Archive for March, 2013

Sermon on Luke 20:9-19

The following sermon on Luke 20:9-19 was preached by LCMS Fourth Vice-President, The Rev. Dr. Daniel Preus at the International Center Chapel on Friday, March 22, 2013.

In Jesus’ name, amen. As I read this text over a number of times, there was one thing about it that jumped out at me as being truly interesting. It was the initial reaction to the telling of Jesus’ parable. Jesus tells this story about the owner of the vineyard whose servants were brutally treated and then sent away empty handed, whose son was beaten and killed and thrown out. He says the owner of the vineyard will surely come to punish those who have acted this way and the response is, “Surely not!”

What an amazing response! When Jesus tells this parable, he is picking up on an Old Testament theme. In Isaiah 5 the prophet depicts God as planting a vineyard, taking care of it in every way possible and then coming to look for fruit on the vines and instead of finding good sweet grapes, finding only wild grapes or as one translator puts it, rotten, stinking grapes. Jesus picks up on this illustration in His parable and depicts the owner of the vineyard, whom all understand to be God, sending servants to determine what kind of fruit his vineyard is producing. The servants in the story are obviously the Old Testament prophets who frequently confronted and condemned the people for their lack of fruit – for their faithlessness. The servants are not only sent away empty-handed, however, with no fruit whatsoever, but are beaten and treated shamefully. The owner then sends his Son. Surely they will respect the Son of their Lord! But instead the vine-growers determine to kill him, thinking the inheritance will then be theirs. And then they do kill him and throw him out. In the face of such unthinkable dishonesty, brutality, murder and treason the owner of the vineyard determines to destroy the evildoers, take the vineyard away from them and give it to others – and the response to this parable of Jesus? Surely not!

Surely not!? The response seems so incredibly illogical, unreasonable and strange. And it is – but it’s not so unusual. Take a culture like the one you and I live in where increasing numbers of people forsake and show contempt for the commandments of God, where they dabble in the Eastern religions or forsake the worship of the one true God entirely, where they insist that all gods are equal and all religions have equal access to the truth, where those who are actually faithful are treated with disdain or even persecuted. What is the reaction when God’s law is applied, when people treat the owner of the vineyard as though he had no right to expect fruit and the one who made them and has so abundantly blessed them promises to punish them for their disobedience and unbelief? What is the reaction? An indignant “Surely not!”

And what about you and me? When the Lord comes to us and says, “I came looking for good, sweet fruit and I didn’t find it. I came looking for those who would love me with all their heart and soul and mind, for those who always love their neighbors like themselves and I didn’t find them. Your fruit stinks! You deserve to be punished; you deserve to be destroyed.” What is our reaction? It is in our nature to think, “Surely not!” In the face of judgment, it is in our nature to justify ourselves and say, “Surely not!”

Thank God that, in the face of his Law, the Holy Spirit has led us to reject that self-justification that is always striving for domination in our lives and spirits and has led us to remorse for our sin. Thank God that in His mercy, He has led us to cry out for mercy and forgiveness and has provided a way to forgiveness that has removed His judgment from us.

But perhaps when the people reacted to Jesus’ parable with the cry, “Surely not!” they were not disagreeing with the just judgment of the owner of the vineyard. Perhaps they were instead telling Jesus that he was wrong when he said that the vine growers would kill the heir when he came. Perhaps they were expressing outrage at something so unthinkably horrible that they simply could not imagine it happening. That they would kill the Son of God. No, that would never happen! Surely not!

But of course, it did, and the scribes and the chief priests, whose voices may very well have joined with the others in crying out, “Surely not!’ were already planning to take him captive and to kill him. And their crucifixion of Jesus became a rejection of everything he ever said about Himself.

“I am the way, the truth and the life.” Surely not.

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” Surely not.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his onlybegotten Son.” Surely not.

It is this message of rejection the chief priests and scribes intend to send with their crucifixion of Jesus.

But then He rises from the dead! And of course in the resurrection of Jesus all those “Surely nots” are dissolved and evaporate in the face of his clear conquest of death, as his power to deliver on all his promises is made evident to all who will see.

And now the heir to the vineyard, the one who holds the whole world and everything in it in his nail-scarred hands has a message for weak and sinful people like you and me. It is a message of forgiveness and comfort from the one who freely gave Himself up to death in order that we might live. It is a message that responds to every doubt and every fear you have.

“I am afraid that I have been too disobedient for God to forgive me.” Surely not!

“I am afraid that I have been too weak and dirty for God to love me.” Surely not!

“I look at my troubles. I am overwhelmed. I am afraid that God has deserted me.” Surely not!

“I look to my future; I consider my frailties and I am afraid that death will defeat me.” Surely not!

“Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Amen.

Holy Week Message from Pastor Harrison

“Of all the things we learn from Holy Week, we learn especially that in God’s plan, suffering is purposeful,” said the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, in his 2013 Holy Week video message. “A blessed Holy Week to you as you meditate on our dear Lord’s suffering — all of it for you.”

The Reformer Lutheran Seminary Dedication – The Dominican Republic

P1000578Two weeks ago today, on Sunday, March 10, 2013, on the top of a steep hill with overcast skies (a blessing so it wasn’t too hot) and strong winds blowing, excitement built as members from several mission sites in the Dominican Republic and others gathered to dedicate The Reformer Lutheran Seminary in Palmar Arriba. It was a bit surreal to see that after eight years of intentional mission development, a Lutheran seminary in the Dominican Republic was finally established.

Early that morning, members from the church in Las Americas and Los Minas, communities on the south end of the island and a three-hour bus ride away, loaded up a large passenger bus and headed to the hillside, rural town of Palmar Arriba. Another bus loaded up members from Licey, a small town outside of Santiago. About 30 minutes prior to the anticipated start, residents and church members from Palmar Arriba began to gather at the top of the hill outside the seminary and waited for the service to begin. P1000576While more townspeople gathered at the seminary, we waited for the buses. As we stood at the top of the steep driveway looking down the road, we finally could see the buses arrive. Everyone was here and we could begin . . . almost.P1000585

As the buses stopped at the bottom of the hill, we began to see people unload and begin the climb up the steep driveway to the seminary. The transmission on the bus was slipping, and the driver was hesitant to take the bus up the hill. All passengers were able to climb the hill, despite being winded when they arrived up top.

Pastors from the United States, Argentina, Haiti and the Dominican Republic gathered to participate in the service. Quickly the pastors all vested, special handmade banners were set on poles, bulletins were handed out and the Rev. Ted Krey began the dedication service. Spoken entirely in Spanish, the people were led through the dedication of The Reformer Lutheran Seminary. This seminary was blessed for the service of forming seminarians, pastors, deacons, deaconesses and lay people in the study of the Holy Scriptures, Lutheran doctrine and The Confessions.P1000597

It is a two-story building, made out of concrete blocks with a beautiful, white cross painted on the front of the building. From anywhere in the town, you can look up to the hill and see the large white cross standing out against the brown/green hillside. While the building was only partially constructed before the property was obtained by the mission, the building was completed by volunteer servant teams from the United States. Over the last year, teams have worked to dig a well, run plumbing up the hill, pave the driveway, install bathrooms and a kitchen, install a roof, lay tile, add electricity, and paint both the inside and outside. Thanks to everyone who worked on the construction of the seminary!

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Despite the strong blowing winds, the dedication service continued on the top of the hill with many songs and prayers. After group pictures, the gathering of people began a parade down the hill and through the community singing and carrying banners. Everyone gathered back in the playground of Concordia Lutheran School where an altar and chairs had been set up for service. P1000624The children from the group home sat near the front and many other young children watched intently while sitting in their small, red resin, plastic chairs to the side. We continued with service with Divine Service and the celebration of Holy Communion. A children’s choir sang. Rev. Sergio Fritzler, rector of Concordia Seminary, Buenos Aires, Argentina, gave the sermon.

With a growing chill in the air and with winds continuing, the many children and parents gave thanks and praised God for the blessings in the mission and the establishment of The Reformer Lutheran Seminary. As is the custom in the Dominican, at the end of the service, many hugs and greetings were shared with everyone before departing. Songs of Praise

I can distinctly remember wondering to myself, eight years ago at my first meeting regarding the development of a Lutheran mission in the Dominican Republic, whether or not a mission was possible in this country. Would any Dominicans be interested? What little faith I had! Tears came to my eyes as I tried to take in the experience and comprehend what God had done through this mission. To Him be all the glory!

IMG_1678We started that day on the top of the hill. A couple hours later, having been fed through Word and Sacrament, we all departed out into our communities to continue the work of the mission—to be witnesses of Christ, share mercy to those in need and strengthen the bonds of our life together in Christ and the world. I left Palmar Arriba with excitement building for this mission and for what God has in store for the future.

Barb Below

Only Jesus!

[Note:  This sermon was preached in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Wednesday, March 20, 2013.  + Herbert Mueller]

31 And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. 32 For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. 33 And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” 34 But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34).

People loved by God in Jesus!

After telling the parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector, blessing the children, and dealing with the man who asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus takes the 12 aside and starts the final journey: “See,” He says, “we are going up to Jerusalem, where I’ll be delivered up and killed.”

There are several issues we could engage in this, Jesus’ 3rd prediction of His passion:

  • We could emphasize the fact that His suffering will accomplish everything written in the prophets, from the stone the builders rejected becoming the head of the corner to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah.  Something Luke does himself in chapter 24 of his Gospel.
  • We could explain how the cross and resurrection of Jesus is central to God’s plan of salvation, and how it was easy for Jesus to SAY, but quite another thing to go and do it – to die and to rise – which Jesus actually went and did!
  • We could focus on Jesus’ passive obedience as He laid down His life for us – note the passives – He WILL BE delivered over, He WILL BE mocked, and shamefully treated and spit upon.  After flogging Him, they will Kill Him, as He is obedient to the will of the Father, obedient even unto death, even the death of the cross.

But hearing the story again this time, though, I was quite taken by the fact that the disciples who first heard this understood NONE of these things. This word, this matter, was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.

Perhaps this adds to the believeability of the Gospel. After all, if it were a made up story, you would think those who concocted it would make themselves look better than they did, for this is now the second time Luke tells us the 12 didn’t understand what Jesus was saying and were afraid to ask.

That’s what caught my eye this time…   They understood NONE of these things – it was hidden from them and they did not grasp what was said.

What about you?

What about me?

Do we grasp it? Do we live as though we understand none of this?

Well, of course not! We know the story! We’ve memorized the details. Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He was betrayed. He carried ALL our sins, took them all. He spoke from the cross, “Father, forgive them…” He is God in our flesh dying for us. And by His resurrection He promises to raise us as well.

We get that!

But do we? More than superficially?

Do we see that God in Jesus has only this one way of operating? That the way to the Kingdom, the way to life is ONLY by death and by resurrection? That this is God’s only game? That God is not in the business of just fixing you up a bit, putting some little finishing touches on the good stuff you are already doing to make it a bit more acceptable? No, God’s aim in His Law is to KILL you, to drown your flesh, to lead you to see YOUR death, so that in His Gospel in Jesus He can raise you to life. “I kill and I make alive,” He says.

  • It happened when we were baptized, buried with Christ in His death and raised up by His resurrection.
  • It happens now when we are led to repent and to confess our sin, so that we can be raised to life by the forgiveness of sins.
  • It will happen, when we die, and our bodies are laid to rest with the promise that He will come back to change our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body even by the power that enables Him to subdue all things to Himself.

I’ve occasionally enjoyed a little game with people in Bible Class. I’ll ask – what do you have that is uniquely yours to give to Jesus? People bring all kinds of answers.  I bring Him my worship. I give Jesus my trust.  He wants my heart. I’ll give Him my love, my whole life. It’s all admirable.  But all that is stuff He gave you or by His Spirit has worked in you.

Then finally someone gets it. The only thing we have that is uniquely ours that Jesus didn’t give us is our death which comes from our brokenness, our sin.

But THAT is exactly what Jesus has come to take! Our death and our brokenness. That’s why He was going up to Jerusalem to be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles, to be mocked and flogged and killed – to take YOUR death, my death, into Himself.

You see, death is the great equalizer. We each get one. Just one. But that is the ONE thing we have that Jesus can truly use, because His game, ultimately His ONLY game, is to raise the dead.

Of course, if you don’t think you’re dying, you don’t need Jesus. But when you see your brokenness, when you see death coming, ONLY Jesus can help. Because only Jesus rose from the dead. And His Church today is His sign of the resurrection, confessing, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.”

The disciples didn’t get it till Jesus, in the upper room on Easter evening, opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, that repentance and forgiveness of sins be preached in His name to all nations, because Jesus is alive, and He has come to raise the dead – even YOU.

Only with that confidence in Jesus’ death and resurrection will you be able to stand by the grave-side to speak the promises of God. Oh, it will be relatively easy sometimes, like when it’s the 85-year-old grandma who loved Jesus. It’ll be quite another when it’s the 2 day old baby the parents desperately wanted, or worse yet, a 31-year-old father of two little kids who died in a senseless accident.

Only the real resurrection of Jesus will do – when they won’t care what you think, but will be desperate to hear what God has to say.

And that’s also the thing that enables you and me to deal with our own mortality.

Knowing that you, too, are a dying sinner, but forgiven and raised to life in Jesus will be the only strength that will sustain you in the face of unrelenting evil, in the times of profound disappointment, in the midst of often unbearable suffering, and when you walk into the presence of death itself.

May the Spirit of God hold each of you in the confidence that Jesus has taken YOUR death and YOUR brokenness into Himself, and enable you to grasp that, because He rose, He will raise also YOU!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Resources available for supporting an end to human trafficking

 

LIRS

 

People matter to Jesus. They matter because He became a man to save them, because He loved and even died for them, because they are created in His image. And because people matter to Jesus, they matter to us as Christians too.

But not everyone agrees, and some even show bold disregard for the life and well-being of those around them. Statistics say that 27 million people are ensnared in human trafficking around the world, and more than 17,500 are trafficked into the United States each year. We say it’s time for us as Lutherans to rededicate ourselves to ending this practice and to caring for those around us.

Even as small children, we learned from our Small Catechism that we do “not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” We have before us a chance to show that exact help! The government has taken a positive step in that direction by passing several pieces of legislation that enable human care for immigrants who are victims of trafficking and violence. But there is still much to be done. We started our work in 2010 when we, as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, made a public statement about how important this issue is to us by passing Convention Resolution 6-07A, “To Support Efforts to End Human Trafficking/Slavery.”

Following that resolution, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), through which the LCMS extends mercy to migrants and refugees, developed helpful resources on human trafficking. It’s my hope that these materials will be useful as you discover ways that you can help and support, in every physical need, victims of human trafficking. Here are a few ways that you can start showing that care right now.

  • Pray that our Lord would show mercy to the victims of human trafficking. Pray also that He would show justice to those who enslave others and that He would hearten the police and officials empowered to stop this abuse.
  • Download a petition to President Obama and encourage your family, friends, co-workers, pastor and fellow church members to sign it. Then send your signed petitions to LIRS by April 15, 2013, urging President Obama to aggressively tackle this crime throughout his second term.
  • Download “Resolved,” a Bible study on human trafficking that builds on the 2010 Synod convention anti-human trafficking resolution. Use this Bible study with your church and school groups to discuss faithful action. More educational materials are available at www.lirs.org/ehtn.

Please join with us in sharing Christ’s love and mercy to all His children, because if people matter to Jesus, they also matter to us.

Yours in Christ,
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod

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