual milk of His Gospel and His Sacraments rightly administered. Keep yourselves away, and you will starve, you and your household, and thereby you will lose divine grace. As the angel says, "Nothing unclean will ever enter (into the Holy City) nor anyone who does what is detestable or false," and what is more detestable than to let God's children starve to death, when Food is near, available and free?

Members of the Bride of Christ, learn today from the account of that godly woman, Lydia, that it is God alone Who opens hearts to pay attention to the preaching and the teaching of His Word; to value the adornment of His Word and Sacraments the way a woman shows off and values the diamond some man gives her. Ladies, your husband is to represent Christ to you, and you - when you walk down the aisle dressed in white, perhaps led by the cross in procession - and surely, as you bear children and raise them up in the Gospel, in the white robes of their baptism . . . you represent the Church, the Bride and Wife of the Lamb. Only God can open hearts to say, "Amen!" to that.

So, pray. For yourselves, that you believe these things, that you believe the GOSPEL - that heaven's yours because it's Christ's, and He has opened up His side to make what's His - life and salvation - yours! As Lydia led her whole household - adults and children - to Holy Baptism, you, continue living from the same. Such faithfulness to the Lord! Pray God to open the hearts of all you love, your spouse, your children, your neighbors, your friends, and to keep them open; open to the speaking that says, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. You shall be called MY Wife, MY Bride, because I AM your Savior, Your Husband, the Lamb. I laid down My Life for you, and that saves you. I opened My side. That brought you forth, in My image. Now, I have nothing but joy over you - despite your failings, your faults, your sins." As mothers delight in their children, even though they disappoint them, what joy Christ has now over you! He forgets your sins the way a woman forgets about the pain of childbirth. He has His Children, washed clean, forgiven! He has His Bride, beautiful and lovely, and forever - living from His Side. In Jesus' Name, Amen