Friday, November 27, 2020

"Thankful Foreigners" (Luke 17:11-19)

Sermon for Day of Thanksgiving (Thanksgiving Eve), 25 November A+D 2020 at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Kingsford, MI

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.  (Philippians 4:7, ESV)

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Ephesians 1:2, ESV) The Word of God from today’s Holy Gospel found in Luke 17: Then Jesus answered, ‘Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ (Luke 17:18, ESV)

Legend says that the first American Thanksgiving was celebrated by Pilgrim settlers from England, along with members of the Wampanoag tribe of native Americans who had taught newcomers to how to farm the Massachusetts soil and live off of the land. How those events actually unfolded is the subject of much debate. Some argue that Thanksgiving is a racist holiday owing to the white Europeans taking over a land which didn’t belong to them. If you’re already feeling crummy about how Thanksgiving 2020 is playing out and want to further down the rabbit hole, go ahead and Google, “Is celebrating Thanksgiving racist?” Last year, The New York Times launched a controversial effort called The 1619 Project, whose thesis is that rather than celebrating the birth of our nation as the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620…or the Declaration of Independence in 1776, we should rightly mark 1619—the year in which African slaves are alleged to have first been brought to the New World—as the birth of a nation founded on genocide and white privilege.

Regardless of how you view the origins of our nation, it’s an undisputed truth that the entire world and its history consists of people leaving one place and going to another: sometimes by choice and other times by force. Before Anglo-Saxons appeared in the western hemisphere, land changed hands from tribe to tribe. Groups of people with a shared identity and culture tried to build and protect what was important to them. And it could be that the events of this year have left you longing to hold on yourself to something that seems to be slipping out of your grasp. The land that you’ve come to love throughout your life seems like a shell of its former self. You’re forced to ask questions that last Thanksgiving would have seemed ludicrous. “Is it safe for me to leave my house this year?” “Should I invite people into my home? Or would that be irresponsible?” You’re wondering where the general civility of American society has gone as that seems to have long passed beyond our reach.

Each year, we take time on this night and tomorrow to give thanks. But maybe thankfulness doesn’t come as naturally to us this year. God bless you if it still does…but bear along with those who are struggling. And take heart in this reality that all too many of us have forgotten: we do not belong to this world.

Many people at Christian funerals love to sing, “I’m but a stranger here; heaven is my home.” That’s a biblical sentiment right out of the words of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21, ESV) Christians have a decidedly different outlook that makes them different from the people of the world. The world looks at what it is losing and tries like mad to hang on to it. The child of God rejoices and give thanks for what he or she has already been given in Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who had already told his disciples, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23, ESV)

Jesus holds before you this evening the example of a Samaritan…or as He calls him, “a foreigner.” Here is a man who had no reason to go to the temple with the other nine, presumably Jewish, lepers. As a Samaritan, he was a person who wouldn’t have really known where he belonged. His people were descended from the old tribes of Israel that we read about in the Old Testament. It was to the tribes of Israel, about to enter the Promised Land nearly 1400 years earlier to whom Moses spoke in our Old Testament Reading. “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” (Deuteronomy 8:1, ESV) That Samaritan whom Jesus healed? He was a “foreigner” in a land that long ago belonged to his people…but his people had rejected God and the promise was taken away.

Instead of looking for God in the temple where the other lepers went, he “turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.” (Luke 17:15-16a, ESV) Who needs a temple in Jerusalem when the Lord God stands before you…the One who has mercy on you and heals you? The land promised to Israel…the land that the Samaritans forefathers had lost…the temple where the Jews went to worship God? All of it pointed to something greater: the God of mercy would heal sinners and “foreigners” and give them His kingdom that lasts forever. Or as Jesus had promised to His disciples in the Sermon on the Plain, a “reward…great in heaven.”

Dear friends in Jesus Christ, our Lord God has indeed blessed us in the land where we live. As we confess in the Small Catechism, God our Father has created us and given us “body and soul, eyes, ears, and all [our] members, and still takes care of them. He also gives [us] clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land animals and all [we] have. He richly and daily provides [us] with all that [we] need to support this body and life.” You and I have received good things in this world.

But we don’t belong to this world. All of the good things that God gives us here and now simply serve to remind us that He has far better things that await us in His heavenly kingdom. We are indeed foreigners in this land…not because we’re trespassing on territory that belongs to another people, but because we belong to an even greater land: “a new heaven and a new earth.” (Revelation 21:1, ESV) In that land, “[The] dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4, ESV)

A Samaritan…a “foreigner” found a greater reward in the One who had the power to show him mercy and heal his illness. We are likewise “foreigners,” not belonging to this land, but to a greater land…a “reward…great in heaven” bought for us by the blood of the One who has mercy on those sick with the leprosy of sin. We are “thankful foreigners” who—no matter what we’ve lost in the past year…in the past decade…in our past lifetimes…or whatever we might lose in this world—the One who receives our thanks this night and tomorrow is the One who hears our cries for mercy. We come as humble, leprous sinners, lifting up our own voices and crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” (Luke 17:13, ESV)

Mercy is what you have. Sins are forgiven. Body and blood given and shed for you are fed to you this very night: a feast that surpasses anything you might find on your Thanksgiving table tomorrow. “Citizenship in heaven” is yours. You are children of God…children of Abraham…children of the promise made to him long ago. You have a heavenly land to which you belong that never disappoints…never fails…and can never be snatched away from you by any force: physical or spiritual. Dearest friends in Jesus: give thanks tonight that you are a “foreigner”…that you are but Samaritans in this world who know that our true home is with our Lord and that He gives us our share in His kingdom tonight and for always. Amen.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Masks Might Be Stupid...But You Are Bound as Christians to Wear Them (If Your Authorities Say So)

I think masks might be stupid. As an American, it seems absolutely contrary to the idea of a free nation that I should be forced to live as some sort of modern-day leper, moving about as though I might infect anyone I come within the magical six-foot radius of contact. There are "experts" that say wearing a mask reduces the transmission of COVID-19. But what we've been told by "experts" seems to contradict what the same "experts" told us previously. As a freedom-loving patriot, I want to reject the tyranny that tells me how I must live my life in such a restrictive fashion.

But before I'm an American, I am a Christian. I'm a person claimed by God in the waters of Holy Baptism, joined to Jesus Christ and redeemed by His holy, precious blood. As a Christian, I am bound to heed the Word of God and live according to the standards It sets forth. That means I have to, at times, set aside what seems good and decent to me as an American. In far too many cases, many of us who consider ourselves to be conservative-minded and liberty-loving have conflated being American with being a Christian. We have equated American democracy with Biblical Christianity, thinking that as Christians we are promised by God that we should have religious liberty and access to all the rights that our Declaration of Independence and Constitution guarantee.

By all means, fight for those things. Speak your mind, go to the ballot box, and strive to elect those who will allow you to pursue "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." I promise you that's how I will go to the polls this year...yes, even if it means voting for the current occupant of the White House.

I'll be the first in line. Being forced by tyrannical politicians to wear a mask seems asinine.  Rather than ordering the distancing and mask-wearing of the healthy, why aren't we ordering the sheltering-at-home of the elderly and immunocompromised? Why are we even considering not letting kids back into schools when the 67,000 members of the American Association of Pediatricians are urging us to resume classroom instruction?

Still, you would have to do some serious interpretive gymnastics to convince me that an order to wear a mask somehow forces you to violate the command we've been given in Acts 5:29, that "we must obey God rather than men." For the past four months, I've been trying to figure out how to strike the balance between those words from Acts and what St. Paul says in Romans 13:

"Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment." (Romans 13:1-2, ESV)

Gathering together for worship? Can't not do that. We're commanded by God to do so. (Hebrews 10:25)

Singing praises to the Lord? Sorry, Gavin Newsom. (Psalm 96:1-2, Ephesians 5:19)

The only qualification that Holy Scripture gives us regarding the command to being "subject to our authorities" is that we never let the commands given to us by man stand in the way of our obedience to God. While I detest being told by politicians who would rather shut the doors of our churches and steal our tax dollars to fund the murder of the unborn and pay for gender reassignment surgeries how I should live my life from day to day, being told "wear a mask" isn't religious persecution when it's being applied evenly across the board. And it in no way prevents me from "obeying God rather than men."

So I'm wearing my mask. Even if it's stupid. Even if it's "unAmerican." I'm wearing my mask because the Word of God compels me to do so. And the Lord God will work through our matter who wins in matter what party they belong matter what may come.

"He is God's servant for your good." (Romans 13:4a) Even if what he/she tells you that you must do is stupid.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

New Podcast from Lutheran Public Radio

Along with tomorrow being (properly) Reformation Day, it's also the debut of a new podcast from Lutheran Public Radio (Issues, Etc.). "The Word of the Lord Endures Forever" is a Bible study hosted by Pastor Will Weedon.

If you've never listened to Pastor Weedon before, you'll want to give him a listen. Not only is his knowledge of the Biblical text profound...he talks about the Christian faith with an energy and passion that is infectious.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

The Season of Death Is Upon Us (Already)

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven." (Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV)

I hate winter. Let me rephrase that with a stronger word. I detest winter. I will tolerate snow until Christmas. But then it can just go away.

Living in the Upper Peninsula means having to deal with your fair share of the white stuff. Every year we play a little game called "Can We Make It Without Snow Until After Halloween?" This year, we were losers. We've been losers before. I recall several Halloweens where my $10 plastic costume from Shopko with the paper mask whose string always broke before lunch hour was stretched and ripped over snow pants, winter jackets, hats, gloves, and boots as we hopped in Mom's car to go trick-or-treating. (We lived in the country ... we had to be driven from driveway to driveway.)

The powder of death...the non-Narcos variety

There are lessons to be learned with every harsh winter that falls upon the U.P. ... and wherever else it may happen to fall. Solomon is right when he says "For everything there is a season." But sometimes those seasons of death ... plucking up ... killing ... breaking down ... weeping ... mourning ... they come sooner than expected. You know that there will always be death and grief. You know that there will be times in life that are filled with sorrow. Yet even though we know that they will come, they still manage to sneak up on us. Like a wintry covering over the leaves that have yet to be raked.

I envy the people who delight in winter. My Facebook feed is filled with those knuckleheads who have been counting the days until Christmas since June ... those who are for some reason excited to have to put on boots and hats to go out the door when we should still rightly be enjoying autumn. Winter is indeed a time of death. It's a time when measures must be taken to protect ourselves from the elements. It's a time when plant life gives up the ghost. It's a time when animals struggle to find food and some (hopefully those with many-pointed antlers) will end up in our freezers.

And still in the middle of all of this death, so many people find joy in winter. Christmas gifts and celebrations with families. Beautiful ice formations hanging from tree branches. Reasons to stay inside and keep warm with loved ones. Seeing the homes and businesses covered in lights. Even in the middle of death, life and joy can be found.

This is one of the many mysteries of how God Almighty works. He reveals Himself in the middle of what seems to be only death. His mercy is shown to someone going through turmoil. His compassion is given to someone riddled with guilt. His saving Gospel is proclaimed at the "walking dead" gathered on a Sunday morning. His promise of resurrection comforts the grieving at the death of a loved one.

God saved humanity through death. The cross isn't the source of our grief. It's the source of our unending joy. Crosses adorn our necks, our homes, and our church buildings as a reminder of that great joy purchased by the One who hung upon it. He became death. He became the cursed One. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21, ESV)

When everything around you is death, look for life in the God who brings life even in the darkest seasons. Find life in Christ our Lord. And remember that every season of darkness meets its end in Christ. There is indeed "a time for every matter under heaven." And the deep winter of sin that covers this world will melt away when our Lord Jesus returns in glory.

Jesus as Preacher and Liturgist

An excerpt from John Kleinig's paper, "The Real Presence and Liturgical Preaching":

The story of the appearance of Jesus to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35 shows us how Jesus continues his ministry in the present age. happened, as you all know, on the evening of Easter Sunday. The two unnamed disciples had heard about the resurrection of Jesus, but did not understand the significance of what they had heard. When Jesus joined them on their journey, they did not at first recognise him. As far as they knew he was dead and gone from them. So Jesus made himself known to them in two stages. First, he preached himself to them from the Old Testament. Yet, even though their hearts burned with joy as he spoke, they still did not recognise him. Then, when they had invited him to stay overnight with them as their guest, he acted as if he was their host when they sat down for the evening meal. He took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, just as he had done when he instituted his holy supper three nights earlier. They recognised him in the breaking of the bread, Luke’s term for Holy Communion (Luke 24:35; cf. Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7). As soon as they recognised him he vanished from their sight.

That story gives us the basic theology of worship in the Early Church. Each Sunday the risen Lord Jesus, who travels with us through life as our unseen guide, makes himself known to us in the divine service. This happens in two stages. First, Jesus uses the word of God from the Old Testament to preach himself as the crucified and risen Lord. Then he hosts a meal in which he feeds us with his own body and blood.

We discover two things about preaching from this dramatic account. First, Jesus himself is the preacher in our congregations. He is also the sermon; he preaches himself to us in the divine service. By his word he speaks to us. We human preachers are merely his mouthpiece, his spokesmen. He says: “He who listens to you listens to me” (Luke 10:16). Second, the preaching of the gospel is closely connected with the Lord’s Supper. What Jesus tells us about himself he gives to us in Holy Communion. The same Jesus who preaches himself to us in the gospels and in the sermon gives himself and all his gifts to us there. There he presents the body and blood that he offered up for us by his death on the cross. So preaching goes hand in hand with the administration of the sacrament. By preaching of the gospel we tell our people what Jesus gives to them in Holy Communion; by offering Christ’s body and blood to them we give them what we have preached, Jesus and his gifts. In his Large Catechism Luther says: “For here in the sacrament you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts” (LC 70).

To read the paper in it's entirety, click here.