Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Invocation in Lent?

Alright, so I pulled open the Lutheran Service Builder - and it suggests that the Invocation may be omitted in Lent.

Anyone have anything on this custom - I've never heard of that one - and I had heard a lot of regional variations.

A Litugical Bum

So, I have tried to establish a daily Matins service here. . . and it never caught on with anyone (other than when Jay Hobson would be here studying with me over the summer, then it would be he and I) - so after 3 years of a published set time - Matins has become the daily devotion I do when I get in.

Since the advent of the Treasury of Daily Prayer, I have ended up moving into my office for this devotional time. I'll sing everything through to the readings (including the given Psalm) - and then close with prayer. . . omitting the rest of the service (the Venite works well as a solo, the Te Deum. . . not so much. . . and I'd butcher Matins' Benedictus).

But I realized that I am a bit of a liturgical bum since I got the treasury. It has nice, easy access to all the seasonal antiphons and the like. . . but I just sick with the common. I know how to sing it, I like it. Same thing if I want some variation and go to Morning Prayer. . . which happens around 2 or 3 times a year. . . maybe. . . if I want to sing the Benedictus because I know that one.

I'm not quite sure what to make of all this - there probably is no point. But, what of y'all - seasonal antiphons - are they are part of your usage of the daily offices - daily or if used on Sunday?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

This too shall pass away

One of the things we need to remember is that earthly blessings pass away. Now, we generally think of these earthly blessings in terms of wealth - things along the lines of "the rich fool" and his barns completed on his death bed. And yes indeed, wealth is a temporal blessing, and our lives should not be focused on acquiring it.

I wonder sometimes if we don't substitute other temporal blessings in the place of wealth, other blessings that become our focus and predominate our lives - only we feel more pious about it because it isn't "money" we are craving. My friend and classmate Ben Harju became ill and had to resign from his call (you may read things at his blog. I have to say I am humbled by his example - being the pastor of his congregations in Iowa was a blessing - but it was one that faded away. Perhaps when he is recovered he will receive another call, perhaps not. That is the way of blessings in this life. I wonder if sometimes we pastors don't remember that our time as a pastor is but brief. . . and temporary. Eternally, I am not defined by my vocation, however much of a blessing it is.

I also listened to an excellent discussion on Issues, Etc about contraception (note: that's the mp3 link) where many good points about the cultural impact of contraception we made. Now, both guests (Pastor Walther and Pastor Curtis) were a touch more hardline against contraception than I am (that's another post), they both ended up keying in on how we are turning away from the blessing of children today. While that is true - we do disdain children (I saw a commercial for Essure, a permanent feminine birth control on tv last night - and the ad was all about the fear of having another kid) - I am also left to wonder if perhaps we can elevate children and family too highly.

My wife is a blessing. She has been my wife for 1.67 years now. But the simple fact is this - she will not always be my wife. Death (or the return of Christ) will someday overtake us and part us. We get this, even if to us now it isn't a pleasant thought. In fact, my lovely bride wanted the hymn "Who Knows When Death May Overtake Me" sung at our wedding. Hopefully, if mere death and not Christ's return is the cause of the cessation of this blessing that day is far off. . . but it may not be. If something were to happen, should I shake my fist angrily, or rejoice for the blessing that my wife is that I in no way deserved, even for the briefest of time? And when we are reunited in heaven, it won't be a matter of being reunited as husband and wife, but as members of the body of Christ - a joyous reunion, but not to the same state as we were here on earth. Indeed, it will be a better one, where the faltering image of Christ's love for the Church that is earthly marriage will be seen more clearly!

The same thing with children. Yes, children are a blessing, but they are not the blessing that defines us. Craving children like another craves wealth is still a matter of craving an earthly relationship. And the two ideas go hand in hand - look at Job. God not only restored his wealth, but gave him new children to be a blessing to him. But even children are just a temporal thing. In deed, in eternity I will not relate to my parents the way that I do now. . . June and Greg (whom I would never address as such now) will be fellow members of the Body of Christ.

Other blessings too are temporary. The congregation you've grown up in, your country (America is a fantastic blessing, but we aren't going to be singing the Star Spangled Banner for eternity), your stuff - even the temple in Jerusalem passes away. We will be on to the new, to that which eye has not seen nor ear heard, but knowing that we will be like Christ - and thus far, far more blessed than the blessings we have now.

What is the point of all this? It is the heart of the sinful nature to take the blessings which God gives and turn them into idols, turn them into the focus, the end-all-be-all of life, the greatest good. Do not simply be on the look out for wealth as this only idolatrous blessing - and our Lord did not come to simply bring peace to our earthly blessings, but a sword that can cut through even the blessing of family (see Matt 10:35-37).

See the blessing in all things, but let them be simply that - blessings which enrich your life today and then pass away - blessings that you are to be stewards of, blessings which you have been given various duties of service towards - but even from that pleasing labor, one day you too shall rest. As for seeking joy or perfection in the things of this life - vanity of vanities, all is vanity!

Come, let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sunday's Sermon

Quinquagesima Sunday – February 22nd, 2009 – Luke 18:31-43

+ In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
So here we are, the last Sunday of Epiphany, the Last Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the Last Sunday before our observation of Lent begins. By next Sunday, we will be into a season of penitence – of solemn repentance where we ponder the struggles that Christ faces in His contest to win us from the power of sin, death, and the Devil by His crucifixion. And so, it is no surprise that we would have for our Gospel lesson today, Christ our Lord telling the Disciples precisely what He would be facing in His own Lent, in the first Lent.

“And taking the twelve, He said to them, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For He will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging Him, they will kill Him, and on the third day He will rise.’” Christ pulls the disciples aside – tells them bluntly, “I will be crucified, and then I will rise.” Things that we are quite familiar with. In fact, Jesus just basically spoke the 2nd Article of the Creed which we just confessed ourselves. Jesus lays out the Christian faith – this is what the people of God believe – that Christ Jesus suffers, dies, and rises for our sake. This is true of those in the Old Testament, those who hearkened to the Words of the Messiah who was to come to deliver His people – this is true of us in the End of Days, who listen to the Words both of the Prophets and the Apostles – the Holy Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit, which all point to this truth – which all point to this faith – God Almighty dies for me, a sinner: God Almighty rises for me. Our faith is that God intervenes in our life, and that simply out of His great love for us, He has mercy upon us and wins for us salvation. Old or New, from Adam till now, that has been the faith of the people of God, that has been what we believe.

“But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said.” Before that first Lent, before that first Easter – the disciples really didn’t get it, they didn’t understand that Christ Jesus would truly take His place among sinful men, that He would take up the death that man deserved in man’s place. They didn’t understand the depths to which God would go to show them mercy. They didn’t see it – they were blind. They couldn’t grasp it, they couldn’t get their hands around it. It didn’t make sense to them. God is God – God is Almighty and Powerful and Wonderful and Glorious. The Messiah is Almighty and Powerful and Wonderful and Glorious. How could this almighty Christ be delivered over to the Romans – how could this powerful Christ be mocked when He can end it – how could this wonderful Christ be flogged like a criminal – how could this glorious Christ be put to death? None of this made sense to the disciples at that time – they saw only our Lord’s Power and Glory – and thus they were blinded to who Christ Jesus truly is.

“As He drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired of them what this meant. They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’” Now we see a man who is physically blind, who cannot see – who doesn’t know that Jesus is coming. Rather, he just hears the crowds, the commotion, and asks what is going on. What follows in our Gospel lesson, dear friends, is not planned, is not staged. It simply happens. “And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ This blind man simply calls out for mercy. He doesn’t have visions of Christ’s power or might or glory – rather this blind man knows that there is one chief way that he can relate to Jesus – on the basis of Mercy.

“And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent.” This man calling for mercy is told to be silent. Doesn’t that seem odd? You would at least think that this crowd might have sensed an opportunity to see a healing, to see something wondrous. Instead, they try to drown out this man’s call for mercy. They don’t want mercy here, they don’t want this interaction with Christ to be a “mercy” thing. Dear friends, this is nothing new. Think for a moment on the word mercy. We say it all the time in service – we sing it, we pray it, it is the central theme of how we approach God here in the Church. But what about in life in general? Out in the world we don’t mind being the ones that show mercy – but how many times when you walk out those doors do you like being the one asking for mercy? How many times in this past week did you like seeking another’s mercy? We in general don’t, for when we need mercy, it means we are in the wrong. When we need mercy, it means things are outside of our control. The world never likes needing mercy – it might like tossing out cash to the poor sops – that can make us feel good, but the world never likes needing mercy.

And sadly, this is seeping into American Christianity. It’s easy to find people who will talk at length about how God is Awesome and Powerful. We like that. But what about this – that God is merciful to me, a sinner? That has become less and less a focus of American Christianity across the board. Check the billboards – how many of them invite you to receive mercy for your sin? Check the book stores – how many of the books are about the wonders of God’s mercy in loving you, the sinner? That’s not what popular, that’s not what sells. It doesn’t now, and it didn’t in Christ’s day either. The crowds wish to drown out that poor blind man and his cry for mercy.

But our Lord, Christ Jesus, hears. “And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to Him. And when he came near, He asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?” He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’” Jesus hears the cry for mercy, and Jesus is merciful. Why? Because that is who He is. Jesus shows mercy – He had just told the disciples that He is the Merciful One, the God who will bear up our infirmities, the one who will bear the scorn of sin and die and then rise so that we know that we too will rise again – that even if in this lifetime here our eyes, or aches and pains are not healed, we know that they will on the Last Day – and it has to happen this way because God is merciful to us – He is merciful and must show mercy to us – that is who He is.

And this, dear friends, is our faith. This is what we believe. Jesus says to this man, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” Attend to the words of Christ. He doesn’t say the “size of your faith” or the “strength of your faith” has made you well. We tend to think of faith immediately as my faith, the fact that I believe. That’s not the point that Christ is making – rather this – what the man believed IN is right – he believed in Christ, he trusted in Christ’s mercy – and that faith proved true. The man didn’t heal himself – Jesus did. And we know that the formerly blind man knew that Jesus was responsible completely and totally for his healing because we are told, “And immediately he recovered his sight and followed Him, glorifying God.” The man believed throughout – but he is healed only when Christ speaks, when Christ acts. And he understands that he is healed at Christ’s action because when he sees again, what does he do? He glorifies not the strength of his faith, but rather glorifies God.

This is the Christian faith – that we look to God for mercy and give thanks for that mercy, glorifying His Name. This is the faith that you are a part of, that you are baptized into. This is what we do here in this place in worship – same thing as this man here. We cry out to God for mercy – and He gives us mercy. We confess, we receive forgiveness. We sing Lord have Mercy, and then we hear His Word of Mercy read from the lectern and preached from the pulpit. When we have communion, we call out “Lamb of God, who takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us” – and then He does have mercy and feed us His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. Everything in the Church, everything in the Christian faith – the faith of those who receive mercy and everlasting life, everlasting healing of both body and soul, is nothing less than the truth that God is merciful to us, that we poor sinners receive mercy from Christ, to which we respond with renewed hearts that cry out thanks and praise.

So, it is with remembering this that we prepare to enter the ancient Christian season of Lent. God’s mercy is freely given to us – but we will see what it cost our Lord – for we were purchased not with gold or silver, but with our Lord’s precious Blood. Our sin held us in bondage, and Christ fights to free us. In the weeks to come, we will see our Lord Christ Jesus fight off all the power of sin, death, and the devil in order to free us. And seeing all that Christ does, we will know why He does it – because God desires to be merciful to you, and He will shower His mercy upon you. In fact, this is how we know that Christ Jesus is God, it is how He reveals His Divinity to us most fully – He is love, so He’s determined to show us love, so He is determined to have mercy upon us – for which we give Him thanks. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the world. Amen.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Why be surprised?

A Christian ought never be surprised at wickedness. Saddened, repulsed, even disgusted (although disgust can quickly turn into anger, which isn't a good thing in us sinful folk - Satan can very quickly get us to turn righteous anger into a smoldering hate, beating down our love of the neighbor) - but we should never be surprised.

Should we be surprised at the ELCA's committee that recommends that gay and lesbian clergy be allowed to remain in life-long relationships? Um. . . as they are in fellowship with the Episcopalian Church, and that's what the Episcopalians do. . . no. As they already deny parts of Scripture. . . no. None of this should be surprising.

Should we be surprised at anything that happens in the LCMS? More problems with Issues, etc, or wild plans to radically change our structure (and consolodate power)? That the crazy Church down the street seemingly knows neither what a hymnal or the Catechism is (to say nothing of Scripture) and the Synod officials stand by and whistle? No. This sort of stuff has happened before.

Wickedness should never surprise us. In fact, the great danger for Christians is to begin believing that we are far, far, away from wickedness - that we are no longer living among the wicked. Luther, in the Small Catechism, directs us to look around at the world and see the wickedness there - not so that we cower in fear, not so that we complain - not even so that we go off on the idealistic crusade to "make people better".

See wickedness - and then repent yourself, and go to God for mercy. While this world lasts, it will be awash in wickedness. That's just the way it is. Has been since the fall. Fight what you can in truth and love. Oppose what you can using the Word. And also repent and flee to Christ's Mercy - for you are just as blind and broken as those fools out there.

What a better preparation could we have for Lent this year than all the stupidity of the past month? Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Another Issues Petition

Here is a link to a site that has information about the latest round of hub-bub going on around Issues Etc and a petition to sign, once again.

I've signed it. I have no clue if it will do any good - but still, it's fine petition.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Anniversary of Luther's Death

On February 18th, 1546, Martin Luther Died. Every year when this date comes around, I kick myself for not having prepared for it before hand - organized a special study, maybe even a service - do something. Once again, it came, and I saw the calendar and said, "Oh yea, Luther's day."

So, let's ponder Martin for a while. How shall we view him? He wanted to reform the Church, and yet after his work, the Church was left more fractured than ever. He wanted to restore Rome's focus upon the Gospel, and Rome went the opposite way, determined to chase off those within her wings who had most openly preserved and taught the Gospel. He wanted a focus on the Word, and Rome responds by establishing more and more dogmas with no weight in Scripture (or tradition). Even in his beloved Germany, Luther sees the rise of the fanatics and enthusiasts, and wars and rebellions which twisted his words for their purposes. What a frustrating life!

And yet, through it, Martin Luther endured in the faith. Today, I don't want to ponder the weight or results of the Reformation (just as we don't generally consider the weight of the era of Julian the Apostate when we think about Athanasius) - rather, what did Luther bring to the Church as a teacher?

All the great teachers of the Church have an area of the faith that they excel at. If you want to understand the pastoral nature of being a Bishop, go read Ignatius. If you want to understand the physicality of the Christian faith, read Ireneaus. If you want to understand the Trinity, go look to the Cappadocian Fathers. If you want to understand the struggles of a Christian living in the world - go look to Augustine. What, if you want to be a student, should you study of Luther.

I will argue that Luther understood two things (or at least taught them) better than any other in the Church's History. Luther understood the pervasive nature and impact of sin, and Luther understood the wonders we receive in Baptism.

And probably this is merely two-sides of the same coin. Because Luther understood the depths of sin (and trust me, Luther gets how human nature works), he also was constantly amazed at the depth of God's love shown in Baptism. He understood what a gift Baptism was for combating our sinful nature, for daily drowning the old Adam. And that's what he excels at.

So, what think you? If you had to give it, what would you say Luther's expertise was? I think I am on. . . that Trigg fellow probably would at least half agree with me. At any rate:

All praise to Thee for Martin
Who taught the Gospel pure,
who focused on salvation,
alone in Christ made sure.
May we who often struggle
Against the world and sin
Return to our baptism
and be renewed again.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Checklist Mentality

Sometimes I think we Confessional Lutherans today can fall into a checklist sort of mentality - we have our mental checklist we use if we are looking at what another person does - and if they don't check all the boxes that we do, oops, they are terrible. Ut-oh, they don't use the 1-year lectionary like I do. . . . Ut-oh, they don't use LSB, or they don't use only DS3, or only DS1 and 3 but not 4, or everything but DS 5, or only 1 and 2 but not DS3 like me. . . ut-oh, they bought something from Northwestern instead of CPH. . . ut-oh this and that. We see that people don't DO the same things as we do, and then they are short and wrong and horrid.

I want to hearken back to one of the famous "checklist" moments - the Marburg Colloquy - where Luther and Zwingli were discussing theology - and there were 15 topics, and they agreed on 14, but when they got to the Lord's Supper and Zwingli denied the real presence, Luther famously replied, "You and I are not of the same Spirit."

So, what do we learn from this? That the checklist mentality is appropriate? That if someone doesn't follow our checklist, they are obviously in opposition to the Holy Spirit?

Um - how about Luther's list was only 15 points long? Or that the Augsburg Confession only had 28 articles? Or the Formula 12? Smalcald had 22 total? And even then, while clear, they weren't matters of micromanaging?

Here is what I fear. We've slid in our approach. Luther could look at Zwingli and say that he was of a different spirit because Zwingli denied the Word of God. If one does not rightly hear the Word, one isn't listening to the right Spirit. Simple as that. It wasn't a purity checklist - it was a confession of faith that was violated.

Rather than focusing on a confession of faith, we seem to have fallen into a legalistic, purity test mentality. And what's worse is we each set our own standards of purity, and then lambaste those who fall short. It doesn't focus on whether or not Christ Crucified is proclaimed, but "that person uses that, which doesn't proclaim as well as I do, so he's wrong". And the other guy is probably saying that about you!

We have forgotten what Luther ends the Smalcald Article with - we have all become little legalistic checklist popes. Lord have mercy!

"The declaration of the Papists that human traditions serve for the remission of sins, or merit salvation, is [altogether] unchristian and condemned, as Christ says Matt. 15:9: In vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 2] Again, Titus 1:14: That turn from the truth. Again, when they declare that it is a mortal sin if one breaks these ordinances [does not keep these statutes], this, too, is not right." - SA 3, 15

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today's Sermon

Sexagesima Sunday – February 15th, 2009 – Luke 8:4-15

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
When our Lord Jesus preaches His parables, He rarely directly spells them out for us. However, with today’s parable, the parable of the Sower, our Lord explains to His disciples, and thus to us, what every element, what every thing in the parable is. So. . . what then? Shall we skip the sermon today – get on out of here fifteen minutes early? No, we’re eating here today so even if we did get out early, we wouldn’t be beating anyone to a restaurant. Instead, while Jesus explains what the seed is, what each type of ground is, let’s take the time to ponder what this means, how this impacts us, what we learn from knowing this parable. It is important that we do, for as our Lord says, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of God” – it is important because in knowing this parable, we will know how God’s kingdom works, how His Church works, and we will avoid falling into the trap of trying to fashion our congregation in our own image, rather than God’s.

Let’s recap the parable very quickly, and then go into Jesus’ explanation. A Sower throws seed all over the place. Just scatters it. Some falls on the roads and gets trampled on, gets eaten by birds. Some falls on rocks, sprouts, but then dies as it has no real root system – couldn’t gather moisture. Some falls among thorns and are choked out by the thorns. And then some falls in good soil and yielded a hundredfold. Then our Lord explains: “Now the parable is this: the seed is the Word of God.”

Let’s ponder this for a moment. In this parable, Christ compares His Word to seed. This is a useful image. A seed brings with it something that hadn’t been there before. If seed is planted in a field, plants that were not there before, that had never grown in that place, suddenly come forth. Seed brings about a change. Dear friends, what we must remember is that the Word of God is active – Hebrews says, “For the Word of God is living and active.” The Word works. Whether that work is breaking down and crushing our sinful hearts by God’s Law, or whether that work of the Word is producing faith, turning our eyes and our trust to Christ Jesus and His saving death for us upon the Cross – the point is that the Word is active. It all centers around the Word.

So we have to remember first and foremost that this parable is a parable about the power of the Word of God. Sometimes we want to jump right to the various types of ground, but the key is the Word. What happens in good soil if there is no seed? Nothing. What happens on rocky ground is there is no seed? Nothing. The key, the focus of this entire parable is God’s Word – the Word that is active and living. Without God’s Word, nothing happens. This parable isn’t talking in any way about our own efforts, what we need to bring to the table, it’s all about God’s Word and how it works. God’s Word goes forth, and a harvest comes.

But Pastor, our Lord goes on to describe several types of soil. Shouldn’t we pay attention to the soils? Depends on what you mean. One of the dangers in dealing with this parable is we can get caught up in trying to identify, trying to pick out what kind of soil people are – oh, Chuck’s a rocky sort of person, we shouldn’t waste our time on him. If that’s how you are thinking about the soils, then you are wrong, and in fact you are missing the whole point of the parable. The Sower sows the seed and it falls everywhere. There is not a sort of ground that doesn’t receive the Seed. You would almost think the Sower is blind, just tossing seed anywhere and everywhere – or even like a little kid tossing it into the air. Likewise, we should be so carefree in our sharing of God’s Word – we should proclaim the Word, and then let the chips fall where they may. God’s Word is living and active – it is what causes growth – not our plans, not our trying to figure out who is “worthy” to hear the Word. We must avoid any ideas so arrogant as that – and rather preach the Word to all.

So then, what do we make of the different types of soils? What we ought to remember is that these soils end up describing the dangers that we face, any Christian may face – so that we ourselves might be prepared to face them. For example, our Lord tells us, “The ones along the path are those who have heard. Then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” The reminder here is one that is simple and blunt. We do not live in a world that is merely indifferent to Christ. We do not live in a morally neutral place – but rather Satan is active, and Satan is active against the Word. Satan does not want the Word proclaimed, Satan does not want the Word paid attention to. Satan delights in having false doctrine proclaimed, so people are led astray. And there are times when Satan is successful, when his lies snatch the Word away and trample the Truth underfoot. That is why we are to continually proclaim the Word of God in its truth and purity to people, over and over again, throughout their lives. We ought not say, “We’ll, I told that person about Jesus once 7 years ago, that should be enough!” Satan is trying to beat down the Church – to thwart the Word, and so we are to continually proclaim that Word over and over – if Satan distracts, we proclaim again. If Satan snatches, we proclaim again. The Word goes forth – over and over, we proclaim Christ and Him crucified over and over in spite of the efforts of Satan. And the fact is, this can be tiring. We can sometimes wish to give up on people – they’ve heard and they’ve heard, why should we proclaim Christ anymore? We proclaim Christ because we understand what is going on – we understand the assaults of Satan – and we know that we are to continually to speak forth God’s Word – the Word that is sharper than any two edged sword to do battle against Satan. Christ warns us that Satan will try to hinder the preaching of the Word – this just means that we must be diligent in proclaiming it. When Satan attacks – we must rely upon the Word.

And then our Lord shows us another danger we can face in the Church. “And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the Word, receive it with joy. But these have no root, they believe for a little while, and in time of testing fall away.” There are people who show interest, who are excited, but then just slide away from the Church. This is nothing new – Jesus tells us this will happen. We have to remember that people will become less than thrilled with the Christian life, that when things get hard and life isn’t just a bowl of cherries they will become disappointed in God and blow Him off – that they haven’t developed deep roots. So, how do we handle this? Now, in the world there are all sorts of ideas. Let’s make Church more exciting. That’s not the answer – the excited fall away. Let’s tell people that if they are good Christians they will get tons of stuff. And when the money doesn’t start flowing in, what happens? People get mad. All these solutions are completely backward. If people haven’t developed roots, if their growth isn’t full – what do they need? They need the Word brought to them again and again. The only power that will drive those roots home is the Word proclaimed. Christ mentions this in context of a time of testing – and there are times when we have been tested – when the Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. What do we do then? Think of all the portions of Scripture that give comfort, that give encouragement, that help us to see beyond the present trial to the Kingdom to which God has called us. When trials are against us, we must rely upon the Word.

And then, there is the seed that falls upon the thorny ground. “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” Satan is against us, our flesh is weak, and even the world conspires to drive Christians away from the Church, to make us forget God’s Word. This is probably the temptation, the trial we here face most often – things in life trying to make us too busy for the Word – not where we outright reject, where we defiantly turn our back upon God – but rather where we just get too busy, too caught up in life and then just fade away. Again, the solution is not difficult – we proclaim the Word – the Word that shows the vain and fleeting nature of the world, the Word that points us again to that which is truly important, Christ Jesus and His salvation.

And so the last soil makes perfect sense – “As for those in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” When we hear the Word, what happens? We bear fruit with patience. With patience and love towards our brothers and sisters we produce, we proclaim, we share the Seed, God’s Holy and Mighty Word, so that they might be given growth as well, so that the Holy Spirit might be given opportunity through that Word to bring about faith and growth in them. God, by the power of His Word and Spirit, makes us good and fertile soil – He brings forth His harvest in us.

You see, what this parable boils down to is this. We, in the Church, are the people of the Word – and everything in our lives as Christians is shaped by the Word of God. We live in the Word and we have growth only by the Spirit working through the Word. And we proclaim that Word, whether it is sharing it with a friend in need, whether it is teaching our children at home, whether it is gathering together here and being in that Word together for our own growth and edification. In all things we are centered in the Word of God – and through that Word God works on us, breaks through rocky and thorny hearts and makes us good soil – He calls us by the Gospel, gathers and enlightens us, and keep us in the faith. In all things God’s Word applies – that is how Christ cares for the church – for He lovingly continually applies His Word to us. Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. +

Friday, February 13, 2009

East, Rome, and Lutherans - Cultural Military Edition!

When it comes to attacking heresy, in the East, Rome, and Lutheranism, we see three different approaches.

The East remains steadfast behind tradition. Tradition will keep them safe.
Rome pontificates. . . and I don't mean "builds bridges". They say what is right, and threaten any who would oppose them.
Lutherans dive on into the Word and attack ideas on the basis of Scripture - let it be a battle of who handles the Word better.

Each of these might be compared to the parent culture's preferred style of fighting.

Consider the Phalanx of Ancient Greece. Heavily armored soldiers stood next to each other. . . behind their shields. The Shield was the most important part of the Phalanx - and in many cases Greeks won because united and protected behind their shields, the Phalanx would just steamroll opponents.

Likewise - the East's goal - be unified in the Tradition - wield the shield of the Faith, and outlast the troubles of the day.

Consider the Roman Legions. Rome created a vast network of roads so that it's army could move rapidly to any corner of the Empire and enforce its will, putting down rebellion. With ingenuity and superiority of movement, Rome conquered.

Likewise - Rome's goal - ensure unity by being asserting your position and expecting people to follow - and if they don't, deal with them rapidly.

Consider the Germanic Tribes and the Scandinavians - the two main Lutheran Cultures. The prized fighter was the hero - the swordsman who would rush in (most likely painted for battle) and strive to stab as many of the enemies before he himself is slain. It is an aggressive approach - kill quickly before they can kill you - and then head back home until the next season of plunder.

Likewise - a Lutheran's goal - use the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God - to dispatch their foes swiftly and quickly. The Word, the Word, the Word! The Battle Cry of the Hordes of Lutheran Theologians going to battle!

It makes sense to me.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Two approaches to cutting off Heresy

If you ever read Weedon's Blog you have probably come across a good back and forth between the Eastern Orthodox and Lutheranism. Lots of people like reading Weedon, so it ends up being a place where. . . shall we say two streams of Christian thought on occasion swirl together.

One of the complaints that will be voice there against Lutheranism is the idea of "Sola Scriptura" - that the Scriptures are the sole Rule and Norm of doctrine. One of the complaints that will be leveled against the East is their appeal to tradition (and thus seemingly circumventing or diminishing Scripture).

Here is an observation as a Historian for your perusal. Both the East's reliance on Tradition and Lutheranism's focus on Sola Scriptura are approaches designed or intended to prevent heresy.

Let's jump back to around 787 in the East. Whereas after Chalcedon in the West you don't get the development of new Christological heresies (the Latin church is too busy beating down Germanic Barbarian Arians to have theologians sit around and dream up as many new heresies. . . and no, this is not going to be a time to discuss the filioque) in the East, Christological heresies keep springing up. You have monothelitism and monoergism and the Iconoclast heresies. New terminology will spring up, and inevitably, it will be wrong, and wreck havoc and chaos upon the East.

In response to this, the Eastern Church says, "Enough! No more! We have it right, say it like we've said it and leave it at that!" This is a quite understandable approach (as any parent who has had a child go off on a ". . . but what about. . ." streak of questioning can tell you). What the Church will say is what the Church has said. . . which is the definition of what an appeal to tradition is. If the Church hasn't said it, don't say it - it is not safe.

Lutheranism likewise deals with an attempt to stop heresy - but the Lutherans are responding to errors endorsed by the established Church which ignore both tradition and scripture. These errors are reinforced by the claims of the papacy to its power and authority. Thus, the Lutherans, in looking at Scripture and the History of the Church come to the conclusion that the only time the Doctrine of the Church is safe is when it is limited to what is clearly taught (or derived, like the Trinity) from Scripture - but everything that is said must be thoroughly checked through Scripture.

Both approaches are designed to cut off heresy.

However, there is a hitch. The East will look at the hordes of various denominations, each one claiming "Sola Scriptura" and falling off into various stupid doctrines and say, "Yeah, how's that sola scriptura working out for you?" On the other hand, Lutherans will look at the East and say, "Um, historically speaking, your tradition develops. . . how do you know that it is developing properly without the check of scripture? Where is your surety that your stream of tradition is the right tradition. . . especially given how often the patriarchs excommunicate each other." (or at least that is what I will say - and I'm Lutheran)

What I will say is this. Both of these approaches to safeguarding against heresy have their uses. The Eastern approach works well to nip heresy off in the bud. That is its strength. However, it lacks strength in attacking heresy. The one who is heretical isn't going to recognize the authority of the Church or it's tradition (this was clear even back in the days of Ireneus). Rather, they must be attacked on how they (wrongly) use Scripture. You argue against their interpretation.

Now, one might argue that the heretic isn't going to respect Scripture either - but at least there is a battle ground to fight the heretic on -- and in fighting the heretic perhaps defend the person who might be led astray. However. . . on that ground, the East has the Lutherans topped - because if you are taught to follow the Church's tradition, you do. But as Lutherans, we have seen what can happen when Churches let err creep into their tradition. . . and we see a need to have that checked.

Now, it should be obvious which of these approaches I favor. . . but I think if we Lutherans understand the anti-heretical approach of the appeal to traditions, it seems less strange (and less dangerous) - they are using the shield of the Faith as best they can - and likewise if the East were to understand that Scripture is the safeguard against heresy and the means of combating it (the Sword of the Spirit is the Word, and even the East will allow the fact that Lutherans have been fighting in the midst of heresy in the West for the past 500 years) we might understand and appreciate the other's approach more, even if we still see flaws within it.

Of course, I'm a good Confessional Lutheran. Not only do I wield a sword, I carry a nice shield. Seriously, I think my Concordia Triglot can stop bullets >=o)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sunday's Sermon

Septuagesima Sunday – Feb 8th 2009 – Matthew 20:1-16

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
With the observance of Transfiguration Sunday last week, we see a change in focus in our readings in Church. We are now in the “Gesima” Sundays, Sundays which have as their focus ideas about how this Christ Jesus, who is indeed true God and true Man, how He relates to the Church. How does Jesus deal with the Church and how does the Church end up responding to Jesus? And from what we see in our texts today, it seems as though we don’t always respond well to God. In fact, we might almost call this Sunday “Grumbling Sunday” – there’s grumbling in the Gospel, grumbling in the Old Testament, and as Paul talks about how as Christians we need self-control and we need to keep on striving towards the goal, he’s probably writing to folks who have been grumbling as well.

Grumbling seems almost to be an obsession in our country. As a Baseball fan I like to say that Baseball is the national pastime – but in truth, it’s probably grumbling – and I’m no exception. I watched the Super Bowl last week – and grumbled about the calls the ref made. I enjoy listening to Sports-talk radio, which is basically listening to other people grumble about sports. And I doubt I’m alone – if one were to head to the co-op, what might one hear? If one were to listen to folks talking at their desk at work, what might one hear? If one pops one’s head in the beauty shop or walks past the people standing in line at Walmart, what might one hear? And that’s not even mentioning how we treat politics or the economy. Americans like to grumble.

The sad thing is that our grumbling is so unneeded. Consider our Gospel text. For the kingdom of heavne is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. Now, remember this about these laborers, the ones hired first. When the master finds them, they have no job. Without the master finding them, they would have had no work, they would have made nothing, and may very well have gone hungry. Instead, the master finds them, gives them a good wage – a denarius is considered a solid wage in Jesus’ day, so the master isn’t undercutting them or dealing with them on the cheap. He treats them fantastically. And then, And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace and to them he said, “You, go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.” So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They said to him, “because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You go and work in the vineyard too.” So more workers come in, each working less and less time, to where you have folks who only work one hour instead of 12.

Before we continue with the parable, do note one thing about the master in this parable. He wants as many workers as he can find, and he keeps bringing them in. He doesn’t make snap judgments – he doesn’t say to the workers who join at the 11th hour, “Boy, you people must have been real lazy to not find work” – instead, why aren’t you working? Let’s put you to work! Christ deals with people in His Church the same way. Whereas we can make the snap judgments, whereas we can see the person out there in the world who has been having a rather foul and wicked time of it and think to ourselves how horrible they are – God’s approach is different. God’s approach is, “It doesn’t matter what they had been doing or where they had been, they ought to be in Church, they ought to be part of My family.” It’s an astonishing love that God shows, an astonishing desire for the lost – which shouldn’t surprise any of us. He called us into His Church by His Word, by Baptism, why wouldn’t God want to be calling other people in? The lectern, pulpit, and font are all still here, guess God still wants more folks here. And when you see someone who isn’t here, someone who doesn’t know or has forgotten Christ’s love, someone who thinks they aren’t good enough to be here, that’s a tragedy. God calls us all to His house.

And when the evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.” And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. Now when those hired first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. And in receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them the equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” And now the complaining sets in. Why should this lazy bum who hardly did anything, who worked only in the cool of the day get the same thing as me? And it’s logical – more work should mean more pay! The grumblers view everything in light of what they have done – look at our work. They forget one thing – things all center around the master.

But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Look at how the master has rightly and properly treated these workers who came first. They had no job – he gave them one. He promised them a good wage – he gave them a good wage. In all things the master has done what he said he would – he has treated them completely fairly – and yet, they grumble. And why – not because of how the master treated them, but because of how the master treated others. If these early workers had been paid first and then sent on their way, if they never knew what the other workers got, would they not have gone home satisfied, content with what the master gave? No, it is when the comparison kicks in, it is when they see what another has that the complaining begins.

So what about us? When we grumble, when we complain about how things are going, is our grumbling because God isn’t providing for us and we are doomed. . . or is it rather a matter of us comparing ourselves to someone else and what they have, and then grumbling, then coveting what the other folk have? That’s the way grumbling works – it ends up being a comparison between you and your neighbor. This person has this better than me, that person gets this when I don’t. And when we do that, we begrudge God His generosity. We see as evil the good, the blessings He gives to others. What God chooses to bless you with has nothing to do with your neighbor. Rather, God gives freely to you – rejoice. And yet, instead of focusing our eyes upon God and marveling at His goodness to us, we cast a covetous eye upon our neighbor and are dissatisfied. You see, the danger that we face isn’t just that we would begrudge God’s generosity to our neighbors, that we would by jealousy be moved to stop showing love to our neighbor like we ought – that would be bad enough, but it can go beyond that. When we grumble, when we complain, we forget His generosity to us. When we focus on what someone else has, we forget how richly God has blessed us. When we lament how well God treated us in the past, in the good old days, we spurn the blessings He gives us freely now. And in our complaining we not only show no love for our neighbor, the neighbor whom God desires to be a part of His family, we also cease showing love towards God and rather show contempt.

So, what should be done? How should God treat us? I am reminded of the threat that my parents would make when I was grumbling about what I got – if you don’t like that you can have nothing instead. Seems a fitting punishment. Or if we were employers and our employee started grumbling, fine – if this isn’t good enough for you, don’t let the door hit you on the way out and go find another job. That’s what we could expect in this world, is it not? But is that how God treats us? The master in the parable is gentile in dealing with these first workers – Friend, I am doing you no wrong. He calls them friend, he treats even those complainers with courtesy and compassion. He closes no door – he still gives the good wage, even when not appreciated. I imagine this owner would still be willing to hire these folks the next day – no firing, no blacklisting for them.

Know and understand how generous, how patient God is with you. How many times has God continued to give His blessings to you, even when not appreciated? All blessings, be they material blessings or spiritual blessings. When we are not thankful, does God not still give us our daily bread? Behold His great love for you. When we are lax in our devotion and worship, when hearing His Word and receiving His Supper becomes a secondary priority instead of our first, does God not continually welcome us to His House to hear His Word and receive His forgiveness? Behold His great love for you.

This is the point. Christ Jesus, true God and true Man, came into this world precisely to go to the cross and suffer, to pay the penalty for sin, even the sin of grumbling, even the sin of not appreciating Him and thrusting Him to the side. It should be no surprise that God continually calls you – for that is how God relates to you, that is how God deals with you. God is not seeking an excuse to damn you, He is not trying to find a reason to scratch your name out of the book of Life – rather all that He does, everything, is so that you might receive forgiveness for your sins, so that you might be strengthened in faith during the days of your life, so that you might obtain the imperishable prize of heaven. Or in other words, every action, every thing that God does is based out of His love for you. Sin would have us forget this, sin would have us cast covetous glances at our neighbors, but God in His Word calls us out of the darkness of sin into His marvelous light so that we might always see and know and delight in His love. In all things, remember God’s love, for it is His love that shapes the Church, that shapes you. That is how Christ Jesus deals with the Church – ever showing love, and in that love ever correcting us when we fail and forgiving us with gladness. This is His love for you. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the light of the world.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What makes a Pastor a Pastor?

So, what makes a Pastor a Pastor? While many of us as individuals have been shielded from having to actually stare this question in the face, it has become somewhat of an Elephant in the room in recent years. What makes a Pastor a Pastor, what are the qualifications, how is it done? The past 40 years have seen some new answers given. In what is now the ELCA, women are made pastors. In the Wisconsin Synod, the pastor is reduced to mere functions - (sort of a pastor is as pastor does approach). And in Missouri, in many places men preach and teach without being ordained (and with scant, scant training).

All of these issues revolve around the practical answers to what makes a Pastor a Pastor. Now, as Lutherans, we have held long and fast to the idea that Pastor is made through a Divine, Mediate Call. Two things are very important that - that the call is Divine - that it is God who calls people and makes them pastors, and that God uses means to call a pastor. No one rightly assumes for himself the title or mantle of Pastor, but rather it is given through the Church.

Both these are important. As the call is Divine, it (and this should be obvious) is to be in accordance with the Word of God. This means that the ELCA is in error when it has female pastors - as the Pastoral Office is limited to men (see 1 Tim 3, Titus 1, 1 Cor 14:34-35). As for those who don't like this limitation, who think that is unfair that God would deny this office merely on the basis of sex, I have two brief replies:

1. Not everyone gets to be a pastor - this isn't a matter of "rights" but rather a matter of being called. Equality doesn't play in here. . . people didn't get to tap Elijah on the shoulder and say, "It's my turn to be the prophet now"
2. I'm a guy. I've never experience the wonder or mystery of motherhood, I'll never get to carry a child to term. That's just the way God set things up, and I need to deal with that.

Also, we need to remember that being a Pastor is a vocation - it's not just a few checkmark tasks that need to be filled by someone. . . anyone. . . Bueller. . . Bueller. And as such, we can't just say that anyone is qualified or permitted to do so.

This is the reason behind a mediate call - the call to be a Pastor comes from outside of one's own self. So what is involved in this "mediate call"? The traditional two things have been call and ordination (as shown in the old Absolution - I as a called and ordained servant of the Word). Sometimes additional steps are listed (like election) - but these two are the traditional heart. I'll suggest that we ought to include one more on the basis of 1 Tim 3:6 - education. Pastors are not to be recent converts, and they ought to be quite grounded in doctrine before asked to publicly teach it.

Here's the rub for Missouri - we have always placed the most emphasis on the "call" - that a congregation (a mediate group) calls a person to be their pastor. That is a mediate call. However, the Church is more than just one local congregation - and that was the purpose of Ordination - that the other pastors in the area would concur that this person is rightly to be a Pastor.

Well, for the past 20 years, Missouri has said in certain cases (i.e. whatever your district president says is okay) people can be "lay ministers" - people who are called (so it is mediate), but are neither ordained, and in terms of education. . . well. . . it ain't the 4 years of Seminary (and in some cases I fear that it isn't even what I put my confirmation classes through!). But. . . there is a call. . . and there is approval of the the Church in the person of the district president. . . and so for 20 years we've called this good - or at least good enough.

When people have complained, it has been pointed out that they aren't "Pastors" they are "lay ministers". Well, if they preach, teach, administer the sacraments, and oversee the Church, isn't that what a pastor does? Saying these people aren't de facto pastors rings as hallow and false as when my dad was sleeping in his chair and just said, "I'm just resting my eyes." No, we see what you are doing. . . you are acting like a pastor. A national guardsman is still a soldier, even if that isn't what they primarily do.

The problem is this - no one group ought have the right authority in normal times to declare a person to be a rightly called pastor - this opens the door to abuse. The reason behind call and ordination is that it spreads out the burden or selecting new pastors from the hands of the few to the Church at large. Professors at a Seminary teach - and they give an okay. There is a college of professors - multiple people responsible for the education of the pastor. Congregations call - and so a multitude publicly says that this person ought to be their pastor. There is an ordination - a multitude of other pastors (not just a district official) give their consent and okay - and the standards for this are all public. Things are done openly and in good order - and by many people at each step.

I'm not willing to say that what Missouri is doing now violates Scripture - but it's running fast and loose, and it's keeping things rather secretive and out of the public ability to review. And it is dangerous -- as dangerous and sending soldiers out without training. I suppose the Government could give me a gun and have me overseas in 3 days - but it wouldn't do much good.

Maybe we ought to be serious and deliberate with whom we have preach and teach - and instead of just focusing on being called - we see to it that we ordain well trained men as well.

(Yes, yes, I know, I could train up a fellow fairly well on my own. . . and if I ever get stuck on a desert island with my congregation I might do that. . . but like Obi-wan says, "I thought I could train him as well as Yoda. . . I was wrong." There's your Star Wars Quote of the day)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Today's Transfiguration Sermon

Transfiguration – Feb 1st, 2009 – Matthew 17:1-9

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
The pinnacle, the highlight of the Epiphany Season, the season where we focus on Christ Jesus revealing His glory, where we celebrate and ponder that Christ Jesus is the light of the world, is this Sunday, transfiguration Sunday, four Sundays before Ash Wednesday. It is the Sunday where in our Gospel text calling Jesus the light of the world is more than just pretty language, for He shines like the sun – indeed, John speaks of paradise this way when he says in Revelation that the New Jerusalem, that heaven “has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.” For a few, brief moments on that hill top in Judea, the glory of heaven shone forth. Understand the importance and usefulness of this text for us. In looking at the transfiguration, we understand who Christ is, we understand what heaven itself is. This truth, this idea, that the transfiguration is a true revelation of our Lord’s Person and Glory will guide our meditations upon this text this morning.

And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. Six days prior, Peter had made his bold, bold confession – You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Six days prior, when Jesus had told the disciples of his death and resurrection, Jesus said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” – when Peter had tried to dissuade Jesus from the cross. Peter understands some, but he still has some major lack of understanding. And so, our Lord decides to bring Peter with Him up this mount along with James and John, so that they can learn, so that they can bear witness to what our Lord will in a few moments show. Yes, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God – now learn what that means.

And He was transfigured before them, and His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. And so the disciples get to behold a wondrous sight. For a brief, brief moment, the unbridled glory of God, Christ Jesus’ true divinity shines forth through His Body. We see illustrated again the mystery of Christmas, that God becomes Man – but where as on Christmas we pondered and wondered at the fact that this little child was truly God, here we see things from the opposite direction – that this glorious God, who shines forth brightly, has become Man – become the Man whom Peter, James, and John have traveled with, have eaten with, have learned from – this God is truly Man. You see, this is what Jesus does when He comes down to earth. We sinful human beings could not approach God, and so God covers His glory in His Humanity, comes to us in a way that we can stand, comes to be with us. These disciples get a taste, a reminder of the true wonder of this fact.

And then, they also behold Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Moses and Elijah are the two great heroes of the people of Israel – they are the two greatest prophets, the ones who stand above all others in the histories of the children of Abraham. Moses, who wrote the Torah, the first five books of the bible, what is commonly called, “the Law” in English. Also Elijah, the greatest of the Prophets. There you have the highlights of the Old Testament, the highlights of the Law and the Prophets – and they are there talking to Christ. There is a point to this – for all the Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets, they all pointed forward to this same Christ Jesus. When we look at Scripture, we should understand what it is we are seeing. While God’s Word does have advice for how we should live, it’s not designed to be a self-help book. While the Holy Scriptures truly report the events of the past, it is not simply a history book. No, God’s Word, both Old and New Testaments, are designed first and foremost to point to Christ Jesus and how God Himself wins for His people salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection. Luke’s Gospel is great on this point during the transfiguration – Luke reports that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were talking about Jesus’ Exodus – where He would redeem His people and lead them to safety by His death and resurrection. But we see here a wonderful reminder of what all Scripture is – it all points to Christ and His love for us.

And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter is overawed, and yet he comes up with an idea. It was the time of the festival of booths – where the Jewish folks would sleep out in tents to remember their time of exile in the desert. Well. . . maybe Moses and Elijah want to stay for the festival. It’s a nice offer. . . but it misses the point. Which is more important – which takes trump – the celebration where we remember how God used Moses to deliver the people of Israel – or where you have God talking to Moses right in front of you? Peter forgot that the things he knew would pass away, that God would bring something more wondrous in Christ in the New Testament. Likewise, dear friends, look around you. These things will pass away – and that’s not a bad thing, for on the Last Day when they do, where will we be? In heaven, where it will be Jesus along with Moses and Elijah and Peter and Paul and all the hosts of heaven. As Christians it is important that we remember the past, that we know the ways in which God has worked for our benefit in the past. It’s important that we remember that God brings His blessings to us now – but we also need to remember that as Christians we look forward – and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” And God speaks and is blunt. At all times and in all places what is our goal as Christians – remember that Christ Jesus is Lord, the Son of God, the spotless Lamb, and then that we are to listen to Him. God sums it up so nicely. Things aren’t complicated in Christianity – Behold Christ Jesus, see who He is and what He has done for you in winning you salvation – and then listen to Him.

Problem is, us sinful folk don’t always like doing that. Listening to Christ can be hard. He says that we are to love our neighbor. This past week, how did that go? Did you spend more time thinking about how to help others or more time about yourself? Jesus says that we are even to love our enemies. This past week, how did that go? Did you spend more time trying to figure out ways of helping the people that annoy you, or did you spend more time thinking poorly and possibly grousing about them? Our sinful flesh doesn’t like listening to Christ – and we even, as sinners, don’t like focusing on Him. Think about it – what Churches are more popular – the ones that constantly focus on Christ and what He has done – or the ones that focus on how you can have a better life now – or where the focus is on how you can do stuff and be a good person and tap into God’s blessings? Across the board, the more popular ones are where the focus is upon us, not on Christ. Sinful human beings don’t like keeping the focus truly on Christ and His Word.

This is why we hear, When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. They were terrified – and why? When Pastor Brown stands up here and starts talking about how we are sinful and how we don’t always do as we ought, that’s one thing – you can nod your head, shrug, and then go on. If you think about it for a few moments, that’s great. When you hear the voice of God Almighty booming out His instructions, and then you realize that you have not been following these as you ought – that’s a whole nother ballpark. The disciples are right to fall on their faces – by rights they should be toast. God’s Law hits home. But then we have something else happen, “But Jesus came and touched them saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.’ And when they lifted their eyes, they saw no one, but Jesus only.” Do you see what is going on? By rights Peter, James, and John should be in a heap of trouble – by rights it should be sinners in the hands of an angry God. But something else happens. Jesus comes and He physically touches them – God has become Man to be with man – and Jesus says do not be afraid. Jesus says do not be afraid because there is no more that you need fear from your failures – for I will put your sin and failures to death upon the Cross.

That’s why we are to focus upon Christ – because Christ Jesus is the only source of forgiveness and life and salvation. And do not think that He only came to those three disciples then. You could say that our worship today is modeled on what happens in this text. How does the service begin? We hear the Word of God, we hear a sermon upon it – we behold Christ and listen to Him. And then what happens? The very same thing. Christ Jesus calls us to His Supper – and what happens there? Christ our Lord touches you, gives to You His Body as a token of proof that He suffered and died for you, His Blood as the proof that it has been shed for you. He says to you, “My Peace be with you always” – and saying, “Peace be with you” is pretty much the same thing as saying, “have no fear” – because there is peace now between God and man, and you have nothing to fear. Our service – the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the Supper – is what our Lord gives you to keep you focused upon Him, to continually forgive your sins, so that you are prepared for the day when you will spend not just a few moments on a mountain top with Him, but when with all the Saints you will be gathered at His eternal and heavenly throne for all the ages. And this is as real and wondrous for you as it was for Peter, James, and John – Christ comes to you, and He shows Himself to be your Lord who rescues you from sin and brings you into His heavenly kingdom. All thanks be to God for His great love to us. In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +