Fourth Sunday after Trinity 2016

Bible Text: Luke 6:36-42 | Preacher: Rev. Alan Kornacki Jr. | Series: 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The world is topsy-turvy. All that our Lord calls good and right in His Word, the world considers evil and judgmental. Everything our Lord calls evil and perverted, the world considers good and right. Abortion is legal. Homosexuality is celebrated. Living together outside of marriage is the norm. It almost seems as if the blind are really in the lead, doesn’t it? It is to the people living in these circumstances that our Lord delivers His message. “Be merciful.” “Judge not.” “Forgive.”

But wait. Aren’t Christians supposed to be concerned with the truth of the Word of God? Yes, of course you are. But your problem is that you think that others are the bad people and you are basically good. Sure, you might sin, but you cannot believe you might be evil. Evil people do evil things; you just mess up from time to time. After all, you are only human! If anyone is evil, it has to be that other person, not you. That sort of thinking is the very thing which is condemned in this text. You aren’t better than the next poor sinner. The things you judge and look down on others for doing are the very things you do. How can you point out our neighbor’s little splinter sins when you have a giant plank of your own?

Seeing the truth brings the hearts of sinners to anguish. Jesus says, “[The disciple] who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Yet clearly you are not like your Teacher. Who here today does not sin? Who here has found and removed the plank from his own eye? Who here today is not “as His Master”? Examine your life in the lens of Holy Scripture, where you see how our Lord lives and interacts with the people around Him. Ask yourself, “Have I loved the Lord my God with all my heart? Have I loved my neighbor as myself?” And when you recognize that you have not done so, all that’s left for the sinner is judgment. The plank is lodged in your eye, and you cannot remove it.

But our Lord offers comfort even for those who cannot dislodge their own plank. At the Word of Christ, those who know they are not like their Teacher are forgiven for the sake of Jesus Christ. The same Word that spoke all things into existence also speaks your holiness and righteousness. You are made to be like your Teacher. You who know you don’t love your enemies; you who know it’s against your nature to forgive; you who know you have no desire to show mercy—you are loved by the God who your old Adam made into an enemy. You are forgiven by the God who paid the price with His own blood to wash away your sin. You are shown mercy by the God whose very nature is mercy.

Christ is speaking to you this morning, He is inviting, beckoning, calling, urging, desiring, drawing, requesting, nudging, to this very altar. He speaks His life-giving Word to you to forgive all your sins. He feeds you with His body and blood, fulfilling in you all righteousness, again bestowing every baptismal grace and goodness so that you may stand against the fleshly onslaught that says you are not our Lord’s child and disciple.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are good. Don’t come here and pretend as if you have some sort of special claim on God through your own merit. After all, God owes you nothing. But don’t be afraid to come. After all, everything God has for you is a free gift in His Son. Approach His altar with confidence, trusting that Christ is merciful even as His Father is merciful. He shows His mercy and grace to the ungrateful and evil—yes even to you and to me—so that, by His washing with water with the Word, by His Word of forgiveness, by His body and blood, you may be fully trained to be merciful, even as your Lord and Master is merciful. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

The Third Sunday after Trinity 2016

Bible Text: Luke 15:1-10 | Preacher: Rev. Alan Kornacki Jr. | Series: 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The scribes and Pharisees were appalled that Jesus would eat with sinners. And these weren’t just regular sinners; they were notorious sinners, sinners who had betrayed their own people. Imagine drug dealers. Imagine serial killers. Imagine traitors who sold state secrets to ISIS. And there’s Jesus, a respected rabbi, hanging out with them and eating with them. What an outrage!

Jesus could very well have given them reasons they could accept. He could have said that He was calling them to repentance, showing them a better way to live. But He didn’t. Instead He told them a parable in which He placed those notorious sinners on equal footing with the Pharisees. They are all His lambs. They are all His coins, all His sons. Even while they’re lost, while they’re off squandering the inheritance, while they hate Him, mock and ridicule Him, while they scourge and murder Him, they are His lambs, His coins, His sons. He loves them and He wants them back. All of them are precious and valuable to Him. All of them have been reconciled to the Father in His Sacrifice. He died for every single one of them. He loves them all. And now Hell has nothing more to demand, for there is not a single sin that has not already been covered.

This can be hard to accept. We would like some justice and maybe even some vengeance. We’d like the other sinners to pay for what they’ve done. We’d like the world to know their shame and sorrow, how bad and stupid and selfish they really are. We’d like them to feel some of the pain that they’ve caused. But like King David, who was outraged by Nathan’s parable but ignored his own sin in causing Uriah’s death, we too are guilty of the sins we despise. Let David’s repentance be your guide. Let the Psalms teach you the faith and teach you to sing: “To You, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, I trust in You; Let me not be ashamed. You are the God of my salvation; on You I wait all the day.” The truth is, if you are no better than David, neither are you any less forgiven. Your hope is no less assured. God doesn’t love you any less.

The Lord of Life seeks out for sinners. He loves them. He wants to be with them, to eat and laugh with them, to love them. He did not come to berate them, scold, or educate them. He wants to serve them, encourage and support them. That is what makes the Pharisees and scribes mad. No one would be upset if He came to teach these bad people a lesson. But to simply forgive and love them? That seems too naive and foolish. Our Lord doesn’t care what shame it brings: He loves sinners. He searches for them, receives them, and eats with them. He lets them off the hook without cost or effort, without promise or condition. And if you are His friend, you will rejoice with Him over every sinner that He finds, restores, blesses, and prospers. You will rejoice to call them your brother or sister in Christ.

This is the heart and soul of our faith: Jesus receives and eats with sinners. It seems almost too good to be true. But it is not cheap grace. It cost our Father the Life of His Son. But still, despite your sin, Jesus seeks you. He searches for you. He wants you because He loves you. God be praised! Jesus receives and eats with sinners. And if that is the heart and soul of our faith, then surely the most significant place of His eating with sinners is where He gives them His Body and His Blood; where He enters into them and makes them His new Temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit; where He forgives sins and unites them to Himself in the foretaste of the banquet to come. What is offered this day is none other than the Lord’s Supper, and He gives it to you. You are found, and all the angels rejoice. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

The Second Sunday after Trinity 2016

Bible Text: Luke 14:15-24 | Preacher: Rev. Alan Kornacki Jr. | Series: 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When Jesus speaks in parables, He’s explaining how the Kingdom of God comes. And the Kingdom of God comes in Jesus Christ Himself. In Christ, the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is present, here right now, in the One the Father sent to be slaughtered in your place, cut to pieces on a cross and prepared for your salvation. It is clear that the Lord wants everybody in His Kingdom. He wants everyone at the Feast of His Son.

It is also clear that most won’t come. Sinners don’t feel the need for such a Feast. In fact, they find the Feast so worthless that they make excuses not to attend. Those who do come must be compelled, even dragged in the door. People will be saved in spite of themselves, simply because of the desire of the One who prepares the Meal. And what a Meal! As your own favorite meal is prepared by a chef with fancy knives, a state-of-the-art oven, and an open flame—or however it’s prepared—so the Father let His Son be offered up in love, and now He is served to you in Word and Sacraments for your forgiveness. All things are now ready. Nothing is lacking.

But the excuses are as plentiful as they are creative. “I’ve bought some land, and I have to go see it.” “I’ve bought oxen and I have to test them.” “I just got married.” The proud and arrogant think that they can prey upon the generosity and patience of God. My brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that keeps you from the Feast? What prevents you from crying out for the Supper? What sins entangle you too often and keep you from the Lord’s Table? Now, you might think that this sermon is being preached to the choir. But who hasn’t wanted the best of both worlds: the pleasures of the flesh, honor among men, luxuries, freedom, and constant amusement on the one hand, and the joys and peace of heaven on the other? Who here cries out for the Supper as often as possible? Who here is ready to lose job, family, reputation, and wealth for the Kingdom of God? We all promised that in our Confirmation vows. Did we really mean it? Do not think that you can enjoy forbidden fruit now and grasp heaven for cheap when it is more convenient.

Repent. Hear the warning. God says, “None of those who were invited shall taste of my Supper.” He will not be mocked. Now is the hour of salvation. Tomorrow may never come. No one buys a piece of land without seeing it first. No one buys a tractor without first testing it. God is not fooled by lip-service, by going through the motions. He is not appeased by excuses. Stop playing games with your soul, planning to sin now and repent later. Stop thinking that your sins are reasonable and bring no guilt. Stop thinking that you have some special relationship to God where He indulges your sins. Repent. Repent now. There is only one case of death-bed repentance in all of the Scriptures. While no man should despair and think it is too late, neither should any one presume. The invitation is not for tomorrow. It is for today. It is for right now. And it is for you.

All things are ready. Nothing is lacking. It is finished. God has made peace with man. He has given His Son to us. Jesus has given us life by His resurrection. And still He gives. He gives His body and blood for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. He desires that you call upon Him and rest in Him. He wants you here. Whatever you’ve done, whatever evil things you’ve dreamed and thought, whatever lies you’ve told, whatever has held you back from the altar: bring all of it. Confess it. God has paid for all of it in His Son. Receive His holy Absolution and live. The land can wait. The oxen—your new tractor—will be there when you get home. Bring your new spouse with you. Come. All things are ready, and He is waiting for you. “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

The First Sunday after Trinity 2016

Bible Text: Luke 16:19-31 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

So, what do I preach for my last sermon here? Well, Jesus, duh. Christ and Him crucified for sinners. Christ whose flesh was given into death for your sins and who was raised for your eternal life. Christ, who is the very incarnation of the Son in the flesh and the love of God for the world. And that’s what it all comes down to. Love. God is love. His love is shown in Christ. Does God love you? He loves you Jesus much! Jesus being conceived and born is God’s love for you. Jesus suffering and dying and shedding His blood is God’s love for you. Jesus rising from the dead is God’s love for you. Jesus washing you at the font, absolving you and feeding you with His own body and blood–that’s God’s love for you. God’s love for you doesn’t change and the proof is that Christ was promised long before you were ever born. Your sins have been paid for. There’s no sin you have done or will do that can suddenly cancel the promises the Lord has made to you in Christ. When the judgment of God seems to be a scary thing, and when you aren’t sure which side of that chasm you’re going to be on, God’s love in Christ is the answer: with Jesus in the “bosom of Abraham.”

And the love of God for us is connected to our love for others. When God loves you, then you love your neighbor. The rich man doesn’t love Lazarus, doesn’t care a bit about him. That’s proof he doesn’t love God. He just loves himself. And that’s because He doesn’t know God’s love or has ignored the preaching of that love from God’s Word. That’s our warning. That’s our call to repentance. That’s the flashing neon sign that says, “Don’t act like you love God and think you’re a good person when you treat other people like dirt and ignore them and refuse to help them in their need. It’s not that the rich man was rich. It’s that he didin’t love his neighbor. No matter how much or how little God had given him, he didn’t use it to help others. Just kept it all to himself. That’s not the love of God. That’s the love of self. And the worst part is that when he was in hell, he thought he could spook his brothers into avoiding the judgment too. But he already had everything he needed in Moses and the Prophets, in the Bible. So do we. It’s all there in the Law. Love God. Love your neighbor. But we don’t. And that would doom us. Except for what the Apostle said: We love Him because He first loved us. God loves you. Jesus is the love of God in action, to die and rise for you. And it is that love of God that turns you into a person who loves God back and loves your neighbor.

So love God, dear children. Love Him and receive His Word. Don’t stop coming to church to hear the preaching of that Good News or receiving that body and blood that brings forgiveness and peace. And love one another. Don’t pretend you’re a “good person” when there are people you want to ignore and not help and carry a grudge against. Repent of that stuff! believe that for Jesus’ sake God holds none of that stuff against you and so you need not hold any of it against anyone else. Love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. And that means, after I am gone, that you still look after each other. That you still work together to love your new pastor and take care of him. It means that you forgive each other when you step on each others’ toes. It means making sure that Bethel is always about Jesus crucified and risen for sinners and a place where that love of God is at work in love toward one another. I know how it goes. The pastor leaves. A new pastor comes. Maybe you don’t like him as much. Maybe you like him better. Maybe you just don’t like change. Whatever. Maybe you think it’s a chance to fade away and skip out…but don’t let it be! Love and care for your new pastor and in the same way keep loving and caring for one another. You need one another. As a congregation, to keep the ministry of the Gospel here. As brothers and sisters in Christ, to support and care for each other.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. Jesus died for your sins. Every last one of them. Not a single sin isn’t forgiven. He rose for you. Eternal life is yours. He has washed, absolved, and fed you. You’re good to go. Love God. Love your neighbor as yourself. In Christ, I know you’ll do exactly that. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Third Sunday in Lent 2016

Bible Text: Luke 11:14-28 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

That’s funny! They accuse Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebul. Beelzebul was “Lord of the Flies.” Except he’s not because only God can actually control the flies. After all, who brought the flies to Egypt? It wasn’t Pharaoh. It was the Lord. The finger of God brought judgment and plagues upon Egypt because Pharaoh refused to acknowledge the true God and let the Israelites go. Just so, Jesus has the finger of God. Ten actually. And He throws down Satan’s kingdom. We saw it in the desert. We saw it with the dog-lady’s daughter. We see it today: Jesus is in the business of throwing down the devil’s kingdom. He is the stronger man who comes and knocks the weaker one out. So why on earth would they accuse Jesus of doing His work in the name of the devil? Because, listen carefully: The devil’s super power is lying. And one of the ways he lies is to say that what he does is good and what Jesus does is evil. If God allows some bad thing to happen to you, the devil is right there, trying to convince you that whatever God is doing is of the devil. The “real” Jesus would never let that happen! He would love you and bless you and let you do whatever you want.

And there’s only one thing that stops that lying. The Word. “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” That’s Jesus, for one thing. He keeps the Word. Fulfills the Scriptures. Obeys the Father. He does everything the devil says is worthless and dumb and that’s EXACTLY what saves you. Jesus, handed over, arrested, beaten, and crucified, like He’s not God, like He’s not in control, like He’s just swept up in some random evil actions. The religious leaders of the Jews, declaring Jesus to be a criminal and a liar and a blasphemer. Get it? The devil tries to divert attention from himself to Jesus. And that’s exactly the thing that will do the devil in. Because Jesus came to do exactly that: to take all that is horrible and evil and become it, undergo it, suffer it, endure it. To expose and destroy Satan. To save you. That’s the power of the finger of God. That the devil’s kingdom is thrown down mightily and you are saved and brought into the Lord’s kingdom.

Lying and accusing Jesus to His face is clearly not going to work. So the devil turns his attention to you. Your life. Whatever YOU like must be of God. If you like it or it makes you happy, even if it’s against God’s Word, then God must approve. If it’s bad, or painful, or suffering, or sad, that can’t be from God. The devil tries to turn everything on its head and call God the devil and himself God. Don’t listen! Repent of thinking he’s making sense! You already know the power of God’s Word against Him in your life. Your baptism. The splash of water and the Word. That’s the finger of God reaching down and tracing the sign of the cross on your forehead and your heart, marking you as one who is the Lord’s not Satan’s. The declaration of the not-guilty verdict of Holy Absolution, as your pastor’s finger traces the sign of the cross. That’s the finger of God, poking the devil in the chest and telling him to back away from you. The very body and blood of Christ, held in the fingers of your preacher and delivered to you. That’s the finger of God wagging at the devil and telling him he cannot come near you, has no power over you, has nothing to say about you. The kingdom of the devil HAS been thrown down. Not because it’s divided against itself but because One who is stronger showed up and took it down by His death for sinners and His triumphant resurrection from the dead. This is, as Pharaoh’s magicians declared, the very finger of God, that cannot be blocked or hindered or kept from doing its thing, which is to save you from sin and death. The devil wants nothing so much as to destroy you and drag you down to hell. Too bad. So sad. Jesus came and took care of that. Of him. Of you. The finger of God has done it’s work. The Lamb has done His saving. And you are in the house and family of the Stronger One, the King, the Lord, the Lamb; now and forever. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Quinquagesima 2016

Bible Text: Luke 18:31-43 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

This is what matters. This is everything. Jesus. Going to Jerusalem. Delivered to the Gentiles. Mocked. Insulted. Spit upon. Scourged. Killed. Risen the third day. It all comes down to this. Jesus, going to Jerusalem for His disciples. For the blind man. For the crowds. For all the people. For you. To be handed over. Mocked, insulted, spit upon. Scourged. Killed. And rise again the third day. And we get a window on the ignorance of the twelve. They have no idea what Jesus is talking about. It was hidden from them. They don’t know what He’s saying. It will only be later that they realize everything Jesus has just told them is going to happen has actually happened and was supposed to happen and happened for them. And for the world. And for you. Handed over. Mocked, insulted, spit upon. Scourged and killed. Rise the third day. If you ever want to know what the most important thing is that Jesus ever did, it’s that. That’s your salvation. Walking on water. Healing the sick. Raising the dead. Feeding the 5,000. Telling cool parables about God’s grace. All of it points to Jesus as the one who is going to undergo His saving work for you. Handed over. Mocked, insulted, spit upon. Scourged. Dead. Risen. Pay attention. We’re about to enter Lent and that’s what it is all about: Jesus going to suffer all things to save you.

The twelves disciples have big question marks above their heads. They still don’t get it. So it’s ironic that Jesus opens the eyes of a blind man. Here is a guy who cries out for Jesus’ mercy. And the crowds tell him to shut up and he just cries out louder. He wants to see! And Jesus opens his eyes so he can. And then he can see Jesus. You: cry out for mercy! Cry out for Jesus to open your eyes and show you God’s mercy and grace and forgiveness. But when you do that, there will be lots of things telling you to be quiet! Stop yelling for Jesus! The devil. The world. Your own sinful nature. It may be your warm bed on a Sunday morning that cries out, “Be quiet! Never mind Jesus. Go back to sleep!” It may be your friends or even family members: “Quiet with all that Jesus talk. It’s not that important!” It may be the people around you or the world that says, “Jesus is irrelevant! Stop calling out to Him. What has he ever done for you and what will He ever do for you?” Cry out to Jesus and everyone and everything will tell you to be quiet! What is it in your life that tells you to shut up and leave Jesus alone? Our repentance is to pay no attention to those things and cry out even louder: “Jesus, have mercy on me!”

Well, is he going to have mercy on you? He already has! The mercy of Jesus is that He gets handed over, mocked, insulted, spit upon, scourged, crucified to death and then rises the third day. What saves you is that whether you are a hard-headed disciple who doesn’t get it, or a blind guy who just wants to see or any other kind of sinner or person–nothing stops Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Nothing can sidetrack Him or turn Him from doing His work of being your Savior. You want the mercy of God? You want God to be merciful to you, a sinner who’s messed it all up? He’s got mercy for you, all right. Mercy on Calvary where He suffers and dies for you. Mercy at the font where He washes the sin crust from your eyes. Mercy in His Word, where He declares your sins forgiven. Mercy at the altar where the handed-over-mocked-insulted-spit-upon-scourged-dead-and-risen body and His blood are given to you to rescue you from blindness, from sin, from every little last bit that stands between you and the Lord. That’s mercy. Jesus is on His way. There’s no stopping Him. He’s gonna be handed over. He’s gonna be mocked, insulted and spit upon. He’s gonna be scourged. He’s gonna die. He’s gonne rise. He’s baptized you. He’s absolved you. He’s gonna give you His body and blood. And He’s going to keep reminding you of your baptism. He’s going to keep absolving you. He’s going to keep giving you His body and blood. That’s the Jesus that He is. His one mission, His work, His goal, is to save you and deliver His salvation to you. Now go in peace because your faith, your Jesus, has made you well. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

Sexagesimal Sunday 2016

Bible Text: Luke 8:4-15 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2016

Just like last week, the story isn’t about you, it’s about Jesus. The grace of Christ. The generosity of the Lord. Because, again, we have a parable telling us of something that wouldn’t fly in the real world. In the real world you don’t pay everybody the same no matter how much or how little they work. And when you sow seed, when you plant crops, you don’t just throw the seed all over the place. I’m no farmer, but the last time I checked, don’t you plant the seed in well-ordered rows in good soil? Not this farmer. He’s chucking the seed all over the place. It lands on the path. It lands in the thin soil. The thorns. The good dirt. Jesus’ Word isn’t targeted. It’s for everyone. The whole world. This Good News, that Jesus died for sinners and rose again; the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His Name; it’s for everyone. Everywhere. Any time. Any place. That Good News is proclaimed; preached; spoken; delivered. The Son of God came into this world to accomplish our salvation. To deliver us from our sins. To conquer sin and death. To die and rise. Then He ordained preachers and they ordained preachers and the Lord keeps sending preachers so that His Good News is sown and scattered to the ends of the earth. Far and wide. Near and far. Everywhere. A Savior. For you.

But wait! The devil! Like birds snatching up the seed from the path, the devil comes and snatches away the Word from people so they don’t believe. Then there’s the sinful flesh! The Old Adam gives in so easily to temptation. The Word might take root a little bit but it’s thin roots. The Old Adam lets tempation wither away faith. And then the world! The Word gets choked because the person who hears it is overcome by the worries and cares of the world about all sorts of things. These are the things that could rob us of the Word. They just are. It’s not as if the Word is not strong. It’s that there are things trying to destroy the Word and faith in Christ and the devil, the world, and our sinful natures are working together to make that happen. In simple terms this is the answer to the question: Why do some people hear the Word but don’t believe? Why do some people stop coming to church? Why did they get confirmed and then never come back? Why were they baptized but now you never see them? What happened to the ones who heard the Word but are nowhere to be found? Jesus answers it. These enemies snatch, wither, and choke the Word. And without the Word, we will bring forth no good fruit. Fruits of faith which trusts in Christ and fruits of good works which serve our neighbor.

So which one are you? Path? Thin soil? Thorny ground? Good dirt? Wait a minute… I’ll tell you which one you are. You are the disciples to whom Jesus says, “To you has been made known the mysteries of the kingdom of God.” You are the ones who are warned by the “seeing but not seeing and hearing but not hearing” words of Jesus to pay attention and treasure this saving Word. You are the ones to whom the Lord has given His Word and planted it and brought forth fruit. You are the disciples who have been given the “God’s-eye” view of how this works: the Word is for everyone. Splashed upon you in baptism. Fed to you in the Supper. Preached into your ears. Your repentance is to cry out to Jesus that you don’t want to be unseeing or unhearing, but that His Word would do its work in you. Your clinging to Jesus is to trust in Him that He will protect the Word in you from the devil birds, the thing soil of your sinful flesh, and the thorns of the world in order to bring forth a good crop from you. Here we come before Jesus and say, “Yes, Lord, it would be so easy to let the devil have it or let it wither or be choked to death. Yet you have promised me mysteries. Your death and resurrection. Your forgiveness. So plant your Word in me and make me a true believer who bears fruit. The fruit of faith which grows stronger as it trusts your good and gracious Word and the fruit of good works which seek the best for and help the people around me and in my life.” In short, this parable teaches us to learn that the Word is the Lord’s, the growth of that Word is the Lord’s and it is all a gift that we want to have a part in. And the fact that you are hearing this parable preached right now is Christ’s own proof to you that He will do exactly that: save you from sin and death and bring forth in your life a great big harvest of faith and love. Because the Sower went out to sow, and He has sowed life and salvation in you through His Word. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Nativity of Our Lord – Christmas Eve 2015

Bible Text: Luke 2:1-20 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

It’s not that there was no place in the “inn” or “guest room.” It’s that there was no place FOR THEM. For Mary and Joseph. What would Joseph’s relatives say? What would the other girls in the family learn from Mary who was showing up in Bethelehm about to give birth to a baby that was not Joseph’s? We always seem to assume that Bethlehem was so full because of the census that all the motels were booked. But Joseph was from around there. They should have had a place. If nothing else, the people of Bible times were supposedly known for their hospitality! But not this time. It’s not too hard to imagine that Mary and Joseph couldn’t find a place because they didn’t fit the good Jewish mold. The baby wasn’t Joseph’s. Word had no doubt spread. That’s how things go, of course. Everybody always knows. We can imagine a world that doesn’t care about a couple trying to find a place so the girl can have her baby. But we can also imagine them not having a place because people would be looking down at them, afraid to violate their religious sensibilities and morals. Even Joseph was minded to put Mary away quietly, if not have her stoned for adultery. But God was doing something else. Something greater. Something for them and for you.

There was no place for them, so it was a manger for baby Jesus. The great irony is this: His place is a manger to give you a place with God. Jesus is born, poor, an outcast, in a food trough, to put you at the right hand of God with Him. When Adam and Eve tossed God’s Word aside, the curse of sin threw them out of the Garden. They lost their place. But Jesus was born to put them back where they belong. To put YOU back where you belong: with the Lord. His whole life, Jesus’ place would be the place of the lowest, the outcast, the scorned. The manger in a stable. The cross between two thieves. The tomb borrowed from someone else. “The Son of Man has no place to lay His head,” Jesus once said. There’s never a place for Jesus. And He endures that to save you. To make sure you are put back in your place with God and never kicked out. To give you a room and mansion in the Lord’s house. In fact, where we would so quickly judge someone else’s sins, Jesus came to assure you a place with the Lord not on the basis of what you’ve done or not done, not kept out because of anything you’ve done. Rather, by the forgiveness Christ brings, your place is set.

How about you? Who would you keep out of the kingdom of God if it were up to you? To whom would you say, “Sorry, no place for you here.” Maybe we do that because we are selfish or don’t want to share with others. Maybe we do it because we are judging them to be unworthy based on our own standards. It doesn’t matter. Repent! Christmas repentance! Let’s all just confess together that when the Son of God shows up, we would give Him no place just like we so easily give no place to others around us. Maybe it’s a place at your table. In your home. Maybe it’s a place in our church. Maybe it’s a place in our larger circle of friends or family. Who do you see coming and, looking down at them for whatever they’ve done, shut the blinds and put up the “No Vacancy” sign? But they have a place. You have a place. That place was given to you at this place. In particular THAT place, the font. And in THIS place, the Good News is heard: A Savior is born. A Savior who is Christ the Lord. Doesn’t matter if there’s not a single room available and for whatever reason. He’s born anyway. Born to go to cross and resurrection for you. Here’s His rightful place now, the right hand of the Father, and on this altar, the flesh and blood that are His, given for you to eat and drink. Flesh and blood that promise you a place. A place with Him. And with them. Those also for whom He gave His life and rose again. It’s not that there was no place for Mary and Joseph. It’s that there was no place FOR THEM. Shepherds aren’t really high up on the socially accepted ladder either. But it’s Christmas. The birth of our Lord. The birth of the Savior. For shepherds. For sinners. For you and me. And now we, who give no place, have a place. Your place is with Him. Forever. Merry Christmas, in the name of Jesus. Amen.

The Second Sunday of Advent 2015

Bible Text: Luke 21:25-36 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

Shootings. Terrorists. More shootings. Terrorist shootings. Somebody’s trying to get nuclear bombs. And we’re just trying to make sure we have enough to do Christmas shopping for the kids. We smile to pretend the world is not going to hell in a handbasket. But let’s face it, there’s enough out there on the news and enough right in our own lives to wear us down and drag us down. And that’s exactly what Jesus warns us about today. He’s coming again! But until He shows up, this is what the world is going to be like. But, He says, when we see all this, we don’t retreat and hide. We don’t curl up in the fetal position and hope we can stay safe. No, we stand up! He lift up our heads! Because our redemption is drawing near! We get eager and excited for the coming of Jesus becuase He’s going to make everything right. He will come on the clouds of heaven in His glory. Wait for it… He’s coming… He’s adventing… There He is! At the font. On the altar. In His Word. If we get too wrapped up in the stuff of this life, we’ll miss Him! So He tells us to watch! Be prepared. And don’t act like it’s the end of the world! Act like it’s the return of your Savior to give you eternal life!

Our Advent repentance is that we forget who Jesus is and how He’s handled everything. He came in the flesh to be the One to save you. He came precisely in the flesh so that His flesh could be pierced for you, nailed to the cross for you, laid in the tomb for you. So He would rise for you. So many people out there want to use the Bible to scare everyone. Look at all this horrible stuff! Fire! Brimstone! Doom! Gloom! Judgment! And for you too if you don’t straighten up! But St. Paul says that the Scriptures were written for our comfort. How could they not be? They’re about Jesus! And Jesus is all about being our Redeemer. He’s all about coming to save us. Yeah, there are lots of bad things out there in the world. People do awful things to each other. Awful things happen to people, even Christians. Awful things happen around you. Awful things happen to you. But they are only truly awful if Jesus stayed away but He didn’t. He came to this world. Manger. Donkey. Cross. Empty Tomb. Font. Pulpit. Altar. There He is! And if He is there for you, doing what He does, then there is nothing out there that can do to you anything that can outdo what Jesus has done! ISIS getting a hold of nuke? Doesn’t put Jesus back in the grave. Some natural disaster destroys your home? Doesn’t invalidate your baptism. Someone you love gets cancer? It doesn’t cancel their absolution. Some bad thing happens to you? It doesn’t make the Body and Blood of Jesus anything else. Do you get it? Jesus tells you that the signs of the end are not signs to get all worried about but to direct you to eagerly await His appearing! After all, He has given you His Word which can never pass away!

And here’s the thing: Jesus came in the flesh at Christmas. Jesus will come again with glory on the clouds of heaven. In between that, there is all kinds of bad stuff going on all around. But Jesus is still coming to you. Still with you. Still dwells in you through your baptism. Still there in the person of your pastor to absolve and comfort you. Still there in His Body and Blood given and shed for you. The world goes crazy, what do you do? Make the sign of the holy cross and remember your baptism. Everything in your life is crumbling into a disastrous mess, what do you do? You confess your sins and hear the Good News that they are forgiven completely. You grow weak and tired in the world that is passing away, what do you do? You feast at the Supper of the Lamb who gives you strength for the journey. His promise is that His Word will never pass away which means you cannot either because His Word has been put upon you and in you by His gifts. They say that too much bad news can be depressing, cause anxiety and grief. But we know that sin and death are defeated by Jesus. So all these things, the more we hear them, simply cause us to stand tall and lift up our heads. Then we are confessing and telling the world, “It doesn’t matter. Jesus has taken care of it. He’s on His way back and when He comes on the Last Day, our redemption will arrive and we’ll have everlasting life.” Take that, world! Because Jesus has taken care of you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity 2015

Bible Text: Luke 14:1-11 | Preacher: Rev. Mark Buetow | Series: 2015

So let’s get this out of the way right now. Jesus’ teaching today isn’t really about who goes first in the potluck line. I used to think that. “Don’t choose the high place,” says Jesus. “Pastor, the food’s ready, go ahead.” “No, no, you first.” Well, nowadays, if you tell me to go first, I will. Because what Jesus is talking about here is not table manners. It’s our position in the kingdom of God. And we can say it simply like this: If you try to take Jesus’ place, you will be cast out. But if you are GIVEN Jesus’ place, then that is His gift to you and your salvation. Jesus came into this world to be humbled. He is given the lowest possible spot: on the cross, despised and forsaken by His Father and the whole world. And He dies and is laid in the grave. You don’t get much lower than being dead. But then…Easter! Christ is risen and He ascends to the right hand of the Father and is crowned with all glory and honor and majesty. See? He humbled Himself and was exalted! He willingly took the lowest spot there is and the Father raised Him and exalted Him to the highest spot there is. But He does this, so that you can tag along, hang onto Him, and go with Him to the highest spot too.

But not because you cut to the front of the line. There is no calling “shotgun” in the kingdom of God. There’s no sitting at the head table at the wedding if you’re not in the bridal party. Taking the top spot at the table is Jesus’ way of calling out how the Pharisees behave and it’s His way of exposing our own sinful selfishness for which we need repentance. What does that look like, taking the top spot at the table? It looks like Pharisees inviting Jesus to dinner just so they can watch him heal a man on the Sabbath and then accuse Him of breaking the Sabbath. Taking the high place is you and me looking down our noses at someone who doesn’t do as well as we do at…whatever…coming to church, raising our kids, helping others, doing their job…whatever. Taking the high place is how we treat others, thinking they owe us and that we have a right to this or that. We think to ourselves, “WE deserve a higher place in the kingdom of God than THAT person because we try harder, do better, behave better.” That’s to be a Pharisee who exalts yourself. Kingdom of God? The wedding feast of the Lamb? Oh, sure, I’ve got a spot right up there by the Lord! No, you don’t. Not like that. Not on your own. Not based on YOUR sins or lack of sins. Repent because those who seek to take Christ’s place and be their own Savior…they will be humbled. Thrown down. Cast out.

No, your place is at the bottom, the lower level, the last table, the farthest seat. The seat that no one can see. The seat that says, “I don’t eve deserve to be at this party. Look at me. Sinner. I’ll never get in. I don’t belong.” That’s when Christ comes to you. At the font, He says, “Friend, come up higher. Take your rightful spot.” Then someone might question whether you should be there. Christ says, “I forgive you all your sins. Nothing prevents them from sitting up there with me.” Then, kneeling at the altar, to receive Christ’s body and blood, we can be certain this is exactly what Jesus is doing: Come up higher. The highest, most honored place in the kingdom of God is there, where the Lord Himself, the Lamb, the Master of the Feast Himself comes to serve you and give you Himself as the holy food of forgiveness, life and salvation. The Old Adam tries to call shotgun and he gets booted down to the low spot. The New Man, in humility, claims nothing from God and yet is invited to sit with the Lord right up at the head of the table. This is how God’s kingdom works. When we try it, go for it, work it out, attempt it, grab it–then bam! thrown down. But when the Lord brings it, does, it accomplishes it, gives it, bestows it, and declares it to you as a gift–well, then that’s exactly what it is. You have been GIVEN the top spot, the head of the table, with Jesus. He did that for you. He came to be humbled in His death and grave and exalted by His resurrection and ascension so that you would be humbled in repentance and exalted by faith to the highest spot in the kingdom of God. So no need to cut in line or yell “shotgun!” That place is already yours because Jesus has invited you up and brought you to it. And one more time, on the Last Day, He’ll call you from that low spot–your grave–saying, “Friend, come up higher,” to the high spot, everlasting life with Him. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.