Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sermon on the Gospel at Divine Service on 30 October 2016, Reformation Sunday (Observed)

The Rev. Paul J Cain
John 8:31-36
Reformation Sunday Divine Service, 30 October 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Truth matters. In medicine, proper dosages matter. There are only two genders in procreation, male and female. In engineering, safety depends upon the composition and structure of concrete and steel and carbon fiber. When it comes to your salvation, truth matters.
According to Romans 16:17ff, Christians are given to watch out for all who teach contrary to the Lord’s Scripture. That does not mean that we are to be primarily known for what teachings we oppose. Christians are also given to clearly teach God’s truth from His Scripture. That is when the Church is known for making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching God’s Word and when, as the Body of Christ, the Gospel is the main message.
All who seek truth will find it in Jesus. A person’s relationship with the truth of Christ says something about discipleship and true freedom.

31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. 38 I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”
Note that Jesus is not just speaking to any Jews, but those who had believed Him. They were not His enemies, but their follow-up statement shows they set themselves up as His adversaries. They have finally heard something they do not believe. “We are offspring of Abraham,” they say, “and have never been enslaved to anyone. Is this true? No. What about Egypt? What about the Babylonian captivity? What about being enslaved to sin, self, and Satan? No. They don’t want to talk about that. Jesus even recognizes their murderous intent.
Jesus introduces them to freedom. We Americans are used to hearing about freedom in two contexts, Church and State. There’s freedom in Christ and political freedom. Yes, we wish that both be preserved, but they are two different, but related concepts. Both can be misunderstood.
How can “freedom” be misunderstood? In both spiritual and political definitions, if “freedom” is misunderstood as merely the license to do “whatever we want,” then we’re not really talking about freedom. That’s anarchy, selfishness, licentiousness, and another form of bondage. Consider the teen or young adult that comes home to mom and dad and says, “I want to make choices for myself. I want to be an individual. I want to [add shocking thing here] just like everybody else.” This misunderstood version of so-called “freedom” is no freedom at all. It has sin, rebelliousness, and conformity to peer pressure from the devil, the world, and bad human influences all over it.
Freedom in Christ, true spiritual freedom, is freedom “from” and freedom “for.” Let’s talk about both, for Luther does.
A Christian is the freest lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is the most dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
We are free from sin, guilt, the domination of the devil, and from the eternal punishment we deserve. In contrast, medieval Christianity misunderstood salvation, leading to works righteousness. They felt bound to do good works so that God would forgive them and eventually let them into heaven.
The same folks thought they were free with regard to their neighbor. By locking themselves up in convents and monasteries, they often did not, could not, or would not serve their neighbor in need. Luther explains that this is also exactly backward of serving according to vocation.
Freedom in Christ, true spiritual freedom, is freedom “from” and freedom “for.” As forgiven Christians, we are free from sin and guilt and eternal consequences before the Lord, free for good works in service to our neighbor in need. This, I believe, is the root of the so-called Protestant work ethic. The Lutheran Reformation not only restored the Gospel as the unearned, undeserved Gift of Christ to you because of His death and Resurrection, it also restored Scripture as the proper authority over the Church and the Christian, returned good works as service to neighbor rather than service toward God, and returned Christian freedom to its proper emphasis.
Were there cultural, political, and social changes as a result of the Reformation? Certainly, but they were never the main focus or intent of Luther. For him, it was all about the Word, the Word, the Word—the Lord’s Truth.
We pray that the Lord Himself will keep us steadfast in His Word this Reformation Sunday and always. The Reformation was never really about Luther or Germany or only protesting ecclesiastical authority. It was and is all about Jesus, a return to Scripture, God’s Truth, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reforming human traditions on the basis of Scripture and the Gospel: Grace alone, Faith alone, Scripture alone, Christ alone, all to God’s glory alone!
We will observe the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation over the next year. Today is but the beginning. In November, we will observe the birthday of Martin Luther. In February, we will remember his heavenly birthday, the anniversary of his death. In March, I plan to share with you an English version of a German-language Communion service sung here at Immanuel, Sheridan, to celebrate our congregational anniversary. In June, we will remember the 1530 Presentation of the Augsburg Confession with a special service. And then, October 29, 2017 will be observed as Reformation Sunday.
Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” It’s still all about Jesus. Amen to that! Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sermon on the Alternate Gospel at Matins on 30 October 2016, Reformation Sunday (Observed)

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Matthew 11:12–19
The Kingdom of Heaven
Reformation Sunday Matins, 30 October 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Today is not the 500th Anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. That’s a year from tomorrow, 31 October 2017. Yet, the celebration begins here and now. The Protestant Reformation was a protest: a protest of errors, false practices, and misuse of Church authority in the hope and prayer of reform centering on Christ, returning to God’s Word, emphasizing the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and reforming human traditions on the basis of Scripture and the Gospel!
The Church was in need of reform. Some priests knew enough Latin to get through Mass, but rarely preached sermons, if at all. Others didn’t even know the Lord’s Prayer. Most people couldn’t understand the services. Many could not read. Many were not taught much at all about the Bible or Jesus or Christianity. Positions of authority like bishoprics were sold for money. People were eager to pay especially for positions like the archbishopric in Mainz, because the officeholder was an elector and could vote for the next Holy Roman Emperor. The HRE wasn’t that holy, wasn’t very Roman, and wasn’t much of an empire. Yet, an Elector like Frederick III of Saxony could protect a reform-minded friar, priest, and doctor of the Church like Martin Luther.
One can see why Matthew 11 is an appropriate Gospel reading for the celebration of the Reformation of Christ’s Church.
12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,4 and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear,5 let him hear.
16 “But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates,
17 “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’
18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”6 [1]
The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence. Sin is violence against the Lord and His heavenly kingdom. Sin is a violent act, especially when people sin against the Lord and His kingdom by preaching, practices, and lives lived contrary to God’s Word. There is always need for reform in the Church because there are sinners in the Church. Some don’t like what is said or what is done, so they seek to change things one way or another. The Judaism of Jesus’ day had Pharisees, seen by many as hypocrites, Sadducees, who resemble Scripture-denying religious progressives today, Zealots with a radical political focus, Essenes who dwelt as a hermit-like purified community in the wilderness, and Herodians who supported King Herod.
John the Baptist is dead because he dared to speak God’s truth to one with worldly power, Herod. Herod had his brother’s wife move in with him and he made promises without thinking because of his niece’s dance at a dinner party. John lost his head and the kingdom of heaven once again suffered violence.
Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds. Jesus speaks true wisdom to his hearers in Matthew 11, crowds eager to hear what He would say after He and his disciples met with messengers from John the Baptist. John is one like the Old Testament prophet Elijah. John is the last Old-Testament-style prophet. John prepares the way for Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah, the prophet, priest, king, suffering servant, temple, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus speaks wisdom.
Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds. Jesus was all in. He was committed to His ministry of teaching, His ministry of suffering, dying, and being resurrected for you, and His ongoing ministry of Word and Sacrament here and now. Jesus’ words are true and wise. Jesus’ words are also backed by deeds that reveal Him as God and Lord, creator and redeemer.
Some in this world will never be satisfied with us as Christians. They urge us to change. Some are even so bold as to tell us so: “(And) deep seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.” When words like that are said aloud, religious liberty is under attack. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that we’ll all be persecuted tomorrow. We do need to stand up for what we believe on the basis of God’s Word. We stand for religious liberty, Biblical marriage, and life when we speak in the public square.
Suppose for a moment we did change one of our sincerely held beliefs. I do not intend to, nor do I wish us to. But suppose for a moment we changed one. Would the world be satisfied? No. Say we changed another and another and another, rapidly or gradually. Would we ever earn the approval of this world? No. It would always be a losing battle. Approval from the world is always a moving target. Flute or dirge, we Christians dare not dance or mourn at the bidding of a sinful, fallen world.
Source of the following:
Luther arrived in Worms as part of a triumphal procession. The emperor and church officials expected him to recant his theses while at the Diet.
Luther's books were placed on a table. He was then asked if they were his works and whether he wanted to recant any of the information. Luther requested time to think over his reply and the next day he answered with the well-known speech: "Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." [According to] legend (that) Luther [also] said the words "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!"

There are days we are on defense because the Church and Christians are under attack. There are days we are primarily on offense. That is when we make ourselves known primarily for what we are FOR rather than AGAINST. That is when the Church is known for making disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching God’s Word. God help us! Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Lutheran Service Book Historic (One Year) Lectionary. (2009). Bellingham, WA: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Funeral Sermon for Vera Kaufmann Rhoades, 29 October 2016

The Rev. Paul J Cain
Psalm 43
Thine Forever
Saturday of Trinity XXII, 29 October 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Funeral Sermon for Vera Laura (Kaufmann) Rhoades

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Death is on our minds today. We mourn, but we have hope in Christ, for He has defeated death by a death of His own and a Resurrection of His own that He will one day share with us.
We miss Vera, our sister in Christ. She felt like family, even to many of us who were not related to her by blood or marriage. The Lord makes us family through Holy Baptism. He makes promises to us in His Word and He keeps them, of that we can be sure. One such promise is Mark 16:16. “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Vera was baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, according to Christ’s command, and into this promise. We rightly leave the rest up to the Lord.
Elements of today’s service tell of the gifts Christ gave to Vera and the story of her life in Christ. She was baptized on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Quinquagesima, in 1918. Our Epistle lesson today was likely heard that day.
The Sunday before Palm Sunday was Vera’s Confirmation Day in 1930, and at least a portion of Psalm 43 was heard that day. (Read underlined verses on next page.)
1Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! 2For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? 3Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! 4Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. 5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.
We read the whole of this psalm responsively earlier in the service. It speaks to God’s vindication and deliverance of us, the light and truth of His Word guiding us each day and all our life long, His gathering of us to be His people in the place where He delivers His gifts to us, and that He is the source of our hope, the object of our praise, both our Savior and our God.
On a Confirmation Sunday in a German Lutheran congregation in 1930 Nebraska, one would probably also hear this verse from the mouth of Jesus:
Sei getreu bis an den Tod, so will ich dir die Krone des Lebens geben.[1]
The English of Revelation 2:10b is: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
In Holy Baptism, Vera is in Christ. At her Confirmation and First Communion and every Communion since, even those in her room with us at Green House Living, she is in Christ. Now, she is at peace, at rest, in Christ, and in His presence. With her we await the return of Christ and the Resurrection of all on the Last Day, when all delivered and saved by Christ will be with Him and one another face to face, knowing in full, fully in Christ.
Years ago, I asked Vera about her favorite hymn. “Well, I like them all!” she said in her “happy-grumpy” voice. And then we opened up her hymnal and looked at some, including “Let Me Be Thine Forever.” You may be noticing a theme develop. Together, the readings and hymns echo her confession of faith.

When a pastor visits a Christian like Vera on her deathbed, he has a wonderful resource in a book called the Pastoral Care Companion that accompanies the hymnal Lutheran Service Book. (And yes, there’s even an app for that on my smartphone.) Some call it “Last Rites.” We call it “Commendation of the Dying.” What an excellent opportunity to comfort a believer who received the washing of water and the Word, heard Jesus’ Words of forgiveness, drank deeply of Sacred Scripture, and feasted upon Christ’s own Body and Blood. Near the end of the “commendation,” or, when death is near, the pastor speaks or chants the Nunc Dimittis, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace…”
Then, the pastor may say or sing stanza three of the classic Lutheran hymn “Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart,” LSB 708: ¯ “Then let at last Thine angels come, To Abram’s bosom bear me home That I may die unfearing. And in its narrow chamber keep My body safe in peaceful sleep Until Thy reappearing. And then from death awaken me That my own eyes with joy may see, O Son of God, Thy glorious face, My Savior and my fount of grace! Lord Jesus Christ, my prayer attend, my prayer attend, And I will praise Thee without end.”
What comfort! Even in this wicked world, His love surrounds you. He blesses you here in His Word and Sacrament according to His Gospel promises. He has given you family and friends to love you, and a congregation of other forgiven sinners to care for you and encourage you. He will never leave nor forsake you. And He is with us until the end of the age, the time of His reappearing.
For a Christian with a Lutheran background, this was Vera’s hope as she despaired of any so-called righteousness in herself and clung tightly to the forgiveness of sins Jesus won for her. This is your hope as well. Jesus tells us the Truth in His Word. I invite you to hear His Word on a regular basis, believe in the Father who sent Him, and by faith, receive the gracious Gifts of God delivered by God the Holy Spirit: Life in Him now, eternal life in the world to come, and Resurrection on the Last Day. Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther, M. (2001). Biblia: das ist: Die gantze Heilige Schrifft (Re 2:10). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. 1545 translation.