Walking Trees

Vespers – St. Mark 8:22-26

You have probably never heard a sermon on this text from St. Mark 8.  You have also likely never really been through a Bible study on this text either.  In fact, you would be hard pressed to find anyone discuss this text at all in any context or situation.  Dare I say it, but it is even possible you have never read this text at all.

Why?

Because it is strange.  And Jesus doesn’t come off looking to good in this text.

Jesus goes to heal a blind man, and it seems to take two tries.  The first time, Jesus gets the man to see, but what he sees is blurry and unclear.  Walking trees is how he describes everything around him.  Jesus repeats the process, and now the man can see clearly.

How bizarre.

You can see why this text was left out of our rotation of Sunday morning readings, not to mention most devotional literature.  You can see why most people, even in the Church, shy away from this text, unless of course, they want to criticize Jesus.

This is the Jesus you are afraid of getting, isn’t it?  A Jesus who can’t really help you.  A Jesus who can’t really make you well.  A Jesus who is so overwhelmed by your problems that it takes multiple tries to make you well.

Surely that is what the man in our text thought: everyone else gets healed on the first try, by the spoken word or by a touch, some even just by touching a loose thread of Jesus robe; but just my luck, Jesus can’t help me.  Jesus can heal all these other people with all these terrible diseases, but when it comes to me, I’m just to sick, just too far gone; there is no helping me.

This is where Satan comes and tells you that your sins are too great, that your baptism can’t wash away that imperfection; that your whole life is a mess, and Jesus can’t do a thing to help you.

What is one to do?

Some might say that the point of this text is that Jesus does not give up on you, even if it takes 2 or 3 or 4 or more tries to get you back in the game.  Cute.  But not quite.  Jesus words, His death and resurrection, always work, every time, the first time.  When Jesus announces to you the forgiveness of sins, when He claims you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism, when He feeds you His very body and blood, He doesn’t have to shout to make sure you hear Him.  He doesn’t have to soak you more to make sure you become clean.  He doesn’t have to give you a bigger piece because you are extra sinful.  Jesus works the first time, every time, and He always has and always will.

So what to make of our strange text?

This text is not actually about Jesus so much as it is about you.

Like the man in our text, you are born deaf and blind to the word of God; and whatever comes out of your mouth concerning the Lord, is incoherent nonsense.  But as you learn the word, as you study it, it becomes clear; but not all at once.  For a while, you may see walking trees; you see a glimpse of who Christ is, but not the whole picture.

And then finally, you have the ‘aha’ moment.  Your eyes are opened fully to see the works and wonders of Christ Jesus for you.

This is the pattern in St. Mark’s Gospel.  Prior to Christ, everyone was deaf and blind and speaking incoherently.  When Christ came, eyes began to be opened, but they were still only showing a blurry picture; people see bits and pieces of Jesus, but often leave more confused than confident, for what they see does not always make sense, think of Peter who one minute confesses Jesus to be the Christ, but the next tries to prevent Him from going to the cross..

And then at the resurrection, and especially on Pentecost, the eyes of all are opened, and they can see clearly who Jesus is, and for what purpose He came.

So what is your response when your eyes are opened and all things are made clear?

Like the man in our text, you cannot hold that joy in.  Once you see who Christ truly is and what He came into the world to accomplish, you cannot help but tell others, so that the fog may be lifted from their own eyes, and they too might see their Lord and Savior standing before them, announcing to you and to them, forgiveness, life and salvation.

There is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to this text; for this text like all others, points us to Christ, the Savior of the world, who has come so that you may have life, and have it in abundance.

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Rise and eat

Winkel Sermon – 1 Kings 19:1-8

A couple of years ago, at the annual Pastors Conference in Lawrence, the main presenter was from Grace Place Ministries, and he presented some statistics on burnout among clergy and some other things that drive pastors to leave the ministry.  He then directed us to have table talk, and discuss the question as to whether or not we had ever actually considered leaving the ministry, and what caused us to stay.

I pointed out in our table talk, and later to the presenter, that perhaps a better way to phrase such a question in our LCMS circles was to ask the question have you ever wished that you could receive a call, and just leave everything behind.

For perhaps quitting seems a bridge to far to cross, but walking away, and finding a new flock to shepherd, perhaps that has some appeal.

After all, who hasn’t had a confirmation class that would test even the patience of Job?  Who hasn’t had to have more than one uncomfortable conversation with someone stuck in their sins?  Who hasn’t watched one youth after another walk away from the church, after swearing to you in youth group that they were LCMS for life?  Who hasn’t gotten a phone call, informing you that your favorite shut in, is dead?

It kind of wears on you after a while; and this brief list doesn’t even begin to take into account the pressures of the world around you, making just being a church worker more and more difficult.  It makes you wish sometimes that maybe the Holy Spirit would call you elsewhere.

The presenter didn’t use our reading from 1 Kings as far as I can recall, but maybe he should have.

Elijah sits under the broom tree and hands God his resignation letter, and just to make sure that God gets the point, Elijah demands to be put to death.

I find that last part ironic, after all, what has brought Elijah to this broom tree but the desire to spare his life from the hand of Jezebel.  And what has spurned the anger of Jezebel then Elijah defeating the prophets of Baal in the infamous sacrifice dual in 1 Kings 18.

One would think the victory over the prophets of Baal would be enough to get Elijah going again and power him through the next quarter; but alas, it is a lonely victory, and the victory is not met with a confession of faith from Jezebel, but a death threat.

Elijah wants to quit, and more to the point, he wants to die.  But at least Elijah is talking to the right person; how many of us can say that?

My daily perusal through the land of Facebook finds many griping about their issues over one thing or another.  At that pastor’s conference, not to mention anywhere else 2 or more pastors or church workers are gathered together, there is a pining for the old days, when members would cower in fear of the pastor, and just do whatever he said.

Elijah should in fact be the poster child of every seminary, of every winkel, of every district: for what better emblem is there, then the pastor who wants out, either of his current call, or just out of life.

Elijah even has the perfect follow up, he complains to God, and then he takes a nap.

It’s easy to want out; it’s not so easy to go on.  It’s easy to complain about everything, and how life is just not fair; it is not so easy to be the theologian of the cross that you have been called to be.  It’s easy to demand death, it’s not so easy to live surrounded by death.

Twice Elijah is roused from his slumber and told to eat, for the journey is too great for him to go it alone.

How true it is.

At least for today, Elijah’s resignation letter is rejected; there is more work for him to do.  Needless to say, yours has not been accepted either, there is more work for you as well.

But for Elijah and for you, the future is too much to go it alone.

You must rise and eat.

Notice Elijah is not given a shopping list and told to make his own food though, rather the food is ready and waiting for him; Elijah is fed by the very presence and gifts of God.

And so are you.

In a vocation of constant service, you too are told to rise and eat a meal that has been prepared for you.  Rise and eat the very body and blood of Christ Jesus given and shed for you.

The journey before you is too great to go it alone, you need energy, you need strength, you need the real body and blood of Jesus, which is the only thing that can sustain you along the way.

The future is indeed rough; Elijah will run from Ahab and Jezebel for some time, and he will eventually try to quit again, only to be ignored by God and given more work to do.

The future road is rough indeed today; the culture shows no signs of letting up its aggressive press to drive the Church into oblivion; and demographics and economics will only crunch us further and further.

The journey ahead, whether that journey be 10 years or 20 years or 40 years, is too much for you to go it alone; rise and eat what the Lord has set before you, so that you may have strength for the journey that leads to eternal life.

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Grieving the Holy Spirit

Pentecost 12 – Ephesians 4:17-5:2

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Called to walk in Christ

Pentecost 11 – Ephesians 4:1-16

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The Bleeding Edge

Image result for essure

The other night, almost on a whim, we watched a documentary entitled The Bleeding Edge, which examined the medical device industry, and focused on how many products come to market without the stringent FDA testing and study that many drugs are subjected to.

The program is meant to cover the entire medical device industry, and to be sure Bayer and Johnson & Johnson do not fare well.  But of the devices examined: joint replacements, robotic surgery, surgical mesh and Essure, it is Essure that dominates the program.

Essure is a small spring like piece that is used as a form of birth control, and essentially closes off the fallopian tube, thus preventing implantation.  It is advertised as a permanent form of birth control, as it is supposed to be irreversible.

In the course of the program, several women are shown who had the simple, in office, procedure done, who now are living with severe complications as a result.  Their bodies rejected the metal spring, treated it like the foreign object it truly was, and then proceeded to attack it.  To make matters worse, when the women tried to remove the device, which was supposed to be permanent, there was no good way to do so; so in most cases the piece broke apart and is now causing complications all over their bodies.

One of the side effects of Essure, is that when it failed to close off the tube, and the women went about their normal sex life, they got pregnant.  Which is of course rather ironic, in that in an effort to not have any more children, they ended up having more children.  The children were born, sometimes premature, and often with health complications of their own.  A few of the babies even died.

But this is where there is an interesting twist, although it was not discussed in this manner in the program, for obvious reasons.

These women, who went into this process desiring to never have another child, still welcomed these children just as they would any other child, and they grieved when the child was forced to endure their own series of surgeries and in some cases death.

The true lie of birth control, is that instead of giving you back the life you had before children, it takes away the very thing women were created to do.  Women were created to love and to care for children, and even when they try to reject that role in favor of their own personal comforts, the inclination is still there, that should the ‘unwanted’ child come, they still love that child, and grieve when that child suffers.

Essure, which is in the process of coming off the market in the US by the end of this year, has failed at what it was created to do, but succeeded in showing what a failure it and other forms of birth control can be: robbing mothers of the blessing of children.

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Lift up your hearts

First Lutheran Church  Plainville, Kansas

Peace Lutheran Church  Natoma, Kansas

August, 2018

P: Lift up your hearts.             C: We lift them up unto the Lord.

Long has this phrase, which occurs at the beginning of the Service of the Sacrament in each setting of the Divine Service, puzzled me.  Why now, are we called upon to lift up our hearts?  Why is this suddenly so important to do in the middle of the service, as opposed to the very beginning, before we even sing the opening hymn?  And what does this phrase, to lift up our hearts unto the Lord even mean?

Recently, at a workshop on the development and the use of the liturgy in the very early Church, this phrase was suddenly made clear.

First and foremost, what does this mean to lift up one’s heart?  It means to focus, to pay attention; something important is going on, and the minister is calling the congregation to attention, and the congregation responds in the affirmative.  The minister calls everyone to attention, and the congregation stands at attention, ready for whatever may follow, in this case, the Service of the Sacrament, the preparation for, and the actual receiving of the true body and blood of Christ Jesus.

Now by no means does this phrase negate all that has happened earlier in the service.  No doubt, we should have uplifted hearts the very moment we enter the doors of the church, and we should pay close and careful attention to each word and each action, whether of the pastor or of the congregation, that happens from beginning to end.

But as is often the case, minds tend to wander; eyelids get heavy; ears grow deaf; and hands and feet begin to fidget.  Throughout the service our eyes have been darting around the room looking to see who all is here this morning.  During the readings, our ears have been distracted by the shuffle of papers and the coughs and sneezes of those around us.  During the sermon, our minds have wandered afield, thinking about what work must be done, or even where lunch will be eaten.

And so here, in the middle of the service, when the sheep have wandered astray looking at any and all shiny objects that have caught their attention, it is necessary to regroup, it is time to come back together as one, and proceed with what follows, because what follows is no simple or trivial matter.

And so, just as the invocation at the beginning of the service announces to one and all that we are now operating under the name and presence of God, so too does this phrase Lift up your hearts announce to all those assembled that it is time to refocus, to fix your heart and your mind on Jesus.

And how does the congregation respond?  We lift them up unto the Lord.  The congregation declares that they are now turning their hearts and minds back onto Christ, back onto what truly matters at this hour; not the drama of the world, not the intricacies of life, not even the meandering thoughts that make their way into our brains; no, what matters here, is that we are in the presence of the holy God, which we acknowledge in singing the Sanctus, and will soon receive in the very body and blood of Christ through our lips and upon our tongues.

This is no mere throwaway line that can be skipped over in an effort to shorten the service and get everyone to the buffets a few minutes sooner, this is a call to you, a call to the congregation that we are about to enter the presence of the holy God, and receive the gifts that He alone can offer in the Sacrament of the Altar.  Are you ready?

God Bless!

Pastor Schmidt

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My Rainbow

Pentecost 10 – Genesis 9:8-17

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