Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr

Today we remember and give thanks for Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr.  Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Syria at the beginning of the second century A.D. and an early Christian martyr. Near the end of the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117), Ignatius was arrested, taken in chains to Rome, and eventually thrown to the wild beasts in the arena. On the way to Rome, he wrote letters to the Christians at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, and also to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. In the letters, which are beautifully pastoral in tone, Ignatius warned against certain heresies (false teachings). He also repeatedly stressed the full humanity and deity of Christ, the reality of Christ’s bodily presence in the Lord’s Supper, the authority of the bishop, and the unity of the Church found in her bishops. Ignatius was the first to use the word catholic to describe the universality of the Church. His Christ-centeredness, his courage in the face of martyrdom, and his zeal for the truth over against false doctrine are a lasting legacy to the Church. 

Collect of the  Day:
Almighty God, we praise Your name for Ignatius of Antioch, pastor and martyr.  He offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts so that he might present to You the pure bread of sacrifice.  Accept the willing tribute of all that we are and all that we have, and give us a portion in the pure and unspotted offering of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sermon for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity - 1 Co 1:4-9

                                                                                                Trinity 18
                                                                                                1 Cor 1:4-9

            I am correct in assuming that you don’t read your neighbor’s mail … right?  I am sure that you don’t go up to your neighbor’s mailbox and open their mail to see what is going on in their life.  You don’t open their credit card statement to see what they have been buying and whether they have any debt.  You don’t open their mortgage statement to see how much they still owe on their house.  You don’t open any medical bills to see what kind of tests or procedures they have had recently.  You don’t do this because it would be rude and completely inappropriate.  It is also, by the way, illegal.  It is a federal crime to open intentionally another person’s mail, punishable by up to three years in prison.
            So if you would never do it at home, why are you doing here at church?  Here are you are, reading the Corinthians’ mail.  Well ok, actually I am the one who reads it to you, but we are all in this together.  After all you knew I was going to do it.  I do it pretty much every Sunday and none of you have ever raised any objections about it.
            While I speak this introduction in jest, it does highlight something that we just take for granted in the Church.  Paul’s letters are in the Bible.  They are Scripture. They are God’s Word.  And so of course, we read them in church.  But at the same time they are also real letters that were sent to a particular group of people.  When we read them, we are reading someone else’s mail.  We are reading letters that often are addressing specific concerns and issues in that particular church.
            You can see this in our text today from 1 Corinthians, if you know where to look. Paul’s letters begin with an opening address.  So, he begins this letter by saying: “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
            After the opening address, almost all of Paul’s letters sent to a congregation next have a thanksgiving.  Here Paul expresses thanks to God because of what he has done in Christ for those Christians, along with some aspect of how they are now living in the faith. So in our text he writes: “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge-- even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you-- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
            It is clear that Paul’s letters were to be received as if the apostle himself were present there speaking to the congregation.  They were “long distance sermons.”  The convention in the ancient world was that an address began with praise of the audience.  The speaker “warmed them up” for his message by first telling them something they liked to hear.
            Paul does this in the thanksgivings of his letters … but with a twist.  Paul’s thanksgivings usually introduce subjects that he is going to talk about in the letter.  Sometimes those are subjects that will involve correcting errors in belief and practice among those Christians. That is certainly the case here.
            Paul says that he gives thanks to his God because in every way the Corinthians have been enriched in Christ in all speech and all knowledge.  He says that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift and that the Lord will sustain them to the end, guiltless. And then he adds, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
            If fact, this is a list of problems at Corinth that Paul is about to address.  Speech: The Corinthians thought that were superior spiritual people and they were focused on speaking in tongues because it showed how superior they were.  Knowledge: The Corinthians thought that their knowledge about the triune God being the only true God permitted them to eat food in any pagan cultic setting they wanted.  Spiritual gift: The Corinthians wanted to focus on tongues rather than the whole range of gifts the benefit the Body of Christ. Blameless: The Corinthians did not see sexual sin in their midst as being contradictory to the Christian faith.  Fellowship: The wealthy Corinthians were mistreating the poor ones in the very setting where the Lord’s Supper was celebrated.
            If St. Paul wrote a letter today to Good Shepherd, what would he be mentioning in the thanksgiving section of the letter?  I think he would give thanks for the manner in which Christ’s Means of Grace are valued here.  I think he would give thanks for the way this congregation welcomes people in Christ.
            But what else would he mention as he introduced the problems – the sin he wanted to address?  Would he mention knowledge?: That because we have the sure knowledge of our baptism, we feel that sin is not really something against which we need to struggle? – After all, we are forgiven.  Would he mention blameless?: That more and more we take on the world’s views about sex? – Sure I watch some porn, who doesn’t?; - Sure I am having sex with my girlfriend or my daughter is living with her boyfriend, that’s just what people do these days.  What else would he mention?
            In our text, we hear some of the major problems at Corinth that Paul is going to address in the letter.  There is some bad stuff there.  If you take an honest look at yourself – you’ll find bad stuff there too. You will find sin. But remember that Paul’s opening address is just as true for you as it was for the Corinthians: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.”
            You have been called by God.  Through baptism and the Word the Holy Spirit gave you faith in Jesus Christ.  As Paul says in our text, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus.”  You have received God’s grace – his undeserved loving favor. He has given this unmerited and undeserved love to you in his Son Jesus Christ who offered himself for you on the cross.
            Because of Jesus you are saints – you are holy ones in Christ Jesus.  He is the One “who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Already now, you are ready for the judgment of the Last Day.  The sins of the past can’t change that.  As Paul says in chapter six: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
            We don’t live as people who are bound by chains of guilt about the past. You have been freed by Christ!  You are forgiven.  You are a saint.  Through his Spirit, Christ gives us all we need so that we can live with eager expectation.  Paul says in our text “that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
            Our present – the way we live right now – is determined by the fact that the crucified Christ is now the risen and ascended Lord.  Paul lays it on the line in chapter 15 as he says, “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  Jesus Christ has risen from the dead!  This fact trumps everything.  It conquers every problem and difficulty you are facing because you have a certain hope.  No matter what twists and turns your life may take, you know that you have victory in Christ – you know how it ends.  It ends with the return of Jesus Christ who will raise your body to be like his.  And so as Paul says, “you eagerly wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
            With the living hope of the resurrection, we eagerly wait for our Lord.  But that eager waiting turns out to be a very active thing.  It is a life lived on the basis of the hope we have in Christ.  So, seek to live as what God has made you to be.  We are a new creation in Christ.  Our hope filled lives now seek to live like it. 
            Corinth was the home of the Isthmian games – an athletic competition like the Olympics in Athens. When Paul talks about this aspect of the Christian life, he uses athletic metaphors as he says in chapter nine: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
            This desire to live in ways that are true to God’s will; this effort to resist sin and live in love towards others is produced by faith – faith in Jesus Christ.  It is made possible and led by the Spirit who created that faith and sustains it.  It does not find its source in us, but instead in God.  And at the end of our text Paul reminds us about good news that we need to hear: “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
            Paul tells us that God is faithful. This means that he keeps his promises.  He is true to his word.  If he says you are forgiven in Christ and that you will share in his resurrection, then you will.  After all, he is the One who has called us into fellowship with his Son, our Lord Jesus.
            For us, this fellowship is experienced in a way that speaks to both our present and future.  Here at the Sacrament of the Altar we share in the fellowship of the body and blood of Christ.  Here, he gives you his body and blood given and shed for you. He gives you forgiveness in the present. 
            And by coming to us in this miraculous way – by coming into our midst bodily – our Lord assures us that he will come again on the Last Day.  We sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” for the One who comes to us in the Sacrament.  He comes to us now as he gives us his body and blood in, with and under bread and wine.  Through this gift he strengthens and sustains faith – faith that trusts in God who is faithful; faith that serves the neighbor. He does this so that, as Paul says in our text this morning, “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you eagerly wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”          

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Commemoration of Philip the Deacon

Today we remember and give thanks for Philip the Deacon.  Philip, also called the Evangelist  (Acts 21:8), was one of the seven men appointed to assist in the work of the twelve Apostles and of the rapidly growing early church by overseeing the distribution of food to the poor (6:1–6). Following the martyrdom of Stephen, Philip proclaimed the Gospel in Samaria and led Simon the Sorcerer to become a believer in Christ (8:4–13). He was also instrumental in bringing about the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26–39), through whom Philip became indirectly responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus to the people on the continent of Africa. In the town of Caesarea he was host for several days to the Apostle Paul, who stopped there on his last journey to Jerusalem (21:8–15). 

Collect of the Day:
Almighty and everlasting God, we give thanks to You for Your servant Philip the Deacon.  You called him to preach the Gospel to the peoples of Samaria and Ethiopia.  Raise up in this and every land messengers of Your kingdom, that Your Church may proclaim the immeasurable riches of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Sermon for Trinity 17 - Lk 14:1-11

                                                                                    Trinity 17
                                                                                    Lk 14:1-11

            When you are eating with a group of people who are not family members, I doubt that you give all that much thought to where you are going to sit.  Any consideration you do give probably doesn’t go any farther than that you want to sit with people you know and with whom you want to visit.
            Our Gospel lesson this morning tells us that things were very different in the first century world of Palestine.  The ancient world was very concerned about status.  Now it is not as if we are unaware about status.  We recognize that there are neighborhoods, universities and occupations that carry more status than others.  But our experience of this really can’t compare with the way the ancient world valued status – how it desired to possess it and have it viewed by others.
            We see this today in the fact that places at a table eating were assigned specific levels of status.  Jesus notices that everyone at the meal is choosing the places of honor. There is a scramble to get the best seat possible.  And here “best” is determined by the status that the seat displays to others. A meal is an occasion to show others where you stand in society – an opportunity to show that you are more important than others.
            Our text begins by saying, “One Sabbath, when he went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.”  Now by the time we have arrived at this point in the Gospel, we know that there is going to be trouble.  The Pharisees have already watched Jesus to see if he will heal on the Sabbath.  The Sabbath has been a source of controversy between Jesus and the Pharisees on a couple of occasions.  Jesus has also dined twice at the home of a Pharisee, and each time there has been conflict.  So, when Jesus goes to eat, at the home of a ruler of the Pharisees, on the Sabbath … buckle up, because we know that things are going to get rough.
            Not unexpectedly we learn that that Pharisees were watching Jesus carefully.  A man with dropsy – severe edema – was present.  On this occasion, Jesus took the initiative by asking: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”  The Pharisees could see that their own legalism was being set in contrast to mercy and so they remained silent. Jesus healed the man and sent him away.
            Then he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?”  Jesus knew that the Pharisees made exceptions for this kind of action.  His argument goes from the lesser to the greater.  If they were willing to allow this kind of action in assisting on the Sabbath, how could they not allow the healing of a man?  Our Lord had the Pharisees caught in the inconsistency of their laws and hatred of Jesus.  They knew it, and they could not reply to these things.
            The Pharisees were watching Jesus closely. But we learn in our text that Jesus was watching them too.  He noticed that they were all choosing the places of honor.  So he spoke words that our text calls a “parable.” He said, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, 'Give your place to this person,' and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place.” To choose a place of honor, and then to be forced publicly to move to a lower spot would have been humiliating.
            So instead, Jesus gave this advice: “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
            Luke describes Jesus’ words as a “parable.”  We may find this puzzling because we often assume that a parable is story that Jesus tells in order to teach some deeper meaning, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan that we had in the Gospel lesson not long ago.  But the word “parable” actually has a broader meaning.  It can be applied to any saying or statement that is intended to convey something that goes beyond the surface meaning.
            Jesus is teaching about far more than meal etiquette. The Pharisees’ actions reveal something about their attitude and character.  Jesus had already said in chapter eleven, “Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces.” The Pharisees thought that they were better than other people, and they wanted people to see their status.  They wanted to call attention to their status in public settings.
            As fallen sinners, we always face the temptation to think we are better than those around us.  We often have an innate desire to compare ourselves to others.  And we feel better about ourselves when that comparison reveals that we are superior to others in some way.  I have a better job.  I have more money.  I have more education. I have a better house. I get better grades.  I am better at sports.  Feeling good about myself means putting the other person down below me.
            Of course, this strategy can backfire.  Because more often than we would like, there are people who rank higher than we do in these areas.  And when this happens, we begin to covet what they have. We begin to overlook the blessings God has given to us.  We begin to get irritated with God because he isn’t giving us all that we think he should.
            Instead of this, Jesus offers a different way as he says: “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you.  For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
            Jesus says that we are to choose the lowest place – the place of least honor.  Yet this action actually produces the opposite result. Choosing the least honored position leads to being honored.  As Jesus says at the end of our text, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
            Now this probably sounds counter intuitive – foolish even.  Yet remember that this is a parable. There is far more here than meets the eye because of the One who is speaking these words.  Jesus Christ is the One who humbled himself for you. He was numbered with the transgressors for you in spite of the fact that he had no sin. He humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross, in order to redeem you – in order to free you from sin.
            Jesus humbled himself all the way into a sealed tomb.  And then, God exalted him.  On the third day he raised Christ from the dead in the resurrection that will one day be yours.  He freed you from death because death cannot hold onto you.  Instead the New Testament calls it “sleep.” For those in Christ, it is no more threatening that an afternoon nap. God exalted Jesus Christ to his right hand.  He is the risen and ascended Lord who will return on the Last Day and raise your body from the dead. Death has already lost. That victory is yours in Christ.
            Yet for those who are in Christ through baptism, Jesus’ words do not only describe what the Lord had done for us. After all, Jesus speaks them to those present at the meal.  He describes a pattern of life that results from his own humble service for us.
            In the parable of Pharisee and the tax collector we heard about the tax collector who standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”  Jesus concluded that parable by saying, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” 
            Because Jesus humbled himself for us and is now exalted, the humility of repentance and confession of sin leads to the exaltation of forgiveness and justification.  We confess our sin in the confidence that because of Jesus it leads to the status of being a saint in God’s eyes.  It leads to the exaltation of being a justified Christian who is ready now for the judgment of the Last Day.
            And Jesus’ words this morning also describe a way of life that is produced by our Lord’s humility and exaltation.  It is a way of life that follows in the footsteps of our Lord. This means that we humble ourselves in the service of others. We willingly choose the lower place for the sake of others.
            For those in elementary, middle school and high school, this means showing kindness and acceptance towards those who are not popular – towards those who have no status in the social hierarchy of school.  For adults it means showing kindness and assistance towards those who can’t do anything for us.
            This sounds wasteful.  It sounds foolish.  But it is the way of the Christian life that follows Jesus.  Our Lord has already walked this way for us in order to reconcile us to God and give us the status of being saints.  He did this to free us from the clutch of death.  And he has already shown us were it leads as we follow our Lord.  As he says, today, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”