Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reformation Day Sermon

Reformation Day/10.31.10/Fort Q & IH/Romans 3:28
“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
The date today is October 31. For Lutherans this day is significant because it is Reformation Day. The day that we pause and reflect upon some of the core teachings of the Bible. The core teachings that the Lutheran Reformation brought back from the periphery and placed in the centre of the Christian Faith where it belongs. Often these are referred to as the “Sola’s” of the Reformation. Christ alone. Grace alone. Faith alone. Scripture alone.
Reformation Day is not a day for pride. Reformation Day is not a day to look down upon those who are not Lutherans. Reformation Day is a day to be filled with humble thanksgiving. It is to be a day of thanksgiving for the undeserved, unmerited, gracious goodness of God to us poor sinners. We rejoice and give thanks for the gifts God gives us for the sake of Jesus Christ.
However we are bold to say that what we believe as Lutherans today, in the direct line of the Reformers of the 16th Century, is what the Christian Church has always believed, taught, and confessed. What we believe is not new. What we believe is not something Martin Luther came up with 500 years ago. No! What we believe is what the Bible teaches. What we believe is catholic in the truest sense of the word. It is universal. What Lutherans believe, teach, and confess is what the Bible teaches and confesses.
But who cares really? What difference does it make? Does it really matter if you go to this church or that? They are all pretty much the same aren’t they? I mean the Anglican church’s liturgy and the Roman Catholic church’s liturgy are pretty close to what we do. The Baptists and Alliance folk believe in Jesus don’t they? What is the big deal?
Today we will see little ones, and some not so little ones, running around all dressed up in various costumes. Princesses and pumpkins, cats and hockey players, firemen and barbies. But, there are also those who will dress up like monsters. Vampires, ghouls, ghosts, etc. Monsters. Of course we know that monsters aren’t real. It is all for pretend and fun. It’s a little spooky. But there is one monster that I want to tell you about on this October 31st that is very real. It is the scariest and most deadly monster that has ever been. This monster is alive and well today.
The Monster of Uncertainty. Luther knew this monster well. In fact, it was he who coined the term – the Monster of Uncertainty. This is not a monster I have made up. It is real. It lives today. This monster prowls about looking to terrify consciences. This monster prowls about looking to cause doubt and fear. This monster prowls about looking to destroy trust and hope and joy. This monster prowls about looking to destroy peace.
The Monster of Uncertainty roars: “Did God really say?” The Monster of Uncertainty takes Jesus out of view and places you as the only player on the field. The Monster of Uncertainty calls into question God’s promises.
How do you know God loves you? How do you know that you are not left alone by God? How do you know your sins are forgiven? How do you know that particularly dark sin in your past is forgiven? How do you know that when you die you will not be damned to hell? How do you know that the gates to heaven are open for you?
Well, how do you know? Are you absolutely certain that God loves you? Are you absolutely certain that your sins are forgiven? Are you certain that when you die you will be welcomed into heaven? Does the Monster of Uncertainty lurk in the background of your life? Is the Monster of Uncertainty growling in the dark corners of your life? Does the Monster of Uncertainty strike fear and terror in your heart?
If you seek to answer these questions by looking to yourself – the Monster will win. You will never have any peace – only uncertainty. You will never have any comfort – you will only hear the Monster of Uncertainty growling and striking doubt and fear in your heart.
If you look to yourself and the good things you have done hoping that you have earned God’s love and merit – ask yourself – how do you know if you have done enough? Are you sure? Are you certain?
If you look to yourself and base your faith upon your action of deciding and accepting Jesus – ask yourself – are you sure you gave all your heart to Jesus? Are you sure you really decided to accept Jesus? Maybe it was just an emotional thing? Did you really mean it?
The Monster of Uncertainty points you away from Jesus and has you look at yourself for your assurance and your certainty of God’s love and forgiveness. The Monster of Uncertainty wants you to find your certainty and assurance somewhere in you.
Lutherans reject all of this and this is why what you believe matters. This is why not all churches are the same. Not all churches have an answer to the Monster of Uncertainty. Many churches will have you look to something in yourself for your certainty of salvation. You see Lutheran theology – which is Christian theology – points you in the exact opposite direction as the Monster of Uncertainty. We look not to ourselves for our assurance and certainty of God’s love and forgiveness. We look to Jesus. We look not to what we have done to earn God’s merit – we look to Jesus and what He has done for us. We look not to our accepting of Jesus – but to His accepting of us by grace through faith.
How do you know what Jesus did 2000 years ago in His life, death on the cross, and His resurrection is for you? For you specifically? Individually?
Because Jesus says so.
He said so in your baptism. Through the blessed waters of Holy Baptism He claimed you as His own and promised to always be with you and to remove your sin. Notice – not what you do – but what Jesus has done and promised to you. Therefore – you can have certainty that it is true for you.
Jesus speaks His word of forgiveness in the Holy Absolution to you and by His doing He erases your guilt. Again – this is not something that you do –it is something that is given to you by the Lord’s promise. His forgiveness of your sins does not rely upon you but upon Jesus Word and faithfulness.
In the Sacrament of Holy Communion He gives Himself to you – personally and individually. He promises to be there in the Sacrament for you in His Body and Blood with the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. You don’t do anything to make this so. It is so because Jesus says it is so. It is sure and certain because it is not reliant upon you but upon Jesus.
Jesus provides you with these sure and certain places to find Him and His gifts for you. He does not want you to suffer through life with doubts and uncertainty regarding His love for you, His forgiveness of you, and His promises of eternal life for you.
For you. Specifically. Individually. For you. Jesus speaks it. Jesus promises it. Jesus gives it. For you. There is no doubt. There is no uncertainty. The One who rose from the dead and defeated sin, death, and the devil has spoken. This is most certainly true.
The Monster of Uncertainty is slain not by your efforts. The Monster of Uncertainty is slain not by your good works or merit. The Monster of Uncertainty is not slain by the strength of your faith. The Monster of Uncertainty is slain by Jesus. The Monster of Uncertainty is slain when we look to Jesus and Him alone for our life and salvation. The Monster of Uncertainty is slain when we by grace through faith trust Jesus’ Word and promises – the Word and promises that are given for you.
Dear friends, you can leave here this morning and go out into the scary world without doubt and fear. You can be fearless in the face of your sin and failure knowing that in Jesus you are forgiven. You can be fearless in the face of the trials and struggles of this life because you know that for Jesus’ sake you are beloved by God and are never left alone. You can be fearless when you face death itself because you know that in Jesus your death has been conquered – it no longer has dominion over you.
There is no doubt. There is no uncertainty. Jesus has accomplished it all for you. Jesus has given you all that He has done for you through His Word and Sacraments in the Church. On this Reformation Day let us rejoice in this Good News of Jesus Christ. Let us take comfort and have peace in our Lord Jesus’ work for us. Let us humbly acknowledge the great heritage of faithful biblical teaching that has handed down to us through the millennia. Let us seek to share this wonderful Good News with others who may be haunted by the Monster of Uncertainty. But above all else let us find peace in our Lord Jesus: For His sake - You are forgiven. You are loved by God. You have been given eternal life. This is most certainly true. Amen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Funeral Sermon for John Craven

Funeral for John Craven/10.02.10/Fort Q/John 19:16-27

Today we gather to say goodbye to John. Though it has been two months since John died the pain and sadness remain. It is difficult when a loved one dies. The loss is felt for a long time. The hole that is left in our lives, in our hearts, remains. We gather this afternoon to say good bye. However we also gather to give thanks to God for the gift of life that He gave to John and our opportunity to share it with him.

It was my privilege to serve as John’s pastor for several years. He was the first person I talked to in Fort Qu’Appelle after I graduated from Seminary and was sent here by the Church. He helped organize the move from Edmonton and made sure all the arrangements that could be made for us when we got here were made. He was the first person who greeted me. He was the first person who took me for a tour of the church – then considerably smaller than it is now. He was the first President of a congregation I worked with as a rookie pastor. For my first few years in the Office of the Holy Ministry John was a constant companion. He would often stop into the church during the day to see what I was up to. Some might say he was making sure the new young pastor knew what he was doing. He would scold me because he saw the light on at the church too late into the night sometimes and tell me I ought to be home. He put many hours into this congregation both in his administrative role as President and also with the building project that began shortly after I arrived. I got to know John very well. And I know one thing: he would tell me to be quiet about all that now. No more talking about me. Talk to the people about Jesus.

We gather this afternoon so we might support one another, comfort one another, and encourage one another as we face this trial and struggle. Doris, all the family, and all who are gathered here this afternoon – it is OK to mourn. It is OK to be sad. There is no shame in it. There is no need for embarrassment. How else do we react when a loved one is gone? This is natural. This is normal. However, in the midst of your sadness and loss – hear Good News. Hear THE Good News. Here the Good News of Jesus Christ.

John 19:16-27: “So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,
“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”
So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

In several instances throughout the Gospel of St. John there is a reference to “the disciple whom he loved.” This disciple is not named but is referred to as the “beloved disciple.” Who was this beloved disciple of Jesus? The beloved disciple was John the Evangelist. John who wrote the Gospel which bears his name was the disciple whom Jesus loved. Now why did he refer to himself in this way throughout the Gospel – never referring to himself by name? There are a few theories. One is that he was being modest, humble, he did to want to be identified. Another reason given is that perhaps John wanted all readers of the Gospel to be able to identify with this disciple – the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Just as John the Evangelist was loved by Jesus so was our brother John whom we say goodbye to this afternoon. John was loved by Jesus and is still loved by Jesus. But not because John was perfect. Jesus loves John not because John has somehow earned His love by all his service to the Church. No, Jesus loves John purely out of unmerited grace and mercy. I am sure, I know, John would agree. He knows he did not earn God’s love. But by grace through faith John has received it. It is a gift that God gives. You don’t earn a gift. You only receive a gift with thanksgiving.

Jesus loves John so much that He lived a perfectly sinless life, died on the cross paying the penalty for his sins, and rose again. In our Lord’s resurrection He has defeated death, He has defeated John’s death. Yes, John has been taken away from us, but death has not won. “Death where is thy victory? Death where is thy sting?” No, Jesus has conquered death. John is with Jesus who loves him. John is with Jesus and is at peace. John is with Jesus awaiting the Last Day when Jesus will return and there will be the resurrection of the body where soul and body in a miraculous way will be joined together again to live for eternity with God.

Jesus loves John. When John was baptized Jesus reached down and washed him of his sin. In the waters of Holy Baptism Jesus reached down and claimed John as his own – His precious and beloved child. He promised to always be with him. And from that day forward Jesus kept His promises to John and continued to love and care for him. Jesus loved and cared for John through His Word and Sacraments in the Church. Jesus continued to feed and nourish John in his trust and faith through hearing His Word regularly in Divine Service Sunday mornings and through regular attendance at Bible studies. Jesus continued to care and love John as He forgave him his sins as John came to Services and confessed his sin and received the Absolution, the forgiveness of his sins, from Jesus. Jesus continued to care and love John as He strengthened him in his faith and the forgiveness of his sins through the Sacrament of Holy Communion, the very Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for him. Jesus was with John through his entire life – just as He had promised him in his baptism. And on July 12, 2010 Jesus was with John in his death. Jesus was with John and took him to be where He is – in peace – awaiting the Last Day and the resurrection of the body when sin and death will finally and totally be destroyed. Jesus loved John all through his life. Jesus loved John through his death. Jesus loves John this very day in heavenly peace.

I know John would want me to add one more thing to the sermon preached at his funeral. Well, first he would check his watch to see how long the sermon has been so far – he always timed me to the second and would tell me how long the sermon was on the way out the door Sunday mornings. But John would want you to know that just as he was and is loved by Jesus – so are you. All that Jesus did for John He has done for you. Jesus lived a perfect life in your place, Jesus died on the cross to pay for your sins, and Jesus rose from the dead and has defeated your death. Not because you’ve earned it. Not because you are good enough or have done enough good things… but because out of His grace and mercy Jesus loves you and forgives you. It is a gift. You receive it by grace through faith.

All that Jesus did by loving and caring for John throughout his entire life Jesus offers to you as well. But you might be asking – where do I find this? Where do I find Jesus and His gifts? Well that is easy. You find Jesus and His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation in His holy Word in the bible and in the Sacraments in the Church. Just as Jesus sustained John through life and death to eternal life through these means – so Jesus promises to do the same for you. Seek Jesus where He has promised to be for you - in His Word and Sacraments in the Church. There you will find forgiveness, life, and salvation. There you will find Jesus and all the treasures of heaven.

This day we say good bye to John. However we say good bye with the knowledge that he is safe and at peace with Jesus. We say good bye with the trust that because Jesus lives so shall we live. We say good bye with hope because of the forgiveness of sins and the life everlasting. Doris and all the family and all who mourn John’s death – as you go through the difficult times ahead without John know that you do not go alone. Your Lord and Saviour Jesus is with you. He will sustain you and strengthen you through His Word and Sacraments to face the tough times. And know that Jesus loved John. Jesus loves John now and into eternity. And know for certain as you leave this place - Jesus loves you. Thanks be to God. Amen.