30 September 2010

Homily for St. Michael and All Angels

Last night's homily for St. Michael and All Angels focused on the theme of "Praising God with the Angels," and drew together all three Scripture readings: Daniel 10:10-14; 12:1-3; Revelation 12:7-12; and Luke 10:17-20. Also, without actually citing it, the homily tried to reflect our prayer to God in the Collect of the Day: "that, as Your holy angels always serve and worship You in heaven, so by Your appointment they may also help and defend us here on earth."

To listen to the homily, just click on this link and download the audio file.

29 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 17

Here is the audio file for Sunday's homily on the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, "Healed to be Humble," based on Luke 14:1-11. Click the link, download the audio file and listen away.

24 September 2010

New IE Video

Here's the latest Issues, Etc. video, this time running with the theme of friends proclaiming the Gospel to friends. And it's truly an honor to "make an appearance" in it (not that I had anything to do with that little editing faux pas :-)

23 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 16

Sunday's homily for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity focused on the account of Jesus raising the widow's son at the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17).

To listen to the audio file of Sunday's homily, "His Life Invades Our Death," just click on this link, download the file, and listen.

12 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 15

Sometimes a preacher looks at a text such as Matthew 6:24-34 and wonders how he can really "improve" upon it by proclaiming and applying it. After all, in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus' words are pretty clear in themselves. He gets right to the point when He says: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on." How much clearer can He be than when He says: "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?" And then there's that immortal saying: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you." The preacher (okay, at least this one was) may certainly be tempted simply to read the Gospel for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity and say, "'Nuff said. Just do what He says. Amen. "

But don't worry! I did not do that! :-) Rather, I took an image from Johann Gerhard's Postilla for this text about our fallen, sinful state being like brute beasts, focused on earth rather than God and heaven, and - Voila! - ready-made sermon title and theme. This morning's homily, "Slaying Beastly Worry," wrestled with our worries but then took consolation in our Lord Jesus Christ giving us His food, His drink, and His clothing of righteousness.

To listen the audio file of today's homily for Trinity 15, click on this link, download the audio, and listen away. May our gracious Lord bless you and strengthen your faith as you hear His saving works for you ... works that slay your beastly worry.

09 September 2010

You go, Gov.!!!

Get a load of this exchange between NJ Governor Chris Christie and a disgruntled NJ public school teacher. With such clear common sense and simple, logical facts on his side - not to mention his tell-it-as-he-sees-it approach - I say we clone him 49 times over and fill all the rest of the governors' mansions and offices with him. How refreshing to see and hear a public official strive to have his state live within its means!

HT: theblaze.com

05 September 2010

Homily for Trinity 14

Today's homily on Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healing the ten lepers, is titled "Show Yourself Clean." Just as the one leper - and a Samaritan at that - returned to Jesus the true Priest and showed himself clean, we also return to our Lord in the Divine Service to be cleansed of our leprosy of sin and death.

To listen to the homily, click on this link, download the audio file, and listen away.

03 September 2010

Our Joyous Mission

This article also appears in our congregational newsletter, The Hope Lutheran, for September 2010.

A Scary Story
A brother pastor recently told me a story that’s both scary and instructive. This story involved his daughter, a very bright and discerning young lady in her early teens, and the recent LCMS Youth Gathering held this summer in New Orleans. This was the first national youth gathering this young lady had ever attended. As are most youth, she was excited to see so many other Lutheran youth gathered in one place and she did enjoy getting to know some new brother and sister Christians.

However, one thing disappointed this young lady: the very guilt-laden “missions” message pushed by presenters. Gathering presenters may have meant well in teaching the youth to bear witness to Jesus, but their message actually ended up burdening the young people. The presenters were so focused on prompting these Lutheran youth to carry out the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ (a.k.a. “witnessing to Jesus”) that the youth felt guilty for not witnessing enough. That’s how this pastor’s young daughter received the message, but it’s hardly the way to teach people on the Church’s mission.

The scary side of the story did not end there though. As the true story goes, many of the youth went on a tour of a New Orleans cathedral. As the group was touring inside the large space dedicated to worship and prayer, my friend’s daughter got separated from the group as she was looking at something else. All of a sudden an older man, evidently homeless and dressed in tattered and dirty clothes, approached the young lady. The man told her that he was an atheist and began mocking religion in general.

Guilty for Not Witnessing?
What makes this part of the story so scary is the moral dilemma that flooded the young lady’s mind. Should she stay and try to “witness” to this obviously bitter and unbelieving man, or should she return to her tour group and its certain safety? She knew she should have paid more attention and stayed with her group, but now she was also feeling guilty for wanting to flee to safety and not witness to this unbelieving homeless man. She chose to leave the confrontational man and return to her tour group. However, as she did, she also felt incredibly guilty. She had not, in fact, witnessed to that older man. And wasn’t that, after all, the message she had been hearing at the gathering?

For me—and I’m sure for my brother pastor and his wife—the mere prospect of this young lady, off by herself, being abducted by this stranger is truly scary. However, what’s even more frightful is that she was compelled to feel guilty at choosing her safety over “witnessing to Jesus” at a time like that. That’s what happens when mission work (a.k.a. “missions,” “evangelism,” “outreach,” or “witnessing”) is presented and taught in a burdensome, guilt-giving manner. And, sad to say, these days we hear the Church’s mission taught and proclaimed more and more in this negative manner.

An Instructive Story
However, here’s where this story transitions from being scary to becoming instructive. It actually instructs in what not to do and how not to teach Christian witnessing.

This pastor’s daughter was exactly correct in seeing through the “missions” presentations for what they really were: burdensome guilt trips dressed in the sheep’s clothing of “witnessing to Jesus.” She was also exactly correct in fleeing from the stranger and returning to her tour group. She need not feel guilty about “not witnessing” to him. Rather, she actually did witness to him. How? By returning to her God-given vocation of being a) a student learning about the cathedral, b) a participant in the youth gathering, and c) a daughter who needed to return home to her family safe and sound.

At first we might think: “But how do those things bear witness to Jesus?” That’s easy. The young lady bore witness that she is a Christian by learning more about that cathedral (That was her purpose at that place and time.), by returning to and staying with the group of Christians that brought her there (She was under the care of gathering chaperones.), and by loving and honoring her parents (Remember what mom and dad said about not talking to strangers?). Believe it or not, this young lady did show that she is a Christian in these very normal and ordinary ways.

No, she did not spark up a conversation about Jesus with that confrontational stranger. But let’s be honest, such conversations born out of such confrontations rarely “make disciples.” If anything, a quick and off the cuff talk about Jesus and religion most likely would only further solidify that man’s hard-hearted hostility toward Christ and His Church.

The Joy of Mission Work
Should this young lady—and we—be concerned about lost, unbelieving people such as the stranger in the cathedral? Of course! It’s basic Christian love. Now there’s the proper motivation for “mission work” (a.k.a. “missions,” “evangelism,” “outreach”).

When “mission work” is taught in a burdensome, guilt-giving manner, it’s usually done with some kind of self-serving purpose—a purpose such as increasing the size of an institution or ensuring institutional survival (either of a congregation or of a whole church body). That’s hardly Christian love for the lost neighbor!

The joy of carrying out our God-given mission work comes when we love our neighbor enough to show them their “lostness” in their sin and then show them the Savior who comes to seek and save the lost—them. It’s a lot like putting up road signs and barricades on a highway that leads to a deep canyon where the bridge is out. Road crews put up the signs and barricades out of love for their neighbor. After all, authorities do not want cars racing down the highway, especially at night, and plunging into the canyon to their doom. When we Christians bear witness to Jesus in our daily lives, and when the Church proclaims Christ crucified and risen to rescue us sinners, we are trying to love people enough to turn them from plunging to their eternal doom.

The joy of witnessing to Jesus comes not in keeping tabs on how many times we’ve sparked a conversation about Him with unsuspecting people around us. Rather, it comes from living as God’s redeemed children and enjoying the forgiveness and life that He freely gives in His Gospel and Sacraments. It comes from faithfully receiving His goodness and mercy in the Divine Service.

The joy of witnessing to Jesus shows as we love our neighbors enough to want them to enjoy the forgiveness and life that Jesus brings for them too. We certainly invite them to join us in the Divine Service at church, where they get to hear the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection for them. Most of the time, though, witnessing to Jesus simply means living in our God-given vocations—such as father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, worker, citizen, etc.—and showing that we Christians live differently than other people around us. We spend time with our families and learn the Word of God together; we work diligently at our jobs; we do works of mercy for those in need; we love and pray for one another, both inside and outside the Church.

As one of my professors once said, witnessing to Jesus is as simple as: “Pray, and when you get a chance, say.” Pray for your neighbor who does not yet know Jesus Christ, and then when the time comes, speak of Him and what He has done for you and your neighbor. St. Peter said it well: “In your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).

I’ve often used the illustration of a young lady wearing an engagement ring for the joy of mission work. No one needs to coax or cajole her to show off her new ring. She is just plain happy to do so every chance she can! In fact, you cannot stop her. :) Christians bearing witness to Christ are like that. In their Baptism they have been engaged to Jesus the Bridegroom, and now they joyfully spread the word and want others to join them in that joy. After all, the wedding feast on the Last Day will be a superb joy! Perhaps instead of focusing on coaxing and cajoling youths and adults to “Get out and do the mission work (or else!),” we need to focus on the joy of life from Christ, life with Christ, and life in Christ.

If our mission work is lackluster, it’s probably because we do not find our joy of life in Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen. However, when we cling to our Savior and treasure the boundless depths of His forgiveness, grace, and life, then our joyous mission properly – and naturally – falls into place.