Gaudete Sermon 2013 (Advent 3)

Isaiah 40 is a wonderful chapter, a unique view into the mind of God. These are beautiful words. I spent weeks at the Seminary studying them once, diagramming them. I even drew a chart showing the connections between the words in each verse, and then a paper which explained the relationship. I swam in these words, and it is one of the best memories of my life at the seminary.

This passage is God speaking to Isaiah, but also to John the Baptist, but also to me, and to every preacher sent to proclaim the Word of God. Comfort, speak tenderly, the warfare is over. All flesh is grass, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. “Behold your God,” he tells us to say, and He is coming and his recompense—that means His Work, His Salvation—comes with Him.

Think of this as the ultimate “come to Jesus” moment. God calls Isaiah, the Prophets, the Apostles, the Preachers and Pastors into the back office, pulls up a chair and says, “OK guys. You have all kinds of things to do and say. I’ll tell you to speak against this or that nation, to proclaim other judgments, to teach many facts about me. You pastors—you will be like these priests who serve me, managing the gifts. All of you are busy with all kinds of things.

“But here’s the deal,” the Godhead says. “Comfort my people. Life is hard. Things go wrong. The forces of evil war against them. Cruelty and crime and beatings and even tortures are out there. You know this. Comfort my people.

“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Speak tenderly to the Church. Be gentle with them because the world is harsh and death is the enemy. Tell them: Your war with God is over. Jesus is your peace. Your sins? All those failures and wickedness and disobedience and harsh things YOU’VE done to others? Forgiven! Forgiven! And you have double grace and love and forgiveness for every sin! Forgiveness in abundance!”

“John will make the way of the Messiah straight. So will you, O preachers of the Gospel. Work slowly and carefully. Don’t be a stumbling block, but help them hear about Jesus the Messiah, clear the way of false assumptions and show them Jesus.”

God continues to shoot straight with preachers:

“All people will see God—God in the flesh you will see with your flesh! God becomes a man! He stands before you and does all these things—and you will see His Glory! Glorified on the Cross for your sins, and Glorified in His Resurrection and Return.”

“Cry out,” says God to His prophets and apostles and preachers. “Remind them that all flesh is grass. Remind them of the Law. That their sins are killing them, even those sins which seem small and maybe even enjoyable. No, sin brings death. Remind them of this, so that they may know me—but so that they may know that all my promises and comforts and peace and tenderness lasts forever. My Word is stronger than death,” says God the Almighty.

“Now go!” He says. “Go and be bold to share this. Don’t be shy, but go up on a mountain where everyone will see you and hear you, so that everyone will know that God has come in the flesh for them!” Who is this God? It is Jesus, who came to serve you!

Finally, God concludes, “My way of salvation in becoming flesh looks weak. It’s not what you will expect, the Son dying on the Cross. But it is strength! It is might, for this is how I defeat the curse of sin and death and hell and satan forever. This is the end of all things, the beginning of all things, this is how I make all things new. This is my might and power: in giving myself over to the enemy for you.”

“And I will be your shepherd and tend you and be gentle with you.”

This is what God would have me and every pastor, every preacher speak to you. This is what God is all about. This is the heart of God. It’s not all of Him, to be sure. His ways are beyond our understanding. He does so much more. But this is the heart of His revelation to us humans.

So dear friends, this is what I preach. When you ask yourself, “When will this misery end? When will the pain be dulled?” When You wonder when it will be that every moment, every object, every story will not bring it to mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s a divorce, a bad break-up, a tragic death, it’s the same. Catastrophic illness or war. These are the worst times of our lives and what we need then is relief.

When all these things are roiling in your life. Remember that God addresses this. There is an end. It will not last forever. This life, these days are coming quickly to an end. Christ has come and brought double blessing and forgiveness for all your sins and suffer. And the day will dawn fresh and new and the pain will subside and it will seem like a nightmare, and then a shadow, and then just the memory that once there had been trauma. And for you, even more comfort because God is bringing Christ to you. Today. This is His healing I speak of, His gift, comfort, recompense and joy. The joy of His Word to us through all the Scriptures and prophets and preachers. Comfort to you, God’s people. Comfort to you.

Advent 1 Sermon

In the Romans commentary, Martin Luther noted that the Scriptures talk about sleep in three different ways. There is sleep which means death as in the Old Testament where it says a king would “sleep with his fathers.” There is the sleep which is blessed, the rest He gives to us in the night. The kind of sleep of grace our Lord had in the boat with the storm raging all around Him. Psalm 127:2 says, “ It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (ESV)” The ability to sleep even when the world is crying and pulling their hair out in clumps, because we know our Lord is King of Creation and that all things are Christ’s.

Then there is the sleep to which we are called to cast off. Wake, O Sleeper! The sleep that looks like living, the sleep that looks like activity and busyness but is a blindness to reality. This is the sleep we must fight against.

We hang the lights and set up the displays. We plan for weeks the gift lists of giving and receiving. We plan the dinners and the parties. We fret about the time that sped too quickly this year and make our end-of-year donations. We buy our tickets and watch the weather. We begin thinking about 2014 and your personal and work objectives. You are people living in the moment, living in this glorious time of year that looks a lot like Christmas. The longer your to-do lists, the bigger your purchases, the more intricate your plans, the more diligent you are.

And this is a dream and fool’s gold, the Spirit of God warns us. Here we are in the season of Advent, and what do we see? As St. Bernard wrote, “For the unhappy children of Adam, turning aside from serious and salutary reflections, give their minds only to that which is perishable and transitory.” These words cut to my heart when I read them. What perishable and transitory things do you reflect on? Oh, we could name this or that, like sports or politics, like music and celebrity gossip, like salt water fish tanks and cars and guns and fabric. But the problem is not one of these as an idol, but the gallery of transitory worries and obsessions and accumulations which gather around ourselves and our spirits and numb and lull and sedate ourselves into. It’s all of it. And as much as we rail against 94.Whatever playing Christmas songs beginning in early November—early November!— we are part of that slumbering system of consumerism and sedate pleasures.

Wake up, O Sleeper! Arise and shine. Open your ears to those things of permanence and imperishable joy and goodness. Open your eyes to that which Christ has prepared for you. You are surrounded by saints and angels—and these images remind you of this. Your name is in that Book of Life, cradled by the Cosmic God-Man Jesus Christ—see that is an image of it, to remind you. You are part of the Creation and Salvation of God, gathered in this body, this mystical body of Christ I see in front of me. You have been pulled from darkness and slumber, from rot and decay by this blood of Christ which is given to you this day. Christ’s death and rest in the tomb has reversed death, has made the dead alive, has brought the Spirit into this world, has reversed the curse and inaugurates you into the imperishble Kingdom of Heaven which is right in front of your eyes, which is preached into your ears, which is placed in your hands and on your lips and of which you are royalty.

Jesus has awakened you from the dream of death, that dream that made Adam think he could be like God. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of decay by opening His own tomb and giving you Himself to wear. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of sin, that claustrophobic desperation of feeling and seeking joy in those deeds of the flesh, in those things of the night, so that awake you may step outside and see the infinite of heaven, the light of joy, the openness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of the devil, who lulls you fear and desperation.
Awake and watch for Jesus. Make no provision for the flesh, as St. Paul says. Here in this season of decadence and feasting and fudge and peanut brittle and gum drops, turkeys and Christmas geese we have this warning. Tryptophan may do more than make you sleepy.

So how do we carry out this great awakening to the promises of Christ in this wasteland of consumerism? We don’t want to loose our Christmas traditions, do we? No, but let us temper this with the Advent observances. Start the Advent wreath at home. Limit your television time. The Orthodox Christians have a strict fast during Advent that rivals Lent. Here in the west, the tradition of Friday Fasting and Abstinence can be renewed in Lent, as well as the Ember Days: this year, December 18, 20 & 21. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, fasting is good outward preparation for receiving the gifts of God.

Of course we rely on the Grace of God for the strength and help and forgiveness in living as wide-awake Christians. Self denial and spiritual disciplines are only tools for us, not merits to earn. Ultimately we set our eyes and hopes on Jesus above all.

Thoughts on Being and Essence (but not Heidegger)

My tastes and preferences are important and significant to me. I really enjoy reading fantasy and supernatural thrillers. Chili is one of my favorite foods, well, anything tomato-based is on my list. Does this make me me? Is this essential to my identity? Can I be myself without these preferences? What if I was asked to give up these desires for fantasy worlds? What if I was told that sitting down at lunch with A Game of Thrones in one hand and a big bowl of chili and cheese in the other was somehow wrong and I was forbidden from doing it?

No doubt I would have a crisis of conscience. I like those things. I’ve always liked those things from my earliest memories. It feels like I was born liking it. Besides, what harm is there, after all? If half the population of this country were telling me this day in and day out, I would feel persecuted and personally attacked.

Philosophically speaking, I would have to admit that perhaps these two preferences are not essential to me. I would still be me without them, or at least without indulging in them. Someday perhaps I might get tired of chili and fantasy novels. And to be honest, there have been years, even decades, where I have not picked up one genre novel.

Of course the examples I chose are banal. What about deeper preferences? Are there such things? Are there inclinations that cleave to the heart of your being? Your “you-ness?” Most likely. Sexual preference is what we are really talking about here, and I think most people would say this goes much deeper than genre fiction or taste buds. And I would agree.

But there is a deeper truth than all of this, a level below and above these tastes and identities and inclinations. There is a level above it all. Christians believe that we are created in the image of a God who created everything, and then assumed our nature into His Own, becoming a God-Man. And this God-Man who rules over the atoms and particles, galaxies and nebulae, is in the process of changing us, of calling us to be something far greater and different than we are right now and to share with Him in His reign both now and forever, in glories everlasting.

But it comes at a price for us. What we are must pass. What we cling to so desperately must be relinquished. This is the way of the God-Man. To be like Him, we must first loose ourselves. To be truly us, to be the full human He created us to be, we must first lose all that would claim sacrosanct. We are called to deny self. Not just this or that pleasure, not just this or that behavior or inkling or predilection. Self. Whatever it is we think is essential to us is that which He calls us to strip away so that we may be His.

On this level nothing is sacred about ourselves and our personalities and orientations and excitements. All must be erased before Him if we are to be His. For the Christian, there is no such thing as a heterosexual person or a homosexual person. There is no such thing even as a jock or a geek. These and every identity, every label is meaningless. There is only baptized and unbaptized for the God-man. Baptism is that peculiar act wherein we die to self, and make the beginning of this until the End comes. We loose everything in those waters, and are called to drown the rest and whatever rears its ugly head in the future.

Of course this is not to say that same-sex acts are equal to different-sex acts. To the point: the serious issue is not the acts themselves, but the idolatry of identity that our culture has promoted, from those pro and con, and even the most adamant Evangelicals. For the Christian, an act may or may not be sinful. Repetitive sinful acts are particularly dangerous, whether gossip, promiscuity or foul jokes. They are dangerous because the Creator and God-Man reveals them to be so. And any act can take on a dangerous prominence in the temple of the soul, displacing the Creator.

What the Christian must define is the idolatry of identity, wherein our self and all meaning is found in something other than the Creator.

Frankincense as a Cure for Cancer??

Bring on the smells! Here’s an excerpt from an article from BBC News. The entire article gives more background on the incense trade and history too.

Cancer hope

But immunologist Mahmoud Suhail is hoping to open a new chapter in the history of frankincense.

Scientists have observed that there is some agent within frankincense which stops cancer spreading, and which induces cancerous cells to close themselves down. He is trying to find out what this is.

 

Giant censer in cathedral of Santiago di Compostela

The Catholic church mostly buys Somalian frankincense

“Cancer starts when the DNA code within the cell’s nucleus becomes corrupted,” he says. “It seems frankincense has a re-set function. It can tell the cell what the right DNA code should be.

“Frankincense separates the ‘brain’ of the cancerous cell – the nucleus – from the ‘body’ – the cytoplasm, and closes down the nucleus to stop it reproducing corrupted DNA codes.”

Working with frankincense could revolutionise the treatment of cancer. Currently, with chemotherapy, doctors blast the area around a tumour to kill the cancer, but that also kills healthy cells, and weakens the patient. Treatment with frankincense could eradicate the cancerous cells alone and let the others live.

The task now is to isolate the agent within frankincense which, apparently, works this wonder. Some ingredients of frankincense are allergenic, so you cannot give a patient the whole thing.

 

FRANKINCENSE FACTS
Boswellia sacra grows in Oman, Yemen and Somalia
Other Boswellia species grow in Africa and India
The tree may have been named after John Boswell, the uncle of Samuel Johnson’s biographer
In ancient Egypt frankincense was thought to be sweat of the gods
Source: The Pharmaceutical Journal

Dr Suhail (who is originally from Iraq) has teamed up with medical scientists from the University of Oklahoma for the task.

In his laboratory in Salalah, he extracts the essential oil from locally produced frankincense. Then, he separates the oil into its constituent agents, such as Boswellic acid.

“There are 17 active agents in frankincense essential oil,” says Dr Suhail. “We are using a process of elimination. We have cancer sufferers – for example, a horse in South Africa – and we are giving them tiny doses of each agent until we find the one which works.”

“Some scientists think Boswellic acid is the key ingredient. But I think this is wrong. Many other essential oils – like oil from sandalwood – contain Boswellic acid, but they don’t have this effect on cancer cells. So we are starting afresh.”

The trials will take months to conduct and whatever results come out of them will take longer still to be verified. But this is a blink of the eye in the history of frankincense.

Nine thousand years ago, Omanis gathered it and burnt it for its curative and cleansing properties. It could be a key to the medical science of tomorrow.

Jeremy Howell reports for Middle East Business Report on BBC World News.

 

ht:http://preachersinstitute.com/

Advanced Christian Instruction?

In the Adult Bible study yesterday, a few people suggested an “Advanced New Member Class” as the new topic of discussion–a class that would cover the basics, only more in-depth than when they were confirmed as kids or adults in a six-week course twenty years ago.

I loved hearing that they wanted to learn more and go deeper. In some ways, we are already doing it: I don’t hold back much when I teach Adults on Sunday mornings. But a systematic covering of the topics in greater depth…I like it.

I just don’t know quite how to do it yet. But that’s my goal, and I have to move fast, because we are almost finished with James.

But one thing I love about Grace Lutheran Church is how eager so many are to learn. They even are willing and able to give constructive criticism on my teaching techniques. And it is constructive, because they want to learn and engage in the Word and tackle theology. I’m blessed to have these people.

What are You Eating?


You are what you eat from your head down to your feet. That’s what SchoolHouse Rock told us in the late 70s and early 80s. SchoolHouse Rock were those public service announcements with catchy songs and good animation that aired during Saturday Morning Cartoons. I’m really showing my age here.

But it’s true. We are what we eat. The body processes and digests and absorbs what it needs, of course, but we are the products of what you feed yourself.

This is true of what we consume with our eyes and ears as well. Our mental lives and spiritual lives are fed by the things we read, by the entertainment we consume, by the music we hear. Our thoughts are composed of what we feed our brains. Our prayers are composed of what we feed our spirits. Our worldviews are nourished by the ideas and values and views of others.

We do not like to admit this. We prefer to think of ourselves as free and independently-minded. We think that what we value and think and choose to believe is up to us and our rational skills. We think that something will influence our minds only if we want it to. We are in control.

Yet experience, the social sciences and Scripture all contradict this. Hearing repeated messages affects our beliefs about ourselves and the world. Our educational system is founded on this fact. We make physicians by immersing them in medicine. We make plumbers and electricians by immersing them in class and then in their apprenticeships. At the seminary they made us Lutherans by immersing us in reading Luther and Lutheran theology. An Orthodox priest friend of mine became Orthodox by reading Orthodox theology.

What do you read? What do you watch? What are you being taught and what is being modeled to you? What perspectives and philosophies and theologies are you feeding your spirit and mind with? Christians need to remember that we are what we eat. We believe what we watch and hear and experience. Violent movies and shows leave marks on our spirits. A steady diet of shallow songs and shows leave us with less depth to our thinking and emotions.

This is why the Church has always fed us with the Word of God. She feeds it in our ears with the lessons and sermons. She feeds it in our eyes with the images in wood and stone and glass. The Church feeds it in our noses through incense offered to the Lord. The Church feeds us the Word of God in, with, and under the bread and wine.

We are what we eat. You belong to Christ, and are of Christ, because you have been fed Him. Make Him and His Word and His Body and Blood your steady diet. Be fed in great proportions. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1Co 2:16-1 ESV) and, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. “ (Rom 8:5-6 ESV).

Who Are You?

Who_Are_You_album_cover

So many of the issues and problems in our society revolve around these questions of identity. Politicians claim you are theirs—or that they are yours, but at any rate you should agree with one of two parties and be Democrat or a Republican and support everything our government does. Corporations say you are consumers for their products, that you are a person defined by their products and their logos should be everywhere. The media define you as consumers of entertainment and pleasure, so that they can deliver you more and more. Sexual politics revolve and focus on this question of identity as well, reducing you to a person defined by your attractions and appetites: you are straight or gay or somewhere in between and this fact is the most important thing. Everyone and everything is trying to convince you to be who they say you are. This is the way of the world.

To all this Scripture gives a radical answer that throws us off-kilter and opens our lives to real freedom: you are none of these things. The Scriptures say you are a Creature of God, not just a meat-bag with appetites and attractions. The Scriptures say you are a Child of God through Jesus Christ, not just a rational animal to be entertained with flashing lights and spectacular spectaculars on screens around town. The Scriptures say you are an heir of the kingdom of Heaven, not only an American or a Canadian. That political identity is temporary. Our kingdom—that is, our hope and treasure and faith—is not of this world, because Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. We are eternal because Christ is eternal.

You are more than your products and desires and appetites and interests. You are more than your work and career. Of course, these things are important and gifts of God, but they are not the core of us. The core of us is a Creature of God, lost and condemned, but loved, purchased and won by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Gal 3:26-29 ESV)

This is radical. No one else claims this. No one else says this. You are so much in Christ that all these other identities listed in Galatians 3 fade away. You cannot get more radical than this.

But it does not mean our genders or sex or job or country or appetites and desires and preferences don’t matter. They matter greatly to our God and in our lives with one another. God would have us be Christ’s in all vocations and places in our lives. This means some vocations are off-limits for us who belong to God. Many of our preferences
Let us remember this when hearing debates and arguments. So many advocates and activists of every persuasion and issue want to define who you are and who they are on their terms. Remember you are Christ’s. Remember you are Sons and Daughters of the King. That is who you are.and desires and appetites are destructive and undermine our nature and calling to be Children of God. We are still male and female in this world and as we relate to one another. We are still Jewish or Greek, well, American or German or Italian by blood and genes and tax schedules and benefits. But we do not idolize these identities. Christ is our God, and we are His and He is in us.

Joy and Summer

I think everyone needs Summer. Everyone needs to sit outside on the back porch and go inside only after darkness falls and the mosquitoes come out—or even better—when the pillow beckons more loudly than crickets and cicadas. Lemonade and home grown tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, a cold beer with the smell of freshly mowed grass filling the air—these things enrich life, especially when too much of our daily existence is front of LCD screens and being bathed in florescent lighting and freon-ified chilled and recirculated air. We all love our shows and movie spectacles, our social networks and computer games, but those “loves” are so vapid and ephemeral to the deeper joy of a supper shared outside while the kids are cackling with delight in the backyard.

It’s Summer time and living is easy. It’s lake living and it’s good. It takes work to live like this, though. It’s easier to hide inside with the screens. Or even to venture outside with phone or tablet in our hands and stare at the screens out there. It takes some effort to pack for the lake, to bring the meal outside, to fight the bugs and the heat, but even for the “indoor people” it’s a deeper joy when you commit to it. It’s a deeper joy, but it is enriching. It’s worth it.

So I get it. I get how easy it is for a lot of people to say, “I worship God outside. Golfing. At the lake.” I get it. They are experiencing a Joy that doesn’t exist at work or inside or at home and they like it. They recognize that something different and natural is happening. Something that connects them with the Creator. The Psalmist writes, “ The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psa. 19:1 ESV).

We Christians recognize a Joy even deeper than this, however. It is the Joy of Communion—fellowship, one-ness with God that He gives us through the mystical waters of baptism. The Divine presence and Joy when the ancient words are spoken again and again, ever unfolding, ever deeper with peace, and the ordinary bread and the drops of wine are life and Joy beyond Joy.

This is work to see this. It takes patience and faith. It takes trust to know that there is Joy here even if we don’t feel it yet. We can attend Church for years and be somehow hardened to it. We can go for months and only catch a glimpse here or there. And sometimes we forget that it exists. Sometimes it is dull routine and we think “What’s the point?” Maybe going-to-church was a phase. Maybe it’s just boring or frustrating.

But this happens to the golfer too. And the boater. And the otherwise “inside guy” who loves the early days of Summer. Boats break down, sunburns hurt, the nasty slice returns and mosquitoes and heat drive us inside. The Joy we feel comes and goes.

It comes and goes. This is the hard truth. Joy comes and goes and the harder you hang onto it, the more elusive it seems. Our emotions, our capacity for joy, our feelings are gifts of God, and yet God would have us to be more than just a bundle a feelings. And God calls us to more deeply drink of Him and His Spirit, to become more than we are today, and to enter more deeply into His Joy. This is how Jesus characterizes the Kingdom of God. Not in clouds or harps, not in passive pleasure or relaxation, but Joy. “ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ (Matthew 25:23 ESV).

So we pursue the Joy of our Master. We find hints and tastes and samplings of this in all Creation, in all the gifts God gives of hearth and home and sun and shade, of food and family and water and trees. Even more fully in the deeper and more lasting peace and joy of His Word attached and made manifest in Baptism and Eucharist, but even this is not the end, not the completion, not the goal. For even these blessed sacraments and sacramental worship is but a foretaste of the feast to come—the eternal feast, the Joy that we will not experience, but enter.

Waiting on God’s Table

I remember it distinctly. I was sitting in one of those miniature chairs in one of the classrooms at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Liberty, MO. I may have been five or six years old. My Sunday School teacher was old—at least in my mind’s eye. There may have been a felt board involved. I’m not sure.

“When you get to heaven,” she said, “you will be serving God. Heaven is about serving God forever.”

She was smiling as she said this, but my little five-year-old heart just broke. The words seemed to crush me. I knew what serving was. I imagined a long table with Jesus sitting at the head of it, all the disciples sitting around Him, surrounded by white fluffy clouds. And there I was, given a large platter, a towel over my arm, walking behind the disciples and Jesus, filling their drinks, taking away empty plates. That’s what a server did— wait on tables.

Forever.

Forever waiting on tables for Jesus and His friends. That had to be what serving God in heaven meant. And even though I hadn’t started yet, I was already dreading showing up for work in heaven.

But then something happened. I realized that Heaven was supposed to be good and joyful. I remember this distinctly. With the firm resolution of a pre-schooler I decided that if Heaven meant waiting on tables I guess that was my lot, and I had better just accept that it wouldn’t be so bad when I got there. It didn’t sound so good, but I didn’t have a choice in the matter.

I was a strange little kid.

Of course you know that Heaven does not consist of waiting on tables, yet it is service, as is this life as a Christian. St. Paul tells us to submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.” (Eph 5:21). Paul instructs us, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil. 2:3) When we put others before as in importance and significance, we do nothing but serve them. We help them, encourage, sacrifice and put the other persons’ needs, comfort and happiness before our own. In this we follow the example of Christ who sacrificed all for us, going to death and the grave for us and in our place. Serving others at home means placing your spouse ahead of you. Serving at church means volunteering for things which need to be done, participating in worship and fellowship, giving gifts to the Church and offerings to God.

Serving God is something different, however. God likes to do things backward—honoring the last-born instead of the first-born like everyone would expect. He shows His glory by dying on a Cross. He shows His power in whispers and weakness. So serving God means first letting Him serve you. “The Son of Man came not be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). God serves us by giving us life and salvation, forgiveness and blessing, joy and peace in Christ. We serve God by entering His Courts and receiving His life. In other words, by simply coming to Church, listening to His Word, speaking it back to Him and to one another in our songs and hymns and responses, by receiving the blessed Sacrament we serve God.

God serves us. We serve Him by serving others. Luther once said, “God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does” (Luther on Vocation, 10). As we emphasize the Culture of Service at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church this summer, first let God serve you. Take advantage of all the opportunities we offer to be served by God, both here and at home. This is the foundation of service, after all, the Divine Service with God as our waiter, serving Table to us.

Do this, and then consider your vocations and your neighbors—your pew neighbors, the Church; your family and friends across the street; your coworkers and employees. In those relationships you have, how can you serve? How can you speak, be, and bring Christ to them? Pray on these things.

And when in doubt, seek God’s service to you in His gifts. This is what Heaven will be first and foremost: God serving us with His infinite joy and peace.

About Marriage and Homosexuality

The LCMS has sent out Bible study materials and bulletin inserts and more concerning marriage and homosexuality. All this in anticipation of the Supreme Court ruling due soon, perhaps this month. Reading between the lines, it’s not going to go well for those of us who are in favor of the historic, cultural and biblical form of marriage.

Nothing will change for the Church overnight…at least I don’t think so. But it’s not hard to see bad days ahead for those of us who view sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage as sinful (whatever the combination of genders involved) . Let me re-phrase that: the Scriptures reveal that all sexual activity outside of the union of man and woman is harmful to the soul and shatters the relationship between God and man. And for us, we will soon be out of the marriage business altogether, and then worse pressures, to be sure.

Let me be brutally honest. For a lot us, being gay used to be hideous. it used to be homophobia. It used to be hate. It used to be discrimination and it was personal. That is sinful too. I went right along with everyone else in calling people names all through elementary school and high school. For this I repent. Christians need to repent of hostility and bigotry in whatever respect. It’s ugly when people are hateful to others, whatever the reason. It’s ugly and sinful.

Yet I can not affirm homosexual sex as something good. Nor can I affirm heterosexual promiscuity, living together, hooking up, or whatever it may be. This is the case not based on Old Testament passages everyone admits do not apply to us directly, but based primarily on Romans 1:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

This is the harsh reality of our condition. It hurts. But this is what the Church teaches, and this is what I must teach. This is not the whole story, of course, because we also teach that Christ came for all these– for the gossips and slanderers and ruthless and lustful, for those disobedient to parents(!) and promiscuous and everyone who does everything. He came to free us from all our aberrant sins and desires and hateful deeds and to remake and recreate us and give us a new life. None of us are born the way God wants us to be. None of us are immune from any particular sin or disease of the soul. But all of us are offered the gift of forgiveness and eternal life.

This is what Christianity teaches about homosexuality. This is what the LCMS teaches. What I teach. It is not popular, and unless God is merciful, it will become less and less popular. But this is they way of Christ and His Church. He warned us: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” (John 15:20-21 ESV). But He also says a little later, “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.”