Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter - Cantate: James 1:16-21

                                                                                                Easter 5
                                                                                                James 1:16-21

            This past week our church’s seminaries in Ft. Wayne and St. Louis had their call services as fourth year students received the call to the first parish in which they are going to serve as pastor. Next year, James Peterson will have the experience of receiving his call at such a service.
            There is an old joke on the seminary campuses, which says: “You know what you call a seminarian who gets A’s? Pastor.  You know what you call a seminarian who gets C’s? Pastor.”  Over time you learn that just because someone got A’s in seminary, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be a good pastor.  And likewise, getting C’s doesn’t guarantee a poor pastor.
            One can be a brilliant student and deep thinker getting A’s, but if you don’t have interpersonal skills, empathy and common sense it’s unlikely you are going to be a good pastor.  At the same time, if a seminarian is getting C’s because he is a lazy person, there are probably going to be issues.  In truth, a solo pastor has little oversight.  Honestly, you don’t really know what I do during weekdays.  Maybe I go home and work on my trains all the time!  For a motivated, self-starter this freedom allows a person to organize one’s schedule in the ways that will be most productive. But if you are inclined to be lazy, the parish will provide much opportunity to be that way.
            A seminarian can get C’s and still turn out to be a very good pastor.  Greek and Hebrew may not be your thing.  Writing papers may be a chore.  You may not be a particularly deep thinker.  But if you have a good handle on Lutheran doctrine; if you let the hymnal and agenda guide your practice; if you care about people and are willing to work hard in ministering to them, you can be a very good pastor.
            That’s the way I think about James, the brother of our Lord who is the author of this morning’s text.  If you are looking for profound theology from a deep thinker, you are in the wrong book.  The apostles John or Paul are the ones you need to read.  You are not going to get that from James. That’s just not who he is.  Instead, James clearly has a very deep and profound faith in Jesus Christ.  He really believes that this faith guides how a Christian lives. And so in his letter, that’s what he talks about.
            Now to be sure, James does have a few moments when he gives us some stuff that is deep.  Most of those occur here in the first chapter of the letter.  Just before our text, James writes, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
            No doubt you will recognize the opening statement from the explanation in the Small Catechism to the Sixth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer.  James gives us an important description of the way sin takes hold, grows and develops, and ultimately produces death.  He uses the metaphor of conception, gestation and birth to describe the way this takes place. 
            You experience this in your own life.  Sin doesn’t stand still.  The old Adam in you wants it to move forward.  He wants it to grow.  He wants it to infiltrate more and more, like the tentacles of cancer cells.  You think you have been wronged.  You feel hurt.  So you stew on it as hurt turns into anger.  Your thoughts turn against the other person.  The anger grows into hatred.  The hatred in your heart leads to harmful words and actions directed against that person when the opportunity presents itself.
            James knows that by nature, this is who we are. This is what the Fall has done to us.  But he also knows that there is more to the story – much more.  And having spoken about sin being conceived, growing and giving birth to death, James now points us to another birth that has occurred.
            He says in our text, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
            Sinners produce more sinners.  Sinners generate more sin.  If anything different is going to happen, it has to come from outside of us.  It must come from God.  James tells us that God is the one who gives good and perfect gifts.  He is the Creator, the Father of lights – the One who cast the stars into the night sky in his action of creation.  He is reliable - with him there is no variation or shadow due to change.  He is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Again and again we hear the refrain in the Old Testament that God is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”
            This is who God is, and this is who God is for you.  You know this for certain because of what he did for you in his Son, Jesus Christ.  Now normally, in talking about this in a sermon I quote a verse or two from the text or the immediate context or from somewhere in the book as whole that in some way refers to Jesus Christ’s saving death on the cross.  I bring in some direct statement of Gospel.
            And that’s the weakness of James’ letter. It doesn’t actually have any verses that speak in this way.  Martin Luther famously described James as the “straw epistle” because of this.  The Reformation was about the rediscovery of the Gospel – the free gift of forgiveness and salvation by God’s grace on account of the death and resurrection of Jesus.  This occurred in the setting of the medieval Church that had turned the Christian faith into a matter of doing – into Law.  Understandably, Luther heard James as more of the same.
            However, James’ description of the Christian life is certainly rooted in the Gospel. It is grounded in what God has done for us.  We hear it in his statement, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
            It was God’s will to save you.  He is the One who brought you forth – gave birth to you – by the word of truth.  He did it through the Gospel. He caused you to believe.  You could not by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him.  By his word God caused us to be born so that, as James says, “we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.”
            Once again, James shows us that he is by no means shallow.  Christians are brought forth – they are born – through the word.  He is talking about the spiritual rebirth that the Holy Spirit works through the word. And then James says that this makes us a kind of first fruits of God’s creatures.  First fruits are the first part of the harvest that shows what the rest will be like; it guarantees that the rest will follow.  This spiritual rebirth of the Christian not only points forward to our own resurrection of the body on the Last Day.  James says that it also points to the renewal that the various creatures will experience that are part of the world God made.
            It was God’s will and action to give you spiritual life.  He did it through his word, a word that James describes as being an “implanted word.”  It was God’s doing and not your own.  It is Gospel. And we must understand that this drives what James has to say.  We are those who have been born through God’s word.
            It is because of this that he adds, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”  James knows that the life of faith plays out in concrete actions.  There is much in James that has the feeling of the Old Testament book of Proverbs – what we call wisdom literature. There is a very good reason for this.  James says that those born of God live on the basis of God’s law.  God’s law is his will according to which he has ordered his creation.  It has been written on the human heart and is known by all people, and so when we hear it we recognize that it makes sense.
            So the life of faith is quick to hear and slow to speak.  Listen and understand before you talk.  It is slow to anger because of the recognition that our anger does not produce the righteousness that God wants.  We like talking about “righteous anger,” but that’s mainly because we like to have an excuse to be angry. We enjoy being angry and thinking we are in the right at the same time.  Yet James warns us that when go the way of anger, more likely than not we will end up in the wrong.  So recognize anger as being something that a Christian needs to avoid and reject.  It is not something for us to embrace.
            James says to put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.  Instead, in the verse after our text he adds, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Clearly, this is something that requires your effort and attention. If it didn’t, if it just automatically happened, James wouldn’t have to say anything.
            But he does say something because he believe it is possible for those whom God has brought forth through his word of truth; for those who have received the implanted word.  I am making no claims about perfection here.  I am certainly not saying that this life of faith merits salvation.  Instead, I am simply pointing to what James says: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.”  God has given you birth through the Gospel and so, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”   

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist

Today is the Feast of St. Mark, Evangelist.  St. Mark was the author of the second Gospel.  Also known as John Mark, he was originally from Jerusalem where the house of his mother was a center of the early church (Acts 12:12).  Paul and Barnabas brought Mark to Antioch (Acts 12:25) and he accompanied them on the first missionary journey.  Mark left them during the journey (Acts 13:13) and later Mark was the cause of the parting that occurred between Paul and Barnabas when Paul wanted to take Mark along on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:37-40).  Later, Paul and Mark were reconciled and Mark assisted Paul (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11).  Mark also later worked with Peter (1 Peter 5:13).  Tradition indicates that Mark helped to found the church in Egypt (Alexandria) and that he was martyred there.

Scripture reading:
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:5-18)

Collect of the Day:
Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark.  Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God,  now and forever.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Commemoration of Johann Walter, Kantor

Today we remember and give thanks for Johann Walter, Kantor.   Johann Walter (1496-1570) began service at the age of 21 as a composer and bass singer in the court chapel of Frederick the Wise. In 1524, he published a collection of hymns arranged according to the church year. It was well received and served as the model for numerous subsequent hymnals. In addition to serving for 30 years as kantor (church musician) in the cities of Torgau and Dresden, he also assisted Martin Luther in the preparation of the Deutsche Messe (1526). Walter is remembered as the first Lutheran kantor and composer of church music.

Collect of the Day:
O Lord God, through the life, death, and resurrection of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, the revelation of Your salvation mystery is now revealed and made known to all the nations. Grant that this mystery of salvation, as confessed by Johann and all those who now rest from their labors, continue to guide Your Church on earth as we wait for the day when You come from heaven one last time and usher in the new creation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter - Jubilate: John 16:16-21

                                                                                                Easter 4
                                                                                                Jn 16:16-22

            Today, almost one in three babies are born by Caesarean section - 31.9% of births.  That percentage his risen greatly since 1970 when only 5% of births were C-section.  This has caused some concern because studies have indicated that 19% is about the upper limit for C-sections to be a positive factor for healthy outcomes.  Beyond that, the overuse of C-sections begins to yield difficulties.
            A number of explanations have been provided for the increase in C-sections.  One is that we have much better fetal monitoring today, and so are far more aware about changes in the baby’s condition.  Yet because doctors have this information, they may be more sensitive to changes than they need to be, and thus quicker to decide on a C-section.
            Another explanation is the litigious age in which we live. When the outcome is not good in a natural child birth, the obvious question becomes: “Why didn’t the doctor do a C-section?” Doctors may be more inclined to do C-sections because it makes clear that everything possible was done and protects them against lawsuits.
            Finally, C-sections give mothers more control.  Rather than waiting on the unknown timing of labor, they can schedule a date for a C-section and make all of their other plans accordingly.  For Amy and me this sounded really good when she had the twins. She was scheduled for a C-section because Matthew was breach.  We got up thinking that we had a leisurely day to make final arrangements before the twins were born the next day.  But when Amy’s water broke that morning it was off to the hospital for the deliver – whether we had planned on it or not.
            This trend toward C-sections means that fewer women today experience what Jesus uses to describe the time in which we wait for his return.  He talks about the sorrow a woman has when the hour has come for her to give birth.  Amy certainly experienced this when she gave birth to Timothy.  Yet as our Lord says, when it was done there was joy that a baby – her first – had been born into the world and the difficulties didn’t matter anymore.
            Our text is found in the portion of John’s Gospel that is usually called the Farewell Discourse.  It was the night when Jesus was betrayed and our Lord and the disciples were on their way to the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus began to tell them that he was going way, but that he would then come back.  He was returning t the Father.  Jesus said, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
            The disciples were confused and distressed by what Jesus what was saying.  In our text Jesus again says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.”  Some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father'?’  They were saying, "What does he mean by 'a little while'? We do not know what he is talking about.”
            The disciples were confused. They didn’t understand, and Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him about what he had stated.  So he said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.” Jesus’ departure would be a source of sadness for the disciples.  By contrast, the world would rejoice because it would be free continue as its own god, ignoring the Lord who seemed to be absent.
            That’s the way it is today.  Jesus has ascended – he has withdrawn his visible presence.  I don’t see him.  You don’t see him.  The world doesn’t see him.  The difference is that the world concludes that because this is so, Jesus is just a myth.  The claims made about him aren’t true. He is not the way, the truth and the life.  He is not the only way to salvation.
            Instead of believing these claims, the world rejects and attacks those who do. The very clear message is that polite people don’t talk about religion in public.  A person certainly does not speak if he or she is going to make any absolute truth claims about Jesus. Do that, and you will experience exactly what Jesus described in the previous chapter when he said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
            Our response as we live in the world is often silence. But this is wrong. That is fear, not faith.  Our Lord doesn’t deny the difficulty of living in a sinful world when we are not of the world – when we haven born again of water and the Spirit as the children of God.  Instead he tells us what the future hold.  He gives us hope.
            Jesus says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
            Jesus tells us three things. First, you have sorrow now. Suffering and hardships because of Jesus are simply part of the Christian life. That’s just the way it is. If you don’t think so, then we need to talk because you are doing something wrong.
            Second, you will see Jesus.  We pray, “Come Lord Jesus!”  We do because we want Jesus to rescue us from sin and all that it has done to this world.  We want Jesus to appear in power and might and glory so that every knee will have to bow and confess that he is Lord and God. We want Jesus to vindicate us before he world for believing and trusting in him while the world heaped scorn upon us. Jesus says that he will return and do these things. 
            And third, our Lord says your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.  His return will bring joy that has no end.  It will bring a joy so great that, like the woman who has given birth, we no longer remember the pain and difficulties of the present. This is the hope that we have.
            It is a hope that is grounded in this season of the church year that we are celebrating.  It is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ ascension is part of one big upward movement that begins with his death.  His glorification begins at the cross, because it doesn’t end at the cross.  Instead, this saving work that Father gave him to do is a work that leads inevitably to resurrection; then to ascension; and then to return on the Last Day.
            Jesus came to do the Father’s will.  In the next chapter, he prays: "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.”
            Jesus accomplished his work.  He cried out, “It is finished” as he died on cross as your Passover lamb. Because he shed his blood for you, God’s judgment passes over you and you suffer no harm.  Now, Jesus has risen from the dead and he gives you the eternal life that has already started in our Lord.
            At the end of this chapter Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  By his death and resurrection Jesus has overcome the world.  He has given you peace.  You have peace with God.  You have the peace of knowing how all of this turns out.
            Its result will be joy.  In his resurrection Jesus has already won!  His resurrection is the beginning of your victory.  Jesus has returned to the Father as the exalted Lord.  He completed the work that Father had given him to do.  You already now receive those benefits because Jesus has overcome the world. 
            And Jesus assures you that when he returns in glory you will have nothing but joy.  You will have a joy so great that it will drive out all memory of the present troubles; a joy that you will possess forever.  As Jesus says in our text, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”