Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary

Today we remember and give thanks for Elizabeth of Hungary.  Born in Pressburg, Hungary, in 1207, Elizabeth was the daughter of King Andrew II and his wife Gertrude. Given as a bride in an arranged political marriage, Elizabeth became the wife of Louis of Thuringia in Germany at the age of 14. She had a spirit of Christian generosity and charity, and the home she established for her husband and three children in the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach was known for its hospitality and family love. Elizabeth often supervised the care of the sick and needy and even gave up her bed to a leper at one time. Widowed at the age of 20, she made provisions for her children and entered into an austere life as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis. Her self-denial led to failing health and an early death in 1231 at the age of 24. Remembered for her self-sacrificing ways, Elizabeth is commemorated through the many hospitals named for her around the world.

Collect of the Day:
Mighty King, whose inheritance is not of this world, inspire in us the humility and benevolent charity of Elizabeth of Hungary.  She scorned her bejeweled crown with thoughts of the thorned one her Savior donned for her sake and ours, that we, too, might live a life of sacrifice, pleasing in Your sight and worthy of the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus, who with the Holy Spirit reigns with You forever in the everlasting kingdom.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Culture news: Time for pastors to get out of the government marriage business?

As the government "redefines" marriage to include two people of the same sex, R.R. Reno argues that it is time for the Church to get out of what has become the government marriage business.  He writes:
It’s time to make a clear distinction between the government-enforced legal regime of marriage and the biblical covenant of marriage. In the past, the state recognized marriage, giving it legal forms to reinforce its historic norms. Now the courts have redefined rather than recognized marriage, making it an institution entirely under the state’s control. That’s why it’s now time to stop speaking of civil marriage and instead talk about government marriage—calling it what it is.

As the legal reality of marriage changes, we must also act. If the churches continue as if nothing has changed, the message is that for all our strong words nothing really decisive is at stake. It’s now time, then, to think long and hard about what we need to do—or refuse to do.

I can’t see how a priest or pastor can in good conscience sign a marriage license for “Spouse A” and “Spouse B.” Perhaps he should strike those absurdities and write “Husband” and “Wife.” Failing that he should simply refuse the government’s delegation of legal power, referring the couple to the courthouse after the wedding for the state to confect in its bureaucratic way the amorphous and ill-defined civil union that our regime continues to call “marriage.”
Those who hold to the biblical view of marriage often speak about the possibility of being forced to officiate at same sex marriages.  But Reno raises a very good question when he asks whether pastors should be involved in any way with the marriage of an entity that defies God's ordering of creation.  Perhaps it is not time yet, and we still need to see what will happen on the issue.  However, it is a question we need to take seriously.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sermon for the Twenty-second Sunday in Trinity

                                                                                    Trinity 22
                                                                                    Mt 18:21-35

            I’m going to start out a little differently this morning. Raise your hand if you have purchased something on during 2014.  Raise your hand.  It’s not surprising to look around and see all of the people who have used Amazon – after all, they had over 74 billion dollars in sales last year – up from 25 billion dollars in 2009.
            Amazon was launched in 1995, and as those sales numbers indicate, it has grown by leaps and bounds.  There are lots of us who use it because you can get many things there – especially books – for a good price.  You can get them shipped to you quickly, and if there are problems - in my experience and that of others with whom I have talked – you get good customer service.
            All of that describes the experience as a consumer.  If you are in a business where you have to deal with Amazon, things are little different.  Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos has developed a reputation of being a ruthless competitor in the business world.  As Amazon’s position and influence has grown, he has used that leverage to squeeze publishers and suppliers.
            In dealing with smaller publishing houses Bezos said that Amazon, “should approach these small publishers the way a cheetah would pursue a sickly gazelle.”  And in fact, the group that dealt with these publishers was called the Gazelle project … at least until Amazon’s lawyers demanded that it be renamed the Small Publishers Negotiation Program.
            Amazon executives pressure publishers to give them ever better financial arrangements.  They accomplish this by doing things like moving their books to full price, taking their books off of the recommendation engine in their computer system, or promoting competing titles until the publisher gives Amazon better terms.
            Now this is, of course, the business world.  In that arena people aren’t looking to make friends – they are looking to make money.  It is often a brutal world in which your success means that someone else suffers.  There isn’t all that much room for being nice to your competitors or people who owe money if you want to be successful.  As the expression goes that is used to justify actions: “It’s just business.”
            In our Gospel lesson this morning, we hear about a king who does something shocking.  He makes what can only be described as a terrible business decision.  His action is not guided by the bottom line, but instead by compassion for a servant.  In his parable this morning, our Lord Jesus teaches us that this is the way our heavenly Father deals with us. And because he does so, this is the way we are to deal with one another.
            Just prior to this morning’s text, Jesus had said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.”  Jesus instructs his disciples that when wronged they are to go and tell what they have done – just between the two of them.  And lest you think that the only time you would go to another person is to confront them about some wrong they have done to you, Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
            Jesus speaks about the need for reconciliation – no matter whether you have been wronged or you have wronged another person.  You are not to let things fester.  Note that our Lord doesn’t say that you should wait until the other person makes the first move.  He doesn’t say that you should wait for them to apologize.  He doesn’t say that you should tell other people about it, and in doing so harm the reputation of the one who wronged you.  Instead says that if you have been wronged, you are to go and tell the neighbor – just between the two of you. The situation needs to be addressed so that peace can be restored. And of course the key element in this process will be forgiveness.
            Peter picked up on this fact.  And so in our text he asks a question: “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?”  Peter asks a question which is based on counting and keeping score.  He asks about how many times has to forgive, and then suggests what seems like a very generous number: seven times.
            This is how things always go when they are run in the way of the law.  The law is about keeping count.  It keeps count in order to put limits on grace and mercy.  It says, “You only get so much, and then I am cutting you off.” And then the law can get back to what it does – telling you to do and earn. After all, there is no such thing as a free lunch.
            Yet that is not the way that Jesus and the Gospel run things. And so in our text, Jesus replies, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”  Peter says seven time and Jesus responds, “Think bigger.”  He provides a number that is not really a number but instead makes the point that Peter’s attempt to limit forgiveness is all wrong.
            To illustrate his point, our Lord tells a parable about a servant who owed money to a king. The kind decided to clean up the books and settle accounts.  It was discovered that there was a servant who owed him ten thousand talents.  To put this in some perspective, at the rate of a denarius a day, it would take more than a thousand years for the servant to pay this back.  It was impossible.  It was never going to happen.
            And so the king decided to cut his losses.  He ordered that servant should be sold into slavery, along with his wife and children, and that all his possessions should be sold.  After all, it was just business.
            The servant responded with a pathetic plea.  We hear in our text, “So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’”  It was an absurd statement.  But rather than laughing at the servant, the king did something surprising. He had compassion on the man.  And because he had compassion he released the servant and forgave the debt.
            This is a description of what God, the King, has done for you.  Your sins of thought, word and deed are all an affront to the holy God.  They all demand God’s wrath. And yet rather than directing that wrath against you, the Father sent the Son into the world in the incarnation.  He received that judgment and wrath in your place on the cross.  As Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 
            That forgiveness is now received through faith – faith in Jesus Christ who loved you and gave himself up for you.  And even that faith is not your own doing.  It is a gift of God as the Holy Spirit called you by the Gospel and enlightened you through Holy Baptism.  Your debt that could never be removed by you has been forgiven by God because of Jesus Christ.
            Our Lord continued the parable by describing how the servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him  
a hundred denarii.  This was sizeable debt – about three months’ wages – but certainly not insurmountable.  However seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ In the same words just spoken by the servant before the king his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ However, the servant refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.
            The other servants were very disturbed by what had taken place.  They went they and reported to their master what had happened. Then the king summoned the servant and said to him, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”  In anger the king delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.  And Jesus concluded the parable by saying, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
            I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?  There are people who hurt you; who wrong you.  Yet the parable reminds us that anything they have done is inconsequential when compared to your sin that God in Christ has forgiven.  The compassion; the mercy; the love that God has extended to you in Christ defies all measurement because it covers a lifetime of sin.  You were unlovable, and yet God loved you as he forgave you and claimed you as his own.
            And that fact changes everything.  It is not possible to receive this grace and love, and then refuse to share it with others.  God’s forgiveness is the commodity that you can only keep by giving it away.  You can only have it by sharing it.
            This means that you cannot choose to hold things against people.  You cannot choose to hate people.  You cannot choose to be angry with people.  It is true, your emotions may want to stay there. But forgiveness is an act of the will.  It is the recognition that you can’t knowingly continue to hold something against a person.  Instead you must forgive.  And then you pray that God through the work of the Spirit will move your emotions.  You receive the Means of Grace seeking this, knowing that you want to feel at peace with the forgiveness you have granted.
            This truth stands at the core of being a Christian.  The forgiveness you have received in Christ, is the forgiveness that you then share with others.  It is the way the Christian life has to work, or at some point you cease to be a Christian because you cease to be forgiven. That is what you say every time you pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
            It is the truth that you live out in your marriage, in your family, at church, at school and at work. God’s forgiveness for you is the treasure that you share with others. And because you  share it, it will never run out.          


Friday, November 14, 2014

Postcard Blitz of White House for Imprisoned Christian Saeed Abedini

Saeed Abedini is a Christian and American citizen who is imprisoned in Iran because he is a Christian. Currently the American government is engaged in discussions with Iran about their nuclear program.  The American Center for Law and Justice is organizing a postcard blitz of the White House in order to remind President Obama that Saeed needs to be included in these discussions.

For those who wish to use them, postcards are available with the message:

Mr. President,
A man in your position has been given great power and responsibility to represent every American, whether on domestic or foreign soil.  Please hold to your own words, that no one is left behind.  We, the American people, ask you to do everything within your power to bring U.S. citizen, pastor, husband & father, Saeed Abedini, home to his family from his time of incarceration in Iran.
 This is a small way to help this brother imprisoned for Christ. 

Commemoration of Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ

Today we remember and give thanks to God for Justinian, Christian Ruler and Confessor of Christ.  Justinian was emperor of the East from A.D. 527 to 565 when the Roman Empire was in decline. With his beautiful and capable wife, Theodora, he restored splendor and majesty to the Byzantine court. During his reign the Empire experienced a renaissance, due in large part to his ambition, intelligence, and strong religious convictions. Justinian also attempted to bring unity to a divided church. He was a champion of orthodox Christianity and sought agreement among the parties in the Christological controversies of the day who were disputing the relation between the divine and human natures in the Person of Christ. The Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople in A.D. 533 was held during his reign and addressed this dispute. Justinian died in his eighties, not accomplishing his desire for an empire that was firmly Christian and orthodox.

Collect of the Day:
Lord God, heavenly Father, through the governance of Christian leaders such as Emperor Justinian, Your name is freely confessed in our nation and throughout the world.  Grant that we may continue to choose trustworthy leaders who serve You faithfully in our generation and make wise decisions that contribute to the general welfare of Your people; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.