Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Simple Quiz

Consider the last two verses of "Dear Christians, One and All, Rejoice" by Luther.

9 - "Now to My Father I depart, from earth to heav'n ascending.
And, heavn'ly wisdom to impart, the Holy Spirit sending;
In trouble He will comfort you and teach you always to be true
And into truth shall guide you.

10 - "What I on earth have done and taught guide all your life and teaching;
So shall the kingdom's work be wrought and honored in your preaching.
But watch lest foes with base alloy the heav'nly treasure should destroy;
This final word I leave you."

So, when you hear "heavn'ly wisdom", "teach you always to be true", "into truth shall guide you", "What I on earth have done and taught", "the kingdom's work", "the heav'nly treasure" -- what do you think of first?

Do you think of Christ Jesus and the salvation He has won... or do you think of instruction and exhortation to how to live a good life?

I'd contend that the answer ought to be Christ.  The plan of salvation is heavenly wisdom, He is the Truth, He is the one who won salvation, and the work of the Kingdom is the forgiveness of sin.

And as for the heavenly treasure - "He turned to me a Father's heart/ He did not choose the easy part/ but gave His dearest treasure."

It's a simple quiz - are you seeing Christ more and more or are you seeing your own action more and more?

Easter 5 Sermon

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) – Amen +
          There are times when I think, “You know, it would have been just wonderful if Jesus had just stayed on earth and ruled as an earthly king.”  There are times I wish I could see mighty miracles and wish I could pull fish out of the sea at Christ’s command – where I wish all the things I see in the gospel were happening right now in the same way that they were then.  If only Jesus were here running the show, living in a great big house in Jerusalem, then everything would be so much better – certainly better than wars and violence and storms and all the things that go on in this life.

          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.  And when I start thinking that way, God through His Word reminds me that I can be flat out dumb sometimes.  Okay, it would probably be more scriptural sounding to say that God reminds me that my ways are not His ways, and where was I when He laid the foundations of the earth.  Same basic thing.  Sometimes we look at this world here, and we see how messed up and nasty it is, and we think if only Jesus were here running around on earth, everyone would place nicely.  We forget that they didn’t play nicely while Jesus was in the middle of His earthly ministry.  John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin, gets beheaded while Jesus is around – well, I mean, they even put Jesus to death.  Now, Jesus could have brought about the end right after His resurrection– except none of us would have been around yet, so again, we ought to be thankful for His plan.

          It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you.  Jesus has something better planned for us.  Jesus knows the end of all things isn’t here yet – so He does something for our benefit.  He ascends to the Right Hand of God – exercises all authority on heaven and on earth – for our benefit.  And even more than that, He has sent the Helper, the Holy Spirit.  God has sent us His Spirit, so that through the Word by the Spirit we might have faith.
          When we get to thinking how nice it would be if Jesus had hung out after the resurrection for longer than 40 days, we end up forgetting what the main thing Jesus came to do was.  Jesus didn’t come to make everyone play nice.  He didn’t come to keep everyone in line.  Jesus didn’t come to make this world a better place – there’s a time and place for that – eternity and the life of the world to come.  We aren’t there yet.  No, for us here and now, Jesus came to win forgiveness for our sins.  That’s what we need here and now, that’s what we need for our lives out there in the world – we need faith that clings to Christ Jesus alone.  And so the Son sends us the Spirit.

          This is third article of the creed stuff – I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to Him.  That faith that I need – it’s not of my doing.  I can’t do it myself.  Even if Jesus were standing up in front of me I by my own strength couldn’t believe in Him or His forgiveness – for we walk by faith, not by sight.  No, for faith and forgiveness, I need help from outside myself.  But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified me and kept me in the true faith.  That’s quite the Helper there, isn’t it?  And note how the Helper does this.  How does the Holy Spirit work?  Do you just walk along and then the Spirit zap – pow! – and then you know stuff?  A little bird sits on your shoulder, a dove even, and starts whispering things in your ear?  Jesus tells us that all that the Spirit hears He will declare – All that comes from Christ, comes from the Word – the Spirit will make clear.  The Spirit is tied to the Word – the Spirit is tied to Scripture, the Spirit is tied to Water and the Word, the Spirit is tied to the Supper, and He makes these things plain and understandable to us – He shows us Christ therein and by that Word grants and builds up our faith.  Or as the Catechism put it, He has called me by the Gospel.

          Christ Jesus tells even tells us how the Holy Spirit will use that Word, what He will do with it.  And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.  We’ve got three things there, so let’s go through them.  First, convicting the world concerning sin.  Concerning sin, because they do not believe me.  Sometimes I think that we forget one simple thing.  All sin, every sin, boils down to unbelief.  Every sin hits 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 breaks that.  Every sin.  When Eve sins in the garden – it’s because she doesn’t believe God.  Did God really say – well, I suppose He said it but I don’t care – that’s unbelief.  David commits adultery with Bathsheba and kills Uriah, he knew better – that’s unbelief.  God tells Jonah to go to Ninevah and Jonah hops a boat the opposite direction – that’s unbelief.  And the same Word concerning sin the Spirit applies to you.  God warns us that we ought to be gentle and kind to one another, and yet we rage and show anger – that’s unbelief, just like Eve’s.  God tells us it is better to give than receive, and we take and take from our neighbor – that’s unbelief, just like David’s.  God tells us to go one way and we do the exact opposite – that’s unbelief, just like Jonah’s.  And when we fall into unbelief and folly, what does God’s Spirit do?  The Spirit doesn’t mollycoddle us, He doesn’t say, “Oh, that’s alright, you just do what you feel is right.” No, He convicts us concerning sin – He walks up to us and smacks us with the 2x4 of the Law.  What are you doing?  Stop that!

Now, we all know what this is – we’ve been trained as Lutherans to recognize this.  This is God showing us our sin with His Law.  And when we need it, which is often, the Spirit has no compunction about tanning our hides with the Law.  That’s one thing He does., but not the only thing.  The Spirit also speaks concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you will see me no longer.  Righteousness.  Doing that which is righteous.  The Holy Spirit speaks to that.  Now note this – when Jesus mentioned sin – He talked about people – the topic moved to people. Concerning sin, because they. . .  When Jesus mentions Righteousness though, the topic moves to Jesus.  Concerning Righteousness, because I go to the Father.  The Holy Spirit comes and talks about Righteousness.  Do you wish to know Righteousness, o sinner – then let’s talk about Jesus.  Who redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom.  That is righteousness. That God Himself is righteous, perfect, that He gives His own righteousness to us – that He sheds His blood upon the Cross and blots out that sin that the Holy Spirit had just brought up.  We know what this is – this is the Gospel.  And that is indeed the job of the Spirit – to point to Christ – to point to Christ and show what He has done for you.  In fact, that’s how you can know where the Church is, that’s how you can tell where the Holy Spirit is – not by how loud people are, or by clapping or barking or speaking gibber-jabber.  Is Christ and what He has done for you being pointed to above all things?  If so – the Holy Spirit is there.  Luther says that even a child can tell you where the Church is, where the Spirit is active – it’s where the Gospel is preached and where the Sacraments are rightly administered.  If Christ Crucified is proclaimed, if people are baptized for forgiveness, if the supper is placed upon the tongues of sinners needing forgiveness – there the Spirit is calling, gathering, enlightening and sanctifying the Church.  The Spirit points to Christ.  We know what this is – the Gospel.  The Spirit calls us by the Gospel.

And then there is the third thing – concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.  Well pastor – maybe you messed up.  You’ve got the two, Law and Gospel – but Jesus puts a third here.  Well, let’s look at Judgment.  What does Judgment do – when we speak of Judgment day – is that Law or Gospel?  I guess that depends now, doesn’t it?  For the unbeliever, for the one who continually rejects and ignores the Spirit’s proclamation of Law and Gospel, Christ’s return, Judgment day will indeed be the day of wrath, the day of mourning.  It is the day where the Spirit shows the finality of sin.  Go now into the fire that does not die.  Wow.  Now, for the believer, for those who have heard and believed the Law and the Gospel, what will Judgment day be?  See the nail marks in Christ’s hands?  You’ve already been judged in Christ; He did away with your sin.  Judgment day for the Christian is simply the confirmation that indeed, Christ’s righteousness has been applied to you, that the judgment is in and that you have been declared righteous and innocent for Christ’s sake.  And so the Holy Spirit speaks concerning Judgment – to let us know that this is real.  The Spirit speaks concerning judgment, because for the Christian in this life, we see terror and strife and pain and toil, and it can lead us to doubt.  The Spirit speaks concerning judgment – the ruler of this world is judged.  All that the world can throw at you can’t change the fact that Christ has died for you.  Or as Luther sings it, “This world’s prince my still, scowl fierce as he will. He can harm us none, He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him.”

 This is what the Spirit does – when we fall into error, He speaks of sin to show us our error and teaches us not to trust in our own works.  Then He speaks to us sweet Gospel, shows us Christ and all that He has done for us – and by this Word of the Gospel He creates in us faith, that we might cling to the Son in all things.  And when our days on this earth become long, when we look around and see wickedness and evil, and we get to wondering – the Spirit does speak of the judgment, to remind us that these things on earth do not last, that these sorrows we now face do not endure – but rather the final judgment awaits, the judgment where you, O Christian, will be declared innocent on account of Christ Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sake.  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.  And again,All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that He [that is, the Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you. Once again, Jesus knows what He is doing, and once again, what Jesus is doing is for our benefit.  All thanks be to Christ Jesus our resurrected Lord, that in all things He shows us Love and Mercy, that He gives us all that He has through His Word, and that He sends us His Spirit so that by the power of the Spirit we may hear the Word and believe, and believing have life in Christ’s Name.  Christ is Risen – He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia, Amen.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Where Should the Growth Be?

I'm not opposed to growth.  Really?  I'm not.  I just don't like having a focus on it because, well, first, focusing on growth doesn't give growth (no more than yelling at a plant will make it grow... now, watering it... that's something else).

But here is the bigger frustration.  So often I see a side-stepping of the commandments - where they are applied to the neighbor, but not to the self.

Don't use dirty words -- but what of how I use my own words as regards my neighbor?  And yet - that person over there isn't acting in a "sanctified" fashion.

You need to honor and respect the family... while we disdain other earthly authorities (because the if Paul knew how bad ________ was, he wouldn't have told us to pray for the Emperor... you know, Emperor Nero).

Those gays are trying to ruin marriage... while we turn a blind eye to the disdain that we show towards sexuality or marriage.

Of course, the rich are greedy... and by rich we mean anyone making more than us.  And let's not even get onto how lazy and greedy the poor are and how they just want more from the government (but you mean I might pay more in taxes...oh, how dare you!)

It's all... superficial.  It's not really getting down deep into the law - it's not focused on actually loving the neighbor and thinking about what that does mean.

Skim the surface and elevate the self... blech.

No.  Let's dive into the Law.  Let's have it curb, hammer, and guide us, all at the same time.  And then let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, sure that He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Bror Gets It

If you are interested, you might want to read Bror Erickson's take on Sanctification, New Obedience, the Holy Spirit, and lots of stuff.

Luther on Galatians 5:16

If we were pure of all sin, and if we burned with a perfect love toward God and our neighbor, then we would certainly be righteous and holy through love, and there would be nothing more that God could require of us. That does not happen in this present life but must be postponed until the life to come. We do indeed receive the gift and the first fruits of the Spirit here (Rom. 8:23), so that we do begin to love; but this is very feeble. If we loved God truly and perfectly, as the Law requires when it says (Deut. 6:5): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, etc.,” then poverty would be as pleasant for us as riches, sorrow the same as pleasure, death the same as life. Indeed, one who loved God truly and perfectly would not be able to live very long but would soon be devoured by his love. But human nature now is so submerged in sin that it cannot think or feel anything correct about God. It does not love God; it hates Him violently. Therefore, as John says (1 John 4:10), “not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the expiation for our sins.” And above (2:20): “Christ loved me and gave Himself for me”; and in the fourth chapter (vv. 4–5): “God sent forth His Son, born under the Law, to redeem those, etc.” When we have been redeemed and justified through this Son, we begin to love, as Paul says in Rom. 8:3–4, “What the Law could not do, in order that the just requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us,” that is, that it might begin to be fulfilled. Therefore what the sophists taught about the fulfillment of the Law is sheer imagination.
With the words “walk by the Spirit” Paul shows how he wants his earlier statements to be understood: “Through love be servants of one another” (5:13) and “Love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Rom. 13:10). It is as though he were saying: “When I command you to love one another, I am requiring of you that you walk by the Spirit. For I know that you will not fulfill the Law. Because sin clings to you as long as you live, it is impossible for you to fulfill the Law. But meanwhile take careful heed that you walk by the Spirit, that is, that by the Spirit you battle against the flesh and follow your spiritual desires.” Thus he has not forgotten the matter of justification. For when he commands them to walk by the Spirit, he clearly denies that works justify. It is as though he were saying: “When I speak about the fulfilling of the Law, I do not intend to say that we are justified by the Law. But what I am saying is that there are two contrary guides in you, the Spirit and the flesh. God has stirred up a conflict and fight in your body. For the Spirit struggles against the flesh, and the flesh against the Spirit. All I am requiring of you now—and, for that matter, all that you are able to produce—is that you follow the guidance of the Spirit and resist the guidance of the flesh. Obey the former, and fight against the latter! Therefore when I teach the Law and urge you on to mutual love, do not suppose that I have retracted the doctrine of faith and am now attributing justification to the Law or to love. What I mean to say is that you should walk by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the flesh.”
Therefore Paul uses his words with precision and care, as though he were saying: “We have not yet attained the fulfillment of the Law. Consequently, we must walk and be exercised by the Spirit, so that we think, say, and do what is of the Spirit and resist what is of the flesh.” This is why he adds: “And do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” It is as though he were saying: “The desires of the flesh are not yet dead, but they always sprout up to talk back and fight back against the Spirit.” No saint has a flesh so holy that when it is offended it would not rather bite and devour or at least subtract something from the commandment of love. Even at the first impact he cannot restrain himself from irritation with his neighbor, a desire for revenge, and hatred for him as though he were an enemy—or at least less love than he should have according to this commandment. This happens even to saints.
Therefore the apostle has established this as a rule for the saints: that they should be servants of one another through love, that they should bear one another’s weaknesses and burdens (6:2), and that they should forgive one another’s trespasses (Matt. 6:12–15). Without such ἐπιείκεια it is impossible for peace and concord to exist among Christians. It is unavoidable that you are offended frequently and that you offend in turn. You see much in me that offends you; and I, in turn, see much in you that I do not like. If one does not yield to the other through love on matters like this, there will be no end to the argument, discord, rivalry, and hostility. Therefore Paul wants us to walk by the Spirit, so that we do not gratify the desires of the flesh. It is as though he were saying: “Even though you are aroused to anger or envy against an offending brother or against someone who does something unkind to you, still resist and repress these feelings through the Spirit. Bear with his weakness, and love him, in accordance with the command: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ For your brother does not stop being your neighbor simply because he lapses or because he offends you, but that is the very time when he needs your love for him the most. The commandment ‘You shall love your neighbor’ makes the same requirement, namely, that you not submit to your flesh—which hates, bites, and devours when it is offended—but that you fight back at it by the Spirit and that through the Spirit you continue in your love for your neighbor, although you may find nothing in him that deserves your love.”
Luther, M. (1999, c1964). Vol. 27: Luther's works, vol. 27 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6; 1519, Chapters 1-6 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (27:64). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Co-operation... Where's the Wonder in That?

Apparently there is this great fear of some sort of new, bizarre wave of Lutheran theologians who deny that human beings cooperate with the Holy Spirit after regeneration in doing good works.

And apparently some think I am one of this bizarre wave.

Which I think is odd.  I mean, come on - I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.  I have life due to the Holy Spirit, and I do good.

But... where's the wonder in that.

I mean, by simple observation, I'm aware of being a thinking, acting being.  I do stuff all the time.  I make decisions.  That's mundane.  That's ho-hum.

But then, consider what we are taught in the Scriptures about what our life is -- it isn't just a summation of our actions or our decisions.  "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

THAT is something that is wondrous, that is something that is earth shaking.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives within me.  In the first chapter of Ephesians, it speaks of who we as Christians are "in Christ" 10 times!  That's wonder, that's amazing!

I mean... when I could talk about Christ, when I could behold Christ in all things... even behold Christ in my own actions to where I can say it's no longer about me but about Him - where everything that I do is nothing but a good work that God has created for me...

... why would I talk about me?  Christ Jesus is much cooler than me.  Pagans make decisions - but I, I am in Christ.  How is that for wonderful!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Someone Else's Final Thoughts on Sanctification

"For by a single offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified."  Hebrews 10:14

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Curse of Being Novel

I am so glad that I am not hip.  That I am not cool.  That I am not the flavor of the day.  Why?

Because, well, I'm a pastor.  It's my job to take the same old truth and apply it over and over and over again.  Being a pastor is going to be fundamentally repetative, because we preach Christ Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

But here's where the rub comes in.  What happens when you want to be hip or edgy.  What happens when you want to affect some sort of vibe that isn't you?

Chances are, you end up making stuff up.

Seriously, this is why I can't walk into a Christian bookstore without wanting to throw up.  I look at the various titles, and my first thought, "They are making stuff up!" 

Even theologians will do this to.  We want to get published, so we add a new, cool "adjective" here, or maybe a fancy preposition phrase, and suddenly, "Wow, look at my awesome insight."

I'd rather just talk about Jesus.

Because that way, I know what I'm going to do when I roll out of bed tomorrow... or a year from now, or 10 years from now. 

I'll never have to come up with a "second hit" or the next big thing.  I just point to Jesus.

While this doesn't excite my old adam (in fact, it down right torques him off), in this my new man rejoices, for in Christ I have forgiveness, peace, and joy.  And that's a good good thing.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Easter 4 sermon - John 16:16-22

          I was driving home from the Pastors’ Conference on Tuesday, and as I normally do, I was listening to Sports Radio – and it was right after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, and the host was almost in shock, and he asked, “How do you tell your kids that we live in a dangerous world, I don’t even want to think about that.”  That stood out to me, because Christ Jesus our Lord has never hidden from us, indeed, He continually reminds us that we do live in a dangerous, terrible world – a world where people will indeed rejoice when we suffer.  Indeed, the story of the Scriptures is the story of suffering in the world, from Adam and Eve all throughout the Old Testament.  Indeed, we as Christians know that Christ Jesus came to this world to share in our Sufferings, to take them up upon Himself, to win the victory over them.  But that doesn’t mean that moments in our lives won’t be filled with terror and fear and suffering in pain.

Jesus knows that, and Jesus prepares us for that, indeed, He teaches them how to endure.  In our Gospel text, our Lord is speaking to the disciples on Maundy Thursday, on the night before He is crucified, and He speaks these words to them – A little while and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me.”  When Jesus speaks these words to the disciples, they are confused.  They are bewildered.  What in the world is Jesus talking about?  Jesus continues – Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.  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.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”

Now, Jesus here is directly speaking to His crucifixion.  In a little while, just a few short hours, the soldiers will take Jesus away, and they will put Him to death.  And the disciples will weep, they will fear, all while the powers of the world rejoice over the fact that they have crucified this Jesus.  Yet, on the third day, the disciples see Christ again, and they rejoice, they have joy.  They see and understand the joy of Easter, it is theirs.  They have it, they see Christ resurrected, and the sorrows of the crucifixion are done away with by the joy of the resurrection and the life and salvation which it brings.

          So why do we read this now?  Why would the Holy Spirit have John include this in His Gospel?  What importance is this text, this passage to us living in 2013, to us who from our earliest times have been taught and shown the joyous resurrection of Easter?  Is it meant to simply be an example?  See, Jesus shows care and compassion, see He gently guides the disciples through hard times.  Well, it is a good example, and you would do well to imitate Christ Jesus your Lord in His love and compassion, you would do well to make your words sound like His Words.  But that is something we can see and learn whenever we look at Christ.  No, John here is teaching us something beyond just Christ’s example.  Through John, Christ Jesus speaks these words to you, so that you may know where joy is, where joy remains, even in the darkest and deepest times.

          You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  What Jesus says here is actually very elegant.  Jesus lays out a contrast for us – weeping and lamentation versus rejoicing.  And indeed, Christ’s words were an accurate description of what occurred on Good Friday.  Yet dear friends, what we are to remember is that they also accurately describe all too often your life in the world.  The world still rejoices while Christians weep and lament. There are persecutions still going on, churches bombed, places where people are threatened and intimidated for the faith.  Many Christians are weeping and lamenting this moment as the world enjoys its persecution of them.

          But what of you and your life?  What of your tears, what of your sorrows?  You have them, do you not?  You don’t have to have any ties to Boston or Texas in order to know pain and sorrow – I’m sure you have plenty of your own.  You mourn the loss of loved ones – and Satan cackles at your tears.  You feel aches and pains, you see your own body fall apart – and the lord of lies rejoices.  But even more than that – you struggle and toil in your life, and people throw hardships at you – and they rejoice at your suffering, they delight in making your life less.  Does that not all too often describe our lives?  If I asked, could not each one of you list off several people who seem to delight in making your life harder – who seem to delight in aggravating you, berating you, and generally being an annoyance?  You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  This is nothing new, for ever since the fall it has been the way of the sinful world to be a dog eat dog place, where people are selfish and desire to dominate and control their neighbor, who demand their own way at their neighbor’s expense.  Do we ourselves not even fall into this on occasion, do we not feel our own flesh cry out to lash out, to strike back in anger?  Do we not often join in the world’s wicked rejoicing as we cause our neighbor to suffer?

          It’s a nasty, vicious cycle, isn’t it?  Someone hurts us, we hurt them in return.  Soon we aren’t speaking.  Someone bosses us around, we show them in return who’s boss, and then all thoughts of love are gone, and all that remains is power and having things done my way.  Someone insults us, we insult them back, and pain and suffering grows and multiplies.  Someone does something we don’t like, and so we do something they don’t like, and all becomes petty.  Things can turn nasty quickly, can’t they, in this sinful fallen world when we play along with the world’s rules.

          So how is this cycle broken?  How do we get out of it?  Whether we are down over the trials and sorrows of our life, or whether we are caught in those nasty fights that all too often happen, how are these cycles broken?  Christ our Lord tells us.  You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice.  You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy.  Why?  How will we have joy?  A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while and you will see me.  So often, when we look at our suffering, when we focus on our own pain – who are we not focusing on?  When we lament our lives, when we lament how unjustly we are treated, who are we not seeing?  We aren’t seeing Jesus.  The answer to how these cycles are broken is for the Christian to behold Christ.  Are you suffering?  Behold Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Did He not suffer more than you?  And yet He rose, and so shall you.  Do those who should be your friends despise you, treat you unkindly?  Was not Jesus betrayed by a kiss from His friend, His bosom companion?  And yet, Christ rose, and so shall you.  Our thoughts as Christians, as the very name Christian would imply, are to be upon Christ.  Draw out the contrast for yourself.  When you are hurt, when you are angry, are you thinking of Christ or of yourself?  When you seek vengeance, when you seek your own way, are you thinking of Christ or of yourself?  Of course at those moments of darkness you are not thinking of Christ, for God is love, and if you were focused upon Christ you would be filled with love.  Be focused on Christ – that is how to put an end to the cycle of misery.  Be focused on Christ, and view your own sufferings as simply a participation in His, let your own sufferings point you to Christ, for as Peter says, For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”  Be focused on Christ, and as Peter says, abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war on your soul.”  When this happens, when you see Christ in all things, when you see Christ in all times and in all places, you will have joy, joy that no one can take away from you for no matter what happens to you, Christ Jesus is yours.

            But how does this happen?  How does this come about?  How can your eyes see Jesus when you are surrounded by so much, so much pain, so much sorrow, so many who would do you wrong?  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and all too often we see not Christ, but rather simply pain.  Hear again what our Lord teaches us in the Gospel.  So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.  Our eyes wander, they flit and twist and often go astray.  We know well our own wandering eye.  Yet what does Christ say?  Christ says, “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice.”  Christ Jesus sees you, and He will give you joy.  Christ Jesus sees you, and He will draw your eyes unto Himself so that you see Him and Him alone.  Christ Jesus sees you, and He holds up His hands to show you the nail marks, shows you the spear hole in His side and says, “I have suffered all for your sake, and you are forgiven.  I have suffered all for your sake, and you conquer all.”  Christ sees you – and He continually sees you.  When you were Baptized, Christ saw you, saw you by the power of water and the Word as His own brother.  Even now this instant, He sees you as the Baptized, for you have Christ’s own name applied to you.  He sees you through His Word, for indeed He comes to you by the Word and says, “Behold all that I have done for you my beloved – I am with you even to the end of the age.”  He sees you and brings you to His altar.  Here, take and eat, let me give you my own Body to help your body endure in the face of its suffering.  Here, take and drink, let me give you my own Blood so that your blood might no longer run hot with anger but rather with the forgiveness which was won when this very blood poured from my side.  Christ sees you, sees you in the midst of your struggles, and He has compassion upon you, and draws your eyes to Him over and over again.

          Dear friends – in this world we all too often suffer.  We might try to forget that suffering happens, we might try to live in blissful denial, but no, we know what this world is like.  Indeed, often enough our own sin makes things worse for our neighbor.  But Christ our Lord beholds us, and draws our eyes to Him that we may be forgiven, and that being forgiven and seeing Him, in all things rejoice. This is true, and it stands out over everything else in the world.  Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Another Little Post on "Sanctification"

Thomas Messer absolutely NAILS it.

Check it out here.  Seriously.  Awesome read.

Where to Hang our Hat

Where do we Christians in America get to hang our hats?  Where do we get to point, to demonstrate that we are in fact good Christians?

Can we point to the fact that we suffer such persecution?  Admit it, you've probably heard people talk about how Christians are getting picked on, or how if gay marriage passes we might have some pastors end up in jail...

But that's not persecution.  Not really.

Can we point to how we have positively shaped the culture?  Sex, violence, abortion - our vaunted Christian culture is disdained by theists around the world. 

Can we point to our works - how we are growing and progressing?  Well, we live in the richest culture in the world, and yet how stingy do we remain.  James tells us that love is to aid widows and orphans, and most of us conservative types are more worried about having to pay extra taxes... ("Hey, government policies aren't the best way to help!" - fair enough, but where are the programs that we organize ourselves).  No, instead of increased love for the neighbor, if we look honestly we see increased disdain -- especailly those who aren't as "Christian" as we are because they are ruining our culture.

Where do we hang our hat?

We must hang it on Christ.

Maybe we will see the thorns around us, and instead of glorying in how sharp and pointy (and obviously blessed by God they are), we will cling again to Christ and Him alone.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dr. Veith Nails it.

Dr. Veith nails it -- the key is always to look at Vocation.

His full article is here.

"Vocation is where sanctification happens, where we exercise our faith, where we battle with sin, where we grow “in faith towards you [God], and in fervent love for one another” (as it says at the end of the liturgy, when we are sent back into our vocations)."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Jesus and the Rich Young Man

And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’” 21 And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” 22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.23 But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. - Luke 18:18-23

The rich young ruler thought that he was well accomplished.  That he had done the commandments well.  That he was, for lack of a better word, good.

Contrast this with Christ Jesus.  When He is called good, He asks, "Why do you call Me good?  No one is good except God alone."  Even Christ Jesus, who is equal with the Father, does not grasp or cling to this -- and He brushes off His own works.  Why call Me good -- you aren't confessing that I am God, so don't say that.

If Christ Jesus, My Lord and Savior, is thus so hesitant to call even Himself "good", how could I dare to ever look at my own works and say, "I am progressing... I am more good today than I was yesterday!"

Vanity of Vanities, all is Vanity! 

Reverse Progress?

The following is taken from here - a post by Matt Richard

In thinking about the prophet Isaiah for a moment, what happened to him as he saw the the Lord sitting on the throne? (See: Isaiah 6:1-7) Answer, he realized his sinfulness. In other words, something profound happens as God moves in on us and that is what John Kleinig calls "Reverse Progress." You see, this idea of progress in sanctification is not the movement of the Christian upon holiness, but the movement of the Holy One upon the Christian. As God continually moves in on us, striking us down and binding us up (Hosea 6:1), "...we move away from pride in ourselves and our own achievements to a gradual awareness of our spiritual failure and Christ's work in us as we entrust ourselves to Him. We move away the conviction that we are self-sufficient to the repeated experience of spiritual bankruptcy. We move on from delusions of our spiritual importance to a growing sense of our utter insignificance and the glory of God. We move on from delight in our own power to the painful recognition of our spiritual weakness. We are brought from our self-righteousness to the increasing consciousness that we are sinful."

Kleinig goes on to say, "In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually. On our journey we become more and more dependent on Christ for everything in every situation. We do not then proceed from childhood to adulthood; we move forward into spiritual childhood as we grow in faith and become people of prayer... As we mature in faith we learn to borrow all that we need and all that we are from Christ. Only as beggars do we have access to the Father's presence and His grace. Only as we receive grace upon grace from His fullness can we praise Him in the heavenly choir."

In summary Kleinig states that this idea of reverse progress is a lifelong journey where our, "...whole life is a process of conversion from ourselves to God, a dying to self that is complete only when we die."

We are beggars, this is most certainly true. What do we have that has not been given to us? (Matthew 5:3 & 1 Corinthians 4:7)

John Kleinig quotes from above are take from: Grace Upon Grace (CPH, 2008), 34-35.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

I'll see the Progress you want and Raise you true "Progress"

Here is the main problem I have with so many who are calling for "Progress" in Sanctification.  They really aren't calling for progress, they aren't really calling for growth -- they are calling for someone else to not annoy them with some quirk or thing that they dislike.

I know a man who in his youth was a junkie, an atheist drug addict who was utterly destructive.  Now, by the grace of God, he is not only a Christian, but a pastor who is faithful, who zealously preaches the Gospel.  The man who was totally selfish now cannot stand to hear anything about how good he is, but insists that everything be about Christ and how good Christ is.

What growth granted by God!

Yet - do the folks clamoring for "Growth" in Sanctification celebrate this man?  Do they even point to him himself - look at how you have grown, there is an example of growth in Sanctification!

Nope.  They disdain him, write him off.  He is the example of one who has not grown in Sanctification... because he is not up to their standards.  He's too coarse, perhaps.  Or he isn't as patient as they would like.

Now - if you look upon this one with disdain, as one lacking growth... why should I listen to anything you have to say at all upon the topic of growth?

Now, me myself - I cannot remember a time when I was not in the Church.  The trials I have faced have not been near what this man has - yet with him I will say gladly that Christ Jesus is my justification, my sanctification, my life.  To God alone be the glory.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dirty Words, Vulgarity, and Pious Disdain

I will admit it.  I'm not offended by most "dirty words".

Oh, I know many people are, so I'm not going to use them at folks - but not because there is something magical and mysterious about certain combinations of letters that make them bad, but because... I don't want to use the gift of language to harm and to hurt.

And that's the thing that I see missing from so many discussions on dirty words or vulgarity.  There's no sense of context, and not only that, there is a certain - pious disdain for those who would dare to use any sort of coarse language.  There's even the insinuation that one who uses such language can't be a Christian, isn't sanctified.

So, tell me, which of these is the greater insult.

1.  You are a blankety-blank.

2.  You are unholy and bound for hell.

You might not actually say, "God Damn you", but you're basically saying, "I hope God realizes how lousy you are and sends you to hell."

Of course, some of this is my own history, my own experience.  The vulgar, the coarse - eh, often its ignorance or anger... neither of which is good, but they are what they are.

No, the times I have been most hurt, most wounded by what someone said was never by the dirty or vulgar words... it was by the words of the seemingly pious, saying things that sounded so nice, but were said to cut to the quick, said to show that they were better than me and that I was worthless.

Your cruel and pious disdain is wrong... those are truly dirty words, even if a vulgarity touches not your lips.  You do not build up and give life, you do not speak peace and forgiveness... instead, you speak with a forked golden tongue, breathing murder and death to the weak and frail conscience.

I'd rather have someone tell me to F-off than speak and make me question my salvation.  The latter is much, much worse.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Fantastic insight

When Lutherans slip from being Lutherans, they slip back into what they were just before, that is, Augustinians - sanctification in the way of the Law. There are always two ways of going wrong, each way of going wrong and its opposite. To do no more than contradict what is wrong is to make the same error in reverse. Thus, "it is all works and faith has nothing to do with it" is contradicted by "it is all faith and works have nothing to do with it." Neither James nor Paul say either of these. Nor do they do fractions to a compromise: part faith, part works. No. It is all Jesus.

-- Dr. Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons, p. 218.

Is versus Should

There is a terrible, subtle way of introducing either doubt or self-condfident, holier-than thou hypocrisy into the Christian faith, and that is swapping "is" for "should".

Consider the following verse: But the fruit of the Spirit IS love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. - Galatians 5:22-24

Note the "mood" of the verb.  This is describing reality.  This IS the fruit of the Spirit.  That's just the way it is.  This IS what the Spirit produces.

Yet how often, when talking about these things, do we end up hearing a "should".  If you are a Christian, you should show forth these fruits -- so on and so forth.

Instead of having a statement of reality, what is -- suddenly there is a should, something that may or may not be....  And then there is doubt.

Or consider this one:
I AM the vine; you ARE the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it IS that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. - John 15:6

Again, this is a verse describing reality.  You are in Christ, then there is fruit.  That's how it is.  That's the promise.  Christ Jesus will produce in you.

There is no should.  There is no finger wagging.  Where there is Christ - there is fruit.  Where there is no Christ, no fruit.

The constant harping of "should" neglects the reality of what Christ *has* done (reality), and tries to put man in control once again... let me tell you what you should do.

You are a new creation in Christ.  You will do good, for you are His own, and He gives you life, and life abundantly.  Will you see and understand this more and more - mayhaps.  But that doesn't change the reality - He has claimed you as His own in Baptism, He has washed you and presented you as His own bride, without blemish or spot.

And that is reality.  Not a mere depiction of what might be if you happen to work hard enough.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Easter 3 Sermon

Easter 3 – John 10:11-16 – April 14th, 2013

Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen
          I am going to go back one verse earlier than our Gospel lesson – I could go back more because John 10 begins with this discussion on sheep and the Good Shepherd, but let’s content ourselves with just one.  John 10:10 reads as follows: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  The old thief, the old wolf has been hounding us since the garden.  Satan has been stealing and snatching and killing and destroying since then.  And God will not let that stand.  God is not content to simply let Satan mess with you, not content to let Satan snatch you away from His Kingdom, not content to let Satan lead you into destructive sin and vice, not content to merely let you die.  And so, Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd comes.  And why?  So that you may have life, so that you may have it abundantly. 

And then we get to our Gospel text.  How are you to have life?  How are you to be rescued from Satan who would do you such harm?  “I Am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  What an odd thing.  What a strange thing.  And of course it is strange, it is the mystery of the ages.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  To our cold and calculating human mind, this verse seems strange.  Think about it – you’ve got cattle, and of course you want to protect them… but are you really going to die protecting them?  If the pack of coyotes comes, are you going to let them chew and gnaw on you so that that cow of yours lives?  Defend, protect what is ours, we get that.  But literally to lay down your life for… that makes no sense.

It made no sense to Satan on Good Friday either.  There was Christ Jesus upon the Cross, laying down His life.  When He could have come down, when He could have run away.  That is what Satan had been used to since the fall – “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and flees, and the wolf snatches and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”  That’s your description of the history of the world since the fall.  Satan entered the garden, and Adam suddenly stopped caring for Eve – It’s her fault God, it’s the woman You gave me who messed this up.  Adam cared little for her, take her instead of me.  Cain would ask, “am I my brother’s keeper”?  I care nothing for him, God, and why should I?  And on and on through the Old Testament we could go – we see examples of selfishness and disdain of the neighbor over and over and over.  We see it all over, even in the New Testament, whenever we see someone other than Christ.  And to be honest, we see it in ourselves.  None of us here has to think too hard to think about the times we have been selfish, where we have cared more about ourselves than our neighbors, when we have let someone else suffer rather than suffering in their place.  They aren’t my problem, why should I bother?  And so Satan was used to jumping in, stealing us away from one another, scattering us, killing our friendships and loves and relationships, while we would run in terror.  Satan was used to us men fleeing at his approach.

And then, there is Christ.  He doesn’t flee.  He doesn’t run away.  He doesn’t let Himself be scattered.  Instead, when the wolf comes He steps forward and says, “Here you go, wolf, take a big giant bite out of Me.”  And He lays down His life.  He suffers and dies.  Why?  Because He wants you to live, to have life abundantly.  See, the lie, the myth that sinful man believes is that if he can just keep running, he can outrun sin and death and the devil.  Let Satan gobble that sheep over there, and he won’t be hungry anymore, and I can get away.  What’s the old joke – “two guys stumble across an angry bear in the woods, and the one guy starts to tie his shoes tightly.  Why are you doing that, you aren’t going to out run the bear?  I don’t have to out run the bear, I just have to out run you.”  That’s how we think – these tough times might get them, but as long as I get through it, it will be fine.  We will be callous and cutthroat to survive in the short term – but we forget the simple truth.  Satan is relentless.  Sin doesn’t stop.  Run away, seek to save and serve yourself, and it gets you no where.  You still end up the same as everyone else – dead.  You run the rat race for riches – you still can’t take it with you.  He who dies with the most toys, still dies.  Because Satan is relentless, and if left to ourselves, well, with might of ours could naught be done – soon were our loss effected.

But then Christ comes, and He lays down His life for the sheep.  Instead of running, instead of hoping that the wolf will snack on the neighbor so that He could maybe make it until tomorrow (when the wolf will just be back for more) – Christ Jesus goes to the cross – and there on the cross He gives death a meal that it can’t swallow.  He gives Satan more than He can chew on.  Jesus lays down His life, and then, He rises again on the third day.  Death is destroyed, Satan is wrecked.  And you now have life – not a life where you simply scramble and hope to survive just a bit longer than your neighbor – but life, life abundantly.  Life that lasts through all eternity.  Even if Satan still scowls fiercely, even if your flesh and the world grouse and complain – you know the truth.  That Christ Jesus has died for you, that He has risen for you, and that in Him you have life.  And Satan can’t change that fact.  There is nothing that Satan can do that will stop the fact that on the last day you will rise again.  There is nothing the world can do to change the fact that Christ Jesus has died for you and that you are His and that He loves you.  The Good Shepherd is your Shepherd, and He has laid down His life for you.

          “I Am the Good Shepherd.  I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the Sheep.”  You know who this Good Shepherd is, for you are His own.  You belong to Him, and you know, you have heard that He has laid down His life for you.  He has claimed you as His own through the preaching of the Gospel – the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith – that faith which clings to Christ Jesus who has laid down His life for you.  This is the heart of the faith, the heart of how you relate to God.  Christ Jesus has laid down His life for you – and it worked.  You are His, you are forgiven, and He uses you to accomplish His good now amongst your neighbors.  This is true.  This is real.

And Christ continues, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice.  So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.”  Now this is where for too many preachers, the bait and switch comes in.  This is where suddenly all the nice stuff about Jesus goes away and you get the lecture about what you need to do.  Alright, go find those other sheep, people, go, work, work, work!  But is that what Jesus said?  No.  Jesus said, “I must bring them.”  What Jesus speaks here isn’t a command – it isn’t marching orders, it isn’t finger wagging.  It is a promise of what He will do.  He will gather His Sheep by the power of His voice, the power of His Word.  The Church will continue.  Now, humanly speaking, this may happen through us.  I baptized by son, but is that *me* - Eric Brown growing the Church, or is that Jesus gathering His own sheep?  You speak the Gospel to a friend – but is that *you* growing the Church, or is that Christ speaking through you to accomplish what He wills?  You see, this passage isn’t meant to be a burden, it isn’t about “you need to do more” – and if someone beats you over the head with this, they are off.  No, it is a promise – that just as you have been called by the Gospel, so too others will be.  Perhaps even through God working through you – either way, it’s God at work, God in action, to Him alone be the glory.  Christ Jesus will gather His sheep, and there will be one flock, and we will all together be under Christ.   For He is our Good Shepherd, and He indeed gathers and brings His Sheep peace.

And so, my dear Christians friends, we know and have seen that Christ’s Words are true.  He has laid down His life for the sheep, and He has taken it up again.  In Christ Jesus, you do have life and life abundantly, for He has called and gathered you into His flock, and His voice still rings out to you this day, saying peace be with you, forgiving your sins, giving you life.  This is the joy and triumph of Easter, this is the Victory that is yours in Christ, and it shall be yours forever, for you belong to Christ.  Amen.  Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"The Quest for Holiness"

I've started to reread Koberle's book "The Quest for Holiness".

Actually, that's not the real title.  The real title in German is "Justification and Sanctification".  It was just assumed that a book with that title wouldn't really sell in the US back in the day (or even today).


They were probably right.

As Americans we love our holiness.  It's part of our heritage.  We talk about how we are the land of Religious Freedom, where folks could escape persecution.  Well, let's think about that.  Our religious heritage is made up of Puritans and Quakers and even Lutherans who were all sure of one thing -- "I'm right, and not only am I right, I am going to be up in everyone else's face about it so they KNOW that *I AM* right."

We love having people know that we are religiously correct - we love demonstrating that we are "holy" -- and quite often holier than the person over there... whether over there is across the pond or the church across town.

And this is sad.  John the Baptist said to his disciples (who were worried about the rising popularity of Jesus), "I must decrease that He may increase."  It was not about John - who even though he was THE holy man - eh, not about me.  It is about Christ - He is the true Holy One, and He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Do we ever talk about how we want more Jesus?

Or is it we want to show ourselves to be more and more holy?

Ah well, thus is life in a fallen world.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A bit of Luther by way of Pieper and Pastor Juhl...

Pastor David Juhl put this note on Facebook.  It is a Luther quote which Pieper cites:

A righteous man sins in all his good works.

This article annoys the great saints of work-righteousness, who place their trust not in God’s mercy, but in their own righteousness, that is, on sand. What happened to the house built on sand in Matt. 7[:26] will also happen to them. But a godly Christian ought to learn and know that all his good works are inadequate and insufficient in the sight of God. In the company of all the dear saints he ought to despair of his own works and rely solely on the mercy of God, putting all confidence and trust in him. Therefore we want to establish this article very firmly and see what the dear saints have to say about it.

Isaiah 64[:6] says, “We are all of us unclean, and all our righteousness is as a filthy stinking rag.” You notice that the prophet makes no exceptions. He says, “We are all of us unclean,” yet he himself was a holy prophet. Again, if our righteousness is unclean and stinking before God, what will our unrighteousness be? Moreover, he says “all righteousness,” making no exception. Now, if there is such a thing as a good work without sin, this prophet lies, which God forbid! Is not this passage from Isaiah sufficiently clear? Why then do they condemn my article, which says nothing but what Isaiah says? But we are glad to be condemned along with this holy prophet.

Again, Solomon says in Eccles. 7[:20], “There is no man on earth so righteous that he does good and sins not.” I trust this passage is clear enough, and it corresponds with my article almost word for word. And now, since Solomon is here condemned, look, his father David must also be condemned. He says in Ps. 143[:2], “Lord, enter not into judgment with me, thy servant, for no man living is righteous before thee.” Now, who is God’s servant but the man who does good works? How, then, does it happen that this very man cannot face God’s judgment? Surely God’s judgment is not unjust. If a work were actually altogether good and without sin, it would not flee God’s iust judgment. The defect, then, must of necessity be in the work, which is not pure. It is for this reason that no man living is justified in God’s sight and all men need his mercy, even in their good works. Here you papists have an opportunity to show your learning—not merely by inventing bulls, but by answering such passages of Scripture.

Back in the first two articles I have shown that all the saints struggle against their sinful flesh, and continue to be sinners as long as they live in the flesh which is at war with the spirit. At one and the same time, they serve God according to the spirit, and sin according to the flesh. If, then, a godly man is at the same time justified by reason of the spirit, and sinful by reason of the flesh, his work must certainly be like the person, the fruit like the tree. In so far as the spirit participates in the work, it is good; in so far as the flesh participates in it, it is evil....

But if they say here, as they always do, “Yes, but this impurity is not sin but rather an imperfection, or weakness, or defect,” my reply is that it is indeed a defect and a weakness, but if that is not sin I am prepared to say that murder and adultery are not sins either but only defects and weaknesses. Who has given you papists the power to twist God’s Word and to call the impurity of a good work weakness and not sin? Where is there a single letter of Scripture supporting your side? Must we believe your nightmares, unsubstantiated by Scripture, when you refuse to believe our clear texts?...

If, then, David says that even God’s servants cannot face his judgment and no man living is justified in his sight, then this weakness must certainly be sin, and he who will not allow that any living man is justified in his sight includes most certainly also those who walk in good works. Unless, of course, they are neither “men” nor “living.”

Augustine says in his Confessions IX, “Woe unto every human life, even the most praiseworthy, were it to be judged without mercy.” Look how this great heretic, St. Augustine, speaks brazenly and sacrilegiously against this holy bull. Not only does he attribute sin to a good life, but he condemns even the very best life, which doubtlessly abounds in good works, as though it were nothing but mortal sin, if judged without mercy. O, St. Augustine, are you not afraid of the most holy father pope?

St. Gregory, too, speaks of that holy man Job and says, quoting Job 9[:8], “Job, that holy man, saw that all our good works are nothing but sin, if God should judge them. Therefore he said, ‘If one wished to contend with God, one could not answer him once in a thousand times.’ ” Gregory, how can you say this? How dare you say that all our good works are nothing but sin? Now you are under the pope’s ban, and a heretic far worse than Luther. For he only says that there is sin in all good works; you make them out to be nothing but sin.

If these passages do not help to substantiate my article, then may God help it! I would much rather be condemned with Isaiah, David, Solomon, Paul, Augustine, and Gregory, than praised with the pope and all the bishops and papists, even though all the world were made up of pope, bishops, and papists. Blessed is he who should die for this cause!

LW 32:83-86 (from "Defense and Explanation of All The Articles", 1521). Quoted in Franz Pieper, "Christian Dogmatics", 3:35-37

A quote from Pieper

"In view of the Scriptural requirement of perfect sanctification, the Christian will ask: 'Who, then, can be saved?' Christ tells him, 'With me this is impossible, but with God all things are possible," (Matt. 19:25-26). Nothing makes Christians so conscious of their daily deficiencies as the earnest striving for perfection. And when they acknowledge and confess their daily shortcomings before God, they flee for refuge to divine grace, knowing that the grace of God takes no account of the Law and human works, of our daily success or failure in sanctification and good works. Only by keeping Law and Gospel separate could the Apostle, on the one hand, be fully assured of grace and salvation, Romans 8:37-39, and, on the other hand, require unsparing self-denial, 1 Cor. 9:27. The whole life of the Christian thus becomes a daily repentance. The more sincerely Christians daily endeavor to rid themselves of all they have and to serve God alone in all their works, the better they learn to know the abysmal sinful depravity which clings to them, and the more earnestly they will daily implore the free grace of God in Christ. And since they are no more under the Law, but under grace (Romans 6:14), they daily begin anew their struggle to attain perfect sanctification, deploring their many failures ('O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'), but, at the same time, being assured of their ultimate victory ('I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord,' Romans 7:24-25). Striving after perfect sanctification, the Christian thus leads a life of daily repentance (poenitentia quotidiana, poenitentia stantium [daily repentance, standing repentance])."

- Franz Pieper, "Christian Dogmatics", 3:34
 Show me how you are growing and getting better, and I will think of how much more I need to repent.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

I'll See Your "Sanctification" and Raise You My Sin

"Don't you realize as a Christian you are supposed to progress in your sanctification?"

"Don't you know you are always supposed to be getting better and better?"

"Don't you understand that you are supposed to be doing more?"

"Talk is cheap, now show me!"

Thus rings out the common refrain.  There must be growth - so you better get to growing.  Show me your works more and more -- and of course, the implied, "see me and how I have grown."

... sigh.

Here is my simple question for all these folks who go on and on about this growth in sanctification -- who in Scripture talks this way?

Consider Paul.  Does he talk about progress in sanctification?  Quite the opposite - oh, he *was* the Pharisee of pharisees and blameless... but now he says that he *is* (not was) the chief of sinners.  Oh, he's Paul, he can say that he's worked harder than any of them... but when he sees himself he cries out "Who will save me from this body of death!"

See, here's the thing that all these progressive sanctification folks mess up.  When they want to find growth and maturity... they look for "good works"... when Paul would have you see more and more the depths of your sin.

Let me use an analogy from the Sports World.

When I was in High School - I was on the golf team.  I'd shoot maybe around a 42 for 9 holes.  If I shot 40, I was happy.

Now, let us say that I continued my golfing prowess and became pro -- and let us say that I shoot even par, 72.  Do I look at that and say, "Ah, see how much better I am now than I was" -- or as a pro, do I dissect and evaluate my game even more... do I see more and more the strokes I gave back because I should have shot 68?

As I grow - my standards become higher.

As you grow in the faith, as you understand the more and more the wisdom of God and His Law -- your standards will be higher.  And you will see your sin more and more.

And if you are sitting thinking how much better you are now -- you haven't raised your standards.  You are, as Paul would put it, still thinking like a child.  You aren't maturing, you aren't examining yourself... you are stroking your own pride.

Someone might say, objectively, that I am a nicer guy now than I was, that I am a better this or that now than I was 10 years ago... and I say, "What of that?  I know my sin, and it is ever before me.  Thanks be to God for His mercy, for I am seeing more and more just how gracious He is to me."

Because you would think that growth in *faith* would be tied to understanding more and more how great Jesus is... but no, let's talk about how I'm becoming a better man.

Vanities of Vanities, all is Vanity!


S.D.G.  Soli Deo Gloria.  To God Alone be the Glory

This is another thing most Lutherans today don't seem to believe anymore.

I don't say this to be mean, but I do find it interesting how if I write about how God does something, how God forgives, how God gives life -- the question suddenly becomes "what about what I do?"  Aren't I supposed to do good works?  Aren't I supposed to grow knowledge?  Aren't I supposed to be  a good example?

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." - 1 Corinthians 15:10

Do we see what Paul does here?  Well, yes, from a human perspective, he works hard, he does a ton of stuff... but that's not the real focus, the main thrust.  Behold what God has done in making Paul... Paul.  Even what Paul does - no, that credit must go to God.

To God alone be the glory.

I mean, I guess we could spend our time pondering the life and growth of Paul... but that misses the point.  I mean, I suppose, I would hope that I've grown in knowledge and wisdom (I think this is a good thing), but the point ought never be "see, I have grown" - but rather, "Behold Christ Jesus."  If I have become a better preacher... do I not still preach Christ?  If I become a better teacher... do I not still teach Christ?  If I worker harder... is it still not Christ who does this all in and through me?

So why focus on... me?

But Paul says that we are to imitate him in 1 Corinthians 11!  Why?  Not because he is "Paul" - but because he imitates Christ.  Again, always to Christ.

But what of my works?  Are we not to be the salt of the earth?  Are we not a city on a hill?  Yeah - but finish off that little section of the Sermon on the Mount - "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

To God alone be the glory.  Not to you.  

Really.  It doesn't have to be about your actions at all.

But consider the great lives of faith and example that we have... yes, consider them, but consider them how Hebrews would have you consider them.  "
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God."
Yes - like them, we will look to Jesus.  And you know what He is?  The author, the founder, the creator of our faith.  He is the one who perfects it, who brings it about in us and completes it.

Your faith is still about Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Easter 2 Sermon

April 7th – Easter 2 – John 20:19-31
Christ is Risen (He is Risen indeed, Alleluia) Amen +

          Dear friends in Christ, when we think of Easter, we tend to think of happiness and joy, don’t we?  When we think of Easter, this is what we think of, we think of the empty tomb with joy, we think of Christ our Risen King with that good, Christian Happiness.  So doesn’t it strike you as odd, as it at first strikes me as odd whenever I read our Gospel, that the very evening of Easter – having seen the empty tomb, having been told by Mary Magdalene that Jesus is risen, that the Disciples are huddled in a locked room, hiding for fear of the Jews as Scripture says?  Joy and happiness, hiding and fear.  What bigger clash of ideas and feelings and attitudes and emotions could there be?  Yet this is what we see in our Gospel text.

          I think sometimes we give Thomas a bad rap, Thomas gets the short end of the stick when we call him “doubting Thomas”.  It’s not just Thomas who doubts.  Look, the other disciples are there, hiding out in a room.  Mary, you say Jesus has risen, um. . . we’re not buying that.  Um, we’ll just hole up over here.  The disciples are full of doubt, full of disbelief, and so there they are, holed up and anxiously passing the night away, dreading the knock on the door that would be the soldiers coming to take them away.  The Sabbath is over, the High Priests can start their round up of the rest of that Jesus rabble can begin.  They are afraid, and their fears are quite reasonable, quite rational. 

          And then Jesus is there.  And did you note this. . . He doesn’t knock, He doesn’t ask politely to come in, the disciples don’t have to open the door to Jesus and ask Him in. . . He’s simply there.  In His Body.  Do you see what this shows us about Jesus, what this shows us about our Resurrected Lord?  First, it shows that He has begun His reign; this is Christ Exulted.  He is God, and He will go where He wants. . . yet He is still Man – see His hands, see His side.  Here we get of glimpse of what Jesus is like right now, we see True God and True Man in one Jesus.  But it also shows us something else important about Christ, something that we cannot emphasize enough.  Our salvation isn’t about what we do, what we decide.  We aren’t saved because we are brave and good and do what God wants.  The Disciples certainly weren’t brave and good here.  Nor are we saved because we decided to follow Christ, because we ask Jesus into our hearts – the Disciples don’t ask Jesus in, He simply shows up.  This is the way God works. . . our God isn’t some passive Being who just sits around until we tell Him what to do – our God is active – He is a Living God who comes into our lives, comes in by His most Holy Word.

          Do you see Jesus being active here?  He shows up, and then He speaks.  Peace be with you.  When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side.  Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  This is what Christ is about, this is what His whole life is about.  There, before the Disciples stands God Almighty, the Word of God, the One by Whom all things were made, the One whom we are to Fear, love, and trust in above all others – and He says Peace.  The strife is over, the battle done.  Adam’s sin, Adam’s rebellion that you have made your own by your sin, God Himself has taken care of it.  God comes into the fallen world and makes things right, wins for us salvation, ends the fight we were in with God.  This is what Jesus does, this is what He is about, and this is why He can announce to the Disciples that there is Peace.  There is nothing stronger than Him, not the High Priests, not even death – see, He is risen – Peace be with you.

          And then did you note what Jesus does next?  Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent Me, even so I am sending you.”  And when He said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven; if you without forgiveness from anyone, it is withheld.”  Jesus doesn’t just want the Disciples to be the only ones who knows the Peace that He has established, Jesus want the forgiveness of sins to be something hidden and unknown.  Just as the Father sends the Son to win forgiveness, so the Son sends the Apostles – that’s what Apostle means, it means one who is sent.  The Son sends our His Servants to preach and give out His forgiveness that He won.  God doesn’t want to be hidden, Jesus doesn’t want people to be ignorant of the forgiveness which He won.

          And thus we see the point of why there is a Zion (or Trinity) Lutheran Church.  Everything that goes on in this place, what we do, our reason for existing is this – that the Peace of Christ might be proclaimed, that sinners might come here and hear the forgiveness of their sins preached to them, to receive Peace.  This Church isn’t a country club, it isn’t a resort.  We aren’t here to just get together and congratulate each other on how wonderful we are.  This Church is a hospital, where sick, sick people, people fighting and dealing with the terminal illness of sin, come for the Lord’s cure.  This is where we come to hear God’s Word, to learn it, to inwardly digest it – so that we might have strength to live out our days praising our God and Lord. 

This also shows what in particular my duty here is.  When you called [/asked] me to be your pastor, this is what you asked me to do.  God has sent me here to preach Christ and Him Crucified, to teach His Word.  Christ describes this task as forgiving the sins of the penitent and preaching the law with its full terror to those who are secure in their sin.  This is the command that God has given me.  This is what I swore to do [in front of you here] at my Ordination, and I would ask that you continually keep me in your prayers that I might be faithful in this task.  What goes on here is serious stuff, when we gather here it’s not a matter of indifference, just something to do on a Sunday morning because that’s what mom and dad did, but when we gather here we gather as sinners who are humble, sinners who recognize their need for forgiveness, sinners who receive God’s forgiveness, who receive God’s peace, peace that the world cannot understand.  Peace that endures even over and beyond and through the fears we face in our earthly days.

And then in our text we get the story of Thomas.  Thomas wasn’t there that night – he must have had an even better hiding spot.  And when the Apostles come to him and say, “We have seen the Lord,” Thomas isn’t buying it.  It’s too good to be true, you guys are all delusional and crazy.  Thomas wants more than just to hear what the Apostles say.  Unless I see in His hands the marks of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my finger into His side, I will never believe.  Do you see how physical Thomas is – he wants to see the Body – Thomas wants to touch and feel with his own hands the Body that was dead and lifeless on Good Friday restored to life.  That’s when he will believe.  We shouldn’t call him doubting Thomas, we should call him arrogant Thomas.  Think how bold that is!  Think about how prideful that is – unless I get to poke Jesus I won’t believe.  A student in the ancient world would never, ever claim the right to touch, to poke his teacher – this is utterly disdainful.  It’s one thing to doubt, it’s one thing to be unsure – the struggle that we all go through always – but man, it’s another thing entirely to be a complete and utter jerk.  And that’s what Thomas is being right now.

But Thomas is with them when Jesus shows up. . . and Jesus is just as bold.  Alright Thomas, here I am, come on, put your finger.  Come on Thomas, touch me.  And did you note what happened, and this is fabulous.  Jesus says Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side.  Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  I will see your arrogance and haughtiness Thomas, and I’ll brush it off, because I am Christ Jesus, Risen from the dead.  Won’t harm Me any, come here and poke and prod if you want – but either way, believe.  Then we hear this: Thomas answered Him, “My Lord and My God!”  Did you see it?  Thomas doesn’t touch Him.  John doesn’t say, “Thomas touches Him and says, “oh, okay, now I will believe.”  No, Christ’s presence, Christ’s love drives away from Thomas Thomas’ pride, his arrogance.  Seeing Christ, Hearing His Word, Thomas is moved to confess Jesus, to call Him Lord and God.

This, dear friends, is what happens to us.  When we enter this place, when we hear God’s Word, when we know His presence in His Word and Sacrament, we abandon our pride, we stop worrying about how wonderful and important we are, and rather we simply come, and beholding our Lord and His love for us we confess Him.  Beholding our Lord, we receive His forgiveness – whether it is spoken in the Absolution – In the stead and by the command I forgive you your sin in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost – or whether it is read from the lectern or proclaimed from the pulpit.  Knowing that Jesus Christ is resurrected, that He reigns forever, we humbly come to this, His Church, we approach His Altar, and we receive from Him His own Body and Blood for our forgiveness.  Again, it’s a beautiful part of the liturgy – I will hold forth the Supper and say – The Peace of the Lord be with you Always.  Behold Christ’s Body and Blood given for you!  God knows what we need, He knows our struggles, our flaws, our faults, our sin – He knows better than we do – and so He calls us to His house over and over, week in and week out, to hear His Word, to receive His forgiveness by hearing, by receiving His Supper.

And this is how we as Christians live.  We receive from God His gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  Now, this doesn’t mean that because we put in a hour on Sunday everything in life will come up roses.  We are still people who struggle with our own sin, we still live in a sinful world.  Eight days later the Twelve still had their door locked – we still always while we live have this sin to struggle against.  But in the midst of this God comes into our lives, God comes and invites us to His House, and speaks His Peace to us – Always.  Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.