Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sermon for Christmas Eve - December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve
Isaiah 9:2-9; Psalm 96; Titus 2:1-5; Luke 2:1-20
St Stephen Lutheran Church
Pr. Maurice C. Frontz III STS

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

If I was to give this sermon a title,
I would title it ‘The Unlikely Heralds.’
God chose the unlikeliest heralds,
the lowliest missionaries,
to announce salvation to the world
on an evening long ago.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Services

Our Christmas Eve service is at 7:30 pm Tuesday, December 24, and our Christmas Day service is 10:30 am on Wednesday, December 25. Please join us as we give thanks to God for his coming among us in Jesus our Lord!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sermon for the Third Week in Advent

Grace and peace to you from him who was, and who is, and who is to come. Amen

Lord, give me patience, and I want it NOW!
There are few among us that can say that we are patient.
And those that can say we are patient may need to work on our humility.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Sermon for the Second Week of Advent

Advent 2C
December 8, 2013
St Stephen Lutheran Church
Pastor Maurice Frontz

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

As most of you with any access to a television set, a computer, a radio, or a newspaper
will have known by now,
Nelson Mandela died this past week at the age of 95.
He began his political career as a revolutionary
against the apartheid government of South Africa
which kept whites, known as ‘Afrikaaners’ in a superior place
and deprived black-skinned South Africans of their civil and human rights.

From 1962 to 1990, Mandela was jailed by the apartheid government
for crimes against the state of South Africa.
In 1990, when he was set free from prison,
he led not a violent revolution, as he had espoused in the past,
but instead a peaceful revolution,
negotiating with the white government of South Africa to end apartheid
and beginning a peaceful transition to a democracy in which all South Africans could participate.

When he became President of South Africa in 1994,
instead of retaliating against those who had kept him in jail
and the anti-apartheid system in place,
he reached out to white South Africans,
including them in his cabinet.
He oversaw the formation of a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’
which investigated crimes in the apartheid era
both by the pro-apartheid government
and the African National Congress,
and which extended pardons in exchange for truth-telling.
At his death, both blacks and whites in South Africa
celebrated his life,
and the current president of South Africa said,
‘We have lost our father.’

Certainly the life of Nelson Mandela bears much reflection.
But I speak of him today not to eulogize him
but to illustrate a truth:
Nelson Mandela, upon his release from 27 years as a political prisoner,
understood that there was but one way forward
for his country and for himself:
that was the way of forgiveness and reconciliation.
He, and the Black majority of South Africans,
could not be satisfied with simply gaining control of the nation,
and replacing the minority as the group in power;
there needed to be a revolution in their hearts as well.

As he famously said,
“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom,
I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind,
I'd still be in prison.” 
Because he gained the knowledge of this truth,
he was able to shape a South Africa
that is today at prosperous and at peace.
Think of the alternative:
continuing violence, terrorism, and struggle,
which we see in so many parts of the world,
and which simmers in other places, including in our country.
This is why Mandela is being mourned as a hero today,
not because he came out on the winning side,
but because he made sure that the victory was not simply for his own people,
but for all South Africa’s people.

Two thousand years ago,
there was another man who called his people to repentance.
He said that there was no alternative to an inner transformation,
because God was coming in power.
This man we remember especially in Advent,
and we know him as John the Baptist.
He did not lead a peaceful revolution,
but he was put in jail.
Unlike Mandela, he did not come out as a hero,
but was executed in jail.

Yet while he was free,
John the Baptist preached a message of truth and reconciliation;
not just with fellow human beings,
but with God himself.
His message was that those who would be on God’s side when he came in power
must confess their sins and that they would receive God’s forgiveness.
He assured them that God was coming to save his people.

And yet when the Pharisees and Sadducees came for baptism,
John was uncompromising.
This is no way to gain adherents,
to call people coming to you ‘a brood of vipers.’
But John could see that here were people coming out to receive baptism
that were not prepared for an inner transformation.
They wanted the outer washing,
but would not submit to a through and through cleansing.
They trusted that since they had Abraham as an ancestor,
their place in God’s future was assured.
John called them ‘brood of vipers’
not simply to condemn them, but to warn them
not to put their trust in their own righteousness,
but in God’s ability to change them.
He understood that God was not interested in your race,
but in your heart.
And yet is it only the clean heart that can receive God?
It is the heart that believes that it is not yet fully cleansed,
but can pray with the sinful King David,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.’
This kind of heart God can work with.
This is the preparation for Christ’s advent,
an awaiting of God,
a casting aside of pride and self-congratulation
and an embracing of humility and expectation,
waiting with a heart that expects God to work,
a heart that seeks God’s bringing forth of good fruit.

In the Small Catechism,
Blessed Martin Luther asks:
What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?
and answers:
‘It signifies that the old creature in us with all sins and evil desires
is to be drowned and die through daily contrition and repentance,
and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up
to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.’
And so no one is exempted from the call to repent,
even those who have repented before.

This is important, I think,
because we are apt to think of repentance
as something that we should do after only the most serious sins.
A murderer, perhaps, ought to repent; or a terrorist;
or an adulterer, or a child molester,
or an embezzler, or a slanderer.
Ordinary, decent folks like us need no repentance.

Moreover, I think that most of us feel that we are somehow exempted
from seeking God’s inner transformation.
We may believe that we are too old,
or perhaps we think we are too young
or perhaps we believe we are too busy.
Those who have been in the church a long time
may think they’ve done enough repentance over the years.
But Luther’s teaching reminds us that repentance, or turning around toward God,
is never over,
but is constantly seeking God’s will at this moment in our lives,
whatever that moment may be.
Repentance is not an isolated event in the Christian life,
it is the Christian life.
Being open to God’s inner transformation,
that he might conform our lives to Christ’s,
is a daily call and a daily prayer.

So as the world celebrates Nelson Mandela
and his transformational embrace
of reconciliation and forgiveness for a nation,
we in the Church celebrate with them
and we point to John the Baptist’s call for transformation.
We desire for God to transform us
that we might be salt and light in the world,
proclaiming and living out the good news of Jesus Christ,
the Gospel that brings all people of every race, nation, and clan
within the reach of his saving power.
Let us be people who hear this call,
for he who has come is coming still,
and we live by his Spirit
which he has given us:
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD,
the spirit of joy in his presence.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent

1992 was a watershed year for American television.
That year the cable channel MTV began airing a program called The Real World.
The cast members, all eighteen to twenty-five, were chosen by audition
to live in a house with six other strangers
for several months at a time,
while cameras monitored their every move.
The best and most dramatic moments were edited, spliced together,
and aired in hour-long segments for the entertainment of viewers,
mostly also aged eighteen through twenty-five.
Largely credited with starting the genre of reality TV,
The Real World still airs to this day,
and it is credited by some with allowing people to ‘get real’
with topics such as sexuality, religion and politics, and prejudice.

One wonders how slapping seven strangers
into a house which they don’t pay for,
giving them trips to exotic places which they don’t pay for,
and recording their every move for an eager audience
approximates the real world.
But for some reason, the show was a hit,
perhaps telling us less about the actors and more about the audience,
perhaps telling us about ourselves.

From The Real World, we were given plenty more opportunities
to watch other people’s lives and comment on them to our families and friends.
Who was more at fault, Jon or Kate?
Was it right for them to be putting their kids on TV all the time?
Who should be voted off the island or exiled from the house,
and who should pack his knives and go home?
With the coming of text messaging,
reality TV producers learned the revenue potential of giving us a vote.
Who should advance to the next round?
You decide, America!

Some of you or even most of you may not watch these kind of shows.
But from the fact that they are produced and shown,
we can learn something about the world we inhabit.
It is a world that loves drama, loves competition;
it loves to cast people into two categories: winner and loser;
it believes that things are better
when there is less social convention and more ‘honesty.’
It loves to judge and it loves even more
when there is an opportunity to participate in judgment.

Is this the ‘real world?’
Do these television shows depict for us how the world ‘really’ is?
Or is there another reality beyond the drama and the backbiting
and the conspicuous consumption and the product placement
and the survival of the fittest?

We Christians are often accused of refusing to live ‘in the real world.’
But it was not only recently, but fifteen hundred years ago
that this saying was attributed to St Antony the Great:
‘A time is coming when men will go mad,
and when they see someone who is not mad,
they will attack him, saying, "You are mad; you are not like us."
Is it not madness when people agree to live their lives for other’s entertainment?
Is it not madness when we cannot be bothered with human trafficking
but are obsessed with Thursday’s TV lineup?
Is it not madness when our desire for cheap stuff
outweighs our desire to give thanks?
Do we not have our own personal madnesses,
our addictions, some of them trivial, some of them not;
our fantasies, our escapes from reality,
our ways of controlling our realities so that nothing uncomfortable will happen to us?
If this is the real world, there is reason to throw up our hands in despair.

But in opposition to all of this,
Advent announces the coming of the real world.
The real world is wholly different from the so-called ‘real world.’
The real world is the one where God is judge and no other,
and his judgment is tempered with mercy.
It is the world where conflict gives way to community;
where swords are beaten into plowshares
and nations do not go to war against each other any more.

Isaiah says of this world:
‘In days to come
the mountain of the LORD’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains…
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and walk in his paths.’

This world is not the present world,
nor can we make it the present world by our efforts.
Some preachers act as if the world’s problems all could be solved
if they could simply make their own congregations feel guilty enough.
But we are called to walk in the present as if the future was certain,
as if the world that was coming is the real world now,
as Isaiah calls to the house of Jacob,
‘Come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!’

Amidst the overindulgence and the empty festivity
and the forced cheer and the frenetic pace
of this ‘Christmas season,’
we who call ourselves by the name of Christ,
who will celebrate the ‘Christ mass’ on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day,
we are called to be Advent people,
looking beyond this present world
to the world to come.
We are called to live the life of the world to come
even as we live in this world.
We are called to a life of self-control, as St Paul writes:
we are called to lay aside the works of darkness
and put on the armor of light.
We hear Jesus’ call to be ready for his coming.
This does not mean to stockpile canned food
or to put our trust in every crackpot with the date of the Rapture;
neither does it mean to have everything ready for your holiday celebrations.
It means to live now as if God was present;
and of course he is present.
To be ready for his coming is to live in his presence.

How can we do this while we live in the world?
For certainly we love this world of ours,
with all its electric lights and
with its beautiful holiday traditions,
its frantic and fumbling searching after joy,
and its nuggets of true love buried under the dirt and dust.
To be ready for Christ’s coming is to understand
that Christ died for this world, the real world,
that he longs to transform the entire creation,
that he longs for us to yield to him
and receive the love that he so fervently desires for us.
It is this love that by the power of the Holy Spirit
was made incarnate of the virgin Mary and was made man.
It is this love that will come again to transform the world
and grace it with God’s reality,
a reality that comes into our lives now by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Let us walk in the light of the LORD,
who was, and who is, and who is to come.