15 June 2016

Sacred Meditations: Learning to Pray via Podcast

Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray, that is, actually to engage in praying (see Matthew 6:7-13; 7:7-8; Luke 11:1-13). Jesus reminded us of the importance of prayer when He quoted Isaiah 56:7—“my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”—as He cleansed the temple of its entrepreneurial distractions. He even told the Parable of the Persistent Widow “to the effect that [we] ought always to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

However, Jesus’ exhortations for us Christians actually to engage in praying—along with St. Paul’s “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)—are too often met with laments of “I’m too busy” or “I just don’t know how to pray.” That goes for pastors as well as laypeople.

For such disregard of our Lord’s Second Commandment—to call upon His name in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks—and for not trusting His promises to hear and answer us, we do need to repent. We also need to learn to pray…by actually praying.

 Sacred MeditationsEnter a new resource for learning to pray by actually praying: Sacred Meditations - sacredmeditations.org. Utilizing the First Article blessings of modern technology in podcasting and social media, Sacred Meditations is “a short-form podcast (short-cast) for finding peace by meditating on Jesus Christ.”

At Sacred Meditations, you can listen to prayers throughout the Church Year, find prayers to fit various occasions, ponder your deep need for life with the God who loves you, and meditate on the work of His Son Jesus the Christ who bled, died, and rose again to restore you to life–and peace–with God.

What is Sacred Meditations all about?
In our technology-driven Information Age, we have easy access to endless information, news, talk, commentary, and debate about many and various topics, even religious and theological ones. This stirs us up as we wend our way through the many voices and conflicting views, especially when listening to and discussing the hot-button issues of the day.

Sacred Meditations seeks to be different. Here you may find peace by meditating on the person and work of Jesus Christ for you. Here you may find peace by pondering the life that He gives and works in you.

To help you do this, we draw from the the prayers of the Church and classic devotional works of Lutheran piety–works of Johann Gerhard, Johann Arndt, and Johann Starck. Let the devotional insights of these great Christian voices give you the solace you can’t find anywhere else.

We also combine these devotional oases with soothing music to please the ear and calm the soul.
 iTunes Podcast
Why listen to yet another podcast?
Sacred Meditations is no ordinary podcast. It will not take 30 minutes or an hour out of your day. In just 60 seconds (1 minute) you can listen to and pray a prayer of the Church or a prayer for a specific need. Other prayers and meditations run no more than 3 minutes.

We don’t just talk about prayer–we actually pray. We don’t merely talk about Jesus or other matters of faith–we draw you into the joys and the life that God gives you through Jesus Christ crucified and risen for you.

Consider Sacred Meditations your easy access to calm in the frantic busyness of your day!

How can you listen? Visit the Sacred Meditations website and come back often. Subscribe to Sacred Meditations via iTunes. Follow Sacred Meditations on Facebook and Twitter. Here’s the pertinent info.:

    •    Website: http://sacredmeditations.org/
    •    On iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sacred-meditations/id1121860303
    •    On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sacredmeditations/
    •    On Twitter: https://twitter.com/SacMeditations

Feel free to download and keep these prayers and meditations for future use and for our Lord’s peace whenever you need it. Search for prayers and meditations as you need them and want them.

Jesus said, “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” (John 16:33).

06 June 2016

Homily for Trinity 2

"Feasting on Jesus"
Luke 14:15-24

Listen here.

Today we join our Lord Jesus as He dines at the house of a Pharisee. It’s a Sabbath Day, so we also think of remembering the Sabbath Day and gladly hearing and learning God’s Word. Jesus is trying to teach us some table manners in God’s kingdom. When God invites us to His great banquet, He wants us to feast on what He says.

One man tries to impress Jesus and says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.” Jesus then answers with a story. A man puts on a great banquet and invites many people. But the invited guests refuse the invitation. It seems they’re just too busy to make it to this feast. So the master invites other guests, people you would never expect to see at a grand social event. And even some of them must be compelled to come to the feast. Even though one man at the banquet table was trying to butter Jesus up, he did catch on. Jesus is talking about the Kingdom of God. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God.”

As Christians, we are citizens of two kingdoms: the kingdom of the earth and the kingdom of heaven. In the kingdom of the earth people eat and drink, sleep and work, rest and play. Here they take care of all their physical and social needs. Here people are very glad to take part in picnics and barbecues, especially on days such as Memorial Day, Father’s Day, or Fourth of July. Sometimes they don’t even need to be invited in order to receive some food. In the kingdom of heaven the food and life are very different. Here the Lord of the Universe, the Creator of heaven and earth, throws a lavish, sumptuous meal. Here the food is far richer, far more nourishing than in the earthly kingdom. But here the invited guests are reluctant to come. It’s as if they’d rather have watery chicken noodle soup than eat the filet mignon that God carefully prepares and freely gives.

So, the Lord Jesus talks about God’s rich banquet table of heavenly food. God the Father prepares a great, rich, sumptuous banquet. He invites us poor beggars on earth to eat and drink with Him at His heavenly supper table. So the question is: How will we earth-bound beggars respond to His gracious invitation? Will we be rude and spurn His invitation? Or will we gladly feast on His divine delicacies?

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the true, spiritual banquet. Our heavenly Father is the rich man and host. He has prepared the banquet. He sent His Son to be born of the Virgin Mary, to live a perfect life, to suffer a horrible death—thus to be slaughtered and prepared by the divine Chef. And just as a good host puts juicy steaks on the barbecue grill, so did the heavenly Father. He allowed His own Son to be roasted on the cross and offered up in fiery, burning love. Yes, Jesus is our Paschal Lamb sacrificed for the sin of the whole world.

But a good host never leaves the filet mignon on the grill permanently. No, when the meat is done, he removes it from the fire and serves it up for his guests to eat and enjoy. It’s in the eating that people are refreshed, nourished, and strengthened. In the same way, our heavenly Father removed Jesus from the fiery grill of the cross, laid Him in the tomb, and raised Him from the dead. Now we and the whole world can feast on this food. Christ Jesus is the world’s true, nourishing Food of Life.

So, wherever Christians gather together, you have God’s banquet table. The preaching of the Gospel is the dish. The servers are the pastors. Jesus is the food. Through the pastor’s mouth the food is laid on the table and served. When the Gospel is preached, this food is served and offered for you. And everyone gets to feast—rich and poor, old and young, learned and unlearned. There are three essential ingredients to God’s feast: first, the dish, that is, the Word of God; second, the waiter, that is, the pastor’s mouth; and third, the guests, those who believe the message of Christ with the heart. When these three things come together, our heart and soul start to eat and say, “Here is a juicy steak. Here Christ is proclaimed. Here the food is the roasted Christ. I get to feast on Jesus. I get to find my strength and joy and comfort in Christ alone.” Whoever believes this with his heart eats and drinks Jesus.

How does this food taste? Well, a good barbecued steak has a delicious flavor. It refreshes body and soul, it satisfies the appetite, and it strengthens the body. In the same way, when you hear and believe the Gospel, you feast on Jesus. This rich, tender filet of Christ nourishes and strengthens your soul. It has the delicious taste of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and heavenly bliss. This food gives life—life now, life for all eternity, life that only Jesus can give.

Jesus tells us about this food in John 6: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (vv. 53-55) So whoever believes with heart and mind that Jesus Christ has given His body and shed His blood for him or her need not fear death.

So in Jesus you have pure joy, everlasting joy. He is no longer sorrowful or fainthearted. He no longer sweats great drops of blood as He did in Gethsemane. But in Him there is true joy and gladness. And this same Jesus, who is comfort and joy in the flesh, has become your food, served up in the Gospel to be eaten by faith. So when you are forsaken, cast down, oppressed, and assaulted for being Christians, you may run to Jesus. There you revive and strengthen yourselves. Since Jesus, your food, is filled with gladness, joy, and life, you too are filled with gladness, joy, and life. What a glorious banquet it is! And all you have to do is come to the banquet table of Jesus’ pulpit and altar and partake of Christ.

But here is where our Lord laments. He laments over the world’s callousness and indifference. He laments that people—even in His Church—ignore and despise this great, delicious banquet. He laments that so many—even self-proclaimed Christians—have no desire for the preaching of this Gospel, this feast of the roasted Christ. They refuse to come to God’s banquet table. And they excuse themselves with pretty flimsy excuses—real estate to see, animals to take care of or vehicles to test drive, or even family affairs.

Now these things are not evil in themselves. After all, God gives the land, the animals, the vehicles, and especially spouses and children. But Jesus laments when people refuse His banquet of forgiveness and life because they are so attached to enjoying the land, or to using the machines and the technology for work or play, or to arranging so many family activities.

We must learn to put things in proper perspective. We must learn the differences between coming to the banquet of Christ’s kingdom, on the one hand, and enjoying the land, the machines and toys, and the family, on the other. God gives the good things of land, material things, and family to enjoy. He also gives us spouses to avoid immorality. He gives us all family members to love and serve and forgive. But Jesus laments when we put these good gifts from Him over and above coming to His kingdom banquet.

Remember the Lord’s Prayer. First we pray for God’s name to be hallowed, for His kingdom to come, and for His will to be done. Only after these things do we then pray for daily bread—the things of physical and social life. When we put the things of physical and social life before the banquet of the roasted Christ, then our Lord laments. Then we deserve the wrath of God. But as Jesus says in Matthew 6(:33), “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” So our first priority in all of life is to hear and learn the Gospel—to feast on Jesus. Only with that nourishment can we truly enjoy the nourishment for  stomach and social life.

You see, our loving and giving heavenly Father puts on this rich feast by giving His Son, and He truly wants us earthly guests to fill His banquet all. So, let’s not pass up this banquet. Let’s invite and bring our family members, our friends, our fellow Christians, and our neighbors to this banquet. After all, in this banquet Jesus says, “You have My righteousness, My life, My comfort, and My peace.” Amen.

01 June 2016

Homily for Trinity 1

"Created for Your Neighbor"
Luke 16:19-31

Listen here.

We have just finished the festival half of the Church year. In Advent we eagerly awaited the coming Christ. At Christmas we celebrated God taking on our human flesh. Epiphany gave us the God-Man Jesus revealing Himself to the world in word and deed. Then came Lent and preparing to go to the cross with our Lord. In the festive season of Easter we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection and His glorious gift of life. Two weeks ago we celebrated Pentecost and the Holy Spirit working the miracle of preaching and hearing the Gospel. Last week, of course, we celebrated the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Now we shift gears from focusing on the life of Christ to focusing on the life of the Church. The green on the altar reminds us of life, the holy life, the life that Christ lives out through His holy Church. The life of the Church, and of every Christian, goes in two directions. We often pray it after we receive the Lord’s Supper. We pray that the Lord would use His Body and Blood to strengthen us “in faith toward [Him] and in fervent love toward one another.” First, trust in God; second, love toward neighbor. Put them together and we see how we are created for our neighbor.

Jesus tells a story to the Pharisees. They were “lovers of money.” In His story, Jesus says there was a certain rich man. To put him in modern terms, rich man wore $1000 suits with bright, fancy ties. He lived in a luxurious mansion, complete with a big screen TV, Blue-ray DVD player, the newest computers, the latest WiFi-operated appliances, and the best sound system. He ate only the best foods: steak, lobster, caviar, etc. But there was also a beggar named Lazarus. He was homeless, just lived on the streets. He was always looking for a handout. So sad…and so annoying! And his skin! Those rashes! Those sores! He really should see a dermatologist. The rich man knew about Lazarus. He saw him walking past the house everyday. As the rich man sat in the comfort of his leather recliner, he thought, “It really is a shame how some people have such bad luck in life.” And off went Lazarus, walking down the street.

Was it a sin for the rich man to be rich? No. Was it a sin for the rich man to hoard his wealth and ignore the need of Lazarus? Yes. Is it a sin for you to have money and own possessions? No. God is the Giver of those good gifts too. Is it a sin for you to hang on to your money and possessions, guarding them and using them only for yourself? Yes. You see God gives you money and possessions for a purpose: not only to provide for your self, but also to love your neighbor. God gives you money and possessions so that you can turn and use them to help and serve your neighbor.

The real problem is not the money. The real problem is not trusting God. Yes, Jesus must preach this sermon to us—the holy Church, people redeemed by His blood. No, you and I don’t fully trust God to supply our need. No, you and I don’t trust God to take care of us day by day. That’s why we scrimp and hoard. That’s why we rely on ourselves. That’s why we always want more and more and more. We do it in our families; we do it in the church. All the while God is watching and saying, “Hey, I gave you that money and stuff so that you could serve your neighbor, not yourselves!”

Lazarus and the rich man both died, and each of them went to their eternal reward. Beggar Lazarus went to heaven. Nameless rich man, who had the good life, went to hell. And in the midst of his torment, the rich man was still blind to his sin. “Hey, Abraham,” he called, “send Lazarus over here to serve me with a couple drops of cold water.” During earthly life, rich man paid no attention to Lazarus. In everlasting torment, rich man thought Lazarus should serve him as a slave.

Sometimes we talk of needing more giving in the congregation. And it’s true: we all could stand to be more generous in the offering and thus promote the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. But we often think and speak in these terms: “Let’s get those other people giving more.” That’s the same selfish thing the rich man said in his hell. “We seem to have a problem. Let’s get other people to solve it for us.” And do you know what God says to that? “Baloney!” He says, “I always give you what you need--even more than you need. You simply don’t trust Me or look to Me.” Do you want to know how to increase giving? It’s simple: Give! To everyone who says, “We need more giving,” the solution is simple: take out your wallet and give.” Don’t expect other people to do it for you. Set the example. Generosity leads to more generosity. Giving leads to more giving.

That’s the way God works. That’s the way God wants His Church to work. Giving leads to more giving. Generosity leads to more generosity. God gives you money and possessions so that you will turn and use them to help and serve your neighbor. And who is your neighbor? Take a hint from the parable. The rich man’s neighbor was right at his gate—right under his nose. In the same way, your neighbor is right under your nose. Your neighbor eats at the dinner table with you, attends worship with you, and works on the job with you. You don’t have to go searching for a neighbor. God is so good and gracious to you that He has already given you neighbors, the people with whom you live, worship, work, and play. You are created for them, not them for you.

This is how God has worked to save you. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came into the world for one purpose: to save you by dying for you—to lay down His life for you, His neighbor. He gave up the privileges of being God and took on human flesh. He gave up His own precious life to serve you. What marvelous generosity! As St. John says: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 Jn. 3:16). St. Paul says the same thing: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

St. Paul is not talking about money or economics when He says that Jesus was rich and became poor. Jesus became poor—became a beggar—by taking our sin into His own body. As Jesus hung on the cross, God looked at Him and said, “You are the poorest, most beggarly sinner. You must die.” So, Jesus died and went through the torment and agony of hell to save us. You see, Jesus had to go there, because that’s where we were. And we deserved to be there, in the same place as the rich man in the story. But Jesus bridged the gulf, the grand canyon, between us and God. When Jesus rose from the dead, He brought us with Him from death into life. Now, we belong in Abraham’s bosom—right along side beggar Lazarus.

So, living the Christian life means learning to look at ourselves as beggars. That’s what we are. We have no claim on God, yet He loves to call us His children and His Church. We don’t deserve anything that God gives us, yet He still takes care of our needs. He lets us keep breathing every night while we sleep. He lets the sun come up in the morning to waken us and give us light. He lets us eat food every day. And we don’t deserve any of this. God is truly rich in mercy. Trusting Christ means learning to see ourselves as beggars who rely only on God. We keep sinning, but Jesus keeps forgiving us. We still fall into trusting ourselves rather than God, but Christ overcomes that sin too. He has already suffered torment for it and killed it.

When we come to the Lord’s Table, we come as beggars. Our mouths and our hands are open and empty. But be comforted. Jesus fills our mouths and hands with His own Body and Blood. In this Supper God teaches us to be beggars. He teaches us to trust Him and love our neighbor. When we receive Jesus’ Supper, we trust the forgiveness that He gives us in His Body and Blood. When we receive the Supper, we are also learning to love our fellow beggars as we eat and drink with them. We are beggars, and we need the Lord to feed us with His Body and Blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

When I say that we are beggars, I am not insulting you. Instead, I’m complimenting you. After all, you and I are free beggars. As we rely on God in Christ for every little thing, we are free to serve our neighbor. You see, beggars have nothing to hold onto, nothing to hoard. And what little they do receive, they always use it to help and serve their fellow beggars. Beggars are created for their neighbor. Amen.