Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sermon Preached on the Fourth Day of Pentecost/June 20, 2010

In my first year of university, I volunteered to go on the Concordia Mission Trip during Reading Week. Some of you might remember me trying to raise funds for the travel costs of the trip, oh so many years ago. There were many times during that trip that I was taken out from where I was comfortable to be around people that I never would have chosen to be around on my own. At times the smell of alcohol was hard not to notice, and other times it was clear that their head was not working as well as it should have been. Despite attempts to show that I cared, I found myself wanting nothing more than being allowed to go so that I could move on to something that I was sure that I could be a little more comfortable with.

The events that we hear about in the Gospel reading for today, must have made the disciples uncomfortable to say the least. They had joined Jesus on his sailing trip across the Sea of Galilee, they had even witnessed Him rebuke the waves and calm the storm that threatened their lives. They were there, yet the fact that they are absolutely invisible throughout the telling of these events is a testament to their discomfort throughout this whole ordeal. Jesus has brought them out of their home in Israel, where they were quite happy to stay, and into completely foreign and Gentile land. These were not God's chosen people, certainly Jesus hadn't come for them! And then, Jesus begins to talk to this dirty, naked, absolutely disgusting man. This man is the lowest of the low, the social reject, the scum of the earth. If you don't want to touch the Grinch with a nine and a half foot pole, the disciples wouldn't want to touch this guy with a twenty foot pole. We've all felt that way at one time or another, and not just around those less fortunate in society. But also around those who just seem to look awkward, maybe lack some of the social graces that we take for granted and just can't help but feel uncomfortable around. The disciples probably wanted Jesus to rebuke this man just as He had rebuked the waves and let them move on, or maybe even turn around and get back into the boat for more familiar territory. Yet this is the man that Jesus has mercy on, this is the one who garners His loving and healing attention. Christ comes to the unclean and cleanses.

I. When the disciples would have nothing to do with this man, Christ has mercy on Him. This man is one of the most deserving of being destroyed. He is outside of God's chosen people, he is possessed by demons and does all manner of gross and despicable things. Yet Jesus uses this incident to show the disciples, and us as well, how their ministry would continue in the world after He left them.

A. Jesus doesn't destroy this man, but rather has mercy on him. Not only does Jesus save the man, He even has mercy on the demons. Rather than punishing them for corrupting what He has created good, Jesus relents from the punishment that they are destined to endure when Jesus returns and rather allows their wish to enter the herd of pigs. But in this cleansing act, Jesus also frees this man from the affliction that the demons had placed upon him. Not only is he clothed once more, and back in his right mind, restored to what he once was, he is also made a disciple. Through the cleansing and healing that this man has received from Christ, faith is created in his heart and he becomes one of Christ's followers. This man becomes a new avenue for the Gospel to be proclaimed to the world, showing the disciples that salvation is not just for a select few but for all the world.

II. “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16) Jesus says. It's not just a select few, or those that we think deserve it or “fit the bill,” but all the world. Yet so often we have our own notions of who should hear the message that God has given us to share. Usually they should look like us, dress like us, talk like us or even something so vain as make as much money as we do. At the very least they should make us feel comfortable to be around. We focus so much on the visual part of things that we forget that we too are just as dirty and disgusting with sin as the man that Jesus met. We forget that in our sinful flesh daily need God's mercy and are just as doomed to torment and death. Rather than defend my neighbour, “speak well of them and interpret everything they do in the best possible light,” as I'm told to do in Luther's explanation to the eighth commandment, I might start to spread lies and gossip. “You know what will happen if they get in here don't you?” The Old Testament reading for today pulls no punches as Isaiah describes Israel's sins when he quotes Yahweh, saying “I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually” (65:2-3). Our sinful natures turn us away from God and direct us on our own path. God tells us to preach to all the world, despite race, gender or status, but I don't really like that, so that must not be what it means and I'm not going to do it! We're like teenagers, ignoring everything that our parents, teachers or anyone in authority teach us, because we know what's best for us and no one is going to tell us otherwise. Jesus says that, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself,” and yet we decide that what's best is for them to stay far, far, away over there and me and my friends, those I'm comfortable with will stay over here. We set up our own twenty foot pole, to separate from those that we would rather not have to deal with. “Keep to yourself,” we shout to those who we deem to be unfit, unclean and unworthy, “do not come near me, for I am too holy for you” (Isaiah 65:5). Yet what we don't realize is that we too have been separated from God in our sin, so much so that God would not touch with any pole, not matter how long, but would rather destroy us.

B. And yet despite all our fighting and our rejection, Christ still comes to us, to those who are unclean, and He cleanses. Much like he did for the demon-possessed man in our text, Christ came to this sinful world to cleanse us from our sin through His death on the cross. Just like that man we are filthy with sin and God comes even to us who deserve nothing from him to give us His saving Grace and the eternal life that only he can give. St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that “God shows His love for us that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:1). It is why we sang in our service today, “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!” For it is only in Jesus Christ our Lord where we receive cleansing, healing and salvation. Through Christ you receive these gifts. Through His Word every time you hear His promise that your sins are forgiven. Through the body and blood at his table, which cleanses you from all sin strengthens you in the one true faith until life everlasting. Through the waters of baptism, where each of you have been made His very own child and the righteousness that Christ earned for you is given directly to you. You heard St. Paul write in our Epistle reading that “As many of you as were baptized have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27). In His mercy, Christ has given you these means, what we call the means of grace, so that through them you might be restored and be enabled to show that mercy to those around you. But He doesn't even stop with these outside means, but goes with you, dwelling in your heart. Working through the means of grace, and working through the Holy Spirit, Christ works in your heart to restore you, just as He restored the man in our text, to be holy and righteous. He works through you to show His mercy to others as Paul writes that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20).

C. And then, having received the mercy that Christ has made available for us, He then sends us out, just as He sent the man saying, “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you” (8:39). Dear friends it starts at home, as we show the same loving mercy that we have received to those who are closest to us, who sit across from us at the table, our next door neighbours, those who work beside us or those who sit beside us in school. God sends you to declare, to narrate from beginning to end, to tell everything that He has done for you, to share the mercy that He shown you to all those around you. But we do not just share God's mercy through words, as some have been blessed to do powerfully, but also through our actions. In the 1800s, a crippled boy was hurrying to catch a train. Carrying gifts under his arm, he struggled with his crutches. A man bumped into him. Parcels flew every which way. The man paused to scold the boy for getting in his way. That's when another gentleman, seeing the boy upset, picked up the gifts, gave him a few coins, and said, “I'm sorry! I hope this helps.” The boy, unused to such kindness, called out, “Mister, thank you! And sir, are you Jesus?” “No,” replied the man, “but I am one of His followers.” Christ works in our hearts to bring forth the works that show His mercy to all those around us in so many diverse and vibrant ways, whether it be helping in special programs here at church, helping out at home or helping our neighbour. God works in us so that through our actions we might confess boldly and confidently to the world that even they are dirty and cast away from God by their sin, He still loves them and in His mercy sent His only Son so that they might be cleansed. We go out to let the world know that Christ comes to the unclean and cleanses.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review of Trip to Thailand and Cambodia, Part 3 of 3

Mission work can be hard sometimes. We left Phnom Penh, once again aboard Bangkok Air the boutique airline, and after a night's rest in Bangkok we travelled down south to one of the resort cities, Khok Kloi. While we were there we stayed at one of the resorts located on the beach next to the Indian Ocean. I had the pleasure of swimming in this water, enjoying the warmth that I would only expect from an indoor heated pool and larger waves than what you get at a wave pool. It was a great day to finish the day, especially after a dinner at the resort's Italian restaurant. Each morning would then begin with a breakfast buffet with made to order omelets, ham, eggs, an assortment of fruit, cereal and juice. Yes, mission work can be a sacrifice sometimes.

The area we stayed in was the same area that was hit by the tsunami about five and half years ago, yet now it is hard to tell that it was completely wiped out. The physical scars of that disaster have pretty well disappeared now, with even some of the poorer areas cleaned up and looking normal once again. To commemorate the tsunami, several monuments have been constructedP1170256, including this one that shows one of the nation's police boats. This boat was about a mile out to sea when it was washed by the tsunami about a kilometre inland, where it sits today as a testament to  the strength that this wave had as it crashed onto land.

The destruction that that wave brought also provided several opportunities. As a consequence of the rebuilding effort that began in the area the government to build a paved road to the area in order to make the transportation of supplies as quick and easy as possible. It also provided avenues for the two Lutheran Churches in that area to provide help in the community, helping to take care of the orphans and widows that were left after the wave struck. So significant was their work that when the fifth anniversary of the wave came and a service was planned for those who had died, one of our Lutheran pastors participated in the service. This also shows that growing tolerance of Christianity in the region, being included in this service when Christianity is looked down on in the culture as being foreign and not “Thai.” For more information, this story was published in a Canadian Lutheran for last Christmas.

Since we were in the area on a Sunday, we went to two of the Lutheran Churches in the area for worship. After the first service, the ladies of the Church treated us to a wonderful feast. There were twelve of us there and these women had cooked up six separate entrees for us to enjoy. The generosity P1170237of these people was simply amazing. Their generosity is further displayed in another story recently run by the Canadian Lutheran in which this Church gave 1000 Baht (about $300 Can.) for the CLWR work in Haiti after their disastrous earthquake. Keep in mind that this is still a developing area, where the people live at a subsistence level. After visiting the second church and attending their worship service, we discovered that this Church actually owns a field of rubber trees. Every seven years these trees produce a sap that can be turned into rubber. Each day this field of about 30 trees produces enough rubber to make a bath mat sized piece of rubber that can be sold for about 100 Baht. The Church can then use this money to maintain their building, pay their pastor, support their mission work in the community and get that much closer to being self sufficient and not have to rely on the funding from the LCC.

After staying in Southern Thailand for three days we returned to Bangkok for one day to visit the King's Palace. The King did not pinch any pennies when building this place as many of the buildings are decorated with gold. The fact that this gold may just be gold leaves does not settle the shock of just how much gold was used in the decoration of these buildings. After saying good bye to our hosts for the trip, Dr. Leonard Harms and his wife, Carol, we went for dinner and then prepared to jump on the plane home at five in the morning. I really enjoyed this trip and it gave me a greater look into another culture, as well as a little perspective on Canadian culture and the richness that comes with it that is often overlooked and glazed over.

One final word to close. About a week ago I received news from our sister Church in Cambodia. After several years of seminary training, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cambodia (ELCC) ordained its first bishop and gave diplomas to about 25 pastors and deaconesses. Look for this story in the coming Canadian Lutheran.

The Canadian Lutheran magazine can be found here.

Sermon Preached on the Day of Pentecost/May 23, 2010

day_of_pentecost Peace is such a difficult thing for us to achieve. We always seem to be seeking it, yet it always seems to be that one thing the lies just over the next hurdle. In 1938, Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of Britain hailed the Munich Agreement with Germany as a document ensuring “peace for our time.” Yet less than a year later, the world was once again embroiled in a war that rivalled the Great War in bloodiness, but far eclipsed that war in terms of scope. Peace never seems to last. Yet in our reading from the Gospel of St. John, Jesus promises His disciples, and you and I, a different kind of peace. His peace. Christ gives His disciples, and each one of us, a completely different kind of peace than the world offers to us. Today on Pentecost, we celebrate that peace coming to the disciples and being spread by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Church to the entire world.

I. In the Gospel reading, Christ and His disciples are in the Upper Room where Christ instituted the Lord's Supper and is teaching the disciples one last time before He goes to His suffering and death. Jesus knows the persecution and hardships that the disciples will have to endure on account of their faith, so He gives them this promise:

A. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (v. 27). The peace that Christ gives does not pass away, precisely because it is not enforced by political or military means, nor is it acquired through money and the acquisition of worldly possessions. Rather, this peace is as Paul describes in the book of Philippians, “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, [and] will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7). The peace that God gives us focuses in on Christ and the gift of salvation that He gives to us, a gift that is absolutely sure and can never be taken away from us despite all the conflict that swirls around us, both out there in the world and even right at home, all too often, in our closest relationships.

B. Yet despite the peace that we are given knowing that our salvation is guaranteed through the Christ's death on the cross and glorious resurrection, it can actually be quite surprising how little we depend on it. Think about it. Think about how, rather than depending on the peace that Christ gives to us, through His Word and sacraments and the entrance into His heavenly kingdom that is guaranteed for us, we instead focus on what is happening in the world around us. Now I'm not talking about persecutions and suffering, God has blessed us with a nation where we can worship freely and don't have to face persecution. But the fear that the world attacks us with here is more insidious for its ability to slip under the radar. What's going to happen to me tomorrow? What will I do tomorrow? Rather than relying on the peace of God, and trusting in His promise to provide for us and save us from sin and death, we neglect His promises and become captivated by this fear. Many times already, I have found myself afraid of what will happen in the summer. How will it work out to move to Campbell River? What's going to happen? This kind of fear will then seep into our relationships, as our mistrust of God and our own sinful natures sow discord in our relationships. There are times when discussing the future will cause me to snap at my wife and drive a wedge between us. Our own fears and our sinful nature lead us to look out for ourselves first and separates us from each other, and, even worse, separating us from the peace that God has given us.

C. But Christ came down to earth to make atonement between us and God, He came to pay the price that our sins demanded. And lets think about that word “atonement” for a second. If you break the word down, what you come out with are the words “at one ment.” Ok, so “ment” isn't really a word, but that still leaves us with “at one.” Through the death of Jesus Christ, in whom both God and man are united, all mankind, you and I, are made one with God. No longer are we separated from God, but through Christ, through the cross, we are reconciled with God and no longer deserve His wrath, but instead are given His peace. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans that, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1). And in our baptism, where that faith was given to us, Christ also enters into our hearts and makes His permanent dwelling, His mansion, within us—as He tells us here through John (v. 23). He lives in our hearts and works within us so that we, by the power of His dwelling in us and the gift of forgiveness, we may keep His word, which He spoke earlier in John: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (13:34). Not because we have to, but because that is what faith does as Christ works in us, as John records again, “I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do.”

II. Yet this faith, does not come from us. We can't make that choice, like some would have us believe. It is like trying to push two magnets of the same polarity together: even though we're made in His image we repel God, we push Him away, we run away, and we fight against God. But the Holy Spirit turns us and works faith in our hearts so that we might receive the peace that He too gives us.

A. The Holy Spirit is often called the shy guy of the Holy Trinity, never speaking of Himself, but always pointing back to Christ and pushing Him to the foreground, while sneaking back to the background. Christ speaks of the Holy Spirit when He says that, “He will bear witness about me” (John 15:26) and again, “He will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). Jesus says in the Gospel reading for today that, “He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (v. 26). That is the work of the Holy Spirit, leading us back to Christ, teaching us and reminding of His Word. He is working in us to sanctify us through the peace given to us on the cross. And then, having given that us that peace for ourselves He also keeps working through us to proclaim that Gospel to all the world, so that everyone who's bothered and burdened by conflict can come to know this same “deep peace.”

B. The Holy Spirit has made His permanent home in our hearts with Jesus Christ, and we have the promise in Scripture, that we should “not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12). But, we don't trust Him. Nah, y'know what, after all, He is the shy guy of the Trinity, He's probably quiet and doesn't want to speak very much, so I'll just stay here at home. I mean, I've got everything I need right here: good Christian friends, safety, what more could I need? We want to stay in our comfort zones, we like it, because after all, there are other people out there! People who will put us on the spot, ask questions we might not want to answer, maybe make fun of us, or perhaps, just perhaps, get angry. Yet these are the very people that God loves and died on the cross to save. So, we rebel. We ignore God's will. Or, we, in our sinful flesh, try to fight God, or maybe even run away. It happens to all of us, it happens even to the best of us, because we are all sinners.

C. Yet when we fail to trust in the peace the Holy Spirit gives us, and boy do we fail, the Holy Spirit is there then too. He is there to forgive us our sin and to bring us back to the cross where we receive this new peace. In our Epistle reading today, we see the disciples who messed up a lot, who didn't get it a lot and didn't always do what God wanted them to do. Yet the peace the disciples received from the Holy Spirit, who testified of what Christ had done for them, motivated them to reach out of their comfort zones to preach the Gospel to all the nations. Throughout this season of Easter, we have heard how the Holy Spirit worked through the Apostles to share the peace that God had given them to all people. To face suffering, persecution, even death without fear, trusting in the victory earned for them by Christ. In your very own baptism, each of you have experienced your very own Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in your heart. He dwells in your heart to sanctify you and to aid you in your witness, giving you the peace that Christ gave to His disciples when He said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21). Luther describes the work of the Holy Spirit in this way when he says, “He baptized me; He proclaimed the Gospel of Christ to me; and He awakened my heart to believe. Baptism is not of my making; nor is the Gospel; nor is faith. He gave these to me. For the fingers that baptized me are not those of a man; they are the fingers of the Holy Spirit. And the preacher’s mouth and the words that I heard are not his; they are the words and message of the Holy Spirit. By these outward means He works faith within me and thus He makes me holy.”

D. Like the disciples, we too, who have received this gift of peace and have both the Son of God and the Holy Spirit working within us, are motivated to step out of our comfort zones to spread the Gospel, God's peace, to all the world. Not just because we have to, not because we're obligated to, but because that is what faith, created and sustained by the Holy Spirit in us, wants to do. Faith moves us to share that peace to others—it's the best motivator in the world! And so we share it through our love, as the Holy Spirit works in us and brings forth the fruit of love that faith bears. The Holy Spirit works in us and through us as we put others before ourselves, whether we do it by helping our neighbour, helping out with the Sunday School or Out of School Care or helping out with the community. And of course we also share God's peace through our words as the Holy Spirit aids us, and gives us the words to confess our faith boldly and confidently to a world that otherwise only ever seems to hear about conflict, fighting and war.

People often spend years looking for peace, yet never do seem to find it in what the world has to offer. Like sand, the peace of the world seems to fall through our fingers so that we are once again left afraid of what is to come. Yet today, on this Pentecost, we celebrate the day that God sent the Holy Spirit so that His peace might be made known to us. So that through God's Word, the Holy Spirit might proclaim to us the news that Christ died for our sins and reconciled us to God, “making peace by the blood of His cross” (Colossians 1:20). And so that through this church, where we hear the news of that forgiveness proclaimed and where the sacraments are given to us, that we might be enriched by the peace that we now have with God. The peace of God, given for you.

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