Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Day Sermon



For retailers, Christmas is already over.  For the Church – for those who celebrate Christmas, not as the day to get stuff, but as the day to celebrate the birth of the Son of God – Christmas is just getting started.  Last night, we began the 12 day celebration by hearing St. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus.  We all know that story.  We’ve heard it so many times.  You can probably recite it from memory.  When you were a child, you may have played a part in enacting that story for a Christmas pageant or musical.  I know I did.  That story from Luke Chapter 2 is an account of the birth of Jesus at our level – human level - here on earth.  But today, Christmas Day, we didn’t hear that story.  Our Gospel Lesson was from St. John’s account – the prologue – the overture if you will – to the story of Jesus.  Instead of St. Luke’s view of the birth of Jesus from ground level, John takes us way up – nearly to heaven – to give us the big, cosmic picture of what is going on here with the incarnation of the Son of God.  John gives us the big picture of Christ – the Logos –the Word of God becoming flesh and blood and coming into the world – the light coming into the world.
              Some of you already know that Sheri, the girls, and I enjoy going camping - tent camping.  Now, a really important thing you need to remember when camping is this: be ready for sunset.  It gets dark out there, fast.  We light up our campsite with lanterns and, yes, we string Christmas tree lights up to help.  But go just a few feet beyond, and you’re in darkness.  And you better have your flashlight with you.  There’s a lot of things that go bump in the night out there in the wilderness.  Light is important.  It’s even more than that.  Light is life.  Without light, there would be no life here on earth.  No wonder light was the first on the list of our Creator’s creations.  Light provides the energy for all life.  Perhaps that’s why John calls the Logos, the Word...the light.  He is the light coming into the darkness.  
            Darkness.  When John uses the word “darkness” in his gospel account, he’s talking about the absence of light – the absence of God.  Not that God has separated Himself from the world.  No, the world has separated itself from God.  A world that has separated itself and is opposed to God’s will.  A world where there’s a lack of love for others.  And because we are sinners.  That darkness is present within us.  We oppose God’s will.  We fail to trust in Him.  We love ourselves more than others.  But when light shines in the darkness, all that was hidden is now revealed.  John writes, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”  The Christ s that true light.  The truth has a way of cutting through the darkness and shedding light on that which isn’t true.  The truth of Jesus, the truth of His Word, cuts into our darkness and reveals everything – warts and all – all the things that go bump in our self-created night.  The Word of God reveals everything – lights it up for all to see – including ourselves.  
            But that same light is creative…re-creative.  Again, John writes, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  That same Word of God that reveals everything, recreates.  And this is the reason the light, Jesus Christ, came into the world.  To be creative – to create children of God and their life of faith.  Jesus Christ became flesh in order to show His glory to the world – to die and to rise again to new life.  The Word became flesh so that you would be born, not of flesh, nor of the will of flesh or the will of man, but by God.  His Word of forgiveness and mercy is life – new life – making a new creation of you who were once entirely in darkness.  That’s the reason for Christmas.  That’s the reason why this baby, born of a virgin, and lying in a manger is here.  He is the light in our darkness, lighting the way.  And the darkness will not overcome it.  And that light, Jesus Christ, is now life – your life.  What a Christmas gift!
            The Word – the light – life – became flesh and dwelt among us.  It’s a mystery how that happened – that the Son of God, the Word of God would take on flesh and dwell among us.  But because of God’s great love for us He had to – in order that we might see His glory, and believe in Him.  It’s truly a mystery – a mystery that we get to take a peek into these mysteries through John’s prologue.  The hymn asks the question, “What Child is This?”  And many would ask the same question of Jesus: “Who are you?”  Answer: this Word, this light coming into our world of darkness, this Word made flesh is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And not just 2000 years ago.  But today.  Today, here, in this place, among us, in you.  This same light coming into the world - the same holy one of God in whose presence seraphim and cherubim must veil their faces and dare not look - this light of light reveals Himself to you.  The Light, Word became flesh is with us, today, present in a real, physical way as He has promised.  “This is my body, given for you.  This is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  The light coming into the darkness of you as you eat and drink of the body and blood of Christ in his holy Supper – today.  On this day, we call it “The Christ-Mass.”  The Word becoming flesh and dwelling within you.  The light of Christ within you.  Life, new life, eternal life within you.  That is your God’s gracious and merciful gift to you today, this Christmas Day.
            It’s not hermeneutically kosher to jump Gospels in the middle of the story, but I’m going to anyway.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world.”  That’s right - you are now the light of the world.  Not because of what you have done, but because of the light and life Christ has given you.  What does He tell you?  “Don’t hide it.  Let your light shine before others.”  This child of whom we ask, “What child is this?”  This Child, the Christ, the Son of God is now light in you.  So like a flashlight stabbing it’s light out into the darkness of the wilderness, let that light shine.  Not for your glory.  For His.  Because that light is the Christ.  And that light is life – not just for you, but for so many others still dwelling in darkness.  
On this Christmas Day, let them see the great light!  Let them see Jesus.
A most blessed and merry Christmas to each of you.  Amen


Monday, July 10, 2017

Observations


A little while back, I along with the family were invited to the First Communion for a son of a friend. I hadn't been in a Roman Catholic worship context in a long time.  Another interesting tidbit is that I attended the Mass in my clerical collar. It was not by choice. I helped officiate a funeral at Hope just prior to the First Communion Mass.  I had no time to change!  So that made for some interesting dynamics and might I say, feelings of awkwardness on my part - like I was an imposter.  I wasn't an imposter.  I wear the uniform of the Office of the Holy Ministry.  But within my context, only Roman Catholic Priests are expected to wear the collar.  (I am frequently address as "Father" when out in public.)  But enough of that.

My observations:

1. I had never been inside Mary Queen Catholic Church, Friendswood, TX since they built their new sanctuary (technically, a basilica.)  It is impressive on the outside and even more so on the inside.  Roman Catholics often donate much treasure for such purposes - and it shows.  I commend them for it.  This was no auditorium.  This is a huge space that exudes mystery, transcendence, and awe.

2. Hardly anyone sings.  There were a number of hymns sung.  But almost no one sang,  Sheri and I tried singing and picked up their unfamiliar tunes rather quickly.  But all we heard was ourselves and the silence of everyone else listening to the cantor.  

3. The music printed in the worship folder did not always match what was sung.  There were liturgical portions of the service printed with music and words.  The words were correct, but the music was not.  Very confusing for one who reads music.

4. Reverence.  If there is one thing I observed more than anything else, it was reverence.  Particularly during the celebration of the Sacrament.  Everyone kneeled from the Words of Institution until the end of Distribution.  The only time they were not kneeling was while walking up to the chancel to receive the Sacrament.  The Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament is palpable among the people.  Their Lord is physically present, so they kneel in humility.  I totally respect their sense of reverence.  

Conclusion: We Lutherans need to teach the Roman Catholics how to sing (and the Doctrine of Justification by Faith and other articles of faith (See Augsburg Confession.))  The Roman Catholics could teach us a thing or two about reverence in worship. 

Saturday, January 21, 2017

"Nothing New Under the Sun"



Our 45th President was sworn into office yesterday.  Many cheered and rejoiced.  Many were not so joyous.  Some protested, which is their Constitutional right to do so.  Some caused violence, which is never righteous, nor a right of citizenship.  Violence and mayhem do not help anything, save to prove the cowardice of the perpetrator.

I have heard and seen through media channels how difficult a time some people are having with the reality of a new administration.  But a change of power is nothing new.  Perhaps it's because the change was so dramatic and gap so large between the Obama Administration and the new Trump Administration.  But something to remember: when you swing a pendulum so far to the left, you can count on that pendulum swinging just as far to the right.

King Solomon, the wisest man ever, wrote: "There is nothing new under the sun. " (Ecclesiastes 1:9)  Presidents will come and go.  Presidents are not God, nor do they have divine powers.  So where will you put your trust?  In the Obama?  In the Trump?  To do so is foolish and striving after wind.

Some wise words were posted yesterday by a professor at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Dr. Jeffrey Gibbs.  They are a helpful reminder to all of us:

"Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush1, Clinton, Bush2, Obama, Trump. All smart and gifted. All deeply, deeply flawed. None able to do as much damage as their enemies feared, nor as much good as their allies hoped. May God protect innocent lives, and bring humility to all. Thank you, and now go find a way to love your neighbor."

Let's keep our eye on the ball - on what's really important.  God is still in His heaven and loves us more than we can imagine.  He's got this.  So you, go love you neighbor.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Music in the Air



Every early Sunday morning, during the short drive from home to parish, I listen to the same radio program: "On Being" with Krista Tippett.  She brings on various guest to talk about and contemplate religion and spirituality.  Rarely, she may have a Christian guest.  Most are from all the other world religions, religions of their own creation, or people from the realm of science (which can itself be worshiped as a god.
This past Sunday, I listened to a fascinating discussion she was having with a acoustic ecologist - one who listens to, records, and studies the sounds of nature.  He stated a fascinating fact: one would think that our human hearing was most sensitive to the frequency range of human speech.

It isn't.

Our hearing is most sensitive to the frequency range of 4-5 kilohertz.  And what sounds happen to be in that range: bird song.

His hypothesis: human hearing has "evolved" to be most sensitive to the frequency of birdsong because where the birds are, resources for life may be found: food, shelter, etc.

My hypothesis: I would add to the good ecologist's hypothesis this: God created our hearing to be most sensitive in that range so that we might hear the beauty of their song.  Purely for our enjoyment. Purely to hear the goodness of our Creator.

You can hear the interview for yourself here.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

History Repeats Itself

First, a blessed Christmas to each of you.

I want to share something that I experienced Christmas Eve.  While just a simple flashback, it became a profound moment for me of history repeating itself.

"Quirinius"

That was the word that started it all.

"kwye-Rin-ee-uhs."

I struggled to pronounce that name, almost 40 years ago.  That Christmas Eve, my family and two other families at my home congregation, St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Des Peres, MO, were tasked with leading the family service.  My job, and I remember it clearly, was to read the Gospel Lesson: Luke 2.  My parents had given me a copy of the Bible - "The Children's Bible" - as a gift and I was to read the account of the birth of Jesus from it.  I practiced and practiced in preparation for the big day.  But Quirinius - the governor of Syria - his name was a tough one.  I kept stumbling over it.  I don't remember if I was successful reading that name on Christmas Eve, but I remember the struggle.

But that was 40 years ago.  And now, on this Christmas Eve in the Year of our Lord 2016, I was in front of another congregation, Hope Lutheran Church in Friendswood, TX - the congregation for which I serve as pastor.  I was reading the account of the birth of Jesus once more - at a Christmas Eve family service.  As I read the word "Quirinius" in verse 2, I suddenly remembered, and I was that little boy all over again, trying to read the sacred words of Luke 2 among the gathered people of God.

History repeated itself.

And history does repeat itself, every time the words of the story of Christ are read, that history comes to life once again within the hearts and minds of those who struggle to follow in the path of their Lord.  That's what happens when His Word is read and proclaimed, Christ happens again and again - history repeats itself.

I pray that history continues to repeat itself - Christ coming to you again and again as you hear His Word, participate in His Sacraments, experience His love and mercy through the love and mercy of fellow believers.

Have a blessed Christmas and happy New Year.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Foretaste


First, happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.  May you find time to recall how your Lord has blessed you this past year.

Second, something to think about:

We often hear of the Lord's Supper as a "foretaste of the feast to come."  Which it is; it is a foretaste of the feast we will enjoy with our Lord in the new heavens and new earth He has promised.

But something can also be said for your Thanksgiving dinner this evening.  It is also a foretaste of the feast to come.  Not in the same manner as the Lord's Supper.  No forgiveness or eternal life or strengthening of faith is offered through turkey and dressing and such.  But you can think of it as a foretaste.

From Isaiah 25:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
    of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.
And he will swallow up on this mountain
    the covering that is cast over all peoples,
    the veil that is spread over all nations.
    He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
    and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.
It will be said on that day,
    “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
    This is the Lord; we have waited for him;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Isaiah was seeing into that day when our Lord returns - when He will swallow up death forever on the Day of Resurrection.  He was seeing God's people gathered together for an amazing feast of thanksgiving for what their God has done for them.

Hopefully, you will be gathered together with those you love - a gathering of God's people.
Hopefully, you will be feasting on rich food and drinking well-aged wine (I recommend it 😁)
Hopefully, you will remember that your God has saved you through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hopefully, you will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.

Make this meal today a foretaste - just a taste, just a glimpse - of the one that will come.