7 Easter 2020

A Liturgy for the Home

The following service order is intended for use in the home at a time when our congregation cannot gather. It may be lead by a family member, or if you live alone, you may use it by yourself, in which case, simply say all parts. Of course this is not intended to be a substitute for the Divine Service of the gathered church, but as a provision for household devotion and prayer. You may also use the service orders of Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, or Compline depending on the time of day. For a simple service order, see Daily Prayer (LSB p. 294ff) .

Leader: O Lord, open my lips.
Response: And my mouth will declare your praise.
L: Make haste, O God, to deliver me.
R: Make haste to help me, O Lord.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.

Continue reading

6 Easter 2020

A Liturgy for the Home

The following service order is intended for use in the home at a time when our congregation cannot gather. It may be lead by a family member, or if you live alone, you may use it by yourself, in which case, simply say all parts. Of course this is not intended to be a substitute for the Divine Service of the gathered church, but as a provision for household devotion and prayer. You may also use the service orders of Matins, Morning Prayer, Vespers, Evening Prayer, or Compline depending on the time of day. For a simple service order, see Daily Prayer (LSB p. 294ff) .

Leader: O Lord, open my lips.
Response: And my mouth will declare your praise.
L: Make haste, O God, to deliver me.
R: Make haste to help me, O Lord.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit; as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.

Continue reading

Luke 13:22-30 / 25 August 2013

“Lord, will those who are saved be few?” You wonder sometimes. I sure have. How many will be saved? When you look at the condition of the world around you, when you look at the state of the church today, when you consider the diminishing impact that Christianity seems to have in the world, you begin to wonder. Will only a few be saved in the end? How many are going to make it past those pearly gates? Will you?
Continue reading

Open Minds, Open Mouths

Luke 24:36049 / Easter 3B / 22 April 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them: “Thus it is written: That the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins be preached in His name to all nations.” (Luke 24:47)

So here we are on the third Sunday of Easter and the news still seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? Christ is risen, we say, and yet somewhere in the more rational recesses of our minds there is this little flicker of doubt that goes, “really?” How can you know for sure? Beyond a reasonable doubt, at least, or to some reasonable certainty?
Continue reading

Turning the Tables on the Temple

John 2:13:25 / Lent 3B / 11 March 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

In the Gospel of John, everything tends to mean at least two things. John is chock full of double entendres, double meanings all over the place. Today’s Gospel is a prime example: the temple and Jesus’ body.

John pushes this episode from Holy Week right up to the front. That’s how important it is for John. This episode of Jesus’ clearing the temple of the money changers and sacrifice sellers sets the tone for the entire Gospel. It comes immediately after the inaugural sign of Jesus’ changing washing water into wedding wine at a feast at Cana.
Continue reading

Ashamed of Jesus? Perish the Thought!

Mark 8:27-38 / Lent 2B / 4 March 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA

Jesus and His band of disciples enter the region of Caesaria Philippi, a Roman city sitting on the southwestern base if Mt. Hermon on what today is known as the Golan Heights. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The region was known to the Greeks as “Panion,” named after the Greek god Pan. The city was dedicated to Caesar Augustus and had a large temple dedicated to him where Caesar was acclaimed “Kaiser Kyrios” – Lord Caesar.

And so it’s fitting that Jesus should spring two big questions on His disciples. The first question is the question of popular opinion – Who do men say that I am? What’s the buzz on the street? What are people saying about me? Jesus asks them this not because He wants to know, but because He wants them to see and say the difference between the world’s perspective on Jesus and the disciples’ perspective. It’s the difference between faith and unbelief, between confessing Jesus and denying Him. It is ultimately the difference between life and death.
Continue reading

Forgive and Forget

God forgives and forgets. He forgives our wickedness, and He remembers our sins no more. That’s that marvel and the mystery. The Judge of all, the One who could condemn us, and who could destroy body and soul in hell, forgives. And the omniscient One who knows all things, chooses in mercy to remember our sins no more. That’s called “grace” – undeserved kindness on the part of God.

We are reluctant to forgive, and even less inclined to forget. We hold grudges. We keep book on one another. We remember the hurt feeling, the wayward word that jabbed us the wrong way, the injustice done to us. We dwell on it, nurture it, walk it around like the dog. Past offenses turn into present accusations. “You always did this; you never did this.” Our idea of justice is quid pro quo – this for that. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life. That makes sense. Strike me on the cheek, and I’ll bop you on the nose. Forget? We may have trouble remembering birthdays and anniversaries, but we have no trouble remembering wrongs done to us in the past.

Forgive? That’s not our way either. To forgive is to let something go, to leave something be, to go on as though it hadn’t happened. Like the farmer in the parable whose enemy sowed weeds among his wheat and he says, “Forgive it. Let it alone. Let it go.” Do nothing. Like the father with two sons who welcomes his prodigal son home with an embrace and a robe and a ring without so much as a syllable of confession much less a deal. Act as though it had never happened. Like the prophet Hosea, who seeks out his adulterous bride and courts her and wants to take her back. Like Yahweh with His Israel, loving the unlovable, embracing the unembraceable, forgiving and forgetting, making a new covenant with a people who broke the old one.

We try to have it both ways: “I’ll forgive, but I can’t forget.” Meaning, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget.” Just in case I need call it up later on. Or in case I need to call in a marker or two. Put it up on a shelf, like a fine wine. Let it age for a while. Forgive, but never forget what was forgiven. But forgiveness without forgetting is not forgiveness at all. They run parallel. To forgive is to forget. Not forget as in a case of amnesia, but as in refusing to call to mind. Instead of filing it away, running it through the shredder so the pieces can’t be put back together again, even if we wanted.

Image what our lives would be like if we forgave and forgot. If children would forgive and forget what their parents have done to them. If parents would forgive and forget what their children have done to them. Therapists would be begging for work. Imagine husbands and wives forgiving and forgetting. The divorce courts would be hurting for business. Imagine communities and congregations, where, instead of dwelling on each other’s sins and shortcomings, we forgave them, and instead of obsessing on them at every moment, we set them aside in our own minds and refused to recall them.

But forgiving and forgetting is not our way, is it? We may as well admit it. It comes as naturally to us as breathing water or flapping our arms to fly. It’s not in our sinful nature to forgive and forget. Why? Because we want to be gods damning those who do bad things to us. Because we in our self-centered world won’t tolerate these assaults on our being. We’re not going to put up with anything, are we? We see those who forgive and forget as stupid and weak. The notion of forgive and forget seems to us something so foreign, it may as well be from another planet or something so “divine” it can’t possibly be human. “To err is human, to forgive divine,” we say, thinking we’re off the hook. But remember, Jesus is fully human. He did not err, and He forgave.

We refashion God in our own unforgiving, unforgetting image. This is how a respectable God is supposed to be. God the Judge, sitting high on His throne, with the scales of justice dangling in His hand, balancing sin against good works. We cook up religions that bargain with God, as though God could be bribed by our prayers, our works of charity, our religious disciplines, our fasting or Bible study or pilgrimages, or whatever else we come up with. We imagine God to be the great Accountant in the Sky, a sharp-penciled bookkeeper peering over the record of our lives, running the totals, checking our debits and credits on some heavenly spreadsheet. We even come up with a treasury of merit from the saints that can be credited to those who are lacking righteousness. All for a price.

At the heart of every human religion is the notion that God does not forgive nor does He forget. He’s making a list, He’s checking it twice, and He already knows whose naughty and nice. That’s the kind of religion that appeals to our sense of fairness and reason. We expect God to punish those who do evil, especially when it’s the other guy and not ourselves. We expect God to demand obedience from those who claim His name. We expect God to reward those who do good and walk the walk. But forgive? Why would God want to do that? And forget? Come on, get serious. This is God we’re talking about here – omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign to the nth degree deity. Any god who “forgets” just isn’t a respectable god in our religious way of thinking.

The Ten commandments as religion make a lot of sense. That’s why all sorts of religious people can rally around them. Morality is a no-brainer; forgiveness is the dividing line. We expect God to want an exclusive relationship with us, no other gods in His face. We expect that God would want us to worship Him, honor His name and His word. We expect that God is pleased when we honor and obey parents and other authorities, when we don’t kill or harm one another, when we keep our zippers and our lips zipped, and don’t steal stuff and are content with the stuff we have. That all makes great sense. That’s why the ten commandments are so popular.

But if you learn anything from Hebrew half of the Bible, learn this: Commandments don’t work because we can’t keep the commandments. God brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt through the blood and the water. God made Israel into a nation and established them under Moses with a covenant. And what did they do? They messed it all up. They broke the covenant. A covenant based on commandment keeping simply won’t work with a bunch of natural born sinners.

It’s takes a new covenant. One in which the Word of God is implanted in the heart – not just on stone. And not just rules to live by, but Gospel good news that God forgives your wickedness and forgets your sins. A new way of knowing the Lord, not simply God on the mountain but God in the flesh. God incarnate. The Word made Flesh dwelling among us.

Covenants call fior blood. The old covenant called for the blood of bulls, goats, and sheep, which, on its own, accomplished nothing. But the new covenant is sealed by the blood of Jesus, God’s Son, a blood poured out for you on the cross, and poured into a chalice for you to drink. “This is the new covenant in my blood.” Do this “for my remembrance,” says Jesus. Eat His Body, drink His blood, so that we will remember Him and He will remember us, and remember our sin no more. Forgive and forget.

Today is Reformation Sunday. Reformation Day, properly speaking, is October 31st, the All Hallow’s Eve, the evening before All Saints Day. Martin Luther wasn’t out trick or treating that day when he nailed 95 points of debate to the church door in Wittenberg. He was nailing an indictment against religion that had made the new covenant of the blood of Jesus into a transactional system of works and deal cutting with God, leaving people uncertain of their forgiveness, life, and salvation. The Reformation is not about how the Lutherans are right and the Catholics are wrong. It’s about how easy it is for any of us to slip into this way of bargaining and deal cutting, the way of religion. Even the brightest bulbs on the theological marquee can slip, forgetting that God is the God who forgives and forgets for Jesus’ sake.

Reformation Day is not a day for comfortable complacency or “denomination dissing.” We may no more say, “We have Luther as our father,” than the Jews at the time of Jesus could say, “We have Abraham as our father” or Roman Catholics can say, “We have the pope as our father.” It all means nothing apart from faith in the promise. Jesus is clear, “When you abide in my Word, you will know the truth, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will free you.”

Forgiveness is freedom from the past. Without forgiveness, we have no hope for the future, no freedom in the present. We are bound by chains to a past that hangs like a giant millstone around our necks that will drag us down to our death. The mercy, the undeserved kindness, the grace of God in Jesus is this: Jesus is our righteousness. His blood answers for our sin as an atoning sacrifice. His Word applies that Blood to each of us, baptizing us, forgiving us, feeding us, telling us in so many ways this one needful thing: You are justified, not by what you do, but by faith in the blood of Jesus and what He has done, and on His account you are free.

To abide in Baptism, to abide in the Word of forgiveness, to abide in the Body and the Blood is to be a disciple of Jesus, one who learns from Him the way of death and life, and who follows Him through death to life. Because of His perfect life and His cross, God forgives your wickedness and He remembers your sin no more. You are freed from your past to serve in the present with a sure hope of a bright future in Christ Jesus that is already yours by grace alone, through faith alone, for Jesus’ sake alone, and this from the Scriptures alone.

God forgives and He forgets, all for Jesus’ sake. And because of that, you are free and remembered by God.

In the Name of Jesus,

Salty Words

Salt is irritating and a good thing. Saltwater in the eyes stings. Salt in a wound irritates. Salt on meat preserves, and it tingles the taste buds. A dish without salt lacks flavor, zest. Jesus speaks of our being salted with fire and having salt in ourselves. James has some coarse, kosher salt for us, words that are irritatingly good.

Right out of the starting block, James hits us with ten salty imperatives. Some would be inclined to see ten “commandments,” but not every imperative is necessarily a commandment. LIke “come and get it,” when dinner is on and you’re hungry. Or “Do this in remembrance of me.” Or “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Though I suppose these would be harsh commandments for those who don’t want to “come and get it.” Such is the way of salt.

Part of the problem with Christianity today is that it’s lost much of it’s salt. We’re on a “low salt” diet, so to speak. That means we soft-peddle the law and mush up the Gospel. We fear offending anyone, lest they won’t want to come and fill our pews, so we serve up a blended service of mush. No salt. No sting, no bite, no zest. Not so James.

“Submit yourselves, then, to God.” You should note that the “yourselves” is not actually in the Greek text. It would have been better translated “be ordered under God.” Under God is where you belong, where you are blessed, put on the receiving end of all He has to give you. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” the proverb says. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” Jesus said.

To submit to another, to be ordered under another, is a position of trust. You must trust the one who is over you. Wives ordered under their husbands; children ordered under their parents; citizens ordered under their governors. And when the One who is over you is the One who is ordered under the will of His Father and who died for you on a cross, being ordered under Him means life and freedom. This Christ’s gift to you.

“Resist the devil, he will flee from you.” The devil’s a roaring lion, foaming at the mouth, roaming about for someone to devour. Resist him, Paul said, standing firm in the faith. The devil is resistible. He’s defeated. “One little word can fell him.” That one little word, by the way, is the word “liar.” He is a liar and the father of all lies, who would draw you far from your Baptism, keep you clear of the Lord’s Supper, make you an aloof critic of God’s Word instead of a humbled hearer and doer. Resist him, he has no power over you thanks be to Christ. Jesus resisted him with the Word on His lips. He did it for you. He conquered the devil with HIs dying, crushed his head with his cross-bruised heel. He is resistible, and he will flee from you, dear baptized child of God. That is Christ’s gift to you.

“Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” That’s a promise. He as already drawn near to you. Taken up your humanity, your flesh and blood, your sin and death. He has embraced you in His own death on a cross. He is as near as your Baptism, as near as the Word preached to you; as near as the Supper of His Body and Blood. This is Christ’s gift to you.

“Wash your hands, O sinners; purify your hearts.” Water alone can’t do it; but water and Word can. Be baptized and wash away the filth of Adam. Return to your Baptism daily, drowning that old self and all of its sin and lusts so that a new you may arise, the you that is already yours in Christ. That’s Christ’s gift to you, that your hands and hearts might be washed and purified. Just as the old testament priests washed their hands before offering their sacrifices. You, the priestly people of God, called and anointed to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, are washed and purified in that flood of blood and water that flowed from your Savior’s side. You are cleansed, pure and holy. This is Christ’s gift to you.

“Grieve, mourn, wail. Turn your laughter to mourning, your joy to gloom.” Oh, you wanted uplift this morning? I’m sorry. James just rained our your parade. So did Jesus with all His talk about cutting off offending hands and gouging out enchanted eyes. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh,” Jesus said. “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.” Jesus wept. You never hear of Him laughing. He wept over the unbelief of His friends, over Jerusalem, over the ravages of death. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with suffering. Our suffering. The fullest depths of our sin and depravity and all that has gone wrong with that was a very good creation. He drank the bitter cup for us down to the dregs. If we were to know even a small fraction of how bad it is within us, we would grieve and mourn and wail too.

This rubs against our grain. We are sunshine people, accustomed to 360 days of bright, cloudless sunshine. That’s why people come here. (It sure isn’t for the wide open spaces or the clean air.) When it’s overcast for more than 36 hours, we go into depression. When it rains more than a mist, we go on “storm watch.” We expect every day to be a bright, sun shiny day. And we expect our lives to be bright, sun shiny lives filled with happiness. We expect Christianity to be a giddy joyride in a religious Disneyland, and if not, well then there must be something wrong with the God channel, and we better change it.

“You will laugh,” Jesus promises. But not now. Now we are engaged in a struggle, and it’s not funny. Now our old nature wars against our new, Adam vs. Christ, and it’s anything but amusing. Only at the end, when Jesus raises our bodies sown in dishonor and tears and grief and gives us His glory and honor, only when He gets the final last laugh over sin and death will there be laughter. And then that laughter won’t be the fleeting giggles of the comedy club, but the eternal joy of life with Jesus.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” And once again, the translators are up their mischief. There’s no “yourselves” in there, so get yourselves out of there. “Be humbled before the Lord.” Humbling something done to you, and when that humbling Word has it’s killing way with you, you will be lifted up, raised up by the One who drew all to Himself when He was lifted up from the humility of death on a cross. Humbling and exaltation is the way of Jesus, the way of death and resurrection, and the way of all who follow Jesus. We will be humbled, and we will be lifted up.

We naturally hate this; we fight against it. We will not be humbled, not if we can help it. We’ll even boast in our humility just to ensure it. Humility doesn’t come naturally to old Adam. It took a second Adam, clothed in our humanity, emptied of all His divine honor and glory, who humbled Himself by becoming obedient to His own Law, even to death on a cross. And it was from the depths of that humility that Jesus was highly exalted, and raised up to the heights of heaven, and glorified and the right hand of God, and you too are exalted and glorified in Him.

First tears, then laughter. First death, then resurrection. First humbling, then glory.

James analyzes the arrogance of Adam, the pride of our sinful nature that imagines we are in charge, we are in control, we are gods. He speaks of our will to power, to lord over each other, to sit in judgment over the brother and the neighbor. James knows his congregation well, and across the chasm of time, he seems to know a thing or two about us too.

He reminds us of our tongue, that untamed beast between our teeth, how we slander and gossip and judge one another. Jesus said, “Judge not, and you will not be judged. Condemn not, and you will not be condemned.” And what do we do? We judge and we condemn, often without even so much as fair trial and evidence. That doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to judge sin. Of course we are. But we aren’t given to judge the sinner. We’re not given to say, “He’ll burn in hell for that; or she’ll get what she deserves.” There is only One who is Lawgiver and Judge, and He’s the One who was judged under His own Law to be our Savior.

James calls to our attention the arrogance of our stewardship of time, how we act as though the universe revolved around our personnel day planners. Today I will do this, tomorrow I’ll go there, without so much as a nod to the Lord. “If the Lord be willing….” We’re in the passenger seat, not the driver’s seat. “If it’s the Lord’s will we will live and do this or that.” “Thy will be done,” as Jesus taught us to pray, and prayed Himself in the garden.

James focuses on our stewardship of wealth. In his day, as in ours, wealth was considered a sign of blessing. But James says, “Weep and wail, you rich. Your wealth is rotting, your clothes are moth food, your silver and gold are tarnished.” Jesus said, “Woe to you who are rich for you have already received your comfort.” The idolatry of wealth is so enticing, promising life in abundance, yet in the end consuming everything we are. Think of the rich man who wound up in Hades for not hearing Moses and the prophets. Or the rich man who dropped dead at his kitchen table while drawing plans for bigger barns to store his wealth, never enjoying a bit of it in his lifetime.

James would have us remember that the worker is worthy of his wages and to consider the underpaid, the field workers, the sweat shop laborers. Luxury sits atop the sweat and blood and calluses of hard labor, and woe to those who fail to pay the working man and woman his or her fair wages. The Lord hears the cries of the poor from the harvest fields and the factories.

None of us sitting here has any reason for pride – whether in the way we speak of each other, the way we handle our time, how we deal with our wealth. We’ve poked and prodded at the specks in the eyes of others, and neglected the two by four of sin sticking out of our own eye. We’ve acted as if we were the Lord of time without any time for the Lord. We’ve hoarded our own wealth, gladly paying bargain prices without regard for the worker who supplies the things we own and the food we eat.

Be submissive to God. He is here to forgive you and save you. Resist the devil, the world, your own sinful flesh, the glamour of evil. You no longer live, but Christ now lives in you. Draw near to God, sinner that you are. And here’s the wondrous, grace-full truth: He will draw near to you. Don’t be afraid to come near to God, to hear His Word, to kneel at His table. Christ has opened the way for you. Be washed in Baptism, cleanse your hearts and hands and minds with the watery Word that drowns your sin in the sea of forgiveness. Grieve and mourn your condition; there’s nothing funny about our sin not matter what the Comedy Channel would have us think. Be humbled, for we have nothing to be proud of before God, and nothing to lose.

And the salty good news is that Jesus Christ will lift you up out of your sin, out of the misery that your sin has caused you and those around you, out of your own death and the grave. He will lift you up, just as surely as He was lifted up on the cross to bear your sin, lifted up from the grave, lifted up to the right hand of God. He will lift you up to be where He is.

Have salt in yourselves, the salt of Jesus’ death and life for you, and be at peace with each other.

In the name of Jesus,

Two Wisdoms

There are two kinds of wisdom – wisdom “from above” and wisdom “from below.” Heavenly wisdom and earthly wisdom. James is speaking in the way of the Proverbs and the first Psalm. Two ways, two wisdoms.

The wisdom “from below” is an arrogant, self-centered sort of wisdom. James calls it “earthly, unspiritual, dark, and devilish.” We’re accustomed with that kind of wisdom. It’s “in our genes,” so to speak. It comes naturally to us. “Don’t get mad, get even.” “Do unto others before they get a chance to do unto you.” “Might makes right.” “Me first; look out for number one.” We know it all too well. The will to power, to control others, to make others bend their will to our will and our way. “My will be done,” if we could get away with it.

This is the wisdom that tends to run the world of business, the world of politics, and all too often the church as well. Envy over the position of others. Selfish ambition – crawling up the ladder while standing on the backs of others. And with them comes disorder and all sorts of evil. It’s quite amazing, really, how much evil comes out of our self-centeredness – looking out for good old number one. We steal, we kill, we lie, and we justify our actions saying “I’ve got to take care of myself.” We neglect our duties and responsibilities and call it “me time.” It shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus said out of our hearts come murder, adultery, immorality, theft, lies. He knew the condition of our hearts, turned inward on themselves. Self-absorbed, self-indulged hearts.

James, the brother of the Lord, knew it too. He was the bishop of Jerusalem, the pastor of the first congregation of Christians. He’s writing his flock scattered by persecution. He knew that in every baptized believer, there is still old Adam, demanding to have his own way, wanting to be in power, willing to cut down, destroy, do anything to get ahead. He recognized, like the apostle Paul, that the life of the baptized believer is anything but easy. It’s a war, an inner conflict between two entirely different persons – Adam and Christ. Our sinful nature and the Holy Spirit.

Paul put it this way in Galatians: “The sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” He goes on to describe the works of the sinful nature, and essentially gives the same list as James: “immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, etc.” In fact, Paul is even harsher than James in his assessment. He says, “I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” James puts it this way: Whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”

We are plunged into a paradox. We’re supposed to be in the world, yet not of the world. We know that God loved the world in the sending of His Son, and yet we are told quite clearly by Jesus and His apostles Paul and James, “Don’t get cozy with the world.” The world doesn’t have God’s interests, or yours, at heart. “World” means the unbelieving world, the world that wants nothing to do with Christ, the world that hates the good news of sins forgiven for Jesus’ sake, the world that prefers false gods to the real One, idols instead of Incarnation, “spiritualities” instead of sacraments, self-help instead of dying and rising.

The Spirit we have from God, the Holy Spirit which is ours by virtue of our Baptism, is a zealously jealous spirit. He wants us all for God. He won’t share us with any other god. And while our envy works disorder and evil, the Spirit’s zeal creates order and good. He’s envious on our behalf, knowing that we are engaged in a struggle. It’s good news to know that the Spirit is not one to put to flight and run off when things get rough, but He engages the struggle, He is jealous for us, He is grieved when we don’t live as the free children of God that we are.

The Spirit of God teaches us that heavenly wisdom from above, the wisdom that is truly “spiritual” in every sense of that word, God’s wisdom. It’s the wisdom of the cross, the way of dying and rising. We heard it again in the today’s Gospel. “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days He will rise.” That’s God’s Wisdom Incarnate.

His disciples didn’t get it. They were afraid to ask about it. They wouldn’t get it. Instead, they resort to their own wisdom, their own way of thinking, and argued with each other about who was the greatest. Imagine it. Jesus speaks of His death and resurrection, and the disciples are bickering over who is the greatest among them. Who is going to have the top cabinet appointments when Jesus takes power? Who is going to get the most recognition for a job well done? Will it be Peter, James, John? Certainly not the bottom rung like Thaddaeus or Bartholomew or that tax collector Matthew!

We know that game all too well ourselves. We play it at work, at home, at church. Wherever two or three are gathered, there will be a power struggle.

Jesus sits down and teaches His Twelve, and us, a thing or two about greatness in the kingdom. It’s not about being first, but being last. Literally dead last. The lowest slave. The bottom rung. The servant of all. That’s Jesus’ place. He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom, an atoning sacrifice, not for the religious and the good, but for sinners. Not a king crowned with gold sitting on a throne, but a king crowned with thorns hanging on a cross.

He took a little child and had him stand among all the big people. In Jesus’ day, childhood was not something idealized, but something you got through as quickly as possible to productive adulthood. Children were considered losers until they grew to pull their own weight. They certainly had no time to indulge adolescence. But Jesus identifies with the littlest of the losers and says, “Whoever welcomes one of these, welcomes me, and in welcoming me, welcomes the Father who sent me.”

No, that’s not our wisdom, is it? Coming in last. Identifying with the little. With those who have nothing and receive everything in trust. On another occasion, Jesus said, “Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” Childlike, not childish. Childish is the way of the old Adam – self-centered, bratty, all about me. Childlike is the way of Christ – trusting, receiving, becoming the least.

What causes fights and quarrels among you, James asks. The early Christians had fights and quarrels. Think about that. There has never been a perfect church, a pristine Christianity. Not even among the first believers. What causes fights, quarrels, divisions? What goes on inside us. We want but we can’t have. We pray self-centeredly instead of Christ-centeredly, and then we complain that we don’t get what we pray for. We make our alliances with the world, and we betray our baptisms, the mark of ownership God stenciled on us in the water.

There has to be a better way, and there is. The way of heavenly wisdom, the wisdom that comes down from above. Pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial, sincere. It’s the way of peacemakers who sow in peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. It’s what Jesus called “blessed” in the beatitudes. Blessed are the spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted.

The world cries out, “That’s the way of losers!” And God cries out, “That’s the way of life in Jesus.”

Now this is not something you wind up in yourselves. This is what Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit” – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22). As Paul says, “There is no law against these.” These are the fruit that happens when the Spirit of God has His way and we get out of the way. This isn’t something that you do to be saved, but something God does because He saved you.

It’s there in that tiny little word “grace.” “But He gives us more grace,” James says. Undeserved kindness toward the sinner. Forgiveness, life, and salvation. Gifts in abundance. It’s all there for you, dear child of God. Complete and perfect forgiveness for all of your sin. Life in abundance in the death and life of Jesus. His own Body and Blood to strengthen and sustain you. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound. “He gives us more grace.”

This isn’t grace as in power to do good. This is the grace of the father who embraces his wayward, loser son in the hold of his unconditional forgiveness. This is the grace that seeks and saves the lost. This is the grace that invites the uninvited to the wedding feast. This is the grace that welcomes a little child as a picture of greatness in the kingdom of heaven.

This is the grace that embraced you in the poverty of your sin, your selfishness, your desire to power and control. This is the grace that picks you up when you are humbled, broken, kicked, stepped on. Grace. Amazing grace. Undeserved kindness toward an enemy. “While we were yet enemies, Christ died for us.” That’s the wisdom of God, the wisdom that comes “from above” – pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, fruitful, impartial, sincere. That’s the wisdom that is yours in Christ Jesus.

In the Name of Jesus,

The Implanted Word – Heard and Done

“Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” But don’t kid yourself. You have to first be a hearer before you can be a doer. James would have us consider our hearing of the Word this morning. And our speaking. And our doing. The Word goes in, the Word goes out, and in between the Word does its thing. It’s a lot like breathing. Air goes in, air comes out, and in between, it does its oxygenating thing. In the next chapter, James will compare faith and works to a body and breath. Just as a body that doesn’t breath is dead, so faith that doesn’t work is dead.

But before James can talk about faith and works, he needs to talk about the Word. That’s because faith, like every other good and perfect gift, is from above. From above is where our new birth is, where our life is. We are born “from above” in Baptism, through water and Spirit. And this is, of course, God’s doing, as James says so well. (James is a better Lutheran than many seem to think.)

“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.” You didn’t choose to be born of your mother, nor did you choose to be born from above. This is God’s doing, not yours. Never mind what all the “born-againers” say. They need hear James. And we do too, or else we will start patting ourselves on the back for making the “right religious choices.” The unchangeable Father of lights willed to birth us through the Word of Truth, through the Gospel of Jesus, so that we might be a kind of “first fruits” of the new creation.

The “first fruits” are the fruits that come first. The first tomato on the vine; the first apple of the season. More to come, lots more. A whole new creation is on its way awaiting the appearing of Jesus. But already now, as the old creation dies, there are the first fruits of the new. You. Us. Believers sprinkled like salt throughout the world to show the world that in Jesus there is life even though we die. It’s a privilege, a gift, by grace, undeserved on our part. All by the Word of Truth having its way with us – killing us, making us alive, drowning the sinner, raising the saint; killing sin, raising righteousness. It’s all God’s work, a good and perfect gift from the Father of Lights through the Son by the Spirit.

“Faith comes by hearing,” the apostle Paul wrote. “He who has ears, let him hear,” Jesus said. “Everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” That’s sound advice for our conversation with each other. Listen first, then speak. As your teachers always reminded you, you have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen at least twice as much as you speak. And if that’s true for our conversation with each other, how much more true is it of our conversation with God. Quick to hear, slow to speak. Before we can exhale, we need to inhale; before we can speak, we need to hear.

Here’s where the problem lies. We’re born deaf to God’s Word. There’s a ringing in our our ears, the tone deafness of Adam’s rebellion that has tuned out the Word of God and put our word in its place. We don’t want to shut up and listen. We want our voices to be heard, our opinions to be registered, our protests to be duly noted. Before a single righteous word comesout of our mouths, a steady diet of righteous words needs to go into our ears. Unless the Lord opens our lips, our mouths will not declare His praise. Not naturally. Before we can pray, praise, give thanks, we need to be still and listen, hear the Word of the Lord. That, by the way, is why we don’t have “prayer and praise” services. We have services of the Word and the Sacrament, services of preaching, services where the Word is drummed into our ears.

We are that deaf and mute man in today’s Gospel, deaf to the Word, mute to praise. Unless the Lord grabs hold of our tongue, there won’t be any praise coming out of our lips. Only the usual stuff – cursing, anger, harsh words, vile speech, dirty jokes, gossip, slander, lies. Unless the Lord sticks His fingers in our ears and cries Ephphatha! they won’t be attuned His Word.

Quick to hear, slow to speak, even slower to anger. Anger is the static in our hearing. Interference. Ever worship angry? Did you get anything out of it? Anger is like the static on your radio, or that “snow” on your television (that’s right, I don’t have cable TV). Anger plugs our ears and fouls our tongues. It never works the righteousness of God.

Anger is what happens when we realize we are not God, that we are not in charge, that we are not in control. That ticks us off. Anger is our response to loss. We lose our car keys, and we get angry. We lose our health, and we get angry. We lose our loved ones, and we get angry. Why? Because we can’t deal with death and it’s dogging us every day of our lives. And so we sit and stew and all the while God is speaking.

Get rid of the filth and wickedness that clogs our hearing like a wad of earwax. The world James knew was full of it, and so is ours. We sadly underestimate the cumulative effect of immorality, of wicked speech, of loathsome lies that grind away at our faith. Don’t imagine that you can wallow in the mud and not get dirty or that it will just float off of you as though you were coated with Teflon. James is not speaking to the world at large, to all those evil “sinners” out there. He’s talking to the church, to baptized believers, warning them to put away the filth of the old Adam, just as the apostle Paul urged his hearers to put to death the sinful nature with its sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfishness, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness. Do you get the picture? We live with it every day. We see it on TV and in the movies. We have it drummed into our ears through the music of the streets. We read about it in our magazines and newspapers, and it’s plastered all over the internet, that great superhighway of information whose chief commodity is porn.

Don’t think for a second that you are immune. Baptism is no Teflon coating against the cultural muck and mire, but a call to struggle, to war against the blatant appeals to our own sinfulness. As our catechism says, we are called in Baptism to die each day to sin and evil desires, and each day to rise up from our Baptism to live as the free children of God that we are, to receive and embrace by faith the Word implanted in us that saves us, and by that Word to live before God in the righteousness and purity of Jesus. That’s true freedom, my friends. Freedom to live, to love, to serve. And it begins with hearing the Word. Ephphatha! Be opened.

There’s a kind of hearing that isn’t really hearing. Where the words go in and rattle around and nothing happens. Hearing without doing. Hearing without the expectation that the Word is going to do something. James compares it to a man who goes and looks in the mirror, and the instant he turns around, he forgot what he saw. Impossible for me, you say. Have you ever thought about the readings during the singing of the hymn and say, “Now what were those readings about?” Do you recall the readings of five minutes ago? Or the sermon. Or the liturgy. God is speaking to us, implanting His Word. And then it hits those dull, clogged up ears of ours, and nothing happens. Remember Jesus’ parable of the four kinds of soil – shallow, weedy, rocky. The seed is planted but no fruit. Only in the plowed up, ground up soil is there fruit in the end.

There’s another kind of false hearing and that’s being a critic of the Word instead of a hearer. It’s a professional malady among preachers who can’t sit still to listen to a sermon preached by another. But you’re not immune to it either. The old Adam is a critic of God’s Word, picking and choosing what suits him, always wondering, “Did God really say?” We hear, and yet in our criticism, we don’t hear.

Be doers of the Word, not simply hearers. That Word of God is the same Word that made all things, orders all things, sustains all things. That Word of Jesus is the power of God for salvation. Don’t think it doesn’t have power. Expect it to have power. Expect it to do things. It’s Christ in action. He is the Word.

The Word you hear, that takes hold of your heart, that plows you under and then lifts you up, is no idle, empty Word. When the Word of Christ says you are forgiven, you actually are forgiven. Now live as one who is forgiven. You get to do that. When the Word of Christ says you are free, you are truly free. Now live as one who is truly free. You get to do that That’s what it means to be “doer of the Word,” – to let the Word have its way with you so that it is God at work in you both to will and to do His good purpose and pleasure. The Word says “believe on Jesus Christ, trust Him with your life and death,” and the doer of the Word believes. The Word says, “Don’t try to bear your sins, atone for your sins. Confess your sins, and hear forgiveness.” And the doer of the Word confesses and hears.

The Word says, “Love as you have been loved by Jesus.” The widow, the orphan in distress, the least, the little, the forgotten of this world – love them as Jesus has loved you, in your littleness and lostness. Works of mercy. Christ is hidden in these little ones for you to serve, not in order to be saved, but because you are saved. He hung on a cross to free you and them. He opened your ears that you might hear. He loosed your tongue to speak and sing His praises so that others might hear and believe. You are the first-fruits; and soon to come the harvest of the resurrection.

Truly, He has done all things well, and you are in on the receiving of all He has done. Hear it, speak it, do it.

In the Name of Jesus,