Monday, May 30, 2011

Evangelical Preachers: Bane of the FIP (Faithful Introvert Pastor)

So, one of my mentors, Rev. Christopher Esget, writes a blog post musing on comments about the liturgy as a safeguard against Evangelical crazies (that's my term) - and Pastor Esget writes the following:

As an introvert, that’s [doing the duties of the Pastoral Office] what gets me through Sunday morning (albeit exhausted by the end). I am terrified to be up in front of people, and I want to run from a crowd and cower in isolation. I have to tell myself each Sunday, “The people need the liturgy, the people need the sermon; I’m not important, Christ is.” That’s the only way I get through the terror of all those people staring at me.

I too am an introvert.

I don't particularly enough standing in front of large groups of people. I don't really enjoy talking. When I am tired and frazzed and bored, I want to hide. My mom would refer to it as "cave time" when I was growing up. Some people are energized by hanging out around folks - I'm not.

This is part of the reason why I (and I guess most of my fellow Faithful Introvert Pastors - or FIPs) get so ticked off by so many of the Evangelical preachers. As if preaching false doctrine isn't enough, there is that constant, background whisper (or sometimes blunt assertion) that if you were a "real" man of God, that's what you'd be like. Outgoing, flashy, successful looking - shaking hands and kissing babies - just the kind of guy that everyone would want to be like. When things are rough - can't you go out and do more of... that?


The question isn't whether I teach well, or constantly point people to Christ. The question isn't whether I open Scripture and proclaim it in its truth and purity -- it's am I hip enough, or outgoing enough, or what have you.

Actually, that's not true. That's not really the questions or the demands. Not really - from some, sure, but not from most folks. Most want simply Christ Jesus - which is what I preach, which is why I administer the Lord's Supper.

But that's what Satan tells me I need to be more like if I want to be liked, to be loved, to be successful or what ever other flavor. They draw attention to themselves, and I start to think that I need to as well.

And that is why they are my bane.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sermon for Easter 6 - Zion Lutheran Church, Lahoma

Easter 6 – John 16:23-33 – May 29th, 2011

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” These are the words by which Christ Jesus wraps up three chapters worth of dialog and discussion with His disciples on what life in the New Testament Church will be. This is Law, and this is Gospel – in the world there is sin, your own sin and the sin of others, and this will make life difficult for you. That is Law. Christ Jesus has overcome the world, has conquered sin and death and hell for you. This is Gospel. This is the shape and center and heart of preaching in the Church – that now you have troubles, some of your own devising because of your own sin, some just as a result of being in a fallen world where things are harsh – but Christ Jesus has gone to the Cross, and He reigns now resurrected and victorious and your sin is done away with and you are delivered. This is what the Church proclaims, what Christians proclaim with every breath.

Or at least it should be. Often it is not. Martin Luther, at the very beginning of the Reformation, when he was talking to his fellow Augustinian monks, made a very wise observation. This observation was that in the Church, among people who claimed to be Christians, there were really two basic types, two streams of theology. On the one hand, there was a theology of Glory – a theology that asserted that because we are Christians, because we are good little boys and girls, that we will have blessings and power and might in this life. A theology of Glory that focused on things of power and success – all with the assumption that if we just did enough, were righteous enough, were obedient enough, we could obtain all these blessings and more, even salvation, from God. It was the very same theology that had led a young Martin Luther to the monastery, where he was convinced that if he just led a good enough, a holy enough life, he might someday finally win favor from God.

And Luther learned by the grace of God and His Word that this was false. That this was not what our Lord Christ Jesus teaches in the Scriptures. Christ doesn’t proclaim a theology of glory, a theology where the good little boys and girls impress their heavenly Father and He gives them treats. Instead, our Lord teaches what Luther calls the Theology of the Cross. In this sinful, fallen world, there will be pain and sorrow and despair. That’s the consequence of sin. Yet God in His mercy will not let us suffer alone, and so He sends Christ Jesus into the world to take into Himself all the pain and suffering and consequences of sin that we face, He sends Christ Jesus to go to the Cross, so that we might be forgiven and have life everlasting. And that is what He has done. Does this mean that everything now is perfect? Hardly – there is still sin and shame and hurt and pain here – but God shows His love to us still. He does give us blessings, blessings which we in no way earn or merit. He forgives us our sin, He strengthens us to face down the trials of this life confident in Him, and He has promised us life everlasting even in the face of all this. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The problem is this. That false theology of Glory still dominates in this world, even among those who would be Christian. That whole predict the end of the world, all that rapture talk. That’s all theology of Glory. You are the bad people, but we’re the good ones, and you’ve got it coming to you. God likes me, but you’re toast. Or most of the books in the Christian book store – if you want blessings, just pray this right prayer. If you do the right prayer, you’ll get blessings now. If you do X, God will give you Y. All about what I do. I’ll be honest, it depresses me. It all ignores what Christ says – in this world you will have tribulation. I wish it weren’t so – I wish I had the magic three step solution to make all your troubles go away – but I don’t. I’d be lying if I said I did. I’d be lying in God’s Name and taking His Name in vain if I preached some cockamamie plan I had come up with. And all of this Theology of Glory tries to put our hopes, our dreams upon what we do, and we expect to see the fruits now – and it kills faith. Tragedy comes. The people of Tuscaloosa, of Joplin, of Piedmont see disaster. Does that mean that God doesn’t love them anymore? That He’s rejected them? You see disappointment in your own life… that venture fails, that relationship crumbles, the kids turn out to be jerks and never call, whatever it is. And if we think, if we are told that if we were “really” Christian, that if God really cared this wouldn’t have happened, we are left battered and broken and crushed, trampled under foot by the false and cruel theology of Glory.

“In the world, you will have tribulation.” That’s all your sufferings are. You are still in the world, still in this fallen place, and in this sinful, fallen world lousy things happen. It’s the nature of this place now – we see around us the impacts of sin, nothing more, nothing less. And with might of ours, with our own power, we can’t topple sin. As long as you live there are going to be days where your life will stink on ice. But this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you. Far from it. Consider Christ Jesus your Lord and Savior. Does He know the trials you face? And by this I don’t mean just “is He aware of” the trials you face – but does He know them, has He experienced, has He shared in them? Or in other words, Has God become Man and stood in this fallen world just as you do right now? Yes. Has He with His own eyes seen heartache and pain? Yes. Has He wept bitter tears, just as you have? Yes. In this world, you will have tribulation – and in this world Christ Jesus Himself has had tribulation. And in order to defeat that pain, that sorrow, He Himself faced the ultimate tribulation, the ultimate scorn and shame of the world – He went to the Cross.

This is why, dear friends, we are focused upon the Cross. This is why St. Paul is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Because when we consider the Cross, we are comforted. Does Satan, does the world try to tell you that God doesn’t love you, that if God had loved you, surely your life would be different, would be better, would be more of this or that? Behold the Cross – behold there Christ Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son. In this world, even He whom the Father loves faced tribulation – your sorrows do not mean that God doesn’t love you. Your trials you face don’t mean that God doesn’t care. Indeed, God cares so much, that He will share in your trials, that He will come down and bear those burdens, face them all, pain, suffering, even death – all so that He might rise and say conclusively – I have overcome this sinful, fallen world. I live, and because I live, you too, My brothers and sisters, will live.

This is the joy that we do have, joy that a world fixated on stuff will never be able to understand, joy they will never be able to take away. Because Christ has been raised, because He lives – we too will be raised. Because He endured and suffered all, we will endure whatever we suffer – the world cannot crush us, it cannot defeat us because it could not crush or defeat Jesus. Christ has overcome the world. “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.” Peace. Confidence. Security. Stability. Assurance. These are the things that Christ has given us – peace so that we might stand when the world tries to knock us down. Confidence in Christ’s love and compassion for us, no matter what we see here. Security, knowing that Jesus Himself has secured our future…He has won salvation for me; my failures can’t ruin it. Stability – for Christ Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and His steadfast love endures forever. Assurance, because Christ Jesus has claimed you as His own in the waters of Holy Baptism and even gives Himself to you here today in His Supper. In the midst of a sinful world, we have peace.

And we grow in this peace. So often, we do not know what to pray for. So often we get lost and scattered and confused. So often we feel pulled in every and all directions at once, and peace is the furthest thing from our mind. We let the glory preachers set our expectations, we let the world tell us what we should want – and we become stretched and worn and tear and break. And in the midst of this, Christ Jesus comes. He was not alone, for the Father was with Him, and this gave Him peace. Christ Jesus says to you, Peace be with You, for I am with you. You are mine and I am yours, and even in the middle of the worst storms that this life can throw at you, I am with you. And I have faced down death, and I have risen, and you will be with Me in that resurrection.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus – note that lovely “in Christ Jesus” that we say and hear so often – dear friends in Christ Jesus – you are connected to Jesus by the gift of faith, given by the Word of God. His life is your life. And yes, as your Lord faced trials and tribulations in this life, so will you. But as He endured in the face of them, so will you, for He will bring you through them all – He will be with you as you take up your cross and follow Him, even until the day when He does return, and with the voice of an archangel and the cry of command He calls you to stride forth from the tomb in your resurrected body and follow Him. Take heart, He has overcome the World. Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia. Amen.

Easter 6 - Zion, Alva

Easter 6 – Zion Lutheran, Alva – John 14:15-21 – May 29th, 2011

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
“If you love Me, you will keep my Commandments.” Oh great – Pastor Brown is going to preach some fire and brimstone law today. Keep my commandments – this one is going to be so rough that it could peel the paint off of a barn. Is that what you thought when you heard that verse in our Gospel lesson? Or perhaps you thought, “Finally, Pastor Brown is going to preach a real barn burner – just like that person over there needs.” Nope. Because here Christ our Lord is not acting like some mean, angry Tyrant, wagging His finger at you. If this was to be cruel Law and threats, the next verse wouldn’t be about the Helper coming – it would be about the executioner coming, ready to smite you for your being so lousy at doing stuff. If you love Me, you will…keep… My commandments. The problem is we don’t understand the word “keep” anymore. That is because we have been raised in a land of Pharisees who think that the Christian faith is defined by what You do for God. We have been raised with the voices around us all proclaiming works righteousness. We hear that word “keep” and we think “obey.” Some of you probably read translations that use the word “obey” here. The NIV does… and it’s wrong.

What does the word “keep” mean here? The Greek word is trepho – to hold fast on to, to protect, to cherish. It’s a word of safety, of safe guarding. It’s like the old phrase – a man’s home is his castle and his keep. That doesn’t mean he obeys his house – it means that his house is where he dwells, and when he is there he is safe. This is what Christ Jesus is saying to you this morning. If you love Him – cling to His Word, cling to His commandments – observe them, hold fast. This is the same word used in the Great Commission – teaching them to observe, to keep, to hold fast to whatsoever I have commanded. And what is that? Forgive. Proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection until He comes again. Declare that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Gather together around His Word, around His Gospel proclaimed, hold fast to Him.

Why? When we are in the Word, what happens? “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.” When we are in the Word, when we holdfast to it, when we cling to it, we are kept by the Spirit in the truth of God’s Love for us, we receive it, and it flows out from us so that we love God and love our neighbor. Remember with me for a moment – From the Small Catechism – what is the meaning to the 3rd article of the Creed? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. When we are in the Word, when we keep fast to it, the Spirit comes, and by His power He keeps us in the true faith. If you love God – remain in the Word, hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it – because that is where and how the Holy Spirit works upon you – in the Word of God, in the Gospel, in the declaration of the forgiveness won by Christ upon the Cross.

Again, in all things, we need to remember that we are connected to Christ by His Word and Spirit – and if we wish to remain connected to Christ, we must remain in His Word and Spirit. Jesus says, “You know Him [the Spirit], for He dwells with you and will be in you.” And what does the Holy Spirit do? He points to Christ, points to the Word of God. At Pentecost, when the Spirit descends upon Peter, what does Peter do? He preaches Christ and Him Crucified. Paul, speaking by the Spirit, says that He is determined to know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. Our focus is always to be on Christ. Our Lord says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.” How and why do we still see Christ? Because that is what the Holy Spirit is constantly doing – taking the Word of God and using it to focus your eyes upon Christ Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith.

But here is the rub. Here in this sinful world, where your sinful flesh loves to rebel, Satan will do everything in his power to try to prevent you from being in the word. He will try to keep you from keeping the Word, Satan will present before you every reason in the book for you to just not pay attention to the proclamation of Christ Jesus and His love for you. You’ll be too busy. You’ll have something else going on. You won’t like the preacher. It will be too boring and you could be having more fun doing something else. None of your friends will be doing it, and if they don’t care, why should you. That person a pew over was mean to you, so you won’t want to be anywhere that she is, and if she’s at church, why should you go there? Well, you’re fine with it, but your spouse doesn’t like so and so, and you know how they can be. You’ll just not feel like.

Any of these sound familiar? Recognize these for what they are – they are the tempations of Satan designed to hinder you in your faith, to prevent you from being in the Word of God, from receiving God’s love and mercy proclaimed to you, to keep you from this altar and receiving the life giving Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Why? Because Satan does what he has always done – he tries to cut you off from God by making you ignore the Word. Satan said to Eve, “God’s Word is stupid, eat the fruit.” And then Adam and Eve were cut off from God – they didn’t want to be around Him anymore, they wanted to go and hide. Satan tells you the exact same thing – God’s Word of forgiveness and life is stupid. It’s not relevant, it’s a waste of time, ignore it. He tries to cut you off from God, from the God who loves you and would hold sweet conversation with you, speak His comfort and mercy to you over and over, so that you might stand in the face of the trials of this life. Christ Jesus sends you His Spirit through the Word of the Gospel to fight against this, to beat down Satan, to keep you in the One true faith so that you may have confidence and life a life of love.

Listen. “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.” Do you not see? Your life is Christ’s life. This is why Paul says that it is not I who live but Christ who lives within me. I want you to think for a moment of a garden hose. You attach the hose to the faucet and turn the faucet on, and water runs through the hose out into the garden. That is the picture of who you are – you are a hose attached to Christ, and His love comes into you and flows through you and out into the world. You receive Christ’s love, and then you show love to others – you can’t help it, you just will. You receive Christ’s mercy, and you will show mercy to others, you just will. You receive Christ’s forgiveness, and you will show Christ’s forgiveness to others, you just will – for you are a new Creation in Him, His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works that you will just walk into.

But what happens to that hose, if you detach it from the faucet? There is no more water flowing through it. And it sits in the hot, Oklahoma sun. It and dries out, and becomes brittle and not very flexible. And the garden also withers in the heat of the sun. The plants die, the hose deteriorates, and the garden is destroyed. What happens to you, to your faith, when you cut yourself off from the Word? You’re still in the world, and the world is still tough and harsh… and you get worn, and weary. You don’t put up with people any more. You don’t care about them. You don’t seek to show them love and mercy… you want to put them in their place. You stop loving them… and they are hurt and are less for your lack of love. And you become more and more brittle, and your faith crumbles, because you are cut off from Christ Jesus – He who gives out streams of living water.

This is not what Christ Jesus desires for you. His love for you is wondrous and immense. His love for you takes Him to the Cross, where He Himself takes up all the bitterness, the hatred, the pain, the suffering of the World – and from His pierced side flow water and blood as He gives up His Spirit for you – to give you forgiveness and life, to sustain you now and to bring to unto the life everlasting. “If anyone loves me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This is what God desires – what He has desired from the beginning. To be your God, to be God for you and God with you. To dwell with you, to protect you, to bless you, shower you with His love. God said to His beloved Son: It’s time to have compassion. Then go, bright jewel of My crown, and bring to all salvation. From sin and sorrow set them free; slay bitter death for them that they May live with You forever.” This is what Christ Jesus did for you with His life and death – and this is what He gives to you whenever He preaches His Word of forgiveness and life to you, this is what He gives to you at this altar as you receive His Body and Blood. It is in His Word, in His Sacraments, where Christ Jesus “manifests” Himself, where He comes to you, to be with you.

Dear friends in Christ Jesus, our Lord is not some law giving bully. The Christian faith is not the wagging of fingers. We do works, but that’s just because of who we are in Christ – we are those who are forgiven, who are overwhelmed by His love – who dwell in His Word richly and so are weekly, are daily brought to repentance and forgiveness, daily strengthened by Christ Jesus who is near to us and gives Himself to us through His Word. God grant that we avoid the temptations of Satan, and by the power of His Helper, the Holy Spirit, ever cling steadfast to His Word – for blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Difference between a Reformed and Lutheran Approach to the 3rd Use

For any who might be interested, I would note this blog post by Rev. Michael Larson in which he describes the difference between the Lutheran approach to the 3 uses of the law (I like that he gives the Latin terminology - the usus civilis, usus elenchticus, and tertius usus legis). He makes excellent points.

Coming from the opposite direction - here is a post on the same distinction from a Reformed point of view

The difference in emphasis is interesting. The Lutheran focus is upon the Gospel of Christ - that Christ Jesus has fulfilled the Law, and that by grace I will do good works. The Law is only needed as I remain in sin, yet as a Christian I will delight in God's Law.

The Reformed focus treats God's Law as a higher reality than the Gospel - indeed, even saying that "The gospel is temporary; the law is everlasting and precisely that which is restored by the gospel."

The reformed end up treating salvation, the Gospel, the Cross as though they were all only some sort of back-up plan, some divine temporary building until we get back to the real thing - God's Law.

This doesn't mesh with the Scriptures -- Christ is the Lamb who was slain from the foundations of the world. Christ's redemption is not just some booby prize that we get to happily ignore in the New Heavens and the New Earth... no, the Lamb who was Slain has begun His Reign -- and even for all eternity Paul will know nothing but Christ and Him Crucified. The Gospel is Central and will always remain.

As for the Law -- it will always remain... but the day is coming when no one will have to instruct or proclaim the law - you won't have to say, "Know the Lord"... because the Lord will have forgiven our sin and remember our sin no more.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Show me...

It's a very personal, a very important thing. Hell, it's a family motto. Are you ready, everybody?


I don't care about your wisdom, your thoughts, your citations from the theologians old or new. I don't care whether you say it's nature or reason, new or dye-in-the wool. Say it again.


I don't care if it will fix the world in a jif. I don't care if everyone else is doing it. I don't care if you are published, trusted, or Confucius. I don't care if people applaud your every idea and thought. I don't care if your plans are the best, if on the Word they do not rest.

Say it again.


If you cannot cite it, I will not buy it.

Say it again.


I don't need Athens, I don't need Rome. I don't need some guy sitting under a tree alone. I don't need wisdom from the east or wisdom from the west. In theology, none of them pass the test.

Say it again.


+ + + + + + + + + +

In all seriousness - if we people were as focused on studying the Scriptures as a good agent is in tracking down a good deal for his player, we'd all be much richer spiritually. Not the latest theory. Not the latest trend. Not the latest refurbishing of Aristotle or Pharisaism or any of that. Not the dreams of that great time back in the day of when things were great and how we can get back there.

Just the Word. Showing us our sin. Showing us our Savior. Showing us that this world is judged and that we will rise.

You know, all the things we focused on back when we weren't bored of being Lutheran and decided that we would find that magical theological twist that would change the world.

As though anything other than the Gospel of Christ Jesus ever really changes anything in a sinful world. Here we get nothing but death... people left without any excuse but dying anyway. One Man, the Word of God, is the exception. He proclaims Himself, gives Himself to you in His Word - and that actually changes things. Brings life to death - and Him alone.

Show me the Scriptures.

Do you think you are the hero

Do you think you are the hero? Are you the champion going out there are fighting the good fight. Are you going to save the planet, are you going to save your friends, are you going to save the country, the constitution, and the American Way? And are you doing it all for Jesus?

That's a shame.

I'm a miserable wretch. I slug along doing what is given to me as best I can. I strive to be good... and fail.

It is a good thing that Jesus is determined to be the hero for me, to suffer and die and win me salvation.

He does it for me.

Even "my works"... I'm simply His workmasnship... even the good that I do, that's actually what He does for me.

He's the Hero. He's the one that does things for you. Any thoughts that flip that around are arrogant, self-centered, and ultimately bound to bring failure and dispair. You can never, never do enough "for Jesus."

He already has done everything for you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Bigger Danger

Which is the bigger danger to the Church - legalism or antinomianism?

Luther faced both. He had the legalism of Rome to deal with. He had the antinomianism of the radical reformation, which sought to destroy all social order.

He ranted and raved against both.
He wrote hymns for us to sing, begging God for deliverance from the legalists.

Lord, keep us stedfast in Thy Word.
and curb murderous pope and turk
Who'd wrest the Kingdom from Thy Son
And set at naught all He has done.

A Big Luther Quote

This is a Luther Quote (What Luther Says 4791) explaining John 14:15-16 that really dances around my fears of how any focus on the Law, including the Natural Law, might be twisted and go astray.

"[Christ says:] I do not want to be a Moses who hounds and plagues you with threats and intimidations; but I give you laws which you can and may well keep without a command – if indeed you love Me. For if this is not the case, it is futile for Me to give you many commandments; for they will stay unobserved anyway. Therefore if you want to keep My commandment, see to it that you love Me. And remember what I have done for you that you should justly love Me, since I sacrifice My life and limb for you and shed My blood for you. Therefore for My sake remain united and friendly to one another that you may jointly cling to Me with your preaching and that one may bear the other in love and not cause separation and sects. For I have honestly and truly deserved this of you. It certainly is bitter work and is costing Me my life and limb to redeem you. I subject Myself to death and cast Myself into the jaws of the devil to take sin and death from you, to destroy hell and the power of the devil. I give you heaven and all I have. I shall gladly overlook it if you fail and err at times, are weak and frail, or even fall into gross sins. Only cling to Me again, and come back to My love and forgive one another as I forgive you, so that the bond of love among you may not be torn asunder.

He begins this admonition here, but He will emphasize it further and more strongly later on; for He desires to impress this deeply on them as He leaves them. For He knew well enough that there would be many of them who would indeed boast of His name, calling themselves Christ's disciples and preachers of the Gospel, but would nonetheless think more of their own ideas, honor, and glory than of the blood and death of Christ. They would not value His grace and unspeakable love and everything He devoted to our salvation so highly as to endanger or surrender their enjoyment, their honor and power, and rid themselves of their own smartness and wisdom. They would be more interested in being considered and commended as learned and wise than in knowing what is becoming of Christ and the pure doctrine of the Gospel. Even at that time Judas had begun this movement as its head and forerunner. Then came the false apostles among the Jews and their disciples and heretics; every one of them wanted to be the smartest and to rule Christendom over the heads of the apostles and the true disciples. This continued until finally their were as many wiseacres and masters as preachers and parishes. Matters grew steadily worse and worse the longer Christendom stood. Finally they developed into the dirty dregs of the papacy."

Luther asserts here something that we in the Church need to remember. Apart from faith, apart from the fear, love, and trust in God, there are no good works. Commandments are not kept. Everything remains sin and death.

Our focus must always be the proclamation of the Gospel -- the Law that we in the Church proclaim is to be in service of the proclamation of the Gospel. That is the goal of the Church.

Now, the State - let the state deal with threats and admonitions and punishments. That is a worthy thing for the kingdom of the left. But that is not and is never the task of the Kingdom of the Right.

But what if the State is doing a lousy job? Mustn't the Church then jump in? No - because that destroys the Church. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and every abuse of the papacy was begun under the auspices of love - of exerting a little bit of temporal control in the place of the state that was failing.

If we begin proclaiming something other than Christ - be it wisdom for living the "good life", or organizing society to make the world a better place, or anything -- we lose the Gospel. We exchange the preaching that prepares for the life of the world to come or playing in this world which is perishing. And what is so scary is that we will claim we are doing it for Christ... when the whole point of the Church is proclaiming what Christ has done for us.

Christ and the Gospel is abandoned, the Word is paid less and less attention to, and our man-made solutions to temporal problems that will always plague us are passed off as the wisdom of "God".

This is what happened under the papacy.
This is what happened under the holiness cults of the Reformation.
This is what happened under Finney.
This is what happened under the Social Gospel.
This is what happened in liberal Protestantism.
This is what happened under Falwell and Robertson.

God keep us from this.
God save us from our own desire to do good... to do our own will and call it Yours.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Natural Law as a Theology of Glory

Let me say at the beginning - there is much in Natural Law that is true -- there are points that some people claim as Natural Law that I would quibble with, there are applications I would object to - but there is a Natural Law.

However, I fear that it's current upswing in popularity is coming from a Theology of Glory point of view (a point of view I think it can be attached to quite easily... pre-reformation Catholicism was the domain of the theology of Glory).

Now, why do I say this? Because Natural Law is being viewed as a means of changing the world, of improving this world, of making this place a better place, as though this world isn't being prepared for destruction and renewal. Natural Law is being viewed as the last, best hope we have for keeping society from spiraling off into chaos, for making people moral.

Here's the problem.

Natural Law is God's Law.

What is the first commandment? Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

If one is an unbeliever, who by definition neither fears God nor trusts Him, why in the world would you give a (insert euphemism of your choice) about God's Law?

Seriously. Why? Will someone who denies that we were designed by God care about our arguments that stem from God's design? Will someone who thinks that we choose to be whatever we wish to be care about the "laws" of nature that he, as a fallen creature, delights in ignoring anyway?

But, but, but if we just show the Law, and show it well... then they will be better.

"It was a false, misleading dream, that God, His Law had given. That sinners could themselves redeem and by their works gain heaven" -- even a heaven on earth. "The Law is but a mirror bright, that brings the inbred sin to light, that lurks within our nature." Natural law does nothing to deal with *our* fallen nature.

But, but, but if we just get good laws passed.... then they will be better.

"Trust not in princes, they are but mortal. Earth-born they are, and soon decay. Naught are their counsels at life's last portal, when the dark grave doth claim its prey. Since, then, no man can help afford, trust ye in Christ our Lord!" This world is sinful, through and through. All around us we see nothing but death. The Law will not change that - the Law does not give life.

But, but, but the law works as a curb! That will make them better.

Eh... perhaps. If they listened. But how does a curb work? Only with threats of punishment - that things will be bad if you transgress. And arguing from a perspective of "natural law" doesn't do that. Natural Law appeals to what is right... not to punishment.

The lost must be shown that they are lost - that by giving into their sinful desires they receive no peace, no comfort, no joy. That sin offers nothing but false promises that do not deliver. The thing about sin is that, while it sounds good, it is bad. Show the consequences... not the back story behind, the reasons why. Sinful, selfish man doesn't care about nature, what should be... he cares only for what he wants to happen to him.

And even then... apart from Christ, that only leads to a slightly more gentle crushing, a slower, slightly less painful death. Apart from Christ, we only give people moral morphine, dulling the pain as they remain dying people in a dying world.

"My own good works all came to naught, No grace or merit gaining; Free will against God's judgment fought, dead to all good remaining." Apart from Christ, people are dead. Even if they play nicely, even if they bother me less and less, they are still dead. And all their works, however nice, however moral, however seemingly in accord with natural law they are, come to naught.

Of course, this was the point of Luther's Heidelburg Disputation - point number one:

"The law of God, the most salutary doctrine of life, cannot advance man on his way to righteousness, but rather hinders him."

Or as the hymnist sings - "From sin our flesh could not abstain, Sin held its sway unceasing. The task was useless and in vain, Our guilt was e'er increasing. None can remove sin's poisoned dart Or purify our guileful heart - So deep is our corruption."

Law will not save the world. It might curb some things... but only when people are convinced that what they want is actually bad for them (at least when we have people voting on laws). Otherwise, it all comes crashing down.

(Note: This is cross posted at Four and Twenty Blackbirds, so if you are interested you may follow the comments there.

Request Discussion 2 - A Scoundrel Was Sent

So - here was the second request - "Also, since call day was recent, what does it mean when the Divine Call yields a scoundrel for a pastor?"

This is not a good thing... but I will contend this. God can use even this to teach, to instruct His people. I'm not going to assume that this is punishment from above, or something like that - but rather approach with two verses in mind.

1. Who sinned that this man was born blind... Neither, it was given so that you might repent.
2. All things work for the good (note, present tense... not will work out in the long run for good) of those that love him.

In this there will be a call to repentance, and also blessing.

I'll answer this twice, because there are two sorts of Scoundrels that we run across - the moral scoundrel and the doctrinal scoundrel.

A. The Moral Scoundrel

So, let us say that the new pastor (from the Sem or otherwise) shows up, and he falls into some great shame or vice. What does this mean?

1. Object Lesson. This ends up being an object lesson. Sometimes religious leaders end up being cautionary tales. Not a easy lesson to learn (or teach), but in this case, the sins of a pastor work as a warning to us. Some like to use the term "teachable moment" - well, this would be done. Especially because the pastor won't get away with things that might be sloughed off in other settings... adultery doesn't get you canned in many jobs -- but here you could get a concrete example that adultery is BAD.

2. Patience. Return to being patient about having your parish filled. Perhaps this is something that the congregation needs to learn.

B. The Theological Scoundrel

1. The Test of the Faithful - Divisions make the truth known. This stinks on ice, and I don't like seeing it, but this is something that happens. One who teaches falsely does make a congregation to think about and ponder the truth. Granted, this is tumultuous, but our faith is sharped and honed by the heretics.

2. We get this for our neighbor's sake - one of the things that I think we need to remember, especially in the face of difficulty, is that God does not test us beyond what we can bear. Thus, the congregation that faces this trial would need to answer the question of "why me?" needs to think this way -- because we can handle this and endure it better than another, so for the sake of that weaker congregation, God has allowed us to bear this trial.

Again, any difficulty, any trial, any suffering is an opportunity to bear witness to the truth, to be a blessing and a positive example to your neighbor. Again, our egocentric, selfish nature doesn't realize this - but everything, everything that happens to us in this world is for the sake of the neighbor. If I have talents, it if for the sake of my neighbor. If I have wealth, it is for the sake of my neighbor. And if I suffer - I suffer for the sake of my neighbor (so long as I am not suffering for sin... but even then, if I am punished for my sin, that too is for my neighbor).

Likewise, if a congregation receives this most unfavorable chance to demonstrate the faith -- it is suffering, but it is suffering and a sign of faithfulness for the benefit of others.

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Of course, the third option is this: What if the congregation receives a theological scoundrel... and they like it?

This is tragic, this is horrid - but even this is a blessing for the remnant that are faithful, for it hones them, and perhaps it makes them flee to where they may rest safely. All things, all things work for the good of the faithful. Perhaps not the good we seek, but all things.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Request Discussion 1 - Animals in the New Creation

So, the first requested question is this: What's your opinion on whether there will be animals on the "New Earth?"

Let me begin with a big, important answer.

I don't know.

Seriously - this is the most important part of the (perhaps) long, drawn out answer to follow. I don't know. In fact, I would say that I cannot *know* - because this is not revealed in the Scriptures. What follows is not knowledge based upon Scripture; it is not authoritative like the proclamation - it is a derived speculation.

So, having said that I do not know, I am left to make my best guess.

My best guess is yes.

Why is this? Well, we do get the visions in Scripture where it does speak to the Lion and the Lamb laying down together... so there is animal imagery. However, that could very well just be imagery of things being idealized and at peace and safe (you have the child sticking her hand into the viper pit... but we will not be given in marriage, so I don't know if there will be "children" in heaven... I tend to speculate that we will be adults... I can't say that conclusively... I don't know precisely what is entailed in John's idea that we will be like He is, but Christ is an adult... so I lean that way). So I can't point conclusively to that.

I also note that we have the idea of a new heavens and a new earth. I would assume that these will be like unto the present heavens and earth, just perfected. As the present heaven and earth have animals... I'm guessing so. Of course, the Revelation of John says that there is no need for Sun or Moon as New Jerusalem gives its own light... but again, that's vision language (is it speaking to physical light, or to the fact that all order will be directly apparent from God - that we will not need the Sun and Moon to order days and seasons as we do now...)

In other words - it really beats the tar out of me.

If there are animals - it will be good.

If there are no animals - it will be good.

I do tend to lean towards there being animals, simply because they are part of the physical world - and the New Creation will be a physical place. Part of man's creation was to tend to creation - the animals are the things we were given the task of naming. I'd guess that part of my completion, my perfection in the life of the world to come will be a fulfilling of this stewardship role in toto.

So, I think it makes sense to say that there will be animals. But then, the new Creation is what eye has not seen and what ear has not heard -- so it may be totally beyond what I think or expect... yet it will be good.

I don't expect my old dog Ditto to be there. I don't even know if there will be weiner dogs there, or even dogs at all, or even canines (although if Joshua had Caleb, and Jesus is the same name as Joshua, and Caleb is the Hebrew word for "dog"... oh, wait, that is stretching it). I know this won't bother me, for every tear shall be wiped from my eye and that the former things will be remembered no more. But who knows - God is creative and restorative... maybe there will be Ditto there... and if there is, he won't pee on the trash can any more.

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I think it can be fun to speculate about heaven, as long as we remember a few things.

1. It does mostly end up being speculation. Expect to be wrong.
2. Don't speculate yourself into despair. It will be good.

I also remember being in second grade and reading Revelation. Then I had a dream, one of those dreams that seems to last a long, long time, much longer than a simply night's sleep, and I dreamt (normal dream, not prophetic) that I was in heaven. And it was neat. Then I woke up and was disappointed that I wasn't there.

That may be the most faithful I've even been concerning heaven. I don't know. But again - He shall come again, and it will be good. The specific shape and form of that good is something that I don't need to know.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Any Requests

I think some topics have become the beating of a dead horse... that horse is dead, it's now glue.

So I will ask - is there anything, any topic, folks would like me to ponder and peruse upon?

Easter 5 sermon for Zion, Alva

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.
In our Gospel text today, we hear our Lord continue His discussions in the upper room on Maundy Thursday, preparing His disciples, and us, for life in the New Testament Church. This is basically what John records for us in chapters 13-17 – our Lord telling us how things are going to work after His death, resurrection, and ascension. So, without any further ado, let us give heed to our Lord’s Words to us this day.

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me.” First things first. To believe in God is to believe in Christ Jesus, True God and True Man. If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, you do not believe in God. Period. This is the tragedy, many around the world think they believe in God, but they don’t, because they reject and do not believe and confess that Jesus Christ is God. Let me give an example. Suppose some says to you, “Do you know Mark Rauh” and you say, “Sure I do.” And then they say, “Oh, you must know his wife Esmerlda.” Either you know two different Marks and aren’t talking about the same person, or Mark is in a whole heap of trouble. Likewise with God – our God is the Triune God, Father, Son, and Spirit. You aren’t worshiping the True God unless you are worship the Triune God. This is why Jesus says to us, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Christ Jesus is our Savior, our access to God. The only way we have a relationship with God, the only way we know who the Triune God is is because of Christ Jesus, because He is the very Word of God who reveals God, who comes down and becomes Man, who suffers and dies for us that we might have life and salvation. Christ’s death upon the cross and His resurrection is what reunites us to God – we cannot know God apart from Christ.

Again, we cannot overemphasize the centrality of Christ Jesus to the Christian faith. Our faith, our salvation isn’t about what we do. We sin. We fail. We deserve utter condemnation. But Christ Jesus is perfect and holy, and He does not fail, and He wins for us life everlasting. This, dear friends, is perhaps the quickest way to spot false teaching – do people talk more about “god”, or do they talk about Christ Jesus being our Savior from sin. Do they talk about some generic god, or Christ Jesus who is the only Way of Salvation? Do they talk about some deity, or do they point to Christ Jesus and His truth? Do they talk about how you need to live this way or that way and never talk about Christ Jesus who died and yet now lives for you – for He is the Life, your life? Do they talk about Jesus? You’ll find that a lot of the talk out there doesn’t really talk about Jesus. Yet He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. Listen to hear people speak about Jesus, and proclaim Him as the sole Savior from sin, God who has come down from heaven, become man, suffered and died and been raised again so that we have life in His Name. And if that isn’t what they preach, stop up your ears and don’t listen.

Our focus is to be upon Christ Jesus and what He does for us. This is Christ’s focus, this is what He would have us see. Listen. “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be there also.” Again, this is all about Jesus telling us what He is doing for us. He prepares a room, He comes again, He takes us to Himself, He makes us to be where He is. Jesus is your Savior, He is the one who does this. So, what exactly is Jesus talking about here? The normal answer we give right off the bat is that this is speaking to heaven. And yes, that is right. What does Christ do when He leaves that upper room, marches to Gethsemane, is arrested, and then crucified? He prepares for you a place in heaven, in the Father’s House. He wins for you forgiveness so that you will be with Him always. This is a great and wondrous thing.

However, we don’t see the whole picture if we think that Jesus is just speaking to the second coming, to some time down the road when one day we’ll make it to heaven. Some day there will be the resurrection, oh, won’t that be nice. Dear friends in Christ – do you not know that what Christ Jesus is describing is precisely what you have now. “In My Father’s house are many rooms.” What do we call this place – Who’s house is it? It’s God’s House. There’s a reason we call it that. Because this is the spot on earth where Christ Jesus has prepared a place for you – this is where He has called you to gather, to hear His Word, to receive His Supper. Indeed, what does He say – “I will come again and take you to Myself, that where I am you may be there also.” Does not Christ Jesus gather us together here around His Word? Has He not promised that where even only 2 or 3 of us are gathered in His Name He will be? And how did we begin service this morning – by calling upon the Name upon which we were baptized. Moreover – what happens here on this altar? We celebrate the Lord’s Supper – where Christ Himself is indeed with us, gives us His Body and Blood. Do you see how this is a present reality? Even the whole “there are many rooms”. I am here in God’s house right now. Around 2 hours from now, I’ll be in a different room, but I’ll still be in God’s House at service down in Lahoma. Christ Jesus, with His death and resurrection, establishes for us His Church here on earth, in which we are gathered around His Word and receive His Body and Blood all for our forgiveness – until the day when we are brought to the life of the world to come. This is what Christ Jesus does for you.

And when He does this, we get everything that there is to get with God. We get the fullness – we are bound, joined to God. We are now children of God, we dwell in His house here in this fallen, sinful world, until the day He remakes the heavens and the earth for us. This is a good thing, a wonderful thing, and great and astonishing blessing. God cares for us both now and forever. This is what our Lord is driving at in verse 12 when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” That “greater” is a horrible translation – it really means more, more in number. This is describing the Church. Christ fed the 5000 thousand… millions today in the Church are fed Christ’s Body and Blood in the Supper. Christ spoke to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven” – millions have their sins forgiven today in the Church. Christ Jesus, who reigns seated at the hand of the Father, does all these wonders through His Church today, and that is a wondrous thing.

One final bit of our reading today that we should consider is this: “Whatever you ask in My Name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My Name, I will do it.” Now, this is one of the most misquoted, abused verses in all the Scriptures. We get people who will say, “Well, if you just say the right prayer you’ll get gold and money and power and stuff. You’ll get health and wealth.” This entire passage so far, what has Jesus been talking about? Has he mentioned money or earth power. Nope. He’s been talking about the fact that He is going to the Cross for us. He is going to the Cross to prepare for us Salvation, give us the forgiveness of sins, be with us, strengthen our faith. These blessings of faith is what Christ is promising here – all these good things, this forgiveness, this eternal life, this place in God’s House – it is yours in His Name. You have been joined to Christ at your Baptism, and His salvation is yours. The center of the Christian life is that we are those who confess our sins, that we ask God for forgiveness in the Name of Christ Jesus our Lord, and we know that we receive it to the Glory of God the Father. God is glorified chiefly in this – that He forgives you your sin. This is the reason we give God our highest praise – but chiefly are we bound to praise You for the glorious resurrection of Your Son.

But here’s the thing. The world doesn’t care at all for forgiveness. The world thinks that is worthless. The world doesn’t want to admit its sin, doesn’t want to confess it, doesn’t want to deal with it. Those people over there might be sinners, but I’m a good little person. And I want stuff – and so we’ll get book after book telling us how we can manipulate “God” into giving us stuff, as though God were some meanie who doesn’t take care of us out of His own Fatherly goodness and mercy. This is basically the same thing as the pagans did – it’s that talk about “god” but not focusing on Christ Jesus being the Savior – just being some sort of sugar daddy that you bribe with a few magic works.

But this is not who you are, dear friends. Christ Jesus, Your Lord and God, has called you here to His Father’s House. He has called you to repentance, to turn away from the greed, the selfishness of the world. He has promised you that when you confess your sins, He is faithful and just and with joy forgives you all your sin. This is His promise to you, this is what He won for you when mindful of your salvation He went to the cross – this is why He proclaims to you even this day that He is the Way for you to obtain forgiveness, that He is the Truth that sets you free from bondage to sin, that He is your Life that will see you throughout all eternity. God be glorified for this – that He has sent His Son Christ Jesus to be our Redeemer. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Sermon for Easter 5 at Zion, Lahoma

Easter 5 – May 22nd, 2011 – John 16:5-15

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
Again this Sunday our Lord prepares the disciples and us for life in the New Testament Church – life in His Church after His ascension. And our Lord begins this passage by saying something that we can have a hard time believing sometimes. “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away.” Now, one of the common complaints, the common questionings that I hear, sometimes from Christians, often from skeptics, is this. If Jesus Christ rose from the dead, why didn’t He just hang around on earth and run the Church Himself, directly and personally? Why isn’t He hanging around still in Jerusalem where we can all go and visit Him and see the marks in His hands just like Thomas did? I’ll admit it, there are times where I think that it would have been better this way, that if I were Jesus I would have just stuck around and run things here on earth. But those thoughts only come up because I am a sinful and foolish man. Our Lord speaks truly here – His ascension is to our advantage.

Sometimes we think that Jesus is far from us, and that if He hadn’t ascended, we’d be so much closer to Him. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I was watching a show on the History Channel about the Vatican, and it showed the Pope stepping up to his apartment window, and from the crowd you could just see this teeny, tiny man in white, and you could hear his devotion over the loud speaker. What Roman Catholic parishioner, what typical person has any access, any relationship with the Pope? Not many? Maybe you’ll get to see him if he visits your country, or you can hear him from a distance. And that’s just the Pope. Imagine the crowds, the difficulties there would be if that were Christ Jesus Himself. In our lifetimes, most of us would never get near Him. In this world, that just won’t work well – we are bound by time and space, and our time would run out before we got close enough to Jesus.

No, it is better for the Church, better for us that Christ ascends, and why? “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you.” No, Christ will ascend, and on Pentecost He will shower the Helper, His Holy Spirit, upon His Church. This is what we see at Pentecost, and suddenly the Church explodes across the world. What the Holy Spirit does is this – He spreads the Church throughout the world. We don’t have to go to one place, we don’t have to hit Jerusalem or Rome and wait in massive lines to be connected to God – the Holy Spirit has come, and by His power the Church has spread throughout the world; indeed, the Holy Spirit calls us to gather together in Congregations where Christ is present for us in preaching, present for us in baptism, present for us in His Supper. Ponder this – we don’t have to wait in line to hear Jesus – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Christ’s Word is written and read to us now, even in our own language. Brock and Braden didn’t need to be put on a 75 year waiting list to be baptized. We don’t have to wait in line to touch Christ – whenever the Holy Spirit calls us here to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we receive Christ’s Body and Blood. This is to our advantage. Now, instead of being bound just to one place, we receive Christ Jesus in literally millions of places around the globe, until the day when Christ returns and we are brought to eternity, where we step beyond the bounds of time and space that would limit us now. This really is a neat thing, a wondrous thing. The Church is a great gift and comfort to us.

However, we need to get some things clear so we understand what is going on. As we move through the rest of this text, we are going to be talking about the Holy Spirit and what He does in His Church, and how that is a blessing. We need to make one thing clear here – when the Holy Spirit works in His Church, He does so through the Word. When we look at what the Spirit will do in the Church, we’re aren’t talking about you just walking along and then sudden *ZAP* the Holy Spirit has whacked you upside the head. Jesus always talks about the Holy Spirit speaking, about Him using Words. On Pentecost, when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, what do they do? Do they say, “Oh, we are such awesome Christians because we have the Holy Spirit and you don’t, neener neener neener?” No – they go to the temple and preach – Peter stands up and starts preaching on Joel, starts proclaiming Christ and Him crucified – and that is precisely what is going on here. We are gathered around the Word of God – and so the Holy Spirit is active. When we study the Word, when the Word is preached, yes right now, the Holy Spirit is present and active. And I’ll even say this – that these verse that speak to what the Holy Spirit will do describe what preaching should and ought to do if it is to be considered Christian preaching. So, let’s dive in.

“And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” So, we have three things that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of – that word “convict” means that He will state things plainly and pin them to us – we are dealing with matters of truth. And we have three of them, so let’s ponder the first – “He will convict the world concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me.” Preaching will be about sin, and it will be blunt about sin. And Jesus ties a tight little knot here – all sin is at its core disbelief. All sin is an ignoring of God. What is the First Commandment? Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Every sin is an act of unbelief, every sin is a matter of fearing, or loving, or trusting in something above God. This is why we can’t soft sell sin, this is why we can’t beat around the bush with it, why we can’t just say, “Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s not that big of a deal.” It is. Your sin is you choosing to ignore Christ Jesus, your sin is you saying that you will do things your way and His way can go to hell. That’s what sin is – whether it’s the most vile murderous rampage, or whether it’s the little lie that we tell ourselves is okay and doesn’t hurt anyone. Sin is a turning of our backs upon God. And proper preaching, preaching guided by the Holy Spirit upon the Word of God will be blunt about this. This is what we call the preaching of the Law. The Law always condemns, the Law always shows how we fall short – the Law always teaches us that we cannot rely upon ourselves, because in and of ourselves we are vile and even our works are nothing but filthy rags before God. Whenever someone soft cells sin, they aren’t speaking by the Holy Spirit.

The second and third things, though, are a comfort to us, they are Gospel. The Holy Spirit will convict “concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see Me no longer.” This is pure, pure Gospel. Christ Jesus knows your sin, He knows the struggle you face against it. And so, for us men and for our salvation, He came down from heaven and did everything required for you to be saved. He lived perfectly in your place – He knew no sin. He died in your place – He became sin for you and suffered its wages for you. He rose for you – He lived again so that you would know that you will live again because of Him. All this He has done – this is His righteousness, the fact that Jesus does that which is good and right and perfect – and that is your salvation. And why does the Holy Spirit preach this – because Christ has ascended to the Father. There is no more work He needs do to win you salvation – your sins are all atoned for, death and Satan and hell are defeated. It is finished. Jesus doesn’t leave a job half done, and if He has ascended to the Father, you can rest assured that everything that needs to be done for your salvation is completed. Indeed, in Christ’s Church, we don’t *do* anything to be saved – we simply receive Christ’s salvation as it is poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit who gives, who showers Christ’s righteousness upon us.

And finally, the Holy Spirit convicts the world “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” This too, is utter comfort for you who have been called to Christ Jesus, joined to Him in the waters of Holy Baptism. Salvation is yours, and there’s nothing the world can do to you that will take away Christ’s salvation from you. This is what we sing in A Mighty Fortress – “this world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none, he’s *judged*, the deed is done. One little word can fell him.” As Christians, we live in a messy, dangerous, evil world – but we live confidently, for we know that in Christ our sins are forgiven, we know that in Christ we have the promise of life everlasting. And while the world rants and raves around us, while things get messy and worse and nasty and horrid and evil – we know that this world of sin and suffering does not last – and that it does not conquer over us. The world is judged, and we are rescued from it. Christ Jesus has done it all for us, and so we are not bound to the troubles of this fallen world, but we have the promise of the new heavens and the new earth.

This is what Christ’s Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, will proclaim until Christ Jesus returns. And this is the beautiful part – this is all for our benefit. God loves you richly, and He has procured for you your salvation. We hear this verse in closing – “All that the Father has is Mine; therefore I said that He will take what is Mine and declare it to you.” Everything that belongs to God, His holiness, His righteousness, His love, His mercy – all of it… Christ Jesus gives to you whenever the Holy Spirit declares it to you by the Word. Always Christ showers His gifts on us in His Church through His Spirit. And that is a wondrous thing – the mystery of the ages, the reason why we rejoice now along with angels and archangels and the whole company of heaven. Christ Jesus is our Lord, and we have salvation in Him. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Dividing Line...

I was asked in the comments of another post to give the "magic dividing line" between what actions not mentioned directly in scripture that I think we can condemn (the example given was masturbation by the commenter, accurately assuming I would condemn it) and those that I don't think we can give a blanket condemnation of (such as contraception).

What follows is my response - with additional commentary to follow:

Here is the dividing line. The question isn't just a matter of action - what action is allowable or not allowable, and if it is allowable then I can do it. The question is "why" something is done.

Is sex permitted? Depends upon why it is done. If it is in the context of marriage and for the benefit of the spouse, it is a good and God pleasing thing. If it is outside of marriage, it is sin.

Is killing permitted? Depends on why the killing is done. Is it in the context of just war, or self defense, or defense of the neighbor... then it may be done. Is it done out of anger, or a desire for revenge for some slight? Then it is a sin.

Is preaching permitted? It depends on the context of the preaching. If one is called and ordained to preach, then it is good. If one usurps the office, it is sin.

What you are falling to see is this - actions do not take place in the abstract. They are not fundamentally good or bad - they are neutral. They are permissible, but not necessarily profitable. The profitablity depends entirely upon the context.

Your approach is trying to define certain actions as intrinsically good or intrinsically bad. No.

"Well, when is idolatry good?" Idolatry is just worship that is in the wrong context to the wrong place. Worship is a good thing if God is worshiped according to His command. Worship is a bad thing if it is to something other than God -- and we call this idolatry.

Thus, I will say even with Contraception, it in and of itself is neither fundamentally good or bad. Tell me the context, tell me the why. Is there an honest concern for ones spouse - so be it. Care for your spouse, as God commands. Does it derive from a desire for greed or selfishness? Then no, that is not good.

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Now the additional comments.

One of the things we do as humans is try to justify certain actions - to set up a fence and say, "ah, these things I can do, and if I do them I know that they are good." This is a false, misleading dream. Because of the wickedness of man, anything, every good blessing which God gives can be turned into sin.

There is no magic line that makes some actions fundamentally good and free from wickedness - actions that are safe and I know that if I just do them, then I am doing good. You are a sinful, fallen being, and you can turn and twist anything, anything into sin.

Thus - the question must always be this - why is something being done. That should be the grounds upon which it is judged.

And you want to know the really, really harsh truth - the one that no one likes? Everything, every act you do is sin.


Tomorrow - when I preach a sermon and conduct worship service - I will be sinning. Why? Because even though I am called, and it is proper and licit for me to be there, I am a sinful being, and part of me will have sinful, ulterior motives. I will want people to respect and praise me for my good job... and that is sin. That's why I pray before the sermon that it be not to my praise... but part of me will want it.

Everything I do is sin, because every single moment I am in this flesh, I am a sinner. Through and through.

This is why Luther said, "Sin boldly." It's not that one does not care about what is right or wrong... no, strive to do the good, strive to act with good and God pleasing motivation... but know that whatever you do, it is sin. And sometimes, the old adam with its false motivations take the fore... so be it. Strive to beat it down and live... sin boldly... with boldness strive against your self, knowing that what you do will still be none the less sinful and worthy of nothing but damnation.

Sin boldly, live your life which will always be nothing but tainted with sin in a bold struggle against sin, but believe more boldly still. Put not your trust in your actions, but trust in Christ Jesus and His redemption.

And pray as you always need to pray - I believe, help my unbelief.

Not yet

There was no seconding coming today.

Not Yet.

We Christians are still in the state of now and not yet. We have the promise of salvation - it is ours. Do we see it... not yet.

Someday there will be a now and now indeed. But not yet.

We won't know when it is coming, but it will. Thus is life.

A Repost

A repost (with a few typos corrected) from the very first month this blog was up - June 25th, 2007

+ + + +

It's not another truth of practical theology, but rather a dictum or saying inserted into our normal line up - and it goes as follows:

What is not commanded in Scripture may not be commanded; what is not forbidden is Scripture may not be forbidden.

This is simply an extension of the idea of Sola Scriptura - that we place ourselves under Scripture as our authority. If Scripture doesn't say, "You must" we cannot say "you must". If Scripture doesn't say "Thou Shall Not" we cannot say "Thou Shall not." Within this boundary, this set of things neither commanded nor forbidden, there is freedom.

Freedom is not always used wisely. We may debate about how people use their freedom, we may counsel them against using their freedom in a poor way - we may even ask them if they are using the pretense of freedom to hide something which is blatantly contrary to Scripture - but we cannot speak beyond the Words of Scripture, for where Scripture is silence, we cannot speak authoritatively - for without the Word we have no authority whatsoever.

This is hard. People use their freedom poorly. People act out of ignorance, people act inefficiently. But the alternative is worse. The alternative is rank legalism where the mandates of men take equal place with the Word of God. And if we look at our history, the road to theological hell was paved with good intentions. Mandating a penance was at first just to make the Lasped prove their devotion -- soon it was a terror. Allowing the Pope to speak authoritatively beyond Scripture looked as though it would establish unity - instead it created tyranny and split the Church multiple times.

People will use their freedom poorly. Weaker brothers will act out of ignorance, and stronger brothers will act out of misplaced pride. We must allow neither folly to become entrenched and "law". If there is no freedom, there is no Gospel (which is free from the works of the Law), there is no love (for love casts out fear, and if we act out of fear it is not love), there is no worship (for God has set us free to worship Him without fear). Freedom must be maintained.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Or Briefly

Or briefly and more elegantly than I:

"That is genuine theology that speaks when God's Word speaks and is silent when God's Word is silent" - Hermann Sasse, "We Confess the Sacraments, Volume 2" - page 104

God grant that we learn both of these ever more!

Sinful Man Gives Burdens to Others

I will admit, I don't like talking about "Natural Law" much - I don't like talking about how nature itself shows us how things are supposed to be. Not because this isn't true, but for two reasons.

1. It's Law, and the Law doesn't save anyone.
2. Sinful Man will burden one another by their flights of reason and imagination "based" on Natural Law.

First, as I see it, more and more focus is given to natural law as an apologetic tool - the way that we can try to convince the heathen world out there that they need to do what we as Christians know to be right and true - it's "obvious" from nature. Rule number 7 of rhetoric... any time you write "obviously" or "its obvious that", it's neither obvious nor agreed upon.

What we forget is this - to sin, to live sin is to fundamentally go against nature as God designed us - to sin is to not be human, to be fallen. So if one is trapped in sin, one isn't going to care about natural law (unless it's a philosophic interest, but even then ones own pet sins will be ignored). Natural Law does nothing to convince or change minds - really it doesn't. It isn't arguing in the left hand kingdom... Natural Law points to sin, and sin is always ignored in the world. The world cares about benefits and how something impacts me - God's Law (natural or otherwise) is always concerned about the neighbor... so the world won't recognize it.

Second, and this is the bigger one for me (if people want to engage in apologetics, let them) - we take natural Law and run with it in ways it is not meant to go. We will let that old harlot, dame reason, jump on in, and then we will build new constructions and laws on top of "natural" Law, things that should be evident and flow... and we just give burdens to others.

Allow me an example that is absurd. Let's talk about eating. It should be obvious from nature, that food was given to man for two main reasons:

1. To provide nourishment.
2. To provide enjoyment.

Therefore, we can say that a Christian ought never eat Cotton Candy, for it does not really provide nourishment, but rather is just a matter of enjoyment. More over, it is a totally artificial food, overly processed beyond compare. It is a foul, abnormal abomination. Cotton Candy is evil.

This flows quite well logically. Really, it does. Try to tell me that cotton candy provides actual nourishment or that it is health, or that it is natural. Therefore, it violates natural law, and you can't eat it.

(Oh, but no one says something like that, it's silly. Well, I've been told that a Christian needs to avoid eating M&Ms... more than a handful is a sin. And besides, I'm looking at patterns of thoughts here)

Here's the problem - does God forbid eating food for pleasure? No. He forbids gluttony - but the kid at the fair having a wad of cotton candy isn't necessarily gluttony. But, if we put such an emphasis upon what we think are the natural, the obvious purposes of something in creation, it gives us license to derive all sorts of "laws" that are not part of God's command. It gives us license to be new law-givers.

And we take this and we make burdens with it, all for the best intentions. "We must say that Cotton Candy is evil. Don't we see the culture of obesity that we have today, what a scourge this is. Cotton Candy is part of that culture, and we must speak out against it!"

And we are given over to our own pet crusades, and we place burdens upon one another that God did not place upon us in His Word.

+ + + + + + + + +

Actually, what it boils down to is this. We have enough to ponder in God's revealed Word. Why are we spending so much time in the realm of "nature" and "reason", when there is Scripture enough to live and rely upon? Why are we so worried about trying to make others be good... as though our works make others to be more righteous? This ends up becoming idolatry and self-worship. Let it be avoided.

Luther Gives Comfort - an example about prayer

There is much angst, especially out here in the Bible Belt, over prayer. Prayer becomes a giant show, a harsh work, something that is difficult or embarassing. We need to "pray hard" - we need to be dilligent. Our prayers should be "ex corde" - from the heart, so if someone else writes them, they are no good.

And being hit by this, the Christian shrinks away, thinks how pitiful his ability to pray is, and is then put silent.

Contrast this with Luther - who yes, urges us to a diligent life and routine of prayer (remember your daily prayers from the catechism). But prayer is not difficult, it is not a show - even your constant prayer is not a burden. Why? Quoth Luther:

Wherever a Christian is, there the Holy Spirit is, Who does nothing else but pray constantly. For though a Christian is not moving his lips and speaking words, his heart nevertheless moves and beats (just like the pulse in his body) and always throbs with such sighs as these: Dear Father, may Thy name be hallowed; may Thy kingdom come; may Thy will be done by us and everyone. And the harder the blows of life or temptation and trouble press and beat upon him, the strong such sighs and prayers become, even vocally. Therefore you cannot find a Christian without prayer, just as you cannot find a living man without a pulse. The pulse never stands still; it is always throbbing and beating by itself, even though a man is sleeping or doing something else and, therefore, is not aware of it. (What Luther Says - 3487)

I love Luther. Whenever man goes and frets about what he is doing, if it is good enough, Luther like a thunderbolt flashes across the sky - it is about what God does! My prayer... not about me. It is the Holy Spirit at work in me, and while I might fail, He fails me never. My works... not about me - It is Christ who lives within me.

Luther is a man of comfort - he is a man of the Gospel.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lahoma Sermon - Easter 4

Easter 4 – May 15th, 2011 – John 16:16-22

Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen
A Christian is in the world, but not of the world. We are but strangers here. We look beyond these days, to the last day, to the day of the resurrection of all flesh, and to the life of the world to come. This is something we have been taught and trained all the days of our life. We have been raised to not give into earthly temptations and pleasures. We have been taught since we could learn the Creed to know that Jesus will come again and then things will be different. What we see in our Gospel lesson is Jesus beginning to teach His disciples, teach us this truth. For the next three weeks, our Gospel lessons will focus on teachings of Christ that John records for us, teachings from Maundy Thursday evening. These are the things that Jesus tells the disciples just before the Crucifixion – and He tells them so that they know how to live, how to function in the New Testament Church.
You see, the disciples were students, they followed Christ and they listened to Him – and that was their image of how things were going to be. Just them following Christ, listening to Him – they had thought that the end of time was here, and it was to be literally heaven on earth – the Messianic Kingdom, all recreated right then and there before their eyes. Well, not quite – it’s Christ’s victory over sin and death that they would see – not His second coming. So Jesus teaches them, prepares them for what life would be like after His crucifixion and resurrection, after His ascension. In other words, what life as a Christian is like for us.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me.” This is what our Lord tells the disciples – and they are flummoxed. What does Christ mean that in a little while they won’t see Him – they’ve been His disciples for 3 years – they’ve followed Him all over the place. Is He just going to abandon them? No – He’s going to die for them upon the Cross, and He will be laid in the tomb. “Is this what you were asking yourselves, what I meant by saying ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.” Doesn’t this aptly describe Good Friday? We see Peter run off and weep bitter tears. We see John standing with Mary, the mother of our Lord, at the foot of the cross – do you think that they weren’t weeping? And all the while, the world rejoices. The world mocks and jeers, thinks that Christ being crucified is just the dandiest thing.

Now, this is the contrast that we need to remember, because it holds true still today. The world will rejoice over things that as Christians we are sorrowful over. Think of how the world rejoices over money and wanton sex and power. Think of how we will turn people into celebrities simply because the world finds their vices entertaining. The person who is a druggie, is an alcoholic rejoices when he gets his fix, while his family and friends who truly care for him weep. The crowds cheer in Egypt while Christian churches are lit aflame. In this world, things are topsy-turvy, and people continually rejoice over things that bring pain and suffering and death – people rejoice over sin. Us too. We all have our own pet sins, the sins and temptations that call out to us, that we, that our old sinful flesh wants to rejoice in. All the while, as Christians, as those who have been called out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light, we weep. St. Paul says it most eloquently – the good that I want to do, I don’t, and the evil I do not want is what I end up doing. Oh wretch that I am, who will save me from this body of death. This is the thing – the world rejoices in death… it may not realize it, but it rejoices in sin and hatred and anger – the things that lead to death. And we ourselves are tempted this way, and we are frustrated and sorrowful with it.

“You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.” Now again, Christ speaks to His disciples about how they will react when they see the resurrected Lord. Two weeks ago, what did we hear in the Gospel? Jesus appears to them in the locked room and - “Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.” The resurrection is our Lord conquering over sin and death and the sorrow and the pain that it brings. The resurrection is Christ Jesus striding through the worst that this world can throw at Him and saying, “See, I live. I live and have conquered over sin and death, and it can’t do anything to Me – and because you are mine, it can’t do anything to you, not really.” And thus there is joy. Christ’s death and resurrection are the point around which all of our existence turns – without Christ’s death and resurrection, the disciples would have been left with nothing but this sinful, sorrowful world. But when the Lord dies, takes all that sorrow into Himself, and then rises, then the disciples have joy.

And this, dear friends, is the shape of the entire Christian Church and faith. We are not a bunch of pollyannas trying to pretend that everything in the world is wonderful. There are folks that teach that – they’ll teach that if we just grow, if we just learn to love each other then everything here will be great. Now, make no mistake, I’m all for growing, but if St. Paul, who is a far stronger Christian than I am still sins, still views himself as the chief of sinners, I know I’m not going to be perfect in this life – and certainly the folks out there who could care less aren’t going to perfect. In this world there will always remain pain and sorrow and sin. But, we of the Christian faith, who have been called by Christ Jesus, washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, joined to Him, we who partake of His true Body and Blood in His Supper – we know something else beyond just the sorrow of the world. We receive the life and forgiveness and salvation that our Resurrected Lord gives us – we receive His Joy. In the midst of this world of pain, we have a peace, a joy that the world cannot understand – because we know Christ Jesus and His forgiveness. We know the promise He has made us, that He will come again and save us from this body of death, that we will rise to perfection. Our Epistle reading today hits all of this – it’s probably my favorite passage in the New Testament – “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is.” We are God’s children. Why? Not because of what we do – but because He called us His children – He brought us to the font and baptized us and claimed us as His own – and so we are His children. And the world doesn’t get it – the world doesn’t understand you and your hope… but don’t let that bother you. They didn’t like Jesus, why would they like those who are joined to Jesus in the gift of Baptism? And even in this, even as we see the struggles in ourselves – we aren’t done yet… He will come again, and then we will be like Him, perfect and holy and righteous and having living, resurrected Bodies. And this is our joy, this is our sure and certain hope that the world cannot conquer over.

Doesn’t mean that this life is now easy. Nope. Life in this world is going to be rough. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.” Christ Jesus went to the cross so that we might be born again as true human beings… not fallen, not condemn to death – but man as man was meant to be, a living being, created by God to live forever with Him. Christ suffers and dies and rises so that we might be born again. And indeed, this is how we ought to view our lives here. My mom was in labor with me for 36 hours. That’s a long time. I’m 33 years old now… 36 hours, hard as it was, is as nothing compared to my life. Likewise, dear Christians, view your life here in this world, it’s difficulties, simply like the labor, like child birth – the pain and sorrow we face here will pass, and we will be ushered into the life everlasting – what is 60, 80, 100 years of toil compared to an eternity of joy? And again, this is an appropriate image – the pain of child birth is tied to sin way back in Genesis 3. In this life, we face the pain of sin, but it shall go away and be done with.

This is what Christ Jesus is working in you. “So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” Christ has risen, and we have joy – we have joy that overlaps, that strives against the sorrow in our lives. But the day is coming, dear friends, the day is coming when we will be delivered from that sorrow, from that agony. In that day, there will be nothing but joy, joy at being finally made anew, finally being joined to Christ, finally seeing in full the salvation that Christ has won for us. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Sermon for Alva number 1

(this is the sermon I am preaching at Zion Lutheran Church in Alva, OK. They are currently vacant, but have a candidate, Aaron Wagner, assigned to them)

Alva – Easter 4 – May 15th, 2011 – John 10:1-10

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
“A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Just the text that a vacancy pastor, especially one that isn’t really well known to the congregation because he lives 60 miles away, wants to have on his first Sunday covering the vacancy. But, this is a good thing, a good text for us to pause and consider today, because this text really does speak and point to the Office of the Holy Ministry – what a Pastor is, what a Pastor does, and as you are in a time of transition here, as you are moving from Pastor Bersche to Pastor Wagner – this is actually an excellent time to hear this. So, this morning, we will listen to the Words of our Lord, and we will think about what it means for this congregation here.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.” Right away our Lord gives us a contrast. If you are supposed to be somewhere, you enter through the door. I have my home. If I want to go into my home, I open the door and walk on in. That’s the right and proper way. Now, if you ever see someone breaking a window and crawling in to my house, I hope you’d call the cops. That’s the way a thief enters, that’s the way that someone who has no business being there enters. And so our Lord gives this picture of his church – Zion here can be likened to a sheepfold. What do we have here but a bunch of Christ Jesus’ little lambs, and God wants you to be spiritually cared for. There should be a pastor here preaching to you, administering the Sacraments to you. But there is a right way and a wrong way to have a pastor show up here. Our Lord says, “I am the door of the sheep.” For someone to be your pastor, he must come here not of his own volition or decision, not to make a profit off of you, not to fleece you, but he is to be one who enters at Christ’s command as Christ’s own called servant.

For 8 years, Mark Bersche was that called servant. Christ Jesus our Lord called him to be your pastor, ordered him, in fact. That’s what the word “ordained” really means – it means to be placed under orders. Now, this congregation has issued a call to Aaron Wagner, and he will come and he will be ordained, instructed by God to be your pastor. Even me, as the vacancy pastor – I didn’t just drive on up here and say, “Well, I heard there was no one here to preach, I guess I will.” The elders of this congregation asked me, one who is called and ordained, to be a fill-in, a stop gap. What all this revolves around is this – our God is a God of order who cares for His Church, and He is the One who sends congregations men to be their pastors, to be their shepherds and to tend to them. And this should all be straight forward, all above the board.

Now, what is the called, ordained pastor of a congregation supposed to do? “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” And lets continue with a bit later from the text – “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” So, Jesus describes what your Pastor is to do with three images – he is to speak to you (as you are to hear his voice), he is to call you by name, and he is to lead you to pasture. The normal way we say this today is that a pastor is to Preach the Word and administer the Sacraments. The sheep hear his voice – when do you hear the shepherd’s voice – when He preaches, when He teaches. The highest duty Pastor-elect Wagner will have is to preach to you in the service. His job will to be preach the Law, make clear what not only God commands, but also what you fail to do. His job will be to call you to the carpet when you are wrong. His job will be to preach the Gospel, to proclaim that you sins, which are many, are forgiven simply and solely because of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. In other words, he is to show poor miserable sinners that they have life in Christ. And he is to constantly teach this – in this pulpit, in bible studies, in confirmation, at hospital bed sides – over and over.

And you are to hear him in this. Many times, the Word of God says things to us that we do not like. I don’t particularly enjoy seeing my sin. I don’t like being shown where I am wrong, and I’m sure that you guys don’t either. But we need to hear that, we need to be brought to repentance, for our own good. Your pastor will do that. We also don’t always like hearing the pure Gospel – we are sinful little people, we like to think about what we add to salvation, what we get to do that makes us good people. That’s not the point of the Church – what you do is never, never ever Gospel. Your actions add nothing to your salvation – they help your neighbor, and you should do good works, but they help and save you never. Only Christ Jesus does that. Your pastor is to fix your eyes upon Christ Jesus and His salvation, and not let any works righteousness creep in and taint and destroy the Gospel. And when your pastor preaches the Word of God purely, when he preaches the Law in all its sternness, and when he points to Christ Jesus and gives His forgiveness – listen to him. For when he does that, your pastor is bringing you life and salvation – he is bringing you Jesus.

Your pastor is also to tend to the administration of the Sacraments. The first of these is Baptism. We heard that the shepherd calls the sheep by their name. Your name, as a Christian, is intimately and directly tied to baptism. At your baptism, as part of the ceremony, the pastor then asked “How is this child to be named” – and then “so-and-so, I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” It is at your baptism where Christ Jesus first called you by Name – that’s why in the old days your first name was called your “Christian name” – until you were baptized you were just Baby Last Name. Baby Brown… but at your baptism, you got your name. That’s also where we get the term “Christening” – to Christen doesn’t simply mean to “name” – it means to put into Christ, and how – by being named a Child of God in Baptism.

This congregation is first and foremost a gathering of the Baptized. That’s why you are here – God has called and gathered you into His church by the gift of Baptism, and it’s because you are part of God’s Baptized family that you belong here in His church – and in this Church you are to be cared for by your pastor, who will preach and forgive your sins. He is to know your name, know that you are one of the Baptized, and he is to care for you as such. This is who you are.

And then finally – your pastor is to lead you out into the pastures of salvation. What is the point of taking sheep out to pasture? It’s to feed them, to nourish them, to make them grow. And for this reason, your pastor is to see to the administration of the Lord’s Supper. The Lord Supper is given by Christ Jesus to His Church, so that those who have been baptized and trained and are part of God’s family will have their sins forgiven and grow in faith and love. The shepherd is to feed his sheep, and so if you are a baptized, confirmed child of God, Jesus provides you a pastor to give you His Holy meal. And your pastor will have as his duty the administration of this meal. When you are repentant, when you seek the forgiveness of your sins, when you are striving to live as a child of God – he will welcome you. But, if you are unrepentant, if you deny the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in this meal, if you choose to live in open sin defying the Word of God, if you choose to love false doctrine and deny your Lord, he will close the altar to you. He must, for your own good, lest you eat and drink to your own judgment and damnation. That’s his job.

And why all this? “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” We live in a world where Satan, the great thief, is active and strong. How much false and anti-Christian teaching is there out there? How many temptations to wickedness do we face? How many people teach salvation by works, throwing Christ to the side? How many people in the world say that what is bad and sinful is good and okay? These are all of the Devil, and they are all meant to steal away your confidence in Christ, to kill your faith, and to ultimately lead you to destruction in hell. But this is not what Christ desires for you, for He loves you, He has died to forgive your sin and He has been raised to ensure your life. And so, He sends to you a man, a pastor, your shepherd, who will stand here in this place and in the stead and by the command of that same Christ Jesus forgive you all your sins. Your pastor will come, sent by God, so that you might have Christ’s life and His life abundantly through the preaching of the Word and through the right and proper administration of the Sacraments. This is a wondrous blessing and God’s love to you. Amen. Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Messy Life

Life is messy. We want to try and make it nice and clean. We want to give short and clean principals and then we will have our guide to have life be neat and clean and smooth and everything will be nice. And as Christians... oh, if we just would obey God more and not do pet issue X (you know, the thing that you do that really annoys me), then everything in life would be wonderful. If we just follow the will of God, things will be better.

Um... not quite.

Seriously, not quite. We don't follow the Will of God in order to make things nice. You want evidence of that... um, how nice and clean was the life of Christ. Obeying the Father's will led to Him being crucified.

We don't follow God's will to make the world a better place... this world isn't a "better place" -- its full of sin and vice and horror. We strive to follow God's Will because we desire to do what is right.

And even this is messy. You know why? Because you are a sinner in a sinful world. Everything you do is tinged with sin and ulterior motives. Everything that the people you interact with do is sinful as well.

Seriously. Everything. Even your striving to do right... how much of that is self-righteousness, how much of that is contempt for those rotten people who just don't strive as hard as you do to follow God's will?

Do you want to know what God's will is? Do you want to know how to live according to God's law. Show love. Period. Simply as that - love God, love your neighbor. Every act, every thought must be for the good of your neighbor. Not with disdain towards them, not with condescension, not with superiority, but with love.

And you know what... you've never, ever had a thought like that. Not one that is completely pure. And neither have I.

This life is messy. It is a life full of death... and all the plans and simple checklists and protestations of what you can't do won't change that.

"Well, does this mean we just don't even try then?" Try for what? Try to perfect our neighbor, perfect ourselves? That's folly. No, we are to strive to love, to care, to point to Christ and beat down the passions of the flesh that get in the way... even those passions we want to think are okay because they fit in with the checklist I made.

All you do is sin, for you are a sinful being. Repent of it, repent of all your works, cast them down for the filthy rags that they are. And delight in Christ Jesus, for He has died for you.